This is the third of four stories featuring Veniamin Kovalenko, the werebear detective I play in a Dresden Files RPG. After being shot during an investigation gone horrifically wrong, Veniamin goes to the only person he can think of to help. In this case, the assistance might burn a relationship he never had a chance to deepen. 2747 words.
“Who the fuck is this? Don’t you know what god-damned time it–oh, hey Veniamin.” The door swung open and Marian appeared, pulling her robe a little tighter around her. Behind her was light and warmth and safety, separated by a sturdy-looking metal and screen gate. “What are you doing–oh my God, you’re bleeding!”
Veniamin could do little more than nod. He had been shot before, but never on two legs and never with silver. The bullet wound had become its own miniature sun of pain, with coronas that spread over the whole right side of his torso and huge flares that twisted his stomach into his throat. He had thrown up three times on the way to Marian’s townhouse; now he was down to consistent dry-heaving.
She unlocked the gate and he stumbled backwards to let her open it. The world pitched whenever he moved. It was hard for him to keep his feet. Just standing upright took an increasing amount of effort. He just wanted to burrow under a nest of blankets, rest his head, and sleep.
Instead, Marian grabbed his left arm and shepherded him into the house. He winced as she pulled, that slight pressure sending a new, nauseating wave of pain through his body. Veniamin had no idea it would hurt this much. The pain had gone beyond pain and into something else — he could feel the effects of the silver spreading through him, slowing everything down, making him sweat and shivering cold. When he could open his eyes, he could barely see anything. There were just lines and light and color. His brain couldn’t make much sense of it.
He felt himself being pulled through Marian’s apartment and set down in the kitchen. Just being off his feet was a tremendous relief; he allowed himself to sag into the chair, the weight of his arm pulling on his wound. It felt awful, but at least he wasn’t standing. His head cleared a little. His vision stopped throbbing. He could take a deep breath and look around.
The kitchen was cozy, but small. The counter space was filled with appliances — expensive-looking coffee makers, a blender, a toaster, a microwave. The walls were almost covered with posters and papers; the clearest part was a corkboard divided into three sections for Marian and her two roommates. Chores and schedules were listed there. Veniamin tried to sniff the place out, but all he could smell was his own sweat and fear and blood. That bullet had to come out.
Marian returned carrying her cell phone, glancing at Veniamin. “Hello, I need the police and an ambulance here at…”
Without thinking, Veniamin’s hand shot out and gripped her arm. When she looked at him, he shook his head silently and mouthed “No police.” He knew how frightening that would be, but it frightened him more for the cops to have a bead on him.
Marian stared at him for a long time. He had no idea what she was thinking; he couldn’t smell her, and that factored more heavily into his reading of people than he realized. After a moment, she looked down at her phone. “I’m sorry. I think I made a mistake. … No, no, everything’s fine. Sorry about that. … OK, yes, I will. Thank you.” Then she hung up.
“I need a pair of tweezers, a pair of scissors, some gauze and some Scotch.” Veniamin’s voice was little more than a hoarse whisper.
Marian flew into action, disappearing down the hall. He could hear her shuffling in another room. “So are you going to tell me what happened? Why you don’t want me to call the police?”
Veniamin quickly thought about how much he should tell her. Could he trust her with information? He shook that idea out of his mind — he was encroaching on her personal space and bleeding all over her floor. If he couldn’t trust her with the reason why that was happening, he shouldn’t be here in the first place.
“I’m a private investigator. Was following someone who didn’t want to be followed.” Veniamin slumped a little further into his seat. He felt weak.
“So they shot you? That’s…that’s illegal! Do you know who did it? You should get the police involved.” Marian’s voice floated into the kitchen from the hallway, from her bathroom, from a closet.
“It was a policeman who shot me.” Veniamin forced himself to speak louder, and was surprised to hear Marian gasp right next to him. He startled in his seat, and a bolt of pain lanced from his shoulder to his chest and arm.
She set a pack of cotton balls down on the table, along with a bottle of rubbing alcohol, a spool of gauze, some tweezers, some scissors. She stepped back. “A policeman shot you? Were you…somewhere you shouldn’t be?”
Veniamin noticed the apprehension that had crept into her voice. He shook his head as he reached for the scissors. “No. This was on the street, several blocks away. The person I’m following is being protected by the police for some reason. I don’t know who I can trust there.”
