There’s two methods to changing schools. Victoria has developed them both to a fine art by now; God knows she’s had enough practice.
Method number one involves her going in with her best smile (rehearsed in front of a mirror until it started looking friendly instead of hungry) and a pretty dress and listening intently to everything everyone says to her as they show her around to her assigned classes. This method gets her friends for about three weeks until the pheromones she exudes makes them all uncomfortable without knowing why, and she just becomes known as that girl with the scar.
She changes stories for every school too. Not out of necessity; but telling the same imaginary tale of a dog attack gets boring very quickly. As long as her left arm winds up mangled at the end, it doesn’t really matter what she says beforehand.
Method number two involves not bothering to have friends in the first place, dressing in black and glowering through her bangs, letting people label her as emo or weird immediately.
Either way, she ends up as a social outcast. Not that she cares. Whatever happens, Victoria knows her mom will be ready to move on far too soon. It’s always been that way.
“Are you nervous?” Greta asks.
Victoria met Greta about eight cities ago – give or take – when she was still going through the rebellious phase (just for the record: she’s now in the self-pity phase. It’s quieter, if nothing else) where she slunk out at night and snarled at people. They haven’t seen each other in years, but their midnight phone calls are one of the only things holding Victoria together by now.
“No,” she replies. “What’s the point?”
Greta’s laugh is soft and light; it’s completely at odds with who she is, but Victoria has always liked that about her. Greta is all golden curls and happy smiles and floaty dresses; forever doing the unexpected.
“Maybe you should just tell people you’re a werewolf,” Greta suggests. “Twilight mania and everything. You’d probably have a whole host of hysterical girlfriends.”
Victoria sighs, curling her fingers into her palms. “Don’t even talk to me about Twilight. They’ve convinced the world that all werewolves are these weird shirtless jailbait Ken dolls.”
“Taylor Lautner isn’t jailbait anymore,” Greta replies, like that’s the important part of the conversation. Her tone turns very, very innocent. “And maybe if you turned up to school shirtless you’d make more friends.”
“Ha fucking ha,” Victoria says flatly.
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” Greta tells her. “We’re supposed to sparkle. Pete shows up to school every day drenched in body glitter. It’s getting disturbing.”
“At least you go to school with people like you,” Victoria protests, trying her best not to sound like she’s whining.
“You can go out in daylight,” Greta points out. “We don’t have a whole lot of choice.”
“You’re lucky,” Victoria tells her darkly, but doesn’t bother arguing. She’s starting to get tired, eyelids drooping. When she glances at her alarm clock on her nightstand, the time has magically become 3 a.m.
“Don’t you have school in the morning?” Greta asks, giggles interspersed with the words.
Victoria lets her head drop back against her bedroom wall, groaning. “Don’t remind me.”
Homeroom is its usual blend of chattering teenagers and the obnoxious smell of cheap aftershave and perfumes sold to girls with the apparent sole purpose of making them smell like French whorehouses. Victoria picks at her cuticles and tries to ignore the splitting headache building behind her eyes; she’ll get used to it in the end, the way she always does. She closes her eyes; the room is a complicated mismatch of acid yellow and lurid pink, the colours of normal teenagers.
She almost laughs aloud. Here she is, in a room of normal teenagers, chewing gum and using facebook on their iPhones and flirting, and Victoria is just sitting here smelling in technicolor. No wonder she never fits in anywhere.
Victoria glances around as the teacher calls for quiet; it’s method two today, so her bangs are in her eyes and she’s wearing a little too much liquid eyeliner. She’ll just look unapproachable until her mom decides it’s time to move on again, it’ll be fine. The room has a mixture of popular-looking shiny-haired girls and jocks sitting around smirking at each other, and a few kids sitting around the edges staring at books or into space, clearly as enthusiastic about being here as she is. She turns her attention back to her desk, unconsciously tracing letters carved into the surface.
After a while, she becomes aware that someone’s standing beside her desk, staring down at her. She glances quickly around and finds that everyone else is packing up; she clearly zoned out. Victoria looks up into the steady-eyed gaze of a boy who is somehow managing to wear more eyeliner than her. She’s been to a lot of schools, she’s seen her fair share of emo kids and goth kids and scene kids and she’s pretty sure that this guy still wins the prize for wearing the most eyeliner ever. For one thing, it’s escaped his eyes to swirl elaborately down one cheekbone, sharp and black against his skin.
“I’m Ryan Ross,” he practically mutters, voice almost entirely without inflection. Victoria decides she’ll have to take notes and try and emulate this at the next school she ends up at; it pretty much radiates the sentiment leave me the fuck alone. “I have to show you around and whatever.”
“Right,” Victoria says, resisting the urge to tell him that he doesn’t have to. She’d automatically assume that he didn’t want to help her out, but the skinny jeans sliding low on his hips kind of imply that he really doesn’t care about anything. Besides, he doesn’t smell reluctant, just bored. “Ok.”
She follows him down the hall, gaze skimming over the noticeboards that make this school look every bit as perky, peppy and High School Musical-esque as the others she’s been forced to attend (and ok, maybe Greta made Victoria watch that with her down the phone one night, but she’ll never admit to it). Even in the crowds of students, it’s easy to follow Ryan’s scent; while he smells the same blend of acid yellow and bubblegum pink as all other teenagers, there’s a strand of unfamiliar light blue that Victoria’s never smelled before. It’s weird, and more than once she has to stop herself from asking him about it. It’s not like he’ll know, anyway.
