Written for the Christmas in July gift exchange on LiveJournal. Also entered into the hero contest in IsAVampiresName on deviantART.
Nothing To Be Afraid Of
You're not sure how you got swindled into cleaning up another of Hanna's messes—or perhaps it isn't swindling because Hanna just isn't the type to take advantage of anybody—but there you are taking in another stray in need, and it's not like you can say no, right?
"She'll be okay, it's just gonna take some time to clean out her system," Hanna says as his zombie partner (Ardalan this time, wherever that one comes from) settles the woman—werewolf—on your couch, which Veser has just so recently vacated.
Toni, with an "i," your brain supplies, and your eyes are drawn to the stark white bandages on the hand she cradles to her chest. Under the antiseptic you can smell burns. Not bad ones, certainly nothing third degree, but you still wince sympathetically when Hanna says "silver."
"It's no problem at all," you insist, though a part of you frets about having another stranger in your condo, a woman—werewolf—no less, but she's been poisoned, and yes you can be kind of a dick sometimes (took one to know one, Worth said once, and dammit it was true, even if you're cleaner about it) but to even think about giving someone the cold shoulder like that?
Well, you sigh to yourself when you hold Toni's hair back as she vomits into your toilet for the third time tonight, better out than in.
And it's not as if your toilet is seeing much action these days anyway.
The sun has only been down for about an hour, and you've been awake for exactly as long.
It's funny; there's never any sluggishness for you anymore. When dawn strikes your black-out curtains you're out (which had been kind of terrifying at first, and still makes you kind of nervous), and when the sun sets you blink on again, alert and vibrating with all the sounds of your complex like an undead tuning fork. The it's-too-early-I-need-coffee-five-minutes-ago shuffle has been replaced with the get-dressed-quickly-and-don't-forget-to-wear-sensible-shoes-in-case-Hanna-shows-up-with-another-surprise-and-also-there-is-a-woman-in-your-shower-don't-be-weird dance.
She's been here less than two nights, and you're pretty sure you haven't been very successful with the don't-be-weird part so far.
You hear her before she knocks; can visualize a dim silhouette of veins and arteries on the other side of your bedroom door behind your eyelids. It's bad that she's been poisoned, sure, but at least it makes her really unappetizing. Not that you find her appetizing in the first place, not in the wanting-to-bite-her kind of way because yeah she's pretty but that has nothing to do with it, it's probably more the whole werewolf thing, but even if you don't want to eat her she still has a pulse which is really distracting—
Being weird. Need to eat. Need to answer.
"Uh, come in," you say, pushing the curtains open. Streetlights and headlights and moonlight pour in and leave everything else dark and dim and uncertain.
You used to really like being a night owl too.
"I'm done if you wanted to get in there," Toni says. She stays in the doorway. After a beat too small for you to say anything in, she adds, "Thanks again for letting me borrow some clothes; Hanna hasn't had time to stop by my place yet to grab some of mine."
Supernatural women stealing your hoodies are starting, apparently, to become a regular thing. You want to say something about how interesting her blue-dyed hair looks damp and free flowing, but decide that's too easily catalogued under "weird" and instead you say, "I can throw your clothes in the wash if you want."
"Oh, you don't have to go out of your way like that. You've already done so much."
You insist however, and she relents, and the plastic bag wrapped around her bandage crinkles when she drops her clothes into your hamper.
Hanna calls later, while she's dozing on the couch and you're warming up something for her to eat now that her stomach has finally settled. Your bathroom still smells foul, but the scented candles a friend gave you a few months ago are making it more bearable and really, it's not like you can blame her for puking her guts out. You try to keep your voice low, but Hanna's continuous "what?"-ing irritates you enough to forget.
"I said, why I can't just drive over there and get her things myself‽"
"Oh! Jeez, why didn't you just say that?"
"I did, Hanna. Several times."
