Chapter 15: The Fission Reactor

Image By ZeForge

No matter how many times I tossed it away, the lighter always reappeared in my pocket, polished to a shine and engraved with a new threat. I didn’t know how it worked, but I understood its purpose. I was bound to the mayor of this town. The cryptic messages would disappear after I read them, and from what I could glean, he always knew where I was. Did that also mean he could scry other things? 

It creeped me out the deeper I dove into this. The mayor was obviously someone to be feared, but was Simon right about him? What exactly did anyone know about the elders that ran werewolf society from the shadows, and did anyone really understand the magic they possessed? Was any of this kuu stuff necessary, or were we all being controlled? The conspiracy theories piled up in my mind as I sat in silence on the loveseat, flipping the lid of the lighter over and over, each time with a click that echoed louder through the room. 

“I’m going to rip your hands off,” Austin grumbled from the other couch. He had been so quiet while watching television that I’d kind of forgotten he was still in the room with me.

“Oh shut up.” I clicked the lighter closed before tossing it onto the coffee table. Simon and I agreed to keep what the mayor said quiet until we figured out what his motives were. The last thing I needed to worry about was Austin melting down like he did the other night and no Simon around to calm him.

“I could tear you apart right now, you know.”

“You won’t,” I said dismissively, kicking my feet up on the couch while scrolling through the messages on my phone. 

He continued to glare at me in silence.

“Adam and Simon won’t be back until tomorrow, so either learn to get along with me or go hide in your garage.”

Without another word, Austin tossed the remote on the coffee table and stood before leaving the living room. 

“Hold on.”

“What?” he growled, stopping shy of the door. 

“That was more of an invitation to actually converse.”

The werewolf let out a short hiss through his teeth and opened the door. 

“Come on, I’m trying to—”

The door clicked shut, with Austin now on the other side of it. This planned couple of days was already off to a great start. Simon’s ‘buddy’ reneged on his promise to pick up the moving truck, so it was up to us to get it back to the city. Since Simon was the only one that really knew how to drive, he had to be the one to do it. I would have gone with him, but Adam was about as persistent as a Jack Russell Terrier waiting by the front door. Instead of telling him no, I stood aside. 

Having Adam out of the picture for a little while allowed me some precious alone time with Austin without having to deal with both of them arguing about something. It was hard enough to find a moment Austin wasn’t pissed off, but Adam always exacerbated his bad mood. If I was going to have any chance in hell of getting control of the situation, I needed to win Austin over.

The squirming and rumbling of my stomach reminded me I hadn’t yet eaten lunch. Being cranky and hungry wasn’t going to help, so I’d leave him alone for now while I got a snack. Maybe I’d also watch a movie and get some chores done. It wasn’t like I had to get this done today, right? 

The mayor’s expectations of me were quite overblown. Simon was the oldest and the one actually holding everyone together. His cooking was what lured Austin out of his hole, and his jokes kept the conversations light when they’d veer off into dangerous territory. Not only that, he seemed to know exactly what to say or what advice to give when the situation called for it. 

But then again…

Those qualities were also fused to an infuriating lack of motivation, like a Cronenberg monster of sage-like stupidity. What was I thinking? I couldn’t trust Simon to lead a buffet line, let alone this family. 

I rummaged through the pantry, trying to find something I wouldn’t need to cook. Simon bought a lot of sweets, which, oddly enough, hadn’t added more to his waistline lately. I hated to admit it, but even with his slight gut, the werewolf was naturally handsome. It made me wonder what he’d look like as a human if he had the mayor’s ability. Could he at least take on half-turn form like Austin? 

As I shifted around a bunch of cream-filled, sugary snacks with nothing I wanted in sight, I almost considered tearing open a package of saltines. However, something in the far corner caught my eye. It was a black, unopened bag of pre-popped popcorn that had been meticulously hidden from view. 

