“If you don’t let me through and something happens to my brother Alik so help me I will feed your balls to Aleandra myself.”
The russian eyed me wearily, taking in my perfectly coiffed curls with some amusement. Alik knew me well enough that my current outer appearance was probably more than a little entertaining. He refrained from commenting, but didn’t budge from in front of the heavy oak door that I knew led to Aleandra’s office. He held his ground, shifting his gaze to stare straight ahead of me, well above my actual head. The only common trait the twins shared was their wide blue-green eyes that seemed to penetrate straight through your heart when their gaze was directed your way, which I normally prefer not to do, especially with Alik. Whenever he directed his steely gaze at me I felt my heart stutter a bit underneath my rib cage. Something else he found amusing and if it weren’t for the fact his sister, Aleandra, wasn’t over me he might have done something about it.
“Aleandra is not here.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
He looked around, his gaze shifting slightly to me and back ahead.
“Please Alik, this is all my fault. He wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me. Whatever has happened, I need to help him.” I laid my hand on the hulking man’s chest.
Alik stiffened at the warmth of me which was a far cry better than when he used to jerk back whenever I so much as brushed up near him. He held his breath in his chest and released it just as slowly as he looked at me.
“Pupsik…” He whispered, his eyes met mine, softening the way they only ever did for me and I flinched. He only ever used terms of endearment when things were really, really bad.
Before he could say anything else though the door behind him shuddered in the wall and I felt it. The short crackle of electricity that ran along the edge of the door: searching. The same energy that had reached out to me as my brother’s blood had spilled to the ground in a panic. My nostrils flared as my heart sped up and I pushed myself away from Alik’s tall frame. His shaved head gleamed under the harsh lighting as it hung heavy and I could feel the weight of his resolve trickle into nothing.
“Are you going to move or am I going to move you, Alik?”
Suddenly the door behind him swung open revealing a very frazzled but quite frankly relieved looking Feliks. His lanky body was shaking just as much as his voice had been when I had called him. Alik let me push his hard body to the side without a word as I threw myself into the room frantically searching for Muhammad. I found him lying on the small couch all legs and limbs sprawled across the cherry red leather.
My heart did a nervous flutter at his sallow pallor. It was such a stark contrast to his usual bright olive toned complexion that I sucked in a breath. Trying to restrain myself from going into full out panic mode, I gingerly sat on the edge of the coach leaning over to examine him without touching him and gasped. Ripped straight through his shirt and flesh were 4 long gashes across his neck and chest. Long, deep rivers of muscle and blood that blended into the deep red of his shirt, the same burnt mahogany of the couch he was lying on. I jerked my eyes away from the glistening white of bone finding Feliks and Ali’s very pointed look and the stranger standing behind her desk.
“What did you do?” I asked.
At my tone his blue green eyes, so much like Muhammad’s, flinched-but it was the crackle of my magic that made him pale. I was pleased to see the fear racketing up in his gaze. I let the magic wander across my shoulders, felt it snap and pop off of me onto the floor, skittering over the walls and couch. It was searching again, but instead of searching for me it was looking for my brother and the open wounds that left him dying.
My neck snapped back, away from Feliks and his trembling body. Aleandra stood very still. It would have been amusing, watching a group of supes being so cautious and weary around me, but with Muhammad’s prone form on sprawled like a gangly heap of muscle nothing seemed too funny. I tried to take a deep breath knowing I was very close. I knew my control was slipping and rapidly, but it seemed there was very little I could do about it. Not without Muhammad jumping up to his feet and laughing at me for being worried. I’d never been so close to the edge of that deep pool of electric currents inside me and I wasn't sure they were wrong to worry about me losing it. Ali stood by Feliks, her gaze shifting to her right, passing her desk again.
I glanced over, my body moving slightly to find a very imposing figure with his hand settled on the desk next to Ali’s chair.
“Interesting,” He said. His accent was heavy, thicker than Ali and Alik’s. “Very interesting.”
His eyes were trained on the skittering magic between me and Muhammad. For the most part it crackled and snapped at his chest, but tendrils would flicker over the rest of his body and retreat back to his torn muscles. I slowly backed up, feeling the shaking in my fingertips, and I assigned at least some of the trembling to be from the man’s presence. His gaze centered back on me, my movements having caught his attention. I stopped carefully by the coach, a soft gasp on my lips that I tried to squash in my throat. His eyes were liquid amber poured over fire, the golden color was trapped by a ring of deep brown that seemed to keep the fire contained. I shivered and fuck if I didn’t feel go right down through me, grabbing at the back of my spine and pulling. I lowered myself down to the coach touching close to Muhammad’s side and laid a hand on the small part of his chest that wasn’t ripped. Refocusing I looked at Ali, back to the man and then back to Feliks. He was shaking, his lanky form huddled with his hands gripping his hair.
“Alik should take Feliks home. He’s been through enough for one night,” My voice was soft, but I felt the thinly veiled despair trying to twist its way out of my torso.
