She's at his bedside when he wakes, and she looks like no nurse he's ever heard of. Before the lack of white coat, it's the ponytail that tells him, perched high on the side of her head. Childish. The face says twenty.
The other side of his bed has a railing. One of the walls is half window, thick glass with wire running inside. Something is going 'beep' with alarming regularity. He's never been in the room, but something about it grabs him by the throat anyway. He wants out.
He frowns at her, though it's more fuzzy and less suspicious than he meant it to be. She grins, visibly pleased.
Even the voice is chipper and airheaded. For god's sake. He tries to talk, but his throat is so dry that nothing recognizable comes out. He gestures toward the water pitcher; it takes her a couple of seconds of smiling at him before she reacts and pours him a glass.
"Here you are." She watches him drink. "How do you feel?"
"...You're not a nurse." He pushes himself up against the headboard with trembling arms. His whole body is sore; he would wonder if he forgot he went and ran a marathon, but he's pretty sure marathons aren't run with the face. His jaw aches the most out of every part of him.
"Nope," she answers brightly, almost like she's proud. So obnoxious. "How do you feel?"
"Annoyed," he bites out. "When I ask questions--"
He coughs, ruining the delivery of his threat. He glares to compensate. He's made executives flinch that way; the girl twirls a lock of blond hair around her finger and tilts her head like an attentive spaniel.
"Oh, it was a question?" He grits his teeth as she giggles, amused at her own wit, and then she mercifully sobers up. Slightly. "You're in the hospital. You'll be alright. Do you remember how you got there?"
He's about to say 'Of course,' and then he realizes he doesn't. He was at work, wasn't he? It was a normal day, full of dealings with other people's incompetence and laziness... Not very normal then. He's been irritable all week, though, so that's not so strange.
He's not even sure where he's injured. It hurts all over, but not in an open wound kind of way. He's just as uncomfortable sitting as he was laying down. Sick, then?
"Well, it's pretty normal if you don't. Don't worry. I mean, not normal-normal, but kinda not surprising either. But seriously... I need to know. Where were you? With who?"
He thinks he was... Discussing... Arguing with -- was it Matthews? Delorme? "I was at work," he snaps, not disposed to share more. "I'm going to call security if you don't tell me what you're doing here."
She sighs, and her smile melts away. He's not sure whether her eyes are pale brown or green, something in-between, but suddenly he realizes they're staring right into his, and he can't break away.
"I'm Breanna Harris. I'm the coordinator for the local werewolf support group."
He knows there's a way for that sentence to work together with the rest of the current situation, but it won't fit in the puzzle, it won't make sense.
It won't. But she just keeps watching him until it does anyway.
He shakes his head, once, more like a twitch. "You're mistaken."
"I'm afraid not."
He drags his legs toward the edge of the bed, lets them swing toward the floor. He's not staying here with that crazy woman. "Where's my doctor? Where are the nurses?" Maybe he isn't in a real hospital at all.
She sighs, pouts a little bit. "They didn't know whether you'd wake up human or wolfy. They're not gonna come check on you for a while, and when they do it'll be through here."
Perched on the edge of the mattress, he stares at the observation window on the wall. The reinforced window, with steel mesh all the way through. He did find it a little strange...
Surely it's a coincidence. It has to be. He hasn't been bitten. He never goes out at night around the full moon. None of his acquaintances owns a dog, huge and shaggy or not. He hasn't petted even just a goddamn stray cat recently!
Who would let a sorority girl deal with werewolves anyway? Shouldn't that be the job of a big burly cop with a tranq gun? Maybe she's a patient who slipped out of her crazy ward because she was bored. "How did you know to come here?" he asks, voice tight, eyes narrowed.
She twirls a blond lock around her finger as she gazes at him. "Hospital called me after the cops got you here. I wasn't told where they found you, but it's likely you were either called in by the guy who pissed you off or some passerby. It's kinda hard to miss a rampaging werewolf."
