The Cliffs

Originally a twitter prompt found here.

He hits the ground, hard. Pretty sure he’s bleeding from somewhere, too, but that’s the least of his worries. Not when the wolf is on him a second later. 

It’s massive; Not the leader, but likely the next alpha male. Certainly bigger than normal, though. In spite of the obvious futility, he tries to roll onto his back. To raise his gun.

As always, the same little voice echoes in his head. That maybe if he does this – maybe if he kills the beast and makes it out alive, maybe if this is his first kill, they’ll finally accept him. Maybe it will be enough for his family, to make up for the rest. 

The wolf’s jaws close quickly over the gun, missing his fingers by hairs. There’s a whimper as the silver inlay burns into its mouth, but it’s enough time for the wolf to fling it somewhere deeper into the darkness of the forest.

It looks down at him as if to say now what?

His fingers curl into a fist, aimed at the tip of the wolf’s nose. It dodges, snarling at him. Then, it sits back on its haunches, one heavy paw on his chest, tilts its head back and howls.

The sound seems to burn through his soul. When others join it, and are not followed by the gunshots he expects, it’s almost more than he can bear. At least, in the seconds before he can’t do anything but feel it. 

Then there’s more of them, everywhere. 

And then, before his eyes, three of them shift back. Immediately, two of them move to hold the third up, to support them slowly to the ground. 

“Help him,” comes the growled command from the one on the right. 

“What?!” he tries to sit up, his instinct to scramble away. “No! I can’t- I’m not going to-”

The wolf above him is back in his face again, snarling. 

“I can’t,” he tries again, weaker, “if my family finds out, they’ll-”

“Your *family* left you here.”

*Help him,* the voice – a voice, that does not quite feel like his own – says in the back of his mind. 

“I don’t know how.”

The wolf on the left scoffs and spits. “Fucking worthless. I told you we needed to get him back to the house where-”

The wolf on top of him snarls again, but this time it’s at least not directed at him. It looks down at him, something in its expression considering. The wolf removes its paw and he sucks in a full breath, lungs heaving now that they were able. 

Clearly growing impatient, the wolf’s teeth close on his shirt and he’s pulled into a sitting position, accompanied by the sound and feeling of fabric tearing. 

“Hey!” he protests reflexively, some stupid part of his brain already dreading the thought of having to buy another binder. Of having to sneak it past his parents, even though they know. Even though he’s an adult. 

The wolf gives him a fleeting, almost-apologetic look, then headbutts him toward its bleeding packmate. 

“Ok, ok, fuck,” he groans, his own body sore. He’s definitely bleeding from a cut on his leg, but it’s minor, especially compared to the bleeding hole in the wolf’s side. “What do you need me to do?”

“Get the bullet out, obviously. God, you people are as dumb as you look,” the wolf on the left says. 

“Yeah, but *how*? I’ve never done this before.”

“Take your fucking knife and cut. It. Out.”

Because of course, the wound can’t just heal around it. The bullet is silver. Made to poison the blood if the shot itself doesn’t kill. 

Except- “My-my knife is silver too,” he says. 

“Doesn’t matter,” the bleeding wolf in the middle says, voice thick with pain and garbled around a mouth full of fangs. “That’ll heal eventually. This won’t.”

He takes a couple of limped steps forward. Peering at it – him – more closely, he sees that this one hasn’t shifted back all the way, his body still partially covered in fur but otherwise similar to his own in a way that feels like a punch to the gut.

“Yeah, fuck, ok uhh,” he fumbles, brain trying to recall what he’d seen their doctor do before and struggling around every other aspect of the situation. “Um, lay him down. And you’re probably gonna have to hold him. This is gonna hurt.”

“Obviously,” the one on the left says, already moving. 

He tries to work quickly, and the cut is relatively clean even though his hands shake. The terrible beauty of muscle memory, he thinks. “Oh fuck,” he whispers, the second before he reaches into the cut to try to dig the bullet free. 

The wolf snarls, straining up toward him with snapping jaws as he starts to shift back, but the other two keep him held down firmly. 

Somehow, he manages to get it out, fingers warm with blood. As soon as he does, the wolf shifts back fully with a pained growl. But instead of coming from him like he expects, it – he – noses his forehead and turns to walk away. 

The other two go with him after shooting twin Looks at the one behind him.

Right. He’d forgotten about that. He stands and turns to find himself face to face with it. 

And they’re not wolves. Not really. He knew that before now, but it was different being face to face with one. The dimensions were wrong. The facial expressions. 

All of it is somewhere between wolf and human; familiar and foreign all at once, but enough to make him wonder how the rest of his family does it. Enough to make him glad he’d avoided getting this close until now. 

“Now what?” he asks, voice cracking slightly. 

