The book David steals from Stef is Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's "Good Omens." I worship Terry Pratchett, in a purely pagan fashion. I worship Neil Gaiman and wish to have his children. *grins* Not really, but, well, you know.
AWOL is a military acronym for Absent Without Official Leave. It's pronounced 'a'-wall.
But by the next day, they still weren't talking much, and the only reason Stef still sat with him at lunch was because Chris didn't seem to pay attention to what was wrong, and you want to be near your best friend, even if you're fighting. Even if you aren't on speaking terms again yet.
Kate did take sides – she sided with Stef.
"You're so insensitive," she accused David, a couple of weeks into April. "Can't you think before you open your mouth?"
"I didn't," he said.
"And I wasn't referring to when you were kissing him, stupid. I know that. You don't French-kiss boys; you're straight. Some of the people who saw you probably aren't."
He shrugged. "Not my fault."
"Give me your hand."
"What are you going to do to it?"
"Just fucking do it, David. It won't hurt."
So he did, because when Kate swore, you knew she meant it.
She wrote bastard on his hand, both sides, so that there was no way anyone could miss it, and she did it in permanent black marker.
"It's petty and stupid," she said, "but it's theraputic." And she gave him a set of pictures. "These're from summer vacation last year, when you and me and Stef and Chris and Aaron and the twins went to the theme park. I finally used up the roll of film."
"Thanks," he said, because he didn't know what else to say. "I guess."
* * *
"Girls are weird," he said to Chris at lunch that day.
"Glad you noticed," Stef answered, and David couldn't help be surprised, because he sounded different than he had before. Deeper voice than he remembered, that was for sure, and maybe with an extra edge of sarcasm that hadn't been there 'til then.
"I'd noticed earlier, but I just hadn't commented on the fact yet," he teased gently, and grinned.
"Just don't let Kate hear it," came the answer, warm like it hadn't been for weeks. "She'd probably either end up stepping on your foot, making sure you couldn't have children, or laughing with you."
It wasn't a dream; wasn't a lack-of-sleep-induced hallucination. Stef was talking. To him. "Probably A and C, knowing her."
"As we do? Of course." Stef shifted on the bench a little, moving towards them, and Chris couldn't help but realize, startlingly, that it was very strange that David sat across from Stef at lunch for the entire time they weren't talking. It occured to him, briefly, that Kate would probably make something romantically erotic out of it, like that they craved each others' physical presence, even when they were angry with each other. Maybe she'd say that it was because David was trying, on a subconscious level, to apologize the entire time.
David grinned, and there was a long moment of silence, in which Stef took his bookmark from between two other pages and put it in place, letting the paperback flop closed with a note that felt like something resuming.
"Good book?" asked David, gesturing to it, and Stef didn't even blink.
"It's okay." He shrugged. "Not the best ever, but good. Worth the time I'm spending on it."
Because Stef thought that most books weren't worth his time at all, so he'd been known to buy a book, read the first twenty pages, and then give it to the school when he found it not to his liking.
"Can I borrow it? When you're done, I mean." David was peering at the back cover as he said it, eyes running over the lines of text before looking up at Stef.
"Of course. Just remind me."
It seemed that that was, mostly, that.
* * *
Stumbling across the pictures was an accident, though no one believed him afterwards. He knew that Stef was relatively talented in art – he had the skill, but the ideas came out strange and twisted, and darker than shadows at the new moon.
So, when left to his own devices while Stef ransacked his house for something, it wasn't all that strange that he went paging through the sketchbook. It wasn't like there weren't drawings there that he wanted to look at.
He turned pages, watching the pictures flip past him in an array of shapes in shades of grey.
The one it did fall open on was at a weird perspective, staring down at grass and a single sneaker-toe, a cat curled up on the ground in front, staring upwards.
The cat's eyes were green. It was the only color in the entire picture.
Flip forward one; this was newer art, judging from the detail in the pictures. A dog, maybe a Siberian husky or something, and a boy, both lying down and both sleeping, but the dog was in a cage and the boy was on the floor.
He looked like David, almost.
Separation, it said in the corner, in Stef's handwriting.
