Gunpowder, pine and old lingering rain were always the smells Connor associated with hunting in the bountiful Davenport forest. It had not rained in more than a week in these last days of summer, but the forest always had a way of preserving the scent of previous storms.
He and Myriam were checking their traps and snares for any game. Norris was trying to help (always wanting to spend time with his wife) but he wasn't much use. In the end he just helped carry any catches they found, while he rambled on about the new rumors he heard at the inn.
"No, I'm telling you two, it's this great white beast- larger than even our American wolves!" He insisted, trying to note the size with his hands and not drop their game while doing so.
"Are you telling me that there is a monstrous creature lurking in our forest?" Connor asked, trying to keep his chuckle from surfacing.
"Pay him no mind, Connor." Myriam assured "He just likes recounting those old wives tales he hears from Godfrey and Terry."
Norris gave his wife a disappointed look, obviously not happy about her lack of enthusiasm.
Connor had heard so many rumors around the frontier, from the tale of a sasquatch to unidentified flying objects. None of them ever turned out to be true when he started investigating, but he saw no harm in letting Norris continue on about his great white wolf.
"When we get to the inn you can ask the boys themselves." Norris huffed as Myriam only gave him a half hidden chuckle.
"We better head to the inn soon anyway." Connor advised, looking up at the darkening sky. "It will be night soon and I know Corinne will want more meat for her kitchen."
Myriam agreed and turned back towards the trails that lead home. Putting her hand on her husband's shoulder and turning him, she said "Come on, you old tall tale teller, I think Connor is eager to see a certain "someone" at the inn." She threw a wink over her shoulder at Connor and he found it hard to hide his slight blush.
You had been on your feet most of the day, but you did not mind. Corinne had not been feeling well so you had gladly taken up the extra work at the inn. Her and Oliver bad been good to you, giving you a job at in their humble inn when you arrived on Davenport's doorstep all that time ago; so you were eager to give extra help wherever you could.
"Have Terry or Godfrey come by yet?" Called the familiar voice of Norris as the doors opened.
You looked up from the table you had been cleaning and saw the miner walking ahead of Myriam and Connor, a determined look on his face.
"Well hello to you too, Norris." You called in good humor, putting your hands on your hips. "And no, the boys haven't been in yet."
"Ah see, you rushed here for nothing, dear." Myriam teased as she nudged past him and took the days bounty to the kitchen.
"What's he so eager to talk to the boys about?" You asked Connor.
He gave a small shrug "He is trying to find others who will confirm his latest tales about our resident giant wolf."
Your heart gave a startled leap. "Wha-" you stopped to try and clear your throat when it came up dry. "What's this about giant wolves?" You managed, trying to sound only mildly curious as you started staking dishes on your tray to hide your sudden anxiety. Had you been slipping up in your late night runs? Had others been seeing you? You could not afford to be discovered by the wrong person, not here. You had grown so attached to the little town. The friendly people, the free forest, not to mention Connor. You didn't want to picture a future where you had to run away and leave your life here behind.
"Apparently there has been a wolf spotted once or twice in the forest- here allow me" he added as he took some of the dishes and helped you carry them to the bar. "I suspect it is only a slightly larger male and they have imagined its size greater."
"Yes, you’re probably right, the most reasonable explanation is usually the right one after all." You agreed, trying to hide your nervous laugh.
Connor gave you a side long look that was now full of worry. "Are you concerned about having a run in with the wolf on your way home?"
He was always quick to ask about things like that. He and some of the others had always been concerned about your living arrangements. The cabin Myriam used to live in before marrying Norris had been yours since you decide to stay in Davenport. It was rather far off the main road and secluded in the forest, so Connor was always asking if he could walk you home at night and make sure you were safe. It never bothered you, because you knew he did not offer because he thought you weak or incapable, he simply did it because he was your friend and he wanted to see you safe. Of course you always smiled and said you would be fine. Still it was a nice excuse to use when you wanted a little extra time with him.
“If you would like, I could walk you home tonight.”
“Oh no, Ratonhnhaké:ton. That’s quite alright, I’m sure whatever wolf is out there won’t come after me, after all it has not hurt anyone yet.”
