Running with the Pack (part 1)

This is the first half (I think) of the third story in this series. While I was writing it, everything that’s in this part was very clear to me. I hadn’t intended to end it where I did, but that’s just how it ran its course. I will finish it up at some point, but for now I feel it’s a pretty solid bit of storytelling.

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.

Running with the Pack (part 1)

Copyright 2014

 

The young couple taking shelter from the rain in the bus stop wouldn’t have stood out to anybody. Sure, they both appeared nice-looking, but one couldn’t see much given their thick coats and hunched over posture. Listening in on their conversation would be the only real way to tell they, or at least one of them, were something other than they appeared.

“Rainy days in winter are the worst.”

“You think you’ve got it bad? You can always change clothes and dry off. Try it with fur instead.”

“Yeah, but you could just shift back to human form. Wait. Where does the water in your fur go when you do that?”

“Everywhere…”

“Okay, you win this one,” Chrys said as she smiled and slid closer to Ross on the bus stop bench, trying to keep warm.

Discussions like this had become rather commonplace for them these last few months. In bed, over breakfast, during hikes in the woods – there was always something she wanted to know, and he was happy to share everything with her. Finding somebody so willing to accept him as he was was something he’d never expected to happen. Getting to know each other had come with plenty of highs, and some lows as well.

The sex was incredible, they’d both agree. Chrys almost felt like she was seeing two different men at times, but both his human and werewolf forms were undeniably him. Ross had had other partners, of course, but only while human. Now that he was free to use his werewolf body, he almost felt like he was learning about sex all over again. Chrys was more than happy to be his teacher.

Dating a werewolf wasn’t without its problems, Chrys had discovered. As the full moon drew near, Ross got a little irritable and moody. She’d teased him once about being the only guy with his own “time of the month,” but that joke hadn’t gone over particularly well. Once he’d had his monthly change, though, he settled back down and life was normal again. Well, as “normal” as life with a werewolf could be.

The incident with the mountain lion had been the biggest challenge they’d faced so far. Chrys was sure he’d hate her for putting him in that position and for the injuries he’d sustained in saving her. He didn’t, and he’d told her that if that was the cost of finding somebody like her, he’d happily pay it double. His wounds had healed, but there were still scars. The first time she saw him in werewolf form after he’d healed more, she nearly cried. The gorgeous fur on his back had four empty lines where the healing skin was trying to replace the scar tissue. He assured her that it would continue to heal, but admitted it would never look quite like it once had.

Since that first weekend at the cabin they’d gone back out there a few times. Ross had shown her how to tell the difference between various animals’ tracks, and what signs to look for that indicated the presence of other animals – both safe and dangerous. Chrys paid careful attention to his lessons, wanting to ensure she never repeated the mistakes of her first tracking experience. While she’d picked up lots of knowledge from Ross, she never acquired his affinity for swimming in cold water. She was more than content to wait on the dock with a towel for him, but that was as close as she’d get. Relaxing by a blazing fire with a glass of wine or cup of coffee was much more to her liking.

As they sat in the bus stop, she found herself missing that fire.

“Remind me again why we didn’t drive to Kumi’s place?” she asked.

“I believe somebody said, ‘It’s just a little overcast. How bad could it get?’” he told her.

“Fine, fine. Go ahead and say ‘I told you so.’ You said we should drive,” Chrys admitted.

“We’ll be fine,” Ross assured her. “You already texted Kumi and let her know what time the bus will get there, so she’ll pick us up at the bus stop.”

“I know, but the whole ‘urban day hike’ from my place to hers was my idea. We’ve done a lot of walking around the forest recently, and I thought it’d be fun to hoof it across the city.”

“I’m not knocking the idea,” Ross said. “Maybe just the timing of it.”

“Even though the timing wasn’t great, your choice of route was. My original path wasn’t anywhere near the bus line,” Chrys said.

“I figured it was better to play it safe just in case it did rain. Kumi lives close to the Apple Falls Park-N-Ride, right?” he asked.

“Not too far from it, by car anyways,” Chrys confirmed. “She moved back in with her parents after graduation last year. The job market hasn’t been great for art majors. Oh, hang on. Bus is here.”

As the bus pulled up to the curb Ross fished out enough change from his pocket to cover both their fares. Being early in the afternoon on a Friday, the bus wasn’t crowded and they easily found a pair of seats near the back. Once they were seated and on their way, Chrys continued.

“Like I was saying. They understand about the job thing and have plenty of space. She still works part-time at Free Perking, and also helps out with their travel agency, doing design work and stuff like that.”

“That’s nice of them,” Ross said.

“They do have to take off from time to time, like this weekend. Kumi doesn’t like staying in the big house alone, which is why she invited us over.”

“From the times we’ve hung out she’s come across as pretty independent. Is there something about the house that bothers her?” Ross asked.

“Not the house so much, as the woods around it. Too many big windows looking out onto dark areas. You’ll feel right at home,” Chrys teased.

“Inside or outside?” he grinned.

“Whichever you like. Even with the rain we can still use the hot tub. It’s on the back deck and there’s an extendable cover that’ll keep us dry,” she explained.

“You’re getting in a hot tub and you want to stay dry?” Now it was his turn to tease.

“Yes, smart ass. Immersed in hot water – good. Cold water falling on your head – bad. See?”

“I guess. But what about swimsuits?” Ross wanted to know. “All we tossed in our backpacks was some energy bars and bottles of water.”

“You? Mr. ‘Skinnydipping in January,’ are asking about a swimsuit?”

