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04 November 2010 @ 09:02 pm
Kingmaker, Being Human, Mitchell/George (R)  
Title: Kingmaker
Author: valderys
Fandom: Being Human
Pairing: George/Mitchell
Word Count: 14, 278
Rating: R
Warnings: Non-graphic violence, sex with a man who was once an animal (so not bestiality in my book, but thought I’d warn, just in case)
Summary: In Nightshift, the supernatural police-force, every agent is paired with his canine Cwn Annwn companion. But George and Mitchell have no ordinary partnership, and one full moon their special bond is tested to the limit - until, in the end, maybe the only person who can save them is their new friend - the ghost girl, Annie.
Notes: AU. Written for werewolfbigbang. Influences were many: there are hints of Ladyhawke, Night Watch, A Companion to Wolves, Dogsbody, The Little Mermaid - I could go on. I hope that will add rather detract from the fic however! :)



They were the Nightshift. Or at least, that was the closest translation that anyone had managed to come up with, into English at any rate. Mitchell loved it. He’d used the flippant comment in the pub a hundred times, “Yeah, I’m off to work the Nightshift,” and not one in a thousand would understand what he really meant.

There were rapists, murderers, thieves, and in fact scum of all kinds, on the loose every single day. There were some right bastards in the world, frankly, but it wasn’t Mitchell’s problem. Well, not since 1918 anyway. No, dealing with stuff like that was the province of the Dayshift - and the police, FBI, MI5 what have you. It wasn’t anything to do with Mitchell. It didn’t stop it being dangerous, and he had his respect for such members of the Dayshift and other organisations. It just wasn’t his responsibility. Not any more.

No, his particular stamping ground was after dark, in the shadows, policing what seethed in the cracks of the world. There was plenty to keep him occupied, and it all wanted to eat, curse or fuck with everything else. If there wasn’t an organisation like the Nightshift keeping the supernatural world under some kind of control, there’d be much worse collateral damage than the odd nightmare, or a few grim fairy-tales. That was Mitchell’s job. Protecting the world from the scum of the universe. He’d rather liked the film Men in Black - they’d had the right idea, if the wrong paradigm. And Mitchell did so enjoy wearing black.

He was on patrol on the east side of Bristol, by the river. The sky was clear, stars twinkling away, but there were also a hundred delicate aromas perfuming the air, to Mitchell’s enhanced senses. The rotting latex from the condom under the bank, the sweetish odour of a fox’s kill, overlain with its own scent, a heavy rank peppermint. The sharp metallic smell of the goblin burrow in the hedge. Mitchell sneezed and then wiped his nose on one of his fingerless gloves. He had nothing personal against goblins, intellectually, but to one of his ancestry they just smelled wrong. Still, that was why he had training after all. Far be it for Mitchell to step all over species politics with his size 11 boots, because he was just another bloke out for a stroll, late at night.

Which might in and of itself have been suspicious, to ordinary humans at least, as the Council was well aware. So Mitchell had a partner, just like the manual dictated. He glanced down at George who breathed in heavily, huffing in something not quite like a sigh, before pulling on his lead. People were a lot less suspicious of a man out late at night... who was walking his dog. Mitchell paused for a moment and that let George lay his heavy head against Mitchell’s knee, before casting one eye upward in a manner Mitchell knew meant that George was bored out of his tiny skull. Mitchell sympathised, but patrol wasn’t something they could get out of, not unless they sucked up to their nest leader, and that wasn’t something Mitchell was prepared to do - not for something so unimportant as getting out of patrol. Herrick had his foibles, and his favourites, and while he liked Mitchell, there was no need to push it. More than that, it could be dangerous to draw attention to themselves and both George and Mitchell knew it.

George sighed again, and Mitchell allowed himself to trail a hand down his back, feeling the soft fur under his fingers, and the slight static of the illusion spell, that was almost impossible to detect unless you knew it was there. He even let himself reach up to George’s ears, and scratch behind them. George whuffled his nose into Mitchell’s leg in appreciation. They got so few moments like this that were entirely peaceful, and solitary, that it was worth enjoying them when they arrived.

Then George froze, and his silky ears pricked, his head turning. Mitchell’s sense of smell was on a par with George’s, but his hearing was nowhere near as good.