The wolf moves around him and headbutts the back of his shoulder again. About the same time, a thought that feels like that way appears in his head. 

That way. The same way the three of them had gone, and the same way the others were now filing out. 

He glances over his shoulder, icy panic shooting through his veins once again. The wolf raises an eyebrow in something like a question, then brushes bodily past him in the same direction as the others.

When it reaches the edge of the clearing, it looks back and makes an impatient huffing sound at him. 

Leg, he thinks. Or, the voice in his head that doesn’t quite seem like his own thoughts says. 

“Oh. Shit.” Because he’s definitely still bleeding and his knee hurts a lot, now that he’s thinking about it. And more importantly, if the wolves are to be trusted – and they’re not, he reminds himself – he’s completely alone out here. 

He follows the wolves not to some sort of cave as he’d been led to believe, or even a house, but a campground parking lot. 

By the time they arrive, there are more people than wolves as the pack gradually shifts back. Only some of them are dressed, but they all look… normal. 

More than that, like people he’d be friends with. That makes things worse, somehow. 

The wolf – not his, he’s not sure why he thought that – disappears behind a Jeep while he’s definitely not staring. 

“What, surprised we’re people?” a voice asks from over his shoulder. 

He turns, and then realizes he has to look up

His first thought is most certainly Not “oh no she’s hot.” It’s not. And if it is, it’s just an observation of fact. 

The corners of her mouth quirk up as her eyebrow raises and her head tilts to the side in an expression that is immediately familiar.

“Oh shit,” he says, again, voice coming out awkward and too high. 

“You have a bit of a potty mouth, don’t you?” she asks. Her voice is warm and deep, something in it making him want to bare his throat. 

And maybe a bit more than that, but he cuts those thoughts off before they can get well and truly started and writes the rest off as some werewolf trick. 

He doesn’t realize he’s forgotten to respond – that he’s just been standing there, staring – until she rolls her eyes and says, “What’s your name, hunter?”

“I, um- Max,” he replies, because he has to say something and he doesn’t see the harm in that.

“Max,” she repeats, that same little smile still on her face. “Short for Maxwell? Maximus? Or, hm, are you one of those fanboys who can’t see irony and it’s short for Maximoff?”

He feels his cheeks heat in response. She must see it because she laughs, although it sounds amused instead of judgmental. 

He definitely does not want to make her do it again. 

“Uh, neither. It’s- never mind.”

Her expression sobers, now appraising him. “Astrid,” she says, holding out a hand. 

Max takes it reflexively and the smile returns, but different this time. 

“So um, now what?” he manages. 

“Well, I’m gonna go eat a shitty fire-cooked grilled cheese and try to take a nap before the drive home in the morning.” She looks up at the sky, her eyes lingering at the setting swell of the moon. 

“And… what about me?”

She looks back down at him, head tilting as if to say what about you. “Well, I suppose you have a choice to make.”

Days passed. So many of them that the passage of time would be better described in months, although most of the time it didn’t feel that way. 

No. It felt… instantaneous and infinite, all at once. 

That isn’t to say it was easy, but it felt right. Like it was supposed to be happening. 

Max stands at the edge of the cliff, staring out at the water below. The smell of it fills his nose, tinged with hints of what smells like *home,* carried on the wind. 

He turns the gun over in his hand. They’d given it back to him ages ago, far earlier than he would have. Certainly earlier than he would have expected, although he thought it gone completely. Left on the forest floor and lost to the wilderness. 

That would have been fitting, in a way. But this was too. 

He doesn’t hear Astrid’s approach, but he doesn’t need to look to know it’s her behind him. Especially not once she fits herself to his back and wraps her arms around him, pressing her face to his shoulder.

There is a scar beneath that same spot that perfectly matches the imprint of her fangs where she’d bitten him a few weeks ago. 

“You alright?” she asks, breath warm on his skin even through the fabric. 

Max nods. 

“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

“I won’t be able to touch it after a few more hours anyways.”

“No, but that doesn’t mean you have to do this.”

He wants to turn to face her. To tuck his face against her throat and just *be,* but he can’t. 

Not with the gun in his hands. 

So instead he twists a bit to kiss her, ending up somewhere around her eyebrow, then wriggles free of her grasp. 

He steps up to the edge of the cliff and takes a deep breath. Looks down at the gun in his hands. 

It’s the last thing he has from his old life. 

Even the clothes he’d been wearing the night they found him were long since gone.

His family hadn’t tried to find or contact him beyond a perfunctory “what’s your status” text. 

He throws the gun, watching as it glints in the light of the setting sun. It was more beautiful in its last moments than it had been at any other point in its existence. 

Max waits until it disappears under the water before he turns back to where Astrid stands a few feet away, watching and waiting for him. 

He was free. 

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