Abe pushed back his hood and ran a hand through his hair. It was raining pretty hard outside, but this early in the morning he’d been able to park close to the clinic and hadn’t gotten too wet in the time it had taken him to sprint across the sidewalk and get inside. He locked the front door behind him and started flipping on the lights. Suyama would be there to open up the front desk soon, but Abe turned up the heat and flipped on the coffee machine anyway; no reason to make him walk into a gloomy, pre-dawn room, too. He grabbed one of yesterday’s bagels out of the mini-fridge and took a (stale, chewy) bite of it before heading through the doors into the back.
At this hour, half the lights were turned off, casting the white walls and white tile in a sickly, shadowy almost-green. Abe rubbed his eyes and sighed, then shrugged out of his hoodie and hung it up by the door. He took a moment to finish his bagel, then washed his hands from fingertips to elbows in the big stainless steel sink by the door. He could hear movement over by the refrigeration units, so once he’d scrubbed his skin pink and dried off, he headed in that direction.
“So what’s on the slate for today?” he asked, and was deeply satisfied when Haruna jerked in surprise, bumping his head on the underside of the counter.
“Oh, Taka, glad you’re here,” Haruna said, rubbing his head and turning to face him. And, shit, he knew that look, that smile. Haruna was about to give him an unspeakably shitty job. Shouldn’t have snuck up on him. “We had a busy night last night.”
Haruna pushed himself to his feet, wiping his hands off on his pants before picking a clipboard up off the counter and passing it over to Abe. “Cops broke up another illegal fighting ring. This one had a fucking bear if you can believe it.”
Abe looked up from the clipboard, his shoulders tensing, “I’m not going anywhere near a fucking werebear.”
“No, no, she went to a different clinic. I need you to look after this guy,” he said, reaching over and flipping a few pages on the clipboard, then pointing. “They had half a dozen wolves, all doped up to keep them in canine form. Most of them calmed down once we unchained them, but this guy, I think he’d been there for a while. Momoe said she had to tranq him just to get him in the van, and as soon as he came to, he started fighting.” Haruna held up a hand, displaying a mostly-healed bite mark on his palm.
Abe raised his eyebrows. It took good reflexes to get the drop on Haruna, “You aren’t keeping him sedated?”
Haruna shook his head, “Dr. Shiga is afraid putting him under again in his condition might kill him. We managed to give him a quick exam, but that’s about it.”
Abe nodded slowly, skimming the patient information Haruna had given him, but it was mostly question marks and blank spaces. “Any idea who he is?”
Haruna shook his head, “Won’t know until he turns back, if then. Shiga thinks he’s late adolescent, maybe early 20s, but from the look of him he might have been raised in captivity.”
“So there might not be much of a person left, even if he lives long enough to get the drugs out of his system.”
“Always the optimist, Taka. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
Abe put the clipboard down on the counter and sighed, following after him, “Why me?”
Haruna flashed him a sharp smile, “Cuz it won’t kill you if he takes a chunk out of you.” Abe ground his teeth. It was an accepted inevitability in this line of work that, sooner or later, you were going to get infected. It was… a less standard practice for the lead doctor to bite a new hire on their first day because they were short on people who could take a beating. Abe still hadn’t quite forgiven Haruna for it, either, especially when his “condition” had nearly gotten him kicked out of med school. “Besides, Tajima and Hanai are going to have their hands full with the friendly ones.” He stopped in front of one of the big metal doors in the far back of the clinic. Abe tried to look through the barred window, but couldn’t make out anything inside.
“How long until he starts turning back?”
“Few days?” Haruna said. “Depends on how long they were dosing him, and with what. We’re still waiting on his blood work.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“Get him used to you. We need to get him hydrated, first off, and fed if you can manage it. Shinooka’s coming in early to put together something a little more palatable than water, but he hasn’t moved since we put him in there a couple hours ago.” Haruna unlatched the door and pulled it open, the hinges creaking heavily.
“He have a name?”
Haruna shrugged, “Tags said Mihashi.”
“Alright,” he said, stepping over the threshold.
“Scream if he starts trying to eat you,” Haruna said, shoving the door closed behind him and barring it. Abe wished he were joking.
He took a steadying breath, letting his eyes adjust to the relative dimness of the holding cell as he listened to Haruna’s footsteps retreat down the hall. There were small windows up near the ceiling, but they only let in a trickle of weak, gray light and the sound of rain, leaving most of the cell in dusky shadows. Even in the darkness, though, he could see his patient – Mihashi – curled up tight in the corner, pressed so hard against the wall that he would have pushed right through it if it’d been made of anything less sturdy than steel reinforced concrete. With a full coat, he was probably beautiful, that rare tawny auburn color that Abe had only seen in pictures. As it was, though, the poor pup was a master class in neglect and malnutrition, every bone visible beneath his scant, dull fur, the bald patches of his skin showing huge bruises and ugly, bloody wounds – the smaller ones from fleas, the larger ones more likely from teeth or claws.
Abe sighed and squatted down just inside the doorway. Other than the two of them, the room was empty except for a big bowl of water sitting, untouched, in the middle of the floor. The concrete and cinderblock room was about as inhospitable as inhospitable could get, not exactly the best setting for calming down someone who had been held prisoner for god only knew how long, but there wasn’t much else that could hold up to the strength of a shapeshifter in a rage. An angry werewolf could tear through a normal wall, even one as pathetic and mangy as…
“Mihashi,” he said, his voice as calm and gentle as he could make it. On the other side of the room, the wolf whined. Abe wasn’t the right person for this job, and he knew it. Tajima had always been better with the scared ones; Abe usually got stuck with the fighters. That Haruna had put him in here meant he thought Mihashi was all but a lost cause, implicit permission to muscle in on him if it meant keeping him alive. But it didn’t take a fragile, sensitive wolf-whisperer like Sakaeguchi to know that was the last thing Mihashi needed. “Hey,” he said again, “Mihashi.”
The wolf curled up tighter, pressing desperately into the corner and scraping a claw against the wall. “Well, you know your name, but you probably aren’t a big fan of the people who call you that, huh?” Abe sighed and sat down crosslegged on the floor, folding his arms across his chest. He was shitty at small talk, hated it under the best of circumstances, and this was not that. “For what it’s worth, I’m not going to hurt you.” He paused, realizing that if Haruna really did think Mihashi had been raised in captivity, he probably hadn’t bothered to explain to him what was going on. He reached up and rubbed his temples, “Maybe you know this already, I dunno, but the people who hurt you… the people who made you fight, they’re gone now, and we aren’t going to let them hurt you again. We’re going to help you turn back into a human, but it might take a few days before the drugs start to leave your system.”
Nothing. Not that he’d expected anything else. The wolf was obviously trembling, and watching him cower there like that, it was hard to imagine that there was a human somewhere inside him. Then again, with his snout pressed to the wall and his tail between his legs, it was hard to see the wolf, either. What the hell had Haruna been thinking? Abe was no psychologist, he was barely a fucking lab technician; he just happened to have a neat bite mark on his forearm and genetics that had taken well to the virus. How the hell was he going to get Mihashi out of that corner without physically dragging him? He clenched and unclenched his fists, suppressing the desire to punch Haruna in the face by reminding himself of all the times that instinct had wound up with him flat on his back on the floor, a set of sharp teeth on his throat.
As Abe’s eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see the exact diameter of Mihashi’s self-imposed captivity, gouges carved into the cinderblocks and the concrete floor. They weren’t deep, not much more than scraped stone and nail marks, but enough that Abe knew this wolf was stronger than he looked. He was a fighter in the most literal sense, but if he’d stayed alive long enough to get as worn down and roughed up as he was… Abe chewed his lip. Assuming Mihashi hadn’t spent his whole life as a wolf, he’d probably been trapped in a canine body for, what? Weeks? Months? Years? He couldn’t even guess; Mihashi was in the worst shape of any wolf he’d ever seen up close.