"Oh. Well." He sounds a little nonplussed, which is more than okay with you. "'Cos it looks like whoever bugged her place didn't really know what Toni is, just that she's not all that normal. There's some pretty dangerous stuff all over the place, enough to seriously hurt like, six types of shapeshifters, vampires included. I've already found four of those dollar store rosaries and a bunch of garlic gloves, so unless you wanna find out what your kidneys taste like too, you're both just gonna have to wait."
The (oh-so-hilarious) fact that China-stamped plastic and a condiment can now sufficiently put you out of commission is not lost on you, and you wonder (not for the first time) how vampires got to be considered threatening in the first place.
"Don't worry though; Nathaniel and I'll be over in a bit with some stuff. Does she want anything in particular?"
"I don't know. She's kind of sleeping right now—"
You twitch and look over at the couch. She smiles softly and makes a slight grabby motion with her uninjured hand. "Can I talk to him?"
"Thank you," she says again, curled up on your couch with the TV on low. "This is really good."
You're perched on your white chair that still has scuffmarks from Veser's shoes on the arms, ignoring the hunger pains aching up and down your torso. "I'm glad you can keep it down," you reply and immediately wince. God, that was really rude, wasn't it?
Her eyebrows seem to agree with you, but she just nods and continues spooning soup into her mouth, which looks a little odd without an electric blue tint, but not in a bad way. You can hear her pulse, and it's slow, but steady. A far cry from the frantic, hot shakiness of last night (and probably most of the day while you'd been asleep, but you don't know how to ask about that) which had left you disgusted and nervous—or perhaps the correct word is "scared?"—because even with whatever-it-is about her that continues to make her blood unappetizing, such an alive, desperate, heaving heart had been deafening to you.
You much prefer tonight to last night, if for no other reason than that.
"Hanna said those herbs should help." She's losing the grayish tint to her lips and nails, so maybe Hanna actually knows a few things about werewolves too. It wouldn't be the first time he surprised you, after all.
She nods. "Yeah, I've used some of this stuff before when some idiot tried to give me a silver necklace for Valentine's Day a few years ago." Her laugh is stronger. "We kind of broke up after that."
"Hmm." She finishes the soup and stands, and you see her face and bandaged hand twist with pain, and you immediately jump to your feet to help. "I'm fine, I've just been sitting too long," she says through clenched teeth, and later when you look up the effects of silver poisoning you'll realize her joints must have still felt like they were on fire.
Uncertain and awkward, you sit back down while she limps jerkily to the kitchen, all-too aware of her movements behind you even as you keep your eyes focused on the television. Your ears twitch at the clatter of dishes in the sink, running water and the sharp tang of citrus soap, the refrigerator door opening and closing, the microwave humming for two minutes thirty seconds, and then her hand is on your shoulder and she's handing you one of your mugs and its brimming with warm blood.
"I haven't seen you drink anything since I've been here," she says with a smile.
You stare at her. At the mug. Back at her. Something inside you growls, and you pretend it's your stomach. "It didn't seem very… appropriate." There's just something kind of… rude about drinking human blood in front of somebody with a pulse. Hanna doesn't count because Hanna, for whatever reason, doesn't really care at all about it so you've learned not to around him either. But other people?
"It's not like I haven't seen you do it before."
You shift uncomfortably at that. "Well you walked in on me at Worth's. That's pretty different."
She scoffs and shoves the mug into your hand. "Don't starve yourself on my account, Conrad."
You take the mug.
You're brushing your teeth with the door open out of habit when she walks by.
You make a "what?" sort of face so you don't have to talk with your mouth full of toothpaste.
She gestures at the mirror and says, "You really don't have a reflection."
"Mm." You spit, wipe your mouth, and throw a glance towards your medicine cabinet. Your glasses float above the collar of your shirt, and your toothbrush is dripping a trail of whitish water onto your invisible hand. You clear your throat and manage a half-chuckle. "Yeah, it's kind of… odd."
