The first sighting is a few towns south of Colorado. Bliss has honestly forgotten which town this patch of the woods belongs to. It's the first expedition of the journey, the solo reckless one that Pash always complains about and Bliss goes on anyway; she gets a better measure of the scope of their search on foot than she does on a map.
The werewolf thing—okay, Bliss has never actually seen a werewolf. She's not sure what the ratio of pent-up animal aggressiveness to consciousness is, and she's only bought into their potential existence because, after years of hunting down demons and monsters and that one vampire and oh, let's not forget, the wendigo that nearly tore Bliss's face in half—there's still a scar down the side of her jaw to prove it—there's little Bliss isn't willing to believe. Perks of the job or whatever.
What she sees is pretty vague, just someone kind of hairy running really fast before they stop out of her line of vision. She walks quietly around some trees, hoping to get a better view, and when she does the—creature in question is clawing at a tree trunk, muffled screaming turning to howling, some kind of oversized wolf.
Pash would be better at this, distinguishing "oversized wolf" from "wolf a human just turned into." Either way, the wolf's holding back, and Bliss doesn't need to be told twice to get the fuck out of there. She fingers the gun in the back of her jeans as she walks out of the woods, ready to pull it out if need be, but she gets to the car safe and sound.
They're staying at a motel some miles down the road, the one big road going straight through town. They're hoping to get some stories from the locals on top of the string of articles Pash pulled off her last Internet search. It's a strange way to go about any business, dicking around online, waiting for something freaky to pop up, but it works better than proxy ads and more profitably than word of mouth.
The motel and adjacent diner are run by a beautiful blonde by the name of Eva, granddaughter of the original owner. She seems a little bitter, a little resigned, a little too accepting of strange company. Must get boring, hanging out all by yourself in that town, Pash tells her, completely straight-faced, because she still sucks at flirting—or telling when someone is flirting with her. It may or may not have something to do with the fact that Pash is only into girls when she's drunk or the girl in question looks like either Zoe Saldana or Mila Kunis.
Someone snorts from the corner of the diner, and Bliss lets her gaze roll to them, drop with as much judgment as she can manage. You do not mess with Pash. You do not mess with Pash unless your name is Bliss Cavendar and you're willing to take as good as you give.
The offending sound comes from a woman in a leather jacket and torn-up jeans, mid thirties by Bliss's calculation, her face stretched with a few early wrinkles. The rest of Bliss's profiling, which she does on the spot every time she meets someone, goes like this: Caucasian, comfortably exhausted—used to late nights. Wrist is bandaged; must practice some sport.
"Eva's still pissed she lost the last skating contest," the woman in the corner says. "She usually likes this town just fine."
Eva lifts her head and offers a wolfish—no, not that kind of wolfish, definitely not—grin. "She really doesn't," Eva says sharply, and the woman in the corners shakes her head, but there's a brief smile hiding there. Exes, then. Like the rest of Bliss's profiling, it's hard to tell whether it will relevant.
"You guys skate?" Bliss says, sitting down on a stray chair near the woman's table.
"It's kind of this town's past time," the woman says, her voice softer in volume now that Eva's engaged with some customer and Pash is engaged with the daily local newspaper. She still speaks like something's offending her, but it's not as obvious that it's the person she's speaking to. Rough childhood, Bliss thinks, and holds back a chuckle; she can't believe this is the kind of running joke that's come out of Pash's obsession with reading psychology journals. Bliss feels bad for not feeling bad about it. "You got skates?"
"Not with me, no," Bliss says.
"I'll let you borrow some," the woman says. She wipes her hand on the front of her jeans and almost holds it out for Bliss to shake, but then she just says, "Maven."
Bliss nods in acknowledgment, and makes the split-second decision between using her real name or one of the fakes. She's pretty sure Pash registered them at the motel as Anna and Selene Valerious, but that seems a little on the nose for an introduction. "I'm Bliss."
"You don't look very blissful," Maven says, giving Bliss a once-over. It's—Bliss has heard that a million times, but for some reason the way Maven's looking at her makes her feel a little flushed.