“Hey, you and I out at the lake is one thing. That’s just us,” he pointed out. “We’ve hung out with Kumi more and more together recently, but are we really at the ‘naked friends’ stage?”

Chrys hadn’t expected he’d be shy about this. “She and I have used the tub plenty of times, and never bothered with suits, so I really didn’t think about it. We can probably find one of her Dad’s if you really want one. Or if you trust us to close our eyes while you get in you can do without.”

Ross pondered that. “I have no problem trusting either of you. I just wanted to be sure you’re really cool with her and I being naked in front of each other.”

Chrys grinned a particularly wicked grin. “Oh, don’t worry. I can guarantee nothing’s going to happen between you two.”

“‘Guarantee?’ How’s that?”

“Because if you did do anything with her,” she began, “the next time you went full wolf I’d be taking you to the vet.”

Ross moved a hand to his groin and feigned shock. “Point taken.”

“I’m glad we understand each other,” Chrys said, taking an excessively serious tone..

“So it’s okay if I look, just not touch?” he asked with a smile.

Chrys was unable to keep a straight face. “No!” she insisted, bursting out laughing and attracting the attention of what few other passengers were on the bus.

“See what you did?!” she hissed at him between quiet giggles.

Ross just kept smiling and put his arm around her shoulders. “It’s okay,” he told her. “I’m sure you’ll find some way to get back at me.”

“Count on it!” she promised.

For the remainder of the bus ride they made small talk and watched the city drift past the rain-blurred windows. The bus actually got to the Park-N-Ride lot slightly ahead of schedule, due to the lack of passengers. Fortunately Kumi was early (for a change) and they didn’t have to wait out in the rain again.

They’d barely gotten off the bus when they heard the sharp double-beep of Kumi’s horn. Flipping up their hoods against the rain they dashed across the parking lot to her car. Chrys called “Shotgun!” and snagged the front seat, while Ross settled into the back..

“Thanks, Kumi. You’re a lifesaver,” Chrys said.

“Yeah,” Ross agreed. “We really appreciate it.”

“No problem guys. I’m glad you didn’t let the weather keep you away. I was worrying you might change your mind about coming over,” Kumi told them. “Who’s hare-brained idea was it to walk over today, anyways?”

She’d been looking back at Ross while asking her question, but his only reply was to point a finger at Chrys.

“Seriously?” Kumi asked her.

“Thanks a lot,” Chrys said, glaring playfully at Ross. “Don’t forget that you agreed it was a good idea.”

“Seriously?” Kumi asked again, turning back to Ross.

“Guilty,” he admitted. “We were hoping the rain would hold off, but apparently it wasn’t in a cooperative mood.”

“Well…no matter. You made it and that’s what counts. The house is pretty well stocked for the weekend, so unless you guys need something special we can just head straight there. Sound good?”

“Works for me,” Chrys said. “How about you, hun?”

“I’m good,” he said. “Chrys has told me about your place, Kumi, and if you say it’s stocked I doubt there’s much I could think of that we’d need.”

“Great! I’ll have us home in no time,” Kumi promised.

“No time” was a bit of a hopeful estimate. The rain was playing hell with the traffic as it was, and people leaving work early to avoid the rush wasn’t helping any either. Once they got past Apple Falls Mall, things were a bit easier going. They were off the major roads and into the suburbs without any real hassles.

A few winding streets later and they were pulling into the driveway. Kumi hit the button on her garage door opener and waited for it to roll up. Once it had she pulled in parked the car. “See? No more worrying about rain this weekend,” she said with a smile.

“That’ll work for me,” Chrys said. “Is it okay if we hang our wet stuff here?”

“Yeah, no point bringing it inside to drip. You can dump your shoes out here too, if you’d like,” Kumi told them.

“Thanks,” Ross said, hanging his coat on a hook. He untied his shoes and pulled them off, only to realize his socks had taken on a bit more water than he’d expected. “Okay to strip these off here as well?” He figured it’d be okay, but some people are weird about bare feet in their homes.

“Oh sure,” Kumi said. “We’re not formal here at all. Take off whatever you like,” she teased.

“Hey! He’s mine!” Chrys reminded her friend.

Kumi did a pretty convincing fake sulk too, Ross noticed.

Once they’d shed their wet things and moved inside. the remainder of the day passed quickly. They caught up with each other, ordered pizza (they tipped the delivery guy double, on account of the weather), and nearly polished off a couple bottles of wine. As the second bottle was nearing its end, Kumi wandered off for a bit.

“So,” Chrys started, “what do you think of their place?”

“It’s nice,” Ross admitted. “I see what you mean about the woods. I’d have loved growing up in a house like this. Lots to explore in the area and plenty of room to run around, both inside and out.”

“Sadly, Kumi doesn’t share your love of the outdoors,” Chrys told him. “She hates any sort of crawly things and the backyard is probably the closest she’s ever gone to those woods.”

“It’s true,” Kumi said, surprising them with her return. “I’m a total wuss about stuff like that. Fortunately the house has everything a girl needs. Including a hot tub, which should be nice and warm by the time we get out there. Shall we?”

“I was hoping that was where you’d gone,” Chrys told her. “Let’s go!”

Kumi and Chrys took off towards the back of the house and Ross walked after them. He still wasn’t so sure about this, but if the girls were okay with it…well, who was he to argue? They were even more eager than he’d realized, for by the time he reached the patio doors all he found waiting for him were a couple of piles of clothes on the floor. He looked outside and saw the two of them standing near the tub, wrapped in towels.

“Your towel is on the chair to your right,” Kumi told him, pointing the way. “Go ahead and get ready. And no peeking while we get in!”