“What is it?” he whispered, and then shut up, knowing silence would help better to pinpoint the problem, and also knowing that it wasn’t as if George could really answer. He looked like a large black Labrador to ordinary eyes, but that was the illusion. Although he was still a dog, at least, but nothing as friendly and comforting as a black lab, none of the Cwn Annwn were.

Then George lifted his muzzle and howled, a complicated signal for the rest of his pack, scattered around Bristol on their own patrols. The hair on the back of Mitchell’s arms rose at the sound, and he wanted to bare his teeth, until he restrained himself. One of the magical abilities of the sky dogs was that their cries sounded louder in the distance than they did closer to - a good trick, and useful for keeping their cover. It still set Mitchell on edge however, fight or flight kicking in, his blood racing, and it scared him. As a vampire, he was always fighting for self-control.

Then George was off, dragging at his lead, and Mitchell thought he might slip it free, to allow George his full rein, except that he was also terrified that he would be left behind. There wasn’t much that set the Cwn Annwn off in this way, and Mitchell wanted to be there when the pack converged. Just in case.

They raced with the wind, only the camouflage spell keeping George’s paws on the ground and preventing him from rising up into the streamers and wisps of clouds that were starting to race above him. The sky fairies loved racing with the Cwn Annwn - one reason they were called sky dogs - but Mitchell couldn’t let them, not now; it wasn’t even Beltane or All Hallows Eve. The humans could explain away a lot of things in their own minds, especially at the right time, but there were limits. And today of all days, with the full moon tomorrow night, there was no way that Mitchell was letting George go off by himself. There was no way he was even letting him out of his sight. Instead, Mitchell wound the leather lead around his fist twice and merely hung on.

The pack was converging on an obscure street in a quiet residential area in Totterdown. It made Mitchell relax in one way, because some of the more terrible creatures - banshees, kelpies, ogres, that kind of thing - were very unlikely to be manifesting unremarked in the suburbs. On the other hand, it also worried him, because most things that set the Cwn Annwn off were large, vicious or dangerous - and if this wasn’t? He had a bad feeling that there was really only one possible candidate...

Sometimes Mitchell hated being right. The pack was converging on an unremarkable pink house and their cries were escalating, past the point where humans were able to hear them, which was a small mercy. It was late in the evening, but Mitchell could see that some of his fellow Nightshift agents were putting glamours up, just in case. Some of the hounds were straining at their leads, although George, now that he was actually here, had calmed down and merely exuded a kind of trembling eagerness.

Then suddenly there was a meaty blow to Mitchell’s back - and through long habits of restraint and rigid self-control, Mitchell did not turn and attack. There was only one person who it was likely to be, who liked to push his boundaries like this, so instead Mitchell turned his head with a carefully arranged smile on his face.

“Good to see you, Mitchell. It’s been too long,” said Herrick heartily, his voice booming, his bonhomie, as ever, overflowing to unpleasant levels. Mitchell’s skin crawled, as it always did, but the tug was there too; a sort of sick attraction. Herrick was Mitchell’s Sire, and the ties of blood were not to be denied.

“Yeah, you too - you know how it is,” Mitchell offered, feebly, and then shrugged in the hopes of loosening Herrick’s grip across his shoulder. George was showing his teeth, but luckily not growling, and Mitchell shifted a hand to the nape of his neck in warning. It wouldn’t do to upset Herrick. He was powerful. Much more so than Mitchell, as he was so much older, plus with connections too. Not someone to piss off. Not to mention what was hardly an incidental detail - he was Nest Captain, and their boss.

“Of course I know, Mitchell,” Herrick was saying, “Work, feed, patrol - work, feed, patrol. That’s just you all over. There’s just no time to smell the roses, now is there? Shame. We miss you at departmental meetings.”

Mitchell was opening his mouth to try and explain away his inability to be a ‘team player’ when the hounds all fell silent. He swallowed instead. His attention, along with everybody’s, became riveted on the pink house.

Then came the sound. Like the opposite of a large church bell, or the noise of a gong. A sort of hollow echoing, empty imploding chime, a sound of eternity and despair. The Cwn Annwn all began whining at once, and strained towards the pink house.

