I was angry at Richard. Again. You'd think this would no longer be news.
I jerked open the door of my Jeep, still angry, keen on getting the hell away from the lupanar. It never ceased to amaze me how, after all this time, after all we had been through, Richard could still make biting little comments that dug under my skin. Tonight it had been yet another offhand comment, something dismissive about the dirty work I did for the pack as Bolverk. This after the man himself had called me to take care of a messy problem because he did not want to get his hands dirty.
I hadn't said anything at the time, because really, who want to get into a pissing match with the wolf king, the Ulfric, on the night of the full moon? So I bit my lip, gripped my gun even tighter, and counted weresheep.
At least I hadn't been the only one to pick up on the comment. Sylvie, Richard's Geri, his second, had glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, wondering how I would react. Shang-da, the Hati, protector of the king, had shuffled his feet the tiniest bit. If I hadn't known better, I would have said he was restless, standing there in the dirt in his dress shoes, but his movement had put him a bit more between Richard and I.
The little meeting wrapped up just before dusk fell and the rest of pack started to arrive. I bailed, not wanting some bad little werewolf to mistake me for food just after the change. The trek back to my car lessened my level of tension a bit, but not enough. I wasn't annoyed any longer, I was just mad. At Richard, at myself, at everything. But anger is my friend, and I could wrap it up in a little ball inside me for later.
By the time I backed my Jeep out of the clearing and onto the road, the sun was gone and the moon was up, rising large and full over the road. I had the windows open and the warm summer wind blew my hair around as I drove. From the woods, I heard a howl, then another. The pack was hunting.
A few minutes later, just before the turn-off, a wave of alarm swept over my body, so strong I almost drove off the road. I slammed the brakes on and pulled the car over to the shoulder before I veered into a tree. Another wave of alarm, this one mixed with a tinge of hunger. It took me a second to realize I was feeling Richard's emotions. With that thought, I could see out of Richard's eyes, along for the ride.
The pack was hunting, but the prey this time was not deer. A human was running in front of a few of the wolves, three huge wolves. Richard ran after them, his thoughts still human enough to know that he did not want to kill the boy. Richard came level with one of the wolves and slammed his fist into its head. As his fist knocked the wolf to the ground, I realized that Richard was in wolfman form.
Another of the wolves stumbled, but in the confusion, the third sprang and landed on the human. They went down in a pile of fur and flesh and the boy screamed. Richard was on them, grabbing the wolf's mouth and pulling it back as hard as he could, wrestling with the animal. Claws flashed out, slicing against wolf and human flesh. More screaming, but Richard didn't have the time for this. More wolves had caught the scent of the hunt and were coming.
Richard finally tore the wolf free and flung it hard into a tree. The human rolled to his feet and pointed a stick at Richard. Richard snarled, fighting the urge to go for the boy's throat, then yelled at him, "Run!"
The boy paused, then turned and ran. Richard stood still, crouched, then thought at me, he's going to come out of the woods near the turn-off to Freeman road. Then my double vision stopped and I was staring at the road, gasping, a death-grip on the steering wheel.
What the fuck was that? When in doubt, pretend that the crazy metaphysical shit was just another day at the office. I slipped the car into gear and floored it. The turn-off Richard mentioned was only a few minutes away. If I wanted to get the kid out of the werewolf-filled woods before he got himself munched on for real, I'd have to hurry.
I slowed a bit as I approached the turn-off, scanning the woods. Then, just ahead of my car, the boy tore out of the trees and ran to the side of the road. I slammed my brakes on and leaned over to get closer to the passenger-side window.
"Get in!" I shouted at the kid. He looked at me in the moonlight, startled, glasses slightly askew. "Damn it," I yelled when he didn't move. "In another minute those wolves are going to be out of the woods and eating you. Would you please get in the fucking car?"
Maybe it was the please, but the kid finally ran over. He fumbled a bit with the door handle and it took him two tries to climb into the car. Once the door was shut, I slammed on the gas pedal. The kid was flung backward into the seat and stayed there, gasping.
I concentrated on driving for a few minutes, putting distance between us and the hungry wolves. The kid concentrated on his breathing.
"Put your seatbelt on," I said after a few minutes. He turned his head and looked at me blankly with big glassy eyes. Damn. I tried again. "Look, put your seatbelt on. If something happens, you won't like the trip through the windshield."
He started to fumble with the seatbelt, like he had with the car door, but eventually he got the buckle fastened. I kept both eyes on the road, but occasionally glanced over at the kid. Not really a kid, I thought. He wasn't very tall, but he was lanky. Even folded into the passenger seat of the Jeep, I could tell he was taller than me, which wasn't really that unusual, but he didn't look any older than eighteen. His hair was black in the light from the occasional street light, and he had on a pair of glasses with thick black frames.
He didn't say anything, but as we turned onto Carnell, he was watching me out of the corner of his eye. I could probably draw my gun in the space of time for him to try anything, but then again, drawing a gun from a sitting position really sucked.
"Aren't... aren't you going to ask me my name?" the kid finally asked. His oh-so-refined British accent couldn't mask the apprehension in his voice.
"No, I'm not. And I'm also not going to ask you why you were in the middle of a forest on the night of a full moon until after I have had a chance to look at whatever wounds you may have," I replied. I wanted to get him out of the car as soon as it was safe. Whatever injuries the boy had needed to be cleaned and I didn't want to do this in the enclosed space of my car. After all, I'd never met the kid.
"Oh," the boy replied, as though I had confused him. Him and me both.
Finally, we pulled into our destination, a gas station just off the Martin overpass. I stopped the car next to the phone booths, where the overhead light fell in a yellow swath through the window, casting the boy in sepia tones. I killed the engine and leaned back in my seat, drawing my gun as I did so and putting it between my leg and the door, hidden from the boy's view. He didn't seem to notice; he was staring at his hands. There was either dirt or blood rubbed into his fingers.