After grabbing the snack, I headed back into the living room, planted myself on the sofa, and turned up the television volume. The bag crackled as I tore it open, and I grabbed a handful, shoveling it into my mouth. It was surprisingly delicious, making me drool a little.

The door leading to the garage slammed open, and Austin emerged, sniffing the air. 

“Is that white cheddar popcorn?” 

I examined the front of the bag. “Yeah,” I said, a bit puzzled as he padded toward the couch. “Do you want some?”

He plopped down on the sofa and stuck his nose in the bag and began to salivate. “Yes.”

I passed the popcorn, and he immediately snatched a giant handful, which was nearly half of what was in there. Bits of the cheesy snack fell into his lap as he chomped away, licking his fingers afterward before shoving his slobbery hand back in. 

“Keep it, I guess.” He wasn’t even listening to me anymore. It was as though nothing else mattered but that popcorn. “If you’re hungry, I could make you something.”

He stopped chewing, and his eyes went wide. “Simon told me to keep you away from the stove.”

“For fuck’s sake, I’m not a child! I know what I’m doing now.” 

Austin licked his fingers again, his expression pensive. “I could go for a sandwich.” 

I gave the almost empty bag of popcorn a glance before getting an idea. “You like grilled cheese?” 

His tail thudded against the cushions, and I could barely hold back a smile. Simon may have unintentionally saved the day with his junk food habit. 

“Got any canned tomato soup?”

“I don’t know. Let me look.” I jumped off the couch and hurried into the kitchen. “Is that what you want?”

“If we got any,” he responded, crinkling the empty bag into a ball. “You never had grilled cheese with tomato soup before?”

“I don’t like tomatoes,” I said, moving the canned goods around. “Bad news, there’s no soup.” 

I walked over to the fridge and pulled out a block of cheddar wrapped in cellophane. 

“What are you doing with that?” Austin asked, creeping up behind me. 

“I’m making grilled cheese. What do you think I’m going to do with it?” 

“That’s not the right kind,” he snapped, looking down at the loaf of multigrain bread I’d pulled out. “Where’s the white bread?”

“This is all we’ve got. Does it really matter?”

He flashed a disgusted look and turned away before heading back toward the garage. “Never mind. I’ll eat something later.”

“Wait…” I was going to lose him again. “Why don’t we go to the store and you can pick out what we need?” 

He stopped, seeming to give my request some consideration.

“Nah,” he grunted before disappearing back into the garage. 

This was going to be much harder than I thought, but at least this was something.


The usual clanking and drilling from the garage was oddly absent as I walked up to the house carrying a couple grocery bags full of ingredients to make Austin’s lunch—plus more of that white cheddar popcorn for added bargaining if needed. If I was going to get Austin to tear down his walls, this seemed like a decent first step. After all, food worked great at gaining the trust of stray dogs, and it wasn’t like werewolves were all that different.

After stepping inside, I headed toward the kitchen and unloaded the groceries. Two packs of American cheese, a loaf of white bread, butter, and several cans of tomato soup lay before me on the counter, and I set to work washing my hands. I then placed the frying pan on the burner before turning the stove on high.

A stick of butter softened for a few seconds in the microwave, which I then slathered on the bread before putting the cheese on the other side. Everything was going much better than it usually did, then again, who could mess up a sandwich? 

While the pan heated, I mixed the condensed soup with some milk in a saucepan, then placed it on the back burner. I had to scoot the toaster to make room for the plates, and a glint of light caught my eye behind it, brighter than the bulb above the stove would have reflected. There sat that strange opal I’d forgotten to put back on my dresser the other day. I grabbed the gem, gently slipping it into my pocket before plopping the buttery cheese sandwich onto the pan with an alarmingly harsh sizzle. The directions said to leave it on one side for about three minutes, then flip it over. 

Simple enough…


“What the hell are you doing?” Austin shouted over the smoke alarm as he dashed into the kitchen.  

“Everything’s fine,” I said calmly, trying not to cough as I poured a cup of water over the smoldering remains of lunch. More smoke billowed to the ceiling and spread throughout the house. “It’s just a little well-done.” 

