It can be surprisingly easy to forget all your troubles when you're just hanging out with your pack. Or group, or buddies, or whatever you like to call the collection of friends you just hang out with. Running with your pack is such a sense of freedom and security and friendship and trust. That feeling of having a place, but still having room to be who you are inside of that place, it's very liberating. You just sort of enjoy "being" and let everything else go for a while.
And all three of us at JJ's house got lost in it. Which was starting to look like a big mistake. I don't mean that making JJ a pack member was a mistake. I mean that forgetting that those assholes were still out there someplace and never asking JJ if they knew where he lived, that was a mistake.
Charlie called JJ his property. And he'd called him a "little bitch." Both of which infuriated me and Nicky, although to differing degrees and for differing reasons. I knew that the whole "bitch-boi" thing was still close to the surface for Nick. He was taking it personally, even if they meant JJ this time, which was what I was thinking at the time.
But the part of it that made me angry was the fact that he was treating JJ like a thing, not a person. Like he was just something to use for his own amusement. Like he was, to put not too fine a turn of phrase to it, a slave.
Now I've never been a slave. I don't know anyone who could be considered a slave. I don't even think I know of any place in this world that still allows slavery. But I did know JJ, at least a little bit. And while I don't know everything about him, I do know that no person should think that they own another person, ever.
At the very least, no one should treat anyone else that way. That alone got me a bit angry. I wasn't far from calling on my Rage at the moment. Not just because we were outnumbered and they brought weapons this time. I really can't stand bullies and I really can't stand people who persecute and put down others. Nick has strong feelings about that, too. So if Charlie and his pack wanted to dance, they were about to find two very willing werewolves ready to throw down.
"Ya'll have about ten seconds, starting eight seconds ago, to get the fuck off this beach before ah tickle your insides with a fence post," Nick said, practically growling.
I glanced around the collection of miscreants and idiots, noticing right away that Knuckles, aka Tony, was standing near the front, tapping one end of his big steel pole into one hand. His eyes were squarely on me. There was something innately menacing about that. Something that part of my mind wanted to analyze in greater detail. But it could wait. All I had to know right now was that the pole gave him more reach on me and would probably hit a lot harder than just his meaty knuckles alone could.
Charlie spoke, which sort of focused me. "The Cajun and the pretty boy are dead meat. No one touches the bitch but me. Have fun with the other two." Okay, even assholes have priorities I guess.
Nick and I risked a quick glance at each other. We both knew that the other one was ready for this fight, even if we didn't know how to fight. We also knew that there was no way in hell we were likely to win this one without overtly using our powers or possibly even shape shifting. But in that moment, we pretty much didn't give a damn. JJ needed us and was even less informed on the nature of fisticuffs than Nick and I. He needed our protection. We're Garou of the Children of Gaia tribe. It's what we do.
A quick head count showed that we were pretty much looking at about 13 kids, four of them with the bigger iron bars and three more with shorter chunks of iron. The six unarmed ones were spread to the outside, so that they could keep us stuck between the house and the guys with the steel. As we stood there, two more moved in behind us and blocked our path back to the door. Apparently they'd been hiding and waiting for us to come out. It was a trap well laid. This left the three of us standing in a circle about ten feet across.
"Kick their asses!" Charlie yelled and raised his long chunk of steel. The armed kids ran forwards the few steps while the others simply stood around and snickered, watching the show.
I still had the Frisbee in my hand. As soon as Tony started in, I spun in place and dropped my wrist, flinging the plastic disk right at his face. He tried to deflect it with the heavy steel in his hands but simply managed to bonk himself on the head as the Frisbee tonked him right between the eyes.
Another kid came at me with a short piece of steel and tried to smash into my shoulder. I saw it coming but didn't have any training on what to do when someone comes at you like that, so I stepped back and let his swing pass right in front of me. I got pissed at that. Rage is such a helpful thing at times. I let it flow and rushed in behind the swing, punching for the guy's stomach as hard as I could. He fell over on his side, wheezing.
I risked a look back at Nick and saw he was doing some dodging of his own, and that turned out to be a mistake on my part. Almost simultaneously I got hit in the left leg by one of the longer poles and across the small of my back by one of the short poles. I can't tell you which one hurt worse, but I did see stars and splotchies dance in front of me as I went down to one knee.
Pain makes me even madder, and the Rage kicked up a notch. The long pole belonged to Tony, and he suddenly became the focus of all my anger. The short pole guy tried another hit with his chunk and I let instinct take over.
I shifted. Straight to Glabro, the caveman looking form. It makes me slightly bigger, lots heavier and lots stronger than my usual human form. And, not to put too fine a point on it, Glabro is a form that I heal really quickly in. I just hoped that these brain dead fools wouldn't realize I'd gotten taller just as they were trying to cut my legs out from under me.
Short pole guy swung in and I lashed out with my right arm, grabbing the pole as it sailed in towards my head. My fist easily wrapped around the end he intended to smash me with. I turned to look at him and grinned, hopefully evilly.
Then I took the iron club from his hand and punched him in the jaw. He sat down in the sand and I turned my attention to Tony. Good thing too, because he was already swinging like he wanted to knock my head out of the park.
I blocked his stroke with the iron club still in my hand and felt him actually cry out as his pole hit my club. The shock apparently was too much and he dropped the steel pole, shaking out his hands. I went to give him a quick knuckle sandwich, using the fist still holding the iron bar in it, when something else happened to change my outlook.
A metal bar smashed into the back of my skull. It hit full force, so someone was really trying to tattoo me when they came in. I hit the ground nose first, feeling the whole planet tilt left and my whole body spinning with the impact.
"Stop!" I heard JJ shout, coming to stand near me. Well, near but definitely out of range. "No! Cody! Nick!" he whined. "Charlie! Call them off!"
"They earned this," Charlie said, from behind me. Apparently he was responsible for my sudden need for Tylenol. "Now they're gonna pay."
"Stop it, Charlie! Please! I'll do whatever you want! Just stop hurting them!"
"Too late for that now," the bully leader said. "I'm enjoying this too much. And once I'm done with them," his voice dropped, taking on a truly sinister quality, "then I get to play with you a while."