Ross smiled and stepped away from the doors. He heard the two girls laughing and thought for a second they could see him getting undressed. A check over his shoulder showed him they couldn’t, and he finished taking his clothes off. Out of habit, he folded them up and put them on the chair. Then he picked up the towel Kumi had left, wrapped it around his waist, and knotted it on the side..

Stepping out into the night, he reveled in the feeling of cool air on his skin. This was something he never seemed able to get enough of, so he paused to enjoy it. Chrys and Kumi were already in the hot tub, leaning back in the corners furthest from the house, waiting for him to join them.

“He’s nuts, right?” Kumi asked her best friend. “How is he not freezing?”

“This is nothing,” Chrys told her. “It gets colder out by the lake, and he still goes swimming. Not even two weeks ago!”

“In January?!? Oh no. Not me!” Kumi insisted. “If the water’s not warm, I’m not going near it.”

Ross laughed and made his way across the patio to the tub. “Oh, it’s not as bad as all that,” he told them.

“Then prove it,” she challenged him. “Drop the towel.”

The cold didn’t bother Ross, but he wasn’t so sure about that. Chrys could see his hesitation. “Kumi, you promised you wouldn’t peek,” she reminded her. “He didn’t watch when we got in, so fair’s fair.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll close my eyes.”

Before she had them shut, Ross turned away slightly, looking for where to put his towel. When he did, Kumi caught sight of the scars on his back.

A “Damn!” escaped before she could catch herself.

Ross re-tied his towel, because it was clear she was still looking.

“Sorry!” Kumi began. “Sorry. Chrys told me what happened last year. I just didn’t know how bad…I mean, how much…I… Does it hurt?”

“It did at first, yeah.” Ross sat down on the edge of the tub. “It was a stupid accident, more bad luck than anything else. Thankfully Chrys was there to help patch me up.” Chrys had told Ross the story she’d made up to explain breaking off her plans with Kumi. He figured it was reasonable enough, given the nature of his injuries. This was the first time anybody other than Chrys had seen the scars, though.

“Jeez, looking at his back I can’t believe you took care of that, Chrys. Girl Scouts mean serious business, I guess.”

Ross laughed a little. “Things are fine now. They’re not the only scars I have, though they’re definitely the most impressive.”

“That’s not the word I’d pick,” Kumi said, “but I suppose it fits. Okay, closing my eyes for real this time.”

Ross looked over at her to check. She’d even gone so far as to put her hands over her eyes, so he figured it was safe. Just the same, he quickly took off his towel and tossed it on a chair before turning around to lower himself into the warm water.He sat in the corner on the house side of the tub closest to Chrys and slid down so that his shoulders were just barely covered, matching the girls’ soaking posture.

Once it was clear he’d settled in, Kumi dropped her hands. “See?” she began. “Isn’t that so much better than a cold lake?”

“It is nice,” Ross admitted. “I’ll give you that. But it’s missing something.”

“Yeah it is,” she agreed. “Bugs, fish, dirt and who knows what else. This is plenty outdoorsy for me, thank you very much.”

They all appreciated the hot tub, especially after such a dreary day. The combination of warm, bubbling water and the wine they’d shared had them all feeling very relaxed. The friends sat in silence for a while, enjoying their soak.

“Ready to add one to your cabin, Ross?” Kumi asked.

“Nah,” he told her. “Nice as it is, I’d spend too much time fishing leaves and pine needles out of it. Besides, I’ve already got a great place to soak out there.”

“I’d disagree on that point, but keeping the tub clean is really simple,” Kumi assured him. “You leave the cover on when you’re not using it to keep stuff out, and if anything does get in it’s easy enough to clean the filters. I’ll have to remember to do that before my parents come back so my dad doesn’t do it and discover any white hairs in the filter. It’d be hard to convince him that I didn’t have a much older guy over.”

Chrys looked at Ross for a second, then over a Kumi. “But Ross’ hair isn’t even in the- Kumi! You promised!”

Kumi blushed as much as an Asian girl could and wished she had somewhere to hide. Knowing she’d been caught, she apologized to Chrys, “I’m sorry,” and to Ross, “really, I am. I didn’t mean to peek, but it’s been a while and I was curious. Forgive me?” she asked humbly.

“Sure,” said Ross. “What’s done is done.” He shrugged and looked at Chrys.

“Oh, okay,” Chrys agreed.

“I was a bit surprised,” Kumi began. “I always thought your hair was a dye job.”

“Nope, it’s all me,” Ross told her. To prove his point he reached up and plucked a hair from his head and held it out towards her. “See? Same color from roots to tip.”

“Hey! The filter!” she reminded him.

Ross pulled his arm back and dropped the hair over the side of the tub. “Sorry. Still, better a few white hairs than a bunch of fur.”

Kumi laughed at the thought of Ross sitting in the tub in his full costume, but Chrys had a far different reaction. Her eyes had bugged out a bit and she was giving him her best “what the hell?!?” look. Ross just gave her a small shrug in reply. In spite of all the time they’d spent with Kumi, Ross had never even once made any sort of reference to his true nature. Kumi was still chuckling to herself and hadn’t caught what was going on between her friends.

“That would be the worst!” she said. “Once the hot water started dissolving the glue on your costume, those hairs would be everywhere. Floating on top of the water, sticking to the sides of the tub. Sticking to everybody else! Ewwww!” Kumi was one of the few people who could simultaneously gross herself out and crack herself up. The more she thought about a tub full of fur, the more she laughed.

“I don’t think it’d be as bad as all that,” Ross assured her.

