Actions

Work Header

As you were

Chapter Text

Poimin poimin marjoja
Ei tääl' ole susia
Varokaamme kuitenkin
PÖÖ!

Picking picking berries
There be no wolves here
But let us be careful
BOO!

(Finnish nursery rhyme.)

I had been going for a run in the woods in the dark of the night quite often. To me, there was nothing ominous about frolicking through the foliage in an endorphin rush. It had other benefits as well: I was free to be myself without causing shock and civil disarray.

Although no clothes are involved, I am not technically talking about streaking. I have this hereditary condition called lycantropy. That is, I can turn into this big black mutt with coarse fur, and it runs in the family. The general colouring does, at least. My kind are also known as werewolves, although I have to admit that after the invention of indoor heating, grocery stores and the welfare state, we remain about as feral as your average schnauzer.

My blood is rather diluted towards mundanity, so it was not at all clear I would manifest these canine capabilities when I was small. Despite the statistical odds, things eventually turned hairy for me. At that point, my form-challenged family decided to send me abroad to live with relatives who had a bit more first-hand experience on how to deal with a teenagers who pay their own dog tax and rebel against going out in a leash within urban areas.

That was how I landed in Minnesota a few years ago, to live among a Finnish-American werewolf community. They taught me not to lick my crotch in public and to hide a key somewhere before changing so I could get back into the house afterwards. A few months back, I was finally old enough to go out and find my own place in the world. After a few twists and turns, I ended up here, in Louisiana, where the swamps are somewhat more lively than back home, and the heat is enough to melt my poor brain in the summer.

Suffice it to say that I feel somewhat of a foreigner in a foreign land. But when I go on a little nocturnal run, it all flows away, and I am one with my surroundings once again.

On one of my tours of the countryside, I discovered that sometimes problems could not be outrun, but rather run into.

A man was lying under a tree. He was not moving. Was he dead? There are few things that beat discovering a corpse in the woods on the nastiness scale. I got closer and found out that his breathing was shallow, but still there. He was covered in blood and mud, and looked like more fluid of either sort was freshly oozing from his midsection.

It was not my night. Finding a half-dead man in the woods, when you are in the middle of having your not-being-human moment, is one of those few things that are even worse than finding a corpse. I had taken a first-aid course, but mostly the instructors assumed that you did not get into these situations while running around without any equipment whatsoever.

It was hard to see what had hit him exactly. I knew that unless alligators had started swinging through trees, I was probably the most dangerous wild animal in the forest. This could be an elaborate mugging... but I also knew a particularly nasty predator that was known to prowl in the area and specialized in graphic, nonsensical violence: a vampire.

I shifted back to human form and started to grope the mercifully unconscious man's pockets frantically in the hopes of finding anything more useful than his mud-soaked and torn garments.

Hallelujah! A working phone in his inner jacket pocket! Man's true best friend!

Now, before someone makes any snide remarks about the abnormality of a Finn leaving the house without a mobile phone, please recall that the only places I could have even theoretically carried anything on me while on the run would have been both uncomfortable and too moist for regular electronics. And I do not really change for these occasions just so I could slide into a form-fitted (pun intended) utility harness complete with a reflector-striped bow tie and a jingly bell. There is a difference between non-feral and lame, after all.

Defensive narrative digressions aside, I of course wasted no time in dialling for help. The staff at the emergency response centre sent a paramedic unit in our general direction, and I started to look for ways to alleviate the dismal state of the gory disaster area before me.

After the initial rush of adrenaline had worn off, I realized that I was applying first aid on a strange man while in the buff and rather deep in the forest. I knew that paramedics generally dealt with more than their fair share of strange situations, but this might be tough to reasonably explain even to them.

So, I quietly begged for the injured man's forgiveness, and started to add some embellishment to my reports on the state of affairs passed to the emergency response centre. From truthful emphasis like "this guy looks like he's been attacked for no apparent reason" via exaggerated fears like "What if whoever did this is still around here somewhere?" to little white lies like "I think I heard something!"

By the time the paramedics were reported to be closing in on us, I finally squealed an "Oh my god, I'm sure I heard someone! I have to go!" and fled the scene barely before help arrived. I left the phone with the man; it was his, after all, and I was freezing badly enough that I wanted to get back into a fur coat of my own.