He stares at her harder. No hesitation at all. She believes her words. She's calm about them, too. Steady. But it can't be true. He doesn't feel like a werewolf. He feels like himself, the way he's always been.
He realizes, "I didn't tell you I was arguing with anyone."
"For you to trigger your first change a whole week before the full moon? It was either anger or ... No, wait, even sex wouldn't get a reaction like that. Unless it was rape, but then the cops would have told me they'd found remains."
He stares at her, shocked, a little sick. Talking about rape and cannibalism and she sounds so casual. She even grins a little, sort of a 'hehe, sorry?'
No corpse. That's good, right? He didn't kill anyone.
-- He didn't kill anyone because he's not a werewolf.
She sighs then, gives him a commiserating look that would put his back up if he wasn't too busy fighting rising horror.
"Honey, I'd love to tell you there's been a mistake, but there's a big difference between the smell of a guy who's had a werewolf rubbing against him and the smell of a werewolf. You smell werewolf."
It's a mark of his exhaustion that up until now he didn't even realize why a cheerleader might belong to a werewolf support group. Apart from her being a crazy liar, of course.
"Get the hell out."
The look she gives him then... curious, weighing -- clinical.
Clinical. As if his reaction is interesting to observe. To dissect. As if she's not concerned by his anger. As if she isn't its cause -- its target.
He throws himself out of the bed -- throws the pillow first and then the water pitcher and then himself, a hundred and eighty pounds of adult male, hand reaching for her collar, so he can shake her and throw her out.
His weight and momentum knock her down, and then the world twirls and his back hits the floor, and there's an arm around his throat -- and all he can think is my throat fuck no, back off I'll kill you go to hell let go let go let go.
He's got long blond hair all over his face and a noseful of wet dog scent. He takes in deep, shuddering breaths as he kicks blindly and twists and doesn't hit anything, only manages to bruise himself really. She's behind him and he's not sure how that happened -- curled around his upper body, and that shouldn't stop him from anything, but she's got him in a headlock. He kicks, tries to flip, but she braces a foot against the wall at his other side and his body thumps back on the floor again. He's already exhausted.
Scared, too. Not because she's keeping him down.
He lost control. For a second there -- thirty seconds -- he just...
Completely flipped his lid. Pounced on a girl who must be two thirds his weight -- he wanted to hurt her.
He still does. He wants to knee her in the ribs and punch her in the face. He's shaking with that need.
He wants to bite her to the blood, so she'll let go of his neck.
"Let go," he snarls, tugging on her arm, glaring at the ceiling so he won't have to acknowledge her. What's her name again? Anna. No, something less classic, more in fashion. He wants to bite her.
He tugs on her arm again. His fingers will leave bruises. He wants her off him before the tension gathering in his body rises again and he loses it a second time. Because that's more scary than anything she might have said.
"Hmm, nope." And she chuckles.
He arches off the floor, body heaving violently, manages to elbow her in the chest -- not enough space between their bodies for proper momentum but it'll hurt, he knows, he doesn't care, and the thoughts running through his brain -- I don't want to hurt you, so just let go (because I do want to hurt you, I really do.)
He hears himself snarling but the sounds rising from his throat sound very far away.
And then they come muffled, because she's shifted her hold, moved around to his front -- wrapped around his upper body, and it's almost more of a bear hug than a hold. His arms come around her back, pull at her clothes to grab a handful and tear her off, but they stick so close to her body he can't get a grasp, and she won't let go, she won't let go.
He hasn't cried since he was a teenager, he hasn't cried for his marriage or at any point of his divorce but it just comes out now, it shakes him all over and it won't stop, it's too loud, it's not right and not normal. He can't control himself. It's terrifying.
What's wrong with him? Something's wrong. Something's got to be.
The girl (Brandy? Ann?) stays crouched over him, straddling his waist and curling her body around his like she's protecting him from the world. Her fingers are in his hair, combing gel-matted, prematurely graying locks. After a while -- how long? He's not sure -- he has the vague thought that her knees must be hurting by now, but she doesn't even shift her weight.
