Summary: Henry has decided to learn to use his gifts, but that doesn't mean it will be an easy journey.
Type/ Pairing: Ashley/Henry. Drama, Humor Romance
Characters: Bigfoot, Henry, Ashley, Helen, Will
Rating: R for violence and sexing
Disclaimer: Don't own any of these characters. Would love to, but I don't.
Author's Notes: Sequel to Communication, which is also on this site and can be found on my profile.
HUGE thanks to Stoicana and Oparu for beta work on this fic. Stoicana made it bleeeeeeed and it is better for it. This was supposed to be a short fluffy piece that turned into an extended story about a Henry coming to grips with a lot of things he's repressed over the years, gets into Ashley and Helen's relationship, Henry and Bigfoot's relationship and introduces a meta-plot. It also managed to rope in "Gifts of the heart" and "Going home" as back-story.
Laurence set the heavy box down on the table just inside his room. It was a gift from Helen, a piece of art from an artist she'd met in South America. Ordered months ago in person, it had only just arrived. Laurence got as much pleasure from seeing the delight on her face as she gave a gift as he felt upon opening the packaging. And, he had to admit, she'd made an excellent choice. This was a rather large vase in the form of a frog. On its back was a carved face. The style was very old but the artist was new; a young abnormal woman with scaly skin, reptilian eyes and feathers instead of hair. Most of her wares were now sold on the internet which allowed her the solitary existence she favored, but Helen made it a point to visit in person to see how she was doing.
His room was a pleasing mish-mash of items, most of them hand-made and many by Abnormals living quiet, peaceful lives alongside the rest of humanity. The thick rugs had been made in India, Chile and the American Southwest. The curio in the corner contained delicate pieces from China, Australia, Russia and the Congo. The large carving of a pod of orca hanging on the east wall was a work an abnormal in Alaska. The metalwork hanging between the windows had been handcrafted by a human artist from Newfoundland. He moved some items around on the table to make room for the newest acquisition. He gently shifted a raku fired vase to the side with a mental note to prune the bonsai tree growing inside it. The vase had been a gift from Ashley, created when she'd been in late teens and had allowed herself time to indulge in art. The tree was a gift from a Tengu named Hirokazu, an Abnomal from Japan.
There was a knock at the half open door. Henry ducked his head in and Laurence grunted a greeting. "Henry."
"Hey. I'm not bothering you, am I?"
Laurence grunted a negative and began to extract the new vase from the packaging. He wasn't surprised Henry had showed up at his door. He'd been expecting the younger abnormal to seek him out eventually. Laurence thought he could smell Ashley as well, but she wasn't at the door when he looked.
"New art? That's cool looking." Henry hurried over to help him lift the ceramic out of the box.
He nodded. "South American. Arrived today." As Henry stood back, Laurence again caught the scent of Ashley. He paused for a moment as he adjusted the new vase then grunted in satisfaction and waited for Henry to speak. He wondered if the fiery young woman had persuaded Henry to finally take this step. Laurence wouldn't have been surprised if she had. Ashley was…proactive.
"I was talking with Ash," Henry began. "She said you taught her how to track?"
Nodding, "Useful skill," Laurence agreed. "You want to learn?"
There was an envelope inside the vase. Laurence plucked it out and read "Helen Magnus" in flowing script. He pocketed the note to give to Helen.
Henry nodded. "I think I could be useful. Ash said she'd help with weapons. I'm good with gadgets. I can do the super smell thing, but it's not real consistent." He stuffed his hands into his pockets again. "I think if I learned how to do it without the nose it'd be useful for when the sniffer isn't working."
Laurence nodded. This was a step in the right direction for Henry, a small step, but even small steps counted. He grunted as he patted Henry's shoulder and took a surreptitious sniff; Ashley's scent lingered around which wasn't surprising if they'd been talking. "Then let's begin." He passed Henry, headed for the hall.
Laurence looked over his shoulder, gave a grunt then continued out the door and down the hall. He smiled to himself as Henry hurried after him, but schooled his expression by the time Henry had caught up.
Helen pushed back from her desk and wiggled her fingers and rotated her wrists. She'd been typing for sometime now and her hands were beginning to tingle. Clearly it was time for a break.
Helen tilted her head to one side as Henry's exclamation floated down the hall. The door opened and a small smile graced her lips as Bigfoot strode in, followed by an agitated werewolf.
Laurence handed an envelope to her. "This was in the vase. It's addressed to you."
"Thank you," Helen smiled as she accepted the envelope.
Laurence grunted and indicated Henry with his head. "I'd like to take him out. Show him how to track."
Helen blinked once in surprise then smiled at Henry who was shifting his weight "I think that would be an excellent way to learn to use your abilities."
"Thanks." He looked askance at the taller abnormal. "Do we really have to go to the woods?"
Laurence grunted a laugh and looked at Helen. "I think a week, like I did with Ashley."
Helen nodded. "We should be well stocked for a short-notice camping trip, but get whatever else you may need."
"Aren't we rushing?" Henry asked.
"You want to learn, don't you?"
"Well, yeah, but-"
"Strike while the iron is hot," Helen quipped as she stood. She walked around her desk and put a hand on Henry's shoulder. "I think we can muddle through without you two for a week or so."
Henry rubbed the back of his head. "But the woods?"
"This is a part of field work," Helen reminded the younger abnormal.
Laurence grunted and cuffed Henry's shoulder. "Come on. We have packing to do. Might as well get some basic survival training in as well."
Henry sighed and followed his new teacher out the door. "We couldn't go someplace with electricity?"
Helen chuckled and examined the envelope.
She looked up and smiled. "Hello, Will." She took the manila folder he proffered with a smile. "Find what you were looking for?"
Will nodded. "Yeah, eventually. I managed to talk the Harpies down from killing one another."
Helen grinned. "I told you they were a handful during their group sessions." She returned her attention to the envelope.
"Possibly," she smiled and retrieved an old letter opener from the top drawer of her desk. "This was inside the vase I purchased for Laurence." She slid the antique letter opener into the modern envelop and carefully slit the top open. "The artist is an Abnormal from South America. Her name is Xiloxochitl. You'd like her." Helen opened the letter as she spoke, "I bought a vase from her when I was last in the area. She shipped this letter with the package."
"Well that's one way to save on postage," Will commented as he sat in one of the plush chairs of Helen's study.
"Indeed, though I don't believe that was her intent," Helen held out the letter for Will to read.
Helen shrugged one shoulder, "Xilo is an artist." She waited as Will finished reading.
When he was finished, he looked up at her. Handing over the letter he asked, "Is it just me or is she insinuating that she'll be visiting here because of some kind of trouble." Should we help her?"
"I was afraid you'd come to that conclusion," she mused. "Though what sort of trouble she could be in I can only imagine. She prefers her privacy and has most of her supplies delivered. She hardly attracts any notice. As for helping her out, well I will certainly do whatever I can but I'm afraid she's left us with few good options."
"It was a bit on the vague side." Frowning Will asked, "Does this happen often?" He gestured to the letter. "Vaguely worded requests for help I mean."
Helen sighed and sat back in her chair. "More often than I would like, but this isn't a frequent occurrence."
Will's fingers tapped on his legs. "Can we at least check up on her?"
Reaching over, Helen put a calming hand on his. "I've learned it's best to wait a bit in cases like these. Whatever trouble she's encountered and slipped away from we might very well bring down on her head if we go nosing about without the details. Besides," she smirked as she sat back, "She's not without means."
Dawning comprehension made Will smile slightly, "You've given her an escape route!"
"Something like that. There are safe houses and resources she can use. Many abnormals are in similar situations, which is why we've set up the networks we have." Helen thought Will still looked uncomfortable with the situation, and she smiled. He was learning the right lessons about protecting it seemed, which made her feel proud.
"So we wait?" he asked, still troubled.
"For now," Helen corrected gently.
Nodding, Will settled back into his chair. "What's her abnormality?"
Helen touched her computer to halt the screensaver and quickly navigated into her electronic dossiers. Will leaned against her desk and she turned the screen so he could see the image clearly. The abnormal was reptilian at first glance, with a short, broad snout and green scale-like skin. She was smiling at the camera with more expression than Will was accustomed to seeing on the more reptilian abnormals he'd met, who had stiff, less expressive faces. The ruff of long, shiny black and brilliant turquoise feathers on her head was another unique feature. Aside from the obvious differences, the rest of her body looked human.
"I met her parents just once before they died. Her father had extremely brilliant plumage." Helen closed the program and readjusted the monitor. "Her species of Abnormal started the legends of the Quetzocoatl, the feathered serpent god of the Aztecs." She shook her head sadly, "They used to live in the open with the Aztecs. That stopped when the empire collapsed and the Spanish missions started."
"I take it she doesn't live in the open?"
"No. She conducts most of her business over the internet now."
Sitting back down, Will asked, "There's really nothing we can do to check up on her?"
Helen sighed. "Nothing active at the moment, I'm afraid. If we haven't heard from her in a week I think we'll go looking for trouble, but until then it's a waiting game. So," she changed the topic, "tell me how it went with the harpies?"
Henry continued to load the back of the SUV. He didn't like camping. Or the woods. Or places where there weren't modern conveniences like running water and electricity. He'd been camping before, but he hadn't liked it. Camping had been more about spending time with his dad, and Thomas Foss had been dead about six years now. Without that reason, Henry didn't think he was going to like this trip much.
He vaguely recalled a time when he'd lived much more simply. He had faint memories of light and warmth. Ghosts of laughter had begun to haunt his dreams; voices he could almost but not quite remember. There were tall forests in those memories. He pushed them away by popping a few of the anti-anxiety pills Magnus has prescribed for him
Henry looked over his shoulder as he hefted the last box into the rear of the vehicle. Ashley was talking with his new mentor on the other side of the large garage. She was smirking evilly as she listened to what the tall abnormal told her. She glanced his way, grinned then waltzed off. He didn't have time to wonder about Ashley, or why she looked so deviously delighted, because he was being gently, but firmly, shoved toward the SUV.
During the drive out of town, Henry worried about his projects and the security of the mansion and grounds. He'd left explicit instructions with Helen on how to resolve most of the typical issues they might face. Then, because he was paranoid, he left the same instructions with Will and Ashley. His cell was fully charged and would be good for a week.
Once the tall skyscrapers of New City had fallen away, giving rise to the more residential houses in the gentrified suburbs, his companion had flipped on the car stereo. Henry smirked slightly as he watched the houses pass by. Most people wouldn't believe that Big Foot was a Jazz aficionado.
Henry listened to Coltrane and, while these days he usually listened to downtempo, triphop, or worldfusion, there was beauty in the music. There was structure but it was very loose and Henry liked refrains and motifs that were more orderly. And faster. Stuff you could dance to. The houses slid into farmland and Henry was lulled into sleep.
He woke with a start when the ground changed from smooth pavement to gravel. Henry rubbed his eyes and checked out the time. It was early afternoon and they'd turned off the main roads. Tall pines grew in uniform spacing for the first few hundred feet of the long drive, but the pines gave way to woodlands and the wild chaos of nature as they continued. It was early fall and most trees still had their leaves, but they were beginning to shift from green to bright reds and golds. They passed an open gate about a mile from the road and then continued up the hill for another mile until a large cabin finally appeared out of the woods. It looked new but was constructed of thick trees.
A tall figure leaned on the porch of the building. Henry vaguely recognized her as someone he'd seen around the Sanctuary. They parked and when Henry had climbed out and come around the van's side, a tall man had joined the woman and Laurence.
The man had a ruff of wild black and dark gold hair and leonine features. Most impressive and outstanding were the smilodon-like teeth. The woman was an abnormal too, Henry realized belatedly, though she could easily pass for human, her short white hair wasn't just feathery, it was feathers.
"Donald Washington," the leonine man said as he held out a huge hand which Henry shook. "Call me Don."
"Karen Washington," The woman shook Henry's hand. "I'm usually the one who drops by."
Henry nodded recognition and realized this must be one of the large nature preserves that Helen supported because they not only served as safe havens for abnormals who preferred a more rustic lifestyle, they could supply game to some of the more feral creatures that came to live under her care. He fought off a frown. Some of the more feral abnormals lived on the preserve lands.
"Henry Foss," he introduced himself, "pleasure to meet you." Henry knew the locations of the closest ones since he'd done remote IT work for them all. He went over a mental map of the country and was surprised to realize they'd driven at least a hundred miles while he'd been asleep.
"Paper work's all done and we have both your licenses in order. Don will take you out to the campsite," Karen said, taking charge of the conversation. "The Jensons are out of town at the moment but the other residents plus some visitors in for the winter." As if to punctuate her statement, a gurgling howl floated over the mountain. Everyone else seemed to ignore the noise, so Henry tried his best to do so as well. "We went around and told them you'd be on the property this weekend, so don't worry about being eaten," she concluded with a wink.
Cheerfully nodding, Don added, "I'll give you two of the ATV's for the weekend."
Don chuckled, "Just don't let him do what Ashley did, and I'll be happy."
Distrected from the wild sounds coming from the woods, Henry looked at the two taller abnormal men with interest. Karen was laughing. "What'd Ash do?"
Laurence clapped a hand on his shoulder and gently shoved him toward the SUV. "Go unpack."
Henry staggered down a step, "But what happened?"
Laurence shooed him away and didn't answer.
The ATVs were loaded quickly because they didn't really have all that much gear, and soon they were following Don down a well-used path into the property. The drive took about five minutes, so they weren't that far from civilization, Henry was happy to note. The site was a flat area that had seen some recent use if the cleared brush and blackened firepit were any indications.
"Was out here this past weekend with the boy," Don said as he climbed off his vehicle with one of the more mysterious containers Laurence had packed. "Good site. I still have some firewood, unless you don't want me to leave that?" He indicated the bundle of wood strapped to the back of his ATV.
"We'll use it." Laurence grunted and got Henry's attention. "Set up the tents on the tarps there"
Don and Laurence talked by the ATVs while Henry ran around and set up camp. The tents were a momentary confusion of poles cords and weatherproof material before old memories of camping outside on the Sanctuary grounds with his father came back to him.
Thomas Foss had adopted him after his parents had been killed and he'd been found by Helen and her team. His memories from before the long plane ride to the states were fuzzy and made him feel physically ill more often than not. It was like there was a hole there that couldn't ever be filled, just ignored and padded so it could be forgotten. He tended to leave those memories in the past. The memories of life after he's been adopted were much brighter.
When he'd been very young, they'd camped out on the lawn, close to home and modern convenience. Sometimes Helen and Ashley would join them and the adults would tell stories by the firelight while he and Ashley ate their weight in s'mores. They'd gone out to recreational parks only a couple times. Thomas had been getting up in years and Henry had discovered that his fascination with technology was more than a passing fancy.
Henry looked at the completed tents and felt the sad ache Thomas' death had left in his heart. He wondered what the father he could remember would have made of him today. He let out a breath and wondered, not for the first time as of late, what the father he couldn't remember would have thought.
Laurence grunted a satisfied sound as he surveyed the tents. "Not bad. Make a fire."
Henry smirked and went about making the fire for the evening. In the end it didn't resemble the roaring blaze he remembered from his youth, but it apparently passed muster with his new teacher, so he took some pleasure in that. He was a geek, but he wasn't useless in the woods at least.
Still, he missed his computers.
Night had fallen swiftly, heralding the onset of winter some weeks away still. Henry huddled into the parka he'd packed and wondered just how cold the night would get and if it was really wise for them to be outside this time of year. Some far-off-but-still-too-close roars didn't help his opinion of the matter in the least. The big abnormal seemed to be immune or at least far more resistant to the cold than Henry was, and he hadn't reacted to the sounds at all. He fixed their dinner by firelight and they left the dishes for morning.
"Get some sleep."
Henry looked up from his seat on a log. "This early?"
Laurence chuckled evilly. "We start early."
Henry decided not to comment and instead did as he was told and went to bed.
Ashley finished her makeup, grabbed her keys, tossed them into her helmet and swung her jacket over her shoulder. She'd finished training and then, lacking other immediate chores, spent most of the evening wandering. Henry wasn't around to hang out with and while Will was nice, she was sure he'd notice some kind of telling change with his freakishly observant skills. It was a delicate balance, keeping Will from noticing anything. She had to act "normally" and while she could avoid him to some extent and reduce the chance of discovery, she couldn't make that what tipped him off either.
A few hours before dinner, Ashley had decided that she needed to get out and do something. She hadn't been to a club in ages it seemed, so clearly a trip was in order.
"I'm going out!" she called as she passed her mother's study. She'd straddled her bike and just put on her coat when her cell rang. "Yes mom?"
"Drive safely, call a cab if you drink."
Ashley rolled her eyes. "Yes mom. I have been out before."
"Don't stay out too late."
In response, Ashley snapped her phone shut. She shoved it back into her pocket, put her helmet on, revved the cycle and drove into the falling night.
Industrial was a decent club in Old City, close enough to attract the university students. It was also one of a handful of clubs run by an abnormal named Anastasia. The crowd there tended toward punk, body mod and techno, so it was frequented by some of the more freaky-but-humanoid abnormals as well. Ashley grinned as she approached the building. It'd be nice to actually enjoy the club for once, rather than be there to find one of her contacts. Besides, a few rounds on her tab would make those contacts happy to talk to her next time she came looking for information. Ashley liked having her own reputation and not one of her mother's making.
The crowd was just beginning to grow. The weekend started on Thursday night for some students. Passing the rapidly growing line, she winked at the bouncer, Moe. The big man grinned at her with shark's teeth and winked back. He had cat's eyes, half a face of Maori style tattooing, and made an impressive bouncer with the dental cutlery.
The music inside was loud and pounding. She felt the vibrations in her chest. She dropped her coat, helmet and keys off with the coat-check boy and danced into the crowd, letting the music carry her for awhile.
By the time she'd caught up with some friends and acquaintances, she'd begun to really relax. The DJ was good, the guys thus far weren't drunk enough to be grabby. She'd even had an excellent conversation in one of the quieter rooms over rum and cokes with a peppy goth she knew who worked with the police department in forensics. Their paths had crossed a couple times. More accurately, Claudia and she had stood around while their respective bosses talked.
Ashley turned at the tap on her shoulder and smiled. "Aaron!" She jumped up and hugged the huge abnormal. He was 6'7", had extremely dark skin and bright green eyes, but the really unusual part was the small tusks on either side of his mouth. 'How are you?" she asked the ogre.
"I've been just fine. The boss would like to see you when you get a chance."
"Nah," the ogre shook his head. "She just wants to say hi I think."
Anastasia Ivanova had fled Russia in the early 80s with her son. She was blind but could somehow see with echolocation or something like that. Ashley wasn't entirely clear on the details, but it worked. She usually wore dark shades over her cloudy eyes and wore her red hair short with artfully dyed chunks of black and pale blonde. Henry thought she looked like Lauren Holly.
As usual Anastasia held court in her office sound-proofed against the heavy bass. Huge one-way windows overlooked one of the larger dance floors.
"Hey Ash," she got up from her desk to give Ashley a greeting hug. "How are you? How's your mother?"
"Mom's fine. Breaking in a new protégé. So far he's surviving."
"You should bring him down sometime," Anastasia suggested as she guided Ashley to one of the plush leather couches by the windows and sat with her.
Ashley laughed. "I can't see Will at a club." she paused then added, "it might be fun though." She shared a wicked smile with the older woman. "I'm great. Decided to have some fun tonight." She looked around then asked "Where's Vasiliy?" Her son had the same abnormality as his mother and worked as one of the floor managers. He was one of Ashley's more frequent sources and a good guy.
"Vasya is out with the boyfriend," Anastasia chuckled. "He managed to drag the boy away from his computers for a date."
Relaxing into the couch, Ashley said, "Oh, well say hello for me."
Anastasia nodded and folded her hands in her lap. Ashley sat forward in response. Somehow, despite what Aaron has said, she didn't think Anastasia had called her up just to chat.
"We've been hearing...things." Anastasia stood and walked to the window which overlooked the floor. Leaning against the frame she looked out over the vista. "This is off the record?" she asked over her shoulder.
"Absolutely," Ashley replied, wondering at the secretive behavior.
"Marie hasn't seen a couple of her customers. None of them are regulars, but she likes to keep track." Nodding at the active bar to one side Anastasia continued, "She's one of my better tenders. Moe's wife. She's human but she notices things. She takes special care of her abnormal customers, likes making them feel at home. She feels a bit worried and I told her I'd keep and ear open for any word. Have you heard anything?"
Standing, Ashley walked next to her. "This is the first I've heard of anything. What do you know?" Ashley now understood why she was trying to keep the conversation just between the two of them. The abnormal community could be sensitive to this kind of news. Safety concerns aside, a portion of Anastasiya's clientele could disappear overnight and hurt her business.
The older woman shook her head. "Not much. Vasya cares for Marie like a sister and we all love Moe, so he made some casual inquiries. There have been some disappearances on the fringes."
"People who wouldn't be missed for awhile?" Ashley ventured. When abnormals on the fringes disappeared, sometimes they turned up and everything was fine. Other times it meant that something big and nasty had moved into the neighborhood. That was usually when Ashley was called in.
