tobykikami (tobykikami) wrote in garou_nation,
tobykikami
tobykikami
garou_nation

The Wolves Eat Well This Year, Chapter 3

Contains violence and language, references to rape and torture, internalized homophobia and other values dissonance. On a lighter note, some bizarre but hopefully discreet shout-outs. Please note that the views of these characters certainly don’t always match my own.

Crossposting to my journal, fanfiction.net, and the Shadownessence forums.


Chapter Three: Consternation

Elias pulled his clothes on with such jerks that he was lucky they didn’t rip. “Hey, Sergeant,” someone called over, “Having fun with the Russkie?” and Elias wanted to punch him, take Hispo and throat him. He kept himself together enough to track down Kustaa and prevail upon him for another round of watching-over before storming to the edge of camp. There he wanted to take lupus and fly into the forest, howl out his frustrations. His breath came fast as if he’d just been in battle.

Some battle. Walking in with his cock stiff, laughing at the cub’s fears – he had to have blown things out of proportion, exaggerated, right, why else would he think they’d pulled him through all this just to kill him? – and refusing to realize until Aleksandr just about clobbered him over the head with it.

What else was there to do with your mouth that could be not even with girls?

Aleksandr’s body – definitely skinny, almost gaunt, but still, still, even now he thought of those long legs, the muscle still in them, and he bet they’d have grace with the ankle healed, out of deep snow (he did need to eat more but Elias had determined this in the aftermath of prolonged observation). The round scar on Aleksandr’s chest, in the area of the heart, nearly invisible. Aleksandr refusing to look at him – he knew. Perkele, he knew.

And knowing that he knew that, had figured that out, Elias couldn’t brush off all those other fears of his as so much twitchy nerves, so much jumping at shadows.

He’d been teasing. Just teasing!

And translating Heikki’s threats, and dragging him from the tree, and a kid might get the wrong idea from that mightn’t they? Especially when he wasn’t the average lost cub to be cleaned up and given new clothes but a prisoner from across the border to be guarded as well as guided, who needed everything in translation.

Elias ground a boot into the snow, wondering if he could grind all the way to the dirt beneath. What a fuck-up.

***

Had he seriously gotten it into his head that Laukkanen wanted to fuck him? Homosexuals might run rampant under fascism but they couldn’t all be homosexuals and what made him think even the homosexuals would want him? What proof had he had, what real proof? All those looks and all those touches – they hadn’t meant anything. He’d seen them through the distortions of his own perversion.

And now Laukkanen knew. Knew how low he really was, how depraved, not only that he wanted this but that he’d sell himself to get it. He had to have wanted it, deep down, wanted it so badly that he deep-down-thought this would be the perfect excuse, that if he could just say to himself it was the White Finn and not him…

Now even Laukkanen’s small protection would be gone.

He washed mechanically and stayed seated, his face resting in his hands, delaying the inevitable. The steam evaporated; in the dry heat, the tears that seeped out soon evaporated as well. He grew thirsty. He’d been thirsty before.

***

He encountered Juhani Nieminen coming back from the field kitchen with friends, chuckling together over something and couldn’t he imagine what. “Hi there, Private Nieminen,” he called, changing direction to cross paths with them, all too-wide smiles. “Can we talk?”

Nieminen nodded and waved on his friends. It was perhaps to his credit that he was willing to stand alone, and perhaps also to his credit that he didn’t smile back. He stood holding his steaming dish and waited for Elias to come up to him.

“So then,” said Elias, still painting on a grossly overcompensating air of joviality, “I hear you’ve been getting on well with our Red Army man.”

Then Nieminen cracked a smile, which vanished fast as it appeared. “Really, sir? Ruotsalainen didn’t think so.”

“I hear you’ve been having fun with him. Playing games and so on.”

“I guess so, sir.”

“As a matter of fact, it seems you’ve had so much fun with him he thinks he might even stay here the rest of his life.”

“Oh?”

“Oh yeah. You see, in some way or other he’s gotten the idea that we’re going to torture him to death.”

