“Hey, girlie,” a loathsome voice called from little more than two feet behind me. I whipped around quickly to tell off the stranger, my bag spinning with me and smacking me hard on the ass. Its weight actually making my knees buckle a bit. When I looked up, the hooded stranger had a knife angled down at my face, clean light from the lights above glinting off the blade.
Realization set in and all the blood left my face. So did the twinge of anger. My first instinct as I looked down that blade was fear. My heart sank and a cold, sick feeling settled into my stomach, making me feel almost as if I would throw up. Making me wish that I would throw up. That, at least, would be a release for the emotion that put every muscle in my body on edge and, at the same time, made them loose and inept. I tried to beg but all that came out was a strangled whimper.
He looked at me with an amused look on his face. His dark eyes gleamed, not really with malice so much as grim determination and, if I was reading this right, contempt. His mouth twitched at the corner, just a little. He seemed like he was about to speak but thought better of it, choosing, instead, to keep his mouth shut.
Through the haze of fear, as the sky seemed to darken perceptibly to my improved eyes, a single thought kept popping into my head. He seemed so ordinary. He didn’t really look like a gang banger. Or a teenage delinquent. He wore ordinary, loose-fitting blue jeans, a plain navy blue hooded sweatshirt that looked much like one I had in my closet now. His face was ordinary enough, as well. In fact, I could think of nothing remarkable about it. The only thing truly remarkable in the encounter was the knife.
The knife. It looked clean, unused. It looked like a show piece. There was nothing really extraordinary about it either. It was shiny though. Another wave of nausea washed through me and a shiver went down my spine as a masochistic image of what that ordinary shiny blade could do to my soft insides. Of even what it could do by simply cutting at my forearm as I raised it up to defend myself. I shuddered and whimpered again.
And then, he laughed. It was like an explosion, that laugh. Like pressure had been building for some time and then suddenly it couldn’t be contained any more by its weak container. And somehow, my reaction to it was much the same.
I could have done it, probably. I could have just played the victim. Let him take my money. Run to the nearest Emergency Call Box. Just play dead. But he laughed. That was all it took. The fear burned away in the heat of the rage. I growled under my breath and felt my blood heat up, almost boil in the heat of that anger.
It was somewhat strange to be effectual in my anger. Usually, when anger surges through me, it locks up my muscles and joints. I would be lucky to hit the broad side of a barn. There’s nothing more embarrassing than throwing a shoe at someone five feet away in a fit of rage and missing. But now, I could feel the rage surging through me like fuel through an engine, instead of cholesterol clogging arteries, making every movement of blood sluggish and strained. My limbs were loose and limber. My mind was clear and yet strangely clouded at the same time. It was clear in its objective, in everything that could achieve that objective but I could dimly feel that some parts were cut off, lost to me in that moment of pure mania.
It was like nothing I’d ever felt before. It was blinding and intoxicating and it was all directed at the man in front of me. That man who laughed at me. Pitiful old me. That man, no. Man was too generous a word for him. He was a slug, yes. A slug, slimy and disgusting and all too fragile, easily squashed underfoot. I felt the heat, the wrath seem to build, to converge in a way unlike any rage I’d ever felt before. It felt good. I felt strong. He wouldn’t get away with laughing. He wouldn’t get away from me.
He paced anxiously in the front room. She should have been back by now, home. He was worried. What could be keeping her? Was she in trouble? No, he shook his head. He would know if she’d been in trouble. He would know, he thought less confidently than before. Just as soon as the concern ebbed, a renewed sense of frustration, irritation, overcame him. Rose knew the risks. What was she thinking? He was going to rip her a new one when she got back. His pacing took on a frenzied nature as he glared at the door, daring her to walk through.
Then, it hit him like a ton of bricks, stopping his pacing in mid stride. Fear. He could sense it as if it was his own. He still didn’t completely understand how it worked. They could all do it, to an extent. Each of them could somehow know the emotions of the other members of the pack. Some, they could sense more than others. The closer your relationship, the stronger the link. For all of them, their relationship with the alpha, Amun, was just about the strongest it could get and they could sense his emotions so strongly that it felt like their own. This was stronger. He was nearly crippled with fear as he felt hers and it mingled with his own.
He didn’t know what it was that made her so afraid. He could only sense the emotion, not read her mind. He nearly ripped the door off of its hinges in his distress. He started running easily, trying to keep to a human pace. He turned heads enough without adding superhuman speed to the mix. He ran through things that might make her afraid. She could be afraid because she was late getting home, afraid that she might change. Fear of the unknown could be a very powerful thing. Another idea popped into his head despite the ludicrousness of it in December. He remembered back to a time earlier in the year when she’d been in the Pit, eating a Chic-Fil-A sandwich and a bee had landed on her hand. She’d been frozen stiff with fear, whimpering ineffectually as the bumblebee proceeded to meander casually over the territory between her thumb and index finger. Unable to move with fear until the little insect left. She’s allergic to bees. Terrified of them. He focused on that image, as it made him less nervous than any other possibility.