The morning’s lessons pass by in the usual blur of not being familiar with the classrooms or the teachers, having no lab partner in biology, and being led from class to class by Ryan, who tosses out casual comments about the school in that same low, flat voice so, even with her superhuman hearing, she can barely catch them above the chattering noise.
Lunchtime is always the tricky time in the first few weeks. It’s like that scene in Mean Girls – another film Greta made her watch; no wonder she has such a warped view of what schools are like – with all the cliques with their assigned tables, friends clustered together leaving no spaces for the awkward new kids. Victoria ate lunch alone at her previous school and at the one before that, so it’s not like she’s looking for company or anything, but there’s still that awkward clench in the pit of her stomach as she clutches her tray and gazes bleakly around, trying to spot an empty table she can head towards.
Ryan Ross is eating lunch with a lanky boy who smells vividly blue all over – she wishes she knew what that means – and a few other kids who smell entirely normal. She looks away quickly before she can catch his eye, because it’s not like she knows a lot about Ryan, but she can guess that he’ll offer to let her join them, and she hates pity. She’s had enough of it in the past and it smells dark green and it drives her mad. Victoria finds an empty table in a corner and heads purposefully towards it, putting her tray down and letting her bag drop down beside her chair.
She’s about halfway through her lunch when an arm drapes around her shoulders and a guy practically falls into the seat beside her.
“Hello new girl,” he says brightly, smiling in a way that’s wide and unnerving. The smell of aftershave lingering around him is almost overwhelming, pink and thick. “I’m here to show you around.”
“No, you’re not,” Victoria says before she can stop herself, “Ryan’s doing that.”
The guy waves a piece of paper at her with Victoria Asher: timetable printed on the top; the same piece of paper Victoria’s pretty sure that Ryan had on him earlier. She glances at the rest of the cafeteria and manages to catch Ryan’s eye; he shrugs at her in a way that looks kind of guilty, a what can you do? expression crossing his face.
“Ross is cool,” the guy informs her. He shifts back a little but doesn’t remove his arm from around her shoulders. He twists around, waving at someone else, yelling: “over here, Suarez!”
Almost before she knows it, Victoria’s table is suddenly full of guys. This is definitely not normal. She’s been to about a dozen schools and this has never, ever happened before.
“Um,” she says, “um, seriously, what?”
“You’re freaking her out,” the boy she’s tentatively labelled as Suarez says.
“I am not freaking her out,” the guy still draped over Victoria protests, “I am charming her.” He turns to face her, face pressed unnervingly close. “I am, right?”
Victoria has no plans for this situation. This was not something she ever thought she’d have to plan for. “You’re freaking me out a bit,” she admits.
Suarez grins, wicked and wide, and the guy next to Victoria sighs. “I’m wounded,” he says. “I mean, really wounded. Why aren’t I charming?” he adds.
Victoria blinks hopelessly at him. She’s so bemused by this situation that she can’t even smell properly; the cafeteria is made up of hundreds of criss-crossed lines of emotions and food products and teenagers, and she can’t pinpoint any of them.
“You have crazy eyes,” another one of the guys says. “Kind of interferes with the charm.”
“Fuck you,” he snaps, tightening his arm around Victoria. She doesn’t pull away; she knows she can break his fingers if he tries anything. “You know nothing about charm. You live in my basement.”
“Who are you all?” she asks, helpless.
“Oh Gabe,” a boy with dark hair sighs, “you didn’t even introduce yourself, did you? You just jumped on her and hoped for the best.”
“It’s always worked for me in the past,” Gabe says, shifting closer again like now Victoria knows his name it’s ok to go back to invading her space.
“That’s because you are not a gentleman,” the boy snaps back, before turning a blinding smile on Victoria. “I’m Ryland. This is Alex-” Suarez winks at her “-and the tiny one is Nate.”
“Hey!” Nate protests, though it’s clear he is the tiny one.
“Right,” Victoria says faintly.
The guys go back to discussing classes and friends, laughter batting back and forth across the table, and she sits there with Gabe’s arm around her shoulders and has no idea what to say.
“Why are you complaining about this?” Greta asks. Her voice is slightly distracted; apparently she’s painting her fingernails (“Not blood red, Victoria, I’m not that much of a cliché”). “You have friends. This is generally regarded as, you know, a good thing.”
It is a good thing. Victoria knows this. “I guess I’m just not used to it,” she sighs.
“Oh, your poor emo werewolf pain,” Greta says with fake sympathy because she looks angelic but she’s totally a bitch. Or something. “Guys want to hang out with you. Oh no!”
Victoria sighs, because she knows how this sounds. Still, after years and years of changing schools and only getting one friend out of the whole thing – who just happens to be a vampire – she figures she’s allowed to be disconcerted by people actually liking her. And they do seem to; they hang out with her during school and drag her off to the mall afterwards, they help her with her homework and send her nonsensical texts in the middle of the night. It’s strange and disconcerting and also? Awesome.
“I guess I’ll just never roll up my sleeves again and maybe I’ll get away with it,” she decides aloud.
“Sweetie-” Greta begins.
“The scar freaks people out!” Victoria protests. “You know this.” Greta says nothing, which Victoria takes as her assent. “Anyway,” she sighs, “what’s going on with you?”
Greta hums for a moment, and then offers: “Pete’s dating a human.”
“Huh,” Victoria says. She’s never actually met Pete – or seen a picture of him, because vampires can’t be captured in photographs – but she’s heard a lot about him. He sounds... interesting. “How’s that working out?”
