The strange man in the long coat flew off the roof of the car as the woman slammed on the breaks. Michael gripped the door handle as he stared. To his amazement, the man stood, appearing uninjured after his nasty tumble. The tires of the Jaguar squealed as she backed up, then stopped. Michael glanced at his kidnapper, confused and frightened at the same time. He didn't like the look on her face, the utterly cold contempt that steeped from her unaffected expression. Smoke rose up around the car as she stepped on the gas once more, aiming for the man.
'Not again,' Michael thought, his throat seizing in terror of being forced to witness another car accident, another death. His fingers scrabbled at the handle as the car barreled down the narrow street. The man turned, and their eyes met just as the vehicle slammed into him.
The door opened under Michael's weight, and he fell out onto the stones, rolling away from the fast-moving vehicle. He gasped for breath, his lungs working against him as he rolled to a stop. He needed to get up, to get away. He couldn't see, didn't want to see the body crushed...
Hands slipped under his armpits and suddenly Michael was stood on his feet. His knees were weak, but the arm was strong across his back, supporting him as he was propelled off into a narrow alley. He ran to keep from being dragged as the terrible squealing of the Jaguar's tires filled the night air around them.
Michael chanced a glance to the side as they ran, and was shocked to see the pale, bearded face of the man who had just flipped over the car. He stumbled, but the man bore him up, pulling Michael along as he scanned the streets for danger. They zigzagged through several alleys, Michael dizzy and aching, before they finally stopped for a breath. The purring engine was so close, he could almost taste the burned rubber as he gasped for breath. Overwhelmed by blind panic, Michael turned to face the street, his feet unable to move as he envisioned the sleek silver Jag barreling straight for him.
Suddenly, his face was pushed against slick, naked skin. The man crowded him into a small dip in the wall of the alley and wrapped his jacket up around them both, covering their heads. Michael could feel a warm breath against his ear as the stranger curled around him, holding him to his chest. "Don't move," the man whispered, and in spite of himself Michael obeyed, sliver flashes of that wicked sword filling his memory with fear.
He couldn't see anything, but he could hear the muffled noise of the car's engine pass the narrow opening, its whine not even slowing as it raced down the streets. He stayed perfectly still, breathing quickly through his mouth as the feral scent of sweat, blood and leather filled his nostrils. His shoulder throbbed, his legs burned, his forehead felt bruised, and he was sure he was going to die very, very soon.
After several long minutes, or perhaps an hour to Michael's reckoning, the man dropped the jacket from around his head and stepped back. Michael thought briefly about trying to flee again, but after seeing the man run over seventy kilometers an hour, he knew he wouldn't be able to get away even if he were at one hundred percent. He leaned back on the cold brick wall and choked down sweet lungfulls of night air.
The man looked down the street, then around the building, getting his bearings. He turned back to Michael, unheeding the blood dripping down his temple and forehead. "Can you run?"
"I... you're injured," Michael gasped out in dazed amazement. The sound of bullets striking flesh rang in his head as he stared transfixed at the blood still running down the man's face and chest from neat little holes. Wounds like that should have killed him.
"Can. You. Run?"
Michael nodded, though his legs felt boneless. The man wrapped a hand around his shoulder and pulled Michael along as he loped down the alley and out into the next block. Michael was quickly wheezing and stumbling more than running as he tried to keep up. The stranger seemed impervious to bullets, cars, and fatigue; he wasn't even out of breath as he led Michael through pitch-dark streets and down narrow, stinking alleys. The path was so labyrinthine Michael couldn't even fathom the direction they were heading. His ears ached from listening for the Jaguar's approach.
He almost passed out from shock when he saw the familiar entrance to the underground in front of them. It was just down the street his apartment. Had they been running in circles, for surely they'd gone miles rather than blocks. He blinked against the stark blue of the lights, startling against the blackness he'd been stumbling through. He felt like an old man as his knees threatened to buckle on the slick, steep concrete. There were police tape and barricades covering the familiar terminal, but his captor elbowed a maintenance door open. Instantly, he was plunged into night again, this one close-contained and smelling of exhaust and mucked water.
