Infected: Devil’s Night, Part 2
The story concludes here. But it could always go on, I know …
Roan could hear everything around him, from the music leaking from Panic to the music thudding from car stereos jacked up to weaponized levels, to conversations on the street to revving motors at red lights, to the audio cues from electronic street signs. It was easy to get distracted by this discordant symphony of noise, but it didn’t have the built in, inherent danger of scents. That’s where the real danger was.
His sense of smell was better than his hearing (although his hearing was a bit better than the average human –lucky him) by far. He was a legal bloodhound, after all. But what absolutely no one understood, or could understand with their limited scent palette, was how goddamn seductive and dangerous scent was.
In the back of his mind, Roan had this constant running list of everything he was smelling at all times, a list of obsessive depth and detail. He didn’t do it out of OCD, but because he couldn’t help but do it. Usually, because it was a constant background thing, he could ignore it. But when he started paying attention, when he started to sift through the list for something in particular, they hit him full force, and he could drown in the seas of scents. It was actually like drowning, except he could breathe … and drag in more scents. It was the olfactory equivalent of some of the discordant punk rock he listened to, just wave after wave of noise (or in this case, smells), and it threatened to carry him away. He could lose the plot, and feel just this side of insane, unable to surface in the crush of information/thoughts/impressions that just layered one on top of another. Much like when the lion came out, sometimes he couldn’t put on the brakes.
But, luckily, society took up a love of strong peppermints just as he was becoming aware of how panic inducing his sense of smell could be. He carried them with him at all times, just in case he vapor locked in a scent spiral. Strong peppermints shut it down, not only because it was like being stabbed in the sinuses (although that’s exactly what it was – like being jabbed with a slim, sharp knife as cold as an icicle), but because mint was one of the few natural things that could wash out all other scents. It was loud and blaring, like an amplifier turned up to eleven, and just as impossible to ignore. Subtlety was lost in its shadow, and it caused a brief but memorable olfactory blindness that was often a relief. Sometimes he wished it could last all day, but he was lucky to get a few minutes out of it.
Roan was thinking he shouldn’t have picked this alley. Too close to the club, reeking of piss and cigarette smoke, vomit and rotting trash. He popped a mint in his mouth and winced at the assault, but it kept him from falling down the scent hole. As he crushed it between his teeth, he found himself wondering if this was part of his “chimera” thing. That’s what Doctor Rosenberg had called him last time he saw her in a medical capacity, and it threw him for a loop. Investigating it – because of course he would – he learned that no human could actually be a chimera. In animals, it meant their cells contained two types of DNA, usually caused by two embryos fusing together in utero. Now it was possible he’d had a fetal twin he absorbed before birth, as that happened a lot more than people realized. But for this to apply to him, that twin embryo would have to have been completely virus, with not a scrap of human DNA. Which wasn’t possible. So where did that leave him? He’d have accused her of misusing the term, except she was way too fucking smart to make a mistake like that. She was telling him something. He had human DNA and viral DNA in all his cells? Again, that wasn’t supposed to be possible in a human. It would make him, in essence, a new life form.
Didn’t he feel like one? But then again, most people probably felt that way. It was possible the most human thing was to not feel all that human.
Jesus Christ. How many pain pills had he had tonight? Way too fucking many.
He swallowed the last of the peppermint before roaring again, tearing up his throat, and this time he heard a faint, faraway responding roar. At least he caught the attention of one of them. He concentrated on the sour taste of blood in his mouth, as that focused the lion like little else. Well, pain and rage could do that too, but they were all related.
The pain in his sinuses waned, but the anger was still there, the lion lurking beneath the surface of his skin, just waiting to start some shit. It lived for this. Which was why he had to hold on to himself as hard as he could. He could drown in the lion too, in its wants and rage and desire to just fuck shit up. Of course, that was where he and the lion bled together, but he was always reluctant to admit that.