Marian stepped in when she saw Veniamin trying awkwardly to cut his shirt. She took the scissors from him, laid a hand gently on the back of the chair, and cut away the fabric as carefully as she could. “That’s pretty crazy, Venya. I’m not saying I don’t believe you, but this sounds too much like a movie.”
Veniamin took a deep breath, and nodded when enough of the wound site was clear. “Trust me, I know how it sounds, and I’m not happy about it either. I’m gonna need that scotch now.”
Marian nodded and got the whiskey with two tumblers. Veniamin glanced at the bottle, saw that it was Crown Royal, and said nothing. It would get the job done, and that’s all he needed. “So what are you going to do? If you can’t go to the police, where can you go?”
“I’m still figuring that part out.” He took the tumbler in his good hand when it was offered, drained the whiskey, handed it back. Marian poured another few fingers immediately and shot it back to him. This time, he sipped. “Right now, I just need to get this bullet out of me and heal up a bit.”
Marian had gotten herself a drink too, her face scrunching up as the Crown burned down her throat. “You should at least get to a doctor. That looks like a really nasty wound. I…never saw something get infected that fast.”
Veniamin followed her eyes to his shoulder, a little unnerved by her expression. The blood around the open wound had turned black and sticky, and clear veins snaked from it in an inky spiderweb. He winced at it. The silver was in his bloodstream. That would explain why it felt like he was dying; he probably was.
“Yeah, it needs to come out right now.” He drained the rest of his tumbler and gave it back to Marian, curling his fingers a bit. “I’m going to need those tweezers.”
Marian gave him a doubtful look, but passed them on. “Are you at least going to go to the doctor for the infection? You’ve lost a lot of blood, and what’s left probably isn’t doing you much good.”
Veniamin gave a curt shake of his head. The whiskey was working, but not fast enough. This was going to hurt, and he needed to be ready for it. “Nah, I’ll be fine. Nothing that a good night’s sleep won’t cure.”
Marian snorted. “You really went all in on this bull-headed detective stuff, didn’t you?”
Veniamin chuckled to himself. He poked at the side of the wound with the tweezers, winced as he felt the bullet lodged within his flesh find a new part of it to sear. “Wouldn’t you? Most of it’s pretty boring. Watching people. Taking notes. Filling out paperwork. It’s not every day you get to act like a bad ass in a pretty girl’s kitchen.”
He regretted it as soon as he said it. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Marian; he had to concentrate on getting this thing out of him, and he didn’t want to know just how offended she looked. Hopefully, she would chalk it up to the quarter-bottle of whiskey he just downed and the fact that he was light-headed and poisoned.
“Mmm. Well,” she said, her voice sounding distant, guarded. “I guess that’s true. Well, you milk that, Sam Spade, and I’ll help out where I can. Got some lines to feed me?”
Veniamin felt what little blood he had left rush to his face. “I think you’re plenty clever enough to come up with some quips all on your own. I might pass out for this next part. Think you can take the tweezers out if I lose consciousness?”
He heard her say, “Sure.” He pushed the tweezers in and fished for the lump of metal nestled somewhere between muscle and bone. Veniamin gritted his teeth against the astonishing pain that blossomed there, rushing through his body in a wave that made him feel like he was floating outside of his body, watching all of this happen. Then came the heat that stole his breath. He couldn’t see what he was doing through the tears.
He felt it though. The pain was exponentially worse when he bumped it with his tweezers, and he forced himself to push towards it. His vision dimmed. He felt himself clasp the rounded bullet, paused to make sure he had a good grip, and slid it out as straight and as quick as he could.
Veniamin had just enough strength to toss the tweezers, blood and all, onto Marian’s kitchen table. He panted in a cold sweat. It took him nearly a minute for the room to stop spinning, to hear Marian’s voice over the beating of his heart inside his ears.
His head was shifting from side to side. It took him another minute to realize she was slapping his cheeks.
“Venya? Venya…wake up! If you don’t answer me right now I’m calling an ambulance!” Marian’s voice carried a mixture of firmness and panic. When he came to his senses, he felt them brighten a little. The world seemed brighter. He could smell…so much. Blood and sweat and fear and disease, Marian’s clothes and the deodorant she used.
He took a deep breath and lifted his head. It felt like a small triumph to look her in the eye. “I’m up. I’m up.”
She relaxed. “Good. I don’t know what I would have told the paramedics if I had to call them.”
He smiled, shook his head. “Yeah, that would have been awkward. Sorry. And thanks. For being here.”
