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[personal profile] lady_flamewing
Title: Hunted
Fandom: Original Fiction
Pairing: Pretty gen, though there are some mentions of M/F pairings.
Rating: PG-13. Nothing explicit, but a little off-screen violence and some general dark themes.
A/N: Actually the first piece I wrote for NaNo, the idea was suggested to me by a friend once I told him about the kind of stories I was trying to write: I thought I'd attempt a short story collection that centered around the theme of "unconventional horror" - stories that eschew the standard tropes of horror. So in these stories, there are no heroes, people make the wrong choices sometimes, and nothing is ever really what it seems. Rather than idealize horror, I thought I'd try to write it as I imagined people would actually live it - doing the best they could. /copy-pasta from last post.

I am actually fairly comfortable with this piece - I think it came out pretty well. There are some things that could certainly use finessing, but I think overall the story came across like I wanted it to.


Shadows slip by on either side, wet branches slap against skin and leave shallow cuts behind as he darts through the forest. He tries as best he can to quiet his breathing, but he's been running for too long, and his lungs are burning. No matter how quickly he pants, he can't seem to get enough air, and he finally has to stop, collapsing back against a tree trunk and gasping for air.

Over the sound of his own desperate breathing, he tries to listen for any signs of pursuit. There's nothing too close, he doesn't think, but it's hard to tell - the rain's coming down hard, and while that's good because it will help to mask his scent, it makes it much harder to hear the dogs snuffling through the underbrush. He rests his head on the wet tree trunk and screws his eyes shut, trying to hold back the exhausted tears.

He's so tired. He's been on the run for a few days now, constantly on edge, always moving to keep one step ahead of the hunters and their dogs. He gets brief respites at night, sometimes, if the hunters decide to set up camp, but he can't risk hunting for anything himself, lest he leave a trail behind. He's been foraging nuts and fruit where he can, but it's just not enough. He keeps hoping that if he stays loose long enough, they'll just get tired. Give up and leave him be.

It's a foolish idea, he knows that. These monsters won't ever leave him alone, not anymore. This is their primary idea of fun, he knows, releasing 'prey' into the woods and then hunting it down. He knows they don't feed the dogs for a few days before they release anything, just to make them a little more motivated - which is better than what they do to their prey. He's spent the last few weeks in a cage that's far too small, being fed scraps of near-rotten meat only every few days, until he was thin and weak - almost nothing but skin and bones. Which, he supposes, is the point. They do want to catch him eventually, after all.

He wants nothing more than to sink down onto the ground and rest, but he hears shouting, barking - or fancies he does, at least, which is plenty reason enough - and finds that, somewhere, he has a little strength left. He pushes away from the tree and takes off through the woods again, splashing through streams swelled by the recent rainfall and scrambling up slick and muddy hills.

It isn't fair, he thinks. We were just like them once - not so long ago, some of us. And now he's here, crashing through the forest like a scared rabbit with the dogs after him. Dogs that, once, he could have cowed into submission. Well…given a few years to mature, maybe. He's still so young, after all - hardly more than a child, his chest and shoulders still lacking the breadth and power that he would have gained with age.

He stops, briefly, as he stumbles across a path. He glances left and right along it, tempted for a moment to follow it - if only for a little while, to save his tired legs the effort of slogging along through the mud - but he needs every advantage he can get. Staying on the road will only let the hunters gain ground on him - he's fairly certain he's still making better time than they are through the underbrush, even as tired as he is. So with a low grumble, he crosses to the other side and slips into the trees again.

They'd almost escaped, that's what makes this so much harder to take. When news of the hunts had first reached them, he and his mother and siblings had picked up and left, gone on the run. His mother had been so determined to keep them all safe, as more and more stories of the horrid things the hunters did to their captured prey spread through the communities. He'd wondered, once, why they bothered to catch and release them at all, but he'd never imagined that it could be for this.

The hunts are sanctioned. Allowed, by whatever rules those monsters are living by now. Bounty hunters make money by bringing in prey, the hunters lock it up and starve it for a few months until it's just weak enough to run, but not fight, and then set it loose in these woods. They laugh about it, he'd heard them in his cage - the way the dogs tear them apart, the way they beg and plead for mercy in the end, even if all mercy means is blowing their brains out so they don't have to be eaten alive. He doesn't know where they got the idea that their prey doesn't understand them - all he knows is the hunters talk like they won't be understood.

