While Ben was starting up the van I approached one of the apartment complex’s dark buildings. The wolves seemed content to follow me, with Shantaya and her sister’s wolf flanking me on either side and Hans’ and Jockboy’s wolves lingering a bit behind us. However, despite their good behaviour, I was still anxious to get them inside before some early morning jogger happened by and triggered their pursuit of prey instincts.
Or maybe I was just anxious in general because I could feel the impending sunrise’s approach. How long did Ben have before he needed to be under shelter? An hour? If that? He’d had a rough night — we all had, but trying to restrain Elaine back in the woods must have been draining. If Ben was caught in the sunlight, how long would it be before he went psycho? Or fell dormant? Or burst into flames?!
I didn’t get a chance to call Ben back and tell him to just stay here, though — in the time it took for me to reach the door of an apartment (and for my anxiety to reach the point of mild panic) I could already hear the van fading into the distance outside the complex.
I wasn’t the only one who was anxious over Ben’s absence, though. One of the wolves abruptly gave a long, mournful howl. I almost jumped out of my skin, spinning around to see which it was: Jockboy’s wolf, of course.
When Jockboy’s cry was done there was a moment’s stillness, as though each of the wolves was waiting for a reply. When there wasn’t one, Jockboy’s wolf gave a whine and started to back away from me and the two wolves by my side.
I held out a hand placatingly. “Hey,” I said as soothingly as I could. “It’s okay. C’mere. We’re going to go inside and wait for Ben to come back.” While I spoke, though, Shantaya’s wolf started slinking to the left. Her sister’s wolf padded to the right.
Alarm bells started going off in the back of my head, and these ones I knew had nothing to do with pre-sunrise jitters. Jockboy’s wolf hunkered down while scrabbling backward, keeping his throat low and the two wolves that were now circling him in eyesight. He growled a warning, and their growls answered his.
What the… oh, fuck! I’d fed on Hans, Shantaya, and her sister while they had been in their human forms, so their wolves had wound up enthralled to me. But I’d bitten Jockboy’s wolf which was why his human self was infatuated with me. The wolf in front of me, however, wasn’t. Actually, hadn’t Jockboy’s wolf tried to get away from us when we were in the back of the van? I remembered him scratching at the door in the partition between the cargo area and the cab. And hearing Ben open it briefly while driving.
Had Jockboy’s wolf only been being behaved during the drive because Ben had been there? I had already suspected that the wolves had only followed Ben and acted with restraint because of Benny’s influence — had some lingering effect of that been what let them leave Jockboy alone in the back of the van? Or was it just that while Ben had been there Jockboy’s ‘pack’ had been too strong to risk tangling with?
Or maybe it was that we’d come to the apartment complex — Hans’ pack’s territory. Shantaya, her sister, and Hans were all connected through me. That might’ve been enough to keep them from each other’s throats. But Jockboy wasn’t, and Hans would have to be seeing him as an interloper on his territory, now. Wouldn’t he?
I didn’t get a chance to follow that line of speculation, because that was when Shantaya’s wolf darted forward, snapping at Jockboy’s. He lunged toward her with a sharp bark, teeth flashing as she skittered away. Her sister streaked forward then, and Jockboy’s wolf spun toward her: stance wide, teeth bared; a low growl in his throat. She backpedaled before his jaws could close on her and started to circle again. Shantaya followed suit on Jockboy’s other side.
“No!” I yelled at them. “Oh no. Don’t you…! Stop it!” They weren’t listening. I wasn’t surprised: I could remember the overwhelming urges I’d tasted from Hans’ wolf. Hunt, kill, eat. And the territoriality, and….
Jockboy’s wolf snarled in my direction, then backed up further when Shantaya and her sister feinted at him again. He snapped his jaws at them, warning them back — but I think that it was snarling at me that set Hans’ wolf off.
One second Jockboy’s wolf was fending off the two girls, and the next Hans’ wolf had eclipsed Jockboy’s. Hans’ wolf snarled at both of the others, and they yelped and dashed back toward me — but Hans’ wolf wasn’t interested in stopping them from attacking Jockboy’s so much as he was claiming that pleasure for himself.
Jockboy’s wolf lunged at Hans’ back at the same time as Hans’ wolf spun. Jockboy’s rush was smashed aside by a swipe of Hans’ paw and then Hans’ wolf was on top of him. I cried out at the violence of it and dashed forward to try and stop him, but Hans’ jaws had already clamped down on the throat of Jockboy’s wolf. His front paws held the smaller werepup down.
I heard the crack of bone as Hans’ wolf shook his head violently and Jockboy’s vertebrae snapped — followed by the shredding of flesh as Hans’ wolf tore his teeth away from the other wolf’s neck without first opening his jaws.
The body of Jockboy’s wolf collapsed when it was released. One of its paws twitched, and it’s mouth opened in a wheeze that might have been meant to be a whimper.
I ran forward. I knew I could bite him. The shared regeneration would heal him, and I could keep the other wolves from attacking him. Shantaya and her sister’s wolves followed my lead and ran beside me.
Then Jockboy’s neck spasmed. His wolf was suddenly moving — desperately scrambling to get its legs back under itself. And Hans’ wolf was back on him in an instant.
The sudeness and unexpectedness of the violence made me shriek and step back, halting me mid-rescue. Jockboy’s spine broke again, and this time Hans’ wolf kept shaking him until he wasn’t moving at all. Only then satisfied did Hans’ wolf throw his prey’s corpse down.
