Look left for all of the "Brute" installments that you've missed. I'm told they're pretty fun.
Leandra and I pulled up to Avel's condo complex and the first thing I did when I got out of the car was press my cold fingers into my eyeballs. I was breathing fine, in and out, in and out, and at a relatively normal pace; but this was the first time in three weeks that I had willingly seen Avel, and I wasn't sure how I was going to react when we knocked on his door. Oh, that door. He had replaced the knocker with a lion-headed knickknack from the antique store. Leandra dropped the weighted handle onto the solid wood and I sucked in my breath.
Suddenly I felt the urgent need to hide. My hair swished around my neck as I flung it from side to side, looking for a place to conceal myself. My stomach skipped the happy butterfly sequence and went to the part where you just know something awkwardly unpleasant is going to happen and it tried to tie itself into a sort of Gordian knot mixed with a tiller's knot and a bunch of random loopy things. I felt sick and woozy and...excited? Oh, no.
The door opened, and Avel was standing there in plaid shorts and white socks, barechested and looking sleepy. I may or may not have gulped at this point. He looked at me while Leandra was filling him in, and I couldn't move. I was cemented to the floor in front of his door, and I couldn't remember why I hated him so much, and then he looked away and I realized that I hadn't been breathing either. My lungs filled with cool night air and when I got my attention back in order Avel was gone somewhere in the back of the condo and Leandra and I were standing on the tile of his entry.
She turned to me and whispered, "You ok?" I nodded, I think, and then laughed a little.
"I hate him," I mouthed. She nodded. Avel reappeared wearing black all over, and a ruby-sheathed sword hung off his hip. My throat constricted when I saw the sword, the reason I had first noticed Avel, and probably the reason Leandra and Jeremiah had met and fallen in love, since Avel and I had known one another first. The day Avel and I had met we were both in a thrift store in the seedy part of downtown. The sword had been stuck in the back near the pots and pans, and we had both reached for it at the same time. It was only later that we discovered that it sharpened itself, drew no blood when you were only defending yourself, and made a killer time-space continuum ripper. Of course, that was in the hands of Avel. When I wrapped my fingers around the hilt, all I got was a very pretty, flashy sword.
Avel brushed my arm as he and Leandra went outside. It was so silly; whenever he was near, my brain went kaput. All my intellectual capacities hit a negative line and I was useless. But never once had it occurred to me, before this moment, that he was doing it on purpose. Jeremiah had turned into a werewolf. Anything was possible.
It wasn't until we were in the car and seatbelted that Avel could speak without my brain doing jumping jacks in la-la land. The sound of his voice made me jump, and at first I didn't even know that he was talking to me directly.
"Huh?" I asked eloquently.
"Did you see which way he ran?" Avel repeated patiently. I shook my head.
"After he cleared the fence I tried, but he was smart and turned into a dark color. Next time let's ask him to be white." Avel rolled his eyes at me and Leandra kept staring straight ahead. We drove for about ten minutes without saying a word, and then Avel suddenly veered the car to the left, jumping the median and giving me a pretty impressive bounce in the seat. The top of my head whomped soundly on the ceiling and, even though Leandra was screaming, all I did was grunt. The car swerved and then stopped, and before we could do anything Avel was out the door and sprinting to the fence.
Leandra and I were in a little baby moment of shock, and we watched, open-mouthed, as Jeremiah suddenly came leaping over the fence, clearing it by a good three feet. Avel followed him quickly, his long legs eating up the ground between him and his brother. Dogs all over the neighborhood were howling and barking, and I heard a few cats yowling from across the street. Avel kept reaching for Jer's tail, but each time he put forth the effort, his brother flicked it out of the way. They were getting further and further down the road, and with Leandra still silent and wide-eyed in the front seat, I jumped into action.
