Broken Moon

This is the second story in this series. I’m not sure how many parts there will be when all’s said and done, but this is the second. The first 60% of this was written back in 2002, and at that time I’d considered it done. I got some criticism, mostly saying that it wasn’t really finished, that things didn’t develop for the characters, and while good, it didn’t live up to the first story. After re-reading it in 2014, I totally agreed with all of that. I sat down with it again and wrote the parts that I’d left out 12 years ago.

Did you notice there’s no edit marker up there in the title? That means there’s nothing in here that HBO wouldn’t air. That’s not to say there may not be something here you might find objectionable, but I kinda doubt that’ll happen.

Broken Moon

Copyright 2002 & 2014

“Hello?”

“Answering the phone on the first ring, Chrys? You must really like him.”

“Oh, hi Kumi. Yeah, I like him.”

“So what’s he like under all that fur? Or did you guys keep your costumes on? Hmmmmm?”

“Jeez, Kumi, you’re so weird.”

“True. It’s part of what makes us such good friends. But seriously, you can’t tell me that you didn’t at least think about it. All that fur brushing against your skin. Wow! Just imagine what that would’ve felt like.”

“I think I hear a cold shower calling your name.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll let you off the hook for now, but I want details!” she insisted. “I was mostly just calling to confirm that we’re getting together for dinner on Monday. Is that still the plan?”

“Yeah. 7:30 at Cheryl’s, right?”

“Can we make it 6:30?” Kumi wanted to know. “I’m getting off an hour earlier since it’s been slow on Mondays lately.”

“Of course,” Chrys agreed. “I’ll see you at 6:30.”

“Great! Be sure and tell Mr. Fuzzy I said hi.’”

“I will. Bye, Kumi.”

“Later, Chrys.”

Chrys smiled as she hung up the phone. Kumi had a pretty vivid imagination, but it probably wasn’t wild enough to dream up what had really happened that night. If she only knew, Chrys thought.

The whole situation still seemed so unreal. Had it really been just three days ago? Halloween had started out normal enough. she’d put on her costume – which she had to admit, she had looked really good in – and headed out for the evening. The first club she’d gone to had been pretty dead, and looking back, she was very thankful for that.

The second place was pretty lively, so she’d taken a seat at the bar and started people watching. When she first spotted the werewolf she was sure he was with somebody. Anybody who could put together a getup that good has to be taken, she’d thought. After ten minutes without the appearance of a girlfriend, she’d decided to send him a drink and say “hi.”

He wasn’t stumble-tongued, and she’d found the way he stayed “in character” with his costume pretty cute, so they’d decided to head over to Free Perking to play some roulette and hang out. Along the way Ross’ true nature was revealed and she realized just how much he needed a friend. Granted, she had zero experience dealing with werewolves, but Ross was a nice enough guy and she really did want to spend more time with him.

As the evening progressed and she learned more about him, she started considering taking him home. He was easily the most attractive creature she’d ever seen, human or otherwise. Did it matter that he wasn’t truly human? Just because he looked human most of the time didn’t mean she could write off his being a werewolf. But was it something that bothered her?

This internal debate could have gone on all evening, but after they left Free Perking and Ross took off his vest – her mind was made up. And when they held each other and kissed out there on the sidewalk, she knew it wasn’t going to be a night she’d soon forget.

And it hadn’t been.

They’d both fallen asleep exhausted. Her last thought had been about Ross, and whether or not he’d still be furry in the morning.

***

When she woke, her question was answered with a third option she hadn’t considered. He was gone.

She couldn’t believe it. Why would he have left? Had he changed back to his human form during the night? If he had, what did he look like? How could she find him again?

And why was she getting so worked up over this? Sure, the sex was great, easily the best she’d ever had, but it was more than that. She liked him. A lot. He was a really nice guy. He’d held her hand as they’d walked down the street. He’d even asked to kiss her. Nobody had ever done that before. Damn…she’d really fallen for him. And now he was gone.

Well, if she was going to mope, she may as well do it right. Chrys rolled out of bed and dug through her “junk clothes” drawer, pulling out a pair of grey sweatshorts and a white pullover sweatshirt. She pushed the sleeves up to her elbows and opened the door the hallway – and stopped.

“What the hell smells like cake?” she wondered out loud.

Hearing a noise in the kitchen she started creeping down the hallway. She paused outside the door and listened. There was an odd bubbling sound and – humming? Chrys pushed open the door and stepped into the kitchen, loudly announcing her presence.

“Who the f-” she began, confronting the man who had his back to her. She thought he was naked at first, then she noticed he was wearing a white breechcloth that had a hole in it right at the top of his rear. And he had a bandage on his right forearm. “Ross?”

He turned to face her, setting the spatula he’d been holding on the edge of the frying pan. “Morning.”

“I-is is really you? I thought you’d…I mean…you weren’t in bed so I thought maybe…”

Ross cut the burner down and walked over to Chrys. He took her hands in his and explained. “I’m sorry if I worried you. It’s just that I’m a habitual early riser. Once that first bit of sunlight comes in the window, I can give up all hope of getting any more sleep. So I just get up and try to find a way to kill the extra time,” he shrugged. “I was just about to wake you though. Breakfast’s ready.”

“Is that what you’ve been doing with today’s extra time,” she asked, “You made breakfast?”

“Yeah,” he grinned. “Plus, I ate some already. I had to get a head start on you. I didn’t think you’d want to watch me eat a dozen pancakes.”

“You must have been cooking for a while. The smell made it all the way to my door. I can’t wait to try them.”

“Thanks,” Ross said. “I hope you don’t mind that I used most of your blueberries,” he continued as he moved back to the stove to finish preparing breakfast. “I know they’re a little expensive this time of year, but after I decided on pancakes I just had to use them.”

“It’s okay,” Chrys said, heading towards the coffee pot after noticing it was half-full. Is there anything he didn’t think of? she wondered.

Chrys poured herself a cup of coffee then leaned up against the counter to watch Ross finish making the pancakes. It was weird to think that the man in front of her was the same person (creature?) she’d been with last night. He certainly looked different, but she’d expected that. He was still attractive, but it was tough to pin down exactly why. He wasn’t quite as muscular as he’d been, but he still had a decent build. His arms did this nice ripply thing when he flipped the pancakes, and she’d glanced at his stomach when he’d walked over to her. While it wasn’t quite as defined, she’d seen hints of the little “cobblestone” lines. His face was fairly plain, in that it didn’t have any features one would really comment on, but certain expressions (like his smile) were enough to fill her stomach with butterflies. His eyes looked like they couldn’t decide what color they wanted to be – a deep emerald around the edges, grey and blue moving towards the center and flecks of yellow-gold around the pupils. His hair was the only truly remarkable thing about him. It was also the only thing that was close to being the same between his two forms. It was shorter than it had been last night, only coming down to the base of his neck, but it was still the same striking whitish silver. It looked as thick as it had been and he had these really adorable bangs that kept getting in his eyes. So while he may not have been drop dead gorgeous, he was definitely cute, and that was certainly okay with her.

“All done,” Ross announced as he placed the last pancake under the towel he’d set over the plate to keep the rest of the pancakes warm. “Can you get the butter and take the syrup out of the microwave?” he asked.

“Sure,” Chrys replied. “Did you already find plates and silverware?”

“Got ‘em,” Ross said. “But you don’t seem to have a table,” he continued. “Where are we going to eat?”

“Let’s just go into the living room.”

Ross scooped up the pancakes and the extra plates and headed into the living room. Chrys followed with the butter and syrup. As she walked behind Ross, her eyes kept drifting down to the open space on the back of his breechcloth. The opening was an upside-down triangle, with the cord around his waist forming the base. The opening narrowed to a point a couple inches further down and made a nice frame for the little bit of “cleavage” that showed. It was definitely a cute sight, but something funny about it occurred to her and a giggle escaped before she could stifle it.

Ross stopped, remembering how she’d teased him last night, and asked, “do I really want to hear this?”

“Probably not,” Chrys began, “but I couldn’t help noticing that even though you’re in human form, there’s still a little tail showing in the back.”

Ross rolled his head back and groaned as Chrys finally cracked up, “Ugh, are you always like this?”

“Yup,” she answered, moving up closer and placing a kiss on his shoulder, “so there’s no point in moaning about it. Now keep moving,” she added, pressing the warm syrup container into the small of his back, “I’m hungry.”

Once in the living room they sat on the futon with the pancakes between them. Chrys pulled the towel off the serving plate and forked a couple pancakes onto her own plate. Ross followed by putting four on his, slathering each one with butter and dousing them with syrup.

Chrys couldn’t believe her eyes. “Didn’t you say you’d already had a dozen?”

“Yeah,” Ross grinned, “but remember what I said about werewolf metabolism? Maintaining my form for that long without a full moon, plus the amount of…ummmm…exercise I got last night, I really needed to refuel my system.

“I guess so,” Chrys said, blushing at his “exercise” comment. “That’s still a lot of food though.”

That said, they ate in silence for several minutes. Chrys was surprised at her own hunger, putting away six pancakes while Ross’ grand total grew to twenty. When they were both finished Ross moved to pick up their plates.

“No you don’t,” Chrys ordered. “You’re going to stay put while I take care of all this. I’m not going to let you cook and do the dishes.” Before he could protest, she gathered everything up and headed for the kitchen. There really wasn’t that much to be done as far as cleaning up, but she wasn’t going to have him doing everything. As she started rinsing the dishes and putting them in the dishwasher, she heard the electric pop of her stereo being turned on, followed by the beginning of the first Deep Forest album.

“Good pick,” she called out.

“Thanks,” Ross answered, appearing in the doorway.

“I thought I told you to stay put,” Chrys said, brandishing the spatula.

“Hey,” Ross replied as he leaned against the door frame. “you want to clean, so clean. I just came over here to talk.”

“Okay. What other CDs did you put in?”

“I put in two Deep Forest albums and a Peter Gabriel.”

“Which Gabriel?”

“One of the good ones,” Ross said, looking at his feet.

Chrys caught this as she was putting the last of the dishes in the dishwasher. She smiled, dried her hands and walked over to Ross. Placing her hands on his shoulders she asked him, “wouldn’t happen to be Passion, would it?”

Ross found himself wishing he was back in werewolf form so that he’d have some fur to conceal his blushing.

“C’mere you,” she said, pulling him down to give him a kiss. Having gotten used to kissing his muzzle, the sensations of the kiss caught her off guard. She recovered quickly and gave Ross a nice good morning kiss.

“You taste like blueberries,” she chuckled after breaking their kiss.

“So do you,” he smiled back.

“Let’s go into the living room and listen to this music you picked out.”

“‘Kay.”

They walked into the living room and flopped down on the futon, Chrys landing on her back and Ross on his side facing her. Chrys folded her hands over her stomach, “gawd, I am so stuffed. How about you?”

“Nah,” Ross started, “I’m still a little hungry.”

Chrys stuck her tongue out at him. “Gahhhh. You have got to be kidding.”

“Well, maybe I am a little full, but I’ll be ready for lunch in a few hours.”

“I don’t even want to think about food. Let’s talk about something else,” she suggested.

“Okay,” Ross replied. “How about you?”

“How about me what?”

“How about we talk about you?”

“Be a pretty short conversation, don’t you think? There’s not much to say about me.”