Or maybe they do know, he suddenly realizes, sliding down a muddy hill, and they do it to instill fear. That seems just as likely - more, even. Just another sign of cruelty from these fucking monsters. Part of him is glad to be on the hunt, just to be away from it all - from the pens and the holding facility and the treatment. He can run out here, stretch his legs, and if it's fear that's keeping him going, it's better than the electric prod they used to get him running in the first place. And he knows that's probably all part of it - that the hunters keep them caged up just long enough to get them aching for the outdoors, to keep them running past the point of exhaustion, just to avoid having to go back.

Not that he'll ever go back, even if they do catch him - and they will, he has no doubt. They always do. The hunts go on for as long as they need to, and no one has ever survived. The monsters chasing him are fueled by more than just enjoyment - although he's sure there's plenty of that - they're also fueled by hate. Hate that has been festering for years, since long before the hunts were established. They're afraid of him, he knows that, and that fear makes them tireless. They'll hunt him for as long as they have to, simply because the idea of allowing him to escape into the world fills them with disgust.

He pauses again, listening, tilting his head to try to catch the faintest sound, and he wonders. Wonders how many like him have been killed by the hunters, wonders how many die in captivity before they're ever released to be tracked - and how many kill themselves out here, just to avoid it all. He has to admit, the thought has crossed his mind more than a few times over the past few days, but something's always stopped him. He's just too stubborn, perhaps, or he's young enough to hold onto the faint hope that maybe - just maybe - he'll be the first one to give them the slip, the first one to get away.

Barking alerts him that he's stayed still too long, and he straightens up and prepares to move again - then pauses. He looks back at the tree he's been leaning against this time, contemplatively. It's a good-sized tree, thick and solid, with branches that start relatively high up. He thinks he could just reach them if he jumped, and it looks like he could get relatively high up without the branches breaking under his weight. He considers this new option - although fairly quickly, because that barking is a little too close for comfort.

Dogs can't climb. And while those monsters might be able to, it's possible that the rain will wash his scent off the trunk and keep the dogs from alerting their owners. Even if it doesn't, the trees are packed pretty tightly here - once he's up there, there's a good chance he can move from tree to tree, leaving his scent up above, where the dogs can't track it. All in all, a fairly appealing prospect.

He takes a few steps back, sinks down until he can feel the muscles coil in his legs. Then he takes one, two running steps and leaps, just barely catching the lowest branch with one hand. He scrabbles with his feet against the trunk, digging his nails into the branch until he manages to haul himself up and over, where he simply lies for a while, draped over the branch, panting. After a moment, he pushes himself upright, bracing one hand on the trunk for balance, and pulls himself up another few branches, until he's lost himself in the leaves.

The branches beneath him are still comfortably thick, showing no signs of bending under his weight, so he takes a chance and edges along one until he can see the branches of the next tree through the leaves. It's still a little farther than he's completely comfortable with, but the barking's getting louder, and that's probably the best incentive he could have right now - he makes the leap, skidding along the branch as he lands, colliding rather heavily with the trunk of the next tree and knocking the wind out of his lungs.

Coughing slightly, he edges around to the other side of the tree and repeats the process - then does it again and again, getting more and more comfortable each time, until he's nearly flying through the trees, and the barking has receded behind him again. Suddenly, he stops, nails digging gouges into the trunk of the tree he's currently perched in, and frowns.

There's a scent on the air, and he's not entirely certain how he's missed it up until now - or even how long it's been there without him noticing. It's smoke - the kind of smoke that comes from a warm fire in a fireplace, and suddenly, all he wants is to find that fire and curl up next to it unit his skin turns red from heat. Of course, there's no way of knowing who's responsible for the fire, or whether or not they'll just incapacitate him somehow and hold him until the hunters arrive - there's a hefty sum of money promised to those who aid in the hunts - but the prospect of being warm, of possibly having something hot to eat, pulls at something too deep inside him to ignore, and he finds himself making his way towards the source of the smell almost without being aware that he's doing it. It can't possibly hurt to just take a look, right?

----------

It turns out to be a house, a little cottage with light shining through the windows and smoke rising from the chimney. He crouches in a tree just on the edge of the clearing it sits in, watching. He can't help but think this is a trap - it would be just like those bastards to set up a place that looked safe, to lure in their prey with the promise of shelter and warmth. He's just turning to make his way back into the thicker parts of the forest when there's a sudden sound from beneath him - a low, rumbling growl.

