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The Home of the Wolf

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One Time Frank Castle Saw David Lieberman

A bucket of ice-cold water in the face brought David back to gasping, choking, miserable awareness. Yep. Still naked and zip-tied to a chair. He was at the point of sleep deprivation that piled on full-body aches, nausea, a stabbing headache, and a deeply unpleasant state of heightened sensation that made everything hurt, from light to sound to touch. But unfortunately, he wasn’t so tired that he could sleep through Frank Castle’s patented wake-up techniques.

“Just tell me who he is,” Frank demanded. “The man in charge. The head werewolf—the alpha, right? The alpha wolf.”

David shook his head, then stopped because that hurt too. “I want to find out too, Frank. This is why we should work together. We both—ow! Stop it!”

Frank had placed a silver dollar on his bare thigh. It burned like acid, making him even more nauseated. David hoped he wasn’t going to throw up. On second thought, he hoped he would. Frank’s hand was right there.

Then Frank laid the dollar down on the desk and in David’s line of sight, and said with heavy sarcarm, “So you have nothing to do with the military experiments to create werewolf soldiers. You’re a totally innocent man who just coincidentally sprouts fur and fangs.”

“Yes. That is exactly it. Well, I might have gotten sucked into this whole mess because someone found out I was a werewolf and that’s why they sent the tape to me, but it’s also possible that nobody knows and that was a coincidence. We don’t all know each other. There isn’t some mass email that goes out whenever one of us decides to do something criminal.”

Frank made an indistinct grunt that nonetheless clearly conveyed disbelief, incredulity that David was still trying to convince him, and the intention to start doing something painful to him any second now.

Quickly, David went on, “Frank, just pretend for a moment that we’re not talking about werewolves. Imagine yourself saying, ‘David, can you get me Barbra Streisand’s autograph? My mom’s a huge fan. What do you mean, you don’t know her? You’re both Jewish!’”

“As far as I’m aware, Barbra Streisand doesn’t turn into a monster that can rip a person to shreds in seconds.”

David pounced on that set-up. “You know what else can rip a person to shreds in seconds? A gun. So, you’ve got a gun. Does that mean that every time someone gets shot in this country, either you did it or you know who did? Same with us. Werewolves are just people with a special ability. Being able to murder someone and actually doing it are two different things.”

For a moment, he thought he’d gotten through. Then the series of steel doors that Frank’s mind seemed to consist of slammed shut again, leaving his face that cold blank mask. “Just fucking tell me.”

“Are you listening to anything I’m saying?” Clearly he wasn’t, but David tried again anyway. People might call him a lot of things, but ‘easily dissuaded’ wasn’t one of them. “Look, just stop threatening me and burning me and throwing water in my face for five goddamn minutes and let me explain, all right? I’ve read the torture manual too. Once the subject starts talking, you let him talk or you’ll never get the info.”

Frank’s face went even colder, which David wouldn’t have thought was possible until he actually saw it. “When you’re in the field, it doesn’t go by the book.”

“Fine. Keep on making me suffer without actually finding anything out. That’s what you really learned about torture in the field, right? It was never about getting information. It was about sending a message to the enemies you hadn’t captured yet: give up the fight, or we’ll do the same to you. Or about hurting the person you have in front of you because you can’t get to the people who hurt you.

Frank picked up the silver dollar. David flinched. But Frank just let out a frustrated huff, then slammed it back down on the desk. “So talk.”

David hurriedly gave him the thumbnail summary of how he’d been forced to fake his own death after some unknown person had sent him video of military experiments to create werewolf soldiers.

“How’d you know that was what the tape was?” Frank interrupted. “It doesn’t show people turning into wolves. It doesn’t show the soldier getting bitten. It just shows his body tearing itself apart from the inside out. What made you know he’d been bitten by a werewolf, not experimented on with some chemical or biological weapon?”

“We know, Frank. That’s why werewolves like me—just regular folk who happen to turn into wolves—never bite people. Most of the time it just kills them. How’d you know what was going on?”

Frank’s relentless eye contact broke for an instant. Staring at the concrete floor, he muttered, “I’ve seen it. Maria—my wife—she didn’t die right away.”

David figured it was fifty-fifty whether Frank would hit him if he said he was sorry, but he couldn’t help it. “I’m sorry.”

Frank just shook his head, then looked up again. “How do you regular folk werewolves get that way, if you’re not bitten?”