“Don’t even,” he started. “You’re the woman who brought a werewolf home with her last night, so don’t even try that I’m just like everybody else’ nonsense. There’s got to be something going on in that head of yours,” he added with a light poke to her forehead.

“Well, what kind of stuff do you want to know?”

“Why’d you stay with me last night? After you found out what I was?”

“I felt bad for you. But it wasn’t just that. You were so nice. (Don’t cringe when I say ‘nice.’) I liked being with you. Besides, what kind of person would I be if I just took off and left you after you’d gotten hurt fighting off that mugger?” she asked. “Ross, you needed a friend last night. I wanted to be your friend. Come on, you wouldn’t be asking me this if you were black, would you?”

“No, but different species is a slightly bigger leap than different race.”

“Yeah,” she answered. “But it’s all just a matter of degree. For instance, if you’d been a bright green octopus with purple ooze seeping from every pore, you’d never have gotten that third Shirley Temple – at least not from me.”

“I guess,” Ross said, still having trouble accepting the situation. “It’s just that after keeping this a secret for so long, I’m kind of stunned to have the first person I tell accept it all so easily.”

“I can understand that, Ross. But given the evidence I was presented with last night, I couldn’t very well deny that you really are a werewolf.”

“Okay, I guess I can accept that. So what do you do when you’re not out seducing mythical creatures?” he asked with a grin.

“Wise ass. Well, I got my degree in environmental biology this year, and am looking at graduate programs right now. I managed to get my work-study job converted to a proper part-time position after graduation. It’s enough to cover the bills, but it’s not like I’m living it up while trying to decide on the right school.”

“So where do you work? On campus or off?” Ross asked as he rolled onto his stomach.

“On. I work in the library, usually just reshelving or checking people out. Nothing too exciting.”

“How about the CD collection? Most of this stuff would have been current when you were about, what, five or six?”

“Probably. The CDs and stereo were a ‘going off to college’ present from my older sister. She loathes current music and though I should have access to the good stuff while I was away from her influence,” Chrys explained.

“Older sister? What’s her name, ‘Marigold?’” Ross teased.

“Worse,” Chrys began. “Daffodil.”

“Shut up!” Ross couldn’t believe it. “Your parents did not do that!”

“Totally serious. And I couldn’t pronounce it when I was a kid, so I started calling her ‘Daffy.’ It stuck and soon everybody called her that.”

“Oh no…”

“She got her name legally changed to Daphne when she was old enough. My parents even went with her to sign the paperwork. Clearly they hadn’t thought about what nicknames might have sprung from their choice for their firstborn.”

“Why not change it to something completely different?” Ross asked.

“She didn’t hate my parents for the name, and wanted to show that by picking something close to their original choice.”

As she was answering Ross’ questions she started tracing lines up and down his back with her fingernails.

After that first touch, their conversation began to dissolve. Their talk wandered around the usual “getting to know you” topics – music, movies, books – but nothing of any real substance. By the time they second CD started, they’d stopped talking altogether and and started reacquainting themselves with each other’s bodies. Or, in Chrys’ case, being introduced to a whole new one.

There weren’t any major surprises in store for her, since his body was every bit as human as it looked. But once they’d gotten rid of what little clothing they had on, there was one little detail that was impossible to miss. His pubic hair was the same striking color as the hair on his head. After seeing this she looked at his forehead and realized his bangs had prevented her from giving him the “eyebrow test.” The next time she kissed him she casually brushed his hair off his forehead. Yup, she thought to herself, they’re a match.

They ended up making slow, lazy love almost until the music ran out. As they lay in each other’s arms, blissed out and very relaxed, they drifted off to sleep.

When she awoke, Chrys was happy to find Ross still beside her. Much better than waking up alone, she thought. She stroked his hair, pushing his bangs back to get a better look at his face. He had this smile that looked like it’d never fade and seemed so content that he almost appeared smug. She’d never seen anybody look so happy in their sleep. Chrys stroked his hair and his body while he continued to sleep, eliciting the most delightful purrs and sighs. As gentle as she was being, a couple minutes of this was all it took to bring Ross out of his slumber.

“Mmmmmwha?” Ross mumbled, his eyes fluttering open.

“Hey there sleepy,” Chrys grinned at him, still caressing his chest.

“Mmm…hi,” Ross said, still not quite awake.

“I was beginning to wonder what I might have to do to wake you up.”

“Much more than what you’re doing and we may never leave this futon.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” she teased.

“Not at all. But we may want to take the occasional break to get cleaned up,” Ross pointed out.

“Duly noted. Shower?”

“Gladly.”

Thirty soapy (and very friendly) minutes later, they were back in the living room, clean, dried and ready to move on to the next part of their day.

“Do I need to run you home or something?” Chrys asked.

“Done with me already?” Ross asked, feigning hurt. “I knew this was too good to last.”

“You goof,” Chrys chuckled. “I was just thinking you might want to get some regular clothes. And maybe some shoes?”

“Oh yeah…” Ross said, realizing he hadn’t thought that far ahead. “You don’t have to work today, do you?”

“Nope. I wasn’t sure if I’d be getting messed up or not last night, so I figured I’d play it safe and get the day off. How about you?”

“I’m off as well. I work tomorrow night, but then I’ve got the next four days off.”

“That’s pretty sweet,” Chrys commented. “How’d you swing that?”

“I just traded a few shifts around to get the extra days leading up to my normal two days off for the week. I wasn’t planning on doing anything special, just going up to my cabin and kicking back for a few days.”

“You’ve got a cabin?” Chrys asked, clearly impressed.

“Yeah, my parents had bought some land close to the park, but never had the chance to do anything with it. When I turned 18, I got the insurance money and the land,” Ross explained. “It only seemed right to make a little getaway out of it.”

“That’s cool. Hey, let’s get dressed so we can head out, okay?”

“Sounds good to me,” Ross answered, dropping his towel and pulling on his breechcloth and pants. While he was fastening his pants, Ross noticed Chrys was still wrapped in her towel, watching him.

“Ummm,” he murmured, “I thought we were both getting dressed.”

“We are,” she smiled. “I just wanted to watch you first.”

“Oh,” Ross blushed. “Then I hope you won’t mind if I return the favor.”

“Not at all,” Chrys replied as she let her towel slip to the floor and took his hand. “Come with me.”

Ross grinned and let his nude friend lead him into her bedroom, happy as a puppy anticipating a treat. Once inside, Chrys dropped his hand and pointed at the bed.

“Sit,” she commanded.

“Woof!” Ross barked as he sat at the foot of her bed, leaning back on his elbows.

Chrys moved over to her dresser and started rooting through it, trying to figure out what to wear. She tossed a pair of plain white socks on the bed and then grinned to herself when she found the pair of underwear she’d been looking for – a pair of silk bikini panties with a silver and black paisley pattern. Keeping her back to Ross, she bent over with a deliberate slowness until her hands were by her feet. After carefully stepping into her underwear she stood up as slowly as she’d bent over, the silver silk flowing up her legs like mercury rising in a thermometer. Once she was standing straight up again, Chrys hooked her index fingers into the elastic around her rear and smoothed the panties around her curves.

With the first part of her show completed, she stooped down to pull a pair of jeans from her bottom drawer and turned to face Ross.

He was no longer propped up on his elbows, but instead he was laying all the way back with his hands behind his head. Chrys noticed he was breathing faster and that he was quite visibly aroused. He was also wearing a mile-wide grin.

“Enjoying yourself?” she teased.

“You’re gonna pay for this,” he replied.

“I’ll take that as a yes,’” she said while bending over to step into her jeans.

Chrys took her time getting her legs into them, ensuring Ross got a nice, long look at her chest. She knew her breasts weren’t large, only halfway between a B and a C cup, but they were wonderfully round and she knew how to show them off. Feeling that she’d given Ross enough of an eyeful, she stood up, pulling up her jeans as she rose. Now that she was upright again, Chrys started buttoning the fly of her jeans. As she reached for the first button she squeezed her upper arms in more than she needed to, forcing her breasts together and creating some dramatic cleavage. Granted, it was harder to button her pants like this, but the effect was worth it.

“Damn…” Ross muttered, barely able to speak as he watched the silver triangle of her panties shrink, then finally disappear from view.

“Now,” Chrys started moving towards her closet, “what to do about a shirt?”

Still reeling from what he’d just witnessed, Ross had to offer a suggestion. “I don’t really think there’s a need to bother with one,” he grinned at her back.

“Maybe,” she answered, still rummaging through her closet, “but getting arrested for public nudity isn’t on my list of things to do today.”

Ross wasn’t really convinced by her reason, but kept quiet and allowed her to pick out a shirt. She settled on a green denim shirt and slipped it on without turning around. Ross frowned when she started buttoning it up, fearing he’d be deprived one more look at her body, but Chrys turned around just in time for him to catch a last glimpse of her breasts.

“There,” Chrys said after the last button was fastened. “What do you think?”

Ross sat up and looked her up and down, almost as if her were seeing her for the first time. Ordinarily the baggy shirt wouldn’t have done much for him, but knowing she was braless beneath it made it very appealing. “I think you’re gonna pay big-time for this,” he grinned.

“I hope so,” she smiled back. As she grabbed her socks off the bed and flopped into the reading chair next to her night table. “Can you hand me my shoes? They’re under the bed by your feet.”

“The white Chuck Taylors?”

“Yup,” she answered as Ross passed her the shoes. “Thanks.”

“No prob. Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have a shirt I could borrow for the ride back to my place, would you?”

“You can grab the sweatshirt I had on earlier,” offered Chrys. “It’s a little big on me so it’d probably fit you okay, if that’s cool with you?”

“Works for me,” Ross said, moving out of the bedroom.

Chrys noticed his bare feet as he walked to the living room. “You going to be okay without shoes?”

“I’ll be fine,” Ross answered over his shoulder. “I hardly ever wear em except when I absolutely have to. I can’t stand not being in touch with the earth.”

“You sound like a hippie,” she giggled.

“Bite your tongue!” he laughed back as he picked up the sweatshirt and turned it right-side out to pull it on. “I may work in the woods, but don’t get me mixed up with the tie dye crowd. That’s not me at all.”

“Yeah, I guess I can see that,” Chrys conceded. “You do wear fur, after all.”

Ross paused with the shirt halfway on, his face hidden inside it. “Have I told you today how incorrigible I think you are?”

Chrys took advantage of his temporary lack of vision and stepped up in front of him. “Not yet, but I’m sure something will happen to make you say it,” she whispered as her hands darted out and started tickling his sides.

His reaction was far less than she’d hoped for.

Ross finished pulling the shirt over head head and beamed at her, “yeah, something might happen to make me say it, but that ain’t it. This body isn’t ticklish.”

“That’s so unfair!” Chrys fussed.

Ross just kept grinning and tousled her hair like one would a petulant child. “Sorry to spoil your fun.”

“Different rules for different bodies – that’s just not right,” she complained.

“Just part of the package,” Ross shrugged. “You don’t get to mix and match the bits and pieces you want to play with.”

“Phooey!” laughed Chrys, getting over her disappointment.

“Well, since you won’t let me have any more fun, shall we head out?” Chrys asked, grabbing her keys and wallet.

“Sounds good,” Ross said, following her to the door.