“Sorry, Ross, but I wouldn’t want to clean up the mess. No matter how good your costume was, I’m going to have enact a ‘no werewolves’ in the hot tub rule.” She’d mostly gotten her laughter under control, but the combination of warm tub, good wine and silly ideas was making it difficult.

Ross looked at Chrys again, and saw her expression had softened a bit. “Your call,” she told him.

Kumi had started talking to herself. “I could put the sign on the side of the tub over there,” she said, pointing towards the house. “But it might be better if it were facing the woods.”

“Kumi,” Ross started, wanting to be sure he had her full attention, “I get your issue with costumes, but what about real werewolves? Would they be banned as well?”

“Hmmmm,” she tapped a finger against her chin while she considered it. “Do they shed much? Because that could be almost as bad.”

“Don’t worry, we don’t shed much,” he told her. “At least not in winter. You should probably be more concerned with how clean our fur is than with how much of it’s going to come off.”

“Right!” Kumi said, totally missing the “we” and “our” in his comments. Once she got going on an idea, no matter how silly, she tended to overfocus. “Mandatory washing before even thinking about the tub. But what kind of shampoo is best? I doubt they’ve got any special ‘wolf wash’ at the store.”

“I prefer regular baby shampoo,” Ross said.

The mental picture she was getting set Kumi off again. “I can see the bottle now. ‘Johnson & Johnson Puppy Scrub,’ now with improved ‘no more whimpers’ formula.” Even Chrys joined in laughing at that.

“Cub,” Ross corrected. Why could nobody get that right?

“Yes!” Kumi agreed wholeheartedly. “‘Cub Scrub’ even rhymes. It’s perfect!”

Both girls laughed even harder and things devolved from there. Kumi came up with grooming stations with brushes and blow dryers for after-bath care. Chrys suggested robes that split up the back to allow for tail freedom. Ross even joined in, suggesting special massages for sore footpads.

Looking back at everything they’d come up with, Kumi rendered her final decision. “We’ve gone too far beyond the original question. With all that stuff, we’re essentially opening a day spa for werewolves, and that sounds like way too much work for me.”

“Too bad,” said Ross. “I’d happily be your first customer.”

“Sorry, dear, but we would have been quite exclusive,” she told him, wagging her finger for effect. “No humans allowed.”

Ross grinned at her. “Then it’s a good thing I’m not human.”

“You’re a sweetheart for indulging my goofiness, Ross,” she smiled back. “And while I have enjoyed more wine than either of you tonight, I have not had nearly enough to believe in werewolves.”

“Believe him, Kumi,” Chrys told her friend.

“Huh?” Kumi was surprised that Chrys was playing along. “No. Ganging up on me won’t work. More wine, maybe, but that’s about it.”

“I can think of one other thing,” Ross said, turning around in the tub. He put his hands on the side and was quickly out of the water. Two steps had him picking up his towel and he began drying off with his back to the girls.

“A nice tail does not a werewolf make,” she told him, admiring the view.

“Kumi!” Chrys scolded.

“Oh, come on. You can’t tell me not to look now. He’s the one who got out right in front of me.”

After giving himself a cursory drying, Ross ruffled his hair with the towel then dropped it back on the chair. Chrys found herself staring at him as well. He was in good shape, but not bulked up at all. “Tight” was probably the best word for his physique. And Kumi was right about his tail, she had to admit. Chrys leaned back against the side of the tub, knowing what was coming next.

As Ross started willing his change, that subtle glow washed over his skin.

Kumi started sobering up quickly, and sat up straight, not even noticing that her breasts were slightly out of the water. She looked at Chrys. “What is he do-”

“Just watch,” Chrys told her.

Kumi did as she was instructed and turned her head back to Ross.

Chrys never got tired of seeing him shift forms. Glancing over at Kumi, she wondered if her friend’s expression was the same one she herself had worn that first time out at the cabin.

The glow on Ross’ skin was quickly lost under his growing fur. It grew over every part of his body, and quickly covered him from head to toe. His tail sprouted from the base of his spine, simultaneously growing longer and furrier. He’d turned his head to look at the girls over his left shoulder, eager to see Kumi’s reaction. She was already staring, but when she watched his face lengthen into his muzzle, her jaw dropped.

Kumi, normally the most talkative person Chrys knew, was completely dumbstruck.

Once his change was complete, Ross gave himself a shake to fluff and smooth his fur. He didn’t consider himself “naked” like this, so he didn’t feel any shyness about turning to face the tub. When he caught sight of Kumi’s chest, however, he got a little embarrassed. “You might want to sit down,” he told her, turning his head away.

She couldn’t take her eyes off him, and just gave the slightest of nods.

“Kumi!” Chrys said. “Boobs!”

“Huh?” Kumi snapped out of her daze and looked down. “Oh!” She crossed her arms over her chest and scooted back to her original position in the corner of the tub. She didn’t stay there for long.

Once Ross came over and took a knee by the side of the tub, her curiosity overcame her modesty and she moved closer to him. She crossed her arms on the side of the tub and rested her chin on them. On Halloween, the nearest she’d gotten to him was the other side of the serving counter at Free Perking. He’d looked convincing then, but it still could have been a really good costume. This close, their noses only inches apart, it was much harder to be skeptical. Without thinking or asking, she reached up with her right hand and touched the side of his face.

“No. Fucking. Way.” That was about the extent of the thoughts she could get out.

“Yes way,” Ross told her, giving her a toothy smile.

“You’re real?” She couldn’t believe it, even with his cheek fur under her fingers and his breath on her palm. “Like, really real?”

