Kimberly was still sitting in our bedroom when I came to get her. Her skin was as pale as chalk, and the way she looked at me told me exactly what she was thinking. The purple bump on her head stood out at a stark contrast with the rest of her. I knelt down, swaying a little when the sudden motion made my head spin. I was getting low on blood. This wasn't a race just to save Kimberly's life anymore.
“Kimberly, baby," I said, and held out my good hand. “Come to me."
I was convinced that wasn't going to work. I was covered in blood after all, and she'd just seen me get shot. Not to mention pulling the bullet out again. To my surprise, though, she obediently got to her feet and came to take my hand. Her little five year old fingers wrapped around my bigger, bloodstained ones.
I paused, confused. Why had she done that? In my injured state, dazed and confused, it took me a few seconds to realize what was going on. D.K. had been the Swag Pag's alpha. I had killed him. Now I was the alpha, and that meant Kimberly would do everything I told her without question.
“It's going to be okay," I said, giving her hand a comforting squeeze. “I promise."
She looked up at me, and I could see trust in her eyes. “I'm scared, Amber."
I nodded. “I know. I was too."
That was a lie. I hadn't known I was going to change until it actually happened. Kimberly didn't need to know that, though. I turned, and gently led her out of our room. She didn't look at Tyler as we left. When we walked down the hallway, she closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to see D.K.
Good girl, I thought. Block it out. Be strong for me.
We came to the door, and found Stark there waiting for us. His face was grave, but he didn't ask any questions. He just looked me in the eye, and nodded.
“We need to get her out into the woods as quickly as we can," he said. “Can you carry her?"
I looked down at her, and then at my wounded arm, and shook my head. Without another word, Stark knelt down and picked her up.
“Follow me," he said, and turned and ran. I did as he said. At first, I was afraid that my blood loss would make me lag behind, but it didn't take long to see he was holding back for me. Besides that, the moment the moonlight touched my skin, I could feel it flooding into me. Unfortunately, that meant the changes started again as well. I sucked air into my lungs again, and held my breath.
I can't keep this up for long, I thought as I followed Stark further into the woods. Luckily, he stopped less than a minute later and set Kimberly down. Her eyes were already open wide, the irises a wolfish shade of yellow. She hunched over, hugging her stomach, and moaned.
“You need to change first, Amber," Stark said, turning toward me. “Hurry, and make sure she sees it happening."
I didn't need to be told twice. The moon was pushing on me so hard that I probably would have broken within the next few seconds anyway. I went to kneel in front of Kimberly, where I knew she could see me, and began to tug my shirt over my head.
“Kimberly, look at me," I told her when I was able to look her in the eye again. Immediately, her head snapped up. I unbuttoned my jeans and slid them off. “You have to watch, okay? Whatever you do, don't take your… eyes… off me!"
And with that, I let go of my humanity and the changes came like a flood. My body realigned itself, growing new parts, swelling, and I fell down to all fours. I tried to stand up, but stopped when my shoulder throbbed with pain. It wasn't quite as bad as it had been right after I'd dug the bullet out, but I still wasn't going to be walking on it anytime soon.
“Now, look at her," Stark told me. “Look her in the eyes."
I moved so that I could face her without having to get up, and did as he said. Our eyes met, and Kimberly's pupils dilated.
“You're going to act as her guide," Stark explained. “As long as she sees you, her body will imitate what it just saw you do. Whatever happens, do not look away from her."
Kimberly sucked in a deep breath through her teeth, and fell to her hands and knees. I lowered my head so we were both at eye level, and we never looked away from each other. She gave a sudden jerk, and I heard the first of her bones pop inside of her. She tried to scream, but it was cut off when her neck snapped. They were small changes now, but I knew from experience that they would just keep going and going, never stopping until the transformation was finished. And it wasn't going to get any less painful than this.
Kimberly's back arched as her bones slowly reconfigured themselves for her to walk on all fours. She opened her mouth, and I saw her teeth sharpening into points. This time, the scream came out.
Pricks of brown fur began to sprout from her skin. Darker than my own, almost the color of chocolate. The popping moved down to her hands, and out of the corner of my eye I saw her fingers shrink down into themselves to become paws.
“Am… ber…" she said, almost growling the words. “He… help!"
I'm doing all I can, sweetie, I wanted to say. I couldn't though, so I just leaned in and pressed my nose against hers. When I pulled it back, hers had turned rough and black like mine. You're doing great!
“I… feel something!" she groaned, just before her tail poked out from behind her back.
She needs to get out of those clothes, I realized. She's not strong enough to tear them off yet.
Luckily, Stark came to the rescue. He grabbed the back of her shirt and pants in one big handful, and then tore them apart like they were made of cotton candy. I could see how far the changes had progressed now.
You're almost there! I thought, refusing to break eye contact. Just a little longer!