On my way home, I ruminated on what I had just seen. There were some of what appeared to be knife cuts on the man, and no obvious bite marks that I could see in the dark. So, if my theory was correct, it was not just a vampire attack, it was a vampire attack that was supposed to remain undiscovered.

I sighed as I realized I would have to go make sure the local police could deal with supernatural culprits at least on a theoretical level. Which meant leaving them with my contact information and all that. Oh well.

-ooo-

I had barely gotten a few hours of sleep when I was suddenly jolted awake by some vigorous knocking on my door. Who could it be at this hour? I hooked the chain and opened the door to peek out.

A dark and brooding stranger stood on my doorstep. For a moment I wondered if he had some Irish blood in him, what with the dark hair and pale skin, but then I realized there was a different kind of blood altogether that gave you a chronic pallor and a tendency to come knocking on people's doors at night.

I quickly averted my gaze. It would not do to look a vampire in the eye; they can do all kinds of mind trickery to you if you are not careful. It also struck me that he was probably the murderer, here to get rid of the only eyewitness. And that he would not be able to crash through the door if that old rumour about vampires needing to be invited in held true. So I did what any sensible person would do when faced with a similar situation.

I promptly slammed the door to his face.

Gaining some additional courage from not standing face-to-face to the killer, I instructed him through the door to kindly vacate the premises or I would call the police on his scrawny undead tail. In slightly more colourful language, perhaps, but that was merely because I was somewhat distraught by the whole situation.

I then went to continue my disturbed sleep. Restoring the Sandman's favours was surprisingly easy, all things considered. I simply had the good fortune of being rather tired.

-ooo-

When I woke up, the sun was up already. It made me feel a lot better, even chipper. I was ready to head over to the hospital to check up on the poor guy and talk to the police. I stored a piece of silver cutlery into my pocket and wore a thin silver necklace just in case.

The interesting thing about silver is that it seems the amount is not so important: the thinnest silver chain burns about as effectively and as prolongedly as a brick of the thing installed into a vampire's gut. It would seem to act more like a catalyst than anything burning up in a chemical reaction with... whatever it is that vampires have on them that reacts with silver so flamboyantly. I idly wondered if my nano-silver antibacterial sports socks would burn the same way, or if the stuff lost its power to kill undead as it gained the funky new capability to kill very small living things. Maybe yet another form of silver would make the rest of us burn?

Cheerily morbid thoughts were coursing through my head as I headed over to the hospital.

Once there, I learned that the poor man had not survived the night. It was not particularly surprising, given the state he was in when I found him, but a bit of a downer nevertheless. I figured this just meant it was an even better idea for me to go have a chat with the police, so that I would take away half the benefit of the murderer getting to me later on.

Only apparently the whole town had only a handful of policemen, and they were all out for the day, so I could not give my statement after all. I left my contact information and was promised they would give me a call and even come by later when they found the time. My social duties morally satisfied, I headed back home.

I was digging for keys at my own doorstep when I realized I was not alone.

Unfortunately for me, this realization came from being lifted off my feet from behind, and my arms twisted back. I was groping for my silver weaponry when I realized that it was day; the guy should be in flames from just showing his face out of his private grave, let alone assaulting people.

As my face was introduced to the porch wall, I squirmed and tried to free an arm, only to have it twisted more painfully back. A smooth, if somewhat strained voice spoke in my ear: "You can come quietly, or I can break your arms first and /then/ haul you in for questioning, you blasted mutt."

My mind reeled. He knew about my lycantropy, and spoke about... questioning? The police could not have come here so fast; what was this guy all about? I grit out a prompt through my spatially constrained jaws. "Questioning? You're not here to off me as the eyewitness to your botched kill?"

He snorted at this, perhaps amusedly. "I wish! I'd be done and miles from here already. No, the sheriff wants you, so my job is to haul your elusive ass over to Fangtasia."

Fangtasia? The strange term gave me two reasons to be grateful: first, that I was wearing a turtle-necked sweater, and second, that I would probably stop inventing names for haunts by the time my imagination and sense of style died with the rest of me. What can I say? I complied, because as plots went, this was so insane that it had to be true.

As my captor drove us towards the fabled lair of the local vampire sheriff, I tried very hard not to imagine the man in charge of the blood-sucking populace in the district as a fanged Mickey Mouse in oversized robes and a pointy hat. For most of the trip, I failed miserably.