This is an incredibly huge understatement, but she doesn't need to know just how you feel about never seeing your own face again.
She makes a thoughtful noise and taps her chin. "I always thought that was just, you know, one of those dumb superstitions that are still hanging around. Like how changing on the full moon is supposed to be really painful for werewolves." She rolls her eyes in a how quaint fashion.
"I-isn't it?" You feel like an ass for asking, but you honestly don't know. You expect more eye rolling or a jab at your ignorance of all thing supernatural despite being a part of it yourself, but she surprises you and does just the opposite.
"Not at all." A one-shouldered shrug. "The idea is pretty recent, actually. Some movie came up with it ages ago, I think, and it's kind of stuck ever since. It's pretty stupid. Then again, people used to think we ate corpses and could remove our pelts whenever we wanted." She shivers and jokingly mimes gagging. "Can you imagine how awkward that'd be? Walking in on me all naked and bloody with my arm stuck in a big furry sleeve?"
You smile embarrassingly behind your hand. "Oh god, that happened once when I went to get blood at Worth's. You know that stupid coat he has?"
You don't have to finish the image for her, because Toni groans and mimes gagging again, and you both laugh together, and you're pleasantly surprised when the sound doesn't make your ears ache.
Your watch beeps an x-amount of time later.
By this time you're leaning on the vanity and she's sitting on the edge of your bathtub, and you realize you're having a pleasant, comfortable conversation with a werewolf—woman—another person—and you're completely at ease. You smile again, forgetting to hide your fangs.
You silence the alarm, and explain with a reluctant shrug, "It'll be dawn soon."
Toni stands, her face twisting less than it had earlier, and she pats your elbow companionably, and asks out of nowhere, "It's not so bad, is it? Being a vampire?"
"Wh-where did that come from?" You try not to flinch away from her touch but do anyway, and you flinch again when your toothbrush skitters into the sink.
"I've just been wondering. I mean, I remember when I was new to all this." She gestures vaguely at the space between the two of you and shrugs. "It can be tough. But you've got friends, which is a lot more than most people can say. Anybody else would run screaming in the other direction, but Hanna and—"
"Hanna was the one who turned me." The bathroom suddenly feels claustrophobic, and the relaxed mood of thirty seconds ago vanishes in a poof of resentment and mixed anger-disbelief-gratitude. You anticipate the question already forming on her lips and you rush through an explanation as fast as a man who no longer needs oxygen can. "This psychotic bat lady flew through my window one night and attacked me, so I contacted Hanna to try and get rid of her and ended up getting killed instead, but the zombie had gotten a swing at her with Hanna's hammer so Hanna used the blood on it to bring me back."
Her mouth forms an understanding oh. "Well you're not dead anymore."
You snort. "No, I'm undead."
Her forehead crinkles just enough to let you know that you're being an ungrateful ass, because seriously, being undead is better than regular dead by a landslide, and you've had more than enough time to come to terms with that, so why are you still bitching about it?
"Shit, that came out all wrong," you mutter, pinching the bridge of your nose.
"It's okay. I get it. Really." Toni smiles again, but the crinkle stays etched between her eyebrows like a scar. "Come on, I'll help you with the curtains."
You blink on and your house smells like Hanna and the zombie, and Toni's wearing something in a shade of green you've never liked on yourself but think she wears quite well. You say so after debating internally about it for too long, and she grins behind a glass full of something yellow and pungent that Hanna probably told her to drink when you were sleeping.
You're not sure what to make of the grin, so you ignore it and ask her if she'd like a sandwich.
Tonight you try to buckle down and get some work done, but Toni keeps rubbing her eyebrows and the soft skritch of her blue nails against skin and hair is oddly noticeable over all the other sounds of your complex. You conclude after the millionth skritch in three hours that you're just not accustomed to other people staying in your condo so long.
It's still annoying as hell though.
