After his shower, Hans felt almost human again. Shifting without having had the time to strip first was never pleasant: contrary to the movies, clothes didn’t just tear away from a werewolf as it bulked up. Instead, they were pulled in and used as further mass for the transformation — but it was foreign mass, and it was never put together quite right when returning to human. That part the movies got right. It hadn’t been the first time Hans had woken up wearing tattered clothes and covered in blood. What popular fiction never seemed to realize, however, was that most of the time the blood in question was his. But at least now that he was clean, all he had to deal with was the full body ache: every muscle in his body was stiff and sore, as though the reason his clothes had come back in bloody rags was that some of them had been left laced through his flesh and bone.
Who knew? Maybe it had. Unfortunately, Hans only knew of two cures for this kind of pain. One involved pills and a lot of uninterrupted sleep. The other was a vampire bite. And Hans didn’t really think he could afford the time for the first or the damage of the second.
Hans fumbled a towel off a shelf next to the shower. Even though it was clean and folded, the scent marked it as Cassie’s. That was a mild awkwardness though, and Hans had been the guest at enough places since becoming a werewolf to have stopped being bothered by it. It’s certainly better that this is her place than Curtis’, he thought. If another werewolf had moved into his pack’s home he didn’t think he would have been able to keep his own wolf in check. As it was, the clothing he’d been lent had come from Curtis’ overnight bag. It was all far too small on Hans, and when he started pulling it on the scent of it made his wolf snarl angrily.
The wolf’s surge of rage and territoriality left Hans trembling in a sudden haze of emotions that weren’t really his but weren’t separate, either. He squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to pull on the sweatpants — the only pants the smaller man had packed that had a chance of fitting Hans’ larger frame. It’s worse, Hans thought. He’d known Abby’s feeding had started taking a toll on the border separating him from his wolf, but after whatever had happened last night it was even worse still. And he couldn’t blame her for that: it was Director Lewellan’s doing, and his own. Abby had told him to follow the Director’s orders until she could find a way to free him from the geas. He had made the decision to defy them both, and so any further damage — and any fallout — was on Director Lewellan for casting the geas and himself for breaking it.
Hans took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, steeling himself to tug on Curtis’ tee shirt. The wolf raged again when he did, but he did it swiftly enough that when the fugue hit him he was already dressed. He caught himself against the wall and waited for the sense of dizziness and fury to pass. The shirt — a black one with some band’s logo on the front — was easily two or three sizes too small for Hans’ bulk, and when he started moving again he felt like it was going to split at the shoulders with every shift of his arms. He ignored that, though — and his wolf, and the aches running through his body, and walked slowly to the bathroom door.
Hans hated feeling helpless. He’d never liked the sensation, but after he had been sent away while his pack fought Archarel’s first changeling…
Hans violently pushed the thought away. His wolf snarled in agreement. Agreement for the violence, anyway. Even after all of these years, it still wanted revenge. Hans found himself breathing heavily and forced himself to rein it in. To be honest, he wanted revenge. And if it hadn’t been for Linda… and then John, when she told him, he probably would have gone looking for it decades ago. Gone looking for it and wound up dead, or bound in geases and kenneled in some faerie lord’s hall.
John. Linda had been there for him when he’d lost everything, but after she’d refused to help Abigail, Hans wasn’t sure that she still was. John, however, had been the one to talk him out of living the rest of his life as Mr. Salvatore’s beta. John had convinced him to get away from the painful memories and pull himself together. Hell, John had given up his own position in the Center’s armed forces so they could tear up the countryside together. Basically, Hans knew John had his back, come hell or high water — just like Hans knew there would be hell to pay for the fallout of last night. Even though he’d lucked out with attacking Cassie and Curtis, Abigail was going to be in it deep with the Center for killing another Director, and with the faerie lords for….
Hans still couldn’t quite believe that she had destroyed Archarel. The revenge he’d wanted — the revenge his wolf had been after and he’d had to keep repressed so he could survive — couldn’t be over just like that. And yet it was. Abigail had gotten it. Not Mr. Salvatore. Not the Center. Not himself. Abigail. And by god almighty, Hans was determined to be there for her in the face of the fallout she received for doing what everyone else had sworn was impossible. And John, he knew, would be right there with him.
And that was why, even though he couldn’t bring himself to reach out to Abigail yet, Hans had no such problem contacting John.
Cassie’s residence was a two bedroom unit with a lofted living room and attic space over the bedrooms. All of the pack’s ‘apartments’ had actually been closer to being adjoining houses than apartments in the traditional sense. And all of them had basement access, with the basements carefully designed to be ideal for keeping wolves penned in overnight. Or at least, they had been back when the pack was still in residence.
Cassie’s residence was a wreck. There were gouges in the carpet from where he and Curtis had dug in for traction, knocked over pictures, and broken glass from shattered frames strewn through the hall. In the living room there were knocked over shelves; in the kitchenette the garbage can was filled with broken dishes, and the window Curtis had escaped through was broken out and taped over. Hans could hear Curtis and Cassie chatting quietly as they continued cleaning — it tugged a little at his conscience. It wasn’t guilt, exactly: what the wolf did wasn’t, strictly speaking, Hans’ fault and he’d come to terms with that decades ago. But he was a decent enough guy that he felt responsibility for the mess anyway. Especially since he had played a part in letting the wolf slip its leash.