-ooo-

We parked outside Fangtasia after an uneventful car ride, during which I confirmed to myself that my forceful delivery guy was unlikely to be undead. He was quite brawny, but not unnaturally so. Were it not for the name of our target location, I could have even entertained the theoretical thought that this journey had nothing to do with vampires.

Mr. Anonymous Beef directed me in cordially, now that I was not prone to go running anywhere. It was early in the evening, so the place was quiet for the most part; I was still quite happy that I had a local of some sort as escort. I would not like to end up on some regular's menu over a misunderstanding.

In the back of the large room, there was an outrageous dais set up. On it lounged a blonde, blue-eyed hunk who had to be either running the show or totally out of his godforsaken mind. Judging by his appearance, he might have been Scandinavian in a previous life. Or the hair could be dyed; actually, it probably was. I never understood what it was that people saw in blonde hair, except a possibility to benefit from someone assumed to be on the level of a child on more characteristics than just their colouring.

Not that I would strictly be opposed to taking advantage of some more lively guy with this alpha hound's looks.

My musings were interrupted - mercifully - by a striking blonde in a tight leather outfit showing up to address my official handler. I figured she would be taking our order for carbonated blood mixed with pure alcohol, but instead, Beef told her to go inform the sheriff we had arrived.

The waitress smiled at me as if I were dinner, then strolled over to the dais to speak in a low voice to the undead Viking. That confirmed with reasonably high probability that he was the sheriff, too, but I was still not entirely confident about him not being off his rocker.

I perked my ears a bit at some familiar sounds, and realized through the relative quiet of the room that the two were speaking Swedish. Swedish? Of all things? Why, gods, why? Finns and Swedes get along about as well as cats and dogs. And these cats were of the cranky cougars with superpowers variety.

I let out a small noise of disbelief, which prompted a wicked grin from my designated hauler. "Nervous?"

I hid my growing unease behind a chuckle. "Why, I was just pondering how splendidly we'll get along."

He let out a highly disturbing, spontaneous cackle. "Good luck with that! Eric Northman is known to positively loathe werewolves."

Great. Just great.

Chapter Text

Some gestures were made and Mr. Beef escorted me to the dais. I was still digesting the news that the bloodthirsty local pack leader was not just disturbingly interested in me for some reason or another, but also very potentially hated my guts. I estimated it was depressingly unlikely that he would not know of my lupine tendencies, given that Beef was obviously aware of them.

I was indeed quite convinced that I saw my painful death in the icy blue eyes of sheriff Eric Northman. The quick glance was the most I dared to cast that way before settling to look submissively downwards. I pondered briefly whether to fall to my knees and beg for my life or not, but concluded that it could have unexpected side effects at the moment. There was still some reason why he wanted me brought all the way here, and that reason might require that we move somewhere. It would not do to make these people drag me into a side room in mid-grovel.

I felt several pairs of vampire eyes on me, then the sheriff and the waitress led me to a side room, away from the crowd. The room was furnished with soft armchairs and sofas, laid out in a way to designate one of the more elaborate chairs yet another dais. This guy really knew how to make a point of his superiority.

The megalomaniac in question prowled his way to the dais-chair, then nodded to the waitress, who promptly left us. I tried to swallow a lump in my throat while telling myself repeatedly that this room was not an elaborate torture chamber, and that he might actually just want to talk for now. If I was only needed somewhat alive, Mr. Beef probably would have hauled me over unconscious. He must have wanted something from me that benefited from continued brain function.

Sadly, I could shake off the idea that intimidation was one potential form of warm-up to excruciatingly painful death. And it worked best when the target was conscious.

He addressed me by name, temporarily snapping me out of my increasingly panicked speculation.

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir." My mouth was moving in pure reflex before I even registered whether he was annoyed or not by my attention wandering. I seriously did not want to look him in the eye, so I fixed my gaze on his mouth to demonstrate my attentiveness instead.

Said mouth was presently curving into a smirk. I hoped it was a good sign.

"Sir? It's good to know that some of your kind show respect to their... seniors." The calculated pause gave me just enough time to mentally fill in "their betters" without him needing to spell it out. No matter if the vampire was baiting me or not, I was not going to give him an excuse to tear my throat open for returned insolence.

Not that he would need one, but it still made me feel a bit better about my continued breathing.