Herrick smiled at Mitchell and raised his eyebrows, in a ‘what can you do’ kind of way, but let him go at last. Mitchell felt like he could breathe again. Then Herrick strode over to the house, to its ordinary front door, and made a pass over the lock, magically picking it. He threw it wide, sniffed disdainfully at the contents, and then disappeared inside. Mitchell heaved a sigh, because however unpleasant Herrick’s company might be when he was full of bonhomie and indulgence, it was infinitely preferable to what the poor sod who’d just woken up was going to face.

It felt like the moment in time just before a storm, when the whole world was still, almost glassy, waiting for that first crack of thunder. The reality was much more mundane. Herrick appeared, with one sleeve rolled up, a look of distaste on his face, and his hand dripping water. He held a balled-up piece of cloth which he then shook out, spattering water droplets across the pavement, before letting it dangle from his hand, negligently. It was only then that Mitchell realised what it was - the sad remnants of a torn lace thong. It looked pathetic and forlorn in Herrick’s uncaring hand.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Herrick called, his face beaming and round, enjoying himself.

Mitchell knew what would happen now. He’d seen it before. Herrick had a kind of avidity on his face, as though watching this was going to give him some twisted satisfaction, or nourishment, as much as feeding did. It just made Mitchell sick to his stomach.

There was movement in the doorway of the pink house, a hint of grey, a glimmer of white. Mitchell let out his breath in a sigh as the... ghost hovered on the step. She’d been a pretty girl before she’d died, it was easy to see that, young and cheerful, he decided. She had the terminally lost look of those who had died both by violence and suddenly, and the torn thong that was her material link to the world told its own sad story. Mitchell’s heart flipped in his chest. This was far worse than feeding. She’d died once already and Herrick was even now preparing to end her new second existence at the jaws of the Cwn Annwn, whose original purpose had been to tear and harry damned souls to Hell. But Mitchell couldn’t intervene and he wasn’t prepared to watch. He turned away as much as he dared.

“Hello,” said the girl, “My name’s Annie. Annie Sawyer, I don’t really understand... Have you seen Owen? He’s not here and the house is different, but we’d just moved in and we were going to get married... So. I wondered, have you seen him?” Her voice was wavering but still stronger than such shades usually were. Confused, but not incoherent and half mad.

Herrick chuckled and held out the thong. “Oh, I don’t think you want Owen, do you? Not seeing as he was the one to murder you? Oh, unless you swing that way, in which case, be my guest - or perhaps not.” He walked towards her, swinging the sad scrap of fabric hypnotically. “This is your second end of the line, love. Sorry about that. But the puppies want their exercise, don’t they? And who am I to deny them... what comes naturally?”

Mitchell closed his eyes, knowing Herrick would give the order to release the pack in a matter of seconds. It was a game to him. Just another power trip. But then, suddenly, George gave a kind of shiver, like he was steeling himself for something, and then with a loud bark, shot forward. Mitchell’s grip on the lead had slackened in his disgust and despair, and he didn’t react nearly in time. George was able to rip himself free and dart forward like a streak of black lightning just before Herrick gave the order to attack. Mitchell was horrified - what was George thinking, drawing Herrick’s attention to them like that?

Then Mitchell swallowed. There was something else going on here. George stood before the steps to that ordinary pink house, with its pathetic little ghostling hovering in the doorway, and he snarled. His hackles were raised high, his tail and ears were flat, and his jaw dripped foam. There was an unearthly light in his eyes, a hint of the Cwn Annwn’s true form showing through, and then, still growling continually, George swung his head slowly until he had exchanged glances with every single member of the pack.

“Well, go and get her then,” Herrick ordered them at last, seeming exasperated, or perhaps not realising the extent of George’s actions. “It’s only George.” And then he stared right at Mitchell, as though daring him to say something, a smirk twisting his mouth.

Helplessly, Mitchell spread his fingers wide, his fingerless gloves pulling at the skin in a kind of shrug, which was as much of a denial as he could make without quite lying or attempting some confrontation with Herrick, which he was extremely keen to avoid. At least until he understood what was going on. Then he made his way gingerly through the now silent pack to George’s side. Was Herrick being deliberately obtuse, or was he playing a deeper game? Could he not see that George, by his actions, had made an abrupt bid for pack leadership and that none of the others had even fought him for it? Was there even a precedent for that? A high buzzing whine was affecting Mitchell’s ears as he arrived beside George - he couldn’t even tell if it was magical charge or just stress. Then Mitchell went to touch him, and realised there were cold waves of power radiating from George’s very skin.

