In the instant it took for my conscious mind to catch up with what I’d said, tension gelled around us.
“Um,” I fumbled, trying to find a way to cut through it. “I mean: Hans is a werewolf, too. It’s not his fault or anything. It was an accident.”
It didn’t work. If anything, the tension sprouted spines.
“Fuck you,” Shantaya said. She enunciated it very clearly in the calm night, and threw it like a dagger at Hans. His jaw tightened, but he didn’t lash back at her. She didn’t give him time to. “What the fuck?” She yelled, her voice rising in tempo and volume. “Why would you… Why would anyone…. Why was it Jeremy for fuck’s sake?! What the actual fuck?!” Her wolf had started to pace around her, infected by her emotion and feeding it back to Shantaya as it prowled angrily.
Hans swallowed once, working his jaw. His wolf stirred, but after bumping its head against his thigh it settled back down. “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Hans said bluntly. “I was weakened and lost control. Daniel and Jeremy paid for it, and you and anyone who was with you, as well.”
“My sister,” Shantaya snapped. “My sister is one of those monster… one of us, you bastard. And Jeremy, and even that jackass Jacob. Jesus! Jacob was bad enough as a jackass, and you went and turned him into a werewolf?! What. The. Fuck. I saw him turn into a monster. This isn’t fucking made up!”
“I know,” Hans said. He managed to remain calm in the face of Shantaya’s jumbled outrage and fury — I was a little impressed with him, but only as much as I could be given how much of me was overwhelmed with sympathy for her. I’d been there, when the world turns upside down and inside out and suddenly you don’t even know if you can really call yourself human anymore. I had no trouble imagining how rattled she was, and she’d been holding herself together all night because she was compelled to take care of me. She’d probably been on the edge of snapping apart the whole time.
I know I would have been.
“It was an accident,” Hans reiterated, “but that doesn’t excuse it. I know it’s hard and overwhelming, but I’ll take care of everyone the curse has passed on to. You won’t have to go through it alone.”
“Alone?” Shantaya blurted. Her eyes were wide with outrage. “Of course I won’t be alone: my sister got turned into a wereweolf too! But that doesn’t mean we want any damn thing to do with the guy who started it!”
I felt an almost imperceptible urge to twitch with each of Shantaya’s statements. They lashed at my guilt: it was an accident on Hans’ part, but I’d deliberately fed on him, tearing open his aura and leaving him vulnerable to his wolf taking control. Lewellyn had pushed that damage over the top, but if I hadn’t….
“It’s not his fault,” I blurted. “I’m the one who started it. None of this would’ve happened if I hadn’t gotten involved.”
Shantaya and Hans ignored me.
Of course they ignored me: they were enthralled by me. As far as they were concerned, deep down in their souls, I could probably do no wrong.
“You don’t want to go through this without guidance,” Hans said flatly. “I know what it’s going to be like. I have a safe place for you to shift on the full moon. This entire apartment complex used to belong to the pack; we can put it to use again.”
“Woah,” Shantaya said. Her hands clenched into fists and her stance shifted. “Woah, wait! You want us to fucking move in with you? After what you did to us? Are you insane?”
I thought I saw Hans flinch. It was just a micro expression, but it was hard for my heightened senses to miss: even with my aura filled out, the tension was tripping my panic triggers which were riling up my supernatural instincts’ tendency to go into observation overdrive.
“Only on — or near — the full moon,” Hans asserted. “And it needn’t be with me specifically. There are plenty of apartments around here, all with just as much access to a secure basement. And that’s the important thing: that you’re keeping your wolf-self secure and unable to run rampant.”
Shantaya scoffed. “Right, like you’re an expert on that.”
Hans’ temper finally seemed to break: his brow pinched into a furrow and his jaw set in a scowl. “I have dealt with my curse for decades longer than you’ve been alive,” he growled. His wolf rose to its feet, teeth on display. Shantaya’s wolf snarled back. “Wolves are pack creatures. They operate on a hierarchy. Right now, your wolf is trying to decide if you are higher than it, and if you don’t reign it in, it will control you. And if you don’t keep it secure when the full moon rises, it will go after threats to its pack first. Threats like anyone you care about who isn’t already a lycanthrope. Understand?”
Shantaya pulled herself up taller, but she still looked shaken. “Are you threatening my family? My friends?!” She spat the words out as an accusation — but not as antagonistically as she had her earlier outbursts.
“You know I’m not,” Hans said darkly. “You are the threat to them if you don’t treat this seriously. And that means calming down and accepting whatever help you can get. Including mine.”
The tension broke.
Shantaya seemed to shrink in on herself. She shook her head vehemently. “No,” she said. “No. I’m angry. I have every right to be angry.” She looked up at Hans, and I saw tears glisten in the corners of her eyes. “I’m not going to just sit down and shut up while everything goes crazy. I won’t! I saw what this does to people. I saw what Jeremy turned into. I saw what happened with Jacob. I’m not going to… I’m not a monster.”
