I feel a hand on my shoulder and whip around. It’s Simon, with his hands protectively over his face, “Whoa there, Chloe, no need to take my eye out.” His tone is light and joking, but only an idiot would miss the panic in his eyes. I look behind him to see Tori backing towards us, hands sparking with energy and held up in front of her, a spell on the tip of her tongue. She bumped into Simon, causing him to step forward, his expression turning into one of pain. I wonder if he was injured. Maybe a bullet grazed his leg. We’d have to clean that up when we go back to the house.
I wonder how things could have gone so badly in such a short time. We were finding our way back to the safe house after grabbing supplies from the nearest town. Simon was driving with Tori in the front seat while Derek had his arm slung around me in the backseat. We were still in the town, maybe half an hour away from the house, when Simon suddenly sped up. Derek immediately tensed beside me. He shot Simon a look through the rearview mirror.
“We’re being followed,” was all Simon said. Tori frowned. We were still in the town, though near the edge of it; it was possible that the other car wasn’t following us. “Are you sure?” she asked, looking into the side mirror. I turned in my seat and peeked over Derek’s shoulder to see a black SUV, its lights off. Typical kidnapping vehicle.
Simon glanced in the rearview mirror a few more times before nodding, “It’s been following us since we left the shop.” Derek’s arm tightened around me, and I rubbed his other hand, trying to ease his tension. If he Changed inside the car, it wouldn’t be pretty.
He frowned for a second before giving directions to Simon, “Turn off the lights and get out of town. Gun it for five minutes, then we’ll ditch the car in the forest. Go as fast as you can without getting us killed.” Simon’s only response was to turn off the lights, and speeding up.
I wondered who it was. Maybe the Edison Group had come back for us. Maybe it would be the Cabal. Maybe it was some other group that wanted to do twisted experiments on us. I grimaced at the thought of that happening. Whoever it was, we weren’t keen on exchanging pleasantries.
The moment Simon drove off the road and stopped, we all jumped out of it and headed back in the direction of the safe house. “Split up and meet back at the clearing in twenty minutes. Whistle if you need help,” Derek said quietly. There was no time to argue; we all split up in different directions. The clearing Derek spoke of was one that we always went to, when we wanted some fresh air away from the house and the adults. As I ran off, I sincerely hoped it wasn’t the last time I would see any of them.
“We have to leave,” Tori muttered, her expression grim. I looked at her. Twenty minutes had definitely passed, but Derek wasn’t here yet. “Derek’s not back yet,” I said, like it wasn’t completely obvious. Simon and Tori exchanged looks. I frowned. “You guys aren’t seriously thinking of ditching him, are you? He could get himself killed! He could get captured!” My voice was rising slowly, and Simon clapped a hand over my mouth to shut me up.
He took his hand away when I signalled with a roll of my eyes that I wasn’t about to scream. “I’m not leaving without him,” I hiss the moment I get my voice back. There’s a pained look in Simon’s eyes and I assume the worst. “They didn’t already-“
He cuts me off before I can say another word, “No, he’s not dead,” a muscle in his jaw clenches, “Far from it, actually,” he mutters under his breath, and I barely catch it.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I glare at the two of them. Simon’s pained look isn’t gone yet, and Tori looks nervous and skittish, frightened even. Nobody says a word for a moment. “Oh for God’s sake, would someone please just tell me-“
“Derek’s not himself,” Simon says lowly. Before I can snap at him to elaborate, he continues, “I bumped into him a few minutes after we split up, and then we found Tori maybe ten minutes later. They must’ve been trying to chase us into each other and somehow missed you, because we were surrounded. Derek, he got shot. It looked like a tranquilizer, but must’ve been something different, because he started to Change right there on the spot.”
I frown but don’t say anything. So what if he Changes? That just means he should’ve been here earlier.
“He started Changing there, but he didn’t turn into a wolf, not really.”
My eyebrows pull together, “What do you mean he didn’t turn into a wolf? What else would he have turned into?” My voice is sarcastic, probably to mask the panic that I felt without Derek near me.
“Chloe, I don’t know what was in that vial they shot into him, but it made him Change into something in between human and wolf. He could stand on two feet, and his form looks human, but… I don’t know. It didn’t look pleasant, and he sort of lost it.”
My heart dropped like a stone.
“He didn’t recognize me or Tori at all. He had these claws, and started swiping at everything he could reached. Nicked me pretty badly on my leg, too.” Simon grimaced.