Mitchell glanced at Tully, in appearance a bull mastiff, who had been pack leader until a moment ago, and saw him being held back by his partner, Kemp. That was wrong too. Tully should be allowed to fight for his position. Dominance within the pack was extremely important. George shouldn’t have pushed it now, on the job, but since he had - Tully should have been allowed to meet the challenge. Mitchell was uncomfortable in his own skin, prickles of unease running up and down his arms. There were things going on here, undercurrents that he wasn’t picking up on, and that was dangerous. It could possibly even be fatal. Time enough for that later though, they had to get out of here.

“Come on then, Annie,” Mitchell muttered out of the corner of his mouth, “We’re leaving.”

She looked perplexed, but only a little scared, and Mitchell could tell she didn’t really get it. “I don’t think so. I live here in this house... with Owen.” Her voice faltered. The memories were colliding in her head, Mitchell knew. Herrick could be cruel in lots of ways.

“Not any more. You belong to George. Fuck knows why, but he was willing to fight the pack for you - by every tradition of the Cwn Annwn you’re his now.” Mitchell gestured at the surrounding hounds. “Unless you’d prefer to take your chances with them.”

There was a wisp of a movement, then a gasp, before a cool sense of negation, and Mitchell shivered. He realised the ghost girl - Annie - must be hovering at his shoulder, almost within touching range. She felt chilly, like an Autumn mist. At last, Mitchell allowed himself to pay attention to George, let himself tangle his fingers in George’s fur, prepared for the shock of contact but still hanging on. Fuck, Mitchell didn’t even know George could feel this powerful - what was happening to him? And then Mitchell had a horrible premonition. It was something to do with the full moon tomorrow night, wasn’t it? It must be. Peculiar, odd and really fucking dangerous things happening to them? Bound to be moonlight related. Bloody buggering hell.

Mitchell tugged at George’s fur to make him move, not risking the restraint of the lead - yet. And with Annie timidly following them, Mitchell and George left the ring of Nightshift agents and their partners, not even needing to push through - the circle silently opening before them. Some of the hounds, the pack’s weakest members, whined faintly before lying on the ground before George and baring their throats. Herrick too, mockingly, bowed deeply to the three of them as they passed.

“Long live the King,” called Herrick after them, in great good humour, and Mitchell shivered. He had a feeling it was going to be a very long full moon indeed.

***


They went home. Mitchell didn’t know where else to go - they hadn’t burnt all their bridges, after all, not by a long way, just rocked them a bit, so sticking to routine seemed best.

“Not that this is anything like routine,” Mitchell told George, “I don’t know what you were thinking!”

George laid his jaw alongside Mitchell’s hand in apology, and whined lightly. Mitchell sighed.

“I know you’re sorry. But it doesn’t help.” He ran one of George’s silky ears through his fingers. “Don’t worry. We’ll sort something out. We always do.”

“Umm. Excuse me...” Annie seemed to be growing more confident, more solid, with every step. Mitchell approved. At least George hadn’t risked everything for some pathetic wisp who couldn’t even hold their own shape. “You seem to be talking to a dog.”

“Yeah well - appearances can be deceptive. You’re a ghost, George is a Cwn Annwn - a Hound of Hell, or Sky Dog - and I am... Well.” Mitchell looked at her. “Perhaps not everything in one go. We work for Nightshift. And George understands everything I’m saying.”

“But...”

Mitchell held up his hand. They were reaching a Doorway. “I’ll explain things when we’re safe. And you need to see this, so you can use it yourself.”

An entrance to the Nightshift’s Headquarters could be opened wherever an unshriven man had once fallen. In practice, that meant just about anywhere. Mitchell stopped short next to a brick wall, around the corner from the pink house and down the street. There had once been a fatal mugging here, Mitchell thought, he could feel the taste of the man’s fear in the air even after twenty years. He wondered if the man had risen as a ghost like Annie had, and then been torn to pieces by another pack, on another such night. It was impossible to tell, too long ago, and the psychic flavour wasn’t nearly complex enough. It made Mitchell angry though - they’d had a nice little life, he and George, just the two of them, together against the world. It was admittedly not without its dangers, but all of that could have been spoilt by George’s actions tonight. By Annie’s very presence.