A quick trip down the stairs and they were in Chrys’ car. Ross gave the directions to his place as they pulled out into noontime traffic.

“You know,” Chrys started as she merged with the flow of cars and buses, “I told you that I worked in the library, but you still haven’t told me what you do for a living.”

“It’s no big secret,” Ross said. “I work for the state park service. As a ranger.”

“Park service?” she asked. “Don’t tell me you work in Brightpeaks Park?”

“Yeah,” Ross grinned, knowing what was coming next.

“You mean to tell me there really is a Beast of Brightpeaks Park?’ And that you’re it? This I gotta hear.”

The Beast of Brightpeaks Park was a local legend, kind of like Bigfoot, except that there wasn’t even a blurry photo to give the slightest shred of proof to its existence. There were a number of people who claimed to have seen it, but most of these sightings had been at night and more than a few of the witnesses had to explain – in addition to what the beast looked like – what they were doing on protected land with shotguns or hunting rifles.

After the first few sightings people began to wonder if there wasn’t more to this “beast” business than the similar hallucinations of a few drunken poachers. Local news stations ran stories asking if there might not be such a creature. A couple of the national tabloids sent reporters to interview the witnesses. (Though they were called “survivors” when the stories ran.) The Weekly World News even published a photo they claimed came from the found camera of a missing backpacker whom they reported as the Beast’s first victim. (The fact that no backpacker, or anybody else, ever disappeared in Brightpeaks Park was of little concern to the author of that story.)

It was an eighty-seven year-old man named Zachary Bingford who inadvertently named the creature. He owns a homestead of 65 acres adjacent to the parkland and when asked by a local newspaper reporter if he was concerned about his safety, living so close to what might be a monster’s hunting ground, he replied, “all my life I lived on this land, and I ain’t never seen no beast in Brightpeaks Park didn’t belong there.” The name stuck.

“It started out innocently enough,” Ross began. “During our rounds in the park, some of the other rangers and myself had found spent shotgun shells or bullet casings. There were enough of us on duty during the day that the odds of anybody hunting by daylight without us hearing a shot were pretty slim. That only left nighttime. With just a few rangers on fire watch at night, we all knew there was damned little we could do to bust these poachers.”

“At least, that’s what everybody else thought. My cabin’s close enough to some of the sites we’d found so I figured I’d shift into my werewolf self and see if I couldn’t catch the poachers in the act.”

“Why not just get a few other rangers and stake out a couple of the sites?” Chrys asked.

“One of the guys brought that idea up, but most people weren’t willing to pull what amounted to double shifts without pay,” Ross explained. “I’d already started planning on getting these guys myself, so I was kinda glad nobody else was going to be out in the woods at night.”

“Except the fire watchers,” Chrys pointed out.

“True. but the poachers seemed to know where the watchtowers were and they’d been careful to avoid them. Once I was in werewolf mode it was pretty easy business to track them down and give them a scare. Sure, it took more than a few times to catch those assholes, but even if I only got lucky one night a month I considered myself ahead of the game.”

“Ross, it’s hardly a game,” Chrys said, clearly worried. “They do have guns you know. And, after your parents and all, you know….” she trailed off.

“Believe me, I’m well aware of the risks,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “But it’s been worth it. And I have to admit that I secretly hope to come across the bastards who killed my parents someday.”

“What would you do?” she asked, worried that she already knew the answer.

“Kill them,” he answered without hesitating. “I’d kill them and I’d make sure they knew what was killing them.”

“Jesus, Ross. You do realize you’re talking murder here, right?” Chrys asked, startled by the ferocity of his answer, even though she’d expected it.

“Chrys, what would you do if somebody killed your parents, or somebody else you loved?” Ross asked. “And what would you do if even though they got caught, they wouldn’t get anything worse than a poaching fine and maybe some community service? Because that’s the situation I’ve got. It’s not like I can go to the cops and tell them those guys who killed my parents actually killed a couple of werewolves who were productive members of human society most of the month. And that’s if I even knew who did it.”

“Okay, look,” she began. “I can’t claim to know how you feel or relate to what you went through, but I can’t really condone-

“I’m not asking you to,” Ross interrupted.

“Fine, but let me finish,” she countered. “I know you’re not looking for approval or anything else for that matter. I’m just asking you to consider the consequences of your actions. Say you do find those guys? Say you kill them and gut them and spill their blood all over the woods? What then? You may feel great for having avenged your parents deaths-”

“Murders!” he snapped.

“God dammit, shut up and let me finish, okay? It may sound cliché, but you’ll have to deal with the consequences of your actions. Not just your conscience, but the real results of what you’ve done.”

“Like what?” Ross asked.

“For starters,” she began, “your little ‘Beast’ act will be making major league headlines again. And you can bet your ass there’ll be more hunters than ever before out in the woods looking for whatever killed their fellow sportsmen.’” Chrys took his hand and continued. “Ross if you think chasing off the occasional poacher is challenging, think of what it’d be like with the forest crawling with guys who are allowed to be there. You can bet somebody would connect their wounds to wolves and it’d be open season on any that happen to be in the park. And sooner or later somebody will start thinking werewolf’ and the stakeouts during the full moon will be the most intense of all. Then where will you go when it’s time to change?”

“Okay, okay,” Ross said, cooling down and letting go of some of his anger. “You’ve got some good points I’ll give you that. Doesn’t make me not want to kill those guys, but it does give me stuff to think about.”

“That’s all I ask, Ross,” Chrys said, taking his hand and holding it tightly.

They rode much of the remaining trip in silence, only speaking occasionally to ask or give directions. As they turned onto Ross’ street he pointed out his building and Chrys pulled into an open spot just past it.

“Hey,” Ross started, “I hope you’re not too weirded out by me and…and…well, me, I guess.”

“Ross, I can’t even begin to imagine what’s going on in your head,” she comforted. “But I do like you. I do want to be your friend.”

“All right. I’ve just got some thinking to do. The last 14 hours have given me a lot to sort out,” he said, looking at her hand resting on his.

“Some of it good, I hope,” Chrys smiled, tilting his chin up with her other hand.

“Yeah, some of it,” he teased, his face flushing red.

“You’re kinda cute when you blush, you know that?” she whispered as she leaned in to kiss him.

The kiss was fairly tame, compared to others they’d shared, but it was definitely more than just a “friends” kiss. As they came apart Ross sighed.

“So can I, ummm, call you or something?” Ross asked.

“Or something?” Chrys joked. “You forget to tell me you’re telepathic?”

“You know what I mean, you butthead,” he teased back.

“Yes, Ross, I’d like it very much if you’d call me,” she said as she grabbed a pen and a scrap of paper from her glove box. She jotted her number down and handed it to him. “Here, so you won’t forget it.”

“What makes you think I’d forget it?” he asked.

“This,” Chrys said as she took his face in her hands and pulled his mouth to his.

It would be tough to say exactly how long that kiss lasted. To somebody walking by it may not have seemed too long by any but the most prudish standards. It was longer than their last kiss, but certainly not as long as some of the ones they’d shared in her apartment. However long it really did last is of little consequence, but to the two people involved it seemed to go on forever and yet, it was over all too quick.

“Wow,” they said in unison as they separated.

“Yeah,” Ross added. “Good thing you wrote your number down.”

“Told you,” she grinned back.

Ross smiled in return as he reached for the door handle. “Well, I’ll call you.”

“You’d better,” she chided. “You’ve got my favorite sweatshirt on.”

“Oh damn!” Ross realized as he stepped out of the car. “I left my vest at your place.”

“Good!” Chrys taunted him. “I can hold it hostage until you come over again. And you will be coming over again,” she added as she hit the window button for his door as it swung shut.

Ross leaned in the window and fired off his parting shot. “Why would I want to do that?” he smirked.

“Why, so I can fuck you silly, you crazy furball,” she smiled.

He smiled back and shrugged. “I guess that’s a good enough reason as any. Talk to you soon.”

“Take care,” she said as he turned away. “And you’d better call me!” she hollered at his back.

Ross turned back and waved, but offered no reply. Chrys watched him in her rearview mirror until he vanished into his building.

***

That had been three days ago and she hadn’t heard from him since.

Now she jumped whenever the phone rang, stopped whatever she was doing to listen when she heard someone enter her building, and kept looking around whenever she was outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. In short, she was a wreck. She’d played it off well enough on the phone with Kumi, but it was eating her up. When would he call? Would he call? He’d said he would, but it’s not like he would’ve told her if he wasn’t going to.

She was eager (maybe overeager) to hear from him, but she probably wasn’t being fair. He did have a lot to think about. Just having told somebody the truth about himself was a bigger step than she could imagine having to deal with. Then add in telling her about his parents, and the argument they’d had on the way to his place – clearly he had more issues to deal with than she did. For her, it would be another relationship – one with some unusual quirks, to be sure – but nothing on the level of what Ross must be going through. She thought all this through and tried to empathize with him, but she couldn’t rationalize the hurt away. She really wanted to talk to him.

Finally, after three days of obsessing, being distracted at work, and being a total basket-case, she got the call.

“Hello,” she said, not recognizing the number on her Caller-ID and hoping it wasn’t another telemarketer. She was ready to kill the next one of those that called.

“Hi, Chrys.”

IT WAS HIM! “Hi!” she said, unable to keep the excitement out of her voice.

“Sorry, it took me so long to call,” he explained. “I had some thinking and stuff to do.”

“Ross, I understand. I can’t begin to imagine how strange this must be for you.” God, she couldn’t believe he’d finally called.

“It’s not strange for you?” he asked. “Dating outside your species and all?”

He was joking around, she thought, that was a good sign. “Well, I can’t say that I haven’t been doing some thinking of my own, but I think your opening up to me is taking a lot more than my accepting you. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I can see that. That’s part of what I had to think about. But I spent a lot of time working stuff out in my head, and I’d like to give things a go.”

YES!!!!!! “You want to go out again sometime?” she asked, bubbling over with happiness.

“Sure,” he replied. “I take it from your smile that you’d like that?” he teased.

She couldn’t have played it off even if she’d wanted to. “Ross, I’d love to see you again. You have any particular time in mind?”

“Remember when I said I had a few days in a row off?” he asked. “I’m still heading up to my cabin for a couple days and if you can get away I’d like to take you with me.”

“You bet!” Oh, how cool was this? she thought. “I hardly ever work weekends so I’m free til Monday.”

“Great. I can come pick you up tomorrow morning and we can get out there in time for lunch. I figure stay the night, come back late Sunday and we’ll both have time to rest up for work on Monday. Sound like a plan?” he asked.

“Sounds wonderful,” she agreed. “Anything special I should pack?”

“Just a change of clothes, maybe a jacket since it’ll be cooler out there than here in town,” he suggested. “My place is right on the lake, so maybe a swimsuit if you’re feeling brave. Or maybe not if you’re feeling really daring,” he grinned into the phone.

“Swimming in November sounds a bit chilly – swimsuit or not,” Chrys pointed out. “What would you be wearing in the water?”

“I dunno if your calendar shows it or not, but there’s a full moon tomorrow night, so I’d be wearing fur of one sort or another,” he pointed out.

“Oh! I hadn’t noticed that. I guess that’s something I’m going to have to keep an eye on,” she realized.

“I have a built-in calendar for it,” Ross said, “So it’s not something I have to worry about keeping track of. I just thought you should know before we got out there so you’d be prepared.”

