Author's Note: Okay, so I'm not dead. I'm still writing Person of Interest fanfiction, though, so you probably wish that I was. I'm getting close to quitting, or at least, finishing up my current WIP so I can get back to Moonlight. I realized that I do have a few chapters that never got around to posting on here, so here's one of them to tide you over for a while, while I get back into the swing of writing original fic again.
Sorry for the long wait. Hope you enjoy. ^_^
Oh, and if you want to check out my fanfic, I have my own archive of POI stories at katicalockefanfic. wordpress. com (just take out the spaces after the periods).
"Izeri, wake up."
Izeri groaned and pulled his blankets up over his head, hoping that if Charias couldn't see him, he'd go away. A moment later, Charias peeled the blankets back and Izeri drew his knees up to his chest, shivering in the chill morning air.
"Go away," Izeri said. "It's Kenafa."
"Okay," Charias said. "I'll go explore the Wood by myself."
Izeri groaned again and reluctantly dragged himself out of bed. It was barely dawn - earlier than if they'd had class. Izeri glared blearily at Charias, who was already dressed. As Izeri pulled on his jeans, he watched Charias pack the flashlight, image charms, and their assignment into his knapsack, along with an assortment of plastic bags and specimen jars. From his dresser he took out a pearl-handled pocketknife and a box of matches, which he slipped in his pocket. He stood for a moment, tapping one finger against the edge of the drawer before shutting it again.
"Do you think it'll rain?" Izeri asked, making his way to his own dresser and taking out a clean pair of socks.
"It might," Charias said. "Can't you tell?"
"Glamour doesn't work, remember?" Izeri said with a yawn. He pulled a lightweight sweatshirt out of his dresser and grabbed his jacket from off the back of his chair.
"Don't forget your bag," Charias said, crouching down in front of his dresser and digging through the bottom drawer. "You can carry the food."
"Oh, boy," Izeri said with mock enthusiasm. He glanced over at Charias. "Is this really going to take all day?"
"Did I spend the last two evenings in the Library with some other annoying fey? Because I could have sworn it was you helping me look up each of the things on that list. You saw how rare and elusive some of them were."
"I know," Izeri with a sigh as he slipped on his shoes.
"If you really don't want to go..." Charias said.
"It's not that," Izeri said, grabbing his book bag and dumping the contents onto his bed. "I'm worried about Jak. He goes to see Maika every day and Maika still won't talk to him, and now I think he's gotten himself mixed up with that ainmhain, Akitra."
"Akitra is trouble," Charias said, standing back up and shaking out a long, slate blue canvas coat that had been folded in the drawer. "If you want to stay with Jak-"
"No," Izeri said, shaking his head. "He thinks he knows what he's doing. He won't listen to me anyway." And, Izeri didn't want to run the risk of getting in Akitra's way. "Besides, I want to see the Wood."
"All right then," Charias said, shouldering his bag, his coat draped over his arm. "You about ready?"
"I need to use the bathroom, and then yeah, I'm ready," Izeri said, glancing around the room. He didn't want to forget anything, but he wasn't sure what else to bring.
"Give me your bag," Charias said, holding out his hand. "I'll go get the food and we can have breakfast and then go. Sound good?"
"Sounds good," Izeri said, handing him the bag. After Izeri took care of business in the restroom, he hurried to the cafeteria. The tables were nearly deserted, only a handful of early risers taking advantage of fresh coffee and hash browns. Charias was at the serving window, talking to one of the cooks on the other side while he packed the plastic containers of food into Izeri's knapsack. As Izeri approached, he was surprised to realize that the cook was a young human woman, her dark hair pulled back beneath a hairnet, her face dusted with sprinkles of flour as well as freckles. She glanced at him as he stepped up beside Charias, her large eyes a dark, dark blue.
"Good morning," she said.
"Hello," Izeri said, giving her a quick smile before looking over the assortment of breakfast items on display.
"Shelaela, this is my fr- My room- My friend, Izeri," Charias said.
"Hello," Izeri said again, glancing up at Charias as his stomach gave a funny flutter. His friend.
"Nice to meet you," Shelaela said. "I don't think I've ever met one of Charias' friends before." There was an awkward sort of pause. Finally, Shelaela cleared her throat. "So, where are you two off to this morning?"