I looked around. Nick was on the ground about five feet from me, getting beaten on by the guys with the poles and kicked by several others. I realized, with a sharp pain in my own ribs, that I was getting similar treatment, I'd just been too brain numbed to feel it yet.
They were beating on my boyfriend! I was suddenly madder than I'd ever been in my entire life. And I gathered up that Rage and surged it outwards, pushing my body to get back up and deal out some pain.
Just as I was about to shove myself back up, I heard a familiar, older voice say, "Hey, boys! This a private party or can, like, anyone just drop in?"
Rolf came in and clothes-lined about half the guys who were pounding on me. I saw his wild beach hair flying as he scooped up one kid that must have almost weighed twice my normal weight and tossed him into another kid who was trying to tenderize Nick's kidneys some more. I leapt up and elbowed some kid in the face hard enough that he fell over.
Nick got up and was slow starting but he dealt out the pain as well. There was just this moment of transcendent energy flowing through me, and probably though him as well. Rage can be an addictive thing. It can also be more of a high than any drug going because it's a natural part of who I am as a werewolf. It's a powerful tool in the Garou's war to defend and reclaim the Earth from those that would corrupt and destroy it. For those that think it's just a "culture of violence" thing, you might want to consider that it's a war I was born into, not one of my own making. Oh, and that we're fighting for not just the physical shell of the world, but the soul of the world and all those who live on her. That includes you too, dear reader.
And for the record, I don't just fight with Rage. I use my brain and my heart as well. Reaching out to JJ was as much a minor victory in that war as fighting these random abusers is. And as any Garou will tell you, any victory against the Wyrm, be it physical, spiritual or just emotional is still a victory; take them when you can because they are few and far between.
Philosophy aside, I was so pissed and so going with the Rage that I really can't remember much else for the rest of the fight. What I do remember is that at the end, Tony came at me again, with his pole, and I just stepped forwards and grabbed the pole and ripped it out of his hands. He sort of decided to run then. Most of them did, some dragging their buddies with them. They all looked like the loosing end of a monster truck argument.
Nick stood beside me, leaning heavily on my back as I stood bent over, hands on my hips. He was swearing like a lesbian truck driver watching pro wrestling. I felt myself blushing at what he was saying. He can seriously lay down the verbal nasty, my boi can. I was embarrassed but proud, even if I couldn't laugh at his tirade yet. My chest was still heaving from the fight.
JJ stood near us. I say that to mean that he stood nearer us than he did to Rolf and this other surfer who stood beside him, both of them with their chests heaving. How did I know that the other dude was a surfer? He was wearing one of those half wet suit things and the chest and arms part were rolled down to his waist.
"You okay?" I asked JJ. I looked over at him. It seemed he was almost shivering. Didn't look like he'd had a scratch on him. But he still looked almost terrified. Then I realized that Nick and I were still sort of in Glabro. I quickly growled to Nick and shifted, slowly, trying to make it look like my features didn't really change.
"Hey, JJ. Ya'll look like ya'll seen a ghost," Nick said, standing up. The difference in his Glabro height and his usual height is pretty significant. Nearly 5 inches and I don't know how many pounds in extra muscle and bone, maybe like 50 or so.
"I'm... I'm okay," he stammered. And he took a step towards his house. Rolf looked over at us and started jabbering away about seeing us "little dudes" in trouble and he and his buddy Skeeter came over to "lay the smack down" on those punks. "Skeeter" didn't say much, but I still had a fading tracing of fae sight from last night and could see he was a Satyr.
Before everyone starts panicking about me seeing stuff like that, I should say that since realizing I'm a theurge and trying to live up to that potential, I've been seeing a lot of weird shit. So it's not all that unusual that I can still see changelings for what they really are both ways. It's also not that weird for me to see Satyrs as allies. They've been helping keep things cool around the caern for a while now. They aren't part of the caern, they just seem to think that protecting the beach and keeping it sacred is sort of the right thing to do.
They also throw some helaciously bad ass parties.
"You grommets gonna be okay?" Skeeter asked as Rolf bent over to pick up a discarded hunk of steel. Rolf had told Nick and me long ago that we were grommets in training. I didn't understand at first until Rolf told me that a grom or grommet was a kid surfer. Which was strange, since we have never surfed before. He said that learning to ride a wave was the first step to learning to fight. You have to stay as loose and powerful as water. Riding the wave, he'd said, was an exercise in staying loose and going with the flow, just like fighting.
To be honest, I wasn't all that sure he was right. I certainly didn't have any idea what half of what he said meant. Chalk it up to him being the most laid back ahroun I'd ever met and a California surf dog stuck on the east coast. Nick once told me he thinks Rolf swallowed too much sea water as a grommet himself.
"No more gnarly evil groms lookin' to go all agro on you?" Skeet continued asking, clearly worried but in a macho "walk it off" kinda way, like a gym coach after a nasty game of below the belt dodgeball. I felt like I'd been the guest of honor at a meat tenderizing party. It probably looked worse than it felt, but damn did it feel pretty nasty.
"Naw, we're aight, Skeet," Nick said. I went from a bend over to a frog squat, trying to disguise my height going back to normal. It also gave me a few moments to be observant. Nick and Skeeter talked quickly, reliving the fight. It kept JJ busy watching them and not me, leaving me free to look.
There was something about how Rolf was carefully examining the long bar of construction steel in his hand that caught my attention. Even in human form, he sniffed at it. Two short sniffs then a long, extended draw going up the length of the bar between his hands. His eyes went wide.
Rolf's eyes shifted over to where Skeeter was walking over by a shorter chunk of the steel, one of the short clubs the bullies left in their wake, along with their pride, self-respect, a little blood and a lot of urine. The Satyr was bending over to pick it up, reaching down while keeping up his conversation with Nick. To his credit, Rolf schooled his features well. It was his sudden movement and his shift of focus to his buddy that betrayed his alarm.
"Yo, Skeets!" he called out but failed to get Skeeter's attention. The Satyr surfer's hand was just about to close on the short bar when Rolf practically yelled out "Patrick!"
