Three days later, I was meeting Kyra in the city. It was supposed to have happened two days earlier, but as it turns out, you don’t actually get phone reception on the Otherside. When I made it back to the “real” world to stretch my legs and keep from going crazy with cabin fever, I had about a thousand messages. They started out polite, moving on to annoyed after about twelve hours. By the second morning she was actively angry, and then in the late afternoon to worry and depression.
I’d left her a message, the first day back, about not being dead, at least. I don’t think I want to know what she’d have thought or done otherwise.
Thank God, Snowflake muttered as she trotted down the road at my side. Until this morning, she hadn’t spoken since I got back—that whole Wild Hunt thing hit her pretty hard, and no surprise. She must have been feeling at least a little better now, though; she was not only talking, she’d asked to come with me, and settled on the purple eyepatch with a Day-Glo-green peace sign on it, coupled with a heavy black leather collar set with a double row of steel spikes. (I cannot express to you how hard I laughed when I saw that there were three separate walk-in closets attached to the master bedroom—one for me, one for Aiko, one for Snowflake. They were all about the same size.) I couldn’t take one more day in that abgefuckt beschissen house.
I didn’t make a big deal of the fact that she was talking to me again. I mean, come on, I knew her pretty well by now, okay? And I knew nothing would make her retreat faster than that. Can’t argue, I agreed. It wouldn’t be so bad if it just had a few windows. I don’t think I’ve ever gone so long without seeing the sun.
Agreed, she said fervently. I love the furniture, but that’s going to get old fast.
We were, thankfully, not bound to the same cafe as before. That would have been just spooky. Kyra and I had, after some discussion, settled on a tiny park instead. It was a pretty good walk, but neither of us had any objection to that; after three days stuck in our new house, both Snowflake and I wanted a chance to stretch our legs.
Around an hour later, we strolled into the park, looking…well, not like any other person walking a dog, but a reasonably close imitation. I wasn’t even wearing the armor—light and masterfully crafted or not, it’s too bloody uncomfortable for anything short of an emergency. Granted I had a number of knives secreted on my person (I’d forgotten I even had some of those), but they were small enough I wasn’t even wearing my cloak as a long cape or trench coat. A light hoodie, not unreasonably warm for April in Colorado, was quite adequate to conceal them.
Kyra was already there waiting for us. She looked…different, somehow, a matter more of bearing and posture than physical appearance. It took me a minute to figure out what it was, although once I did I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked the obvious.
She looked like herself. As in, just herself, without the added baggage of the Alpha. Authority changed a person, especially a werewolf, and the difference in how she carried herself after acquiring that role was marked. Now…it was gone, plain and simple. Kyra looked like the reserved, mildly snarky werewolf I’d known for years before that change. She was even slouching a little.
I wasn’t at all sure what to make of that. She was still alive, though, so it couldn’t be too bad. That’s the nice thing about werewolves—they tend to be very direct about hating you. You seldom have to wonder whether you pissed a werewolf off; if they haven’t tried to eat your spleen yet, the answer is probably no.
“How’s it going?” she asked as I walked up. She didn’t so much as glance in my direction, and she was slumped against a small tree. An Alpha would never act so carelessly, not even with a trusted old friend.
“Not too shabby,” I said, sitting down next to her with a sigh. Snowflake flopped across my feet. “Yourself?”
She grunted. “Good news. Ryan’s alive.”
I blinked. “Really?” We hadn’t heard from him since he disappeared from the shopping mall, and I’d been pretty sure that wasn’t going to change in the near future.
“Yep,” she said. “Apparently he saw some sort of something in the crowd and thought he should go investigate. Next thing he knew he was waking up this morning. Called me first chance he got.”
“Huh. That’s interesting.” Sounded like a will-o’-the-wisp to me—they were Unseelie beasties, so they could easily have been working with Carraig. I didn’t think a werewolf would resist their lure particularly hard, either; in fact, what with the focus on hunting, they might be more susceptible than a normal human. The only thing that surprised me was that he was still alive.
Kyra grinned. “Oh, you haven’t even heard the best part. He woke up stark naked and rather sore in the middle of a cornfield in Kansas—oh, except for a collar. With, and I quote, the worst hangover imaginable, a bottle in his right hand, a set of spurs in his left, and smelling like lemons and burnt toast.”
“That is quite possibly the most disturbing mental picture I’ve had all week,” I said after a moment. “Thanks.”
Her grin got even wider. “I’m still not done. He has a number written on his hand in something he says is almost but not quite permanent marker. With ‘Call me’ underneath. Oh, and a number of bite marks. I’ll let you guess where.”
I closed my eyes for a second or two and tried to banish the images that conveyed. I so did not want to hear any more details about this.
I think I need to bleach my brain after that, Snowflake said in agreement after a moment. I thought you got up to some weird stuff on the weekends, but this trumps every story you have put together.
“Okay,” I said, eyes still tightly closed. “Now that you’ve scarred us for life, why did you want to talk?”
“The pack’s splitting up.”
I opened my eyes. “Wait, what?”
“You heard me,” she said.
“Well, yes, but…what?”
She shrugged. “Too much action the past year or two. Between that and all the publicity—we were one of the media-attention packs, you know, and now that that gambit’s over….” She shrugged again. “Plus we’ve lost a bunch of people. Makes more sense to just split things up and assimilate into other packs, rather than try to move.”
“Kyra, I…I’m so sorry—”
“Oh shut up,” she snapped. “Christ, Winter, I’ve heard the condolences speech from twenty-four werewolves, you really think I need it from you too?”
“You could at least have let me finish the sentence,” I said sourly.
Epic burn, Snowflake laughed. I wonder if you could convince her to wait while I catch a rabbit?
Wouldn’t popcorn be more appropriate? I asked her.
Well, sure, but seriously, popcorn? Bleck. Who likes popcorn?
“Where’re you going?” I said out loud.
“Wyoming,” she said decisively. “I’ve already talked to Frodsham about it, and he says he’ll take me. I’m driving up there tomorrow.”
I blinked. “Why Wyoming?” I’d always thought of Kyra as more of a city person.
She shrugged. “You make him sound like a decent guy.” No surprise, really, considering that Edward was the closest thing to a father figure I’d ever had. He was a decent guy, too, especially for a werewolf. Most of the species is, I’m sorry to say, bad enough that I don’t have to wonder too much about where the scare stories come from.
“Good luck,” I said eventually. “I think I’ll be staying here.”
She glanced sidelong at me. “You sure?” she asked—just serious enough to let me know it was a serious offer, just joking enough to let me know she wouldn’t object if I declined.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve got too much going on here. Besides, I’ve lived in Wyoming once already. It hasn’t been nearly enough years for me to want to go back yet.”
“Fair enough,” she said. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be staying. I think I might go back to school, finish up my degree. I guess I’ve got time to decide, right?”
“I really am sorry,” I said as she stood up.
She grinned. “I’m not. I was never really Alpha material anyway.” I couldn’t honestly argue with that one, so I didn’t try. “See you around.” She walked briskly off.
Snowflake and I stayed awhile in the park. The sun was warm on my face, and I laid back in the grass for a short nap. The world was still a terrible place, I was still a terrible person, we still sometimes had to do terrible things—but, for just a little while, it was still pretty good. Nobody can be a monster every day, after all.
I still had questions to ask, loose ends to tie up, loads and loads of work to do.
Work, we decided unanimously and without discussion, could wait a while.