Chapter Four

If Donnie had any pride left, it would have been wounded as he exited the house. Half naked, barefoot, and wearing broken handcuffs he walked past two more girls before reaching the front door. They giggled and jumped out of his way, scandalized but not overly surprised by his exit. Donnie had seen enough movies to know a sorority house when he saw one. He hurried out the front door and ran to the sidewalk, slowing down just enough to cast a look at the outside of the place. It was smaller than he'd thought, and in need of some work in a few places. It didn't have any greek lettering on the outside, but for all Donnie knew about college the letters were something specific to the movies. One day he'd ask his sister.

His heart fell as he ran barefoot down the icy street. Would he ever see his sister again? Did he want to see her, being what he was? His little sister was a freshman at UGA, a huge achievement that the entire family was so proud of. She was going to be the first Holzer with a college degree. Whereas Donnie was... actually he'd already been a disappointment to his parents so in that way his situation hadn't changed too much. That thought allowed him to smile as he ran through town.

People shouted at him, others laughed. It was a pretty big town, but nothing close to a city. He ran past a few buildings with signs proclaiming 'sciences' or 'mathmatics' so he had been right in assuming there was a college. That explained the lack of anyone stopping him or calling the police about the shirtless crazy person in the snow. They probably assumed he was a college kid out on a dare.

By the time he reached the woods he couldn't feel his feet, but the fact that he was still running meant they must still be attached. Once in the woods he ran another ten minutes, accidentally crashed through someone's back yard, and carried on for another half hour before stopping. He was doing much better than usual for the day after a transformation. Maybe it was the adrenaline from getting kidnapped by college girls. He laughed until a stitch developed in his side. If he could go back in time and tell high school Donnie that sorority girls would handcuff him on their bed maybe he'd have tried harder in school. His laughter cut short. If he could go back in time he'd have more important things to tell his younger self.

Finally clear of the distracting scents of humanity, he searched the air for his own scent. There was no telling how far the girls had brought him from his things, but this time of month his nose could track a werewolf trail from miles away. Werewolf. He'd allowed himself to think the word. It was one thing he couldn't run from, and he hated it. He punched the closest tree, leaving a fracture in the bark and a few specks of blood on his knuckles.

The wind kicked up from the South and he smelled it. He took off again with renewed focus, horrified by how distant the smell was. He wouldn't make it back until practically dark. He'd transform in the same area as last night, and there was nothing he could do about it.

His muscles cried out against his running, but stubbornness was the one thing he was good at. It took hours to reach the hollow where the girls had found him, and another half hour to reach his pack.

He dropped to the snow by the fallen tree. Everything was covered in ice and glinting softly with the last rays of evening sun. It looked undisturbed, but he still had to see for himself. He pushed the little snow mound out of the way and breathed a heavy sigh of relief when he saw his pack and jacket right where he'd left them. He rushed to shove the snow back into place and used the last of his energy to run one last time.

He'd found out that it was a bad idea to be too close to his belongings when he changed. Being in that much pain, he had turned his destruction on the last pack he'd owned. He'd chewed up clothes, a metal canteen, and his cd player two months ago just because they were there.

The sun left the sky right as Donnie's legs gave out. He was so tired, he didn't think he'd make it through the night, but as the first hint of silvery light hit the snow around him he realized he didn't have a choice in the matter. Sleep would not be coming. The convulsions started, bones rearranged, and howling filled the air.

The wolf whimpered and circled the area slowly. Its steps were tentative on aching legs, the metal bands of the handcuffs were too small and cut cruelly into the beast's legs. It took several minutes of clawing, biting, and tearing its own legs up to snap through the metal, but the wolf managed it. Shredded denim caught its eyes, what was left of a pair of jeans. The wolf lunged at the fabric and tore it further, until there was nothing left but strips of blue against the snow. Another agonized howl, and the wolf took off. The creature was tired, whimpering with the constant pain that plagued it, but it could not stop running. The moon shone down, and drove it maddeningly forward. There was little choice. Run or destroy. That's what the wolf did. An unfortunate raccoon crossed the beast's path and it was destroyed. A long-abandoned car was rent asunder by large claws, the windows burst apart and the open passenger door sent flying. The night was a blur of running and destroying, but finally, blissfully the moon receded. The warm smell of oncoming sunlight gave the wolf hope and it bounded desperately forward, back towards its starting place.

