"Nature, red in tooth and claw."
--Alfred Lord Tennyson.
It was all ready time for the next full moon. An entire cycle had passed. He couldn't quite believe it. The days had snuck by on the errant toes of swift rabbits. It seemed like only last night that he'd run with a pack for the first time...and the second...and the third. It seemed like only last night that Bucky and Willem had gone with him to retrieve the van from the side of the Interstate. But he'd been here a month. A good month.
He sighed, leaning back against the oak tree that had a tire swing hanging from it's strongest branch. His acoustic guitar felt right in his lap. Besides the Pack, it had been his truest companion. He positioned his hand on the fretboard, strumming lazily through a variation of Everlast's "Put Your Lights On." The front lawn of the inn was scattered with other admirers of the autumn afternoon...meatpeople and wolves alike.
"Hey, Puppy!" Just as expected as it was unexpected, Vivian dropped out of the branches above like a lithe wood sprite and settled herself next to him. Her jeans, tank top, and girlish grin, made her seem every bit her nineteen years...but nothing could hide the regal curve of her neck and the power in her eyes.
The inn patrons didn't even blink...used to the owners' childish activities, no doubt. He'd learned quickly that Gabriel's pack was discreet...but they also valued their physical skills and their sense of fun.
"Hi, Queenie," he murmured with a grin, shifting over for a few more soulful and angsty Everlast chords.
Vivian listened to him play through the first eight measures of the song in respectful silence. Her breath fanned his face as her cocked head almost touched his shoulder. Her spicy essence and her flowery perfume drifted up around him. For just a second, it caught him off guard. His fingers caught on the strings and broke the melody. "Damn," he cursed, softly.
And the Queen's eyes were knowing. "Who was she?" she wondered.
"Who was who?" Oz offered her a tight smile, lowering his guitar to his other side as he banged his head on the tree trunk.
"The meatgirl who hurt you." There was no judgment in her tone. Simply sadness. And empathy.
"I hurt her, too," he assured as his throat closed up. As his legs urged him to run to the van parked in the garage and drive till he hit the ocean. Run with his tail between his legs. Like he'd been doing for so long.
"Two hurts don't make a right. Could she not accept the wolf?" Vivian asked, resting her chin on her drawn-up knees.
He shook his head, remembering tearing out Veruca's throat...remembering tearstains on a pale face...remembering monks in Tibet chanting away her eyes and her cute tendency to babble and the beast inside him. "She could. I couldn't. So I left her." And then he'd returned to her. Expecting everything to be same. Expecting to smell the sunflowers in her dark red hair and the breeze on her skin. "When I came back...it was too late. She fell in love with somebody else." He'd smelled Tara on her skin instead. He'd smelled the comfort and the love and the end of the loneliness he'd caused her. "And everything I learned about controlling the wolf went wild...I almost killed her girlfr-...the person she loved. I had to leave again."
"But you found us," Vivian pointed out, rubbing his spiked up hair, fondly. "So it all gets better from here."
"I hope so." He stroked his finger up the side of the amber curves of the acoustic, where a faded sticker that said "Sorry I missed church, Mom, I was practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian" had once been. He had peeled it off on the drive out of California. At the time, the irony hadn't been amusing. Now, he could smile. A little. It hurt just a tiny bit less.
"What was her name? What was she like?" Vivian tapped him on the shoulder, bringing him back with child-like curiosity.
He looked at her, listened to laughs of kids playing tag and the sound of leaves falling gently from the trees. He knew he could say it now. It would hurt just a tiny bit less.
"Her name was Willow. And she was everything."
"Her juice is like wine...and I'm hungry like the wooooooooolf..."
Four different keys. And Willem and Finn kept elbowing each other while Gregory traded stuck-out tongues with one of Gabriel's little sisters. Ulf was the only one who was actually keeping pretty good rhythm. Song seemed to open him up a bit. The quiet wolf made Oz look like a chatterbox.
Oz tried to keep playing despite the laughter that was shaking his frame. The Five was one accompanist and four horrible singers...guaranteed to never hit the Billboard charts. But the parlor was alive with admirers. With claps and howls and familial amusement. Vivian had lost it completely and was hiding her face in Gabriel's neck as he whispered something to her that made her laugh all the harder. Her mother, Esme, and her mate, Tomas, were half-listening and half flirting like teenagers.
He hadn't felt this high playing gigs at the Bronze or in L.A. Hell, he hadn't felt this high while smoking weed in Devon's basement. The Pack. His pack. The run. His run. The change. His change.
Because he had changed. Yet again. His was a state of constant metamorphosis. Like a song being rewritten over and over. A song of tooth, claw, and blood. Every day a new verse got added. Or a new chord sequence. And voices blended in to make the harmony.
The harmony of the Howl.
The moon was high in the sky.
The Five's next offering would be out in the night.
And the blood song would be perfectly on key.
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