The first thing that surfaces in my awareness is warmth. Shit. Warmth is bad. I shouldn’t be feeling warm lying down. That means... that means... Wait. It’s not only warm it’s comfortable. It’s soft. The ground isn’t soft. I move my head and my cheek brushes something cool and silky.
Extending my awareness I realise that there is more of the soft silkiness all around me. I’m in a bed, a huge warm soft bed with silk sheets and down pillows. Am I dead? I must be dead. How else would...?
Suddenly memory snaps my half closed eyes wide open. He’s here, everywhere: his smell on the sheets, the pillows, in the room around me. This is his house. What is he doing? Is he playing with me? Why hasn’t he killed me?
I sit up, my heart pounding, then fall back again with a groan. Everything hurts; everything, and when I try to sit up again, more carefully the room spins and I feel sick. Great, just great. Here I am in the lion’s den, weak as a kitten, and I mean literally. Ah well. If I’m stuck here I may as well make the most of it before the axe falls. I can’t remember the last time I was warm and comfortable. Even through my fear the sheer comfort of the bed and the warmth of the room seep into my consciousness and steals it gently away.
A soft sigh escapes me and, without opening my eyes I turn over and groan as my battered body protests. Even though the room is dark I know it’s full day, probably late afternoon. There is something strange about the light, it seems to flicker. Concentrating, I hear a crackle and hiss as if something shifts slightly within the heart of a... Despite the pain I drag myself to a sitting position so I can check with my eyes and there it is.
Not only is there a fire but there is a sheepskin rug in front of it that looks so soft and comfortable that it makes me purr just to look at it. To one side, half turned, is a huge leather armchair with a cushion on its seat. The purr grows unconsciously, rumbling through me and bringing a huge smile to my face.
I throw back the sheets and realise that I am naked. Oh well, does it matter if I die naked or clothed? At least I will spend my last moments in absolute heaven. Oh, I have bandages on my knees, and my hands. My heart flutters as my hand rises to my throat to touch the crisp linen. Fucking bastard. I am not going to have a fucking bandage around my neck like a collar. Although my fingers are sore I have to tear the bandage off, half choking myself in the process.
There is blood on the pristine whiteness. I start to curse him but my natural sense of fair play forces me to acknowledge that perhaps I had some responsibility for that as he had torn me when I twisted to bite him. However, my charity doesn’t last long. If he hadn’t been biting me in the first place...
Swinging my legs over the side of the bed it occurs to me that someone dressed my wounds last night. A blush burns the tips of my ears when I realise that after he’d brought me here someone,was it him, undressed me before taking care of my wounds. Was it him? Shivering, despite the warmth of the room I slide off the bed... and fall to the floor with a cry of pain as soon as I put weight on my knees.
Hell, I’d forgotten about that. They have stiffened whilst I slept, like the rest of my battered body, and now I feel like crying. To be honest, if it hadn’t been for the fact I haven’t eaten properly for such a long time, my stomach would have been on the carpet.
Aw, aw, aw, aw. I’m so not going to be able to pull myself up with the bedpost. My knees hurt more than I expected. Shit. What if they’re really damaged and I won’t be able to walk properly anymore? Nah... they were badly jarred and scraped. They hurt but they’ll be okay. The only reason I can’t get up now is because I am too weak, not because I am too hurt.
Trying to crawl is no more successful. Not only do I have the pain in my knees but also the pain in my hands. So where do I go from here? Can’t get back into bed; can't get to the fire... crap. Ah well... there doesn’t seem to be anyone else around and if someone opens the door I can... looking around quickly again I close my eyes and concentrate, feeling the familiar tingle through my shoulders as my wings slowly unfurl and flutter as I flex them slightly.
I am proud of my wings. They are like those I have seen on some fey but larger, I suppose because I am larger. They are something like the wings of a bat with strong ridges that are not bones holding them stiff, arching over my head. They are something like the wings of a dragonfly, incandescent, changing colour as the light hits them and trembling when I flutter them. I have often wondered how such large wings can come from such a small space but there are many things in this world that I don’t understand and just have to accept.