“Well, when a mommy werewolf and a daddy werewolf love each other very much…” David regretted his words when he saw totally literal murder in Frank's eyes. “We're born that way. It’s a genetic trait. We have to learn how to change, but it doesn't hurt us.”

“Genetic, huh? Are your kids werewolves too? Your wife? Maybe I should talk to them instead.”

“HEY!” David tried to lunge at Frank, and succeeded only in bruising his wrists even more and getting a few drops of water on him. “You leave my kids and Sarah out of this! They’ve never hurt anyone in their lives, and they never would! LEAVE THEM THE FUCK ALONE!”

Frank didn’t look inclined to promise that. David flung himself forward, this time hard enough to overturn the chair. His head and shoulder slammed into the floor. He closed his eyes and went limp.

There was a click as Frank put the gun on the floor, and then his hand was at David’s throat. David had to force himself not to flinch. But Frank was only feeling for his pulse.

The strength of the wolf is the pack, David thought.

His paws slipped out of the zip ties. He could smell where the gun was by the scent of metal and oil before he even opened his eyes. David swung his head, knocking it across the room.

“Fuck!” Frank yelled, and lunged for it.

The strength of the wolf is the pack.

Once again a man, David snatched the concealed injector from the bottom of the chair and jammed it into Frank’s thigh. He watched with satisfaction as Frank dropped the gun, fumbled for it, then collapsed.

 

David couldn’t believe how fucking stubborn Frank was. He couldn’t even stand up and he was still arguing. Finally, he stopped trying to get to his feet, which David supposed was a sign of progress, and muttered, “We’re not allies, all right? We’re not buddies. We’re just working together on the same job. Temporarily.”

“Yeah, yeah. I got that the first million times you said it. No birthday cards, no trips to the bowling alley, no friendly dick measuring contests. Drink your coffee. It’ll help with the hangover from the tranquilizer.”

David slid the cup of coffee to him again. This time Frank took it instead of shoving it away and even drank some, glaring at David the whole time as if his entire existence was an affront.

“Hey, how’d you know I was a werewolf?” David asked.

Frank shrugged. “You look like one.”

 

One Time Frank Castle Saw Sarah Lieberman

Sarah drank the last of her wine, then set down the glass and sighed. “You’re easy to talk to, Pete. I’ve wondered…” She gave him a speculative look, then shook her head. “Nah. Can’t be.”

“What?”

“I guess I’m just tired of being a lone wolf.” She put the slightest emphasis on the last words, watching him carefully.

So that was how werewolves found each other. Frank wondered if it was specific code words, or just saying wolf-related things in a meaningful tone and seeing how the other person responded. Only one way to find out. “You’ve got a pack. Your pups—kids.”

Her eyes widened with surprise and hope. “Are you…?”

“A wolf?” He paused to give her a chance to pretend to be confused and back out if she wanted. He could always make up some shit about the Wolf branch of the Elks Club or something. But she just kept looking at him, all hopeful with her brown eyes shining. “No. I mean, I’m not. But I have a friend who is.”

“Must be a hell of a good friend. I’ve never told any of my girlfriends.” She sighed again. “It gets so lonely. Our original packs are in different states. They both wanted me to come back, but this is where David and I made our family. Leaving would feel like we’re starting a new family without him. We are anyway, but…”

She topped up his glass and refilled hers.

Sarah swirled her wine, breathed in the air above it, and drank. “I can still be a wolf, but it’s not the same. I guess your friend told you all about that, huh? The key. What it means when you change with someone. Right?”

“No. He didn’t talk about it much. What’s a key?”

“Ah.” Sarah held up a finger like she was teaching a class. “Becoming a wolf isn’t easy, especially when you first learn how. You get the ability when you’re around nine or ten, but actually doing it takes a lot of concentration. But you want to be able to do it instantly, right? In case of emergency, break glass and release wolf.”

Frank chuckled.

“That’s where the key comes in. It’s a line of poetry, or a proverb or a quote—anything, really, so long as it’s about wolves and it’ll suit you for your entire life. You don’t want to be stuck with ‘Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ when you’re forty.” She laughed. “David and Zach use different lines from the same poem. It goes, ‘This is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky…’”

“‘And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.’”

Sarah blinked owlishly at him over the rim of her glass. “You sure you’re not one of us?”

Frank shook his head, smiling. “My father read it to me when I was a kid. He loved Kipling. Tell me more about the key.”

