The man who finally catches up to him the day after the full moon is not the man Goodnight was expecting.
"I should've known you were a hunter," Goodnight says, more disappointed than scared. "No ordinary man handles a knife as dexterously as you did last night, nor looks as captivating while doing so."
The hunter pauses in the threshold of the room Goodnight has rented, twirling his knife in a motion that reminds Goodnight of a cat flicking the end of its tail while it contemplates its kill shot. "Are you…flirting with me?" His tone is incredulous but his face gives nothing away.
"It would almost be an insult not to, for you were so very charming when you cut that inebriated gentleman's fingers off."
The incident to which Goodnight is referring happened just after sundown yesterday. Goodnight had been spending far too much coin at a ramshackle drinking establishment, mulling over his options for shaking the hunter he knew had been on his tail, but had thus far proved stealthy enough to avoid identification. Behind him, a fight broke out over a card game, angry words unfit for mixed company were uttered, punches were thrown, bottles smashed…and in the middle of the fray stood a man untouched by the chaos, casually burying his knife into the bar top through somebody's grubby hand.
And now that man is in front of him, saying, "He deserved it."
"I don't presume to disagree," Goodnight replies, "but I assure you that I myself do not deserve similar treatment."
"I lost track of you after the fight. It was the full moon."
Apparently this hunter wastes no words, which Goodnight can respect but not relate to. "I make myself scarce when the moon's power comes over me," he says, "and you'll note that you did not wake to any reports of dead men or missing children today. I do no harm."
For the first time, an expression comes over the hunter's face, and it looks like puzzlement. "Your kind loves to kill."
"While that may be true of many, I take no pleasure in human misery. I keep myself—"
Goodnight's explanation, however, is cut short by the innkeeper barging in. "Mr. Robicheaux! I saw this here shifty slant-eyed character sneak into your room, and I thought to myself, I'd better check he's not stealing." She eyes the hunter, who is surreptitiously sheathing his knife. "Do you need me to call the sheriff?"
"No, my good madam, I appreciate your vigilance but he's—" Goodnight thinks fast— "he's my manservant. So you see, all's well."
The hunter's face has gone back to being unreadable, but Goodnight imagines he's simmering with rage at having to choose between pretending to be a werewolf's servant and getting arrested. Goodnight grins.
"Yes ma'am," the hunter says, voice dripping with sarcasm, "Just came up to help Mr. Robicheaux get dressed."
The innkeeper looks between them suspiciously.
Goodnight knows well the look of a woman who doesn't quite find him trustworthy. "We'll be going on our way just as soon as I'm dressed," Goodnight promises.
* * *
The hunter tells Goodnight to call him Billy Rocks. Billy Rocks is a nomad who hustles cards to finance his hunting excursions, never staying in any one town long enough for locals to get too angry about being parted with their money. With skills like his, he's not making anywhere close to his earning potential, and Goodnight suggests a partnership.
"I drum up the wagers, you out-fight the challengers, we collect the winnings and hightail it out of town before their shock and awe at your fine talents wear off."
It's a good system. They make a good team. Billy makes it clear, though: "If you eat anyone, I have to kill you."
It takes a few more full moons for Goodnight to convince Billy that he doesn't eat people. Over the next months, he shows Billy the method he has refined over the years to keep his wolf far away from civilization whenever it's crucial. During the day, before the change comes over him, he kills a rabbit or pheasant or, if game is hard to come by, purchases meat from a butcher. He strings it up and drags it behind him in the wilderness, far from all human activity, makes a scent trail that twists and loops back for miles before hanging it up high in a tree. The tracking of this carcass entertains his wolf enough that even when he loses all his senses to that side of him, he will never wander into civilization to threaten any innocent humans.
"It's rare that I even lose myself in the wolf," he adds. "The tracking games are a failsafe, but really they're more entertainment than necessity. I remain more or less conscious most times. I can even control the wolf somewhat."
Billy looks extremely skeptical. "Why don't the others control it?"
"It's…difficult, to deny your nature."
"It can't be worse than eating people. Or meeting death at my blade."
Goodnight shrugs. "It was a long process to learn and perfect. Maybe they just don't have my fortitude and most laudable spirit."
Billy rolls his eyes, which is starting to become his most common response to Goodnight.
He helps on the full moons. He chips in for half at the butcher's from his own purse and makes trails that are a surprise for Goodnight's wolf, which makes everything ten times more thrilling. On the days after those nights, Goodnight comes back to himself with vague memories of recognizing Billy's smell. But for the sake of safety he always makes sure Billy stays far away when he turns.
"I could always gut you if you lose control," Billy points out.
"I know, I meant my safety," Goodnight says with a wink.
If it becomes more and more apparent over time that Goodnight would actually rather take a knife full of silver to his belly than harm Billy, well, neither of them feels the need to address it.
* * *
Over a nice low fire on a beautifully clear night, with the moon waning crescent and a million stars in the sky, Billy tells Goodnight that his father was killed by a werewolf.
"It wasn't like you," he says, which Goodnight already knows because most of them aren't like him. "We came to America to work, send money back to my mother and sisters. I left when I was too young—I forgot what their voices sound like. I started dreaming in English. When it killed him I knew I would never get back home again."
It's not cold at all, but Goodnight sits closer to Billy anyway, presses into his side and keeps listening.
"It went on bloody rampages every full moon. It was easy to track down—I just followed the reports of carnage. But after I killed it I didn't feel better. It wasn't enough." Billy is looking into the fire, and perhaps he's looking into his memories, into the past. He's looking anywhere but at Goodnight. "That's how I started hunting."