Greta giggles. “Patrick just seems kind of confused by the whole thing. Possibly because Pete is still in his Apparently Vampires Should Sparkle So I Will Damn Well Sparkle phase. Between that and the eyeliner it’s kind of disturbing.”
“He should hang out with Ryan sometime,” Victoria hears herself saying. Ryan sits next to her in math and though they’re not exactly friends they bitch about algebra together. He still smells unusually blue – which doesn’t come from his friend, because none of his other friends have that particular strain of turquoise clinging to them – and he draws all over his face on a regular basis. She has no idea why the school hasn’t yelled at him about this yet.
Greta laughs and then makes a very strange sound. “What are you doing?” Victoria asks.
“Trying to blow on my nails to dry them,” Greta explains.
Victoria considers this. “You don’t breathe,” she points out.
“Yes,” Greta agrees sadly, “my life is so hard.”
“Hi,” Ryan’s Blue Friend says in second-period biology. He’s very tall – maybe even taller than Gabe, though she wouldn’t swear to it – and has a really great haircut that Victoria is jealous of. It has curls and volume that her hair can’t even dream of. It’s really fucking depressing, seeing as how she’s a werewolf and everything; she spends a day a month covered in actual fur, you’d think her hair would naturally be fabulous to match.
“Hi,” Victoria says carefully.
“I’m Bill,” he adds quickly. “And my lab partner, Brent, you know? He’s kind of been kicked out of school for not attending, you know, ever, so I figured I’d ask... you wanna be lab partners?”
No one has ever asked Victoria to be their lab partner before, but nothing about this school makes sense. “Sure,” she says, “what the hell.”
Bill grins and sits down beside her, momentarily enveloping her in his blue scent. It’s not a bad smell; there’s something sweet to it, an undercurrent of sour, but the whole thing is very light and clean, not smothering. Trying to figure it out might possibly drive her crazy.
When they’ve been given their assignments and cracked open their textbooks, Bill offers: “you’re friends with Gabe Saporta, right?”
“Yes,” she says, and tries not to get all sentimental about the fact she has friends. It won’t last. It never does.
Bill smiles, and it’s wide and sunny and pretty. Victoria is suddenly forcibly reminded of how being a weird loner has given her basically zero experience with boys, and looks quickly down at her work. If Bill notices, he doesn’t mention it.
“Gabe’s a good guy,” Bill says after a while. “He’s crazy, but he’s great. And he’ll never let you down, you know?”
Victoria has no idea why her new lab partner is apparently trying to sell her on her friend, and it seems like kind of a weird thing for him to be saying, but she just nods, managing: “you sound like you know him pretty well.”
“Yeah.” Bill laughs, like he’s in on a private joke. “We go way back.”
Victoria’s never seen them speak but then she has only known Gabe a week. She smiles in response, and then tries to concentrate on the plant diagram she’s copying out of the textbook. They work mostly in silence, which is fine, and the whole lesson goes by completely normally, except for the one moment when Victoria glances up and swears she can see the board through Bill’s head. When she blinks, his hair is in the way, and she has to lean back a little to copy her homework down. She figures she must have imagined it.
When she tells the guys at lunch that she’s Bill Beckett’s new lab partner, they all get expressions that are hard to read. Well, except Gabe, who is leaning heavily on Alex and eating most of his lunch for him, ignoring Alex’s frequent elbows to his ribs.
“Bill’s a great guy,” Gabe sighs, oblivious.
“He says the same thing about you,” Victoria tells him, and watches Nate stifle a snigger. “What?”
“Bill and Gabe have this whole Epic Love Affair thing going on,” Ryland explains, shit-eating grin in place. “They make Bella and Edward look like they just hooked up once at a party.”
Victoria sometimes feels like she’s being stalked by Twilight. She smirks anyway.
“You have no fucking idea what you’re talking about,” Gabe protests, liberating half of Alex’s sandwich and sitting back. “We’re souls entwined, that’s all.”
“Oh, right, ‘cause that doesn’t sound gay at all,” Nate says virtuously.
“I can kick you out of my damn basement,” Gabe tells him.
Nate shrugs. “I’ll tell your parents where you hide your porn down there.”
Victoria has heard several references to the basement but she’s still kind of lost. “You actually live in his basement?” she asks Nate.
He nods. “Yeah. My parents... well, they didn’t deal well with finding out... with stuff, anyway, and Gabe’s parents are awesome, so I’m staying with him until, you know. My parents stop being assholes.”
Nate is looking uncomfortable and Victoria decides not to push it. It’s enough of an answer anyway. She nods and carries on eating her apple (it’s just under a week until the moon, and the need to bite things is almost uncontrollable).
“‘Souls entwined’,” Alex mutters, glaring resentfully as Gabe finishes his sandwich, “who even says that?”
“You’re just jealous ‘cause you don’t have an awesome soulmate,” Gabe replies loftily. “Suck it up, dude.”
“Does Bill even have a soul?” Alex asks, and Victoria feels the mood shift, sees the way his eyes widen with realisation, oh shit trickling over his features. The others all glare at him.
“Bill has magic in his hair,” Gabe says, like this ends the argument. “You wanna come over to my place tonight, Victoria, watch movies or whatever?”
“The only movies Gabe has are porn,” Ryland warns her.
“Maybe I only want to show you porn,” Gabe suggests to him.
Amid the laughter and the bickering, Victoria feels the tension ease. She’s missing something, she thinks, but she doesn’t know what it is.
The day before the full moon is never a good one; Victoria’s skin is singing with tension and smells are so heightened that walking into a classroom is almost blinding. She’s kind of grateful for Bill and his weird, ambiguous scent because it’s not too cloying and it mostly blocks everything else in the room out.