"Just going to take the ferry back to town," Charias said. Izeri said nothing, pretending to be engrossed in the choosing of his breakfast to keep from having to look at either of them. He didn't know why Charias would lie, but it was his prerogative.
"Oh, that sounds like fun," Shelaela said, "but Charias, you do know that Braevern ry Maas has restaurants, right?"
"Yeah, but this," he gestured to the serving window full of food, "is included in tuition. A restaurant wouldn't be."
"True," she said with a laugh. "And I suppose a nice picnic could be just as romantic as a fancy restaurant."
"It's not a date," Izeri said with a tense laugh. "We're just friends."
"Yeah, just friends," Charias echoed. He shouldered Izeri's bag and shifted several plates of food from the window to a tray. "We should get going or we'll miss the ferry," he said. Izeri quickly picked a bowl of oatmeal, a side of strawberries, and a glass of fresh maegron juice.
"Yeah, I better get back to work," Shelaela said. "Nice to meet you, Izzi. Good to see you again, Charias."
"You too, Laela," Charias said. Izeri followed him to an empty table, nibbling at his oatmeal while Charias shoveled down food with impressive speed. Finally, Izeri cleared his throat.
"She's pretty," Izeri said.
Charias gave him an indecipherable look, then turned his attention back to his breakfast.
"I forgot," the shark said, "you prefer women. I don't think she's seeing anyone. I could ask her, if you want."
"I don't think she's interested in me," Izeri said. "She couldn't even remember my name." He took a drink of his juice, his mouth puckering; the maegeon melons must not have been completely ripe. "Why don't you ask her out? I think she likes you."
"She doesn't know me," Charias said, frowning down at his breakfast.
"That's kind of the point of asking her out - so she can get to know you," Izeri said with a laugh.
"She's not my type," Charias said shortly. Miffed, Izeri turned back to his oatmeal.
"Sorry," he said after a moment. "I wasn't aware that you had a type. I seem to remember someone telling me that no one was interested in them, and now we find someone who is, and suddenly, you get all picky. What do you prefer? Blondes? Werewolves? Mages?"
"I want someone who understands me," Charias said, stabbing his fork into a stack of pancakes. "Someone who knows what I am and accepts it, accepts both of us, me and the shark, someone smart, and kind, and funny, and tough enough to put with me when I'm being an asshole. Someone beautiful and graceful..." Charias glanced at him and Izeri felt a weight settle in his chest, making it hard to breathe. Was Charias talking about him? Couldn't be. He wasn't beautiful or graceful. "And tall," Charias added as he turned back to his breakfast. "I don't want to have to look down at them all the time."
"Good luck finding that," Izeri said, trying to ignore the bitter sting Charias' words had left upon him. He didn't understand it. He should have been relieved not to be Charias' type. Unless the spirit was right. "Hey," Izeri said, "what about that were-elk? He's tall." Charias gave him a dark look and Izeri forced a chuckle. He decided to change the subject. "Why was he trying to kill you, anyway? I heard one of you say something about a wolf..."
"One of the werewolves was missing. He blamed me, which was just stupid." He took a bite of his pancakes, chewed and swallowed. "If I was going to kill one of them, I'd kill Shadorak. He's the only one tall enough and strong enough to pin those sharks to our door."
"Did he tell you the werewolf's name?" Izeri asked, frowning as he remembered the conversation he'd overhead in writing class.
"Moon-something,"" Charias said, confirming Izeri's suspicion. "Moonsong, maybe."
"Moonsinger," Izeri corrected.
"That's it. Why?"
"I overheard some guys talking about him in class," Izeri said. "He got beat up at that party because he refused to blow somebody. Now he's missing and all those guys were worried about was that Moonsinger hadn't finished their homework."
"That's why I'm glad sharks are solitary," Charias said. "A wolfpack is great if you're the alpha wolf, but if you're on the bottom of the social ladder, you might as well kill yourself."
Izeri looked over at him, eyes wide.
"You don't think he did, do you?"
Charias seemed to think about it.
"I didn't really know the guy," he said, "but I doubt it. Low-ranking wolves tend to get used to the abuse. Besides, if he did kill himself, why hasn't anyone found a body?"
