The two of them had been walking for nearly an hour without making a sound. Even though they'd taken Adam's car all the way to the end of the dirt road running off the highway from town, it was still quite the walk into the forest before you ever made it to their destination. Not to mention it was nearly impossible to find the way if you didn't already know the path. They did. Sofia and Adam had walked to this spot in the forest countless times over the years.
It was Adam who spoke first "So he knows you're one of us now does he?"
"He can hear us when we need him to." Sofia answered with a tiny shrug "I'm not sure that he really understands it yet. He just knows that something's wrong…I don't think he remembers his first change."
Adam's face didn't change. That could be a little bit unnerving sometimes. His expression almost never changed. She knew why. This wasn't the real him. His actual face was far more expressive and it almost never stopped smiling. His voice was just as neutral as his expression "Few of us do. It tends to be a bit traumatic."
"I'm trying to help him but it's hard." She confessed "Joseph's always pushed himself away from people but its gotten ridiculous. Any time there's even the tiniest crack in his armor he gets freaked out and runs away. "
Adam stopped and nodded. He didn't speak as he peeled his shirt off and studied the treeline up ahead. In all the time they'd known about this spot, they'd only been seen out here by an outsider twice. It was too out of the way for anybody from town to just happen to stroll their way on out there. Still, it was important no one knew what went on out there. One could never be too careful. He unbuttoned his jeans and pulled them off, then sat down on the ground to pull off his socks. He finished stripping down while he spoke to her "He's defending himself. He's not the first one to be like that. He won't be the last. He knows changes have to be made and he's scared to death to make those changes. It happens."
Sofia nodded and started pulling off her own clothes. Adam folded his jeans up neatly and bunched his socks together before carefully tucking them into his pocket. She rolled her eyes and tossed hers into the bushes. They'd be here when they got back. She wondered what people would think if they were to walk up and see the sight in front of them. The sheriff's daughter nude in the woods with a man old enough to be her father would certainly gets tongues wagging back in town. Plus, it wasn't like she could explain what was actually happening.
"You know, you could of gotten somebody to talk to him who didn't have our history." Sofia said as they headed past the trees. She picked up pace excitedly. She could already hear the water splashing down by the falls "The way we broke it off is just making it harder for him to trust me."
Adam paused for a moment and she turned back to face him. He tilted his head to the side, quizzically "I thought he loved you."
"He did. Once."
"And that's gone away?" He asked flatly "I don't understand. How it ended doesn't change what you had before."
She smiled a little. There were things about regular old humans Adam just didn't get sometimes. He'd been in this life for far too long. "It doesn't change it." She explained as best she could "It just sort of gets forgotten sometimes. There's too many other negative things piled down on top of it. It's hard to get by all that."
Adam nodded and turned away from her again. He took a few steps away and then took a deep breath. Sofia followed.
He'd started to come down off of it, whatever it was. Joseph was back in his living room now and sitting on the couch. He knew better now then to have the actual document open on the computer but the PC was still sitting there ready to go whenever something hit him. While writing wasn't coming easily and that drumming headache was starting to tease the edges of his brain, his mood was still pretty positive. He tossed a baseball up and down in hand while he listened to the buzzing of the monitor.
The headaches would come back. Not before too long. Sitting here on the couch without writing anything was a waste of what little clear time came to him this last little while. It was turning into a cycle of stress: Headaches that made him unable to write turned into stress, the stress made him blame himself, blaming himself meant more stress which meant more of the headaches.
Someone knocked at the door. Thankful for the distraction, Joseph hopped up from his couch and headed over to answer it. He opened it up without thinking of who could have been on the other side and was surprised when he was met with Sofia. She was biting her lip nervously and took a step back when his broad frame walked into the doorway to deny her entry.
Joseph scowled "What do you want?"
"I just want to talk to you." She said softly "I know you've got to be freaked out right now. Especially after the graveyard and stuff. Believe me…I was freaked out too the first little while. We all were. That's why you need someone you can trust to guide you through this thing."
"I am sick of all this dancing around." Joseph said grimly, folding his arms in front of him "I'm tired of trying to figure out what exactly you're talking about all the time. In plain English, Sofia. What are you talking about? What's wrong with me?"