He looked thoughtful for a moment, before giving you a short nod. “I suppose you are right. Still, do not feel…embarrassed if you decide to take up my offer.” His lips twitched up in that rare, small smile of his.
You returned the smile, feeling genuinely uplifted just by talking with him. “Thank you, Ratonhnhaké:ton, I appreciate your concern.” You said, reaching out and touching his arm lightly. When the two of you had first met, you instantly picked up that he was not fond of physical contact, but over time as you had grown to be close friends, he did not seem to mind it.
He looked back at you with those soft brown eyes, looking as though he wanted to say something else, but couldn’t. The two of you were brought out of the moment, however, when there was a crash coming from the kitchen.
“I think Norris is having trouble helping Myriam.” Connor commented, trying his best not to sound awkward after the long moment of eye contact.
You cleared your throat and chuckled “Yes, we should probably go and lend a hand.”
After the dinner rush at the inn cleared away Corinne had ventured downstairs and insisted that you let her clean up for the night. You tried to say that you did not mind, but she waved your words away and told you to go home for the night. Eventually you realized you would not win this verbal war, so you gathered up your shawl and bade her a good night with a smile.
The night air was chilly but wrapping the warm cloth around you kept the breeze off. Almost everyone was curled up in their homes, under blankets or in front of the fire, so yours were the only footsteps making the leaves crunch on the path.
You looked up at the moon, barely visible through the tall tree tops, thinking about your changes. They had little to do with the moon, unlike how some legends portrayed. But turning into the great white wolf had apparently had started much talk in the town, you would have to be even more careful from now on. Lowering the frequency of your changed and going deeper into the forest when you did would help. Hopefully that would be enough to not be discovered.
A shiver went down your back when you thought about the possibility of one of your friends seeing you, paws, fangs and all, and trying to hunt you down…if Connor saw and aimed his bow at you…
Shaking your head you blocked that train of thought, before the mental images could disturb you. If anyone would understand your situation and accept you, it would be him. Wait, what were you thinking? You could never tell him the truth, even if he didn’t immediately shun you as a demon, he would still think you a monster. At best he would tell you to leave the homestead and never come back. Wouldn’t he? No, Connor could never know the truth, you would not… could not risk losing him.
Your thoughts were interrupted when you heard a sudden shout. Wheeling towards the sound you focused your enhanced hearing to catch what the noise had been. Then, another noise, this time a muffled cry of pain came from deep in the forest. That’s when your nose caught the scent of fresh blood. Connor’s blood.
Immediately you darted into the woods, dodging low branches with easy grace as you raced towards the scene. You stopped, not even needing to catch your breath when you saw Connor surrounded by a number of thieving poachers. They were closing in on him, a variety of weapons drawn. Connor watched them, looking for the best opening and that’s when you saw the large, deep gash slashed across his chest.
Seeing the injury set your blood to an instant boil. Your hands clutched the nearby tree, already turning into claws ready to fight in defense of Connor. No, you couldn’t change now! You had to get your rage under control. But what would you do then? Asked a small part of you and it was a good question. What could you do in human form? You were not just going to leave him to deal with this scum while you tried to get help from someone else. No one in the clearing had seen you yet, so letting the change happen was the only real choice.
The transformation came with little pain, your hands shrunk into paws with deadly sharp claws; your mouth grew fangs that would tear apart just about anything. The clothes you had been wearing tore and ripped as your body became larger, but that hardly mattered now. Some of the poachers must have noticed the subtle sounds coming from the trees, because one by one they started to turn towards your direction. The only thing they saw were a pair of startling blue eyes, before a terrifying mass leaped out from the woods.
One screamed like a child as you landed on him. Others shouted in surprise, shocked into a panic and not knowing whether they should fire on the wolf, or just run. Connor had taken the opening to pull out his flintlock and shot the poacher nearest. Pulling out his hidden blade with the grace only an assassin could have, he lunged into the fray.
Two of the men had already experienced just how much power a werewolf could pack and a third ran screaming into the forest the moment you turned your crystal eyes on him. Still a forth looked like he was trying to stay courageous, because when you veered you attention to him, he managed to only quiver in fear. You bared your teeth and growled, stalking towards him slowly so he could have a chance to regain his smarts and run like his friend.