"Dah. It may be nothing. It probably is." She shrugged. "When I saw you come in I thought you might be on business but you stayed to dance. I thought to myself, "Maybe they were at the Sanctuary, I can ask Ashley, maybe have good news for Marie when she comes in to work tomorrow night." Anastasia smiled and walked away from the window. "As I said it could be nothing, but I wanted you to know. You tend to go into the dark places." It was part request and part warning.
Ashley laughed. "Thanks, but I already have a mom," she smiled and made the comment light to make sure the other woman knew she wasn't offended.
Putting her hand on Ashley's arm, Anastasia squeezed gently. "I know. It's a mother thing. You will understand when you have your own. Now, if I haven't ruined your evening too badly, please enjoy yourself."
"I'll let my mom know. Maybe she knows something we don't. You'll let us know if you hear anything right? This is one of the bigger Abnormal gathering places in the city. You hear things before we do a lot of the time."
"I will do that. Now go have fun. And come visit more often! All work and no play makes for a very sad life."
Ashley chuckled. "Yes mom."
"Imp!" Anastasia waved her off and Ashley laughed her way down the stairs and gave Aaron a hug as she passed.
She didn't feel like dancing, something itched in the back of her mind about this, but it wasn't so bad she wanted to go home either. Ashley saw a group of people she knew and decided that a little clandestine information gathering might be in order. Ashley caught the eye of one of the abnormal women in the group, and got a round for her table. Information gathering could be fun.
She ended up taking a cab home at the end of the evening. Her bike was wheeled into the locked portion of the parking lot that Anastasia kept for that reason. A valet would be there for her, and everyone else who'd left their vehicle, in the morning with her keys.
It was almost three am by the time the taxi rolled up to the front gate. Ashley paid and tipped the driver then walked inside. Her mother's study light was on, but that was hardly unusual. At least her mother wasn't standing in the window.
Ashley kicked off her shoes and carried them in one hand as she walked down the hall in her socks. She was still feeling pleasantly buzzed. Ashley was okay with buzzed. She didn't like getting falling down, puking drunk. It looked stupid and she hated that lack of control. She usually stopped when the world got very bright and a bit slow. Afterwards she hated how sluggish her reflexes got; anyone could grab her and she'd be working with a handicap. But it was nice to let go every so often and it was fun while she was that intoxicated.
Tonight however she'd been hunting information and the earlier rum and cokes added to the later... she couldn't even remember what they'd been knocking back. Tequila? Scotch? Vodka? She probed her lips and tasted lime faintly, so tequila then. She felt warm, so definitely tequila. And no information. None. So likely there was nothing going on. She frowned into the semi-darkness of the house and stuffed a hand in her pocket. She pulled out a strip of paper and after a minute realized it was some guy's phone number. The tall guy who'd tried to chat her up. Ashley couldn't read the number because it hadn't been written legibly, but she wasn't interested anyway. She balled it up and tossed it into the trash.
She kinda had someone now. She hummed to herself and grinned for a moment before schooling her features. Okay, she was more drunk than she thought she was. Water. She made her way to the kitchen and sat for a bit, drinking to rehydrate then decided it was time to get some sleep. The fog was lifting and now she just felt tired.
She paused at a hallway intersection and looked toward her room then in the opposite direction. It was a damn shame Henry wasn't home. He liked cuddling and at the moment, someone warm to cuddle sounded very nice. She swung her boots as she thought, then decided what the hell. If anyone found her she could claim to have been more drunk than she was. That and his room was closer. Slipping into Henry's room, Ashley set her boots down, then crawled onto the bed. She curled around one pillow, gave the other a few punches to shape it then fell asleep.
Dawn broke, chasing the chill in the air and burning away the low fog that clung to the ground and small bushes. Henry stretched and cracked his back. He'd already been up for hours.
The woods were cold and wet with condensation. Henry hadn't remembered that part of camping. He'd slept in his clothes and had made a nest out of the others he'd brought and the extra blankets, despite having what was reportedly a decent sleeping bag. Laurence had laughed quietly at him when he'd yelped at the cold while changing into new clothing, so Henry guessed maybe he was being a little bit of a wimp. Maybe.
Or maybe it was just cold and Bigfoot was actually a bit evil.
Henry scowled into the woods and pulled his jacket closer. The creepy noises had stopped for the most part, but the night would have been vastly improved if he'd had someone to share his tent with. Curling up with Ash would have been nice. Fooling around a little would have been nice too, it certainly would have made things warmer, but after spending the past few nights with her, he missed the company, the tactile contact. He wondered if she'd missed him as well last night. He wondered if it was weird that he already missed sleeping wi-
The other abnormal's hand cuffed the back of his head and Henry rocked forward from the impact.
"Yes Master Yoda." Henry stomped his boots and rubbed his hands together.
Laurence grunted. "It's not that cold."
Henry pulled his hat further down over his head. Laurence eyed the big pompom on the top dubiously.
"I didn't say anything."
"The Jayne hat is awesome," Henry muttered. He nodded at the ground. "You were saying?"
Laurence smirked and resumed his lecture. Henry dutifully followed him through the woods, feeling better as the sun climbed and the air heated. They started with large scale signs; the basics of landscape tracking, finding travel routes, sleeping and feeding areas. Their meandering route suddenly became a highway though the jungle. Laurence pointed out the rubs, gnaws and chews as well as scat along the trail. Henry frowned at the weird sense of déjà-vu when some things were shown to him. Others were completely new but some topics…He pushed those thoughts aside and continued trying to learn everything he could as quickly as he could. Faster meant he'd be able to return home to technology and central heating. Still, the lingering feeling of familiarity was like an itch he couldn't quite scratch.
Mid-afternoon, Henry was feeling pretty good when the world exploded into a cacophony of scents. There was a sharp pain behind his eyes and Henry staggered into the brush alongside the large game trail they'd been following.
Henry opened his eyes and the fuzzy red-gold colors resolved into the canopy overhead. He blinked a few times then groaned and rubbed his face.
Henry slowly sat up with some help and continued rubbing his nose. Unlike every time before, the weird sensory overload didn't immediately fade. He waited for the tingling sensation to go away but it didn't.
Laurence crouched beside him. "You okay?"
"Nose," he gave a surreptitious sniff and nearly passed out again as information overloaded his brain. He blinked and tried to breathe through his mouth to avoid smelling anything. Lawrence pulled him back into a sitting position. "God. Do the woods always smell like this?"
Laurence grunted. "Like what? Name it all." He sat on one of the larger rocks beside the trail and waited.
Henry frowned. He smelled Laurence who wasn't like anything else in the woods. He could smell, very faintly, Ashley's scent on his coat. She'd handed it to him before he left. Helen too, since she'd squeezed his shoulder before they'd left. One of the familiar smells on his hat turned out to be Will, who'd tossed that garment to him when he'd forgotten it in his alcove. Ashley was there as well since she'd tousled the pompom on the top with a teasing grin. There was pine and, rotting leaves and wet Earth. And so much more.
He groaned and held his head in his hands. He named what he could then buried his face into the hat. The fabric smelled like home and helped drive back the flood of information. He dropped the hat long enough to swallow a couple anti-anxiety pills.
Henry took a moment then continued to name the smells on and around him. There were deer here too. He knew that scent, but it was subtly different from the memory that evoked mists and moss. He didn't know why, but he knew there were at least five animals that had traveled the same path within in the last day. When he didn't know what he was faced with, he tried to describe it from location and how faint it was. He tried to see if there were any marks associated with the unknown smell. Putting names to things seemed to help him cope.
There weren't names for some of these things and it was hard to describe them, so he started using colors, sounds and the images his mind associated with the things he could smell to describe them. Deer were a sharp burnt-sienna smell that was loud and screamed weakness. Earth was a deep green, cool smell filled with rumbling timpani drums. Ashley was strength, home, and a soft brightness amid grays, like the sun breaking through clouds after a rain. There were other images associated with her scent; the sounds she made when she came, the feel of her body as it slid against his, soft but strong, and the deep, throaty chuckle when he made her laugh in bed. He didn't share these images. Instead, he moved on to the moss which was fuzzy and reminded him of very soft violas. Laurence was mellow jazz saxophone and the wind between the trees in summer
Henry sat in contemplative silence for a few moments after his recitation finally wound down then looked up at his new mentor.
"Hmm," Laurence mused aloud. The big abnormal studied his feet as he flexed his long toes, the ones that had given his kind the name "Bigfoot". He looked back at Henry. "Any better now?"
Henry nodded slowly. It was a bit better, but he was alarmed to discover that his sense of smell hadn't returned to what he considered normal.
"Come on." Laurence got to his feet then offered Henry a hand up.
Henry followed him back the way they'd come and noticed for the first time that Laurence didn't walk on his knuckles outside like he did in the house. His tracks in the soft mud were distinctive. After a few minutes of silence, Laurence began prompting Henry to point out all the visual cues he'd learned that day. That task helped Henry keep his mind off the flood of unfamiliar information and by the time they'd reached camp, the smells had faded further.
"Tomorrow," Laurence said over their dinner of stew, "You'll learn to track by scent."
"What if the nose isn't working? And I didn't come out here to learn to do it the way everyone else does it?" The evening sounds of the jungle were now accompanied by exotic scents, some predators, some that he categorized as non-predators, but still nothing that he'd care to tangle with.
Laurence nodded. "True, but you have a gift. You need to learn to use that as well."
Henry scowled at his dinner then looked up. "So, this the part where I stand on my head and lift rocks with my mind?"
His companion grunted. "Just be glad I don't make you carry me on your back while we're walking around." He stood and collected their dishes. Henry would have to wash them in the morning.
Henry got ready for bed and crawled under the mountain of clothing he'd piled on his sleeping bag to keep warm. It was early compared to when he usually went to bed, but he found himself exhausted. He turned out the camp light, tuned out the woods, and settled in for the evening. After a minute, he pulled the coat and hat closer. They were faint, but he could still his family. He buried his head into the fabrics and went to sleep.
He dreamt of mists and the soft sound of water lapping at a lake shore. His nose was cold from the chilly air, but he was warm in the fur blanket.
The world shifted as strong arms lifted him. He squirmed and laughed as something cold snuffled his cheek. Fingers tickled his sides through the blanket. The world shifted again and he was being strapped into a bundle against broad, warm fur by gentle hands. Powerful muscle shifted under his hands. He could smell family, home. He turned his head to one side to see the owner of those hands. The motion exaggerated and slow in the dream. He had the impression of light eyes, pale skin with a dash of freckles and red-gold hair escaping its braid. Then suddenly the world was slipping away with great speed, changing from the lakeside to rocky highland moors as he was carried along. The loping motion rocked him to sleep.
The image warped around him and he was floating in darkness. The smell of wet woodland grew stronger. He felt damp earth under one hand and cool, rough stone under the other as he crawled forward to the edge of the cave. A loud noise cut thought the air and he scraped his hands and knees as he fled into the darkness. There was a terrible roar that echoed off the sides of the cliffs. It was filled with pain and fury and he cowered further from the entrance of the small hole. He had to stay there. It was safe there. More horrible thunder and roaring and then the roaring stopped but the thunder that wasn't thunder continued. The stone and dirt began to swallow him and the light started to fade and everything was cold and wet and he couldn't breathe.
Henry woke with a gasp, flailing against his sleeping bag and clothing. He felt the bones of his face start to shift and he clamped down on that feeling, willing his body to remain human. With a cry of frustration he scrambled for the bottle of pills. He found his coat by scent as much as touch and extracted the bottle. The bones of his hands stretched. The muscles tore and re-knit together. His skin itched as brown fur erupted. The huge paw-like hand was too clumsy to open the pill bottle's top. Henry whined in frustration and forced the hand back into the right shape. He opened the bottle and swallowed the pills dry.
He began to feel marginally calmer as the pills slid down his throat. He panted and searched for the water bottle he'd brought into his tent. Henry took a few. The dream was already fading, but he remembered, more or less, what he'd seen. He rubbed the heels of his hands against his eyes and wished he were back at home. He was familiar with this nightmare. He knew the calmer parts. The images he couldn't recall with clarity but he knew that he'd been having a normal dream before the nightmare had returned.
Henry jumped then rolled his eyes. "Yeah?" he answered the voice in the darkness.
"Nightmare. Fine now. Must have been too warm."
He got a grunt for an answer. Henry shoved off some of the layers then lay back down. After a minute he felt around and pulled the coat to him. Eventually he fell asleep.
The next morning was just as miserable as the first; too cold, too wet, too early. He ate breakfast quickly then took the ATV up to the main house to use the outdoor sink. As Jedi Padawan to Laurence's Jedi master, the dishes were his duty. The water was freezing. After he finished, he took a few minutes to work the feeling back into his hands.
The door opened and two tall dogs raced out into the fenced in yard. They ran over to him, tails wagging.
"Coal! Ember! Get busy!"
A kid in jeans and an oversized hoodie called to the dogs. The dogs wandered off into the yard to do their business and the kid tramped down the steps to the lower deck.
"Hi." He had a shock of bright blonde hair and a leonine face. "I'm Kevin."
"Henry." They shook hands over the fence.
"Dogs bothering you?"
"Nah. Was just washing dishes." Henry jerked a thumb back over at the station where the dishes were drying.
"You're staying up here with the bigfoot, right?"
Henry nodded. "Yep."
Kevin dropped his voice, "The real Bigfoot?"
Henry scratched the back of his head. "Well, one of 'em. I think. He doesn't talk about it that much."
Kevin nodded. "Dad doesn't talk about the circus too much either." He scratched one of the dogs behind the ear when it came up and leaned into him. "This is Coal. Ember's the other one. They're standard poodles 'cause mom's allergic. Dad won't let them get the froofy hunting cuts." Kevin took the ball the second dog brought up and tossed it across the yard. The dogs chased after it. Kevin tilted his head to one side and studied Henry. "So you're like mom, huh?"
"Uh…Maybe? How so?"
"She can pass for normal but she's special. Like us."
Henry thought about that for a moment then shrugged. "Yeah."
Kevin grinned. "Cool. So what can you do?"
Henry shuffled his feet. "I don't like talking about it."
"Oh." Kevin shrugged. "Okay. You work with Dr. Magnus, though, right?"
Kevin looked around then hopped down another step so he could lean toward the fence. He looked over his shoulder at the house door then asked, "So do you know Ashley?"
"Uh," Yes. He knew her well. Carnally even. "Yeah. She's my best friend."
Henry blinked. "How do you know her?" The kid was a walking ball of hormones. Henry hoped he'd never acted this way.
"She comes up here sometimes to get things for Dr. Magnus. Usually she's wearing these sweet leather outfits." Kevin leered as only a boy in the hormonal throes of puberty could. "You know what I'm talking about."
Henry chuckled nervously. "Yeah." He looked at Kevin, "you know she'd kick our asses if she heard us saying that."
"It's so hot!"
Henry rubbed his face with one hand. "Yeah. Anyway I better get back. Master Yoda's going to miss me." Henry backed off toward the cleaning station as he spoke.
"Right. Hey Henry?"
He paused. "Yeah?"
"Do you know if Ashley's seeing anyone right now?"
He was not having this conversation. "It's not really our business, Kevin," he said as he re packed the dishes into their crate.
Kevin shrugged. "I'll be 16 in March. That's the age of consent in this state."
Henry bit his tongue and shook his head. "See ya, Kevin."
"Hey, if you're her best friend, you'll put in a good word for me, right?"
"Bye Kevin." Henry started the ATV up and drove back to the campsite.
" 'Cause I totally want to tap that!"
Henry groaned and pressed the accelerator.
Waking to the buzzing sound of her phone on vibrate, Ashley uncurled from around her stolen pillow and stretched languidly. She'd decided to go out again the previous evening to look for any unusual activity but had ended up driving around with little to show for it. She flipped the phone open and saw Laurence's number. Ashley thumbed the phone on.
"How are you coping with the newbie?" she asked without preamble.
Bigfoot chuckled. "He's a quick study."
"What's up?" she asked as she pulled her comforter higher up her shoulder. Her room had become chilly overnight.
"Could you come up tomorrow then set up what we talked about after that?"
Ashley grinned. "Absolutely." She rolled onto her back. "How's he dealing with being disconnected from the Matrix?"
Laurence laughed again. "Better than I expected, actually."
"Good enough that Will's going to owe me fifty bucks when he doesn't die from withdrawal?"
"Cut me in and I'll make sure of it."
"Ha! Deal! So when should I come up? It's a bit of a haul out there." Ashley stretched and twined her fingers into the pillow case's fabric. "Might have to take one of the cars if Mom wants me to bring back something edible." She paused then asked, "Are you bringing back anything?"
"That's up to you and Henry. You're going to take him stalking."
Ashley sat up. "Me?"
"Learn things twice to really know something. First as the student, then as the teacher."
Ashley thought about that then shrugged even though she was alone in her room. "I guess." Grinning at a sudden thought she added, "And if Will wants to take a trip out into the woods, it'll be Henry's turn and not mine."
Laurence laughed. "I suppose." He paused then said quietly, "He's on his way back. He doesn't know you're coming up here."
"Surprise him, huh? That I can do."
"See you tomorrow then."
The connection cut and Ashley snapped the phone closed with a devious smile. She flopped facedown onto the bed and curled around her stolen pillow once more. An unexpected discovery had been that Henry's pillows were way better than her own, so she'd taken one the previous evening. Ashley reached blindly behind her and pulled the covers up over her head and went back to sleep.
Henry sniffed. Mellow, a bit sweet and a dirty brown-grey color. "That's a branch." The item didn't move away from his face and Henry sighed. "It's birch. It has leaves on it." He heard a grunt of satisfaction and the scent went away. Henry stuck a finger under the bandanna around his eyes.
"Just scratching," Henry grumbled. A new scent was presented to him.
Henry frowned. "That's a rock." The scent didn't go away and he could practically hear Bigfoot waiting for him. "I don't know. Limestone? There's some moss and some dirt on it." Henry made a face at the next scent that was presented. "Scat from a four year old female white tailed deer carrying exactly twenty seven ticks, four of which have lime disease, and she's got a dark patch on her right front leg."
The scent went away then Henry was cuffed on the back of the head. "Ow. Scat from a female white tailed deer," he muttered a correction when the scent was presented to him.
"Why are we doing this again?"
"You need to build up your vocabulary."
"What?" Henry pushed up the bandanna and eyed Laurence. "My vocabulary?"
Laurence nodded as he jotted something down on a tablet PC. Henry eyed the computer hungrily and wondered if he was on some kind of wifi network from the house. They sat on some picnic tables under the spotty shade of what Henry now knew was a maple. There were two more boxes of random bits of flora and fauna on the ground around them, waiting for Henry to identify them.
"You're learning a new language," Bigfoot replied as he tapped the screen with authority. He set the machine down and out of Henry's reach then twitched the blindfold back over Henry's eyes.
Shoulders slumping, Henry leaned against the cool wood of the table. "So, this is a vocab lesson?"
"You know some things, but now with your abnormality changing the rules on you, you need to expand what you know."
Henry heard him rummage around then sniffed cautiously when the next scent was pushed in front of him. "Dog. Poodle, wait!" he held up a finger "Tree. Redwood. Ew!" He jerked back a little. "That's one of the trees the dogs peed on."
"The male, I think."
The grunt from the other side of the table sounded pleased, but the bark was replaced with a dead fish. Henry sighed and continued naming for what seemed like hours. Finally, he had to ask for them to call it quits. He retreated back to his tent with a water bottle and some aspirin from the main house for his throbbing head. Henry flopped back on the nest he'd made in the tent and waited for the headache to go away.
He turned on his side and huddled into the coat, drawing the smell of family around him. Pack. Family. Home. They were safety and security as well as love. The ideas were rolled into one multifaceted concept that had many names. Henry glared at the blue fabric of the tent. He'd catch different smells as the breeze shifted and that made his head throb more. Lunch had been a dismal experience, with food tasting weird because his sense of smell was jacked up, and the onset of the now killer headache. His joints ached like when he had the flu, but he wasn't sick. He wondered if other werewolves had to go though this.
Aye. This time the voice was unmistakable. It was gruff and powerful with authority though fuzzy and hollow, like sound in a dream or memory. Most disturbing of all, it reminded him of hearing his own voice on recorded playback.
Henry shot out of bed and reached for the bottle of anti-anxiety medication. He fumbled the cap open and tipped three small pills into his hand.
Making a disappointed sound, the voice asked him "Now what good d'you ken that will do, lad?".
"This is not happening," Henry muttered, wincing to himself when it came out more of a growl. He searched around for the water.
"Oh, lad. That isnae th' answer," the voice rumbled. "What happened to letting th' caterpillar grow into a butterfly?"
"Stupid metaphors," Henry muttered then downed the pills with several gulps of water. This was not happening. He took several slow breaths to calm his racing heart.
Very faintly, the voice told him "Ye are who ye are, lad. Tis no shame in that."
Shut. Up. Henry thought back at it. I'm not a monster!
"Nay, lad. Ye are a werewolf of the Highlands, not some mongrel!"
"I don't want this," Henry bit out aloud. He could hear the smirk in the reply.
" Yes, ye do." the voice paused and Henry's fists clenched as he took very slow breaths. The truth resonated like a plucked string that made the whole of his body and soul vibrate. Deep down some part of him did want this, and that part was apparently speaking to him. "It's who ye are," the voice continued, softer still strong like steel wrapped in velvet. Thomas and Helen used a voice like that when lecturing. The tone shifted to a more confidential and lecherous one adding, " An yer lass seems to like it just fine. Now Ashley, there's a fine one".