"There's nothing wrong. It's just that you-"
"What did I just say?" He spat back, moving backward to shut the door "You know what? When you're ready to talk we can actually talk. I'm sick of dealing with this bullshi-"
"Joseph!" She demanded, stepping forward and putting her hand in the door just as he slammed it shut. The door slammed down on her fingers and she cried out in pain. Before Joseph could apologize, something inside her snapped. The sound was awful. It came from somewhere deep inside, this harsh bass sounding snarl of anger. Sofia stepped into the door and pushed it open with shocking strength. It whipped back into the wall and the handle broke through to bury itself in its surface. Her foot came up and booted the man in front of her into the chest. He flew backward and landed hard on his side. By then she was already through the door and charging across the living room. He went to sit up and she grabbed him by the throat. He thrashed against what was suddenly her impossibly strong grip and she spoke in a voice that did not sound like her own "Stop moving! Now!"
He fought back as best he could again, trying to move up onto his right elbow so he could use it to push to his feet. Sofia was stronger than he could of imagined. She kept him clamped down and lowered her head down to get a closer look at him. Something was different about her eyes. There was more color than he'd seen in them before, they'd yellowed and stared at him wide as saucers. Once he saw them he stopped moving and just lay there looking up at her. Sofia took a breath and closed her eyes. When she opened them up they'd gone back to normal. She sounded like she was barely keeping her frustration in check when she spoke again "I've been trying to get through to you and you keep acting like a complete asshole! I get it. You feel bad. Things haven't been going well for you. Well you know what? I'm sick of the way you treat everyone. I'm trying to help you!"
Her hand quivered around his throat and she pulled it back from him. She sighed and walked over to his door, pulling on it until it came out of the wall and pulled a bunch of drywall with it. Sofia closed the door while he pulled himself back up to his feet. She was still shaking – either with frustration or shock at what she had done – and wouldn't turn to face him. "You've got one hell of a way of showing you're trying to help me." Joseph growled.
"You're only hurting yourself acting the way you act." She replied angrily "There's been answers around you for the longest time for why you feel that way. You know I'd never hurt you. You know I care about you and ever since you came back you've been being terrible to me."
He stood there holding his throat and thinking about what he had said to her the last little while. She was right, of course. Most of the time after he said something to her he took some time to think about it and felt rotten about how he'd treated her. But this, this had been shocking. She'd lashed out at him with strength like a behemoth. If she didn't have the control, she could have killed him.
And he knew it would have been his fault. If someone had talked to him the way he talked to her, a similar interaction would have taken place.
Sofia walked past him and headed toward the kitchen "I've heard that before."
Joseph followed her. She stood in the middle of the kitchen and seemed like she needed to collect herself. Finally she spoke "You're going to think what I'm about to tell you is crazy. I just want you to know that I'd never lie to you. Especially not about this." He didn't answer and she shrugged her shoulders "You're a werewolf Joseph."
"Really." He said sarcastically, shaking his head with his arms still crossed "I can't believe you think I would-"
"And I can't believe you would just dismiss me like that." Sofia interrupted, making it clear she wasn't going to tolerate his usual attitude "I know it's hard to believe okay? At the graveyard the other day? You pushed yourself up from your hands to your feet in one push. Didn't go on your knees. Just popped from your back to standing just like that. Do you remember that?"
He knew right away that he wouldn't be able to lie to her about it. He could feel his skin go cold at the shock of it. Yes, he remembered. At the time he hadn't even realized it but now that she made him think of it he could remember the shocking power his body had given him at that moment. "I do."
"It makes us strong." She explained with a tiny smile "I mean, it's not like we're the Hulk or anything but we're stronger than a lot of people running around the street. It changes you in a….No. That's not right. It doesn't change you. It doesn't change you because you've always been this way. We just didn't know it yet."
"How many of you are there?"
"Us." She corrected as she turned around to face him "How many of us are there. There are more. You'll get a chance to meet them. That's not important though. It's important you understand what you are. I bet you can feel it sometimes. You'll be out under the moon and you'll just know…"
"Under the moon's the only place I feel comfortable sometimes." He admitted reluctantly "When things get bad. When I'm starting to really feel like I'm going crazy I can look up at the moon and everything calms down."
