I woke up to find myself lying on the ground, naked, with blood on my face.
So, pretty much a regular Sunday morning.
It was still dark out, and I briefly considered going back to sleep. The den was cozy, warmed as it was by the body heat of two dozen lycanthropes, and I was exhausted. More than that, I ached. The shift from wolf to human had happened while I was asleep, but that didn’t make it any less painful.
As I stared through half-closed eyes into the predawn gloom, I felt my wolf stirring at the edge of my mind. The inexorable pressure she had exerted the night before was gone, but she was still far from silent. It didn’t take long for her to start nagging and prodding. Couldn’t sleep in, that would be a sign of weakness.
I hated the posturing. Hated having to act like a wolf, even as a human. But I had fought hard for my spot near the top of the pack’s pecking order, and I was loathe to give it up so easily.
So, gritting my teeth and silently cursing my wolf, I unfurled from the ball I had curled into. Taking care not to disturb the rest of the pack, I extricated myself from the dog-pile of sleeping werewolves and started searching for my clothes.
My memory of the night before was fuzzy – I’d have to interrogate my wolf later for the exact details of what we had done while she was in control – and I ended up relying on my sense of smell to locate my discarded attire. Conveniently, my clothing smelled like me, which made it easy to track.
I found my shirt first, balled up and lodged under a tree root near the back of the den. I gave it a quick shake to smooth out the worst wrinkles, then slid it on. My sweatpants and underwear were in a pile nearby. I quickly pulled them on after checking to make sure that my keys were still in the pocket. That was clothes accounted for – my shoes were back in the car.
Yawning, I ran my fingers through my hair to dislodge any twigs or leaves that had taken up residence, then tied it back in a loose ponytail to keep it out of my face – which was still covered in blood. Javelina, judging by the lingering taste in my mouth and the flashes of recollection I was getting from my wolf. Lovely.
I had a sanitary wipe in the pocket of my sweatpants, which I used to clean my face off as best I could. It wasn’t much, but it contributed a lot towards making me feel human again. Now if only I could do something about the taste in my mouth…
There was a very long session with a toothbrush on the agenda for the near future, that was for sure.
I picked my towards the entrance of the den, carefully stepping over my sleeping packmates. The inside of the hollow firmly belonged to the wolf’s world, and there was no sense in sticking around any longer than necessary. It might give her ideas.
It wasn’t much lighter outside the den than it had been inside. It was that long hour before the dawn but after the moon had set, where the only illumination was provided by the stars. I relaxed my mental hold on my wolf a little bit, allowing the lingering echoes of her eyes to enhance my night vision. No matter what form I was in, there were always subtle traces of the other one present, and that morphic resonance was always strongest just before and after a shift.
I spotted Katrina and Tony a little ways away from the den, deep in whispered conservation. I couldn’t quite hear what they were saying, and they broke off as I approached.
“Am I interrupting something?” I asked as they turned to look at me.
“No, not at all,” Reyes said. “In fact, I was actually about to send Katrina to wake you up.”
“Oh?” I said, raising an eyebrow. I looked back and forth between the two of them, but if he was lying, neither of them betrayed it.
“Yeah, needed to ask you for a favor.”
A favor. That’s how Tony got things done. He never gave orders, never made demands. Instead, he’d take you aside and quietly ask for a favor. It would always be something small and unobtrusive, never anything that would take up too much time or cause inconvenience. There was an unspoken but implicit understanding that these requests weren’t to be denied lightly – they were the small price that we paid in return for the assistance and protection that Tony constantly offered.
“Sure,” I replied without hesitation. “What’s up?”
He grimaced slightly. “It’s about that difficulty with John and Dave’s flight that I mentioned last night.”
I nodded along. “Right, yeah, you said there was some problem that you had to sort out. What happened?”
“Well, uh…” He paused to sigh. “Apparently they’re both on the no fly list. FAS detained them at the airport for a couple hours before I got there. Guess they couldn’t decide if they needed to arrest them or not.”
I blinked in surprise. “Shit, really? The hell did they do?”
Dave Miller and John Byrd were two of the youngest members of the pack; both were college students, respectively studying engineering and computer science at ASU, and they’d been supposed to fly home this weekend for spring break. They were mild mannered, unassuming and unoffensive. I would have pegged them as the least likely people to be potential terrorists.
“That’s the thing, they both swore they have no idea what they did to end up on the list – and I believe them, you know what they’re like – and none of the FAS agents would say anything about it.” He shook his head. “You’ve got some government contacts, right? I was hoping you might be able to get some more information about this. Maybe see if there’s a way to get them off the list.”
I nodded again. I didn’t know anybody in Federal Aviation Security, but I did have some sources in other agencies. “Yeah, shouldn’t be too hard. I know some people who’ll probably talk, especially if it’s off the record.”
He smiled. “That’s great, thanks.”
I looked down so he wouldn’t see me smile. Reacting to compliments from authority figures again. Even my deep-seated anti-authoritarian streak couldn’t quite erase that instinctive response.
