To Open the Door, Part 4
Posted by Rystefn on December 18, 2008
Ok, so either I couldn’t find a good spot to break it, or I just wanted to hurry up and get to the end. I’m honestly not sure which, but either way, this is the rest of the story, some ten pages or so.
I don’t know what time the knocking woke me up, but the sun hadn’t risen yet. Eric growled and rolled out of bed, quickly pulling on his jeans.
“Who can that be?” I wondered aloud.
“I don’t know,” he answered, “but I didn’t hear whoever it was coming to the door, and that narrows the field considerably.”
As he moved across the room, I watched the moonlight play across the muscles of his arms and shoulders, a sight I usually found sensual and enticing, but the cold look in his blue eyes told me that the muscles were flexing in preparation for a fight, not sex.
I followed closely behind him as he stalked quietly into the living room, only to stop short as we noticed, simultaneously, that Laura had beat us to the door, which was standing open.
I think Laura was wearing nothing but a blanket, but I may be mistaken; the man walking into our apartment with an eerie, silent grace held my entire, terrified attention. He was very tall – almost six and a half feet, I would guess, though it was hard to tell exactly.
Shere is like that. For some reason, almost every physical detail about him is hard to tell exactly. He’s difficult to look at directly, the eye always seems to look just to the left or just to the right. What I could see seemed mostly like an animate shadow, I couldn’t swear to his skin tone, the color of his eyes, or even what sort of clothing he had on. I’m fairly certain that he has waist-length hair, platinum blond to the shoulders and inhumanly dark red below, but I can’t think of a reason why such a detail would stand out clearly unless its uniqueness renders it immune to whatever effect hides the rest of him so effectively.
Eric stiffened, his suspicions immediately confirmed, and eyed the visitor warily as Laura led him to the couch. “He’s here because I asked him to come,” Laura said in response to the unasked question on both of our minds.
Shere looked over at us. “I can leave,” he said, his voice of indeterminate pitch, timbre, and accent, but his words nonetheless perfectly clear.
“You cannot, Shere,” Laura responded. When Eric had used the word, it was harsh and frightening, calling to mind a terrifying monster in the darkness. When Laura said it, a different sort of darkness altogether was conjured. I don’t know how Laura made that one syllable so completely erotic, but even I was a little turned on by it, and it wasn’t directed at me.
“Then I will,” Eric growled. “Don’t let me get in the way of your little reunion.”
“You should stay for this, Eric,” she said.
“The more reason you need to know. Trust me.”
“What do I need to know, Laura? Whether or not he killed Jason and Annah?”
“You already know the answer to that, I think,” Shere interjected. “My reputation is not unknown to you.”
“No,” Laura was visibly trying to remain calm, steering the conversation in the direction she wanted it to go. “You need to know why he does what he does.”
“I don’t care what sort of sob story he pretends excuses his actions. That fiend has murdered more of my people than I can count.”
“You see why it’s important they know?” Laura asked her former lover pointedly.
“I do not care what they think, mera pyaar,” he answered softly. “I know that what I do is right. As do you. That is enough.”
“Right? Murder is right?” Eric’s voice had become a growl. “I’m not foolish enough to think I can stop you, but I don’t have to listen to you brag about it.” He turned to Laura, “Call me when he’s gone. Maybe I’ll come back.”
I started to follow him, but Laura stopped me. “If you know, maybe he’ll listen to you. Even if he doesn’t, it will be better for you to know that you two aren’t quite as alone as Eric thinks you are.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Surely you don’t think it’s a coincidence my Shere showed up when he did,” she answered, “just in time to save you from those monsters trying to kill you just because you knew something they thought you shouldn’t.”
“Honestly, Laura, I don’t know what to think. I’m very new to this world you all seem to live in.”
“He was protecting you. Both of you. That’s what he does. Those werewolves he killed, the ones Eric says he murdered, every one of them was either trying to kill or already had killed people over this secret of theirs.”
I shook my head. “Eric won’t believe it without proof. You saw him. His anger’s just too strong to drop that easily.”
“I don’t care what he believes,” Shere replied in his disconcerting voice, “so long as he doesn’t believe that others must die for what he thinks they should not know, he can think of me whatever he wants.”
“He won’t accept your help,” I said. “He’s very stubborn when he sets his mind like this.”
“What can he do? Even if he decided to try to prevent me from interfering by force, he would fail. He does not seem the sort willing to allow you to be hurt to settle a disagreement with me, nor is he of the opinion that he could defeat me anyway.”
