A Harsh Realm
Author: Lycanthrophile (lycanthrophile@imadethis.org) and dean_the_hunter (artofmayhem@gmail.com)
Fandom: Harsh Realm, Original Characters
Disclaimer: Harsh Realm belongs to TenThirteen Productions. No copyright infringement intended.
Rating: NC17 for male/female sex, violence
Summary: Two people whose paths would never cross in the real world find themselves thrown together in the Realm.
Word Count: 76,109
Notes: Originally a roleplay thread between myself and dean_the_hunter
Archive: Please inform me.

..... Systems operational

..... Program running - run time – October, 1995

..... Uploading personnel data base.... Complete.

And so it began, the program know as Harsh Realm had been activated.

Harsh Realm was a secret Virtual Reality program designed by the government to train soldiers for combat in multi-simulated environments. It was an exact duplicate of the world, right down to the people, animals, plants, everything. It went on line in October of 1995. The first player was a war veteran named Omar Santiago. The object of the game was to go inside, sort of like plugging in, downloading the conscious into the programming. A soldier would go inside, determine the scenario, this one a nuclear bomb going off in the heart of New York Central Park, and become top scorer in the game, basically defeat the game.

However, Santiago saw more potential in the game. He saw it as a tool to plan on how he would use this scenario to take over the “Real World.” Thus, in a bold move that is still unknown to this day, Santiago managed to gain control over the game from the Government.

Desperate to get control back and knowing the potential the game held, the Government started to send, over the years, soldier after soldier into the game. Mission was simple, take out Santiago, become top scorer. Now bodies lined warehouses by the hundreds, all hooked up into the game, being kept alive. Still not one has come out.

Within the game, VC’s lived normal lives, not aware of what was going on around them. Death to them was not as we knew it. To them, death was when you flashed out in a bath of blue digital light. Cemeteries and burying the dead were strange to them, though they somehow knew they had a purpose. God was also not programmed into the game so religion was foreign to them, faith in God was just... Nothing.

However there was a small group of mute women, Healers, called the Sisters. They had a belief and it is rumored this story started from them. Someone would enter the world and save them. A simple man. With him would be a warrior and a healer, a trinity.

This is where the story begins.........

One of the Sisters stepped away from a long blond haired one. Dressed in the traditional white robes, the older lady walked into the darkness of the barn. A place the Sisterhood often used to heal those who came to them in need. She walked over to the young woman within who was helping them in her own way to take care of those around her. She was like their watcher, guard though often one was not needed.

She touched the young woman as she was dabbing the forehead of a man who had lost his arm in a mind explosion. She crouched down and motioned the woman to follow. She moved over to the little table and pulled out some paper, writing simply, “The time has come, you must leave.”


The night had been wonderful. Making love to his wife was always heaven to him. Never had he loved anyone as much as he loved her. Laying in his bed, half asleep Michael Pinocchio rolled over to hold his wife. However that side of the bed was missing. “Inga?” He called forth as he sat up in the dark, worry deep upon his voice.

He feared Santiago might have found out he was thinking of leaving the Guard. That he had come in and taken Inga... The he heard a noise, “I’m here darling,” came the soft voice of his wife.

“I was worried,” Mike sighed with relief.

“There is nothing to worry about, my love, nothing at all,” she said in raising the gun.

“Inga?” Mike looked at her shocked and before another word could be uttered, everything went into slow motion. He felt the impact of the bullet into his chest, near his heart. He was thrown back onto the bed where they had just made love. Where she told him she would love him forever, not matter what. Where he held her in his arms and made sweet passionate love to her. Not it was not stained with their love making, no, now it was stained with his blood.

For a long time he just laid there, he did not hear Inga leave, he did not know how long he was there, only that he was growing weaker. Mike forced himself up, they would think him dead, must leave.

Stumbling forth, only grabbing his gun and a jacket, he was out the door and making his way, out of the city.

Jess was driving into the city, still puzzling over the instructions she had been given. The Sisters had told her to go to the city, and she would know what to do next.

They were the closest thing she now had to family. They had given her food, shelter, companionship. Her body hadn’t needed healing, but her soul had. They were the first people who knew what she was, and didn’t treat her as a monster. And in return she used her unusual talents to protected them, aid them, and did as they asked. Even when they were cryptic as hell.