"Dude!?" Skeeter said, startled and sounding all indignant. But he straightened up and turned to look at Rolf, his hand smoothly gliding away from the iron club in the sand. "Only my Mom and the cops and my stock broker call me Patrick. I thought we was buds, Bra?" He sounded genuinely hurt.
"Just lookin' out for you, kimo. Didn't want you touchin' that hunk a' junk before you go to wax your stick. I got all greasy and like tiny slivers of like cold metal all in my paw from just touchin' this one."
Patrick, or Skeeter, looked down at the steel club with his eyes going as big as beach balls. "Fer real?" he asked, this time sounding like someone had just told him that the Earth was flat and it was his fault.
"Fur real, dude," Rolf replied gravely. Nick squinted in a tiny, confused look as I stood back upright, holding a spot on my back that someone had purpled a bit with one of those poles. Apparently I wasn't the only one who recognized that tone in Rolf's voice. I remember seeing Skeeter seem to go three shades paler and step back from the chunk of steel laying in the sand at his feet.
"I didn't even see that," he said, almost too softly.
And while I was wondering what all the subtle hints and out of place drama was about, I'd have to wait to satisfy my curiosity about it. Other things needed my immediate attention. Keeping JJ safe was one. Keeping our secret safe was the another.
"Ouch," I moaned, wincing. "Hey, JJ, can I get some ice for this before it starts swelling. I don't want to be all bruised up."
"Your skin too pretty for bruises?" Nick asked, snidely. I gave him a partially unamused look.
"Uh, yeah," he replied, not really sure if he wanted us near himself or his father's rental house just now. All this violence and uncertainty in what his senses told him about us during that fight must have had him stuck in a loop.
"Okay, groms. Stay away from those assholes, 'kay? See ya!" Rolf said, him and Skeeter moving off. They waved and we waved back, JJ almost looking like he didn't want to wave but his body did it out of habit. His mind clearly was on other things.
As was mine. Like on what he'd said while pleading with Chuck for our lives. I'll do whatever you want, he'd said. Like he was giving up his first born child or something equally fairy tale evil like that. And the way that Chuck responded just plain screamed warning sign to me. Clearly there was far more going on here than you gather with just one sniff. Like Rolf with that long stretch of rebar, there was something not-quite right going which needed deeper understanding.
Speaking of which, I reminded myself to find out later what that whole bit with Skeeter was about. Something told me it was important. Important enough that he risked saying something in code, hoping that Skeeter would get the clue.
I remembered something else right about then that caught my attention. Two things really. First was the remarkable way that Chuck had reached out and blindly grabbed JJ in the arcade. JJ was basically behind the bully leader, and trying to slink away. But Charlie had managed to strike his arm out in precisely the right place at the right time to snag JJ's arm as if his eyes were guiding his hand. No missing, no lucky groping to find JJ, just a single fast reach and snag.
The other thing was something that JJ had said when we were discussing the bullies. He told me that Knuckles' real name was Tony and that "I hear them talk to each other sometimes when they're done with me."
When they're done with me, he'd said. At the time I'd thought that it was about beating him up for the money or just intimidating him. You know, bully stuff. Suddenly, that phrase had a lot more meanings, and none of them bright, shiny things.
I shook my head. Too many mysteries at once for even Scooby-Doo and the gang to solve. And my enquiring mind wanted to know. I decided to focus on JJ for now. He needed us the most. Rolf and Skeeter seemed to be in control of whatever they had going. We left the cast aside weapons in the sand and turned towards the rental.
Nick "helped" me up the boardwalk and back inside. JJ had sunk into one of the big chairs, suddenly looking a lot smaller than he was. Part of me wanted to believe that it was just the shock of everything outside catching up to him. Another part was sure it was something else. I had a feeling we were about to find out.
Inhale. Hold it. Relax. Exhale.
Once inside, Nick got me over to the couch and I flopped onto it, belly down, face going into a trio of throw pillows. You forget how good it feels to rub your face against couch pillows when you haven't done it for about two months. You forget a lot of things.
Nick went into the kitchen, ostensibly to get a towel and some ice to put on my bruised side. JJ just sort of sat there, staring near me but not at me. I risked a pained look into the kitchen and saw Nicky shifting. He was out of JJ's line of sight, so he was pretty much safe to do so. Nick went straight to Lupus and started sniffing around, making sure we were alone.
Which gave me the time to talk to JJ. I looked over and from his expression I could see he was of two minds about anything to do with us. He looked trapped. I could see guilt, shame and helplessness in his eyes. My heart just went out to him.
Now as a Garou, my inborn duty to Gaia is to fight against the Wyrm. Where it lives and where it breeds. The Wyrm is a tough concept to get a grasp on. Originally, the Wyrm was the third part of the cycle of nature. There is the Wyld, raw creation. Then there's the Weaver, who establishes order and pattern to the universe. Then there's the Wyrm, which used to be the natural decay we all face. The stuff of decay leads to new material for new creation and the cycle starts all over again. It's the interaction of this Triat that forms the basis of what nature should be.
Without going tooooo deep into Garou mythology and theology, the Weaver went a bit crazy, tried to prevent her patterns from being destroyed through natural decay and trapped the Wyrm in her webs. This made the Wyrm go nuts from being trapped and he decided to destroy everything.
Yeah, I know. Makes no sense unless you live it. Then it not only makes sense, but it explains why so many nasty things are out to get you. So, don't try this at home.
So, the Wyrm is not just natural decay anymore, but it's also the force of corruption. Unnatural corruption, that is, of both the physical world and the spiritual one. It's the corruption of the soul and of the mind. Like the Christian world's demons. Foul spirits were being drawn to JJ and would possibly lead him to do terrible things, not only to himself, but to others.
JJ was in danger of falling into spiritual or mental corruption. His soul was carrying some tremendous burden and he was turning inwards on himself. I could almost see it happening right before my eyes. I so much wanted to help ease that from him. Heart pain leads to depression and that just lets the evil in. Happy people are usually healthier people, you'll notice. Those that have mental illnesses get blamed for causing all kinds of evils. That's the Wyrm's handiwork in action.