Fury burned in his chest. Ash put up with a little bit of playful leering in private, but hated anyone else doing it. Whatever it claimed, this voice was not his. He didn't think of her as a conquest. If anything, he belonged to her. She'd chosen him and-
" 'Course she did. That's the way tis supposed t'be, Lad! Ye ken that!"
Uncaring of how inhuman he sounded, Henry growled. "Go. Away."
There was a moment of silence then the thought was faint, but clear. "Just be who ye are,"
And who the hell are you?he thought.
Henry took several minutes to calm down. The name was familiar, but he knew it wasn't his. Thomas Foss had given him both of his names, the only ones that mattered to him. He needed to get up, to move.
He climbed out of his tent and stalked off into the brush. Laurence looked up as he passed by but Henry shook his head and forged on into the undergrowth, pulling on his coat and hat as he walked.
Laurence watched him go then silently took out his cell phone and dialed.
Her voice was suffused with warmth when she answered. "How's he doing? No trouble I hope?"
Laurence smirked at the similarity between mother and daughter. "No, trouble. He's having some difficulty keeping up with the changes."
"That's not all, is it." It was a statement not a question.
"No. He's having nightmares. Possibly memories."
"Of when he lost his parents?" Helen guessed.
"That was my thought," Laurence grunted. "He won't say. His senses have kicked into overdrive, which isn't helping."
"The data you sent is extraordinary. I will admit I am somewhat anxious about what it's doing to him on the inside." She paused then added, "the last scans I took of him showed a rash of new connections forming, almost a reverse of the normal neural pruning process. The growth is amazing."
Sitting at the table Laurence asked, "Is that a bad thing?"
"No. I bring it up because it could very well be the cause of his nightmares. Smell is a very powerful trigger for memory. Hmm."
"What are you thinking?"
"I have those relics. I've never shown them to him. Thomas and I decided to wait for an appropriate time and then we lost him before we could pull Henry aside and speak with him." Helen paused, "In many way's Henry's only a little more mature than Ashley is." her sigh echoed across the line. "Given how well keeping that secret went, perhaps I should give those to him. See if it can't help him literally clear his mind."
"You had good intentions. Druitt interfered. Again."
"Oh, let's not have that conversation. Again. I'll send the boxes with Ashley. I'd hoped to be present, to explain, but perhaps this will work better."
"It might. I'm going to go check on him."
Helen hung up the phone and rose from her desk. She left her office and quickly made her way to her room and the ornate jewelry box that had once been her mother's. Smiling softly, she caressed the deep red wood and brass lid of the box before opening it.
Some of her very valuable pieces were locked away in vaults. She rotated those in and out to be worn periodically, but there were a handful of items she was loathe to lock away, even if she wore them rarely.
She touched the small box containing her mother's engagement ring and remembered with fondness the days when Ashley and she would go through the contents of her collection. Helen would tell her where each piece came from as Ashley tried them on, the rings and bracelets far too large for her small fingers and hands. Some items had been collected on her travels and came with amusing stories, but the pieces and stories they both loved the most had been Helen's mother's and grandmother's. The engagement ring had always been Ashley's favorite and Helen had decided long ago to gift it to her daughter should she marry. She'd never told her, but had anticipated the surprise. Those had been simpler times, when her relationship with her daughter had been less...complicated. She was proud of the woman she'd become, but sometimes Helen missed the younger Ashley.
"Enough wool-gathering. To business, Helen," she scolded herself. She lifted the first layer out of the box and retrieved the small envelope she'd been after.
Inside the envelope were several small keys, each carefully labeled. Helen located the one she wanted and replaced both envelopes and the top layer of small compartments then returned to her office.
Will was replacing a file in one of the cabinets. He looked up and smiled over his shoulder before returning his attention to the documents. "Hey, Magnus."
"Hello Will," she smiled as she crossed to the tall curio along the wall. She'd unlocked the door by the time Will had wandered over, no doubt curious. "I keep some of my most valued relics here," she explained as she withdrew two wooden boxes and set them on her desk.
Will looked at the contents of the curio with interest, taking the opportunity to get a closer look than the locked glass had allowed before. "I've wondered about a lot of these things," he mused. "What kind of skull that is," he pointed to the object, "and is that really a pearl in its forehead? How the heck did someone carve the stone cage inside another stone cage? And here," he pointed to a set of items, "What are these things? They look like something out of a mad scientist's lab." He smiled to show he was joking, and Helen laughed because he wasn't far off the mark.
"To answer your questions, lesser Asian naga, yes, very carefully with a lot of time and patience and as for those," she trailed off as she carefully picked up the contraption on the far left. "You're not entirely incorrect as to their origins." She smiled, "sometimes one does feel a little mad."
Will's face fell, "Magnus, I didn't mean to offend you."
Smiling, she shook her head and said, "No, no. I'm not offended at all."
The device and its successors had served their purpose, the last retiring some twenty-three years prior, but she kept them in a place of honor. She could see Will was still curious, but was politely keeping his hands to himself. She trusted him to handle it carefully and passed the antique over to him. "That miracle of science is my second greatest accomplishment." She clasped her hands together in front of her and nodded at it, "it was built to preserve and protect my greatest achievement until I could myself."
Will looked from the bulky tube of steel, brass and cracked glass to her, then back again. It had dials and gauges and connections for tubing. His demeanor shifted subtly and the careful hands holding the cryogenic stasis tube that had once held her daughter became reverent.
Helen silently took it from him and put it back in its place of honor. "Technology improved and I upgraded a few times," she indicated the others. She did not mention the heart-stopping terror that gripped her every time the change was made, nor the sleepless nights afterward. Those were old, private fears, now laid to rest. In the end, the original device and its descendants had done their jobs well and Ashley had been healthy.
"I can't believe I didn't realize what that was before. I can actually see the progress. Magnus this is amazing!" He paused then pointed at the third. It was blackened and one dial was warped. "What happened here if you don't mind my asking?"
She felt her stomach clench as she answered, knowing he would understand the date. "London, September seventh, nineteen forty."
He thought for a moment then looked startled, then amazed and slightly horrified. "The Blitz."
Helen nodded. She needed a moment before she could answer. Even after so long her heart still lurched when she thought of it. "I nearly lost her that night. I had to transfer her into the upgrade I'd been working on." She paused then added, "Those were very dark nights." She shook off the memory of the sounds of chaos and screaming and death around her, of her terrified and frantic scramble to save that helpless little frozen life before it too was destroyed. "That's why I finally moved here." She smiled ruefully. "Not very scientific I'm afraid, but there you are." She still hated to think of those nights.
After locking the cabinet again, Helen returned to her desk and called Ashley to come down. She busied herself with checking the boxes over while she waited for Ashley to come down. "We meant to give these to him years ago, but it never seemed like the right time."
"And those are?"
"Relics. They belong to Henry." She looked up as Ashley opened the door and waved her in. "When you go out to the preserve today I have something I'd like you to take with you."
Ashley smiled a greeting at Will then shrugged at her mother. "Okay. Do I need to take one of the bigger cars?" Her expression for her mother was closed, a marked distinction from the easy smile she'd offered Will. Helen hadn't missed that and from the frown on Will's face, her observant protégé hadn't missed it either.
Shaking her head and putting her troubled relationship with her daughter aside for the moment, Helen said "No. It's just these two."
She motioned them forward then opened the lids. They were sealed with glass tops so an observer could see the contents. One box held a long lock of red-blonde hair tied in a sky-blue ribbon. A large dark spot marred the beauty of the ribbon's color. The other box contained an intricately carved pendant of bone. She showed them because while she'd wanted Henry to see them first, she didn't want Ashley to become curious and open them before they got to their destination. It was possible that these items still carried some scent of Henry's childhood.
"Please do not open the seals," she added, "If Henry wishes to do so, he is welcome to. These are items I should have given him a long time ago."
The look of understanding pain in Ashley's eyes tugged at Helen's heart. Henry and Ashley had been thick as thieves almost since the day they'd brought him home. Despite her bravado and whatever genes her father might have gifted to her, she felt the pains of those she cared about deeply.
"Those are his parents', aren't they?" she asked.
"Yes. We took the samples initially so the werewolves could identify the bodies, but we never found them," Helen explained. "Thomas asked me to keep them for when Henry was older. I think he needs these now." Helen closed the lids over the sealed glass and handed them to Ashley.
"I'll take one of the cars. I'll be careful with them," she assured her mother.
Ashley nodded then left after a slightly awkward pause. Helen watched her go and her heart felt heavy. Despite being once again on more civil speaking terms, it was clear her daughter had not yet entirely forgiven her. She understood that. She hadn't entirely forgiven herself either.
Henry crossed his arms and glared at the round, lumpy rock at the edge of the stream. He was certain he'd seen that rock before, which only meant one thing: he was lost. At least the voice was gone. Or at least silent. Henry sat down on the rock and put his head in his hands. There were too many thoughts in his mind, each competing for his attention and he wanted to ignore them all.
The twisting, pulling pressure hit him with such sudden force he fell off the rock onto the cool forest floor. Muscles rippled and bones tried to break and reform. The terrible pressure spread all over his body and stole his breath. He gasped as his back bowed out of his control, muscles bunching with tension. He grit his teeth and focused his will, refusing to change, forcing his body back into the shape he knew best, denying the great hulking beast lurking under the skin. The fingers digging into the cold ground elongated into something monstrous with short black claws before he force humanity back on them.
The voice offered no comment, and for that he felt great relief. He curled into a ball and lay there, panting. Eventually he heard footsteps in the leaves as Laurence walked over to the rock and sit down with a soft grunt
Attacks like that left him feeling exhausted. It took a few more minutes for him to get the strength to sit up. When he finally managed to sit up, his hat was tossed into his lap. Henry dusted it off and put it back on his head. He waited for Laurence to say something, but he was silent. Henry watched sunlight glistening off the water in sullen, worried silence.
"There's something really wrong with me."
Henry nodded. He didn't want to mention the voice. Mentioning it really meant he was going crazy. Besides, maybe it had been a one time thing. A fluke brought on by too much olfactory stimulation and not enough computer equipment.
A rumbling chuckle echoed in his mind and Henry groaned, burying his face in his knees. "Yes. There is."
Laurence grunted but offered no more comment then that. Henry watched the water flow by and held off the alien smells of the forest by resting his chin on his arms so his coat could act as a buffer.
"Tell me about the other shape."
The question caught Henry by surprise. "What?" turning to look at his new mentor, Henry frowned at the other abnormal. "What do you mean?"
Bigfoot shrugged. "What's it like?"
"I don't know," Henry protested, "It's a werewolf. What are werewolves like?"
"You tell me."
"It's a brutal creature that wants to hunt and kill!"
The voice's disgusted grunt was very clear. Henry searched his pockets for the vial of anti-anxiety medication but found, to his alarm, that he'd left them back at the campsite. The campsite he didn't know how to get back to.
"Do you really think that?" Laurence asked mildly. He curled one foot around a small sapling and leaned back against the redwood behind the small boulder.
Glaring, Henry countered, "Those evil werewolf stories came from someplace."
Laurence grunted. "Terrified humans."
Henry scowled at the water. It was rippling too cheerfully for his mood so he focused on the ground and its spotty covering of bright fall leaves.
"Are you allergic to silver?" Henry winced away from the gentle question. Bigfoot remained silent for a minute then asked, "Have you ever transformed during a full moon?" Finally he asked "Are you a cannibal?"
"What?" Henry finally looked at his companion.
He shrugged. "Those are traditional characteristics of a werewolf."
"No, I don't transform during the full moon and I'm not allergic to silver. No, I don't eat people."
Only in the really fun way, the voice supplied with lecherous cheer.
Henry squeezed his eyes shut and rested his forehead against his knees. "So the big Hollywood myth stuff is wrong. Legends come from someplace," he insisted.
Laurence grunted. "Fair enough. But consider that they're still being told by terrified humans. They're not always right." He paused then added, "I think you know that. That's not your problem."
"Then what is?" Henry snapped. He winced again and bit his tongue. "Sorry."
"Hmmm," Laurence mused as he stood. "That's the question you need to answer." He grunted. "We're done for today. You look exhausted. Come on."
Henry got to his feet and stretched some of the kinks out. He felt grateful the conversation had ended there because he didn't want to think about this subject at all. He crossed his arms and trudged after Laurence, following the other abnormal's broad back out of his peripheral vision. He didn't want to examine these things, they made him feel like he was walking on a tight rope over a gaping maw. All he'd wanted to do was learn how to use the useful abilities a bit better; he didn't want to do the kumbaya, embrace your inner monster thing. It figured he couldn't exactly pick and choose, no matter how much he wanted to.
Laurence stopped. Henry was made aware of this fact the moment he ran into a broad back.
"Sorry. Why'd you stop?" Henry asked as he caught his balance.
"I think I'd like to run back," he said mildly.
Eyes and mouth gaping, Henry looked at him like he'd gone insane. "Run? In the woods?"
"Well," he grunted, "more or less. Too much walking today." He grunted and jerked his head in the direction of camp. "Think you can keep up?"
Henry shook his head, "No, I don't think so."
Laurence grunted, shrugged and then launched himself at the nearest tree. He pushed off against it, grabbing a study branch on the next large tree some thirty feet away. Henry watched in astonishment as bigfoot made his way through the woods like some kind of fusion of monkey and wire stuntman. The ease, surety and speed with which he moved stirred something near Henry's heart. He felt tugged forward by some kind of invisible chain, urging him to move. Without meaning to, his steps picked up speed. Laurence was out of sight, but he'd left a scent trail that was easy to follow.
At the end of a rise, Henry caught up with him. Laurence grunted then launched himself off the rock he'd been crouched upon and continued to travel with surprising speed. Henry hurried after and found that each step released some of the tension in his body. He'd tried track before, but running on vulcanized bits of rubber had never felt this good.
The tension returned as he realized he wanted to stretch out, to run on all fours, maybe even try bouncing off a tree or two. He refrained from that and shoved that desire back down. The run was cleansing, soothing. He allowed himself that indulgence and the desire to gambol about like a beast eased somewhat. It was unexpectedly soothing; though he was sure he wasn't going to be some kind of born-again woodsman.
Laurence cuffed the back of his head good naturedly when Henry finally arrived back in the campsite, huffing and puffing and he stopped himself right there with a self-directed smirk. Poor wolf jokes like that were a sure sign he'd been hanging out with Ashley too much. It was a price he thought he could pay for spending time with her though.
"Walk it off, then go take a shower up at the main house. I'll start dinner."
Henry nodded. As he grabbed his shower supplies and a change of clothing, he noticed he felt better, calmer, and distinctly lacking in annoying mental voices.
Despite the stress of the day and the hard half-mile run back to camp back to camp, sleep eluded Henry that evening. Insomnia wasn't new to him. Since he'd begun to change, his sleep patterns had been severely disturbed and nothing he'd tried seemed to help. Some evenings he was okay, but others, like tonight, were rough. He switched from staring at the ceiling of the tent to morosely staring at his watch, hitting the night light every so often to see how much time had passed. If he were at home he'd get out of bed, pull on some clothes and go do something more productive. He contemplated finding the PC Laurence had brought along. It probably had solitaire.
In the end, he waited for Laurence to get up. The PC probably had all kinds of data on it he didn't really want to think about. He took a couple anti-anxiety pills and stared at the side of the tent, waiting to fall asleep or for Bigfoot to get him up, whichever came first.
He got up at the urging of the other abnormal and the two rode into the preserve, following a well used path. They'd gone a few miles when Laurence pulled off to the side in a small clearing. He hauled the folding chair off the back of the ATV then opened the crate he'd strapped to Henry's. He held out a crossbow and quiver.
Henry looked at it then looked at Bigfoot then at the weapon. "Okay," he drew out the word as he accepted the weapon and tossed the quiver over his back.
"Thomas taught you how to use that."
"Yeah when I wanted to be Robin Hood. When I was eighteen or something." When he'd been eighteen he'd looked like a thirteen-year old. That had been a trying time since he'd legally been an adult but had looked like he was still hardly more than a child, and his attitudes had been a weird chimera of both. He shook his head to clear the memories away and refocus on the present.
Bigfoot grunted, pulled out a spray can and marked a target on one of the trees. He then sat on the folding chair and propped his feet on the case. "Hit the target."
Henry sighed, fit the stock of the crossbow against his shoulder, sighted, breathed out, and fired on the target. He hit off center, but he hit it.
The snap-crack of a can made him frown. "You better not be drinking beer back there," he called over his shoulder as he pulled the bowstring back. That was an easier task than he remembered. He finally looked and Laurence saluted him with his coke.
"You're a bit rusty but you're not too bad off."
Rolling his eyes Henry loaded another bolt and shot the target again. He was closer this time. Clearing his mind, he focused and saw the target with surprising clarity while he was so deep in the zone. Henry zeroed in on the paint and let the repetitive motions and muscle memory take over. When the quiver was empty he went over and pulled the bolts out of the tree.
"So now what."
"You're going stalking."
"What?" He looked at the crossbow "is this even legal?"
"Yep. You've got your cell phone right?"
Henry pulled the phone out and held it up. The device felt odd in his hands. He'd thought he'd have been using it like some kind of lifeline, but he'd been too busy. It had plenty of charge still. "Yep." He was surprised to see he had decent service here too. He idly wondered if there was a tower on the property. Laurence's comment brought him back to the conversation at hand.
"Call me if you shoot anything."
Henry stared at him. Laurence reached into one of the backpacks he'd brought and pulled out a novel. Henry watched him casually crack the book open, prop his feet up on the crate again, and sip his drink.
Without looking up he said, "Go on. Go stalk something."
Henry eyed him as he shoved the phone back into his pocket. He re-packed the quiver, undid the bowstring and looked around for signs of any activity. There was a hole in the underbrush where something very large had walked through. "What if I see anything dangerous?"
"Don't bother it."
Henry closed his eyes and bit his lower lip. Shaking his head, he slung the crossbow over his shoulder and walked into the woods.
There was an eerie sort of quiet to the woods, Henry realized as he walked forward, following one of the large game trails. Thanks to vocabulary session yesterday he could smell the difference between fresh and old scat. The trail had been used in the past few days and he didn't have any other ideas, so he followed it.
There weren't many insects out this late in the year and for that he was glad. The only sounds were the leaves rustling in the breeze and the sound of his own footsteps. He pulled out his cell phone and checked the signal. Reassured, he put it back in his pocket and followed the trail as it wound upwards. If he climbed now, it would be downhill when he returned to Laurence.
There was a rustling noise and Henry stopped. The hair on the back of his neck rose. It felt like he was being watched. He looked around and saw nothing. Remembering horror films, he very slowly looked up. He let out a breath when he didn't see anything up in the trees either. He sniffed the air but didn't smell anything unusual. Deciding it was nothing, he continued walking.
An hour or so into his trek he'd finally come across some fresh traces of game. Deer. He wasn't about to touch the scat so he didn't know exactly how recent it was. He smirked and supposed he was a city-wolf at heart. The odd feeling of being watched returned. He wondered if it was Laurence or one of the other abnormals in the preserve. He'd been occasionally hearing rather hungry sounds, but thus far he hadn't seen anyone or anything. Henry figured he could always follow his own scent back and if he needed to he could call and have the big guy lead him out like a little kid. But despite these reassuring facts, he felt very alone in the woods.
"Hey! Anyone out there?" he called in case it was one of the preserve's residents; better to spook the deer than end up as someone's meal. A bird flew out of the brush and Henry jumped back. He chuckled and continued down the path. The feeling of being observed didn't lessen though. He began to try to hear something else moving in the woods.
Stopping and starting at irregular intervals he tried to catch the possibly-imaginary-but-definitely-creeping-him-out hunter off guard. He couldn't smell anything and realized that if anything was hunting him, it was staying down wind much as he was keeping from the deer. Or where he assumed the deer were. He needed to change direction, catch anything following him off guard.
Henry suddenly dashed to one side and heard a twig snap behind him. Blood thundered in his ears as he raced into the woods, blazing a trail before he realized it would be easier to follow something premade. He ducked under a large branch and doubled back toward the large trail he'd been following, a firm grip on his weapon. There were definite sounds of pursuit now and Henry put on a burst of speed. He wondered if he could get far enough to prep his crossbow and decided he probably couldn't. Maybe he could use it as a club. His best bet at survival was to run back to Laurence.
He could practically feel the hunter gaining on him. Something jumped on his back and he went down yelling. All he could think about was how ironic it was that he'd been hunted down in the prime of his life when he'd been out stalking. The air rushed out of his lungs, cutting off the yell. The crossbow skid off to one side as he landed, the creature on his back.
As Henry gasped for air he recognized the sounds and scent of the creature climbing off his back. He turned over to confirm it actually was Ashley. She crouched by his side wearing the more rustic leathers she used when she was out on missions in the woods.
Her smile was apologetic as she plucked bits of leaves and twigs out of his hair. "Sorry about that. You bolted and I thought you'd finally figured out it was me."
He didn't quite have his breath back so he shook his head. When she leaned down to leave a kiss on his forehead he wrapped both arms around her and one leg for good measure.