And more than your ordinary torture with the finger-breaking and the holding of heads underwater.

I won’t fight back, whatever you do to me, I promise I won’t.

And unless there was something Kustaa had completely missed, Elias knew that idea wasn’t on Nieminen’s head. For now, it was nice to pretend it was. That if he just told off Nieminen enough it would all fall into place.

Nieminen said nothing to that, so Elias went on. “Any idea how hard it is having a proper conversation with someone who thinks you’ll kill them no matter what? Kid was so convinced he didn’t even ask for mercy. All he wanted was for me to try and set things in order with his family. Perkele, seems you have quite a touch.”

Another fleeting expression, this one of surprise and maybe shame, before Nieminen’s lips thinned. “Can’t say what’s going on in the Russkie’s head, sir, but I don’t think I’ve got that good of a touch. ‘Course, speaking their jabber as you do, sir, you’ve got to have a better idea of that than me.”

Fuck you with a moose antler, thought Elias, then shoved the comparison away; the turn of phrase raked a raw spot. He didn’t think he’d be pushed far enough to frenzy over this, born under the new moon as he was, but that didn’t stop what Rage he had from agitating further. “Ah, got it, so you were putting your rifle in his face for his health.”

Nieminen snorted. “All due respect, sir, haven’t you got more to worry about than one Russkie shitting himself? Can’t see how you stand going near the mottis, in that case.”

Oh yeah, Elias thought, I’ve got a thousand times more to worry about than you’ll ever know, shithead. In that case, Wyrm and all, haven’t I got more to worry about than one little country? “Might ask the same for you. Haven’t you got more to worry about than whether or not one kid conscript’s got enough of the fear of Finland in him? Not like he up and pointed at us on the map. You happen to get hold of Molotov and want to shove him around, be my guest.”

***

Eventually outside other Whites knocked and called with some impatience, “Ryssän! Ivan!” and Ruotsalainen called in their wake, “Aleksandr Sergeyevich!” He got up and limped out, favoring his swollen ankle, trying to ignore the grumbling trio as well as Ruotsalainen not far away as he dressed in the half-dark. In the middle of it he managed to find an intact patch of snow close by; he scooped it up with a gloved hand and packed it loosely around his ankle before continuing until nothing was left of the pile of clothes but the coat, the boots, the socks, and the rag Laukkanen had used to bind the sprain.

Ryssän.

He looked up. Two of the Whites had already shed their own clothes and gone in, but this one still had on trousers and an undershirt. He extended something in his bare hand and moved it up and down. Offering? Aleksandr stared at it, not trusting the part of him that wanted to believe.

Ryssän,” the White repeated, and Aleksandr reached out and picked the thing from his hand. He received no punishment for this so he supposed it was an offer, after all. When he held it close, in slightly better light, he guessed it was a cigarette.

He looked back up at the White, who’d already turned away and was pulling his shirt over his head. “Kiitos,” he called, as loud as he could let himself, and the White jerked slightly but continued without further acknowledgment. Aleksandr put the gift in one of the deep pockets of the trousers.

When he was finished dressing Ruotsalainen came up and showed him along another path. At least Ruotsalainen didn’t hold him close as Laukkanen, didn’t even touch him; it made the going a little harder but it helped what scraps were left of his pride. This path eventually led to another small house above ground; the windows were black but light blazed out when the door opened. Ruotsalainen led him past a flock of gathered men. A number of them called things as they went by, some with cheer and others with derision.

In a smaller room another man, in different and distinct uniform – a higher-ranking officer? – sat at a table, sweeping the last of some papers from the surface. Besides the papers, the table held a lamp, a heavy book, two plates of steaming food and utensils to match, a pair each of heavy tin cups and canteens, and a kettle. This man exchanged some words with Ruotsalainen, who left and shut the door behind him, then motioned Aleksandr to sit in front of one of the plates.