Pulling over, she got out of the car and appeared to stretch casually. In reality she was looking and scenting for any potential trouble. Her borrowed jeep would attract a lot of attention with the scarcity of gas. But what caught her attention was the scent of fresh blood. Turning, she saw a man staggering towards her, clutching a wound in his chest. Could this be what the Sisters had meant? They had sent her to find him? Take him back so they could tend to his wound? “Hey,” she said as a greeting. “Are you okay?”

Pinocchio’s vision was blurring, his head dizzy with the loss of blood. He was sick to his stomach and his breathing getting shallow. Cold sweats had broken out. He felt his time had come but he wasn’t going to give in so easily.

He heard a voice, his head lifting slightly. Blood covered his hand that clutched his wound while the other rose with gun in hand. He was about to speak, say something smart ass but nothing came out as he just pitched forward and fell right to the ground, staining Santiago’s precious sidewalk with his blood.

Her eyes tracked him as he fell to the ground. She hurried his side and turned him over looking at the red stain spreading from his chest wound. “Shit,” Jess said, smelling gunpowder mixed with blood. She had been told that she’d know what to do when she saw the person she was searching for. And she did. She had to get him back to the Sisters.

She pocketed his gun, which she assumed was loaded. Better safe than sorry. Jess doubted it was armed with ammunition that would be fatal to her. But standard bullets would still hurt like a bitch until she healed herself. Gun taken care of, she pulled his arm over her shoulder and half lifted, half dragged him towards the jeep.

Pinocchio groaned as he was moved, by whom he didn’t know nor cared at the moment. Darkness was his friend at the moment, darkness and pain. He felt he was shoved onto some cushion, a seat he guessed which made him groan again. Then there was movement. For how long Pinocchio didn’t know. He blacked out fully, welcoming the darkness for no only did his chest hurt from the gunshot wound, but also his heart ached. His beautiful wife had shot him in cold blood. Her eyes were as cold as their color when she did so.

Over and over the image played in his head. The words she said to him, “It has begun,” was all she whispered. What did she mean by that? Was it just a meaning of the deception she had made his live through and his realization of it?

Jess pulled herself into the driver’s seat of the jeep. She reached over to check the stranger’s pulse before starting the engine. “Don’t you die on me,” she muttered, as she put the car in drive. Idle questions such as who he was, how he got shot, or why he was carrying a weapon were pushed aside as she put the car in drive and headed back to the Sisters.

As Jess pulled into the camp of Sisters, a group of them came out to assist her. In silence they moved, helping to lift the man that was part of the key to all this that was to be. One with long blond hair came up, her name was Florence. She helped Jess lay him on a bail of hay while another covered him with a sheet. Water was brought and Florence started to clean the area. With blood upon her hands, she dabbed at the wound to clear it.

She gazed up at Jess before looking back down and placing her palm over the wound. Slightly closing her eyes, she concentrated and what seemed like a yellow glow came forth from her hand. Pinocchio groaned then his face showed pain as the healing began. His body jerked, Florence motioned Jess to hold him down a little as she finished up.

Standing at the head of the bale, Jess placed her hands on his shoulders, easily pinning him down. For someone who never said a word, Florence had a remarkable gift for making herself understood. “Easy,” she said although she knew the stranger couldn’t hear her.

It fascinated her how the Sisters were able to fix almost any wound. And it puzzled her. She had never found out if they were aware that this was a virtual reality simulation, or if they assumed it was a supernatural gift. And that also lead to other unanswered questions for her. Had they been programmed that way, or was it a random glitch in the game. Perhaps that was why she got on with them so well. They were different. She was different. Just not in the same way.

Within moment, Florence pulled her hand away and all that was left under her hand was blood which she dabbed away. Under it was perfectly healed skin, as if nothing had happened to him. But in fact it did, pixels were manipulated, melded back together like using the healing tool in Photoshop. And in a way it was healing.

Florence settled back and looked at Jess, her face telling the woman, he would be fine as Pinocchio settled in a sleep instead of into death.

