Writers note: This is a deeply...
Writers note: This is a deeply personal story for me, as many aspects of it touch on real events in my life. Keep in mind that there is no sexual scene in this first part. That will come later, as relationships deepen ;) I hope you all enjoy and of course any comments or ideas of improvement are welcome and, rumor has it, makes you totally awesome.
"Sure gets cold around here", He thought. It was five a.m. and the morning sunlight was still a weak glow struggling over the distant mountains, keeping the street in dark silence. Hugging his jacket closer, Shadow sat on the bench near the bus stop and wondered why he was even out here. What was the point? He looked up briefly at the few twinkling stars left in the sky. His breath billowed out past his muzzle as he sighed, it's not like he had anything better to do with his time anyway. "Hope the bus isn't late again today" not that he particularly cared about his classes; he simply didn't want to sit out in the cold any more than he had to.
His ears twitched as he heard the sound of an approaching figure. "Great." He thought, and tried hunker down on the bench even more. The new arrival sat down next to Shadow, saying nothing. As the minutes ticked by, a few birds began piping as the light slowly increased. Shadows irritation grew, wishing the guy would just get it over with.
After an infuriating amount of time, "I think this is the coldest day we've had so far, huh?" he said. "Mm" Shadow replied as perfunctory as possible. "So, uh..does it get as cold as this where you're from?" Shadow mentally groaned at the question. Why did this idiot seek every morning to pull him into these pointless conversations? Shadow gave him a quick glance, the white furred wolf sat there with his usual dumb, yet hopeful grin and misty green eyes. "Nope" Shadow said, a little of his impatience in his tone. "Oh, uh...well..." the wolf began, but Shadow was spared further torture as the bus finally turned the corner and approached the stop.
He got up immediately and gratefully walked toward it as the bus stopped and the doors hissed open. Taking a seat near the front, Shadow noticed the unwanted conversationalist sit a few seats back on the opposite side. Sighing in annoyance, Shadow gazed out the window and dismissed the other wolf from his mind. He settled back, it was almost a two hour drive to the college campus from where he lived; the small apartment in the middle of nowhere had been the closest lodging he could afford.
As he watched the mid-October landscape roll past, he began to relax his breathing and focus his mind as he had trained himself to do all these years. Shadow didn't want people to talk to him, didn't want the insignificant trappings and rituals of society. He didn't have time for such stupidity, time for such pointless behavior; time for...much anything really.
He was dying.
A few years ago, when he was 17, he started having strange symptoms: random nausea, weakness, followed a few months later by minor convulsions combined with intense waves of pain sometimes resulting in him blacking out completely. The doctors were somewhat at a loss. After so many tests, the best they had was that it might be some kind of cancer or genetic defect in his family. They couldn't seem to pin down the source of his symptoms, so he was put on a daily regimen of medication to help prevent the attacks.
He was 24 now, and after his last visit to the hospital a few weeks ago it was apparent his internal systems were beginning to suffer and break down. He was given an estimate of seven or ten years left in his life.
Again he wondered why he should bother continuing with college. It wasn't as if it mattered anymore what career path he took in his pathetically short life. He focused on his reflection in the window, his jet black fur was beginning to look a little matted. How long had it been since he seriously groomed himself? He couldn't be sure. The deep amber eyes looking back at him seemed dull. He'd lost some weight too, since his appetite seem to lessen all the time.
"Might as well jump into a coffin right now, you sorry excuse for a wolf" he thought humorlessly. Looking to the left, Shadow saw the reflection of the chatty wolf, looking at him again. Seeing the shift, the other looked away quickly, awkwardly.
Troy. That was his name, Shadow remembered. What was his deal anyway? They had lived in the same apartment building for two years, then a couple of months ago he had started pestering Shadow constantly; asking him if he wanted to get a bite to eat or something, trying to start inane conversations like this morning. Shadow had rebuffed all his attempts at friendship, preferring his singular, dreary existence.
"Well, it is just us and some old people living in that small neighborhood away from anyone" Shadow mused, "maybe he's just incredibly bored". Still, it seemed some people just can't get a hint.
A small buzzing started emitting from his watch, interrupting his thoughts. Shadow reached into his grey and black backpack, rummaged a bit and pulled out a small tin labeled "TUES". Popping it open, he grabbed one of the pills inside and swallowed it quickly. Forcing all thoughts of his past and overly talkative neighbors from his mind, he decided to sleep the last forty minutes to the college.
A few hours later found Shadow leaving the west side campus building, his mood unimproved. He was just leaving an unpleasant meeting with the college counselor about his grades. A couple of fails, a D and some Cs. Shadow had stormed out once the moron had started insinuating he see a therapist to help him cope with his "little problem" as he kept referring to it. At this rate, he wouldn't have to make a decision; the college would just chuck him out anyway. What a wonderful world this was.
He stopped and leaned against one of the buildings marble pillars, brooding a bit. He rubbed his head, the beginning of a headache was forming between his eyes. He decided he would take a slow walk around the park adjacent to the campus and try to relax.
