I found I still had a human voice. "No." My voice was hoarse and abused, but it was still clear. "No."
Claudia appeared near the head of the bed. "I told him to get undressed, Anita. You need as much skin-to-skin contact as you can get."
I tried to shake my head, found it hurt, so just said, "No."
She knelt beside the bed, pleading at me with her eyes. It was a look I'd never seen from her. "Anita, they're all the wolves we have right now, please, don't make this harder."
I swallowed and it hurt, as if I'd damaged things in my throat that wouldn't heal for a while. "No."
Jean-Claude came to stand beside her kneeling figure. "Please, ma petite, do not be stubborn, not now."
I frowned at him. What was I missing? What was I not understanding? Something. Something important, by the looks on their faces, but I just didn't want Graham to put his naked, erect body up against my na**d body. I did not want to have sex with him, and once we were na**d and in bed the odds of that went up. Sure, I was hurt, and I'd supposedly fed the ardeur really well, but call me paranoid, I just didn't want to risk it. But for my last shreds of moral dignity, Graham could have been in the running for daddy-to-be. That, more than anything else, kept my arm straight, and my lips saying no.
Claudia said, "You don't understand, it's not over."
"What isn't over?" I managed to say it, in that deep, not-me voice, and then I knew. The wolf had thought it was getting out, getting help, that the pack would help it escape, free it from this prison, but I'd kept the feel of other wolves at bay. I'd refused to let them slide wolf scent and skin over my body, so the wolf went back to trying to get out and join them.
My arm didn't stay stiff, nothing on me did. I writhed on the bed like a bag of snakes, muscles and tendons moving in ways that should have ripped me apart. My skin should have split, and I almost wanted it to; I wanted the wolf to get out of me. To just stop hurting me. I'd thought the wolf was me; now I thought it was trying to kill me.
The smell of wolf was everywhere, thick and nose-wrinkling, sweet musk. My body lay still on the bed while tears leaked down my face, and I whimpered, not wolf sounds, but small, hurt, human ones. I thought I'd hurt before, but I'd been wrong. If you could force someone to feel this forever, they'd tell you anything, do anything, to make it stop.
I was lying between Graham and Clay. Their na**d bodies were pressed as close as they could get, without putting any of their weight on top of me, as if they knew that that would hurt. They cradled me gently between them, their hands on my head, and on my good shoulder. They touched me as if I'd break, and it felt like they were right.
Graham's eyes had bled back to brown. The look on his face was worried. What had they seen that I hadn't? What was happening to me? Clay leaned over, pressed his lips against my cheek, and kissed me, gently. He whispered, "Change, Anita, just let it happen. It won't hurt like this, if you just let it happen."
He raised his face up, and I saw that he was crying.
I heard the soft click as the door opened. I wanted to turn and look, but it had hurt the last time I did it. It didn't seem worth it. Besides, Graham's chest was blocking my view in that direction.
"How dare you order me into your presence?" Richard's voice, already angry.
"I tried to make it a request," Jean-Claude said, "but you did not respond."
"So you order me, like I'm your dog?"
"Ma petite needs your aid," and Jean-Claude's voice held that first hint of anger, as if he was as tired of Richard's moods as I was.
"From what I can see," Richard said, "it looks like Anita has plenty of help."
Clay sat up enough to show a tear-stained face. "Help her, Ulfric. We are not strong enough."
"If you want tips for satisfying her in bed, ask Micah; I'm really not that into sharing."
"Are you Ulfric to her lupa, or not?" Micah came to stand at the foot of the bed, still nude, just like we'd woken up.
"That's wolf business, kitty-cat, not yours."
"Stop it," Clay yelled, "stop being an ass**le, Richard, and be our leader. Anita is hurt."
Richard finally came to the edge of the bed to peer over Graham's reclining body. His hair was sleep tousled, a thick brown-gold mass around his arrogantly handsome face. The arrogance slipped, and the guilt I'd begun to dread almost as much replaced it.
"Anita..." He made a painful sound of my name, so much pain in that one word. He crawled onto the bed, and showed that he was still wearing shorts. He'd either taken the time to dress, or slept clothed, very unlycanthrope. The other men made room for him, but they didn't leave the bed. He started to crawl over me, but the first touch tore small pain noises from me. He went up on his hands and knees above me, keeping his weight off me, but my wolf was too close to the surface. Richard putting himself above us like that meant he thought he was superior to us and my wolf didn't think he'd earned that. Neither did I.
I felt the wolf crouch to spring. Felt it gather itself as if it could spring from my body to Richard's. I had a moment to realize that it could do just that. I'd felt Richard's beast and one of mine fight once. It had hurt. I was already hurt. I did not want to do this.
"Move, Richard." My voice was an abused whisper.
"It's all right, Anita, I'm here."
I put my good arm against his chest and pushed. "Move, now."
"You're in a dominant position over her," Graham said, "I don't think she likes it."
Richard looked at him, while his body stayed over mine. "She's not a wolf, Graham, she doesn't think like that."
A low growl trickled out of my throat. I didn't mean for it to.
Richard turned his head slowly, the way you do in horror movies when you finally look behind you. He stared down at me, his hair like a thick frame around the soft astonishment of his eyes. "Anita..." he said, but my name was a question this time, as if he wasn't sure.
That soft, deep roll of growl vibrated across my lips again. I whispered in a voice deeper than any I'd ever had, "Move."
"Please, Ulfric," Clay said, "please move."
Richard went back on his knees, still straddling me, but in a position that a wolf couldn't exactly duplicate. It should have been enough, but my wolf had found another way out, a hole that it could climb through. Always before when I'd shared my beast with other lycanthropes I'd only felt fur and bone, as if some great beast were walking around inside me, but this time I saw it. I saw the wolf as I'd seen it in the dream. It wasn't truly white, but the color of cream, with dark markings like a saddle across its back and head. That dark cape was every shade of gray and black intermingled, and even the white and cream wasn't truly white or cream, but mixed like milk and buttermilk. I stroked my hand across that fur, and it was... real.
I jerked so hard it hurt, made me cry out, but I could still feel the memory of fur under my good hand, as if I'd touched something solid.
"She smells real," Graham said.
Richard had gone very still where he knelt over me. "Yes," he said in a faraway voice, "she does."
"Bring her wolf," Clay said, voice soft. "Make her change, so she'll stop hurting herself."
"She'll lose the baby," Richard said, but he was staring down at me with a look on his face that I couldn't read, or maybe didn't want to.
"She's going to lose the baby anyway," Claudia said.
He looked down at me, and his eyes were lost. "I can see the wolf inside you, Anita, just behind my eyes, I can see it. We can smell it. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to bring your beast?" His voice sounded empty, as if he were already in mourning. He didn't want to do it; that much was clear. But for once, we agreed.
"No," I said, "don't."
He didn't slump, but a tension went out of him. "You heard her. I won't do it against her will."
"Say that after you've seen the convulsions. I've never seen anyone fight like this, not for this long," Claudia said. "Once someone's this far along, they shouldn't be able to fight the change. Even her eyes are still human."
Richard gazed down at me, face solemn. "That's our girl," but he didn't sound happy when he said it. He let down his shields, not all the way, but as if he blinked metaphysically. I got a glimpse at his emotions, his thoughts, just a glimpse. If I shifted for real, he wouldn't want me. He valued my humanity, because he felt like he had none. If I shifted, I would cease to be Anita to him. He still didn't understand that being a werewolf didn't stop you being a human being.