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Chapter Twenty Two

When I emerged into the empty building above Doctor Munse's office, I tucked the pill bottle into my pocket and let the magic door swing... hold on, how did I get here?  I shook my head.  I was never going to get used to that, was I?  Turn me into an animal, put me on a demon's hit list, sic a giant hyena on me, it didn't matter.  Nothing was ever going to mess with my head like that freaking magic door.


I found Victor standing outside, and the look on his face was even sourer than before, if that was possible.


"What's got your snoot up your boot?" I asked.


He raised his eyebrows at me.  I shrugged.


"Forget it.  What's wrong?"


Victor's scowled and said, "Majestic has given the all clear.  Those men who attacked you have left the area."


"That's good," I said. "I don't feel like dealing with them twice in one—"


"Shut your insufferable mouth, you twit!"


Without another word, Victor turned and led me back onto the streets.  I hesitated at the doorway, watching him stride boldly out into the night.  Even from here, I could feel the anger radiating off him.  In fact, I could smell it.  I can detect emotions with my nose fairly easily when I'm in wolf form, but they have to be really intense for my human sense of smell to pick up on them.  I still didn't know what those guys in the black coats meant to him, but the fact that he hadn't been able to fight them pissed him the hell off.


And I wasn't sure I wanted to be with him right now.


"What are you waiting for, stupid girl?" he demanded when he realized I wasn't following him.


"I think I can manage the hike back on my own," I said, stepping backwards into the abandoned building's shadows. "I mean, if they gave the all clear, then..."


My voice trailed off when Victor spun around and came back at me in a rage.  I could see the anger in his eyes, and frankly I was surprised they didn't light up like the glowyman's back at the gas station. Seeing him advance on me like that, for a moment I forgot that I was a werewolf.  He reached out for me, and I stumbled backwards and fell on my rear, throwing a cloud of dust up off the old store's floor.  He grabbed me by my hair and hauled me upright.


"Don't test me tonight, Amber," he said, holding me so we were looking each other in the eye. "Do... not... test me!"


"I'm sorry," I mumbled.  It felt like I was back in the Swag Pag again, my abusive alpha taking his anger out of me after I'd failed some small task. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please don't hurt me."


"You have no idea what tonight meant to me," he said, leaning forward so we were nose to nose. "You have no idea what I've lost.  Do not test me!"


"I won't, I promise," I begged him with tears running down my cheeks. "I'm sorry!"


He dropped me, and my legs gave out underneath me so that I collapsed on the floor at his feet.  He loomed over me, looking down with pitiless eyes, and so rather than meet that gaze I looked down at the floor instead.  It was just like being yelled at by an alpha werewolf, but how could that be?  Victor wasn't a werewolf...




I expected him to say something, but all that came was a bright yellow flash.  A wave of heat washed over me, which made the ice cold wind that followed even more noticeable.  I opened my eyes and looked around— and found myself back in Stark's front yard.


Victor was still there.  Without a word, he grabbed me by the back of my jacket— not my hair, thankfully— and dragged me through the snow until we were at the front door.


"Open up, Stark!" Victor hollered, pounding on the door with his empty fist.


Half a second later, the door shot open and I found myself staring down the barrel of the same rifle Stark had shot Kimberly with.  I gulped.


"What the- Amber!" he said, dropping the gun like he'd just pulled it out of the fireplace.  He ran his eyes over me, taking in the blood, the cuts, the bruises. "What the hell happened?"


"You are a complete and total idiot," Victor snapped, and thrust me towards Stark.  My alpha caught me in his arms, though I don't know why I'd suddenly lost the ability to stand on my own. "That's what happened!"


Stark looked up at him in confusion. "What are you talking about?  All I did was send her to get some medicine!"


"Alone, sick, in the middle of the night, with the snow piled up to her knees," Victor said in a low, dangerous voice, "when there were Slayers in the area!"


Slayers.  Is that what those guys were?


Stark's eyes opened even wider when he heard that. "I'd forgotten all about... you mean they're still here?"


Victor scowled at him, but didn't say anything.


"They never stay in one place this long!" Stark protested, and I could feel his arms start to shake as he held me. "They come, they look around, and then they leave when they don't find anything!"


Victor's frown deepened. "They were looking for something particular this time, and they weren't going to leave until they got it."


Stark shook his head. "What were they looking for?"


"Ask your submissive."


