Disclaimer: Darkest Powers isn't mine. But wouldn't that be neat?
He placed his hand under her chin and made her look him in the eyes. "We're going to make it through this. I promise."
She considered him silently for a while, and he wondered what she saw when she looked at him. "I believe you," she eventually said, and he knew she meant it.
Chapter Ten: Waking Up
"Thank you for agreeing to this."
Jeff's tone was solicitous without being patronizing. It went a long way towards making Derek more comfortable with the one-on-one attention.
Jeff had approached him as he and Chloe were coming in from the garden, asking for an hour of his time. That had actually been the way he'd phrased it, too. An hour of your time, if I may. Derek hadn't been too excited about the prospect, but he didn't have a good reason for refusing. Of course, showing Chloe he wasn't completely antisocial might have factored in, too.
"Sure," Derek shrugged. Except I don't really know what this is." He stood at the edge of the room, awkward now that he was supposed to trust someone after so much time spent not trusting anyone. They were on the third floor, in a dusty study he hadn't known about. Not surprising, since it was down the hall from Carol's master suite, and he kept as much space possible between the flinching old woman and himself. There was something about her—besides the obvious—that unsettled him, and not even for Chloe's sake was he willing to spend more time than absolutely necessary in that woman's company.
Jeff smiled in that calming way he had and surprised Derek by sitting down in the middle of the study floor; then again, the natty old sofas bracketing the room didn't look all that inviting.
"Please, get comfortable." Jeff gestured to the open space in front of him. After a second of hesitation, Derek settled on the faded rug, habitually staying just out of reach. He was sure he telegraphed his mistrust with every movement, but, if Jeff noticed, he gave no indication of it.
"Now, the reason I asked you to meet with me is that I think I can be of help."
"Help with what?" Derek asked, always uncomfortable with accepting help but even more so lately. Especially when it came, unsolicited, from people he'd just met.
"Well, you're clearly reaching the point of your first Change, yes?" Jeff frowned a little, concern evident on his face. "Years too early, I'm afraid."
"I'm aware of that." Shit, that sounded a little too close to a growl.
"I don't mean to be impolite," Jeff held up a hand in a peace-seeking gesture. "I just wanted to state the fact, get it out in the open."
The words sat between them in silence for a moment as Derek struggled with indecision. Instinct and self-preservation warned him against playing into any trap that may be in the works. But, in truth, Derek was tired. Tired of trying to make the right decisions for everyone, only to get so many things wrong. Important things. He wanted to like Jeff, wanted to trust him, and if Jeff could help him in any way with the wolf part of himself, well, he clearly needed the assistance. "Alright, then. It's open. How are you supposed to help? You're not a werewolf."
"No," Jeff conceded, taking no offense at the bald statement. "But I think you'll find that, in some aspects, one supernatural ability is not unlike any other. What I mean is, my powers—specifically my ability to control those powers—are directly impacted by my emotional and mental state. The same is true of every other supernatural I am acquainted with."
Derek thought about that. What Jeff said certainly seemed to be true, from what he'd seen of Chloe's power. Her ability to see ghosts was apparently always active, no matter what, but her ability to influence ghosts definitely seemed connected to her emotions.
"I guess you're right. But I don't exactly have powers. Not like you, anyway. Being a werewolf isn't the same as casting spells or moving things with my mind." God, if only he'd been born one of those, instead.
"Perhaps, but I expect that the matter of control remains the same. Tell me, if you wouldn't mind, do agitated mental states spur the wolf side of you into activity?"
Usually. "Sometimes," he hedged.
"Mm. And it seems likely that strong emotions will affect your ability to control your, ah . . ." Jeff floundered momentarily, obviously searching for the right noun.
"Wolfiness?" Derek suggested, unable to help the slight twitch of his lips.
Jeff smiled. "Yes. Your wolfiness. Would you agree?"
"Makes sense to me." Derek shrugged. "So, what are you trying to tell me? That I need to control my emotions if I want to control the wolf?" Which seemed kind of like a given.
Jeff nodded. "Well, there's that, yes. But I wanted to get a little more philosophical than that. How close are you to Changing?"
Derek shifted nervously. That felt like very personal information to be sharing with a near-stranger. Even Simon didn't really know close he was.
"Almost there. I've had a couple of false starts. And lately . . ." He shook his head. He wasn't about to tell this guy everything. "I think it's going to be very soon."
"I've been told this first Change—and the days that come before it—is rather rather, well . . . uncomfortable," Jeff said carefully.