“So I noticed,” I replied. Looking across the room at him; well, near him, anyway, a question came to me. “What are you, Shere?”
“I am a man seeking justice.”
“I meant… How do you do the things you do?”
It’s hard to say why, but I got the impression he was amused by the question. “Same answer.”
“You might as well ask a bird how it flies, Michelle,” Laura broke in, “you’ll get as clear an answer.”
I felt like I was lost in a dreamworld and couldn’t wake up. It must have shown on my face because Laura walked over and hugged me. As she pressed her warm, athletic body against me, I was reminded of the thoughts she had given me earlier. Mental images danced through my brain – images of a sort I was completely unused to, and I just couldn’t bring myself to put my own arms around her. It was an awkward moment, and there was no way to hide how uncomfortable I was just then.
Luckily, Laura misread the reasons for my reaction.
“Oh, Michelle,” she began, “I know all of this must be impossible to deal with all at once. You should get back to bed and we’ll talk about this later when you’ve had time to sort things out a bit.”
Fortunately, she didn’t try to help me into bed. I don’t know how I would have reacted, but I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that just then.
I awoke hours later to find Eric still gone. I knew that sometimes he would leave a day or two, then come back as if nothing had happened. I also knew that he was perfectly capable of leaving town for months or years if the mood hit him.
I’d like to think that I’m reason enough for him to stay, or at least to come back, but I saw the rage and the hate in his eyes when he looked at Shere. Laura couldn’t even get him to listen for five seconds, and she’s just about the most persuasive person I’ve ever met – and his best friend, too. There was just no way to know when he’d return until it happened.
“He’ll come back, Michelle,” Laura said, walking into the kitchen. “Just give him a day or two. His world is changing, and that’s not easy to deal with.”
She walked over to me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. “I’m sorry. I should have waited before bringing Shere, but I was worried he would take you and run before he knew the truth.
“You’re good for him, Michelle; you give him a reason to come back and a place to call home. He doesn’t know it, but that’s what he needs.”
She took me by the shoulders and looked into my eyes – for some reason, when our eyes met, it was like I had fallen into those dark pools. Nothing in the world existed outside of Laura’s gaze and I couldn’t look away if I tried.
“He moves because he’s searching. Michelle. Moved, rather, I should say. He was searching. He was searching for a home. He was searching for you, Michelle. If you aren’t here when he comes back, it will break him. He’ll never stop running if you aren’t there to anchor him… Eric needs you in ways that even he doesn’t understand.”
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I knew that I loved him, and a part of me always knew that he loved me as well, but somehow hearing Laura say it – and explain it so clearly, drove the point home and truly made me see just how important he had become to me.
If what he needed was for me to wait for him, then I would wait. I’m not naive enough to believe that I would have waited forever for him, but I would have gladly waited much longer than I would have to in the end.
Three days later, he came home. Three days that seemed to last three weeks. I don’t think I could have handled it without Laura’s constant support. If she hadn’t been there to calm me down and comfort me, I’m sure I would have been crazy when Eric got back.
She was always there for me, assuring me that he was alright, that he was coming back, that he needed me to be there for him when he did. Laura has always been a good friend to me, but I can’t help but wonder if, for those three days, she was being a friend to me, or to him. Probably both, I think.
It was evening of the third day when he came back. “I’m sorry, Michelle…” he started to say as he walked in the door, but he never got to finish the apology. As soon as I heard his voice, I ran – no, I flew across the room to him.
Whatever he was trying to say, I never gave him the chance to get it out. After half a week of worry and fear, there was only one thing on my mind: holding onto him so tightly that he would never leave again.
To his credit, Eric never insinuated that he should leave for several days more often if that was the sort of response it would inspire, nor any of a hundred other comments of the kind that would not have been out of character for him at any other time.
Looking back, I think it’s highly likely that Laura had been working on him while he was away as much as she had been dealing with me. I’d thank her if I didn’t think it would disappoint her to have her influence in these events spotted so easily. At the time, though, the thought had not remotely begun to cross my mind. Just then, the only thing on my mind was Eric, the feel of his strong arms around me, the leather smell of his jacket, the taste of his lips on mine… everything disappeared into the background….
In the morning, he woke me up with a gentle caress, kissing my shoulder. “I owe you an apology, Michelle,” he said. “I shouldn’t have left like that…” his voice trailed off to a whisper. “I should have told you what was going on.”