“Yup,” he confirmed again.

Kumi rubbed his cheek a little, causing Ross to lower his muzzle. When he did, she slid her hand up and scratched him between his ears. Ross let out a happy sigh and Kumi could see his tail was starting to wag from side to side. “Oh my god, that is just too much!” she declared.

Chrys knew how Kumi must be feeling, having gone through this herself a few months ago. “I imagine you’ve got a lot of questions,” she said to her friend.

“Yeah,” said Kumi. “Like why the hell did I have to work on Halloween!”

They all shared a laugh at this.

“When did you first know, Chrys?” Kumi asked.

“That same night,” Chrys told her. “Before we got to Free Perking.”

“Seriously? And you never told me?”

Chrys laughed again. “Given what it took to convince you, there wouldn’t have been much point to my saying anything, would there? It’s one of those things you really have to see to believe.”

“Even now that I’ve seen it, I’m having a hard time believing it,” Kumi admitted. She ceased her scratching and returned to her spot in the corner once again. “What’s it like? How did it happen? Have you always been…you know?”

Ross knew that even an abbreviated history would take some time. Now that he was in his fur the temperature of a wet February night was no big deal to him, but he didn’t really want to kneel on the hard patio for so long. He stood up and grabbed an empty chair, then dragged it over, putting its side up against the hot tub. Dropping into it he curled his tail around his left hip and propped his feet up on the edge of the tub.

His feet weren’t in any position where they’d dip into the water, but Kumi warned him just the same. “Careful with the fur,” she said.

“Don’t worry. I told you we don’t shed in wintertime.”

Ross began by telling Kumi about his childhood, about how his parents were werewolves, and how they’d been teaching him. When he got to the part about their deaths he didn’t go into as much detail as he had with Chrys, but it was still having an effect on him. Chrys slid over and took his paw in her hand. The held hands for the rest of his story, and he explained about his uncle and what it was like learning things on his own. As he talked, Chrys stroked the fur on his arm and the back of his paw, and gently massaged his fingerpads. He concluded with how he’d met Chrys last Halloween, and how she’d discovered the truth about him.

“Anything since that night you pretty much know already, aside from any wolfy bits,” Ross said. “Chrys has seen me in both my forms out at the cabin, but this is the first time I’ve shifted so close to the city since Halloween.”

“Maybe it’s the wine, or seeing you sitting there, or knowing that Chrys already knows all this,” Kumi said, “but I’m finding this easier to accept than I probably should.”

“I’m going to give my vote to the wine,” Chrys told her. “But the naked werewolf’s probably helping a bit.” She thought back to Halloween, and how she’d insisted on treating Ross’ cut. “Once the truth is right there in front of you, denying it is not really an option,” she said.

“True,” Kumi agreed. “Speaking of wine, I think I could use a little more.”

“And speaking of naked, I think we’ve been in the tub long enough,” Chrys said. “Fuzzy, you scoot on into the house while we get out. Never mind what Kumi did earlier, I expect you to be a gentle-wolf and not peek.”

Ross stood up and slid the chair back to where he’d gotten it. When he picked up his towel and turned back to the tub, Kumi was staring again, though her gaze was considerably lower than before.

“Are you going to stay furry all night?” she asked him.

“I’m comfortable either way,” he told her. “I can change back if you’d like, but you needn’t worry about me shedding on the furniture if I stay like this.”

“I’m okay with it if you are,” Kumi said, still not looking up, “but certain bits are more distracting than others.”

Ross finally caught on that she’d been unable to tear her eyes away from his sheath and fuzzy pouch, and covered them with his towel. “Oh…right. Sorry about that. Fur’s as normal to me as skin, but being the only werewolf I know, I never think of this as ‘naked.’” He thought for a second about what to do. “Hmmm. My boxers aren’t quite made for somebody with a tail, but they should cover up the front well enough. If that’s okay?”

Finally looking him in the eyes again. “That would be…helpful,” she smiled.

Ross grinned back at her. “I’ll see you ladies inside then.” After he’d turned away from the tub, he let the towel swing freely in his hand and walked inside. He wasn’t quite sure where the best place for his damp towel was, but the table by the door had a marble top which seemed safe enough. He grabbed his boxers off the chair where he’d placed his clothes and pulled them on. They fit okay in the front, and covered everything up, but the back was a different matter. His tail angled downwards, and prevented him from pulling the shorts much further than the middle of his backside.

“Not much I can do about that,” he told himself as he heard the girls coming in the door behind him. Chrys giggled and he knew he was in for a teasing.

“It’s not quite a full moon,” she said, “but it’s certainly having an effect on me.”

Kumi laughed as well, then chastised her friend. “Be nice, Chrys. He’s covering up because I asked him to. That’s not too uncomfortable, Ross?”

“Don’t worry about it,” he assured her as he turned around. Looking down at himself, something occurred to him. “Hey, I just realized this is the first time I’ve tried to wear clothes over my fur since Halloween.”

“That’s right!” said Chrys. “I guess I’ve gotten so used to seeing you in just your fur that I don’t think of it as ‘naked’ either.”

“Okay! Enough naked talk!” interrupted Kumi. She had been without a boyfriend since last summer, and the glimpses she’d had of Ross tonight were enough to get her mind going down a path that she knew would only lead to her feeling frustrated. Standing there in his boxers was better than just fur, but she was still feeling some of that effect Chrys had mentioned. “I’m going to get dried, dressed, and then drunk. Come on, Chrys, I’ve got some stuff you can wear. Ross, will you be okay on your own for a bit?”

“Sure,” he said. “Just tell me where the wine, corkscrew, and straws are.”