Now you know what we werewolves are up against.
I hated to see him hurting. Fighting the Wyrm might be our calling, but helping a friend is just the right thing to do. It's what friends do for each other.
His eyes told part of the story. Through an act of sheer will alone he seemed to be holding it together. But like the story of the Little Dutch Boy, you can't plug all the holes in the dyke forever. Sooner or later you either have to fix the walls or let the sea come tumbling in like a crashing wave.
"Good thing Rolf and Skeeter were around," I moaned, trying to catch JJ's eyes.
"They saved my ass."
"Never thought Charlie and his goon platoon would show up on you door step, though," I said, trying to engage him beyond just one word answers.
"He's been here before," JJ said, with closed eyes. "His uncle owns a lot of houses on the beach. Rent's 'em out for the summer. I reckon Charlie knows most of 'em well."
"That figures. Why are all the rich guys assholes?"
"I'm not an asshole," JJ replied, sounding slightly wounded. "Am I?"
I smiled weakly, keeping up the illusion that I was hurting. I'd already healed up, the bruise was mostly superficial and would be gone the next time I transformed. "That's because you're one of the beautiful exceptions to the rule," I said. For a moment, he grinned and then his worried, depressed expression returned.
"That's not the only reason Charlie knew where to find us, isn't it?" I asked, tapping into my Persuasion gift. Hopefully I sounded supportive and concerned instead of accusing.
"No," he said at length, sighing. "It isn't."
"He's got some kinda connection to you," I said, softly. JJ nodded and I could tell it was something painful.
"I don't know what to do," he confessed, his voice trembling, as were his hands. "I don't know who to trust anymore."
"You mean you don't know if you can trust Nick and me?"
"Yes," he replied, looking at his own feet, sticking out almost straight from the edge of the arm chair.
"Because of what happened in the fight?" I offered. Again he nodded, almost reluctantly. I sighed, loudly, hoping that if he heard me trying to relax like that in what was becoming a difficult social situation, that maybe he'd relax a little, too.
Now, there's a part of Garou law that goes "thou shall take no action which lifts the Veil." That's the shroud of secrecy that we werewolves, and many other supernatural beings, live under. Chalk it up to cultural brainwashing and something Joey calls the "denial of the collective unconscious." I'm not totally sure what that means, but the Veil itself is basically a disbelief that keeps my kind from being noticed. You've heard it before, like a million times. There's no such things as werewolves. Or vampires. Or ghosts, immortals, gods, spirits, magic, faeries, monsters, dragons and such like that.
I know different, as many of you might as well, but the Veil is there. When I first asked what the Veil really was, someone told me it was a sort of racial insanity that helps people sleep at night, not worrying about the monsters just this side of the darkness all around them. The bliss of ignorance, you might say. By changing in front of JJ, we might have lifted the Veil for him, maybe just a bit. But it's those times that you doubt what your mind thinks it sees that often lead to the witch hunts that have doomed much of human culture to a drab, dreary spiritless existence.
But that's another story.
So saying all of that, two thoughts filtered through my head as I was considering what to do next. First was wondering if Nicky and I had broken that law and shown JJ we were not-quite normal. But right on the heals of that was the idea that I didn't care if we'd lifted the Veil on JJ. He was hurting and I had to help him. What kind of defender of Gaia would I be if I didn't at least try to fix the broken parts of her? Broken parts like the wounded soul of a boy my own age in torment.
JJ kept looking over at me and then away. Kinda like he had something to say but couldn't find the words or work up the nerve to say them. It's a common enough conflict that I understood how powerful the forces were that fought inside him. Been there, done that.
It's a matter of trust. When someone breaks faith with you, not only is it tough to deal with that person again, but you can even become suspicious of everyone else. Really bad breaks, the painful kind, even make you doubt yourself and want to draw away from reality. It takes a lot to get trust back. Even more to get back trust in yourself.
How do I know this? Let's just say that when you talk to spirits and ghosts like I do, and as often as I do, you gain a lot from the experience. But those, too, are different stories and right now I should continue with JJ's situation.
Seeing how much trouble JJ was having just trying to start talking about this, I figured that a little trust needed to be grown between us. I made a difficult choice, but decided that if truth was needed, I had two secrets I could share with JJ. Two biggies.
But I had to start him talking first.
"Those guys were seriously gonna kick our asses," I said, catching his eyes for a fleeting second before he looked down in shame, again. "From how they were talking, they wanted revenge on Nicky and me, but something else from you."
JJ shifted uncomfortably in the chair, half looking like he was going to bolt for the stairs. Which was something I couldn't allow because Nick was padding up stairs, following his nose. He was making sure we were alone and safe while I dealt with JJ. Teamwork, you know?
"This is about more than just money, isn't it?" I asked softly.
JJ looked away from me, gazing out the window at the beach and the rolling surf. He nodded with a painful swallow that I could practically hear. His eyes were all glassy, on the brink of tears.
"Did they hurt you?" I asked, meaning far more than just physical hurts. I am certain he knew what I meant and his eyes showed it, as he closed them slowly, and with a lot of agony crossing his face. Almost immediately I regretted asking him that question. Usually I think before I speak. Usually. Causing him more pain wasn't what I had in mind. He opened his eyes again, with great slowness and I saw his lip tremble slightly. I wasn't certain if he was breathing at all.
JJ's hand darted up to his face, quicker than a flea on crack, and wiped away a tear before it had a chance to do more than just touch the top of his high cheeks. His hand had that sort of nervous, almost trembling energy to it as he cleared his eye. Still facing away from me, he tilted his head up slightly, like he was looking up to heaven for advice.
"They did, didn't they? They hurt you and treated you badly. They abused your trust."
"Charlie," he began, swallowing hard, another tear needing a quick swipe away before it betrayed its presence down his face. "It was Charlie."
"It's okay, man. Nick and me aren't like that. We don't betray friends."
"You might when you hear what I did. What I am."
"You might be surprised there," I said, almost grinning. "And you don't have to tell us if you don't want to. Nick and I, we understand about secrets." I paused as he looked over at me, his gaze kind of floating before his eyes focused on mine, reluctantly. "We know that sharing and keeping them are important."
