The next several days passed in a blur. My routine was very simple. I woke up at dawn every morning, more out of habit than anything; with no windows I couldn’t see the sun, and the lights in my cell never went off. I exercised for about an hour, at which point it was time for breakfast. “Breakfast,” it turned out, was a sort of imitation egg that appeared to have been made from a powdered mix, served with white bread. To say that it tasted like shit would be an insult to shit.
After breakfast, I spent some time looking through the eyes of various animals, keeping myself abreast of what was going on in the area. At first I was limited to the streets around the police station, but it didn’t take long for me to fix that. They had the place closed down to keep me in isolation, after all, and while there were always some guards on site, that still left large sections of the building basically empty. With a little bit of guidance from me, those areas were soon occupied by a pair of raccoons, an adolescent fox, and quite a number of rats. They left to get food on a regular basis—apparently prison food was too bad even for their standards—but they came back for the promise of easy shelter.
Checking up on conditions inside and outside the building kept me busy until lunch, which was a sandwich of the driest meat I’d ever seen pressed between more white bread, mushy peas, and powdered milk that had been reconstituted with considerably too much water. Once I’d choked that down, I didn’t have much to do with myself, so I mostly paced until dinnertime.
Dinner, somehow, managed to be even less pleasant than the other meals. Apparently it consisted of whatever happened to be left over from the previous day mashed together, scraped into a pan, and baked until it had the approximate consistency of shoe leather. Vile did not begin to describe the result.
Once that was done with, I laid down on the mattress and tossed and turned until exhaustion was sufficient to overcome the effects of nausea and those goddamn lights which never turned off. I wouldn’t have expected that to bother me nearly as much as it did. Finally I managed to drift off to a restless, fitful sleep.
Around six hours later, the cycle began again.
I kept meticulous track of the days, mostly just to keep myself grounded in the passage of time. Thus, I knew that it had been five days since Alan’s visit when a pair of guards approached the cell again. Aside from the silent man who brought my meals three times a day and then returned later to take the tray, they were the first people I’d seen since that visit.
“Hi,” I said, looking at them closely. I didn’t think I’d seen either of them before, although I recognized both from my routine surveillance of the area. “What’s up?”
“You have a visitor,” one of them said. Her voice was rough, and even by comparison to the other guards she seemed unfriendly. “Let’s go.”
Which was suspicious and weird as hell, but by this point, I was so glad to get out of that damn cell that I didn’t care. I felt almost cheerful as I followed them back to the same interrogation room as before. This time they handcuffed my wrists to the table before leaving. I had enough room to lean back comfortably, but lifting my arms more than a few inches from the table was impossible.
Maybe five minutes later, just when a person might be wondering if they were being left there to rot, the door opened again and a youngish man walked in. Luckily one of my rats had been close enough to overhear most of the conversation between him and the chief of police outside, so I really wasn’t concerned about the wait.
“Good morning, Mr. Wolf,” he said, smiling. It was a charming smile, but there was something almost plastic about it. It very much gave the impression that he was smiling not out of any real feeling, but because he knew it was a charming smile and he wanted me to be charmed.
“Good morning,” I said. “And please, call me Winter.”
“All right, Winter,” he said, sitting down opposite me. “My name’s Mike.”
“So what did you want to talk about?” I asked, smiling. My smile was probably less charming than his. I’m not really very good at charming smiles.
“I thought we could chat, maybe get to know you a little.”
“Ah,” I said. “So…you’re not with my lawyer or you’d have said so off the bat, you’re not hostile enough to be with the cops, you aren’t smooth enough to be a real interrogator. I’d be inclined to guess district attorney or something like that…but no, they would have a more aggressive opening too. The first thing you mention is wanting to know more about me, which suggests your job is to provide information. So…I’m guessing you’re a psychologist?”
He didn’t say anything, but his smile slipped a little. I grinned. “Hey, I got it right,” I said cheerfully.
There were times when it was really nice to hear conversations you aren’t present for. The rat hadn’t been able to hear every word they said, but it had been enough for me to make some educated guesses—which, in turn, let me do a really great Sherlock impression. Which might not be useful, but the expression on his face was priceless.
“Why would you think that I’m a psychologist?” he asked, trying to regain his composure.