"He could have jumped off the cliff into the sea," Izeri suggested.
Charias shook his head.
"I'd have found him," he said and then seemed to hesitate. "I have before."
Izeri froze with his spoon halfway to his lips, then set it back down in his bowl.
"You-you've found...dead people...out there?" he asked. The shark nodded. "When? Who?"
"My sophomore year," he said. "I'm sure you've heard the story about how I drove my bio partner to kill himself?" Izeri nodded. "Yeah, well...he wasn't my partner, he just sat at the same table, and his suicide had nothing to do with me. He came from a successful, high-class family and when his grades slipped, he couldn't handle the pressure and he jumped. That was the official finding, but nobody cares about the truth around here. The fact that I found him didn't help any, either."
"I'm so sorry," Izeri said. "What a horrible thing...And I never believed that it was your fault, you know."
Charias glanced at him, for a brief moment his eyes filled with suspicion and distrust, but then he smiled.
"Yeah, I know," he said. They lapsed into companionable silence as they hurried to finish eating. More students were starting to trickle in, the cafeteria filling with a rising hum as the conversations multiplied. Izeri finished his oatmeal and strawberries and sat sipping his tart juice as he waited for Charias to finish. After a moment, he turned to the shark.
"Can I ask you a personal question without you getting mad at me?" he asked.
"How personal?" Charias asked, that old suspicion filling his dark eyes again.
"It's about the other night, in the pool," Izeri said.
Charias frowned down at the remains of his meal.
"Oh," he said. "Sure, why not. Ask away."
Izeri wasn't sure he wanted to anymore, what the sudden edge to Charias' tone, but he cleared his throat and braced himself for Charias to make a scene.
"How come you still have all your teeth?" he asked.
"That's what you want to know?" Charias asked, sounding surprised.
"Yeah," Izeri said, frowning slightly. "I had heard that if a Were is injured in animal form, the injury remains after they shift back to human form." He knew that from experience. "Why? What did you think I was going to ask about?"
"Nothing, never mind," Charias said, shaking his head. "I still have all my teeth because sharks have extra teeth, and when one falls out, another moves up to fill the space. That's why I didn't shift back right away; I was waiting for my teeth to come back in."
"I see," Izeri said, nodding, and he let the conversation die. What had Charias thought he was going to ask about? Whatever it was, it made him angry. Something that happened in the pool...
"We should get going," Charias said, rising from the table and shouldering his bag before picking up his tray. Izeri took one last drink, making a face as the tartness grabbed him at the base of his jaw, and followed Charias to the trash bins. They dumped their trays, placed them on the stack with the others, and headed for the doors.
"Why did you tell Shelaela that we were going to take the ferry?" Izeri asked as they stepped outside into the clammy gray mist. "Is it against the rules to go into the Wood?" Izeri shivered and set his bag down for a moment to put on his jacket.
"I don't think so," Charias said as he did the same, slipping into his long, blue-gray overcoat, "but its not something that's encouraged. A lot of people think the Wood is haunted." He shrugged as he straightened his collar.
"It isn't really...is it?" Izeri asked, his gaze lingering on the dashing figure that Charias cut, the tailored coat highlighting his broad shoulders, narrow waist, and impressive height.
"Are you staring at me?" Charias asked as he stooped to pick up his bag. Izeri shook his head, but his face began to burn as he realized that he had been.
"That coat looks good on you, that's all," Izeri said, grabbing his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. "Nice color, good fit - you look...gallant." His rambling wasn't helping matters any, so he just shut his mouth. Charias regarded him for a moment, then motioned out into the fog.
"It's that way," he said and Izeri gratefully began to walk. Why was it that whenever he was around Charias, he turned into a blithering idiot? He had been mildly attracted to people before - guys, even - but it had never made him act so stupid. After a moment, Charias said, "I wouldn't be surprised if it was - haunted, that is. I wouldn't worry about it, though - from everything I've heard, the spirit is harmless."
"What have you heard?" Izeri asked. "I mean, has anyone seen it?"