"God I missed you."
She relaxed after a moment. "You okay?"
"Much better now." He pressed his face against her neck and simply breathed her in. "This has been really hard."
Frowning she asked, "What's he been doing to you?"
He shook his head. "It wasn't anything the big guy did. It's just," he trailed off. How did you tell your best friend you were going crazy? He sighed. "Being out here brought up a lot of stuff. The training has been going okay, it's just everything else."
"Yeah?" She touched his face.
He nodded. "Yeah." With a rueful chuckle he added, "I don't have to worry about the super sniffer being inconsistent though."
He let his head fall back to the earth and stared up at the canopy. "Can't turn it off now. I'm learning to deal. I think. It kicked in and hasn't gone away."
"You sure you're okay dude? You look kinda pale."
He closed his eyes and sighed. "Didn't get much sleep." Reluctantly, Henry let her go when she pulled back. He opened his eyes and watched her studying him. "What?"
"You're not alone, remember?"
Ashley stood and offered him a hand up. He brushed the leaves off his clothing while she retrieved the weapon. She had a crossbow strapped to her back as well. She handed him the weapon then brushed away some of the debris he'd missed.
"Hey." She tapped his chest to get his attention. "Calling you on your bullshit. When you want someone to talk to, I'm here, okay?"
His immediate reaction was to deny anything was wrong, to stick out his chin and glare. She arched an eyebrow, unimpressed. The verbal protest died a quick death and he deflated a little.
"Not now?" he offered. More than anything he didn't want Ashley to think he was crazy.
She nodded and hefted his crossbow. "Don't let it eat at you too long, okay?"
Taking the crossbow with a nod he said, "I won't."
"I mean it, Buster!" She shook a finger at him and managed a very serious face. "I'll beat it out of you if you let it fester too long."
"Yes ma'am," he retorted with a sloppy salute which earned him a genuine grin.
"Come on." She waved him forward and strode off into the brush, assuming he'd follow.
Henry hurried after her until he'd caught up enough to catch her hand. He tugged and stopped her. She tilted her head to one side in question. Henry slipped his free arm around her waist and hugged her close. He needed her to know he really meant what he'd said, that he'd talk to her, that she meant so much to him, that she was a calm, safe place for him to simply exist. He tried to find words but in his head they all sounded jumbled, melodramatic and lame. He sighed and rested his forehead against hers.
Needing to tell her something, he said simply, "Thank you."
Rubbing her hand up his chest she smiled. "Anytime."
He watched her quietly pass between the brush, hardly disturbing the surrounding woods. Henry was hardly an expert but he found he was hard pressed to find her trail and he was following right behind her. She motioned him closer and crouched in some brush. Henry settled beside her and though he was supposed to be looking for deer, he watched her.
Ashley was a hunter. Even with super senses he realized she was more at home with hunting than he was. She was relaxed and methodical as she scanned the area, quickly taking in all the signs Henry knew he was still struggling to see as indications rather than bruised leaves and little cleared areas in the brush. This was her element far more than it was his. He preferred, he realized, the more intellectual hunts: finding problems in the systems, keeping out snoops and hackers, finding data. He let out a quiet but satisfied huff of air. Ashley's skills complimented his own.
She turned and gave him a look that clearly said "be quiet." Henry ducked his head in silent apology. Ashley rolled her eyes and continued to scan the edge of the small field. The meadows, it had been explained to him, were the remains of old farms, slowly being reclaimed by the native forest. They'd passed a small log cabin on the way up. It was stocked with some basic survival supplies, but was uninhabited.
"Out in the woods, all alone," The Voice whispered. "Th' cabin probably has a bed, but no-one's around for miles…
Henry gripped the nearest tree, clenching his hand until the bark began to dig painfully into the skin. His body wanted to shape and reform itself, he wanted to run and hunt with her using tooth and claw. He focused on gripping the bark, on the snap of wood under his fingers. He pressed against the tree, using it as an anchor. Ashley's gentle touch on his shoulder became another anchor until the breeze changed direction and he could smell her scent. Then his thoughts made an abrupt shift.
He wanted her. He wanted to take her against the tree, for her to ride him right there on the ground, to stumble back to the cabin ripping clothing off as they went, to tumble into the bed and lose himself. The Werewolf side of him seemed to slide against the underside of his skin, it wanted to push out, to reach her and roll in the smell of her. It had only been a few days, hardly anything compared to the months before, but he ached to touch her, hold her, love her, make her gasp and writhe. It was like a huge beast pushing at him from the inside out, a torrent of electric energy that wanted him to take action, to hunt with her, to fuck her, maybe both and possibly not in that order. The sudden change was terrifying...and thrilling. He fumbled in his coat for the bottle of pills.
Some of what he'd been thinking must have shown on his face, because her concern turned into a startled blink and then a slow, sly smile. The twinkle in her eyes promised very bad things he would love, and his fingers paused in their fumble for the bottle.
Shoving him against the tree, Ashley pressed her body against his and said, "You've got pretty eyes wolfboy."
He opened his mouth to ask what that meant, but she was kissing him with fierce abandon that demanded he do the same. He heard a growl and realized with a start that he was the one making that sound. Ashley's laugh was low and throaty as she kissed her way down his jaw and to his neck then back up and to his ear, making him forget all about his desperate quest for the little orange bottle in his coat pocket. She tugged his earlobe with her teeth. His palms slid along the cool leather of her jacket and then down to her pants and over the swell of her rear. He loved her hunting outfits.
"Someday," her voice was a matching growl, "I think we should come back here when we're not on the clock." She nuzzled his cheek.
"Alone," he agreed as he pressed light kisses against her neck.
He felt pleased with himself when her "Yes," came out breathy. "But we're on the job now and if we do anything, everyone is going to know." He still wanted her, the primal part he hated and the human part he knew; but she was right.
He made a small disappointed sound that made her laugh, but he agreed this wasn't the time or the place. The urgency faded bit by bit as he breathed her in. "I missed you so much," he blurted. He felt better, calmer, with her around. Even when she drove him insane with sexual tension, he knew who and what he was and it was okay. It was like an alternative to the pills.
"Home's boring when you're off having fun and I'm stuck doing the rounds with no one to talk to. Will's too observant." She snorted a laugh, "and he's still wrapped up in how cool his new job is."
"Still mad at your mother?"
Ashley nodded. "Is that wrong?" she let out a sigh. "I do get it. I really do. But he was the one who told me," she trailed off with a sound of frustration. She lashed out against the tree with a fist.
Startled by her outburst, Henry needed a second before he realized she might have hurt herself. He couldn't see the tree so he took her hand. Henry gently inspected her knuckles for splinters or cuts.
She let him look at her hand, "I don't like it when she keeps things from me, like that." Adding in a softer voice, she said "I didn't think she did." Ashley glared into the distance.
Henry dropped her hand, having found no cuts, and wrapped his arms around her. "I think we all have secrets sometimes."
She pushed away enough to be able to look him in the eye. Her body had gone tense and he wondered what he'd said, because he knew he'd said something wrong. Her lips were a firm line as she looked at him.
"What," she asked, voice wavering just slightly, "are you keeping from me?" She was in control by the end of the statement but he'd caught the initial quaver. He could smell a hint of fear.
He winced and looked to one side. He couldn't hurt her, couldn't keep things from her, not when she needed him to be honest. The acrid scent of fear decided him. "I'm hearing things," he admitted. He felt her become less tense.
His gaze remained firmly fixed on the ground. "No, like in my head."
"Oh," she made him look at her with firm but gentle fingers. "That's what's been eating at you." She bit her lip. "I didn't mean to guilt you into telling me."
"I tell you I'm going crazy and you apologize?"
She leaned up to kiss him. "Dude, you're not crazy."
Henry scowled. "But I heard it Ash!" he glared over her shoulder. "It has a Scottish accent." He winced as the voice laughed.
"Really?" She sounded intrigued which just made the echo of the voice laugh harder.
He scowled at her until she laughed as well.
"Why'd you lose the accent anyway?"
Henry rolled his eyes. "Ash I'm being serious."
"I know," she answered lightly. She looked him over with a decidedly predatory eye.
Eyes narrowing, Henry asked, "Are you picturing me in a kilt?"
"Maybe," she grinned at him.
"Ash!" Henry threw up his hands and stalked a few paces away.
"Oh come on!" she followed after him, carrying both of their crossbows. "If you're really worried, talk to Will." Henry snorted in reaction to that. Ashley rolled her eyes but she was more serious now. "My point is you'll be okay." She bumped her hip with his adding some levity back into their conversation. "We've got your back."
She sounded so confident; it helped alleviate some of his anxiety. Some but not all. "Yeah?"
He let out a breath. "I'll talk to Will. But it stays between us until then. It might even go away."
"Good." She held out the crossbow.
"Thanks," he said as he accepted the weapon. "So what was the comment about pretty eyes?"
"You said I have pretty eyes and called me wolfboy."
Ashley shrugged. "Well," she shifted her weight. "You do. But sometimes they're different."
She slid her hand into his. "Sometimes," she dropped her voice even though they were alone, "Sometimes when we're together they're gold." She shrugged one shoulder. "It's hot."
"Hot?" That didn't compute. The slight blush on her cheeks didn't make sense either.
Ashley smirked as she dropped his hand then sashayed down the trail they'd been following. He scrambled after her.
"Hot?" he questioned again. He'd thought it was anything but hot when he'd seen his face begin to change from the one he knew and was comfortable with to that mongrel creature. The eyes were terrifying, but she thought they were hot?
"I knew what you were when we started this." She shrugged. "Gold wolf eyes aren't going to freak me out." She took a left and he followed after.
"It looks at you with those eyes?" he winced when the question came out more demanding than he'd intended it to sound.
She stopped, one hand on her hip, brow arched. "You look at me with those eyes."
Henry bristled. "That's not me."
Ashley rolled her eyes and made a disgusted sound. "Look, it's pretty obvious you don't have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide thing going on." She poked his chest hard enough he could feel it though the coat. "Trust me, it's you." She turned and walked away.
Henry let out a huff, but said nothing as he trailed after. He thought he'd been good about controlling himself and to hear he was one step closer to wolfing out on Ash and hurting her was distressing. He did have to admit that Ashley could probably take him in a fight, after all she'd been a predator longer than he'd been one. However, all of those times she'd been armed or at least forewarned. She hadn't been sleeping with any of those creatures.
"Ash," he stomped after her but was surprised when she turned and stopped him with a hand on his chest.
"Henry. I know you're worried about hurting someone."
His mouth opened then closed.
"Believe me, I get it. I know." She looked away. "Come on."
Frowning, Henry followed after. He thought about what she meant as they walked along a game trail, because she'd clearly meant something. He couldn't interpret her surprising intensity any other way. She stalked through the low underbrush, completely at ease with the weapon she carried and in a flash of insight, he knew what she'd been implying. He paused for a fraction of a second then continued.
Ashley was a hunter and when she needed to be, a killer. She'd said as much when she'd told him off for moping around in his room. He'd thought she'd made that admission because her wounds were fresh, but now he wondered if this was something she'd carried for longer. Now she had the rather terrifying example of her father to confirm any of the darker thoughts she'd alluded to having on occasion. She hadn't spoken much about Druitt since that initial discussion, and Henry hadn't wanted to pry, thinking it'd push her away.
He decided some gentle inquiry might be okay, but she held up a hand and he stopped in his tracks before he could ask her anything. She pointed out a strand of trees and some hundred yards or so away, Henry caught sight of a buck. He put his thoughts aside and very quietly, readied his weapon. Ashley's hands went through the same motions on her own crossbow, but where Henry was beginning to feel slightly jittery, her hands were calm.
Henry looked up at the animal. It was grazing in the distance and since they were down wind, it had no idea that it was being hunted. Ashley tapped his shoulder then led him through the underbrush. A twig snapped under his foot, and they both froze. The deer lifted its head and Henry could count the points on the antlers, twelve in all. He hardly dared to breathe and could hear the blood rush in his ears as he waited for it to run away, spooked. The deer's ears flicked and it went back to grazing.
Henry shot a look at Ashley. She shrugged and tilted her head to indicate he should follow. He wiped his hands on his jeans and followed for a few more yards until Ashley stopped him with a light touch.
Ashley looked him over; businesslike, methodical, detached. Henry hadn't seen her examine him that way since they'd become intimate, and only a handful of times before then. His stomach became a jittery, unsettled mess. Her smile was controlled when she leaned up close to his ear. Any trace of fear was gone. In the back of his mind, Henry knew she would have been more concerned if this had been a mission, if there had been some threat.
Henry eyed the buck. It had moved on to another bush in oblivious hunger. Deer could be nasty animals, but a couple hundred pounds of wild animal with sharp hooves and antlers didn't even register on Ashley's radar as a significant danger. It didn't come across as disdain for the creature, just confidant unconcern. Henry swallowed. The animal was going to die and it had no idea. He wanted to shift from foot to foot, but he didn't want to make any more noise than he already had.
"Lead from here," she directed him in a quiet voice by his ear. "A little more and you should have a clear shot behind the front leg. You want to try to hit the lungs and heart. Take it when you're ready."
He looked at her in surprise, jaw dropping. She nodded and jerked her head, a clear order to go forward. Henry frowned at the animal. It hadn't done anything to him and it seemed silly to just…kill it.
He felt more than heard Ashley's sigh against his ear. He didn't want to disappoint her, or Laurence, but it seemed excessive. He didn't feel bad for killing bugs, or rodents. If this had been a nubbin he'd have happily dispatched it, but a deer was a lot bigger. He didn't know why that made a difference to him, but it did.
"Would you hesitate if you had to feed our family?"
He looked at her, confused.
She shrugged a shoulder. "Mom, Will, the big guy, Steve, the harpies, me. Everyone back home."
He shook his head slowly. "Survival is a far cry from hunting for fun, Ash."
She looked at the deer then back again and tried a different tactic. "That animal is one of too many for the land here. The herd has to be culled yearly because the land can't support overpopulation. You're going to shoot it, and then you're going to clean it and then we're going to haul it back and turn it into steaks that are going to feed the simurgh and the griffin, and let Laurence make his kickass stew. It's anything but fun."
He looked between Ashley and the deer with indecision. The animal had moved further away during her short lecture.
"If you won't I will."
"I got it," he decided in a flash. He took the lead, careful to avoid any further missteps. Ashley followed behind him, somehow making less noise than he'd thought possible.
When he was in range he carefully sighted the animal, focusing in with surprising clarity. He gritted his teeth and waited for the animal to step a little further from the tree. Before he could talk himself out of it he fired. The animal staggered a step and went down in a heap. No fanfare, no struggle, nothing. Henry set his weapon aside and frowned at the body on the forest floor.
"I don't think I liked that."
Ashley crouched beside him. "Better to learn violence here than when something is trying to eat your face," she pointed out.
Henry nodded. "I don't know how I feel."
Ashley stood and gently tugged him forward. "Did you expect to feel something?"
"I don't know. Primal? Victorious? Big game hunter wolfboy defeats puny deer, time to ravish hot blonde in cave then eat deer steaks. Ug!" He beat his chest, but his heart wasn't really in the humor.
"This was hardly a chase," Ashley said as she undid her weapon. "Nothing victorious about this." She was pulling out gloves from a pocket and handed him a pair. They were thick, heavy rubber things meant for work. "Normally the target would just be knocked out and mom would go tag it. Still, it's not that great the first few times you do this."
She nodded. "This was way easy, but it all has a purpose."
"Sometimes for science and right now for lunch?"
She smirked. "Okay, here comes the really not fun part." She pulled out her cell phone. "But first, we call our ride."
She called Laurence and had him track them down using her phone's GPS, then pulled out several large plastic sheets from another pocket. She gestured to the gloves Henry still held. "You want to put those on. It's cleaner and safer."
Ashley then took him though the complex process of cleaning the carcass, tagging it so it was legal, and getting it ready for transport. It was bloody, it smelled horrible and required a considerable amount of work. By the time Laurence arrived with the ATV to haul the meat back, Henry was ready for a shower, but seeing the animal slowly turned into something that more closely resembled dinner was actually comforting.
He was feeling better when Ashley suddenly grabbed his shoulder. "Hold still."
He froze, unsure what she was getting at and looked at her in confusion. The wet, tacky mark Laurence put on his cheek smelled like copper and dead deer and violas. He winced away. "The hell?"
Laurence grunted and held up an organ. "Heart's blood for the first kill. Good luck."
Henry winced away. "That cannot be sanitary."
Ashley and Laurence both laughed at him and returned to finish packing the carcass with ice.
"Seriously, what was that?"
Ashley removed her gloves and tossed them in the bag with the rest of the refuse as Laurence easily lifted the now ice-packed and plastic wrapped deer onto the back of the ATV. "For good luck," she shrugged. "Fox hunts do something similar." Dropping her voice she nodded toward Bigfoot. "Something from home for him. Shut up and deal, okay?"
Henry resisted the urge to rub the blood off his cheek and nodded. Laurence didn't say much about where he'd come from before he'd joined the Sanctuary. It was gross, but he got the distinct impression he was being let in on some kind of ritual that had great meaning for the other abnormal. He could deal.
Laurence took the carcass, trash and their weapons back on the ATV, leaving Ashley and Henry alone in the woods once more. The sound of the motor faded into the distance and Henry turned to Ashley.
"How long does this stay here?" he asked, pointing to the red smudge on his cheek.
Ashley smirked. "You can get a shower when we get back," she told him as they started walking. "I brought something for you. Mom sent it."
"Yeah?" He was curious. She looked serious. "What? Everything okay at home?"
Ashley nodded and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "Everything's fine. It's kinda serious." She turned her head to the side and looked at him though her lashes. "Want me to tell you about it now or when we get back?"
"That serious, huh?"
"Pretty heavy," she agreed.
"I'll wait then. Let me wash the woods off."
Ashley reached out and squeezed his hand briefly. That worried him more than anything, but she had said nothing was wrong at home, and he trusted her judgment.
"So, you okay?"
"With?" he questioned. Sometimes it was hard to follow her train of thought.
"Stalking. Being out here." She smirked at him, "You acted a bit wild earlier. Are you communing with your inner wolf?"
He gave her a mock glare then sighed. "I'm okay. It was," he paused, looking for the words, "disturbingly easy." He was glad she'd never dismissed it all as "just a deer." Even though part of him thought that way. For some reason he thought the deer up close was kind…puny.
"It's kinda weird," he said as he held a branch out of her path. "I think I've seen a deer carved up before."
Ashley nodded. "Your mom and dad had to feed you somehow," she observed.
He frowned then realized she was talking about his birth parents. He'd never thought about that. He tried to avoid thinking about it actually, because it caused a painful bubbling feeling in his chest.
"Red deer are larger,"
"What?" Ashley asked.
Henry fumbled for the pills in his pocket and popped one, swallowing it dry. "Red deer. I think they're bigger than these white tail."
"You okay?" she asked.
He nodded. "Yeah. I keep getting these flashes." He rubbed the back of his head. "And the voice is kinda creepy. It's like a memory, but not."
Ashley snagged his hand again. "Mom sent something that might help."
"I hope so. This is really frustrating, Ash. Can we talk about something else? Anything else?" He wanted to escape his past and his currently fucked up reality.
Ashley looked at him for a moment then nodded. "Sure."
Henry sighed and squeezed her hand. They walked in silence for awhile. It was slightly awkward. Ashley looked at the ground ahead as she walked. Her shoulders were tense, a clear difference from the easy way she'd carried herself earlier. Henry frowned and wondered once again what weight she was carrying on her mind. Talking about her issues was better than talking about his. He could help her. "Not to upset you or anything, but are you okay?"
Henry squeezed her hand. "I'm allowed to call you on your bullshit, remember."
"Ash. This is me you're talking to," he said as he eyed her.
Her jaw was clenched but she didn't pull her hand away from his. They walked in silence for another five minutes before she finally spoke. "I'm still pissed at her, and I do and I don't want to be."
"Anything I can do?"
She brushed aside a branch. "No." Ashley walked in silence a bit longer. "Part of me likes being angry." She tucked the lock of hair behind her ear again with her free hand. "That's okay if I use my powers for good and not evil, though, right?"
"You're not evil."
"Right," she agreed too easily, then dropped the other shoe. "I'm only half evil."
"C'mere," he tugged on her hand then wrapped an arm around her shoulder. He held her until she relaxed. "You don't act evil."
Staring at his chest, she couldn't meet his eyes. "I could be. I could be very evil." Ashley snorted ruefully, "Everyone says I have poor impulse control. What if one day I just," she trailed off "It would start with someone who wanted to hurt me, maybe the these Cabal types. And then maybe some difficult abnormal on a bad day and then maybe someone who wasn't being difficult." She shifted her weight. "Sometimes I think I should stop what I'm doing. Get a new job."
"Ash." He brushed her bangs aside and kissed her forehead. "You're good at what you do."
"I know," her tone was morose. "I am really fucking good." She pushed away to pace and he followed her with his eyes. "And I love what I do. I love the adventure and the exploration and meeting new people and seeing new things," she stopped pacing and held up a warning finger. "And if you ever tell my mother I like the educational stuff sometimes, I'm never sleeping with you again."