“You recite it over and over while you try to become a wolf, so you’re saying it when you finally do. It gets linked with the change in your mind. Eventually, all you need to do is say the key to yourself with the intent to change, and you do.” She snapped her fingers. “Like that.”

“It sounds like how you learn to march in step.” Tapping his foot against the floor to set the cadence, he recited, “‘If I die in a combat zone, box me up and ship me home. Place my K-Bar in my hand, so I can fight my way to the Promised Land.’”

“Yeah, like that. But more personal. Kids get really into choosing their key. They’ve been watching their parents change for their whole lives, so they really look forward to doing it themselves. When you change with your children, when they’re little, it’s very intimate. Like… I don’t know… like breastfeeding, maybe.” A flush colored her cheeks, pink as her wine. “Am I embarrassing you?”

“No, no. Maria breastfed our kids.” Before she could say anything sympathetic, he asked, “What’s it like to change with them now that they’re older?”

“It’s a bonding thing. Or it should be. Leo and I still change in the backyard and run around and play together. Werewolves never grow out of that. Or we shouldn’t, anyway. Zach won’t do it with either of us any more.” She lowered her head, and the light gleamed on her red-gold hair. When she looked up, her eyes were gleaming too. “David died, and I thought I couldn’t lose anything more. But you can.”

“Yeah,” Frank said. “You can always lose more.”

“So, you get the picture. What it means depends on what your relationship already is. For a husband and wife, if you’re alone together without the kids, it’s a different sort of intimate.” Sarah sipped her wine. “It’s been a year since I changed with an adult. Sometimes I wonder if I ever will again.”

“You will.”

“You think so?”

Her gaze was fixed on him like she’d believe whatever he said, so he said, “I know so.”

“It wouldn’t scare you if I did, Pete, would it? You seem like the kind of man who doesn’t scare easily.”

“I don’t.”

Sarah emptied her glass and stood up. She swayed slightly, and grabbed the edge of the table just as Frank caught her elbow. “Whoo. I’m not actually drunk, I promise. I will regret nothing in the morning.”

Then she stepped back, breaking his grip, and said, “I love the company of wolves.”

He had thought he’d somehow blinked and missed it when David had turned into a wolf. But it turned out that the transformation was too fast to see. One instant Sarah was standing there in the kitchen, and the next a wolf stood where she had been. David as a wolf had been a big, black, scruffy-shaggy beast. The wolf who was Sarah was sleek and lithe, gray with black markings like a Siberian husky. Like a husky, she had striking ice-blue eyes.

She cocked her head at him and gave a little whine, like a dog that wants to be petted. Frank held out his hand. She nuzzled it, then butted it with her head. Smiling, he stroked her fur. It was very thick, with a soft undercoat. He sat down on the floor, folded his legs, and used both hands.

Then Sarah was back, kneeling on the floor in front of him, nearly in his lap. He could smell the floral scent of her shampoo and the sharper tang of wine on her breath. He had one hand in her silky hair and one cupping her cheek. I shouldn’t— he thought, and she leaned in, just a little bit because she was so close already, and kissed him.

Her lips were warm. Her body was warm. He wanted to keep on kissing her so much that he wasn’t sure he could make himself pull away until he forced himself to his feet. It felt like ripping off a layer of his own skin.

“I’m sorry.”

Sarah scrambled to her feet. “No, I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have—”

“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” He searched for something to say that would make it better, and came up short. “Thanks for letting me see you as a wolf. I’m honored, you know?”

He got away as fast as he could, feeling like he was fleeing the scene of a crime. Every time he visited that house, it reminded him of what he’d lost and David had thrown away—what David had given up to protect his family, like Frank should’ve. This time should have been different—he’d just seen Sarah turn into a fucking wolf—but it hadn’t been. The wolf wasn’t a monster. She was a beautiful part of Sarah that only a lucky few got to see, like the naked body hidden beneath her clothing.

Frank didn’t know what was more fucked-up, kissing someone else’s wife or David’s wife kissing him because her own fucking husband was letting her think he was dead.

I won’t go back there, he told himself. I’ll wrap things up with David, and that’ll be the end of it. I’ll never see any of them again.

It was for the best. But he remembered Sarah sipping her mid-day wine, and Leo holding out her hand like a surgeon for him to pass her a wrench, and Zach clumsily throwing him a football, and David laughing and saying, “I didn’t forget you, Frank,” every goddamn time he fixed Frank a fancy sandwich, and he felt like a hole had opened up in the middle of his body and all his blood and guts were pouring out.