I shrugged, the motion made somewhat awkward by the cuffs. “It makes sense if my lawyer’s considering an insanity plea,” I said. “Which might not be a bad idea, really.”
“Why would that be a good idea?”
I snorted. “Have you read my file, doc?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “It looks like you were diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia, and paranoid personality disorder. The psychologist at the time also made a note regarding the possibility of antisocial personality disorder, but since you were underage, it wasn’t diagnosed.”
“See?” I said, shrugging again. “If you’ve got a history like that, and you’ve got a list of charges like mine, ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ starts to sound pretty tempting. Sure, it’s a long shot, but what isn’t?”
“Do you feel that you’re insane, then?”
“I don’t know. Define insanity.”
“To be legally insane, you would have to either not know what you were doing, or not realize that what you were doing was wrong.”
“Ah,” I said. “And…how would I go about proving those?”
“We aren’t talking about proof right now,” he said. “I just want to know what you think.”
“Okay,” I said, grinning. “Starting with the first one, you right away run into problems with definitions again. Do I have to not know what I’m doing, or can I know what I’m doing but be wrong? Like, if I based my decision on information that seemed legit at the time, but turned out to be wildly inaccurate?”
“That would qualify,” he said. “But only if the reason you thought that information was accurate had to do with your mental illness.”
I thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “In that case, I guess I do qualify. There have definitely been times when I thought someone was out to get me, but it turned out to be baseless. That’s pretty typical for paranoids, right?”
“That’s a common symptom,” he agreed. “Would you mind giving me some examples?”
I hesitated. “It depends. This is all confidential, right? Off the record?”
“That’s right,” he confirmed. “Let’s take a look at the first crime you’re charged with, since your lawyer told me you aren’t planning to fight that one. Apparently you murdered your girlfriend?”
“I told him,” I said irritably. “I didn’t kill her, I just knew that it was happening.”
“It’s okay,” he said soothingly. “I’m not asking you to confess to anything. I just want to know whether, in your opinion, that was one of the situations we’re talking about.” I was a little surprised, but his voice actually did calm me down a little bit. Guy was good at his job, I had to give him that.
“Okay,” I said. “Yeah, that’s one of them. I thought she was out to get me—which she was, in a way, but in hindsight I don’t think she could have done anything about it.”
“I see,” he said. “And is that why you killed her?”
“I didn’t kill her,” I repeated. “And if you think repeating the question is going to change my answer, you’re wrong.” I paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “Anyway, yes, that’s part of why I let it happen. She’d also upset a pretty major organization, and I knew that if I tried to protect her they’d just come after me, too. So I don’t really think of it as letting her die, so much as choosing not to die with her.”
“I see,” he repeated. “And this organization, can you tell me a little more about them? Do you think they’re still out to get you?”
“No,” I said. “No, we’re on pretty good terms. I think we are, anyway; they might be a little upset that I got myself arrested. They frown on that.”
He considered me for a moment. “I hate to ask this,” he said at last, and I got the impression that he might actually be telling the truth. “But are you tailoring your answers to fit the diagnosis?”
“Nope,” I said cheerfully. “I mean, I know I’d probably say that either way, but I’m really not. Honestly, I just don’t care enough to bother.”
I shrugged. “If they find me guilty, they’ll put me in a prison for the rest of my life. If they say I’m insane, they’ll put me in an asylum for the rest of my life. It doesn’t really make much of a difference. Either way, it’s a cage. I don’t like cages.”
“But in an asylum, you could get treatment.”
I snorted. “In my experience, psychiatry is a massive waste of time for everyone involved. No offense.”
“I see,” he said. “Would that also be why you stopped taking your medications several years ago?”
“Oh. Heh. I actually forgot about those. Yeah, I actually stopped quite a while before I dropped the prescription. It must have been almost twenty years now? Yeah.”
“May I ask why?”
“Sure,” I said. “They weren’t doing any good. The antidepressants made me feel worse, and the antipsychotics just made me feel ill.”
“I see,” he said again. “Would you consider trying them again if I wrote a prescription for you? They’ve made great strides in the drug development world since you last tried them. I think you’ll find that your experiences this time are much more positive than before.”
I shrugged. “Sure, if you want. I wouldn’t count on it.”