He followed her scent, which was mingled with fear. It was too close to be in the Pit. From the distance, she was probably on his side of Davis Library. He continued, reminding himself constantly to keep the same pace. Human pace. She was fine. He’d be feeling a whole lot more than fear if there was anything seriously wrong. The werewolf blood in her veins would see to that. He shuddered at the thought and returned to the bee conjecture reassuringly, not wanting to think of the consequences of the alternatives.
Then, it changed. Like a switch, the scent, the emotion. Everything changed and he forgot all about trying to be inconspicuous. Right now, how fast he was going wasn’t their biggest threat. He sensed anger. He could smell her scent changing. There was still the scent of fear but it was no longer her own. Anger replaced it. And with it, the scent of a dog, a wolf. She was changing.
When he arrived at the scene, she was crouched, ready to pounce. Her back was to the ATMs, turning slowly as her would-be attacker slowly backed away and to the side, trying to get a car between her and him. As if that would stop her. He realized with renewed alarm that the ATMs had security cameras, and she was slowly turning so that her changing distorted profile would be visible to the cameras. He acted.
In a moment, he was behind her, his arms grasped around her waist like a vice. She was clawing at his arms like a cat trying to get free, digging in with nails sharpened by the change, pushing off and upwards with legs made more powerful by the nearly continuous shifting of muscle and bone to something else, something stronger, something dangerous. He found his voice and yelled, “Run!” Oblivious to the pain, he watched as the hooded figure ran off at top speed, weaving between lampposts and jumping off a brick retaining wall before hitting the sidewalk and running out into the street.
As the mugger disappeared off into the distance, I started to regain some higher brain function, the smell of his fear no longer driving me into a frenzy. It first occurred to me that whoever had a hold of me must be unthinkably strong. Though I had clawed and pushed and pulled, digging in with all of my might to get away, he hadn’t budged. Deep lacerations marred exposed forearms and I wondered why anyone would be walking around in December without a jacket on. I didn’t really remember the person showing up so I couldn’t be certain if he had run, walked or drove.
As my brain calmed further, Tristan’s soothing scent began to permeate my senses, enhanced partially by fear, panic, and sweat from exertion. My muscles started to relax and I went limp against him, suddenly horrified that I had hurt him. My hands were shaking as I touched the skin around the deep, angry cuts on his forearms. My hands still had the telltale characteristics of the change, mainly sharpened and distorted nails at this point. Which was when it hit me, I would have killed that man.
Rose seemed to relax into him moments after the hooded figure disappeared from sight. She tentatively touched along his forearms, careful not to touch his wounds. He could feel her regret, her guilt and he wanted to take it away. He wanted to tell her it was okay. In reality, though the jagged tears looked nasty and cut nearly to the bone, they would heal quickly. They hurt like the Dickens but he would do his best to keep that buried deep where she might not notice. He didn’t want to remind her of what she’d done anymore than necessary.
Suddenly, she slumped to the cold concrete sidewalk, making strangled sounds that were between a moan and a cry of anguish. He turned her to face him and let her cry into his chest. They stayed that way for a long time as waves of pain and guilt washed over him in unbearable sharpness. He had no doubts as to its origins.
When I recovered enough, we walked back home in silence. Amazingly, my hands were almost back to normal, but my thoughts still loped in an unending loop. Recalling the fear, then the anger, then the satisfaction, the need, and again realizing that I would have killed the mugger. I had wanted to kill him. With all of my existence, I had wanted to rip him limb from limb and tear at his belly until his insides became his outsides and I knew, deep down, if Tristan hadn’t stopped me, I would have. A full body shudder echoed through me at the thought, causing Tristan to look at me with a masked look of concern, only discernible in his eyes. That was the worst part, really. The fear and anger, I could deal with. The need to lash out at someone who had made fun of me, I could deal with that too. Those were all parts of my personality. I’d lived with those types of impulses all of my life. But to so viciously and relentlessly go after such a goal? That was new, and it was horrifying.
I looked down at Tristan’s arm, which dangled to my right, attached firmly to mine via a death grip on both our parts. The formerly hospitalization-worthy tears had healed now to half of their original depth. I wondered how long it would take for them to heal completely. I had no experience with werewolf healing rates. I just hoped that it was soon. I didn’t want Tristan in pain because of me. And he HAD to be in pain. Even though he didn’t show it. Even though I couldn’t sense it. No one could endure injuries like that and NOT be. Nobody.