Michael could feel his body shutting down. He could barely keep his feet beneath him any longer. One loose rock under his shoe, and he was falling. He let himself fall.
Lucian barely caught Michael before he cracked his skull against the hard concrete of the abandoned tunnel. The man was dead weight in his arms as he heft him up onto his shoulder. They were very nearly there, and he wasn't about to drag the senseless boy the rest of the way. He'd held up surprisingly well, considering. Lucian was impressed.
He couldn't contain the self-satisfied smile as he entered Singe's lair. Pierce and Taylor were standing there, dumbfounded, as he walked up to the three of them. "If you want a job done right..." Singe clicked his tongue in approval, his eyes roaming the unconscious man's body. "He's not dead, is he?"
"Not yet." Lucian shifted the weight off his shoulder, letting Michael's slack body lean against him as he held him with one arm. He slipped his free hand into the inner pocket of his coat and withdrew the vial of blood he'd carefully saved earlier. It glittered wetly in the sparse light. Singe stepped forward, neatly snatching the vial from his fingers. "Pierce, please take our guest to the lab." The tall Lycan tapped his ever-present companion Taylor to help him carry the unconscious boy into the next room, to the same examination table where Trix had lain dead only hours before. "And be careful with him," he warned as Pierce nearly dropped Michael on the rough floor. The two men nodded, taking up his arms and legs to keep him from dragging along.
Singe was already dipping into the vial, preparing the chemical test to determine if Michael was the one. He glanced at Lucian from the corner of one eye. "I'm surprised it survived, considering your condition," he said dryly, referring to the glass of blood in his hand. At least, that was Lucian's hope. Though the man had only been Lycan for a few years, he'd quickly shed most of his connections to humanity. Ever the curious scientist, Lucian sometimes wondered if Singe had had much care for his human subjects even when he was human.
"The woman, the death dealer, very nearly stole him from under me. Did any of the others return?"
"Three," Singe said succinctly, his attention concentrated on the red liquid being slowly drawn up a pipette. "I patched them together myself."
Three. Lucian had left with five of his best men to retrieve Michael, a simple operation that should have taken not even half that. Damn those bloods. He didn't bother asking Singe which three had survived; the scientist had more important things on his mind than names.
Carefully, Singe tipped the pipette over a beaker of plasma solution, letting a few drops fall into the mixture. The red swirled with the grey as it was stirred. Slowly, the crimson trails turned violet. Lucian crouched nearby, staring intently as he waited for any hint of the hated black reaction.
The purple grew bright, but didn't change.
"Positive," Singe pronounced with a note of triumph. "Michael is the carrier."
Michael came to awareness slowly. Hearing came to him first, strange conversations that filtered into his dreams, giving added surrealism to the flashes of forest, of fires, of blood. It was hard to leave them behind. The dream images clung to his thoughts like thick oil as he began to fully awake, colouring his awareness of the world. There was the rain, and the mud, and the snarling of dogs. Then there was the cold, and the silence, and the pain behind his eyes. He refused to open them for the longest time, even after his awareness fully returned. It hurt too much. He could feel hands, warm and clinical, tending to his shoulder, pressing a cool cloth to his forehead, cleaning away the blood from his face. He tried to remain still, to hide from the pain, but it wasn't fooled. It stayed with him, an unwanted but fiercely loyal companion, as he tried to fall back into blessed unconsciousness.
A moan escaped his lips before he could think to stop it. Someone spoke, foreign words that fled his ears as soon as they touched him. Crystal chimes, like the trickle of broken glass on blood-puddled pavement, struck in the darkness around him. Someone pinched his arm, very quick, very sharp. It burned at first, but as sweet numbness began to spread like a blanket over his pain, he couldn't bring himself to mind it.
He was trying to fall back into the pleasant ache of sleep when he thought he heard someone call his name. The voice was deep and insistent, and like the pain, it seemed determined not to let him sleep again. Hazy light filtered through the skin of his eyelids, calling him back to the real world. Reluctantly, Michael opened his eyes.