It almost takes more energy than I have to spare but slowly I drift upwards until my toes are an inch or so above the ground and then glide across the floor towards the fire. When I reach the chair I steady myself with one hand against the soft leather and lower my body gently to find that my legs will just about bear me.
Oh the softness of that fur under my feet. My toes curl and my eyes close. The purr starts deep inside and reverberates through my body from my toes to the crown of my head. The rug is warm from the fire and before I even think about it I am sinking down into the glorious fluffiness. My wings retract almost of their own accord so I can roll in glorious abandon on the rug, stretching so that as much of my body as possible gets in contact with it.
It feels as if hundreds of tiny fingers are caressing me, stroking my body with feathers and soothing away the aches and pains. I roll towards the fire, the softness of the fur sending me into almost orgasmic pleasure. Oh god it’s good. Rolling over and over I giggle and purr but I’m tired and it doesn’t take much to sap the last of my energy. With a huge contented sight I curl up with my back to the fire, soaking up the warmth and I fall slowly asleep feeling the flickering heat play over my body.
My life may be short but at this moment it is good.
“Little master. Little master.” The words are soft, so soft that at first I think they are part of my dreams. The voice is so deep it rumbles through me like the purrs that are still tickling my throat. Blinking open my eyes I look up...and up... and...
“No!” I scrabble backwards and luckily two enormous hands reach out and lift me up as easily as one would a kitten. If he hadn’t I would have been in the fire but I am not at all grateful. The man is huge. Although he is shorter than me by a good few inches he is four times as wide, with shoulders that bulge with muscles and biceps that are thicker than my thighs.
He is very obviously a were. There is hair everywhere from bushy sideburns to furry forearms and tufts that spill out over the collar of his t-shirt. A huge mane of shaggy brown hair falls to below his shoulders and pointed, fur trimmed ears stick out of it. It must be close to full moon. Weres always find it harder to maintain their human form when the moon in full. Funny, I never have.
The prominent canines and overpowering smell of dog leaves me in no doubt about what kind of were he is. The cat in me squares for a fight; the rest of me blanches with terror and feebly tries to struggle.
Very, very carefully the man mountain sets me on my feet and when I begin to fold he grabs me again and lowers me onto the chair. Oh god it’s soft. The cushion is soft, the leather is soft, the fire is warm and if only there were cream it would be perfect. With a start I realise that my eyes have fallen half shut and I am purring loudly. I have been cold for so long that the sheer pleasure of the comforts that surround me brings the bloody cat out.
“Seems like you’re doing better little master.” The voice has less bass this time, and definitely more sarcasm on the last two words. My eyes snap open and my head goes up. He is still big but not as big, still hairy but not as hairy, his canines have shrunk and all in all he is decidedly less doggy. It gives me a chance to realise that his eyes are unusually blue.
“Um... you’re um... you’re not... Why?”
He shrugs. “I thought I’d get it over with. If you’re going to run, better that you do it when you can't get far.”
What? Is he...? Does he...? There is a cheeky twinkle in his eyes that dissolves my resistance and I have to smile.
“Yeah, well it isn’t as if the smell of wet dog wouldn’t have given you away.”
His eyes widen but then he grins. “Speaking of which, you stink, little master.”
The cat comes through with a vengeance and spits at him. “I do not stink. And don’t call me ‘little master’. I am not your master and I am not little, I am at least a couple of inches taller than you.”
He ignores a whole part of the conversation which makes me bristle but he makes me feel warm when he grins. No one grins at me, at least not in a friendly way and his eyes are so blue when they twinkle.
“That, of course is true. However, I regret that I have nothing else to call you and so, as you are a guest of the master of the house what else do I have?”
At the mention of the ‘master of the house’, my pulse quickens but I am not going to say anything. It occurs to me that if he was going to kill me then surely he wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of bringing me back to his home, tending to my wounds and having his friends take care of me. I am suddenly very aware of his smell, even over the doggy smell of my new friend.
“Where is he? The master of the house.”