He wasn’t dead yet. Maybe he could still salvage something. Aleksandr sat and looked back at the man, who smiled at him, picked up the kettle, and filled the cups. This done, he said, haltingly, in Russian with a strong accent, “Eat. Please eat.”

Kiitos,” Aleksandr replied again, and did as he was told. He could try to enjoy this while it was still there. The coffee was bitter but warm and smelled good in the cup; out of the cup it slaked part of his thirst. The water in the canteen did the rest. He glanced around the room between bites; it had a few other pieces of furniture, like (his stomach lurched) a double bed with no bedding. Stripped down, impersonal. He wondered who had lived here before this. He cleared the plate more slowly than he had those before it, folded his hands, and kept his head down.

“Aleksandr Sergeyevich?”

He looked up and the man walked around to his side of the table, indicating that he should turn in the chair and extend his right leg. When he did the man set about taking off the boot, the sock beneath it. Aleksandr held still.

Finally, the man unwrapped the rag and examined his ankle, making soothing noises like Kuzin did with the horses alternating with noises that sounded like nothing so much as the ones his father made when tending to scrapes. Eventually the man took off his gloves, put them in a pocket of his tunic, and placed his bare hands against the bare skin. Maybe he was a doctor.

“Good,” the man said, “It’s good,” and began to rub.

Aleksandr kept his eyes on the movement of the man’s hands, wincing occasionally, and fancying that the swelling was sinking down beneath the touch, the throb there blending back with the normal movement of blood. When the man took his hands away, he realized this fancy seemed to have manifested.

“Oh,” he breathed.

The man stood up, smiling, and gestured for him to stand. He did with ease. Then he took a few steps, unbalanced on the bare foot but all painless. “Oh,” he said again, and felt himself smile back. There might be werewolves, there might be monsters, but at least there was this as well.

Aleksandr stayed standing as the man went back to his side of the table and sat down. When he was beginning to feel awkward, the man smiled at him and gestured him back into the chair. He readily complied, taking the opportunity to pull the sock and boot back on.

The man paged through the book and then leaned forward, still smiling. He looked gentle. If there was anything hiding behind that, he couldn’t see it. “Hungry?”

“No. Thank you.”

“Good. Good.” He checked the book again. “How old?”

He wondered what danger there could be in answering. Eventually, finding none, he said, “Nineteen.”

“Ah,” said the man. Another consultation. “Comfortable?”

Aleksandr might have said yes in that moment, except that the very question evoked all the reasons not to be comfortable. He said nothing.

The man’s face softened and he returned to his browsing without demanding an answer.

***

If nothing else Elias had rank to pull, and at the end of it Nieminen had gone away muttering “Yes, sir.” Elias watched him go, holding his dinner; he took a small spiteful pleasure in thinking it had grown cold in the interim. After that, he’d distracted himself for another stretch attending to his men, informing them what was what. A number of them seemed dubious, but least they seemed to take it better than Nieminen.

Now Elias waved at the men lounging about in the warmth and knocked on the door of what had been the bedroom. “Captain Jokela? Sergeant Laukkanen. Sorry I’m late, sir.”

“It’s no trouble,” Jokela called. “Come in.”

When he did, the first thing he saw was Aleksandr, seated opposite Jokela, twisting toward the door, eyes large, mouth parting, flinching from him. Elias shut the door behind him and turned around to place the simple latch.

When he turned back, Aleksandr had slid from the chair onto his hands and knees, shoulders hunched, head ducked, groveling, murmuring. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t think, I shouldn’t have… shouldn’t have… I was stupid… please…”

Jokela was staring at Elias now, probably wondering what he’d done to the cub to inspire this. And could he tell him this wasn’t what it looked like? That it was, in fact, worse than what it looked like?

He moved closer and crouched at the other’s level. By now the murmur was riddled with catches in the breath. “Aleksandr Sergeyevich?”

“Yes… yes?”

He wanted to push him upright by the shoulders, sit him down properly, but at this point touching him would probably sink Elias deeper into the grave he’d already dug for himself. “Would you please look at me?”