Sofia smiled and nearly whispered the words. There was reverence there "Mother Moon. I know what you mean. I think the wolf can drive itself nuts sometimes and the moon's what calms it down. I'm a little hazy on it compared to some of the others."
"Mother Moon?" He raised an eyebrow "That's a little spiritual for me. So what then? The moon's magic now is it?"
"Oh I'm sorry. The Werewolf doesn't believe in magic." She said sarcastically "I didn't say it was magic. It might be. It might not be. Some of the Tribe think it's a science thing. Something in the blood but yeah, honestly, some people do think it's magic. I've seen some magic. I think it could do a whole hell of a lot more than just turning us into wolves."
It was a lot to take in. Joseph pulled a chair out from the kitchen table and took a seat. He sighed and rested his forehead in his hands for a few minutes. Sofia didn't speak, but when he moved his hands again to take a look at her she was sitting at another chair in the middle of the table. "So what then? When the full moon shows up I turn into fur and fangs and start eating people?"
"I hope not." Sofia said grimly "They say the full moon activates us. I guess you're most likely to finally break through under a full moon. No though, the change doesn't have to happen under the moon. It happens when you need it to happen. Also: Don't eat people. Your mind…changes a bit with the wolf but it's still you in there. Which means you're accountable for what you do with the gift."
Gift. That was a hell of a way to put it. He fidgeted a bit in his seat "A gift? This is a gift is it? I've got this headache that's tearing my brain open. I don't feel much like it's a gift."
He suddenly felt very tired. Joseph bowed his head a bit and rubbed his eyes. So much had happened the last little while. So much had happened and this explanation was absolutely insane. Still, he believed it. It just made too much sense. On some level he knew. He could feel the presence of his other side deep within his core. Joseph couldn't bring himself to look at her "These last couple of years I've hated what I've done. I've hated that I couldn't control my feelings, and I hated even more that I couldn't control telling people exactly how I felt about them. I've ruined every relationship I've ever had because I've got this thing bubbling inside of me. I can live with being a lousy person. How am I supposed to get by knowing that the anger I've got is just part of who I am? That there's no getting away from it?"
"Hey." She said. When he didn't face her she reached out and took him by the chin to force him to look at her "You're you. You're always you and if you acted like an asshole then that's on you too. I won't lie to you, part of what's happened with you is that you've been holding it in for so long. You won't be what you're supposed to be and your body can't handle that. We're not big dumb animals Joey. Hell, we're smarter. We're stronger. We could be the top of the food chain if we wanted to but at the end of the day we're just regular people. You're the same guy you were before this. Which means you're still a jerk because you're a jerk." She gave him a playful pinch of his arm and he was grateful for it.
"So what happens now?" He was afraid to hear the answer.
Sofia smirked. The smirk became a smile she tried to hold back, then that broke into a full on toothy grin "Now, we get to meet the real you." She stood up from the table and pointed her thumb toward the door "We gotta go outside for this."
Joseph stood up slowly and scratched his forearms. Another one of his many nervous habits "Wait, are you going to try and get me to do what I think you're going to get me to do?"
She didn't answer. She was already excitedly pulling open the door and guiding him outside. Sofia didn't actually leave the house until he did, sliding to the side and giving him room to get out into the back yard. She looked around his yard and then made a quick patrol from one side of the yard to the other while she spoke "This should do. Trust me, it's a lot easier if you just jump right into it. Plus Adam wants you to run with us as soon as you can. So you've got to-"
"Who the hell is Adam?"
"He's a friend. You'll meet him." Sofia didn't offer him much of an explanation "You've got to lose your close if you're going to make the change."
He turned and faced her with an expression that made his opinion on THAT quite clear. Sofia laughed "Oh, come on. Of all the people in the world you're worried about being naked around me? I don't think you've grown anything new in the past little while. It's not about that anyway. You change while you're dressed and you will absolutely shred what you're wearing." She pointed at his jeans "You own like, four of those Joey. We both know you hate clothes shopping."
Joseph grumbled and started unbuttoning his jeans. She didn't seem to give it much thought, humming some little song he couldn't make out while he got undressed. He pulled off his shirt and before he pulled down the pants he shot her a look. Sofia rolled her eyes and gestured for him to just hurry up and get on with it. Once he was naked he shook his head "I'm still waiting for you to tell me this is all a joke. This would just about be the perfect time."