Forward, again, one, and it was a woman in an art-deco-industrial-style room, kneeling on the floor, hunched over with pain. She did not look human; it was as though she was going lupine, and she was naked, but there was nothing sexual about it. The window was behind her, and the light of the moon shone down, highlighting her new-appeared fur.
That's just weird, David thought, but there was something about the picture that stuck with him.
The next page was almost-random sketches that he stared at – looked like drawings from those books that Kate liked that Stef'd read, Harper-Wizard or something like that – drawings of a horse and a boy and an older woman, not all together, and sometimes just parts of them, like hands or feet, and a design for the woman's shoes. The images rested on the page, like little animals, waiting for the predator to turn away to hop out of the leaves or into the real world.
He expected the next page to be an illustration from the book. It wasn't.
The first thing he noticed was the fact that it was two people. Boys, or youths, or whatever the age-correct term was. Older than fourteen but younger than eighteen, unless Stef'd messed up on that.
The second thing was that they were wrapped around each other like lovers, sleeping.
The third thing was that the one whose face was covered, buried into the shoulder of the other, looked an awful lot like Stef, and that the other one had David's hair and eyes, and really, to be honest, all his facial features. It didn't help that there was a tattoo of a howling wolf over the shoulder blades of the one facing away, and Stef didn't make a secret out of his fascination with wolves.
David thought about moving past the image, but he felt a morbid fascination with staring at it that wouldn't let him go. It was really a very good picture, and the sheets around the subjects were quite realistically rendered.
It's a kind of shock, he thought, but if I think about it too much, I'm going to crack.
He heard the footsteps on the stairs before Stef opened the door, and had the good sense to flip a couple of pages before his friend walked in.
Cats. Cats were good. Green-eyed cats, and a little marmalade-like kitten, and the little marmalade-like kitten playing with string. Cats were generally innocent in pictures, and there was nothing offensive about them at all.
"See anything interesting?" Stef asked, with good humor, taking the sketchbook away from David.
"Nah, not really." It was a wonder, David thought, that Stef couldn't hear the nervousness in his voice, or see the disturbed expression that he could almost feel on his face. Stef had always been able to tell when he was upset, before.
It did not occur to him until later that perhaps, Stef did not notice because he was too upset himself to see David's anxiety.
* * *
Stef was out sick for two days, a week later, but called David on the second day, to find out the homework in their history class.
"Feeling better?" asked David, over the phone, as he checked his e-mail on the computer.
"Much," was the answer, but Stef's voice was still scratchy, and didn't sound much like him at all.
There was a long spate of silence over the line, in which David deleted messages that informed him that there were free government grants, never repay, and cheap V*I*A*G*R*A to be bought online.
"Don't you have to get ready for your judo class?" Stef asked, after a moment in which he presumably looked at the clock.
"Nah. Cancelled today, 'cause the instructor got sick. Same as whatever you've got, probably."
"I doubt it," Stef said, and laughed. "At least, let's hope not."
"That bad, huh?"
"Yeah. I guess." And that was, really, the end of that thread. There wasn't a lot to talk about for them, any more; a lot of it had already been said.
More silence, because there was something comforting in it, in not-saying things to each other.
The question came slowly, even though David wasn't thinking slowly at all. "I know you're very politically correct –"
"Liberal," Stef remarked, but said nothing more, waiting for David to finish. It wasn't often that David thought about what he was going to say, so it was important to listen when he did.
"–liberal, then. And you are. But, you got so pissed off at me, and you usually don't explode on people like that, so I was wondering," he stopped, because he wanted Stef to be the one to say it, not him, but his friend wasn't nearly so obliging. "I was wondering why that was such a sensitive issue for you."
"When are we talking about?" It didn't sound like Stef actually meant the question, and, apparently, he didn't, because he didn't wait for a response. "It's a pet peeve of mine, that's all. Nobody seems to understand how homophobic our society is except me, and it really bothers me that no one else sees it, or cares enough to change it if they do."