Wearily, he explained the trick of it to her, and then led them through the doorway that appeared, that hadn’t been in existence a few seconds before. Annie waited a few moments, hovering there, looking reluctant and scared, before making herself walk through it in the end.

“I don’t know why, since I don’t have a body any more, but it was like walking over my own grave. Although not literally. Oh my god, I could do that now, couldn’t I? That's such a weird thought. Anyway. I don’t think I like your kind of Doorways,” said Annie faintly, and George nosed at her hand too, comforting. While Mitchell refused to feel jealous, because it was ridiculous.

The shimmer of that particular Doorway vanished, leaving just the brick wall behind.

***


“You live in a funeral parlour,” said Annie, disbelief colouring not only her voice but also the aura around her to those who could see or feel. “If this is some kind of sick joke, then I don’t appreciate it.”

Mitchell cocked an eyebrow and lounged back on the ratty sofa. Their bed-sitting room had all the comforts of home, as long as you expected them to come wrapped in a magically enhanced and enlarged funeral parlour with a heavy taste for red velvet. All local Nightshift agents and their partners had rooms here, it was Headquarters for the whole of the Bristol Nest. He looked around. Admittedly, he and George could have looked after their particular rooms better, and he’d been meaning to replace certain bits of scruffy furniture - but really, was Annie in any position to complain?

It was obviously necessary to explain how Nightshift worked, and what they did. What they were supposed to keep on doing. Controlling supernatural entities wasn’t an easy job, people got hardened to it, they got callous. But Annie only sniffed at his explanation of her situation, and what she had so narrowly escaped.

“If you think I’m going to take that as any kind of a reason to torment and destroy ghosts who weren’t harming anyone, then you’ve got another think coming.” Annie was striding up and down their sitting-room, and the air was beginning to crackle around her. Mitchell was rather taken aback, and wondered if this was why George had done it, why he had saved her. This wasn’t usual at all, Annie must actually be quite a powerful spirit.

“Some ghosts are dangerous,” he added quietly, trying not to notice that the mugs were rattling on their hooks, “Poltergeists, for instance.” He gave her a pointed look, and she laughed, rather embarrassedly, but things did begin to calm down. Instead, she moved over to the kitchenette and started to move things the normal way, seemingly by habit beginning to make tea.

Maybe this could work, Mitchell thought. Her control was decent, and she seemed to have good instincts. Since she belonged to George now, they’d have to at least make the effort. “George takes two sugars in his,” he said, “And I like mine black.”

He went to help her fill the kettle.

***


“Morning,” said Annie, cheerfully, and deposited another mug next to Mitchell’s bed. He made an incoherent sound that he hoped sounded grateful. It was possible he could get used to this.

“Well, it’s not morning really, not actual morning,” Annie continued, “It’s more like early evening, dusk even, but it’s morning for us, since we’re Nightshift, and I presume by our very name that we aren’t going to be up to catch the early worm. Maybe the very late worm - does that work as a metaphor? Well, it will have to do. I’ve cleaned. I hope you don’t mind.”

Mitchell groaned. Maybe tea in bed and apparent maid-service wasn’t worth the price he had to pay. He wasn’t much of a morning person, never had been, whatever time he actually got up, and Annie’s inane chatter made it even worse. Then an appalling thought crossed his mind and Mitchell shot up in bed, the sheet pooling in his lap.

“What time is it?”

If his heart could thump it would be doing double time. Fuck, it had been an exhausting night, but surely it wasn’t too late? Surely they weren’t in even more trouble?

“It’s just gone seven in the evening,” said Annie, looking puzzled, her cheeks flushed, if ghosts could be said to have flushed cheeks.

Fuck - bloody bollocking buggeration. “George?” Mitchell shouted, “Get your lazy arse up! We have to go.”

How could he have let things slip like this? It only took one crack in their everyday routines for it all to come crashing down around their ears. Mitchell knew that. George knew that. And here it was only twenty minutes to moonlight and they were still in Headquarters.

He focused on Annie as he tossed aside the covers and threw on some clothes. She was flushed and blinking now. What? Oh... He shook his head, there was no time to explain. He didn’t usually prance about naked, but it was an emergency and also his bedroom. After all, it’s not like he’d ever had to think about such things with George.

