Josh bursts into the room, rush of crisp night air and dead leaves on his heels. He’s breathing hard, unzipping his hoodie with one hand and stashing his pack with the other, all while yelling something about saving the television. It takes Aidan’s brain a split second to catch up with the improbable picture. His limbs take a moment longer: Josh. Here. Tonight.
“How long do we have?” he asks, leaping up from the couch, adrenaline-wired and ready to move, voice harsh in his own ears.
“Minutes.” Josh’s nostrils flare. The coming transformation wracks his body, and he catches himself against the back of the couch.
Aidan is tearing plugs from the TV set as the hair rises on the back of his neck. The air is charged with full-moon light, and he can almost feel it coming, too, arcing across the room from the heavens to Josh. Aidan swallows the memories of anticipation, of waiting with Bishop and the others, crouched in the darkness before the wolf hunt, of the kill and the wild celebration, the things he can never let Josh know he knows. Josh barks orders as he bolts upstairs two at a time; to turn up the music, to save what they can and get out, and Aidan doesn’t need to be told twice. He’s setting the television on the front stoop when he hears Josh careen into the wall. He goes back in.
Josh reaches the landing, shirt off in a heap on the floor, fine scars lace across his shoulder and chest. Sally is saying something about staying to watch and—Aidan is pretty sure that’s a very bad idea—Josh stumbles down the last few steps, pressing a polished oak box into Aidan’s hands.
He looks up at Aidan and, beneath the rising pain, his fear is all too familiarly human. “If it gets out—if I get out—“ he says. He doesn’t have to add that the window panes are only a half inch of glass between a werewolf and the population of greater Boston.
Now Aidan knows what’s in the box. He nods silently.
“You have to do it.”
He nods again. It makes sense now, Josh coming back here to their twisted frat-house life rather than staying with the family that would’ve tried to love him, the family who could never do what Josh was asking of Aidan. It wasn’t fear that they would let him out, that they wouldn’t understand, it was the knowledge that he couldn’t trust them with this.
Josh is barely staying upright as he struggles out of his jeans.
“Are you sure?” Aidan asks Sally one more time, but he means it for Josh, too.
She is. So is he.
And as Aidan locks the door, Josh’s aborted screams echo behind him.
There’s a whisper of evening breeze as Sally materializes beside him, flinching from the attack that never hit its mark. Her eyes are wide, haunted as a kid marching into battle for the first time, a look that makes Aidan ache inside. He wants to touch her, to do something, to tell her it’s going to be okay. Instead he stands silently, listening and leaning against the wall.
“I never imagined,” she begins, and Aidan can hear the tremor in her voice. “I never imagined it happened like that.”
How exactly, he wonders, did she imagine that a hundred sixty pounds of skinny med student became a primeval monster? And he’s struck again by how innocent and young she really is, that she’s probably never seen anything like a human becoming a werewolf before. Muscle and bone can only bend so far before they stretch and twist and break, knit together with agonizing and inhuman speed into something else entirely. He wonders whether it’s a blessing or a curse that Josh holds on to consciousness through so much of it—before that, too, is ripped away--“Every four weeks, for the rest of his life,” he mutters.
It’s a curse, and the moon a fulcrum around which it revolves.
“Have you… seen it. Before?” Sally still won’t make eye contact.
Aidan nods. “Yeah.” Memories surface of dark forests, the smell of summer breezes, of moss and ferns and blood on the forest floor, of Bishop’s instructions; stay downwind. Hide until the change is complete. Then, go hunt. Have fun. There were more werewolves then, dirty men and women living on the fringes of a society that strived for some ideal of civilization. The oldest trees still stood in the forest, and the world was a wilder place. “The room in the hospital has a bit of glass in the door,” he says, leaving out the rest. It was, after all, the first time he’d seen Josh change, staring out with soulful eyes, thankful to Aidan for saving his sister as the moon tore his body apart.
Sally shivers. “I couldn’t go that night,” she says.
“I know.” Aidan tries to smile reassuringly. Inside the house, the sound of carnage has been replaced by soft whuffling as the wolf scents out its vanished prey. Aidan sits on the top step and pulls his jacket on. It’s going to be a long night.
Sally sits beside him, not quite touching but close enough to create the illusion of comfort. “What did he give you?” She asks, staring at the box in his lap.
Aidan picks it up and turns it around thoughtfully. The wood is worn to a well-waxed sheen. There are no markings on the outside, just a light, brass clasp and hinges. He looks hard at Sally, wondering if she really needs to know, then figures ‘what the hell,’ and pops it open anyway.
The weapon is old, grip made of polished wood inlaid with silver and steel. The barrel is smooth and precise. He lifts it from the velvet casing. It’s well-balanced, beautiful but simple, clean and oiled with Josh’s typical attention to detail. Aidan marvels inwardly at the care taken to maintain a weapon whose sole purpose is to destroy its owner. He catches the faintly lingering scent of gunpowder and wonders when it was last fired, at whom. He wonders where Josh found it, when he decided such steps were necessary.
Beside the gun are six silver bullets. Aidan slips one into the chamber, flips it closed with practiced ease and clicks the safety off.
Sally has gone completely still. “What,” she asks, staring at the pistol in his hands, “is that for?”
“It’s a gun.”
“Yeah, I get that. What’s it doing here? None of you are exactly card-carrying members of the NRA.”