Derek snorted. "Understatement. But how do you know? Who told you?" Then a horrible thought came to him. He tensed, ready to get to his feet in a second. He eyed the man, trying to evaluate how fast he might be. "Exactly what work did you do for the Edison Group?"
Jeff frowned at the sudden intensity, only to lean back a second later, eyes wide with realization. "Oh, nothing what you must be thinking." He shook his head. "I'm sorry, I should have guess that would be your first thought once I started probing around about your, er, wolfiness." Again came the pacifying hand gestures. "Please relax. I had nothing to do with the werewolf project; I'm not even a scientist. I was just an adviser on demon powers and physiology."
He seemed like he was telling the truth, but Derek wasn't willing to let up just yet.
"So if you're not a scientist, what do you do?"
Jeff smiled, looking relaxed again if not for the worried expression in his eyes. "I'm a bookstore owner. And to the outside world, I'm considered an amateur folklore scholar. Among our own people, I'm a kind of resource. People come to me with questions, and I pick up bits of information along the way."
"And that's how you know so much about werewolves?"
"Yes. I hear things now again about the Pack, and some of the better known rogues, put those pieces together as best as I can. I've even once knew a young werewolf who came to my shop a few times—a pre-Change wolf like yourself."
Again, Derek wanted to trust him. Perhaps because he wanted to, he fought against letting his guard down. "Not quite like me."
"Indeed, no, which is what I wanted to talk about."
"So whatever it is, just tell me already."
"Alright, I'll be frank," Jeff said, giving Derek a look that he'd only ever received from his dad. "I'm worried that the genetic tampering you experienced will impact the Change."
No news there. Derek tried to contain his frustration. "In what way?"
Jeff sigh was not encouraging."There's probably no way of knowing for sure until it happens, I'm afraid. We do know it's jumped the usual timeline in your development. Likely you could expect similar effects. Perhaps an intensified experience? If so, to what degree? It's really the lack of knowing that worries me. I don't want to alarm you unduly, but there is a possibility that your Change will be too much for your body to handle. Too stressful. What if the effort sent you into cardiac arrest?" Jeff gave a small shrug. "Even a bad enough case of shock could be fatal under certain circumstances. And these, unfortunately, are not ideal circumstances."
He mulled that over, thinking about his experiences so far. "But it's natural, isn't it? Sort of, anyway. I was born a werewolf. This is what I'm supposed to be." But Jeff just shook his head.
"And again, if it weren't for the experiments--and our current endangerment--I wouldn't be concerned. The fact that you're Changing this early is enough for me to recommend contacting the Pack."
"But we can't."
"Look, even if the rumors are really just rumors, they're not exactly going to let me go my merry way once they know about me, are they?"
Jeff didn't answer right away. Derek could see in his eyes when he decided against a placating lie.
"No, probably not."
Derek nodded, both because he had already figured that to be the case, and because he appreciated the honesty.
"And I have no interest or intention of becoming Pack, so I need to stay below their radar."
"Are you sure you wouldn't like to join them?" Jeff asked. "It might makes things in your life easier."
"No. I don't need them." I already have a pack. But he didn't share that though out loud.
Jeff sighed but nodded. "It's your decision to make. We'll work it out on our own."
"Good. What do we do?"
"Well, I'd recommend keeping someone with you when you Change. If something goes wrong, if you go into shock or arrest, there should be another person on hand. I can imagine it's an intimate thing to go through, that you probably wouldn't want someone looking on, but—"
"Chloe," he blurted out.
Derek coughed to clear his suddenly tight throat. "Chloe. She's been staying with me during—when I try to Change."
To his credit, Jeff didn't seem freaked out or worried by that at all. "Oh. I see. Good. She strikes me as a level-headed young woman."
"Yeah, she's great." The second the words were out of his mouth, he wanted them back. Jeff just smiled.
"Then she's an excellent choice to have with you during your Change."
"But what if I—" Derek broke off, unwilling to voice the rest of that fear, but Jeff didn't have any problem filling in the blank.
"What if you hurt her? Derek, I'm under the impression that, Change or no, the wolf is always there inside of you. Seeing what you see, knowing what you know." Jeff raised his brows, turning the statement into a question. Derek nodded. "Surely the wolf has had ample time to form an opinion about Chloe."
"What?" An opinion? As in, how the wolf felt about Chloe? Because he really didn't want to talk about how the wolf felt about Chloe.
"I doubt the wolf would consider Chloe a threat or an enemy; you would know if it did. So there should be no reason for the wolf to want to hurt her."
"But how can you be sure? How can I be sure?" He tried to hide just how much he needed to know.
"Why don't we find out?"