She nodded. “I’ll hang out here and keep an eye on him. Might be better if someone’s around who can talk when he wakes up.” Jess walked back over to one of the other bales of hay and sat on it cross-legged, elbows resting on her knees, chin resting on her interlaced fingers.

She took a deep breath and exhaled, trying to release some of the tension she was carrying. Sitting up straighter, she held out her arm, frowning at the slight tremor in her hand. The Sisters had full confidence in her control, but Jess didn’t. Trying not to worry about it, she watched the stranger. Without the smell of blood to distract her, she noted his scent for the first time. He didn’t have the stink of the casualties she was used to helping. This man was well fed, well groomed, and seemed to be in good health overall, gunshot would aside. And oddly enough, she found his scent rather pleasant. Jess sighed again, dismissing that thought as well, and settled in to her self-appointed task.

Florence stood with a nod and walked out, going to prepare some food for the stranger. She glanced back, her blonde hair shimmering in the setting sun. He will live to wake up to a new day, however, she wondered if it would be one he would want to arise to.

Time passed and Pinocchio slept. The sun had long set when Florence brought Jess some food. It wasn’t much for she knew the woman would hunt on her own. But some fruits and water were placed out. Fresh items were getting more scarse as time passed on. Lucky for the Sisters, it was how some people paid them.

She had long left and again Jess was left alone with the strange man that the Sister believed played a part in this wicked game. He moaned now as haunted dreams came upon him. His arm would twitch and his head would toss a little as sweat started to bead upon it.

Every time he showed a sign of stirring, Jess got off her bale and looked closely at him, mopping his brow and making reassuring noises. She recognized the signs of a nightmare when she saw them. She’d had more than her own share.

Then suddenly, Mike Pinocchio gasped hard and sat up. His blue eyes wide open with fear and shock, his breathing now labored as his hand slapped to his chest where the wound had once been.

Jess stepped back, hands up in a semi-defensive position. She hadn’t expected him to wake up so rapidly. “You’re okay, you’re with friends,” she said, trying for a soothing tone. “You were messed up pretty badly when I found you. Shot in the chest. But you’re okay now.” She could tell by scent that he was no virtual character. He was as much flesh and blood as she, so he had to know about the Game. She looked over at the food and water that she hadn’t touched, wondering if she should offer it to the stranger.

Pinocchio turned his head and saw the woman standing back from him. He looked down at his chest, realizing there was no pain, no blood and most of all, he... He was still alive.

“Who are you? Where am I?” He asked slowly, blue eyes taking in the scenary about him. Bales of hay, wood, must be a barn...not in Santiago City. That must mean he was out in the frontier. He laid back slowly, “What happened?” He asked finally.

“I could ask you the same things,” Jess said. She couldn’t see any reason not to tell him as she moved over to where Florence had left the food. “You’re about ten miles outside of Santiago City. I found you on the street carrying that.” She gestured towards the gun sitting on top of his jacket. “And you had been shot in the chest. I brought you here to the Sisters. A mute group of healers who can do wonders, as you can tell.” She gave him a wry grin. “They don’t talk much.”

“So you care to tell me how you ended up bleeding in the street?” This was the most she had spoken to anyone in a long time. The Sisters mostly communicated by written word or gestures, and Jess usually limited herself to brief questions or simple acknowledgments as she helped them with their patients. Actual conversations were few and far between. Pouring some of the water from the pitcher to a glass, she picked up the plate of fruit and offered it to him. “Name’s Jess, by the way.”

Pinocchio’s eyes went straight for the gun. Yep, that was his gun and his leather jacket. He could see the blood stains still upon it, making him again flash back to cold blue eyes that stared out at him from behind the barrel of the gun that shot him.

He blinked, “Sisters?” He turned his head to Jess then down to his wound. He touched his hand over the area before looking back to Jess. The Sisters were hunted by Santiago. He had been recently working on tracking this band down. But Santiago mentioned nothing of them being healers, only them being rebels, women with... Oh shit.

Pinocchio shook his head, no, this wasn’t right, this couldn’t be. He started to throw the covers back but then stopped as he realized, no other clothing was upon him. He pulled the sheet up and slipped to sit up, the sheet covering him still.