I realized that he had been putting all his weight on his left leg, and remembered his expression when Tori made him step forward. I bent down to take a look at it and gulped. It was deep enough that I could see the bone. “Th-That’s not a nick,” I look at Tori and Simon.
Tori purses her trembling lips, “You think I don’t know that?” she answers sarcastically, but there’s no venom there, only concern and panic. I know how she feels. I’m starting to panic, too.
Simon clenches his teeth, “We need to get out of here, and get back to the safe house as soon as possible. Derek’s not going to be occupied with those guys forever.” I don’t ask what he means by “occupied”.
I take another look at Simon’s leg and force the bile back down my throat. “Tori, get Simon back to the house. I’m not leaving Derek out here alone. He could Change back, and then he’d be in trouble.”
Simon gave me an exasperated look, “Derek can take-“
I cut him off, “I know Derek can take care of himself, but I’m not about to let someone else find him when he’s exhausted after his Change.”
Tori gives me a look, and I don’t know what expression is stronger on her face, anger, pity, or worry. I must look crazy or utterly determined though, because Simon only groans in pain, and Tori takes his arm to help him away. “Be safe, Chloe,” she says, turning her head around to look me directly in the eyes. I see the dominating emotion now; it’s worry.
I wait until they’re safely out of the clearing before turning on my heel and sprinting back in the direction I came from. Not ten seconds after I start running, I hear a throaty howl and stop in my tracks. Something between a human and a wolf, Simon had said.I swallow with difficulty. I’m not sure I’m going to like what I find.
A feral snarl to my right erupts. It sounds dangerously close. I slowly turn to see green eyes glinting out of the darkness. While Derek was just over 6 feet tall, what stood there was almost a foot taller. He had recently started getting comfortable with his body, so tonight he had been wearing a black t-shirt that wasn’t baggy. Had been. It looks like he had more or less exploded out of his shirt, and the ends of his jeans are now frayed and covered with dirt.
His feet are a wolf’s but as my eyes travel upwards, the figure is of a human, if you don’t count the black fur that covers his skin. It makes him look bigger than he is, or maybe he is that big. True to Simon’s word, there are claws at the ends of his fingers, and they, along with his fangs, look deadly. His face is like a wolf. His muzzle is caked with blood, and so is the front of his chest. I flash back to the night when he first completed his Change. I had asked him if he had the urge to kill or eat humans. He had huffed at me and rolled his eyes. I wonder now, how much of a lie that was, if it was at all.
I force my eyes up to his, and as he glares at me, I realize that Simon was right. There is no recognition in those emerald eyes that glitter in the darkness, only rage. I wonder vaguely if I will die tonight, and if it will be in the hands of this creature, this creature that was brought out by those men who shot at him.
He takes a step forward, and I feel the ground tremble slightly. It’s then that I realize that I, too, am trembling. For the first time, as I stare at those green eyes, I’m afraid of Derek. With every breath he takes, another menacing growl is forced from his throat. He takes another threatening step towards me and I stumble backwards, almost tripping over my own feet.
My heart is pounding, and I’m certain he can hear it. I’m sure he can smell my fear; even I can almost smell it. I can’t recall anything I’ve ever read about wolves now. I don’t know whether or not to look at his eyes and try to assert myself. I don’t think I could even if I tried.
Derek snarls, showing his teeth and fangs that have been coated in blood. Even as I watch, blood drips from of his mouth. It’s more than enough to send me sprinting away. I fly past trees and let branches whip my body as I crash into them. I don’t hear anything from behind me, and that feeds my panic.
I used to think it was scary, how quietly he moved, like a predator. Thinking back, I didn’t know what scary was. I forget to focus on my surroundings, and trip over something. I smash headfirst into the ground and have to muffle a scream when I look at where I’m sitting up from.
It looks like something out of a horror movie. Bodies lie limp on the ground, and blood is everywhere. A few heads lie some feet away from their bodies, and many bodies are torn to shreds. Body parts and innards litter the forest floor, and I feel sick. There is so much death here, but nothing moves in my presence. I don’t think I can even animate anything here. It’s a massacre.
I scramble to my feet, desperate to get away from this place when something barrels into me, knocking me sideways. I crash against the trunk of a tree. I roll over, away from the tree, feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck as I blink spots out of my vision. Then I remember what I was running from. Derek is on all fours, a mixture of saliva and blood running down his fangs, and hot breath misting in the cold night air.
