Okay– first of all– Lollipop is available on audio today, and that’s sort of exciting!
Second of all– as I put out on FB, I spent the weekend sick, which really sucked because after lunch with bio-mom, I slept my weekend away. So this–my ficlet, which I usually schedule on Saturday is late, but it’s up today–YAYAYAYAYAY!
Also, I started the sequel to Winter Ball, Mason Hayes’s story, Summer Club. I am realizing that Mason–who can’t open his mouth without fucking up his life–is like my spirit child. I adore this character, and I think if he and I were to meet in real life we would have much tequila together. I love it when a character does that in my head!
So right now, let’s get to Scorched Haven– enjoy!
* * *
Zeb stared out past the rolling hills of the Grapevine Pass and grunted as Kettleman City came into view. That rabbit he’d eaten had about disintegrated into his bloodstream, between the losing blood and the multiple changes and the massive adrenaline dump.
“Hey,” he muttered, “do any of these places have drive-thrus?”
“Yeah–do you got cash?”
Zeb let out a groan. “You don’t have any money?”
“Don’t you have a bank card?”
“Yeah, but…” Colton’s wrinkled his nose. “Won’t they be… like, tracking my bank card?”
Zeb thought about it. “Like, CSI or the FBI? Does your town have those kind of connections?”
“Uh…” Colton suddenly started laughing. “Okay, so we share a police station with the adjoining town. Their computer still uses dial up and they do most of their phone work on landlines.”
Zeb had to laugh too. “I think you’re safe.” Then he remembered Richie and sobered. “No, not safe. Okay…” He sighed. “God–I don’t think Kettleman City is going to be overrun with werewolves–it’s too damned public.” It was the Hwy 5 depot in the foothills of the Tehachapi– anyone coming off the Grapevine or getting on the Grapevine usually stopped in Kettleman City or Grapevine to fill their tank, bleed their lizard, and get one more coffee to sustain them for the drive. “But… I don’t know which one is safer for you,” Zeb confessed, shuddering. “I sent Richie inside thinking he could take a leak in peace, and he ended up sushi. I’m afraid to be the one going in, and I’m afraid to be the one staying out.” He tilted his head back against the seat and thought. “I’ll go in,” he said after a moment. “You fill the tank, start the car, and wait for me–if things go south, take off.”
“Take off?” Colton squeaked. “But… but– you said you’d find me safety!”
“Safety’s easy to find, kid. Drive up five for over three-hundred miles, take the turn-off to 80 East, keep going for another 100 miles or so to the foothills, and take a right at the Forresthill exit in Auburn. Drive until you hit Lake Clementine, go down to the lake, sit on the car, and shout out to anyone who comes by, ‘Do you know Green and Cory?’ Trust me. Safety will find you.”
Colton squinted at him. “But… but what about you?”
“Take the turnoff, Colton. Odds are good, I’ll be fine.” Zeb swallowed, thinking about how nice it was that somebody would miss him. “But it’s sweet of you to worry.”
“I’m not sweet,” Colton muttered.
Sure he wasn’t.
Zeb went to the bathroom first, practically vibrating on his toes the entire time he had his dick out. God he wasn’t meant for this shit–no wonder Teague and Green had asked him repeatedly if he wanted to go. And it didn’t help that he’d let Richie die. God… God that rankled. The guy had gone to the bathroom, and Zeb had done what he’d done his entire mortal life too.
He’d let the guy down.
Jesus– Adrian almost had him convinced that he could be better than that. But Adrian had been dead for two years now, and while the rest of the hill had seemed to find its balance without him, Zeb was still mourning the promise of having somebody–even if not a lover, but somebody–believe in him.
He washed his hands, nose practically quivering like a wolves as he tried to smell past the diesel fumes and the bad food and the antiseptic and the super strong soap to see if he could pick up any hinky werewolves.
Yes–but no. Not strong. As though the werewolves who had been through had been among the myriad–the three stoners, the guy who needed a nicotine patch, the many dads who helped change babies or hold toddlers, the toddlers themselves, and the adolescents stinking of puberty. The werewolves had been a part of the constant stream of people through that bathroom, and that was all.