The fighting rings grabbed kids off the streets and turned them, trapping them in their wolf forms the first time they shifted and throwing them straight into the pit. Most of those kids barely lasted a single fight. The pups Hanai and Tajima were looking after were people that had maybe gone a round or two with that she-bear, assuming they’d been blooded at all. People who had been in captivity for a few days, maybe a week. Two at most.
But Mihashi had been stuck in his wolf form long enough for the drugs and neglect to overwhelm his natural healing ability. That meant he’d fought, and won. The experience hadn’t left him crazed and violent, either. He’d fought captivity, but he hadn’t made a run for the door when Haruna opened it, and he hadn’t made a move to attack Abe. That meant Mihashi was a survivor. He was in there, somewhere, and he was scared, but he didn’t want to die.
“I know you can understand me,” he said, even though he wasn’t a hundred percent sure it was true. “We didn’t get a good look at you after we brought you in – good job taking a chunk out of Haruna, by the way, he deserved it. Anyway, we weren’t able to do a full exam before you started snapping, but it doesn’t take a PhD to see that you’re dehydrated.” He paused, giving his words a moment to – he hoped – sink in. “When was the last time you had something to drink? Do you even remember?” The wolf was still pressed tight to the wall, but he’d gone still, his head shifting minutely to the side, one ear turned in Abe’s direction. So he did understand.
He folded his arms across his chest, leaning back against the door and stretching his legs out, “Haruna thinks you might have been like this since you were a pup, but I think he’s wrong. I think you remember what it’s like to be a human. I think you remember what it’s like to take that first sip of a glass of ice cold water on a hot day.” He paused, considering the temperature of the room, the gloom spilling in through the windows, “Or maybe that first taste of a cup of cocoa on a snowy afternoon, the way it warms you up from the inside out.”
Mihashi growled. It was faint, just an irritated little rumble, but a smile tugged at the corners of Abe’s lips. He scooted away from the wall, pushing the water dish slowly toward Mihashi with his foot. “If you’re thirsty, drink something.” He stretched out as far as he could, keeping himself low to the ground and as non-threatening as possible, even though he could feel himself infringing on Mihashi’s space. When he heard the edge of a threat inch into the growl he stopped, stilled, froze in place. He’d resigned himself to the probability that he was going to get bitten at least once today, but he didn’t feel the need to invite it, and he definitely didn’t want to make himself a threat. When Mihashi went quiet, Abe withdrew, slowly.
“I’m not going to try to touch you,” he said. “I was just putting it where you could get to it.” The bowl was still farther away than he thought Mihashi would be willing to venture, but at least it was closer than it had been. Abe was pretty sure the cell wasn’t big enough for Mihashi to feel comfortable with him still in it, but if he hadn’t been willing to drink on his own after hours alone, Abe leaving probably wasn’t going to change that. He could maybe give him a little more space, though. The door to the cell was in the center of the wall, and Abe got his back up against it again before slowly scooting to the side, inching himself into the corner diagonally across from Mihashi – as far away as he could get without actually leaving the room.
He leaned back into the corner, hugging his legs to his chest and resting his chin on his knees. In the time it had taken him to relocate, Mihashi had moved, just a little, just enough to look at him. His snout was matted with blood, and in the darkness, his eyes were molten gold, more vivid and luminous than a real wolf’s, and a rare color for a shapeshifter. He looked fierce, and for a moment Abe felt pinned under that gaze, like those hot amber eyes were seeing right through him. His breath hitched, and he stared back, meeting that still, inhuman gaze. He was surprised when Mihashi looked away, ducking his head submissively and whining, the sound bringing Abe back to reality.
Shit. He hadn’t meant to get into a pissing contest with a patient, but of course Mihashi would know what he was, and in his wolf form, animal senses heightened, their stare down was nothing but a battle for dominance. Damnit. Well, if Mihashi was submitting to him, he might as well use it. “If you want to get out of this cell,” he said, with as much calm poise and assertiveness as he could muster, “you’re going to have to do exactly what I tell you. I know how to help you, but I can’t if you won’t let me.”
Mihashi whined, clawing again at the wall.
Abe took a steadying breath, “You need to drink something, or you’re going to die. I’m not going to force you. You have to make the choice for yourself.”
He let the words hang in the air, stayed still and quiet and just watched. A minute passed, then two, maybe more, but eventually Mihashi started to move. It was subtle at first, just a shifting in the gloom, almost a trick of the light, but before he realized it, Mihashi had stood up to his full height and turned to face him. He was bigger than Abe had expected, tall and broad despite his leanness, with paws that said he wasn’t near his full size yet. This time, he was keeping his head lowered, but even with the submissive posture, even without the challenge in his eyes, there was something impossibly majestic about him. Abe felt the pull of acknowledgement, an answering call deep in the pit of his chest as his own wolf stirred and started paying attention.
He clenched his hand in his shirt over his heart, forcing his breathing to stay calm and even despite the rumble of anticipation rattling his bones.
Mihashi took a step forward, claws clicking against the concrete floor, and Abe’s breath caught in his throat. He wasn’t sure where the scared, broken creature had gone, or what he had done right to lure him away from his hiding place, but Mihashi took another step, and another, and lowered his head to the water dish…
…then took the edge of it in his teeth and lifted it up, dumping the water all over the floor.
“What the fuck!” Abe shouted, leaping to his feet before he could check the instinct, and only barely missing the water as it spilled across the floor toward him.
And the golden wolf was gone, yelping and whining and shoving himself back into the corner.
“Jesus Christ,” Abe said, skirting around the growing puddle, “Why did you-?” He stopped himself mid-tirade, because none of what had just happened made sense. Mihashi was thirsty, practically dying of thirst, thirsty enough to be pissed about it. And he’d been left alone for hours, hadn’t gone near the water. And he was too scared now even to move, but he’d mustered the courage to dump-
The water. There was something wrong with the water. He marched over to the water dish and snapped it up off the floor, ignoring the sound of Mihashi scrambling against the wall. There wasn’t much water left in the plastic container, but he held it up to his nose and took a big whiff. Even in his human form, he could smell it. It wasn’t just water. He swore and threw the container against the wall, hard enough that it cracked and ricocheted, bouncing along the floor before rolling to a stop. Then he turned back towards Mihashi and dropped down to his knees, bowing forward and pressing his forehead to the wet floor, speaking through gritted teeth, “I didn’t know.” He was seething with anger, so furious he could feel the edges of himself blurring into something less human. “I swear to god, I didn’t know.”
Haruna, with his two PhDs and years of experience, with his loyal pack and private clinic, was a fucking moron, and Abe was going to crack his smug, stupid face open. He hadn’t been able to pick out any one scent in the bottom of the dish; probably antibiotics, some kind of anti-inflammatory – everything they would have injected him with if they’d had the chance to. Instead, they’d put it in his fucking water. Mihashi had gone still, and quiet.
“That’s how they kept you there, right? Dosing your water?” Abe clenched his fists, not looking up from the floor. “I can’t imagine anything more insulting than someone trying to force you to drink tainted water, and I am so, so sorry, but I swear, I didn’t know.” Without so much as thinking to mention it to him, Haruna had turned Abe into Mihashi’s second captor, had given the poor, abused wolf a good fucking reason to distrust him before he’d ever even laid eyes on him. Abe slammed his fist into the ground, the edges of his voice fuzzy and rough so his words came out as half a growl, “I’m going to fix this. I promise I’m going to fix this.”