"Yeah, Nick and I have more than a few."
"You heard him, huh?"
"When you begged Charlie to stop wailing on us? Yeah, I saw that. And I heard how he treats you like a thing." JJ inhaled sharply. "I gotta tell you, it pisses me off how he treats you. My friends aren't things. They're people. They're important."
Precious," I replied, meeting his wavering, hopeful gaze. I remember thinking to myself at this moment that Charlie had really done some damage here. I had a sudden urge to see what Charlie's liver tasted like, raw, warm and fresh from his rib cage. If he'd shown his face at that house just then, I'd have redecorated the place with his drippy insides. Well, maybe. I tend to be more tactful than that. I hold my Rage until it's needed.
I looked deeply at JJ then. His "cowboy from the western high country" front was completely down and he was just JJ now, a kid out on his own, overcome by demons of flesh and blood as well as emotions battling inside him. Lost. Vulnerable. He needed friends.
And like I said before, it's who we are. It's what we do.
"You and Nick're special, aren't ya'll?" he began, his voice as brittle and fragile as a dry twig.
"We're different," I replied. Moment of truth time. I hoped it wouldn't turn ugly.
"No. Ya'll're special. To each other."
"Oh," I blinked. He was talking about that instead of about our supernatural heritage. "Well, yeah. We kinda are. I didn't think we were that obvious about it."
"I guess I just know what to look for. I'm kinda special too. I just got no luck findin' what you and Nick..." He trailed off, frowning a little more, if that was possible. But he was talking, and that meant he was sort of dealing with things. I'm not Doctor Phil, cuz I actually hate that guy, but I know that to get people better you have to get them to deal with stuff.
And I also know because I haven't really talked or dealt with my own issues much lately. I guess that I have a lot of work to do.
"No luck finding the right guy to be special with?' I asked. He nodded most solemnly. A tear swelled under his right eye and his deft fingers flew up to flick it away.
Whoever said cowboys don't cry was a liar.
"How did you and Nick meet?"
"Camping out, actually. Neither of us was comfortable with our families so we just sort of met, hung out together and wound up tenting together. Some weird shit happened and we were sort of there for each other through the rougher parts of it. Like that," I shrugged. "We were friends first. Both realized some other stuff and kinda just... I dunno, we both just knew. It's something you feel more than can explain."
Oddly enough, I'd never told anyone else about how Nick and I met, not person to person. Even writing it down before had been tough for me. I know that what I'd told JJ was a highly edited version of events, but it was all of it true. At least I felt it was.
"And ya'll do... stuff?"
"Yeah," I said, feeling myself blush. "We haven't done it, yet, like go all the way or whatever, but we do stuff for each other."
"He... he really cares about you, huh?"
"He loves me. I love him. Sounds kinda simple when you say it like that, but like, that's how it is." I sat up a bit, resting my elbow on the arm of the couch. Pieces of what JJ said filtered through my gray matter and a bit of the fog cleared. I knew what questions to ask, all of a sudden. Part of me knew the answers wouldn't be pretty.
"I'm guessing that Charlie knows about you," I offered.
JJ nodded, and gave a shuddering sigh. "You ever go on the internet?" he asked, focusing his eyes on his fidgeting hands in his lap.
"Yeah. My dad was a computer guy. So we were always getting the newest stuff." I felt a twinge at that memory, but I'd deal with it later. Had to focus on JJ now.
"You ever go lookin' for... you know... porn? Like gay porn?"
"No. I didn't even know I liked other boys til I met Nick. Well, not that I'd ever have admitted to myself. Besides, Dad was always upgrading my computer, so I didn't dare. If he'd found stuff like that I'd be in so much trouble... my parents are like, Republicans."
"Yeah, I guess. I kinda knew I liked guys for a while. So I kinda looked for stuff."
"And vids. There's tons out there. Lots of guys got webcams and they'd like get on camera and do stuff." His voice was getting a little hoarse and he swallowed loudly. I dunno if he was getting hoarse from excitement at the subject or if it was just all the emotions he was juggling fouling his voice some.
"Is that kinda stuff legal?"
I have no idea why I thought to ask that. Human law was the last thing I needed to bring into this discussion. Some things just slip out of your mouth when you get to thinking three steps ahead.
"I don't reckon so," JJ said, but he said it so you knew that he knew it wasn't. "But it shouldn't matter. If a guy gets all naked and turns on the cam and types to other guys and then starts doin' stuff and is watchin' other guys doin' stuff, they pretty much know what they want, right? I mean, there's all these steps so you know what you're doin' and what the consequences are. You know that you might wind up all over the internet jackin' off."
"And like, it's safer that way. No one touches you or hurts you or makes you do anything you don't want to. You cain't catch AIDS so whatever cuz you're alone and clean and all, and like no diseases change over and junk. I mean, it's safe. You're not bein' hurt by some guy who don't care about you and just wants to get off. And like you can say the dirtiest things, an' do whatever ya'll're comfortable doin' and like you're still safe at home."
So, I thought. He does have a lot of stuff bubbling under the surface there.
"What about, like, psycho older guys? I mean, you see stuff on the news all the time about old dudes that want to do kids. Especially those freaky two-faced government types, teachers and religious leader guys. That's got to be dangerous. Some of them are bound to be nasty."
He nodded, but the corner of his mouth twitched, like he was half-way to smiling.
"I don't give out personal information. Besides, I'm not into older guys. I let 'em watch, but I more like guys, us, like, uhmm, more... more our age. You know?" JJ's eyes darted to me and his expression shifted from one of remembered happiness to worry.
"You don't think I'm bad for all this?"
"Ya'll ain't mad cuz I'm a... a cam whore?" he asked, almost reluctantly.
I slowly sat up, keeping eye contact with JJ, even when he tried to look away. I wasn't going for a stare down sort of thing, just wanted to keep him focused on me and my words. I wanted him to see exactly how I felt when I spoke again. And I used my thoughtful look, hopefully.
"I don't know about all that. I don't think you're a whore. You know what you like and you found a way to get it that kept you safe and made you happy. And you hurt no one by doing it. That doesn't sound like a bad person to me."