“Eric,” I placed my fingers on his lips, “I understand. Sometimes life happens too fast to follow. You can’t make sense of what’s going on around you, all you can do is hold on and hope for a chance to catch your breath. Believe me, I know how hard it can be.
“Yes, you do owe me an apology, Eric, and I’ll forgive you if you promise not to ever do it again. However difficult it may have been for you, it was a hundred times worse for me.”
“Michelle,” suddenly he was holding me again, and I could feel his tears falling onto my skin.
I had been angry at him before, but now I found myself consoling him. Realization of what I had been through since he had brought me into his world had finally fully set in, and all I could do was hold him though countless tear-filled apologies and assure him that I would rather be in danger with him than safe without him.
“He doesn’t always think about the consequences,” Laura said, “but he has a good heart.” I looked up and saw her sitting on the edge of my bed, looking at us with a slight smile. “I’m glad to see the two of you together again,” she continued. “I thought there might be a bit of a rough patch this morning, but it looks like you two have it all worked out.”
“I don’t know how you keep doing that, Laura,” Eric began, “but if you don’t stop, I’m going to have to put bells on you or something.”
She only giggled in response and the tension somehow just melted away. Laura has a way of doing that, I’ve noticed. Her laughter seems to destroy all sorts of negativity; often it takes no more than a smile to make the world seem a brighter and happier place.
“So sorry to disappoint you, Eric,” she was saying, “but I’ll not be the one to fulfill your little belly-dancing harem-girl fantasy for you.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eric replied, “although, now that I think about it, a veil would certainly accent those eyes of your exceedingly well…”
Playfully pushing him, she exclaimed, “You’re incorrigible, you know that?”
“No, Laura, he’s right,” I joined in, “with your long legs and flat belly, you’d be very sexy done up like a harem-girl.”
“Not happening, Blondie. You and wolf-boy over there can keep your perversions to yourselves from now on, got it?”
“Oh, you’re one to talk, Miss ‘There are more dangerous things than werewolves, and I’ve had sex with all of them’.”
Standing with a laugh, Laura walked to the door. “Just the one, dear,” she winked at me, “trust me, that was enough.”
“That girl,” Eric declared, “has more secrets than a pack of werewolves. One day I’ll find out how she does that if I have to tie her to a chair.”
“And you’ll hand her a lifetime of BDSM jokes if you do,” I replied. “Face it, love, she knows all your buttons. She can play you like a fiddle when she wants to.”
“Yeah,” he looked meaningfully at the door, “me and everyone else she’s ever met. Honestly, I wonder about that, too…”
“So you’re saying that there’s someone in your life you care about deeply but whom you can’t even begin to understand?” I watched him slowly catch the parallel I was drawing, realization spreading across his features as he made the connection. “Welcome to my world, Eric. All you can do is be the best friend you can.”
A half-smile flashed across his face, and he opened his mouth, but I interrupted him. “The best friend you can be with all your clothes on, Eric. Laura’s far too comfortable being naked around you for me to trust you anywhere near her in less than three layers of clothing.”
“You’ve nothing to worry about on that score, Michelle.”
“Are you trying to tell me that if she wanted to, you’d stop her?”
“Of course not. She can have me anytime she wants me, and she knows it. If Laura had wanted to have sex with me, she would have done it years ago,” he answered, blue eyes looking into the distance – or the past. “Now, you on the other hand…” he glanced over at me with a smile, “she’d let you have your way with her at the drop of a hat.”
“Yeah, in your dreams, Eric.”
“True enough,” he shrugged, “but at least I’m up-front and honest about it.”
“I swear, you’re such a male sometimes…”
“Hey, anytime you want to try the alternative, Laura’s just one room over.”
With Eric, you rarely get the chance to quit while you’re ahead; mostly, you just have to settle for quitting before you dig yourself in too deep. I often envy the easy banter between him and Laura, the way she gives as much as she takes, if not more, in these exchanges.
There’s a connection between them, an obvious and strong bond anyone can see whenever they are together, and I can’t help but be jealous of it. They’ve been close friends for many years, and I wouldn’t dream of coming between them, but I can’t help myself – I envy her… Then I remember whose bed he shares at night and who has to listen to us through the walls. I wouldn’t trade places with Laura for all the world… besides, I could never be comfortable around Shere, much less sleep with him.
“How do you do it?” I asked her once. “How do you have sex with someone you can’t even see clearly?”