"I get it," said David, and he felt bad for even thinking about that picture. It was probably something Stef did for Kate, who was into that sort of thing. It was for Kate, that was all, and Stef's words now just made it plain that he wouldn't have thought anything of drawing such a thing for Kate. For Kate. It was for Kate.
That wasn't, David thought, very comforting at all.
* * *
In the end, he heard it from Kate, in his German class, the period after lunch.
"Did he do it yet?" she asked him, as though she could barely contain her excitement.
"Did who do what?" Baffled, David watched her, and the Japanese-style comic book that she had sitting out on her desk that had some guy on the cover, next to the word FAKE.
"Stef. Did he?"
"Did he what?" Frustrated.
"He didn't, then," she said, and she sounded disappointed.
He touched her arm, gently, because Kate didn't like being poked, and he asked, "What were you expecting Stef to do?"
"Oh, I dared him to ask Michael Fallait out, like he's been wanting to."
"Mike's— What?" David's brain processes went into a black hole somewhere in the region of his cerebellum. "Stef and Mike Fallait?"
"Yeah," and there was something guarded in her tone. "You didn't know?"
"Don't you dare go and tell him he's a pervert, David Isaac Michaels," she began, gearing up to go into full anti-homophobe-rant mode, and he wondered, vaguely, where the hell she'd learnt his middle name.
"I wasn't going to," he answered, effectively cutting her off. "But Mike –"
"Wouldn't be interested," Stef interjected smoothly, holding out index cards for Kate and David to take before changing the subject. "In case you hadn't noticed, we're supposed to be partnering up for dialogues."
It was the same Stef as it had always been. "Thanks," David said, and looked for some hint of whatever he must've missed, not to know, and couldn't find anything that was different from how Stef used to be.
Which, he realized that night, lying in bed and waiting to fall asleep with the moon shining in his eyes, was exactly the point. There had never been any change at all. Stef'd been that way all along; it was just David's perception of him that was different now.
* * *
Stef got sick again, a couple of weeks after that revelation, and it was the same as it had been the time before, and the time before that... all the way back to freshman year. Two days out, and came back sounding like he'd been ripping up his throat by swallowing razors.
David started putting it on his calendar, after the fact, trying to plan it all out. Trying to predict when Stef'd be sick so that he could avoid having to cancel things, like how this time Stef missed going with Kate and him to the movies.
It was lucky, then, that he never bought the calendars with astronomical events on them, wasn't it?
* * *
Over Spring Break of that year, Stef volunteered to open his house to David while David's parents were forced, through unavoidable circumstances, to travel elsewhere for work and on short notice, without the possibility of hauling guests along.
That Tuesday, Aaron was sleeping at a friend's house, and Stef's parents were already in bed by eight that evening, both tired from a long day at work.
At ten, Stef and David were looking through the various cupboards of the kitchen for something to eat, and Stef happened to look out the window.
"Damn it," he said, standing there for a moment before putting down on the counter the can of Pepsi he was holding, walking over to the basement door and leaning against it.
"David," he said, all seriousness, "I have to go downstairs, and I have to stay there for the rest of the night. Please don't ask me why, and please don't open the door, no matter what happens."
"Why?" David asked, anyway, but Stef didn't answer and was already darting behind the door, to shut and lock it as a barrier between himself and his friend, or maybe the outside world.
* * *
Can't think; can't breathe, for the burn of it along his skin; fire and blood slipping through his veins and over his arms, slick and hot along the floor.
It hurt, every time, every twenty-eight days when the moon got full and he craved raw meat and pain, for the power it gave the wolf inside him. He was just very careful around knives, and people who bled. Especially around David, because the wolf wanted David, too, to taste and to tear.
At least he didn't have to deal with a mating bond; not old enough to be worrying in that direction, where blood isn't what the wolf hungers for when the moon is close, but he knew in his heart that it would start soon, and when it did, things were going to change, the way his life did when his parents told him that he'd gotten lycanthropy from them, even if Aaron hadn't.
He didn't think about how he worried that the only thing that was going to change was his desperation, and his perception of himself. And he definitely didn't think about how when he remembered his promise to himself, he thought that breaking that promise for David would be worth it, even if it only lasted once. Virginity wasn't so precious any longer that it wasn't his to give away as he wished.