“It seems you have driven him away, little master.” the doggy drawls, watching me carefully from half closed eyes. “He left shortly after he brought you here.”
“Left? But... but...” Okay, so I’m really, really confused now. He saves me, kisses me, attacks me and bites me... then kisses me again, attacks me and bites me... and then he brings me here and leaves me. I don’t understand. I don’t understand at all.
“He has... business.” I feel as if he is teasing me but I don’t know what to say and so I say nothing. He watches me trying to ignore him with a smile on his face and I am getting very uncomfortable.
“Are you hungry, little master?” he asks.
Despite the growling from my stomach I snap at him. “I told you not to call me that.”
He smiles mildly. “Regretfully I have nothing else to call you.”
“Huh? Oh...” Should I tell him my name? There is power in a name. Oh, who am I kidding? They have me completely under their power anyway so what’s the point? “Glory. My name is Glory.”
“Glory?” His eyes widen and I swear he is biting back a giggle.
“Is there something wrong with that?” Arsehole. How DARE he laugh at my name!
“Um no... no it... it’s just... unusual.”
“So what’s your name then?” I hiss and his smile wavers and his look turns sheepish. “Well?” I sense his hesitation and smell an advantage. He mumbles something. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
“Rover,” he grumbles.
Now it’s my turn to choke. “Someone has a good sense of humour. I don’t know why you were laughing at my name. At least it isn’t Kit or Puss or...” I almost choke, “Tiddles.”
Rover growls and turns away and a sharp spear of fear lances through me. Oh fuck, what have I just done? Have I made the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life? Fuck, fuck, fuck. Ever since the first moment I saw this ‘man’ I have done nothing, nothing at all to hide my nature. I feel sick and faint and the urge to run is almost overwhelming.
For the first time I look around the room. There are no points of escape that I can see. There is the door he came in through but he is standing between me and that, besides, I don’t think I would make it. Even if I flew I don’t have the strength to fly far or fast. There are windows but they are covered by thick velvet curtains and I have no idea how big they are or if they are open or closed.
There is a door on the far side of the fire but I doubt that will lead anywhere helpful, although if it is a bathroom maybe it has a lock. If I can get inside and lock the door perhaps I will have time to think, a chance to clear my head at least. Of course he could probably break down the door easily enough but maybe he would get into trouble with ‘the master’ if he broke it.
As if sensing my panic Rover turns towards me with a puzzled frown. He looks sinister. Why didn’t I notice it before? He is so big and powerful. He could snap me in two if he wanted to. His smile shows off his large white teeth and I know he wants to hurt me.
“What’s the matter? Are you alright?”
My eyes flick frantically between Rover and the door, judging distance and assessing my chances which, I have to admit, are not good.
“Glory? What’s wrong?”
He reaches for me and I shrink back. I can’t bear it anymore. If I am going to go down, I am going to go down fighting. Dodging his hand I launch myself under it towards the bathroom door. It hurts, oh god it hurts but I can do this, I can do this, I can... Ugh
I think he broke my back. Oh god I think he broke my back. If I thought it hurt when the vampire flattened me it’s nothing to this. He just threw himself at me and landed hard with me under him. Oh god it hurts. I can’t... can't breathe. I think I am going to choke to death. If my back isn't broken then most of my ribs must be and my lungs are not working and...
“Aagh.” He bounced off me and now he’s picking me up like a doll and holding me hard against him. “Let me go you bastard. Don’t you know how bad it is to throw someone around when you’ve just broken their back? Let me go. You’re hurting me.”
Kicking my legs has no effect whatsoever. I can’t reach anything with my mouth and no matter how much I squirm I can’t break his grip. I still feel horribly light headed from the winding and I think I’m going to be sick.
“Be still. Will you just be still? What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“You know.” I scream, incredibly angry that he would still play with me like this. “You bastard you know. You let me do it. You let me go on and on and you pretended it didn’t matter. I HATE you. If you are going to kill me why don’t you just DO it?”