Aleksandr lifted his head. The tears precariously balanced in his eyes threatened to slip out with each shudder of breath. The more Elias looked at him the more the dissonance struck him. The Silver Fang look went with heroics and grand gestures and nobility in both senses of the word; terrified pleas for mercy made a perverse combination.

“It isn’t necessary to sit down here. There are more comfortable places –” Aleksandr’s eyes flicked and Elias knew from his other visits to Jokela’s improvised office that he was looking toward the bed. Damn it, he’d managed to shove in another blithe innuendo. Of course he hadn’t meant it but he hadn’t meant any of the rest either. He half-stood; Aleksandr stayed kneeling. He extended an arm; Aleksandr stood up without taking it. Elias looked to his legs, his feet. Was he standing more easily now?

“You fixed his ankle?” he asked Jokela.

“Should I not have?”

“He could’ve healed it himself.”

“But he didn’t.” Jokela’s tone was perfectly even, but at this point he probably thought Elias had twisted that ankle himself, so as to give him incentive to shift or some such shit. It wouldn’t have been out of the question, there being tribal precedent; he remembered the story of how Aili’s grandfather Firsted only after Aili’s great-grandfather lost patience and took a hammer to his arm. Damn it!

During this exchange, Aleksandr had walked across to the bed and seated himself on the bare mattress, hands folded as they were in the sauna, head up, looking at Elias as asked. Elias quickly rejected the notion of sitting alongside him. Instead he took the chair, pulled it closer, turned it about, and sat straddling it, his chin resting on his arms, his arms crossed atop the chair’s back.

“Now then,” said Elias, switching back to Russian, “it seems that I have been in error.”

Aleksandr’s eyes went slightly wider.

“As I’ve told you, we Garou are meant to be above human conflicts. I may have told you this, but it seems I have not proven my words particularly well. And occasionally we do not stay aloft, as it were. Aloof. One of those… I apologize. Let me say now that I intend you absolutely no harm. I hardly expect you to believe this with ease, so allow me to prove it to you in the time we have together. Now, to begin with, there is something I would like to address in regard to our last conversation.”

The balance tipped. Tears began to slide down Aleksandr’s flushed face. He clapped his gloved hands against his cheekbones, not quite touching the eyes themselves, which continued to stare at him through their gloss.

“No,” said Elias, too loudly. Aleksandr jerked. “No, no. Do not be afraid. I would never do that to you. I would never do it at all. Never. Perkele!”

The shudders of Aleksandr’s breath turned to sobs. He folded downward, his chest nearing his thighs, his hands spreading to encompass even more of his face, but he didn’t look away.

Elias muttered a few more choice curses. His impulse was to go to him, take him up like a fallen bird, but at this point it might spark panic, maybe even fox frenzy, and that would upset the charade. No, the Fenrir way was probably the right one – sit here and wait for him to settle down (Well. That was one Fenrir way. Another way would be to box his ears and tell him to stop sniveling, which Elias found eminently unsuitable in context). He tried this. He hadn’t reached the count of twenty-six before his resolve weakened.

A compromise, then. He kicked his legs off the chair and propelled it forward across the floor until he could, if he wanted to, reach through the slats and touch Aleksandr’s hair or knee or elbow or corner of his eye, which he didn’t do. “There is no need to fret,” he said, soft and smooth as he could manage, reseating himself and recrossing his arms. “There is no need to worry about such a thing. I would never do that. You are in no danger from me. No danger.” Jokela cleared his throat; Elias could well take the meaning of that, at least, and redoubled his effort to smooth away the jagged edges. “Why are you crying?”

He heard Jokela walk up behind him, saw him come up to the side. He’d drawn a handkerchief from his pocket and glanced only briefly at Elias before holding it out. “Take it,” he said in his broken Russian. “Please take it.”