“I appreciate it,” she said. “Not that seeing you in a different form would be new, but if I’d gone out expecting conversation and just gotten barks, it could be a little strange,” she laughed.

“Well, plenty of time for talking on the drive out and during the day,” he said. “And I don’t have to go total wolf if that’d be too weird for you. I know you’re still getting used to this so I don’t want to scare you off.”

A prince in wolf’s clothing, she thought. “That’s nice of you to think about that Ross, but I guess we can leave that decision for tomorrow night.”

“Okay. Well, I need to take off and pick up some stuff for the trip, so is it cool if I pick you up around 9:00 or so?” he asked.

“Sure,” she agreed. “I’ll pack some stuff tonight so I’ll be ready when you get here. Just honk your horn when you pull in downstairs and I’ll come down.”

“Just honk the horn? You eager to see me or something?” he kidded.

“You bet your fuzzy buns I am!” she laughed.

Ross couldn’t help smiling. “Okay. I’ll see you about 9:00 then.”

“It’s a date! I’ll see you then, Ross.”

“See you then.”

She’d barely hung up the phone before she let out an ecstatic “Whoo-hoo!” and went to start packing.

That night was one of the longest she’d ever spent. It was like waiting for Christmas, her birthday and the Easter Bunny all in one night. Her excitement finally wore her out and she dozed off around 2:00 in the morning.

The next morning she was actually happy to hear her alarm clock for a change. Usually it was the harbinger of double doom – leaving her bed and going to work. Today it was a signal for what she hoped would be a most happy adventure. She had herself showered and fed in record time, leaving herself almost half an hour to wait for Ross. The time dragged slower than it had last night as she’d lain in bed, but her torment ended when she heard a horn beep twice down in the parking lot.

Chrys dashed from her apartment and was halfway down the stairs before she realized she didn’t lock her door. “Settle down girl. As good as this weekend may turn out to be, it’s still going to be nice to have an apartment to come back to,” she scolded herself as she went back and locked up. Her door secured, she headed down to the parking lot and saw Ross, smiling as broadly as she was, sitting behind the wheel of a black Jeep.

“Very cool wheels,” she complimented as she hopped in next to him and tossed her bag into the backseat.

“Thanks,” he said, leaning over to give her a kiss.

Chrys leaned into the kiss and put her arms around him. He returned her hug and they held each other in a long, deep kiss.

“Hi,” she said when they finally came apart.

“‘Hi,’ yourself,” he blushed at her.

“Sure you won’t come up for a bit before we go?” she grinned.

“Plenty of time for that ahead, my dear,” Ross replied as he put the Jeep back into gear.

“You’re no fun,” she pouted.

“That’s not how I remember things,” he chuckled back.

“Well, I don’t know how time works for you, but in my world three days is an awful long time,” Chrys pointed out.

“I use the same clocks and calendars as you,” Ross said. “And I’m just as eager to play with you as you are with me. I just want to beat the weekend exodus. Less time we spend in traffic is more time we get to spend in the woods,” he pointed out as he pulled out of the parking lot.

“Okay, okay. I see your point,” Chrys conceded, still not happy at having to wait.

“Believe me, two hours on the road is much better than three-and-a-half. Which is how long the drive would take by the time we got done,” he said with a wink.

“I hereby officially declare that a promise that I have every intention of holding you to,” Chrys said, folding her arms across her chest in what she thought was a very official looking gesture.

“Yes, ma’am!” Ross laughed as he headed towards the interstate.

“Ross, one other thing.”

“What’s that?”

“You ever call me ma’am’ again and I’ll shave you smooth the next time you fall asleep furry,” she teased.

“Point taken,” he said with an exaggerated gulp.

Chrys looked him over as he drove, happy to be with him again. He was much as she remembered, though considerably more dressed. Jeans, t-shirt, trekking shoes – about what you’d expect for a weekend in the woods. She did notice one thing as she was looking at his arms.

“Hey, where’s your bandage?” she asked.

Ross took his right hand off the wheel and twisted his wrist back and forth, allowing her to see both sides of his forearm. There was a thin, white scar where he’d been cut, but it looked as though it was from a much older injury. Not one that had occurred four days ago.

“I tend to heal rather quickly,” he told her. “One of the benefits of a hyperactive metabolism.”

“Wow, that must come in handy,” Chrys said.

“Yes, and no. I do heal fast, though this scar won’t ever go away completely. And I very rarely get sick. Even the flu won’t take me out of commission for more than a day.”

“That’s pretty incredible. So why would such a thing not be handy?” she wanted to know.

“No sick days from school,” he grinned.

Chrys laughed as he steered them up the on-ramp to the interstate.

The drive ended up taking a little under two hours, the weekend traffic having started up later than usual. They spent most of the trip talking, listening to the radio, and finally to CDs when they got out of range of the good stations. After they got off the interstate they took a succession of smaller roads that Chrys gave up trying to keep track of. Finally they pulled onto a dirt road with a gate about 10 meters off the blacktop. Chrys caught the sign next to the gate.

“‘Broken Moon?’” she asked as Ross opened his door to get out and unlock the gate.

“I’ll explain in a sec,” he said, stepping out of the Jeep. “Let me get us through the gate first.”

As Ross moved to unlock the gate, Chrys tried to figure out the meaning of the name. Had he come up with it himself, or was it already on the land when his parents had gotten it? Maybe they were the ones who named it? She puzzled over the name while Ross opened the gate, drove them through it, and went back to close it. When he got back in after securing the gate, she admitted defeat.

“Okay, I give up. What’s the name mean?” she asked.

Ross chuckled. “You just hate not knowing stuff, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she admitted. “So you gonna tell me or not?”

“Sure. It’s from something I said when I was a kid while my parents and I were camping one time. Just regular camping – nothing wolfish,” he explained as they headed down the road towards the cabin. “We were at a site on one of the other lakes not too far from here. I was looking at the lake and how the wind was making ripples in the surface, distorting everything that was reflected. I looked up at the moon, then back down at the lake. I told my dad it looked like the moon was broken. He just chuckled and said not to worry. Nothing was going to happen to the moon.”

“That’s really sweet. How old were you then?” Chrys asked, looking around them and taking in the woods.

“I think about six or so,” he replied. “I knew the moon was important to us, but was just starting to become aware of exactly how much of an impact it had on our lives. The memory stuck with me, and though it’s kinda cheesy to name a cabin, I wanted to make a connection between this place and my parents since they never got to see it as anything more than a plot of land.”

“And here we are!” Ross announced as they rounded the last bend in the road and pulled up in front of the cabin. It was pretty modest compared to some of the getaway cabins the richer landowners had on the lake, but it was all his. It was a basic one story cabin with a covered porch wrapping around three sides. There were a couple weather-worn chairs near the front door with a small table between them. The end of a stacked cord of wood could be seen poking around the non-porch side of the house. A carpet of pine needles covered the ground all around the cabin.

“It’s great!” Chrys exclaimed. “Like Norman Rockwell or something.”

“Not quite that rustic, but close,” Ross laughed. “Just the basics here – fridge, stove, fireplace for heat, no TV, no stereo, no computer and the phone’s just for calling out in case of any emergencies. My work doesn’t even know the number here.”

“Wow, you really like to get away from it all,” she said as they grabbed their overnight bags and headed to the door. “And by all’ I mean ALL.’”

“Yup,” he agreed, unlocking and opening the door. “I use this place to disconnect from the ‘real world.’ No point in giving it the ability to intrude.”

The front door opened into the living room, which took up about half the cabin. The kitchen was to their left, and the bedroom door was on the same side at the other end of the living room. The bathroom connected the kitchen and bedroom.

“As you can see, the living room gets to live up to its name,” Ross explained as he kicked his shoes off. “I spend just about all my time in here, except for cooking, sleeping or cleaning up. The only heat comes from the fireplace, so the bedroom doesn’t see much use in the winter. The couch folds out though, so it’s not like I live like a pioneer or anything.”

“Hey, I think it’s wonderful,” Chrys said. “Where should I toss my stuff?”

“Just put your bag on the bed. We’ll work out anything beyond that later on. If you want to hit the bathroom, go ahead. I’m going to grab the groceries out of the Jeep,” he said as he turned for the door.

Chrys headed to the bedroom and dropped her stuff on the bed. The bedroom was about as plain as the rest of the cabin. Double bed, night stand and a lamp on either side, an armoire and a dresser. Her survey finished she moved to the bathroom to take care of business there. It was as simple as everything else about this place, except for the tub. A big, claw-footed monster that could’ve fit three people with room to spare and would be just heaven for two. It got put on her list of things to do this weekend.

Just as she was flushing she heard Ross enter the kitchen and start sorting through the grocery bags. After getting everything buttoned up she went through the door to the kitchen.

“This place may be on the simple side, but that tub certainly isn’t. Where did you find that thing?” she wanted to know.

“Isn’t it awesome?” he bragged. “I got it at an auction when the old hot springs resort was getting torn down. The developer who bought the property had taken everything he wanted from the place and was selling the rest to try and offset any part of his costs that he could. Luckily I got it before construction had started on the cabin. My contractor was pissed at having to change the blueprints and make the bedroom a little smaller to adjust for it, but when he saw the tub he totally understood. Even offered to buy it from me at a nice profit, but no way was I giving it up.”

“Good that you didn’t,” she agreed. “That thing’s magnificent.”

“Yeah. It’s great in the winter too. Nothing better than a hot soak after being out in the cold,” he pointed out.

“True. So what’s on our agenda for the day?’ she asked.

“Anything you want,” Ross offered. “A walk in the woods, a swim in the lake, lunch on the porch or just being a house-bum. What floats your boat?”

“I’d say all of the above, but I think it may be a bit chilly for swimming. It’s only about 65 degrees outside, you know,” Chrys pointed out.

“Well…then how about we go for a walk, then if you need to cool off we can go for a dip?” he suggested.

“That’ll work,” she said.

Chrys grabbed her jacket as they headed out, but Ross stuck with the t-shirt and jeans he’d worn on the way up. After an hour-and-a-half of tromping through the woods, Chrys saw why. She’d tied her jacket around her waist and rolled up her sleeves. In spite of that, she was sporting a healthy sheen of sweat. As they got closer to the cabin, the idea of a swim in the chilly lake was sounding really good.

“I see what you meant about needing to cool off,” she said as they got back to the cabin. “Chilly water or not, I could go for a swim.”

“Told you,” Ross laughed. “Let me grab a couple towels and we can head down to the lake.”

“Ummm, Ross? Swimsuits?” she asked.

“You can toss yours on if you want, but I’ve never used one here,” he said. “We’re on a pretty secluded part of the lake, and this time of year even the busy parts are just about dead.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Just get big towels,” she requested. “I’m warm now, but I know this air’s gonna feel mighty chilly when I get out of the water.”

“Only kind I have,” he said. Ross kicked off his shoes by the front door and pulled his socks off. He laid them over the porch railing to dry as he went inside. “Be right out.”

In less than a minute Ross was back outside, a jumbo-sized beach towel draped over each shoulder. “These should more than suffice,” he said as he took her hand and led her to the lake.

The bank at Ross’ site was a little higher than in some parts, but he’d gotten around that by having a short pier with a ramp connected to a floating end put in. “Makes it easier to deal with the changes in water level,” he explained.