So he made his way through the bustling campus, doing his best to walk the emptiest paths, avoiding those who might be inclined to bother him until he reached the nondescript chain link fence that marked the boundaries of the park. He stepped through the gate and breathed a sigh of relief. Peace and quiet, just what he wanted.
Autumn was rolling through the park in a big way. Shadow was enjoying meandering through the quiet paths; the colors of the trees were bright and welcoming. The crisp air in his nose and on his tongue helped to calm his nerves. On days like this, he could almost feel like things were good again; that the last few years of his life were just a bad memory.
But then his watch started buzzing. Damn thing. He started reaching for his backpack when a cry caught his attention. It sounded as if it were just a short way off the path. He took a step and peered through some of the yellowing forest scrub. He looked down and saw the now empty ravine that this particular path followed. At the bottom, a small group was gathered. Was someone hurt? Suddenly, one of the group standing gave a laugh and delivered a short kick to someone on the ground. This didn't look good. Shadow sighed inwardly; he really wanted to just be on his way. He looked up and down the path; no one else was around though, so he started down towards them.
They all started when Shadow appeared next to them. "What do you want?" one of them asked suspiciously. Shadow sized up the one that had spoken; a tall, tawny cat with a fairly intimidating, muscular build. Glancing around Shadow saw two other similarly strong looking cats. "Nothing, I just thought someone might need some help" Shadow said, his eyes utterly disinterested. "Well get lost, we're just giving this-" the cat cut off as Shadows left hook hit him squarely in the jaw. At the same time, Shadows right leg snapped up between his legs. Hard. The cat gave a tiny, breathless squeal and crumpled to the ground. Shadow pivoted on his left leg and connected a straight kick to the stomach of the other cat standing nearest him, which sent the calico feline stumbling and retching into the bushes. Shadow glanced at the third, grey fur speckled with white. The cat raised its paws and began backing up. Shadow looked down at who they had been bullying and reached out his paw to help him up, "C'mon" he said. Dirt streaked and teary eyed, a familiar face gazed back up at him.
It was Troy.
Troy blinked and hesitated. "C'mon" Shadow said again, "I surprised those guys, but I think once they recover they'll want to pummel both of us within an inch of our lives." Troy nodded and took Shadows paw to help himself up. Although they made a fast pace out and away from the park, Shadow didn't want to risk waiting for the bus. So he pulled out his cell and called ahead for a taxi to meet them at the edge of the campus parking lot.
"205th and Rawlins, please" Shadow said as they got into the cab. "Are you kidding? That's pretty much the edge of town!" the driver exclaimed. "Just do it" Shadow muttered, "and I don't mind speeding. There's a tip if you can get us there under an hour."
Silence filled the cab for most of the way. Troy simply stared forward, frowning with his ears down. Meanwhile, Shadow looked out the window, concerned about the small twinges he was feeling in his jaws and between his shoulders. In all the excitement, he had forgotten to take his medication on time. He had taken his next dose immediately as his watched buzzed on the ride home, but it seemed the damage was already done. He would be paying dearly for his good deed today.
"Um....thanks. For helping me" Troy said finally, breaking the silence. "Whatever. I just can't stand bullies like them." Shadow replied. He didn't really want to talk, but it helped distract him from the slight nausea he had growing.
"You, uh...must think I'm pretty weak, huh? Seeing me like that..." Troy mumbled, looking down at the cab floor. Shadow didn't bother looking over at him.
After a few minutes Shadow finally replied "three on one isn't weak. Most anyone would lose to those odds, no matter how good they were." Still looking down, Troy said "Yeah, I guess so" his voice perking up slightly.
"So, uh..." Troy cleared his throat, "where did you learn moves like that back there?"
"Great, now I'll never be rid of him." Shadow growled mentally. He gave the question a dismissive grunt, "I used to compete in martial arts a long time ago. I haven't practiced in years." He added softly, "it's not important anymore."
Troy smiled; admiration evident in his features "well, I think it's pretty cool." Shadow said nothing, continuing to stare out the cab window.
As the taxi neared the gravel turn off that led to their out of the way apartments, Shadow told the driver to stop, that they'd walk the rest of the way. The fare was nearly forty dollars and since the driver had gotten them there in just about forty-three minutes, Shadow handed him an extra twenty. The driver growled saying that he could have made three times this staying closer in town. Shadow told him to shove it up his tail hole, that this was most of the money he had. It was a short walk down the gravel road that led to the small collection of houses and the short, squat building that made up their apartments. As Shadow walked toward his door on the first floor of the building, Troy stopped him with a light touch.
"Uh, Shadow? Do you think I could....maybe...crash at your place tonight?"
Shadow turned to him, "What?" his tone completely flat. The twinges in his neck were becoming rather acute.
"Please?" Troy continued, "what if those guys know where I live or something? They might show up and...you know, break in." Shadow was about to point out how baseless and stupid the fear of those losers coming all the way out here was, but he noticed the poorly concealed panic behind those eyes; the belief that they might actually show up. "Fine" he snapped, "Come in."