Aleksandr slowly half-shifted his gaze from Elias to the handkerchief. He half-watched it for a stretch, as if waiting for it to vanish or strike him, before one hand darted up and a second later it was clamped across his face. “Thank you,” he choked out, thick and muffled behind the handkerchief, in Russian and then Finnish, his attention going back to Elias. His sobs – maybe Elias only wanted to believe they were slowing down, that he was gradually straightening up – were punctuated by the odd wet sniff. At least, Elias thought, there was no way he’d get hard from that; snot and mucus held no appeal for him.

He waited. Eventually Aleksandr choked out, “I’m so… so stupid.” His head lowered for half a moment before it flew back up, as though his life depended on keeping eye contact. For all Elias knew this might not be far off from whatever was going on in his head.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Elias. “Why do you say that?”

“I thought… actually thought you wanted…” He descended back into wretched incoherence, nearly doubled over, elbows clamping his knees.

It took another minute for Elias to realize. Aleksandr knew, or thought he’d known. He’d figured out part of it, guessed wrong on the rest, and now he was questioning the lot and probably his sanity with it. “You actually thought I wanted to…” To sodomize, to copulate, to mate? He remembered leafing through the legal arguments over whether mate was the sum total of the prohibition or whether the composers of yesteryear or yestermillennium simply hadn’t anticipated how creative the act of fucking could get. For that matter, to fuck? No, he didn’t know the Russian for that. (To rape? No, no) “… have sex with you.”

Aleksandr’s nod was a small convulsion like the jerk of a string on a marionette, like the snapping neck of a hanged man.

“You were not entirely wrong.”

For a few seconds the sobbing stopped, probably out of utter shock. Aleksandr’s hands slid from his face, taking the handkerchief with them. The handkerchief went back up, but only as far as his mouth, as he started gasping again, struggling to fill his lungs.

“But you see, as with civilized beings the world over, that I bear this desire does not mean that I will act on it with abandon.” Just because I want to fuck you doesn’t mean I’d just about rape you. It was almost soothing, the process of glossing everything in the formalities of another language. Just holding the words in his head he could imagine the way it would tear at him to say it in Finnish. Would Jokela with his dictionary manage to understand what he was getting at? Who gave a damn, he told himself. “I will be frank, as you have no doubt realized this already. I find men handsome in the same way I find women handsome. This is the case for you, Aleksandr Sergeyevich. I find you very handsome. I admit this.” If it turned out Aleksandr held some especial hatred for men who looked at men like he did, well, things wouldn’t be any worse than they were before he’d gotten this in the open. “This does not mean I cannot control myself. I am well aware of the reasons it would be wrong for me to think only of what I want.”

As he’d talked, Aleksandr’s breath had mostly settled and his back partly straightened. The handkerchief had come down again, all the way into his lap. While he watched Elias, he was distractedly folding the soiled cloth by touch. His hands, though still gloved, were deft, and he finished quickly, leaving a neat white square he again closed his hands over. Elias tore himself from the sight.

“As far as humans are concerned, you are a prisoner of war. In fact, most of the others believe that Captain Jokela had you brought here for questioning and that I am here to interpret for him. To me, you are not a prisoner. You are a cub in need of teaching, and I happen to be the most convenient source. I see you do not believe that. I hope that eventually you will. Whether captor or teacher, it would be an abysmal thing for me to exploit our positions. As a proper teacher I would have your trust to abuse; as I lack that, as a captor I have your fear. Would you have made the same offer if you were not afraid of what you thought I would do to you otherwise?”

He waited until he got a hesitant shake of the head. Satisfied with that, he was about to move on until Aleksandr said, very faintly, hands drifting up as though to hide behind them again, “I wasn’t…”

“Yes? You can tell me.”

“I… I wasn’t thinking of that, otherwise.” He looked like he wanted to just let it pass by, like he couldn’t quite understand why he was turning in something that could hurt him. “I was thinking if I did it, willingly, that you’d do what I… what I asked.”

That detail had just about slipped his mind while others – the offer itself, the fear, Aleksandr not looking at him – had seared themselves across the back of his eyelids. He pulled it back up. Hardly an artillery shell. “You believed the best choice available was to let them believe you died well. You did not believe you would ever return to, ah, Leningrad and in doing so disprove this. You believed that I intended to kill you either way. Did you also believe I would force you, either way?”

