“Party Saturday night! And I need my boys there!”
Shane looked up, faint alarm pinging through him at the words.
Saturday? That was-
He did his best not to freeze at his realization. He made a show of thinking, frowning as he turned to look at Jen. “This Saturday?” When she nodded, he shook his head and said, with genuine regret, “Sorry, Jen. I’ve already got plans.”
“With who?” Ryan leaned back from his computer, his headphones pulled down to his neck. “The only people you know in LA are from BuzzFeed,” he teased.
“That’s not true,” Shane said, mock-affronted. “I had a life here before getting hired. I was a grip for three different companies. I have the FaceBook friends to prove it.”
“Oh, well, FaceBook friends.”
Jen waited somewhat patiently for their joking to end, obviously used to it. “Ryan? Can you make it?”
“Yeah,” Ryan replied easily. “But I’ll have to duck out early.”
“You sure you won’t be available, Shane?”
Shane just shrugged and smiled apologetically again.
It wasn’t like he could reschedule his plans.
Shane truly was a skeptic.
Or at least, a skeptic in the sense that he believed in normal things and not every conspiracy theory out there on the internet. Far too many ‘unexplained phenomenon’ turned out to be misunderstandings, hoaxes, or something that science just hadn’t figured out yet.
So it was especially galling that his entire life was something from a fable.
And with his luck, it was going to turn out to be one of those German fables, where everyone died in horribly bloody, messy ways at the end.
That Saturday, Shane woke up jittery and antsy, his every movement twitchy. He went through the day in something of a distracted daze, the familiar dread building with each hour that passed too fast and too slow. As the sun started to set, he lifted his bottle of beer in a salute towards the direction the moon would rise and said,“You’re a bitch, Madam Moon. I hope you know that.”
After gulping the beer down, he made his way down into the basement, unbuttoning his shirt as he went.
Finding an affordable house with a basement in the greater Los Angeles area had been a struggle and a half. His house was so far out that it was closer to farmland than it was to downtown LA. The area wasn't great, his mortgage was terrible, and his commute was miserable, but he just didn’t trust his ability to soundproof a room better than dirt would. And basements had fewer walls to reinforce.
He carefully folded his shirt and pants and placed them on the floor just inside the door. His glasses went on top of his clothes and he hoped he wouldn’t wake up to find them broken. He still wasn’t sure how that had happened last year.
Naked and squinting to try and see, Shane walked up to the line of metal bars that bisected the basement. He tugged at each one, then carefully tested the hinges on the door. The top one jiggled a little too loosely and he made a mental note. It would be fine for this month, but he would have to fix it before the next. At least the bolts holding the chain into the floor were still holding.
One thing Shane’s life had given him was the ability to put together a pretty darn good dungeon, if he did say so himself. If his career at BuzzFeed tanked, he could probably make a living installing BDSM equipment. No one could countersink fasteners into concrete quite like he could.
Shane carefully ignored the deep scratches in the floor as he stepped into the cage and closed and locked the door behind him. Laying on his side, he stretched his arm through the bars and placed the key on the floor.
One of these days, something would happen and he wouldn’t be able to reach the key in the morning and then he would be royally screwed. But that was a problem for future Shane.
For now, he just sat cross-legged in front of the bars, too feverish to care about the cold concrete under his ass. Sometimes he waited for a few minutes, sometimes for hours. But the change always happened. Every. Single. Month.
Sighing to himself, Shane rested his forehead against the bars and waited for the inevitable.
Yeah, ghosts and demons and the Bermuda Triangle were all bullshit.
But he had empirical evidence that werewolves were real.
Every month came with a brand new excuse on why he couldn’t make it to work on the day of full moon. And, if he could swing it, the day after the full moon as well. It was a song and dance Shane had been doing since he was thirteen and his aunt had died.
