Rowan is on the other side of the city. She’s been in crow form for days now. She doesn’t know exactly how many.
It’s not only that she doesn’t want to talk to Andy. There are a few other problems stalking her around corners, and some of them are cracking their knuckles very ominously.
But right now, perching on Xavier’s shoulder, is the safest she’s felt in days.
“So are you ok? I haven’t seen you in days, Rowan.” His voice is soft. He’s standing on a pier beside Lake Michigan, and the wind is ruffling his brown, blue-tipped hair.
Rowan gently tugs his hair with her beak, then says, “I’m alright, I guess.”
“No, you’re not. You’ve been busy with some non-shifter girl and now you’re hiding scared, because Kennedy’s goons have been bothering you again.” His voice is gently accusatory, but mostly worried. “You should’ve been with us. You know they only bother you when you’re alone.”
“I wasn’t alone! I was with Andy. I..” Rowan trails off.
Xavier sighs. “But you’re done with her, right? You left, you’re not going to get her involved. Rowan?”
“I’m… avoiding her. Don’t worry about it.”
“You can’t deal with problems like this. Just hiding all the time? First from the Kennedy gang, then from this girl. It’s not sustainable.”
She jumps off his shoulder, flaps to the ground, and resumes human form. “Listen, I can handle Kennedy’s guys! I just need to tell them I won’t join them.”
“I thought you told them that when you left them. They don’t listen! You know what an asset you’d be- a drug runner who can turn into any animal? The police would never catch you. Kennedy knows that, and even if he hasn’t told all of his goons exactly why they want you, they know you’re important! They won’t let go, Rowan.”
“I know. I know, Xavi. Listen, I’ll figure it out. It’ll be fine.” She smiles weakly. He smiles back reassuringly, letting her drop the subject, and slings an arm around her shoulders. They turn and walk back up the pier to the street, and wander back to the bridge. Underneath, most of the regulars have already set up areas of a blanket or a sleeping bag for the night.
They eat supper with a few others and then relax. Xavier and the others- Marc, Kyle, and old Mary, who won’t accept any extra blankets even though her back is always stiff from sleeping on the cold hard concrete- eventually go to sleep, and Rowan shifts into cat form and curls up among them. She stays mostly awake all night, watching to make sure no one bothers them. Usually no one does, but still Rowan sits in the middle of the group, eyes scanning the area.
In the morning, Rowan goes with Mary to her usual place on a semi-busy street. She naps in cat form on the old woman’s lap for most of the day. Mary likes the company. She gets lonely, just sitting alone as the people go by carefully ignoring the old homeless woman.
In the mid-afternoon, trouble comes to see them. A man with a shaved head and tattoos all over walks past Mary, then back again, before finally coming over and crouching next to her.
“You know that girl. The one Kennedy wants.”
Mary looks straight ahead, smoothing down Rowan’s bristling fur with a slightly shaking hand. “Young man, I don’t know who you mean.”
“The one who ran away! The brown one! Don’t patronize me, old lady.” He’s getting irritated.
Mary nudges Rowan out of her lap. “I haven’t seen her.”
Rowan slinks away from them, ducks between buildings, and changes back. She walks back toward Mary. The goon’s back is to her, so Mary sees her first, and her eyes widen. She shakes her head minutely, trying to tell Rowan to leave.
Rowan taps the man on his shoulder. He turns angrily, and smiles malevolently when he sees her. “Hey, sweetheart, what’s your answer?”
He pulls a knife. He holds it close to his torso, so it’s still partially hidden from most of the street, but he makes sure Rowan sees. She begins to back into the alley between the buildings, not wanting to get Mary involved in this confrontation.
Once they’re in the alley, he lunges. Rowan dodges, pulls her own knife, and defends. They dance around each other, dodging and jabbing at air, for a few minutes, before finally her knife flashes out and hits his arm. He hisses and only gets more angry, ignoring the wound and slashing out more violently.
Rowan accidentally backs into a corner, and barely dodges a slice at her neck. It hits near her collarbone instead, and the cut starts bleeding copiously. Desperately, she strikes once more, and hits him in the stomach, receiving one more slash on the arm herself. He doubles over, holding the wound, and she backs away from him, still holding the knife out defensively. “Just leave me alone, alright?”
He looks up, anger glinting in his eyes. “You’ll pay for this. Kennedy will get you.”
Rowan doesn’t respond. She shifts to raven form and flies away, leaving the bleeding man gaping after her. He limps back to report, mumbling about “a bird? That’s not possible. But… a bird?”
Rowan’s wounds are still seeping red, matting her black feathers together, and she flies as fast as she can back to the place she feels safest- Andy’s apartment. When she lands on the fire escape, she shifts back to human form, holding her hand over the cut on her collarbone. Inside the room, Andy is sitting at her desk again, bent over her homework. Rowan sighs with relief and knocks on the window. Andy whips around, and her eyes widen at the sight of Rowan on her fire escape. She rushes over to open the window and help Rowan in.
“Hey, Andy. Listen, I’m sorry-”
“No, it’s my fault, I- wait, what happened to you?”
“It’s fine, just- do you have any bandaids?” Rowan is still holding her hand over her collarbone, but there’s blood on her shirt, barely blending in with the black.
Andy cleans and patches her up as best she can, finding gauze and tape and butterfly band-aids. She’s silent, focusing only on Rowan’s injuries. She gives Rowan one of her t-shirts because Rowan’s is torn and bloody.
“Thank you.” Rowan says.
“What happened?” Andy’s eyes are still wide.
“It’s nothing. I took care of it.”
“You told me you were safe!”
“The cuts look worse than they are, I promise. I heal fast.”
“Some guy was bothering me. But, y’know, it’s easy to get away from a fight when you can just fly away.” She smiles, trying to reassure Andy. “It probably won’t happen again.”
“Okay… Will you stay here? You’ll be safe, and you could use a shower, honestly.”
Rowan laughs. “Yeah, I know. Alright. Thank you.”
That night, lying in a blanket nest on Andy’s floor, she feels safer than she has in months.