They walked down the ramp to the floating end and Ross dropped the towels to the deck. “Last one in?” he grinned as he started taking his clothes off.

“Oh please,” Chrys groaned. “You’re wearing half the clothes I am, and you don’t have any shoes on. ‘Last one in’ my ass.”

“Maybe later if you’re nice,” he smirked. Free of his clothes and not waiting to hear her reply, he dove in.

“You pig!” she laughed as he disappeared beneath the water.

Chrys finished stripping down and knew better than to test the water with a toe. Sweaty or not, if she felt how cold it was she’d never be willing to take the plunge. Steeling herself, she dove towards Ross, who had already surfaced and was making clucking noises at her.

The shock of the water, while more than she would’ve liked, did feel really good after the walk they’d taken. “Whoa!” she exclaimed as she popped up near Ross.

“Feels great, huh?” he asked.

“Great? I’d go as far as ‘bracing’ maybe, but not great.”

Ross chuckled, remembering when his parents had originally brought him out here. “It’s a bit of an acquired taste. The first few times I came out here I could barely stand it,” he confessed. “After a while I’d be in the water splashing around and cooling off after romping through the woods all day. I think my parents thought I was nuts. Even they didn’t spend too much time in the lake.”

“I can see why,” Chrys said, shivering a little.

“Just swim around a little more, keep your body moving and it’s not so bad,” Ross told her.

They didn’t spend too much time in the water, not quite 20 minutes, before Chrys had to get out. “Okay, time to dry off and get warm again,” she announced.

Ross let the opportunity to tease her slide by, knowing that the water could feel pretty uncomfortable after too long if you weren’t used to it. They swam over to the pier and clambered out of the water. Chrys grabbed one of the towels and started drying herself off, while Ross did what he always did right after he got out of the water – bent over and started whipping his head back and forth the get the water out of his hair.

“Ross!” Chrys yelped, holding up her towel to protect herself from the cold spray.

“Huh?” he wondered as he stopped shaking his head. He looked over at Chrys hiding behind her towel and realized. “Oops, sorry.”

“No biggie. I guess I should’ve expected it,” she chuckled.

“Hey, just be glad I’m not in wolf form or you’d really have gotten a soaking,” he laughed.

Chrys laughed at the mental image of Ross in his wolf form shaking off water. “Maybe I’d watch that from a safe distance.”

“Wise choice,” he replied.

After they finished drying off they wrapped their towels around themselves, gathered up their clothes, and headed for the cabin.

“It feels a bit cooler than when we got here,” Chrys noted.

“Yeah,” Ross agreed. “And it’s not just from the water. The clouds are starting to come in. Doesn’t look like rain though, but we probably won’t be able to see much of the moon tonight.”

“Will that affect you somehow,” she asked.

“Nope. A full moon is a full moon. Even if I were in a cave somewhere I’d know it and I’d have to change,” he told her.

“Hmmm. Another movie myth bites the dust, I guess,” Chrys laughed as they walked up the porch steps.

“‘Fraid so. Those old Universal werewolf movies always cracked me up. The guy seeing the full moon come out from behind the clouds and tries to fight the change. I just don’t get why everybody in Hollywood thought it’d be such a bad thing to be a werewolf? Hell, it’s fun!” he grinned, opening the door.

“I’ll bet it is. And not the just the ‘taking advantage of helpless women’ part of it,” she teased over her shoulder as she went in.

“Oh, that parts okay, I guess,” he shot back. “but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

“Grrr! You can be such a butthead!” she laughed.

“Just trying to keep even with you,” he said as he dropped his clothes next to the door.

Chrys followed suit and let her towel drop as well. She took Ross by the shoulders and told him, “I swear, if you were anybody else I wouldn’t put up with half the crap you say.”

“Good thing I’m me then,” he replied as he pulled her into a kiss.

Ross had been about to offer to build a fire, but Chrys seemed to have different ideas on how to keep warm. They ended up spending the remainder of the afternoon on the couch, on the living room floor, and finally, in the bed. It was as they lay in bed, talking and touching that Ross noticed twilight’s approach.

“We oughta get up and get something to eat soon,” he suggested. “I’m not much of a cook with paws.”

“I can cook too, you know,” Chrys said. “In fact, why don’t I start on dinner and you make us a fire. Or make me one, since I have a feeling you’re going to be out for a bit tonight.”

“Good idea.”

They got up and Chrys got dressed, tossing on a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. She noticed Ross didn’t put anything on. No real point to it, I guess, she thought. He’d just be taking it all off again in a bit.

They both got to work on their respective tasks. Ross started a good-sized fire and brought in more than enough wood to last the night. Chrys went to work in the kitchen cooking up a couple steaks and tossing a salad together. She didn’t know if Ross would want the salad or not, but it seemed like a good idea to make one anyway. He was going to be eating dinner as a human after all, so why not cook for standard human tastes?

He finished up with his fire chores just as the steaks were being turned, and started getting out plates and silverware.

“Do you want to eat here or in the living room,” he asked.

“In front of the fire sounds great,” she replied. “I didn’t make anything to drink yet since I wasn’t sure what you’d want.”

“Do you mind if I open a bottle of wine?” he asked.

“Sounds good to me. Is it okay for you to drink before you change?” she wanted to know.

“I’m only going to have a glass, but I figured you may want to relax in front of the fire while I was out,” offered Ross.

“Sure. I saw that big quilt in there and curling up in front of the fire with a glass of wine or two sounds great.”

“Consider it done,” he said as he uncorked a bottle and let it breathe.

While Chrys finished up the cooking, Ross cleared off the coffee table and set it for two. He also got out two water glasses, a small one for Chrys and a jumbo-sized one for himself. He was finishing up when Chrys called out from the kitchen.

“Ross, you don’t have any kind of serving plates here, do you?”

“No, I’ll just bring our plates in and we can dish stuff up in there,” he replied.

Ross took the dishes to the kitchen and Chrys forked a steak onto each of their plates. Then they dished up their salads and Chrys was surprised at the amount Ross put on his plate.

“I wouldn’t have guessed you’d be loading up on veggies tonight,” she noted.

“I’m not in full-on carnivore mode just yet,” he laughed. “Besides, any kind of food is good before I change. The more I eat now, the less I’ll have to pig out when I change back.”

“I wanted to ask you about that,” she said as they made their way to the living room. “What shape will you take tonight?” she wanted to know.

“I ought to go full wolf tonight. I haven’t done it in a few months and I really need to get out and run,” he explained. “I hope you don’t mind. I kinda feel like I’ve brought you out here then I’m ditching you to go play in the woods.”

“It’s okay, Ross. I know it’s part of what you are and what you need to do. Besides,” she admitted, “I’m curious to see what you look like as a wolf.”

“Okay, but just so you know, watching the change can be kind of disconcerting,” he said between forkfuls of steak and salad.

“How so?” she asked.

“Well, it’s not all weird and painful, like in American Werewolf in London, but it does look a bit odd. It’s something that you only ever see as a special effect,” he explained.

“Fair enough. If I get weirded out by it, I’ll come inside,” she said. “Which reminds me, do I have to leave the door open or anything?”

“Nah, I can get the door myself. I had a big doorknob put on for just this reason,” he explained. “Just don’t lock it and I’ll be okay. You’ll be okay too. We’re on a private road here and it’s totally deserted out here this time of year.”

They ate the remainder of their dinner in relative silence. Ross scarfing down his food and Chrys enjoying the warmth of the fire. Watching the firelight dance across Ross’ skin was nice too. All too soon the meal was over and Ross stood up.

“I hope you’ll forgive my leaving you with the dishes, but I do need to get going”

“No problem,” she said, standing up to follow him outside.

They went outside onto the porch, Ross shivering slightly at the chill of the night.

“You must be freezing with nothing on,” Chrys observed, sitting on the steps and hugging herself for warmth.

“Not to worry,” he smiled. “I’ll have my coat on soon enough.”

As he’d predicted, the clouds hid the moon, its position only notable by a silvery glow through their cover. Ross moved into the yard, just off the steps, and tilted his head back, basking in what little moonlight there was.

As she watched the change come over Ross, Chrys realized it would be nearly impossible to describe to somebody who hadn’t seen it firsthand. His skin seemed to glow with a light of it’s own and his whole body snapped rigid. After the tension washed over him, he dropped to his hands and knees and the change began in full. Ripples rolled beneath his skin in ways that muscles couldn’t have done. Fur began to grow over his entire body, barely noticeable at first, looking more like a hazy blur around him than an actual coat. As it grew longer it became more defined. She started as his tail sprouted from the base of his spine, then drooped slightly between his legs as it took shape. Watching his head change shape was almost too much. Despite his saying that it didn’t hurt, it looked downright painful. His skull narrowed slightly and his face grew forward, forming his muzzle. His ears shifted up the sides of his head and took on their new, pointed shape. She looked at his legs (now his hind legs since his hands had changed to paws while she’d been watching his head) and saw that they’d become digitigrade – fully animal in their construction. The last stages of his transformation washed over him and Ross shook himself as it finished, as though he were shaking off water.

To say Chrys was awestruck would be a gross understatement.

“That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!” she exclaimed.

Ross let out a happy bark and bounced over to her. She came down off the steps and knelt in front of him.

“You’re just as beautiful as you were on Halloween,” she remarked.

Ross tilted his head and let out a little growl.

“Oh, stop it,” she laughed, having forgotten for a moment that he’d still be able to understand her. “You know I think you look great no matter what shape you’re wearing. Seeing you change was just magnificent though.”

Ross panted a little and wagged his tail happily.

She took his fuzzy head in his hands and started scratching him, making sure to get between his ears like she’d done the night they met. His reaction was just as good tonight as it had been then.

He let out another happy bark then faked a swoon and dropped to his side with a thud.

“You are just too much!” she praised as she dropped to his side and started scratching him all over.

Ross loved the attention and began wagging his tail excitedly as he rolled back and forth on the ground.

Finally his nature go the best of him and he bounced to his feet and ran to the edge of the yard.

“You taking off now?” Chrys asked.

Ross turned back to her and replied with a joyous bark.

“Okay, then. You be a good wolf. I’ll be inside curled up in front of the fire when you get back.”

At that, Ross dashed off into the woods and Chrys went back inside, checking to make sure the door was unlocked as she shut it. She took care of the dishes then passed the remainder of her evening in front of the fire, drinking wine and relaxing. She smiled to herself and thanked whatever fates had brought her and Ross together. Before the wine got too strong a hold on her she folded out the couch and tossed a few more logs on the fire. She sat there, wrapped in the big quilt, feeling a rush of happiness whenever she heard a howl in the night. It may or may not have been him, but it made her feel good to think that it was. After a while, the warmth of the wine and the flickering glow of the fire got the best of her and she curled up and drifted off to sleep.

She didn’t know how long she’d been asleep when she heard him scratch the door open, but it must have been a while since the fire had gotten low. She lay there and smiled as he bounced up onto the sofa bed and curled up next to her, flopping down like an oversized puppy.

“Did you have a good time tonight?” she asked him sleepily.

A tired “whuf” was his reply.

“Good,” she answered back. “I’m glad you had fun.”