“Hey,” Gabe says at lunch, leaning comfortably into her, “there’s this totally awesome party tomorrow right, you wanna come?”
Although the others are all concentrating on eating their lunches, she can feel their gazes on her anyway, waiting for her response. This is why being a werewolf and having friends is weird; she’s going to have to blow them off and they might ask questions when she comes in tomorrow looking wrecked. Shit shit shit. When she’s older, she’s never going to socialise again. She’ll become a shut-in, maybe she’ll get cats. Maybe not; cats don’t really seem to like her. One of Greta’s vampire friends – Jon Walker, who is possibly the nicest guy to walk the earth, undead or not – has loads of cats and while they like him, fangs and all, they seem kind of edgy around her. Victoria can’t exactly blame them.
“I can’t,” she mumbles. “I, um, I’ve got this thing I promised I’d help my mom with. Sorry.”
She wishes she was better at coming up with decent lies. Now she sounds totally lame and the guys will never want to talk to her again.
“Ok,” Gabe says simply, smiling. On her other side, Ryland squeezes her shoulder, like silent forgiveness.
Victoria lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.
Moon night itself comes much too fast. Her mom looks tense and helpless – she always does, and Victoria can’t blame her; it must be hard to watch your daughter change form – as they prepare their basement for her. Her phone beeps; a text from Greta simply saying thinking of you xxx. Victoria smiles in spite of herself, then grits her teeth. It’s always weird changing for the first time in a new house, but Victoria’s used to this by now.
“You should go upstairs, mom,” she says, with fifteen minutes to moonrise.
Her mom nods, looking tired. “I love you, honey,” she says.
“Love you too,” Victoria replies.
She locks the door behind her mom, going to securely tape the key to the ceiling because she’ll need it in the morning. She strips naked, folds her clothes and leaves them in a corner, carefully not looking at the scars striping her left arm, which are raised and itching as they always are before the change. The syringe is the last thing; enough tranquillisers to kill an elephant, and she slides the needle into her thigh without flinching.
Victoria tapes the now-empty syringe to the ceiling with the key and then sits down in the middle of the floor, shivering from the cold, trying to regulate her breathing. The tranquillisers will keep her docile all night and she’ll probably sleep through most of the actual wolf part, but she has to be conscious for the change. She’s always conscious for the change.
She always knows when it starts, an unpleasant bitter tingling in her fingertips, sweeping through her body. Victoria feels the bones in her hands break, tips her head forwards and braces herself for the next bit, where her spine cracks, and then the only sound she can hear is howling, thin and thready and scared, pouring out of her mouth and filling the room.
“You look tired, babe,” Gabe tells her before school the next day. Victoria can still feel the wolf crawling beneath her skin, disconcerting and vicious, but she pulls together a smile for him.
“So do you,” she says.
“Yeah.” He laughs, low and soft.
“Good party?” she asks.
He shrugs, then his face screws up like that hurts. “It was ok.”
Victoria is subdued and quiet as she always is, but Bill doesn’t try to talk to her too much in biology, and the boys are all silent at lunch. She’s never been more grateful for the existence of hangovers.
When Victoria opens her locker before third period math the next day, a piece of paper flutters out of it. She picks it up and unfolds it.
Written on it in a scrawling pink hand is: we’Re WatChinG yOU, WoLF girl.
Victoria feels herself sway on her feet and she must look pretty bad because Ryan’s hand closes around her elbow. “Are you ok?”
It’s too soon after the change; emotions roil thick and scared through her, and her initial instinct is to lash out, to bare her teeth and attack. But that’s ridiculous, because Victoria’s never hurt anyone, not ever. She swallows it down, screwing up the paper and shoving it deep into her bag.
“I feel kind of sick,” she mumbles, because she can’t sit in algebra with this knowledge, she just can’t.
“Come on,” Ryan says, and his voice is soft. “I’ll take you to the nurse.”
She stumbles after him through the corridors, surrounded by coloured twists of scent she’s too dizzy to try and define, panic roiling in her stomach. She doesn’t want to leave, she doesn’t. She’s happy here, and it’s weird to think that, but she really is.
Ryan mumbles an explanation of some sort to the nurse, who provides Victoria with a bed to lie on and a basin to throw up into before she bustles off.
“You should get going,” she tells Ryan, resting her head on the soft pillow, breathing in and surrounding herself with the enjoyably clinical smell of the nurse’s office.
His lips quirk into a smile – which, in Ryan Ross terms, is practically a blinding grin – and hops up onto the edge of the bed, thin cold fingers closing around her wrist. “I’ll stay,” he says.
Victoria closes her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispers, because she really doesn’t want to be alone right now, smelling the soft lilac waves of worry rolling off him until they lull her into sleep.
When she wakes up, she can hear Ryan hissing: “Jesus, shut up would you, you’re going to wake her up!” He sounds kind of annoyed. Clearly Ryan wasn’t in the bathroom when actual emotions were handed out, he just gets them out for birthdays and religious holidays. And when Victoria’s sick, apparently.
“I want to see her.” It’s Gabe, sounding stubborn.
Victoria sighs and pushes herself upright. “There’s nothing to see.”
Ryan’s lips quirk. “Your bed hair is pretty impressive.”
“Go and bother Z or something, Ross,” Gabe says, jerking his head towards the door. Ryan rolls his eyes – rimmed in blue today, with little zigzags on his cheek – but obediently turns away.
“Thanks for staying,” Victoria calls after him. He turns back and smiles again, and then she’s alone with Gabe. She looks around but the nurse is apparently gone too.
