Hans came to slowly. Pain befuddled his senses: sharp, agonizing spikes interlacing the layers of ache that made up his body. He groaned when he opened his eyes, and regretted all of it. The groan hurt his throat. His eyelids hurt, and exposing them to the light hurt his eyes. They blurred and watered, trying to clear out the flakes of dried blood that had drifted in when opening them had broken the scabbed crusts holding them shut.
He hurt everywhere. And he smelled blood. His own blood.
“So,” a man suddenly said somewhere to his left. “Sleeping beauty awakens.”
With an agonizing effort, Hans managed to roll on his side. He was handicapped by the shackles binding his wrists behind his back. They tingled — not quite, but almost, burning. Silver, or silver lined. The ones around his ankles were the same.
Hans blinked, trying to clear his blurry vision and take in his surroundings. His nose helped more: there was one person in the room. Another — a woman — who had been earlier: just a couple hours ago. He was covered in blood, almost all of it his and none of it fresh. There were other scents, too. Old, old scents that seemed familiar. Hans ignored them and tried to focus on the other man. Another captive, or my jailer? He wasn’t someone Hans knew, but he smelled of dried blood, too. And an undercurrent that made Hans’ wolf sit up and snarl.
Rival, Hans’ wolf growled. Interloper. Kill.
Fellow captive, Hans tried to reason. He struggled to push his wolf down, while it struggled to take over. Not that it would be able to do much while he was in silver shackles: if he succumbed to the beast, it would control his mind but be unable to shift his body. He would be trapped and insane.
With more difficulty than he remembered it taking on any night other than the full moon, Hans managed to keep control out of his wolf’s jaws.
“…you,” Hans managed to groan out. He tried again. “Who are… you?”
The man snorted. “That’s actually what I’d like to ask you,” he said. He stepped away from the wall and walked to where Hans could see him more easily, though he stayed near the wall while Hans was in the middle of the room.
Not a prisoner, then. The man wasn’t shackled. Hans’ pulse started to ramp up despite the way it made his chest hurt. Adrenaline made some of the ache fade, while tightening muscles made the sharp pains worse.
“I’m Curtis,” the werewolf said. “You?”
“Hans,” Hans spat. Curtis was young. The sense he gave off was of barely more than a pup, but Hans knew perfectly well that had nothing to do with how dangerous he might be. Any werewolf was capable of being just as savage as the beast inside of them, however harmless they might seem in their human semblance.
“Cool,” Curtis said. “You good, Hans, or are you going to flip out and try to kill me again?”
Hans narrowed his eyes. His breathing was a little ragged from the adrenaline pumping through him: he was having a lot more trouble keeping his wolf in check than he was used to. “I’m good,” he said. “My wolf wants to drag you through the city by your spilled intestines.”
Curtis laughed. “Alright,” he said. “As long as me and you are cool, yeah? But try to keep that thing under wraps, man. I know they’re territorial and it can be hard for a newbie, but it isn’t even the full moon yet.” He turned and thumbed an intercom on the wall. “Hey, Cassie. He’s up and human,” Curtis said. “Says his name is Hans.”
The crackle of the intercom hit Hans with a sledgehammer of memories. The old, faded scents snapped into sharp, crystal clear focus. He knew exactly where he was.
“What are you doing here?!” Hans roared. He heaved himself up, onto his knees. He could feel anger flooding through him: almost a match for his wolf, and the wolf’s fury wasn’t known for being bounded by reason. “This is a pack holding!” Hans had shifted in this basement many times, back before… The wolf growled in Hans’ throat.
“Woah!” Curtis exclaimed. He held his hands up defensively. “Calm down, dude! What pack? There hasn’t been a pack in this city for, like, sixty years or something!” He hit the intercom again. “Cassie, he is flipping the fuck out down here! Move your ass!”
Suddenly, the trapdoor in the ceiling swung down. A vertical ladder unfolded and snapped into place. Hans screamed his throat ragged in a snarling growl that wasn’t meant to issue from a human being. His muscles bunched and spasmed, but he couldn’t shift. The wolf screamed louder in frustration.
As soon as the ladder was in place, a woman practically ran down it: half-sliding and half-stepping, facing out so that her heels were the only things that tapped the rungs and she could jump to the ground once she was halfway there. She wore a college sweatshirt and a worn pair of jeans, Hans noted while the wolf thrashed on the floor. It felt like he couldn’t do anything but observe. She also had unkempt, medium brown hair and dark green eyes that were slightly unfocused behind her thick framed glasses. But she didn’t smell of wolf.
“Upstairs, Curt,” Cassie said in a tone that was pure business. “That wolf wants you dead. I’m not going to be able to get him calmed down while you’re hanging around.”
