The rain poured in to the cuts on her hands and in to her eyes. It stung, but at least she could feel her fingers again. She didn’t need them to tell her that the the bruise under her eye had turned in to a welt, or that the headache she was going to have the next day would rival any hangover she’d ever had. The gravel driveway crunched under her boots and her shoelaces dragged behind her
with each step. She was too tired to stop and tie them. She wasn’t sure she would be able to tie them yet anyway with her fingers still thick and clumsy. The ache that had started in her lower back had climbed its way up to her neck now slowly pulsing its way down her arms. What she could feel in her extremities wasn’t good. The road was deserted, but what else do you expect in the middle of the night in the most secluded area the clans could find for a back room brawl. She passed through the rusted open industrial gate that held open a section of the battered chain link fence that was topped with curled razor wire and made her way slowly to the single person shelter. Presumably it had been for kids when the dodgy looking house behind her had housed children and parents and backyard swings, instead of junked cars, a makeshift garage, and a parts yard in the back. That’s to say nothing of the large metal shed in the back where a werewolf lay bleeding on the floor, probably still unconscious and in his vulpine form.
She spat on the ground and even in the shifting amber of the aged utility lights she should see the blood that hit the gravel near her foot. It wasn’t hers. The dusky taste of wolf blood was still coating her mouth and she spat again to try to clear the rest of it. Once she was under the cover she dug in her pocket to find the phone she hoped wasn’t crushed. She held the power button and the mobile company’s logo flashed on the screen then chimed happily as her background came in to focus. She hit the speed dial, and waited for the ring. A groggy, agitated male voice answered.
“Ari? Fuck, Ari what the fuck? I called you like five times, are you okay?”
Quentin babbled at her and she considered interrupting or answering one of his questions, maybe even two, but interjecting in to his fevered rant — something about being irresponsible, and how she should have told him where she was going, or at least left him a message, she stopped listening at some point — seemed like so much work, and explaining anything seemed like even more so she just waited until he decided that he still needed to breath and croaked out his name. The sound of her voice seemed to stop him. It even sounded bad to her. Wereing was hard on the body, especially for a halfling. Sometimes she forgot that. Sometimes her body reminded her. Hard.
“I’m sorry. I need a ride. Its done for tonight. I’m at Callaghan’s Garage out on Denver. Can you pick me up?”
There was a pause on the other side of the phone, but she could hear movement and the jingle of keys.
“Great. Thanks.” She said without waiting for an answer, pulling the phone from her ear and punching the end button. It had started raining harder and she leaned her head out of the shelter, tilted her face upward and let the rain wash some of the blood and dirt from her face. When she pulled herself back under the tiny roof she may as well have stuck her head under a tap, but she felt a little better. She dug around in the plastic shopping bag that held her jacket, the button down shirt she’d been wearing when she’d come in, and her wallet and yanked the jacket out, letting the rest fall on the ground. She shrugged the worn olive drab army-surplus jacket over her dirty tank top and began rooting around in the pockets. She pulled her cigarettes out of the left pocket, a lighter out of the right and leaned her face in to her cupped hands to shield the flame from the storm. A car that was too nice for the run down establishment it was stopping in front of, rumbled down the road and came to a halt in front of the gate a few yards away. Without turning she could see a group of people walking out to the car from the back shed. 2 of them were supporting a third, and 2 others followed behind. The owners of the junkyard stopped at the opening in the chainlink, one of them leaning his hand against the metal pipes, the other crossing her arms across her expansive chest. Ari snorted to herself. It was the first time she’d noticed they were wearing matching overalls. How cute. A couple of adorable country psychopath love birds. Ugh. Humans. She took a drag on her cigarette and turned her head for the first time to watch the the man she had just finished beating to a proverbial pulp get loaded in to the too – nice – for – this – neck – of – the – woods – sedan. As they turned him to lift his legs in to the back seat she caught a brief glimpse of his face in a flash of lightning. Yikes. Maybe the pulp thing wasn’t as proverbial as she’d thought. She looked back across the street to the treeline, then closed her eyes and took another long drag, savoring the warmth of the smoke as it filled her lungs. Bad for you, sure. But so was entering an underground werewolf fighting right as a half breed and smuggling your magic in under their noses in order to win. One just killed you quicker. It was a toss up at that point as to which was which.