He shoved himself abruptly to his feet, ignoring the wet spots soaked into the knees of his pants, stormed over to the big metal door, and started hammering his fist against it.
It was only a moment before Shinooka’s face appeared in the small square window on the door, “Abe? What’s-?” She gasped, taking an instinctive step back, and Abe realized his eyes probably weren’t the right color anymore. She recovered quickly, faster than most humans would, “Er, I mean, what do you need? Did something happen?”
Abe took a slow breath, censoring the laundry list of things he had to say about Haruna and trying to rein in his temper. After a moment, fairly certain that he looked more person-like, he said, “Everything’s fine. I need you to bring me two liters of hot beef broth and a clean dish to put it in. And I don’t care what Haruna told you, don’t put anything in it, okay? Nothing. If he wants to argue about it, he can take it up with me. Okay?”
“Okay,” Shinooka said cautiously. “You’re sure everything’s alright?”
“It will be once I get some liquids in my patient.”
She took the exit line for what it was, giving him a small bow before scampering back down the hallway. Abe watched her go, then sighed and let his head fall heavily against the door. What a fucking disaster. The water Mihashi had spilled had mostly worked its way across the sloped floor and down the drain, but it had left the concrete damp in its wake, and now that he’d started to calm down, Abe realized that getting his clothes wet had been pretty stupid. After a minute he turned to face Mihashi and squatted down, his back leaned against the metal door. The wolf was still, well, cowering, but this time he’d pressed himself into the corner back first, and was crouched with his eyes fixed on Abe.
“I’m sorry,” Abe said again, running a frustrated hand back through his hair. “If I could just let you out of here, I would. You’d probably take care of yourself just fine, huh?” He glanced up at Mihashi, meeting the steady fire of his gaze. This time, he was the first one to look away.
A few minutes later, there was a clank of metal behind him, and Abe shuffled out of the way as Shinooka opened the slot at the base of the door. She passed him a big bowl that was identical to the one he’d smashed against the wall, then two very full plastic pitchers. “There’s nothing in these, right? Because I’m going to drink as much of it as it takes to get him to relax.”
He watched her closely, looking for any flicker of hesitation or alarm, but Shinooka just shook her head, “I trust your judgment.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I owe you one.”
“Just doing my job,” she said, giving him a wink before sliding the little window shut and locking it from the outside.
The holding cell was cold enough that steam was pouring out of the tops of the two pitchers, despite the fact that the liquid in them was just shy of actually being hot. Abe put the dish on top of one of the pitchers and lifted them both, slowly crossing the room and sitting down on a dry patch of concrete, about as close too Mihashi as he dared to get. Then he set the dish on the floor and poured broth to it, doing it slowly and making sure Mihashi was watching.
He picked the dish up and swirled the liquid around, then tipped it forward so Mihashi could see how much was in it. “Cheers,” he said, then lifted the dish to his lips and started drinking, careful not to let the liquid spill. Thankfully, Shinooka was both a good cook and an honest person, because despite the fact that he was drinking it out of a doggie bowl, the broth was delicious, and distinctly not laced with any kind of narcotic. He drained the dish dry, then showed it to Mihashi again, making sure he saw that it was Actually Empty before setting it down and filling it again. “Now, do you want some, should I keep drinking it, or are you going to let it get cold while you wait to see if I keel over?”
Of course, Mihashi couldn’t answer; he just watched him, levelly, as Abe held up his hands and scooted backwards along the floor until his back bumped up against the far wall. When Mihashi kept staring at him, Abe said, “This is as far away as I’m getting, because you got the floor wet. Take it or leave it.”
Mihashi groaned, a low, displeased sound, but it sounded so much like Abe’s big baby of a husky that he couldn’t help but laugh.
As soon as he did, Mihashi fixed him with the same steady, untrusting glare, and Abe said gently, “Just drink it. It’s really good. Shinooka’s a hell of a cook.”
It took a few minutes, but the dwindling steam rising from the bowl finally drew Mihashi in, enticing him away from the safety of his corner. When he prodded his paw against it, Abe was terrified for a moment that he was going to dump this bowl, too, but Mihashi just pulled it closer, then leaned down and sniffed at it. Evidently satisfied that he wasn’t being poisoned this time, Mihashi finally bent down to drink.
And, boy, did he drink. He drained the dish until he was pushing it around the floor with his nose and tongue, then switched to the pitcher Abe had left sitting beside it. “You’re going to get stuck,” Abe mused as Mihashi lowered his snout into the pitcher and started lapping up more hot broth. Sure enough, Mihashi slid his head into the pitcher as he chased after the liquid, and by the time the pitcher was empty, it was also firmly anchored on his head. “I told you so,” Abe said.
Mihashi backed up a few steps, shaking his head experimentally from side to side, but the plastic container was wedged on pretty tight. It was only funny for the moment it took for Mihashi to shift from confused to panicked and start shaking his head in earnest. “Whoa, hey,” Abe said, leaping to his feet. He hesitated to rush over to him, because he knew Mihashi wasn’t going to be happy when the pitcher went flying, but when he yelped and started batting at his face with his paw, Abe flew into action, “Hey, hey, let me help you.” He had to dodge the swipe of a paw, but he managed to grab onto the handle of the pitcher and pull it free.
Abe backed up and didn’t stop until his back was against a wall, but Mihashi didn’t lash out at him, he just scooted into the nearest corner – the one opposite where he’d started – and curled up there, looking miserable. Abe sighed, slumping back down against the floor, “I tried to warn you.” The wolf made that pathetic grumpy groan again, and Abe breathed out a laugh, “For what it’s worth, it’s happened to me too.” He leaned his head back into the corner, closing his eyes, “When I first turned, I was a trainwreck. You probably don’t know any other shifters – or, hell, anything about shifting back and forth, I guess? But the wolf side of me is really strong, so my first few full moons, I was just… ravenous and wild. And stupid. Like there was a voice in my head fighting against everything I told my body to do.” He cracked open one eye to look across the room at Mihashi. “It gets better, though. I can only imagine how weird it’s going to feel when you turn back, but you’ll get used to it again.”
Mihashi was quiet, still curled up tight, but he wasn’t shaking anymore.
Abe puffed out a sigh and closed his eyes again, “Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better, at least. I can get you food, if you think you can eat, or something else to drink in a little while if you’re still thirsty and your stomach can handle it. Once we get your blood work back and know exactly what drugs are in your system, I might be able to give you some kind of antidote to help speed up your transition, but it would mean having you drink it, or having you let me inject it, and I won’t do that unless you want me to.” He paused, considering it, then added, “If they had you drugged for as long as I think they did, though, it’s going to suck either way, but it might go faster with a little help. Just so you know your options.”
They stayed like that, in the world’s slowest, least thrilling standoff, for hours before someone rapped lightly on the door to the holding cell and slid open the little window at the bottom. “Yo, Abe, we got the blood work back.”
Abe rubbed his eyes, yawning so wide his jaw cracked, before hauling himself out of the corner and crawling over to the door. “Thanks, Tajima,” he said, taking the clipboard he passed through. “What’s the word?”
“Nasty stuff, and your pup got the worst of it. Haruna thinks the others’ll be out by tomorrow morning, but with the amount of crap in his system, your boy’s going to be coming off it right before the full moon.”
“Shit,” Abe breathed, flipping through Mihashi’s updated chart. When he got to the blood work, he frowned, “Who the hell were these assholes? I’ve never seen a cocktail like this.”
“Dumbasses. From the look of it, they just shot whoever up with whatever whenever they had it. Your boy’s lucky they didn’t accidentally land on a lethal combo.”