"But the things I've done..."
"Hell, JJ! If I'd have known all about this back when I did have a computer and a webcam, I might have done the same thing. Now that I think about it, I probably would. It sounds like fun!"
He grinned in that sort of mischievous way that Nick does sometimes. Like when he's had a really dirty thought, or come up with a really funny prank to play on someone. His lips contorted a bit with trying not to smile.
"Maybe, I dunno, maybe you're right that it shouldn't be illegal. It sounds like it's a lot safer than asking guys at school if they wanna do stuff. Guys get beat up over things like that. One kid was even beaten by his own football team, and they crammed a banana up his butt, just because they thought he was lookin' at other guys. And he wasn't even gay!"
"I'd heard of that on the news. It scared me. I was gonna talk to Daddy about it," JJ said, and his face went back to worried mode, "but he started talkin' about what a damn fool thing the whole thing was and I got scared. He was mad about it. I reckon he don't like gays much."
"Yeah. It's not easy for us."
"Well, as far as like stuff on the net is concerned, I think it's safer there than like just walkin' around. Too many people talk hate and then some moron goes and acts on it. No wonder guys only come out online, these days."
"Yeah," he said again.
"I mean, as long as you're safe and actually have a real life, like and not stay in front of the computer alla time, it sounds like a good deal. Sounds like me and Nick are missing out on stuff!" I said, grinning broadly. "And like you say, as long as it's just through the computer, you're safe. You have control. You take your chances with it, but it's not like anyone's forcing you to do it."
"Yeah. Even if you meet freaky guys online like that, they don't actually touch me." His mouth twitched again. "That's the deal, though. Playin' with myself on line, even with people watchin' and playin', too... It's still just me playin' with myself. It's...," he paused sinking a little deeper into the chair.
"Yeah." He sighed again, the miserable expression registering fully on his face again. "I'm tutored at home. The nearest school to the ranch is almost 60 miles away, through foothills and across three streams. The roads is all back and forth. Almost easier to get to town on foot or on horseback.
"All the kids at the ranch are kid's of my dad's ranch hands. They pretty much don't like me much. Some of 'em work in the stables, where my horse is. I guess they're jealous or intimidated or somethin'. Whatever. I pretty much don't have friends anymore. Not fer real anyways. Just internet jack-off buddies."
I nodded like I understood. And I really tried to, but I didn't completely have common ground with JJ here. Despite having the super geek workaholic dad, I wasn't really into computers so much. I was pretty much a boring kid before I met Nick and found out I'm a werewolf. I really wasn't even sure I liked guys until I met Nick. I got hard around guys a lot, but it never clicked for me until then.
Guess I got lucky that the first guy I fell for just happened to howl at the moon, too. Saves me from having to go through the whole experimenting thing. Or the dodging silver bullets thing.
So, while I wanted to be helpful and understanding, my lack of experience with other guys in general and internet video jacking sort of put a slight pause to my thoughts. I tried to focus on JJ's loneliness. On his need for sexual validation, I guess is the best word for it. We all want to be wanted. We all need to be needed. We're all searching for love and belonging.
What would you call it?
People, human and Garou and wolf alike, are social creatures. Being alone when you don't have to be is a sickness of a sort. Like depression. It just leads to sooooo many other problems and it doesn't feel good. A lone wolf isn't just lonely. He's usually a bit "off" mentally, too. Same is true for humans, which is why they call a slightly insane or misguided, anti-social person a "lone wolf." It's the same for all three species.
It was time for the next tough question. I think JJ realized what I was about to ask next, because he inhaled and slowly let it out. I could tell that this would be a tough one for him. I mean, at this point, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to piece the clues together. Still, JJ needed to say it himself. He had to own it and control it. It had owned him for long enough.
And I don't know exactly where all this sort of self-help and counseling stuff was coming from, but it felt right. As a theurge, things speak to me all the time, their spirits anyways. Perhaps this was an ancestor whispering into my mind the sort of things that JJ needed to hear and say. Perhaps it was some innate talent of mine that I'd never discovered. Whatever the case may be, it was working and it felt right. So I just went with it.
Instinct can be a wonderful thing.
"Meet him online. We talked. We watched each other, you know," he shrugged, blushing a bit, "doing stuff on cam. When I told him he wont see me on fer a few day 'cuz me and Dad was goin' on vacation near Boston, he got excited. He wanted to... to meet. Like for real. After all the stuff we went through, I kinda wanted to meet him too.
"Then he told me his uncle rents beach houses out, and like, wouldn't it be cool if Dad rented one of 'em so we could do stuff around while Dad got stuff done in town. Seemed perfect. Dad liked the idea that I'd know someone here while he was off at his reunion and just like that, it happened.
"When I met Charlie for real, he was cool. He came over for a cook out. I met his uncle. We played video games and stuff. Next day, Dad went off into Boston and Charlie came over. He showed me around the boardwalk and we like had pizza at that corner stand down at Center. We came back here to get out of the rain, there was a storm comin' in off the ocean that day, and like...." JJ looked away, but when the tears started rolling down this time, his lightning quick fingers stayed by his side.
"Was he mean to you?"
"No," he squeaked. "We just watched each other at first. Then we.... Traded. God, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. It felt so good to have someone else touch me there. To be touchin' someone there. It felt right."
"Then, after that first time, we got excited again. And like, he started getting rough." His cool green eyes slid over to me and locked onto mine. "Real rough."
I nodded. Nick and I get wild sometimes. I know it can be a good thing or a very bad thing. You have to figure it out on your own, like where your boundaries are, but ... well, yeah. It's not easy to figure out. Either way, Charlie apparently went beyond JJ's limits and didn't care that JJ was protesting about it. Like I said, it can be good or it can be bad. I had a sneaking suspicion that for JJ it was the very wrong side of things.
"So, he hurt you on purpose?"
"Yeah. He knew what he was doin', too. Like he'd done things like that before." He closed his eyes, as if some image was dancing before his eyes. Some image he'd rather forget, I'm sure. "Part of me liked it, when he was rough. It's like he was in control. I did everything he told me to." He opened his eyes with the pains and pleasures of those memories fighting for control of his face.