One month he would call in sick. The next, he would go into work in the morning, then feign a stomach bug and go home early. The next, he’d schedule a couple days off for a ‘vacation.’ He never fell into a pattern and he never, ever mentioned the moon.
It wasn’t like he thought someone would notice he was absent from work once a month and immediately jump to the werewolf conclusion, but the worry was still there. All it would take was someone like Ryan, who was always willing to entertain the stupidest of theories, to notice a pattern.
All in all, life was manageable. He had to go out of his way to avoid stressful situations, but luckily for him, he was a genuinely laidback dude and had no real interest in things that would get his adrenaline going.
No matter how much a primal part of him longed to give and surrender to his instincts.
The fact that he occasionally wanted to chase squirrels was just- it was stupid. Honestly, it was the worst part of the curse. ‘
Shane had made it into his thirties with only his family being aware of his condition and, despite the fact that he was something of an internet personality now, had every expectation that no one else would ever know.
So it was business as usual when, twenty-eight days later, he groaned at lunch time and put his hand to his stomach. “Think last night’s shrimp is trying to make a return,” he said with creditable unsteadiness.
Ryan looked up from his burrito, his eyebrows scrunched together in concern. “Are you going to throw up?”
Shane shook his head and hunched forward, pushing his own food away. “No. I think. Pretty sure.”
“Please don’t throw up on me, man. I like this shirt.”
“It would help if you’d stop saying ‘throw up’.”
Ryan grinned. “Vomit? Blow chunks? Spew split pea soup all over the table?”
“I haven’t had split pea soup in years,” Shane said, chuckling before groaning theatrically. “Shit, maybe I should go home.”
There was a slight pause, Ryan staring at him with his head cocked to the side. “Is this like the food poisoning from four months ago?”
“Don’t you remember? We were supposed to record some VO but you called off because of food poisoning.”
He really should have known that Ryan would remember something that would postpone anything Unsolved related. Shane closed his eyes and groaned again. “Ah hell, I had forgotten about that. Maybe I need to stop eating entirely. Live off energy and sunlight, like the rest of the transplanted Hollywood hopefuls out here.”
Ryan snorted. “You mean amphetamines.” He took a bite of his burrito, chewing obnoxiously as he asked, “You need me to drive you home?”
Shane didn’t bother to hide his surprise. He had always made a point of telling everyone just how bad his commute was, just so no one would ever offer him a ride or want to come over. The fewer people curious about his house and it’s additions, the better. “I’ll just get an Uber.”
“And throw up in a stranger’s car when you could throw up in mine?”
“You’re a true friend, Bergara,” Shane intoned seriously, even as his mind raced to come up with an excuse. “It’s fine, though. I’m not going to make you drive an hour just to turn around and drive an hour back.”
Ryan studied him for a long moment, then shrugged. “Well, if you’re sure.”
Shane didn’t have to fake how shaky his sigh was.
“We’re going to do an episode about your cousin!”
Shane dropped his water bottle.
Ryan laughed at him, bending down to pick it up and hand it back. “Don’t worry, it’s technically illegal to kill Bigfoot in California, so he'll be safe. It'll be cameras only.”
Shane accepted the bottle automatically, incredibly confused. Sometimes Ryan said the stupidest things. “What?”
“Bigfoot? You know? Your cousin?”
“Oh,” Shane said dumbly. Oh. Not his actual cousin. It wasn’t going to be an episode about werewolves. Relief made him grin. “We’re finally doing something believable?”
“What?” Ryan exclaimed. “You seriously believe-” He cut himself off. “No, we’ll hash this out on camera.”
“So don’t make any plans two weeks from now, because we’ll be huntin’ a ‘Foot.”
Shane’s innate sense of time threw a warning at him. “Uh, two weeks?”
“Yeah, we’ll fly into Eureka on Tuesday, then drive up to the town we researched and spend the night. Back by Wednesday. Why, did you already have plans?” There was something oddly sly about Ryan’s expression, but Shane dismissed it.
