Summary: Fifteen-year-old Claire Young, werewolf imprint, computer geek, and lesbian, makes a supernatural deal.
A/N: Not a crossover - myths are used, though.
You may have your heart's desire. One wish will be granted to you. But ten years hence, the price is due.
The heartbeat, the freshness of life.
The sweet-iron tang of blood was in the air far before the first footsteps sounded on the road by her door. This visitor bore a spring's pleasure of youth to its step. That she preferred; there must be time to let the fruit ripen.
Mortals never understand that their own power is greater than any one thing they would trade it for.
A fleshy heartbeat and beside it her stone servant. The two crossed her clean pavings, one slowing his glide for the other. The human walk was slightly dizzied still, as it should be. The child would not remember the time drugged in the nondescript grey car below the blindfold, driven by the silent servant in circuitous routes, and few would wish to return before the debt was to be paid. Two steps tiled in glinting amber squares marked the way. Then the mortal would hesitate before the black-glassed door, hesitant and in need of courage to invite themselves in. This time, however, the knock was swift.
come in now my pretty, won't you come in?
She took the role of a spider, awaiting the willing walk of prey to her lair, a white-limbed graceful spider with pale hands and feet, her web fashioned of china polished perfectly. She took the role of a witch: tell me what you want, my dear, my child, and I will grant it to you; but there will be a price, my dear, there surely will. She took the role of fates, spinning careful delicate threads between her own white fingers...and cutting, in time, the end.
"Greetings, child," she said with even voice.
There was a ritual to such things. She had heard petitioners in fetid, sinking swamps strewn with dead butterflies. Slimy depths of caverns had shrouded her from her whispering guests. Sands had blown about red shadowed sinkholes in deserts. In this remote house, her boudoir was inlaid with warm-tinted woods in shelves and walls, walnut and rosewood and golden maple, crowded with tiny priceless ornaments and delicate lacquered furniture. She spun a Ming porcelain cup in her hands, china thin and fragile as human skin and far more intricate.
Her servant departed noiselessly and left the guest by a closed door. Her visitors came in a thousand ages, sizes, faces; they came male and female and both and neither; they came aged and youthful and in middle age, and always children if compared to her.
In a fraction of an instant she read this particular one. A strong and healthy heart that beat in quick excitement. This child's human years would be no more than sixteen and likely below. Flyaway brown hair framed the child's dark-complected face with thin wisps. She was not dressed for the occasion: plain trousers and faded jacket, almost as if she wished to show disrespect, and her stench above sweet blood was unpleasant even for a human. In her narrow face was brazen-determination-bearing with fear. A trifle more brazenness and a little less fear than usual. The child's determination was enough to match eyes with her the moment that she entered. And her speech was a little faster than the others, daring to interrupt.
"I already knew what you are," she said, hurrying onward. "I want a monster to deal with a monster."
Unusual less that she knows of monsters, for some fools are careless in feeding and gravely overestimate their own power. Unusual more that she guesses what I am.
It took her but a flash to think. These days she was electronic, requiring a petitioner to submit a message at the rise of a new moon on a website indexed by no public searching. In older pasts she demanded words to secret messengers on certain nights of the year, with a tribute of a particular herb to show respect; when writing was invented, to scratch glyphs in bark and transmit the wish by land, or carve stone and send it through the sea; later, by telegraph to an address unprinted on any formal registry, and obscure correspondence in the back columns of newspapers. This girl should not know of her.
The stench. It triggered memories in her: long-gone others. The child with unusual defiance was not inhuman herself, but familiar with those who were.
"Child of K'wa'iti and of Dokibatt."
Again she was interrupted. "I know what you are and I know what you offer. You'll kill him for me within twenty-four days, you won't let anyone know that I asked you to do it, and ten years later you'll eat me and kill me."
The order was noticeable.
The girl finished her brazen speech. "Because that's enough time for me. Kill Quil Atera from La Push reservation, the man who looks like this and the wolf who looks like this." She flung down two small photographs to the lacquered zitan table. "Do this for me and I'll pay your price."
There is the fear as well as the defiance, the old one saw. Once the child was done with her speech she let herself pant and rest, still meeting the eyes of the woman who toyed with priceless porcelain.
The combination of this was something of a rarity, and the taste of it sparked across her skin like lightning. She gave momentary attention to the human with curling hair and too long a nose, and the wolf with mahogany-coloured fur—a moment, but that was all their kind needed to memorise the map of face and feature. The living human gave so many more small tells: from the way she stiffened her legs to stop her knees from shaking, to the wolf-stench of the corded bracelet that hung weighted with sweat and dirt from her right wrist, unclean and uncared for, the strung cord of white headphones in her left pocket, the faded marks of chickenpox and acne on the back of her cheeks, and the slight awkwardness in left wrist that betrayed a healed fracture not more than two years old.
The ritual must be advanced and the threads spun for it. "Tell me your name, child," the old one instructed.