On the million and second skritch you snap somewhat more harshly than you intended, "What's wrong?" Still working on that being-a-dick thing, apparently.
"Nothing," she says, dropping her hand to her lap. But a few minutes later the skritch is back.
"Why are you doing that?"
"The—you know—" You poke your forehead. "—That."
"Oh." She shifts and doesn't meet your eyes. "It's—ha, kinda embarrassing, but. Um. Do you happen have a pair of tweezers?"
"W-what?" Is it just your imagination, or is she blushing? Embarrassed?
"We—werewolves, I mean—tend to have—uh. Our hair grows really fast."
"I think I might go for a walk later tonight."
"Are you up for it? I mean, I won't stop you or anything, but—"
"I've been inside for three days, Conrad. I'm gonna start clawing your furniture if I don't get out." She sets your tweezers down on the coffee table and laughs. "I'm kidding, don't look at me like that."
"Did Hanna think to bring you shoes? I'm pretty sure my feet are bigger than yours."
She shrugs. "I don't really need them." She waves her bandaged hand stiffly. "Silver's the only thing that can do me any lasting damage."
"Alright, if you're sure. But borrow my sandals are something. Walking around the city barefoot isn't very sanitary."
She laughs again, but agrees.
You think to ask her, remember the don't-be-weird rule you've established for yourself so stamp it down, then think fuck it and ask anyway. "Can I—I mean, if you don't mind—will you?—I—shit." You sigh, grateful your face can't color anymore, and try again. "Would you like some company?"
She's hiding her grin (almost as sharp-toothed as yours, you notice for the first time) behind her hand, and an honest-to-god titter slips out between her fingers. You want to sink into the floor or possibly batform and fly out the window as fast as your wings will fucking flap, but she drops her hand and her grin is a smile that your brain decides to describe as warm, if more than a little on the teasing side.
"Sure," she says. "If you can keep up, I mean."
Wearing a jacket and a sturdy pair of running shoes you bought after realizing Adventures with Hanna and Friends wasn't going to be a one-time deal, you walk down to the first floor to check your mailbox quickly while you wait for Toni. You've got your new home life down to a science now, and you never run into anyone who could possibly notice the pallor of your skin or the stupid fangs in your mouth.
Bill, bill, bill—damn, is it already next month?—magazine, junk junk junk, and you drop it all when you hear a terrific crashbangthudshatter upstairs that makes your head feel like it's an inch away from collapse, and a heavy sense of dread coils and settles in uncomfortably in your gut when you realize—more than a little unsurprised—that the sound came from your floor. More specifically, your apartment.
You wave your arms in a vain attempt to strangle Hanna over the phone. "Toni, who else? I left to get the mail and I just came back to find my door bloody smashed in and now she's gone!"
"Shit, is it the full moon already? I coulda sworn there were still a couple days." You hear the soft squeak of glossy paper, probably a wall calendar, and Hanna swears again. "Did she make it out of your complex okay? I mean, did she run into anyone?"
"Well I haven't heard any screaming, if that's what you're suggesting," you mutter, frowning at the mess of your living room. Your eyes land on a neatly folded pile of clothing on your corner table—hers, and that just makes this that much weirder.
"Oh, good. That could have been really bad if she had."
"Hold on." His voice fades. "Gideon, take the phone. I need both hands for this."
The zombie interrupts you with his usual calm. "He's drawing something," and you twitch at the soft, doubling of his voice, wonder if it's a being-dead-and-reanimated thing, and with a start wonder if you do it too when you talk on the phone and just aren't aware of it.
"Drawing what, exactly?"
A pause, then, "He says it's a pointing spell. He should be able to find out where Toni is heading with it."
"Oh. Good? I—well, I mean, she should be alright on her own, right? She's been a—a werewolf for awhile." God, why didn't you think to ask her when it had even happened? Or was it like asking a woman's age? Dammit, you barely understand women as it is, and now all the ones you know these days shapeshift. "And she's got that talisman thing anyway."