The full moon was Wednesday night. As long as there weren’t any complications that would postpone their return…
It was cutting it far closer than he was comfortable with, but fuck it, this episode actually sounded like fun.
“Good,” Ryan said, rubbing his hands together. “This is going to be so awesome.”
‘Awesome’ was something of an understatement.
Growing up in Illinois meant that he had a fairly good knowledge of urban sprawls, cornfields, and lakes big enough to look like they had tides. Overgrown forests, on the other hand, were still new to him. He had driven through the handful of National Forests close to LA, but those could barely be considered forests. They were more dirt and scrubbrush than tree and he had never really had the opportunity to explore them, anyways. And he had always been a little leery of traipsing through the wilderness by himself.
The fact that he would finally get to wander around trees, and be paid to do so, was going a long ways towards distracting him from his worry about being so far away from his bars and chains this close to the full moon.
Merely entering the pine-filled forest that covered the mountains around Willow Creek was enough to make some animal- ha- instinct inside him sit up and take notice.
Shane could barely contain himself when he stepped out of the car and got his first good whiff of the heavy, moisture-laden air of the forest. The natural scent of pine sap and the faint sweetness of wood mulch made him take an unintentional step towards the hiking path they'd chosen, a part of him longing to take off into the woods and run.
He looked over and answered Ryan's astounded grin with one of his own, glad to know that someone else was as enchanted as he was.
Maybe not quite as enchanted, since he didn't really think that Ryan wanted to sprint off into the wilderness and become some kind of beast man. Though with Ryan, he was never entirely sure. Guy was odd sometimes.
It was hard to rein that Thoreau-esque urge in and, without Ryan and TJ there, he very well might have gone off to become one with nature. But Ryan's presence was distracting in a way that Shane rarely allowed himself to acknowledge and he didn’t want to leave the man’s side. Something about their surroundings, their banter and the quiet moments as they hiked through underbrush, and the energy tingling through his limbs meant that he didn’t shy away from the admiring thoughts he had about the coworker that was quickly becoming his best friend.
The beer may have helped.
Other than the constant pressure from inside his own mind to run away, it was quickly becoming one of the best days of his recent memory. The peacefulness of nature was only enhanced by the presence of cameras that appealed to his need to perform and the companionship of one of the best people he knew.
Getting to make a fool of himself and knowing that it was what he was supposed to do sure sweetened the entire experience.
Hunger, exhaustion, and the growing frustration of stumbling around in the dark eventually saw them making their way back down the trail, pleasantly sore and tired after a full day of hiking. Despite the overwhelming lack of evidence, even Ryan was in a good mood as they went. While he still felt a faint need to run, Shane had the weird sensation that he was more settled in his own skin than he had been in years. He was contemplating the virtues of making a few more trips into the forests around LA when Ryan did something incredibly odd.
The moan of the wind through the trees, the drip of misting rain, and the crack of branches underfoot; all of those ambient sounds around them were shattered when Ryan opened his mouth and howled.
It was a silly noise and not nearly as loud as Ryan probably wanted to make it, embarrassment making him falter halfway through and trail off into a sheepish grin.
Shane wasn't a wolf. As much as he secretly appreciated his family’s jokes and the dog puns that had plagued him since he was a teenager, he was more of a slave to rampant instincts than canine tendencies.
So it was disturbing when, without thought, he threw his head back and answered the howl with one of his own.
It was a long, ululating cry that frankly did not sound like it came from a human’s throat. It was eerie even to him and it was his own damn voice. Shane had seen a nature documentary or two, browsed YouTube clips of wolves out of morbid curiosity, and he knew for a fact that he had seen movies with wolves in them. Those recorded sounds had never inspired a need within him to respond.
The one thing he had never done was go to a local zoo to gawk at the wolves. Maybe he should have. Maybe it would have been good to have forewarning that he would do something so embarrassing in front of the guy he had a thing for.