Roan heard the reactions of people on the street first. The screech of hastily applied brakes, curses, raised voices of alarm and anger on the sidewalk. Roan was already growling by the time the cat snarled, and he roared again to get it to focus and hone in on him. Cats could have the attention span of a coked up agent in an arcade.
He could understand the reactions of other people when the big cat finally appeared at the head of the alley. It was the biggest lion he had ever seen. The guy who this was must have been fucking huge. At least six foot six, and well over three hundred pounds. He was a typical lion, although his mane was mostly black, suggesting his hair color in human form. It roared at him and Roan roared back, feeling the blood welling in his throat. The humongous lion charged, and Roan braced himself and waited for the cat to pounce.
When it did, moving quite nimbly for such a huge thing, Roan braced himself and tried to hold his inner lion back, as he wasn’t going to fight him lion on lion. His humanity – or at the very least, his human form – gave him an edge, no matter the size of the cat. At the last possible second he stepped aside, caught the lion as it almost flew past him, and spun sharply, slamming the lion into the nearest wall. It was a hard hit, but apparently not hard enough to keep it down, as it turned on him and snarled before lunging again. Roan got his arm up, and it sank its fangs into it, the claws following close behind.
The pain knifed through him, and of course brought the lion he was attempting to rein in surging forward. He roared as he snapped his arm and sent the huge lion flying back into the wall. It ripped some flesh away, but he didn’t feel it, not completely. The lion had taken over enough that he was aware of pain, but at a remove, like his body was in another room. His adrenaline was spiking, and the lion usually rode that to take him over, but the painkillers he popped like candy usually helped hold it back. Right now he was in a precarious in between state, where the balance was fairly even, but control could shift either way without notice.
The big ass lion landed awkwardly, perhaps the only acknowledgement of the force of the blow, but rebounded back for him, and Roan kicked him in mid-air, catching him straight in the gut. He felt ribs crack beneath his boot before the lion was launched away once more.
The big lion smacked against the edge of a Dumpster and snarled in rage, but Roan roared, even more furious that this bastard was trying him. Yes, he had size, but he couldn’t win, no matter how big a fucker he was. Who was the alpha chimera around here, goddamn it?
There was another roar, and he turned to see a muddy brown panther was streaking down the alley towards him. The second cat headed towards Capital Hill. At least it was female and more reasonably sized than the lion. Still, the lion wasn’t out of the fight, and he was stuck between them.
Roan charged the panther, giving himself more distance from the big ass lion, and and when it jumped at him, he caught it and turned to throw it at the lion, who was also jumping at him. Both big cats went down in a twisting heap, although the panther, the least injured of the two, was up first.
He let her jump, close the distance between them, before catching her by the throat this time and ramming her head first into the wall. She went limp – unconscious, but by no means dead, as the transformed cats always seemed to have ridiculously thick skulls – and he dropped her as the lion pounced on his back and sunk its teeth into his head.
The teeth didn’t go deep, they couldn’t, as it wasn’t quite at the right angle, but Roan threw himself against the wall, squashing the lion, and slammed his head back a couple times. He was pretty sure he knocked out one of the big fucker’s teeth.
The lion fell off him, but still wasn’t out, so he turned and punted it in its huge, thick skull. He was glad he wore his combat boots with the costume, because blood was easy to clean off of them.
As he stepped back, making sure both the cats were out, he realized a lot of the blood was his own. He had gashes on his arm from both claws and teeth, and blood was pattering down from his jaw, where the bones were making a crackling sound, like a candy wrapper in someone’s fist. He didn’t even feel the partial change happen, which was a distressingly new side effect, especially since the pain always caught up to him. It was just delayed, either through adrenaline, the prominence of the lion, or both. And now that he was thinking about it, the molten pain came alive along his jawbone, riding his spine all the way down to his toes. Roan started taking measured breaths through his mouth, trying to hold the pain at bay in what seemed like a fruitless, endless battle.