The hair crept up and down her body, growing thicker until it became proper fur as her ears grew pointed and migrated further up her head. All that was left was her face, her poor little, agonized face. And even as I watched, that disappeared to as her mouth and nose pushed themselves forward. And just like that, the little girl I'd known was gone. In her place was a tiny wolf cub. Kimberly continued to look at me, panting to catch her breath, and then laid her head down.
“It's okay," Stark said. “You can look away from her now."
I looked up just in time to see Stark take his shirt off. “That took a lot out of her. She'll probably sleep the rest of the night. You should too. It'll help those injuries heal faster."
Rest. Rest sounded perfect, I thought as I and crossed my paws and laid my chin down on them. I was still looking at Kimberly, who was, just as Stark had said, fast asleep.
“I'll go hunt some food for you two," he said just before finally giving in to the demanding moon and shifting. His full wolf form looked exactly like his midshift had— except, you know, it was actually a wolf. He didn't waste any time, he just took off running into the woods.
I closed my eyes, letting my exhaustion carry me away. So much had happened in less than an hour. I felt like a sponge that had been wrung dry. I didn't want to sleep, though. I knew what I would see when I did.
Tyler lying in a pool of blood, a hole in his throat, dead. And it was all my fault…
My body wasn't going to give me any choice in the matter, though, because then my eyelids fell, and I was asleep. Luckily, I was so exhausted that I didn't dream at all.
When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to see the sun rising over the trees. I stood up, easing myself onto my injured shoulder, and stretched. It still hurt, but it wasn't nearly as bad as last night. I looked down, and saw Kimberly still fast asleep on the ground.
“She'll shift back on her own in a minute," a voice said behind me. I spun around, and saw Stark sitting there in human form. He was already dressed, and was busy carving a rabbit he'd caught with a hunting knife. “She probably won't even feel it enough to wake up."
I turned back around and, sure enough, watched as Kimberly's new wolf body retreated back inside, leaving the five year old girl I'd come to think of as my little sister behind. She slept on, completely unaware of what had just happened.
Welcome to the werewolf life, kid, I thought, hanging my head in shame. You can hate me all you want now. I won't blame you.
Stark sighed. “Don't be so hard on yourself, Amber. It really isn't your fault."
Yes, yes it was. It didn't matter how well intentioned Stark was in saying that, I would never believe it. I had attacked her. I had given her the curse. This was my fault.
Stark read my expression, and frowned. “Here," he said, pushing some of the rabbit towards me, “eat this. You look starved."
I was famished, I realized when my belly growled, so I leaned down and ate every bite. It comforted my stomach, but not my heart.
“I put your clothes over there," he said, nodding towards a nearby tree. Without the full moon above us, the only reason I was still in wolf form was because I hadn't chosen to shift back yet. I picked them up in my mouth, and went away to get dressed. It took a little effort to get my numb arm through the sleeve, but I think I was actually getting used to doing that. When I came back, Kimberly was still asleep. I considered waking her up, but decided against it. The rest of her life would be hell. Let her enjoy those sweet dreams while she still could.
“So, what's going to happen to us now?" I asked softly, coming to sit next to Stark. “My whole pack is… gone."
“Normally, after taking down Dalton, you'd be the alpha now," Stark answered. I nodded. I'd figured that part out on my own already. “But you don't have much of a pack to lead anymore."
Just me and Kimberly.
“I can make that work," I said, looking down at my shoes. “It'll probably be better that way. But where are we going to live?"
I couldn't take Kimberly back into that house. Not after everything she'd seen in it. Even all of the gifts Majestic had given us couldn't convince me to bring her back there.
“There is another option," Stark said.
I looked up at him. “What?"
“You two don't have to be on your own. Now that you're free from those idiots, you can go find another pack to join."
I sighed, and shook my head. “I don't know any other packs. I don't even know how to find one."
“That's okay, because one's already found you."
I arched my eyebrow at him.
“I just so happen to be putting together my own pack," Stark said, and went back to carving another rabbit. “One that caters to wolves of our, ah, particular nature."
“It isn't very big yet," he went on, and then shrugged. “In fact, it's just me right now. But we've got plenty of room for expansion. If you want, both you and Kimberly would be welcome to join."
I swallowed hard. Had he really just… Yes, he had. A new place to live. A new pack, run by someone I could trust.
“Of course, you'd have to give up your alpha status and be under me."
I nodded. “Sure. I don't think I'm ready to lead a pack anyway."
“So, do you accept?"
“Yes," I said without hesitation, and then glanced back at the sleeping Kimberly. “We both do."
Stark put down his knife and held out his hand. I took it, smearing rabbit blood on my skin in the process, and shook it.
“Welcome aboard, Amber," he said when he released me. “We're glad to have you."
Despite everything that had just happened, I couldn't help but smile.
“So," I said, “what's the name of this pack you're trying to build?"
Stark smiled through his mustache and gave me a conspiratorial wink.
“Well, I've run a few names through my head, but the one I keep coming back to is…"
He paused dramatically.