“Kill you? I’m not going to kill you. What made you think that?” He sounds so bloody sincere. Gods was I an idiot? I almost let myself trust him. I almost... Right you bastard. Want to play? Well I have a few tricks of my own. Keep calm Glory. Keep calm and think...
It takes a lot of energy to completely change form but it gives me an edge, a big edge. I get smaller and he doesn’t realise what I’ve done until after I’ve slipped out of his grip and am streaking across the floor. Of course I have to change back to reach the handle of the door but that’s okay because by the time that stupid dog realises what’s going on I’ll be halfway...
“Ooof.” As I reach for the handle the door swings open so fast it knocks me off my feet. By the time I gather myself enough to sit up there are two of them standing over me. Oh great. It gets better and better.
“I’m very sorry, young man, I didn’t know you were there or I would have been more careful. Are you alright?” The voice is soft and cultured with a refined accent. I blink stupidly at him. He’s the last sort of person I would expect to see in a place like this. Actually, what IS this place? He looks like a university professor or something with salt and pepper hair, glasses perched on the end of his nose, wearing a tweed jacket.
He is carrying a tray which he puts down on a table to one side of the door. I am too stunned to move while he turns and holds out his hand to me, which I stare at. I know that I am supposed to be taking it and standing up but I’m not sure that I can do that. In fact I’m pretty sure that I can't.
The man peers at me over his glasses. “What’s wrong with him?” he asks sharply.
“It wasn't my fault. We were getting on fine and then he freaked out and tried to run for it. I caught him but he changed and he would have got out if you hadn’t come in just then.”
“What did you say to him?”
“Nothing. I didn’t say anything. I don’t think I said anything.”
“You must have said something. He looks terrified. Did you change?”
“Yes, but that was right at the beginning. I thought I would show him what I was first and then...”
“Fool. You’ve just made it harder to persuade him to trust us.”
Are they really having an argument about me right here, over my body which is even more beaten up than ever? Are they serious about me trusting them? As if. As if ever. As if now.
“I’m here you know. I can hear you, and I exist.”
“Sorry?” The man looks at me like some curious specimen of beetle pinned to a board.
“You’re arguing about me after all.”
“Oh dear. I’m very sorry. I have been most remiss. Come Rover, help him to his feet.”
“I can’t stand.” I sound sullen and whining but hey... can’t be a hero all the time.
“Of course not. Have you run the bath Rover?”
“I did but it might be cold by now.”
“That can be rectified. Bring him in; we can talk while he bathes.”
There they go again. “What? Wait I... I don’t want to be...”
My cheeks and ears turn purple as a scowling Rover scoops me up, none too gently, and sweeps me into the blindingly white bathroom where he dumps me unceremoniously into the huge enamel tub. Gods know how hot it was when he drew it because it is still hot enough to make me yelp.
“Rover!” the man admonishes and Rover hangs his head.
“Sorry Fougue,” he mumbles.
The bath is really deep and I slipped under when he dropped me in. I am so battered and bruised my body is not exactly doing what I want it to at the moment and I can't seem to get a grip on the slippery sides. I wish they would stop arguing and notice that I am drowning here.
Coughing and spluttering my head breaks the surface and I manage to stabilise myself so that I don’t fall under again. That’s it. I’m completely exhausted. I’m done. There is no more fight in me. They can do what they want. I don’t care. Closing my eyes I try to pretend that I’m not here.
“Are you alright?” the man, Fougue, asks gently and I open my eyes, surprised.
“Why did you try to run?”
Is he kidding? “Where do I start?”
“I know that it must be very unsettling for you but...”
“Unsettling? I... I get... saved, beaten, bitten, kissed and then kidnapped by an insane vampire. I wake up... here and then get flattened by Bonzo the wonder dog and you ask why I tried to run?”
“Rover,” he growls grumpily and I glare at him.
“Not to mention the fact that... that... you’re going to kill me.” I’m embarrassed by the way my voice wobbles at the end but what can I do. I’m really not looking forward to the end.
“What on earth makes you think that anyone is going to hurt you, let alone kill you?”
“You know what I am.” I mumble, tears springing to my eyes to my utter humiliation.