Curtis grunted, but didn’t protest. Hans’ wolf — in human form — had fallen to the ground while trying to throw itself forward. Curtis didn’t seem thrilled about how big he was, Hans thought, but his wolf also wasn’t exactly a threat while all trussed up, either. “You need me, or Silver, just shout,” Curtis called back as he clambered up the ladder. Cassie ignored him and approached Hans’ prone form.
Cassie crouched next to Hans, but out of easy reach. Hans’ wolf growled and snapped at her. She ignored him.
“Hey,” Cassie said to Hans. He wasn’t sure how, but somehow she was addressing him, specifically, and not just the idea that he was in his body somewhere. “It’s daylight out, and your aura is in a lot better shape than it was last night.” She nodded at the wolf in his body. “He can’t push you around like this. Be assertive and take control back, Hans.”
Hans stared at her. If he’d had a way to reply, it probably would’ve been an exasperated: “You try it if it’s that easy!” Unfortunately, he didn’t. His wolf lunged toward Cassie, snapped his teeth and snarled at her — but fell short.
Cassie jumped, then scowled at Hans’ wolf. “Bad!” She told it loudly.
It growled at her and bared Hans’ teeth.
Cassie stared Hans’ wolf in the eye — and even though he was looking out of the same eyes, Hans knew it was his wolf she had locked gazes with. “I said ‘bad,'” Cassie said firmly.
Hans’ wolf started to sit up, still growling. Cassie frowned at it.
“Down!” she snapped, and when Hans’ body kept rising she lifted her hand and swung it down in an open-palm slap. It connected, making Hans’ wolf yelp and tumble backwards. Cassie didn’t give it time to recover. She strode closer, easily in lunging distance. With one hand she pointed imperiously at the ground. The other she raised threateningly. “I said down,” she repeated — again transfixing the wolf’s gaze with her own.
Hans watched from his fixed perspective, fascinated, as a very brief battle of wills took place. Maybe it was just that he — and his wolf — were exhausted and in serious pain, or maybe it was Cassie’s utter confidence and total lack of any scent of fear. Hans’ wolf whined, but didn’t get back up. It pressed itself to the floor. It looked up at her and started to growl — so Cassie stepped forward and raised her hand a little higher.
The wolf fled, ceding control of his body back to Hans.
Hans blew out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding in. “It’s me,” he hastened to say before his aches could be further agitated with a full-armed slap — but Cassie had already lowered her arm and was crouching down next to him.
“Are you okay?” Cassie asked.
Hans stared back at her. He was busy trying to figure that out himself. “I don’t know,” he admitted. The last thing he remembered was being in an alley and being told to keep watch over the corpse of the man Director Lewellan had drained and left to die of an emptied soul. He squeezed his eyes shut. “What did I…?” he asked out loud.
“You lost control,” Cassie said. “Um… you’re a werewolf.”
Hans looked up at her and smiled despite himself. “I know,” he said. “And it’s been a long time since I’ve lost control. What happened?”
“Oh,” Cassie said. “Well, I’m not sure. I mean… well, I don’t know who you are so if any of this doesn’t make sense, just ask me to clear it up, okay?”
“Alright,” Cassie continued. “I’m sort of an honorary member of some of the local witch-y circles around here. Um. Well, a couple of days ago there was this big scare about a vampire that went nuts. Curtis is a friend of mine, and I was pretty freaked so he offered to stay over and be my guard dog. But then last night, I get this call from Kels — he’s a local wizard. Not really a big shot, but networked. Anyway, he called me to ask if I’d get some ghosts riled up to watch for goblins and trolls and things. Because apparently the whole vampire thing was a hoax or a diversion or… something.”
Cassie shrugged. “Anyway, Curtis and I were up because of the vampire thing, so when Kels called I agreed to do what I could. Except as soon as I opened the front door, you came barreling through in total feral mode.” She watched Hans, judging his reaction. He grimaced, but didn’t say anything.
“I’m a medium,” Cassie said. “Basically. Anyway, I can’t really see auras but I can see spirits, and you were almost gone: barely a whisper of a ghost clinging to the wolf’s body. He probably would’ve torn me to pieces, except Curtis was right there and already in his wolf shape — and, well…”
“Werewolves are territorial,” Hans said.
“Yeah,” Cassie agreed. “The two of you trashed upstairs, and Curt got pretty messed up — but he was still human-minded while you were totally beast-ed out. He led you on a chase so I could get to safety, and then the next thing I know he’s coming back in human form, dragging you along in your human form. He said your wolf just suddenly lost control, like it had been cut off, and you careened into the side of a building and passed out.”
Hans nodded. “And then shifted unconsciously,” he assumed. It wasn’t uncommon for a werewolf to revert to their most natural form when neither human nor wolf could direct their body.
