Thirty-Two

Julian had grown accustomed to the sterile smell of the hospital; even the fluorescent lighting, so long his enemy, had grown more comforting with time and familiarity, but more than anything, he still longed for home. He’d had his bone marrow aspirations taken earlier that day, and he was still waiting to hear the results. The experience had not been a pleasant one, to say the least. He’d hated the feeling of having blood taken before—extracting bone marrow was infinitely worse. His hip, where they’d inserted the long and menacing hollow needle, ached fiercely with every beat of his heart. Still, he felt hopeful. With any luck, there would be no further evidence of the cancer in his body and he’d be able to go home in a week or so—provided he managed to avoid any life-threatening infections in the meantime.

In fact, he’d been doing so well that the doctors were even letting him visit with Teddy in the flesh today. Julian could hardly wait. It had been a long couple of weeks without his best friend there to physically cuddle him—probably the longest they’d been apart in years. He was feeling incredibly bereft and seeing Teddy’s sunny face, feeling his warm skin against his—even if it was just holding hands briefly—would do wonders for his somewhat bedraggled spirits. So far, he’d only been allowed the occasional visit from his parents and even those were kept brief to reduce the chances of them inadvertently giving their son a germ when he was physically incapable of fighting it off himself. Even with those precautions, he’d managed to get a pretty severe infection earlier on in his treatment and his fever had gotten so high that he literally couldn’t remember a thing. Just a vague sensation of pain and confusion remained of that ordeal and he’d been building his strength back up ever since.

Mostly, he did this by reading—which brought him to the second reason he was eager for this visit.

As promised, his nurse had brought a bunch of books to keep him occupied. All of it had been on the occult, oddly enough. Evidence of the supernatural in the area, werewolves and the like. He’d thought it was a joke at first, but the more he read—more out of boredom than actual interest in the subject—the more he started wondering about it all. The silver allergy, which he’d been intrigued by enough to ask in the first place, was mentioned often, but only ever in conjunction with werewolves. A part of Julian had ignited when he’d read about them and he started comparing what he’d found in Teddy’s secret hiding place with what he now knew from his books and all the sketchiness that surrounded his best friends’ occasional disappearances. Was it possible they had been disappearing for the full moon? He wished he’d had more of a mind for keeping track of things like that so he could compare.

Could werewolves be real? It seemed impossible, and yet at the same time…he couldn’t help but feel a little hopeful. If there were werewolves, and that was a huge if, that meant there could potentially be a way he could prevent his cancer from ever coming back. But how did you bring something like that up?

Ever since he’d started investigating, he’d taken to tracking the dates. His nurse had been all too happy to get him a calendar so he could start marking them down, comparing the date with the moon cycle. The full moon, he’d discovered, was tonight. This, he decided, would be his ultimate test.

Every book he’d read had told him that werewolves began feeling sick the closer to the full moon that one got. Their senses overwhelmed them, apparently, and they would be more affected by loud noises or bright lights. The hospital had plenty of those, and although Jules felt a little bad about putting Teddy through that if he was indeed a werewolf, another part of him felt it was justified considering he’d been keeping such a monumental secret from him. And maybe, just a little bit, Julian wanted Teddy to understand just what he’d felt like this past couple of weeks. Misery loved company, after all.

So Julian was looking forward to seeing Teddy. He was so excited that he couldn’t even nap, no matter how much his body begged him to. Instead, he laid listlessly on his side, trying to count his breaths and imagine a world where he could be free of this pain—where he could run with Teddy and Grey through the woods as wolves instead of being cooped up in the chemical dump tank that was the hospital.

A light knock on his door roused Julian from his daydream and he laboriously pushed himself up off the bed to face the man of the hour. He couldn’t help the smile that blossomed on his face. “Teddy…”

Teddy crossed the distance between them in two swift strides, his long legs easily carrying him to Julian’s side. He crushed the smaller boy to him and even though it caused a whole slew of agony, Julian found he didn’t mind it too much. It was worth it to breathe in the warmth of outside and the scent of iced coffee which clung to him, to feel Teddy’s strong arms supporting his weight. He shook with the pain of it as he tangled his hands in the fabric of Teddy’s shirt, but an earthquake wouldn’t have been enough to pull them apart.

“I missed you so much,” Teddy said, his breath tickling across Julian’s ear in a way that was difficult to ignore. He seemed to realize that he was hurting Julian a moment later, though, as he swiftly let go and sat back, carefully untangling himself from Julian’s IV.

“Ugh, I missed coffee so much. Why couldn’t you bring me some?” Julian asked with a pout.

Teddy laughed. “I tried, but the doctors wouldn’t let me. Smuggling is unfortunately not one of my talents.”

“I guess I should have befriended a better smuggler then,” Julian said. “But god, it’s so good to see you—how are you?”

“Surprisingly okay, but who cares about me? How are you?”

“Hopefully I’m all better,” Julian said. “I got a bone marrow aspiration earlier today to see if that’s the case or not. Probably be another day before I get the results.”

“Is that where they stick that long needle in your spine?” Teddy asked in horror.

“Hip, actually, but yeah—definitely didn’t feel great. Still smarts.”

Now was the time to begin his probing, he decided. Carefully, Julian shifted in his bed just so that his foot hit the food tray enough to cause a loud noise. Teddy flinched; Julian felt his heart leap. “Are you hungover?”