Zeb couldn’t actually relax, but as he moved from the bathroom to the snack bar, he took a look outside to see Colton leaning against his car, hands in his pockets, looking about him anxiously. He waved then, glad to see the young man brighten a little. They weren’t safe, not by a longshot, but for the moment, they could appreciate their hot dogs and sodas in peace.
“You do like to live dangerously,” Colton said when Zeb got into the car with his bag of convenience store hot dogs and peanut butter M&Ms.
Zeb looked at the junk food and smiled good-naturedly. “Best part of being a werwolf,” he confessed. “I can seriously eat anything. No heartburn, no diarrhea–just fuel.”
Colton raised his eyebrows. “But my stomach you’re willing to risk?”
Zeb grinned and winked. “Well, you know, just stick your head out the car to vomit. And pick the hamburgers– they looked safer.”
Colton chuckled and Zeb felt a reluctant curl in his stomach. Yeah, yeah– he was pretty, Zeb already knew that. Dark hair–long enough to curl around his ears–dark eyes, a delicate chin and jaw–very male, but, well pretty. But the chuckle, the ability to laugh in the darkness–that was more important than the good looks, and Zeb was just lonely and scared enough to admit that it did something for him.
He set up the sodas and the food in the island between the two seats, and tore into the hotdogs he’d picked for himself.
“You eat like a wild animal,” Colton said next to him, putting the car into drive and leaving Kettleman City in their dust. “When was the last time you had food?”
Zeb closed his eyes. “Yesterday morning,” he said in wonder. “Richie and I left yesterday morning–sausage, eggs, cheese, toast, a little bit of fruit for sweet–we ate really well. They’d thought they’d be in Disneyland today, and his heart ached a little for the nice Avian who hadn’t made it there.
“Your friend,” Colton apologized. “I’m sorry about him?”
Zeb grimaced and then gave it up. Yeah. His friend. Five hours in the car hadn’t made them brothers, but it had definitely made them friends. “Thanks,” he said softly. “We hadn’t known each other long. We both just…” Damn. “Wanted to be of service, I guess.” God, I-5 was bleak. Nothing to look at, nothing to distract him. Nothing to do but tell his story. “Green’s hill is really someplace special,” he said after a moment. “Like… nobody would have thought worse of me if I’d stayed home. And I haven’t put my neck out in three years. I mean, yeah, there was a war once, and I totally pledged my loyalty and all that shit–but nothing… you know…”
“Special?” Colton suggested.
“Yeah,” Zeb sighed. “I… I just never felt like I had anything to offer. Except this one time, when I thought ‘Hey! I’m expendable–and Teague is getting over getting hurt. And the whole hill is about to erupt into chaos, and I’m the least important person here. I may as well make myself useful.’ And I couldn’t even do that right.”
“Why’s the hill about to erupt into chaos?” Colton asked, and Zeb grimaced.
“See, you know, like with the president? How, if he gets a dog, the whole world shits its pants?”
“Yeah,” Colton nodded. “Sure. My favorite TV star got hit by a car–I didn’t leave the TV for a week.”
“Exactly. So, we have sort of a leadership committee. And there are three people on it who… their magic sort of holds the hill together. There’s Green, the leader, and his wife, Lady Cory, and her other husband, Bracken.”
“Three, actually,” Zeb filled in, because he didn’t like leaving Nicky out, even if he wasn’t one of the head honchos. “But we’re talking leadership here, and the other one is more of a foot soldier, like me. Anyway, Cory’s pregnant–with twins, one from each of the main guys.”
“That’s… odd…” Colton’s eyebrows were arched and delicate, and he was doing all sorts of strange and wonderful things as he tried to digest this information.
“Yeah–well, it’s even odd in our world so don’t strain yourself. Anyway, she doesn’t know yet.”
“She’s… well, her job is to run the entire freaking hill, right? Her and Green, with Bracken as her backup. So she’s not paying attention to her body right now, and Green and Bracken have been waiting for a good time to tell her.”
