Madhouse, p.9

Madhouse, page 9

 

Madhouse
 



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  “We need a healer. Now.”

  “Yes, I know we need a healer, Niko,” Goodfellow said with a strained patience. “But we don’t have one.”

  We’d had a healer. Rafferty Jeftichew. He’d saved my life once upon a time. Twice upon a time actually. But he’d disappeared in the past month. Closed up his house and vanished. When your healer took off, it was bad news, especially if you didn’t know if your insides matched your human outsides. And a hospital would know, Rafferty had told us, either from imaging or blood work.

  “A doctor, then.” It was said with determination although Niko knew better…knew it wasn’t possible.

  “And what?” Robin shot back. “Tell them Caliban was attacked by a small bear in the park or perhaps a large homeless man with a voracious appetite and a taste for the other white meat?”

  I opened my eyes. “It’s not that bad.”

  Goodfellow stared at me incredulously while Niko pointed out, “You haven’t looked at it yet, Cal.” His mouth tightened. “Reserve judgment.”

  “Ignorance is bliss.” I closed my eyes again and let the fuzz of codeine carry me along as the discussion went on without me. After the cab had dropped us off, we still had to get up to the apartment. I almost hadn’t made it. Once he’d half carried me upstairs, Niko had called in reinforcements and then turned to cleaning my wound. Or attempting to. It didn’t sound as if it had gone well. When Robin had arrived, there had been talk of possible muscle damage, surgery, skin grafts. All impossible for me. While the discussion went on, I lay in bed and drifted; there wasn’t much else to do. I suggested once that Robin and Nik help themselves to a few pain pills too. It really took the urgency out of things. They didn’t take me up on it. Their loss.

  “He can’t heal like this,” Niko declared emphatically. “Infection alone would kill him. We’ll get a doctor, a surgeon if necessary.”

  “And by ‘get’ you mean…?” Robin asked dubiously.

  “You know what I mean,” Niko said flatly.

  That cut through the happy-pill hoedown. “Jesus, Nik.” This time I struggled to sit up. The pain swelled for several excruciating moments, then receded as I made it upright and stopped moving. I sucked in a breath and held it until I could speak without a ragged edge shaking my voice. “You can’t kidnap a doctor. That’s the kind of trouble we can’t deal with.” Monster trouble, yeah. That we could do. Human trouble was to be avoided at all cost. At best, we’d have to leave New York. We had lives here. Niko and Promise had a life. I wasn’t going to cost them that.

  “It’s trouble I’ll deal with. Lie back down.” It was said in a tone that brooked no argument. I argued anyway—go figure.

  “No way.” It was cold. Our landlord wasn’t above skimping on the heat. What landlord was? I grabbed a handful of blanket and pulled it up toward the large bandage on my bare chest. Or rather I tried. My left arm was weak, functional but only barely. They’d said it and I hadn’t listened. Muscle damage. Nik’s eyes darkened as he watched my slow progress. “No goddamn way,” I repeated stubbornly as I finally got the blanket up. “Loman, you have to know a doctor. One who’d keep his mouth shut. You know everyone, right?” The codeine helped with the discomfort, but it didn’t do anything for the weariness, the bone-deep exhaustion. I slumped back against the headboard despite myself, taking the blanket with me.

  “One would think.” He was still pale from his own wounds, but he looked better than he had. The poison was passing out of his system. That was some good news anyway. “I met Hippocrates once. I wouldn’t have let him treat a pig. Cross-eyed, fond of the bottle, and desperately searching for a cure for his own personal crotch rot.” That breezy, cocky smile he was so very good at faded. “I’m sorry.”

  Knuckles rested on my forehead and then my jaw. “Give him more Tylenol in an hour.” Niko’s hand was as icy as the room, as icy as I felt. It didn’t take a genius to know that meant I was running a pretty good fever. And codeine, as helpful as it was in other areas, wasn’t going to bring it down. “I’ll be back,” he went on, unbending in his goal. It was easy to translate. Niko was going someplace where he could snatch a doctor. Hospital, probably. And that would be the beginning of the end.

  I’d done the same for him once. I’d struggled against that same damn dilemma. Although at the time, I doubt I knew dilemma was even a word. I’d been seven and Niko eleven, back before the Auphe had snatched me and I’d lost two years in their dimension while only two days had passed in ours.