Startled, he jerks and whirls, and his feet slip, sending him tumbling to the ground. On the way down, he collides with several thick branches and gives his head a good bash on the trunk, and for a terrifying moment, his vision goes black. As it fades slowly back in around the edges, he's convinced this is it - the hunters have caught up with him, somehow, and here he is, at their mercy. But nothing happens. All of his limbs stay attached to his body, there's no sharp teeth sinking into his flesh, and when his vision finally clears, there's no hunters standing over him.

Instead, there's a dog - a big dog, perhaps more accurately described as 'huge', and more wolf-like in appearance than anything else. He stares at it for a moment, and it stares back, it's teeth bared slightly. Then, rather abruptly, it turns and pads away towards the cottage.

Shaking his head - and immediately regretting it, because of the way it starts up an awful throbbing behind his eyes - he moves to get up, but the instant he moves, the wolf-dog whirls and snarls at him, low and menacing. He shrinks back against the tree and the dog turns away, moving again towards the house. This pattern is repeated a few times until he finally subsides, sitting back against the tree - obviously, the dog wants him to stay here, and he supposes he's willing enough. Or, at the very least, he's more willing to sit and wait than he is to challenge this dog, which looks like it could tear him apart faster than he could say a word in protest. He closes his eyes for a moment, trying to deal with the throbbing pain that's now spreading to the back of his skull where he cracked it against the tree trunk, but he must have hit it harder than he thought, because the next thing he knows, someone is touching him, fingers trailing through his hair.

He jerks back against the tree, snarling, and his vision grays out a little again. He can hear the dog growling back at him, but whoever has been touching him has backed away, and that's enough. He presses himself back against the trunk, his lips pulling back from his teeth, and he can feel his skin prickling, trying to force the shift.

Contrary to popular belief, werewolves can shift without the presence of a full moon, but generally only when they're older and more experienced - and at full strength. He's simply too young, too tired, and so all he can do is curl his lips back and snarl through slightly pointed teeth at the young woman who's crouching in front of him.

She must know what he is - ever since the sanction went out to legalize werewolf hunting, there have been pamphlets and flyers and all kinds of paraphernalia instructing people on how to recognize them: pointed teeth, golden eyes, claw-like nails. Their features generally have something more animalistic about them, and the woman is staring directly at him. She must know.

Indeed, when she speaks, there is anger in her voice, but the words are not what he expects.

"Those fucking bastards," she mutters, turning her dark gaze towards the trees. "And their sick games. God, you're just a kid - what the hell are they playing at?"

He watches her suspiciously, but she just shakes her head and turns back towards him.

"Can you walk?" she asks, offering her hand, and he stares. People aren't supposed to help them. It's not as if it's illegal to refuse to help with the hunts - just severely frowned upon - or even to harbor a werewolf, but the stories he's heard have suggested that ever since the law passed, people have been very open with their disgust for his kind. And yet…here she is, giving her hand an impatient twitch, and he takes it, stunned, and lets her help him up.

She slips under his arm to support him, and even as young as he is, he's still significantly larger than she is - thin and drawn from the time he's spent in captivity, and without the broadness of shoulder that will come as he matures, but tall. He comes from a tall family, anyway, and the addition of werewolf genes into their blood had only emphasized it. She must be strong, though, because she takes a lot of his weight as they limp back to the cottage, and she manages to lower him onto the floor without dropping him and only a soft noise of effort.

He watches as she pads around the house, muttering, and he surreptitiously edges closer to the fireplace and lets the blessed warmth wash over him. He's dripping wet, leaving little puddles on the floor, but she doesn't seem to mind as she returns and sits cross-legged next to him with an armful of bandages, some scraps of cloth, and a bottle of something he identifies as rubbing alcohol when she opens it.

"Here," she says, splashing some of it onto one of the bits of cloth and reaching out for him. "You're hurt."

The sting of the alcohol makes him hiss and snarl slightly, and that enormous wolf-dog lifts its head and peers suspiciously at him, but she doesn't seem fazed - just apologizes softly and continues working, cleaning out his numerous scrapes and cuts before wrapping the more serious ones in clean bandages. She's just gotten to the lump on the back of his head - which is starting to feel suspiciously tacky - when her dog suddenly lifts its head again and turns it towards the door. He hears it a moment later - barking, closer than ever, and the beginnings of footsteps, just audible over the sound of the rain.