"You're not very original," Bliss says anyway. That recycled line. Would be nice if she never had to say it again, but that would mean never introducing herself to anyone, which would require her to stop traveling. Bliss has seen too much and done enough to feel committed to the cause. Even the thought of retiring from hunting makes her feel guilty. Besides, she knows she'd miss it. And there's no telling how many of her illegalities have made it into her police record. Settling down looks like a nice pipe dream sometimes, but she's not settling down in prison.
Maven cocks her head, her lids drooping. Bliss's mouth feels a little dry. "I'll show you around," Maven says, getting up.
"I don't need a guide," Bliss points out, fighting the urge to stand as well.
Maven turns around, gives her a sharp look. "But you want one," she says, and lets it sink in until Bliss blinks and shrugs.
"Yeah, sure," Bliss says, "why the hell not," and watches Maven strut out of the diner before she follows her.
Maven isn't kidding when she says skating is a thing in town: there's a stage set-up in the town square that Bliss assumed was for some kind of pageant or event. It is for an event, but the event is a series of skating "fights." There's a bracket and everything, mini March Madness style, and a team exhibition by the "Holy Rollers."
"That would be me," Maven says. "I hate competing. There's too many rules. Crash into someone, you're out, what the hell is that?" She grimaces like fair play is the invention of some cracked-out Republican, and Bliss finds herself smiling.
They met early in the evening, when Maven got off work. It's nightfall when they reach her apartment, a few stars already visible in the dark sky. Maven finds a few pairs of old skates, but it turns out Bliss's feet are a little too big for anything Maven would be comfortable in. She leaves Bliss in the living room while she goes to change, take a shower if Bliss doesn't mind, which Bliss doesn't, not really. The first thing that catches her eye is a lunar calendar on the wall; it looks hand-drawn, really beautiful, and Bliss checks it into her mental database as a possible clue that skating is not the only "thing" in this town. If they're all wolves, or they're all aware of wolves. A crescent moon is circled with a blue sharpie—last night.
Of course, maybe it's just some folklore tradition passed on from generation to generation. Wouldn't be the first time Bliss and Pash saunter into a random town in search of supernatural evils to destroy and arrive at that conclusion.
Maven comes out with a towel wrapped around herself and another in her hand, drying off her hair, and Bliss's mouth goes dry. Maven narrows her eyes at her, just for a moment, before asking if she wants anything.
"You shouldn't cook without clothes on," Bliss blurts out. "I mean, kitchens. Dangerous objects. Burning oil and all that."
"I appreciate the concern," Maven says with a smirk, and drops the towel in her hand on the floor by the couch. Bliss swallows. "Here," Maven says, holding out her hand, and Bliss tilts her head; it seems a little too late for handshakes, unless—unless Maven's hinting that Bliss should leave already.
Bliss stays still, not even noticing she didn't take Maven's hand until she feels it on the side of her face, pulling her into a kiss Bliss can't quite describe—it's a little dry, sort of open-mouthed, not passionate but not slow, either. Like a hello, maybe, harmless, except it's not long before Maven walks them back to the couch and drags Bliss down with her, both hands on Bliss's waist now, Maven's towel barely holding up over her chest. It becomes rougher then, deeper and wetter. Maven's hands are strong and grip tightly, and she's hot, hot all over, so much that Bliss starts sweating, takes off her top just to feel a hint of coolness. Maven's towel gets lost on the way to the bedroom, Maven holding Bliss up with an ease Bliss wasn't aware anyone was capable of, short of creatures with super-strength, and oh, fuck, she's not actually fucking a werewolf, is she?
She doesn't make a conscious decision to say it out loud, but out loud it comes, and Maven pulls back, standing at the foot of the bed while Bliss falls back on her elbows in Maven's bed.
"You know," Maven says, half a question and half a statement. Bliss sure hopes Maven's not the kind of werewolf who can transform whenever she sees fit, or worse, by accident in a fit of rage. That would be bad. That would be bad.