But the wolf was going to keep it until it had the one it wanted, and that, Stef feared.
So when he'd looked through the window and seen the moon, full and round and pregnant on the pain of those cursed like him, he'd shut himself in the basement and locked it against David and spent the night in a steel cage, unable to cry because a wolf doesn't have tear ducts, smelling David's curiosity and desperation and loneliness and confusion.
So at moonset, when he was human again, he got dressed and tried to wipe the blood off his face and declared the sticky-crimson streaks in his hair a lost cause.
He went up the stairs and unlocked the door; found David curled up, asleep, on the floor, with a pillow under his head and music from Aaron's CD player pouring into his ears. It was adorable, and he took an absolutely freezing shower before coming downstairs again and poking his friend awake as the sun peeked over the horizon.
So David stirred, and asked, "What the hell was that about?"
"It's nothing," Stef answered glibly, voice cracking and hoarse, and headed to the kitchen to haul a couple of cereal boxes out to the table. "Hungry?"
"Of course." But David didn't stop staring at him. "What happened?"
"Nothing." He didn't want David to ask, but David'd never been that kind of person.
"It's not nothing," he insisted. "Or why would you have acted like you were so scared?"
"If it's not nothing, then, well, it's not important."
Annoyed, "Stef, stop it. You're being gay."
So he punched his best friend, because he was shocked and angry and wasn't expecting that kind of betrayal, and it was too soon after the change and he was still stronger than he thought.
He ended up with David's blood on his hands; washed it off at the sink before he could start licking it off, like an animal.
"I'm sorry," David said, wiping the crimson streak off his face, and he sounded just as surprised as Stef was.
"Yeah, well, so am I." Stef hated how he sounded, bitter and cold, and was glad that the effect was ruined by the roughness of his voice. "If you have a problem with who I am, take it to whatever passes for your God."
"It's not that–"
"Then what is it? What-ever-fucking-else could it be? Certainly not a bout of goodwill towards one's fellow human beings." His sarcasm was palpable, and he hadn't felt that gladly destructive for years. It had never felt so good to wreck an old friendship, and the only way it could have gotten better was to have had David be angry, as well. Furious enough to fight as dirty as Stef would.
And that, he knew, was the wolf in his thoughts. If it couldn't have – that, it wanted to have David's hate, instead.
"Look, I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean it like that!"
And Stef just glared at him, because that wasn't the first time they'd argued over whether using 'gay' to mean 'stupid' was not only offensive, but also homophobic.
"Your conscious self may not have, but who's to say it wasn't a Freudian slip?" Stef's hand was still under the water, turning red from the cold of it because he wasn't paying attention. Or maybe – and that was when David saw them, the thin lines of scabs that wrapped over his cheeks and his throat and his hands, and then disappeared beneath the collar and wrists of his shirt.
"What did you do to yourself last night?" David asked, a non sequitor, and Stef looked down before realizing that his fingers were freezing and turning off the water.
"What do you mean?"
"Here, and here," David answered, taking three steps closer, though it felt more like ten, to run a finger along the lines of the marks on Stef's face. "And here, and – they're all over you." He did not say what else he noticed, that there were other scars, thin lines, pale even against Stef's light complexion, that underlaid all of the newer wounds. The backs of his hands were criscrossed with them, as though his veins became almost-translucent like his skin once they passed his wrists.
"I get papercuts easily," was the response, and Stef shrugged off his gaze and his touch before drying his hands on a dishrag.
"On your face?" David's incredulity was not unexpected. "What is it, really?"
"It's nothing." He was going back to his stock answers again, rather than just lying. "What do you want me to say? That I cut myself with a razor blade on purpose? It's not true, but would it make you feel better if I did?"
"No. No, it wouldn't. But I want to know why I haven't seen these before."
"Lighting can have a lot to do with it," Stef hedged, looking away from David's face to pour himself a glass of orange juice. "Would you like something to drink?"
"Stop changing the subject!"
