Good for the Soul
In which Dodger deals in truths
The instant his name was spoken, Douglas spun about to face Dodger through the open window. Once his eyes connected with Dodger’s, the look on the poor man’s face was priceless: a comical mix of surprise, fear and absolute loathing.
“You!” Doug shouted, spitting the word with such venom that Dodger didn’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted. But more importantly, when he shifted to stare at Dodger, the man lost his aim on Lelanea.
The native saw this too and made his move. He leaped into the air and landed square against Doug, knocking them both to the floor. Only when Michael hit the wooden slats, he wasn’t so much man as animal. And not in some metaphorical way. Not just some angry feller snarling and growling over what he considered inappropriate conduct from his lover. No. He was animal, as in fur and teeth and claw and tail.
Mid-leap, Michael shifted … into something else.
It all happened between blinks. Dodger’s blinks in this case. He kept closing his eyes, because every time he opened them, he wasn’t sure just what he was seeing. Blink. The native’s face sprouted a layer of gray fuzz. Blink. His mouth elongated into a snout, complete with sharp and menacing fangs. Blink. Hands transformed into paws. Blink. Clothes burst at the seams, revealing rippling hindquarters and broadening shoulders. Blink. Man. Blink. Animal.
And all of this happened not just to the rhythm of Dodger’s confused blinking, but also to the tune of a terrible scream—pain mixed with torment, tinged with frustration and boiling over with outright rage. When it was over, where there should have been a six-and-a-half-foot Native American lying across the squirming redhead, there now stood a huge wolf.
The wolf lowered its muzzle to the cowering man and shouted, “I love you, damn it! That’s why I can’t change you! Why can’t you accept that?”
Yes. It spoke.
As if it weren’t bad enough to watch a man turn into a wolf, to hear the thing speak, to see its lips curl around those terrible fangs, to hear the combination of snarl and words, human and animal … it was all too much. The world blurred to a tunnel of confused darkness as Dodger’s consciousness threatened to collapse under the weight of what he had just witnessed. Half of his mind pushed it away, deciding that what he had seen was too unreal. No way. No how. It didn’t happen. The other half of his mind snapped, knowing he had just witnessed something that was never meant to be seen by the eyes of man, and the knowledge of it was going to drive him insane. But under all of this, behind it, inside of it, there came a familiar voice.
“Keep it together, sugar.”
That voice. This was just silly, it really was, but he would’ve bet his next month’s pay that the voice belonged to Rebecca of the Forsaken. That it was the voice of a vampire. Vampire? Yes, he remembered now. He had dealt with vampires. And jackals. And mutated dog men. And a ghost. And a … well … whatever Ched was.
Why should this be so hard to accept?
Be strong, my friend. You can accept this. You must, if you wish to protect her.
That was Boon. What good was the advice of a dead man?
“Keep it together, Dodger.”
Now that sounded like Lelanea. Someone snapped in his ear, then patted him on the face. The smell of spring rain filled his nostrils.
“Dodger,” Lelanea said. “Stay with me.”
Dodger blinked as his world came back into focus. And there she was. His world. Lelanea Dittmeyer leaning out the open window to make sure he wasn’t losing his tiny mind.
“What’s with him?” Michael asked, his human voice still rumbling with the throaty growl of the beast.
“He wasn’t prepared for this,” Lelanea said.
“He didn’t know?”
“He didn’t know.”
“How could he not know?”
“He just didn’t.”
“I thought he worked for you?”
“It’s … complicated.” Lelanea snapped her fingers in Dodger’s face again. “Are you with me now?”
“I-I-I think so,” Dodger stammered.
“Watch my finger.”
Dodger did as asked, watching her forefinger pass in front of his eyes, back and forth, up and down, until at last she seemed satisfied with his responses.
“You sure you’re well?” she asked.
“I …” Dodger paused as he glanced tentatively to the wolf still straddling the redhead. The thought that the wolf at which he was looking had been in the shape of a man not thirty seconds before didn’t seem as unusual now. In fact, it seemed perfectly ordinary, given recent events. He looked back to Lelanea and gave a sheepish grin. “I was a bit overwhelmed. But I’m fine now. Really.”
“Good.” She smiled.
Then she frowned.
Dodger felt the sting of her slap before he realized she had hauled off and struck him. Rubbing his now-tender cheek, he asked, “What was that for?”
“As if you don’t know.” Lelanea ducked back inside the house and slammed the window closed, leaving Dodger to contemplate the possibilities.
I have to go, Boon whispered.
“Where’ve you been?” Dodger whispered.