She thumped back into her chair. “You’re welcome, I guess. So…what now? You’re in no condition to go anywhere except a hospital.”
Veniamin looked down at himself. She was right. His shirt was cut into tatters, his suit was a bloody ruin, and he wasn’t going to be able to make himself get out of this chair. He closed his eyes, tried to avoid the only option he had left until he knew he couldn’t any more.
“Yeah…do you have a room somewhere in the house that I could use privately for the rest of the night? I know it’s asking a lot, and I wouldn’t if I didn’t need to.” Veniamin took a few deep breaths, steadying himself. The blood loss and alcohol were beginning to catch up with him.
“Uhm….not really. Why?” Marian looked at him, then glanced at the bullet he pulled from his shoulder. It gleamed in the light of the kitchen more than it should have. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but grabbed the cotton swabs and gauze instead.
Veniamin’s head buzzed. He knew he shouldn’t, but he did. “That’s a silver bullet, you know.”
Marian nodded as she knelt next to his chair and poured alcohol into a handful of cotton balls. “Yeah, I thought it looked weird. You’re not a werewolf, are you?”
She grinned up at him. She had obviously meant it as a joke. He smiled back at her, his heart hammering inside of his chest. “No.”
“Good, because that’s the last surprise I needed tonight–”
“I’m a werebear.”
Marian shot him a look right as she pushed the cotton over Veniamin’s wound. He cried out and she pulled back, standing up. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK,” he said, clutching his shoulder hard enough she had to know it was very much not OK. “I just…I need somewhere to go, where I can be naked and I won’t be seen. I promise nothing bad will happen, and you won’t ever have to see me again if you don’t want to.”
“Veniamin…look, I know you said you didn’t want the paramedics involved, but you’re burning up and that wound looks bad, and you’re…you’re not making any sense. I’m going to call–”
Veniamin sighed and quickly kicked off his shoes. He thought about the shift, and it happened. He could feel his hair multiplying, bristling into fur. He could feel his body changing its shape, stretching and then simply breaking his clothes. He could feel the power of his birthright coursing through him, reversing the poison working through his system. He stood up to save the chair, sending it on its back in the small kitchen. His head rose to meet the lights, and then the ceiling. He got down to all fours.
Marian screamed. Veniamin’s ears flicked as the last of his changes completed. It was a relief to be in this shape, that felt so much more natural than the other one. But the kitchen was too small, and he was blocking the only Marian’s only exit. He had to calm her down.
“It’s OK! Don’t scream,” he rumbled. His voice was different, harsher, clipped by the sharp teeth and heavy muzzle he had to work with. “I’m still Veniamin. I’ll heal faster this way.”
He pointed his nose towards her, but didn’t look her in the eye. Instinct told him that it would be viewed as a challenge, force her into a confrontation she didn’t want to have. Logic told him that was nonsense and he just felt bad for doing this to her. The scent of her fear overwhelmed everything else — the grease that had caked into the walls, the spices on the counter, all of the varieties of coffee that were ground and poured every day, all of the food in the cupboards. It was rolling from her in great waves, lapping at his nostrils in a way he could not ignore.
By now she was in a corner, hyperventilating, clutching her chest, eyes wide and staring. Small whimpers were coming from her throat. She might be in shock. He couldn’t say. He should put some distance between them.
“I’m going to go into your living room and try to shut the door. I’m just going to sleep for a while. Don’t call the police. Or animal services. Just be cool.” He slowly backed his way into the hallway. The floorboards creaked loudly under his step. “I’m sorry. I’ll be out of your hair by morning.”
She disappeared as he backed into the hallway, his flanks brushing either wall. He kept going slow until he felt the edge of the living room door, then backed into that. His enormous haunches thumped into an end table, her couch, her coffee table. He couldn’t help but nudge furniture aside to make room for himself.
Once he was in, he tried to pick at the sliding door with a claw. It took some doing, but he managed to shut himself away; as soon as the hallway was gone from view, he heard Marian silently running into the hall and up the stairs. A moment later, a door slammed above him.
Veniamin sunk to the floor with an ursine curse under his breath. He couldn’t believe he had done that. Now that the alcohol was leaving his system along with the infection, he knew immediately what a bone-headed move that was. What did he think would happen? How else could she have reacted?
He closed his eyes and rested his muzzle on his paws. Seconds later, he fell into a deep but troubled sleep.