The large wicker basket where George slept shifted slightly, and there was a lazy thumping sound as of a heavy tail hitting the side. George put his nose over the basket edge, before deigning to lift himself up and have a good stretch, back legs first, then almost bowing to the floor as he stretched out his front paws. There was a small gasp and Mitchell glanced over to Annie again, as she stared at George. Oh yes, there was that too. He did hope the surprises were all about done for the day, although he didn’t hold out a great deal of hope.

“That’s George’s natural form,” he offered, as he pulled on his jacket and his fingerless gloves.

George grinned, or seemed too, then lolled his tongue out, while panting, obviously pleased with himself. He was a good foot taller at the shoulder like this, than when he was in his Labrador form, and more powerful with it. His coat was short and thick, and shone white like the moon, or like ice, almost glittering as though made of crystal. His head was more pointed, and the jaw heavier; his teeth were pearly and sharp like knives. His ears were the colour of fresh blood, a heavy dark rich red, and his eyes shone yellow as lamps. The effect should have been sinister, Mitchell knew. Other Cwn Hnnwn had made his flesh creep sometimes, but not George. Never George. Mitchell knew too much now about what was happening on the inside, to ever worry about the outside. He was just George.

But now was not the time to explain - they had twenty minutes to moonrise. “We’ve got to go,” he shot at Annie, and then they were out of the door. So much for showing her the ropes. Mitchell fleetingly wondered if she would be all right, left all alone, but really they didn’t have the time to discuss it. She seemed a determined kind of person, for a spirit. She’d be fine.

Mitchell clattered down the stairs, George loping at his side. No time for George’s breakfast, or even a snack for himself. No time at all. There might be many Doorways to take them home, but there was only one Door out of Headquarters, and they headed for it at speed. Their footsteps were quiet now on the thick crimson carpet of the foyer, still decorated like the funeral parlour it had once been. There was some in-joke there, Mitchell was sure, but he wasn’t one of Herrick’s cronies, however much Herrick seemed to wish it, so he wasn’t in on the joke.

Then they came to an abrupt halt, silent in more than their steps. There was a problem. Rather a large problem. Tully had obviously been waiting for them, lying by the front Door, as he was still uncurling and coming to his feet. Still shaking his head from side to side, his growl just beginning to build. It all seemed to take far too long a time. He really was a fine specimen of his species, Mitchell thought, powerful in the shoulder, heavy in the haunches. He wasn’t taller than George, but he was built on broader lines. Shit. They didn’t have time for this.

It didn’t seem to matter to George though, and Mitchell supposed that was fair. None of the Cwn Annwn thought very far ahead, because while their intelligence was beyond doubt, it was mitigated by their physical form and instincts. It was one reason why they made such good partners for agents but could never be agents themselves. And right now? George’s instincts were all telling him that he had to defend his position as pack leader. Mitchell would have tried to get him to think with his head and not with his heart if he’d thought it would help. But they had to get through that Door.

Mitchell only hoped that George didn’t get himself killed in the process.

Tully was growling more loudly now, and George was matching it. Both hounds had their hackles up, and as Tully took a deliberate pace forward, George did too. Mitchell considered that discretion was the better part of valour and instead stepped back, loath though he was to do it. Besides, by tradition he wasn’t allowed to interfere. In practice, if he bloody well had to, then he would and damn the consequences – but a sky dog could tear him to pieces if it came to that. Mitchell really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

They were circling each other now, slowly padding around in an ever tightening orbit. Their eyes, usually a golden colour like a cat’s, were shining like torches, blazing bright in their faces, their glares matched in hate. Mitchell knew George wasn’t exactly impressed by Tully in general, he was greedy with the bitches, arrogantly cocky, and could be cruel. Mitchell hadn’t ever thought that it would come to this, to a leadership contest, but now as he watched them, he whispered a little prayer for luck, and clutched at the silver necklace he always carried in his pocket on George’s behalf.

Then suddenly, so fast Mitchell almost missed the triggering second, the two hounds flew at each other’s throats. Mitchell gritted his teeth and blinked, knowing his eyes had changed colour, darkening in response to the aggression in the atmosphere, to the blood now scenting the air. Then the pair separated just as abruptly, and Mitchell clenched his hands into fists, rather than stepping forward. There was blood on George’s ear. He snarled at Tully, seemingly undaunted, before going for him again.