“Straws? Oh, right! The mouth…nose…thing…”

“Muzzle,” Ross told her.

“That’s it. There should be some straws in the bar drawer,” she said. “Corkscrew ought to be in there as well, and just pick any bottle you like from the rack or fridge. We’ll be back in a few.”

The girls headed off into another part of the house, where he assumed Kumi’s room was. It was obvious they’d lived together before, given how comfortable they were with each other. First in the hot tub, now wearing nothing but towels. “But which one taught the other to be a slob?” he wondered out loud, looking at the twin piles of clothes by the patio door. He gathered up their things, folding and stacking them as he’d done with his own earlier.

He had no trouble finding what he needed in the bar, and selected a bottle of white. He tended to prefer reds like the ones they’d shared earlier, but since he was in his fur he opted for something that would be easier to clean if there were any spills. After opening the bottle he took it into the living room and set it on the table. Once he’d taken their old glasses and put them in the sink, he grabbed a fresh trio from the bar – normal wine glasses for the girls and a narrow highball for himself. Ross wasn’t sure how long they’d take getting ready, so he only filled his own glass for the time being. “I hope they won’t be too long,” he said to himself, knowing that the longer they were away, the more they’d be talking. And he could imagine what the topic of conversation would be.

“So…?” Kumi asked Chrys as they walked into her room.

“So what?” Chrys replied, immediately knowing where this was going.

“Fine. If you’re really going to make me ask, I will. Have you done it?” she wanted to know.

“We’ve been seeing each other for three months, Kumi. Of course we’ve done it.”

“You know what I mean,” Kumi insisted. “When he’s like this! All furry and stuff.”

“Stuff?” Chrys teased.

“Okay! I’m sorry I looked. Both times. No. Three times,” she corrected herself. “But you can’t tell me you wouldn’t have, if you were in my position.”

“Hmm,” Chrys thought. “Fair enough. I’d have wanted to see for myself, I suppose.”

“And I’m sure you’ve seen a lot more than I have, so just how far have things gone?” Kumi still wanted to know.

“Pretty much as far as they can,” Chrys finally admitted.

“Really?” Kumi asked. “But how long did it take before you guys got to that point – with him being all furry?”

“Not…too long,” she admitted. Chrys thought back to Halloween, about how she’d taken Ross home with her. She started thinking a bit too much, remembering just how far and fast things had gone that first night together. Before she could get her memories back under control, her face was flushing with warmth.

“No way!” Kumi had figured it out. “That night?!?

“Is it that big of a deal? Hooking up with somebody you’ve just met isn’t that weird. You’ve done it,” she pointed out.

“With guys,” Kumi said.

“Ross is a guy.”

“And a werewolf,” Kumi countered.

“And incredibly hot,” Chrys reminded her.

“Yeah, but-”

“And he’s easily the best sex I’ve ever had.”

“But-”

“Ever.”

“Oh…”

“Look, Kumi. Don’t think I haven’t had this conversation with myself dozens of times, because I absolutely have. I got caught up in the heat of everything that first night, and yes, I questioned it later. Most of the time, Ross looks and acts totally human. You never had any idea he was anything other than that,” Chrys told her best friend.

“True,” Kumi agreed.

“But he’s not. I’ve seen him in his werewolf form, and I’ve watched him change into an actual wolf as well. I’m very much aware that I’m dating outside my species, believe me.”

“Does that make it feel wrong?” Kumi asked.

“I’ve asked myself the same question, and even after three months I still don’t honestly know.” Chrys confessed. “He’s a great guy, a terrific lover, he makes amazing breakfasts, and he’s got me looking at things in a whole new way. But there is also the undeniable fact that he’s not human. If I’m okay with that, what does it make me?”

“Chrys, I didn’t mean to get all serious on you, and I hope I didn’t sound too judgemental. I’m just curious, and weird, and buzzed, and horny, and I really need more wine to get my head around this stuff. But…does he make you happy?” Kumi asked.

“More than you can imagine,” Chrys grinned.

“I won’t say I don’t have more questions, but that’s a good enough answer for me,” Kumi said. “For now, anyways.”

“We should probably hurry up,” Chrys said, “or he’s going to wonder just how much we’ve been talking about him.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ve got questions for him too!” Kumi laughed.

Despite their intentions of hurrying up, the girls took quite a while drying off, getting dressed, then taking turns with Kumi’s hair dryer – all the while finding more things to chat about. Left to his own devices, Ross had helped himself to a couple more glasses of wine, since the first had gone down so easily. By the time the girls rejoined him in the living room, more than half the bottle was gone.

“Sorry we took so long,” Chrys said as they entered the spacious room. “You know how chatty Kumi and I can get once we start catching up.”

“S’okay,” Ross mumbled in reply from the sofa he was lying on.

“How much did he…?” Kumi started.

Chrys walked over next to Ross, taking note of the bottle on the table and the empty glass with the straw in it.

“Probably more than he should have. I don’t think he’s ever drunk this much when he’s like this before,” Chrys told her friend.

“Is he going to be okay?” Kumi asked.

“Hey, fuzzy,” Chrys knelt next to the sofa and laid a hand on Ross’ chest. “How are you feeling?”

“I think I drink,” Ross started, then stopped, trying to force his eyes to open all the way. “I mean. Was waiting, and drinking, and…and… Sorry?”

“You silly wolf,” she smiled at him. “I think it’s best we put you to bed.”