The sedan doors slammed shut and it pulled forward, slowly until it was in front of her. She opened her eyes long enough to see it pause, tip her head forward and salute with the hand holding the cigarette, then leaned back against the back of the shelter. They pulled out of the driveway quickly, leaving behind deep gouges in the gravel. Foot steps came her way from the direction of the gate. Too long in between to be Layla. Had to be — “That was stupid.” Drawled Tommy from only a few feet away, still standing in the drizzle. She looked up at him. Ari wasn’t short, but Tommy was almost 6 feet of life long back woods country, and looked every inch of it. She gave him a lazy, tired smile and slid a few inches further in to the shelter. “You wanna come out of the rain? I only bite when I’m fighting.” He hesitated before take two steps forward and ducked his head so that he was just barely under the roof while she sucked in the comfort of the cigarette again. “You coulda died.” He said. “Same as every other night I’ve been here. You didn’t seem too worried before.” She said still not opening her eyes. “Yeah, that’s ‘cause you were just scrawny then, not scrawny and stupid. You know what could’ve happened if his pack had been here?” She blew out a long breath of smoke. “Yeah, but that’s my business isn’t it?” She was too tired to make her body look defensive, but she fixed him with a look that portrayed all of the steel she could. “You do that again and –” “And what?” She cut him off. “Yeah, I was hustling them. Yeah I took a beating. Whatever. I brought you money.” “That ain’t the point.” She barked out a rough, tired laugh. “Fuck Tommy. I might be stupid, but I’m not an idiot. You don’t give a shit about any of us in that ring. You collect your fee, you turn your back, you tell the neighbors you got a dog problem. I did you a fucking favor.” Tommy spread his feet and rocked back on his heels, crossed his arms and looked at her from under his worn baseball cap, the button on top of which was brushing the roof of the shelter. She’d never seen him without it. Was he bald under it? Did he just have non-stop hat hair? “How do you figure, runt?” He asked. “Runt” was supposed to be an insult, and if she’d been a pureblood it would have been. Runts had to be protected, or left to die. If they lived as long as she had, they’d be seen as a burden on their pack, probably thrown in to one of the circles as a token and expected to die. Ari had grown up as a halfling, part Werewolf, part wizard. Grow up in the grey area between two groups that like to pretend the other doesn’t exist, and people get creative with their nicknames for you. If Tommy wanted to insult her, he was going to have to get a hell of a lot more creative. A mile or so down the road, the lights of a car flashed through the rain. “‘Cuz the next time I fight, can you imagine the backers that’ll show up to put down the runt that beat Gomer’s brick shithouse?” Tommy shook his head, reached in to his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. “I was wrong.” He said, and held it out to her. “You’re not stupid. You’re crazy.” She took the money and gave him another smile as Quentin pulled in and stopped in front of them.
“It’s been nice doing business with you Mr. Callghan, give my best to the Mrs.” She threw him another salute, tossed her cigarette in to the soaked gravel and let it smoke there, as she gathered the shopping bag and yanked open the door to Quentin’s truck.
“Hey, sweetheart, how are you doin? You’re not looking so great.” She quipped cheerily as she jumped in and pulled the door closed. It slammed shut and she shook her head to dry of her hair a bit.
“Ugh, jesus, do you have to do that every time?”
She grinned. “Werewolf.” she said and held her hands palm up in a “what can ya do?” gesture.
Quentin pulled out of the would-be mechanic and turned the truck back the way he’d come.
“So this is just what you do now? Any time you disappear, you’re going to be fighting?”
“I told you I was going to do this.”
“Yeah, I know it was a plan, but I didn’t think you do it.”
Ari slumped in to the corner of the truck. It was warm and now that feeling had returned to all of her joints, she was exhausted. “Yeah I know.” She muttered bitterly. Quentin was her roommate, and one of the few people who didn’t seem to have a problem with the fact that she was a half-breed. He seemed more worried about how she dealt with it, which always irked her. It wasn’t his business. “Are you going to do it again?” Ari laughed softly, her eyelids getting too heavy to hold up any more. Was his truck always this soft and comfy? “Yeah, probably.” Quentin started to say something, but she couldn’t hear him, she was already drifting off. It had taken her a year to get this far. If she played her cards right, she might get to him in the next couple of months. She smiled and made what she hoped were comforting and agreeing noises as she began to fall asleep.