Cassie nodded. “So we got you secured down here, and put you in silver shackles in case the wolf woke up first. And we’ve kind of been waiting to ask you what happened since then.” She squinted at him. “I can’t see it now, but when your wolf was in control I could tell that your spirit is in much better shape than it was last night.” She nodded — not at Hans, but somehow at his wolf — “Judging by how he looks, I think you two are a lot closer to even right now. So what happened to weaken you so much last night? Was it the faeries?”
Hans tried to put together his evening so he could answer. Coiled around his thoughts, the wolf growled distrusting at Cassie. She jabbed a finger at it.
“No,” Cassie told it. “I will smack you again.”
The wolf yelped in shock at being addressed and dashed deeper in Hans’ thoughts, freeing him further of its emotional influence. He breathed out in a sigh: for the first time since… For the first time since Abigail started feeding on me, he admitted to himself, he felt like his wolf and self were back in the balance he’d managed to achieve with his decades of self-discipline.
“It wasn’t faeries,” Hans answered. “I was under a geas. Cast by a vampire, but not the one that everyone was panicked about. It was cast by the Director that started those rumors. He was framing her for his own wrong doings, and trying to compel me to help him.” Hans frowned. It was hard to separate his memories from the wolf’s for that night. They’d started bleeding together even before the geas, thanks to all the holes Abigail’s feeding had poked in his soul.
“I broke the geas,” Hans said. He’d intended to get the homeless man to someone who could save him: to Linda, or one of the warlocks John knew, or even to the circle that operated out of the hospital. “But that was too much. The backlash must’ve been what let the wolf take over. Usually I can keep it under control all the way up to the full moon.”
After that, his memories disappeared into a jumble of emotions and instincts: the wolf had been entirely in control, and he hadn’t even been strong enough to hang on as an observer. Hans shrugged. “It must have been afraid of the Director, so it came here.” He looked around uneasily. Being in control of himself again, here, actually made him more uneasy. To the wolf, this was just home. It didn’t associate the same memories with the place that he did.
To Hans, it was a home he had fled.
Cassie shivered. “I can’t imagine someone who can scare a were,” she said.
Hans looked at her incredulously. Says the woman who cowed one with a firm slap! he thought.
“But why here?” Cassie asked.
“Because,” Hans said, “back when there was a pack, we owned this apartment community.”
Cassie blinked twice as she digested that. Then, suddenly, her head snapped to the side and her jaw dropped. “What?!” she yelped at the same time as a phone rang once up on the first floor. Distantly, Hans heard Curtis answering it.
He couldn’t make out what the other werewolf said, let alone what was said to him, but Hans did hear Curtis’ sudden exclamation of “Holy shit!”
Cassie’s eyes grew huge and her mouth hung open once more as she stared into space.
“What?” Hans demanded. “What’s happening?”
Cassie’s unfocused gaze suddenly sharpened as she turned toward him. Her mouth clicked shut at the same time as Curtis came clambering down the ladder. “Did you hear?” He practically shouted. “Did you hear?!”
Hans clamped down on the wolf’s desire to lunge at Curtis while Cassie twisted around to address him. “Yes,” Cassie answered. “Mike just told me. It’s true. One of the vampires actually launched an attack on the faerie lands. Like: she went through a portal and attacked them on their own turf!” Cassie’s voice skipped an octave. “Kels was right: they started another war!”
A shiver of pure dread ran through Hans and his wolf both. Those memories — the losses they’d suffered in the last war — they shared equally, on the deepest levels. But while Hans was struggling with the surge of loss, Curtis was laughing.
“Tell Mike he’s just as out of date as he would be if he were still alive,” Curtis said. “That was Kels on the phone. The vamps are already back. Cassie, they destroyed the faerie king who reigned opposite our world.” Curtis laughed again: a mixture of excitement and disbelief. “Cassie, that vampire didn’t start a war. She conquered a fucking kingdom!”
Cassie sank down until she was sitting on the floor. “Oh god,” she moaned. “Curt, do you realize what that means?”
Curtis crouched beside her. “Yeah,” he said. “It means that for the first time ever our side has a real beachhead on their world. This is awesome!”
“No,” Cassie said.
Curtis frowned. “Well then, what?” He asked, clearly disappointed that his excitement wasn’t shared.
Cassie didn’t reply. She was staring into space again, her eyes unfocused. Hans answered for her.
“It means,” he told the other werewolf, “that for the first time ever we’re posing a threat to their world order on their world.” Hans caught Curtis’ eye and refused to let his gaze go. “It means that if the other faerie kingdoms decide we’re a threat they need to deal with, they won’t be fighting us in terms of one kingdom to one city. It means that if another Great War starts the first thing they will do — all of them — is crush us, here, so we can’t threaten their kingdoms and safe havens and personal empires over there.”