All of its limbs were shaking as it reached the fallen tree and dropped into the deep snow. The pitiful monster gave a final howl of misery as it was ripped and torn and reshaped, the animalistic shriek shifting almost seamlessly into a human one.

Donnie panted heavily in the snow. The second morning was worse. Always worse. Not as bad as the final morning, but still harder than the first.

"Donnie!" He heard shouting in the distance, Susannah's voice.

"Dammit," The word was all air. He still couldn't move. Maybe if he stayed very still they wouldn't find him.

"Donnie! Hey, Texas Ranger! Where are you?" Lauren's voice as well.

"Please! You can't live out here! You won't survive!" Susannah sounded so earnest. She was halfway right. Donnie hadn't been living, but surviving was a different matter entirely. They sounded fairly far off, so he sat up stiffly, his bones creaking in brutalized protest. Slowly, biting his tongue to keep from crying out in pain, he crawled his way to the fallen tree. It was less than a hundred feet, but it seemed an impossible distance. He pushed through the snow and pulled out his pack, grabbing the first pair of jeans he could find and pulling them over his frozen legs. He grabbed socks and shoved them on his wet, snowy feet. He pulled on his boots and reached for a shirt. He could hear them getting closer, and the trees were too spread out to give much cover. They'd certainly see him soon.

"Hey!" Lauren's voice, followed by running feet.

"Dammit," Donnie closed his eyes and gave up, letting himself fall back against the tree trunk.

"Donnie!" Susannah gasped, sounding relieved, "Oh, goodness we didn't know what had happened to you!" Her pretty, pale face was flushed pink from running in the cold. At least what he could see of it was. Her mouth and nose were covered by a dark blue scarf.

Donnie couldn't formulate a response, so he just sighed and rested his head on the fallen tree. He was still breathless and hurting and not in the mood for dealing with the two girls. He glanced at them, all bundled in their snowsuits, and wondered for the hundredth time how he hadn't frozen to death.

"You still alive, Teen Wolf?" This time it was Lauren who grabbed a stick and poked him with it.

"Jus'," Donnie tried to speak through his panting, "Gimme... a sec," It took everything he had to lean forward and pull his shirt on.

"Whoa, you're breaking Meyers' Second Law, Fido," Lauren raised an eyebrow at him.

"What?" Donnie didn't have the energy to look confused.

"All werewolves must be shirtless," Lauren gave a wicked grin.

"That ain't a real law," Donnie missed the reference and frowned as he reached under the tree for his jacket.

"It is if you want to show off your six-pack," She poked him with the stick again, right in his aching abs.

"Lauren, just this once... could you not?" Susannah shook her head, her eyes closed in irritation at her friend, "Donnie, are you okay? We heard screaming," She stepped forward and dropped to her knees in the snow beside him, "You're bleeding," She slid her backpack off and dug out a roll of paper towels, unravelling one. Donnie leaned away from her, hiding his face and trying to wipe the dried blood off as discretely as possible. It didn't work, his hands and arms were just as covered, though the wounds to his wrists had healed when he'd turned back into himself. The one small mercy of the shift was that the wolf's injuries didn't stick around.

"It ain't mine," He muttered as he used snow to scrub the blood away. Not all the blood was his, so he didn't feel too bad about the lie.

"Urgh," Lauren made a guttural noise of disgust and stepped back, Donnie could smell fear rising from her, "Did you?"

"Not a person," He answered her unfinished question and was disgusted with himself at the memory, "Just a raccoon," He sighed.

Lauren wrinkled her nose, looking suddenly very serious, "Donnie," her tone was even but her eyes were sharp, "Do you eat people?" Donnie looked from her to Susannah, both of them just stared breathlessly. Every second he was silent their fear multiplied. He could lie again. He could tell them that he was a single-mindedly bloodthirsty villain that sought out humans to devour, and they'd take off running and leave him alone.