Another pause, fingers slipping on the other end, and Hanna's voice returns, albeit from a greater distance. "No, you don't get it. Experience and talismans don't mean shit once there's a full moon. Only really strong potions or poisons can take a werewolf down then, and that kind of stuff is totally out of my league. How big did she get when she attacked Casimiro?"
That cold-dread-gut feeling is stronger. "Um. Big. Seven feet tall. Maybe eight?"
"Bipedal or quad?"
"Wh—bipedal? I don't und—" A sudden backwash of static almost makes you compulsively throw your phone. "Augh, dammitshitow! What the fuck was that‽"
"Sorry, that was the spell." He's slightly breathless. "She's heading north. Quick, what's north of here that an eight-foot tall two-legged wolf chick can party hard at and not kill the fuck out of somebody by accident?"
"…I sincerely hope you're joking, Hanna."
"Fuck, I wish I was."
Faintly, the zombie says, "Isn't there a small forest northeast of the city?"
Hanna crows an affirmative that makes you cringe at the volume. "Yes! There's that wildlife reserve! I betcha she's been going there for years! Oh man, wait, we gotta go after her."
"Whu—Why? would we do that? You just said she's completely mad right now!"
"Exactly!" You hear clattering, and more static, and wonder just what the hell is going on over there on his end. "Feral werewolves run pretty much only on instinct. She probably almost always changes at her apartment or at least in that area, and your place is on, like, the opposite side of town. We can't just let her run around by herself. She's still sick, dude. I dunno what that'll do to her. She might be seen, or worse."
Dammit, why was Hanna right so often?
"Fine. What do you suggest we do then?"
"Catch up to her first off, then try and coerce her northish without. Yanno."
"Yeah, that. Glad to hear you're keepin' up, Connie."
You pocket your keys and reach for Toni's clothes, wishing you could shake the feeling that tonight wasn't about to go to hell in a hand basket. "I'll be outside your building in ten minutes. And please have a better plan than that one by the time I get there."
Idling behind a battered gray truck at a stop light, something hums and makes your teeth itch. You look out the passenger window and there she is, huge and sleek and an unnatural shade of blue, loping on all fours down a side street and going the opposite direction of Hanna's apartment. You swallow, your grip involuntarily tightening on the steering wheel, as you find yourself facing a choice you hadn't wanted to meet alone.
Go left and pick up Hanna and the zombie, but in all probability lose her trail completely (since you assume from the sounds on Hanna's end that his pointing spell isn't mobile), or go right and follow Toni, and increase the likelihood of seeing your insides on the outside because there's no magician and his sidekick zombie to take the offensive while you stay on the sideline trying not to die. Again.
But then you snort. What are you thinking? This is Toni. Full moon or not, she's no killer. Hell, she's the only reasonable person you've met since Adelaide flew in through your window. Hanna was probably just over exaggerating things again.
The light turns green, and you turn right and hope you don't regret this.
Hanna picks up on the third ring. "Where the hell are you? It's almost been three hours!"
"Would you believe the middle of a forest?"
"Wh—you found her?"
"She didn't… meet anybody else along the way, did she?"
"Oh, awesome. You sound really tense, by the way. Are—"
"You wouldn't happen to know anything about… normal animals, would you?"
"Wolves? Why do you want to know about wolves for?"
"Because I just found a pack of them."
There are ten of them fanned out in the clearing you've stumbled into, huge and wild and terrifying. Somehow, you've managed to walk right into the center of them, and you've completely surrounded yourself without them having to move an inch. The full moon illuminates their eyes and teeth, and your skin must be like a goddamn beacon against the trees because they are all staring at you and your laughably tiny flashlight. You can smell death pooling out of their mouths against the underbrush they're sprawled in and fuck, here are ten animals better at being predatory than you are with your thumbs and evolved brain and immortality and they are so going to attack you any second and it is going to hurt.