In the panic of the moment, the only real option he could think of was to lean into it and pretend it had been on purpose, that he had been doing it for a bit like the Bigfoot call. Smiling shakily and hoping it came across as cocky, he spread his arms in a taunting gesture. "Can’t howl, can’t make those sexy Bigfoot calls. You’re hopeless out here, Bergara.”
Shane expected Ryan to return the insult or roll his eyes and drop it entirely. Everyone was tired and wet, the pleasant soreness and persistent damp becoming more of an annoyance than anything else.
Instead, Ryan tilted his head and stared. His expression was oddly blank in the washed out brightness of their flashlights when he spared a glance towards TJ, cleared his throat, then howled again.
It didn’t sound right. It was obviously a human mimicking noises that he had only ever heard from recordings. This was clearly no wolf.
That didn’t stop the need to answer from welling up from Shane’s very core. He crossed his arms over his chest as if he could hold the feeling in, gritting his teeth against the instinct, the jumbled, half-formed impressions-
“I think you’ve been listening to your family’s weiner dogs too much,” Shane forced himself to say, the words strangled and high-pitched. There was a distinctly dog-like whine in his voice that he hoped only he could hear. “You won’t be calling any wolves sounding like that.”
Ryan narrowed his eyes, his expression still intensely blank for a long moment before he broke into a grin that flashed white teeth in their lights. “But if a pack of dachshunds showed up, that would be amazing.”
Shane’s laugh was more of a bark and God how he hated that comparison right now. He turned away without answering and set off through the trees, ignoring the fact that he knew the way despite having only been through the area once before. The ambiance of nature was no longer alluring and all he could think about was the cold comfort of his cage and chains back home, which was a level of dramatic irony that was a bit much, even for him.
He didn’t relax until they were back within the streets of Willow Creek and he wasn’t able to dredge up a good smile for the camera until they were back in the bright lights of their hotel room.
As they were packing up the equipment in their hotel room, the rest of the group made noise about getting food, arguing the merits of late night pizza or bar food in a town that didn’t boast much of a nightlife. Shane excused himself from the discussion, the feverish urge to pace more powerful than the idea of food. Everyone gave him concerned looks, since he was usually one of the first people to suggest grabbin’ some ‘za, but Ryan was the only one to actually question him.
“You alright, man?”
Sometimes Ryan was annoyingly compassionate.
“Probably caught some kind of forest bug. Maybe the ‘Squatch infected me,” Shane said, shrugging as casually as he could. “Don’t feel up to getting food. I’ll stay in the hotel.”
Ryan gave him a half-smile for the joke, but it quickly turned into a frown. “Do you want me to bring you anything?”
Shane wanted to do something stupid, like pat the guy on the head, or worse, hug him for being so darned nice, but he fiddled with the buttons on his shirt sleeve instead.
“Nah, I’ll be good.”
That should have been the end of it.
And yet, it somehow didn’t surprise him when Ryan came back two hours later with a burger and greasy fries.
Shane’s stomach twisted at the strong smell of the food, and he honestly couldn’t tell if it was from nausea, hunger, or some delightful combination of both. He had spent the intervening time alternating from walking laps around the room to sprawling out on one of the two beds. Ryan had walked in to the sight of Shane sitting on the bed Ryan had claimed, staring off into nothing.
Knowing that he probably didn’t present a very comforting picture, Shane accepted the takeout container with a twitchy smile, but sat it on the bed next to him without opening it. The idea of food did not appeal to him.
Ryan hesitated, then gingerly sat on the other side of the food. He took a deep breath a few times before he was able to actually say anything. “Hey, is something going on? You’ve been kind of out of it since it started getting dark.”
“I’m fine,” Shane muttered automatically. He deliberately flattened his hands on his thighs to hide how they were shaking. “Nothing to worry your pretty little head over.”
“Shane,” Ryan said, just sharp enough that it made Shane look up. “Seriously, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you eating?”