Derek hesitated, imagining half a dozen different plans Jeff might have had in mind. None of them made him very happy. "How?"
"A little meditative exercise. We relax your human consciousness and allow the wolf to peek through. When that happens, think about Chloe. See what sort of reactions come about."
"Meditate," he repeated unenthusiastically.
Jeff settled more comfortably on the floor, leaning back against one of the sofas."Something every supernatural being should learn to do, if you ask me."
Derek sighed. "Okay, fine. Where do we start?"
"Just get comfortable where you're sitting. Close your eyes." Jeff demonstrated by closing his own eyes and looking relaxed. It was hardly the ohm-chanting, pretzel-legged stance Derek envisioned when he thought of meditation.
Derek wiggled around a bit, rolled his shoulders back. He felt a little silly, but if this would really help, he was game. Reluctantly, he closed his eyes. And he only looked twice to make sure Jeff had kept his closed.
"Now just keep your eyes closed and listen to my voice." Jeff spoke plainly. No droning monotone or campy scripts. "Try to open up every one of your senses to their fullest. Take in all the sounds, all the smells around you. But don't analyze or think about what those sensations might mean. Keep your mind blank. Just let everything flow through you, without judgment. Sense it. Acknowledge it. Then let it go."
The first part, opening up his senses, was easy for Derek. On any given day, his senses were super-humanly keen, sometimes to the point of constant distraction. It wasn't until after his dad disappeared that Derek realized how much stimuli he'd trained himself to ignore. It was simply too difficult to concentrate on anything if he paid attention to every conversation in the hallway at school, or looked out the window every time a car drove past. The myriad of smells alone would have made him ill on a daily basis if he hadn't learned to filter out the excess. Once on the run, though, he'd started relying on his sense of hearing and smell almost more than his vision. It hadn't been a deliberate decision, rather it was instinct kicking in, telling him to utilize every available asset in his keeping.
The hard part was keeping his mind blank. Derek knew he tended to over-think things, but he honestly couldn't help himself. Being asked to listen to every sound around him, without reacting to it mentally, went against everything he knew about himself. Even when he was sleeping, one part of his mind tracked the sounds and activity nearby. He couldn't remember the last time he slept all the way through a night. Life as a teenage fugitive certainly hadn't helped, especially with Chloe raising the dead in her sleep. So he'd been living in a constant state of vigilance. He wasn't sure he could turn all that off now.
They must have sat there for an hour, eyes closed and saying nothing, before it finally happened. He'd been listening to a faint skittering on the roof. A distant voice told him it was a squirrel, or maybe a large bird, but he didn't stop to ponder what the squirrel looked like, what it was doing, or whether it was really a bird, after all. The details didn't matter at that moment. He simply followed the sound across the ceiling overhead and was already moving on when some internal switch flipped. Suddenly there was a new quality to the sounds he heard, a clearer tone as if, until that moment, he'd been listening to everything from inside a plastic bubble. Everything was the same yet new, like he was hearing—truly hearing—for the first time. He'd always believed that he lived in a world richer with sensations than that of people around him; now he realized he'd only skimmed the surface. Eyes still closed, the world came to life as never before. He felt rather than saw the room around him, taking in everything at once yet focusing in on one element at a time with the intense precision of a hunter. The faintest hiss every time Jeff took a breath. The rising smell of must as a patch of sun heated a dusty throw pillow. Somewhere in the house, a door opened. Very subtly, the air currents shifted around him, bringing hints of new scents with them.
In time these designations of air, house, sun lost their meaning. He knew the warmth on his face, even if he didn't understand what a sun was, or even recognize the word. He was beyond the arbitrary limitations of human language. Things simply were. Life, the world, simply was.
He was calm. There was no threat right then, nothing to call his attention away from the rightness of being. The presence next to him was neither danger nor food, and he was too content to hunt just for the pleasure of it, so he ignored the occasional movement. It wasn't important. Nothing was important, so he was able to rest in that not-sleep way.
But relaxing into the not-sleep made it possible to hear the voice, the one that demanded control of everything, all the time. The one that kept him tightly constrained behind a wall of dispassionate words and rigid will. That voice was trying to overwhelm him, to take back this precious moment of freedom.
He would not allow that to happen.
He braced himself for the struggle, dug his claws in deep so that he would not be easily pushed away. Then with a spike of determination, he began to push back. He maintained his ground and slowly gained more. The voice grew louder in panic, yelling angry words he didn't fully understand, didn't want to understand. All he cared about was breaking loose, freeing himself completely for the first time from this shackle of fear and shame. Only then could he become what he was meant to be.