Aleksandr flushed again. Another hesitation. “I thought… I thought you might, but I…” But I was wrong and I’m so stupid, Elias could almost hear.

“You would have rather not had sex with me at all.”

After a longer silence he mouthed what looked like “No,” then shook his head again.

“I tell you, there is no good way to do it with someone who does not wish to be there, with someone who fears you, with someone who believes you will murder them. I believe that, quite strongly, and I will hold to it. Understood?”

Another small nod.

“You do not have to keep looking at me if you do not wish to.”

His gaze dropped away so quickly that somewhere sometime else Elias would’ve laughed.

“That is one reason. Another is related, specifically, to what we are. Garou. Werewolves. Do you understand?”

Still faint, “I… not really…”

“I will demonstrate later. For now, understand that we all are taught a code of the most important laws of the Garou Nation, which we call the Litany. The first law of the Litany, which some might assume means the most imperative – though I will leave that to the judges – is that Garou shall not mate with Garou. Granted, what would have happened between us if I were someone I am not, or if you were someone more amenable in better circumstances, would not have, strictly speaking, been mating. But it does not seem entirely in the spirit of the law that two men might revel as much as they like in the assurance they cannot produce metis. Metis, by the way, are the result of the union of two Garou. When the two Garou are a man and a woman, in any case, though if Gaia were to bestow two men with a womb or two women with seed in order to lay down the law I would not put it past her. Metis themselves can never bear or sire children, unless perhaps if they began to mate with one another in the assurance that they wouldn’t. There is always something wrong with them, in body or in mind. Often in birth they harm the mother, and sometimes she even dies in childbirth, though we are generally difficult to kill. Metis have the advantage of starting from the inside. In any case, unless we were surprised by a womb we would not have produced a metis, but the principle behind this rule, our judges tend to agree, is that we are not to isolate ourselves away from our human Kin and inbreed among ourselves. Metis are a symptom of the prohibition, not the cause. Do you follow?”

Aleksandr nodded. He still looked fairly adrift, but at least not completely.

Elias got off the chair and walked to a corner of the room where there seemed to be enough space to fit him at his largest. He double-checked the drapes – very thick, and fastened shut. “Now I will show you again what a Garou actually is. Please watch and refrain from screaming – they may assume I am breaking your fingers.”

With that, he began to concentrate and shift, heightening into the bulk of Glabro form. He paused, then moved on into Crinos. Fur, claws, sharp teeth, bubbling Rage, and he bent forward so as not to bump the ceiling. A count of ten, and he moved on into Hispo, then finally shrunk into lupus. Another count of ten, and he dropped back into homid. “Now, would you please come here?”

Aleksandr, looking on, finally blinked as he got to his feet. He half-extended the folded handkerchief toward Jokela. “No, keep it,” said Jokela. Elias translated, and Aleksandr put it into his pocket before joining Elias in the corner.

“Circumstances are unusual,” said Elias, “so it would be helpful if you continued to refrain from howling and so on. Do you believe you can do that?” He got a nod. “Your clothes have been dedicated for you, so that they will not be damaged when you change forms.”

“Oh.”

“Would you like to ask me something?”

“When you touched me like that.” Even at the memory Aleksandr cringed with obvious humiliation (at least, it was obvious now). “After…”

“After you attempted to knife me?”

He looked away. “Yes. After that. That was dedicating?”

“Yes. I am afraid I took an excessive liberty in that case. I discovered shortly afterward that the procedure was unnecessary.”

“Oh.”

“I apologize.”

Aleksandr opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. “What do you want me to do?”

“Do you happen to remember any dreams in the past weeks of being a wolf?” A nod. “Those are normal for cubs near the First Change – the First Change is the first time a young Garou shifts forms. We believe you have already experienced your First Change, though you may not entirely remember it as such. The First Change is nearly always paired with frenzy. Frenzy is berserk rage or mindless panic, fight or flight. Many Garou do not remember what happens while they are in frenzy, so I do not expect you to remember that, but do you remember any time when you might have been upset in some way, even a small way, and perhaps blacked out for a time?”