Yeah. You could always lose more.

 

One Time the Liebermans Saw Frank Castle

David stared at Madani’s computer screen and shoved his knuckles into his mouth to stop himself from asking her to go to the rescue, right now.

Frank and Billy Russo stood squared off in the middle of a whole lot of broken glass and blood splatters, with Agent Orange very gruesomely dead in the background. David really didn’t look forward to seeing the tape of how that had happened. Frank looked like he’d been punched in the face a few times, and his hands were covered in blood that David didn’t think was his. Russo was completely untouched, without so much as a slicked-back hair out of place.

“We could go in now,” Madani suggested. “It looks like all the evidence we need is on the tape already.”

“Give it one more minute,” David said, though he felt uneasy. “They’re still talking. Frank’ll kill me if we go in too soon and fuck up his plan.”

Madani’s government-issue sound system gave Russo’s smooth voice a tinny edge. “I meant it when I said I’d give you a quick, clean death. But that’s not what you want, is it? You’d rather die hard. Have it hurt.” Russo fell silent, watching him intently. “To punish yourself? Or because if it’s slow, that’s time you can use to survive and fight back?” Frank, of course, said nothing. “I’m gonna guess both. But I think what you really want, deep down inside, is to die like Maria died. All right, Frankie. I guess I owe you a favor, for old times’ sake…”

Russo gave him a shark’s smile to go with his black shark’s eyes. Lightly, mockingly, he said, “Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”

“Oh, fuck!” David yelled.

He leaped out of his chair, slamming his hands impotently against the desk as on the screen, the lean black wolf that had been Billy Russo crouched and sprang.

 

Frank was sprawled on his back in the middle of the room, eyes closed, still as death. A black bruise around one eye and the blood from a split lip and a gashed temple stood out starkly against his pale face. His outflung arm was marked with a semi-circle of bites. David dropped down on his knees beside him. The concrete floor was hard and cold. Frank was probably in shock; he needed to be kept warm.

David gathered him into his arms. His skin was clammy, and he didn’t stir. As David watched in horror, one of his cheeks suddenly reddened, as if he’d been slapped, and his nose began to bleed.

“Frank! Wake up!” David shook him, first gently, then, gritting his teeth, harder. Getting handled roughly when he was hurt was the least of Frank's problems. “Come on, Frank! Come on!”

Frank jerked awake, eyes opening wide and startled. “David? Where’s Bill?”

“He got away. Madani’s here.”

“Bill’s a werewolf.”

“I know. I saw it.”

Frank struggled to get up, then sagged against David, wincing. “Check my back. Feels like I got shot.”

David pushed up his shirt. There was no wound, but the small of his back was one huge black bruise, and the muscles felt hard and stiff as a wooden plank.

“You’re not shot. I think you tore some muscles." Trying to sound more confident than he felt, David said, "Your body’s trying to become a wolf. This'll all stop as soon as you do.”

Frank just looked at him. He didn't have to say a word for David to see him thinking, Or when it kills me. Agent Orange probably had the exact percentages on how many people survived a werewolf bite, but all David knew was that most of them didn't.

There was a muffled snap, like a branch breaking, and Frank grunted in pain.

“The fuck was that?” David blurted out.

“One of my ribs.” Frank eyed him, then actually laughed, opening the cut on his lip and sending blood running down his chin. “You gonna throw up, or you gonna tell me how to turn into a wolf?”

“Both, maybe.” Cold fear made David’s stomach cramp. He could tell Frank what he’d learned himself, but he’d been born a werewolf. He didn’t know if any of it would apply to someone who’d been bitten.

Agent Madani knelt beside them. “My God. I saw the tape, but—” She broke off, shaking her head. David knew exactly how she felt. The tape hadn’t prepared him either. “I’ll call an ambulance.”

“No!” Frank and David spoke at the same time.

“No,” David repeated. He didn’t know what to do, so he’d take his best guess and pray it was good enough. “What do you think they’d do to him there? Drive us to my house. Sarah’s a werewolf too. We’re the best chance he’s got.”

“He needs medical attention,” Madani protested.

“Well, unless you have a private, discreet doctor on hand…” David began.

Her grim expression brightened. “I do, actually. I’ll send him over.”

They picked Frank up and carried him to the van, where they laid him down in the back seat with his head in David’s lap. To David’s dismay, Frank had passed out again at some point while they’d carried him.