He falls silent, and in their partnership together it has always been Goodnight's job to fill the silences, so Goodnight begins to explain the details of his lycanthropy even though Billy hasn't asked.
"Just as I happen to be better at controlling my wolf, there are those who are infinitely worse at it. Most fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, killing every now and again when the call of the moon sings loudly in their blood, in incidents isolated enough to keep them from being detected. In the days of old, before we were so settled in cities and towns, when the wild woods were just a stone's throw away from any given hearth, werewolves would run in packs. But that would be much too conspicuous these days, and so packs have given way to individual wolves, stalking the night alone. The only packs left are the families of born wolves—you see, some are born this way while others are turned by another werewolf's scratch. I was born into my nature, from a long aristocratic line of them."
"Is that why you can control it?"
Goodnight makes a face. "Oh no, my dear Mr. Rocks, no. The oldest families, with their ancestral pride and their pure bloodlines, tend to be the most brutal of all. My father and his father before him loved nothing more than the still-beating hearts of human babies."
Billy looks at him, question clear in his eyes though unsaid on his lips.
"I was tired of that life," Goodnight says, "so I left it behind."
Billy doesn't reply, which is just his way. Goodnight has almost gotten used to his taciturn nature, and doesn't read too much into his lack of response on most days. They sit enjoying each other's quiet company, the beauty of the starlight, and the mildness of the breeze. Long after, when they're getting ready for sleep and Goodnight has nearly forgotten what exactly they last said, Billy asks, "Do you miss it?"
Goodnight blinks. "What, killing babies?"
As expected, Billy rolls his eyes. "No. Do you miss having a pack?"
Goodnight takes a moment to think on an honest answer. "Sure. A little, sometimes. Less these days." It's an uncharacteristically succinct answer for him, but he's sure the way he's looking at Billy fills in what he doesn't say.
* * *
It's the night after a full moon, and they'd had a close call the night before. They hadn't realized how close they were to a small farm, and the farmer caught a glimpse of Goodnight. Thinking it was an actual come for his flock, he had nearly taken a shot at him—would have, but for some fast thinking from Billy to distract him.
It's a relief when Goodnight and Billy reunite the next morning, and see that neither has any more holes in him than a healthy body should.
They go about the rest of their daily routine, travelling, buying supplies, seeing to their horses, cleaning themselves in a river. But the whole day has a celebratory feeling to it, that giddy rush of blood to the head after a near miss. Billy smiles at him every time Goodnight's eyes catch his.
When night falls and they have their camp set up, it's the easiest matter in the world for Goodnight to reach over and put one hand on Billy's knee. He cups the back of his neck with his other hand and pulls him forward into a kiss.
Billy is about as loud in bed as he is in any other context, which is to say not at all. It's very satisfying for Goodnight when he finally moans, the spit-slickened slide of their cocks through Goodnight's rough hand too good for him to contain himself.
The moon is still big in the sky, this soon after the full moon. It's so bright that it's almost like daylight, and Goodnight is glad for it because he likes seeing how Billy's body looks all flushed and sweaty against his.
Afterwards, when they lie still against each other and their breaths start to slow down, Goodnight traces his fingers over the scars on Billy's skin. He has a lot of them, and not all of them look like they're from a bullet or a blade.
"What's this?" Goodnight asks, fingertips skimming three long lines running parallel along Billy's side, from his waist down to his thigh. He asks, but he can plainly see that they're claw marks, and that Billy has more of them on various parts of his body.
"The wolf that killed my father," Billy says matter-of-factly. His voice is as steady as it always is.
"But I don't understand. You're not…"
"I don't know why I didn't turn. There was so much blood, I thought I would die, but I didn't do that either. There were others, later on. I got scratched on hunts but I never turned."
Goodnight runs his palm over the biggest scars, maps the others one by one. He can't help the surge of possessiveness he feels at the thought of other wolves touching Billy, but it's not a pure feeling, muddled by bad memories and guilt and surprise and amazement. He must not hide it well, because Billy turns over in his arms and attempts to joke all the feelings away.
"Well, now you know, so feel free to scratch me when we fuck. No need to hold back."
Goodnight has never intended to hold back when it comes to Billy anyway.
* * *
Goodnight is loading silver bullets into Billy's pistol that Billy never uses, because he prefers the precision and control of knives. The leather gloves Goodnight's wearing prevents the silver from bothering him.
"It's incredibly stupid for a hunter not to have silver bullets. You are probably the most intelligent man I will ever have the good fortune to meet, so I can only assume it's hubris," Goodnight says, without pausing in his task.
"Goody, I don't know if you've noticed but I'm not a hunter anymore. I haven't hunted since we started travelling together." And that was a long enough time ago that Goodnight is starting to forget what it was like before Billy.
Goodnight shrugs. "It's still wise to have a safety measure, just in case. Maybe I'll catch rabies someday, lose control, and you'll have to take me out."
"Goody," Billy says again, slow and measured. "We both know I'm never going to do that."
But Goodnight is deeply unhappy with that answer. He wants Billy to have silver bullets in his gun. He wants Billy to be safe.
Billy finally gets up from his bedroll, pushes himself to standing and saunters over to Goodnight. He takes the gun from Goodnight's hands and makes him watch as he takes out all the bullets except for two. "If anything ever happens and hunters try to take you alive. If I can't stop them." He looks Goodnight dead in the eyes. "One for you and one for me."