She doesn't say a thing, not at any point of his shame, his gross lack of control. He would hate her if she did.
He doesn't hate her now, he realizes as calm creeps back in, and that surprises him a little, though he doesn't have much strength left for any stronger reaction. He's just... disgruntled.
He realizes he's curled up, knees drawn up, making himself smaller as if that'll make him any more likely to fit under her. Using a sorority girl like a shield. It's so ridiculous.
Also he has his nose in her cleavage. He's been aware of it for a little while, but it didn't start being embarrassing until he managed to slow down his breathing.
"God," he whispers. This whole affair is so far past shameful. "I've never--"
He can't find the words to explain how appalling it is.
"It's the hormones," she says -- he flinches at her voice, but he can't hear a smile in it, can't hear amusement or mockery. "Welcome to your second adolescence. One good thing is it shouldn't take as much time as the first. One bad thing is the ups and downs are going to speed up to match."
He groans and closes his eyes. "Great." He pretends his voice isn't thick and raw with recent tears.
"Your life isn't over," she says with cautious gentleness.
He snorts at that, raw disbelief.
"It's gonna be different, I'm not saying it won't. But just because you turn furry three nights a month doesn't mean the rest of your time goes poof. It doesn't affect most people as much as the newspapers say."
"Well, that's good," he says with biting sarcasm. "Considering that the last news segment said--"
He chokes there, can't manage more. Irrepressible bestial behavior, violence, uncontrollable instincts -- loss of rational thought -- he only watched the program five minutes but the people in that ward weren't human, just uncomfortably human-shaped. They didn't even remind him of wolves, just of hairless, feral monkeys.
She huffs, sits up, and raps her knuckles on his head. She's still straddling his waist, trapping one of his arms under her leg. He gives her an incredulous look and doesn't bother trying to get free just yet.
"There's over two hundred werewolves in this city alone. You've never seen one of them on TV, and you never will. The only time they usually meet the cops is for speeding tickets, same as normal people." She pauses, winces. "... About that, you're gonna have to meet them later today or tomorrow."
He almost asks what for, and then realizes once again that she mentioned cops earlier and there's a chunk of time he just cannot remember. Someone had to bring him in, and he doesn't think a slavering beast would have come quietly.
God. He can feel the blood drain from his face.
"I would have told you already if you'd hurt anyone. No one was bitten. I wouldn't have been allowed in here with you otherwise. You probably scared the piss out of a lot of people, though, and I don't know about damages."
He winces, but he likes her better for not trying to tell him that's alright, that's not so bad, that wasn't his fault. No one who saw him like that will just ... not care. Just go on pretending it doesn't change everything.
He can't even really imagine it. He doesn't want to. It still doesn't feel real.
He's not even sure exactly why he believes her now.
"... Would you mind sitting elsewhere?" he asks tiredly, nudging her thigh.
The girl watches him for a few seconds, head tilted, puppylike, before she moves off him. He sits, dusting his arms off so he has an excuse not to look at her. She's in a crouch, balanced on the balls of her feet, and he has a second of weird double vision, where for a moment he doesn't have any problem seeing the predator hidden in that deceptively harmless package. Then she gives an airy giggle and he is once again left to wonder what is wrong with the world, that a girl who should be busy looking dumb and pretty on some quarterback's arm instead spends her evenings killing things with her teeth.
His eyes are puffy and his nose drips. He really hates that. And his body still aches -- though less now, muscles warmed up by all that movement. Instead he has a brand new set of bruises. His tailbone is unhappy with him.
What does one do with a tail anyway? Why on earth would he need or want a tail? He has lived thirty-seven years without ever suddenly craving one. He closes his eyes, breathes through his nose, rubs his face with both hands. He needs a shower.
He needs not to be a fucking werewolf.
"When is the doctor coming?"
He needs to be rational about it. No more freak outs. Can't afford it.