Aidan shrugs. “There’s not a lot that will bring down a rampaging werewolf on the move.” He runs a hand over the weapon, then, frowning, flips a bullet in the air, watching the shimmer of reflected moonlight as it spins, catches it again. “Silver bullets? They will.”
“’They will what? You can’t. There’s no way you would use that On. Your. Friend. You remember Josh? The guy who’s running around trapped in there?”
Aidan doesn’t reply.
“Oh my god,” She says, standing and backing away from him. “You would. You’ve done it before.”
“We—vampires, I mean—we’re strong, but tonight, I’m no match for him alone.” Aidan tucks the pistol into the waistband of his jeans, only slightly appalled at how easily it fits and how right it feels. “It takes maybe four, three if we’re very old, to bring down a wolf under the full moon.” He’s talking to Sally, but his thoughts are a million miles—and years—away. “We used to use silver knives, swords for those who were proficient with them. We’d find a den and wait, watch them. I could say it was to balance the scales, to make the world safer for people, even as we made it that much more dangerous. But that isn’t true. It was a way to pass the time. It was sport. Even though guns were easier and easier to find, silver bullets simple enough to have made—if you had the money and connections we did—most still… preferred… prefer fighting with knives. When the feuding was worst, we all used to be armed with these instead.” He touches the pistol lightly. “Even alone, all we needed was one clean shot.”
He doesn’t look at Sally, doesn’t want to see the disappointment on her face.
“You can never tell Josh,” he says. He doesn’t add that he was always a very good shot.
“What would I tell him, anyway?” She asks, resigned. “’Hey, Josh, you know your roommate used to slaughter people like you? For fun?’”
“I used to slaughter people like you were, too.” Aidan replies quietly.
She’s silent for a while. She doesn’t sit close, but she doesn’t move away again, either. Suddenly she looks up. “But you wouldn’t do Josh, right? Because I couldn’t—“
He shakes his head. “Of course not,” he says, “But if he was to get out, to get loose on these streets, what do you think he’d want me to do?” Aidan waves his hands in the air and hopes he doesn’t sound quite as helpless as he feels. “Why do you think he gave me this?”
Sally shakes her head. “He had a contingency plan,” she says softly. “You’re his contingency plan.”
Aidan shrugs. He wonders if Josh is as oblivious to his past as he seems.
She thinks for a moment. Then she smiles brightly. “Well, we’ll just have to prevent that from ever happening, right?”
Her innocence and optimism is catching. He half-grins in reply. “Yeah, I guess we will.”
The wolf starts to whimper and whine around six in the morning. There’s a grey haze over the city streets, and a line of pink along the horizon. Sally appears outside again, having slipped in whenever it became too restless, too close to the windows or doors, to lead it on a wild ghost chase through the house.
The floors will never be the same again, but Josh is inside. Safe.
And morning is finally arrived.
“Every four weeks?” she asks, breathless.
“Remind me to tell him to work on his timing.”
He almost smiles. Inside, the high-pitched keening evolves into soft, too-human moans. Aidan listens for the last split and creak of ribs and long-bones settling into place before he ventures to unlock the door.
“Is he--?” Sally asks.
“More or less himself,” Aidan tells her. “More or less okay.”
“How much less?” She asks, and he can tell, though she’s trying to play it cool, that last night left her a little spooked—no pun intended.
“He usually sleeps it off for a few hours. Maybe you two should talk then?”
Sally nods and waits outside as he opens the door.
Inside, the house is a wasteland of toppled bookshelves and furniture. Deep gouges line the walls and floor, and broken glass crunches underfoot. In the middle of the mess, Josh is curled on his side, bare naked and shivering slightly.
Aidan approaches cautiously. He learned early in their friendship never to take a sleeping werewolf by surprise and has the scars on a finger to prove it.
“Josh,” he whispers. “Hey Josh.”
He nudges Josh’s back with a toe.
“Whadya—“ Josh mumbles sleepily. He rolls over, and blearily opens his eyes, muscles tense, then relax as he recognizes Aidan. “-chya doing here so soon?”
“I was outside all night, remember?” Aidan flips the couch upright for them to sit on. “Worse than being sexiled, I swear.”
Josh smiles slowly, levering himself up onto its cushions, gritting his teeth with every movement, like he’s rediscovering the edges of his body and not entirely sure he likes what he’s found. Wordlessly, he takes the Advil and glass of water Aidan offers, then wraps himself in the blanket that managed to stay on the back of the couch.
Next, Aidan hands him the box.
Josh raises an eyebrow. “Didn’t have to use it, then?” he says, voice hoarse.
“No. And you have Sally to thank for that,” Aidan tells him. He’s quiet for a moment. “You really think I would do it?” he finally asks.
Josh looks him in the eye and nods. He takes Aidan’s hand. “’m counting on it,” he says slowly. The post-transformation grogginess has set in, and it looks like all he can do to keep his eyes open. His hand is warm, sending a thrill of life, relief to Aidan’s core. His speech is lightly slurred. “Onlyone who understands.” He closes his eyes. “Thnkyu,” he mumbles, “Thnk Slly, too.” And he falls asleep, innocent-looking box resting on his lap.
Aidan stands and takes a last look around the room. He feels more alive than he has in a long time. He has friends and purpose; they made it ‘til morning and the mess can wait. For the first time in a long time, the feeling has nothing whatsoever to do with blood. He throws on his jacket and steps outside, thrilling in the morning and the fresh breeze. Sally falls in step with him, and for just a moment, he thinks they’re all going to be alright.