Shadow quickly closed the door behind them and gave Troy some brusque directions. "Bathroom's there, kitchen's there, you can sleep on that couch there. There's a blanket on it." He walked quickly past the main room and opened a door at the end of a short hallway, "this is my room, where I'll be for the night. Don't bother me." And with that, he stepped in and slammed the door behind him. Shadow immediately went to his bed and tried to relax, preparing for what was to come.
It started like it always did, with his jaw muscles. The short spasms causing his mouth to open and close rapidly. His breath started coming in short hard pants as a small tremor rolled from the base of his neck all the way down his body. This didn't feel like a really strong attack, but it would be bad enough. After a few more moments of mild shaking, the pain came crashing in. It erupted in the small of his back and radiated out, causing all of his limbs to go rigid and pinning him in place as if he'd been hit by a thrown spear. His muzzle opened as wide as it could and he would've howled if the tightness in his chest hadn't been trapping all his breath. His back began to arch higher and higher, legs kicking out occasionally. Then, all at once, it was over. His body went limp and he was finally able to breathe again. He gulped great gasps of air and lay on the bed, muscles still quivering with remembered pain. As usual after an attack, he drooled profusely. Thick, foamy strands of spittle were all over his face and dotted his pillows. He was an exhausted mess. Shadow was attempting to haul himself up so he could begin cleaning when Troy opened the door.
"Hey Shadow, I know you're busy in here but it's only seven and I thought maybe we could-" Troy stopped. Shadow could see him take stock of the scene before him. His still trembling body, the drool, and at some point he must've kicked over his desk lamp onto the floor. At least he hadn't pissed himself, which just would've been the greatest. "Get...out.....now..." Shadow said, still breathing heavily. "S..Sorry!" Troy yelped and rushed back out, closing the door behind him. Wonderful.
He cleaned up using a wash rag and a large bottle of water he kept in his room for situations like this. He changed the coverings on his pillows and changed his clothes. Then he just sat on the edge of his bed for a long while. His watch buzzed eventually and he took the last pill from the container in his backpack. He wasn't hungry, but he knew he needed to eat something after episodes like this. That meant going out to the kitchen. Seeing Troy. Damn.
Growling softly, he got up and opened the door. Out in the main room, he saw Troy lying down on the couch. Good, maybe he was asleep. Walking quietly into the kitchen, he opened the cupboard and grabbed himself an energy bar. Turning around, he saw Troy sitting up and looking at him.
"You okay?" He asked.
"Yeah." Was all Shadow said in reply as he sat at the tiny kitchen table and munched his food.
The silence in the room was heavy. "Does that happen often?" Troy asked.
"No, not often. But enough" Shadow said. He suddenly felt a small yearning to talk to Troy, tell him everything. Maybe the counselor was right about that therapist? Shadow shook his head in disgust.
"It's not a big deal." Shadow said as he got a cup out and some juice from the fridge. Troy got up and walked to the kitchen, so Shadow got another cup and poured some for him as well. They sat and drank for a few silent minutes. At last, Troy said "is it the reason why you never want to talk to me or anyone?" Shadow kept his gaze on the table.
"That's part of it, I guess." He said and began getting up to leave. Then, unexpectedly, Troy reached and put his paw on top of one of Shadows resting on the table. It was a very strange thing to do. Shadow glanced down at it quizzically. "What..?" He began, but Troy continued. "You're always by yourself. Always. And I've never once seen you smile in the two years you've been here, even your tail is limp most of the time." Troys words came out in a rush, as if he was trying to get them all out before something stopped him.
Shadow couldn't stop looking down at their paws. That touch, it felt....how long had it been since someone had touched him so familiarly? Maybe when he was ten or eleven... his mother..."It's nothing, really. I...I just...uh.." for the first time in his life, Shadow felt at a loss for words.
"It's not nothing!" Troy said vehemently, "You're miserable!" He put a little more pressure on Shadows paw. Something was growing in Shadows chest, like a slow engine gathering speed. A slight burning sensation began creeping up his face. "Look Shadow, I know this is kind of weird to say, and I don't know everything that's going on, but I would really like to be your friend. And personally, I think you could use one!" Troy said and cocked his head to one side waiting a few moments for Shadow to reply. "So what do you say, huh? Friends?"
The feeling in Shadows chest was hammering now, beating like a second, more powerful heartbeat. The heat was in his eyes now, stinging. Then Shadow glanced up and was caught by those misty eyes. Then suddenly, embarrassingly, he was crying. Sobbing actually. Horrible, wracking things that contained all the hopelessness and despair he'd been feeling the last few weeks and filled the air of the apartment with his sorrow. Troy was next to him, holding him now. "Hey man, it's okay. It'll be alright." He said, which only made Shadow weep harder for a few more minutes.
It took a humiliatingly long time for Shadow to regain his composure. When he did, he extricated himself from Troy's embrace. Still looking down, he managed "O..Okay. Friends, then." Troy just smiled back at him.
End of Part 1