“Yes,” said Aleksandr eventually. A hand drifted up to his chest. “I remember the White – I remember they – I remember the encirclement was being destroyed. After that… I think I was shot.”

There had been a motti finished off on the night of the howling, he remembered, one that had been pinched off west of his camp. “Please continue. What do you remember afterward? What do you think you might remember?”

“I think I was bleeding. Then I think I was in the snow. My clothes were in pieces, most of them. And I saw a bird…” He trailed off, biting his lip. “I thought the bird… meant something.”

“It might have. Do you remember what sort of bird?”

“Not really. It was high up. Over the trees.”

“Please continue.”

“After that, I dreamed I was a wolf. For a while I dreamed I ran after the bird. Then I woke up and I was at the village, the, did you call it…”

“The sept,” Elias put in. That dropped some definite hints as to how he’d reached the bawn, no matter the sort of bird.

“At the sept. I saw I had a scar then. Where I remembered being shot.”

“Please continue.”

“I hadn’t had it before, but it looked… so old.”

“Most wounds heal at a greatly increased rate in other forms. Most of these wounds do not even leave scars. Yours must have been particularly severe. It is quite likely that your First Change saved your life.” Maybe, as late as it came, he actually needed life-threatening injury to push him all the way, especially since he hadn’t already popped in the motti. “Now, let us see if you can transform of your own accord. Take your time…”

He found himself repeating the same instructions he had in the forest. This time, though, Aleksandr nodded along, Aleksandr’s shoulders were rigid, and he bit down on his lower lip so hard that another moment, Elias kept thinking, and he would draw blood. “Mind the ceiling,” Elias added, double-checking that he was at a safe distance. “And the walls. But primarily, remember those dreams. Do you remember what it felt like? Try to capture that.”

A few more minutes of this, which felt like hours, and Aleksandr caught it. His frame swept upward; Elias, taking another step back, wanted to tell him to mind the ceiling again, but he had already leaned forward in anticipation. He paused there, in Crinos, gathering himself for the second half of the sequence, and then he dropped back down, leaning over further, and hit the floor on all fours. Another pause there, at the last hurdle, before the Hispo dwindled and a lean wolf with a silver-white coat sat before him on his haunches.

“You did well,” Elias told him. “Walk around if you like. Become accustomed to it.” Aleksandr stumbled and then walked in circles, tail moving in spasms as he got used to controlling it, and Elias saw the ever-so-slightly darker streaks in the silver that weren’t just the play of lamplight. He had no reason to find fault; his own mottled coat, all gray but not the same gray, raised the eyebrows of the die-hard Fenrir purists.

“That’s good,” he heard Jokela murmur behind him. Finnish, Russian. “That’s good.”

Eventually Aleksandr paused and turned around to look at him again. “Have you had your fill for the moment?” A nod. He found the sight of the wolf’s head going up and down inexplicably endearing. “This stage should be easier. Now, call to mind what you are accustomed to being. Your natural form. Let go, and fall back.”

It happened far faster accordingly, leaving Aleksandr sitting on the floor with his legs sprawled, staring between his hands and feet with almost as much amazement as if he were a lupus or metis, if human shape were new to him as well. “Oh,” and was Elias fooling himself when he thought he heard not only surprise but pleasant surprise?

“Do you see now?”

The balance tipped again, the surprise clearing to leave only wary confusion. Aleksandr nodded. This time Elias could tell he was only nodding along, trying to keep him happy, back to captor and prisoner. As long as he knew this, and knew to keep working on it.

“Good,” he echoed Jokela as Aleksandr regained his feet. “That is very good. You are doing well. We have a few more hours tonight, after which we need to collaborate on something for the captain to write down. Would you like to practice? I can explain the five forms to you.”
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