"It's just stories," Charias said. "Supposedly, about ten years ago, a student went into the Wood for some reason and saw a ghost-like figure among the trees, a young woman, shining with a pale green light and nearly transparent. Some versions of the story claim he ran out and left Alyrrawood, others say he followed her deeper into the forest, to the heart tree, where she spoke to him, divulging the secrets of the Wood. And then I heard a different story, about a mage. He and one of his friends liked to play jokes on each other, the pranks escalating as the year wore on, until one of them went too far and wound up poisoning the other. The poisoned mage wandered away from the university in a delirium and wound up in the Wood. The ghost woman led him to an herb that cured him and saved his life."
"She sounds more like a guardian spirit than a ghost," Izeri said, finding that idea much more appealing. "When I was a kid, there was a horrible fire that destroyed a house on the edge of town. The whole family burned to death. Years later, the ruins became a sort of proving ground for the local teenagers. If you wanted to be one of the cool kids, you had to go inside the house at night."
"Do I look like one of the 'cool kids'?" Izeri asked. That pre-adolescent dick-measuring had gone on before he'd been changed, but that wasn't something Izeri wanted Charias to know. Not yet. The truth was, his mother had forbidden him to go and that was the end of it. "No, I never went in," he said, "and I don't know if those that did were being honest or just trying to scare the others, but they talked about hearing flames crackling and smelling smoke, seeing shadowy figures move through the burnt-out shell, hearing ethereal screams, and feeling cold hands grab at them."
"Sounds like a ghost story," Charias said. "They were probably making it up."
"Probably," Izeri agreed. He hoped so. Spirits and ghosts didn't bother him - he had often visited the lake where his brother had drowned, hoping to see him one last time. It was the malevolent behavior of the spirits in the ruined house that upset him. The dead were supposed to be at peace, not trying to scare the living.
Izeri shivered and drew his jacket closed with one hand as he glanced around, suddenly realizing that he and Charias had wandered into the fog, the heavy gray curtain closing around him, the mist cold on his face and hands.
"Do you know where we are?" Izeri asked, hurrying to keep abreast of the long-legged human.
"East of campus," Charias said, pointing up at a slightly brighter spot in the dense fog. 'There's the sun. If we keep walking this way, we'll reach the river, which we can follow to the Wood. Why? Did you think we were lost?"
"No," Izeri said quickly. "Well, maybe a little. It wouldn't be hard in this damned fog."
"I don't get lost," Charias said. "You just have to learn to read the land. We're headed downhill - all water flows to the lowest point, so even if it was dark and we couldn't follow the sun, we could find the river."
"Do you do this sort of thing a lot?" Izeri asked.
Charias shook his head.
"Not since I was a kid," he said. "I grew up in a small fishing village and before I was old enough to help my father on the boat, I would go with my mother and older sister into the hills and forests near the village, hunting for roots, berries, and mushrooms."
"I didn't know you had a sister," Izeri said. Actually, until that moment, he hadn't even been sure Charias had a family. "What's her name?"
"Merreal," Charias said. "I have a younger brother, too, named Damerius." Charias glanced over at him, regarding him for a moment. "My real name is Corbyn, by the way. Corbyn Skerrison."
Izeri was so surprised, he forgot to keep walking.
"Really?" he said. Charias stopped and looked back at him. "I-I had no idea."
"All Were change their names," he said. "It's a tradition stemming from the need to protect their family from the Huntsmen. Charias is my folkname."
I tried to get you to pick a folkname, remember? the spirit said. You were still ignoring me back then.
"Corbyn," Izeri said, looking up at the tall shark. A small, crooked smile tugged at the corner of Charias' mouth and he shook his head.
"I haven't been Corbyn in a long time," he said. "My name is Charias now. I just wanted you to know."
"Oh," Izeri said as they started walking again. "Okay, thanks."
"It's not a big deal," Charias said. "But don't tell anyone, not even Jak. Especially Jak. That idiot doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut."
"I won't," Izeri said. After a moment, he asked, "Does Shelaela know your real name?"
"No," Charias said.
"Does the drac - I mean, Fhekir?"
"No," Charias said again, his brow furrowed as he glanced over at Izeri. "You're the only one, okay? Don't make a big deal out of it."
"Of course not," Izeri said, but he wondered how Charias could expect him not to. Izeri couldn't help but smile to himself. No doubt about it now - they were really friends.