Instinctively, he tenses, wanting to curl into himself, but the girl puts her hands on his shoulders and bends to look him in the eyes. "Go into the back," she instructs, tipping her head towards a door standing propped open on the far wall. Through it, he can see a small room, mostly dominated by the bed shoved into the back corner. There looks to be another fire crackling in there, bathing the room in shifting light. "Sit tight in one of the corners, where they won't be able to see you, and don't come out. No matter what. Do you understand?"

He wants to protest, wants to say something for fear of what the hunters might do to the one person in the world who's shown a willingness to help a werewolf, but her wolf-dog is on its feet, growling low and menacingly at the door, and in the next moment, there's a heavy fist pounding at the wood. She gives him a gentle shove, and he goes, scrambling across the wooden floor and tucking himself into the corner just inside the bedroom door. He keeps his head turned in the direction of the door, though, and so he hears her cross the floor with soft footsteps and open the door. Her dog's growling only increases, and it's joined momentarily by a chorus of other canine voices, but they die down quickly enough. He's not surprised - the dogs the hunters use are likely only a fraction of the size of that enormous thing.

"What do you want?" he hears her ask, her voice tense and tight. "I put up with your sick hunts in the forest, but I believe I was very clear about not wanting to see any of you anywhere near my home."

In stark contrast, the voice that answers her is loose and casual - the voice of an alpha male who is quite used to getting his way. "Dogs tracked the scent of that bastard straight here. Thought we'd come ask if you'd seen anything."

He can see them, in his mind's eye - the crowd of men outside her door, their dogs in hand. Men who, not so long ago, he might have admired, might have aspired to be. Human men, turned into monsters the moment they were given the freedom to hunt and kill anything they considered 'different'. His lips curl back unconsciously, and he curls his hands into fists, claws digging into his palms.

"No," she answers shortly, and he sucks in a quick breath at the blatant lie.

"Oh, really?" The disbelief is nearly palpable. "Seems a little odd, since the dogs only picked up the scent again right at the edge of your little clearing here, but if that's the case, then I guess you won't mind us taking a quick look around."

There's a brief scuffle of footsteps, and he hears her bite out, "I don't think so. I might not be able to control what goes on in that forest, but this clearing is my property, and I am well within my rights to shoot all of you where you stand for trespassing."

It's silent for a moment - save for the constant white noise of the rain, the crackling fire, and that persistent rumbling growl - and then that male voice speaks again, but it's markedly different now. It's the voice of a predator now, low and smooth.

"There are consequences for harboring those monsters. Maybe they're not written down anywhere, but they exist - mark my words."

That low growl ratchets up a notch, and he has to wonder if the dog is a little more than a dog, the way it seems to understand what's going on. But there's not a whole lot of time to think about it, because the young woman is speaking again, and her voice is like silk over steel.

"I haven't seen any monsters today," she says deliberately. "Except maybe for the ones standing in front of me now." There's a brief pause, and then the soft whisper of well-maintained hinges. "Get out of my sight before I do something that is punishable by law."

There's a lot of muttering, low and incomprehensible, but it's shut off by the sound of the door closing, and then he hears a long, tired sigh. He pushes himself upright and creeps back into the main room of the cabin, where he spies the young woman leaning back against the door with her eyes closed. As he watches, her dog pushes its head under her hand, and she opens her eyes and smiles - first down at the dog, and then across the room at him when she spots him.

"Come on," she says, beckoning with her free hand. "I'll finish cleaning you up."

----------

It's a little while later, as he's curled up loosely on the floor, as close to the fire as he can get without burning himself, that she shakes herself a little and breaks the contemplative silence that has settled since she finished bandaging him.

"There's some meat, on the fire," she says, and he looks up at her, startled. The mere mention of food is enough to start his mouth watering, and he turns his gaze hungrily towards the fireplace, where he can just pick out a small package sitting in the embers below the actual blaze. "It's cooked, which I realize isn't ideal, but - "

And then she laughs suddenly, because he hasn't really been listening to her. As she's been talking, he's plucked the package from the fire, unwrapped the foil, and begun to tear into the rabbit contained inside, grease running down his chin.

"But I suppose it's better than nothing," he hears her finish, and a thought suddenly occurs to him. He stops ravaging the animal in his hands - which takes a great deal of effort, and makes his stomach clench in protest - and looks over at her guiltily. She looks curiously at him for a moment, and then realization spreads over her face and she waves a hand dismissively.

"Don't worry about it. I've eaten over the past few days - but I'm betting you haven't." His stomach grumbles loudly, as if to prove her point, and she smiles. "Go on. It's fine."

