This week's flash is inspired by the prompt: Time isn't on our side. Enjoy!
I flexed my fingers, my claws extending to their maximum. “Why were you on the side of the house?” I stalked closer to take a deep whiff of his scent.
“That’s my fault,” Park said. “You were in the backyard with Kraig, and I thought it would be easier for Ritch to go around than to go inside your house.”
“Why?” I growled.
Ritch flinched, but so subtly that only the narrowing of his eyes gave it away. He looked calm; his breaths slow and even, his shoulders rounded and chin tucked slightly to one side to expose his neck. He didn’t meet my eyes, keeping his gaze on my face but not going higher than my mouth.
As soon as I got a good whiff of him, I knew it was all a facade. He wasn’t calm—he was terrified, like a prey animal facing his death.
“Back... home.” Ritch’s breath hitched, but he pushed through it. “We weren’t allowed in the alpha’s home. He said our scent offended him and punished us if we got too close.”
“Is that what you’re expecting me to do? Punish you?”
“You’re the alpha. I’m human werekin.” He said that like it explained everything. I looked past him to Park who looked on with a grim expression.
“That is not how things work in this streak. You are a stranger, however, and will not stray from your guard.” I looked beyond him to Park who gave a single nod.
“I understand, Alpha.” Ritch bared his neck. “I apologize again.”
“Why did you rush over here?” I backed away from Ritch and forced my claws to retract, but stayed between them and the front porch.
Park stepped up right behind Ritch, so close they nearly touched. “Because Ritch told me he had a cousin who bonded outside the streak—outside his animal soul—with a cheetah werekin. Even if they’d let her stay, cheetahs live solitary spread out across their territories. So they left his tiger streak almost three years ago.”
Clamping down on my reactions, I tried to remain impassive. “And?”
“And his cousin left the streak but kept sending him messages. Ritch helped them find a good place to hide from their alpha and put the money down on property with a trailer for him.”
Ritch took up the tale. “Danny was gone about six months and then the letters and texts stopped. Our grandpa sold a patent a long time ago and left us money in trust—that was how I paid for their new place—but he hasn’t touched it. I have no family in the herd, and only my tie to a tiger streak kept me valuable enough to protect. As soon as he disappeared, I was fair game. The alpha let his third-in-command claim me, thinking that would give them access to the trust. But Grandpa was smarter than that. Without both of our signatures, or one of us and a death certificate, the bank won’t release the funds.”
“You’ve been blooded? How can you stand to be apart from your mate?” I’d be curled up into a ball. I could barely stand the distance between me and Kraig right then.
“Claimed, not blooded,” Ritch said bitterly. The acrid stench of hate filled the air. “Human werekin are never blooded. We’re nothing more than slaves to your kind, allowed to interact with the humans to protect werekin secrets, but we don’t really fit in with them either. If it wasn’t for the fact that the humans would put us in a cage just as fast as they did you, most of us would probably reveal werekin existence. It could hardly make our lives worse.”
“We don’t do that here,” I said. “When I was growing up my dad’s second cousin was a go between and helped us expand our territory. My uncle is a human werekin and a professor; he doesn’t even live with the streak. He helps us because we’re family and he wants to.” Well, he rarely wanted to, and he did complain the whole time about how it was beneath his dignity as a PhD to pay bills and the like we could only do in person, but he still did it. I wasn’t going to mention that, though.
“That’s what I heard when I was wandering, and why I came here.” Ritch broke his facade and clenched his hands together. “I also heard....”
“There’s a doctor. He used to work at a hospital in the town. He knew about werekin, so he’d treat us. My cousin took me to him to get my arm set the last time I’d been beaten, and he took blood from both of us but didn’t say why. The doctor took more from me, but he disappeared right after my cousin did. My”—he grimaced—“the guy who claimed me was talking to the alpha once about him and I overheard them say—”
I roared. My voice was no better than a snarl as I said, “Are you telling me your alpha and the man he sold you to were in league with the doctor who harmed Kraig?”
Ritch cringed back, but Park didn’t move. Park squeezed his shoulder gently. I backed off immediately, but Ritch was still shaking. “No! They were suspicious of the doctor and some of the tests he was doing. Apparently he showed too much interest in us human werekin.”
“What herd did you come from; who is the alpha of your cousin’s streak?”
At that question, Ritch clamped his jaw shut. He stared at the ground and didn’t answer me, but I could smell the terror rolling off him again.
“I don’t plan to tell them you’re here. I’m assuming you ran away.”He nodded. “I tracked the doctor here, but I know time isn’t on my side. He has something to do with Danny’s disappearance; I’m sure of it. I have to find him,” Ritch said desperately.
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