“Ryland’s faking a medical emergency,” Gabe explains, getting onto the bed beside Victoria, wrapping his arms around her. “Are you ok, babe?”
She doesn’t know when he started calling her ‘babe’, but it doesn’t bother her like she thinks it should do. Victoria leans her head against his shoulder. “I’m fine,” she mumbles into his hoodie, “I’m just tired.”
Gabe starts stroking her hair and it feels good, really good, so she leans a little more into him.
“You can tell me if something’s bothering you,” he mumbles after a while.
I’m a werewolf and someone decided to leave a creepily ambiguous threatening note in my locker today. Yeah, somehow Victoria can’t see that going well.
“I’m fine,” she whispers, and they sit in silence until the nurse comes back to kick Gabe out and send Victoria home.
Art is one of Victoria’s favourite classes; she’s not great at it but it’s her last period of the day and it’s kind of soothing to sit in the art room smoothing lines across paper. She’s usually left unbothered too, since the only other person on her table is Gerard Way, who gets very intense about his art and doesn’t say a lot. Victoria suspects she’s only sitting with Gerard because she arrived late in the semester and all the other seats were taken, but it’s not like he’s particularly creepy, just determined.
This afternoon, he’s drawing a heavily shaded charcoal sketch. Victoria is aimless this afternoon; it’s been four days since the anonymous note and she’s basically waiting for the other shoe to drop. She watches Gerard work instead of doing her own assignment; she can see figures lost in the drawing, but she’s still not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be.
“What are you drawing?” she asks quietly.
Gerard looks up, startled. He seems surprised, but not angry about being interrupted, and angles his sketchbook towards her. “They’re vampires,” he explains.
Victoria will be seriously glad when the world’s current fixation with vampires stops. She looks at the sketch anyway, and finds that Gerard’s vampires are not sparkling and they’re not wearing big opera capes either.
“They look just like normal people,” she observes.
Gerard gazes at her for a while, like he’s trying to work something out. His eyes are pretty but also unsettling when fixed unblinkingly on her. After a moment, he looks back down at his drawing.
“They do,” he says calmly. He flickers a sideways glance at her. “My boyfriend’s a vampire, you know.”
It’s plausible; vampires do exist, after all. However, it’s also entirely possible that Gerard is actually crazy.
“He’s in a band,” Gerard adds, sparing her from trying to formulate a response. “They’re doing a show tonight, actually, you should come along.”
Victoria should say ‘no’. She actually says ‘yes’ and Gerard writes the time and the venue on a blank page of her sketchbook for her. She looks down at his messy scrawl and reflects that her life has definitely taken a turn for the stranger.
She was planning on asking the boys to come with her, but they’ve all got plans that don’t involve her – and she tries desperately not to be jealous because it’s not like they’ve been friends that long – so Victoria goes alone to Gerard’s-possible-vampire-boyfriend show. It’s not like she really minds; she’s used to going to places alone. She looks good, anyway, in a short black dress, hair carefully pulled up and actual make-up. She’s not sure who she’s dressing up for.
In the end, Victoria’s only alone for about five minutes because she runs into Ryan, who’s there with a friend of his called Spencer Smith.
“Spencer Smith and Ryan Ross?” she echoes, trying desperately not to ask them if they met at some kind of Alliteration Anonymous group.
Spencer Smith’s bitchface is the most amazing thing ever. Victoria vows to practice in the mirror until her face does that.
“This is Victoria,” Ryan tells Spencer, “she’s pretty cool.”
“Wow,” Spencer says to Victoria, “I don’t think Ryan’s ever endorsed anyone that highly.”
Ryan glares at him and they get into this totally confusing glaring competition where they seem to be communicating solely with their eyebrows.
“They do this all the time,” an exasperated voice says beside Victoria, and she turns to find a short guy wearing a pink hoodie. Well, he’s about as tall as Ryan and Spencer, anyway, which makes them all shorter than Victoria. She feels momentarily self-conscious, and then realises that the guy smells vividly, brilliantly blue; the exact same shade as the smell she’s always picking up on Ryan. “Guys, it’s not polite to ignore the lady.”
Ryan rolls his eyes. He seems to have an entire tree picked out down his face today, complete with a red background. It really shouldn’t work, but it kind of does.
“I’m Brendon,” the guy in the pink hoodie says brightly. “Ryan’s friend.”
“Victoria,” she tells him, as Ryan snaps: “My friend?”
Spencer sighs. “Would you like a drink, Victoria? I think we should go and get a drink somewhere over where there isn’t drama.”
She eagerly follows him through the crowds, still catching snatches of the conversation behind her (“so, what, you’re not calling yourself my boyfriend this week then?” and “seriously, how many scarves are you actually wearing?”).
“They’re both ridiculous drama queens,” Spencer tells her. “It’ll all blow over soon.”
He’s right; by the time the band is halfway through the set, Ryan and Brendon are dancing together. Between the eyeliner and the dubious fashion choices, they look ridiculous, but they also look happy, and that’s probably the important part.
The band is called The Black Parade and they’re pretty good; Victoria has no idea if the guitarist is actually Gerard’s boyfriend or not, but he smells the deep crimson that all vampires do, so Gerard was right in that respect.
“Wanna dance?” she asks Spencer, and his smile lights up the room.
Bill joins them a while later, sweating and grinning. “Victoria!” he exclaims happily, hugging her close, before repeating the same excited greeting for Spencer. She has no idea if Bill is just this handsy with everyone outside of school or if he’s kind of drunk, but she doesn’t bother asking.