“They probably did,” Abe said, “just not for him. You have a pen?”
Tajima handed him one through the small opening in the door, and Abe flipped through the pages on the clipboard until he found a blank one, then pulled it out and clipped it to the top of the stack. He’d been hoping that there was just one suppressant built up in Mihashi’s system, because that would have been easy to treat. With this many different substances in play, he had to worry about all their side effects and all the ways each of them interacted with other drugs. It was going to be hard to counteract them, but if he didn’t, a painful three-day detox would turn into an ugly week shifting in and out of human form when the full moon took hold of him. “Shit,” he muttered, sliding the pen into the clip of the clipboard. “Could you bring me some more paper, and have Shinooka bring me lunch and some more beef broth?”
Tajima nodded, “Sure thing.” He clapped Abe on the shoulder and grinned at him, “Don’t worry too much. This pup’s a fighter, I can tell.”
Abe let out a weak laugh, “You hear he nipped Haruna?”
“Yeah, like a champ. We should try to hire him when he comes around. You could use a friend with good reflexes.”
Abe held up his middle finger, and Tajima laughed, slamming the little window shut and trumping off down the hall. Abe retrieved his pen and tapped the tip of it against his paper, thinking. After a moment, he said, “Did you catch all that?”
Mihashi let out a gruff, halfhearted little growl.
“Yeah, yeah. You don’t want me doing science to you. But you really don’t want those drugs to wear off during the full moon.”
Mihashi sighed, emphatically.
Abe started copying down the list of drugs in Mihashi’s system, listing each in its own neat little box on the page, then started writing down everything he knew about each of them and how to counteract them. He stopped only when Shinooka came with food, walking cautiously over to the abandoned water dish and refilling it with steamy hot broth before resuming his post next to the door. He held his sandwich in one hand, taking bites whenever he remembered it was there, but mostly focused on his notes. He wasn’t officially a doctor yet, but this was exactly what he’d been training to do.
When Mihashi lifted himself up off the floor and paced across the room, Abe followed him with his eyes, but didn’t dare to move – hardly dared to breathe. Mihashi lapped up everything in the bowl and then laid down next to it, still fixing him with that steady, golden gaze, but no longer crammed into the corner. Abe glanced back down at his paper, crossed out what he’d just written, and took another bite of his sandwich.
It took four pages of notes and another two of meticulous calculations before Abe was happy with his proposal. He wrote it out on a clean sheet of paper, followed by a short paragraph about his reasoning. Then, he copied it again before banging twice on the door behind him. This time, it was Hanai who came to the door. “No Shinooka?”
Hanai shook his head, “She’s taking her lunch. What do you need?”
Abe passed him the two pieces of paper, “Can you give one of these to Haruna, and one to the doc? I want them to double check my numbers.” He didn’t exactly relish the idea of asking Haruna for help, but he wanted to be sure he hadn’t overlooked anything crucial. Even a small mistake in his math could be a big problem for Mihashi, and he knew a fresh pair of eyes wouldn’t hurt.
Hanai scanned the paper. “Gonna try to pull him out of it?” Hanai usually did more resocialization and patient consultation than lab work, but he knew his stuff.
“I’m going to give him the choice,” Abe said, “assuming my math is right.”
“I’ll have them take a look.”
Abe gave him a nod, then scrubbed his face with his hands and sighed. That had taken longer than he’d expected, without the satisfaction of solving a tough word problem. He wouldn’t know if it worked until he tried it, and if it didn’t, he wouldn’t know it until it was too late. Which, he realized, wasn’t much of a pitch. He glanced over at Mihashi, who had hardly moved an inch. He’d managed to lick the blood off his snout, though, which made him look ever so slightly less menacing. It might have been a trick of the light, but in his relatively relaxed posture, he looked a little healthier, too.
“You ready to accept some food yet?” Mihashi just blinked at him. “I saw you eyeballing my sandwich earlier. Roast beef. I could get you some, but I won’t throw it on the floor if you’re going to turn your nose at it.” Mihashi rested his chin on his paws, huffing out a little bark. Abe shrugged, “Let me know when you change your mind. The more you focus on getting your strength back, the easier it’s going to go.”
Abe pulled out another blank sheet of paper and clipped it to the top of his clipboard. He glanced through the pages, jotted down a few numbers, and started doing a different set of math. Given the surface observations of his wounds, the levels of the different chemicals in his blood, the impact of those drugs on a werewolf’s rate of healing given his size and weight and apparent age, the strain of his virus and the level of mutation…
“Fuck,” he breathed. It was the roughest approximation, no guarantee it was accurate, but if it was even close… “Nine weeks,” he said, not quite a question. It was awful in every possible way – awful that it could have been so long, awful that he could have been hurt so badly in less than three lunar cycles. He put his pen down and leaned back against the door, looking across the room at Mihashi. “Who are you?” he asked, “Where did you come from?”
He didn’t expect an answer, but Mihashi whined softly, and Abe was pretty sure it was the saddest sound he’d ever heard.
It was another twenty minutes before Shinooka came back with notes from Haruna and Shiga. Shiga’s was simple, scribbled hastily at the bottom of his math work – Looks good. Aggressive, but well thought-out. Make sure your patient knows the risks&benefits before you proceed.
The note from Haruna, he crumpled and dropped onto the floor.
He handed the page from Shiga back to Shinooka, “Can you bring me everything on this list, and a pound and a half of cubed stew beef?”
She took the paper, but frowned, “I thought Haruna-”
“Haruna put me in charge of this patient,” he said. “You can run it by him if you want to, but please make it clear to him that I’m rejecting his proposal outright, and that if he wishes to move forward with it, he’ll have to remove me from Mihashi’s care.”
Shinooka smoothed her hands over her thighs, straightening her skirt. “I’m not going to go over your head,” she said carefully. “But make sure you’re doing what’s best for your patient, and not ignoring Haruna because you don’t like him.”
“Did you see what he proposed?” Abe said, not quite managing to keep the indignation out of his voice.
“He’s not wrong,” she said. “On paper, it makes sense, but…”
“It goes against everything I stand for,” Abe said.
“Maybe you should ask him,” she said, nodding toward Mihashi, “and not make the decision for him.”
Abe looked back over at his shoulder at Mihashi, doing his best to weigh Shinooka’s words against the anger boiling in the back of his mind. “Yeah,” he said eventually, “Okay. You’re right. Will you bring me the stuff anyway, so I can show it to him?”
“That’s my job,” she said, sounding more than a little tired. “You need anything else to eat? You’ve been in here a while.”
“I’m not really hungry,” he said. “I wouldn’t say no to some tea, though.”
“You’ve got it,” she said, patting him on the shoulder before standing up and heading back down the hall. When the sound of her footsteps faded away, Abe reached over and picked up the wadded piece of paper off the floor and smoothed it out, eyes trailing over Haruna’s slanted, scratchy handwriting. Your math is fine, but you’re an idiot. Just keep him dosed until after the full moon so he only has to change once.
Shinooka was damn good at her job. Abe had expected, maybe, a plastic bin full of glass bottles and miscellaneous syringes. Instead, she handed him a leather medic roll neatly packed with filled, capped hypodermic needles arranged by drug and dose as he’d noted them on the list, plus three sets of pills, each in their own bottle with a neatly printed label. “You’re an angel,” Abe said, flipping the case closed.
“I know,” she said, handing him a big metal thermos. “You do realize you were supposed to clock out half an hour ago, right?”
He hadn’t, but it didn’t matter. “Still have work to do.”
“I figured you’d say that,” she said. “I think Hamada-san is working the evening shift, but I’ll come check on you again before I leave for the day.”