He gestured me to take a seat, but it sounded like a bad idea. "If it's alright, I think I would rather stand." I suspected my leg muscles might have turned to jelly without letting me know, and I would topple over if I tried to move from where I stood.

"Suit yourself." He waved a hand at me dismissively and moved on to business. "I've invited you here to share your point of view on meeting a wounded man in the forest a while ago."

I carefully nodded, incorporating this not entirely surprising fact into my speculations, running wild in the back of my head. "I happened to find him while running, called for help, gave some first aid until the paramedics arrived, and left the scene before they saw me. Is there anything particular that I should focus on?"

"So, he was already wounded and unconscious when you found him?"

My jaws tightened. Was he suspecting me of attacking the man, or of witnessing his last, condemning words or something? I nodded nervously, my mouth suddenly even more dry than before.

He considered this for a moment. "There were pawprints all over the place. Yours, I presume?" If there ever was any hope of him having missed the fact that I was a werewolf, it got checked out right there.

There was no point in denying it, in any case. "Yes. I shifted back when I realized he still had a heartbeat."

The sheriff raised an eyebrow, which I caught at the edge of my vision. "Aww. Tricked from fresh carrion?"

I made a face, but saw it best not to comment. The penetrating look he had fixed me with made my skin crawl. As a sheriff of a district, he was probably more powerful than the average vampire; I also was under the solid impression that the more powerful they got, the more insanity they could liberally manifest. In addition, I felt a disturbing and biologically quite aberrant secondary reaction to his attention. So, vampire charms apparently worked to some degree even without the benefit of eye contact. I should keep that in mind if I ever survived this meeting.

He lounged back on the dais and examined his fingernails. "You do understand our concern: The man was a suspected V dealer. For him to have been attacked by a werewolf..."

I shuddered at the revelation. So that was why they were so keen on this case; V, or vampire blood, was used as an expensive drug. It was also considered highly offensive by vampires, even sacrilege. But what on earth did that have to do with werewolves specifically, except that they were also considered offensive by some vampires?

"I'm sorry, sheriff Northman, but I'm not really following you on that last bit." I sincerely hoped that dumping the unnecessarily amusing "sir" would not cause an undesirable reaction. I was just growing increasingly aware of being routinely mocked by my interrogator, and I suspected this comment might be another one of those that I just did not get. If he were not quite so lethally attractive to look at and listen to, I would be hating his guts right about now. And might make it known, too. Small blessings.

"There are... some of your kind that find V particularly alluring." The exquisitely chiselled sculpture that was the face of my interrogator was wrinkled in blatant distaste. It filled me with deep shame for a moment, that is, before I determinedly clawed my way out of the unnatural allure of the cursed creature before me.

Honestly, it was downright ridiculous that someone who had actually died hundreds of years ago could go around wielding charisma that made the best and most cleverly visually enhanced movie stars look mundane and utterly flawed. It was like these people were walking magical pheromone factories, running on blood. Yes, he was definitely oozing pheromones. There was no other sane explanation for the utter corruption in my ability to think straight. I concentrated on imagining showers of cold water for a moment.

It helped a bit; I noticed he was waiting for me to answer. "I'm afraid I can't help you there. He was fresh out of any such by the time I got to him."

The sheriff stared at me, obviously not buying it. I squirmed under the burning weight of his suspicion.

"I did not actually search him thoroughly, but if he had any V on him, I assume he would have used it to heal himself. So I believe he must have been quite out of vampire blood in addition to quickly losing his own."

He cocked his head thoughtfully at my explanation, and seemed sufficiently satisfied to change the subject. "Why were you there, anyway?"

"Um, just running." I hoped this thread would be redirected to other matters very soon.

"That late?"

"Er..." For some reason, this slippery slope towards my personal existence in the world felt even more uncomfortable than being interrogated for potentially assaulting a drug dealer in order to steal V. I tried to tell myself that the man was already perfectly aware of where I lived, what I was and who knows what else that I might consider private. Looking into my hobbies in the context of the case at hand did not make him any more dangerous than he already was.

Probably not, anyway. I looked away from the blonde predator to restore some of my mental coherence while composing a response for him. "I..."

I soon found that it was too unnerving to upkeep even remote coherence, really. What was I trying to do here, again? Planning what to say? Selectively hold something back from the top-of-the-food-chain unholy monster who could utterly dominate lesser minds that just happened to look him in the eye? When it came to this case, I certainly had nothing to hide - and more importantly, the truth would set me free faster than any kind of suspicious pauses spent filtering my words. Screw my privacy, my main concern was getting out of this alive.