  I didn’t get sick much when I was a kid…only once in my life that I remembered and it had been Niko who’d taken care of me. I’d have died long before Sophia ever noticed I was ill. Bourbon and whiskey are great for glossing over the annoying events of a parent’s daily life. When Niko got sick, it wasn’t any different.

  What started out as a cold became bronchitis and finally pneumonia. With that came the dilemma. We didn’t have insurance, and we didn’t have a mother willing to take Nik to the doctor. If you show up at the doctor sick as a dog and without a parent, they notice. They notice enough to get Social Services involved. Maybe foster care would’ve been better than what we had. It couldn’t have been much worse, but there were no guarantees they wouldn’t split us up. Niko was old enough to know that and he made sure I knew it too.

  We weren’t going to be split up. Period.

  But when you’re seven and the brother who’s your whole damn world is too sick to get out of bed, you have to do something. Anything. I was too young for kidnapping, but there were other things I could do. We lived in a trailer park then and we had a few elderly neighbors. Old people had medicine, lots of it. But those same old people hated to leave their trailers. Hated it like poison. I’d wanted Nik to tell me what to do, but he was so desperately sick and even more stubborn. He didn’t want me doing anything stupid. At seven years old, that was about all I could do.

  Old people make an exception about leaving their homes when there’s a fire. I’d torched an empty trailer two rows over with Sophia’s lighter and a half-empty bottle of Old Crow. When everyone had run or hobbled over to watch the bonfire, I’d raided medicine cabinets. I wouldn’t have known an antibiotic from blood pressure medicine, so I’d taken it all. Shoved bottle after bottle in my backpack, and after hitting four trailers, I’d run home to pour them in Niko’s lap. They had cascaded down onto the blanket, bright and shining plastic reams of them.

  “Which one?” I’d demanded desperately. “Which one?”

  It had worked out then. I didn’t have faith that the same would hold true now.

  I made a grab for his arm, using my right hand this time. Between the drugs and the fever, it still wasn’t much of an attempt. I missed. Promise didn’t. She’d entered the room as quietly as she entered all rooms. Laying a hand on his arm, she slid it down to curl around his own hand. “I’ve brought assistance.” She released Niko to move closer and rest a hand on the blankets over my leg. “She’s not a doctor, but she can help.” Glancing over her shoulder, she called, “Delilah?”

  She appeared in the doorway. Flay’s sister. I could see the resemblance instantly, although they were more different than alike. She was of better breeding, which would make her Flay’s half sister. Flay could barely manage a half-human form. He was plainly a werewolf for anyone who had the eyes and the intelligence to look. With Delilah you would never know. She also had a hint of Asian features in her almond-shaped amber eyes. Where Flay had albino white hair, hers was silver-blond, very nearly as pale. It was pulled into a high ponytail at the crown of her head and hung ruler straight to midback. A stylized necklace was tattooed choker-style around her neck. The jewels set in Celtic swirls were eyes, wolf, all of them. Gold, red, green, brown, pumpkin orange…and the softer amber of her own eyes. An unbelievably talented artist had imbued them with emotion. Some were full of laughter, some curiosity, some hunger, all of them astonishingly real.

  She wore low-slung black jeans, a matching jacket, and a snug amber-colored shir
t. Both jacket and shirt were cropped to reveal a good seven or eight inches of midriff, which was as decorated as her neck. But where the one decoration had been made of ink, the ones on her stomach were composed of scar tissue. Multiple slashes, thick and cruel. As a wolf she’d be as proud of those as she was of her tattoo, maybe more so. Ink was ink, but scars were badges of survival. They said, “I’m here. I’m alive. And I buried the son of a bitch who did this.”

  “You can help? How?” Niko said with rigid control.

  Fine blond eyebrows quirked and she raised a hand, palm to her mouth, to bite the heel of it hard. Then she licked the wound and turned the hand toward us. The bite was healing already. The blood had stopped flowing and the flesh was knitting slowly.

  “Of course,” Goodfellow said. “Werewolves have a natural propensity for healing, but their saliva speeds the process.”