“Thanks Chiyo,” He said.
“Just don’t work yourself to death,” she said, setting a big plate of raw stew beef on the floor next to him before sliding the window on the door shut again.
Abe picked up the plate and held it out in front of him, “Peace offering?” Mihashi had settled into a disgruntled silence ever since Abe’s hushed argument with Shinooka. He was overdue for an explanation. When Mihashi didn’t react to the pile of red meat, Abe put it back down and sighed. “Okay, talk first then. Is it alright for me to get a little closer to you?”
Mihashi pushed up on his front legs, shuffling back a few steps, but it was more like he was standing his ground than retreating. Abe scooted his way along the floor until Mihashi made a little chuffing noise. Close enough.
He set the medic roll down on the ground in between them, then laid out Shiga’s note on one side of it, and Haruna’s on the other. “I spent most of the afternoon going over your blood work,” he started. “The people who were holding you captive put a lot of crap in your body, and that means that when you turn back, it’s going to be slow, and painful, and take a long time. The good news is, for every kind of drug that can keep a shapeshifter in their animal form, there’s a kind of drug that can help turn them back.” He held up a hand, doing his best to seem non-threatening as he unrolled the case on the floor in front of him. Mihashi yipped and scuffled back another step, but Abe took his hand away from the case and held it up, too, “I’m not going to use any of this on you unless you want me to, but I want you to know what it is, okay?”
Mihashi stayed stiff, breathing a little too fast. But he didn’t retreat.
“Okay,” he said again, soothingly. He pointed at one of the bottles of pills, “These will help speed up your healing. They’ll help take care of all the cuts and bites, and the broken rib and sprained wrist you think I don’t know about. This one, I think, is one of the things Haruna put in your water. It’s an antibiotic, mostly a precaution because we don’t know what all you’ve been exposed to, but if you take the first one, this is sort of moot. We couldn’t give the first one to you right off the bat, because we didn’t know what you’d been dosed with. These ones are pain pills, because like I said, turning back is going to suck.” He took a deep breath, pointing at each of the clusters of needles in turn, “Each of these is the drug to counteract something that’s been given to you. Because there’s so much crap in your system, you’d need one of each of these every six hours for the next 48 hours, but if we time it right, it’ll mean you’ll be human again faster, and it won’t be as painful to turn back.”
He sat back, folding his arms across his chest, “The problem is, you’re probably going to start feeling the pull of the full moon in three days. If we do nothing at all, you’ll probably get half way back into your human form, be stuck like that for the better part of a day, and then start turning back into a wolf. If we do it my way,” he said, pointing over at Shiga’s note, “you’ll have maybe a day, day and a half fully human, and when the pull hits you, you should be able to shift easily.” Abe sighed, moving to point over at Haruna’s note, “The other option is, we give you one, maybe two more small doses of one of the less potent drugs you were given-” Mihashi bristled, hackles raising and a low, menacing growl trickling out of him. Abe quickly held up his hands, “I know, that’s how I feel about it, too, but hear me out. If we do that, you’ll stay a wolf through the full moon, but by then the drugs will have worked out of your system, and you should be able to change back normally when the moon wanes. So, no slow, painful half-transformations, only one or two shots, and no side effects. If we do these,” he said, pointing back at the syringes, “I won’t be able to give you much for the pain, and all the drugs in your system might make you groggy, or even nauseous, or-”
Mihashi pawed at Shiga’s note.
Abe cracked a smile, “You sure?”
Mihashi pawed at the paper again, crumpling it a little against the floor.
“You understand that that means you have to let me stick a bunch of needles in you, right? And you can’t change your mind half way, even if the pain is really bad.”
Mihashi folded his paws on the paper, laying his head down on top of them and looking up at Abe.
“Literal puppy eyes,” he said, shaking his head. “Okay. Then let’s get started.” He glanced at his watch, spinning the face and setting the timer. Six hours. It was going to be a long couple of days. He started by popping open one of the pill bottles, tapping one tablet out into his palm before recapping the bottle and putting it back in the bag. He carefully wrapped the pill in a piece of steak, then tossed it to Mihashi.
Mihashi popped up and snapped it smoothly out of the air, jaws smacking as he worked the little chunk of meat around his mouth.
“You spit that pill out, and I’m going to be pissed,” Abe muttered, pulling out one of each of the syringes. He uncapped and tapped the first one, giving the plunger a little push to work out any air bubbles, but stopped short of moving toward Mihashi. “Is it okay for me to touch you?” Mihashi lowered himself back to the ground and Abe scooted over to him carefully, giving him time to pull back if he needed too, but other than twitching his back and flinching a little when Abe laid a hand between his shoulder blades, he didn’t react. In fact, he took all six shots in stride, letting Abe pinch up the loose skin at the back of his neck and poke it with hardly any protest.
When he was done, Abe couldn’t resist the urge to run his hands through Mihashi’s thick golden scruff. Even on his back, Mihashi’s fur was sparse, but ragged and worn as it was, it was the softest thing Abe had ever touched. His head and ears looked positively velvety, too, but Abe knew better than to press his luck. “All done,” he said, giving Mihashi’s fur one last gentle ruffle before scooting away. “Now we just have to do it seven more times.”
Mihashi made a sound that indicated he was about as pleased with this predicament as Abe was.
Abe stretched his arms up over his head, back cracking. He’d been sitting on a cold concrete floor for going on ten hours. Now he was starting to get hungry, and he’d eaten twice already today. Mihashi hadn’t. He picked up the big tray of meat and set it down in front of him, “Come on. No point in any of this if you don’t eat something and get your strength back.”
He scooted back against the wall, drinking tea out of the lid of his thermos while he watched Mihashi eat. He was obviously ravenous, but the fact that he was literally starved made Abe hesitant to give him more food, even after Mihashi licked the platter clean and nudged it over to him with his nose.
“I know you’re still hungry,” he murmured, “but if you eat too much too fast, you’re going to make yourself sick.” Mihashi whined and pushed the plate closer to him, and Abe breathed out a little laugh, “If you throw up, it’s going to dehydrate you again, and it’s going to make your rib worse.”
Mihashi huffed a sigh and lay back down, but this time he didn’t bother to retreat into the corner.
Abe didn’t realize he’d drifted off until he heard the rusty clank of the cell door opening. He sucked in a breath and sat up straighter, momentarily disoriented, then groaned. He was cold and stiff and had a bad crick in his neck. If Mihashi had been asleep, too, he wasn’t anymore, ears pricked forward, eyes alert, the air around him vibrating with the low thrum of his mistrust and displeasure.
“It’s okay,” Abe said, bracing himself against the wall and struggling up to his feet, “It’s alright.”
He rubbed his eyes groggily as he crossed the small room. The door was barely open a crack, and he pressed his face to the opening, only to find someone peering back at him, “Shinooka?”
“You’re an idiot,” she said, not unkindly.
“What time is it?”
“Time for you to take a break.” He opened his mouth to object, but she didn’t give him the chance, “Not a suggestion, Abe.”
He frowned, but now that he was awake and standing up, he realized he really, really needed to take a piss. He sighed and turned back to Mihashi, “I’ll be back in just a few minutes, okay?”
“He’ll be fine,” Shinooka said, opening the door wide enough for him to step through. “I think twelve hours is long enough for anyone to get sick of you.”
Abe blinked, following her out into the hall, “Twelve hours?”
“Mmhm, you were sleeping like a baby next to that supposedly violent beast in there. I swear, I’ve never met anyone with a more spectacular lack of self preservation.”
“Wait, if it’s that late, why are you still here?”