“Nah,” Teddy said, shaking his head. He looked pale, Julian noticed then. Expression pinched. Could it be true after all? “And before you ask, I’m not sick, either. I would never put you in danger and I know you’re not in shape to fight off whatever I might catch.”

“I didn’t doubt you for a second,” Julian said. “I’m still not convinced you’ve gotten sick in years. When was the last time—Tybee?”

Teddy shifted guiltily; Julian tried not to celebrate. It could all just be a coincidence, he told himself. It took more than a couple of weird incidences to prove that everything he knew to be false may not be so false after all. “I don’t remember,” Teddy said at last.

Julian arched an eyebrow. “You don’t remember getting a fever so high, your whole family had to cancel the vacation and rush you to a hospital? I thought you were dying. It was probably one of the scariest experiences in my life and after going through this whole ordeal myself, I find it difficult to believe you don’t remember at least being sick.”

“No, I remember that,” Teddy said with an exaggerated eye-roll. “I just don’t remember the last time I got sick.”

“Teddy…” Julian began, biting his lip. He didn’t know if there was a way to ask this without sounding like a lunatic. He already felt foolish enough just considering the possibility; but another part of him was desperate for this to be true—to have some explanation for all the weird shit that he’d witnessed and a maybe even an opportunity to escape the fate he’d been dreading since he’d gotten his cancer diagnosis. “Is it possible that…maybe you just don’t get sick anymore?”

“Everyone gets sick, Jules,” Teddy said. “Maybe not as sick as you, but…”

“Not everyone,” Julian cut in. “Look, I’m not great at doing the whole subtle bullshit thing. I think we’ve both danced around the truth long enough now.”

“What truth?” Teddy asked, and Julian could hear the frustration in his voice, could see it in the way he raked a hand through his hair.

“Are werewolves real?” Julian asked, careful to keep any humor out of his voice so that Teddy could understand that this was very much not a joke; that he genuinely wanted to know.

Teddy looked stricken, but he composed himself quickly. Maybe a little too quickly. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m on borrowed time, Teddy. I don’t have the luxury of being ridiculous,” Julian said.

“You said it yourself—you might be all better. You’ve got all the time in the world to be ridiculous because you’re not going anywhere; you’re going to be fine.”

Now it was Julian’s turn to be frustrated. “Even if it’s gone now, cancer doesn’t just disappear. I’ll have to live with the testing, the treatments, all of that, for the rest of my life and one day, eventually, it’s going to come back. And one day, eventually, I’m not going to win. I need to know the truth. Are werewolves real?”

Teddy couldn’t answer, or maybe he just wouldn’t. But Julian pressed, “Who’s Shepherd? How do you really know Kol? Have you been disappearing on the full moon every month instead of visiting your grandparents? How does Grey figure in all of this? What’s going to happen tonight?”

Each question seemed to overwhelm Teddy even more, Julian’s words hitting their mark until the tall blonde resembled Saint Sebastian, peppered with a hundred arrows though his were invisible ones and they were being fired by his best friend. But Julian refused to back down—he’d had enough lies to last a lifetime. Seeing him now, the stricken and horrified look on his face, Julian became suddenly certain that all the evidence he’d uncovered up to now pointed to his best friends being werewolves. “I saw your hollow book, Teddy. I saw the wolf’s bane, the silver chain, even before you gave it to me. I saw the pictures of the golden-eyed man. He’s Shepherd, isn’t he? Did he do this to you? Can he do it to me?”

Teddy balked visibly. “No,” he gasped.

Julian continued, sounding almost desperate. “I don’t want to die,” he said. “I keep thinking of it, of the possibility of it, and it terrifies me. Cancer is going to kill me—maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but somewhere along the line, it will. I won’t get to live a full life—I’m a dead man walking and I’ve barely begun to live.”

Teddy was shaking his head. “You don’t know what you’re asking, Jules. You can’t or else you would never…” the blonde stopped, realizing what he had just admitted. But he also seemed to realize that he couldn’t go back, not now. He squared his shoulders. “Even if he could do it, I wouldn’t let him. I would die before I ever let anyone give you this…this curse. Because that’s what it is. It’s a curse—it’s painful and it’s lonely and you can never escape it. It’s as sure a death sentence as cancer, except less predictable. Besides…he can’t turn anyone anymore. He’s dead.”

Julian sat stock-still at the triumphant declaration. He couldn’t believe his ears. In one short visit, his best friend had not only admitted that there were werewolves in the world, but he had told him point blank that there had been a cure for his cancer all along, that this suffering could have ended already–but his life wasn’t worth saving. “Get out,” he said, and his voice was calmer than he thought it should sound considering his whole world was imploding in on itself.

“Jules…” Teddy began, seeming to realize what he’d done a moment too late. “Please…”

“I said get out!” he shouted, and grabbed the amethyst chain from where it was tucked underneath his pillow. He hurled it at his friend, who caught it and then shrieked in agony, doubling over his now-wounded hand. Julian should have felt bad—he did feel bad—but it wasn’t enough to stop the anger quaking in his soul.

As Teddy straightened, blue eyes swimming with unshed tears either from physical pain or emotional hurt, Julian held his gaze; he would not back down.

Teddy nodded, as if answering his unspoken thought, then backed out of the hospital room, door clicking shut behind him.

Julian buried his face in his hands and began to cry.

 

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