  Delilah gave a single regal nod, then moved over to me and removed my bandage. Light flared behind her eyes, turning amber to brilliant copper. “Ahhh.” She sounded impressed. When a wound impresses a wolf, it doesn’t bode well for the guy sporting it.

  For the first time I looked. Impressive was one word for it. Horrific was another. A hunk of flesh nearly as round as a child’s fist was gone from my upper chest, just…gone. Left behind was a ragged red crater deep enough that I could imagine I could see the shine of muscle. “You were right.” I swallowed, looked up at Niko, and gave him a crooked smile. “You get to be the pretty one now.”

  “News flash, little brother, I always have been,” he retorted as he rested his hand on my shoulder to squeeze lightly.

  From Delilah’s snort, we were both fooling ourselves. In that moment I could see the impatient Flay in her clearly. Climbing onto the bed, she straddled my thighs and stripped off her jacket. “Go,” she ordered to the room in general. “Now.” It was more of Flay. I’d been wrong about Delilah; she wasn’t what the old-school wolves considered pure breeding after all.

  The community was divided among the wolves who cherished the old ways…pure human to pure wolf and back again, and the ones who thought the more wolf you were, the better. And they meant all wolf all the time with no taint of human. Those were the ones who bred for the recessive qualities. Flay and Delilah had come from a pack who had embraced that.

  She had the normal teeth of human form, white, even, and straight, unlike Flay’s mass of wolf teeth crammed into a human mouth. But while her teeth were normal, her vocal cords weren’t. Talking was difficult, not garbled or coarse, but raspy like the tongue of a cat and thick as butterscotch pudding. Your average person would’ve pinned it on a heavy accent. Those in the know would hear it for what it was—a she-wolf from the wild doing her best to talk.

  “Go?” Niko shook his head and refused adamantly, “No.”

  “Imagine it, Niko,” Promise said simply. “It will be rather…intimate.”

  On that note, Goodfellow promptly offered to stay. Promise marched him out without any apparent sympathy, but she did place a supportive hand on his back. They might have their differences, Robin’s thing for Niko being a big one, but Promise did care for the puck, which seemed to shock the hell out of him.

  “Call if you need me.”

  I raised my gaze to Niko and quirked my lips. “If being licked gets to be too much, I’ll yell.”

  “Smart-ass.” A last firm clasp of my shoulder and he left.

  Delilah turned her head to watch him go, then looked down at me. “Still nursing?” Rusty and slow, but understandable—the canine version of a purr. It was soothing in its own way.

  “He’s a good mom,” I responded, unoffended.

  “Oh,” I added diffidently, “sorry about my scent.” Wolves weren’t wild about the Auphe smell, and, considering the reaction I’d gotten from Flay and the Kin, I had my fair share of it.

  “Auphe? You?” Her mouth curved, dismissing me as an Auphe cublet at best. “Cocky pup. Close your eyes.”

  I started to protest, but between the anchor of narcotics and a lack of desire to see the gaping pit in my chest any longer, I went ahead and obeyed. I felt the touch of her tongue against the wound. It was warm, moist, and gently methodical as it moved. It was also odd as hell, and, as Promise had said, intimate.

  It hurt as well, but only in the beginning. Her saliva must have numbed as it healed, because the pain faded, even the residual pain that had broken through the pills. It wasn’t long before I drifted, not asleep and not awake. There was an incredible heat growing in my chest, chasing away the chill of fever. There probably would’ve been an incredible heat in a lower location too, but it had been a long, hard day. Even twenty-year-old hormones couldn’t fight against this day. Soon enough, half sleep became the genuine deal and I dreamed. Long silver hair turned to short red waves, amber eyes to deep brown. The warm weight on top of me—Delilah to Georgina.

  It was a nice dream. Hot as hell and very nice indeed. And then the dream changed. There were clothes involved this time.

  It wasn’t the only difference. When I thought of George, I usually pictured her, depending on the state of my willpower, in the same dress. A brown silk sundress…cherry chocolate. I’d seen her once in it and never forgotten the image or the feeling I’d had. So it didn’t matter that it was fall and far too cool for that dress, I still thought it, dreamed it. Except this time. This time George was wearing a finely knit sweater, deep crimson, and filmy skirt of gold, bronze, and copper. She also had a tiny ruby piercing in her nose. It made her look exotic, a priestess of a far-gone time and place. A prophet, and wasn’t that what she was?

