"Tell me about the creatures that hurt you."
"They were fast, with long hair. The hair grabbed me like it was alive. They were afraid of the bowman."
"Tell me about the cauldron."
Red twitched as if shocked with a live wire, burst from his seat, and ran out the door. Julie was sitting closest to the door, and she beat me to the stairs by a quarter of a second. She dashed down, and I forced myself to stop.
They were kids.
Life had beaten them until they had nearly turned wild. They had no refuge, they trusted nobody except each other, and I would be damned if I were going to go down there and threaten Red with a beating to scare the truth out of him. Enough was enough. If they came back, they came back. In the meantime, I'd figure it out my own way.
I went back into the kitchen and ate a piece of sausage off my plate. Through the window I could see Red and Julie on the street. They stood close together, his dark head against her blond. As I watched, the tech hit. The electric lamp came on in the living room, bathing the apartment in a comfortable muted glow. Down on the street, the lone surviving lamp shone from the top of the post, illuminating the kids. They moved to the left, just beyond its light. The faces of the new world: a street shaman and his girlfriend. Starved, feral, magic.
They talked while I finished my plate and drank my water. Finally Red pulled something from his pocket and put it around Julie's neck. Probably a charm.
Julie hugged him. He sort of stood there, very rigid, while her arms were locked around his neck. He probably didn't want to look weak in public. Dread crept up on me. Why was it that watching these two gave me a bad feeling?
Kind of like imagining me with Max Crest.
If Greg had still been alive, I wouldn't have given Max a second glance. Greg's death had hit me harder than I thought it would; I was lonely, scared, and desperate for a warm, loving guy to come home to. For someone to lean on. Max just happened to be at precisely the wrong place at the wrong time. Our relationship had been doomed from the start, because it was based on grief, and unlike love, grief eventually passed. Now that time had filed off the sharp edges, I felt no jealousy toward Myong, nor did I feel any longing for Max. I didn't miss him. Yet every time his name came to mind, I felt a vague unpleasant sensation, not guilt exactly, but something akin to embarrassment.
Ugh. I wanted to take the whole thing, wrap it up, stick it in a box, and drop the box off a pier. If I had never run across Max Crest again, I would've been perfectly happy. But now I had to arrange his wedding. How the hell did I get myself into these things?
Speaking of the wedding. I tried the phone, got a dial tone, and called the number Derek had given me.
"Southeast office," a female voice answered.
Either I had gotten the wrong number or boy wonder was moving up in the world. "Derek, please."
The phone clicked and Derek's voice came on the line. "Yes?"
"You have a secretary?"
He laughed. "No, it's just Mila. She screens the calls. What can I do for you?"
"I have the packet."
"Awesome!" He checked himself and continued in a more even tone. "When can I pick it up?"
"I'll drop it by tomorrow."
"Did you beat the shit out of him?"
Ha! Derek was still in there, under the Mr. Cool Pack Wolf veneer. "Sort of. You're right, he disappears. He also regenerates while he's gone."
Julie came back into the apartment. She was wearing a small monisto: a necklace of coins and tiny metal charms. She paused in the hallway, testing the waters, decided I wasn't going to explode, slid back into her chair, and checked the bowl for more boil. Only potatoes were left. She took a handful and ate them, licking her fingers.
"I have a favor to ask." I moved the butter and salt closer to her.
"Anything I can do," Derek said.
Julie was watching me covertly, probably trying to gauge if any fussing was forthcoming.
"I need an audience with his furry Highness." I can't believe I'm saying this.
"I can't believe you're saying this, after all the bitc - yelling you did when I called you for the Spring Meet. I distinctly remember 'never see that arrogant asshole again' and 'over my dead body.'"
"Spring Meet was optional." After working with the Pack to dispatch the Red Point Stalker, I was granted the Friend of the Pack status, which apparently came with such benefits as being invited to ceremonies. Hell, if I transgressed in their territory, the shapeshifters might hesitate a couple of seconds before they shredded me into Kate sushi.
"Myong?" Derek's voice gained a slightly disapproving edge.
"Derek, yes or no?"
"Yes, of course," he said smoothly. "I'll let you know the time and place."
We made parting noises and I hung up.
"Who was that?" Julie asked.
"My teenage werewolf sidekick. We're going to see him tomorrow."
"You know people in the Pack?"
"Yep. There is a spare toothbrush in the vanity..."
"What's the vanity?"
"Vanity is taking too much pride in your appearance. It's also the cabinet in the bathroom which has a sink and a drawer. Where the toothbrush is."
Her face grew long. "Do I have to?"
I PACKED JULIE INTO MY BED, GAVE HER MY BLANKET, and unrolled an old army sleeping bag on the floor. The magic had reclaimed the city. I had dimmed the feylanterns already, and the only light in the apartment came from the outside, a silvery glow from the light of the new moon mixing with the weak radiance of the bars affected by the magic of the defensive spell.
Somewhere far away, a wolf howled. I could always tell a wolf from a stray dog - the lupine howl sent shivers down my spine. I thought of Curran. The scary thing was, I was kind of curious about seeing him tomorrow.
What was wrong with me? It had to be hormones. A purely biological problem. I had an overload of hormones that clouded my normally rational thinking, causing me to have fanciful notions about gray-eyed homicidal maniacs...
"I can sleep on the floor," Julie offered in a sleep-tangled voice.
I shrugged. "Thanks, but I'm used to it. When I was a kid, my dad made me sleep on the floor. He was afraid I'd have back problems like my mom." I unzipped the bag and laid it as flat as I could. The wards and bars made my apartment into a little fortress, but you never knew. Somebody could teleport in and fill me full of bolts while I untangled my legs from the sleeping bag.
"Is she nice?"