"Joseph." That made the second time in about a minute she had used his name to make a point "You're about to discover you've got two bodies. It is a waste of time to be ashamed of either one of them. I want you to look at the moon."
He knew where it was even though it was hidden by the clouds above. He looked up at it and nodded to himself when he was sure he found it "Alright."
She seemed happy that he had found it so fast and walked closer to him "I want you to feel that thing in the middle of you. I want you to feel how long it's been trying to open the door. I want you to want it. I want you to need it." Sofia rested her hand behind his head and again looked him in the eye "Be the real you."
In truth, he didn't need her advice. He didn't need her guidance. His body already knew it was time. "I can hear the drums." He whispered "The First Song." It was ancient and pounding in him. He wanted to scream. He wanted to run. He wanted to fight. Eat. Maul. Howl. Breath. He wanted to take her to the ground and know her the way he used to. He wanted everything in the world in that moment and, standing there in his backyard, he let that want loose.
It wasn't pain. He knew there should have been pain, and perhaps somewhere off in the distance he thought his body may have been feeling it. As his knees bent, cracked and reconfigured themselves he felt himself dropping to the ground. He could hear something awful snap in his back and for a moment he wanted to panic and see what it was. He resisted the urge though, and let the transformation carry him on through. It felt very much like time had slowed. He wondered how long this was really all taking as he watched his fingers change. There were claws growing inside. He didn't feel fully in this new form until the first claw broke skin. Then there was the fur, poking through his skin hair by hair until it was all over him in great brown clumps.
His jaw snapped and elongated, and this time the phantom pain almost came close to real, actual pain. It didn't quite make it there though and he stared through his new eyes when it sprouted the tiny black nose. There were the tiniest pops when fangs popped through gums. He was shaky but managed to take a step or two forward. The fur shot up his body and covered him.
He moved around uncertainly on his padded feet. The body of the wolf pumped with power. His muscles felt like steel. Like the fibers inside were tight and ready to explode into motion. He jumped forward on his front paws, giving a bit of a happy yip and whipping his back paws around. Backs paws. He had back paws and was shocked with how comfortable he was with the idea. He ran back and forth around the yard and on his final lap back he tripped over his new legs. Joseph became a tumbling, kicking ball of brown fur rolling over and over in the yard.
Not one word, He said in his mind to Sofia, I've got two extra legs. That takes a little getting used to…
"You're telling me." She replied, clearly amused at his happiness with the change "You're probably wondering how I could hear you right now?"
There was a scent in the grass that he didn't recognize. He stuck his nose to the grass and drank it in. The sense of smell was amazing, a totally different experience from his human nose. Smells came to him all at once. Absolutely everything around him seemed to have a unique, easily identifiable smell. Usually they just trickled in but if he concentrated he could really pick through the smells. He could catalogue each little bit. While he was still entranced by that, he dreamily answered her question I think it's a sort of telepathy thing right? Thought-speak. I could hear you in my head before and now I can speak to you.
She dropped to one knee and nodded "Exactly." He stopped sniffing the grass and walked over to her. Joseph paused, uncertain of how she'd react now that the new him was so close to her. Sofia smiled warmly and ran a hand through his fur "I can't tell you how long I've been waiting to see you like this. How do you feel?"
I want to run.
No, no If he had the human mouth he would of smiled. As it was he just hopped back from her and faced the trees It's always been how I deal with things like this. When it all gets to be too much I run until I calm down. Right now, I just feel so full of energy. I want to run. I need to be in the forest.
A pair of boots landed in the grass beside him and he turned his body around to face her while she undressed. Whatever awkwardness there was had dissolved. Any physical attraction he felt to her didn't matter like this. All he wanted was to experience the Wolf. He wanted her to show him everything it had to offer, to guide him while he started to understand this other side. He watched while she changed. His change had been like a birth, as natural as could be but still stilted and confusing. Hers was practiced and graceful. She slid from standing down to her hands, sprouting fur and fang while she moved. In a moment she was a wolf like him.
Joseph was in awe. He circled her but she was already starting toward the trees.
There's so much to show you. Follow me.
And he did.