“Hurry!” he yelled to Madani. Then he shook Frank again as she burned rubber out of there. “Frank! Wake up!”

It was harder to rouse him this time, and he came back to full awareness more slowly. “What?”

“You with me, Frank?”

“Yeah.” To David’s deepening alarm, he seemed to be having trouble breathing. That fucking broken rib, probably. At least, David hoped it was the broken rib.

“You need to focus on becoming a wolf,” David said, trying to sound calm. “Imagine being one. You can smell better as a wolf. Hear better. You can’t see color as well, but you have better night vision. You’re never cold. Four feet, ears you can swivel around, and a tail to wag. You can still think like a human, but your feelings are more… more instinctual. Simpler. More primal. Imagine it, and will yourself to be it.”

"Okay." Maybe he’d even find it easier than David had, his first time. Frank was half a wolf already.

“You can do it,” David said. “You’ve already got everything you—”

He was interrupted by a grunt of pain. Frank laid his palm over his belly, wincing, then dropped it. “No idea what that was. Hurts like fuck, though.”

“Don't stop trying. No matter how much it hurts.”

Frank shot David a look like, That's my entire life, asshole.

By the time the van pulled into the garage, the bruise on his cheek had darkened to purple-black, and one eye had swollen nearly shut. His wrists and elbows were bruised and swelling like they'd been dislocated. Every breath he took had an alarming crackling sound behind it, like radio static.

Madani opened the door. “I called your wife on the way. Told her what to expect.” She looked down at Frank. “Sort of.”

Sarah might have been warned, but whatever she’d been picturing, it obviously hadn’t come close to the reality. “Oh my God!”

Leo and Zach were right behind her and looking just as horrified.

“Help me get him to our bedroom,” David said to Madani. “Up the stairs. Sarah, if you don’t mind coming with us…?”

She nodded, tight-lipped. “Zach, Leo, stay in your rooms.”

They laid Frank down on their bed. He was breathing hard, his dark eyes as intense as David had ever seen them, but his gaze was inward-focused. He wouldn't give up. He'd be a wolf, or die trying.

“I called in a doctor,” Madani said. “Dr. Madani: my father. He'll be here as soon as he can.” She bent over Frank and touched his shoulder. “Hang in there. You’re in good hands.”

And then she was gone. When he looked after her, he saw that Leo and Zach had followed them in after all.

“I told you to go to your rooms,” Sarah said.

“I want to help,” Leo protested.

Pouting, Zach said, “You all coached me when I was trying to change. You said that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

“This is different,” Sarah said.

Leo squared her stance, a small immovable object. “Pete—Frank’s going to be a wolf. So that makes him pack, right? Pack helps pack.”

Sarah and David exchanged looks, falling back into their old married telepathy: The kids have a point but I'm still not sure I want them exposed to this.

“Does he have a key?” Sarah asked.

“No. He doesn’t really need one, for the first time. I figured he could get one later.” He didn’t say, if there’s a later. There had to be one. “Right now, he just has to focus and… Hey! Frank! Stay with us!”

Frank dragged his eyelids open like they weighed a ton. “Yeah.”

“I’ll get the key book!” Leo took off, with Zach at her heels.

Frank gave David a curious glance.

“It’s a book of poems and sayings about wolves. But you could use my key, or Sarah's…” David trailed off, thinking about it. Frank was obviously having trouble staying conscious. Maybe having to pay enough attention to make a decision would help keep him awake. “Nah. You should pick your own. Lots of good stuff in the key book.”

“They gotta leave after they fetch it.” Frank’s gaze was troubled, shifting from David to Sarah to the doorway. “They’ve seen too much fucked-up shit already. They shouldn’t watch someone die.”

Sarah folded her arms across her chest. “Then you’d better try real hard not to.”

“Sarah, are you sure?” David asked. “I don’t think Leo and Zach have any idea what this’ll be like.”

Quietly, Sarah said, “I know. But they were right. If Frank’s going to be part of our pack, we should start acting like it.”

Frank took a breath, obviously meaning to object, then winced as the skin around his other eye suddenly darkened.

“It’s a wolf thing, Frank,” David said, trying not to let his sickened horror show in his face or voice. “You’re going to be a wolf. Roll with it.”

Leo and Zach ran back in. Leo clutched the key book, a battered hardcover with a black tree and howling wolf emblazoned on the faded green cover.