"Move!" I yelled. Leandra was leaning over into the driver's side, and as I threw myself into the seat I hit the gas and turned the wheel as hard as I could to the left. Wheels squealed in the darkness as the tread took to the asphalt and spun the car around almost on a dime (it was probably more like a quarter, or a two-euro piece). The front door slammed shut; I hadn't even bothered to reach over to close it when I'd moved.
It's a good thing we weren't in Avel's car, a fancy little European stick shift that I wouldn't have been able to drive. Leandra's car was fast, though, and we caught up to Avel and Jeremiah in ten seconds. It gave me a strange joy to see Avel running after a wolf-dog, breathing hard and trying to keep the sword from hitting his leg. It was taking every ounce of his concentration and strength to keep up with a four-legged animal, and knowing that made me grin, relaxed.
Leandra rolled down her window. "What should we do?" she yelled at Avel. He lifted his hands in a small shrug, and when Leandra tried to ask again, he interrupted her.
"I have to catch him!" he said. Lea nodded, then turned to me.
"Drive faster," she said.
"What? Faster than what?" He pointed at her fiance.
"Faster than him! Go!" I pressed on the gas and lined her window up with Jeremiah's head, and I was absolutely terrified the entire time that I was going to lose concentration and hit him with the car. Leandra was leaning out the window with only her shins on the chair. She pushed the toes of her right foot into the crevice between the chair and the center console, and she stretched her left leg into the space under the glove box, for balance.
"Jeremiah!" She yelled. "Honey, do you want something to drink?" Jeremiah looked at her while keeping pace, and she did a great job of looking benevolent. "I have some water and some orange juice!"
"Water sounds so good!" Jeremiah said just loudly enough for me to hear. He was breathing hard and his words were broken apart by about two seconds each, but it worked. He slowed down. I let off on the gas just as he altered his pace, and then suddenly Avel was upon him and both dog and man tumbled to the ground. Lea gasped, and I slammed on the brakes so hard that I'm pretty sure the back two tires of the car lifted off the road. Leandra was out of the car before I could even get my seat belt off, and I raced after her, grabbing her arm just before she could throw herself down next to the boys.
"Don't!" I said. "Let Avel..." Leandra stopped trying to wriggle out of my grip and stood back with me, watching Avel wrestle with his brother.
"Dude, calm down!" Avel said. His arms were around Jeremiah's neck, and Avel suddenly looked me in the eyes, then looked at the sword. I didn't even have to shoot him a questioning glance; I dropped Lea's arm, took a deep breath and darted for the sheathed sword. It slid easily out of its confines and felt clean and light in my hands. I circled the wrestling pair, holding the sword the way Avel had taught me, and slightly bent my knees, ready.
"Meli!" Leandra said. I shushed her and nodded at Avel.
"Jeremiah, stop!" Avel said. The authority in his voice even made me stand up straighter. Jeremiah paused, noticed me, and stayed still. I narrowed my eyes to get an angry effect.
"Don't make me hurt you, Wolf Boy," I said. Jeremiah whimpered. He struggled, trying to turn around so he could have a shot at Avel's neck. Avel tightened his grip and grunted with the effort. Leandra was staring at me with eyes so wide I marveled they didn't pop out of her face.
"Meli..." she said. That was it. Just my name. I dared to glance at her, and she looked terrified. Jeremiah struggled again, and she refocused her attention on him. I knew more than saw her hand move; I mean, of all the Leandra-esque things to do at that moment, reaching out to the guy with bear trap jaws and razored canines was at the top of the list, right next to begging me to put the sword away and trying to pull Avel off of his brother.
"Don't touch him!" Avel said. His voice sounded like a growl because he was putting all of his energies into holding down the wolf boy, and Leandra did jerk back. But only for a second. A moment later, she was reaching out her hand again.
With a bark and a snap, Jeremiah's doggy instincts took over and he nearly caught the tips of his fiancee's fingers in his teeth. Without thinking, I lunged. I had my left arm up, hooked pirate-style, and my legs were bent slightly less than expertly in the quad-killing fencing squat. The tip of the sword slid into the muscle of Jeremiah's shoulder before my brain really connected what I was doing with the feeling of a sword moving through someone's body.