"Okay," she resumed pacing, "I had this weird idea the other day that finally knowing who my father is, was actually a good thing because I've always suspected I could do terrible things but now I know I can so I can stop myself, right?"
"Right so," she stopped her pacing then faced him. "I'm dumping. I said I didn't want to talk and I'm ranting."
Henry opened his arms and hugged her when she came to him. "Newsflash. You've always kinda done that." He grinned into her hair when she groaned but didn't deny it. "besides, you're allowed to rant with me. It's safe."
"And for the record, I don't think you're evil. You know how to do some pretty violent things, but you're not sadistic. You care too much for that."
She finally met his eyes, "Yeah?"
She looked away but seemed to consider his words and he felt lighter because of that.
Looking back at him she said, "I don't know if I believe you. I want to, but I can't."
"Why don't you believe me when I say you'd never wolf out and hurt anyone?"
Henry sighed. "Touché." He nuzzled her hair. "So how about this? Along with calling one another on our bullshit, you kick my ass if I wolf out, and I kick yours if you go little miss ripper?" He was half joking but she relaxed almost completely.
"I think you're the only one who could stop me," she admitted. "Promise me?"
"Only if you will."
Hugging him she said, "Deal."
Needing some humor, he asked "Wanna make out to seal the agreement?"
"Yes but we're taking too long heading back already." She looked around then glared at the woods. "Fuck."
"We didn't walk up this way."
"I'm following the ATV," Henry said with a shrug. "Figured it was the easiest way up and the easiest way down. Plus the motor reeks."
"I'm impressed," she said, punching his shoulder. "Way to be smart and lazy."
He rubbed his arm. "Well, you know me."
"Lead on then. I think we both need showers."
"Together?" He arched his eyebrows suggestively.
"Do you want to be in the doghouse?" she quipped primly, but he could tell she was amused.
"Ouch!" He winced. "For that maybe I should leave you in the woods."
Henry grinned and took off at a run. Ashley made an indignant sound and ran after him. They were out of breath but laughing when they finally staggered up the steps at the main house.
"Left you some clothes," Laurence said with a nod to Henry's duffle. He and the Washingtons were drinking beers on the porch.
"Yours are where you left them," Karen told Ashley.
"Thanks. Come on, let's get cleaned up Hey Kev!" Ashley reached out and ruffled the teen's hair as she passed.
The boy's eyes were huge as she walked into the house. The kid couldn't really help it, He was a male teenager and Ashley was wearing leather pants that made her legs look extremely long. The smell of clear arousal irked Henry this time though, because all that teenage lust was focused on Ashley. It didn't sit well with him, but he was prepared to ignore it until Kevin made the mistake of speaking up.
"Think she's a screamer?"
Henry put a heavy hand on Kevin's shoulder. The growl came from deep in his chest and was a little terrifying even to him, but it worked. Arousal turned to fear and Kevin looked up at him with huge eyes.
"Here's a hint for you, kid; Women don't like lewd boys who drool over them and make remarks like that. Some will just leave. Others will kick your ass so hard, your grandkids will feel it."
Kevin's jaw snapped shut and he nodded several times.
"Good!" and because he was feeling evil, Henry ruffled the boy's hair and followed after Ashley. He was surprised to turn the corner and find her smirking as she leaned against the wall. She took his hand and pulled him into one of the suites.
"So, how much of that did you hear?" Henry asked.
She pushed him against the closed door then leaned up to kiss him briefly. "Enough." She moved into the room and began to rummage around in the knapsack she'd brought with her. There was a locked case on the bed made out of the same reinforced material that she usually used for transporting her weapons around.
"The kid's a walking ball of hormones, huh?" she commented as she pulled out her change of clothing and laid it out on the bedspread.
Henry put his duffle down and rummaged around for his own shower supplies. "Yeah. Sorry. I probably sounded like a territorial idiot, huh?"
She looked up at him through her lashes then back down at her bag. "It was kind sweet." Straightening she added, "and he might actually listen to an older guy who isn't his dad. Anyway, the second shower is over there. When you're done I have those things for you."
Henry nodded at her back and eyed the sealed case.
The shower was absolutely glorious. Henry figured he spent way too long under the hot water, but the jets of water against his back felt fantastic, the heat and steam relaxing. When he finally left the shower, skin delightfully pruned, he expected to see Ashley waiting for him. He could hear the hair dryer down the short hall so he shrugged, dried off and dressed.
Ashley emerged from her bathroom wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoodie. She quickly stowed her things then wrapped her arms around him.
"So I thought about joining you in there," she teased.
"Really?" he lifted a brow in amusement and slid one hand from her waist to her rear.
She grinned. "Yeah," she twisted her fingers into the belt loops of his pants. "Thought about grabbing you when you left the shower too."
He smiled at the light blush on her cheeks. "Why didn't you?"
Ashley bit her lip and shrugged. "I kinda wanted to work you up for tomorrow, but then I remembered I still had to give you what mom sent over and I didn't think it was a good idea."
She grinned. "You'll see." She pushed away and went to the case.
"Why am I not filled with confidence, Ash?"
She smirked. "It's not bad. Don't worry. Come on." She waved him over and made him sit on the bed before opening the case. She put two boxes in his hands, then sat behind him on the bed.
"Mom said she and your dad were going to give these to you, but they never found the right moment and then I guess your dad died and mom put it off." She leaned against his shoulder. "She thinks they might help with the memories. Open one."
Henry opened one and set the other beside him on the bed. Inside the box lid was a sealed compartment with a glass lid. There was a pendant carved into a circle of celtic knotwork. He froze then let out a shaky breath.
"Ash, I've seen this before."
She nodded into his shoulder and rubbed his upper arm. "They were both sealed. Before I left this morning mom said she did it on the off chance werewolves really did have super noses. So they could identify them."
Henry swallowed and try to stop his hands from shaking as he opened the other box. The long lock of hair curled under the glass, held by a blue ribbon. It was red-gold. He dropped the box but Ashley caught it. She pushed him back onto the bed with a firm hand.
"Just breathe. It's okay."
Pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes, Henry felt anything but okay. There was a cavernous hole in his chest and the sound of gunfire in his memory and he wanted to run away because he knew what those relics were.
"I'm here, you're okay," Ashley kept telling him.
"Magnus thought this would help?"
The hand on his shoulder paused then continued to stroke. "Yeah, she did. She thought something from before we found you might help."
"I don't like remembering back then."
"Have you thought that maybe you need to?"
He glared at her and she glared back until he looked away. "It feels like someone is squeezing my heart." He rolled on his side, away from her but facing the boxes.
"It wouldn't hurt if you didn't still love them, right?" She curled up behind him on the bed and held him. "Open them, don't open them. It might help if you do."
He stared at the boxes on the bed for a few minutes then grasped one of the arms she'd draped around him. "Ever wish you could just go back to when life wasn't so complicated?"
Sighing into the back of his neck, Ashley said, "Yeah, I know that feeling."
Henry watched Ashley's car pass around the bend from the house's broad porch. The two boxes were in the duffle at his feet. He still didn't know how he felt about those. Henry hadn't known anything had been saved and part of him still didn't want to know.
He watched the horizon for a few minutes then picked up the bag and joined Laurence at the rear of the house where the ATVs were. The drive back to their campsite was silent except for the wind in the trees and the rumble of the motor. The late afternoon sun was warm against his face. The camp was just as he'd left it earlier that day before he'd gone hunting.
Except for the tent-like structure now off to one side.
The flap opened and Don stepped out, mopping his forehead with his sleeve. "Fire's just about there. Should be fine after dinner." He and Lawrence shook hands then the leonine abnormal strode off toward the house.
"What's with the tent?"
"Sweat lodge. You're welcome to join me if you're interested," Laurence said as he began to dump charcoal onto grill they'd brought along.
"Uh. What do you do in a sweat lodge?" Henry asked as he scratched the back of his head, "I mean other than….sweat?"
Laurence chuckled as he built the charcoal brick pyramid. "It helps me to relax, to reflect on what's going on, to work out problems."
Henry stuffed his hands in his pockets. "In other words all the stuff I need right now."
Laurence grunted. "You said it, not me."
"Are any psychedelic mushrooms involved?" Henry joked.
Henry's smile fell. "I don't know that I want to get all hopped up on anything. A tripping werewolf isn't something I think anyone wants to see."
Laurence slapped him on the back. "Helen says you shouldn't have an adverse reaction." He shoved a bowl at Henry. Inside were a couple potatoes. "Go clean those for dinner. We're gonna roast them."
"I shouldn't, but what if I do?"
"I can handle a Werewolf and we're not using the really strong stuff. Get ready for dinner. We're having venison steak."
Henry blinked. He'd never considered that Laurence might have come across a werewolf other than him. As with Ashley, he felt somewhat reassured that if the worst happened he could be stopped, even if there was lingering guilt for putting his friends in that situation to begin with.
Laurence said they weren't using the "strong stuff" whatever that meant. That didn't do much to reassure him either as his experience with recreational drugs was all second hand at clubs. Pot had always smelled like skunk to him and anything harder, well, that was just out of the question, see reason number one: Werewolf. Ceremonial peyote or magic mushrooms or whatever the heck Bigfoot liked to light up when he wanted to take a trippy vision quest didn't exactly sound like a fun idea to Henry.
He blinked again as the image of Laurence in the back of a VW van in tye-dye and beads with a bong invaded his brain. He snickered as Magnus as a flower child joined in with special brownies.
Dutifully, Henry ran off to clean the potatoes.
They'd had venison for dinner before, along with ostrich, and once alligator, so Henry wasn't apprehensive about exotic meat. It was a little odd to be eating an animal that had been grazing earlier that day. It was good though. He didn't feel special or primal and the voice was silent long enough to make Henry wonder if he'd imagined the whole thing. To be on the safe side, he took a few more of the pills. He shook the bottle. Only a couple rattled at the bottom. Fortunately they were going home tomorrow.
After dinner, Henry washed the dishes. When he returned, the sun had fallen behind the mountain and light was fading. Laurence had changed to loose pants and a vest. The interior of the lodge was bright and warm. Henry left the crate of dishes on the table then wandered over, hands stuffed in his pants.
"So what do I do?"
"Lose the shoes and jacket. Put on something lighter if you have it." He turned back to the tent then paused. "If you like, bring what Helen sent."
Henry did as he was told and soon found himself inside the small tent, sitting apprehensively on a rug opposite Bigfoot. The boxes rested on either side of him. It was amazingly warm inside, just at the edge of what he found comfortable. Laurence began to add branches to the fire at the center of the enclosure. As they burned, Henry smelled redwood which brought to mind a deep bass and rumbling timpani and great age.
"Hold old of a tree are you burning?"
Laurence grunted and tossed some pine onto the fire. "Old enough." He added some plants Henry wasn't familiar with to the flames. They released a heady, earthy scent and suddenly the colors and scents of the tent were all sharper. At the same time, everything seemed to become far away.
Blinking and ribbing his nose, Henry decided he didn't feel like he was going to go berserk. It was a little like having a few beers, which he knew he could handle despite concerns about wolfing out. "So what do we do now Master Yoda?"
"We sit and contemplate the universe."
Laurence grunted. "Relax. Mediate. Think about things. Enjoy the heat. You're the one who's been cold all this time."
"Sometimes you have visions."
"Visions? Like out of body experience, psycho trippy, lucid dream visions?"
"Well what if I have one of those?"
"Let it happen. Sometimes you find the answers you need to see, sometimes you find the questions you need to ask. The soul knows." He gestured to the boxes. "Have you opened them?"
Started by the abrupt change in conversation, Henry needed a second to switch gears. "No." He shook his head and rested his arms on his knees. "I couldn't do that."
"Can't or won't?"
"Won't." Henry snapped then winced. "Sorry. I just know that if I do that I'm going to remember something."
Laurence had settled into his own mat, his legs crossed, eyes closed. "Is that so bad?"
"You don't sound so sure."
"When I smell something its not just smelling it. There are memories and sounds and images and sometimes even feelings and distances. It's weird."
"What you're experiencing. It's called synesthesia."
"There's a word for that?"
Bigfoot grunted. "Ask Ashley about her colored numbers. Helen has it too."
"So is it an abnormal thing?"
"Hardly. Helen and Ashley both discovered it when they were learning to write." He opened one eye and looked at Henry, "You're just learning new skills now too."
Henry relaxed slightly. It was nice to hear that he wasn't alone in at least some of this.
"Just warning you, Helen will probably put you through all kinds of tests to learn the extent of it when we get home." The eye closed again.
"You can ask Ashley about that part too. Don't worry, it's not just you." He chuckled, "It was first studied when Helen was a child. He father put her through testing as well."
Laurence tossed some dried plants onto the little fire then poured some water onto the pile of heated stones. Heady fragrance filled the muggy air, making it slightly harder to breathe, but it wasn't so bad Henry felt the need to bolt outside. He adjusted to the heat and began to relax in the comfortable silence.
His mind wandered over the past few days, images and feelings pushing to the forefront of his mind as the different flowers burned. He considered some of the things Ashley and Laurence said and since he was being honest with himself, he considered some of the things the voice had said as well. Henry eyed the boxes. He was curious.
He picked them up and opened the covers, flipping the lids back so he could see the sealed glass compartments. He opened the box with his mother's hair, half expecting it to turn to dust as the seal was broken. Through the smoke and haze, he could smell cool breezes and flowers and yes, there was pain there too, the chilly cavern and the fear. But there was laughter. Henry wanted to touch the lock of hair but he was afraid it would disintegrate under his fingers. He touched the ribbon which seemed safe enough.
Henry smiled. In his mind's eye he could see the ribbon at the end of a red-blonde braid. Sometimes she'd worn it around her neck. He could remember his father tying it in her hair. It hurt but not as badly as he'd thought it would. He closed the box and picked up the other one.
The pendant was antler from a red deer. He could smell the creature. But there was also swift motion and strong arms and deep laugh lines. He rubbed the pad of his thumb over the carving, tracing the lines. The tent was hot and he felt slightly light headed…
Somehow he knew he was in Scotland. The town was unremarkable for this part of the country. It looked like one of those little places you'd see on a postcard. It was missing the inevitable guy in a kilt, or sheep or Scottie dog.
On cue, a shepherd in a kilt herded half a dozen sheep in front of Henry's path, a little black Scottish terrier following merrily along. Henry blinked and watched them disappear into the odd mist that edged the town.
There was a pub here. the red-brick building seemed to appear out of the mist. There was light and laughter inside. He was hit by a gust of warm air through the open door as a couple left the establishment. Outside the air was chilly with the bite of late fall. He entered the pub and took stock of the situation inside. Indistinct people sat at the bar and in booths on the walls. They were vague, blurry shapes that his eye seemed to slide around rather than focus on. Their voices were a homogenous murmur of white noise. The tables in the center were empty save for one. The man at the table was drinking a dark stout.
His hair was on the long side, falling to his shoulder in unruly brown waves. He wore a scruffy beard and a simple linen shirt open at the neck. A pendant of aged bone or horn carved into a knot hung around his neck. Green eyes surrounded by laugh lines sparkled and his cheek dimpled as he smirked at Henry. He kicked the chair across from him out from under the table.
"Hullo, Lad. Have a seat. Let's get ye a drink."
Staring at the man, Henry felt unable to move. That was the voice! He watched the man grin as he lounged in his leather edged wooden chair, waiting. A serving girl came and went in an indistinct blur of blue jeans and black shirt. Another stout sat on the table across from the persona the voice in his head had adopted.
Winking, the man gestured to the pint. "Come on, then. Let's have a chat."
Henry sat down in the chair but didn't pull up to the table or accept the drink. "What do you want?"
"What does any man want? Good drink?" He held up the stout, saluted Henry with his and took a drink. "A good woman?"
A strawberry blonde woman materialized out of the blurry shapes of the crowd. She draped her arms over The Voice's shoulders and kissed the dimple on his cheek. "Be nice," she admonished before walking out of the bubble of clarity surrounding the table.
"I know who and what I am," the man's hand changed into a brown-furred, paw-like appendage then back again. "I think I'm good. How about ye?"
"Well," The voice leaned on an elbow on the table, grinning, "That's a good place t' start as any, Lad. Tell me about it."
"Augh!" Somehow the Voice was able to reach over and ruffle Henry's hair, though Henry could have sworn they were too far apart for that to happen. Henry batted the hand away and ran a hand though his hair, re-mussing it the way he liked it.
The Voice laughed, but Henry wasn't offended, just confused. He'd caught The Voice's scent when he'd reached over. It was the smell of mists and high, chilly lochs, of spring winds and the sound of laughter, the snap-crackle and roaring blaze of a fire. He was loud trumpets and electric guitar. And home.
"Who are you?"
The Voice extended a friendly hand and Henry watched his smile and eyes grow soft. "I'm Conall." Henry reached out half way, paused then finally shook The Voice's hand. "I'm verra glad t' finally meet ye."
Suddenly Henry was fifteen again, a child that looked maybe seven years old. His clothing and the disorderly haircut were both new. He looked down at his body in shock, he held a Game boy in one hand. When he looked up Conall was smiling sadly, his skin pale and blue, several gunshot wounds in his torso and one at his temple.
Henry scrambled out of his chair and ran for the door with a yelp. He ran blindly into a pair of legs. Strong hands stopped his flight.
"What's all this now?"
Freezing in place, Henry immediately recognized the voice. "Dad?" he looked up and saw Thomas Foss as he'd looked when Henry had been adopted. Short salt and pepper hair that hadn't yet been completely claimed by the wings of white at his temples, clean shaven, dark eyes that smiled and strong hands that fought the monsters in the night and taught with gentle care.
"Come on, son," Thomas said, drawing Henry inexorably back to the table.
Henry dug his heels in but Thomas was firm and soon he was sitting in the chair once more. When he dared to look up, the holes and blood were gone, and the man was once again the picture of health and vibrance.
"Thomas," Conall saluted the man as a beer was placed in front of him.
"Conall," Thomas replied in kind and sipped the pale-gold liquid. "How'd you think I did with the time I had?"
"No' bad," Conall appraised. "No' bad. Though, he should've made a move on th' lass years ago,"
"Hey now," Henry protested, suddenly adult again.
"I'm no' insulting yer lass, Lad," Conall waved him back down into his seat. "Nor ye. No' really," he chuckled then grew more serious. "Nothin in life finer than a partner to have yer back in all manner o'things." He tilted his head to one side and regarded him with surprisingly old eyes that made Henry want to squirm "An I think yer happier."
Henry had to admit that was true enough. "I am."
Conall smiled. "Then I do have everythin' a man could want." He sat back in his chair with a satisfied grin.
"You see, Henry," Thomas added, "That's all fathers really want for their sons. If you're happy, then all the little things, the small problems and disappointments, they don't seem to matter so much anymore."
Henry's jaw worked and he looked from one man to the other. His eyes widened as he realized the pendant Conall wore was the same one in the box. He remembered, now, this was some sort of trippy lucid dream. Very faintly the smell of burning herbs intruded on the pub. Henry squeezed his eyes shut and immediately ignored it. This might be a hallucination but it seemed an important one. Laurence had said something about visions being answers. Something about the soul and the waking mind. He opened his eyes again and the pub held steady. He let out a breath and relaxed.
"Ye get that strength from yer mother, ye ken?" Conall chuckled into his stout. "Ye've always been a strong one. Smart too. Ye ken I couldnae been prouder."
Thomas laughed. "He's a smart one. Stubborn when he wants to be. You notice he's lost the accent?"
"Aye! What'd ye go an do that fer?" Conall set the stout down with a clack. "Do ye no' ken that th' ladies love a man wi' an accent!"
"Well, no one else had one but Dr. Magnus, and I didn't want to stick out," Henry protested.
Conall waved off the protest, "Aye, aye. Though," he pointed a finger at Henry, "Try it on th' lass."
"Did ye no' teach him anything?" Conall asked Thomas, who was laughing into his beer.
"He's done well, allow him that."
"Aye, I suppose I can," Conall grinned.
"Why are you bothering me?" Henry asked.
"Bothering ye? Yer the one remembering, lad," Conall pointed a finger. "Ye've always wondered what we'd think o' one another." He gestured to Thomas and himself.
Henry's shoulders slumped a bit. He had always wondered that. "So now I get to have some kind of imaginary conversation?"
Thomas shrugged with good humor. "If you like. Or we could go visit some of those memories you've been avoiding."
"Lad," Conall, gave him a pointed look, "Ye ken exactly what he's saying. Ye ken what ye are and ye remember more than ye want, but tis in yer bones, lad. Embrace what ye are. Find peace with it."
Thomas patted the passionate werewolf's shoulder. "Easy on the boy. This is a lifetime of repression coming undone." He sipped his drink and set it on the table.
"I'm really going crazy."
Conall snorted into his beer. Thomas answered saying, "You know you're not. This is something we thought could happen."
"I didn't want it to!" Henry protested.
"Tis not all bad. Far from it." Conall sighed and sat forward in his seat, leaning his arms on the table. "We left ye when ye were too young to really ken what you are and what you should be. An' I'm sorry for that. We both are. Ye ken that."
The woman with red-gold hair materialized from the crowd again and wrapped an arm around Conall as she sat on his lap. "Hello. I'm Síneag. "
"Mum?" Henry's voice broke. She smiled and his heart felt like it was shattering again.
"I'm glad ye were found by good people."