He was so caught up in pain management that he was surprised to hear voice at the head of the alley. “Man, we missed it,” a guy said. “I wanted to get a cat head for my wall.”
Roan looked up, and saw four guys, all of whom looked like some variation of the basic frat bro template, and all reeked of booze. Since Roan nicknamed people out of habit, he decided that the tallest one was Grumpy, the shortest one Sneezy, the pudgiest one Dopey, and the drunkest one Doc. Doc actually had one hand on the alley wall, propping himself up, while his other hand was busy holding a beer. He seemed barely aware of anything going on around him.
Grumpy, though, was distressingly sober seeming, and his pale blue eyes locked on to Roan with a laser focus. “Hey, I know who this guy is.”
“Arrow,” Dopey said.
“No man, he’s the kitty fag. The freak show, you know?”
Roan would have commented, except his vocal cords hadn’t changed back into a human form yet. Although he did hear himself comment anyways, as a deep, low growl issued from his throat, almost of its own accord. The lion wasn’t completely gone yet. This was bad news. Not for him so much as the four drunk bros, who might be finding this out in a minute.
The noise of the growl made Sneezy take a step back. “Holy fuck, did you make that noise?”
“Told ya he was a freak show,” Grumpy said, and pulled out a gun from his jeans. “Think I’m scared of your bullshit tricks?”
It was a real gun, not a toy, but it was a cheapo piece of shit 9 millimeter that would be more likely to explode in his hand than hurt anyone he was shooting at. But Roan couldn’t tell him that because his vocal chords still hadn’t recovered yet, and the lion continued growling. His eyes seemed to be focusing on a vein throbbing in Grumpy’s thick neck. It did occur to him, in a very dark part of his brain, that if no one was sober enough to say what happened, whatever happened to these boys could be blamed on the unconscious cats. Especially that big ass lion, who could probably rip through these college boys like wet toilet paper. Roan was pretty sure he could tear through them just as easily too.
Sneezy smelled of fear. Sneezy was the smartest of them. “Dude, I think we oughta go. Don’t start any shit.”
Grumpy scoffed, aiming his gun at Roan. “What, think I’m scared of this faggot?”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing,” Holden replied, his voice cool and amused.
Grumpy started to turn towards the voice, behind and beside him, but turned right into Fiona’s riding crop, as she whipped him right in the face. He yelped, dropping the gun as he reflexively reached for the gash on his cheek, and she yelled at him in her best ball busting dominatrix voice, “What the fuck are you doing you stupid piece of shit? Do you think this is a game?”
“You guys wanna fight?” Grey asked, as he, Scott, and Tank suddenly converged on the frat boys. They’d taken their Hansen brothers glasses off, so they were all blood smears and sports tape. “We’ll fight. We’ll even let you throw the first punch.”
“Or at least try,” Scott said, nodding.
The three of them were closing in on Doc, Sneezy, and Dopey, and the growing panic on their faces told you all you needed to know. It looked like they were considering curling up and playing dead, like you were supposed to do in a bear attack. They knew they were outclassed here, and weren’t drunk enough to ignore it.
Holden retrieved the fallen gun, while Grumpy looked at his hand and confirmed Fi had drawn blood. Actually, the crop had sliced most of his cheek open, and he was losing an impressive amount of blood. (Was she carrying it in the pizza box? Now Roan was kind of curious where she had it.) “What the hell’s your deal?” he asked.
She glared at him, clearly in dominatrix mode. Grumpy was outclassed here, but didn’t know it. “You speak when you’re spoken to, maggot.”
“What kinda psycho bitch are –“ And that’s as far as he got before Tank threw a reflexive, almost casual backhand, and dropped Grumpy like a sack of wet cement. He was unconscious long before his body hit the pavement.
While his frat bros jumped at the sudden nature of the violence and backed up several more steps, Fiona gave Tank an irritated glance. “I had him handled.”
“I know. But nobody calls you a bitch.”