It was as if my own chest had been ripped into. I felt sympathy pangs throbbing through me, burning from the inside out.
Ali looked uncharacteristically unsure of what to do. She looked to the stranger who nodded cooly, his dark hair swishing a bit past his ear. It should have looked weird, his thick neck and shoulders were corded with muscle in a way that would make most humans look awkward but as he moved there was no stiffness, no bumbling. He pulled the chair out from Ali’s desk and settled in almost gracefully, if a man of his size could be called graceful and my unease just raised. Ali wasn’t one to let go of the reins easily and with his predatory air and his strange eyes he was obviously not human. I, on the other hand, was and so was Muhammad for that matter. Ali lifted Feliks to his feet as he muttered and stumbled. She led him to a waiting Alik whom I hadn’t known was even in the room, which was a first. Everyone was very tense, the animal edge they normally kept under wraps seemingly suffocating the air around us. Feliks turned to look at Muhammad one last time. When his tears fell my heart softened. I stepped to him, swiping at a tear by his cheek.
“He’s going to be okay, Feliks. It’s going to be okay.” I said, startling him. He clung to those words though and for that I was glad. There was no use in both of us worrying. But the words had done something for him that he had needed because he nodded, wiping at the other cheek before squaring his shoulders.
Feliks was just a kid. A goofy, gangly, not even old enough to drink kid. He was practically Muhammad’s twin as much as Alik was Ali’s and no matter what had happened he wouldn’t have tried to put him in danger.
“I’m sorry,” my voice was careful, “I shouldn’t have said what I said.”
The relief and hope that crested in Feliks’ eyes was worth swallowing my fear and pride for my brother.
“I’m so, so sorry, Jerri. I would have never-”
“I know,” I shushed him, “Go get some rest. I may need your help later to take care of him while he heals.”
He steadied with purpose and nodded letting Alik guide him out of the door as Dr. Vaughn came through with her large case. When the door was closed I quietly stepped back to the couch, leaning over to back while she moved towards him checking for vitals and whatever the hell else she did. She tsked low under her breath and looked to Ali, who briefly looked to the stranger and then back to Dr. Vaughn.
“Do we know what kind it was?” she asked Ali.
Ali nodded, “Lion.”
A low whistle came from the stranger in Ali’s chair. I glared up at him to which he lifted a thick, dark brow but remained silent.
“The moon is just a few days away,” I choked, the realization fully settling into my gut like an anvil. I pushed past the dryness of my lips and licked them to speak again, “Is that good or bad?”
Dr. Vaugh cut open Muhammad’s favorite shirt and I wanted to rip her paws away from him, “It depends on a lot of things. There are many factors that go into the change.”
She spoke without stopping, laying open bandages and uncapping bottles of liquid and salves. She used Muhammad’s legs and stomach as a table. I looked away from him to her face feeling my anger and panic bubbling up again.
“The age, rank, strength even the blood ratio of a were all affects how quickly and effectively the turn will catch onto someone, not to mention the human attacked. Likely Muhammad’s body will be affected differently with his witch blood. There’s no cases I know of here to pull from but I’m sure it can only work in our favor.”
I ignored the voice of the man sitting in Ali’s chair and focused harder on the doctor. The same woman who gave me my yearly pap smears and I knew supplied the little jackass passed out with condoms since he was sixteen. Fuck, he better be okay. I couldn’t even start to process anything else.
She nodded towards the man and looked back to her work, “The fever has already begun to take hold of him but it doesn’t seem to be strengthening yet. It might take some time, but it should sink fully soon. Once it fully takes hold of him there’s nothing we can do but keep him comfortable, we want to do anything we can to facilitate the fever running its course.”
Dr. Vaughn’s blue eyes looked up to mine, her gaze sympathetic but not unhopeful and that gave me a flutter of hope too, “It’s going to be okay, Jerri. I really think it will. He’s strong, he has to be if he’s going to be your brother.”
A startled laugh ripped from me. It wasn’t that I didn’t think he wasn’t strong, I knew he was. He had gone through just as much as I had in less time but I couldn’t help; the twist of my lips as I corrected her, “He’s stubborn.”
She nodded gently with a smile, “Just like his big sister. I need to move him. Is that going to be, okay? We have to take him to the compound, but you’ll be able to see him tomorrow morning.”
I made a noncommittal sound when I realized she was asking for my permission.
“Yeah, yeah of course.”
She nodded and two were-boys that I recognize from the compound come in with a stretcher. I helped them move Muhammad, keeping my hands cupped under his head, his curly locks matted with sweat as they lower the rest of his body onto the stretcher on the floor. When they had the stretcher up in the air I bent forward and touched a small kiss to his forehead. My magic fizzled a little and I could almost hear it making the decision to spark away from me and jump to him. His breathing was regulating and the magic pulsed with his strengthening heart beat. Ali came up behind me. I could feel the warm and familiar weight of her hand grasping my shoulder like it could build me up, replenish the strength and resolve I could feel slipping from me as they carted out my baby brother.