Austin disappeared, running from room-to-room, opening windows while I chiseled the grilled cheese onto a plate before cooling the pan under running tap water. It hissed and made an odd pinging noise, and when I placed it back onto the burner, it wobbled, no longer able to make full contact.

“Damn it. I forgot to turn the burner back down,” I said, twisting the knob to five. I had destroyed Simon’s good frying pan, and I’d have to use one of his smaller ones to try again.  

Austin stomped back into the kitchen and picked up the plate, sliding the solid black briquette that was once a sandwich into the trash. “A little well done? On what planet, Venus?” he asked, grabbing my wrist as I spread more butter on another slice of bread. “You’re not going to be satisfied until you burn the whole fucking house down, are you?”

“It was an accident. I let the frying pan get too hot and kind of…wasn’t paying attention. I’ll have your lunch ready in a couple minutes,” I said, pointing to the pot. “I think the soup’s done.”

The werewolf gasped, turning the burner off before lifting the lid. The once watery mixture had gotten so thick that it splattered instead of boiled. He gave it a quick sniff. “How the hell did you burn soup? It’s SOUP!”

“I didn’t burn it,” I said, examining the pale red concoction. “Looks fine to me.”

Austin grabbed a spoon and dipped it into the pot, scooping something thick from the bottom. He pulled up the utensil to reveal a clump of char. 

“How the hell did that happen?”

“Out,” Austin barked, pointing toward the direction of the living room. 

“At least let me clean—”

“Out!” he shouted again, giving me a hard shove away from the stove.

“I was just trying to make you lunch,” I said, my voice a bit quivery as I exited the kitchen. My attempt at garnering some civility between us went up in smoke. Literally. Sauntering into the bedroom, I sat down on the mattress and glanced at the clock, which read five minutes past three, which I found odd. Either the time was wrong, or I had been cooking for about forty-five minutes. 

This had been happening to me a lot lately. The time skips would always start with me doing something mundane like watching tv or listening to music by myself, but then my mind would wander. An hour would pass in almost a blink, and sometimes I’d rest my eyes only to wake up several hours later. Perhaps I was under too much stress; in fact, that’s exactly what it had to be.

I laid back on the pillows and stared at the ceiling, thinking about what else I could do to salvage this day. 


A giant hand shook my shoulder, startling me awake. Austin was looking down at me with the usual grimace. 

“Damn, when did I fall asleep?”

“Time to eat,” he grunted before leaving the bedroom. 

It took a moment for what he said to sink in as I stood and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I stumbled into the dining room with a yawn just as Austin was scarfing down one of his seven grilled cheese sandwiches. Next to him was a neatly placed saucer stacked with two sandwiches, a spoon on a folded napkin, and a steaming bowl of pale red soup with some oregano flakes.

“I didn’t know you could cook,” I said before pulling my chair up to the table. 

“I can’t. It’s canned soup and grilled cheese. Even eight-year-olds know how to make it.” He frowned and narrowed his eyes. “Aren’t you supposed to be smart or something?”

“I don’t know why everyone thinks that’s so special.” I took a bite of the sandwich, which was perfectly fried. 

“You’re the only one here that went to college. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with you. You learned so much useless crap that you ended up pushing out all the important stuff.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, trying to hold back my rising irritation. 

The werewolf folded one of the sandwiches and dipped it into the bowl before taking a bite. 

“Gross.”

“Try it,” he said with his mouth full. 

I pushed the unappetizing bowl away from me. “You eat it. I don’t like tomatoes.”

“What are you talking about? You eat tomatoes all the damn time.”

“That’s different. They’re usually… in something. Not ‘the’ something.”

“Have you ever tasted it?”

I shook my head. 

“You can’t say you don’t like something if you haven’t even tried it.”