  “A ruby,” I said in a voice thick with sleep. “Like your hair.”

  “It’s a garnet,” she corrected with a smile. “A practical gem for a practical girl.”

  Her hand was holding mine, our fingers linked. “I miss you, George.” It was something I could only say in a dream, because admitting it in the waking world wouldn’t do either of us any good.

  “You don’t have to.” She leaned to kiss me. We’d kissed before, but not like this. Our first had been with the relief of rescue, the second a bittersweet good-bye. This was the kiss of a different life. Heat and hope and all the time in the world. There were only the two of us. No monsters, without or within. Dreams can be that way, the good ones. Then you wake up. You always wake up.

  Because they are only dreams.

  “Stubborn.”

  I opened my eyes as George’s voice still lingered in the air. I actually heard it—heard her. She wasn’t there, yet I knew if I saw her…if she showed up at my door at that moment, she would be wearing crimson, gold, and a garnet.

  But that was something I wasn’t going to think about. Couldn’t think about. I touched the small plait of copper hair tied around my wrist, a memento of times past. Of doubts present.

  No, I’d made my decision, and it was the right one. I knew it. In my gut, I knew it, even if no one else did. I sat up and waited for the pain to distract me from useless thoughts. It didn’t come. I looked down. The bandage was still gone; it hadn’t been replaced. There was no need to. The raw crater was gone. In its place was an indentation, still fist-sized, but more shallow, about a quarter of an inch deep—as if that fist had been gently pressed against soft clay. The scar tissue was purple and thick and ugly as hell. I couldn’t have cared less. When I was a kid, Sophia had once told me that, while I was a monster, I was a beautiful one. I’d known from that moment on that what was on the outside didn’t count for anything. Our mother had been beautiful too, physically, but inside she was as ugly as any Annis or revenant. Uglier in some ways. They had their excuse. She’d had none.

  There was a rustle of paper as I pushed the covers aside. A note started to fall to the floor and I caught it before it could…with my left hand. The weakness was gone, the muscle damage repaired. Unfolding the paper, I read words in an unfamiliar hand. Now you are pretty.

  Yeah, the wolves did appreciate a good scar. Delilah was no exception.

&nb
sp; 9

  Niko had fixed the kind of food for breakfast that was normally banned from the apartment. Pancakes, bacon, greasy potatoes. Good, good food—not the soy, wheat, egg-substitute crap he normally tried to convince me to eat. “I should be dinner for a supernatural pit bull more often,” I said around a mouthful of syrup and blueberries.

  “Or not,” he said matter-of-factly, turning a glass of juice back and forth between long, calloused fingers.

  “Or not,” I said apologetically. I didn’t see the evidence of a sleepless night in his face, but I knew it was there nonetheless. I shoveled in another forkful of potatoes. “You tell the others about Sawney’s new family?”

  “The revenants? Yes. No one was precisely thrilled.” It wasn’t a surprise. Revenants weren’t popular with anyone or anything. Dumb, smelly, and mean.

  Leaning back with my belly full, I considered burping, but my knee gave a phantom twinge with the memory of the last time I’d had that idea. Nik enjoyed good manners and he enjoyed them in others…with great and occasionally painful enthusiasm. Painful for me anyway. Patting my chest lightly through the T-shirt I’d slipped on, I said, “Delilah did good work.”

  “Amazing work.” He drank the juice in several smooth swallows and then pushed the glass away.

  “She was here nearly the entire night, but what she accomplished…” He shook his head. “She was worth every penny.”

  “I thought she was helping us because of Flay.” I decided I could fit in one more piece of bacon and sat back up to reach for the plate.

  “Yes, but she is Kin. Family is important, money is important. There’s no reason she can’t honor both. I admire her initiative. Your initiative, however, is a different story.” A foot rapped my ankle briskly. “I cooked. You clear.”

  “Hey, I’m wounded,” I protested. “Have a heart.”

  “You were wounded.” His foot impacted again, this time with a little more English on it. “You are lazy. Let us work on making that past tense as well.” He stood. “I teach three classes today. I’ll be home by six. We’ll go hunting then.”

 
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