"No, I don' eat people," He internally cursed his honesty, "Eatin' is the last thing on my mind whin... whin I'm like that," He pulled his jacket on and searched the pockets for his gloves, "But if a person or an animal gits too close... I ain't thinkin' straight and it ain't pretty what happens," He glanced at the bloodstained snow next to him.

"Good to know," Lauren nodded.

"Why the Hell did y'all folla' me? You both coulda died," He tried to sound stern, but it just came out sounding tired.

"What, and let a real life movie monster slip through our fingers?" Lauren rolled her eyes, making it clear that it hadn't been her idea.

"It seemed like you were in so much pain yesterday. We couldn't just let you leave," Susannah added, "It happened again, didn't it? We could hear the..." Her voice trailed off.

"Please jus' go away," He closed his eyes and laid down in the snow, not caring about the cold anymore.

"Do you change every night?" Susannah's voice was soft and sad.

"No," Donnie just wanted to sleep.

"But it's been two nights in a row,"

Donnie sighed, "One night left an' it's over 'til the next..." His aching throat stopped the words so he just gestured towards the sky.

"So full moons and silver, crazy hearing and super strength... it's all real? All of it?" Lauren's mocking smile faltered and real empathy showed in her eyes, "There's no way out for you?"

Donnie huffed, not liking the conversation and not trusting the strangers to keep his secrets. He pulled himself up, fell over, and dragged himself into a seated position, "What were y'all doin' out here th' other night t' begin with?"

"How about we tell you if you tell us what brings you so far from... q-sit-aye," Susannah made a mess of the unfamiliar word.

"What?" Donnie scrunched his face in confusion.

"Q-seat-aye?" She tried again.

"Cusseta?" Donnie guessed and she nodded, "Cuss-eat-uh," He added slowly, "Wait, how'd you know that?" He hadn't told them where he was from.

"We Googled you," Lauren shrugged and flopped down into the snow with the other two, "Well, Sue Googled you. I just oogled," She gave a wink, "Actually, Sue did that as well,"

"Lauren!" Susannah flushed a deeper pink, "We searched the internet for missing people. We knew your first name, and guessed at the state until we found the right one,"

"It didn't take many guesses," Lauren giggled to herself.

"Your parents are looking for you. They actually made local news down there a few months ago. Apparently they tried to send in an Amber Alert and got in trouble for it not being for a child," A small smile crept onto her face, "So that's how we know, but you didn't answer the question. Why are you in New York?"

"I'm jus' lookin' for..." He didn't know if he could tell them. He closed his eyes, deciding if he could trust them.

"The person who did this to you?" Susannah finished his sentence for him and his eyes flew open in fear. She lowered her gaze nervously and shrugged, "That's what I'd be doing,"

"That's what any rational person would be doing," Lauren gave a much friendlier smile than she'd previously used, "However... I don't see a car, and that's a little bigger than an overnight bag," She nodded at Donnie's pack, "Have you come all this way on foot? Have you been living out here?" She was no longer mocking at all, her dark eyes showed the same concern as Susannah's.

"Firs' tell me why y'all were out here,"

"Oh," Susannah laughed, "It's actually stupid. We were out here for school," She smiled.

"You were out here for school. My major doesn't send me out into the freaking wilderness. I was just your ride," Lauren added.

"School?" Donnie looked around at the woods, "What's this place gotta do wit' school?"

"Zoology," Susannah answered, "I'm a biology major and that's one of my classes. Over winter break we're supposed to either write a thirty page essay on local wildlife or do a fifteen minute presentation. The presentation seemed easier so we were out getting pictures for it," She got flustered over her words and picked at her fingernails nervously, unable to meet the disbelieving look on Donnie's face.

"In the middle a the danged night?"

"Most animals are more active at night," Susannah got a little fire in her eyes as she defended herself, "It's not like we were out werewolf hunting," Donnie winced at how ugly the word sounded coming from her kind voice. She noticed and fell silent, neither of them knowing what to say.