He wrinkles his nose a little, but the hunger is just too much to ignore, so he returns to the rabbit. He makes rather quick work of it, then tosses the bones to the wolf-dog, which worries what little meat remains off of them, and then easily cracks the bones open to lap at the marrow inside. He watches curiously, wondering again whether the dog is something more.

The woman leans down, scratches fondly at the dog's ears. "In case you're wondering," she says, and he narrows his eyes slightly. It's a little unnerving, the way she seems to know what he's thinking most of the time. "He's just a dog - at least, as far as I can tell. Smarter than most, sure, but…not a werewolf."

He nods, still suspicious, but he supposes if the dog really is a werewolf and hiding it, he's got a good enough reason. He curls up again, back to the fire, and just…watches for a while. Watches the way she curls up gracefully in her chair, leaving one hand hanging over the armrest to pet her dog. Watches the way her dog arches its neck up to her, eyes closed in blissful enjoyment.

She's not really…pretty, he thinks. Kind of plain. But there's something about her, something…kind. Gentle, almost, deep down - but sheathed over in steel. The kind of steel that makes her stand up to hunters, makes her dark eyes harden they way they had when she'd found him. She's human, in the old sense of the word - the good sense, rather than the one that word has taken on ever since the hunting legislation passed. Maybe that's what makes him speak up.

"Um…" he says into the silence, licking his lips nervously. "Not that I'm not - not grateful and all, but…why did you help me?"

She looks up at him with a surprised smile. "I was beginning to wonder if you could talk," she tells him, and he shrugs, a little awkwardly. "I did it because it was the right thing to do."

He shakes his head, confused, and she sighs softly. "It - what they do to you out there, it's wrong. I mean - " She runs a hand through her dark hair. "Not wrong wrong, like…legally, but in every other sense of the word. You don't deserve that - none of you. I…I had friends who were werewolves. There's nothing wrong with that."

Her use of the past tense is notable, and he shifts uncomfortably. "Where…where are they now?"

She shrugs. "Captured. And the ones who aren't captured are dead. Actually," she says, frowning a little, "most of the ones who were captured are probably dead, too."

"And…your family?"

"Also dead," she says, nodding. "They were part of the massacres, at the protests."

He winces. "So…" he ventures, wondering if he's about to regret this, "why are you helping us? Isn't it sort of our fault your family's dead?"

"No," she says, with a soft, sad laugh. "No, it was humans that killed my family. It was people who pointed those guns at them, people who pulled the triggers. And it was a werewolf that saved me - I should have died there with them."

There doesn't really seem to be a good answer to that, so he just nods, a little awkwardly. She smiles at him - although, on second glance, it's more like she's looking through him, or at a version of him that's fuzzy around the edges: he doesn't think she's really seeing him.

"I was going to marry him."

He frowns, reconsidering his opinion of her - the new classification falls somewhere in the vicinity of 'crazy'. "Werewolves can't marry humans - it's illegal. Even before the hunting legislation passed, it was illegal."

Her gaze refocuses on him. "Ah. No, I was…going to marry him before he became a werewolf."

"Oh." Not a born werewolf then, but a made one.

She confirms this a moment later, when she continues, "He was bitten, by a young werewolf. While trying to free her from a trap."

He winces again. The more he finds out about this woman, the more confused he gets. And it doesn't help matters much when she adds, "Actually, that's why we were at the protests in the first place. I mean - I'd always thought the legislation was ridiculous, but…that made it personal. That's why we were out in the streets."

"So we really are responsible for everything that's happened to you," he says miserably, and is confused by the surprised look that immediately crosses her face.

"No," she says again. "No, not at all. I don't blame her for what she did - she was scared, and hurt. And if someone hadn't laid those traps out, she never would have been in that situation in the first place."

He shifts uncomfortably, still unsure about all of this, but wanting to believe - wanting it more than he's wanted anything in a long time. He wants this house, with its warm fire and its fresh meat, to be safe. He wants it to be…home, as ridiculous as that sounds. But there's still one last thing he has to know.

"What happened to him? After he saved you?"

"He was killed." He watches her, carefully, looking for signs of some hidden resentment, hidden anger. But instead, all he sees is a grief so intense, it takes his breath away. In her grief, she is beautiful in all the ways she wasn't before, and he's suddenly ashamed of what he's doing to her. He wants to curl up with her, to try and take her hurt away, but she continues speaking, and he wonders if maybe she's just been waiting all this time for someone to hear her story.