“Because I came to check on you, like I said I would, and I started to open the door and heard you snoring, and your patient snoring, so instead of waking you both, I stood outside and tried to imagine how our conversation would have gone.”
“How did our hypothetical conversation go?” he asked, trailing after her into the lounge. The shift from uninsulated concrete to the heat spilling over from an active kitchen was jarring. The warm air made Abe’s jeans feel cold against his legs, and he shivered.
“I told you to go home, and you grumbled and muttered, and I told you Izumi was here to take over for you, and you grumbled and muttered, and I told you to go home again, and you said you thought you should stay to keep an eye on your patient.”
She handed him a styrofoam cup of coffee, and he frowned into it. She wasn’t wrong. “So you’re pulling a double shift to make sure I leave?”
She shook her head, “I clocked out when my shift was over like a sane person, went home and ate dinner like a sane person, and then let myself into your apartment with the key Izumi leant me and picked up your overnight bag and some books.”
Abe’s eyes went wide, “What?”
“You’re welcome,” she said, picking up a familiar black duffel bag off the floor by the door and slinging it over his shoulder. “I also had Hamada-san set up a cot for you in the back so you can get at least a few hours of sleep not on a concrete floor.”
“Haruna should really pay you more,” he marveled.
“I’d ask you to tell him that, but then he’d probably dock my pay just to spite you.”
Abe grunted, because it wasn’t really a joke, but Shinooka didn’t need to sit through another tirade today.
She chewed her lip thoughtfully, then asked, “Why are you still working here, anyway?”
He glanced up from his coffee, surprised, “What?”
“I mean, why not quit? The two of you are literally at each other’s throats, and you’re more than qualified enough to get a job at any clinic in the city.”
He blinked, baffled by the question, until he realized that Shinooka didn’t know. “He won’t let me.”
He held up his hand, showing her the neat half moon scars Haruna’s teeth had left on his forearm, “He’s the one who turned me. Even though I don’t run with the rest of them, he’s still technically my pack leader. Since all the clinics in the city are pack affiliated, hiring me would be like harboring a fugitive without his permission, and he won’t release me.”
“Holy shit,” Shinooka breathed, then put her fingertips to her lips like she’d scandalized herself by saying it out loud. “But why?”
Abe shrugged, “Let me know if you figure it out.”
“No wonder you hate him.”
“I used to think he was a genius,” Abe said, draining the last of his coffee and tossing the cup in the trash. “It was his thesis on the generational mutation patterns of the virus that made me shift my field of study. It’s too bad he’s such a fucking c-”
Someone smacked the back of his head and pushed him forward, ruffling his hair. “Don’t forget, the boss man has good ears, dumbass,” Izumi said, just loud enough for him to hear.
Abe stood back up, rubbing the back of his head and patting his hair down, “He’s heard me call him worse.”
“And you wonder why he doesn’t play nice.” Izumi gave Shinooka a quick nod before turning back to Abe, “You really staying the night?”
“Yeah,” Abe said, glancing at his watch, “I put him on a pretty aggressive schedule, and I don’t think he’d take well to a parade of strangers coming to poke needles in him every couple of hours.”
“Well, no one can say you aren’t dedicated, I guess.” He turned back to Shinooka, “Tajima’s notes said the pups should start shifting back in about an hour.” He handed her a sheet of paper, “Can you fill this before you head home? I want to make sure they’re all calm and comfortable before their bones start spontaneously breaking.”
“Sure thing,” she said, glancing over the notes on the page. “And I made soup for you and Mihashi, Abe. Should be gentle enough on his stomach for him to eat his fill, and I think you’ll like it too. There’s a big pot of it on the stove if you want to take it back with you.”
“Thanks,” he said, and she gave him a little nod before slipping out a side door and into their pharmacy.
“You know,” Izumi said quietly, “I didn’t know he was holding you hostage, either. You’ve asked him straight out to be released?”
“On multiple occasions.”
“And he shot you down?”
“The closest he ever came to saying yes was telling me he can’t release me from a pack I refuse to be a part of.”
Izumi was silent for a moment, then said, “He won’t release you unless you come run with us?”
“That’s the implication.”
“That’s not a no, though, right? I mean, why not just come along once or twice and ask him again?”
“Because if a pack leader kills another wolf on their own land during the full moon, they aren’t culpable for murder.”
Izumi snorted, “Seriously, Abe? That’s a little dramatic, even for you.”
“Not as much as you’d think,” he said. Izumi looked skeptical, and Abe sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, “I ran with him once before, right after he turned me, and we both ended up in the ICU for three days afterward.”
“It was before your time,” Abe said, “but yeah, we took down a deer and got in a fight over the corpse. I almost took Haruna’s leg off, and he ripped out most of my throat.”
“What the fuck?” Izumi said, recoiling. “Jesus, Abe, I thought you two had, like, persistent philosophical differences about patient care, not-”
“A literal thirst for each other’s blood?” Abe said, arching an eyebrow. “Yeah. Not exactly eager to accept another invitation.”
“Shit.” After a moment, he added, “You want me to talk to him?”
“You think he’d listen?”
Izumi’s silence was all the answer he needed.
“So, yeah, congratulations. You’re stuck with me.” Abe grabbed Izumi’s head and messed up his hair, “I’m gonna go take a leak. Can you hang around and help me carry the inevitably-excessive amount of soup Shinooka made?”
“Hey, don’t hate,” Izumi said, slapping his hands away. “Why bother making soup at all if you’re not going to make enough to fill a swimming pool?”
Abe laughed, “I’m pretty sure I could fit you in one of those soup pots.”
“I know I am,” he said, turning and starting to walk away. He stopped and glanced back over his shoulder, “Oh, and next time, give me a heads up before you lend Shinooka my key.”
Izumi snorted, “Yeah, sure, because she’s never seen your nasty-ass bachelor pad before. Hell, I’d tell you to just give her her own key already, but she might get the wrong idea about you.”
Abe flipped him off as he walked away, and Izumi’s laughter followed him down the hall.
Peering through the little barred window in the door to the holding cell, Mihashi seemed calm and relaxed, but in the time it took Abe to actually open the door, the big golden wolf evaporated from his spot on the floor and jammed himself into a corner, hiding in the blind spot behind the door. He and Izumi had to get most of the way into the room before they could put the hefty soup pot down so it wouldn’t block the door, and as soon as Izumi crossed into Mihashi’s line of sight, he let out a low, menacing growl.
Izumi set the pot down with an audible clank, and Mihashi’s growl turned into a yelp, and he started scrabbling against the wall.
“Hey,” Abe said softly, waving Izumi back out into the hall, “It’s okay. He was just helping me bring in food, okay? He’s not going to hurt you. Okay?”
Abe backed slowly into the door frame and Izumi passed him the duffel bag Shinooka had brought for him. “Jesus. He’s in really bad shape.”
“He looks worlds better than he did this morning,” Abe said.
Izumi let out a dry laugh, “And I thought I was going to have a long night.”
“Yeah, no kidding.”
Izumi patted him on the shoulder, “Good luck in there.”
Abe nodded and ducked back inside, waiting for Izumi to close and lock the door behind him before setting down his bag and sitting next to the giant pot of soup. He worked slowly, carefully ladling the soup into a bowl – for him – and a bigger bowl – for Mihashi. It was hot and fragrant, beef and barley with big chunks of vegetables. He hooked the ladle on the side of the pot and put the lid back on it, then let out a soft sigh. “I know you’re scared,” he said. “You have every reason to be.” He picked up the big bowl and leaned forward, setting it down as close to Mihashi as he could without pressing into his space, “but you don’t have to be afraid of me. All I want is for you to get better.” He picked up his own bowl and inched carefully back along the floor before settling into the corner opposite Mihashi. Mihashi didn’t move a muscle, but his eyes followed Abe as he moved.