"Fine!" Stef put the carton down with a controlled ferocity that would have seemed unnatural if David had been paying attention and Stef had cared to notice through his anger. "Since you're so insistent – I have a genetic disorder known as lycanthropy and it tends to result in scars and irritability, as well as enhanced strength, sight, and hearing. Happy?" He finished on a patently sarcastic note and glared at David in a way he never had before.
"Very funny. Nice try, but even I'm not stupid enough not to know what lycanthropy means. Are you trying to mess with my head or something?"
"If I were trying to mess with your head, I'd rip it off." There was a veiled intensity to him, hidden behind a blank face. "I meant exactly what I said. If you want proof, it's still close enough to the moon to show you."
"You do that," David said, a challenge, and watched as Stef put the cap on the orange juice and put it back in the fridge before turning to face him, and something altered, in the way he looked, and then it was like watching something out of a CG effect, all liquid flowing lines and blur.
"Fuck," said David, as the wolf stared at him from its spot on the floor. "Fuck. Stef, do you understand me?" The wolf didn't move; it just kind of sat there for a moment, and then the entire process went in reverse, and Stef stood there, even if his clothes didn't seem to fit quite right, but he shrugged, and it was all back to normal.
"You see?" asked Stef, all polite tones and veiled insults. "I'm not completely mad."
"Not unless I am, too," David replied, too distracted and amazed to remember to be angry about being wrong. "You inherited that?"
"Yes," Stef answered, taking his glass of juice to the table, where he sat, and waited for David to join him. "It's recessive, obviously, otherwise a far more significant fraction of the population would have it. Usually doesn't manifest till puberty, or a few years before if you're unlucky, but you can do tests at birth to find out if a kid's got it."
David sat down across from him, not touching the boxes of cereal that littered the tabletop like dominoes not meant to be knocked over.
"So how long've you had it?"
"It's been active," and Stef stressed it, to emphasize the difference between having and being afflicted by, "since I was six or seven – middle of second grade. Eight, then. I'm on the older end of the school year."
Just under half his life. David tried to think about hiding a secret like that for that long, and didn't want to.
"He's the lucky one. Mom and Dad each have one copy of the gene that causes it, and you need both sets to inherit it. Aaron didn't get either, so he's normal."
"Does he know?"
"How could he not?" Stef gave him a Look, like How can you be so stupid? but didn't say anything to that effect.
"Good point," David responded sheepishly, and stared at Stef some, thinking about how he'd have to change to make a transformation into an entirely different creature like that.
"What are you thinking? You look like you're trying very hard to stare into my head," Stef said, half-smiling as he picked up his dishes and set them in the sink.
"Nah. Trying to read the mind of a Vasserman is like a seven-year-old trying to understand quantum physics. Totally incomprehensible, and utterly impossible."
"Aaron's as transparent as glass."
"My point is refuted. I withdraw all comments on the moods of your family."
Stef laughed, sharp like a dog's bark and raw as the wind, and David grinned with him.
* * *
That was early April. In May, over the weekend, they went with Kate, Chris, and Aaron to the zoo, and watched the kangaroos and the gorillas and the bears. Aaron, twelve, was almost bored, but there was something about being included by his older brother and his brother's friends somewhere, even if it was a dorky place like the zoo – besides, Kate's commentary on the animals was interesting, and David could make jokes out of it all.
"Dolphins are the only animals besides humans that have sex for recreation," she told them, outside the dolphin enclosure, "and if you aren't careful, the males get Oedipus complexes, so they have to move them away from their moms."
"Gross," Aaron said, and made a face.
"No kidding," Chris added.
They wandered all over the park, and ate lunch at one of the little fast-food restaurants, where Aaron bought some french fries in the shape of animals.
"You take an inordinate amount of pleasure in decapitating your food," Stef remarked, watching him.
"Doesn't everyone? I'm sure you did the same thing when you were a munchkin, too," David said, defending Aaron, but realized his faux pas when Stef gave him a depthless blank look and Aaron just stared at him in surprise.
"No," said Stef, voice strangely devoid of intonation, "No. I never ripped the head off my food before I ate it."
Chris laughed, unaware of the subcurrents that flowed at the table. "You must've been one wack job of a kid."