Blue eyes gazed at the plate of food. Fruits and water, hmm, not what he was used to. He reached out, “Thanks,” he offered in a quiet tone as his mind still reeled upon the fact of the Sisters. “Name’s Mike,” and that was all he gave forth, even though his dog tags still dangled about his neck, flickering the light off them.

Her eyes widened as she took in the dogtags for the first time, and other than a slight shift in her balance, Jess gave no other signs. The man was military, and she cursed herself for not thinking to check. Was this some sort of elaborate trap to find the whereabouts of the Sisters? Or her?

She had never been meant to roam loose in either the virtual world, or the real world. But the decision had been made. Better to test her abilities in a simulated reality where if she did escape her captors, she wouldn’t be a threat to a large population

Which is exactly what happened one full moon night.

“We’ll get you some clothes in a few minutes,” Jess said. Almost casually, she tapped her chest about where the dog tags were on his. “So you’re military,” she commented, being careful to pay attention to his scent. Deserters weren’t unheard of, and she’d be able to tell by scent if he was lying. She hoped he wasn’t a threat. Just because she could rip a man to shreds in less than a minute didn’t mean she enjoyed doing it.

Pinocchio looked down as one hand was dragged through his dark wavy hair. His eyes locked onto the shiny metal that dangled about his neck. Military, she asked if he was military. At the moment he wasn’t sure what he was. Raising his head, he looked to her.

“No,” He jerked the ball chain from his neck, “Not any more,” the last part coming out as a murmur. He tossed them away, suddenly feeling more naked than he really was. Those two little items had been his reminder of where he was from, who he really was.

However, after what Inga did to him...He might as well not be alive. “Listen,” He started in looking up at her, “Why are you guys so close to the City? I mean, you have to know Santiago has been after you.”

She had watched him toss away the dog tags as if they were burning his skin. His scent didn’t change, so she believed he was being honest. But she’d keep an eye on him to make sure this sudden desire to leave the military didn’t change. “Sometimes the best place to hide is beneath your enemy’s nose.” It was a risk to be so close, but so far it had paid off.

Pinocchio looked up at Jess when she said that. He had thought so once, “But you can only do that for so long before you pay the price.” His voice was cold but calm, “Even Bugs Bunny got caught a few times by Elmer.”

Any information about how much Santiago knew would be a good thing to have though. “How close is he to finding us? And are there...others...he’s searching for?”

Pinocchio shifted, “Close,” He commented as he only drank the water. “And Santiago searches for a lot of thing, a lot of people.” He knew he would be one of them if the man ever found out he was still alive. “You best pack up and clear out, get as far from him as you can get.” He started looking around for his clothing. Bloody as it may be, he really should dress.

Just then Florence came in. She stood at the door, watching the two talking. She pushed her long blonde hair back and walked over.

Pinocchio looked up at the woman dressed in white and looking sort of like an angel. He was awed for a moment but then blinked, “Tell her she better get her Sisters to leave.” He looked away.

Florence shook her head to Jess, knowing the woman would understand that they couldn’t, to many people needed their attention. And the Sisters were there to help.

Jess had shrugged at his analogy. “Tell her yourself. She’s mute, not deaf. And we’ve discussed it many times. I, personally, would love to be on the other side of the planet right now. But the Sisters, they’re helpers. Their sole concern is to aid the wounded. No matter where, or who they are,” she added with a pointed look. Her look softened a bit. “Or even what,” she added cryptically.

“And before you ask,” she said, putting up a hand to forestall questions. “No, I’m not one of them. I’m just trying to repay them for some help they gave me when I needed it most.” She could have gone feral, lost herself in her wild alter ego, if it hadn’t been for their intervention. It was a debt of honor, a reminder of what she was, that she felt was owed to the Sisters. If that meant giving her life to protect them, or risk being recaptured, so be it.

Pinocchio glanced up to Florence who just stood there with what looked like a slight smug look upon her face. She nodded to him as if to say, Jess was right, she was not deaf. She reached over and handed him some food however he didn’t take it as his gaze went to Jess who gave him that look.

He was about to speak when Jess held up her hand so that she could go on uninterrupted. He closed his mouth, giving her this sort of look and a snort. “Yeah, well it is weakness like this that gets you killed around here. The time of helping your fellow man is over. The only way you are going to survive is to help yourself.”