"Shit, seriously? What color are they?"
"It matters? Red, I think."
"I thought those were extinct."
"Well obviously they aren't! What do I do‽"
"Well what are they doing?"
"We've been talking for like five minutes and you're not dead yet—er, I mean. So I don't think you're in complete danger or anything. You probably wouldn't taste very good to a wolf anyway."
You relax a little, somehow. Enough to be snippy with Hanna, which is something normal at least. "Oh well, that's a relief, isn't it? Erm, well, they're all breathing pretty hard. And they—" The smell of death wafts over you again, and you're stomach can't figure out whether it's disgusted or hungry. "I, uh. I think they ate recently."
"Okay. Good. That's good. They probably just finished hunting. They shouldn't go after you unless you do something to piss them off."
"Then why won't they stop staring at me?"
"You're fine, you probably just smell weird to 'em or somethin'. Just don't get any closer. Where's Toni?"
A fear-spurned bray of incredulous laughter escapes you and you immediately cover your mouth, thinking shit. But apart from a few flicking ears, the wolves stay where they are, and you breathe a little easier, somehow. "I-I'm not sure. I lost her once I got to the woods."
Hanna hmms. "That's kinda odd. You should be able to sense her within a certain radius. Kinda like a sixth sense radar for your fellow big-bad carnivores. Did you know the wolves were there? Probably not, huh?"
"No. I didn't." But you think of the red light and how you'd somehow known to look down the alley, and wonder if that's what he's talking about or if that was just dumb chance.
You almost mention it, but the zombie says something to Hanna, who laughs, and really, you're knee-deep in wolves and Toni is god-knows where, possibly terrorizing the campground you parked at, so what the hell could be funny at a time like this?
A distant howl makes you freeze, "shitshitshit"-ing as the wolves rise to their feet, whining and snarling, and Hanna says something but you don't catch it over the rush of ten heartbeats beating fast and eager for a fight, and at least they don't seem inclined to fight you but how do you know they want to fight at all?
Hanna shouts your name, and you must have made some sort of acknowledging sound because he asks, "Do you have a weapon? Anything at all?"
"Just a flashlight. Hanna, she's coming."
"It's okay. You'll be alright. Though I gotta say dude, running after her alone was kind of stupid."
"I think I've figured that o—shit!" A wolf brushes your leg from behind and your flashlight slips from your suddenly numb fingers, breaking with a crack of plastic against a stone. A shiver, an oh kind of shiver that stretches from scalp to toes, burns through you and you're not afraid. Just like that, something clicks internally, and the fear trickles out of your limbs, and when Toni appears on a rocky crest across the clearing, you smile even as your throat closes up. Your teeth prick your lips, and the smell of stolen blood makes eleven hearts rage and the cool, glazed void in your chest throbs in sympathy.
"Connie? Connie! Conrad!"
"Y-yes?" Your voice sounds faint and thick in your ears, and your teeth itch like mad. A part of you has come to the conclusion that this whole thing was a very, very bad idea.
"Have you ever been in a fight?"
Toni stands on three limbs, one muscled arm curled loosely against her chest—the hand she'd burned three days ago, a part of your brain remembers clinically—teeth bared, ears back, eyes bright and narrowed at you.
Somewhere, something is burning.
"Did you win any?"
She growls, deep and low, and instinctively you respond in turn, and the sound you make barely sounds human.
The wolves part, and she lopes down the crest to meet you, bristling with raw energy, and your skin tightens as you bristle too. "I—hrkgh!"
A distant pain cuts you short. Your jaw suddenly hangs funny, and your teeth have gone from itching to aching. They feel crowded, and when you touch your mouth your hand seems to glow in the darkness, pale and bony and burning with an ugly white half-light. "H-Hanna—"
Toni snarls, circling close enough that you can see the bluish markings on her twisted, hungry face.