I made a move to follow them, but Ali gripped my hand.
“You should go home,” she said, whispering down in my ear. Her voice was steady and calm, but I knew that tone and it meant despite her outer appearance she was spiralling on the inside, “I’ll call you if anything happens.”
I looked at her confused, “I have to go with him.”
Behind us a throat cleared, “I’m sorry about your brother, but you’ll be unable to join him until after his transition.”
The air was heavy with the but the man behind Ali’s desk had a strong, sure voice. I looked over to Dr. Vaughn. She was standing in the doorway, her jaw clenched but otherwise she refrained from saying anything. I whirled around to the man as she gave a terse nod and headed out.
“Excuse me? And why is that?” I snapped.
“Because, Ms. Gartzia, you would be entering a sick den of weres in various stages of healing and partial shifts where not only they but you are most vulnerable to attack-”
“Attack?” I looked from Ali to the man, “Muhammad is the one that was attacked, we should-”
“Be doing everything we can to make sure that your brother doesn’t get himself into any more trouble. Your brother was the one who went into pride territory Ms.Gartzia, not the other way around. He and Feliks at great personal cost to themselves and those who care for them ignored the warnings of the pride they were given.”
What the fuck had they been doing in pride territory? What the hell had they been up to? What warnings were they given? I felt like my world was shattering down, a million tiny pieces, a million little questions adding up and coming down with zero answers, but the late nights, the extra sleep overs at Feliks’ house, the eager don’t worry about me I’ll be fines when I had to work late these past couple of weeks. Everything added up to one big cluster fuck that I didn’t know I wanted to crack into while my emotions were still trying to balance themselves out.
Those wide amber eyes caught mine and it was everything I could do not to shiver. My stomach dropped to my toes while my throat seemed to get tighter with every breath I tried to talk but my name was like a bucket of ice water over my head. My response was automatic, “Jeri.”
“Jeri,” Ali’s hand brushed my shoulder. When I didn’t jerk away she came in closer, her hand coming to rest down on my back, “Jeri, this is Kazamir. Right now there’s a lot of things happening with the prowl that I can’t explain but he’s going to be doing an audit of sorts-”
Kazamir scoffed, an amused expression on his face before his thick accent was moving again, “ As arbiter I’ll be overseeing operational performance of the prowl’s assets. Right now we have very few options available to us. Your brother needs someone to help him make the change, Jeri. We can provide that under certain conditions and I am offering that if you’ll accept it.”
Ali nodded her head towards Kazamir, her eyes gentle.
She stood tall, taller than me in my wedged heels, with her hair in a tight sandy blonde braid that came down her shoulder. Her jeans were tight, dark with a faded comfortable look and her shirt was boss bitch to the core. Black flowy lace hung off of her olive kissed shoulders and cinched perfectly at a tiny trim waist that never ceased to make me feel a little out of my element. It was criminal how perfect Aleandra Zima looked on a daily basis but her heart was too big to accommodate her mean girl mug.
“The were-pride will be on our doorstep looking for his opekun, his guardian. As the eldest female of his family they’re going to want to... ” She grasped at a word in english, something she rarely ever did anymore unless she was desperately stressed.
“They will want to court you and your brother.” Alik said, slipping inside the room. I watched him fold himself onto the spare chair sitting across from Ali’s desk, adjusting it so he wasn’t facing any one person but the entire room.
“I’m sorry, what?” I bust out laughing, but no one else in the room joined in with so much as a teeheeho, “You-you’re serious?”
I looked around to see two very distinctly uncomfortable faces and one amused one.
Kazamir shook his head, “We are indeed very serious. The pride is very formal about their initiation rites and this is one such thing. Ironically enough it is because of these customs that you even have a choice as to where and how Muhammad changes.”
“What the fuck?” I threw my hands up, exasperated.
“If it suits you better then we can talk about this all in the morning.”
“Okay,” I breathed, “Who are you again?”
It was his turn to look startled, “I am Kazamir Amur. I’m the arb-”
“Yes, but like, aside from the audit bullshit I don’t understand why it is you’re even here for this conversation.”
“I am here,” his eye brow arched and his mouth twitched, “To offer you what you need in order to get your shit together.”
Alik shifted again, his eyes locked on Kazimir's. The twins’ caution was definitely fucking offputting and their unwillingness to rock whatever boat they were in with him or rise to temper kept me from spilling into the agressive ball of anxiety that was building in my stomach but I felt it. It was one wrong move away from spilling into the world so I locked it up tight and let my mouth go on autopilot for a second.
“And what exactly are you offering me that Ali and Alik can’t?”
I’d never seen someone embody the proverbial cat who ate the canary smile, but god damn if his face didn’t morph into one of primal self guided satisfaction. A scar, thick and gnarly crinkled at the corner of his upturned mouth. The line trickled like a river down under the collar of his shirt making me wonder how far it went down.