Then it was a blur, both hounds supernaturally fast and agile, with jaws that could crack bone. The fight was a snapping, snarling, rolling free for all, and it was impossible to tell who was winning. Mitchell’s heart was in his throat. What was he going to do if George lost? Mitchell didn’t usually let himself think about consequences, he barely let himself think beyond the end of the day, or of the month at most. Anything more than that could send him spiralling down into the kind of depression that led to... regrettable incidents. And he’d been clean for too long to lose it now - he didn’t want turn back into that monster. Not to mention that he would lose his job, be thrown out of Nightshift, or worse.

But Mitchell would only be thrown out – if George’s secret was ever discovered, the pack would tear him to pieces.

There was injury on both sides now. George licked teeth that were stained red with Tully’s blood, and was panting hard, still with a low growl whenever he had breath. Mitchell wished he could hurry them up, but it wasn’t how these things worked. At a faint sound he looked up and realised they had an audience, Cwn Annwn and their partners were staring down from the top of the wooden staircase, and clustering in the many doorways. It was a very public confrontation – something that had Mitchell’s teeth itching, even as he knew it was necessary. So much for their usual plan of hiding in plain sight. He wished, forlornly, and for the millionth time, that he knew why George had done any of this.

Then there was a yelp, of real pain, the first such sound that either of them had made, and Mitchell snapped his attention back to the fight. George had his jaws clamped in Tully’s ruff and was bearing him down to the floor. Tully was scrabbling for purchase and not finding any - the thick carpet would never be quite the same after having the claws of a Cwn Annwn desperately raking through it. Mitchell tasted metal and salt, a thick heavy taste that was like an itch in his mouth, and realised that in his fear and excitement he had bitten his tongue. He swallowed anyway, the liquid that trickled down his throat a far cry from what he really craved, another’s blood hot on his lips. He shook his head to clear the image, hoping the desire would go with it, knowing that it wouldn’t. Mitchell was desperate to get away from this, the one part of his partnership with George that he couldn’t handle easily, but knowing that he couldn’t leave George here alone. This was the only part of their lives together that he had never learned to cope with, and George knew that, yet he’d still provoked the fight last night.

Mitchell sucked in a huge breath that he wouldn’t use, his body’s old habits dying hard. It wasn’t George’s fault. He had his instincts, just as Mitchell had his own. Then he blinked. The whole world had a tinge of red to it now, and every living creature had an aura flickering from them, like a heat haze. Mitchell licked lips that felt too dry. This was crazy - he’d not lost control to this extent for years...

The fight was slowing down, as both combatants tired. Mitchell blinked again and time stretched out far too long, each second a slow hour, until finally there was a final despairing howl, low and choked off as George seized Tully’s throat and squeezed it relentlessly in his jaws. He should let him go now, Mitchell thought, his mind disjointed and sluggish, I should make him, he mustn’t kill anyone, that’s not acceptable, he’s got to stop. And wasn’t there another reason to hurry? Mitchell took, or rather staggered, a step forward. George rolled one golden eye from his position straddling Tully, but didn’t immediately let him go. He didn’t release him until Tully was limp and unmoving beneath him, but still breathing, Mitchell realised distantly, still alive. Only then did George allow his jaws to unclamp, and to rise up and let his triumph be heard in an ululating cry.

The other Cwn Annwn joined in, acknowledging George’s victory, and his supremacy in the pack - because it was his pack now, as simple as that, to order and rule as he saw fit. Until the next challenge, at least. Mitchell knew he should be more disapproving of the risk George had taken, but he couldn’t help but smile. George had won! Despite the trouble he suspected was coming their way, Mitchell was so proud of him.

He took another step forward, until suddenly his legs were bumping into George’s side, and Mitchell was clutching at his ruff like it was a lifeline. He could smell that sharp adrenaline fug of athletic dog, and a tinge of his own cold sweat, and the blood. Over all of it he could smell the blood.

Then he was moving, his hands dug deep into George’s fur, stumbling forward before he was even aware of it, George tugging him towards the Door. Mitchell was barely in charge of himself, but he was grateful in some distant part of his mind that one of them at least was still acting rationally.

No-one tried to stop them leaving. Not this time.

***


Part Two