There were only a few days left in the year. Lars Durand didn’t have any great emotion either way. He didn’t celebrate the holidays and he’d rather get a root canal than spend time with his family. Well, not all of his family. Some of them were okay. He had little cousins that he liked well enough, though they didn’t seem overly fond of him. It was mostly his parents and uncle on his mother’s side that he wanted to avoid like the plague.
It also wasn’t helpful that there was an actual plague going through London. It had been there for nearly three years and didn’t seem to be going away for the following year. His apartment was small, but much more comfortable than the respiratory distress the plague gifted people with, so he was happy to stay in.
That didn’t mean he didn’t dress appropriately though. He wore black slacks, polished black ankle boots, a white shirt with flowing sleeves, and lacy cuffs under a red velvet waistcoat with silver buttons. His cravat was of the same soft red velvet that stood out so nicely against raven black hair that was long enough to nearly brush his shoulders. His fingernails looked like they’d been manicured and black lacquered.
The apartment had one room and an ensuite bathroom. The walls were covered with bookshelves, floor to ceiling. Books still crept onto the counter in the small cooking area. There was only one burner, a small ice box, and a sink for washing up. A copper tea kettle rested on the single burner. The sink hosted a nice bowl that held the remainder of some noodles.
The man himself sat comfortably in an armchair with one hand on his teacup that rested on the little round table next to him and the other on an antique book of poetry. He was between classes, indeed between academic programs, and content to read and think.
“My lord,” a small cute little voice said.
Raspberry sat on the arm of his chair, shaped like a raspberry, but with feet and hands, as she shifted back and forth from one foot to another. “The man is coming towards our door!”
“The man,” Lars asked, more focused on turning to the next page in his book than what his assistant had to say. “What man?”
“THE MAN,” Raspberry said again, “the one that makes your heart beat faster and your blood pressure go up. He’s blond with pale eyes and broad shoulders. The neighbor from three doors down.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lars said. “I don’t know where he’s going, but he’s not coming here to my door. I’m sure he has much better things to be doing.”
“He’s stopped in front of our door now. I think he’s going to knock!”
“It’s not April,” Lars reprimanded her. “I don’t need any jokes. Bernard Hansen has no reason to be at our door, Raspberry. He’s a handsome and successful man with many things and people to be doing, I’m sure.”
“He’s wearing that black shirt you like on him and new black pants too.”
“You do not have permission to sort through my thoughts,” Lars snapped. He closed his book and tucked the small volume into an inside pocket in his waistcoat. “You overstep yourself!”
“I’m just looking out for you, Lars! That’s my job, taking good care of you. Now straighten your cravat a bit and moisten your lips. He’s also gay, just so you know. He might be coming over to ask you out to a New Year’s Party, after all. You should say yes, if he does! It’s not good to be cooped up in this apartment all of the time!”
“I make the choices about what’s good for me and what isn’t,” he snapped, but he also fiddled with his cravat and moistened his lips. His neighbor, Bernard, was the most handsome man Lars had ever seen. The man could probably literally break an average man in half, and he smelled of wolf.
London had many shapeshifters, as it was a sanctuary city for them and had been for nearly twenty years. Lars has never had to fear the restrictions and genocide some other places had waiting for shifters. He wasn’t a wolf, himself, but a raven. ravens were less feared than wolves, of course, which might seem reasonable, but he’d seen the damage an angry raven could do. Ravens and wolves tended to get on well with each other, even the ones that didn’t shift. There was nothing not to like about his Norwegian wolf neighbor.
The knock on his door should not have startled him.
His breath caught and his wings pushed against the air as he lifted. Clothes and books, all stayed with his human form, as he beat at the air, staring at the door like he couldn’t understand what was happening. His raven form shifted back, flowing like black steam from where he’d been in the air, until he strode to the door. Breathing hadn’t come back to him though as he opened the door.
Bernard was tall, taller than Lars by a good ten cm, taller than Lars remembered. “Hallo there,” the blond neighbor said with a hearty smile.
How could a man be so powerful, dangerous, and yet helplessly friendly and silly at the same time? Lars’ mouth dropped open like he was going to say something, but whatever he wanted to stay had stayed with his raven self.
“I’m so glad you’re home,” Bernard said, his hand gently pushing on the door to get it to open more. “I need your help with something!”
“My help,” Lars asked, dark blue eyes blinking. He pulled the door open enough that his big neighbor could make it through. “What can I help you with?”
“I’m sure you’ve been reading the paper, or watching the news. The feather killer is going about, doing his thing, leaving bodies. I want to stop him and I need your help to do it.”
Lars held up a hand and said, “I just want to say I haven’t killed or even attacked anyone.”
“Of course not,” Bernard said, smiling, “But you wouldn’t mind helping me stop him from killing anyone else, right?”
“Tell me more about what you need me to do,” Lars said. He closed the door and gestured to the chair that Raspberry had brought out of storage. It matched the chair that Lars always sat in. She’d also turned the kettle back on, to make tea.