When he got to the living room Hans saw Curtis running back and forth to bring Cassie various knickknacks that had tumbled from their shelves. Hans winced at the small trash can that was accumulating the broken ones.
“I’ll pay for any damages,” Hans said to announce his presence. His slow, pained walk had been silent on the carpeted hallway and both Curtis and Cassie were startled by his arrival. Curtis must be too young to have developed the improved senses in his human form, Hans observed. “I can help clean up, too, but first I really need to make a few calls and get the rest of the details about last night.” He ducked his head — he hated feeling helpless, and asking for help always tweaked that particular nerve. “If I can borrow a phone?”
Cassie looked up at him from the couch. “Sure,” she said. “There’s a cordless in the kitchen.”
“Thank you,” Hans said. His wolf slunk down lower in his consciousness when Cassie’s attention fell on them. It was trying to keep itself hidden from her, but Hans knew from her smirk that it hadn’t succeeded. At the same time, the wolf was paying her wary attention: Hans’ heightened senses were keyed in on Cassie almost to the extent that they weren’t registering Curtis. Hans kept his distance from the other werewolf, anyway.
Hans had grown up before smart phones, and he had no trouble dialing John from memory once he got to the phone. He sat on a stool with his back to the living room for a semblance of privacy while the phone rang. John picked up on the fourth one.
“This is John Salvatore speaking,” John said. He sounded tired. Hans sympathized: even without all the details, he doubted that last night had been easy on anyone. “May I ask who’s calling?”
“John,” Hans answered wearily. “It’s me. Hans.”
All trace of exhaustion dropped from John’s tone. “Hans!” John exclaimed. “Good lord, am I glad to hear from you. Are you alright? I’ve had the local practitioners looking for you all morning.”
Hans snorted. “Well, they found me,” he said dryly. “Or I found them. I’m at the pack apartments. And I’m fine: sore, but fine. I broke Lewellan’s geas last night and the wolf took over. Fortunately, there was a medium staying in my old place and she had a loner with her. He managed to keep my wolf distracted until I — for some reason — collapsed. They’ve had me in the basement, chained up with silver since then.”
John let out a low whistle. “Good on them,” he said. “You will not believe what has been going on since you disappeared,” he added. “Hans…” John took a deep breath. Then he blurted it out. “Abigail killed Archarel. And Director Lewellan. And she took over Archarel’s kingdom and gave it to her friend Megan. And she somehow got his entire freaking army to swear allegiance to her.” There was sheer awe in John’s voice.
“I know,” Hans said. “I heard: Cassie’s ghosts and some of the local warlocks have been keeping her appraised of events.”
John snorted. “Yeah? I was there when the Cullison and Dolcet scions came back,” he said, “and I still can’t believe it. But it’s true. Hans… Archarel is dead.” He sounded excited — but then, he knew what that would mean to his friend. Except abruptly John’s voice sobered. He cleared his throat. “It’s… it’s not all good news though,” he said.
Hans froze. “Abigail?” he asked. “Is she hurt?” The thought of something that could permanently wound a vampire boggled Hans’ mind — but so did the thought of anyone avenging his pack.
“No,” John hastily said. “I even spoke to her this morning. She was a lot more worried about you than anything she had to deal with, man.” He hesitated again. “That’s the thing, though. Hans… I think you may have cursed someone. Your wolf might have, I mean, while it was in control.”
Hans blew out a breath. He had told Cassie the truth about the preceding night: that he had wanted to get the homeless man Lewellan was framing Abigail with to safety; that he didn’t really remember much of anything after the wolf had taken over. But even saying that much had let him make a small lie of omission.
“I know,” Hans whispered. “He survived, then?”
“He sur…” John started to repeat. Then he laughed shakily. “You know who it is? Because I’ve been trying to find out all morning and I’ve been coming up with zilch. Except I have to assume he’s alive or the article would probably have mentioned it, but it just said he was attacked.”
Hans blinked. Something was wrong. Article? “It was a homeless man,” Hans said. “Lewellan drained him and was going to frame Abigail for his death. She had saved him from a goblin the night before. Lewellan ordered me to stand watch over him, but I couldn’t just let the Director get away with it. So I was going to take him somewhere else, try to get him help.” Unfortunately, Hans’ soul had been in too tattered of shape to cope with breaking Lewellan’s geas.
“The wolf took over while I was overcoming the Director’s geas,” Hans said. “But I thought that might happen. I figured, if it did…” If it did, he would probably have attacked the homeless man. But since he’d just been fed on by a vampire, Hans’ wolf wasn’t likely to be able to kill him: he’d heal too quickly. “I played the odds,” Hans said. “I thought that since Abby had been feeding on the essence of my wolf, rather than on me, if I did lose control and attacked him maybe the wolf would attack him. He was still linked to Lewellan, so I wouldn’t have been able to kill him — but if I’d cursed him, then maybe he wouldn’t have died of aura loss.” Maybe whatever wolf latched into his soul would have been able to provide enough shared aura to keep him alive long enough for his mortal side to recover.