"She actually got some footage of you all wolfed out before you went apeshit and turned back into a hillbilly," Lauren diffused the awkwardness with ease.

"What?!" Donnie jumped to his feet, "You taped me? Git rid of it!" He was hyperventilating and scared.

"Why? It was good!" Susannah stepped back and pulled her phone from her jacket pocket, "See?" She pressed the screen a few times and showed it to Donnie. The tiny speakers replayed in perfect clarity the wolf's pained howls as it entered the clearing the other night.

Donnie couldn't look away from the screen. It just looked like a wolf. It didn't look mutated or monstrous.

"That's... that's..." He stuttered and stopped speaking.

"That's you, alright," Lauren answered him.

Susannah's voice came through the little speakers, sounding scared, "There it is! I think it's hurt. What do we do?"

"Susannah? Can wolves be epileptic?"

"Crap! What do we do? Okay, seizure. Most likely it's got distemper. It needs a vet... holy shitballs, Lauren do you see this?!"

Donnie looked away from the screen, not interested in watching the process of shifting forms. Susannah stopped the video before the howls turned into screams.

"Delete that," Donnie stared at the snow and kicked his feet.

"That is the only recorded instance of Susannah swearing and we will not delete it," Lauren raised an eyebrow, "Dude, we know already. You can't make us forget all this, but you can chill out. Your secret's safe. It really is, but even if it weren't there's nothing you can do to make us forget or you'd have done it already,"

"What do y'all want from me?" The words came out angry, and a little growl started in his chest.

"We just want to help," Susannah nodded sincerely.

"And for you to never growl at us again, okay frankenweenie?" Lauren crossed her arms in front of her and stood up, "It's too damn cold out here. Aren't you cold?" She held a hand out to help Donnie stand. He sighed and admitted defeat. He took her hand and stood shakily.

"I'm always cold," Donnie shrugged, "But it don't seem to do no harm,"

"What temperature do you normally run at? Is it ninety-eight, or more in the one-oh-one, one-oh-two area?" Susannah's blue eyes lit up with curiosity.

"I dunno," Donnie picked up his pack and slung it over his shoulder, the weight nearly sending him off-balance. Every cell of his being was crying out against the tiniest movement he made, "It was nice meetin' y'all," He smiled as sincerely as he could and made to walk away.

"Hold up," Lauren grabbed his shoulder, "Where are you going?"

"I gotta move 'fore the trail fades too much," Donnie stared straight ahead at the trees. The trail of the red-haired man would be virtually, if not completely, impossible to find again now that the two girls had been traipsing through the woods on top of it. Not to mention that he'd lost a day, and he wouldn't be able to move very quickly in the condition he was in. He'd most likely pass out very soon.

"What trail?" Susannah looked around at the ground as if she'd see footprints in the snow.

"You're tracking the person that attacked you?" Lauren raised a skeptical eyebrow, "Don't tell me it's by smell. Please, don't tell me it's by smell. That's so cliché,"

"Then I won' tell you," Donnie tried to side-step around the girls, but they blocked him.

"You're barely standing," Susannah crossed her arms in front of her, "You really shouldn't be going off alone. Do you even have food and water?" She reached for her backpack again.

"I'm covered. I'm fine, really. I been doin' this awhile now," Donnie tried to put fight into his words, but they came out listless and tired.

"You're coming with us, and we'll help you track the guy down. With a computer. Like this is the twenty-first century," Lauren nodded in a way that brooked no arguments, "You're also going to shower and take a nap, because you look like a bag of smashed assholes," She wriggled her nose distastefully, "Now that your shirt is on and I can focus on your face it's easier to see how badly you need sleep,"

"You can find somebody on the computer?" It made sense. They'd found him with just a first name and some guesswork.

"Yes. We'll help you out, just please don't run off again until you know where you're going. No one should be wandering the woods the week of Christmas," Susannah stared him down with those big blue eyes, and Donnie couldn't bring himself to tell her no.