"—'ll be fine, Conrad! I promise!" Hanna's voice is tiny and unimportant compared to so many teeth, and anyway your fingers aren't shaped to hold a phone properly anymore, so you drop it and turn your full attention to Toni. Some part of you twinges eagerly, and all of you thinks it's about damn time.
And then none of you thinks at all.
You come to x-amount of time later, feeling for all the world as if you've just been through a high-speed blender. Moving makes you groan, and circular aches on your arms-leg-sides burn. Tiny heartbeats surround you, too small to be human and therefore they shouldn't matter, but you can't recall a time you've ever been this hungry. When you try to sit up the trees spin, and you cling to the black log on your right because even though you've got about as much blood left in you as the night you died, you just might puke something up if you don't find your glasses soon.
Dimly, you feel a bigger heartbeat—human, but the smell that accompanies it is unmistakably wolfish—stagger closer, and Toni says, "Conrad? What are you doing here?"
Somewhere, something is beginning to rot.
"You bite really hard. Did you know that?" You manage to croak out after unsticking your tongue from the roof of your dry, dry mouth. Christ, you're thirsty.
"Wh—" She stops, gasps. Her pulse quickens, and "Ohmygodibityou," comes out all in a rush.
"It's okay. I bit back, so I guess we're even."
You try to sit up again even though your spine feels bent at right angles. When you can see straight again you're still on your back and Toni's closer, only about a yard away, hugging her chest and looking cold.
Which makes sense, considering she's stark naked and all.
"Did you follow me?" She asks.
"You invited me." Okay, alright, if you wanted to get technical about it, you invited yourself. But really, you had thought a walk meant, you know, more walking and less trying to turn each other into grated cheese. "And anyway, I couldn't let you run around by yourself."
"Because, what, you were afraid I might be seen by one of your neighbors or something? Did you think I was just going to go frolicking through downtown? That I'd bite someone? Do you think I don't know what the hell I'm doing once the full moon's up‽" Her voice is hot and ragged and shaky, live electrical wire mad, and fuck, you just got done being her chew toy, pissing her off is the last thing you want to do.
Unfortunately, your natural reaction to anger has always been to respond in kind.
"What the hell do you think I was doing‽ You're still fucking recovering from almost dying, or have you forgotten that? I didn't want you getting hurt!" You finally sit up and the whole world takes a hard spin to the left that makes you all too acutely aware of how chewed up and dried out you are, and god you wish you could remember what had happened beyond the vague shadows of motion flitting across the backs of your eyes. You catch yourself on the log before you can fall, wincing at the spongy rot that almost seems to wriggle between your fingers. "I think I'm pretty fucking aware of how capable you are on your own by now, don't you? But for fuck's sake, couldn't you have given me a proper warning before you went and broke my front door‽"
"It's not like I meant to!"
"So you can't control yourself on the full moon then?"
"It doesn't have anything to do with control! So what if I break a few things? I get excited, not enraged!"
"Someone could have been walking past! You could have crushed them! You could have crushed me!"
"Don't hypothesize at me! I've got my talisman—it helps me stay calm enough so nothing like that ever happens!"
"You tried to eat me!"
"So did you! And anyway, I'm not the one who ripped the alpha in half with my bare hands, so you can't say anything."
She points, and you automatically look, and you can just make out a tattered red lump of meat and fur and you almost fall down again because holy shit, you did that?
"Oh my god, how did I do that?"
She scoffs. "Werewolves aren't the only ones with an ugly side, Conrad."
"But why did we—"
"It surprised me too. I wasn't expecting to get so…" Her voice colors with something cool and quiet, something less than fear and more than regret, and your throat clicks when you swallow. "Look, I don't know why that happens, why we fought. It's a… thing, I guess. Werewolves and vampires get… competitive around each other sometimes."
You stare at her. "'Competitive?' You call that 'competitive?'" You throw your hand out, gesturing violently at the remains of the wolf, at the space between you and her, at the fact that you both in a forest after spending who-knows how long cavorting about as fucking monsters.
