“What’s up with him, exactly?” Tao wondered aloud, gazing after the recently-departed boss.
“Wonder if it’s something special about her,” Takeo half-whispered, his eyes fixed on the woman’s face. “I had thought only he could affect Boss like that.”
“Wonder how old she is?” Tao speculated, turning back. “Maybe they know each other from before. Maybe even from before Boss even knew him.”
They all looked at each other again. “But that would be hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Maybe more than a thousand,” M-21 whispered. “She can’t possibly—” He cut himself off. He didn’t know how old werewolves could live to be, and just because he thought the woman reasoned like a child [this is in reference to a plot point I ended up changing] didn’t mean she wasn’t thousands of times older than he was, even if her gray hair was just a dye job. Looking down at her, he rather doubted it; there were too many shades in it, ranging all the way from white to black. He was suddenly struck with a thought he’d never had before. Always he’d assumed he would be killed by overeager scientists, Union agents or Elders, or nobles displeased with the origin of his power. If not today or tomorrow, then next month, or two from now. When he worried about when he would die, it was always relative: would he last longer than the bad guys, so he could protect the kids, his comrades, Raizel? So deeply ingrained was his belief, conditioned into him as a “trash” experiment and then as a rebel way out of his league, he’d never once wondered what his lifespan was likely to be if it wasn’t ended beforetimes by someone ill-intentioned. He’d always kind of thought of his life as a dice throw every single day, not bothering to wonder about how long the dice were likely to last, because they’d come up snake eyes before they came anywhere near wearing out. With a werewolf heart, was he… temporally immortal now? On the heels of this idea came the sickening realization that if that were the case, it and any other benefits he had received from the werewolf heart thumping unpleasantly hard in his chest at this very moment were because it was no longer in someone else’s—someone very dear to the woman lying unconscious on the bed before him, someone named “Ran.” Her brother, her husband, her son; it hardly mattered. He bowed under the weight of the thought, the oppression of it.
“M-21?” Takeo asked.
He realized his hands were clenched, shaking, at the ends of arms pinned to his sides, his head lowered, his jaw set as he tried to come to terms with it. It wasn’t that he hadn’t known, as long as he’d known he had a heart that wasn’t his own, that it must have come at the cost of another’s life, but his attitude had been more along the lines of “I hope the werewolves don’t find out and decide to kill me”—he hadn’t cared for the individual or family of his (presumably) unwilling donor, nor of those of M-24, whom they guessed had something from a noble… what if he’d been given the heart of, say, Seira’s or Regis’s father? He wanted to throw up. He had never been more disgusted with what he was, which was truly saying something. He brushed by the others without a word, as if putting space between himself and the woman could somehow cleanse him. Almost blind to what was in front of him, he nearly ran down Raizel-nim on his way to his bedroom.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, pressing himself against the wall so the other could pass. Instead of leaving him in peace, Raizel stopped opposite him and waited for him to lift his head.
“Gejutel’s son and the former head of Loyard rest safely in their shrines,” he told him gravely, his steady crimson eyes piercing the depths of M-21’s soul. “The woman will awaken soon,” he continued, seemingly looking beyond or through M-21, through the wall behind him, through the world. Then his eyes focused on M-21’s again. “Your friends are worried for you,” he told him, and then he turned and continued on in his dignified way to his room.
“So are yours,” M-21 muttered rebelliously, glaring after him. He looked back the other way and found Tao and Takeo gazing anxiously his direction from the woman’s doorway, torn with conflicting needs.