“Can’t a guy want to watch his figure?”
Slowly, while Shane was still watching him, Ryan dropped his gaze and lowered his head. Gently, but firmly, he nudged the food towards Shane with the back of his hand.
“Ryan, I don’t-”
The word was quiet and oddly tentative, considering it was coming from Ryan.
Shane didn’t realize he had already picked up the container and opened it until he was on his second bite of the burger. Once he registered the taste of the beef, he was suddenly ravenous, eating the rest of the food in record time.
Ryan watched him with a calculating expression the entire time.
It wasn’t a very restful night after that. And when Shane was able to fall asleep, his dreams were filled with vivid images of running through trees, the heavy scent of damp pine, and the taste of bloody, red meat. It was as if a primal part of his psyche had woken up at the discovery of ancient forests.
Which was something of a surprise. If he had thought about it at all, he would have assumed the wolfy side of him would have been more of a plains-loving breed, considering where he came from.
Over breakfast the next morning, Ryan blithely suggested they stay another day to get more footage, citing that they had leftover budget for the season. Shane would have felt guilty about the way he snapped at the man, but the knowledge of the night’s full moon creeping ever closer meant that he still had a hard time pretending to be his usual laidback self.
When Ryan had first proposed his plan for the episode and the filming schedule, Shane had felt rather copacetic about the whole thing. Getting back by the late afternoon left him plenty of time to get home before the moon rose. It would be cutting it close, but it would be easier to blame his twitchiness and fever on the ordeal of traveling.
Now, while it felt like something was trying to claw its way out of his chest in a scene stolen from Alien, he swore at himself for agreeing to play so fast and lose with his time.
He ignored the crew’s stares as they hopped from the tiny local airport to the bustle of Sacramento to the absolute horror that was LAX, just like he ignored Ryan’s attempts at conversation. The completely reasonable layover chafed and the cramped quarters of the plane were especially taxing as they waited to disembark at LAX. He was never so aware of his height as he was in airplanes, but it was far worse when it felt like the seats and ceiling were closing in on him. There was an itch in his arms that heralded nothing good and it was all Shane could do not to snarl at the poor woman in front of him, who was merely trying to get her luggage out of the overhead compartment.
Distantly, he felt some shame when he caught a glimpse of Ryan’s expression as he rudely pushed through the line of people in the concourse, but the growing fear and restlessness was far more pressing.
Shit, it had been actual decades since he had been so far away from a safe bolthole this close to the rising moon. Nearly twenty years since that day where he had-
Shane forcibly shut that thought down, thankful for his long legs as he strode through the airport as fast as he could without actual running. The sun was setting, slanting through the windows and glass walls as he went, pushing him to move faster and faster. He fumbled for his phone and the Uber app, angry at himself for having forgotten to bring it up until he was almost at the doors out of the airport.
A sound like a growl rose in his throat that he hastily turned into a cough when he felt fingers grab his elbow.
“What?” he croaked, whirling in place and not particularly surprised to see that it was Ryan behind him, wide-eyed and panting.
“Dude, what the hell?” Ryan asked, bending over and bracing his hands on his knees to drag in great lungfuls of air. “You just ran through half of LAX.”
“I wasn’t running,” Shane protested weakly.
Ryan shook his head, drew in one last deep breath, and turned warm, worried brown eyes on Shane in a move that would have made him fucking melt on any other day. “Hey, are you alright? What’s going on with you?”
“I’m fine,” Shane said unconvincingly, shakily dragging his fingers through his hair and clutching at the strap of his bag with the other hand. This close to making it home and he was losing it. “I mean, I’m-” Think, think, think- “Diarrhea!”
That got him one slowly raised one eyebrow.
“Yeah, you know, gotta get home ‘cause- everywhere-”
Ryan carefully rubbed his hand over his face. “Shane, we both know that if that was true, you would have been loudly complaining about it for the past two hours and we would all know far too many details.”