Shantaya and her sister didn’t retreat when I did. They ran up to Jockboy’s limp form, growling and snapping as they did. He didn’t move, and Shantaya’s sister’s wolf stopped snarling long enough to sniff at him. Then he spasmed again, his bones resetting themselves, and the sister’s wolf barked and scrambled backward in surprise.
Shantaya’s wolf lunged forward, though. Her jaws closed on Jockboy’s neck in a fair approximation of Hans’ feat, but she was smaller than either of their wolves. Despite trying to shake and claw and rend Jockboy’s throat, his wolf managed to stand and tear away from her grip.
Hans’ wolf crushed him to the pavement again.
This time, however, Hans’ wolf didn’t sink his teeth into the werepup. Instead, he held the smaller wolf down and growled, low and menacing. His teeth were bared as though he wanted to kill Jockboy again, but his legs shook from a tension that seemed unnatural.
“Don’t do it,” I whispered. “Oh god, don’t do it.” I knew Hans’ wolf wanted to rend flesh. I knew there was no way I’d be able to make myself get between them if they kept at it. I didn’t know why Hans’ wolf was hesitating.
Neither, apparently, did the other werepups. Jockboy’s wolf kept his head down and his body flat against the pavement. He whimpered pathetically, and the only movement coming from him was his sides expanding and collapsing from hyperactive breathing. Shantaya’s wolf ventured closer, but stopped growling — perhaps afraid of Hans’ wolf mistaking a growl as hostility toward him? Her sister’s wolf followed her, but she was almost prancing forward rather than moving like a predator stalking prey.
Hans’ growls faded to a low rumble as Shantaya’s wolf drew near. Hans’ wolf let her sniff at the trembling Jockboy, and even snap at him once. Then Hans’ wolf, still standing over the werepup he’d ravaged into submission, threw his head back and howled. A moment later, Shantaya’s howl joined him.
The cries sent a shiver down my spine. Jockboy’s wolf whimpered, and Shantaya’s sister’s wolf trotted back over to my side. I swallowed.
When he was done, Hans’ wolf calmly walked away from the prone werepup. Shantaya’s wolf followed behind him. They came up to me, with Hans’ wolf stopping in front of me and Shantaya’s going back to my other side. Hans’ wolf yawned at me. His tongue washed over his nose, removing some of the blood from his muzzle. Then he turned his head and growled softly at Jockboy’s wolf, who gave a whine and scrambled over to my side, belly to the ground and head hunched down meekly. Hans’ wolf turned back to me. His mouth opened in another yawn that exposed far, far too many teeth. This time it remained open as he panted happily.
I walked backward until I ran into the apartment door. Then I fumbled for its handle and casually forced the lock. I kind of wanted to run like my instincts were screaming at me to, but didn’t dare. I checked my leylines to each of the wolves. They saw me as part of their pack. Jockboy, too, now. He was on the lowest rung of the pack hierarchy.
I swallowed again and hoped they never decided they needed to see where I stood in their pecking order. “In,” I told them as calmy as I could pretend to. Shantaya’s wolf and her sister’s wolf didn’t hesitate to nose the door open and start exploring the new place. Jockboy’s wolf scrambled forward in their wake. And Hans’ wolf tilted his head. Ladies first.
I froze. I’d only heard the words because I’d been looking through our leylines. The thought felt like a twisted amalgamation of Hans and his wolf. The wolf that was watching me expectantly. How much has my feeding on him shredded the boundaries between them? Was… was that what had stopped him from continuing to kill Jockboy’s wolf over and over and over again?
Not wanting to upset the animal in front of me, I turned and walked into the apartment. Hans’ wolf followed after me.
For a second I took in the apartment. It had the same layout as Cassie’s, except the layout of the rooms seemed flipped. There was still a loft, a hallway, and a kitchen — the kitchen and loft were just on the opposite sides of the living room from Cassie’s.
Hans’ wolf didn’t bother with looking around. He howled once, and Shantaya’s wolf answered from the kitchen — then came bolting into the living room as though summoned. Hans wolf herded the werepups with nudges and growls into the hallway. This time I followed. Midway down the hall, Hans’ wolf stopped. He turned and looked at me expectantly.
My brain was spinning. Mostly in variations of: Too much. I’ve fed from him too much. It was pretty obvious what the wolf expected of me. There were two doors in the middle of the hallway. One which was open, leading to a bathroom. The other, which was closed. I opened it, revealing a closet with a trap door set in the floor. Then I opened the trap door, revealing a dark, dungeon-like basement.
Hans’ wolf barked and jerked his head toward the opening. Shantaya’s sister’s wolf jumped through without hesitation, but Shantaya’s wolf paused at the edge to sniff. Hans’ wolf slid up beside her and then nudged her hard enough that she fell with a yelp. Then he turned, grabbed jockboy’s wolf by the scruff of his neck, and physically threw him into the basement.
I watched it all happen with wide eyes.
Hans’ wolf then looked over the edge into the basement. He growled, the hair along his spine raising slightly. He turned, teeth still bared, and caught my gaze.
I hate the den, the thought flashed across the opening of his leyline. For it is not a den, but a prison as vile as the waning moon. Then he turned and, with visible reluctance, leapt into the darkness below.