"I don't even think he thought about it," she says, curling into herself and wrapping her arms around her knees. "Saving me was just…an instinct. It was something he did, something he was. And when the guns came out, he just…panicked. Grabbed me and ran."

"They caught us." She gives another one of those soft, bitter laughs. "They always do. And when they did…they arrested him. Charged him with kidnapping a human, and no matter what I said, how many times I told them he had saved my life - they wouldn't listen." She takes a deep, shuddering breath, and his heart aches.

"He was executed. In front of a firing squad. They said it was…more than he deserved. And I just…gave up. I had nothing left to give, and nothing left for them to take. When the hunting legislation passed, I moved out here, hoping - " She shrugs.

"Hoping that I could do something - anything - to try and make things right." She looks up at him with a crooked little smile, uncurling a bit from her instinctive defensive position. "I don't know how much good I'm doing, but…I had to try."

"I'm not the first you've helped, am I?"

She shakes her head. "No. I've come across others - sometimes they stumble into my clearing, other times Pax tracks them down before the hunters can get to them." The wolf-dog looks up at the sound of the name, and she scratches it fondly behind the ears.

"What happened to them?"

"I don't know." She turns her glance towards the windows, out to where the rain is still coming down hard. "They all left, eventually. Maybe they survived, but…" She turns back, shrugs again.

"I'll tell you what I told all of them - this place is yours, for as long as you'd like to stay."

He blinks, surprised. Is she really offering…?

"You have free run of the house, the clearing, even the surrounding woods, if you'd like to venture out there. There's plenty of game, and if you tag along with Pax here, he'll take you under his wing." She pats the dog fondly. "He's gotten good at knowing when the hunters are coming, so you ought to be safe with him. And he can get you back here faster than any of them can keep up."

He nods, unsure, and there's a moment of rather awkward silence before she yawns and gets up. "Well, it's…been a rather long night. I think I'm going to try to get some sleep."

She heads for the door to the little bedroom, but pauses for a moment. He looks up at her, expectantly, and for a moment it looks like she's about to say something - but then she just shakes her head and murmurs, "Goodnight," before heading into the bedroom, with Pax trailing after her. She doesn't, he notices, close the door behind her.

There's a bit of rustling, and then he hears bedsprings creak softly, and then there's nothing. He waits in the silence for a while before he gets up and pads silently across the room, picking up the chair she was sitting in and moving it closer to the fire. Then he curls up and falls asleep, breathing in the warm scent of her that lingers in the cushions.

----------

It's much later that he wakes, shivering, to find that the fire has gone out and the rain has stopped. He creeps across the darkened room and through the still-open door, and by the time he gets there, his eyes have adjusted enough to let him see her shape huddled under a thick layer of blankets. He takes a step into the room, and then there's movement near the foot of the bed, and a pair of eyes opens and fixes on him, reflecting what little light is in the room.

He freezes, expecting to hear that low, menacing rumble, but instead Pax just stares at him for a moment and then lays his head back down on his paws in what seems like grudging acquiescence. It's confusing, but welcome, and the young werewolf takes the opportunity to cross the short distance to the bed, staring curiously down at the young woman to whom he owes his life.

Her dark hair is spread over the pillow, her face calm and relaxed in sleep, and when he slides carefully into the bed beside her and gathers her to his chest, he's pleased to see that it doesn't change. In fact, the corners of her mouth turn ever so slightly upwards, and she fits herself easily against him.

There's nothing sexual about it - not yet, at least. That element may come into play later, if he decides to stick around long enough for that to happen - although, even as he lies there, that possibility becomes more and more certain. It will be hard, he knows, especially as he grows and matures and gains that greater-than-human strength that comes with being a fully-grown werewolf. But, he realizes, glancing down at where Pax is curled up at the foot of the bed, he thinks she knows that, too. Werewolves can't affect other animals the way they do humans, and are often less inclined to violence in the presence of other animals, and Pax is certainly big - and mean - enough to tackle a full-grown werewolf. It doesn't seem like coincidence that she keeps him around.

For now, though, it's just about comfort. It's about the warmth of another body in the bed, the scent of hair and skin and life. It's about two people who had been convinced they'd lost everything, and who maybe - just maybe - can be each other's answers.

I'm not entirely certain I like the way it ended - or, perhaps, just the way I handled it - but interestingly enough, a sequel has been bouncing around in my head for a bit. So, as always, I welcome comments and criticisms, as well as perhaps things you might like to see in a sequel!

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