Abe held up his soup bowl in a little salute, “Cheers.” He fished the spoon he’d swiped from the kitchen out of his pocket and started eating. And, damn, the soup was good, warm and hearty, the meat and vegetables tender without being mushy, the barley pleasantly chewy. He let out a little hum of contentment. “Shinooka said you could eat as much as you want,” he remarked when he realized his bowl was half empty and Mihashi still hadn’t moved. “Though she’s not so good with portion sizes,” he added wryly, nodding at the massive pot, “so don’t go too crazy.”
When he finished his soup, he crawled back to the center of the room and took the lid back off the pot, carefully refilling his bowl. “Are you not feeling well?” he asked, glancing over at Mihashi.
Mihashi looked pointedly at the door.
“He’s not coming back,” Abe said, fighting to keep the smile off his face. “Besides, you’d hear him coming. You got hidden over there pretty fast, remember?” He put the lid back on the pot and shifted so he was sitting with his back against the door, “Come eat something before it gets cold. No one’s getting past me.”
Mihashi stayed where he was just long enough that they could both pretend that Abe playing doorstop hadn’t made him feel better before standing up and pacing over to the bowl Abe had set out for him. He ate more carefully this time, nosing around the bowl and picking out the chunks of meat before lapping down the broth. It didn’t escape Abe’s notice that he left quite a few carrots in the bottom of his dish. He reached over and drew the bowl back over towards him and refilled it, “Is it the carrots you don’t like, or just vegetables in general?”
Mihashi let out a disgruntled little huff, and Abe set the dish back in front of him, a little closer this time. Despite his scolding, Mihashi started doing exactly the same thing again.
“You know, if you keep that up, you’re just going to end up with a bowl full of carrots, right?”
Mihashi did a pretty good job of ignoring him, but before he could finish his second helping, Abe picked on of the big hunks of carrot out of his own bowl. He let out a sharp whistle and Mihashi’s attention whipped over to him. He tossed the carrot, and Mihashi snapped it out of the air, lightning fast – too fast to think better of it. He groaned, a low, miserable, complaining noise, but he didn’t drop the carrot. “It’s not so bad, right?” Abe said, licking his fingertips clean.
Mihashi stared at him steadily for a moment, then bent and nudged his mostly carrot-filled dish towards Abe.
“You want more?”
But Mihashi just nudged the dish closer to him, then backed up a few steps. For a moment, Abe didn’t understand. Then Mihashi jumped and barked.
“Seriously?” he said, putting down his own bowl. Mihashi barked again. “You’ve been a wolf for too long,” he said, but picked a carrot up out of Mihashi’s dish and tossed it to him, a little higher this time. Again, Mihashi snapped it clean out of the air, but this time after he swallowed it, his tongue lolled out and he started panting. Experimentally, Abe tossed another hunk of carrot, this time slightly off to one side, but the shift in direction didn’t fool Mihashi for a second. “You have fantastic reflexes,” he said, throwing another carrot high and to the other side. When Mihashi trotted to the other side of the small room and barked at him again, Abe whipped another piece of carrot, this time high enough in the air that Mihashi had to jump for it.
Before long, the bowl was empty except for a little ring of barley and leftover broth, and Mihashi wandered back over and flopped down next to the soup pot. He was obviously disappointed that their game was over, but seemed exhilarated by the exercise. “That’s probably the first chance you’ve gotten to move around in a while, huh?” Abe said. “You must be bored out of your mind.”
Mihashi chuffed, nudging his bowl with his nose.
“Do you want some more, or do you just want to keep playing catch?” he asked, but didn’t wait for an answer before ladling more soup into the dish. Evidently Mihashi either overcame his dislike for carrots – or at least gave in to his hunger – because when he bent over the bowl, this time he ate with much more gusto, and much less discretion. Abe wrapped his arms around his legs, hugging them to his chest and resting his chin on his knees. “I wish I knew who you were,” he said, then smiled. “I bet you’re a hell of an athlete, though.”
Mihashi whined softly, and the smile faded from Abe’s face, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up something bad.”
But then Mihashi nosed the bowl back towards him, empty except for a single cube of meat.
“Well, at least you’re feeling better,” Abe said, picking it up. “Over here?” He started to throw it and Mihashi leapt to his feet. “Or this way?” He said, pantomiming throwing it in the opposite direction. Mihashi started, but didn’t fall for it. He barked, impatient, and Abe whipped the meat across the room, fast and low, but Mihashi moved like lightning and caught it before it fell. Abe let out a low, impressed whistle, “I guess that means your rib and ankle are okay, then.”
As soon as he said it, he realized that Mihashi really did look better, whether it was the first round of medication he’d given him, the food, or just the fact that he’d had the better part of a day for the drugs in his system to start wearing off. His coat was starting to come back in, slowly, and his skin looked heathier, scabbed over or healed where it showed. “Yeah,” he said, nodding and agreeing with himself aloud, “You’re looking pretty good.”
Mihashi, seemingly impervious to Abe’s scrutiny, wandered back over and started to stick his nose into the soup pot.
“Hey, get out of there,” Abe said, waving him off, “I still have to eat from there, too.” Mihashi backed up a few steps, and Abe started mechanically refilling his bowl again, muttering under his breath, “Trying to put your dog spit in my soup.”
In the end, between the two of them, they did end up eating almost all the soup. By the time the ladle had started scraping the bottom of the pot, Abe had come up with what he hoped was a convincing story about how he’d shared it with the rest of the guys, even though he knew Shinooka wouldn’t buy it. “I’m never going to hear the end of this,” Abe said, absently rubbing his stomach. He was pleasantly overfull, satiated and a little groggy, and a glance in Mihashi’s direction told him that his patient was similarly sedate.
When the alarm on his watch went off, Abe was momentarily bewildered. Had it already been six hours? But when he looked at his wrist and started pressing the buttons on his watch, he groaned and let his head fall back against the metal door. The game was starting in fifteen minutes. For just a moment, he considered calling Shinooka and asking if she had happened, per chance, to set his DVR to record it. Then he realized that was stupid, and that if he asked, she’d probably rush over to do it, which would be a dick move, even for him. Instead, he spent ten of the fifteen minutes sulking before realizing that Shinooka, superhuman and magnificent as she was, would have remembered.
He sat up abruptly, reaching for his abandoned duffel bag and dragging it across the floor. Sure enough, mixed in with his toiletries, enough clothes for three days and two nights, and a stack of reading material, she’d packed his small emergency radio. He was going to hand write her a thank you note. He turned to Mihashi, whose ears had perked up with curiosity, and asked tentatively, “How do you feel about baseball?”
Mihashi, as it turned out, was absolutely all about baseball. They wound up sitting side by side, Mihashi’s flank pressed to Abe’s leg, clustered around the small, tinny sound of the radio, tensing and shouting (barking) in tandem. Abe’s watch went off again in the bottom of the fifth, and he rested the radio between Mihashi’s front paws while he fed him another pill and gave him his second round of medication. He groaned softly in discomfort as Abe administered the last shot, and Abe gently rubbed the injection site, trying to chase away the feeling of the foreign liquids underneath his skin. His hand stilled when the radio announced the cleanup coming up to bat (one out, runners on first and third), and somewhere between him hitting a double and the next two runs, he started gently stroking Mihashi’s head, which had ended up in his lap.
