Wolf loves nothing more than words. He’s well-practiced at disguising himself as a human and spending long afternoons in bookshops, in libraries, anywhere where he can find them. As long as Wolf is back in the forest by nightfall – no wolf can keep their human form under moonlight – no-one ever suspects a thing.
Kai is a poet.
Kai is from out of town. He is just barely grazing adulthood, with hair the colour of a day-old bruise and the eyes and limbs of a day-old fawn.
Kai can spin words like spider webs: beautiful even at a glance, but with a sparkle that’s unmissable in the right light. They explode out of his mouth like bullets from a gun, fast and frantic and absolutely able to kill anyone who gets too close. They trickle and skip like water over rocks, and Wolf swears he could float on the surface of them forever. They’re distant and cold, like the tops of the trees in the depths of winter.
Wolf loves them, all of them, more than anything else in the world.
It’s a dangerous infatuation, and he knows that. But when Wolf learns that Kai is performing soon in a café that he frequents, he knows he has to take the chance to hear them up close and in person, no matter what the risk.
He gets to the café an hour before Kai is due to perform, and it’s not long before Kai himself arrives. Up close, Kai is soft like bonfire smoke, his movements nervous and careful. It seems like no time before Kai is clearing his throat into a microphone that seems a little too loud for him, smiling and introducing himself, before he launches into his first poem.
Everything soft and quiet about him seems to melt away as the words erupt into the microphone, raw and electric, and Wolf’s chest feels just a little too tight, his heart pressing just a little too hard against his ribs.
He assumes that’s just from the poetry.
He hopes it’s just from the poetry.
The evening sails on, and Kai finishes just as the light outside is starting to fade. Wolf applauds with the watching crowd, and Kai flashes them that nervous, grateful smile that’s been making Wolf’s insides do things he’s not sure he recognises.
The crowd starts to disperse, and Wolf knows he has to move fast. He rolls his shoulders, absently ruffles his hair and runs a hand over the light layer of stubble on his chin, then takes a deep breath and steps towards Kai.
He quickly clears his throat and Kai looks up, smoke-soft and nervous again.
“Hello,” Kai says, a little uncertainly.
“I, uh,” Wolf says, and he looks at Kai’s freckled nose because for some reason he can’t look Kai in the eyes, “I just wanted to tell you that I think your poems are incredible.”
Kai smiles, bright and wide, and Wolf – oh, Wolf didn’t know his heart could do that.
“Thank you!” he says, straightening up. “That’s really great to hear. Thank you.”
“No, uh. Thank you. For doing … this,” Wolf replies. Kai laughs, breezy and bright, and Wolf can’t help but smile.
“What’s your name?” Kai asks.
Kai tilts his head. “Huh. Is that your real name?”
Wolf nods, and Kai smiles.
“That’s awesome. Are you around town much?”
“Yeah,” Wolf says, a little breathlessly. “Yeah, all the time.”
“Maybe I’ll see you around, then,” Kai says, and Wolf thinks maybe that’s a note of hope in his voice.
“I hope so,” Wolf replies.
Wolf just notices the lightest watercolour blush rise in Kai’s cheeks.
“Me too,” he says softly.
A week later, Wolf runs into Kai again in a bookstore. They sit and talk for hours. Kai even lets Wolf read some of his unfinished work, all restless hands and darting eyes until Wolf finishes reading and tells him he can’t wait until it’s done.
A few days later, Kai buys them coffee and they each bring their favourite books for the other to read. Somewhere in that golden haze of an afternoon, Kai’s hand creeps across the table and rests over Wolf’s, soft but sure.
The day after that, they meet in a park. They walk for a while, stop by a pond to watch the swans glide across the glassy surface of the water, and before Wolf has to go, Kai asks him to wait.
Then he stands on his toes and, eyes darting to Wolf’s mouth briefly, asks, “Can I kiss you?” and Wolf can hardly breathe out the word “yes” before Kai is leaning in, brushing soft kisses against Wolf’s mouth until Wolf’s not sure he still knows his own name.
Wolf doesn’t sleep that night. He barely even tries. He can’t think of anything but Kai, and how he has to see him again tomorrow, has to, because he thinks he might combust if he doesn’t.