“Same way you do it in the dark, Michelle, with someone you can’t see at all…” She paused thoughtfully, “I just wish I could tell if he was any good or not…”
I must have gaped like a fish. I know I was about to bombard her with questions when she giggled and playfully pushed me. “I’m joking, love. You know I’m far too shallow to actually do something like that more than once.”
She looked off into the distance, smiling to herself. “I don’t see him the way you see him, you know. I see the face he hides from the rest of the world. I see the man behind the mask. It really makes a girl feel special to be the only one with information like that.”
“You and every other girl he’s seduced by dropping the illusion for them… I’m surprised you let him work that angle, Laura.”
“You don’t understand, Michelle. He doesn’t seduce women that way. He can’t.”
“He got you that way, didn’t he?”
“No, Michelle,” she looked at me sternly, “he can’t turn it on and off. It’s permanent.”
“But you just said he showed you…”
“No, I said I see him as he is. Honestly, I’ve never seen him the way other people do.” She turned to me with a smile. “You’re missing out. The man could be a model if pictures of him ever came out.”
She wouldn’t tell me more than that, but I could tell there was a great deal more than that to the story. Attractive men fell all over themselves for a chance at Laura, and I’m sure many of them shared secrets with her in the hopes of getting in bed with her – some of them probably were even honest when they did so. Shere had an altogether different effect on her, even from the ones she did sleep with.
I think there’s a story there. Knowing Laura, a romantic and fantastically intriguing one. A story that will constantly disappear behind a coy smile and a deft change of subject.
That evening, as Eric and I were lying in bed together, there was a soft knocking at the door; so quiet I almost missed it. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that I had actually heard it, and I would have given it no further thought, but Eric stiffened and growled low in his throat. “It’s him again,” he said. “I’m back less than a day and he’s here already.”
“How do you know it’s him?” I asked. “Can you tell just from a knock?”
“No, but I didn’t hear anyone come to the door, and Laura doesn’t knock.”
I followed him slowly into the living room, where once again Shere was standing in the open doorway. Laura was wearing only a towel and still dripping from the shower she must have run out of to beat us to the door. Her hair hung loose and dripping to her waist, and droplets of water clung to her dusky skin. She must have chosen the smallest towel on earth as well, because it covered almost nothing, and hid even less, leaving most of even her small body exposed to the eye.
I don’t think she could have engineered a more effective way to keep all three of us mentally off-balance if she had tried. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to find that it had been carefully calculated for just that effect.
Eric failed to keep hold of his anger when he saw her, even though I know for a fact he had seen her completely nude on more than one occasion, and had not been shaken at all. I think can understand, though: Laura is an extraordinarily beautiful woman, and being nude, she naturally attracts the eye. Partially covered, though, and your imagination starts working, in this case picturing the warm water flowing over her soft skin, soapy hands caressing the smooth curves of her body… What man could focus with thoughts like that running through his head? Even I found myself distracted once or twice.
Shere was affected more than the rest of us. They had been lovers, and he knew precisely what to imagine – apparently the memory was everything the fantasy promised it would be. I couldn’t see his expression, but I knew he couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Not that Eric looked away, either, but honestly, I was too busy staring to feel any jealousy over it.
“Yes, yes,” Laura was saying, “let’s everyone stand around staring while I freeze to death. Come inside and close the door, Shere.”
As he did so, he took off his jacket and started to place it over Laura’s shoulders. Well, I think that’s what he did. Because he’s hard to see or look at directly, it’s not easy to tell what he’s doing most of the time.
Whatever it was, Laura was having none of it. She stepped away from him and nodded towards the couch. It probably would have seemed very hurtful, but she smiled brightly and flashed him a wink – which I know from personal experience can take the sting from almost anything she says or does.
“You too, Eric,” she said, looking pointedly at us, “have a seat. We’re all going to sit down and talk this out.”
Eric shook himself somewhat out of his daze. “What is there to talk about?” he asked. “I don’t see where anything had changed since last week.”
“Mister Paine,” Laura replied, locking eyes with him, “I was hoping that you had.”
Eric started to say something, but she interrupted him. “You are the one who was so consumed with hate and rage that you couldn’t even bring yourself to listen for two seconds. If, after three days, you’re still incapable of reason, you should just leave again – and don’t come back this time.”
Once again, he tried to respond, but Laura didn’t give him a chance. “Yes, Eric, he’s killed people. I’m not saying that’s a good thing. Frankly, I wish he never had, but that’s the way of things. You may as well condemn soldiers as murderers, or police officers.”