He nuzzled up next to her and gave her face a lick as she wrapped her hands around his head and scratched between his ears again. And just like on the night they met, they drifted off to sleep together, happy and content.

***

Chrys wasn’t surprised to find herself waking up alone again, or by the delicious smells that had woken her. Still wrapped in the thick quilt, she made her way to the kitchen.

“The breakfasts I could totally get used to,” she said, leaning against the door frame, “but I’m not so sure about the waking up alone part.”

Ross grinned, happy to see her up. “Morning,” he replied. “Like I told you the day after Halloween, I tend to get up really early. On days after a change there’s no avoiding it, but when I’m not waking up hungry I’m sure I could be persuaded to try and sleep in.”

“I shall take that as a personal challenge,” she smiled back. “Back to breakfast, though. What are we having today? And do I even want to know how much you’ve had to eat so far?”

“Better you don’t,” he said. “Today’s morning feast will consist of sausage and eggs,” he began, gesturing towards the cast iron pan on one of the burners, “and fresh coffee.” He pointed towards a rather old-looking percolator on the second burner. “I’ve also got some biscuits in the oven.”

“Wow, where’d you dig up that percolator? I haven’t seen one in years.”

“I had to hunt around more than a few thrift and antique shops to find a working one that was still in decent shape. The electricity out here can be spotty at times, so I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t have to go without anything if the lines went down,” he explained. “The stove, oven, and hot water run off the propane tank around the side of the cabin. The fireplace obviously takes care of the heat. Electricity is mostly just for the lights and the mini-fridge.”

“I’d have to imagine that makes for pretty cheap bills,” Chrys said.

“Yes, but I’m not sure I’d want to live out here year-round. There are some city conveniences that I wouldn’t really want to do without.”

Chrys was curious. “At the risk of ruining my newfound ‘mountain man’ image of you, I have to ask. What city things can’t you give up?”

“You know, the basics. Convenient grocery stores, a good selection of restaurants, the farmers’ market, cozy cafes…”

“I’m sensing a pattern here,” she laughed. “Maybe I should ask some other time when you don’t have food on the brain.”

“Probably not a bad idea,” Ross agreed as he bent to open the oven. “Great! They done.”

He grabbed the towel off the counter, folded it a few times, then pulled the tray of biscuits from the oven. They were big, fluffy, just brown enough on top, and there were at least a dozen of them

“Those look magnificent!” Chrys said. “How many can I take before I have to start fighting you for them?”

“As many as you’d like,” he assured her. “I had some sausage and eggs already and just need a truckload of calories now.”

Ross unloaded the tray onto a serving plate and handed it to Chrys to take into the living room. She set the biscuits on the table and when she turned to ask if there was anything else she could get, she saw Ross was already bringing in the plates, with silverware, jam, and butter on top of them, in one hand, and the percolator in the other.

“If you could just get the cups and milk?” he requested.

Chrys found two coffee cups and a pint of milk waiting on the counter. She scooped them up and joined Ross at the table. They each served up generous portions of the breakfast feast for themselves and started eating. Chrys started off with a biscuit topped with butter and blackberry jam. It was heavenly.

“If you tell me you made the jam,” Chrys began, giving Ross a serious look, “I’m going to have to propose to you right here and now.”

“Don’t start shopping for cakes just yet. It’s from the farmers’ market in town,” Ross confessed. “There’s a guy there who makes the most amazing array of jams. They’re all exceptional.”

“Oh, that’s too bad.” Chrys took another bite of her biscuit, then gave Ross a sly grin. “You wouldn’t happen to have his number, would you?”

“It’s on the back of the jar,” Ross told her. “But I wouldn’t get your hopes up.”

“Why’s that?” Chrys wondered as she turned the jar around and began reading. “Pride Farms uses only… awww. Come on!”

Ross couldn’t help but chuckle. “You’re welcome to try, but I don’t think his partner would appreciate it.”

“It really is true. All the best ones are either taken or gay.” Chrys sulked.

“How about me?” Ross asked.

Chrys looked up from the jar. “Okay – taken, gay or werewolves.”

He had been grabbing another biscuit, but froze at Chrys’ comment. “Does that mean-”

“No! Shit!” Chrys quickly realized how that must have stung. “No! Oh god, I’m so sorry. That sounded totally different in my head, I swear. It was supposed to be clever and witty, and not make me sound like a bitch.”

“I guess I can see that,” Ross said, putting the biscuit on his plate. He tried to pass it off as no big deal, but her words had clearly affected him.

“Ross, I swear,” she pleaded, “I did not mean that the way it came out.”

“I know,” he began slowly. “It’s just…I mean…I…”

Chrys’ mind was a torrent of thoughts and emotions. She tried to come up with the right thing to say, but after that blunder she didn’t trust herself not to say something even worse. Had she blown it that easily? Could one stupid slip of the tongue wreck their whole weekend – or more? Before she was able to settle on anything to say, Ross spoke.

“I’m going to finish my breakfast out on the porch, if that’s okay.”

Chrys just nodded in her silence as Ross loaded up his plate, grabbed his coffee and walked to the front door. It wasn’t until after the door had closed behind him that she trusted herself to open her mouth again.

“dammit…”

Sitting at the table by herself, Chrys had little interest in her food. She poked at it, and took a couple of  bites, but her appetite had left her as well. After staring at her plate for a few minutes she pushed her chair back and stood up. She had to at least try and make things right. She crossed the room and opened the door slowly, so as not to startle him.

She wasn’t surprised to see the empty plate on the table between the chairs. The sight of his clothes, folded neatly and stacked in a pile on one of the chairs, however, was unexpected. She looked at the ground in front of the cabin and saw a trail of pawprints in the damp soil, leading away from the cabin.

“Oh, Ross,” Chrys whispered to herself. She knew he would be faster than her in his wolf form, but still, he couldn’t have gone but so far in the time since he’d finished eating. She gathered up his breakfast things, deciding to leave his clothes where they were in case he got back before she found him. She put his things and hers in the sink, then quickly dressed and went outside to begin her search.

His tracks were easy enough to follow at first. The ground near the cabin was soft and he’d left clear impressions with each step. As he had moved into the trees, things got a little trickier. She found herself having to backtrack a few times to make sure she was on the right path. For the most part he was following what might have been a deer trail, but the longer she tracked him, the harder it was to find the next pawprint.

And then she got to the stream.

“Crap,” she said, looking at the tracks in the mud by the side of the stream. They seemed to head straight into the water, but she couldn’t see his trail emerge on the other side. If he’d gone too far either way before exiting the stream she’d never find him. Honestly, she was amazed at herself for having been able to keep on his trail this far. She may have reached the limit of her tracking skills, though.

“No way am I quitting now,” Chrys said as she stepped into the stream. It was barely deep enough to reach the top of her boots, and only a little water got on her socks. Three long strides and she was on the opposite bank. The brush was a thicker on this side, and it took her a good ten minutes of hunting around before she saw her first track. She walked the direction it pointed and found herself on another narrow trail. “Thank goodness,” she said, heading off down the trail.

The trail had a few twists and turns as it worked its way up into the hills that overlooked the lake. “Hills” was a bit of an understatement, Chrys soon discovered. She was beginning to feel pretty winded. Fortunately she could see a clearing up ahead in the path. When she reached it she sat down on a fallen log to rest for a couple minutes and catch her breath. She pulled out her phone to check the time and wasn’t surprised to find that she’d been searching for Ross for nearly two hours. As she looked down at the lake she realized she had no idea exactly where she was, or how to get back to Ross’ cabin.

“Nice going, Chrys,” she chastised herself. “You better hope you can find him or you’re going end up getting found by a search party of his ranger buddies. And wouldn’t that just be a wonderful way to end this weekend.”

Chrys got up and continued her ascent of the path. As she followed his tracks, she noticed they seemed to be closer together. “Are you getting tired too?” she wondered. After another turn in the path, the ground turned rockier and she soon found herself on a large slab of exposed stone. She’d made it to the top of the hill without even realizing she’d been that close to the summit. Looking around she saw an overhang that formed a natural shelter from the elements. It seemed quite deep and was filled with shadows.

“Aha! This must be your little getaway spot,” she said, feeling very pleased with herself. “Ross? Are you in there? It’s just me, Chrys.” At first she didn’t hear anything, but a few moments later she got a small growl in reply.

“Please don’t be mad at me, Ross,” she pleaded. “I know I screwed up, and I know you’re hurt and I just want to say I’m sorry and…and please just talk to me.”

Her words seemed to be having some effect, as she soon got another growl in reply. Then a second one, joining in with the first.

“Ummmm. Are you alone in there?” Chrys asked.

In answer to her question she heard the tread of soft feet on the stone. From out of the shadows, a small shape was emerging. Too small to be Ross in any of his forms. As she continued to watch, a second shape joined the first. Once they got closer to the opening in the rocks she saw them for what they were. A pair of mountain lion cubs.

“Oh shit…”

Chrys wasn’t worried about the cubs themselves. But even a girl from the city could tell these two were too young to be living on their own. She started backing slowly away from them, prepared to return down the hill the way she came. They kept coming towards her, curious but cautious.

“Be good kitties and wait here for mommy, okay?” Chrys was nearly to the edge of the stone and about to set foot on the path when her fears were confirmed. The growl was like nothing she’d ever heard before, and made her freeze instantly. The mother was behind her, but she had no idea how far away. Chrys wasn’t sure how to handle this. Would turning around set the mother off. Should she run off to the side of the path, away from mother and cubs? Or was she just doomed and it didn’t matter what she did?

Ever so slowly, she began to slide her left foot towards the edge of the path. She’d moved it less than a foot when the protective mother growled again, forcing her to stop. Getting lost and having to be found by a search party now seemed like a fairytale ending to her. What was about to happen was pretty much the most horrifying thing she could think of. Her mind filled with regrets of things unsaid and undone. There was so much more that she’d wanted to do. Most of all she hated that she was going to die, knowing that the last words she’d said to Ross had hurt him. She closed her eyes and prepared for what was coming.

The she heard another growl, this one coming from in front of her. It sounded far more threatening and serious. She cracked one eye open and there was Ross! He was standing between the cubs and their home. He growled again, snarling, showing his teeth and moving closer to the cubs. The mother must have done a quick reassessment of the dangers to her young, for as soon as had Ross started toward the cubs, the mother bolted past Chrys.

Chrys’ eyes were wide open now and she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. As the mother lion passed Chrys she was close enough to touch. Her tail actually brushed Chrys’ leg as she sped by. She was a mass of tawny muscle, dead set on protecting her young. Now that he had the mother’s attention, Ross backed away from the cubs. The mother wasn’t having it.

The large wolf was too great of a threat to her cubs and she barreled right into him, teeth bared and claws out. Ross rolled with her attack and they tumbled across the rocks. The mountain lion tried to get her jaws around Ross’ throat, but he kept dodging her bites. As they separated she swiped at his head and he barely dodged her, dropping low and scooting back. The mother tried circling around him, looking for an opening, but Ross kept moving, shifting his position to put himself between the lion and Chrys.

The cubs had moved back towards their den, but their mother wasn’t satisfied that they were safe. Ross began backing away from her, getting himself closer to Chrys and further from the cubs. When he was nearly back to where Chrys was standing, he turned his head slightly to the right to bark at her, hoping she’d get the hint and take off down the trail. That was all the opening the protective mother needed.