Too much to explain right now. I have to go and get Ched to ready the line. Please be careful on your way back. I’ll talk to you as soon as I can.
“Boon?” Dodger asked.
The spirit was gone.
Dodger continued to massage his aching face as he made his way around to the porch. Through the open door, Michael—a man once more—was cradling Doug to him, both weeping like a pair of newborn babes. Heat rose to Dodger’s cheeks as he turned away, unable to watch the unfolding scene. He wasn’t made awkward by the atypical relationship, or disgusted the sight of a half-naked man cradling another full-grown man. Not at all. Dodger had seen odder relationships in his time on this earth, and as far as he was concerned, if someone was lucky enough to find someone else on this insane planet worth that kind of affection, well, he reckoned it didn’t matter about the little details. No. His embarrassment came from the tenderness the pair shared. It was love, all right. Even if Dodger couldn’t say he understood it, those two men were definitely in love. And love always made Dodger uncomfortable.
Be it of any kind.
“Is there anything I can do?” Lelanea asked from behind Dodger.
“No,” Michael said.
There arose the sounds of shuffling, and the curiosity in Dodger begged him to risk a peek. When he did, he found that Michael had placed the other lad in the bed, pulling the sheet high over the redhead’s trembling, weeping form. The native leaned low to kiss Doug gently once, on the lips. The redhead whispered something. Michael whispered something in return. They both smiled, and it warmed Dodger’s heart. Which, in turn, made him uncomfortable again.
“I’m very sorry about all of this,” Michael said as he showed Lelanea to the door.
“Not at all,” Lelanea said. She picked up a Sunbox on her way out.
Good thing too, because Dodger had been so angry with her that he’d walked all the way here in the near dark. He stepped to the end of the path and waited for her at the gate. (Far enough to give them the sense of privacy, but not far enough to be out of earshot. Even if he had to strain a bit to hear them speak.)
Lelanea sighed. “Trust me when I say we get this kind of thing all of the time.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Michael said. “Your uncle leaves the stink of danger for miles.”
“Tell me about it.” She looked back in at Doug. “I know he didn’t mean any harm. Not really.”
“He seems to love you.”
“I know. But what can one like us do?”
Lelanea stared openmouthed at the native for a moment. Whereas the insult of ‘viewing her naturally’ didn’t raise her ire, this question seemed to make her downright livid. “I’ll tell you what you do. You love that man in there back, as hard as you can. You share what time you have left together on this earth, and you treasure it. And whatever happens, you never, ever let him go. That’s what you do.”
“No. I can’t.” Michael shook his head, a long look of sorrow clouding his handsome features. “I can’t do this again. It’s too hard.”
“Michael, I know it’s hard.” Lelanea’s voice softened as she took the man’s hand into hers. “Believe me. I know more than anyone else just how hard it is. But if you turn him away now, if you let him go, then you will regret it for the rest of your life. The rest of your long, lonely life.”
“We can’t love normal humans.”
“We have to. We need to. Loving someone not like us is as close to humanity as we will ever get. Please, don’t make the mistake I made.”
Michael brought her hand to his face and drew a deep breath, taking in her scent. A smile replaced his sorrow, lighting his eyes with joy. He kissed her palm once before he lowered her hand to his bare chest, placing it over his heart.
“My heart beats for him,” Michael said. “We will share those beats for as long as we can.”
This seemed to satisfy Lelanea. “Well, that’s more like-”
“But only if you promise to do the same,” Michael said over her in a demanding rush.
Dodger could hear Lelanea swallow hard from where he stood at the gate.
“I-I-I …” she stammered. “I’ll try.”
“Good,” Michael said. He leaned in close and gave her a small kiss on the cheek. “Farewell, lovely Lelanea Dittmeyer. You are always welcome here.” Michael added in a louder voice, “That goes for all of you. You are my family now. You may come back anytime.”
“Thanks for that,” Dodger said.
“Now we really should be getting back,” Lelanea said. “Goodbye, Michael.”
“Makkapitew,” Michael said. “You are part of my family now, and part of my tribe. You may call me by my tribal name. It’s Makkapitew.”
Lelanea nodded her understanding. “Makkapitew. Thank you. And take care of him. You both have a bumpy road ahead.”
“I know. There are many canyons and mountains, but we shall see them together.”
Lelanea gave the man one last hug, then joined Dodger at the fence. He held it open for her, and she passed through, handing him the Sunbox without acknowledging him. Dodger tipped his head to Michael once more and headed off after her. Which was quite a feat, considering the pace she set against him.
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