Tales of true names must flash through the child's mind, and she would not enlighten her. That brazenness continued to carry her onward.
"Claire Young. Claire Elizabeth Young."
Her power captured that stench of blood and configuration of adolescent bones, and the way that in years to come this girl would ripen still more.
"Do you need to know my name?" the human continued. "None of the other—none of the others like you need to know names to use their powers. What are your powers anyway?"
"My gift is to grant exactly what is desired, and to claim my price. I do nothing that those of K'wa'iti and Dokibatt must fight, for I only give what is asked, and only take what I am owed." She smiled a smile that in her translucent face would seem dark passing over the moon. "Yet you have the scale of my prices too limited, my dear. In ten years I may take blood and life...or soul, or a mere favor, or service. You have seen my servant."
"He doesn't speak," the girl said. A slight trace of ashen horror grew behind the soft skin of her face.
Additionally her servant did not see. Tongue and vocal cords were removed before his turning, and eyes damaged within beyond the capacity of venom to rebuild. He saw nothing and spoke nothing, and yet his other senses were easily sharper than those of any human and made him able to use any contrivance of theirs.
"At times I take servants," she said, knowing that her silent servant would take no fear of replacement. Long and much had they endured together. "I could change you. There is three days of torment; then a year of maddened bloodlust; and then a great stretch of years..."
"While being a monster," the girl defied. "I don't want to murder anyone. Friends or family or anyone human. I want him gone, but if you change me I'll see how many of your kind I can take out before I'm killed."
She blazed with defiance and determination enough, but often the venom removed fire of that sort. In her years the old one had seen plenty vow similar, and few prepared when the end came upon them. But then came centuries, then ennui; then millennia, and at last some form of wisdom.
"Then you require others to murder for you..." the old one named the crime. The prey was enmeshed in the silver threads of the web, and swayed from foot to foot, finding herself trapped aminst the priceless treasures that surrounded her, all fragile china and ancient lacquered wood.
Claire Young's cheeks reddened in a rush of blood, yet it was more anger than shame. "I'm not going to be with Uncle Creepy. I'm sixteen next month. He stayed sixteen, being a shifter and living with that imprinting crap. He used to change my diapers and play peekaboo. Great babysitter. Until I realized he was waiting for me to grow up." She shook slightly, an involuntary twitch toward scraping at her arms as if to rid herself of some filth. "I have until my sixteenth birthday, when we'll be the same age. He waited fourteen years for me. It'd be mean to let him wait longer, or at least that's what they say. My own parents. Auntie Emily and Uncle Sam. Collin. Brady. Everyone I know. Nessie. Jake. He married a seven-year-old, only she looks seventeen. Still does. She thinks I should be happy—both wolf girls. Both destined girls. Jake used to babysit her and made me be the flowergirl at their wedding. I was nine and she was seven. And it brought home what was going to happen to me. She thinks she'll be my matron of honour." Claire spat out the words.
One of the human's hands scuttled to trace invisible scars on her right cheek. "And I know what happens to girls who say no to wolves. It's written on Aunt Emily's face. The imprint's supposed to be made for you, but they rip your face off if you don't want them. If they get mad enough. Everyone says that your family's meant to protect you from being attacked—everyone I know says I need to pucker up and get used to it. Keep the wolf happy." A shaking laugh escaped her mouth. "Why would you ever want anyone else, when he wants to be everything to you?"
A jagged bitterness attended her words; betrayal of those closest always sharpened human ambition to a vicious thorn. The old one had always taken much from variety and strength of such very human emotions. And thus she needled in one more step, for all the contract was sealed already.
"You ask for murder and not the removal of this...imprint, child," she savoured on her tongue, and waited for the justifications to come. Claire Young hesitated and thought. Some humans would see that as a trace of virtue remaining in her, yet she had chosen her vengeful path.
The girl drew herself straight as a stick, and shaped her voice clear as a bell. "Perhaps that's even possible, but the rest wouldn't forget. They know I'm a perfect candidate for making werewolf babies, and that's the only thing they'll ever see me as. And even if you were able to remove the imprint, and were able to give the whole tribe amnesia—"
The old one gave a slow, enigmatic smile, for in all her millennia she had not encountered one wish she could not grant by various means and resources.
"Then Quil would still be responsible for what he's done." Claire framed her case with staccato reasoning. "He was the same age as I am now when he imprinted and he did nothing to stop it. He didn't bother to think what I'd really want when I grew up. He had a chance to do something about drooling over a toddler and he didn't. He wouldn't stay away from me, and so I wish him dead."
"And then you will shake the dust from your feet, departing family and clan for good," the old one foretold. "For after the murder of one of their own they will revile the hand behind it, unknown or not."