As Ross looked at his human friend, the lion launched herself towards him again. Looking at Chrys got him hit, but it probably also saved his life. Instead of closing her jaws around his throat, the lion instead sank her teeth into his left shoulder. Ross howled in pain and dropped to the ground, trying to toss her off as he rolled.

“NO!” Chrys screamed, finally back in control of her body. Tears started flowing from her eyes instantly. She knew this was all her fault. She knew it was because she’d hurt him. She knew it was because she’d been an idiot and tried to follow him through the woods.

And she knew there was not a thing she could do to help him.

If the mountain lion won the fight, there would be no way she could stop her. She’d be even more helpless than she had been, because there would be no chance of anybody coming along to save her. As the lioness raked her claws across Ross’ back, still holding on with her jaws, Chrys did the only thing she could. She turned and ran down the path.

She had no idea how far away would be safe. Would any distance be safe if the mountain lion came after her? Probably not. She was crying too hard to see clearly anyways, so Chrys stopped several hundred yards down the path. She was out of sight of the battle going on at the top of the hill, but she could still hear the horrible sounds. There were growls, howls, yelps and roars. She winced every time she heard what she thought were Ross’ cries, and even when it sounded like he’d managed to land an attack on the lioness, she couldn’t bring herself to feel good about it. This was all her mess, and it may very well end up getting them both killed.

After a particularly loud cry from both combatants, things got silent. Chrys almost started up the path again, but thought better of it. She hid behind a tree near a turn in the trail so she would have a better view up towards the hilltop. She only had to wait a minute or so before she heard the sound of footfalls on the ground. Her heart leapt when she saw it was Ross, but then dropped a little as he drew closer. Blood was matting down the fur on his left shoulder where he’d been bitten, and he was going easy on that side as he walked. The claw marks on his back looked like they were still bleeding. Chrys was just as shocked by the blood on his jaws.

“Oh no. I’m so sorry…”

When Ross was next to her, he stopped for a moment, gave a small bark, then continued down the path. Chrys called after him.

“Wait! Please tell me what happened,” she begged. “Is the mother…? Are the cubs?”

Ross’ only reply was to stop, bark at her again, and resume his descent of the hill. Chrys had no choice but to follow after him. They walked together in silence. Chrys occasionally looked back over her shoulder, wondering just how the fight had ended, and also wondering if the mother might be coming after them. Ross did not seem to share her concerns. They continued like this until they reached the small stream. When he reached the edge, Ross stopped and sat down.

“Do you want me to help clean you up?” Chrys asked him?

Ross only reply was to nod his head. As he did, it started to look different. It took Chrys a second to realize that he was changing back. His fur grew short and disappeared into his body. His muzzle withdrew and his face took on its human appearance. His front legs became arms while his back ones shifted into a shape better suited to walking upright. His paws became hands and feet and his tail shrank and vanished. When his transformation was complete, Ross was kneeling beside her in the mud, naked from head to toe.

As different as he looked between the two forms, his wounds hadn’t changed. They were much more apparent now. Where he’d been bitten there were four large punctures, with a few smaller tooth impressions between them. Some of those had broken the skin, others hadn’t. The claw marks on his back looked more serious. When the lioness had had her jaws around Ross’ shoulder, she’d raked her claws from his spine to his left side. In human form it was clearer that they hadn’t gotten too deep, but they did look pretty ragged.

Chrys gasped at the sight of him. “I don’t think I can take care of all this with a t-shirt,” she told him.

Ross turned to her, meeting her gaze for the first time since leaving the breakfast table. “It’s okay,” he began, “if you can just help me clean them my body will take care of the rest.”

“Ross, you can’t see what I’m seeing back here. Fast healer or not, I think you should go to a hospital.”

“And have blood drawn? I don’t think so. I have no idea what would show up if they ran any tests,” he admitted, “but it’s a risk I’m not ever going to chance.”

“Okay. Umm, I hate to ask you to move around too much, but this would be easier if you were actually in the stream,” she said.

Ross stood up, grunting as his muscles flexed beneath his wounds. Without his wolf hair matting into them, he was bleeding a little more freely. He took two steps into the middle of the stream, then sat with his legs crossed, facing downstream. Chrys moved behind him into a position that allowed her to scoop up water with her hands, then pour it across his wounds. As she did this, Ross could see the blood that was being rinsed off flowing away down the stream.

“I guess she got me a little better than I thought,” he realized.

“Do you really think your body’s up to this?” Chrys was beginning to worry.

Ross considered the situation for a moment before answering. “I think I’ll manage okay. Just rinse things out as best as you can and I’ll shift back to wolf form. The fur will keep things clotted up until the real healing starts.”

“Okay.”

And with that, Chrys worked in silence, still uncertain of how to handle what the whole day had become. How could things have taken such a severe turn for the worst? She’d only just met him four days ago! They’d shared a great evening together, and then an incredible night. She’d spent the days after that wondering where things between them might go, if they were even going anywhere. When he called with the offer of a weekend by the lake it was the most wonderful thing she’d ever heard.

But now, looking at the torn flesh and bite marks on his back, she wasn’t so sure. Two times they’d been together and both times he’d gotten hurt. Did being a werewolf mean he naturally attracted danger? Maybe, but on Halloween the mugger had been after her purse. It was she who’d stumbled across the cubs and angered their mother. Oh god. He keeps getting hurt and it’s all my fault, she thought.

“It’s not your fault,” Ross told her, breaking the silence.

“How can it not be?” she asked. She could feel her eyes beginning to water and barely managed to get the question out without a sob getting in the way.

“Chrys,” Ross started, “it’s not your fault I took off this morning. I did that. Yes, I was hurt by what you said. But how I reacted to it is on me, not you. I should’ve stuck around and talked things out with you, but I didn’t.”

“I’m the one who got lost,” Chrys argued. “I stumbled across the mountain lion cubs and put myself in danger. You got me out of that, but not without getting really hurt.”

“How’d you end up there anyways?” Ross asked, steering things away from the topic of his injuries.

“I was following your tracks,” she said.

“Hahahahaha!” Ross burst out laughing, then quickly regretted it, as it put a lot of strain on his wounds. “Ow…”

“Why is that funny?” Chrys asked, now feeling upset for different reasons.

Ross snickered slightly as Chrys began washing off the blood his outburst had sent dribbling down his back. “Those weren’t my tracks.”

“They weren’t? Well, crap. Here I was thinking I’d been doing a good job keeping up with you.”

“Mountain lion and wolf tracks aren’t that tough to tell apart. I’ll have to teach you the difference if you’re going to keep coming out here with me,” he told her.

“Keep…are you kidding? After this disaster you’d want to see me again?” She couldn’t believe he was serious.

“Sure,” Ross said. “Given what’s happened since we first met it’s obvious you’re not normal-”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You’re different, okay? So am I,” he pointed out. “Maybe I’m more different from the average person than you are, but am I too different? Are you willing to give up already?”

“Ross, you got mauled by a mountain lion because of me!”

“No, I got hurt because of me. When I was in the woods I caught your scent on the wind and followed you to make sure you were safe. I knew the mountain lion had a den up there and wanted to head you off before you got near it. Obviously, I wasn’t fast enough. By the time I’d gotten there you were in pretty dire straits. The only way to make her stop seeing you as a threat to her cubs was to give her an even greater threat. I think I went a bit overboard on that,” he admitted.

“At the end…did you have to…?” Chrys wanted to know, but couldn’t bring herself to say it.

“No,” Ross said, “I didn’t kill her. We got some good hits in on each other, and I caught the worst of it because I was holding back. I just had to convince her it wasn’t worth continuing the fight. Once I was away from her cubs and clearly retreating, she was more concerned with them than me. Even if she’d kept after me, I’d have simply run away. That’s her home. She and her cubs live there and it’s not up to me to decide that she has to go.”

“I don’t think many people would have made the same choice as you,” Chrys said.

“I guess that’s another benefit of not being people,” he said, giving her a grin over his shoulder.

“Speaking of those benefits,” Chrys said as she poured a final double-handful of water over his wounds, “that’s probably about as clean as I can get you here. The bleeding has slowed a lot, but not stopped completely. I don’t think it’s going to without your fur helping things along.”

“I should go ahead and change back then,” Ross said. He stood up and exited the creek.

“Just for the walk back?” she asked, following him out of the water.

“I’m afraid not,” he said. “I’ll want things to heal up as quickly as they can, and that’s not going to happen in skin.”

“What can I do to help?” Chrys offered.

“When we get back to the cabin, give me a couple of those steaks out of the fridge. Raw if you don’t mind. And if you can swing it, get a fire going?”

Those sounded like simple enough tasks to Chrys. “Consider them as good as done.”

Ross stood in front of her and put his hands on his shoulders. “I won’t be changing back until tomorrow morning, so I want to tell you this now. You’re an amazing woman and I’m very glad that I met you.”

With that, he brought his lips to hers and gave her a long kiss. It wasn’t a passionate kiss, but rather a serious one, full of possibilities and hints of things to come. As he stepped back, they shared a grin.

Ross dropped to all fours and began his change. Chrys found it as wonderful to watch in the daytime as it had been in the moonlight. When it was complete, she gently pressed his fur down over the bite and the claw marks, helping to stem the already slowing flow of blood. Ross barked at her happily, showing his approval. Chrys made a final trip to the stream to rinse the blood from her hands then moved to his side.

“Shall we?” she asked, ruffling the fur on his head.

Ross barked once again in reply and started back towards the cabin. The return trip was much shorter than Chrys’ initial walk had been, making her realize just how lost she’d gotten.

Once they were back at the cabin, Chrys brought Ross’ clothes in off the porch and got busy making a fire. After it was going nicely, Ross laid down in front of it. Chrys brought him two raw steaks on a plate and watched him devour them. When his meal was finished, she took the plate to the sink and made herself something to eat. A sandwich was about all she had the energy to prepare after the day they’d had, but it was enough. By the time she was sitting down on the open sofa bed to eat, Ross was already sound asleep.

“I know how you feel,” she told him.

Chrys would have liked to lay down and sleep herself, but she knew there were a few things she had to take care of before she’d be able to relax. “Easy stuff first,” she said, getting herself in gear. She picked up her empty plate and carried it into the kitchen. The stuff from breakfast was still in the sink, so she took care of those things along with the most recent dishes. Once everything was washed and in the drying rack, she turned her attention towards herself.

She still had on what she’d been wearing since setting out after Ross this morning. Her clothes weren’t too bad, but wearing the same things she had been while standing in the stream and cleaning his wounds was getting to her. She began filling the tub then went to the bedroom and stripped off. It wasn’t as warm in the bedroom as it had been by the fire, so Chrys didn’t wait for the tub to fill up. When she got in there were only a few inches of water. It was enough though, and the level slowly rose to cover her up to her shoulders.

Chrys was sore from the amount of hiking she’d done, there was no denying that, but the shocks and stresses of the day had much more to do with how weary she was feeling. The warm water was helping, though, and she found herself feeling more and more relaxed the longer she soaked. She stayed in the tub until the water started growing cool, then gave herself a quick wash and rinse.