"Love? We need to go," Conall said, helping his wife off his lap. She hauled him out of the chair and he playfully growled as he wrapped his arms around her. They kissed and Thomas chuckled. Henry watched them, aching.
"Come on ye great beast," his mother said, pushing his father's shoulder back. She laughed as he growled again and assaulted her neck for a final kiss.
"Ye ken where t' find us," Conall said over his shoulder as Síneag led the way out of the pub. "We'll be at home."
Henry stood but was torn by indecision. He looked at Thomas who stood by the table, draining the last of his drink.
"Come on," he said, patting Henry on the shoulder as he followed the werewolf couple out the door. Henry watched him disappear into a thick grey mist then followed after before he could talk himself out of it.
The world was filled with mist. The sounds of glass on tables, the steps of the servers and the white-noise rumble of the other patrons slipped away. The air was moist and slightly chilly. Henry looked down and could see his hands but his feet were indistinct.
"Hello? Where am I?"
Turning at the sound of wet footsteps, he tensed as a figure in the mist approached. More sounds became apparent. The distinct slosh of water and the honk of some kind of goose in the distance. The figure in the mist resolved into Thomas Foss.
Thomas inclined his head. "Henry."
"Where are we?"
"On a loch I believe."
At Thomas' gesture, the mist around him faded away, revealing a lush green landscape illuminated by muted sunlight and an overcast sky. Henry realized he was standing on the water of the lake and staggered back a pace. The surface ripped and splashed over his shoes but they didn't get wet.
"Lets go for a walk," Thomas suggested. He strolled off in the direction of the near shore, leaving Henry to follow after.
"So where are we?" Henry asked after catching up. "You know, besides on a lake."
"No clue." Shrugging, Thomas waved at the shore. "If you never caught the name, I wouldn't know it, would I?"
Henry stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I guess not." He watched the empty shore then followed the horizon until it became ancient mountains, low, craggy and covered with green. "Why don't I feel more weirded out by this?"
Thomas clapped him on the shoulder. "Because you know you're on some kind of vision quest through thought and memory?" Thomas grinned, the corners of his eyes crinkling in mirth. "I think your friend Will would get a kick out of this."
Chuckling, Henry could only agree. He and Thomas stopped about fifty yards from the shoreline. There was a small rocky beach there that ran up to a grassy area and then the trees. "Yeah. What am I supposed to see here?"
"This wouldn't be a very useful vision quest if I told you, would it?"
Sighing, Henry scratched the back of his head and resumed walking toward the shore. He stopped on the rocks, eyes fixed on the tree-line. The brush was pushed aside and his father grinned out at the sight of the lake. He wore much the same outfit that he had in the imaginary pub, though his hair was tied back by a leather cord. He carried some long wooden spears and a woven basket in one hand. He reached back and helped Henry's mother down the short embankment. Henry recognized she was carrying a much younger version of him on her hip and the smell of the lake and the feel of the air and the smell of the grass and the trees came rushing back.
"I know this."
Stepping forward, Henry watched his dad kick off his shoes roll up his pants and head off into the lake, spear in hand. His younger self sat on his mother's lap as she pointed out what his father was doing. She leaned forward and the older Henry could remember what she smelled like. She was powerful and confidant and always had the underlying smell of metals, ink and books. He could remember she had several of them, but they didn't have pictures so he hadn't been interested in them at all.
Henry drifted over to his mother and the image of his younger self. Thomas followed a few steps behind. Crouching near the pair Henry could remember her words and his chest tightened. "She taught me how to count past ten." Chuckling at the memory, Henry watched the younger version begin to argue.
"I was convinced there weren't numbers past ten, because our lessons had always stopped there before."
"Your mother did most of your schooling," Thomas commented.
Henry stood. "Yeah. You were all surprised I could count and read a little."
"We didn't know much about the world you were born into, son. We still don't. You still don't."
The world abruptly changed and it was winter. Henry staggered and fell into a drift of snow, but the chill didn't touch him any more than the water had. He had the vague sensation of cold, but the crisp water smell of the snow was clear in his mind, carrying the scent of pine and burning wood fires and damp wool where snow was melting beside his skin. The world was filled with violins and oboe as the wind swept down the hillside he stood on, ruffling his hair. He and Thomas walked down the slight incline toward the trees. The snow was thinner here because of the pines and thick branches above. Snow fell from those limbs as the wind moved the trees, the only sound that broke the silence was their steps on the snow.
Henry closed his eyes and breathed deeply, taking in everything. Here the world seemed to hold its breath in anticipation. When Henry breathed out, the puff of smoke billowed then slowed to a halt. Henry looked around and the snow falling around him had likewise stopped in mid air, leaving him and Thomas the only moving creatures in the area. The suspended snow twinkled in the light. It was weird, but beautiful and Henry felt himself smiling.
He walked through the frozen snowflakes without a direction. Thomas followed behind him and only gestured for Henry to continue when he paused. There was a familiar quality to the woods, but that was hardly surprising considering the lake.
They passed a large boulder that looked like a bullfrog. Henry frowned at the misshapen face and picked up the pace. The snow began to fall around them again as Henry began to follow a distinct path through the snow. He was running down hill after a few moments, unable to stop because of the steep incline. He stumbled over a hidden root or rock, narrowly avoided running into two trees then lost his balance entirely and tumbled head over heels.
Dizzy, Henry lay in the snow for a moment. The soft crunch and softer chuckle meant Thomas had caught up with him.
"Just help me up," Henry asked, holding out a hand.
Laughing, Thomas pulled him out of the snow drift. Henry brushed the snow off and looked around. He gasped when he recognized where they were. A large yew obscured most of the house set into the hillside, its branches dipping low with accumulated snow. Smaller trees grew on the roof, grey skeletons covered in snow this time of year. A few steps ran up to a door. Both were stout wood, reinforced with metal and would have been entirely unnoticed by anyone who'd walked by and didn't know to look for it.
Looking at this place made his chest ache. He followed a small curl of smoke rising from a hidden chimney. It twisted in the chilly air and disappeared around the high boughs of scots pine. "This was home."
"This isn't where we found you."
"No." Henry shook his head. "There were safe places they kept me when we had to go out and hunt. We couldn't stay close to home for that." Henry looked up at his dad. "It was a secret, or at least I thought it was. You were so nice, but it was a secret." He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. "It seems so stupid now."
"You were a child, hardly older than Ashley was," Thomas consoled him, pacing a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. "No kid should have to go through something like what you did, Henry."
Henry smiled ruefully and looked down at the snow by his feet. "I don't know if I could have brought you back here anyway. They carried me if we had to travel far."
The door burst open and a younger Henry ran outside, giggling as he jumped head first into the nearest snow drift. The older Henry was hit by some of the displaced snow. Laughing Henry brushed it off his shirt. The younger version of him was a little older than he had been at the lake.
"Da!" Young Henry called back as he flung a snowball between the boughs of yew. The snowball impacted and the kid fell back into the snow, laughing. There was a deep growl by the door and a huge brown werewolf bounded into the snow. Younger Henry
scrambled away, still laughing. Conall picked up a double armful of snow and promptly dumped it on the boy.
A snowy tussle ensued. Henry could remember the feel of the snow as it found its way into his clothes and melted, the way it compacted and stuck to his gloves as he made amateur snowballs and flung them at his father. Now, with an adult's eyes, Henry could see his father hesitate and duck into the icy projectiles. The snow stuck to his fur and light clothing.
Bundled against the cold since he didn't have the benefit of fur, Young Henry laughed as he stumbled through the snow. The larger werewolf easily jumped from drift to drift on all fours as often as on two legs, kicking up snow and playfully growling. A grey blur joined the fray, tackling Conall from behind and making him yip in surprise. Henry's mother held his father down and yipped at her son, who hardly needed the encouragement.
Smiling as he watched his younger self dump piles of snow on his father, Henry still felt like someone was squeezing his heart. "Perfect, huh?" he commented, sniffing ruefully.
Thomas chuckled. "You're a hallmark moment, that's for sure."
Henry smirked, but didn't comment as he watched his father get up and carry his younger self over one shoulder, holding him by the feet. His younger self squirmed and his dad held him out by one ankle. As an adult, Henry could appreciate the unconscious display of strength, but younger Henry laughed at the game even when his father dropped him headfirst into a particularly deep drift.
"Let's follow them," Thomas suggested. He was nearly at the door when Henry finally moved. He followed Thomas through the door and found he was in the cozy, one room home he'd been born in.
He couldn't quite stop the choking-sigh. The room smelled like his parents and the smoke of the wood fire and the last bits of dinner. The scents evoked images of warmth and safety and a huge, scratchy wool blanket.
Time passed as he crossed the room, showing many winters by the fire as the family became motion blurs, their lives displayed at high speed. When the disorienting blur stopped, younger Henry was older, nearly the age he'd been when he'd been found by Helen and Thomas. The younger version peered out from under a pile blankets and watched his father pace across the wooden floor.
This was one of the lean years, Henry realized. There had been times when his parents had been tense, and had shared a meal when he had his own. He'd kept his head down and had tried so hard to be good. At the time he didn't know what the half-empty storage bins and shared plates meant, but now he did.
"Calm down," his mother admonished. She was also watching Conall pace.
Conall growled at her. The sound was dangerous and resonant. Older Henry took a step back. Younger Henry ducked down into his nest of blankets. "How do ye expect me to be calm!"
Henry's mother's eyes narrowed but she didn't flinch at the outburst like Henry, young and old, had. "Keep yer voice down."
Conall stopped in the middle of the room, hands clenched and shoulders tight. There was an eternity of staring before Conall took a deep breath and let it out slowly, unclenching his hands. His shoulders slumped and the hopeless look on his face was still terrifying, even in memory. He was afraid.
Henry's mother has been sitting by the fire with a blanket around her shoulders, her red-gold hair unbound. She stood, holding her arms out. Conall folded himself into her embrace, buying his face in her shoulder. Síneag wrapped the blanket around them both.
"I'm sorry I dragged ye into this," she apologized. Now, as he had been then, Henry was somewhat confused.
Conall grunted into her shoulder. "Ye wouldn't be ye, if ye hadn't." He sighed, relaxing, and the tension eased away, like fog evaporating in the sun. "Only a few more years, though, aye?"
She smiled and touched his face. "Aye."
They'd been looking forward to something, Henry remembered with a frown.
"It isnae so bad when I'm no' worried about making sure we have enough," Conall admitted. "But when we're done with this trial, ye know what I'm going to enjoy most?" He rubbed his nose against hers.
"Hot water showers."
"Ohh," she sighed. "I'd love one o' those. Sometimes I have dreams of th' wonders of indoor plumbing."
"Ye're doing well for a decade off th' power grid without yer gadgets, too," he said as he tumbled them into the larger bed on the far side of the room. "Sometimes I'm surprised ye came back at all."
Síneag snorted. "I had to come snap ye up since no one else seemed to have th' good sense to do so." She grabbed his chin. "Plus ye make cute babies."
"So I'm a sexy beast then, aye?" He growled and pulled the blanket over their heads.
At this point Henry turned his back and did his best to block out the memory.
"Can we go now?" he asked Thomas. "Please?"
"You're finally getting a clear picture of what your life was like," Thomas reminded him. "You really want to leave?"
There were distinct noises on the bed behind him and Henry stuck his fingers in his ears. He hadn't understood as a child but as an adult he knew all too well what they were doing.
"Yes. There are some things better left forgotten, okay?" He hurried out of the cabin and away from the memory of his parents being intimate. Henry could hardly remember them, but there were images he most definitely did not want to remember. Aside from being uncomfortable since they were his parents, he felt like an intruder.
The world outside showed the skeletal limbs of late fall. Pines held their greenery as if warding off the near-death sleep of their leafy fellows. Henry took a few steps into the carpet of leaves and stopped. The crunch echoed amid the trees. Fog rolled down the hillside, distantly chilly and wet. It flowed between the trees and hid the naked branches of the shorter shrubs, obscuring the ground. The woods were nearly silent. In the distance there were crows and the wind in the trees.
"There's more than cuddy family memories," Henry stated to the apparition that had followed him. Thomas' steps made no noise.
"Even now you're questioning what you remember," Thomas replied. He crossed his arms and relaxed against a tall tree, completely at ease.
A howl rose in the distance then a second. It was a warning and it made the hair on the back of Henry's neck stand on end even if it wasn't directed at him. He was sure if he hadn't looked human, his wolf form's hackles would have been raised. It was chilling and reminded him that there were very scary things out in the world.
"Can we skip ahead or something?" he asked into the profound silence that followed the duo of howls.
"We could, but I'm not the one in charge," Thomas pointed out, arching a wry grey eyebrow.
Henry cursed and stalked in a circle, trying to recall something, anything else. The howl rose again, different this time, and he could feel his heart in his throat. That was a call to the hunt, not a warning to an intruder to leave. In a flash he recalled what would come next and he had no desire to live it again.
Henry looked for someplace to hide but nowhere seemed adequate. There were distant sounds in the woods now, the crash of large bodies through heavy brush. He looked toward the hidden home.
"Don't do it," he pleaded with the door, but it opened anyway. His younger self hopped down the steps, clearly curious. As before, a loud, angry roar send Young Henry scrambling not into the house but under the wooden steps and their flimsy cover.
"You learned fear that day," Thomas stated, making Henry jump.
"I'd never heard this before. I knew I should have gone back inside, but I didn't think it would hurt." Henry grit his teeth as he paced. Thomas placed his hand on his shoulder. It was faint memory too, like the water and the snow had been. He crossed his arms and winced when the heavy snap of wood ricocheted off the trees.
The intruder was large, but his skin hung loosely showing he'd recently lost weight and bulk. His coat was dirty and ragged in places and his ear was notched. His clothing was simple breeches, sturdy but travel-worn. He had a dark brown, nearly black pelt with a lighter underside. He'd seen hard times recently, but he held himself well; he wasn't beaten down. The calculating way he took everything in made older Henry angry at the intruder. This was a scout or a lone male looking to take territory.
This wasn't fleeing so much as a tactical retreat, that much was obvious. He controlled his flight and took as much in about his surroundings as possible, nose twitching. The great beast paused, head weaving in the air for a moment before he zoned in on the house, nose unerringly finding Young Henry. The living memory of the growl was as deep and malevolent as it had been when he'd lived through these events.
The huge intruder lunged for the house, murder in his eyes. He was caught in mid flight by a flash of lighter brown then grey. Henry had been a fatal distraction. The wolf howled in anger and pain as his mother's claws efficiently hamstrung his right leg then dug into the flesh of his sides, ripping long gashes. His father had been grappling with the larger male and now took the opportunity to go for the throat, closing his powerful jaws around the intruder's windpipe, forcing him down on his bad leg.
The thrashing as the now desperate wolf fought for his life made it more difficult for his mother to hamstring the other leg but she severed the tendon, pulling back a bloodied hand. The intruder drew his claws down Conall's side to try to make him let go. Henry's father growled and bit down harder. His mother broke the offending wrist then helped his father wrestle the still struggling wolf to the ground on his back. Their fur became dark and red as they ripped into the intruder's exposed belly then the rest of his body.
Finally the dark werewolf lay still beneath them. Henry's mother touched her husband's shoulder and Conall let go, spitting the other wolf's blood on the ground. They stood and watched as the body changed into that of a ravaged human. There wasn't much left to tell what the man had looked like.
Young Henry cautiously crept from his hiding place and his father's eyes snapped to his. His lower jaw and the front of his chest were dark with blood. Conall growled at his son showing bloodstained teeth, ears flattened to his skull. Henry had never seen his father so angry with him, and for a moment he was afraid he'd be attacked.
His mother shapeshifted, hands and feet still covered in blood with more splashed on her clothing. She blazed with anger and suddenly Henry's father was the more non-threatening of the two.
When she spoke, she didn't yell. The deadly calm of her voice was worse. "Get in th' house and don't ye dare come out," she ordered.
Young Henry ran inside. Older Henry knew he was hiding under his blankets in the corner of the room, ashamed of his own actions as much as he was terrified of the intruder and his parents. He'd disobeyed them and it had nearly killed him. The other werewolf had died, and Henry felt responsible for that as well.
"Ye can imagine what happened next or ye can go inside and see," Thomas said. The scenery abruptly changed and they were once against standing inside the one-room house in the hillside. His mother was sewing the largest gash in his father's side. The muscle in Conall's jaw jumped with every touch. Younger Henry, looking absolutely miserable, handed his mother items as she requested them.
"I know what happened." Henry never knew what his parents' did with the body. He hadn't had the temerity to ask. He closed his eyes and shuddered. He'd messed up that day.
"You were a child," Thomas reminded him.
"But they told me to stay inside!" Henry whirled with a yell. "All I had to do was listen and I didn't!" He paced in a circle. "He got sick after this. The wound got infected because of something the other guy was carrying." Henry shook his head. "Da never got sick."
"Think of something happier then."
Suddenly the temperature changed. Henry opened his eyes and realized the fire was out and the door was propped open. The green, new, energetic smells of summer wafted in, carrying the smell of the yew and pine and fern outside. Summer was games of tag through sprinklers and hide and seek just after dusk and collecting fireflies in a jar them letting them all out at once as living fireworks.
Light out of the corner of his eye made him turn. Grinning, he remembered this evening. About a year after the intruder, he'd discovered a flashlight left by some hikers. His parents had strongly cautioned him against ever going near other people until he was older, but the flashlight was fascinating.
"We had a very limited idea of what you'd been exposed to," Thomas commented.
"The flashlight was amazing," Henry grinned. "It was like suddenly living in one of Mum's stories about town." He reflected on that for a moment as one memory triggered another and another in a domino effect.
Younger Henry had crawled out of bed and now stood in front of his father who was sprawling across his half of the bed. Older Henry smirked as his younger self turned the flashlight on in father's face. Conall frowned then opened one eye, wincing away. He reached out and pushed the light out of his face with a finger.
"Ye mind turning that off, lad?"
The light turned off, but Henry asked, "How does it do that, Da?"
Conall chuckled. "Ask yer Mum."
Younger Henry climbed over his father and shone the light in his mother's face. "Mum?"
Síneag winced away from the light with a muttered curse. "Turn that off. You'll drain the battery."
"The battery. It makes th' light work."
"How does it do that?"
Síneag sighed and sat up. "This cannae wait until morning?" She groaned when Henry solemnly shook his head no.
"He's yer son, Love."
Smacking Conall's shoulder because he was laughing into the bed, Síneag held out a hand for the light. Unscrewing the top she held up one of the batteries for her son to see. "Ye remember what I told ye about lightning and electricity? These can hold some of th' same power."
Eyes wide, Young Henry asked "If I drop it will th' lightning come out?"
"Nay, lad. They keep it in acid."
"It's liquid that burns your skin."
"How does it do that?"
Síneag groaned. "If ye wait to ask until the morning, I'll take ye to see th' town," she offered.
"See it," she emphasized. "We're nae going into town until yer older."
"When yer old enough to know your name," she told him as she put the light back together then placed it on a shelf by the bed. Holding up the blanket she invited young Henry into the space between his parents.
Henry watched his younger self settle happily between them with longing. He wanted to turn away, but at the same time he didn't. Vision blurry, he wiped at his eyes.
"Why didn't you want to remember this?" Thomas asked.
"Are you kidding?" Henry walked outside, leaving the vision or the ghost or whatever Thomas was, to catch up.
"It seems like you have a good life. You were deeply loved."
Henry grit his teeth and stared off into the forest in sullen silence. "This hurts."
"If you were a terrible monster, it wouldn't."
Leaning against one of the tall trees, Henry sighed. "I could be. You saw the way they ripped that werewolf apart. I can do that." He dropped his head and looked at the ground. "I almost did with that Naga."
"You saved Will's life."
"I don't want to be a killer!"
"Do you hate Ashley? She has to kill to defend herself or other Sometimes."
"No. God no. That's different."
"I fail to see how, son."
Henry glared and paced around the clearing at the front of the hidden house. The summer sky was clear, but the night winds felt as distant as the snow had. The breeze carried the scents of burning wood and plants from thousands of miles away and he was reminded that none of this was real. The stars wheeled overhead and the sun rose then set, picking up speed until the world was an odd twilight. The seasons changed rapidly summer replaced by autumn then winter in turn. Spring came again and passed nearly into summer. Time slowed and the sun rose at last at normal speed.
A muffled roar broke the silence and young Henry ran outside and down the hill to hide in a thick bush. His father scrambled out of the house nearly as quickly, followed by his wife. Síneag roared at him, bearing long canines, her ears flat against her skull. She was a powerful creature with dark grey fur. Conall held up a placating hand, but his words were drowned out by her deep growl. Henry wanted to hide in the bushes with the younger memory.
Abruptly she turned away, dropping to all fours to be violently sick in the brush. Henry's father went to her side but she shoved him away. He crouched out of her reach, murmuring soothing noises. Younger Henry peered out at them from his hiding place. When his mother was done being sick, she stalked back to the house with a growl. Conall watched her leave. Wincing when she slammed the door shut. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he scented the air then found his son in the bushes.
He crouched down and held out his arms. "Sorry about that, son." He chuckled when Henry bowled him over and ruffled his hair. "Yer Mum's not too pleased with me right now."
Wiping his eyes, Henry asked, "Is she sick?"