The last protest was almost a sob, and it was too much for me. Just days ago it had been me. I pulled my awareness back, and the ghost-wolves faded out of my perceived existence. In their absence I could suddenly see Shantaya differently. Without the context of her wolf, she was just a stressed, exhausted teen on the verge of tears. And Hans was the hulking bulwark of inevitability standing ready to crush her.
“Go inside,” I said quietly. No one reacted, so I said it louder: “Go inside, Hans. She understands. I’ll deal with this part.” I didn’t want to. If there was anything I wanted to deal with less than one of my own breakdowns, it was someone else’s. But life is unfair like that, and I was the only one on hand who had anything remotely like an idea of what Shantaya was going through. Or at least, anything like recent experience with it.
Hans took a deep breath. Then he turned stiffly and strode away.
I went to Shantaya and hugged her about as awkwardly as when Fumiko hugged me. “You aren’t a monster,” I told her. It was the best thing anyone had said to comfort me, so I tried to use it to comfort her. “You aren’t. Being a werewolf is a horrible, messed up thing that has happened to you — but it isn’t because of fault or blame. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. You couldn’t have done anything to avoid it. And it doesn’t change who you are, deep down. It doesn’t.”
I had no idea how much of what I was saying was repeating what people had told me, or how much was what I really believed, or how much was just me saying what I hoped was the right thing to say. If Megan had still been here, she would’ve been doing a better job at it than I was — but she wasn’t here, and Shantaya was crying on my shoulder.
“How do you know?” Shantaya forced herself to ask. She pulled away, and her jaw trembled, but she was holding back her sobs. She scrubbed her cheeks with the back of one hand. “You’re a…” She stopped, unable to voice whatever the next word would be.
Monster? Vampire? Murderer? Emotionally Manipulative Psychopath? Undead Mind-Controlling Super Villainess bent on City Domination? Or at least bedroom domination. Or being dominated in the…. stop it, Abby!
I couldn’t figure out how to reply. “I died, like, a week ago,” I said on autopilot while my brain went in circles, trying to figure out how she saw me. I couldn’t bring myself to check her leyline: I knew it would just show me that she was enthralled and thought I was fantastic. Almost blurting out that she thought I was… something… was probably closer to what she really thought of me than I could ever know from spying on her soul. “So I kind of know what it’s like to have the world go upside down and inside out.”
I let my hands fall to my sides and I stepped back. “Magic is real. So are monsters. But monsters were real before, and they were all people, you know. Like: rapists and murderers and people who abused their kids and stuff.”
“Politicians,” Shantaya offered with a half hearted snort. “Racists,” she added more firmly.
“Yeah,” I said. “All that shit. It didn’t take magic for them to be monsters. And being a monster doesn’t stop them from being a person. So… I think that being a literal monster doesn’t stop us from being people, too. And people get to choose if they’re going to be one of the real monsters — one of the metaphorical monsters — because that is determined by what we do, not what we are.”
I stopped, thinking about what I’d said. I’d just been running on autopilot, but now that I was reflecting on it…. Yeah. I’d said that because I actually believed it; not because it was just what would be the ‘right’ thing to say.
“Preaching to the choir,” Shantaya whispered. I glanced at her, uncertain what she meant: she’d said it with feeling, like maybe she’d thought about this sort of thing before. She snifled and rubbed her nose with the back of her arm instead of explaining.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I wasn’t too certain I wanted to know, because my hold on this idea that I wasn’t a real monster even if I was a literal monster was still tenuous. But I couldn’t help myself.
Shantaya looked at me, and for a moment I think she was really looking at me. Looking past the ‘this is a vampire’ and ‘for some inexplicable reason I think the world of her’ bullshit. She scoffed slightly to herself: something between a snort and a laugh.
“Did you grow up around many PoC?” Shantaya finally asked.
I hesitated. “PoC?”
“People of color,” Shantaya said. “And I’ll take that as a ‘no.'”
For some reason, I felt a flash of defensiveness. “I grew up in a small town,” I said. “And I was really introverted.” Also, the extent of the ethnic diversity that I could recall from my highschool was one guy who’d claimed to be quarter Native American, and a girl with some kind of ancestry from the Philippines. I remembered that being a big deal for some reason. She’d been pretty and popular, though, so she’d been way out of my social circle — which had consisted of me — and I hadn’t paid much attention beyond trying my best not to do anything mortifying around her.
Shantaya held up a hand in a ‘stop’ motion. “Woah. Slow down. I haven’t said a thing critical of you or your hometown, now have I? But if you’re gonna get defensive, I’m guessing you know there’s something wrong on some level, so you just think about that. Later. My point, to get back to now, is that I know what it’s like to be treated different for what you are, rather than what you do. I mean, Jacob doesn’t mess up white girl’s names — and that’s just the fucking tip of the racism iceberg. Jeremy lost his job for being a ‘thug’ and he was a volunteer librarian. So when you say we aren’t necessarily what people say we are, just because of something we happen to literally be: I get that.”