"Yeah, I mean, I'm kind of in the business," Bliss says stupidly, and a corner of Maven's mouth quirks up. Bliss feels the mattress dip before she sees Maven climb onto it on her knees.
"There's a business?" Maven says, undoing Bliss's jeans, her eyes hot and firm on Bliss's face. Bliss feels her cheeks flush, her stomach flush.
"It's—I—Pash and I, we hunt, we hunt things," Bliss says, "not all the things! The, the things that hurt people."
Maven's next smile is long and wide, even wider when gets Bliss's pants and underwear off her feet. She says, "Well, then we shouldn't have a problem, officer."
"I'm not," Bliss starts, and stops because Maven bites her thigh and it's kind of hard to concentrate with someone kissing their way up to your cunt.
"I haven't hurt anyone," Maven says, her voice low, like this is dirty talk instead of an explanation. She lifts one of Bliss's knees over her shoulder. Fuck, Bliss really hopes this isn't some kind of messed-up build-up to wolfing out. She swallows again, tries to lick the dryness of her lips. "I'm conscious, when I turn. There's a drug, Eva makes it," she goes on, "puts it in my morning coffee," and licks a line up to Bliss's clit. Bliss shudders.
"But those articles—"
Bliss is pretty sure Maven has no clue what Bliss is talking about, but Maven works two fingers into her, mouth breaking away just long enough to say, "That was before the mayor got bitten. Twenty years ago. It's just not that fun to wolf out. Kid couldn't handle it."
There's something about her tone—the dripping derision, like it's super fucked up no one did anything about the issue before that, which Bliss can agree with—that makes Bliss want to believe her. It's either that or the way Maven's working her clit with her tongue, her eyes closing every few seconds like she's enjoying eating Bliss out too much to keep them open. She groans consistently, too, the sounds vibrating through Bliss, and it takes Bliss a pathetically short time to come. Pathetic.
And she couldn't care less, not when Maven resurfaces and straddles her hips and kisses her with Bliss's taste still in her mouth. Maven bites at her lips and her hips thrust erratically against Bliss, and she's even hotter than before, her skin burning, enough that Bliss feels the need to ask if she has a fever, all the while pinching her nipples, swallowing Maven's moans.
"Wolf thing," Maven says, and grips one of Bliss's wrists, drags it down between her legs, where she's wetter than possibly anyone Bliss has ever been with. Than Bliss has ever been. "That's a wolf thing, too," Maven says, smirking openly, and bites the surprise off Bliss's open lips.
Pash enters the town into her database, files it under "shapeshifters" and "presently harmless" and "no kills." In the description, she wrote, Werewolves retain human consciousness during transformation; lunar cycle affects mood and willingness to transform, doesn't force transformation; diner consensually drugs wolves' breakfast. Bliss smiles at that, and moves on to the journal section, where the entry for three days ago says Bliss sleeps with werewolf. Comes back in a daze. Third time this has happened.
At that, Bliss raises an eyebrow. Then there's stats, some map thumbnails, and likelihood of follow-up visit: "80%, booty call," which Pash didn't tell Bliss she'd written when she was updating the file and which Bliss erases in outrage. Not that it will do much; Pash has three million back-ups of these things.
They're back on the road the next morning, no mushy goodbyes beyond Bliss's walk through the woods with Maven last night, intended to drive her nuts by telling her nothing about her habits. "Oh, like I care," Bliss told her, "I'm a hunter, not a researcher," which drew a long laugh out of Maven. Then, Maven pushed her against a tree and they made out until Bliss got tired of the scratching on her back where her shirt rode up.
And then they went skating.
As farewells go, not a bad one.
"Are you going to miss her?" Pash asks when they're finally in Colorado, driving to Denver for an actual call Pash got from a friend of a friend.
"At this point, I'm not sure I know how to miss people," Bliss says conversationally, her knee drawn up on the seat and an elbow on the window.
Pash nods, because she knows the exact extent to which what Bliss said is true—and it is, more than a little bit—but she doesn't push it. They have a job to do.