“Okay,” he said, standing. “I’ll clear it with the police and we’ll see what we can do. Thanks for your time, Winter.”
“No problem,” I said. “Oh, and Dr. Buckley?” He paused and turned back towards me. I grinned. “I just wanted to apologize,” I said. “In case this whole thing reflects poorly on you, afterward.”
I could see it when he realized that he’d never told me his last name. He shivered, just a little, and then turned and left, closing the door behind himself more forcefully than was strictly necessary.
I grinned and leaned back in my chair, waiting for the guards to come back and collect me. It can be very nice to overhear conversations without being present.
With that in mind, I relaxed and let myself drift. The rat I’d been using previously had moved on, but the fox was napping in the room upstairs. It’s ears were plenty sharp enough to catch the conversation going on below it.
“He’s definitely crazy,” the psychologist was saying. “But it’s a really odd sort of crazy. Like, he’s very polite, friendly, pleasant—and still makes it clear he could kill you as easily as look at you.”
“Aren’t you people supposed to have fancy words for that sort of thing?” the police chief replied, sounding amused.
“Would you understand them if I did?” There was a brief pause. “Anyway, I’m going to have some antipsychotics sent in. Try putting them in his food or something, we’ll see if they seem to help.”
“Did he consent to that?”
“Yeah. But I don’t know if he’d actually take them, if you just give him the pills.”
I smiled, and didn’t argue when the guards came in to escort me back to my cell.
Days passed, first at a crawl and then in a blur. I took to spending more and more time outside my body, drifting between other minds at will. Sometimes I spent hours as a passive observer in a single cat’s mind, following the slow stalk of a rodent. Other times I flitted from one animal to the next, barely taking in a single glimpse before moving on, or else diffused myself across multiple animals, parsing the sensations and feelings I got from them into a single gestalt.
I continued to exercise on a regular basis, although I did so more or less on autopilot. I couldn’t do very much, in any case; everything from the elbows down ached by now from the silver. I was strangely fatigued all the time, and my immune system was suppressed to such an extent that I caught a cold for the first time since I became a werewolf. On the whole, leaving my body was a welcome escape.
Sometimes I ate the food they gave me, but more often I didn’t bother. Already terrible, it tasted even worse when compared to the flavors I was getting from other bodies. I tried to remember to eat at least once daily, but I often forgot to. At some point they started giving me better food, but by then it was too little, too late; they could have been serving my favorite meals fresh from a four-star restaurant and I probably wouldn’t have eaten them with any more regularity.
Occasionally I had visitors. The lawyer—Alan, his name was—dropped by every few days to check on me. I managed to carry on a conversation, but I knew that I was coming across as listless and distractible. I managed to pay just enough attention to learn that he had indeed begun an insanity defense, and the first hearing date had been set.
Probably because of that, more psychologists and psychiatrists visited, as well. I wasn’t sure whether the first one returned or not. I paid less attention in those conversations, letting myself drift more completely. Sometimes I replied when they asked me questions. Sometimes I didn’t.
Occasionally, although not as often as I’d have guessed, people tried to interrogate me. On those occasions, I said nothing at all, and left just enough of my awareness in my body that I could tell what was going on. Sometimes they played the good cop. Sometimes they tried screaming in my face, or walking around behind me while someone else talked. None of them got a reaction.
On three occasions a cop hit me, twice in the abdomen and once in the face. Another time someone tried to waterboard me during my weekly shower. I didn’t react to those, either; in comparison to some of what I’d been through, they just didn’t make an impression. I didn’t see any of those cops again, and from overheard conversations I gathered that they’d been harshly disciplined.
The strangest thing was that the hard part, for me, wasn’t the bad food, the isolation, the occasional interrogation. It wasn’t even the confinement.
No, the hard part was knowing that I could make it stop. Knowing that, at any given moment, I could say a word and it would all go away. Hell, I could probably think Loki’s name hard enough and he would come.
But I didn’t. I knew what the consequences would be. I knew what the price would be. If I made that choice, heads would roll.
I could handle it, I told myself. Normal people went through this all the time. I could handle it until my hearing.
Because, somewhere in that blur of time, I’d made a decision. I could wait until the hearing. I could do that. I could see how that went, what happened.
And after that? If they tried to put me back in a cage?
Heads were going to roll.