I stumble into the house, my arm burning like it’s on fire. The muscles want to tighten, to lock down into protection against the pain, but I refuse to let them.
They are idiots.
“Okay, okay, okay,” I breathe sharply as a wave crashes over me. “Definitely stupid! Definitely stupid. Definitely stupid.”
I pull in a deep breath, and let it out again, slowly, focussing on the sound, withdrawing from the pain, letting it wash past me. I need it to settle, so I can sort out what I’ve done, so I can fix it.
Dugan’s mate’s hand is on my back. She follows behind, gently guiding me towards a chair by the table.
Did I miss her name? Or was it not said?
“Sit,” she says, without emotion. I nod once, and do as I’m told.
“Just relax,” I mouth to myself, and breathe through my open mouth. “Just relax. Come on, ten.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, let it go—five.
“Please, just . . . let it, go.
It’s not working!
And she’s at my side again. I look up to her face.
“Now,” she says, and holds up a small jar. “This is gonna hurt, at first. But it will numb the pain.”
“No, no, don’t!” I breathe, and pull away from her. The pain grinds again at the movement. “I can’t, I can’t,” I whisper, through clenched teeth. “I need to . . . to feel it . . . to fix it . . . .”
She shakes her head and reaches out to take my arm, “Don’t worry, youngun—it’s an old family recipe. For just this kinda thing.”
I shake my head, but dare not resist as she carefully lifts my arm up, onto the table. I push down hard with my leg, and focus on the tension there, to keep from tensing anything else. She dips her hand into the jar and pulls out a thick smear of oily-looking ointment. It stinks.
“You’re sure about this?” I beg, but she just waves me off with her clean hand.
“Don’t be such a pup!”
I glare at her: You fucking try stretching a wolf’s muscle over a man’s arm.
“Ready?” she asks, with a wink.
I put my other hand between my teeth and bite down as I look away.
I nod once and she lays into it.
With a red hot poker.
I drive my teeth into my finger and focus everything there. Harder I bite.
I taste blood.
And the pain in my arm starts to fade. Holy shit, it’s actually starting to fade!
I look up and she’s smiling proudly. “Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it.”
“What the hell is in that?” I ask, and laugh while cringing, as the pain drains away.
“None of your business, youngun! Now get to your fixing it.”
I nod and she steps away.
Slowly—carefully—I reach into the tissue, regaining awareness of the muscles and fibres in my arm. There are blockages and snags everywhere, snarled lines with jagged edges, caught into each other, tied in knots. Fuck, I made a mess of it. But I feel them now. I start to collect them, in my mind, in my being, taking each in turn. They start to slip into place, like the workings of a lock.
Finally, barely daring to breathe, I change, halfway and back.
And it’s done.
I inspect it, but the pain is mostly gone. It feels right. The skin still hasn’t healed, from where I peeled it off yesterday, and there’s still some swelling, but everything else works again.
I turn to her and smile.