“I assume you found another way to get Byrd and Miller home?” I asked, deflecting slightly.
“Jesus, that must have been expensive.”
He shrugged. “I covered it.” He glanced over at Kat, who had taken up a position leaning against a nearby tree with her eyes closed. “Anyways, I expect the two of you probably want to get home soon, so I’ll leave you to it.”
Kat stifled a yawn as she nodded. “God yes, I need a shower in the worst way.”
I resisted my own urge to yawn as I said, “Seconding that motion. I’ll call you if I find anything, Tony.”
“Good.” He started walking back towards the den, calling over his should as he went, “Drive safe.”
“Car crash won’t kill us,” I said as I watched him go, just quietly enough that he couldn’t hear. I was rewarded by a soft chuckle from Kat.
“I bet if he told you to have a good day, you’d refuse on general principle.”
“You know me too well.” I stretched my arms, trying to work the last kinks out of my shoulder muscles. “Christ, my back aches. I don’t know how you shift back while awake, Kat, but I don’t envy you.” I started to hike in the direction of the car.
She shrugged nonchalantly, falling into step next to me. “It doesn’t hurt as much if you don’t fight it so hard.”
“Don’t give me that psychosomatic bullshit. Broken bones are still gonna hurt like a bitch no matter what.”
She shrugged again. “Suit yourself. It’s not my back that aches.”
I shook my head in silent disbelief.
We stepped out onto the Forest Service road and started following it back towards where we had parked. After another minute of walking, we were standing in front of my dinged up Land Cruiser. I unlocked the doors and slid inside.
I closed my eyes and leaned back in the driver’s seat, taking a moment to clear my thoughts. I still hadn’t fully finished shifting back to human, at least mentally, and the wolf hung over my mind like a cloud. I pushed her back into her designated mental space, giving me room to concentrate.
“Can you get my phone out of the glove compartment?” I asked as I opened my eyes again.
Kat handed it to me. “Here.”
“Thanks.” I quickly checked to see if I had any missed calls, then plugged it into the sound system. “Music?”
We drove away as the first bars of Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” started to play.
I dropped Kat off at her place about an hour later, and was soon back at my own apartment. I managed to successfully avoid any of my neighbors on the way in – who, if they saw me, would certainly have some questions about my disheveled appearance, none of which I wanted to answer. I wasn’t quite ready to out myself as a werewolf to any of them.
I found Erwin waiting for me when I slipped into my apartment. I’d filled his food and water before I had left the night before, and there was in fact still food in his dish, but I refilled it anyways. I skipped breakfast for myself, at least for now; my wolf had managed to gorge herself last night, and I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry.
I took a shower. A long shower, where I just stood there and let the warm water flow over me, washing away the last traces of the wolf. Thank god for indoor plumbing. There’s nothing quite like a hot shower for feeling human. Except maybe chocolate.
When I was finished, I took a toothbrush and set about cleaning out my mouth. My dentist had once told me that I had the best oral hygiene he’d ever seen. He didn’t know the half of it.
Finally clean, and as close to fully human as I was likely to get, I plopped down on the edge of my bed and started making phone calls.
I started with my brother, Jonathan. We were twins, although you’d be hard pressed to guess that just from looking at us; we were almost polar opposites in both personality and appearance. Case in point: he’d gone to UCLA to study forensics on a scholarship, then been drafted by the FBI right out of college; I’d gone to ASU to study journalism, paying my own way because I’d bailed on our parents, then ended up signing on with a newspaper that had run an expose on corruption in the FBI the month before.
“Hey bro,” I said as soon as he picked up.
I could almost hear him scowling. “Heather, do you have any idea what time it is?”
“Close to 7, right?” I asked, with a mock cheerfulness that would drive him nuts. “Or are you guys on DST yet?”
He growled softly. “Not until next week.”
“I’m sorry, did I wake you up?”
“As a matter of fact, you did.”
“Well, if it’s too early, I can always call back later.”
He paused, and I could just imagine the gears turning in his head as he considered that. Finally, with a sigh of resignation, he said, “What do you want?”
I grinned. “Well, since you asked, I need a favor.”
He groaned. “You always need a favor.”
“Yeah, but this one’s important.”
“You always say that too!”
It was true. I had been asking my brother for favors since we were kids. I had stopped counting a while ago, but if he ever decided to cash them in, he’d have enough accumulated IOUs to get me to assist in the takeover of a small country. Or maybe a large city-state.
“That’s because it always is,” I said. I knew I would win this exchange. I always did. He didn’t have the patience to outlast me. “Come on, it won’t even take that long. I just need a bit of information.”
He sighed again. “Fine. What do you need?”
I told him what Tony had told me. “I just need to know why they’re on the list,” I said, before adding, “Off the record.”
He was silent for a minute, and I was worried he had hung up. Then he said, “Alright. But I can’t get you anything today. I couldn’t get people to move on a Sunday for this.”
“That’s fine, there’s no rush.”
There was another long pause. “Have you talked to Dad at all?” He asked.
I grimaced. “No.”
And then I hung up.