Valentina came to him, and he took her hand. He began to lead her toward the far hallway. She looked back and stuck her tongue out at us.
Claudia sent Lisandro to accompany them. Aloud, she said, "Make sure Bartolome isn't doing anything he shouldn't." But I was pretty sure after Valentina's show with Sampson, she just didn't trust any of the non-vamps alone with her. Me, either.
"HOW CAN YOU love him?" Richard asked.
I turned to look at him. He stood, shoulders hunched, rubbing his hands up and down his arms, as if he were cold. But I knew he wasn't cold, or at least not the kind of cold that blankets and skin warmth could fix. It was a coldness of the heart, or the soul, or the mind. That cold that eats a hole through the middle of who you are, and leaves something dark and awful behind.
I looked at him, and wondered how to answer his question. How to answer without making the pain in his body worse. I sighed, and finally realized that the only thing I could give him was the truth. Whatever we were to each other, whatever else we might someday be to each other, truth, at least truth, was between us.
"I asked you a question," he said, and his power warmed the room like opening an oven to peek inside. The heat dissipated almost as soon as I'd felt it He was trying to control himself.
"Why do I love Nathaniel?" I asked.
"That's what I asked," he said, in that angry voice.
"Because he never makes me feel like a freak."
"Because he is a freak," Richard snarled. "Anyone looks sane beside him."
I felt my face shutting down. Felt that flatness that I used when I was really pissed and trying to control it.
"Perhaps this is not the time for this conversation," Jean-Claude said in a careful voice.
We both ignored him.
"First," I said in a very tight, careful voice, "Nathaniel is not a freak. Second, he's willing to disrupt his entire life if he got me pregnant, and you're not. So I'd be careful before you throw stones at his character."
"If you're pregnant, I'll marry you."
The room was suddenly full of one of those silences so thick you should have been able to walk across it. I stared at him for a second, or two, then said, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Richard, is that all you think it takes to fix this? Marry me so the baby won't be a bastard, and it's all better?"
"I don't see anyone else offering marriage," he said.
"It's because they know I'll say no. Every other man in my life understands that this isn't about marriage. It's about the fact that we may have created a little person. And we need to do whatever is best for that person. How will marrying anyone make this work better?"
He looked at me, and there was such pain in his face, such struggle, as if I'd said something incomprehensible. "If you get a woman pregnant, you marry her, Anita. It's called taking responsibility for your actions."
"And if it's not your baby? Could you really raise someone else's baby? Could you really stay married to me, and play Daddy, as you watched the baby grow to look like someone else?"
He covered his face with his hands, and he screamed, "No!" He showed me a face ravaged by rage. The room was suddenly hot again, as if his power were raising the actual temperature. "No, I'd go crazy. Is that what you wanted to hear? Is it?"
"No," I said, "but you needed to hear it."
He frowned at me. "What?"
"I appreciate the offer, Richard. Really, I do, but if I was going to marry anyone, it would have to be someone who would be okay no matter who turned out to be the father."
"So, you'll marry Nathaniel, or Micah?" The heat bit along my skin.
"I am not going to marry anyone, don't you get that?"
"You just said--"
I cut him off. "No, that isn't what I said, or what I meant. It's what you heard."
"You're pregnant, Anita."
"Maybe I'm pregnant," I said.
"Don't you want a father for your baby?"
I stared at him, wondering what could I say that he'd actually hear and understand.
Jean-Claude stepped close to us, not between us, but as if the three of us were a shallow triangle. "I believe what ma petite is saying, Richard, is that marriage is not part of her plans, and that having a baby will not change that." His voice was his pleasantly neutral one, the one that he used when he was trying to persuade, or calm, and not make things worse.
"And if it's my baby, then I'm just supposed to be okay with Nathaniel and Micah raising it?"
I hung my head. What could I say to that?
"Ulfric," Claudia said, yelling that one word, the way a drill sergeant yells at a bad recruit.
He looked at her. "What?" His power bit along my skin again.
"First, control your power, it's biting along everyone's skin. You're the wolf king, you need to set a better example."
"What I set for my people is my business, rat."
She continued as if he hadn't spoken. "Second, you're making Anita feel worse than she already does."
He made a wordless sound, almost a yell. His power went back to just being heat, but not painful. His voice came careful, each word thick with suppressed rage. He was swallowing it, but it was still there. "I don't want to make Anita feel worse, but if she's pregnant then she has to know that she can't keep living the life she's living."
"You still want to trap her," Claudia said, "trap her and put her in some kind of 1950s cage."
"Marriage is not a trap," he said. "You make it sound like I want her barefoot and pregnant."
"Don't you?" she asked, and her anger was softer now, as if she finally understood he wasn't being a jerk, he just didn't understand himself.
"No," he said, and he meant it. He turned back to me. "You said it yourself, Anita, whatever's best for this little person. Do you really think being a federal marshal, and dealing with all kinds of violent crime and monsters, is the kind of life that a baby needs?"
"Jesus, Richard," I said, "you're still trying to take away my life. To take away what makes me who I am. You love me, but not who I am. You love who you want me to be."
"Isn't that what you want from me?" he said. "Don't you want me to change who I am, too?"
I started to say no, then stopped myself. I thought about it. Was I asking him to change as much as he was asking me? "I want you to embrace the life you already have, and be happy in it, Richard. You want me to totally change my life, and try to fit in some white-picket-fence picture that doesn't match your life, or mine."
"I am so sick of you accusing me of wanting to put you behind a white picket fence."
"I may be pregnant, and suddenly you want me to marry you, and give up being a federal agent. We aren't even sure there is a baby, and you're already trying to impose your idea of what our life should be on me."
"Could you really keep working on serial killer cases, and killing monsters, after you have a baby?"
I stared at him. "What do you think having a baby will do to me, Richard? Do you think just because I have a baby I'll become this other person? This softer, gentler person? Is that what you think?"
"May I add something to this discussion?" Samuel asked.
Richard and I said no; Jean-Claude said yes. Samuel ignored us and did what Jean-Claude said.
"If my wife is any example of having children in these rather extraordinary circumstances, then softer is not what will happen. Thea was gentle with the children. There was indeed a new softness that I had never seen, but with everyone else..." He shook his head. "I had never seen her so ruthless as after Sampson was born. She was more determined than ever to make our base of power strong and secure. Any threat to us was destroyed immediately. Even with the help of servants she insisted on caring for him herself, and with the feedings, well"--he shrugged with hands up--"having to wake every two hours to breast-feed meant very little sleep. Lack of sleep makes anyone's temper worse, and makes the most expedient solution look good."
I was thinking, Breast-feeding? Oh, no, so not my gig.
Richard said, "You're saying that to make me feel what--worse, better?"
"Ask someone you trust then," Samuel said. "Ask a woman how exhausting and overwhelming a new baby can be. I have three children, two of them twins. I did what many fathers do when they have children later in life; I did more of the baby care with the twins than I did with Sampson. My power base was more secure, and there was less... business to occupy me. I think I had been too exposed to modern America. I had this odd idea that I should be very involved with the twins. It gave me a new respect for what Thea went through with Sampson, when I was more occupied with business. A child is a great blessing"--he patted his son's leg when he said it?but like other great blessings, they require a great deal of time, attention, and energy."