She started to offer it to Frank, then looked from his blackened eyes to his swollen wrists. “I’ll read it to you.”

“Good call. But could I get a demo first?” Frank asked.

Leo handed David the book, then said, “‘All stories are about wolves.’”

Even while he was trying to hold back terror at the thought of Frank dying before his eyes, not to mention his kids’ eyes, he was moved almost to tears by the sight of his Leo becoming a wolf. His cameras were only in the rooms where wolves were banned, so he hadn’t seen that transformation in a year. She’d grown so much from the chubby pup he remembered. Now she was leggy and graceful, an adolescent wolf with her mother’s beautiful fur and his own golden eyes.

Instead of changing back, she sat down by the bed and licked Frank’s hand. He scratched her behind the ears, and though he was obviously still in pain, David saw his tension ease a little.

“Pete, watch me!” Zach said. Standing as tall as he could manage, he declaimed, “‘Remember the wolf is a hunter.’”

Nothing happened. David could see that he was too keyed-up, distracted by having an audience or by the idea that Frank’s life depended on it or by having recently been kidnapped or thinking he’d seen his dad die or by believing his dad was dead for a year and then having him come back and then seeing him die again and then having him come back again or—

I’m not sure I could change on cue right now, either, David thought. Willing away the spiral of anxious thoughts, he put his hand on Zach’s shoulder. Speaking as much to Frank as to Zach, he said, “Relax. It doesn’t matter how many times you don’t change. Eventually you will. You don’t have to get it this second. Don’t think of us or doing it perfectly. Just think of the wolf.”

Zach took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “‘Remember the wolf is a hunter.’” And then a little furball, white as snow, stood where he had been.

“Attaboy,” said Frank.

The wolf pup jumped on to the bed—Frank gritted his teeth at the jolt—and curled up at his feet. Leo kept on licking his hand as David opened the book and read Kipling’s “Law of the Jungle.” Frank lay still, listening intently.

“‘Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, and your cubs as they need, and ye can; But kill not for the pleasure of killing, and seven times never kill Man!’” David marked his place with a finger and glanced at Frank. “How about something from—”

There was a muffled snap, louder than the first. Frank’s face, which had been pale already, went white as chalk. “Get them out!”

Sarah was already grabbing for the kids. “Leo! Zach! Out!”

The kids went bounding out the door without even changing first. Sarah slammed it behind them, then locked it.

Frank was choking, his chest heaving, blood running from his mouth and nose.

He's dying, David thought in a panic. He’s going to die right now, after everything he survived, and there’ll be nothing I can do but stand and watch.

But even as he thought that, he was moving. He rolled Frank on to his side, and Sarah held and tilted his head. Blood poured out of his mouth, soaking the pillow and spattering the floor. By the time the flood subsided to a trickle, allowing him to breathe, Frank was unconscious again.

“Where is that fucking doctor?” Sarah demanded.

“I don’t know.” There was nothing a doctor could do now anyway, and they both knew it. “Hold his head still.” With an involuntary mutter of “I’m sorry,” David slapped Frank across the face. He had to do it three times before Frank came to.

Frank muttered something David didn’t understand. Then he coughed, spilling more blood over Sarah’s hands, and whispered, “Home.”

David blinked back tears. “Yeah. You’re home.”

“Frank,” Sarah said. “Listen carefully. ‘On the ragged edge of the world I’ll roam, and the home of the wolf shall be my home.’” It was one of the poems from the key book; David hadn't known she'd memorized any of it. With emphasis, she repeated, “‘The home of the wolf shall be my home.’ You don’t have to say it aloud. Just think it.”

Frank nodded. Every inch of his exposed skin was bruised black by now. Blood was oozing up from around his fingernails. Each breath was a battle.

“You saw the kids becoming wolves,” David said. “If Zach can do it, you can do it.”

“‘The home of the wolf shall be my home,’” said Sarah. “Say it with me, Frank. Just inside your head. ‘The home of the wolf—”

The man lying limp and heavy in David’s arms was suddenly gone. The wolf who had been Frank Castle had soft gray fur in the few places where it wasn’t soaked or matted with blood. His yellow eyes were glazed, and every panting breath spattered blood across the bed. He looked like he’d been hit by a truck. But he’d live.

He’d live.

There was a knock at the door.

“The doctor’s here!” Leo yelled. “Is Frank—uh—how is he?”

“Better!” David yelled back. “Tell the doctor to just give us a second!”

Sarah caught David’s eye and whispered, “Does he know about us?”