So, I turned to look at the vampire's perfectly-formed mouth again and stopped struggling for a change. I embraced the magic pheromones that kept pulling at me, making me want to roll over, wag my tail and please this superior creature in any way possible. It was really not so different from natural instincts when facing strong alphas; whatever mechanism there was at work here, it was clearly taking advantage of our natural tendencies. I dove right in.

Intoxication quickly loosened my tongue, and in a moment I was feeling downright conversational.

"I mean, I prefer it that people don't see me running on all fours without a runner. The last thing I need is getting caught and hauled to the warden's as a potential runaway. Or shot as a bloodthirsty beast, for that matter." I smiled a silly smile by the time I was finished. It was the most elaborate answer I had made yet, and I did not even feel like shuddering afterwards. He was my esteemed ally and friend, after all, here to give me a wonderful opportunity of helping someone as magnificent as he. Maybe I could amuse him while at it? That would be just plain awesome.

He did seem mildly entertained already. "Why flee from the paramedics, then?"

I grinned giddily. "Well, after I changed back, I was butt-naked. It would have been difficult to explain. So I pretended I heard scary sounds and ran off."

The grin he flashed me at that point was feral enough to clear even some of the very comfortably pink fog from my head.

He gestured at me to come closer. "Show me your neck."

Damn, that put a huge damper on the mood. Was he going to bite me, just like that? What a way to go! I always thought I would become something more impressive than a post-interrogation snack. I glanced around, looking for the unlikely way out that I might have missed before. No escape. By now, the sheriff started to look impatient, so I complied. To think I had momentarily imagined he was alright! I was nothing but food to him after all. The bastard.

I fervently hoped he would miss the thin silver necklace and get a nasty burn right across that pretty face of his. My revenge from behind the upcoming grave.

I went to stand next to him, mere inches between us. He would have been violating my personal space from several feet away; this was already an extremely intimate distance. A blush was creeping up my neck before setting upon my cheeks. Thanks a bunch for the hint, dear circulation, but we should not really be warming up to a deathly-cold blood-sucking Viking preparing to drill holes into our carotid artery.

He asked me to move my collar, rather than pulling it aside himself. I wondered for a while if vampires could smell silver. Developing such abilities might provide an evolutionary advantage... if vampire powers were transferred in their creation process, that is. Did they work like some kind of virii, maybe?

He placed a single, cool finger on my neck, just below the atlas vertebra. I wondered if he was feeling for a pulse - or if he even needed to; I could have sworn my heartbeat could be heard just fine all the way across the room. But he gave a slight push, and I dazedly realized he wanted me to tilt my head more. So I did.

The vampire sheriff clicked his tongue, as if disappointed. Before I managed to reach my hundredth imagined possibility for displeasing the bloodthirsty creature prodding at my jugular, he interrupted my runaway train of thought with an unexpected question: "What pack are you in?"

I was so baffled I took a step back, away from him, before even realizing that my strange investigator might not approve of it. "Why do you ask? Do you know many wolf packs personally?" I was damned if I would let him somehow use my encounter with a half-dead dealer against the next of my kin.

Mr. Northman was clearly not amused. "I happen to know a particular pack quite well, my dear," he growled.

I found myself shrinking from his ire like a berated pup. "M-my folks are back in Minnesota. It's an old Finnish pack, we have nothing to do with this district's business, as far as I know." I looked him in a way that, to my shame, was mostly just pleading and barely even laced with actual credibility. I was not lying, damn it, I was just getting overwhelmed by all this madness.

He was not helping at all. The bastard cocked an eyebrow at me and his lips quirked in what had to be a condescending smile. "A Finnish pack, eh?"

I suddenly remembered the Swedish exchange from earlier and glowered, now fully in the throes of indignant racial inferiority complex. "Yeah. What's it to you, hurrinperkele?" I offered the best insult I could improvise in my current state of mind. It was what my grandfather empathetically called the general ethnic group of our former rulers, who more recently had become our defeaters in various other matters of life and death, such as ice hockey and song contests.

Did I say we were like cats and dogs? Maybe mongooses and snakes would be more like it. I was staring down the cocky blonde Swede with superpowers - and the kind of short temper that can only come from being killed dead and then sustaining yourself off the less dead for the rest of eternity.