"Yes and no. We talked about ye being a big brother?" When Henry nodded he continued explaining, "Yer mum gets very sick for the first few months. She'll get better soon."
"That's why she's so mad?"
Conall laughed. "She isnae angry, Lad. She's just sick to her stomach. It makes her feel better to roar at me, so I dunnae mind. Ye remember when ye got sick last spring?" Henry nodded so Conall said, "Well she feels a bit like that." Conall tickled his son's sides until he laughed and squirmed. "When she was going t' have you, she threw me into th' loch almost every day. Chased me up a tree a few times too." He grinned in memory.
Distressed, Henry protested, "I didnae make her sick!"
"Aye, ye did. But that's th' way it happens." He fished around in his pants pocket then held out a long blue ribbon for his son to see. The boy touched it with a tentative finger. "Think this will do as a small peace offering?"
"She likes blue."
"Aye she does." He ruffled Henry's hair "Let's get packed for th' trip to th' woods around town."
There was a storage chest under the raised front of the house where it was protected from the rain. The two pulled out some wooden frames and Conall set to work checking out the leather cording and straps.
"I'll tell ye something, Lad," Conall said as he worked on the pack.
"Tis an honor t' be picked by a woman like yer mother." He grinned, "And tis fun too." Sobering, he continued to advise the younger Henry. The older one listened as well with new appreciation for the conversation. "She's a good leader and I trust her. When yer older ye look for someone like her. Fiery. Driven. Smart. Tis never boring and ye have yer best friend at yer back." Conall smiled softly in thought. "Maker her laugh, especially when times are hard, and never go t' bed angry with one another."
"Okay, Da," Young Henry nodded.
"Good advice," the shade of Thomas Foss observed. "I told you much the same thing when you started to really grow up."
Henry smiled. "Yeah. That and to always hold a door, be respectful, enjoy looking but don't be a drooling jerk about it, and keep my hands to myself unless I have an engraved invitation."
Thomas snorted in good humor. "Close enough. But he's right."
Conall ruffled Young Henry's hair again. "Yer mum would say yer too young t'be having this conversation," he confided, "but my da started me off early and it's worked." He winked and shook the pack he was holding to see that the bindings held. "Strong women make for a strong clan, Son. Remember that."
"I do now," Henry said to himself, heart heavy. He turned away from the scene in front of the small house, watching the woods in silence for one of those endless moments that felt like eternity but could have only been a few seconds.
He missed his parents, both biological and adopted, keenly. The scents of herbs and burning wood tickled in at the edge of his senses and he could once more feel the heat of the fire. He was reminded that none of this was real. The moment he woke, the dream would shatter and he would be alone once more, with only his memories. Well, not quite alone. His family was at home. Helen, Laurence, the other residents of the sanctuary and now Will too. Ashley was there.
"You wonder what I'd think of you and Ashley."
Henry looked over in surprise then nodded. "She was always off limits."
"You put those limits there."
Henry glared then rolled his eyes and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "She's my oldest friend, Dad. I didn't want it to be weird."
"You didn't want to lose her too."
Nodding slowly, Henry started down the path he knew would take him toward the loch by their home. "I could screw this up."
"That's life. You make your mistakes but you pick yourself up and you go on," Thomas said from behind him.
Henry nodded. The fog was rolling in and he began to pick his steps with more care. Soon he couldn't see the ground. The scent of sweat, herbs and burning wood became stronger.
"I don't know that this is a mistake," he admitted. The fog was waist high now. The sound of water softly lapping at the shore grew louder.
"If she loves ye lad," the voice of his father told him, "She'll forgive ye any bone-headed mistakes."
"And you'll forgive her," Thomas added.
Henry stopped at the shoreline and though the fog quickly obscured his ability to see more than a few feet away, he could feel the heat of the lodge. He didn't want to leave but the vision was fading around him. His heart felt like it was being squeezed and he could feel the very real tears at the corners of his eyes.
"Am I doing this right?"
"Yer doing just fine," he mother's voice, faint but strong, assured him.
Henry let out a sigh that was almost a sob as the vision faded to black. He opened his eyes and winced at the glowing red coals. The room was too warm and his throat was dry. He felt nauseous and his head was full of cotton. It was a little like being hung over. He staggered to his feet and stumbled as his right leg was shot through with pins and needles. A strong hand caught his shoulder and took his weight. Laurence assisted him outside.
The autumn air was absolutely freezing after the warmth of the lodge, but it shocked some sense back into him. He sat. Laurence pressed a water bottle into his hand then draped a coat over his shoulders. Henry sipped the water, feeling exhausted. Laurence placed the boxes on the table beside Henry then sat down across from him. Henry leaned on his arms and simply breathed.
"How are you feeling?" Laurence asked.
"Like I want to be held," Henry thought to himself. Aloud, he answered, "Drained. Exhausted." The gaping hole in his chest created when his parents had died was still there, but the razor edges had been blunted. He took in a deep breath then let it out slowly. Some of the weight was gone for now. Henry wondered if this was catharsis.
"It was a lot like talking with Will," he admitted, looking away from the other abnormal. "Well, I used to talk with him more. Then there was the whole snake thing."
"Sometimes I talk with him," Laurence admitted. Henry realize Laurence meant he spoke with him in a professional sense. It was a small surprise. Laurence seemed to be together. With it. Over his issues. Except he rarely went out, so maybe he wasn't.
"Yeah?" Henry asked, looking up at him.
Bigfoot nodded. "He's extremely observant and he's been well trained. He can put things in perspective. I find a measure of relief in that."
Henry nodded. "Maybe I should start talking with him again. I just," he sighed as he trailed off. "I just wanted a chance to make sense of everything on my own."
Shivering now that the warmth of the lodge had dissipated, Henry huddled into his coat as he thought. "Yes," he finally answered.
"Good. Get some rest. Tomorrow we head home."
Laurence grinned. "Ashley is your final exam."
Will yawned as he waited for his coffee to finish brewing. The early morning light streamed into the kitchen and promised a bright fall day.
"Good morning," Helen greeted as she began to prepare a morning cup of tea. She eyed the coffee maker with cheerful distaste and Will dutifully rolled his eyes, now familiar with this morning routine.
"Morning Magnus" he yawned.
"Late night?" she inquired as she retrieved the cream from the fridge.
Will hopped up onto one of the high kitchen chairs. "No. I kept hearing things."
"Things?" Helen lifted an eyebrow as she rummaged around in the pantry and came away with the small jar of lilac honey.
Will frowned at the cheerful bees printed on the jar's label. Before taking residence here, he hadn't known there was more than one kind of honey and was only vaguely aware that theoretically tea came in more types than "hot" and "iced". He looked longingly at the coffee maker and willed it to work faster.
"Yeah," he answered, picking up the conversation as he watched her move around the kitchen. "Like someone was running around." He frowned, "The nubbins didn't get out, did they?"
Helen blinked, "Not that I know of. Check the security feed," she suggested, nodding her head at the small flat-panel screen on one side of the kitchen.
Will chuckled as he walked over to check. He still wasn't used to living in a house as wired as this one was, and the lack of caffeine wasn't helping either. The nubbins were in their cage, safely chilled. "Well those guys are fine so it wasn't them," Will said as the coffee maker finally began the brewing cycle.
Will and Helen both looked up and greeted Steve. The lizard man was wearing a very long blue scarf looped around his shoulders. He tossed one fringed end over his shoulder and reached for the bowl of fruit.
"Nice scarf," Will commented.
"Helping Ashley with a project," Steve explained as he selected an orange and began to methodically peel it with his short claws. He sat on one of the chairs by Will and nodded thanks when Helen pushed over a plate and a paper towel.
"What project?" Will asked. The coffee finished brewing and he poured both Steve and himself large cups. The lizard man was one of the denizens of the sanctuary who appreciated good coffee. He actually had a substantial stash of the really good stuff.
"Thanks. It has to do with tracking I think. She ran by about an hour ago and asked me to wear it."
There was a rumbling sound and all three looked up to see what the source of the noise was. It was coming from the huge, seldom used formal dining hall. Or, more accurately, the hall beyond. The three watched through the door as Ashley raced down the hall with a wheeled chair in front of her. When she got to the dining room she jumped on it and let her momentum carry her just a few feet from the kitchen.
"Hi!" she greeted brightly. "Uhm, you mind giving me a hand?"
Will got up and pulled her and the chair the last five feet into the kitchen. "What's this?"
"I'm confusing the trail," she explained. She hauled off the small backpack she was wearing and pulled out her bike gloves. "Hang on to these for me today, will you?" she asked her mother as she held them out. Helen took them with an arched eyebrow. Ashley resumed digging in the bag and came up with three socks that looked like they had balls or other socks bunched in them. She threw one on top of the fridge, one into the pots hanging from the ceiling and then leaned out into the dining room and threw it the way she'd come. The sock bounced several times across the floor then continued out and down the hall.
"What are you doing?"
"And are those socks?" Helen inquired, arms crossed.
"They're clean. They've been in my drawer though," Ashley responded with a cheeky grin as she ran a hand over the counters then on the wall, cupboards and fridge. "I'm laying false scent trails. Henry's going to try and track me when they get back later today." She sat in all of the available seats. "Everyone gets a hug."
Will accepted the hug. "And we get these why?"
"My scent on you, your scent on me," she explained as she hugged her mother. "Laurence said he was going to let Henry use his nose. I've been doing this for hours."
"I get it. So you were the one running around all night," Will commented with an arched eyebrow.
"I'm sorry, I didn't think I was making that much noise," Ashley apologized.
Will waved it off with a smile. "So you were tossing your laundry around, touching stuff and confusing any kind of scent tracking." Will nodded at Steve who was dissecting the peeled orange. "And the scarf? That's to give a fake trail?"
She nodded. "If I wanted to make it hard I had to have a lot of recent ones going at the same time. It'd be too easy otherwise."
"You aren't going too hard on him, are you?" Helen asked.
Ashley shrugged, "Laurence said to make it as difficult as I could."
"Wonderpup has a super-nose," she shrugged. "It's not a good test if it isn't hard."
Ashley hefted the backpack again and shoved the chair under the table and out of the way. She turned to leave then looked at Will with a devious grin. She took off her necklace and held it out to him. "Do me a favor and keep this with you?"
"Uh, yeah. Okay." Will took the necklace. "Do I have to wear it?"
Ashley pursed her lips as she thought. "I'd leave a better trail than if you had it in you pocket." She helped him put the jewelry on then stepped back. "If he finds you just give it to him. He can give it back to me if he finds me."
"Right." Will fingered the pendant. "You know I don't think I've seen you more than a handful of times without this thing"
Ashley's grin was on the devious side. "Exactly."
"And you think he can smell what, silver and, well, you?" Will asked. He'd seen some pretty strange things since coming to work here and for the most part he thought he'd begun to learn to handle them well. However, he was still coming to terms with the fact that one of his new friends was anything but the normal guy he appeared to be.
Ashley shrugged. "If he's learned enough to put those two facts together, yeah."
"Huh," Will sat back in the high chair. If it was true that Henry's nose was that discerning, that was really cool.
Ashley paused by the door. "Oh, hey, Mom? Can I use your shower stuff?"
"Ashley, Wait a moment!" Helen picked up her tea and followed Ashley out of the kitchen, giving Will smile in goodbye.
Will propped his chin on a hand and resumed watching the coffee maker work.
"So," the lizard-like abnormal sitting beside him asked, "Any bets on how long it will take Henry to find her?"
Looking at Steve askance, Will considered the facts. Finally he said, "Five bucks on before two and a half hours."
Hearing her mother's call, Ashley slowed her walk down in the hallway just outside the kitchen. "What's up?" she asked when Helen caught up to her.
"Have you heard anything since you left?"
She picked at the fraying edge of the old backpack. Ashley had been keeping her mind off Henry by making his test hard, but she was worried about him. He'd locked those memories away to the point where it was like he'd never existed before he'd been adopted. Reliving that past was painful and it made her anxious that she couldn't do more to help him or shield him from it.
"Let me know if you hear something?" Helen asked. "I kept that from him for so long I'm very worried about what his reaction might be."
That irked Ashley. The hand holding the backpack over her shoulder clenched as she bit back an acerbic reply. She knew it was an unreasonable flash of anger, but that didn't make it any less real. She bit her tongue and stalked down the hall. Speaking with her mother wouldn't do either of them any good at the moment so she left, ignoring Helen's call after her.
Two halls down she was calm enough to examine her fury. Part of her anger was possessive, she realized. Henry was hers to worry over now. Part was because her mother was once again being overbearing and omnipresent and egocentric. Ashley had to admit that a small, dark, part of it was a strange jealousy that Helen was worried about Henry when she'd shown no such concern for Ashley.
She stopped and took a deep breath then let it out slowly, pushing aside the deep soul-ache that had always accompanied these sorts of moments with her mother. They were happening more frequently it seemed. Ashley wanted to let go of her resentment of her mother, but it was too much like saying she was wrong in feeling the way she did. Ashley drew in a shaky breath then let it out. This was the way things were and she had work to do. There was no sense in getting weepy about it. Part of her mother would never leave the 1800s. Ashley set her jaw then continued on down the hall.
Henry helped Laurence put the camping gear they'd used back into storage then followed him out into the outer courtyard. Hands stuffed into his pockets, he rocked back and forth, waiting for his next instructions.
Bigfoot stopped by the front door and pulled out a stopwatch. "Anywhere on the grounds is fair game. Any tactic or technique you know can be used. Do you understand?"
Henry nodded. "Yeah."
"Try not to knock anything over."
Henry grinned. "Will do, Master Yoda."
Bigfoot grunted. "Find Ashley." He clicked the stopwatch on with one hand and pushed open the front door.
Henry sprinted inside, quickly looking around to see if Ashley was spying on him. It'd be like her to lead him on a chase, keeping just ahead. He didn't see her so he closed his eyes and breathed the air around him. He sighed as several fresh trails offered as many possibilities. He picked the strongest and sprinted down the hall, taking the sharp left turn then down the spiraling stone stairwell to the lowest level of the sanctuary.
He followed the trail through the armory and several storage rooms before it headed up a level and ducked through the main hall and ended with.
The lizard man looked up from the book he'd been reading under a heat lamp. He stood from the lawn chair and stretched. "Welcome home."
"Thanks, uh," he looked the lizard over then noticed the scarf hanging off the back of his chair. Pointing he asked, "is that Ashley's?
Steve's hissing laugh did as much to confirm his suspicions as his nod did. "Yeah. She's not going to make this easy on you."
Henry sighed then set his jaw. "Back to the chase then."
"Good luck!" Steve called after him as he settled back with his book. "If you find her in an hour, Will owes me five bucks!"
Henry rolled his eyes as she trotted back down the corridor looking for another trail. He found it near the elevator and rode it up, stopping at each floor until he found where Ashley had exited. He tracked her scent down the hall where it just stopped. Perplexed he wondered how she'd managed to disappear then he caught the very faint whiff of her through the air in the dining room. There were strong spots of her as if she'd jumped through the room, but the distances were a hell of a lot longer than he'd ever seen her jump. Henry wandered into the grand hall, his footsteps echoing in the mostly empty room, then out into the kitchen.
He stopped in his tracks as the scent of her surrounded him. He wandered around, his nose telling him she's touched almost every surface in the room. The strong scent of her turned out to be a sock wrapped around a tennis ball. There was another on the fridge. He dropped one accidentally and it left a scent mark about the same size and shape as her train in the dining hall. Chuckling, Henry followed the strongest trail out into the hallways.
He came to an intersection and frowned. She seemed to have split in a couple directions. This wasn't the case, since he now knew she was using bits of clothing carried or tossed around to confuse him. Henry crossed his arms as he thought. There had to be some way to discern the real Ashley from these fake trails.
Grinning he had a sudden idea. He knew what silver smelled like and he knew what Ashley smelled like. One trail went down the hall with Helen and one with Will. Silver went with Will, so Henry followed that down the hall.
The door to Will's suite of rooms was open. Henry stalked down the hall, carefully avoiding the squeaky floorboard, then listened at the doorway. Will would have closed it if he'd been meeting with someone, but Henry wanted the element of surprise. He hear footsteps then slid around the door.
"Ah- Hooooo. Hey Will," he said coming up short. He rubbed the back of his head.
Will blinked a few times as he got over the shock of Henry's abrupt arrival. Finally he laughed.
Chuckling with Will, Henry slouched into the chair across from Will's desk. "Sorry about that, man."
Smiling, Will waved it off. "No problem. Sorry Henry, but our princess is in another castle." Taking Ashley's necklace from around his neck he asked, "Were you tracking this?"
"That sneaky," Henry trailed off as he took the necklace. "Damn. She's good."
"Dude. You tracked silver," Will pointed out. "That's," he trailed off. "Henry that is beyond amazing."
Henry shrugged. "I guess."
"No. It is. Be proud of it."
Henry rolled his eyes but nodded. "So she's not here, huh?"
"Nope. How was the woods?"
Henry groaned and slouched in his seat. "Freezing. Draining." Henry tapped his fingers against his knees and wondered how much he could tell Will.
"You okay?" Will asked. "You need an ear to bend? My office is open." He offered.
Henry smirked. Will was perceptive as always and Henry appreciated that he hadn't been called on ducking out of their sessions. "Maybe?" he allowed. He felt better about things since the experience in the woods. Some things he was still confused by but for the first time in years he felt like he had a handle on the situation. "There was a lot of heavy stuff this weekend."
"Want to talk about it later?"
Henry nodded. "Yeah. And I won't bail."
Will smiled. "I know you won't. I'll have Ashley drag you kicking and screaming in if you do bail on me again," he joked. "And maybe we should go hang out off the clock? You've been a ghost, man."
Henry nodded. "Sorry about that. I needed to work some stuff out on my own, you know?"
"My door's always open. We've got your back."
Henry chuckled. "That's what Ashley's been telling me too."
"She's not wrong. And she's still hiding," Will reminded.
Henry chuckled. "True and I've been informed of a certain wager?"
Will grinned and pointed at the necklace. "She said you could give it back to her."
Henry nodded as he stood, putting the necklace in his pocket. "No hints?"
"I'm allowed to use any method of tracking I know. Asking 'Hey, did you see a devious blonde run by?' counts as a tracking method!" Henry grinned.
This time the one to roll his eyes, Will shooed him toward the door. "I haven't seen her since breakfast when she handed that to me," he explained.
"Thanks man!" Henry said as he hurried out of the room.
"Good luck!" Will called after him. "Make me five bucks!"
Henry returned to the intersection of halls then followed the trail that accompanied Helen. He stopped at another intersection. Ashley went one way, and Helen went the other. Helen carried Ashley's clothing but he was sure she'd gone the other way. Her scent was angry, he realized. It was spicy and black shot with red, like spatters of blood. Sighing as he realized they must have quarreled, Henry followed in the wake of Ashley's fury.
Ashley watched from her perch in the west tower, well away from where Henry was. She watched him run out of Will's office, stop at an intersection then head down the hall following in the direction she'd gone. Henry was headed in her direction so it was time to move. She set the tablet PC to watch the video feeds at a few key points then packed up her bag and left. He'd just been at Will's office so that was a potential place she could run to. Ashley paused. Unless he doubled back. She bit her lower lip as she quickly made her way down the hall, trying to minimize her scent trail. She could duck into her mother's office or the garage. She paused by a window and thought about going out that way for a moment. Shaking her head, she decided she needed proper climbing gear for that particular window.
She ran down the stairs in this wing two at a time to put some distance between her and Henry. This was fun! She stopped by a door then decided to up the ante a little. Knowing he'd be close to the windows, Ashley took off at a dead run across the green courtyard. Halfway across she heard a shout from somewhere behind and above her. Grinning, she decided to take a detour and veered to the left and around the corner of the building.
Henry glared at Ashley's retreating back then quickly shut the window and ran down the hall. His nose told him she'd just taken this stairwell and he followed her scent out into the courtyard. Blood rushed in his ears as he ran through the grass. Her scent held a hint of arousal, spicy and intoxicating and he wanted more of it. He rounded the corner and followed her trail into the garage where he was hit by a wall of the heavy, metallic smells of cars and metal and engine oil and dirt from the roads and the strangely wonderful smell of gasoline, now five, ten, a hundred times stronger. Henry staggered out the way he'd come. Leaning against the firmly shut door, he rubbed at his nose until the scent of the garage began to fade. There was one exit aside from the doors. He'd have to check it from the other side to find out where she'd gone.
Ashley looked at the wall in front of her. She'd cut across the garage then the back gardens to get here, to throw Henry off her trail. If she'd been successful she'd have time to do this. Tugging on the heavy gloves she'd grabbed from the storage room off the garage she eyed the wall in front of her.
Grabbing the heavy rock, Ashley began to free solo the wall. Her mother would have a heart attack if she saw her doing this, she realized. The part of her that was still angry didn't care. What Helen didn't know wouldn't hurt her, Ashley thought. Besides, this would hardly be the first time she'd climbed these walls, though it would be the first time climbing up to Henry's room instead of her own.
Henry found her trail on the opposite side but lost it again in the garden where the last plants of the season and the newly placed winter mulch made him feel ill. Struck by inspiration, Henry turned and ran to his lab. He booted up his system, he activated the GPS in Ashley's phone. Smirking, Henry saw it moving down the hallways toward Helen's office.