He can feel it bubbling under the surface anyway. Just wants to break things, throw the bed on its side and then -- he's not sure what he would do next, perhaps scream. He doesn't really want to escape, though, which is weird. But he sneaks a glance to the observation window, relieved to find it still empty. He doesn't like the lack of drapes --
He wants to throw the bed on its side because then he could hide behind it. Huddle between it and the wall and then he'd be safe, because he'd be out of sight. What the hell kind of ridiculous logic is that?
"... Not for a little while. Why do you want to see the doctor? He can't release you yet."
"Isn't it obvious?" he snaps. "I want--"
The girl gives a slight shake of her head that stops him in his tracks, gives him a look that's probably supposed to be commiserating. The pity in it makes him stiffen, but not half as much as what she says next. "The vaccine only works before the contamination."
It sounds like she's had that discussion a hundred times before.
He... suspected it. He thinks. He must have heard about that. He doesn't want it to sound familiar.
"If you wait until after the first transformation, not even the suppressants will do anything for you. You'll just be a weak and sickly werewolf. Of course it's still an option..."
He pushes away from her with hands and feet, and then he gets up. There isn't a lot of space between the bed and the other wall -- four steps, maybe, and then he has to turn around. He tries to keep his pacing slow because otherwise he's going to end up frantically circling the room and trying to claw the door open.
The metaphor startles him. He glances down at his hands. No claws. Good.
The girl is up on her feet too, hands in her pockets, casual as you please.
He's not going to shame himself in front of her again. He can't take the thought.
"What are the options?"
She blinks, and he feels a spark of warmth at the thought that he managed to surprise her. Then he berates himself for caring, and scowls when he catches himself wanting to return her pleased smile.
"Well. Option one, you live with it. You get used to it. You learn to deal around the bad things and appreciate the good ones. Then you're a calm, productive, well-adjusted werewolf who rarely has werewolf troubles and can deal with humans pretty much just as well as you are now, as long as some precautions are taken."
"Don't skip lunch before you go to a board meeting."
He gives an incredulous snort. "... You're not joking."
"No. Hunger pulls the wolf closer to the surface. You don't want that around people who won't realize when it's time to back off. Option two, you deal with it by shutting yourself off, being miserable, deciding that your whole life is over. You develop bad coping skills, you're perpetually angry at the world, and you probably end up either whining in a corner that life isn't fair, or doing a suicide by cop."
He scowls at her. That wasn't targeted straight at him at all, no. Hah. God, why is he listening to a smug, peppy little bitch who thinks she can psychoanalyze him, anyway?
"Also, you end up at the bottom of the pack."
His eyelid twitches. Not likely.
"Option three is the medication option. Just take option two and add a lot of fuzzy brain moments and loss of both professional and sex drive."
He stops pacing. "... What kind of bullshit is this."
"Ambition is linked to aggression -- especially for guys like you, I'd think," she adds, eyeing him critically. "Aggression brings up the wolf. The cocktail they give you gets to your testosterone levels, amongst other things, which in turn affects your level of desire. Tadahh. Oh, I'm not saying you'd never get it up again -- nothing that bad -- but there would be a difference."
It's pretty obvious what answer she wants him to select. Trouble is, even if the way she presents the information is biased, the information itself -- the bare facts underneath -- might not be. He needs to research this.
She chuckles and gives him a teasing smile, twirling her ponytail around her finger. "See it like an unexpected pregnancy! It's out of the blue and it changes lots of things and your body doesn't like you for a few months, but after that it's a brand new life."
His jaw twitches and he doesn't smile back. "You can abort an unplanned fetus."
"You can abort yourself too."
Her smile is gone, her eyes flat -- it changes her a lot. Still a pretty piece of fluff to look at, but only from afar. It doesn't mesh with the silly ponytail and brightly colored clothes. He has to look away.
"Option four, you kill yourself," she says, dispassionate. "I won't stop you. None of us will. But if you choose to live, then live -- don't just spend the rest of your time moping and whining that your life is over because you were too cowardly to end it for real. Because I can end it for you."
He can't help but stare again.
