She snapped at him and licked her lips. Jim's face wrinkled in a snarl. Two hyenas circled from behind the house like sharks, clicking and growling.
I got up and nodded to Jim. "Give me a minute. As a personal favor."
His face gave nothing away. Slowly, deliberately he took two steps back and waited.
Inside the bathroom, Andrea sat on marble, barely visible behind the female and Aunt B. The male bouda ran his fingers through the wet mass of blond hair on her head, searching for something.
"I have to go..."
The boudas parted, revealing Andrea. She was covered in short fur, her skin dappled with uniform black spots. I'd never seen a body that proportionate in beast-form, except for Curran's. The only flaw was her arms: they reached down too low, almost brushing her knees. It took me a second to register the fact that she had breasts. Normal human breasts. Most female shapeshifters in half-form had tiny breasts or a row of tits.
She looked at me. Her blue eyes and her forehead said human. Her dark muzzle and jaws signaled hyena. They melded seamlessly into each other. The effect was a revolting but somehow unified whole.
"Found it." The male hooked something with his claws.
Aunt B braced Andrea's head. "Do it."
The male plucked a small dark object from Andrea's skull, sending a few drops of blood flying. She groaned quietly. Aunt B let go, and the male leaned in and licked Andrea's neck gently.
"I do believe Raphael's in love." The female bouda grinned.
Andrea clumped a wet towel to her head and looked at me. "Kate? Where are you going?"
The words came through startlingly clear, her voice completely unchanged.
"Curran wants to talk to me. He sent Jim, and it's best I go."
Andrea took a deep breath. "I'm beastkin."
By the way she pronounced it, I understood the word must have some sort of deep significance but it flew completely over my head. My face must have said as much, because Aunt B folded her hands in her lap. "Do you remember Corwin?"
"The catwere. He died protecting Derek." Lyc-V was an equal opportunity virus. It infected humans and animals alike and stole fragments of its victims' DNA, sometimes inserting human genetic code into an animal. Very rarely the result was a beastwere, an animal that shapeshifted into a human. Most were idiots and died quickly, but some, like Corwin, learned to speak and became individuals in their own right.
Aunt B nodded. "Corwin was a good person. He came here a lot."
"He liked to play," the female bouda added.
"Yes, he did. He was shooting blanks. No harm done." Aunt B looked at me.
"That's to be expected, the beastweres are sterile," I said to say something.
Aunt B's face stretched a bit. "Not always."
"Occasionally, very, very occasionally, they make babies."
Andrea sighed. "Sometimes babies survive."
"You're a child of a hyenawere?" I just blurted it right out.
"Yes," Andrea said. "I'm beastkin. My father was born hyena."
Now it made sense. She didn't catch Lyc-V from the attack, because she was born into it. "Does Ted know?"
"He might suspect," Andrea said. "But he has no proof."
I shrugged. "I won't tell him if you don't. What happened to Julie?"
"Just like that?" the female bouda interrupted. "It doesn't bother you that she is a child of an animal?"
"No. Why should it? Anyway, what happened to Julie?"
The boudas looked at Aunt B. Aunt B looked at me. "The Code says we're human first. We're born human; we die human. That is the natural form, the dominant form. We must assert it and set it above the beast, because that is the natural way."
"The beastkin are born beast," Andrea said softly. "It follows that beast is our natural form, but as we grow, we lose the ability to become beast, because we're hybrid. Therefore I'm an animal that's crippled at birth. Unnatural."
Oh for crying out loud. "Andrea, you're my friend. I don't have many of those. How you were born, what you look like, what anybody else thinks makes no difference to me. When I needed help, you helped me and that's all that matters. Now, can you please, please tell me what happened to my kid?"
Andrea twitched her nose. A nervous cackle spilled from her and she choked it off. "A homeless boy came to the vault."
"Yes. Julie told me he was her boyfriend. He was covered in blood and he collapsed by the door. Julie went hysterical. I opened the door and he threw something at me, a powder." She frowned, exposing white teeth. "I carried a shaman charm in my skull to keep from turning during the flare. Usually I have no trouble, but the magic ran too high. Whatever he did..." She raised her hands. "It interfered with the charm. I started turning, but I couldn't finish. He grabbed Julie and dragged her out."
Red made me very, very angry.
"Your sword's smoking," the female bouda said.
"It does that occasionally." My voice sounded flat. That little shit. What the hell was he doing? And where was I going to look for him? The city was full of spots where two street kids could hide. Ten million to one, the reeves would find them before me.
Aunt B leaned forward. "By tradition, all beastkin are killed at birth. If any of the older shapeshifters find out she's here, I'll have a mob at my doorstep."
The male bouda licked his lips. "It might be fun."
Aunt B reached out and casually smacked him on the back of the head.
"Is that Curran's cat outside my door?"
"He's caught Andrea's scent by now and he'll report. You'll have to tell Curran something. It's better not to lie."
"I'll take that under advisement." I walked out.
CURRAN'S HAIR FELL TO HIS SHOULDERS. LONG, blond, luxuriously wavy, it framed his face like a mane. He sat in a room in the Pack Keep, reading a battered paperback under a cone of electric light from a small lamp. He didn't raise his head as Jim ushered me into the room and closed the door.
Just me and the Beast Lord. And the night, spilling into the room through the wide-open window.
Jim hadn't said a word to me on the way over here. I was on thin ice.
"What's the deal with the hair?"
Curran tore his gaze from the book and grimaced. "Grows every flare. Can't help it."
We stared at each other. "Waiting for the Fabio joke," he said.