"I suppose," and Stef almost sounded normal again, though perhaps a touch formal, as he shrugged. "It is not out of the realm of possibility."
Finishing up the last of his fries, Aaron urged, "Let's go see something. Whaddya wanna see?"
"How about the big cats?" Kate asked. "I'd like to see the panthers, or whatever they've got to pass for it."
"Sure. Where is it on the map?" David asked, getting up to lean over Stef's shoulder to peer at the map Stef'd spread over the table as Kate spoke.
"Not sure," Stef answered, running a finger along the various labels at the landmarks.
"Lemme help," David said, and leaned over further, one hand on Stef's shoulder and the other on the table, to brace him and keep him from falling as he looked on the other half of the map.
When he looked up at Stef's triumphant exclamation of "Found it!", Kate and Chris were both smirking at him knowingly, but he didn't understand what they meant by it. Especially not when Kate winked at him, and mouthed something that might have been Freudian much? or Faking it, hmm? and he wasn't sure which.
They went towards the big cat enclosure as soon as they'd all sorted themselves and their jackets out, and on the way, made a pit stop at the wolf habitat, where Chris sat on a rock and whistled, Kate stared with her face right up against the fence, Aaron watched Kate with a vague expression of hero-worship in his eyes, and Stef watched the wolves pace back and forth with his arms crossed over his chest and his face blank.
"Aren't they gorgeous?" Kate breathed, almost a rhetorical question, entranced.
David thought of the lines of slanting dawn-light over silver-black fur, of a wolf sitting on its haunches on a hardwood floor and staring up at him, and murmured, "Yeah. They're great, aren't they."
"They're lonely," Stef said, almost bitter. "They don't have enough space to run around in and they're sick of each other, and mostly, they haven't got a pack to be trapped with."
"They wouldn't survive in the wild," Chris pointed out. "Not used to finding their own food and stuff, ya know."
Stef looked at Chris for a moment, all analysis, and answered, "I suppose you have a point."
* * *
It took him till July to get jealous, but it took him till August to realize it.
Stef'd been volunteering at the local library, offering to help out there during the summers, and while there, he met a very sweet young man by the name of Atri Llewellyn. Who asked him out after a week and a half of seeing each other all day, every day.
Stef accepted, and they were 'together,' if it could be called that, for a month before David met Atri.
He disliked him on sight. It wasn't that Atri wasn't attractive – he was quite handsome, actually – or that he wasn't nice – he was a perfect gentleman to everyone, regardless of whether or not they treated him well in return. David couldn't explain it, really, beyond that he wished that Stef'd never met the guy.
So, instead, he said, "He's cheating. With a girl." Because it was the only thing he could think of.
"Don't make stories up. You don't have to like him; you just have to accept him," Stef answered, irritated.
Except, in the end, he was right. Within two weeks, Stef discovered that Atri'd been dating a girl by the name of Mary McMahon the entire time, and that the final decision had been to keep Mary, rather than Stef.
"Told you," David said, sitting at a park bench later that week, but he didn't feel good about it, and instead wished that he'd been able to get Stef away from Atri sooner. Or kept Stef from liking Atri at all.
"You did," Stef said, and laughed, but it almost sounded pained. "Y'know what? If this were a novel somewhere, Atri'd come back after McMahon dumped him, and I'd fall in love with him for real, the second time."
"It's not a novel, though," David said, but thought, You make him sound like the main character in your story. Why not make yourself the protagonist in your head?
"No, it really isn't," Stef said, and didn't smile, which meant, In a novel, no decent love interest for the main character would ever be a werewolf.
And that made David angry. It was like someone'd been stripping away Stef's self-esteem, really; had spent years working on making him casually dismiss himself. He hated Atri for reinforcing it, and stared at the grass beneath his feet as a couple of munchkins played tag around the trees.
"C'mon," Stef said, standing abruptly, half-turning to look back at David. "There's an ice cream place up the street, and I'm hungry."
It was always like that, when they talked about the important things. David would get just close enough to some deep revelation to see that it was there, and then Stef would change the subject all of a sudden, and it'd be hidden again, like waves over a shell on the beach, or the moon on a stormy night.