"What else would you call it? It's not like we can kill each other or anything!"
The two of you blink at each other, or at least you blink and she stands stiff and chilly, and the only sound between you is her heartbeat, pumping slower as her anger drains away. Your skin itches as it heals over all of Toni's bite marks.
"I'm sorry," Toni says at the same time you do.
"No, I'm an ass who can't keep my mouth shut." You before asking, haltingly, "I'm not gonna—you know—since you bit me—on top of the whole…" You gesture vaguely at yourself with the hand you're not using to prop yourself up with.
She exhales, breathing out a tired sounding laugh. "No, no, it doesn't work that way."
"Oh. Okay. Good."
Dead leaves crackle under her bare feet as she walks to sit by you on the rotting log. "Okay, so it was stupid of me not to give you a head's up about that. I just—" She shrugs. "I've learned to play it down. It's not as big a deal as people seem to think. Really."
"It's still something worth mentioning."
"I guess so."
"No." You look hard at the heart-shaped blur of her face, frowning. "There's no guessing on this, Toni. You really scared the shit out of us."
You wave dismissively. "I called Hanna as soon as I got back upstairs. I was planning to pick them up before coming up here, but I saw you at a stoplight, so…"
"Yeah. Hopefully the zombie's kept Hanna from doing anything stupid. I don't know where I dropped my phone, so I can't call and tell him everything's okay." You snort. "It's probably dead anyway, stupid thing."
She pauses and shifts beside you. "Um, Conrad? Can you stop, er, staring?"
"Wh—oh." You automatically turn your head, cover your eyes, and babble, "I-shit, I'm sorry, I don't know where my glasses are, I swear I can't see a thing. Really." You add after a beat, "Uh, I brought your clothes; they're in my car. Wherever that is."
She laughs. "Thanks."
"So." You talk at her ankles, and hope she doesn't think you're looking higher. "Every month, huh?"
"Every month. It's usually not this interesting though."
"Yeah. I try to drive up here before the moon rises, then just kind of goof off with the pack until it sets." She shivers. "They're pretty pissed you killed the alpha, you know."
"I, uh, didn't mean to?"
"They'll get over themselves, don't worry about it. The younger females didn't like her much anyway. It's kind of a shame though; red wolves went practically extinct a few decades ago."
"Funny, Hanna said the same thing."
"How'd you know to come up here anyway?"
"Hanna made a pointing spell."
She mms in understanding, and the two of you are quiet until your watch beeps the hour, and you glance down out of habit. "What the fuck?"
"How is it an hour earlier than when I parked my car?"
You feel her look at you funny. "We've been out here for almost a day. Didn't you know that?"
You resist the urge to gape up at her. "It-I-how does that even work? I thought I—vampires, I mean—couldn't go outside during the day."
"Well, I'm sure really old and powerful ones can manage just fine, but as for you?" She laughs. "This whole reserve is pitted with abandoned dens and natural caves. You probably ran into one of those when I was flickering in and out. It's harder to stay one shape during the day, and the clouds sure didn't help any."
"O-oh." You rub your face and try not to feel too disappointed over the fact that yep, you're probably right about that dying-horribly-in-the-sunlight thing you've been worrying about.
Toni stands, brushing the backs of her thighs off. "Come on, Conrad. You're looking pretty gray. I'll catch you a raccoon or two for you to eat, we'll find your glasses and get the hell out of here before dawn. I'm craving a burger something hard." She extends her hand, smiling that warm smile again. "No hard feelings for last night?"
"Are you crazy? I'm not going to drink a raccoon! Do you have any idea how many diseases—why are you laughing?" You squint at her, and she's almost gasping with laughter as she mimes something that looks a little bit between a crazy straw and Count Orlok, and you're not sure if you should be offended but it looks damned hilarious anyway so you laugh, because fuck it.
Just fuck it.