"My name's Anita," I said softly. The boy turned his head, slowly, like he was caught in a dream. After the hour he'd just had, it was probably more like a nightmare.
"What's going to happen to me?" he asked. He didn't sound scared, like I would expect from someone who had just been clawed by a werewolf. He sounded resigned, like this sort of stuff was old hat. It made me frown, and I put my thumb on the safety of my gun. Just in case.
"We should clean up those wounds of yours, then get you home." I undid my seatbelt with my free right hand and wormed the belt over my left hand, gun and all, without exposing the Browning.
"Home," he said under his breath, to himself. I heard him draw a breath, and he straightened his back, turned to look at me full on. "How did you know I was hurt?" he asked, apprehension in every movement. The outside light fell across his face, highlighting an old scar on his forehead.
I sighed. I'd had enough of this. I opened my door and slid out of the car sideways, then walked around to the back to get the first-aid kit Micah had bought me, the one with lots of odds and ends to clean up cuts and claw marks. Funny how often I used it these days. I tucked the gun into the back of my jeans so I could have both hands free, hoping that no one in the gas station saw it. People had a tendency to call the cops when they saw someone with a gun.
First-aid kit in hand, I rounded the car. The kid was still belted into the passenger seat. I opened the door. "Would you like me to take you to an emergency room instead?" I asked. If he said yes, I'd do it and wash my hands of the kid, but having it on your medical record that you've been clawed up by a lycanthrope made life difficult, especially for international visitors. There had been a case a few months ago in California where a tourist from Russia had been clawed up by a werewolf and it had made the papers, causing quite the international incident. The Russians didn't want him back and the American government kept trying to deport him. Last I heard, he was still in L.A., waiting for the debacle to be sorted out.
The boy must have been thinking along similar lines, for he shook his head. He licked his lips and started to speak, then stopped, swallowed, and tried again. "It's my shoulder. The right one."
I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. It took a bit more waiting, but he eventually undid the seatbelt and moved around enough for me to see the wound. Three claw marks rode up and over his shoulder, and from the angle of the wounds, I knew it must have been Richard's hand that had injured the boy, not the fully formed wolf that had jumped the kid. Shit.
I kept that cheery thought to myself. "Would you like me to clean that up, or do you want to do it?" I started to put on a pair of latex gloves before he answered.
"Maybe you ought to do it," the boy said. "I might miss something." It sounded as though it had cost the boy something to make an admission that he needed help. It made me knock a few more months off my estimate of his age.
"This is going to hurt," I warned him as I moved him around to face away from me. If he hit out, I wanted it aimed away from the general direction of my torso.
"It usually does," he replied. An interesting way of looking at things. I picked up the spray sanitizer and a gauze pad. When I sprayed the liquid onto his shoulder, he hissed and tensed, but didn't punch or swear. It took me a good ten minutes to clean the more obvious bits of dirt and fabric out of the wound. A small pile of bloody gauze pads lay on the floor of the Jeep when I was done, but the kid's shoulder was patched up and covered against the air. None of the wounds were deep enough to need stitches, but that wasn't the danger. No, the danger had been festering since Richard's claws bit into his skin.
I took the pile of bloody fabric, wrapped it in a plastic bag from under the seat and walked it over to a trash can, leaving the boy to collect himself. On the way back to the car, I put the gun back up into my holster. No matter what they do in movies, it is never comfortable to have a gun anywhere on your person unless it's holstered, and even then it's open for interpretation.
I got back into the driver's seat. "Now what?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Do I take you home? Someone must be worried about you," I said, frowning. The boy closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the seat rest.
"What, you have a late curfew? Mom and Dad not going to worry until midnight or something?" I asked. I was in no mood to deal with the typical teenage angst right now.
He squared his shoulders and barely winced against the pain. He stared out the windshield, very careful not to look at me. "My parents are dead. My guardians... they won't worry."
Okay, maybe different from the typical teen angst. "Do you have somewhere I can drop you?"
A ghost of a smile crossed his lips. "If you're going past the Central Hotel, then you can leave me there, if we'd be there before eleven."
"Hotels don't have a curfew, kid," I said as I started the Jeep. "What, your guardians won't let you in after eleven?" I said it as a joke, but he didn't take it as one.
"As a matter of fact, yes," he said, starting to show a bit of anger in his voice. "Look, thank you very much for saving me from the w... the woods, and helping me and all that, but if we can't get to the hotel by eleven, then just drop me somewhere and carry on with your evening." He glared at me, eyes blazing, as if daring me to kick him out of the car. His attitude made me think that he'd been kicked often, if not literally then figuratively.
I looked back at him steadily, one hand on the gearshift and one on the wheel. I wondered why he had faltered on saying werewolf. I also wondered what kind of relationship he had with his guardians that they told him they'd leave him outside for the night. It was 10:48, and there was no way I could get to the hotel by eleven; it was across town. And hey, if I had been clawed up by a were-anything when I was a teenager, I might not have wanted to go home either.
"Are you hungry?" I asked. He hesitated, then nodded, lips pressed together. "Okay, I know this all-night diner. Do you want to go get something? We can hang out for a bit, talk." I really had no idea what possessed me.
Okay, yes I did. I was feeling guilty. Because Richard had infected the kid, maybe, and I knew it was going to eat him up alive tomorrow. The kid also reminded me a bit of my brother Josh. Josh couldn't be more than a year older than this kid.
"Yeah, that sounds good," the boy said, quietly. I put the car in gear and got back onto the freeway. "And I'm not a kid," came out, quietly, as I merged into traffic. I smiled.