It’s kind of bizarre how she’s gone from being that weird girl with the scar to dancing with two guys in a club while a friend’s band plays, but she’s not about to start complaining.
Gerard finds her after the set when things have quietened down a bit. “You came!” he says, looking happy, and then takes her by the wrist, tugging her towards the stage. “You have to meet Frank.”
Frank, as it turns out, is both a vampire and Gerard’s boyfriend. He’s also really short – seriously, all the vampires Victoria has ever met have been tiny, it’s totally strange – and covered in tattoos. He greets Gerard with a kiss that looks kind of hungry before smiling and asking his boyfriend to get him a drink. He waits until Gerard’s gone before turning to Victoria and saying:
“So, a werewolf, huh?”
“Yeah.” There’s no point denying it; vampires and werewolves can always recognise each other.
Frank smiles, broad and sweet. “How long?”
Victoria hasn’t had this conversation with anyone since she met Greta, but it’s warmly familiar. “Since I was four,” she says, and watches him wince.
She shrugs. “I’ve gotten used to it.” She waves a hand around, wanting to change the subject. “I just moved here, are there a lot of vampires?”
“Enough,” Frank replies, with a smile. “Have you chosen a pack yet?”
Victoria raises her eyebrows, confused. “I’ve never even met another werewolf,” she says, laughing a little, “I don’t think I have to worry about that.”
Frank frowns and looks like he’s about to say something when Gerard returns with plastic cups of soda; he hands one to Victoria with a smile. She looks away at the emptying dancefloor; Ryan and Brendon are making out in a way that looks kind of brutal (Ryan’s make up is smeared all over the place) and she smirks to herself, reflecting that it’s no wonder that scent has permeated Ryan’s entire being.
“They’re really going for it,” she remarks.
Frank rolls his eyes. “That’s dating a ghost for you. It’s got to be intense or it doesn’t work.”
“Ghost?” Victoria echoes, feeling the bottom drop out of her stomach.
“Brendon’s a ghost,” Gerard says, shrugging. “You didn’t know?”
Victoria can feel herself flushing like an idiot, because she clearly knows nothing about any of this. She excuses herself quickly, pushing her way quickly through the crowds of people, feeling weirdly dizzy. Of course, she bumps into Bill.
Bill, who glows blue just like Brendon, which kind of means...
“You’re dead,” she blurts, before she can stop herself.
He sighs. “I was waiting for you to figure it out.”
Victoria belatedly recalls being able to see through his head that one time, and Nate pondering if Bill has a soul, and suddenly feels even more stupid. She ducks her head, looking down at her shoes.
“Come on,” Bill says quietly, “I’ll take you home.”
They drive in silence for a while. “Do you know?” Victoria asks.
“That you’re a werewolf?” Bill shrugs. “Yeah. I always know. It’s kind of like how you can recognise vampires and ghosts.”
“I didn’t know I was recognising ghosts,” Victoria says. “I’d never come across them before.” She sighs. “I feel so stupid. I think it comes from growing up separate from other werewolves. I’ve never met another wolf, you know?”
She’s aware that Bill is looking at her, but she doesn’t look at him, instead focusing on her knees. He parks outside her house and they just sit there in the dark for a while.
“Listen,” Bill begins, and then seems to think better of it. “Never mind. Whatever.” He leans over the space between their seats and presses a kiss to her cheek. “Are we good?”
“We’re good,” she promises.
“Get some sleep,” Bill advises, and she gets out of the car.
“Someone was out late last night,” Ryland teases, as Victoria is practically falling asleep at their lunch table. She gives him the finger, leaning a little more into Alex. Alex’s shoulder is really awesomely comfortable.
“Where were you?” Gabe asks, and the joking tone that’s been in everyone else’s voices is weirdly absent from his.
Victoria shrugs, just wanting to get some rest. “I went to a show Gerard’s boyfriend’s band played.”
“The Black Parade?” Nate asks, and she nods. “They’re pretty good,” he adds.
Gabe makes a vaguely disgusted noise.
“They are pretty good,” Victoria protests, opening her eyes. “It was fun.”
“Yeah? You had fun with Bill?” Gabe’s voice is just a little too loud and Victoria doesn’t even know how Bill got dragged into this; she knows she didn’t bring him up.
“How did you know Bill was there?” she asks, voice a little too sharp.
“Because I can-” Gabe cuts himself off. “He mentioned it earlier.”
“So then you knew where I was.”
Gabe sighs. “Whatfuckingever. I’ll just... Jesus.”
He storms off, leaving his untouched lunch on the table.
“Someone’s bitchy today,” Alex observes, the others laugh and things slide back to normality. Victoria can still feel it though, gnawing away in her stomach.
When she opens her locker later, there’s another piece of paper. pIck a SIde, wOlF. HuRRy tHe fUcK uP.
Victoria takes herself to the bathroom to throw up, hands shaking. She skips her next period in favour of going to hide behind the science block with her cellphone.
“This had better be good,” Greta mumbles sleepily, “it’s the middle of the day.”
“I need help,” Victoria says breathlessly, and then spills everything. “What I do?” she asks desperately when she’s finished.
“You need to tell someone,” Greta says; she sounds a lot more awake than she did earlier.
“Tell who?” Victoria demands. “My mom will freak out and the vampires and ghosts here seem nice and all but what can they do?”
“Find someone to tell,” Greta insists. “And watch your back.”
It’s not the greatest advice, but Greta’s hundreds of miles away and she can’t go out in daylight, so there isn’t a lot she can do.
