In which Dodger shares a burden or two or three
“Why are you telling me this?” Lelanea finally asked.
Dodger was surprised by the calmness in her voice. “Because I know something about you that you’d rather no one knew. I felt it was only fair if the same were true.”
Lelanea did something then that Dodger didn’t expect. Not after what he’d told her. Not after the terrible things he had forced upon her conscience. She smiled.
“Thank you,” she said. “That must have been hard for you to do.”
“It was,” he said. Running his hands through his hair, he added, “I’ve never told another living soul about that.”
Dodger shook his head, more ashamed by that admission than by the whole of his story.
She smiled wider. “Then I am doubly honored that you trust me with your secret.”
“That’s just my point,” Dodger said. “The secrets have to stop. You folks hired me to protect you. Now it don’t bother me that the things you hired me to keep you safe from are a little outside my range of experience. I can deal with unusual. I can adopt and adapt, and I can get the job done. But there are things about the crew I need to know to get that job done, and y’all keep hiding things from me. I need to know the truth.”
The smile faded with his demand. “You should know as well as anyone that the truth can be too complicated to explain right away. That there is a time and a place for everything.”
“Pardon me when I say this, ma’am, but I’m gonna have to call bullshit on you there.”
For the first time since he began his story, Lelanea looked genuinely surprised.
“Excuse me?” she asked.
“I said I call bullshit,” Dodger repeated. “This ain’t about explaining things when the time is right, because there’s no right time for something this big. I dare say you weren’t planning on ever telling me. If you had it your way, I’d never know the truth. Because this ain’t about knowing the truth, it’s about not trusting me with it. The real shame is, if you can’t trust the man who’s willing to jump into the path of an oncoming bullet to make sure you stay safe, then who can you trust?”
Lelanea considered this for a moment. “You’re correct, of course. I apologize if I seem unappreciative of your protection.”
“No need. I wasn’t trying to be spiteful. I just want you to know that you can trust me. And to be sure I can trust you. I think the time for secrets is done.”
“We have a right to keep our pasts to ourselves, Mr. Dodger. Boon knew that much.”
That was a low blow, but one for which Dodger was prepared. “I take it there was quite a bit that Boon knew that I still don’t. But in the end, it didn’t matter. You all continued to keep secrets from one another. Secrets are what got your Boon killed. And I don’t plan on following in his footsteps.”
She scowled at this, that pert little angry frown that drove Dodger mad with desire for her. She was just as beautiful irritated as she was when she was pleased. “Listen here, you can’t expect to just climb aboard and have all of us confess every single thing about ourselves. That level of intimacy is just vulgar.”
“Miss Lelanea, please don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say here. I don’t need to know every little thing about each one of you. I don’t need to know that your favorite color is red. Or that the doc had an imaginary friend named Freddy when he was five. Or that Feng takes two lumps of sugar in his tea. Or that Ched prefers cotton undies to silk drawers because they breathe better against his oh-so-delicate skin.”
Lelanea gave a little chuckle before she could cover her mouth in time to stifle it.
Dodger smirked. “But I do need to know the important things.”
“The important things?” she asked.
“Yes. The big things.”
Great. She was going to make him say it out loud first. He was sort of hoping she would say it first, that way he could be certain he wasn’t losing his mind. “Something like, oh, I don’t know, that you’re a w-w-woo … a w-w-woo …” Dodger just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t say it out loud. Surely she knew what he meant!
Lelanea blinked a few times, but said nothing.
Which worried Dodger. “I mean to say … well … that was a w-w-woo … back there. Michael was a man one minute and the he … I mean, well, he changed. Didn’t he? I didn’t just imagine it. Did I? Because I sort of feel like I imagined it. And if I did, then quite frankly I think I might be losing my mind. Please say something, because I don’t think I can stand going crazy with you just standing there staring at me.”
“You’re not losing your mind,” she said.
“Then I didn’t imagine it?”
“No, you didn’t imagine it.”
“Then he really is a …” Dodger swallowed hard before he said, “a w-w-werewolf?”
“Yes. He is.”
“I see. That explains the name.”
“His tribal name, Makkapitew. My Algonquin is a little rusty, but if I’m correct, it means something along the lines of ‘he who has big teeth.’”
Lelanea gave a soft little laugh. “I wonder if that’s his tribe’s idea of being clever?”
“I imagine so. And what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Are you … makkapitew?”
“Yes. I am. Although I prefer the term lycanthrope, if you really must know.”
After everything that had happened that night, Dodger knew she was indeed a werewolf. But to hear her say it aloud was reassuring. It meant he wasn’t losing his tiny mind after all. “Good.”
“Good?” She huffed as she crossed her arms and cocked her head at him. “And pray tell, Mr. Dodger, what is so good about it? Hrm? Is it the terrible suffering of the change? Or maybe the curse of longevity that makes it hard to blend into normal society? Or perhaps it’s the fact that no matter how much I proclaim to have control over the beast, I remain a constant threat to my friends and family?”
“I just meant you telling me about it is good. Isn’t it?”
Lelanea heaved a tired sigh as she began walking toward the camp again, this time at a much slower pace. “I suppose so.”
Dodger fell in step beside her. “I appreciate your honesty.”
“Not at all. You want the truth? Well, the truth is that it has been a lot of work to conceal it from you. It’s hard enough keeping it from the outside world. Things will be easier with you fully informed. And by fully informed, I mean you can speak to Hieronymus on the subject.”
“Not you, then?”
“No. Uncle is well versed in the ways of my affliction. I prefer not to talk about it if I don’t have to. Thank you very much.”
She eyed him with a sudden air of concern. “Is it?”
“Certainly. I don’t have many questions anyway. It’s really none of my business. Just knowing the highlights of the matter is enough for me.”
Lelanea stopped to stare at him. “How odd.”
Dodger stopped a few steps ahead and turned to ask, “Why is that odd?”
“Because Washington Boon badgered me about it day and night.” Lelanea rejoined his side as they returned to their slow walk. “I swear when he wasn’t crooning over every small success, he was constantly annoying me about the petty details of my condition. I just assumed it was the man in him.”
“Sound like it was just the Boon in him.”
“You have no idea.”
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