Florence shook her head and crouched down beside him, placing her hands upon his knees. She placed her hand over his heart then one over hers.

Pinocchio shoved her hand away, his reaction was as if it had burned him, “Don’t even. It doesn’t matter any more. Don’t you get it. Don’t you all get it?” He stood up, his voice raising. “Santiago is going to find you and kill you all. He doesn’t care how good your hearts are. That you are doing the right thing, because you aren’t doing it Santiago’s way!”

He pushed past Florence and went over to his clothing, stopping as he looked down at his dog tags.

“And what are they supposed to do? Just abandon the wounded? Turn away those who are asking, no begging for help?” Jess stood up, anger coloring her voice. “That’s what gives them purpose. Helping people. And believe me, helping people is one of the few things left that separates us from animals. Trust me, I’m an expert on that.” It was one of the few things she clung to so badly, tattered shreds of humanity she clutched at desperately. And it was a good thing that it wasn’t too close to a full moon. Otherwise in her outburst, her fangs and claws might start to extend. “If I hadn’t helped you, where would you be now? Dead – dissolved in a flash of blue light.”

Ignoring the fact that he was naked, she stared at his face. “You talk like Santiago is a god. Well, I’ve got news for you. He’s human. That means he’s fallible. And one of his big mistakes is underestimating what people like the Sisters are truly capable of.” She paused, considering Pinocchio closely for a moment. “You were close to him, weren’t you?” she guessed. “You were doing the right thing, and that’s why you got shot.”

Pinocchio jerked his head around to her, a glare in his eyes. “What should give them purpose is to survive. These people...” he motioned around, “They could care less either way. They would take your help then turn and shoot you in the back. They don’t care but for themselves. That’s it.”

He turned facing her fully, also ignoring the fact he was naked as well. “And YOU are the one who is underestimating Santiago. You don’t know what he is like. Only from what you hear.” He stepped closer...hesitating a moment as she made her statement about him.

His jaw twitched as he clenched his teeth. He drew in a breath then backed up from her, “Just get away from the fence before you all die,” He warned in pulling his black tee shirt on. He then pulled his pants on...

Jess’s eyes narrowed. “I may not know Santiago,” she said, an edge to her voice, “but I know his type well enough. Use up a person until they don’t have any value any more and then cast them aside. Only goal is power, by whatever means necessary. Those kind of men I’ve vowed to fight against. And if I die because of him, well, at least I’ll be out of my misery”

She turned her head to the side as he dressed, as if just realizing that he was naked. Jess took a deep breath, trying to rein in her emotions. If she let her anger get the better of her, there’d be a bloody hell to pay. “So what are you going to do now? You can’t go back to the city. You got a place you can hide?”

Florence walked over, placing a healing hand upon Jess’ shoulder. She knew the woman had to stay calm or else this man would be in danger, not to mention those around for who knew what kind of control Jess had in that state. Her brown eyes looked to Pinocchio. She could see pain upon him, nothing physical, more emotional. He was not only shot but shattered as well. Whoever did this to him, he trusted very much.

It was an effort, but she took a deep breath and blew the anger away in a heavy exhale. Pinocchio wasn’t angry at her, but she and the Sisters were convenient and safe targets to vent on. Someone had hurt him badly, and it was someone he didn’t feel safe to lash out against yet. That knowledge, and Florence’s gentle touch, helped her pull herself back under control. She silently thanked whatever deity may be listening that it wasn’t a full moon tonight.

Pinocchio buttoned his pants up and did his belt. “What do you care? You’re the one throwing your life away, not me.” He looked away thinking someone else already did that for him, his dear wife. Just the thought made his heart ache. Everything she had felt for him was a lie. Every word she said, every kiss she gave, every moment with her was a lie.

He started pulling his boots on when he felt Florence touching him. He jumped, trying to shrug her off him. “Please...don’t,” he said in gently pushing her away.