The strained sound of a bow being drawn drew your attention. You and the last poacher slowly adverted your eyes to Connor, who had an arrow notched and pointed at the man.
“Lay your weapon down slowly, and I will not fire. The wolf on the other hand…I suggest you make no sudden movements.” Connor advised, his eyes occasionally darting to you and you saw worried caution in his eyes.
The man was still quivering between the threat of fangs and arrow, but some kind of insanity must have taken him, because with an incoherent cry, he raised his musket and aimed at Connor.
“NO!” was what you wanted to shout, but it only came out as a howl as you threw yourself between Connor and the musket barrel. The shot rang out just before you felt a searing pain rip through your shoulder. A wolf’s whimper escaped your throat as you went tumbling to the ground, closing your eyes against the agonizing pain.
Connor was shocked by the act, but not enough to miss the chance to fire his arrow at the poacher. It hit the man right in the arm as he run away. Connor could have gone after him, but he did not bother. Instead he cautiously started towards the wolf that had saved his life.
Hearing him come closer you forced yourself to your feet. Giving him one long look in the eyes, you thought about staying and letting him tend to you. But you could already feel yourself changing back into a human and you could not let him see that.
Fear at what his reaction may be to finding out your secret gave you the strength to dart swiftly into the trees. You heard him call after you but you didn’t dare let yourself look back. Soon you felt the pads of your paws turning back into human hands, the feel of twigs and leaves sharp under the uncalloused skin.
You had to stop long enough for the change to finish completely, it was too much to run and transform at the same time. The pain of the bullet in your shoulder came in a fresh wave as you lay tired on the ground. You gritted your teeth and held your hand to the wound to stop the bleeding.
After giving yourself a moment to catch your breath, you managed to look around. Laying some feet away was the shawl you had abandoned while running to Connor’s aid. You crawled towards it and held it to your naked body, you would need something to cover yourself when making your way back to your cabin.
Suddenly your head snapped to attention when you heard twigs breaking nearby. Turning towards the sound you saw Connor standing there. His eyes were wide in shock, drifting momentarily over your body before snapping to the wound in your shoulder.
This was it, this was the part where he looked away in disgust or horror as he realized what you are, and all you could do was stare back at him with wide eyes.
But Connor did not turn away, or aim his bow at you. Slowly, his features softened into a look of subtle sorrow. He whispered your name as he took a step closer.
You were too deep in shock to move as he walked to you and removed his jacket. His expression was so soft and gentle as he kneeled in front of you and placed his jacket over your bare back.
“I…I am so sorry. You got shot because of me.” He whispered, eyes on your shoulder.
“No- Connor, don’t blame yourself. I am the one who jumped in front of that bullet.” You surprised yourself with how easily you found your voice again. He wasn’t looking at you like you were a monster. If anything his face and actions said he was more disgusted with himself, than with you.
Cautious of your pain level, he reached out and put a hand over the wound. “We need to get this taken care of. I won’t have you getting sick because of me.”
“Ratonhnhaké:ton…” you said in a low voice. Placing your hand over his, you made him look at you.
“You- you are not…afraid of me?”
He looked genuinely shocked at that. “Why would I be afraid of you? You came to my defense- took a bullet for me even!” he took his free hand and brushed the back of his fingers over your cheek lightly, making a pleased shiver rise up your back. “I could never be afraid of someone willing to do that. No matter what secrets they have been keeping from me.”
You looked into each other’s eyes for another long moment, like you had at the inn and before you ran from him in the forest. Finally he added “Now, we can go to Doctor White for your wound, or if you wish not to explain this to anyone else, I can tend to it the best I can at the manor.”
You managed a smile “I think trying to come up with a cover story for this would be too hard at the moment. Can you manage taking care of the bullet yourself?”
“I have pulled several bullets from my own body, I will try my best with you.” He gave that kind smile, helping you to your feet. Together you walked to the large manor house and you felt a great weight being lifted from your shoulders, finally having someone to share your secret with.