I bit down on the inside of my lip, mostly to bite back a response that I was pretty sure would wind up being seriously inappropriate somehow. Partially because: why did I want to argue when she was agreeing with me? And partially because: what did I know about being on the receiving end of racism? I mean: I wanted to say we’d dealt with that back in the civil rights era, because that’s what they said in school. But if that wasn’t the case, how would I be justified in judging it?
I mean, if someone told me that they’d experienced shitty treatment just because the color of their skin, where did I get off claiming they hadn’t just because I had a preconceived notion that racism didn’t exist anymore? I’d accepted what Emma told me about being polyamarous and bisexual, because she was polyamorous and bisexual and I was just figuring that out about myself — I hadn’t even known polyamory was a thing. So shouldn’t I take Shantaya’s word for it, when she described what she and that other kid, Jeremy, had personally experienced? Especially since my skin meant that I’d never go through whatever they had, myself?
And did that explain why was I suddenly feeling uneasy with the fact that there hadn’t been any… any people of color in my school, back at home? Or in my circle of immediate friends, now? There’d been a couple who sat in the back in anime club in college, but I’d been too much of a neurotic wreak to reach out to anyone I didn’t already know.
Holy crap, was I racist?
“Yeah,” I said, unexpectedly shaken. I think I managed to cover it up, though. Maybe I was just sheltered? Anyway: The important thing was that Shantaya seemed to be comforted by the parallel. I could deal with my own crisis of conscience later. Hell, I could literally take a long, hard look at my soul and try to figure that one out.
“You know what pisses me off?” Shantaya asked. I wasn’t sure who had started it, but we were walking now: not quite back toward the house, but not directly away from it either.
I made some kind of inquiry noise, too busy with my introspection to form a proper response.
“It’s such a stupidly minor thing in context,” Shantaya said, “but: Black people being portrayed as ‘animalistic’ is so overdone it’s a trope. And now here I am: A werewolf.” She laughed, but there was a level of unease in it that pulled my attention out of my head.
“What is it?” I asked her.
Shantaya chewed on her lip for a moment without replying. We walked a little further, and then she finally said: “Do you think it hurts? Changing shapes?”
Oh. “Yes,” I said — unwilling to lie about it. Hans had told me that it did. “Hans told me that it did. But he also said that after a while, the pain… it doesn’t fade, but it becomes common. And the experience of having a wolf’s body and senses becomes worth it, when you choose to do it without losing control to the spirit wolf that’s competing with you.”
“Oh,” Shantaya said softly. “I mean… I saw Jacob shift. And it looked… Oh, god: Jeremy. He’s already been through that. And Janiqua is going to. And…” Her eyes started to brim again. “This sucks,” she said quietly.
“Yeah,” I said again. I didn’t know what to add to that.
Shantaya glanced over at me. “But you said that we don’t have to lose control?” She sounded so hopeful. “That guy, Hans, told you that shifting isn’t so bad if the wolf doesn’t take over?”
I nodded. “Not on the full moon. You won’t win that contest, ever. There’s too much tradition of magic behind it. But the rest of the time… Yeah.” And if the wolf chooses to give you control, I thought but didn’t add. I wasn’t sure if a wolf would do that for me again, and I didn’t want to get Shantaya’s hopes up. But it did make me wonder why more werewolves didn’t partner with vampires in order to have their wolves enthralled and kept under control.
I was going to have to ask more questions about the Council of Thirteen, wasn’t I?
“Okay,” Shantaya said. “I… I’m going to go talk to him. I mean: I’m still mad. But we need to know… and it was an accident. Curtis explained that. Even if knowing that doesn’t help.” She hesitated, then added: “Do you want to come in?”
I stopped, and so did Shantaya. I shook my head. “Not quite yet,” I said. “I think I’ll wait for Ben and Fumiko and the rest to get here.” I had a lot to think about, and that was something I always did best alone. “You go in, though.”
It probably showed just how seriously Shantaya did take her new condition, and how desperately she was looking for a silver lining to being a werewolf, but she didn’t argue that she needed to stay with me. “Okay,” she said. “Just: be careful. And if anything happens, shout and I’ll hear you.”
I nodded. “I will,” I promised.
I waited and watched Shantaya dash back to the house before doing anything else. Then I looked around, and finally I found an unobtrusive spot where two of the apartment buildings merged together, making a little nook in their shared yard. I went there and sank down on my heels, sitting in the concealment of the building’s sides and the scraggly bushes planted along the front of them.
Okay, yes: I was now one of those creepers who snuck around in bushes outside of houses at night. At least these houses weren’t occupied. That made a difference, right? Right?
I squeezed my eyes shut and shoved that worry aside for later. I breathed in, and then I breathed out. I had a lot of thinking to do, and a lot of soul searching, too. I stopped breathing. Then I stopped my heart beating. Then I stopped hearing, or seeing, or feeling, or anythinging as I quelled every living aspect of my body and reached out — forcing my soul to let go of it’s connection to my body; striving for dormancy.
Because, I reminded myself as my awareness blossomed into a sphere around my corpse, I can see my soul a whole lot better while dormant.