“I doubt it,” he whispered back. “This is all classified. Madani's already taking a risk calling in her father. She wouldn't put him in more danger by telling him.” Leaning over Frank, he said softly, “Frank, you have got to change back. Don’t make Madani explain to her father why she called him instead of a vet.”

Sarah broke into a fit of semi-hysterical giggles. Then, pulling herself together, she whispered, “It’s much easier to change back. We’re humans who can turn into wolves, not the other way around. Will yourself back to being a man, and think, ‘the home of the wolf…’”

Just like that, Frank was a man again. He swallowed. “Can I…” He broke off, coughing.

“Yeah, Frank," David said. "You can rest now.”

Frank closed his eyes.

 

One Time the Liebermans and Frank Castle Saw Each Other

Frank had spent enough time recovering from injuries, first in hospitals and later in anonymous motel rooms and abandoned buildings, that he was used to coming to in pain and alone, and having to lie there trying to muster enough strength to stagger to the bathroom or lift the water bottle to his lips. It had been strange enough to wake up in the bunker and see David leaning over him. It was far more disorienting to recover at the Liebermans' place, where he was never left alone.

The first time he woke up, or at least the first time he remembered, the entire family was there. At first he just saw David, sitting in a chair with a tube dripping his blood into Frank's veins, and Sarah, sitting on the bed and holding his hand. He also got the vague impression that there were a lot of dogs on the bed. Then memory flooded back, and he knew that the gray wolf stretched out by his side was Leo, and the fuzzy white one lying across his ankles was Zach.

Sarah was the first to notice that he was awake. “Frank! Do you need anything? Water?”

His mouth was dry as a bone and tasted like blood. “Yeah. Thanks.”

She lifted his head and held a glass to his lips, but even the tiny effort of swallowing wore him out, and he was asleep before he'd slaked his thirst.

He woke up suddenly, his heart pounding, in a dark and silent room. But once again, he wasn’t alone. A pair of warm bodies that he slowly, bewilderedly recognized as Sarah and David were lying beside him, with David’s arm flung across his waist and strands of Sarah’s hair smooth and cool against his cheek.

Well, he was occupying their bed. If they minded sharing, presumably he or they would have been installed on the sofa or floor. And for all that every inch of his body hurt, it felt good to lie there beside them, sharing their warmth. David cinched his arm tighter, and Frank slid back into sleep.

It was a week before he could get out of bed for anything but David hauling him to and from the bathroom, and another week before he could make it down the stairs. Frank had figured on that milestone being his cue to move out, but given that he'd had to spend fifteen minutes sitting on the sofa to recover from walking down one flight of stairs, he doubted he'd make it past the driveway. The Liebermans didn't seem in any hurry to get rid of him, in any case.

Madani had come over to get his testimony on video, since it was that or cart him to the courthouse on a stretcher. They still hadn’t found Billy Russo, and Frank had no intention of letting that slide. But he was in no shape to go hunting just yet. And though it felt like some kind of betrayal to even think it, let alone do it, he couldn’t help feeling like he could use a break.

A week after his first stair expedition, David and Sarah woke him up in the pearly light just before dawn, saying it was the best time to be wolves and if they were going to be a pack, they needed to be a pack.

Frank had no idea what they were talking about, but he got up and got dressed. David knelt to tie his shoes, ignoring Frank's half-hearted attempt to shoo him away. "You can tie your own shoes when you can bend over without looking like a stone statue some wizard brought to half-assed life."

"Yeah, that's about what it feels like," Frank admitted.

David and Sarah led him through the kitchen and into the backyard, where a pair of eager young wolves were already tussling in the dew-damp grass.

“Don’t be rough with him,” David warned the wolves. “If he yelps, back off.”

“If they get rough with you, yelp,” Sarah advised Frank.

“What exactly are we doing?” Frank asked.

“Being wolves,” David said, grinning. “Have a little fun, for once in your life.”

Then the man and woman were gone, and a shaggy black wolf and sleek gray wolf stood in their place. Instantly, the pups pounced. Frank watched the wolf pack chase each other around the backyard, sometimes wrestling, sometimes racing, sometimes flopping over to be licked and nuzzled.

The young gray wolf that was Leo knocked her brother sprawling, then ran up to Frank, sat back on her haunches, and whined. The invitation was unmistakable.

The home of the wolf shall be my home, Frank thought, and blinked up at the rising sun with new eyes.