That made her smile. “I really have to introduce you to my ex-husband.”
Holden cracked open the gun, emptying the bullets to the ground before snorting at it. “Cheap piece of shit. If you didn’t pull this out of a cereal box you got ripped off big time.” He pulled out the firing pin and threw the rest of the gun away, before leaning in towards the closest bro, Doc, and whispering, “You boys are lucky there are witnesses, because you can’t imagine what I’d do to you if there weren’t.” He kept his voice pitched very low, but Roan heard it, and so did the bros. They also heard the cold certainty in his tone, and while Roan couldn’t see Holden’s expression from this side, it was enough to ratchet up the fear smell coming from them. Oy. Sometimes Roan liked to fool himself and pretend he hadn’t created a monster in Holden, but he kind of had, and he knew it. He wasn’t sure what he could do about it now. Try and appeal to his better angels, he supposed, and hope like hell Holden actually had better angels.
Holden turned and approached him slowly, scanning him to see if he was dealing with the human or the lion. “You okay?”
Roan wasn’t sure he could talk, but at least he’d stopped growling. He nodded, and attempted to wipe the blood off his face with his arm, only to realize his arm was bloody too. He was bleeding from multiple spots, although none of the injuries were serious. (Were they ever truly serious for him?)
Sneezy finally asked, in a small, cowed voice, “Who the fuck are you people?”
“We’re the sidekicks,” Grey said. “Or is more than two a posse?”
“You’re a posse,” Holden said. “I’m the sidekick.” He then grimaced. “What the fuck am I saying? I’m no fucking sidekick.”
“I don’t think there’s a limit on sidekicks,” Fiona said, tucking the riding crop into the waistband of her jeans. (That answered that question.) “And you totally fucking are.”
Holden scowled, but was smart enough to turn away from her before doing it. It was things like this that reminded him Fiona and Holden had been friends before either started working with him. Holden studied him a moment before asking, in a whisper, “Think you can change enough to heal up?”
Roan felt blood crawling down his neck. The lion punctured his scalp, which was no big deal, but face and head wounds bled like a motherfucker. “I think so.” He could talk now, but his voice sounded like gravel in a drainpipe. It made him wince just to hear it.
“If you need any pills, let me know. I know of at least one guy in Panic who’s holding.”
Of course he did. Holden knew where to get almost anything at any time. He had friends in low places.
“I suggest you take your garbage and get outta here before the cops come,” Grey said, and when he said garbage, he pointed down at the unconscious Grumpy.
“And let him know that he has to stop being a stupid dick,” Fiona said.
“Yeah. He was really close to being lion chow. You all were,” Holden said. He then turned back to Roan and said, “Good thing you didn’t eat ‘em. They look really greasy. And are probably riddled with STIs.”
Carefully, still keeping an eye on the Hansen brothers and their pizza dominatrix, the frat bros grabbed Grumpy by the arms and dragged him away. Roan wondered if he’d regain consciousness by tomorrow, because boy, he looked dead to the world.
As soon as they were gone, Holden said, “We should probably get out of here before the cops arrive too.”
There were some grumblings of assent, and they started to go, but not before Roan heard Scott ask, “Why can’t we call ourselves the Scooby Gang again?”
Holden was the last to go, and he stopped at the mouth of the alley to take his shirt off. He tossed it to Roan, and said, “Maybe you can get off some of the blood. Don’t worry about throwing it away, I’m not even sure it’s my shirt.”
Roan could have asked, but decided he really didn’t want to know. “Going into Panic shirtless is risky.”
“Eh, I can handle it. Besides, Scott’s wearing a shirt under his jersey, I’ll get him to give it to me.”
Now how did Holden know that? Again, Roan decided he didn’t want to know. Although really, he supposed he could guess.
Not for the first time, Roan reflected on how fucking strange all his friends were. And how fucking great they were.
If he absolutely had to be a superhero, at least he had the best sidekicks in the business.