He hesitated for a moment when he realized he was doing it, but the fact that Mihashi was letting him was reason enough not to stop. This was by far the most calm and relaxed Mihashi had been since the moment Abe had laid eyes on him, his focus tuned entirely on the slightly fuzzy sound of the radio, his guard almost completely down. Abe ran his hands thoughtfully along Mihashi’s ears (which were even more velvety soft than he’d imagined). The little nicks and scrapes on his head were gone, including the notch that had been missing from his left ear, and there was life in his tawny golden fur that hadn’t been there that morning.
The doctor part of his brain wanted to take the opportunity to get a better look at his patient, to check that his rib had really set properly, to note how much he’d recovered since his initial examination. But a bigger part of him just wanted Mihashi to keep breathing slow and steady and unafraid.
Then Mihashi let out a low, grumpy little woof, and Abe turned his attention back to the game, fingertips still absently stroking the top of Mihashi’s head.
The spell broke when their team scored the game winning point in the bottom of the ninth, Abe pumped his fists and let out an abrupt cheer, and Mihashi leapt to his feet like someone had just asked if he wanted to go for a walk. They gathered around the radio, listening the final seconds of the game, and when it was over, Abe let out a pleased little, “Fuck yeah.” He grinned, looking up at Mihashi, “Wanna listen to the post-game?”
This time, Mihashi walked in a slow circle, curling up and laying down, and rested his head deliberately on Abe’s thigh.
“Post-game it is,” Abe said, his voice coming out a little weaker than he might have liked. He set the radio down in his lap, but when he let his hand fall to his side, Mihashi turned and nudged his nose underneath it, bumping and pushing at his palm until Abe put his hand back on top of Mihashi’s head and started petting him again.
He didn’t hear much of the post-game.
It occurred to him, after a few minutes of staring down at the top of Mihashi’s head, that this was probably the first time he’d received a kind touch in wolf form. It was a strange thing, something Abe himself only barely remembered, but there was a different kind of kinship in touch between wolves. He’d been on his own so long, so careful to avoid other shapeshifters during the full moon, that the feel of rubbing shoulders and flanks was hardly a ghost of a memory. And Mihashi wouldn’t have even had that.
By the time the announcers went quiet, Mihashi’s breathing had turned steady and slow, his body relaxed and heavy and warm at Abe’s side. If he wasn’t asleep, he was close enough for it not to matter. Carefully, Abe turned the volume down on the radio and tuned it to some late night talk show, the voices a barely audible rumble of comforting white noise, and closed his eyes.
When his watch went off a few hours later, his neck and back and shoulders screamed in protest, and he groaned, rubbing groggily at his face and eyes before fumbling off the alarm. The sound had woken Mihashi, too, but he hadn’t stirred, just made a miserable little groan of protest. “You and me both,” Abe muttered, unrolling the medic bag. “Ready for round three?”
Mihashi chuffed, but stayed where he was, keeping still while Abe gave him his shots and obediently swallowing the pill Abe fed him. When he was finished, Abe ruffled Mihashi’s hair and shuffled out from under him, bracing himself against the wall and pushing up to his feet, “Alright, I should try to get at least a few hours of decent sleep before I completely stop being able to move my neck.”
Mihashi pawed at his leg and whined, and Abe let out a dry laugh, “Sorry, but you’re a little better equipped for dealing with a hard floor than I am.” Mihashi whiled again, pawing at him more urgently, and Abe said, “It’s okay, I’m just going down the hall. Shinooka set up a cot for me.” He picked the big soup pot up off the floor, expecting it to be ice cold after all the time it had been sitting there, but the bottom was still just barely warm. “You want the rest of this?” he asked. Any longer and it would probably go bad, and there was no point in wasting it. He scooped the last of the soup into the big water dish, but Mihashi ignored it, still looking at Abe with something that might have been betrayal.
Abe sighed. “I’m just going to be down the hall,” he said again. “You can literally just howl if you need me, and I’ll hear you and come running.”
Mihashi immediately started to howl.
“I said if you need me,” he said with a soft laugh, bracing the soup pot against his hip and picking his bag up off the floor.
Mihashi just howled again.
“Stop that,” Abe said, keeping his own voice low, “You’re going to wake everyone up.”
He stopped, but didn’t look happy about it. Abe rapped twice on the metal door, “Look, you’re going to be fine. I’ll probably wake up before your next round of shots anyway.”
A moment later the lock groaned and the door swung outward, but when Abe took a step to leave, Mihashi grabbed lightly onto the hem of his shirt with his teeth. Abe stopped mid-step, turning around to look back at Mihashi, who whined softly.
Abe sighed, “Okay, fine. I’ll come back. But I’m going to go brush my teeth first.”
Mihashi let him go immediately, expression splitting into a big doggy grin.
Abe rolled his eyes, “I’ll be back in a minute.”
He was surprised to find a weary looking Hamada waiting for him in the hall. “What are you still doing here?”
Hamada shook his head, running a hand through his hair and nodding for Abe to follow him down the hall. Once they were a few feet away from Mihashi’s cell, Hamada murmured quietly, “One of the pups is stuck in a lateral shift.”
Abe jolted, halting his step in surprise, “Holy shit, are you serious?”
Hamada nodded, looking weary, “Apparently nothing in her blood work indicated there was a problem, but Izumi caught it right away when she started to turn.”
“Do you need me in there?”
“No, Tajima came back in and is easing her through it. I stuck around to help out, but mostly I’m just ferrying towels back and forth to the laundry.”
“Yeah, and it’s her first shift back, so she’s really scared. Tajima thinks it’ll be treatable, though, for what it’s worth.”
“That’s good,” Abe said, nodding absently.
“Can I get you anything from the kitchen?”
“Nah, I’m alright. I’m going to head back in there, though, so come lock the door behind me when you can, okay?”
“Wait, don’t you have a cot set up in the quiet room?”
“Yeah, I’m moving it in there.”
Abe sighed, “Because I’m a pushover.”
Hamada let out a dry chuckle, “Could have fooled me.”
It took some doing, getting the stupid cot out of the back room, through the kitchen, around several corners, and back into the holding cell, but the fact that he was met by a big golden wolf sparkling with enthusiasm and dancing on excited feet rather than cowering in a corner made it worth it. He set the cot down in one corner and tossed the sleeping bag back on top of it. “You happy?” he asked. Mihashi barked, and Abe shushed him, quickly slipping into the sleeping bag, getting his sock-covered feet off the cold concrete as quickly as he could before zipping himself inside. The cot was by no means comfortable, but it was better than the damn floor. He lay down, stretched out, and sighed. A few hours sleep was better than nothing. “Try to get some sleep,” he said through a yawn.
He’d hardly closed his eyes when he felt something shift on the cot next to him. He looked up and found Mihashi resting his chin on the edge of the cot, staring at him from inches away from his face. Abe closed his eyes again, “Seriously?” When Mihashi didn’t move, he said, “What now?”
He jolted when he felt himself being dragged toward the edge of the cot, and realized Mihashi was pulling on his sleeping bag with his teeth. “What the hell!”
Mihashi let go, dropping down onto his stomach on the floor and peering up at Abe with sad eyes.
“What are you, five?” he muttered, inchworming off the edge of the cot until he was standing in the middle of the floor, still in his sleeping bag. “Do you need a glass of water, too? Want me to turn on a nightlight?” He flung himself onto the floor as gently as he could without arms, wiggling around to get as comfortable as he was going to before huffing, “Well, come on then.”
Mihashi padded over and gave Abe’s face a gentle lick before lying down beside him.
“Gross,” Abe muttered, shrugging his shoulder against the wet spot on his cheek, but he poked an arm out of his sleeping bag and smoothed his hand gently down along Mihashi’s back, drawing him close before he closed his eyes.