Before long, they reached the river, the gray water rolling sluggishly along on its way to the sea, tendrils of mist dancing over the rippling surface. They talked a bit about classes, the professors, the cattails and frogs and golden kelpie lilies along the riverbank, but mostly the just walked in comfortable silence. After following the river upstream for almost a half hour, the ever-present mist finally thinned and lifted, the morning sun bathing them in warmth and light. Izeri considered stopping to take off his jacket, but it wasn't that warm, and it was likely to be chilly in the shade of the great Wood.
They climbed a slight rise, the river growing swifter and more narrow, winding around hillocks and rocky outcroppings. At the top of the rise, Charias stopped. Izeri glanced up at him, then followed his gaze across the rolling field to the southwestern edge of the Alyrrawood. From a distance, it didn't look much different from any other forest - shrubs and young trees at the edge, larger, mature trees rising up in the interior - but as they drew near, Izeri could make out the features that made the Alyrrawood and its kind unique among the universe.
The first was the sheer size of it, both in area and in the height of the innermost trees. They were miles from the heart of the Wood, but the distant treetops still disappeared into the clouds. The second and most interesting feature was the smooth, limbless and leafless branches connecting each tree to the one before it. Like strawberry plants sent out runners along the ground that took root and grew new plants, these trees sent out arching tendrils that rooted and grew into new trees. Unlike strawberries, though, if the connecting branches were severed, the orphaned tree and all those connected to it would die. It seemed that entire Wood drew its life from the Heart Tree, making it the largest living organism on any known planet.
"Wow," Izeri said as they came to a stop at the edge of the Wood. Here, the trees were barely taller than he was and made a dense wall of thickly-leafed branches for as far as the eye could see. "So...how do we get inside?"
Charias stepped over the trees and pushed the branches aside.
"Just be careful not to break these," he said, pointing to the connecting branch rising up out of the center of the tree and disappearing back into the forest.
"I know," Izeri said, ducking down and squeezing through the opening. It was rough going for about ten feet; branches poked him in the ribs and slapped him across the face as he pushed his way through. Behind him, he could hear Charias muttering and cursing, and for once Izeri was thankful that he was so short. He was getting off easy. Finally, they emerged from the thicket into open space beneath the branches of the older trees. Izeri blinked in the gloom, thankful he'd had the foresight to keep his jacket on. It was dark and cold in the shade, barely lighter than twilight, but his eyes slowly adjusted.
Leaves and branches littered the ground, dense moss growing on almost every surface. Here and there, spindly bushes stretched their leaves up toward the light that barely filtered down from above. Mushrooms and fungus were everywhere, bright splashes of gold, white, red, and gray in an otherwise brown world.
"Lucky us," Charias said, shrugging off his bag and pulling out the assignment. "Half of what we need is right here." He handed the packet of papers to Izeri. "Here you go. Have fun."
"Oh, boy; thanks," Izeri said with a crooked grin. "Give me the easy ones and keep the hard ones for yourself, selfish jerk."
"Watch it," the shark replied, "or I won't let you do any of them." He gave Izeri a playful nudge as he stepped past and Izeri smiled to himself as he tried to read the papers in his hands. It was too dark.
"Where's the flashlight?" Izeri asked. "I can't read this."
"I don't have any extra batteries," Charias said. "Let's save it for emergencies. As soon as the sun rises high enough, the light will penetrate the canopy. Until then, I'm sure you can remember what we're looking for."
"Do you remember all fifty specimens?" Izeri asked.
"No," Charias said with a chuckle as he crouched down beside a cluster of waxy red mushrooms, "but I remember looking at pictures of these."
Izeri walked over beside him.
"Are those scarlet-capped Hellevesses?"
"Well, they're not faerie squirrels," Charias said, digging into his bag. "What do you think - picture or sample?"
"Well, there isn't much light for a picture," Izeri said, "and there are hundreds of those little mushrooms in this area alone, so I don't think taking a sample will hurt anything. Do you?"
"No," Charias said, pulling a specimen jar out of his bag and handing it to Izeri. Izeri took off the lid and held the jar close while Charias used his pocketknife to carefully slice one little mushroom off at the ground.
"Don't touch it," Izeri warned. "They're mildly toxic."
"Thanks, but I know," Charias said. Using the tip of the knife blade and a large, dead leaf, he flicked the mushroom onto the leaf, then dumped it into the jar. Izeri put the lid back on and Charias tucked the jar away in his bag. "That's six down, only forty-four more to go."