Then he throws his head back and howls, as though he’s just caught his prize. When his head drops back down to look at me, I scramble away from him. Or I try to.
He catches me ankle in an iron grip and leaps on top of me, pinning me to the ground. There’s a sharp rock underneath my back, and I wonder if I will die like this. I try to push him off of me, to no avail. It’s like pushing a brick wall. He doesn’t give, not even an inch. His tongue runs out to lick over his fangs, and I whimper.
“Derek, please stop this,” I whisper. It’s worth a shot, pleading for my life. He doesn’t respond, and just lowers his head. His fangs are inches from my throat. “Please, Derek, I know you’re in there. Look at me.” There’s no indication that he even heard me. Inches are becoming centimeters, and I get the feeling that he’s taking his time with me, like he’s got all the time in the world, like he’s trying to see how much I can struggle for my life. It feels like he’s taunting me. This makes my anger flare.
“DEREK!” I scream into his pointed ear, “YOU ASSHOLE!” He jerks back, then snarls menacingly at me, snapping his jaws together, flecking my face with blood and saliva. I don’t dare to try and touch him.
“Derek please, you know me,” I say softly, trying to keep my voice calm. My eyes bore into his green ones, and I try desperately to find a piece of him, a shred, that recognizes me. “Derek, it’s me. It’s Chloe.” This time, I find enough courage inside myself to lay a hand gently on his forearm.
He freezes at my touch, and looks confused for a few seconds, a wary snarl ripping from his chest, his fangs and teeth bared.
Tears form in my eyes as I feel his soft fur, caked in blood. It feels like Derek in his wolf form, and I stare into his eyes, trying to find that human part of him.
Slowly, his upper lip relaxes and his fangs aren’t bared anymore. His eyes aren’t filled with rage anymore, and while they still don’t seem to recognize me, Derek stops snarling so much. His snarls die down to a continuous growl that may even be mistaken as a purr. I don’t move my hand, don’t even dare to move my fingers for fear that it will break the spell. He cocks his head at me, and I don’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
He’s still so close that I can smell the blood in his breath, but I can also see my reflection in his eyes. “Derek,” I speak so softly that I can’t even hear myself, but it reaches his ears. A whine bubbles up deep in his throat, and it’s like a dam bursts inside him.
Derek pushes himself off, and lands on all fours a few feet away from me, snarling furiously. As I watch, his fur shrinks back into his body, and I hear the sound of bones rearranging themselves. Whimpers are suddenly silenced, and I slowly get up from my position on the ground. I go over to him, and rub his back.
“It’s okay, Derek. You’re going to be okay,” I murmur. Please don’t turn away from me, please don’t isolate yourself because of this. With a final crack, his human body collapses onto the bloody ground, shaking uncontrollably. My own hands are trembling, but I’m not sure whether it’s from the cold, or from recent events.
His whole body is tense, but he can’t seem to stop himself from shaking. I rub his back facing me, gleaming with sweat and blood, and slowly, his shaking dies down. He pushes himself up onto his hands and knees and turns to face me.
There’s a haunted look in his eyes that I know I will never forget, and with it, absolute panic. He doesn’t say a word until he’s searched me thoroughly for cuts, and is satisfied that my scrapes and cuts have only come into contact with dirt, grime, and other people’s blood. I don’t think he bled anyways.
“I almost killed you,” he says, unable to look into my eyes, only at my hands. I close my eyes and take a slow breath before releasing it. “I’m still here, aren’t I? That wasn’t you. You had no idea what you were doing.”
Derek shook his head, “I knew. That was my wolf. The stuff they shot me with made my wolf, sort of feral, and it completely took over.” I stay silent, not know what to do or say.
“Usually when I Change, I’m still in complete control of my body, and my wolf’s presence gets stronger. I feel its urges sometimes. But this time, it was like I was locked up inside my own mind. I saw everything that happened, everything I did, but I just couldn’t stop. I couldn’t do anything about it.”
I take his hand in two of mine, “Your wolf knew me; it recognized me,” I whisper. Derek dips his head once in a nod, “He does. He’s locked up in here,” Derek taps his head with a finger, “He just couldn’t recognize you until you yelled.”