The brilliant flare of the surgical lamp blinded him. Michael grunted, squinting his eyes as colours burst neon and lightning across the crescent of his vision. There was a creak as the lamp was turned away from his face. For a second, he wondered, /a hospital?/
Through his lashes, he could see the dark shadows beyond the circle of light. He could hear the slick music of water falling down concrete, smell the dank iron of underground tunnels. It was no hospital he'd ever known.
A warm hand brushed against his hair, and then the wet cloth was removed from his forehead. He tensed away when fingers probed a tender spot on his forehead.
"Sorry," a soft voice apologized. "The bruise will be gone in a day or two, and the morphine should make the sickness better."
Michael concentrated, forcing his eyes to open and focus through the still-blinding light. A face swam in front of him, pale and strange, though he'd seen it once before. "You... who...?" His thoughts were numbed along with the pain. It seemed to take a long time before the words moved from his brain to his mouth, and several were lost along the way.
The strange man, the indestructible man, smiled, his white teeth not so sharp as Michael last recalled. "My name is Lucian. You're... safe." His lip twitched, as if he'd say more, but he remained silent. The cool cloth returned, a shock against skin. Michael turned away again, to try to knock it off his head, but Lucian held him still, shushing him under his breath. "The fever will pass in a day. You're going to feel worse than you ever have in your life, but after that..."
"Happen?" Michael moaned out, his tongue feeling thick around the single word.
"You are in no shape for explanations tonight, my friend." Again, that sweet trickle of crystal sang out around Michael. He saw the harsh light glimmer off the cylindrical glass of a syringe. "Things will be clearer tonight." /Dosage, morphine, danger/--medical information filed through Michael's mind like the buzzing of a fly. He knew he should be concerned, but when Lucian brought the needle down to his arm, he turned just a bit, revealing the tender skin of his inner elbow. Sometimes, oblivion was better.
The sting wasn't so bad this time, and the numbness was sweeter. Willingly, Michael flung himself into the arms of the drug, letting it wash over his body and settle his thoughts. His questions drowned beneath the waves, and soon after, consciousness followed.
Lucian wiped away a trickle of sweat from Michael's shoulder. He could smell the virus at work within his body--HIS bite turning Michael from the inside out. /Soon he'll be one of us./
He could still faintly taste Michael's blood on his teeth. Lucian licked at his lips, trying to remember the exact flavour, to see if he could tell the difference between this one human and the millions of others. After a moment, he brought his fingers to his lips, licking away the droplet of sweat. Instantly, the unique taste and smell of the human filled his mouth, and he remembered.
/Not human. Not even before the bite./ Even without Singe's test, Lucian could tell Michael was the one.
Before, during the years of searching, Lucian hadn't thought of the carrier beyond needing his blood. How many human descendants had they killed, simply for not being the one they sought? For being mortal? Some place inside, Lucian had to admit that the catalyst's death was almost implicitly prescribed by their guerrilla tactics. After all, he was nothing more than a human, a carrier of a dormant disease that would bridge the barrier between the species. He was nothing but a means to an end, to victory.
Michael shivered, his head twisting around as though he sought something in his sleep. The fever had taken hold quickly, the virus working faster in him than in any human Lucian could remember.
"Shhhhhh," Lucian breathed. He brushed the back of his knuckles against the hot, slick skin of Michael's cheek, feeling the grittiness of sickness.
Distantly, a low howl echoed through the twisting corridors of the tunnels. Several more voices rose in unison. Outside, the sun rose.
Michael's motions eased, and he seemed to fall into a deeper, more peaceful sleep.
"One of us," Lucian whispered. He dropped his hand, letting it lightly touch the bandage on Michael's shoulder before he brought it back to his pocket. He turned and quickly left the room without looking back. Still, he could smell the scent of Michael's skin, taste him. It lingered with him, distracting, even as he sought out those who had barely survived bringing Michael to this place. He wanted to see that they were well, to see their faces, before he found his own rest for the day.
The Pack took care of its own.