“Fine,” I muttered, picking up the spoon next to my plate. “It sure smells…tomato-y.” After dipping the spoon into the bowl, I held it to my lips and gave it a taste. My mind wanted to reject it immediately, but my mouth didn’t. There was a sweetness that complemented the savory, and the milk gave everything a delicious mouthfeel. “Huh… no shit.”

Austin smirked. “Now, dip your sandwich in it.”

“I’m gonna have to draw the line there.”

“Suit yourself,” he said, going back to his meal. 

I let out a contemplative sigh and dipped the tip of my sandwich into the creamy soup before holding it to my mouth. Maybe if I pretended to like it, this might make him happy. 

I took a bite, but surprisingly, there was no reason to pretend.

“No fucking way. Why have I not known about this?”

Austin stuffed the last sandwich into his mouth. “When I was little, my grams used to make this for us.”

“Us?”

He finished chewing, but sat still on the chair. The look in his eyes was terrifyingly similar to the other night, and I realized I’d inadvertently set him off somehow. 

“You don’t have to say anything else.”

His breath quickened, and he scooted away from the table, gripping the fur on the sides of his head while rocking back and forth.

I shot up out of the chair and tried to put my arm around him, but he smacked me so hard with the back of his hand that I went airborne, slamming into the wall before falling to the floor. Ignoring the pain in my head, I stumbled to my feet and tried to console him again. 

Austin let out a terrifying snarl as he lunged for me in a frenzied panic, knocking the table upward. Soup splashed the walls as one of the bowls shattered against it. His right hand wrapped around my neck, lifting me from the ground as he squeezed. Blood pooled in my head, and I could no longer breathe. 

“Don’t touch me!” He shouted at nothing behind me before tossing me aside like a doll. “Don’t hurt him!”

I was writhing on the floor, rubbing my neck while gasping. It was pointless. I wasn’t strong enough to restrain him, and he was too far gone to soothe with words. While he was in this state, he probably would kill me if I tried that again. 

The werewolf was pacing the room, howling, his eyes distant and glowing bright orange. The more I tried to think about what Simon would do, the less feasible it was. That was when I had an idea.

Instinctively, the longer fur-like hair on the back of my neck stuck straight up, and I stomped one foot on the floor, catching his gaze. 

“Get a hold of yourself, soldier!” I barked, the tone of my voice harsh and unnaturally low for me.

Austin froze.

“Attention!”

It was as though his body was on autopilot as he gave a salute before standing up straight, puffing out his chest. 

“Yes sir!”

With my hands behind my back, I strode with as much confidence as I could muster, not breaking eye contact as he looked down at me. Inside I was trembling, my heart racing as I silently hoped that this would work and not make him worse. 

“At ease.”

The fierce orange of his eyes faded and his breathing slowed. He stumbled forward as if whatever malevolence seemed to grip his mind went away. 

“Austin?” I wanted to say more, but right now, I just wanted to make sure he was back. “Are you in there?” 

He looked down at me, his eyes partially glazed-over. 

“I’m gonna lay down,” he said, his gait meticulous as he crept through the living room toward the hallway. He looked back at me, his now watery eyes silently pleading, but not before his usual scowl returned. He disappeared through the door, closing it gently behind him. 

Did he want me to follow? If I read this wrong, I risked knocking down the delicate house of cards that was his state of mind, but I also couldn’t leave him alone after that. The safest thing was to at least check on him without being pushy. 

I tiptoed toward his bedroom door, turning the knob before peeking inside. He was lying on his back with both hands folded behind his head.

“Are you okay?”

He didn’t respond, so I slipped into the room, keeping my eyes peeled for any change in his body language. If he showed even the slightest anger or discomfort, I’d take that as my cue to leave. However, he remained emotionless, except for the tip of his tail slightly padding the mattress between his legs. 

I scooted next to him, cautiously putting both feet up on the mattress before leaning back against the headboard.

“You ever wonder why we exist?” Austin asked without looking at me. 

“I used to, but since there’s no concrete answer, I don’t bother wondering anymore.”

“I shouldn’t be here.” 