"Oi, en äkta finnjävel." An amused female voice shocked me out of my stare-down. I turned to look, and realized that at some point or another, the "waitress" who had announced our arrival to the sheriff had reappeared. She was now watching our exchange with a smirk on her face that suggested my earlier categorization of her status in the organization might have been a dangerous underestimation.

She seemed to also have very effectively defused the tension in the room, however, as sheriff Northman chuckled, promptly turning towards her and asking with exaggerated surprise, "Du förstår det här barbarspråket?" You understand this barbaric language? Among other things, Swedish used to be the language of nobility in Finland; we still all learned it as a second language in the name of respect towards the five-percent minority of people with Swedish as their first language. And this smug bastard was milking the old stereotype for all it was worth.

"Ja väl, Yvetta kan svära på fem språk - eller sex under klimax."

I had little idea what she was actually talking about, but the sly look the vixen cast me right then was dripping with something I suddenly wished was bloodlust. Her voice was dripping with honey when she turned back to me. "You do know, dear, that hurri is originally an euphemism for various furry things, like wolves and pussies?"

I turned beet red and hastily broke eye contact. I knew I could take on a Swede. Or a vampire. But two vampiric Swedes at once was too much for me.

"So, what do you think, Pam? Can we trust her word?" His suggestive drawl kept fogging up my mind, but I was done falling for his profane charms. Never again.

"I don't know, Eric, they did side with the Axis in the second world war..." Argh, these Swedes were walking history books too, of course. Who knows what side they fought on. At least they weren't siring any awkward offspring that I might be related to, what with being most probably dead and all.

So I fumed at their mock exchange, but kept my mouth shut. Of course Sweden managed to somehow both keep from being invaded or officially allying with either side for the entirety of the war. But let them have their fun, I brooded sulkily.

Suddenly E-, no, the sheriff - was invading my intimate space again, tilting my chin up to look at his face rather than pout at his waistline. I was trying to get some brooding done, for crying out loud! But damn, he was tall. Up close, I was craning my neck just to see his lips - I mean, chin. Bloody vampires and their bloody magic pheromones.

He was making some of those silky sounds again; they were faintly resembling words. I took a moment out of my dazing to parse them. "Now, can you look me in the eye and swear on your ancestors that you had nothing to do with the dealer or his goods before you found him half-dead in the forest?"

I opened and closed my mouth a few times, practising my goldfish impersonation while trying to find an argument or excuse for not having to look him in the eye while producing any actual words. The combination seemed rather much to ask for, but I failed to come up with a convincing stand while being subjected to lethal doses of close-range hunkiness radiation.

So I hazarded a probing glance upwards, started with a promising "I..." - and immediately sank into the depths of two pools of glacier-blue mountain spring water. And nothing else mattered.

I shuddered out of my happy place who knows how much later. Eric - just Eric? Since when? - was lounging on his dais like a sated feline, looking at me all too smugly. Then it struck me.

No. I did not just get led into looking at him in the eye. Please, no. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

My shoulders slumped as the last shreds of my dignity flowed out through my reddening ears. I wanted to sink into the ground.

My self-contempt was interrupted by the syrupy voice of the vampire woman, Pam. "Oh, don't be like that. It's not like we tied you up in the basement and had our way with you while you were out of it." Savouring my blanched, distressed look, she added, "For very many days, anyway."

I gagged and turned to the sheriff, silently pleading that he would make me unsee the ghastly mental image. He obligingly "tsked" at his lascivious accomplice and stood up. I hastily looked well away from him, but he just chuckled at the futile gesture. "Come, now, you're closing the barn door after the horses are already gone?"

Then he was beside me again, one arm around my shoulders turning me towards the door. I let out a quite ungraceful yelp at the blatant misuse of lightning-speed movement. Or the sudden touch. Or both.

"In any case, it was just a quick confirmation of what you said before; you're off the hook. We'll take it from here, and you're free to go continue your happy, secluded life of innocence." He patted my shoulder before giving it a gentle push towards freedom.

I stumbled on my own feet at the coup de grâce, but managed to get myself out the door and out of the nightmarish Fangtasia, into the car operated by the eternally patient Mr. Beef and driven home. He did not try to strike up a conversation on the way, for which I was infinitely grateful.