Stark looked down at me, and finally pushed me away so I was standing on my own feet again.


"What's going on out there?" my mom asked from further down the hallway.  She came to join us a moment later, still dressed in her robe and nightgown.  As soon as she saw me, she gasped, and Stark reached out to keep her from fainting.


"What happened?" he asked quietly.


There was something in his voice that caught me off guard.  Stark was nothing if not strong.  He had to be if he wanted to be a good alpha.  And he was a good alpha.  But when he asked me that question, I heard something that I'd never, ever thought would come from him.


Weakness.  Defeat.


"It was nothing," I said.  My face burned with the lie. "I just... fell down on my way to town, and—"


"Amber," Stark interrupted me, his voice still little more than a whisper, "what happened?"


I stopped and looked at my mom, who was still just barely managing to stand with Stark's hand on her shoulder.  I was tempted to ask him to send her away, but I knew I'd already pushed my luck too far by lying to him.  Maybe he would hold it against me, maybe he wouldn't, but I didn't want to make things worse by stalling even more.


"I... It was..." I tried to tell him, but every time I opened my mouth gruesome images would flash in my mind of what had happened in that gas station.  I couldn't form the words, so instead I hooked my finger in my cheek and drew my lips back until they could see my missing tooth.


"Amber..." Mom breathed, and the next thing I knew she had pulled free of Stark's grip and wrapped me in a hug. "Oh, my Amber!  Are you okay?  Does it hurt?  Did they do anything else to you?"


Her words came out fast, but the way she was shaking as she hugged me told me she was even closer to breaking down than I was.


But maybe not closer than Stark...


The Silverpack alpha stumbled backwards until he collapsed on the sofa, and put his hand on his head. "What have I done?" he asked, his voice hollow.


"You put your pack in danger," Victor spat. "You've failed your duties as an alpha!"


"Hey!" I snapped, spinning around to look at him. "I'm fine, okay?  Lay off!"


"No, Amber," Stark whispered.  I turned to see him sitting with his face in his hands. "He's right.  I failed you tonight."


"Stark..." I said, taking a hesitant step towards him.


"And not just tonight." he went on without looking up at me. "I... I failed you as soon as Hendricks came back, and I didn't do anything to drive him off.  When Becky attacked us, and you almost died.  I'm sorry."  He finally raised his head and made eye contact with me.  "I'm sorry, and it's never going to happen again.  Do you hear me?  Never!"


"Hmph," Victor snorted, and we all looked to see him smirking in amusement. "It's one thing to say it, another thing to do it, old man."


Stark's face turned red, and I saw a hint of his usual pride and confidence come back to his eyes. "Oh, I'll do it.  I swear to you, to Amber, and to Kimberly, that I will do it, and don't you doubt me for a minute.  You hear me, Victor?"


Victor nodded once. "Let's hope so.  You wouldn't want us to go back on our end of the agreement, would you?"


That caught my attention.  I looked from Victor to Stark. "Agreement?  What agreement?"


"Shut up!" Stark barked, and when I looked I could see his eyes had turned golden brown.  I balked for a moment, but then realized he wasn't talking to me, he was talking to Victor.


Victor's cruel smile widened. "I would love to tell you, Amber, but it's not my place.  Ask your alpha, if you want to know more."


Stark stood up, and now it looked like he was back to his old self.  His fists were clenched by his sides, and he was looking at Victor the way a wolf would look at a rival wolf intruding on his territory.


Victor was looking at Stark like a lion looks at a mouse.


"Get out of my house," Stark growled, his voice sounding like he was on the verge of shifting and tearing Victor's throat out.  I'd tried to fight Victor before, and that hadn't ended well.  Then again, Stark was a much better fighter than I was.  Would he fare better against Majestic's battle mage?  I almost wanted them to fight just so I could see who won.


Instead, Victor smiled again.  I was really starting to hate when he did that.


"Of course," he said, bowing formally. "Now that Amber is home, my duties are complete." His eyes gleamed as he said that, and even I was able to catch his hidden meaning. "I'll just be on my way."


There was another yellow flash, and Victor disappeared off our doorstep.



NEXT TIME: Amber’s home, safe and sound.  Victor may be a jerk, but at least he kept her alive.  Now they just have to give Kimberly her medicine, and hope it works.  Dr. Munse said it was a magical pill, but Amber and the others aren’t exactly normal werewolves, are they?

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