“I’d like to think we exist just long enough to make as many impacts on other peoples’ lives as we can. If either of us was the last person on this planet, I’d wonder what the point of it all was, but we’re not the only ones. Think of existence as…a giant fission reactor, but instead of atoms colliding, it’s how we interact with other people that creates the chain reaction. Every interaction changes the course of each person’s life, and then they change the lives of others be it for good or for worse. In the end, we all end up where we need to be with the people we’re meant to be with, just as radioactive material eventually becomes stable.”

Austin glared at me. “A fission reactor?”

“Okay, I’m not that good at metaphors, but did it make sense?”

It was as though the grimace that was holding his face hostage for so long let go, and he let out a laugh that shook the bed. 

“You’re such a nerd.”

I got flashbacks to that night with Simon. 

“It wasn’t meant to be funny.”

Austin’s laughter faded to a light chuckle, and he shoved me with his elbow. “Uh oh, I think you might go supercritical now.”

“You’re an ass,” I said, but paused when I thought about his witty response. “You’re obviously smarter than you let people think.”

“It’s easier to be stupid.”

“Well, yeah…to a certain extent,” I said, choosing my next words carefully. “I’m worried about you.”

“Yeah right.” 

“If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

“Why?” he asked, more serious this time. “What do you get out of it? Does playing shrink make you feel better about yourself?”

“That’s not what this is.”

“Then what is it? I’ve gone out of my way to treat you like shit, but you’re like a gnat that I can’t get out of my face.” He turned toward me again. “Now that’s a metaphor.”

“It’s actually a simile.”

Austin growled. 

“You can’t even make a fucking sandwich. Pathetic.”

“Maybe I did that on purpose, so you’d make me the sandwich.”

We both went quiet, save for the steady breeze whistling into the room through the window screen. 

“Well played,” he finally said, his hand brushing against mine. “What you said earlier…I never thought about it that way before.”

“I wish I could say I came up with it, but I heard it from some YouTube video a while ago.”

“Even the fission part?” 

“I ad-libbed a little.” 

It was risky, but I wanted to see how far I could go with him. Maybe I could hold his hand, since he was too big to lay in my lap like he did with Simon. I kind of expected him to swat me away, but he didn’t. Instead, his massive hand enveloped mine. 

“My old man had a lot of mental problems. When he took his meds, he was fine, but if he missed a dose, he got really crazy. The last time he took his medicine, he forgot to take it again and was convinced it was mind-control. I was eight and my brother was five when my mom woke us up in the middle of the night and drove us to Gram’s house.”

His breathing was shallow and quick, but I kept a tight hold on his hand. 

“That night, Dad showed up ranting about how we weren’t really his family—that we were all replacements sending information back to some secret government agency to track him. Mama called the cops, but he broke in and shot her in the head with grandpa’s revolver.” He tensed, his shaky grip on my hand tightening. “Grams was screaming, but he shot her too. My brother and I ran into the bedroom, but he followed us. Another shot, and my brother let go of my hand and fell to the floor. All I remembered after that was two more shots, and a loud high-pitched ringing in my ears. I woke up in the hospital a week later, in an empty room with a bunch of machines. I felt like the only one on the planet, all alone, in pain and scared.”

My mouth hung open as tears filled my eyes, turning the room into a glass bowl. I didn’t know how to react to something so unbelievably tragic. 

Austin sniffed. “He shot me point blank in the back of the head, and I remembered not being able to move my arms and legs. I couldn’t speak—all I could do was lay there and listen to them talking about me. They thought I couldn’t understand them, but I did. Have you ever been scared of living and scared of dying at the same time?”

I wiped my eyes and shook my head. 

“No one,” he said with a slight whimper. “There was no one to tell me I was gonna be okay. They thought I was gonna be like that until I died, but little-by-little I started moving again. The doctors couldn’t believe I could move my arms, but I still couldn’t walk or talk, and I wouldn’t be able to until I turned fifteen—and you know what comes after that. Being a half-turn didn’t heal everything.”

