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Author's note: I don't really have an excuse this time. I wasn't sick or anything. I just reached a point where I realized that I needed to rework how the story was getting where I wanted it to get. So that's what I spent last night doing.

Apologies to someone for using the word "featherbutt." It just fit so well! And it makes Tamlin
so angry! I couldn't resist.



Tamlin (continued)


“That’s bullshit,” he says.

I shrug.

He takes one look around the club, doing his best to make it look dismissive, and turns and stalks through a parting crowd. The bouncers follow him. I look at Jamie, who leers back at me. “Well,” I say, because for once I cannot think of exactly how to broach the subject that’s on my mind. “Wherefore the face, puppy boy?” Maybe that was the wrong way. He grins wider, showing off his bloody teeth, and that has exactly the wrong effect on me. By which I mean, exactly the right effect at the wrong time. I look him up and down, noticing for maybe the first time just how massive he is. I bet it’s the way he’s carrying himself now, like he owns the world, like it’s the most natural thing ever to nearly bite someone’s throat off in the middle of a dance club. Which reminds me, we’re still surrounded by a crowd. Right. Not a good idea to keep this freak show standing around. It would have been bad enough had it been two regular guys got into it, but now it’s one dino and one wolf, the latter stained from his attack. “Hey, why not let’s take this elsewhere, yah?”

“So, what, you run this place?” this new Jamie asks when we’ve made our way across the floor. I shrug, as close to an unconcerned motion as I can make. “Ah, I see,” he says. Then he stops, and I make it a full three more before I realize that he’s not coming with me. I was going to take him to the bar, buy him a drink—no, maybe the bathroom first, to wash his mouth out—the blood, I mean, to wash the blood from his mouth—

No, no, this is getting me all bothered again.

—I could wash his mouth out—

“You just like to pretend you’re in charge.”

If I wasn’t already looking at him, I would have spun on the spot. What the hell was that supposed to mean? “Explain,” I say. This time, he shrugs and walks past me, but I grab his shoulder before he can. “Explain.”

Another shrug. “You like to walk all big and talk all tough, but you’re really just a fluffy bird with an attitude problem.”

It’s an effort to keep my feathers from rising. “I’m the one with the attitude problem?”

“Uh huh.” He grins.

“You know I saved your ass back there, right, dog boy?”

“Whatever, featherbutt.”

I bristle, and he laughs, which is exactly the wrong fucking response. “Why don’t you get the fuck out?”

“Of the club you don’t own? Nah. I like it here. It’s exciting.” He says it casually, over his shoulder, but the people around us have picked up on the vibe of the conversation and are steering clear and watching with interest, and I imagine that the news of the fight has circulated already. Before I can respond, he says, “You don’t care about Corey, do you?”

“What.”

“You left her there.” He indicated first the doorway with a nod of his massive head, then the bar. “She’s still over there somewhere, drunk and hurt, and you were taking me here for a drink. Right?” Bigger grin. “How romantic. I’d say I don’t bite, but I bet you like that.”

“Get out.” I can barely contain it. I want to hit him.

And he just grins, and stares right at me, and says, “No.”

And I ask you, what am I supposed to do now?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I learned how to snarl real good with my tribe. We’re not really a tribe, but we like calling ourselves a tribe because it makes other people uncomfortable. Anyway, we act sort of like I imagine a real tribe would act, by which I mean Indians, or Native Americans, or whatever they were. By which I mean there are lots of drugs, and lots of sex, and lots of dancing. (You caught me; it’s why I like clubbing.) We used to get into these great big fights about anything really, but I learned real young that sometimes you don’t have to fight to win. Sometimes, you just have to look like you’d win in a fight. This usually works with normal people, especially when it’s a dino who looks like he’s gonna win. I didn’t really expect it to work with a wolf man, though. Besides, snarling has multiple uses, and only one of those uses involves not fighting. My favorite other use involves throwing your opponent off-balance for long enough to get in a solid first hit.

What I learn today is this: Jamie is better at snarling than I am. And legitimately scarier.

I’m on my back before I can even gurgle in surprise, and Jamie has both of my hands pinned, and his teeth fly at my throat. I kick up at him, and am rewarded with an “oof” as my foot connects with his stomach. I roll back, but he grabs my foot and pulls me back, and I find myself frustratingly in exactly the same position as before. This time, he blocks my kick with his knee and pins my leg to my stomach. And this time, I can’t stop his mouth from finding my throat.

Good thing I’m friends with the bouncers, innit?

It takes four of them to pull him from me, but not before we both get some good hits in on the other: a fist in my snout, teeth in my throat, and another solid kick, this time to his solar plexus, and what I sincerely hope is a painful scratch across his muzzle. They drag him away, kicking and snarling, through a crowd parting like the Red Sea.

And I swear—though I wouldn’t tell many people this—I swear, I couldn’t move. The look in his eyes was… I don’t know. When I got kicked out of school, the reason the principal gave my tribe was I didn’t act “civilized.” My father reacted predictably, and declared that I shan’t be attending a school that defines civilization so narrowly—this was obviously before we moved to Paradise—and I was homeschooled from then on. The reason for my dismissal was that I attacked another third grader who had stolen my pencil, and he ended up in the hospital with whining parents and doctors who complained about having to actually do their jobs for once. I met that kid ten years later, and he told me he remembered being scared, not because I was attacking him, but because I “didn’t look right.” I had no idea what that meant.

Watching Jamie get dragged across the floor by four burly men, still spitting and cursing, surging so hard he almost topples them over, I finally have an inkling of what that kid meant. I think if they let him go, he might actually kill me. That snarling thing staring at me predatorily resembles a human in its general appearance, its clothing, but that’s it.

And I realize, with a combination of admiration, fascination, and disgust, that he baited me into attacking him. Dear Science, am I really that easy to predict?

I turn back to the bar, ignoring everyone’s concerned looks—like I’m going to admit to them that he scared me almost to shaking—and begin ordering shots.

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Brake

December 2012

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