"We're going to be in here all day," Izeri said with a grin as he glanced around. He spotted a splash of blue under one of the wispy shrubs. "Oh, I think those flowers are on the list!" He tugged on Charias' sleeve before hurrying over to the tiny blue blossoms on their pale green stems poking up out of the leaf litter. Behind him, Charias chuckled.
About five hours later, they finally stopped for lunch. Izeri was starving and footsore, sticks and burrs in his hair and dirt under his fingernails, but they had found samples and taken pictures of thirty-seven of the species on the list. Charias said they were about a mile from the edge of the Wood, but it felt like they had walked for ten, weaving and winding among the trunks, searching up in the branches and down in the muddy hollows between raised roots. The magnificent trees towered overhead, the sun shining down through their arching branches, giving the place a light, airy atmosphere, like a natural cathedral.
They found an old branch to sit on, wildflowers growing around it in the thin shafts of sunlight that pierced the canopy. Izeri held a large tub of mixed fruit, Charias a tub of cold pasta salad with spinach and sweet peas and wild dragontongue mushrooms in it, and they sat side by side, sharing the food right out of the tubs. Once Izeri had quieted his rumbling stomach, he glanced over at Charias.
"This is the most fun I've had in a long time," Izeri said. "Thank you."
Charias seemed to be searching the tub of pasta salad for an acerbic reply, frowning as he pushed the noodles around with his fork, but there was only pasta in the container. Finally, he sighed.
"Me, too," he said. He took another bite, chewed, and swallowed. "You know, I was fine not having friends," he said. "If I get used to this-" He gestured toward Izeri with his fork. "Are you going to change your mind? If you grow tired of this little social project of yours-"
"I'm not going anywhere," Izeri said quietly, Charias' unspoken fear tugging at his heart. He didn't want to be alone again. It was one thing to choose to be alone - it was another to be deserted. Izeri glanced over at Charias, still regarding his food with a frown on his face. Izeri felt the sudden need to prove that his words were more than just empty platitudes; he wanted to tell Charias something he'd never told anyone before. "Charias..." he said, "when I was a kid, I- I-" He couldn't do it. The words stuck and wouldn't come out. He cleared his throat. "I had a best friend," Izeri said, looking down at the ground and mentally berating himself as a liar and a coward even as the lies spilled from his lips. "We went everywhere, did everything together, until one day he realized, or someone told him, that I wasn't the same as the other kids, that I wasn't good enough. He told me he couldn't be my friend anymore. I know how much that hurts," he said, "and I would never do that to you."
A long, heavy silence settled over them. After a minute, Izeri looked up, wondering if he had somehow managed to offend the wereshark, but Charias was just looking at him, just staring, an unspoken need written all over his face, but a deep, dark fear in his black eyes. A need for what? A fear of what? A need to believe that Izeri was telling the truth and a fear that he was lying? Izeri didn't know what else he could say or do to convince Charias that he was for real, that he was Charias' friend. Charias started to lean toward him, then looked down into the tub of fruit in Izeri hands and stabbed a piece of melon with his fork.
"We should get back to work," Charias said, regarding the fruit before taking a bite. He swallowed and said, "These last few things aren't going to be easy to find."
"Right," Izeri said, snapping the lid back on the fruit tub and stuffing it back in his knapsack. It was a good thing he hadn't bothered to bare his soul, if that was all the response he was going to get. Charias handed him the sealed container of pasta and he put it away as the shark stood up and stretched, his spine popping loud enough for Izeri to hear. They shouldered their packs and Izeri picked up their assignment. "So, where to now?" he asked, flipping through the pages.
"I appreciate what you said," Charias said, his voice low. "I...I never had a best friend...until now." Izeri looked up at him, not sure what to say. He'd had friends before his little accident in the woods, but no one that he would consider his best friend. Until now. Izeri almost hugged him, but stopped himself at a smile.
"That means a lot to me," Izeri said. He waited for Charias to speak, but the shark just stared at him, an awkward sort of silence growing between them. Izeri forced a tight laugh. "So, which way?" He glanced around the Wood.
"This way," Charias said, heading deeper into the woods.