"Why were you there?" I asked him.
He was ready to leave. Already sweeping out the doorway, cloak behind him, but he stopped at my words. Part of me wanted to stop him. Wanted to keep more people from dying, even if I knew if he did nothing, people would die anyway. It didn't make the memories I had of his knives and his cold voice any less horrifying, nor the memories of my face in a toilet, of lashes to my back. Part of me simply wanted to keep him around a little longer. I think I knew I wouldn't see him again. Not for long. Not long enough to ever ask a question like that, and that was the other part. I wanted to know. He said they'd done monstrous things to him, and I knew it was true, but I didn't know why. And I wanted to.
It's a little sick, I suppose. That instead of stopping him with words that might have been a comfort to him before he went off to save us all, I asked him something I knew would hurt, simply because I wished for an answer.
But monstrous acts create monsters, and monsters are cruel. Both he and I knew it.
"In Larkhill?" Even behind the mask, his voice was always crisp. I've never understood how he managed it.
"Yes. What did you do?" What were you? I may as well have asked, because I knew you didn't necessarily have to do anything beyond breathe.
"I?" There was a moment of silence before he answered. "I stole a loaf of bread to feed my family. I stole twenty-thousand pounds to finance a vacation to a more tropical climate. I was born in the traditions that belong to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I prayed facing Mecca. I was a man who loved men, a woman who loved women, I participated in orgies, I performed abortions, I swore loyalty to the Pope.
"My skin was dark, my eyes were slanted. I thought Ireland should have been left alone. I killed two men because they cheated at cards. I refused to pledge loyalty to the Articles of Allegiance, I joked about the wrong matter, I took a woman by force, I questioned the existence of God. It does not matter why I was in Larkhill. It only matters if, before judging me for what I did to that building and to those who ran it, you can say with utter certainty that you would not have been sent there yourself. That is all that has ever mattered, Evey. For you see, in the end--I do not think there is a man or woman or child in this country who would answer that question and swear before God and man that they had no skeletons to drag them into Larkhill."
He turned to look at me, then, and I could almost see his eyes.
"Would you, after all?"
Monstrous acts create monsters, and monsters are cruel. He knew it, and so did I. I think that's why I stay with Eric. He's older, and he's no monster, but he's studied them. And I think he can understand that cold, cruel, hard part in me that will never go away. I can't let it.
It keeps that last inch safe.
"No. I wouldn't say that," I admitted, softly. Barely above a whisper, but he heard me, and he nodded. Just the faintest of movements.
And then he left, and I leaned against the wall to begin to wait.