"Okay," David said, and followed him, thinking as he stood, I wish – and then deciding that he did not wish that at all.
They bought their ice cream and wandered down the street at seven in the evening, and passed no one on the way.
"What's that flavor s'posed to taste like?" Stef asked, eyeing David's violently blue sweet suspiciously.
"Almond. Not very like real almonds, though, really. Yours is chocolate mint, right?"
Stef nodded. "Can I try some of yours? You can have some of mine, if you like."
"Sure." They switched, for a moment, and David thought he liked Stef's better, burning-spicy rather than numbing-sweet. Wondered if Stef and Atri had traded ice cream, like this, and was surprised by the rush of anger that he felt at the thought.
Cheating bastard, that Atri Llewellyn. If it'd been up to David–
"Here," Stef said, handing David's ice cream back.
"Thanks. I like yours better."
"Mm. Ditto. Want to trade permanently?"
"Yeah," David said, and took the chocolate mint again.
They meandered around a bit, staring at the lit-up window displays in the shops and finishing their ice cream before Stef wandered past the bookstore and was drawn to it like an iron filing to a magnet.
David put up with it good-naturedly; being good friends with Stef for this long had given him a high tolerance for following someone around in places he was apathetic about. Kate would always make comments about how he'd make a good boyfriend for a mall-goer, but David didn't think so.
"This is good stuff," Stef said, pointing to a book on the shelf, then running his finger along the spines of the other books near it. "Crap…crap…Science fiction….my deity – Kate wants to have this guy's kids, you know…dreck….mediocre…science fiction…more dreck…"
"Yeah. I think Kate's going to stalk him once she gets out of college."
"I feel sorry for him," Stef said, with good humor, and appeared to forcibly tear his attention from the shelf. "Sorry. I'm easily distracted."
"Not really," David responded. "You don't rot your mind with TV."
"Instead, I rot my mind online," Stef joked, and pulled a book off the shelf by Kate's future stalkee.
"Sure," David said with a touch of sarcasm, and ruffled Stef's hair, like an older brother, rather than a best friend.
"Stop that." It wasn't angry, merely good-natured, as Stef went to buy the book at the register and rejoined David at the exit.
They sat under a path-lamp in the park from earlier that evening, and David peered over Stef's shoulder to read the book along with him.
When Stef stopped reading at the break in a section, David took the book out of his hands and closed it after dog-earing the page, despite Stef's mild protests to both the removal of the novel and the manner in which his place was marked.
"C'mon. My parents are going to start wondering if some serial killer got us soon; it's nearly ten."
"And mine'll be wondering if I'm lying bleeding in a back alley somewhere, with you on the run from the law," Stef responded wryly, and stood, stretching and surprising himself by yawning.
"Nah," David said, and watched the way the yellowish light from the street lamp cast strange shadows on Stef's face and highlighted his eyes to an almost-glow. "How many days till the moon?"
"Do you ever feel really stressed, around the moon? Like, in controlling your behavior, or anything."
"Always," Stef said, and laughed. "I'd be seriously worried if I didn't."
"You're kind of dizzying to be around, the day of. Mood swings every fifteen minutes."
"Sorry," Stef said, and half-smiled at him as they walked towards where Stef's dad's car, which he'd borrowed for the evening, was parked.
"It's not bad. Just a little weird."
"Mm. Says you."
"Always," David said, and he felt curiously light-headed as he put a hand on Stef's shoulder to stop him walking and leant down to press a kiss to the base of his neck.
"What are you doing?" Stef's voice was tight, emotionless.
"You're not the only one with abrupt mood swings, I think," David said, but his clarity of thought was still AWOL and he wasn't quite sure what was going on.
"What are you doing?" The intensity to the words was a little surprising, but not much.
"I feel fuzzy, is what," David said, and moved a couple of paces away. "Fuzzy, up here." He tapped his temple to demonstrate, and then shrugged. "But I like you anyway."
The back of his head wondered what in hell he was saying and where it'd come from.