"It was awesome, Cody. It was so real. It was real sex! Not just jackin' on the net. I was a little scared, but I couldn't say no."
"But what changed?"
"Well, after that, like a day after, we were talkin' and he told me that he had a buddy he sometimes did stuff with. He wanted to know if like I'd want to maybe meet him too and see if the three of us could do stuff. I was scared, but I was a little excited about that. A lot excited I guess. Ya, only read about stuff like that. I mean, it doesn't really happen, leastways I used to think so. I was hopin' to get my turn with Charlie, anyways, so... I agreed to meet him."
Having no clue what he was talking about, with all this internet sex stuff, I still nodded so he would continue.
"Is it wrong to want to do that?" Like to do stuff with two other people. Two other guys?"
"I don't know. I guess it would seriously depend. I mean, like are the guys involved cool with it? Are they good to you? I never really considered it. Sounds kinda... complicated."
"Yeah, I guess. It's somethin' I thought about a lot, ya know? Like I'd be on cam with three or four other guys at once and it was like a complete computer orgy. So like when I had the chance to try it out fer real..."
"You took that chance," I finished for him. He nodded, ashamed.
"But it didn't go like you thought, or even like Charlie said it would, I'm guessing."
"No," he said, looking downward and sniffing back tears. One hand snaked up to tug at his nose and wipe away a fast tear. "No, it sure didn't."
"You don't have to tell me or explain anything," I asserted, leaning towards him.
"S'okay. I want to." He smiled slightly. "Feels good ta get it off my chest. Just talkin' to you makes it a little less hurtful."
"Okay. Just glad I can help."
"Yeah, you do." He inhaled and let it out, getting his head back to the events, sort of putting himself back in that time. "At first, it was fun. Exciting, kinda scary. I think I was up all night just thinking about it. Waiting for it, ya know?"
"I think so. We went to Disney World when I was nine. I was so excited I couldn't eat the night before, much less sleep."
"Yeah, like that, but bein' horny at the same time."
"Wow," I said, awed.
"We ... got nekkid and started playin' around. Like I said afore, it was fun. Just touchin' and stuff. They both were focusing' on me, touchin' me. It was even better than my fantasies.
"Then they took over. And pushed me on my hands and knees and... and..." A change came over him, and the water works started up again.
"And they got rough?"
He nodded rapidly, almost as thought reliving that day. "They h-held me still between th-them... and they hit me. Ch-charlie was in me before I knew it and and he was in so fast it hurt. God, did it hurt! I tried to get off him, to p-pull away from him and get him outta me, but he-he," sniff, "he punched me in the back. Just like, pounded on me with both fists, a buncha times.
"Tony was sl-slappin' my face and kept gaggin' me with his junk. I tried to keep my mouth closed, b-but but he just would pull my hair and ears and slap me. Charlie even grabbed my balls and like squeezed so hard my eyes got crossed.
"They were too strong, too strong," he said, fully breaking down. His tears flowed freely. His hands were tight balls of anger pushed hard into the black fabric of his board shorts with such force that I could see his thighs slightly deform under the pressure. He seemed almost on the verge of flying into a fear and pain inspired Rage frenzy, and if he had been one of my people instead of a normal human, he very well might have.
My heart had already gone out to him, but my sympathy and concern held back a boiling anger as well. I felt sorry for my poor soul wounded friend, but I felt even sorrier for the bastards that had done this to him. Nick and I hated bullies, bet even worse than that, we despised rapists.
And the dumb sons of bitches had no idea what kind of supernatural can of kick ass was about to be unleashed on their sorry asses. Heads were gonna roll. Believe you me, heads were gonna roll!
"And then... and then...," JJ sobbed, struggling for breath, "and then the others came in." I inhaled sharply, realizing what had happened. JJ had just been humiliated and beaten and raped, hurt and de-humanized by Charlie and Tony, and then they called in their whole pack. So, basically, every few days for the last week, at least, JJ had been gang raped by Charlie and company. "Th-they c-c-come over when Dad's gu-gone... and do it again."
"All of them?" I asked, so softly that only JJ and someone with wolf ears could hear.
Eyes streaming, mouth open in gasping, sloppy anguish, JJ nodded and continued to sob away. This had been eating at him and his sharing this pain, after holding it in so strongly, it just all came tumbling out. His fists were up in his eyes, palms pressed tightly over them, bent over and just wracked with emotions.
I crossed over to him in a flash and pulled his face to my bare chest. He wrapped his arms around my skinny middle and cried, taking great gasps of air in as he let the pain drain out. Nick walked up to JJ, while still in wolf form, and laid his head in JJ's lap, helping to comfort him. JJ was startled at first, but he snaked an arm behind Nick's canine skull anyways. No one can resist crying puppy-dog eyes, especially when you're crying yourself.
I was crying too. But where JJ's were tears of guilt, pain and release, and my Nicky's tears were of sympathy, empathy and compassion, my tears were of Rage. I was even more committed now. This thing that had been done to JJ was an atrocity that I could not let go.
Charlie's pack was going to pay. By Gaia's salty tears, they would pay.
It took a while to get JJ calmed down. I sort of wedged into the seat behind him and Nick kept his weight on JJ's lap and legs. Nick's head lolled to the side in JJ's lap while out lonely, lost cowboy gently toyed with the tip of Nick's ear.
For those who don't know canine physiology, our ear tips are highly sensitive to touch. Almost as sensitive as fingertips and lips on normal folk. Getting stroked there is like getting a really good back rub. And you know how canines love back rubs. It's addictive. And Nicky was taking all he could get.
JJ leaned back against me, calming down. Well, we both were calming down at this point. I still had my anger and Rage, mind you. I just was able to compartmentalize it and save it for later. That's another trick I learned from my parents, by the way. JJ needed friends right now, not pissed off Garou going around looking to go all agro in the house.
The calm mood did us all good.
"So, how do ya'll do it?" JJ asked.
"Change your bodies. This is Nick layin' on me like a lap dog, innit? I reconnize Nick's eyes."