“You’re not trying to compare him…”
“I am. I don’t like it, but sometimes it’s the only way. Or are you trying to tell me that you weren’t prepared to do the same? That you wouldn’t have killed Jason and Annah yourself if you felt you had to?”
“They gave me no choice, Laura,” he growled angrily, “they would have…”
“Would have what, Eric?”
“They would have killed Michelle.”
Laura’s voice softened. “Exactly.”
Eric looked up at her, then across to Shere. “What are you saying?” he asked.
“That you would have failed,” Shere broke in. “You could not have stopped them.” His voice was as toneless as always, and impossible to distinguish in pitch or accent, but a hint of steel had crept in.
“You could not convince them, despite your best efforts. You might have beat them in a fight, but you could not have stopped them both from getting past you. You were tiring and they had come dangerously close more than once. I do not disparage your efforts, nor your valor, but they were insufficient to the task. Your failure would have cost an innocent woman her life. As you say: they gave me no choice.”
“That’s what he does, Eric,” Laura said. “This policy of secrecy or death that almost cost Michelle her life – he fights against it. We’re all on the same side here.”
“Why not just tell everyone about us, then?” Eric was still mistrustful, but now he was at least listening.
“Many lives would be risked,” Shere answered. “Human response might well be immediate and extreme. Your people are right to be concerned, and it is not my place to say that hiding is right or wrong. It is the evil methods which concern me. Justice requires action.
“Just as you fought for her with all the strength, skill, and courage you could bring to bear, so must I. In every case I discover, if by my life or death I can stop such a killing, I will do so.”
“But it’s not working,” Laura said, sitting down on the arm of the recliner, casually crossing her long legs, exposing even more skin as the towel slid up her thigh. “Stopping one death is an accomplishment worth noting and being proud of, but unless the policy, and the culture which allows it to exist, can be changed, people will keep dying needlessly. Not even my Shere can be everywhere at once.”
“So we tell them,” Eric replied, first to tear his eyes off of her nearly naked body (though it took him several moments). “Explain what Shere’s about…”
“…And watch your people simply become more secretive and more careful in response,” Shere was shaking his head, “making my purpose more difficult to accomplish. Costing more lives.”
“But maybe Eric can try to change it from the inside,” I found myself saying, the words out of my mouth before I had thought about the fact that I might not have a place in the conversation.
“It’s never been a simple thing for one man to change society,” Shere replied, “but only he could know for certain if this would be possible.”
Eric was shaking his head. “Not likely,” he said. “What you’re talking about is changing a tradition of secrecy that’s been in place for hundreds of years. It’s been this way since before any living person was born. For generations, we’ve all been told that this is the only way… it won’t change easily or soon. The only way I can see to change it quickly or immediately would be to go to the press.
“We keep ourselves secret for a reason. There would likely be a massive wolf-hunt and uncounted lives would be lost. For all that its enforcement is horrific, the policy and the reasoning behind it are sound.”
“Come on, Michelle,” Laura said, gently pulling me aside. “Those two are likely to go on all night.”
“You wanted them to talk, though, right?
“Of course I did. That’s what all of this has been about… and yet, it’s still only the first step.”
“First step?” I asked, surprised, “first step to what?”
“Change, Michelle. Those two are starting something tonight – something bigger than you and Eric, bigger than Shere’s mission… Bigger than werewolves.”
“What do you mean?” I looked into Laura’s dark eyes, and suddenly I felt myself falling, tumbling into those bottomless pools.
“A foot in the door, Michelle. If werewolves can be made to accept humans, then humans can be made to accept werewolves; and if humans can be made to accept werewolves, then I’ve opened the door for humans to accept anything…”
I was lost. There was nothing in my world but her words. Just Laura. It was all Laura. Then I realized – it really was all Laura. We did what she wanted. She had teased and halfway seduced Eric until he was practically burning for a human lover. She had thrust me into his arms. She had manipulated me into saying something to Eric, knowing where he was taking me that night. She had known Shere before – had she even made him into what he was?
“You..” I was gasping. “You did this. All of this…”
“I did.” Her words drifted through my consciousness.
“So we would… accept… something else…” I was losing my connection to the world. “We would… accept…” One last moment of clarity. “Accept… YOU!”
I could hear the smile in her words as I slipped into the darkness.
“Of course, love. What do you think this was all about?”