Port in a Storm
Colin is not having the best time lately, being a runaway shifter with a less than stellar reputation, hiding beneath a car in the pouring rain hoping to evade the angry warlock looking for him.
David's had a long day; being the local white witch and healer is a worthwhile occupation, but it's rarely an easy one. When he spies a stray kitten under his car, he figures he'll be able to rescue at least one living thing that night...
Rain. Rain and grimy city streets and cars.
Cars were the worst, Colin Rue decided. He could hate cars. They splashed through puddles and sent waves across already soaked kitten fur. Cars were terrible.
The latest minivan, not caring what one drenched feline shapeshifter thought of it, made a right turn at the base of the hill. Water fountained up. Colin stared at the street, which was busy being an ocean. Rain dripped onto his head.
He could've become human. He could've escaped like that. In human form.
He would've been naked, and scared, and shaken to the core.
He was all of those anyway. For a fleeting second, he heard a warlock's laugh, felt a hand caressing his head—
No. He'd run. He'd gotten out of his collar, and he'd run.
Colin hid behind a dilapidated rosebush and peeked at street signs and tried to think only about the next move, the next breath, staying free.
He didn't even know where he was. Los Angeles, or a dependency thereof. Southern California, anyway. He'd been running for hours; he knew he was out of the heart of the city, away from a tasteless lurid sky-view penthouse and diamonds at his throat and lazy commands. But he didn't know where he'd ended up. Some neighborhood. Suburbia. Roughly middle-class homes with their matching level of care given to appearance. Rose bushes.
Street signs weren't designed for people of feline height. He spared a moment to add those to the list of terrible things. Street signs and cars.
Himself. His choices.
No, he told himself again, firmly. You got out. You did get out. You're Colin Rue, descendent of one of the original twelve shapeshifter families, you once had the North American Arch-Mage offering to buy you drinks and sweep you off your feet. You can handle this. You can handle anything.
That kind of thinking had, of course, led him here: hiding in kitten shape, naked and scared and shaken, as he'd already admitted to the rosebush.
The storm got worse. Lightning. Hail. Unseasonably angry thunderclouds. Colin Rue, who knew exactly why the lightning, inched back into leaves and branches.
He didn't want to. He didn't even mean to. He couldn't help it.
He knew he couldn't handle anything. He couldn't do anything. He was alone and lost and exhausted, and he might be free, but he'd just made a very petulant warlock very annoyed. He was still a kitten in cat shape, small and huddled and hungry; he did not want to be human yet.
He did not like those recent memories. He also did not want to have to explain the sudden appearance of his naked self, without identification, roughly twenty-six years old and shimmering with undeniable magical reserves, if any witches or warlocks discovered him first.
If a particular warlock discovered him—
He pushed that thought down and buried it. He wasn't going back.
Lightning stabbed the pavement. A block ahead. Searing through the afternoon.
Colin flinched, collided with his rosebush, hissed at it and the world, and ran.
A block or two later he remembered to breathe. The lightning had to be coincidence. His warlock had no way of knowing where he'd gone.
His legs wobbled. His legs were muddy. He was muddy. He'd once spent nights on silk sheets, wearing rubies, letting people woo him for the privilege of playing with his magic, his human self.
Eight months ago. It felt like a lifetime. Eight of them. One for every month he'd worn a collar.
He tried to sneeze—water and mud in his nose—and couldn't, because he did have water in his nose, and his legs wobbled and gave out. In a puddle. Of course.
When he glanced around he discovered that he'd landed at the edges of a gas station. The scents of oil and hot cars and steaming ground wafted across kitten senses. The ground was hard and the puddle was deep. A truck pulled in while he watched, and men grumbled about the rain. Sorry, Colin told them silently. My fault. Sort of. You sleep with a warlock one time, he turns out to be a megalomaniac who sticks you in an enchanted compulsion collar, you run away, and, hey, thunderstorms.
He even liked rain, or he had before. He liked rain the way that cats liked rain: indoors, with a fire and a soft blanket and someone's lap to sit on. If he were human at the time, that might even lead to more than simply sitting, under the drumming vibrant heartbeat of drops.
He did not like collapsing in a puddle, being rained on, and now beginning to wonder whether he had the energy to move.
I can handle this, he thought one more time. Even the thought came out small and unhappy. He wasn't going to die and he wasn't going to get caught again. He could get up and get moving. He should get moving. But he was miserable and starving and so wet and so tired, tired of warlocks and commands and bodies—