Pleased, Henry ran in that direction, sure he'd catch her offguard. He burst into the office and managed to startle both Helen and Laurence. Groaning, Henry rubbed his face with one hand.
"Okay, which one of you has Ashley's phone?"
Laurence chuckled and held up the device. "She said you might try this," he commented. "Good use of all of your skills, but you're going to have to be smarter than that." He pulled out the stopwatch and looked at it. "Time's wasting."
Groaning Henry, turned and began to jog back to where he'd last scented her then detoured back to his office. One of his tablet's was missing from it's charging station. Grinning, Henry got into his system and, after carefully checking the video feeds, began to loop the signals to that laptop. The missing laptop was currently using the wifi antenna in his room. Shaking his head, Henry jogged off to catch his prey.
Her scent wasn't on his door, he realized. Maybe she'd left the computer inside as another diversion. If it was he'd reset the video and keep tracking. Shaking his head, he opened the door. This time he was pleased and surprised to find Ashley relaxing on his bed, laptop in hand.
The shock on her face turned into a slow smile as she handed over the laptop. Henry reset the video on autopilot. The window was slightly open and he'd left it closed before he'd gone camping. He looked at the window then back, arching a brow. Ashley grinned and shrugged, unrepentant. He shook his head and set the machine down, careful to remain blocking the door.
Ashley smirked as she made a show of looking at the stopwatch she held in her hand. "Two hours and fourteen minutes. Not bad." As she flipped open her borrowed phone to call Laurence, Henry shut and locked the door behind him. She arched a brow in his direction as the lock clicked.
Blood sang in Henry's ears as he flexed his hands. This was more of a chase than the deer had been. His senses were sharpened by the hunt and he wanted…He let out a long breath as Ashley spoke on the phone. What he wanted was very basic, very primal and possessive. She'd chosen him, his instincts growled. They were bound together and it was right that he should want to bury himself in her, to please her, to prove he was both warrior and companion and she had picked well.
His body wanted to shift and change. He gritted his teeth and sucked in a breath, catching the scent of her as he did. Ashley's was a soothing balm against his soul, calming in a way the drugs could not match. She slid her arms around his waist after finishing the call and nuzzled his jaw. The tension drained away as he returned the embrace. Holding her seemed to itch all the metaphysical places he couldn't scratch. He rumbled a pleased noise, something between a growl, a purr and a hum. It was inhuman but he didn't care. The wild need growing since that morning had transformed into a focused heat rather than something he was afraid would consume him.
Backing her up to the bed, he got rid of his shirt when she fell back with a laugh. He grinned and quickly removed her shirt and bra, tossing them aside. He enjoyed the feel of her fingers winding into his hair as he worshipped her body with licks, nips, kisses and caresses. The inviting scent of arousal filled his senses with deep drumbeats that shook his chest and the adrenaline rush of a playful chase. He was wrapped in the sense of welcome and pleasant, aching anticipation, purple and gold.
When she pushed his shoulders back so she could get to her pants, Henry kicked off his shoes and was stripped down to his boxers before she'd managed to remove her second boot.
"You were wearing shoes on my bed," he growled playfully as he slid the offending boot off her foot. Ashley grinned back at him. He kissed the smile away, leaving her breathless and blinking before he returned to her pants. He peeled them away from her long legs slowly, teasing them both. Henry ran both hands back then shifted her onto the center of his bed when he reached her hips. He fully intended to enjoy every inch of her.
"What gave me away?" she asked, breath hitching as he kissed her hip.
Smiling against her skin he said, "The Wifi connection and missing computer."
"Damn." Eyeing him she asked, "How'd you avoid the cameras?"
"Looped the video," he told her while dragging her panties off her legs.
"Devious," she complimented.
"Like giving Will your necklace?" He kissed his way down her body. "That was sneaky," he kissed her inner thigh, "very sneaky."
"I thought so," she breathed. "You have it?"
He hummed assent against her other thigh then kissed her, holding her hips steady when she tried to shift them. One of her hands bunched in his hair and the other crumpled the bed sheets. Henry licked and teased, reveling in the sounds she made as she relaxed then tensed under his touch. He caressed her with his fingers, bringing her to the edge then over with a quiet gasp. While she recovered, he ditched his boxers, retrieved her necklace then put on some protection.
When she'd returned to her senses she gave him a lazy satisfied smile that made him ache with need from baste to tip, filling his heart with primal, male pride. He put her necklace on and placed the pendant on her collar bone. Leaning down, he kissed her ear before he whispered into it.
"I want to make love to you."
"Kay," she answered, winding her fingers back into his hair and gently pulling him into a short kiss.
Feeling her smile against his lips, he growled playfully as he climbed over her, nuzzling her neck and collarbone. He knew enough to know she didn't let just anyone top her and yet she easily trusted him. Henry began by setting a slow pace as he kissed her neck and shoulders, gently caressing between her thighs with his fingers. He worked her slowly until her hips shifted restlessly under his body.
Resting on one arm, he kissed her as he entered her body then pulled back and pressed in again, further. He worked her up slowly, twisting his hips to see if she liked that and then did it again when she gasped and dug her nails into his shoulder. Henry let his fingers wander down her body as he continued his deliberate movement, touching her clit when he reached it. She broke the kiss and gasped as he began to swirl his fingers. His hips sped up with hers as he worked his fingers. Ashley panted in his ear with each thrust, coming under him suddenly, voice catching in her throat. Henry continued to move, speeding up now to draw out her pleasure as he sought his own. He growled as he came, the electric cascade of pleasure exploding from his groin and racing along his nerves to the rest of his body.
When he finally came back to his senses, he rolled off of Ashley so he wasn't crushing her and ditched the used condom in his bedside waste basket. Feeling utterly exhausted he rolled back into her arms, tugging sheets up around their shoulders.
Henry woke from a light doze in his own bed, under the warm covers, in Ashley's arms. He was half sprawled on top of her, his head on her chest. Her hand was lazily trailing up and down his back.
"Hey," she greeted, hand running up into his hair at the base of his scalp.
His eyes fluttered shut again and he rumbled a pleased sound because her nails on his skin there felt amazing. "Didn't mean to pass out on you."
She chuckled, a deep, throaty, pleased sound, the same one seared into the scent-memory of her. "You earned it."
His arms tightened around her waist then he relaxed bonelessly into the bed. "I'm so glad I get to sleep in a real bed tonight."
"A little bit of camping is too rough for the city-wolf?"
"It wouldn't be so bad if there had been electricity, indoor plumbing and an actual bed," he joked, earning another laugh from her that made him feel amazing. "Thank you," he said earnestly. He'd needed these moments with her. He still didn't feel whole again, but this was rapidly helping his battered psyche heal.
"Do you want to talk about it? I heard you went on a vision quest."
Nodding, he asked, "You did that too, right?"
She looked away, shaking her head. "No."
"No?" he frowned. He'd been under the impression Ashley had jumped through the same hoops he'd had to jump through.
She shrugged and ran her nails through his hair then down his back. "You're braver than I am," then, before he could call her on that particular self-delusion, she asked, "I'm curious. What did you see?"
As much as he wanted to ask her the questions on his mind, the pressure of everything he'd seen and remembered weighed more heavily on his mind.
"I saw my birth parents," he said, and proceeded to tell her almost everything he'd seen. The words flowed easily, like water rushing out of a dam. It felt good and right to tell her these things, to answer questions she'd asked with knowledge he'd blocked away. She'd been the first person he'd felt truly comfortable with when he'd been found. The strange adults who'd found him, cold and hungry, in the cave couldn't have been that bad if they had another kid with them. As a young girl, she'd peppered him with questions but he'd been unwilling to tell her much and then he'd forced it into a small, hidden corner of his mind until he'd forgotten.
His heart ached as he told her what he remembered of that day. He knew he'd heard his father losing it when his mother had been killed and the memory of that sound still terrified him. The image of their bodies when he'd broken the rules and gone looking for them was freshly burned into his mind, but she understood the horror of violence first-hand. Ashley held him as he spoke, silently giving him strength.
"Tell me about the happy times," Ashley asked as she stroked his back. "What were your parents like?"
Henry told her what he could remember. There were the scenes he'd seen in the visions and then more half-formed memories of the fifteen years he'd lived with his first family. She laughed at the funny things and held him through the less pleasant ones. The ache in his chest was back but sharing his early life with Ashley helped take some of the pain away. He wondered if telling Will would help too. Magnus would adore any tidbit he could share and he wondered if the two of them together could put any of the confusing parts in some kind of perspective. Finally he trailed off into silence and let Ashley hold him.
"I'm sorry you lost them, Henry."
Henry sighed and nuzzled into her. "I wish I could have had them and my life here too. I think my dads would have gotten along."
"Your father sounds like he was a character."
"When I was a kid I didn't notice, but now I do." He smiled at the memory. "Da always made her laugh. Said it was something I should do if I was lucky enough to be chosen. He said a lot of things I kinda remember now." He closed his eyes as Ashley's fingers wove through his hair.
"About women? He gave you dating advice?"
Henry could hear the laughter in her voice and smiled against her skin. "One conversation I can really remember. Mum had kicked us out of the house until she felt better. He was so serious about it, I guess it made an impact. He told me to find someone just like mum."
"They sound romantic," she remarked as she played with the hair at the base of his neck. "He followed her. They loved one another. They loved you too. You were wanted."
Her voice caught, making Henry look up at her. Ashley was looking out his bedroom window blinking suspiciously moist eyes. He shifted up onto the pillows so he could hold her. She shuddered slightly and was tense, but those were the only outward signs of emotion he could see or feel. She smelled afraid and agitated. The smell was bitter and small.
"Your mom loves you," he said, confused. Helen praised Ashley's skill at almost every opportunity.
She snorted. "Maybe now. Took her long enough to think of me as anything other than an interesting sample of cells."
"Ash, your mother pretty much invented cryogenics to keep you around." He paused then asked, "Do you wish you hadn't been?"
She closed her eyes and shook her head. "No. I like the world now and I'm sure I wouldn't have been very happy back then. I like the people I know now, too."
She twined their fingers together and squeezed before releasing them. "I was convenient to her plans. It's nice she likes me despite everything."
Another shrug. "I'm a dangerous weapon."
He curled around her, for once the protector in their relationship. "You're not cruel or some kind of psycho." He kissed her hair, continuing, "You're driven, fiery and sometimes you don't look before you leap but everyone does that."
Ashley snorted. "Helen Magnus doesn't."
"Don't forget the phenomenal drugs she took when she was at college," Henry quipped. "You can't tell me that was a well thought out decision."
Ashley started to respond but then quickly bit it off, glaring out the window. Henry waited for her but when she didn't say anything, he continued.
"You're smart and don't argue I know you are. You're a tactician when you're not racing off." Henry paused, remembering his father's words and was startled to see how well Ashley fit. Henry leaned down and kissed her forehead before resting his against hers. "You're my best friend, you know that right?"
She nodded running her hand down the side of his face. "So the girls choose, huh? Not so much different from the way things work here then."
Henry smiled, having come to much the same conclusion. "I don't know how it works for other clans, but I'm pretty sure Mum was in charge. One of the things I don't get is why dad had to wait for her to come back from someplace. I don't know where she went."
"Alpha female on a quest?" Ashley asked, only half joking.
Henry frowned, thinking on that. "Maybe? I don't think they used that term for the leader." A faint memory whispered at the back of his mind. "Laird? like lord or something?" he frowned again. "I remember asking your mom if she was the clan laird."
He remembered the smell of Thomas' aftershave, recycled air and peanuts. "A plane?" Shaking his head, he smiled apologetically. "I don't remember."
"Want to go ask mom?"
"I was thinking maybe she and Will could help me make some sense of this."
"That sounds like a good idea. I'm here too."
Smiling, he said "Have you ever thought about talking with Will?"
Ashley rolled her eyes and made an annoyed sound as she got out of bed. "He has such a nerd crush on Mom, he'd tell her everything I said." She hunted around for her pants.
Regretting that he'd asked, Henry got out of bed as well. "I'm pretty sure that's illegal or something, Ash."
"She's our PCP. He can tell her things." She pulled on her bra, turning her back to him.
"Maybe something health-related. Like if you were about to die." He put on a new pair of boxers and tossed the old ones into his clothes hamper. "Come on Ash, your mom wouldn't have hired Will if he had that little professional integrity."
Her glare softened after a second. "I don't know what I'd say," she muttered sullenly, pulling on her pants.
"Aside from the obvious family issues? You do hunt monsters for a living." He got a clean pants from his dressed. Putting them on, he said "I mean that's not a low-stress job."
She sighed. "Can we have this conversation later?"
Handing over her shirt, Henry touched her cheek. "Sure, but there is a lot going on in your head and I think you need to share it with someone. If not me then Will, okay?"
She took her shirt from him then nodded.
Grabbing her elbow as she turned away again, Henry said, "Ash? It sucks. A lot. But being able to tell you some of what's been going on has," he scratched the back of his head as he looked for the words. He dropped his hand and sighed. "I don't feel so heavy anymore."
Biting her lip as she studied the ground, Ashley nodded. "Maybe. I'll think about it."
"In the meantime, I'm here for you to rant at. I'm pretty sure it's written into my job description."
She smirked. "IT, Weapons manufacture, sounding board?"
"Yep," he grinned.
Will casually waved his new five-dollar bill as he caught up with Magnus in receiving. Her text message had been short and to the point: "Meet at receiving dock. HM"
"What is that?" she asked, arching a single brow.
Will waggled his eye brows and snapped the five. "Mr. Lincoln is going to buy me popcorn at the movies next time I go," he said, stuffing it into his pocket. "Steve was way off on his guess about how long it would take Henry to find Ashley." He was feeling pretty good about his own guess; it made him feel like he had a better handle on the Sanctuary and was accepted enough to participate in silly bets.
Helen rolled her eyes and smiled. "Where have they gotten to anyway?" she asked over her shoulder. "I would have expected to have seen one or both of them by now."
Will shrugged as he watched the work crew set up their truck's lift and open the huge double doors. "Henry's probably up to his eyes in email after being away. They could be killing zombies or something though." He nodded at the giant crate the delivery company was wheeling out of the truck and into the receiving area with a forklift. "What's in the box?"
The crate was about ten feet long by six feet wide by five feet deep. It was marked as "Fragile" in both English and Spanish with directions as to which way was up. The forklift set the crate down on the ground. Will studied it while Helen signed for the package. He found the shipping slip and opened it.
"Art?" he asked, quickly skimming the contents before focusing on the country of origin. "Hey Mangus?"
"One moment, Will," Helen waved him back as she dealt with the shipping company men.
Will eyed the box and the workers. Once they'd lifted their small forklift back into the truck and sealed the doors, they hopped back into the cabin and drove out. Will wandered over and stood by the door controls, closing it at her nod once the delivery truck had exited the Sanctuary grounds and the gates were sliding closed.
The door rumbled to life and began to lower the huge doors. When they were closed, Bigfoot entered with a set of crowbars, handing one to.
"You're not going to help?" Will asked as he jammed the thin metal edge into the small space between the crate's side and top.
Helen arched a brow. "Perk of being the boss," she informed him primly.
Laughing, Will heaved against the crowbar until he heard the wood creak and the nails pop. Laurence worked on the opposite side. After finishing one side of the huge crate, Will needed a break. leaning against the side, he looked over at Magnus.
"I'm guessing this has something to do with your South American friend."
"I'm hopeful that's the case," Helen replied. "It says- did you hear that?" He put a hand on Laurence's shoulder so he would stop. All three listened and very faintly there was a knocking sound from inside the box.
Frowning in concern, Will stood aside as Helen rapped on the crate's surface in the rhythm of "Shave and a Haircut". He exchanged a smile with Helen when whoever was inside replied back the rhythm for "Two bits."
Throwing his shoulder into the crowbar, Will remarked, "I wouldn't have thought she would know that."
Helen reached over and helped Will with the crowbar, their combined strength about equal to what Laurence was doing on the other side. The wood top came loose with a loud crack. Helen and Will helped Laurence slid the top off.
The abnormal Will had seen in the photo sat up from a hollow space in the box. She spat out the mouthpiece of what looked like some SCUBA gear and shook her head with a disgusted sound, feathers flaring. She took off the dark goggles she'd been wearing and looked around, face lighting up into a smile when she saw Helen.
"Dr. Magnus!" Xilo exclaimed, throwing her arms wide. "I made it!"
"I see that," Helen smiled as she offered a hand out of the box. "We were becoming concerned."
Will offered his hand as well and Xilo blinked bright eyes at him, crest flaring slightly in what Will took as curiosity. "Hello person I do not know," she greeted. Her accent was unusual; Spanish and something else.
"Dr. Will Zimmerman. I'm newish."
"Happy to meet you, newish Dr. Will Zimmerman," Xilo chirped back as she stepped from the crate. Turning to Helen she said, "I shipped myself as fantasy sculpture and art supplies."
"It would have been safer if you're used the network I told you about," Helen told her. "But I am so glad you're safe."
"I didn't have time," Xilo reached back into the crate and pulled out a brightly colored shoulder bag from a hollow space. "There were whispers and friends in the area were going missing."
Hitting the side of the crate with the side of a fist she explained, "I had been building this for shipping a new sculpture, but I got scared. I sent my tools in another shipment, built the inner compartment, got the scuba gear in case I needed to breathe and sold my apartment to some of my friends for a song." She caught her breath. "May I stay? I won't take up much space and I can sell my art anywhere with the internet to pay rent."
Looping and arm around the reptilian abnormal's shoulders she said, "That's hardly necessary, Xilo. I am concerned though. Who's disappeared?"
Xilo shifted on the balls of her feet, tail twitching in agitation. "No one's seen the Maricoxi in months and when Juan said he couldn't find the Minhocão herd I asked him to do some digging." Shaking her head she said, "So many are gone or hidden. I asked the forum and there are people missing all over."
"Forum?" Will asked.
"I belong to an art forum. For people like me, Henry set it up for us. Isn't the internet a great invention? People will buy all kinds of stuff and they never have to see you or come after you with spears and guns."
"Xilo," Helen gently interjected, "You said people are missing?"
"Ana in Australia went into the bush and isn't back yet. Mai in China and Frank in Lousiana haven't been seen in months either. It's not unusual for them but it just," She held the tip of her tail in her hands. "I got scared."
Helen hugged the girl and exchanged a worried look with Will and Laurence over her head. "We'll look into it. Until then you're welcome here," she began guiding her toward the house proper. "You said you sold your home?"
Xilo brightened, "Yes. For a song. It was very pretty."
"Wait," Will held up a hand, "You sold it for an actual song?"
Xilo nodded, long head feathers bobbing with the motion. "I've always thought that was a funny phrase and Maria and her family don't have much and they've always been good to me so I'm technically renting grandmother's house to them for fr- Oh! Early 18th century English Oils!" Distracted by one of the larger paintings, the artist trotted over to peer at a landscape hung on the wall.
"She's," Will trailed off, voice soft.
"An Artist?" Helen supplied.
Chuckling, Will said, "Yeah that works. I'm worried about this though. Ashley said some of the locals aren't showing up around here too."
Nodding agreement, Helen frowned and pulled out a buzzing cellphone. "Someone's at the gate according to Ashley." Looking at Will she said, "shall we see who it is?" Placing a hand on Xilo's shoulder she said, "We made up a room after we got your letter. Laurence will show you the way, is that okay?"
Gripping her tail and biting her lower lip she said, "Could I use it as a studio?"
"Yes, but we can find you a whole room if you'd like."
"Oh! Yes! That! I would like that very much."
"We'll see what we can't do then. If you excuse me, someone's at the door."
Will followed Helen toward the front door. "She seems nice," he remarked.
"Oh, she's a sweetheart, but don't get her started on the conquistadores," Helen advised. "Or let her cook."
"Worse than Ashley?" Will smirked.
"By an order of magnitude," Helen deadpanned.
"Worse than me what?" Ashley asked over her shoulder as they came down the steps.
"Nothing," Helen assured her. "Who was at the door?"
"Telegram," Ashley said, waving the piece of paper in one hand. "From Uncle James."
"May I?" Helen asked, reaching for the paper. She held it so Will could read it as well.
There is a disturbance in London that I fear may extend to the continent and further. Several of our patients and mutual acquaintances have either gone into hiding or have turned up missing. The locals are agitated and a number have come seeking shelter I am more than happy to provide. I suspect some great trouble is brewing. Please advise.
"Well, that doesn't sound ominous," Ashley remarked dryly.
"Joking aside," Helen gently rebuked, "it does seem we are seeing some kind of global reaction."
"To what?" Will asked.
"That I do not know," Helen admitted, folding the telegram. Looking at Ashley she said, "Can you go out and see what you can find?"
"I'm already gone," Ashley said, heading off in the direction of the garage and nearly bumping into Henry along the way.
Holding a laptop safely out of the way he asked the group, "What's up?"
"The game is afoot!" Ashley called back over her shoulder.
Frowning, Henry looked at Helen. "Uncle James sent a telegram?"
Nodding Helen said, "He did." Smiling, she squeezed his shoulder. "I'm very glad to hear you passed this exam." Sobering she added, "We may need everyone's skills soon. Something unsettling is going on in the world."