He let out the most gut-wrenching cry that shattered me. 

“I shoulda died that night with my family. I shoulda died with the rest of my pack on that test site in the marines.” He howled, tears soaking his face. “Why am I still here?”

“Austin,” I said, wiping my face as I climbed closer to him. “You’re where you need to be now. Right here next to me.” I pressed against the side of his face with my other palm, never letting go of his hand as I maneuvered over him. “You’re safe.”

The werewolf sobbed again, and I leaned into him, my forehead touching his. 

“You’re safe,” I whispered again, wrapping my arms around his neck. “You’re my family now.”

He nodded, his breathing returning to normal and his tears trickling. When I pulled away, his hand caught my back, holding me against him. 

“Stay with me,” he said softly, our mouths almost touching. His voice had a child-like meekness to it, even though it was much deeper than mine. “Will you stay with me?”

“I’ll stay as long as you need me to.”

We were so close that his scent mixed with mine. Instinctively, my lips met his and he reciprocated the emotion. It wasn’t quite sexual, but not innocent either. It was worlds different from what I experienced with Simon, because I was the one in control, keeping him tame. Something deep inside of me ripped to the surface, a strange energy I’d never experienced. It was this drive to protect, but also to claim. Austin…wanted more of me as his eyes closed as our tongues intertwined.

I growled, and his eyes snapped back open. His army fatigues brushed against my leg, but they were slightly damp and bulging from his arousal. What radiated from my own groin was painful and ready. Everything I’d been told about half-turns led me to believe we needed to be fucked in order to calm the swelling storm of hormones and new sensations, but that was not what I wanted. My mind blanked in and out, and I hadn’t felt this since the other day with Simon. Only this time, I wasn’t enraged. 

I gasped and pulled away. 

“Damn. I’m so sorry.”

“I…uh…” From the look on his face, he was just as bewildered as I was. 

These dynamics were off, at least according to everything Adam had ever said. 

“This doesn’t make you uncomfortable?”

“No,” he said, his tone breathy. “It’s okay. Do you need it?”

“What?”

“Simon’s not here. Do you need me to—or do you want to…”

“Oh!” I said, scrambling off of him. “No, I’m—I’m good for now, thanks.”

His ears fell off to the side. 

“Alright.” 

“Do you still want me to stay with you?”

“Yeah,” he whispered, his expression tinged with what I could only assume was disappointment. This was so strange. My actions should have upset him, but it was almost as if he wanted me to continue. 

I grabbed his hand again and the tenseness from earlier melted as we stared at one another, his eyes still glimmering like tiny pools. 

“I never told anyone before,” he said. “I never could before now.”

“I won’t tell anyone, and if you ever feel overwhelmed, come lay down with me. Okay?” 

“Art…” He swallowed hard, opening his mouth to say something else, but instead cleared his throat. “Okay.”

“What is it?”

“I uh, just wanted to say thanks for getting that stuff at the store, and for trying to make me lunch. No one’s ever done that.”

“Really? What about Adam?”

Austin’s eyes narrowed, and his sad smile disappeared. “Adam’s just a kuu bond, nothing more. He’s made that perfectly clear. He doesn’t care about me.”

I shook my head. “You couldn’t be more wrong. He’s just young and kinda selfish. He needs someone holding his hand otherwise he doesn’t know what to do with himself.” 

“I hate that,” he grunted. “Sometimes I just want to be—” He paused and let out a sigh before turning away. “God I hate this.”

Seeing his increased frustration, I let it go. It was safer that way, even though a part of me wanted to keep prying. However, this was Adam’s place, not mine. This didn’t feel right, especially since he was emotionally vulnerable. If I were to have done what I wanted a few moments ago, it could have been something we both regretted. 

“Alright,” I whispered, wrapping my arm part of the way around him. He was so huge, trying to be the big spoon was almost impossible. But, it seemed to have a positive effect as his tail gently thudded against my leg. “Get some sleep.”

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