Gerard is unusually talkative in art class; Victoria tunes him out and draws dark, angry scrawls over the page. She nearly asks for Frank’s number a handful of times, but she doesn’t know what she would do with it; he clearly already thinks she’s an uninformed idiot.
Gabe catches up with her when she’s walking home; he looks tired. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I just... it doesn’t matter, anyway.”
Victoria hugs him tight, burying her face in the stupid purple hoodie he’s wearing today. He makes a surprised but pleased sound and hugs her back. She feels her breathing start to return to normal for the first time in hours.
“Listen,” Gabe says quietly, pulling back a little and putting two fingers under Victoria’s chin to tip her head up, “I need to ask you something, ok? It’s important.”
He’s too close, too warm, and Victoria just wants to lean into that heat and bite it.
She pulls away so fast Gabe stumbles. “I have to go,” she blurts, and walks away as fast as she can without actually running.
Gabe calls after her, but he doesn’t follow.
She isn’t thinking when she pulls her sweater over her head at lunch a couple of days later, and freezes when she realises she’s bared her left arm. The scratches and bites that mark the skin have faded white over the years but they’re still knotted and ugly. It’s gotten her labelled a freak in a handful of schools so far, lost her friends who claimed that they weren’t weirded out but who drifted away too fast afterwards.
“Cool scar,” Alex remarks, and turns back to his pudding.
No one else says anything, casually eating their lunches.
Victoria is so relieved she could cry.
For the first time she truly acknowledges that she doesn’t ever want to leave here. It’s strange feeling, entirely unfamiliar, but not unwelcome.
Gabe keeps trying to catch her alone, but it’s the week before the moon and Victoria is terrified that she’ll give in to her instincts. The only boy she’s ever kissed wound up in the ER needing stitches in his lower lip – he was fine and they moved away a week later so she missed most of the repercussions – and Victoria lives in fear of repeating this incident. Not that she thinks for one minute that Gabe actually wants to kiss her, but she might not be able to stop herself from kissing him, and God, she could rip him apart if she forgot herself.
Then, when it becomes apparent that she’s not going to let Gabe talk to her, the other guys get in on the act. Alex bakes her cookies, though she takes one and flees before he can actually speak to her, and she skips English all week so she won’t have to sit next to Ryland for an hour every day. Nate actually manages to corner her, curl his fingers around her arm and say, low and urgent:
“Gabe should be the one to speak to you about this, but-”
Victoria pulls herself away and hurries over to speak to her math teacher about her homework, even though she doesn’t need to.
It’s stupid how she’s gone from having no friends at all to having to avoid the ones she has.
The last straw comes when Bill leans into her in biology and whispers: “listen, you really need to talk to Gabe before it’s too late.”
The moon is in two days and Victoria’s temper feels low and sharp. She doesn’t know what Bill is talking about and she feels hopelessly ignorant again, like she did when she was folded up in the front seat of his car. “Maybe I want it to be too late,” she mutters.
Five minutes later, she gets a bathroom pass and doesn’t bother going back to class.
Victoria figures she should get her books for math out of her locker so she heads that way. Her watch is inside her locker from where she left it before chemistry – Ashlee’s kind of a great lab partner, but accidents do happen around her – and she puts it back on, the movements automatic.
A moment later, and her knees give way. She claws at the watch but her fingers seem to have lost all strength, and she can’t stop shaking, and she can’t even open her mouth to scream.
Things get kind of blurry after that. Gabe’s voice is close to her ear at one point, cracking, saying: “I can’t get it fucking off, I can’t touch it, don’t worry, just hold on, ok? Fucking fuck.”
She clings onto his voice because there’s nothing else to do.
When Victoria regains something resembling consciousness, there’s an argument going on.
“She didn’t know you guys were werewolves,” a voice is saying; after a moment she places it as Frank’s. She has no idea why Frank is there, but she can’t find the strength to open her eyes.
“How did she not know?” Alex is demanding.
“She’s never met werewolves before.” That’s Bill, sounding tired. “She told me.”
“She told me too,” Frank agrees.
“Why the fuck didn’t you tell her, Bill?” Gabe, angry and frantic. “I know you were there the other night, I could smell you all over her.”
“You’re seriously going to get into this now?” Ryan, voice flat but tense. “Look, she’s been getting threatening notes in her locker and now they’ve tried to kill her. That’s kind of the issue here, don’t you think?”
They’ve tried to kill her. Something clenches in Victoria’s stomach, panicky and sick.
“She’s been getting threatening notes?” Alex again. “How do you even know that?”
“Jon,” Ryan says shortly, like that makes sense. Frank echoes this sentiment. Ryan sighs but elaborates: “Victoria told Greta who told Jon who told me.”
“We should’ve just sat down and told her.” Ryland sounds defeated. “Just... we shouldn’t have assumed anything. No wonder she was so freaked out. We screwed up.”
Victoria hates to hear him sounding that lost, so she makes an effort and manages to get her eyes open.
“Sorry to be cliché,” she mumbles, voice sounding thick, “but: where am I?”
Nate and Gabe are practically on top of her in a moment, and she can see that the room is weirdly full of people.
“You’re in my basement,” Gabe says. “Nobody can bother us down here. I ate my parents.” Victoria stares at him in horror. “That was a joke,” Gabe adds. “They’re upstairs making tea and calling your mom and whatever.”
“You’re in my bed,” Nate adds helpfully. “I live in Gabe’s basement because my parents kicked me out when they found out I was a werewolf.”
The conversation starts making slow sense in Victoria’s head. “You’re a werewolf?”
