Sera had not seen Hector for several months after the first time. She was beginning to think she was wrong, after all. That he wouldn’t come back. He was just a client, of course, but he wasn’t any client. She found herself getting almost annoyed with him for staying away. She didn’t like being wrong.
But then one day, the hunter stepped through the door. For a brief moment Sera considered ignoring him, forcing him to ponder whether she had forgotten his existence. A couple of the other girls eyed him, and Hector sent them a distracted smile. His gaze swept over the room and didn’t stop before it reached her. Sera decided not to play with him anyway. She crossed the distance between them and held out her hand for him to take it, kiss it, or pull her into an embrace.
The hunter stayed the night again, and the next time and the time after that as well. She saw him every few months, and every time he appeared, she studied his body for clues of his recent endeavours. It slowly accumulated more scars, and scratches and bruises changed position.
After a while, Sera had a letter from the hunter. He told her when he expected to visit Darmstadt next time and that he hoped she would have time to see him. At first she grinned and felt rather excited about it. Then hesitation crept up on her. What if Hector had suddenly developed some delusion of wanting to propose to her? It was not unheard of. The girls sometimes joked about it, but it was a fact that sometimes a client fell in love with one of them and begged her to marry him. But not her hunter. He wouldn’t do such a thing. Would he?
As soon as she saw him, she knew he wouldn’t. He appreciated their usual activities, but he would like to take her out for dinner, he said. To spend a little time with her before he moved on. Sera didn’t mind at all. He could have her for as long as he wanted as long as he paid for it.
But it did feel strange to walk around with him outside. People in the streets positively stared at them, but for once she was not the only one they watched. Usually her prominent clients kept a low profile. It could severely damage their political career or the relationship with their wife and children to be seen with a lady of her kind. The further away from her workplace they came, the less the glances were directed at her. People were looking at the hunter now. They were envious of her for having her arm linked with his and not the other way around. What a change. It was quite entertaining.
They had dinner at a very nice restaurant where no one knew any of them, but everybody clearly noticed Hector’s profession although he wasn’t flaunting his hunting badge.
“Do you invite every woman you know out like this?” Sera asked him over the first course, seafood stuffed neatly into a small shell of pastry. A splendid white wine completed the taste.
Hector looked up from his food. It took him a moment to reply. But, Sera realised, it was not because he was shy or embarrassed. He had been completely focused on manoeuvring his knife and fork around the plate. “No,” he replied. “My organisation has as many female employees as male, so …”
“I mean know privately. Like you know me.” She stretched out her leg under the table and caressed his calf with it to make it clear what she meant.
“The answer is still no,” Hector replied. “But I’m enjoying this. I can relax with you.”
She nodded. That was not the worst thing she’d been told. Perhaps he needed someone without any connection to his work. Someone who could take his mind off things.
“Don’t you like it?”
“Yes, Hector, I do.” She smiled. It was nice to be spoilt like this, and it was a good break from her normal line of work. It felt a little strange that he paid for the meal as well as for having her with him, but then why not? It was just another way of satisfying a client, and she was allowed to enjoy it.
The hunter smiled back at her, and Sera couldn’t help feeling that he deserved to share that smile with others more often.
Hector opened his eyes. Evening sun was being filtered softly through the lace curtains and created intricate patterns where it landed. Sera was sitting next to him on the bed and reached out to brush a stray lock of hair away from his face.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yes …” he murmured. “What was in that drink?” The doctor had given him one of Sera’s glasses after she had put some powder in it and mixed it with wine. She wanted to make sure he didn’t squirm too much while she was working, she explained. After all, men weren’t cut out for tolerating the same kind of pain that women were. Hector had downed the concoction in one mouthful. He was not going to argue with a doctor. While she was taking out a pair of tongs from her bag and preparing, he started to feel very, very relaxed. He barely noticed Sera and Royer returning with the items the doctor had asked for.
“Something very potent, apparently,” Sera said with a soft laugh.
“It was only a bullet wound,” Hector mumbled. His arm throbbed vaguely now, but it wasn’t bad. And it was embarrassing that the doctor had believed it necessary to sedate him.
“It was better than you disturbing the other guests in this house. Screams here are supposed to be full of pleasure and passion,” she retorted.
“I wouldn’t have screamed,” he argued, then decided to say no more about it. He ought to just be grateful. “Thank you for all the help.”
Sera leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “I took the liberty of undressing you while you were asleep. It’s not like you have anything we haven’t seen before.”
We. Hector sat up. How long had he been asleep? Where was Royer?
“He’s taking a nap,” said Sera as if she read his mind. She pointed at somewhere beyond the end of the bed and put a hand on his back to support him.
Hector peered over the edge of the bed. The large wolf was curled up on the carpet.
“He changed in the bathroom after doctor Weiss left and he was certain that you were going to be fine.”
Hector forced his gaze away from the wolf and studied Sera’s face. She was very quick at adapting. There was nothing in her expression that indicated she wasn’t used to having a wounded hunter and a man who turned into a wolf sleeping in her room. It was part of what he liked so much about her. She was possibly the most unfazed person he knew. Some of it may be an act, but for it to work this well, she had to be very calm. “Thank you for trusting me. For trusting him.”