“When’s a good time to tell her?”
Zeb shuddered, remembering the scars and the stories. “Well, it’s not when she’s getting her throat slit, which happened a couple of weeks ago. And it’s not when she’s jumping out of a helicopter, which happened like, last week. So, I was thinking, ‘Hey, it’s probably going to happen in this relatively peaceful time when people are talking about doing scouting missions and stuff.'”
“So you decided to be one of them,” Colton said dryly. “That’s heroic of you.”
“You have no idea,” Zeb muttered. “You don’t get it. When she gets laid–or fights with one of her lovers or smiles at him and touches the back of his hand–the entire hill feels it. And now she’s pregnant, with gigantic twins.”
“So… like an entire girls soccer team during their menstrual cycle?” Colton asked, hazarding a good guess.
“Mm… how about an entire convention of cutthroat female business woman having their period during the full moon.”
Colton let out a low whistle. “That’s dire.”
Zeb shook his head. “You have no idea.”
“But you weren’t going to be gone for nine months!” Colton said, laughing. “I mean, what? The entire hill is just going to run away screaming while she hormone cycles out? That’s… weird man. Just totally weird.”
“No…” Zeb was doing this badly, he could tell. “No. In fact, I want to be there for some of it. Because when they’re all leading and it’s all working? Man, it is something to fucking see. I understand that the night she got her throat cut, she led like five were creatures, two vampires, herself and Bracken up against an entire kiss of vampires and took half of them out before she achieved her objective.”
“What was her objective–world domination?”
Zeb shook his head. “No. That’s the thing. She hated doing it–somebody in the kiss was hurting kids, or she wouldn’t have. But… can you imagine? That’s a reason to fight, you know?”
“Yeah,” Colton said, looking at him sideways. “I can see you’re looking for a purpose, that’s what I can see.”
Well, it was true. “Like maybe a young man who was looking to get the hell out of his small town?” Zeb asked pointedly.
“Score,” Colton said, voice soft. “Got it in one–shit!”
Zeb looked in the rearview mirror and bristled. “You weren’t going that fast.”
“I know,” Colton said lowly, pulling to the side of the road. The cherry lights of the police officer–not CHP, Zeb noted, local po-po–pulled up immediately behind.
“Keep your foot on the brake and don’t put it in park,” Zeb muttered under his breath. “Lower your window right now.” Zeb did the same, scenting the air without being too obvious about it, and keeping his eyes glued to Colton’s rearview mirror.
He saw the drawn gun at the same time he smelled the werewolf rot.
“Gun it!” he shouted, and the car jerked away at the same time the shot fired.
The back window exploded and Colton was thrown forward against the steering wheel, foot practically standing on the gas.
“Shit!” Zeb screamed, and Colton just screamed, his entire shoulder disintegrating into a mass of pulp. The car lurched forward and Zeb pulled Colton’s body back against the seat, steering the car into traffic as the wheels spun in an attempt to catch up the the revving of the motor. Zeb found the buttons on the steering wheel, the ones for cruise control and hit them both, keeping the car in the slow lane, hoping that the quarter of a mile between them and the car in front of them was enough time.
“Colton, you okay?”
“Zeb, he shot me! I wasn’t doing anything and he fuckin… God!”
“Yeah, here. He’s following us, but not officially–cherry lights, no sirens. Here–I’m going to steer, and I want you to crawl into the back seat, okay?”
“Are you shitting me?”
“Do you want him to get us?”
They almost died three times–but they didn’t. And if the cop wasn’t going to try to chase them down with siren after Zeb steered the damned car all over the fucking road, he was never going to do it, so as soon as Colton flopped over the back of the passenger’s seat into the back, he put his foot on the gas and killed cruise control and drove like he could get shot out of the front window and put himself back together.
Because he could.
It was the pretty kid in the back of the car he was worried about, because he figured Colton had about twenty minutes, tops, before Zeb had to make a decision that would permanently change his life.