“Wait… you think you cursed Daniel?” John asked. Hans felt his heart sink. He and John hadn’t been talking about the same person. “Shit,” John said. He realized it too. “Hans, Daniel died. He came back as a ghoul. He told everyone that Lewellan was the one who killed him. He kept Lewellan from murdering Abigail’s girlfriend and framing Abigail for her murder, too — or at least, he delayed Lewellan for long enough for Abigail to get there. She killed the Director.”
Hans blinked twice as he tried to process those details. “But if… if Daniel is a ghoul, then who did you think I…?”
Hans’ wolf growled in the back of his mind. “Just a second,” Hans interrupted John before he could reply. He put the phone down on the counter next to him without hanging up. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and listened.
He was closer to his wolf than he had been in decades. Abigail’s fangs had torn through the barriers he’d erected to keep the beast penned back in his thoughts. He’d been trying to rebuild them all morning — but he’d had no more success than he would have expected given that he was trying to redo the work of decades of discipline and had only been at it for a few hours. The wolf was still there, too close to be ignored, and it had snarled in frustrated anger when Hans had put a name to the homeless man.
Hans continued to listen. Not to the world around him, but to the wolf in his head. He’d always had his own memories: regardless of shape, he’d remained the same person. But the wolf had always had its own memories, too. Memories that were formed when it was in control, on the full moon nights, and which Hans had no part of. Memories that he’d only seen glimpses of in his nightmares, when he’d been too newly turned to be able to keep his wolf entirely separated from his self.
The wolf had attacked the man. It had torn into him, furious at having been penned up by Lewellan’s geas but having no other outlet than the man that Lewellan had made them track. But Daniel had regenerated, healing from even the most grievous wounds the wolf could inflict. And he had been linked to Lewellan. But the wolf was afraid of Lewellan, and had fled when the vampire returned.
Fear was not something that sat well with the beast. Neither was frustration. Hunt. Kill. Eat. But Lewellan had not been an option. Neither was the man Lewellan had forced them to hunt — Daniel. Daniel hadn’t been an option, either.
Hans frowned. He did his best to ignore the distraction of his aches and pains — even scrunching his face in concentration hurt. His stomach roiled emptily and half of him wanted to rebel: was pointing out that trying to get into the wolf’s head was the exact opposite of everything he had built his life around.
But if he had cursed someone, then he had to know who. And if there weren’t any clues in John’s article, then the only one who knew was his wolf.
The wolf whined and snarled at him, but Hans was wise to its ways. He kept throwing thoughts at it — thoughts were the only thing that really connected him. Not Lewellan. Not Daniel. Who? Where did you go? What did you do? Who did you…
Hans’ breath caught. He remembered. Or rather, the wolf did: and at the moment, their thoughts were too close together not to be shared. Like I’m starting all over again, Hans thought. He felt sickly at the realization rather than triumphant at the recollection. The wolf snarled sullenly in the back of his head as he picked up the phone.
“I don’t know who it was,” Hans said. “But I do. Sort of. There was someone else with the home… with Daniel. Their scents were intermingled. They’d spent the day together, or at least in pretty close proximity. The wolf couldn’t kill Daniel and it was afraid of Lewellan… so it went after the next nearest enemy that might be prey. Daniel’s pack mate… it injured him, but there was some sort of a commotion. That’s when it fled for home. John, whoever I bit, we need to find him.”
“Alright,” John said. “That’s a huge lead. Um. I don’t have any contact info for Daniel — he didn’t have a phone or anything — but we should be able to get a hold of him through Abby. He’s pretty dedicated to her, Hans. Either she’ll have a way to reach him or he’ll make sure to check in with her. But it’s still a few days before the full moon, so we’ve got time to wait on Daniel if we have to and still find whoever you turned and take care of them.”
“No,” Hans said. He shuddered unconsciously. “That’s not good enough.” He bit his lip, momentarily lost in memories of his own transition. “It’s too close to the full moon. If whoever I turned isn’t ready for it, they could shift for the first time days before the moon is at the apex of its cycle.” Hans’ first shift had been three days early even though he had been preparing for it for the entire month beforehand. “We have to find him today, John.” An ignorant werewolf, taking no precautions against shifting and unable to hold their wolf in check when the moon rose? The potential for disaster was enormous. Hans shoved his wolf down. It didn’t see the problem. My fault, he thought. Whoever this is, they’re my pack mate now and I’m responsible for them.
It was a responsibility he had never wanted. Not after living through the loss of a pack. And now he was stuck with it, and he didn’t even care that he hadn’t asked for it because he knew how bad it might turn out… not for him, but for the person he’d turned. Hans had to swallow back a lump in his throat before he spoke. “By tomorrow it might be too late.”