“It was strangely hard not to,” she replied. “He seems so … honest. And so loyal to you. And I could feel he wasn’t going to hurt me.”
Hector nodded. “Yes. He has depended on me for a little while now. Feel? How did you feel it?” Had Royer let his thoughts transfer to Sera in the same way that he did with the hunter? Royer had told him that it was how he communicated with others of his own kind, and if he were able to do it with Hector, there was no reason that he shouldn’t do the same with other humans.
“I just did. He looked at me with those eyes, and I trusted him.” She held up a finger to stop Hector from replying. “And before you make any assumptions, hunter, I will have you know that I am a very good judge of character. I’m not taken in by any young man with big, blue eyes.”
“I wouldn’t dream of assuming anything like that,” Hector defended himself. “Royer is special.”
Sera studied him for a while. “I’m sure he is,” she then said, but before Hector could ask her what that was supposed to mean, she continued, “We’ve been chatting. He says you saved his life.”
“I did,” Hector replied. “Another hunter had him imprisoned. He wanted to sell him for profit. I couldn’t let that happen.”
“Because you’re a good guy,” Sera said, “Or is there something else to it?”
Hector shot Royer a glance, but the wolf still seemed to be asleep. “Well,” he said, lowering his voice, “I have never met anyone like him. We have heard rumours of werewolves that are different, but Royer is more than that. He may prove valuable to our doctors’ research.”
Sera nodded. “And then what?”
For a moment, Hector said nothing. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “Headquarters will grant him sanctuary if he wishes it, of course. But he is a free man. He will decide for himself.”
The wolf’s head appeared at the end of the bed. He was looking at them with a worried or inquisitive expression. How much had he heard?
“Royer,” Hector said.
Royer wagged his tail and padded around the bed. Hector reached out his hand to pat his head.
Sera sounded like she was going to choke with laughter. “Hector has already ruined my bed. A little fur won’t make a difference, Royer,” she said.
Royer regarded her solemnly, then decided that she meant it and jumped up into the bed.
It was possibly one of the strangest situations he had ever found himself in. No training could have prepared Hector for sitting in a bed in a brothel in Darmstadt between two friends, one of them an employee of the place and the other currently a wolf. He almost felt like lying down again and going back to sleep. Then a wave of worry came at him from the wolf. “I’m fine,” he told Royer. “See?” There was a neat, white bandage around his arm. No blood seeping through.
“He is,” added Sera. “Doctor Weiss said that you need to have your local physician remove the stitches in ten days. But you probably know how that goes.”
“Good. Now, gentlemen …” Sera cleared her throat. “I hate to ruin the moment, and I would have loved for you both to stay the night, but I have a client due in a few hours.”
“Of course,” Hector said. “I am sorry to come unannounced.”
“It’s fine. You couldn’t know that you would go and get shot right outside Darmstadt,” Sera said reasonably. “If you need it, I’m sure we can find a room here to put you up for the night.”
Hector considered the options. He didn’t need to stay. After all, he wasn’t seriously injured, and the idea of lurking around this place while Sera was otherwise occupied didn’t sit right with him. But continuing on their way to Frankfurt this late in the day without a proper meal and after everything he had put Royer through wasn’t advisable either. “No, you have already helped us a lot. There’s an inn a few streets away. We will go there,” he decided.
“As you wish,” Sera said.
“How much do I owe you?” Hector asked.
“Just for the bed and the doctor.”
Hector smiled. “Thank you.” She could easily have charged him for the time they had spent with her. “Royer, will you change?”
The wolf wagged his tail again and jumped back onto the floor. He was on his way to the bathroom when Sera stopped him.
“Wait. I want to see it,” she said.
“Sera …” Hector began.
“No, I insist,” she interrupted him. “You can’t just come here with your friend who turns into a wolf and not let me see it.”
Royer turned around. He didn’t look upset about it. But then, why should he? To him, changing back and forth was the most natural thing in the world. Hector began the slow labour of carefully getting dressed while Sera watched Royer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the wolf gradually becoming more and more human, rising to his hind legs, his tail and claws vanishing, until the young man was standing naked in the room.
“That was … amazing,” Sera said. She sounded like she meant it. “Doesn’t it hurt?”
“No,” said Royer. He looked relieved at her reaction. “It’s just something I do.”
“You really are special.”
“Only among humans,” Royer said.
Sera nodded. “Of course. I didn’t mean any offence.”
“I was not offended.” Royer smiled at her and began to dress.
Hector was glad they seemed to get along. This whole thing was turning out to be not quite as awkward as one might have expected.
The two travellers got ready to leave, Hector and Sera settled the financial aspect of the matter, and she walked them to the front door. The entrance hall was by no means empty now, and Hector tried not to look at any of the clients. He also tried not to glance at Royer to see his reaction to any of the proceedings.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Royer,” said Sera and shook Royer’s hand. “Good luck in Frankfurt.”
“Thank you,” Royer replied.
“And thank you again for the help. I’ll make it up to you next time,” Hector said.
Sera dismissed it with a wave of her hand. “I’m glad we could help,” she said and pulled him into an embrace. “You hold on to that one,” she whispered in his ear before kissing his cheek and pulling away again. “Safe travels to both of you. And good hunt.”
Hector smiled, put his hat on and went out into the street with Royer by his side.