I run the pad of my thumb across the back of his hand, offering comfort even though I couldn’t find the right words to say. “Thank God the stuff wore off when it did. I’m not sure what would’ve happened if it didn’t.”
I can’t say anything. My voice doesn’t seem to be there. I push back my terror at almost losing him, my terror of almost being killed by him, and even the bile that washes up my throat at the smell of another’s death on him. Instead, I throw my arms around his neck and sob. I cling to him, refusing to let go, and press a hard kiss against his neck, stained by dried blood.
Derek freezes for a long moment. I don’t release my hands from around his neck, just keep sobbing into the space between his neck and shoulder. Hesitantly, he brings his arms up to circle my waist and presses me close to him. We stay like that for minutes on end, and as time goes by, his grip around me tightens so that I am crushed to him, like he never wants to let go. I don’t mind. I just need to feel that he’s real, that he’s there.
Eventually, his arms loosen and my death grip around his neck unravels. I’ve ended up sitting on his lap, and he doesn’t do anything to move me. It’s as though he’s wary of touching me, afraid of how I might react. So I tentatively lean against him, my ear pressed against his chest, listening to his slow and steady heartbeat.
I’ve stopped sobbing and the tears have stopped flowing. Derek reaches around carefully to wipe the tear stains away from my face with a finger. It smears my cheek with blood, as his front and hands are completely covered with blood, as is the area around his mouth. He grimaces, and I stop him by holding his hand there with both of mine and resting my face against it.
“I’m just glad you’re okay,” I say finally, “Of course, I wish you hadn’t done what you did, but you had no choice. It’s not like you can fight a Change like that, especially not after they shot at you with that.” He seems unconvinced, a muscle clenching at his jaw. I move my hands from his own to hold his head, “You didn’t have a choice, and I know that. As much as it was scary for me, it must’ve been terrifying for you. Don’t guilt yourself and blame yourself for what happened.”
Derek grunts once. Maybe. I frown at him and force him to look into my eyes. I see the uncertainty and disgust at himself swirling in his eyes. “I love you Derek, so if you guilt yourself, then you’ll hurt me in the process. It doesn’t feel good watching you hate yourself.” I pause for a moment before settling back into his lap, “I do love you, wolf and man.” I kiss the place right above his heart and lean back against him.
He doesn’t say anything for a long moment, but then sighs and wraps his arms around me, “I will never understand what you see in me, Chloe.” It’s all he says, but it’s said with his normal amount of self-disdain. I figure that I can live with that, so I shrug and close my eyes.
“We should get back,” Derek rumbles, and I nod before getting up. “I need to apologize to Simon and Tori, especially Simon,” I catch his hand, “He doesn’t blame you, Derek. Neither do I. Tori knows you only do what is necessary to protect us. Nobody blames you, so you shouldn’t either.” He mumbles one of his signatures conceding comments before leading me to the left. I follow him immediately and without a doubt. I trust him more than I trust myself. We away in silently from the carnage and back towards the place we call our tentative home.
I lose track of time, and when he steps into the house, Kit and Aunt Lauren fuss over him immediately, demanding that he clean himself up so they can patch him up, too. He shrugs them off with a muttered, “I’m fine,” before going to find Tori and Simon. The adults come up to me next and are relieved to find that I’m without serious injuries. I’ll definitely have killer bruises tomorrow, but nothing too bad. I stand in the doorway of the living room, where Derek is crouched over Simon, with Tori looking exhausted but grateful to have Derek back. The adults standing in the corner, no doubt plotting to get me and Derek cleaned up before we get grime and blood all over the rest of the house.
I look back to Derek and Simon, and see a playful grin on Simon’s face as he jokes quietly with Derek, who rolls his eyes every so often. The house is filled with relief, and though Derek and I are both caked in several layers of blood and dirt, I feel happy and grateful. I’m grateful to have this family, and I’m even more grateful that Derek does, too.
Everyone else in the house has learned to see past his condition. They don’t see him as Derek the werewolf. Instead, they see him as a part of their family, and someone who would never try to hurt them. It’s obvious in their actions and the way they regard him, a sharp contrast between the way Tori and Aunt Lauren first saw him. While Derek doesn’t see the good in himself, everyone else in the house has, and it’s only a matter of time before he learns to see it too. And when that happens… I just smile.
We’re a long way off from being a normal family, with three sorcerers, a werewolf, a necromancer, and Aunt Lauren. But we’re closer to a family than I had ever hoped, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.