Gabe sighs. “We’re all werewolves. You, me, Ryland, Alex, tiny Nate here.”
“Hey,” Nate protests, elbowing him.
“We thought you knew,” Ryland adds, where he’s anxiously hovering. Or looming, or whatever, but it’s not his fault he’s freakishly tall.
“I messed up there,” Frank calls over. “I thought they knew you didn’t know. And Bill messed up too.”
“I did,” Bill agrees. He looks particularly distressed; his hair’s even gone flat.
Victoria sighs. “Look, there’s a lot of things we should all have said to each other and didn’t, let’s move on. Why did I nearly die?”
Everyone looks at each other; in the end, Frank, as the only one (probably) over seventeen in the room, comes to sit on the bed.
“This city’s actually kind of full of werewolves,” he explains. “And they all belong to different packs. Anyone who doesn’t belong to a pack is supposed to be eliminated quickly, before a turf war like the ones there were years ago spring up. The boys here screwed up recruiting you, so someone from one of the other packs decided to pressure you into joining a pack, and when you didn’t...”
“They had your watch lined with silver,” Ryan fills in. His eyeliner is smudged. Victoria swears softly. Silver is poisonous to werewolves, everyone knows that. “I had to take it off you,” he adds. “Gabe and the others couldn’t touch it.”
Gabe looks like he’s kind of beating himself up over this. Victoria discreetly threads her fingers through his.
“But you’re fine now,” Frank finishes with a smile.
Victoria considers this. “I still need to join a pack, or they’re going to try again, aren’t they?”
“You don’t have to join ours,” Ryland says quickly. “Just... we’ll help you find one, ok?”
Of course they don’t want her to join their pack after she’s made such a fucking mess of things. Victoria nods and looks down at the sheets and doesn’t say anything.
“Fucking hell, Vicky-T, of course we want you to join our pack,” Gabe says, quick and sharp, like he knows exactly what she’s thinking. “We thought that you didn’t want to join us and that’s why you wouldn’t let us talk to you.”
Victoria raises her eyebrows. “Vicky-T?”
“Vicky-T,” he says decidedly. “We can sort out the initiation ceremony thing tomorrow night, while the moon’s up.”
She’s tired and it’s been a very long and very strange day. In the end, she just smiles and nods. “Ok.”
Gabe is holding her hand and Nate is still cuddled up on her other side and Ryland and Alex are hovering. Frank is sitting on the end of the bed and Ryan and Bill are leant against the wall. Victoria has never felt more smothered or more safe in her life.
“Ok,” Gabe says, and his grin is like sunlight.
“I’m so glad you’re not dead,” Greta says a couple of days later.
“Me too,” Victoria agrees. Something occurs to her. “Why did you tell Jon about the threatening notes?
“You weren’t talking to anyone around you,” Greta protests, “I wanted to get the news to them somehow.”
Victoria frowns. “And you knew Jon knew Ryan?”
“No, that was lucky, actually,” Greta says. “I was hoping Jon would tell Pete, and Pete could tell Frank. Pete knows everyone.”
Pete probably does; Victoria’s planning on going to stay with Greta in the summer, she’ll have to actually meet him. “Is he still sparkling?”
“Patrick issued an ultimatum,” Greta says. “Which was just as well, Travis was threatening to start.”
Victoria laughs, and then something else occurs to her. “Why tell Jon in the first place?”
She can hear Greta blushing down the phoneline, which is kind of an achievement seeing as how Greta isn’t physically capable of blushing. “He’s, um, I mean, we...” she stammers. “Whatever, you’re a bitch, you know exactly why.”
Victoria leans back against the wall, watching Brendon drive up to school and share a lingering kiss goodbye with Ryan. Ryan glares when he sees Victoria is watching, but Brendon waves one of Ryan’s scarves at her.
“Are you happy?” she asks.
“Yes,” Greta says. “And I’m going to bed now, because it’s really late.”
“School is just starting.”
“Sweet dreams,” Victoria says and hangs up, as Gabe comes sauntering over.
“Morning,” he says, and now that she knows he’s a werewolf, it makes so much more sense that she’s never been able to smell him or his emotions. She can’t smell her own kind; it’s weird, but kind of nice.
“Morning,” she says, leaning into his side.
“Are you going to run away again if I try to kiss you?” Gabe asks. He’s trying for a sombre expression but his eyes are dancing.
“Does that happen to you a lot?” Victoria asks, trying for serious too.
“Not usually until after I’ve kissed someone,” Gabe assures her.
“Must be your crazy eyes,” Victoria says, and laughs until Gabe’s mouth touches hers.
She’s not sure how much later it is that Ryland’s arm slides around her waist, warm and reassuring. “We actually have school, you know,” he reminds her.
They walk into school like that, Gabe on one side of her, Ryland on the other, Alex and Nate on either side, and Victoria decides to forgive all those shitty movies Greta made her watch because, as it turns out, sometimes you can wind up exactly where you need to be.
“Wow,” Nate says, “that’s sappy. Like, tragically sappy.”
“Screw you,” Victoria shoots back, “you live in a basement.” She’s not looking where she’s going; there’s a sudden strange, cold feeling, and someone behind her says “Jesus fuck.” When she turns, she finds Bill is standing with his arms crossed over his stomach.
“Did I just walk through Bill?” she asks, unsure whether to be terrified or kind of amused.
“No big deal, Vicky-T, it’s like an initiation thing,” Gabe shrugs.
“You are no longer my favourite!” Bill yells after Gabe, and he just laughs into Victoria’s hair.