Ross let himself be pulled up from the couch, and draped an arm around Chrys’ shoulders. He could stand on his own, more or less, and was leaning on her as much for contact as support. As she led him down the hallway towards the guest room they were going to be sharing, he kept trying to sneak kisses. He wasn’t quite coordinated to land any while walking, and Chrys giggled every time he missed. Kumi was following behind, smiling as well.

“Hol’ still,” he pleaded drowsily.

“Oh, no. It’s off to bed with you,” Chrys told him.

“Jus’ me?”

They’d reached the door to the guest room, which was thankfully open. Chrys still had to steer him through it so he wouldn’t bang into the door or frame. Once he was in the room and had caught sight of the bed, his brain – at least, some part of it – had sorted out what was going on. Of course, that part didn’t remember that Kumi was standing right behind him, and thought nothing of pulling off his boxers before laying down on the double bed and rolling onto his back.

He sprawled out, taking up more than half the bed. His right was flopped across the other pillow, while the the left one drooped off the side of the bed. His tail was mostly between his legs, which weren’t exactly closed. Not much was left to the imagination, and Kumi couldn’t stop herself from taking a long, admiring look.

“Stay wi’ me?” Ross asked Chrys.

“Not just yet, babe,” she told him. “Kumi and I will be up a bit longer, then I’ll come join you.”

Ross nodded understanding, while his half-open eyes slid shut again. “Kiss?” he asked her.

“Sure thing.” Chrys leaned over him and gave him a long, loving kiss. It may have been a bit much, because before she broke it, she heard Kumi gasp from the doorway.

Chrys pulled back from Ross and stood up. As she did, she saw that he’d started coming out of his sheath. “I guess you’re not that drunk,” she laughed.

Ross smiled in reply, but was mostly asleep already.

Chrys shut off the light and closed the door, joining Kumi in the hallway.

“Okay,” Kumi began. “I totally get it, and am sorry for what I said before. I don’t think I’d have made it past the first night either,” she blushed.

“He is something else, that’s for sure,” Chrys said. “Now let’s go see how much of that bottle he left for us.”

The two friends went back to the living room and continued their conversation, drinking at a much slower pace than Ross had. With him fast asleep, Chrys was more comfortable telling her friend intimate details that she was sure would have embarrassed Ross. This was more than just “girl talk” though. Now that Kumi knew the truth about Ross, Chrys was free to be completely honest about her relationship. Doing so, she had a better understanding for what it was like for Ross being able to share his secrets with her. And just as Ross trusted Chrys to keep his secrets, she knew Kumi would keep hers.

When the bottle was finally empty and both girls were feeling the effects of both the wine and the night’s revelations, they headed off to bed. Kumi to her room down the hall and Chrys to be with the already sleeping Ross. After she’d said “good night” to Kumi and closed the door, she stripped off her borrowed clothes and joined Ross on top of the covers. Even though it was February, the house was comfortably warm. Snuggling up next to Ross’ furry body kept her even warmer, and she had no trouble falling asleep.

When Chrys awoke in the morning, she was surprised to find Ross in the same position he’d been in when she joined him last night. She’d never slept later than him, and certainly never after he’d transformed.

“New rule,” she told herself. “No more drinkies for werewolves.”

She got up and dressed quickly, hoping to let him sleep longer. She needn’t have worried, since before she’d even reached the door, a loud clang startled her from the direction of the kitchen. Turning to check on Ross, she saw he was still out cold. “This is a first.”

Just the same, she closed the door quietly behind her before heading to the kitchen. There she found Kumi in her pajamas, holding a large frying pan in one hand. She couldn’t help but notice the odd, yellowish stains on her friend’s sleepwear.

“Everything okay in here?” Chrys asked hesitantly.

“It’s official,” Kumi announced. “I’m useless in the kitchen.”

Chrys relaxed a little, knowing that it wasn’t anything too serious. “What were you trying to make?” she asked.

“Pancakes,” Kumi said. “After you told me about the breakfast he made after that first night, I thought maybe I could do the same, since it was the first night he showed me. I tried turning them with the spatula, but they kept breaking. Then I thought maybe the spatula was my problem, so I tried doing that fancy chef thing and just flipping them with the pan. You can see how well that went.”

Indeed, Chrys could. As she looked around, there was batter on the counter, floor, her friend… Pretty much anywhere but in the pan. “I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be out, but let me help you. You get this stuff, and yourself cleaned up, and I’ll take over cooking duties. Deal?”

“Works for me.”

Setting their plan in action, the kitchen (and Kumi) were soon very tidy looking. For her part, Chrys had managed to cook up a respectably large stack of pancakes. When she realized that the combination of a noisy kitchen and the aroma of fresh pancakes hadn’t gotten Ross out of bed, she left Kumi in charge of the last batch and went to wake him.

Chrys opened the guest room door quietly, but upon doing so saw that it hadn’t been necessary. Ross was sitting up in bed, sort of. He had his knees drawn up and his head was resting between them, cradled in his hands. His fingers were massaging his temples, moving in slow, steady circles.

“Hey,” Chrys said softly. “You’re up.”

“Kind of,” he said. “Remind me never to do that again. I don’t think alcohol and this body mix so well.”

“Count on it,” she promised. “You can be the designated sober one from now on, whenever you’re all wolfed up. I’m surprised you slept so long. I’d never gotten up before you until today.”

“Yeah, me too. I’d hoped the faster metabolism meant the alcohol would get purged from my system faster, but instead I just got fast-acting alcohol that doesn’t want to get out of my system.”

“Do you want to change back? It might help,” Chrys suggested.

