In Which Morning Returns
Vic’s stomach was turning in fear, something she hadn’t felt in relation to the Change in a long, long time. In fact, she didn’t remember feeling this way since the last time she was in Nashville, as a scared thirteen-year-old, rejected by everyone around her.
What had happened in the past few days was simply too much for her heart to handle. First her father, then Riley...it was overwhelming. Her entire life, her entire past, was rushing back to haunt her, and with it, emotions she hadn’t felt for eight years: anger at her father. Fear for herself. Love for the boy who’d turned her.
These were the things, the dark clouds, that rolled in her mind as she walked through the city. She had woken again before the sun, unsure of her exact location but knowing she was closer to the center than she wanted to be. Her wolf’s mind was driven by pure instinct, reckless instinct, and so it pulled her like a homing device towards the only place it knew -- even if that was a place of fear. Fear it she did, and once her senses were collected, she ran. She ran into the city, not caring how she looked or who saw her, as long as she was getting further and further from that place.
Sufficiently far away, Vic was wandering, all but lost, for hours until she finally found her way back. A familiar figure was the first to greet her. “Riley!”
He ran to her, embracing her. “Morning, Vic. Everything okay?”
She nodded yes, though she really didn’t feel okay at all.
“Are you sure? You look really shaken.”
“I shouldn’t have come back, Riley. It’s too dangerous for me here.”
“Dangerous? What do you mean, dangerous?”
“It’s my father,” Vic confessed. “I just don’t think I feel safe with him here.”
“Even if I’m here, too?”
She did feel safer with him, that much was certain. “I’m glad you’re here, Riley. I’m very glad.”
Jason didn’t run when he woke. He simply lay on the ground, not wanting to move. He knew exactly where he was, too: the forest behind his old neighborhood. Just yards away, he knew, was the ruined tennis court where he’d been bitten.
He pulled himself to his feet, replaced his clothes, and wandered, not sure why he was doing it, down the path. It took him through a winding set of trees, and there it was. The field looked just as damaged as he remembered it, if not more: massive cracks, chipped paint, and a single sad, sagging net in the center.
Jason wandered over to the far side, where he found just what he was looking for: a set of familiar marks, claw marks in the turf, made by him the night of his first Change.
“Home,” he mumbled. No, it wasn’t where he lived any longer. He wouldn’t truly call it a home. But there was something that kept drawing him back to this one spot -- the place of his rebirth, as he called it.
He took one last look around, and headed off into the neighborhood. Looks like I’ll be at band practice early today....
After the Fall had another performance that afternoon. Jason and I invited anyone who wished to come to the show, watch them play. A few accepted: Lana, Clark, and others I didn’t know. Dark himself said he might come, though he intended to go with his wife. I found, through conversation with them, that they and Adam were part of a special inner circle of sorts. There were six of them of various ages, all Adam Dark’s wards. There used to be seven, Lana said. “We...we lost one of ours.”
I nodded. “I understand completely.”
Despite their exclusivity, the six seemed happy to have me tagging along with them (or, really, to tag along with me). We walked together to the Rose, where the band had managed to land another gig, and sat down, scattered at odd intervals across the restaurant. Holly slipped in beside me, grinning crazily. “Hi.”
“Uh, hi. What’s with the shark face?”
She opened a hand, revealing a crumpled paper. “I finally got Francis’s number,” she told me, glowing pink and smiling. “I’m going to ask her to go out with me on Friday.”
“I know, right? It’s exciting!” I hid the smile that came over my face. I’d never seen Holly quite this infatuated with anyone before, and as I didn’t really know Francis Byrd, I couldn’t say, but they seemed to be a good fit for each other.
As the music started up, I began to feel a lot better. It felt almost as if we were normal, safe, seated together as friends. Jason was playing his heart out onstage, Holly was completely over the moon, Vic and Riley were seated together in the back, smiling at each other, as were Dark and Samantha. It was nice; everyone seemed to be in love, one way or another, with somebody else or with their “thing.”
But of course, as these things happen, that was when everything went wrong.
I clapped as the band finished their song, and out of genuine enjoyment rather than politeness. It wasn’t just that Jason was my friend; he had some serious talent. Lana gave me a thumbs-up from across the room, agreeing with my assessment. Then, her face fell into a distressed look. What’s wrong? I mouthed. In reply, she nodded toward the door.
I had been paying attention to the random nonsense Francis was yelling into the mic between songs -- not anymore. The noise faded into babble as they went into their next cover performance. “Rock and Roll High School,” I think, but I wasn’t really listening. The sight that had caught Lana’s attention caught mine as well. I recognized the agent who was standing at the front of the building, speaking in a low voice to the cashier: I’d seen her at the containment center. She pulled something from her pocket, a badge. Well, I thought to myself, that’s not something we’re used to seeing. It was a thing of the new age we were entering, that a hunter could simply hand over their badge to a civilian to show what they were.
It was more than effective, though. The cashier paled, nodded, pointed to the back area where we were all seated. The agent walked, purpose in her step, in that direction. I tensed, reaching for my belt, then remembered I didn’t have a weapon. Because of course you don’t, I chided myself. You’re in a diner, Hailee. In public. Act like it. Nevertheless, weapon or no weapon, I was ready to take things outside if I had to. Besides, if it comes to that, I’ve got all the weapons I need already on me.
Imagine my shock, then, when the woman simply walked on by me. I couldn’t help turning to watch her as she went instead to the restaurant’s far back. I stood. Vic gave me a look, one I recognized as her What are you doing? look. “Didn’t you see her?”
“Her, the woman that just walked in! She’s from the Defenders center.”
“She is? Can you be sure?”
“I can’t be one hundred-percent sure, no, but I’m close to it.”
She shrugged. “What are you going to do about it? It’s not like you can ask her, or... Well, you could fight her, and knowing you I wouldn’t be surprised, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Low profile, remember?”
“I’ll think of something.”
Vic settled back into her seat, oddly unconcerned by the whole situation. “That’s your call, Alpha. All I can tell you is I wouldn’t touch it.”
I continued to watch Agent Bhuvani, unsure of my next move, or hers. Her mouth moved slightly, probably talking under her breath. Dark looked over -- was she talking to him? Why would she be talking to him? Oh, Lord. What did he do? Who did he kill? She had better watch out, I thought. Half the Rose was filled with Dark’s packmates, even some of his wards, and they’d serve out hell if their Alpha was threatened. I’d taken quite a shine to him myself.
Dark pulled out his phone, stood, gave his wife an apologetic look, and followed Agent Bhuvani out of the Rose.
My first instinct was to follow them. But I myself wait. Going out now would look too suspicious. Samantha was still at the table, and I couldn’t help noticing her. She was quite pretty, as Lana had said, with bouncy brown curls and wearing bright pink lipstick. She was also a tiny lady, probably about five one, and very pregnant.
A terrible thought occurred to me. Adam had a family. He would soon have a son or daughter, an heir to his position, and that could be a dangerous thing. Was it possible he had some kind of deal to protect them?
Was it possible he was...?
He couldn’t be.