"Have you been taking medication recently or something?" Stef hazarded. "Spent a protracted amount of time around liquid mercury as a child? Eaten paint chips? Hung out with someone smoking illegal herbs anytime within the last forty-eight hours?"
"Not unless you have, too," David said, and laughed, starting to feel almost normal again.
"Then what was that for?" Guised in a smile, that question, but David could almost feel the tension behind the words.
"Aren't I allowed to act a little weird once in a while?" he asked, and laughed, oddly enough – even he couldn't think why it was funny.
"Sugar," Stef pronounced, sighing. "Note to self: do not, under any circumstances, give David sugar if you expect him to behave with any degree of sanity afterwards."
"Yeah," David agreed, and followed Stef to the car, and turned up the Arabian-Celtic CD in the stereo so loud that the windows vibrated with the bass line, until Stef told – yelled at – him to turn it down before he got a headache.
"Sorry," David said, bringing the volume down to reasonable levels once more.
"'S'okay. It's just – you know."
"Sensitive hearing?" he guessed, and was awarded with a slight nod. "Sorry. I forget sometimes."
The music swirled in the car, no longer tangible, as before, but hardly nonexistent.
"What's it feel like?"
"Changing. What's it like?" He turned the stereo down so he could hear Stef's answer better.
"Hurts. A lot. Pretty much everything has to change shape, and I tend to leave everything I touch while I'm changing bloody. Changing, for real – not the not-moon times. Not nearly so tame on the moon."
"That doesn't sound like fun." David's body ached, for a moment, in sympathy.
"It wasn't meant to be fun," Stef said wryly. "If it were meant to be fun, it would have been as pleasurable as sex."
David laughed, a touch surprised. Stef wouldn't usually talk about his lycanthropy, or sex – the first out of fear that people were listening, and the latter because he worried about making people uncomfortable.
They went home in silence, or nearly, and David's sugar-high passed within a half an hour, leaving only normalcy and clarity behind.
* * *
In another world, David's eyes caught a pretty girl in the street, and Stef watched as he asked her out and as they courted and married, and David loved her dearly. In another world, Stef wasn't a werewolf, and because he didn't have its protection, he would have died of AIDS from an HIV positive blood transfusion if he hadn't been hit by a car first.
In another world, the ending wasn't nearly so happy. It could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse. It was the kind of ending that makes you want to lock yourself in your room all hours and wear black for the futility of existence.
In essence, it was another world. And our world isn't quite like that.
* * *
They went to college – different schools, with different specialities, because they were different people. Came home during the summer and spent nearly the entire time together, catching up and talking about everything and nothing.
In July, David said to Stef, finally, "Um. Do you want. You know. To go out for dinner and a movie or something or whatever you want tomorrow." The words came slowly, at first, and then in a rush, as though he couldn't say them fast enough.
David looked down, at the floor. "Yeah. Just us."
"Of course," Stef answered, and David looked up to see him smiling.
So they went there, and to a jazz concert – that was Stef's idea – and ended up at David's house, the day before he had to go back, and didn't do anything Naughty at all, even though the moon'd already passed.
Stef became a librarian, writing freelance articles for newspapers, and found a way to ameliorate the pain of his lycanthropy. David got a desk job at the FBI, and their relationship worked very well most of the time. It was the kind of ever-after everyone's always looking for.
It's just they don't always tell you what's in the 'ever-after'. Like how Aaron went into the military and came within an inch of losing his life in another American topple-a-despot war, but ended up okay. And how David developed a tumor that the doctors managed to catch before it was too bad, and he ended up okay, too.
It could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse. And that's what an 'ever-after' is.
* * *
A/N: Don't do what Chris did and let your little sisters run around alone on Halloween. Strangers may hand out good candy, but that's only because they're taking the kind you don't want to give. Don't write swears on your friends' hands. They won't be happy. Don't give porn to your friends unless you're sure they'll like it. All maneuvers in this piece were performed by a professional stunt driver and you should not attempt them at home. I can't guarantee that kissing your best friend will persuade them to hook up with you, either, and if you try that with a werewolf who isn't expecting it, you'll probably find yourself dealing with a furry monster every month.