He hears guys posturing and boasting all day at work. This is not a boast. It's not even really a threat.
"You would kill me?"
"Do you want me to?" She twitches her head, sending her ponytail back over her shoulder. And now he's starting to see negative feelings on her face -- irritation.
A clear determination to slap him down if he keeps testing her.
It's so goddamn wrong that a twenty-year old girl is currently giving him the same vibe his father used to during his teenage years. God, that was so long ago. He's a man now and no one looks at him that way.
He clenches his fists and tries to keep his eyes from slipping away from hers, but they do it anyway.
"I should mention that drugs are not going to do it anymore. You can try jumping, but choose something that's at least twenty floors high or you might end up a paraplegic werewolf instead. Guns are only good if you blow out the center of the brain or the base of the spine straight away. Heart shots--"
"--If it takes you more than a couple of seconds to die, you'll transform. You might survive. Car fumes--"
She's still watching him with those cold, measuring eyes. "A suicidal wolf is a sick wolf, a danger to the pack. If you want to die, come to me. It'll be quick."
He stares at her, aghast. "Is that part of your counselor job, too?"
She stares at him for a few seconds longer, and then she gives an explosive sigh and relaxes against the wall, crossing her arms loosely. "Only for guys like you."
"... Guys like me?"
"Assholes. Alphas." She smiles. "Lots of correlations between those. It's like a Venn diagram."
"I'm surprised you know what those words means," he mutters snidely, though the biggest part of his brain has latched onto something else entirely.
Alpha? That's... leader, right? So he wouldn't be the bottom of the heap, expected to bend over backward for higher-ups? Because he hates that, it's the thing he hates the most at his job -- the reason he climbed up so high in the hierarchy, the reason even now, as one of the top executives, he still cannot relax one second when he's at the office. He still has people over him.
Then he notices the way she looks at him, and he knows she saw his expression change, and he understands that she mentioned the alpha thing especially to provoke that reaction -- to give him something to shoot for. He's torn between feeling annoyance and gratitude, and being unnerved to be read so well.
It's not likely he's still going to have a job when he leaves the hospital. He was at work when it happened.
He sits on the edge of the bed, only years of habit preventing him from slumping, and he rubs his hand over his face. Can't think about that now. Need a distraction.
"...How the hell did you even throw me down?" She can't be stronger than him. Not even if she's a werewolf. Right?
She giggles. "Easy. Momentum."
... oh. Well, that's an answer he can accept.
"But if we're talking about what I can bench-press, yeah, I'd do waaay more."
His shoulders tense at the challenge. He's -- if he is... like her, then... "...I'd have that boost too." And he's a man. He has the upper body strength advantage. She doesn't even look that muscled -- just sporty.
"It doesn't work like that. It's more about how often you've shifted in your life. But raw strength is kind of useless when you use weight and momentum instead. I mean, stronger or not, it's not like humans are very stable on just two legs with their center of gravity so high up. Give me four paws and you'll never knock me down."
It's disturbing how naturally she speaks of turning into a huge slavering beast. It sounds almost as if she'd rather be a wolf than a person. He looks away, unsettled.
"Anyway. How do you feel?"
He growls in annoyance. "Like I want to talk to a doctor."
"Get a professional opinion, huh?" She doesn't seem bothered. She even nods, as if she approves. It makes him feel a little sick. It's not the reaction of someone who expects to be proven wrong. "Alright, let me finish the spiel and then I'll get you clothes and I can call."
He glances down at his body in surprise. Oh. Hospital pyjamas. At least it's not a backless gown. ... He's not wearing any underwear with that.
Probably tore his way out of them. He closes his eyes, tries to banish the mental picture. It's vivid. Maybe even a memory. He doesn't want it.
"Alright. You listening?" she asks, peering at him. He grunts a yes. "So, what did I not cover already... uh. Your job, hm. You might get fired, I'm not going to bother saying it won't happen, but it's illegal and we have a good lawyer and solid precedent. You'd get enough money to live on for a while, that would get you enough time to decide what to do next. Are you renting or do you own your place?"