“I seriously doubt that but even if so why do you think that makes a difference?”
“Why are you playing with me?”
“Why do you think it makes a difference, Glory?”
“How do you know my name?”
“That isn’t important. Why do you think we are playing with you?”
“You know what I am.”
“We’ve established that, Glory.”
“But... but you... know what I am.” I feel desperate now, as if I am trapped in a bad dream and I can't wake up.
For a moment Fougue looks annoyed but then his face softens and he smiles gently at me. “Is that what this is all about? Did you reveal yourself to Rover and panic?”
“Reveal myself? Well, I could hardly help it could I... I don’t have any clothes. Oh...” I realise belatedly what he was talking about and flush purple, feeling hot. “I... I couldn’t help it.” Biting down on my bottom lip to try and stop it trembling I look up at him through my lashes. “It’s been such a long time since I was warm and the rug was so... and the fire...” I close my eyes and shiver, even the memory threatens to evoke a purr.
“It’s alright Glory. We know. It doesn’t make any difference to us. We don’t hate you and we don’t want to hurt you and we are not going to let anyone else hurt you.”
“Yes, we’ve established, more than once, that we know what you are and we don’t care.”
“You... you don’t?” I stare at him and then flick my eyes at Rover who smiles a relieved smile and nods encouragingly.
“Not at all,” Fougue says even more gently than before.
“You... you know that I’m a... I’m a Damphir?” I hate the word and it almost burns my lips as it slips out. It’s a damned word, a word that has tormented me from before I even heard it or knew what it signified.
“I’m not sure that you are. I’m not sure what you are but if you are it means nothing to anyone in this house. We are all, to one degree or another, misfits and outcasts. No one will judge you and no one will hurt you.”
“Really?” I can't believe it. I can't let myself believe it. I’m too scared to hope. I’ve been let down too often but... “I’m safe?”
“Yes, Glory. I promise you that you are safe.”
“Safe.” It’s too much. It’s just all too much. I’m starting to shake and I can’t stop it. The sobs are bubbling up and I’m trying to stop them but not having much success. Everything that has happened in the last 24 hours is spinning through my head and I’m losing my grip on all of it. It’s as if I’m sliding under the water again. Everything gets blurred and the sounds of voices are distant. I can’t catch my breath and my heart is pounding, loud in my head.
Something hard connects with the side of my face and sends my head slamming back into the side of the bath. I see stars but when I blink them away the spinning world settles and although I am still sobbing I can at least breathe again.
“I said gently, Rover. The poor boy was hysterical and now he’s probably concussed.”
“Sorry,” Rover says contritely and looks at me with those crystal blue eyes and such an expression I can’t stop the little smile.
Something slips into my hair and starts scratching behind my ears. I moan and my eyes fall shut as the purring starts. Oh god I’m such a cat. I can’t resist the ear thing. I can feel them growing and I don’t care.
“Feeling better now?” Fougue asks.
“Mmmmm.” The word ends in a purr and a sigh.
“Good.” Fougue stops rubbing my ear and pats me on the shoulder. “It’s getting late so relax and enjoy your bath and then eat the stew and get into bed. I’ll come and check on you in an hour or so and then you can sleep and we can talk in the morning. I think you’ve had quite enough for one day.”
“It’s alright, Glory. You can relax now, let down your guard and rest. I know it’s not going to be easy but I hope that in time you will come to trust, and even like us. This is your home now and I will do my very best in every way to make it feel like a home to you.”
“Am... am I a prisoner?”
“A prisoner? Good grief no. There are no locks on the doors here, Glory, although I think that it would be better if you confined yourself to this room until you are feeling better. The others might be a bit too much for you to take right now.”
“Don’t worry, Glory, all in good time. For tonight relax and enjoy the comfort. I will leave Rover with you to help. He may be built like the side of a mountain but he’s really just a big puppy.”
Rover growls a bit at that and I can’t say I blame him. Patting me again Fougue gets to his feet and walks away.
“Wait...” He turns and smiles. “Who is he?”
The smile widens. “All in good time Glory.”