When it finally did connect, I shuddered suddenly and almost dropped the sword. It was sick and worse than hearing a bone break. I mean, you watch movies now, and mostly what you see are machine guns and bazookas and people screaming about these tiny red dots of blood scattered like fireworks over their chest; swords are an entirely different story. Imagine sticking someone with a steak knife and being able to actually feel the seraded edge slice through individual muscles.
Jeremiah screamed, a strange half-howl that made me want to clap my hands over my ears, and in that moment I felt like my own shoulder had been pierced. It was the same second I made the mistake of looking down at the end of the blade, and the bile in my throat definitely made it to my mouth. The smell of blood hit me then, and I had to turn away. There wasn't anything else to do; the darkness was closing in, the smell of dead things was crawling up my nose... and Avel was screaming at me to look back.
I whipped my head back around just in time to see Jeremiah's fangs halt half of an inch away from my nose. He was jumping at me, completely ignoring the fact that the sword was still embedded in his sinew, and bits of saliva hit me like freckles. Leandra was screaming again, Avel was yelling, the cats were hissing, dogs were growling and barking, and I just couldn't take it anymore.
"Jeremiah!" I screamed. For effect I dug the sword deeper into his body with one hand and pointed in his face with the other. "Sit!" The sword flashed and Jer's skin rippled sickly, like it had just before he changed. I saw Avel's white teeth flash in the faint light suddenly coming from the blade. Gasping, Leandra stopped screaming and jumped to her feet.
"Meli! What did you do?" Jeremiah's teeth snapped shut and he dropped to the ground, had a brief seizure, and was still. Pretty sure I was gaping at it all.
"I...'m not... sure..." I said. I looked at my ex. He shrugged. "Avel doesn't know, either."
We all stood there, surrounded by the softly lingering scent of blood and sweat, the sounds of our breathing creating a calming rhythm in the lamplight. Jeremiah was breathing; we could hear wuffly doggy breaths coming in and out of the side of his mouth. Leandra stood with her arms crossed over her body, staring at her fiance's body. Avel coughed, hocked, and spit. Then, without ceremony, he knelt down, hoisted his brother's unconscious form onto his shoulders, and started walking away.
"Avel?" I said. Leandra and I looked at one another, totally confused. The car was right there... "Hey! Where are you going?" I jogged a couple of steps and looked up at him. His lips were pressed into a thin line, and he motioned at Jeremiah with a nod of his head.
"If he wakes up it shouldn't be in a car," he said. "Besides, I should get him home and give him his medicine."
"What?" I said. Medicine?
"So it doesn't happen again," Avel said. He glanced at Leandra, who nodded. I stared at them both.
"Waaaaaaiiiiiiiiiit a minute," I said. I giggled, then composed myself. "Wait. Medicine: OK. Again: not OK." I laughed again as my brain clicked through its information. Avel's face was expressionless, and Lea was staring at the ground, a sure sign that she was hiding something. "This has happened before?" Avel cleared his throat, and Lea tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "Lemme try again: THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFO-"
"Ssshhh!" Avel's hand slammed across my mouth, sending me backwards a couple of steps. "Of course it has. Now give me the sword back." I handed it to him without thinking about it, and suddenly he was gone. No joke. Poof. Gone. Leandra finally looked up at me and smiled.
"It's all right now!" she said sunnily. She practically bounced back to the car, which she started. I was so stunned that I didn't move for a good three minutes, but then I realized how cold I was, and how late it was getting, and I fell numbly into the shotgun seat. Leandra chattered on the way back to my car, but I didn't contribute.
All I could think about was whether Jeremiah's medicine was Pepto Pink and injectable, or Excedrin White and in pill form. When I got home I ate about half of Natalie's coffee cake before passing out on my bed in my jeans and bra. And that was that. No more doggyness, no more screams. And Leandra never, ever mentioned it, ever again.