“Not just yet. I need to get my energy up first,” Ross explained. “Hey, what smells lik-”

*BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*

The smoke detector in the kitchen shocked them both into action, and they were heading out the door in seconds. As they entered the kitchen, they saw Kumi tossing a smoking frying pan into the sink and turning the water on full blast. The smoke from the pan was quickly replaced by steam. The smoke alarm didn’t seem able to tell the difference.

*BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*

“CAN ONE OF YOU TURN THAT OFF?” Kumi shouted over the beeping. She was waving the spatula at the noisemaker over the doorway. “I CAN’T REACH IT!”

Ross could, and popped the cover off and battery out before they were assaulted by too many more beeps.

“Kumi,” Chrys began. “It was one pancake. How the hell do you start a fire with one pancake?”

“Skill?” Kumi shrugged.

Ross chuffed out a small laugh. “What’s done is done. Can we eat?”

“Sure thing!” Kumi said, happy to change the subject. “The table’s already set and everything’s ready to go.”

“Awesome,” said Ross, already moving towards the smell of food.

“Chrys,” Kumi whispered after she finished staring at Ross’ backside. “Does he realize he’s naked?”

“Nope. He’s too hungry to care about much of anything else. Just ignore it. You eventually get used to it,” Chrys told her.

“I can only hope I get to see that enough to get used to it,” she grinned.

“Hands to yourself,” Chrys warned her friend.

“Just looking at what he’s showing,” Kumi pointed out.

“I can’t fault you for his lack of modesty,” Chrys said. “And yeah, he is damned nice to look at.”

Boundaries established, the two friends joined Ross at the table, not surprised to see him tearing into what was likely his second stack of pancakes. While he was using a fork, the bites he was taking were huge, resulting in a decent amount of butter and syrup getting caught in the fur on his muzzle.

“Slow down, hun,” Chrys warned him. “That’s going to be hell to clean up.”

“Don’ care,” he said around a mouthful of food. Swallowing, he continued. “Pancakes are awesome and just what I needed.”

“Are you going to leave any for us?” Kumi asked.

“Sure, but I’ll need to head out for more food. That wine did a number on me and I’ll definitely need a bigger charge than this.”

“I hope you’re planning on changing first,” Chrys said. “It’s February, not October. It’d be harder to explain a werewolf in the food court at this time of year.”

“The food court!” Ross nearly shouted. “Apple Falls has one of those chicken basket places, right? Where if you eat the whole ‘Nugget Bucket’ you get a second one free?” His eyes had lit up.

“Ugh,” Chrys shuddered. “Not even you could finish off an entire bucket of nuggets.”

“Wanna bet?” he grinned.

“I’m up for it!” Kumi chimed in. “If he can kill off the first one, we can split the second one.”

With a plan waiting to be put into action, the pancakes didn’t last much longer. Ross let the girls have more than he’d originally wanted to, but knowing there were nuggets on the horizon, he didn’t mind too much.

While Chrys and Kumi got dressed, he went to the guest room shifted back to human form and grabbed a quick shower. The girls just had to change, and had made quick work of the breakfast aftermath while they waited for Ross. Chrys had thoughtfully taken his clothes from last night and placed them on the bed while he showered. It wasn’t long before the trio were headed to the garage to begin the day’s adventure.

“I still don’t think you can do it,” Chrys told Ross. “You ate a lot already, and you’re in human form.”

“But as you say, it’s a form. I’m still all werewolf no matter how I look,” he reminded her. “It’s nice to know that one of you believes in me,” he said, smiling at Kumi.

“Don’t put me in the middle of your drama,” Kumi told him. “I believe in a free bucket of nuggets, and that’s about it.”

They made small talk as they headed to the mall. The weather wasn’t as bad as it had been the day before, so parking places were easy to find. They made their way to the food court and Ross ordered his “Nugget Bucket.” The cashier reminded him that he had to eat the entire bucket by himself, or else he’d forfeit the free bucket. Not many people had been able to beat the challenge, and certainly nobody as “small” as Ross had ever done it. The manager even laughed when he served up the bucket.

“I’ll be watching you,” he said as he handed it over.

He couldn’t believe his eyes when Ross was back, not ten minutes later, empty bucket in hand. “No way,” was all he said.

Ross returned to their booth with the second bucket and happily offered it to the girls. “Enjoy!” He leaned back on the bench, slouching slightly and patting his stomach.

“Darling, sometimes you disgust me,” Chrys teased.

“That doesn’t seem to be keeping you from eating those free nuggets,” he pointed out.

They chatted while the girls ate. Ross helped himself to the occasional nugget, but his appetite was mostly sated. Their conversation topics were pretty mundane – music, movies, work – and nothing like the things they’d discussed last night.

When the bucket was about two-thirds empty, Ross sat bolt upright and started looking around carefully.

“Ross, what is it?” Chrys asked.

He didn’t look at her, and kept scanning the food court as if looking for something.

“Ross, you’re starting to worry me,” she told him.

He whispered, “there’s a werewolf in here.”

“I know!” Kumi whispered back. “He just got us some free nuggets.”

Chrys could tell something was up. She’s never seen Ross like this before. “You. You don’t mean yourself, do you?”

His only reply was to shake his head and keep looking around, occasionally sniffing the air.

Kumi got serious fast. “Can you tell who it is?”

Ross shook his head. “There are too many people in here. All their scents, combined with the different food smells, and how weak my sense of smell is – I can’t tell who it is, or where they are.”

“Do you think they know you’re here?” Chrys asked.

Ross nodded. “If I can sense her, I’m sure she can sense me.”

“What the-!” Kumi started. “Her?!?”

Ross nodded again. “That much I’m sure of.”