After drying off and putting on the last change of clothes she’d brought with her, she went to check on Ross. He was still fast asleep in front of the fire, but Chrys wasn’t sure how deeply he’d be sleeping. She knelt by his injured side to see if she could tell how he was doing. The bite and slashes appeared to have stopped bleeding now, but the latter had still been bleeding a little after they’d gotten back to the cabin, judging by the dark spots next to him on the carpet. Chrys gingerly pressed a little more of his fur over them, hoping that would help things heal up a bit quicker. As she did this, Ross flinched slightly, drawing away from her touch, but he didn’t wake.

“Sorry,” she whispered. “I just wanted to help.”

She had no way of knowing if what she was doing would actually help, so she let him be. There were a couple other tasks that required her attention. It was obvious to her that they wouldn’t be going home tonight as they’d planned. Ross had said he would sleep through until Monday morning, so they were going to be here at least until tomorrow. She had both work and plans for Monday, and they’d need taking care of. She took the phone into the bedroom, thankful that the cord was long enough, and closed the door.

Work was the easier of the two calls, so she made that one first. Her boss accepted her story that she was out with a friend and car trouble had left them stranded at least until tomorrow afternoon. Yes, she was okay and would do her best to make it in for her next shift on Wednesday. Of course she’d call if anything else came up, and thanks for arranging for someone to cover her shift tomorrow. “Now for the other matter,” she said.

Kumi was going to be a different sort of phone call. She knew Chrys was out by the lake with Ross, and would have all sorts of ideas as to what the two of them were getting up to. If only it were as easy as “we’re all fucked out and can’t make it back to the city.” She and Kumi had known each other long enough to know when there was anything but honesty between them. She couldn’t talk her way around the situation as she had with work. But she couldn’t exactly tell her the whole truth either.

She dialed Kumi’s number and was actually relieved when she got to five rings without her friend picking up. “Just one more and voicemail will save me,” she said to herself.

“Hello, who is this?” her friend answered. Damn!

“Hey, Kumi. It’s Chrys.”

“Oh hey! Where are you calling from. I almost didn’t pick up when I saw ‘Unknown’ on my phone,” Kumi told her.

“I’m still out at Ross’ cabin,” Chrys said.

“Really? I thought you guys would have headed back by now. You have to work tomorrow, don’t you?’ Kumi asked.

“I did, but I called in for tomorrow just before calling you.”

“That doesn’t sound good, Chrys. What’s going on?”

Chrys knew she couldn’t bullshit her best friend, but what to say? The whole truth was out of the question, so she figured something close enough would have to do. That way Kumi wouldn’t worry too much, but would forgive her for backing out of tomorrow’s dinner. “Ross got hurt today,” she said.

“Oh no! Is it bad? Do you guys need help? If you give me directions I can be there in a few hours or so,” Kumi offered.

“No, no,” Chrys insisted. “We were out hiking today and he took a bad fall. He was showing off his knowledge of local wildlife and tripped over a root while pointing out a bird’s nest. Looking up, when he should’ve been looking down. That sort of thing. It would’ve been funny if he hadn’t landed on a jagged tree stump. His shirt got torn up and he’s got some pretty big scratches on his back.”

“Ouch! That sounds pretty bad,” Kumi told her.

“It looks worse than it is,” Chrys said. “Honestly. We got him back to the cabin, cleaned him up and now he’s resting. We’re both fine, but there’s no way that we’re going to make it home tonight. We’ll probably drive back tomorrow, but I doubt I’ll be able to make our dinner.”

“That’s what you’re worried about? Don’t be. You take care of him and get home as soon as you can,” Kumi said.

“Of course,” Chrys assured her friend. “And I’ll let you know if there’s anything I need.”

“Please do. I still haven’t gotten to meet this guy yet, you know,” Kumi reminded her. “Hey, once he’s feeling up to it, why don’t the three of us go out together?”

“That sounds great. I’ll call you when I get back into town, okay?”

“Cool. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye, Chrys.”

“Bye, Kumi.”

After she hung up the phone, Chrys was a little upset with herself. In the four years she’d known Kumi, she’d never lied to her. Well, never more than a little white lie about some small thing or other. But never anything as big as this. Better this than the truth, she thought. Who knows how Kumi would react to knowing what had really happened this weekend? Or what she might think of Ross’ true nature. And would it be fair to “out” Ross to her? No, that wasn’t her call to make.

Chrys looked out the window and saw that the sun was beginning to set. She took the phone back to the kitchen, then returned to the living room. Ross was still slumbering on the rug in front of the fire. Chrys added several more logs to the blaze, then settled in on the sofa bed. She wrapped the quilt around her as she had the previous evening, but tonight’s wait was going to be of a very different sort. “Would he come back soon?” had been a much easier question to await the answer for than “is he going to be okay?”

“I hope you will be,” Chrys whispered.

She watched him dozing by the fire. His breathing sounded okay. It was steady and not ragged. He didn’t seem to be hurting too much, since he was able to continue sleeping. There was no longer any active bleeding from his wounds, which was a very good sign. Still, she couldn’t help but worry. He was tough, there was no doubt about that, but everybody’s got their limits. She’d been shocked at the sight of his back when she’d been tending to him in the stream. If he’d been a normal human he likely wouldn’t have survived. But he wasn’t normal. The cut from the attack on Halloween was pretty much healed already. This was more serious though, and she really hoped he was up to recovering this.

He filled her thoughts as she sat there watching him. Even as she grew tired she fought to stay awake in order to keep an eye on him. Eventually, she was too weary to keep herself up any longer and dozed off.

When the morning light roused her from sleep, Chrys was surprised that Ross was still laying on the rug in front of her. She wasn’t sure if she should wake him or not, but he’d been sleeping nearly 15 hours, and she was concerned.

“Hey, you awake?” she asked quietly.

When she didn’t get a response, she got off the sofa and sat down in front of him. His eyes were still closed and his breathing was deep and steady.

“Well now, this is a first,” she smiled. “I’m up before you. I just wish I knew which form you were planning on staying in so I could make the right kind of breakfast.”

At the word “breakfast” Ross’ eyes fluttered open.

“Typical,” she said, reaching out to give him a scratch between his ears. “You went through hell yesterday, and haven’t moved since you laid down on the rug, yet the mere mention of food is enough to wake you.”

Ross offered only a happy pant in reply, accompanied by a slight tail wag. He shifted his front paws back as though he were going to try and stand up, but Chrys thought better of that idea.

“Not yet,” she said, her scratching hand now giving him a slight push downward. “You stay put until I’ve had a chance to look at your side, okay?”

Ross slid his paws back out and rested his chin on them, signalling to Chrys that he wasn’t going anywhere.

“Good boy.” She patted him the head and got up, walking towards the kitchen. This sort of injury was well beyond her limited Girl Scout first aid training, but even she knew any wound needed to be kept clean. She turned on the hot water, and while it was warming up, grabbed a clean washcloth from a drawer by the sink. After testing the temperature with her hand she gave the cloth a good soaking, then wrung it out. Chrys shut off the water and went back to Ross.

“I hope this doesn’t hurt too much,” she told him as she knelt by his side. As gently as she could, Chrys pressed the damp cloth against his shoulder where the mountain lion had bitten him. The washcloth turned from white to red as the dried blood was moistened, then rubbed from his fur. Ross shifted uncomfortably, but did his best to stay still. “Sorry,” Chrys said.

As she worked the blood from his fur, Chrys was surprised at how quickly he seemed to be healing. Where there had been good-sized puncture marks yesterday, today there were four red spots that could have passed for wasp stings. The only indication that something worse had happened was the slight absence of fur next to the welts. “Okay, color me impressed.”

Chrys was about to start on his side, when she realized the cloth she’d been using was pretty much done for. “I hate to use up all your washcloths doing this, but I’m going to need a fresh one – or two – for your side,” she explained.

Ross gave her a quick flip of his muzzle, which she took to mean he was okay with that. She repeated the process she used to soak the first cloth with two others, and brought a small towel along for good measure. She used the same method as before to clean the blood from the fur on his side – press, moisten, rub – only this time she worked more tenderly. These wounds had been more severe than the bite, and she didn’t want to cause him any more discomfort than was necessary. As she got more and more of the dried blood out of his fur, she was able to smooth it away from his injuries.

If she’d been impressed by the recovery on his shoulder, she was astonished by what had happened to his side. Yesterday there had been four jagged tears through his skin, from which he’d been losing a lot of blood. Today the marks were still there, but instead of open wounds there was fresh skin. It was a bright pink, and stood out in contrast to the dark grey color she could see under his fur. “No way…” was all she could manage to say after she’d cleaned off the remainder of the dried blood and patted his fur dry with the towel.

Ross turned his head to look at her and shifted his front paws back again as he’d done when he tried to stand up before.

“I’ll leave that call up to you,” she told him. “If you think you’re okay to get up and move around, go ahead. But if it starts to hurt, I want you right back here on this rug, got it?”

Ross gave her an agreeable-sounding bark and slowly got to his feet. He was a little unsteady and was definitely favoring his uninjured side, but he seemed to be doing okay. He took a short test walk around the sofa, then sat down in front of the fireplace.

“Well? How do you feel?” Chrys wanted to know.

Instead of giving her another bark or a nod, Ross began transforming. As his body started changing shape, Chrys wasn’t sure which form he’d be taking. Once his fur started to shorten, however, it was pretty obvious. It didn’t take long before the wolf she’d just been treating was replaced by the man she’d grown very fond of. When the change was done, he was kneeling on the rug, shivering slightly.

Chrys still had on the clothes she’d slept in, and hadn’t given much thought to the fire that had mostly died out during the night. Being naked was clearly uncomfortable for Ross, so she grabbed the quilt off the sofa. Chrys moved behind him to wrap him up, and couldn’t help but look at his back. Things looked much the same as they had in his wolf form. The claw marks were healing up with fresh, pink skin and the bite looked like he’d stirred up a quartet of angry wasps.

As she surrounded him in the quilt, she helped him get to his feet and move to the open sofa. He wasn’t moving quite as quickly as he had when he was a wolf. “Ross, don’t you think it might be too soon for you to be like this?” Chrys worried.

“I’ll be okay,” he said with a grunt as he lowered himself to the sofa. “The healing’s started, and that’s what’s important.”

“You’re the authority,” she had to admit, “but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to worry. So what can I do to help?”

“Didn’t you say something about breakfast?” Ross asked, grinning.

“I did, but you’re staying here while I cook,” she said. “Just tell me what you want.”

Ross took a quick mental inventory of what food they had in the small kitchen. There were a couple more steaks, a few eggs, plenty of biscuit mix, a large supply of butter and jam and a few cans of nuts. “How does ‘everything’ sound?’ he asked, smiling even wider.

Chrys returned his smile with one of her own. “Two plates of everything, coming right up!” She got busy in the kitchen, cooking up the largest breakfast she’d ever made. While she worked she kept looking towards the living room. The rate at which he was healing bordered on miraculous, but she couldn’t help but feel concerned. Was he really going to be okay? Were “they” going to be okay?

The next time she checked in on him, she found him looking back over his shoulder at her. “How’s that breakfast coming?” he asked.

“Keep your pants on!” she laughed, “It’s nearly done.”

Ross opened the quilt slightly and looked down, then back at her. “What pants?”

Chrys laughed, and so did Ross. The first real laugh they’d shared in nearly two days.

Yes, she thought. Things really are going to be okay.