Biting on his lip, Ryan eyed him for a second before stepping closer and once again grasping his elbow, which was far more sustained physical contact than Ryan usually initiated. “Seriously, what’s going on? Do-” He closed his mouth, obviously changing what he had been about to ask. “Do you need a ride home?”
“At this time of the day?” Shane responded, trying to tug his arm away. “Traffic is going to be a nightmare. I’ll just get an Uber.”
“Shane…” Ryan trailed off and tilted his head to the side, looking up at Shane through his lashes with a searching, almost pleading expression in his eyes. It was a weirdly coquettish move that Shane usually would have found disconcerting and completely out of character for Ryan.
But for some reason he was struck by the sudden intense need to draw Ryan closer and- What? Hug him? Protect him? Curl up around him and provide whatever it was he needed?
Shane jerked backwards, mortified at the direction his thoughts were taking. Admiration that went beyond friendliness was one thing, sexual attraction was a given, since Ryan looked like that, but the urge to take care of him? That was a step too far and felt weirdly tangled up with the same instincts that were making him painfully aware of how quickly time was passing.
It didn’t help when Ryan reached for him, his confused and hurt expression painful to look at it. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Nothing is wrong,” Shane said, smiling in a way that he could tell was sickly. “And even if there was something wrong, do you really think I’d blurt it out in the passenger pick-up area of one of the largest airports in the world?”
Ryan blinked and glanced around, as if he had suddenly remembered that they were public. He awkwardly took a step back, refusing to meet Shane’s eyes.
While Ryan was trying to think of something to say, Shane took the opportunity and- he wasn’t beyond admitting it- ran away. He slid into the first Uber that popped up on the app and didn’t look back once, clutching his bag on his lap and curling over it to take long shallow breaths in an attempt to calm himself down.
He stayed like that for what had to have been a good half hour of mindless, mental gibbering. Not once did his Uber driver try to talk to him, which he appreciated. The woman was definitely getting five stars at the end of this.
Two hours after he had escaped Ryan’s well-meaning concern, Shane stumbled into his small house, slammed the door behind him and threw his bag to the floor. He forced himself to drink a full glass of water and scarf down a frozen TV dinner, trying to pretend that his fingers didn’t shake the entire time.
The wish for a shower was almost a physical need at that point, but Shane knew he didn’t have time. And he’d want a shower in the morning anyways. So he made his way down into the basement, feeling a perverse rush of relief at the sight of the bars. He cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders, just then realizing how tense he had been holding himself all day.
There was a sense of urgency in his movements as he took his clothes off, not bothering to fold them. His shirt ended up thrown into a corner, his pants directly in the middle of the floor with his glasses, and his socks and boxers were dropped carelessly in front of the cage door.
He was going to be annoyed if he woke up to pieces of shredded sock in his mouth, but that would be a problem for later. The worry that he wouldn’t get the chain around his neck or the door locked in time was more important than worry about picking threads out of his teeth.
The click of the lock was loud and far, far more comforting than it should have been. The weight of the cold metal links against the back of his neck was nearly as good.
And not a moment too soon, because once he had laid the key on the floor, he felt the first sharp stabs in his spine.
Distantly, he thought he heard the sound of a door opening.
But the pain was soon all Shane could think about it.
The cold concrete under his side wasn’t anything new.
The ache that thrummed through his entire body wasn’t new either.
Not even the pressure of a metal bar against his arm was out of the ordinary. He often tried to dig his way through the bars during the full moon.
None of those things were what made the breath freeze in Shane’s lungs as soon as consciousness returned.
What made fear rise up and his body go completely still was the feeling of a warm, sweaty hand clutched around his outstretched fingers.
Like the protagonist in a horror movie, Shane very slowly, dreading every moment, lifted his head and met wide, scared eyes.
“Hey,” Ryan said hoarsely, his fingers squeezing Shane’s tighter. “Glad to see you’re awake.”