It had been a dangerous sport--for the younger werewolves--to taunt those who would see them dead. Danny had done it a hundred times, but this time, the Hunters were armed with silver bullets and the werewolves didn't have a chance.
Luke fell first--and the bloodthirsty men fell upon him with their shining knives to take his pelt. Then Brandon, shot twice; the second shot flinging him head over heels like a boneless hunk of meat.
The first shot that burrowed into Danny's shoulder only gave him a moment's pause; he ran for his life, now, his breath harsh in his throat, sheer panic pushing past the pain of the bullet lodged in his shoulder. They had never had silver bullets before. Why now?
The second bullet skimmed off the ground in front of him; the third felled him as neatly as a bullet to the brain.
Danny skidded to a stop against a tree, unable to catch his breath. The bullet's trajectory had torn through both his stomach and his chest--it had missed his heart, but only just.
The Hunter approached with his gun cocked and ready, but he lowered it when he saw the bloody hole in Danny's pelt.
"A pity," he growled, and spit upon the dying werewolf. "This one's ruined!"
Perhaps it was the man's disdain for Danny's life that gave him strength. Perhaps it was the deaths of his two best friends, or the fact that Danny knew without a doubt that he was dying. He shifted shape as the man turned his back to look for his comrades, then found enough strength to attack.
With the element of surprise on his side, the struggle for the gun did not take long at all.
Tears, mixed with blood, stung his eyes as he shoved the gun under the man's slack chin and pulled the trigger. Only then did he allow himself to collapse on top of the gun, and let the darkness of death carry him away.
But when Danny opened his eyes, he wasn't dead. A human woman, with frizzy red hair, and glasses perched on the edge of her nose, knelt over him, her hands glowing with some unearthly light. Danny reacted without a single thought. Before he could comprehend what her presence meant or even who she was, he shifted shape and attacked.
"No, wait!" She only managed those two words before he tore out her throat and collapsed again, spent and weakened by the silver bullets.
He awoke to watery sunlight peeking out from behind rain clouds, the buzz of flies, and the stink of death. When he raised his head and saw the woman's body; saw her glasses hanging askew and the pile of bloody bandages beside the melted lump of the silver bullet that had been lodged in his shoulder; when he realized who she was and what he had done--
He knew about the Healers, of course. Everyone did. Healers were neutral. They harmed no one. They went where they pleased, healing the wounded and the sick, until something happened to one of their own.
And then, they left, never to return.
Danny found the second bullet near the first one, covered with blood and gore, but not leaching poison into his body anymore. She hadn't finished healing him before he--before he killed her, but she had healed him enough for survival.
Not that he wanted to survive anymore. Not with the death of a Healer on his conscience.
With shaking hands, he found a thermos full of water and rinsed the taste of her blood from his mouth. He couldn't stop crying--his chest spasmed from the sobs and the pain from the half-healed wound. What had he done? What had he done?
If one of his pack found him here, obviously guilty, they would kill him anyway, so he might as well save them the trouble.
He found the Hunter's gun inside her small canvas tent, wrapped in the bloody remains of his shirt. There were two bullets left in the gun--surely enough to blow a hole in his brain to atone for his crime.
"I'm sorry," he whispered to the silent Healer outside. He barely recognized his voice as his own. "I'm so sorry."
When he put the barrel of the gun in his mouth, the alien taste of the metal made him gag, and a tear of pain bent him double against the Healer's cot. He straightened, panting now, knowing this was the only way to save himself from further pain. He could not bring the Healer back to life or reverse what he had done.
With shaking hands, he pushed the barrel of the gun into his mouth again, fought the urge to vomit, closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger.
Danny opened his eyes to find he lay in a bed--a human bed--with white sheets and bandages wrapped around his chest and most of his head, including one eye.
At first, he had no idea what had happened. The past was a murky ocean, where half-seen things barely made it to the surface before sinking out of sight again.
He did not try to force the memories. Something tucked deep inside his mind would rather they stay buried. But when the human woman with frizzy red hair and glasses perched on the tip of her nose appeared in the doorway, the memory of what he had done returned with a vengeance that sent all coherent thought flying.
He erupted out of bed, got tangled in the bedsheets and crashed on the floor, slamming his head against the side of the bed. Something thick and viscous seeped out from under the bandage covering his eyes, and from the feel of it, it wasn't tears.
"Oh, you've knocked your eye loose again," the woman said, and set down the mug she held in her hand. Knowing Healers, it probably contained tea.
His eye? Danny couldn't catch his breath. A band of pain tightened around his chest every time he tried to breath, and blackness rimmed what was left of his vision. His chest spasmed.
"Y-you--" He could not help but force the words to come. "Y-you're--you're dead!"
The woman smiled sadly. "So are you."
This was far too much for Danny's mind to comprehend. He let the darkness surround him and take him away to a place where he didn't have to remember what he had done, or consider what might happen next.
The next time he opened his eyes--his eye--the woman sat beside him, reading a paperback book. When she realized he was awake, she tucked a scrap of paper in the book to save her place, then folded her hands, no doubt waiting for him to collapse into hysterics again.
But Danny couldn't think of a single word that wouldn't send him barreling down into madness once more. He couldn't think, or speak, so he just watched her, not even realizing that tears coursed down his cheeks until she used a scrap of cloth to wipe them away.
"My name is Genevieve," she said.
Somehow, knowing her name only made his crime so much worse. He clenched both hands into fists and tried to ignore the shooting pain through his bandaged eye.
"I-I-I--" He had to take a deep breath just to make the attempt to finish the sentence, and almost choked. "I-I-k-k-k--I--"
"Yes, you did," Genevieve said gravely. "How do you feel?"
Desperately, Danny latched onto the last thing she had said to him before the darkness had risen to carry him away. "I-I'm d-dead?"
"Evidently so," Genevieve said, much too calmly. "I believe you shot yourself, and did a very good job at blowing out your brains."
"B-but--" Maybe, if he had blown out his brains, that was why it was so hard for him to comprehend what had happened. "H-how--"
"I'm not certain," Genevieve said, and for the first time, she seemed a bit uncertain. "I woke up here--this is my cottage, by the way--and then a few hours later, you appeared in my garden." She pursed her lips. "You smashed an entire row of tomatoes."
"I'm sorry," Danny whispered, the tears leaving him blind. "I-I'm s-so s-sorry." He had no idea if he was apologizing for murdering her or for the tomatoes--or which, in her mind, was the worst crime.
"I gave you my name, will you give me yours?"
Danny's breath hitched in his throat. "D-Daniel," he whispered. "My--my f-friends called m-me Danny."
His friends who were dead now, victims of a Hunter's gun and a sharpened blade.
"How old are you, Danny?" Genevieve asked.
Danny closed his good eye so he didn't have to look at her face. "S-Sixteen. I w-was. Sixteen." He tried to cover his face with his hands, but she took his hands and held them gently in her grasp. "Not anymore." He choked then, on the import of what that meant. Not anymore. Not ever anymore.
He was dead, after all. Dead.
And you couldn't recover from death.