"Renting," he says.
"Might want to let that go, a brand-new werewolf isn't legally allowed to live on his own for at least six months and I've got to be easily accessible to the rest of the pack, can't move in with you instead."
He frowns at that. "Why does it have to be you?" As if he wants a giggling cheerleader in his space. Surely there have to be calmer, less nerve-grating types out here.
"Um, 'cause it's my job, duh."
"And in a pack of several hundred werewolves, there is only one ...babysitter?"
She scratches her ear and looks cute at him, which makes him twitch again. "Well, no, but the others aren't alpha enough to handle you."
He almost asks, 'oh, because you are?', but he can tell she is, it's all over her attitude, and that's irritating. The thought that he's too dominant for most others soothes his pride a little. When he gets used to this whole mess he'll climb in rank over hers, and then he can stop being so irritated at the thought that a bouncy blonde ranks higher than he does.
He realizes he just had a 'when' thought and shudders. No, he hasn't accepted this yet. There might be a way out. He doesn't even want to belong to their little family of furry freaks.
"So, recap. Long term, you'll choose for yourself eventually, don't think about it yet. Mid-long term, you've got either your job back, or some money to wait and see with. Shorter term, we're taking care of you and your only job is to learn to take care of yourself. If that bothers you," she adds, reading his face for clues he was barely aware he showed, "see it as self-interest. We really don't need the kind of press we'd get if we let a badly taught wolf rampage through the city."
He nods grudgingly.
He doesn't like any of this, and there's still a teetering instability in his mind that's only just hidden by all the rational talk and structures she's mentioning.
It's quiet now, barely there, but there's a wild animal inside his head, lying in wait for him to lose control again, and he doesn't know what to do about it. He feels like a ticking time bomb. He just wants a moment to himself, but he's not going to ask her for anything, especially not anything that shows a weakness.
"And, immediate term, clothes, doctor, and then ... I think the cops will wait until tomorrow. I get you back to my place and then you can crash. It's big and you can choose your room and we won't even have to share a bathroom or anything. Sounds good?"
"Lock on the door?"
Her face softens a little. "Yeah. It's even on the right side of the door," she adds, teasing in a gentle, friendly way.
Twitch. "I didn't think you were going to lock me up." Maybe he should have. Weird that he didn't.
She crouches to pick up a backpack she'd pushed under the bed and starts rummaging in it. He relaxes a little when she stops watching him, stops standing ready to counter his every move.
"Yeah, and if I were going to lock you up, I wouldn't put you in a bedroom. You'd go right through the wall," she says airily, and hands him a set of clothes that don't belong to him. "Here. Kinda guesstimated at your size but that should fit. No real shoes, sorry, we only have flip-flops. We've got this fund of donated clothes -- don't worry, they were washed--"
"Do you ever stop talking?"
She laughs. "Lemme think about it, umm..."
"Oh, just get out." He sighs and drops the clothes on the bed, hands rising to his pyjama top, then pauses. "Hey."
He can see her stopping with the door half-open from the corner of his eye.
"Can you... Nrgh." God does he hate asking for favors.
He growls halfheartedly. "Can you make sure no one wanders past the window while I change?"
"Not even me? Aw."
She laughs her little giggly laugh as she opens the door in full and takes a step across the threshold.
"Hey," he says again, unbuttoning his top.
"What did you say your name was again?"
He's got his back firmly turned so he can't see her face -- and so she can't see his -- but he can hear the grin anyway. "It's Breanna."
"... I'm James Turner."
"Can I call you Jim?" she asks, innocent as you please.
"No," he growls again, and glares the big bad wolf in ponytail right out of his room.
Breanna the werewolf cheerleader. It disturbs him how protected he feels knowing she's keeping watch out there, how anchored. Even the waiting insanity in his mind goes quiet.
He gets dressed, and then he takes a deep breath and he stomps down the instinct
to stay in here, in this safe room that already smells like him, and he walks