"I decide what makes me happy!" She jumped off the bed and stomped off.
"If it feels wrong, it probably is."
She slammed the door. Well, I had managed to handle that one with my usual tact, finesse, and sense of perfect timing. I got up and went to dress and find something to eat.
YOUNG SHAPESHIFTERS DIDN'T HAVE A LOT OF TIME to find themselves. When puberty hit, they had two choices: go loup or go Code.
Going loup meant abandoning all control to blindly follow your body into hormone hell. Loups fed on human meat. They reveled in pain and sadistic perversion, sliding down from one elaborate torture to the next, until a gun, a sword, or claws cured all their ills, or until Lyc-V burned them out. Loups died young and didn't leave pretty corpses.
Going Code meant controlling your every move. Free People of the Code wanted to stay human and went to extraordinary lengths to keep their beast on a short leash. Code meant strict mental conditioning, discipline, accountability, hierarchy, and obedience. All of the things that pretty much drove me crazy.
The individuals emerging from this Code crucible acquired similar traits. They knew their boundaries. They avoided smoking, strong scents, liquor, and spices, as they dulled their senses. They rarely gave in to excess.
Except when it came to food. The shapeshifters ate like pigs. And I did my best to imitate them. I was ravenous and there was no telling when I would eat again.
I was alone in the kitchen - it was past breakfast except by the most lax standards. I had just taken my first bite when Derek walked in and sat across from me. He had an old-fashioned metal coffee can in his hands and a pair of heavy-duty cutters. He pulled a large iron nail from the can and some wire, and proceeded to cut a two-inch strip from the can. I watched him bend the nail into a gentle zigzag. He folded the metal strip into a roll like it was clay and pinched it onto the nail.
It's good to be a werewolf.
"You got a copy of the Almanac around here?"
Derek got up and brought me The Almanac of Mystical Creatures. "Thanks."
I thumbed through it while helping myself to some bacon. No Bolgor the Shepherd. No mention of the reeves. I scanned the entry about Morrigan. No mention of the bowman. Of course, if there was, I probably would've known it - I had read the Almanac from cover to cover several times. It rarely got all the details right, but it was a good general guide to things magically delicious.
Shortly after I started on my second plate, Julie appeared and sat sullenly by my side.
Derek added more strips to the nail, clamping them tight, and bound them with wire.
"Derek, if a boy wanted to take away a girl's power by having sex with her, what would you think about it?"
"I'd break something. His leg. Maybe his arm." He squeezed the wire tighter. "Probably wouldn't kill him unless he wanted to make an issue of it."
"What if the girl wanted to give her powers to the boy?" I asked.
"Then I'd think it would be a pretty stupid thing to do." He shrugged. "Can it be done?"
"Good for the girl. She might get smarter and find a different boy." He released his hold and handed Julie a metal rose. "For you. Kate, if you're done with your plate, Curran wants to see you. He's up on the roof."
I followed him to the staircase and climbed up onto the third floor, where a small foldout ladder led to the square piece of the sky. I conquered the ladder and emerged onto the flat roof of the building.
The roof was filled with assorted free weights. Curran lay on a massive weight bench with a reinforced steel frame. He was working the bench press, raising a bar loaded with weights above him and bringing it back to his chest in a slow controlled movement. He didn't cheat by letting the bar "bounce" off his chest.
I came closer. The bar was thicker than my wrist. Had to be custom made. I tried to count the weight disks on the bar. A normal bar weighed forty-five pounds, and normal disks weighed up to forty-five pounds, also. But these didn't look normal.
I stood to the side and watched the bar rise and fall. Curran wore an old, torn T-shirt, and I could see his muscles pump under the fabric.
"How much are you lifting?"
Alrighty then. I will just stand over here, out of your way, and hope you don't remember my promise to kick your ass.
He grinned. "Wanna spot me?"
"No thanks. How about I just scream verbal encouragements at you?" I took a deep breath and barked. "No pain, no gain! That pain is just weakness leaving your body! Come on! Push! Push! Make that weight your bitch!"
He cracked up. The weight stopped, perilously close to his chest, while he shook with laughter. I stepped up and grabbed the bar. It put me into an incredibly compromising position, since his head was really close to my thighs and the area directly above them, but I didn't want to explain to a rabid Pack how I was responsible for the Beast Lord crushing his chest with a weight bar.
I put my back into it. There was no way in hell I could ever pull it up without him pushing.
The bar crept up very slowly.
"Curran, stop playing and lift."
I looked down and saw him looking straight at me. He had a smile on his face. The sight of me puffing and straining apparently amused him to no end.
He raised the bar up and slid it into the twin forks on the sides of the bench.
I beat a hasty retreat, putting a few feet between him and me. He sat, pulled his shirt off, and used it to wipe the sweat off his chest. Slowly. Flexing a bit for my benefit.
I turned around and looked at the scenery. Having a streak of drool hang from my mouth would seriously cramp my style. Besides, if he full-out flexed, I would probably faint. Or jump off the building.
I needed to get laid. Otherwise my hormones might go on strike and short-circuit my common sense.
Curran came to stand next to me. Before us the broken city grappled with an impending flare. In the distance husks of skyscrapers sagged to the ground. Between them and us stretched the twisted labyrinth of streets, punctured by greenery, where nature had reclaimed the ruins for its own.
Maybe I was imagining things. Maybe he was just wiping off his sweat because he didn't want to be sweaty, not because he was showing off for me. Once again, I was giving myself too much credit.
"What are you going to do with the child?" he asked.
"I'll take her to the Order. There is a vault below the Order's building. It has a two-foot-thick steel door, and it's blanketed in a ward the entire mage division of the Military Supernatural Defense Units can't bust. The safest place in the city right now."