"They'll deserve it. You're right that I'm going. Ten years is enough. A moment of freedom's better than a lifetime of making werewolf babies with the child groomer who wanted me since I was two. I want..." And the child's dark eyes glinted softly as she took out her hopes. "Ten years is enough time to go to college. I like computers, and I'm good with them—good enough to find out about you. Ten years is enough time to have a girlfriend. They'd never believe I turned out a lesbian. As soon as I can I'm out of Forks and La Push for good...and then I'll pay your price." The girl could not restrain a shudder, and then forced herself to an imitation of optimism. "I won't cause more than Quil to die. Or in ten years I could die, or you could die—finally, I mean—or the horse could talk."
Humans so easily consign tomorrow to another day. The old one knew the story referred to; sometimes the prey she wanted denied her by their own deaths; but the girl knew very well that with that came another price. Family and friends were lawful payment if the contract failed by deliberate action.
"Then it is sealed."
She laid down the delicate china cup, and stepping lightly as air she crossed her thick carpet between all of her ornaments and furnishings. The footprints she left in the thick white pile of her wool carpet lingered and formed deeper imprints than a human's weight, and yet she stepped as softly as feathers on snow. She laid two fingers against the girl's forehead, breathing in the scent of her blood. Yes. She would know it anywhere. No place in the world could she seek to hide.
Claire did not flinch at the cold touch upon her. "I thought you'd want three drops of my blood or something," she said, and patted an empty glass vial in one of her pockets. "It feels too simple. You're cold, but I was expecting you to be."
The old one gave only a slow smile beautiful as biting frost. The girl would not forget the cold. Days later Claire Young would touch her skin and know that the ice-cold circle had not vanished from her skin and never would. The mark of the contract was invisible as it was immutable, vanishing only in true death. It would come for her in due time.
The girl looked about herself at the plethora of porcelain and glass and lacquered wood for a last moment, as if she sought to memorise what lay here.
"In ten years I'll return here and pay," she said, "because I'll owe you, and I won't be afraid."
Thousands of clients make that defiance, little one. Tens of thousands and unto the uncountable, taking bold words in place of red strength.
They never kept their bargains, but she found them inexorably as the years spun and turned. The old one said nothing, and rang a silent bell cast in black ebony that would be inaudible to all but her servant. She met his sightless eyes as he appeared to escort their guest away.
"Thank you," Claire Young said, and turned her back upon the quiet house deep in the woods.
In the end most tried to run. Some surrounded themselves with iron and fire and some hid themselves behind shields of flesh. Some came bearing spring flowers and the hand of a true lover entwined in their own to plead pity. Some came with infants in their arms or children clutching to their knees. Some came offering another life in substitute: a bound meal on the floor, or even a willing lover or companion to be their sacrifice. Some arranged to die before the date, and a few even were changed. Yet it was never within the contract for her to spare them, and immutably the restitution was achieved.
And a few, a very few, came willingly and tired of life.
The old one made it her practice to remember what she had granted in return. The final moments of Quil Ateara and how he had begged and howled for his life at the last rose before her immortal eyes. There was nothing that a warrior would have taken pride in from the shapeshifter's ending at the old one's pale hands, though had there been it would have made no difference. In the threads of her tapestry glinted the dark brown of a wolf's head among all her memories, mortal potential woven to her.
For the power of a life is greater than any one thing that the life may be traded for. For it is sweetest when my debt is called on the living.
Claire Elizabeth Young at twenty-five was in a human's prime, and a tall young woman with strength in her arms and devices in metal and electric fire close to eye and right hand. Her hair was sharpened to mohawk spikes, and a jagged scar ran across her left cheek. It did not sap her vitality. She brought a second with her: another warlike woman, armed with explosives and blades and yet not drawing them.
"I learnt to be a hunter," Claire Young said, "I've seen supernatural predators stopped and killed. Even hacked into your servers. I've had ten years to stop other monsters, and I made use of that—with Vi, who wouldn't stay away. I don't want you watching," she told her lover. "I'm here and here willingly. Nobody else is to be eaten."
"My gift is cold and painless," the old one offered, and placed two fingers of her left hand on that ever-cold spot upon the girl's flesh. It never took more than a bare instant.
They all resisted, in the end, and the human's eyes bulged in last desperation the moment that her heart stopped.
Another tableau with destroyed life and weeping lover came about through milk-white mistress and silent grey servant; another moment of claiming a contract due. Another glittering segment of warp and weft woven through the eternal tapestry even as the thread of life was cut. A rich brown and gold bead flaming with unused power took its place in the spider's web within her.
Let those who supped on indiscriminate blood rise and inevitably fall in their imitations of empire. Let the shapeshifters howl of their chosen mates. Let the Children of the Moon flee to their northen fastnesses. Within her flowed millennia of unused human fates, and with that came wisdom. To feed upon the law of retribution was the only guaranteed immortality.
And perhaps, in millennia upon millennia, she had become something beyond that which she appeared. Ananke, some called her name. Belladonna. Atropos.
The old one and her silent servant disappeared in the instant following, for she had another debt to claim this day.