That’s when he hears the thud and the crack outside, and the accompanying cry of pain.
He knows instantly that it’s Kai, and he runs, faster on four legs than two, out into the trees.
He finds Kai lying on the ground, whimpering quietly, his foot tangled in a tree root and sticking out at an angle that Wolf knows isn’t normal. He smells of piss and too much alcohol.
Wolf lets out a low bark, and Kai looks up sharply. Wolf isn’t sure if it’s the moonlight or the pain making Kai’s skin look so pale, but whatever colour might have been left drains instantly when Kai looks at him. Wolf’s stomach twists into knots of worry; he can’t become human in moonlight, even if he wants to.
Kai freezes, breathing heavily, his dark eyes huge. Wolf tries lowering himself a little, ears down, and inching towards Kai, offering soft whines and avoiding Kai’s eyes. Kai still tries to struggle, but he’s trapped, and the movement only wrenches more at his wounded leg. Wolf makes a wide arc around to the tree root, moving slowly, trying to ignore the desperate fear in Kai’s eyes.
I’m sorry, he thinks, hoping Kai understands, before he takes the injured leg and pulls it, hard, out from under the root. Kai cries out loudly, letting out small gasps of pain as Wolf crosses into his field of vision.
“Don’t kill me,” Kai pleads. “Please … please … don’t kill me.”
Wolf lets out a quiet sigh. He can’t leave Kai out here in the woods – there are creatures out here that won’t pass up a meal this easy. He takes the hood of Kai’s jacket and tug on it, trying to motion to him to get up, and thankfully, Kai now gets the hint. He grabs a fistful of Wolf’s fur and heaves himself onto his uninjured leg, and Wolf takes hold of Kai’s sleeve, leading him back to the safety of his den.
He is startled awake the next morning by Kai’s leg giving out as he tries to stand.
“Kai -!” he yelps, jumping to his feet. “Are you alright?”
Kai stares at him, frozen in place. There’s something more than fear in his expression, and Wolf frowns, nudging at his arm with his muzzle.
“What the fuck …?” Kai breathes. Wolf blinks, tipping his head – and then he realizes, with a sickening jolt, what’s wrong.
“Can you hear me?” he asks, and Kai pales, looking even more horrified than before.
“What is this?!”
“Kai – Kai, stay calm. You’re hurt,” Wolf pleads. “I know you’re scared, but I just –”
Then Kai lashes out, landing a punch on Wolf’s muzzle, and Wolf lets out a yelp, stumbling back.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!”
Kai is breathing heavily, and he looks like he’s gearing up for another punch. Wolf glances out to the entrance of the den, and sees the sun has finally risen.
“Wait here,” he says, stepping outside and shifting soundlessly into his human form. Kai just stares, starting to tremble.
“This isn’t how I wanted you to find out,” Wolf says quietly. “I’m sorry.”
Kai is silent for a long time.
“You’re …” he eventually says.
“A wolf,” Wolf supplies. “Yes.”
“… This is so fucked up.”
“No – Kai, please –”
“We – we kissed! You – I – I thought –”
Kai stops, takes a deep breath. Wolf reaches towards him, and Kai shoves his hand away hard.
“This is so wrong.”
“Kai,” Wolf says desperately. “Kai, please don’t leave.”
“I have to go home,” Kai says. “We can’t – I can’t do this.”
“Because you’re a wolf!” Kai cries. “You’re a literal wolf! I just – what the fuck?!”
“I love you,” Wolf says.
The words fall like rocks, drowning in the silence that follows. Kai shakily gets to his feet.
“I need to go,” he says.
“Don’t – your leg –”
“I don’t care.”
They stare at each other, and Kai doesn’t look so delicate now, even leaning against the den wall and favouring his uninjured leg.
“Take me back to town,” Kai tells him, low and dangerous, “and then I never want to see you again.”
Wolf complies, because he doesn’t know what else to do.
Wolf tries going back to town again after a few days, but he can’t find Kai.
He asks around, and they tell him that Kai isn’t here anymore, that he’s moved away, didn’t he tell you?
They might as well have filled his stomach with rocks and stitched him back up.
That evening, when the moon rises, he sheds his human skin for the last time.
Words can wait. They always have.
Word Count: 1,608