"Uh," I said, stalling for time. Nick raised his eyes enough to look at me and whine.
"He's on to us, Glub-Glub," Nick whine-yipped.
"Ya'll changed during the fight and ya'll didn't get hurt near as bad as ya'll let on like. Today or yesterday in the arcade, neither. So how'd ya'll do it?"
"You'd probably never believe me if I ...."
"Try me!" JJ interrupted, softly but with bitter force in his voice. His hands were still fur deep on Nick's head.
Nick's eyes flicked to me and he triggered a change, straight to Homid. "Looks like he's got us, Cody," Nick admitted softly, his accent sliding out like warm Mississippi mud, coating his words in a smooth, heavy, squishy feeling. That sweet Cajun flavor in his voice is just like Cajun cooking. Rich, deep, hidden spices floating in the tang of honey, hard fried on the outside but full of deep, penetrating warmth through the center, tender and tough in equal measure.
A feast for the senses, that's my Nicky.
The look on JJ's face as Nick's body switched (his dark fur pulling back into his body, the muscles shifting, the bones twisting and stretching under the skin) was nothing short of magical. The wonder was almost stuck there as if carved in place. I swear, if he'd been chewing gum right then, it'd probably be on the carpet by our feet.
"JJ," I said, my voice going serious. "What we are about to tell you HAS to remain a secret. For our safety as well as yours."
"People could die because of this, JJ," Nick added solemnly. "We got to have your promise, on your mother's eternal soul and good name, that ya'll wont reveal our secrets."
"It's got to be more that a promise, JJ," I added. "This is your sacred honor we're talking about here. Literally thousands of lives are at stake, including yours and your father's."
"I swear, okay?"
"What do ya think?" Nick asked me. Then he did that damned Mr. Spock eyebrow thing. And JJ matched it.
It's a conspiracy, I tell ya!
"Well...," I said, stretching my voice out. "He is pretty much laying all over us."
"All over you, maybe!" Nick retorted.
"So!" I said, emphasizing overly "I'm pretty sure we can trust him."
"Yeah, ah guess maybe we can."
"So I guess we can tell him."
"Okay. Want me to say it?"
"Sure," I answered, squeezing and relaxing my hold around JJ briefly. Between the two of us, Nick is the bonafide bullshit artist. We've learned to play to our strengths. We couldn't tell the whole truth. Too many lives actually were protected by the Veil to completely lift it. It was Nick's talent to be deceptive and sneaky as well as bitingly insightful and humorous. I'd simply follow his lead on this.
This whole time, JJ's head is almost on a swivel, following the conversation as we back and forthed it like a tennis match. When we'd finally decided, JJ focused on Nick and I actually felt JJ's stomach tighten under my arms, like he was bracing for impact. I rubbed his stomach a bit to try to keep him relaxed.
"Okaaaay," Nick began, sighing loudly. "We ain't exactly what ya'll might call normal folk."
"No! Really?" JJ commented sarcastically. I suddenly wondered if human's had auspices and what phase of the moon JJ was born under. He sounded almost as ragabash as Nick.
"Oh, my, yes. Really," Nick replied, switching his accent like some fruity college professor type. "We ain't exactly," he said, reverting to normal, "what you might consider the same as you, at the genetic level."
"Genetic? You mean you guys're..."
"Say the word," Nick grinned, cocking his head sideways.
"Mutants? Like the Turtles or the X-Men?"
"That's one way ta look at it," Nick grinned. See that's the genius of my boyfriend. He let JJ put the words in and didn't exactly say yes or no. Clever, no?
"So ya'll're like, real live super heroes?"
"Geeze, JJ! Not so loud! You'll blow our cover!"
"Oh, sorry," he replied sheepishly. And that struck me as odd. That our cowboy friend could be a sheep laying comfortably between two wolves. Or even wolves in beach bum clothing. Ironic, in a way, huh?
About that time, two things happened at once. First, my cell phone jingled in my pocket. I couldn't really answer it just then, because there was a cowboy laying on me and my boyfriend sitting on the floor in front of him, leaning on his legs. Whoever it was, I'd just have to catch them later. Maybe it was just a text message.
The other thing that happened jolted us all to action. Nick and I heard it first and started reacting to it, but it pretty much caught all of us flatfooted. A key scraped in the front door of the beach cottage. It was quickly followed by the door snapping open and a man almost falling through with bags from the local grocery dripping from his fingers like they might drop at any second.
"JJ, I could use a little help here!"
We scrambled to our feet, fumbled through an introduction to JJ's dad and helped get the rest of the groceries out of the rental car. It took us three trips. Apparently, JJ's dad had invited some of his old school buddies from the reunion over for a party tonight and was stocking up on the basics as well as preparing for a raging kegger.
So while we were hanging out, telling JJ's dad a highly edited version of our day together, I checked the cell phone. There was a text message waiting in there from a source I'd only meet recently. Our changeling buddy sent a quick few lines to us, and immediately I knew that there were pressing things that I and superhero Nick had to go look into. I showed Nicky the text and we both traded worried glances. It was marked "Urgent" and read:
"Hey guys – we have a problem. Big, nasty, hairy, wicked problem. Contact me ASAP and stay alert. Watch your tails!"
"Uh, whaddya think?" I asked, softly.
"Either he's pullin' one hell of a prank or we're stuck in the mud with the river risin' fast," Nick muttered.
"Is somethin' wrong?" JJ asked, while his dad stepped into the living room to answer a call.
"Uh, one of our other super hero friends wants to meet about something."
"Yeah. Ain't it a kick?" Nick responded, grinning devilishly.
"Yeah, it's probably something serious," I sighed. "We have to go. Look, stay with your dad. You'll be safe. We'll call you soon, okay?"
"And if sumthin' happens, call us. Ya'll got our digits."
"Say goodbye to your dad for us," I said as we bolted out the back door. JJ followed us.
"Yeah," we replied in unison.
"No probs, JJ," Nick said. "It's what friends do. See ya later!"
And with that, we sprinted down the beach. We had a meeting to make and a mentor to notify before we just up and went chasing changelings all over the countryside. Things were getting interesting.
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