Jess shook her head. “I was dead long before I got here. I just haven’t laid down and died yet. If we’re able to stop Santiago, or at the very least make things much more difficult for him, then it will have been well spent.” Seeing that Florence was upsetting him, Jess gestured her away and took her place. “Look, you’re tired and you’re still in shock. You’re an easy target at the moment. Why don’t you stay here for the day, get some food, try to get some rest. Regain your bearings. Give us some intel about Santiago if you’re willing, or maybe some idea of where we can hide that’s safer. And then when you want to go, you can leave.” Taking a risk, she lightly rested her hand on his shoulder. “Believe me, we just want to help.”

Florence backed way from Pinocchio. She wished she could heal him inside as well. The pain she saw in his eyes, in his body...it was almost overwhelming.

Pinocchio looked up from tying one of his boots. He looked away as she spoke, just staring down at his boots. He flinched when she touched him, wanting to shrug off her hand but found it comforting in a way. He drew in a breath, thinking things over.

Then came a heavy sigh. He was tired, he had a feeling he was indeed still in shock. Turning his head to Jess, his body slumped and sagged as if all the energy was zapped out of him. “Alright,” He whispered then reached down and untied his boot then took it off.

Florence moved over to his other side and with a gentle tug, had the harsh man standing and back to the bale of hay. He soon laid back his eyes at the roof. They held such sadness. Florence looked to Jess and gestured for her to stay with him as she got up and went out to fetch him some things he might need later.

Jess nodded and watched the Sister disappear. She settled down on the ground near enough to be comforting but far enough not to be hovering, she hoped. With Florence gone, she hoped he would calm down some. And with Florence gone, she could speak a little more freely. “How long have you been in here?” she asked. “I’ve been in long enough that the real world seems like a dream.”

She sighed heavily. “I know it seems impossible to fight Santiago. But do you really think he’ll be content with ruling a simulation?” Jess shook her head. “That’s part of why I’ve stayed with the Sisters. Because there’s too many good people in the world to let men like him ride roughshod over. And they’ve helped me remember and hang on to who I really am. It’s too easy to lose sight of that here.”

Pinocchio looked at Jess, blinking several times as if in disbelief. Only soldiers knew of those terms. Only knew what the real world really was. She wasn’t a soldier...

“To long,” he said quietly still staring at her. As she went on and spoke, Pinocchio shook his head. He knew for a fact Santiago would never be happy with just he simulation. And it was why he was here, to test his theories, battle movies... And more.

He looked down and sighed, “Then if you really want to keep them alive, get them to leave this area.” He looked to her, “Santiago will kill everyone here.” He looked way, “I know because...I drew up the plans.”

“Okay.” Now his guilt and resistance to the Sisters was making sense. “Then, if you’re willing, you’re the best chance we’ve got at survival. Cause you know the weak spot.” She turned to face him fully. “And we’re not completely defenseless. The Sisterhood believes in healing, but I live by a more...predatory...code. I won’t hesitate to kill if provoked.” Even though she wouldn’t like it. Abruptly, Jess pulled her thoughts away from that path. The time for bloody retribution was coming, but it wasn’t here yet. And it would do no good to stir up her bestial side of her nature without a way to safely vent it. “I’ll try to convince them to leave this area, but so far they’ve been stubborn about it. Too many people here need help, so they won’t go. But sometimes I think they’re waiting for something to happen.

“You haven’t killed anyone yet. So you can help stop Santiago. Even if it is just a temporary victory, it will be worth it. And you might get a chance to get back at whoever shot you.” She laid her hand on his arm again. “Please. Help us.”

Pinocchio laid there, turning his head from Jess as she spoke. His eyes had closed as each word left her lips. Not defenseless...against Santiago? That was a laugh. The man had a military. What did they have? A few guns? And so what if she was a fighter. One amongst hundreds of men. All following orders of Santiago...like he did ...once.

Pinocchio turned his head to her. Haven’t killed...if she only knew...how many...how many lives he ruined...had...”You don’t know anything about me to make that comment.” he sneered. “And who shot me is none of your business!” He snapped out.

She felt her temper flare, but held herself in check. Convenient target, she reminded herself. He was hurting and she was the closest thing he could lash out at. “Fair enough,” she said, withdrawing her hand.

“I’ll try and help you get them to leave but fighting is not an option. You are how many here? What, ten, twenty? Santiago will send a Hundred men out here with heavy equipment. You think guns can stand up to that?” Pinocchio swung his legs over the side to the ground. “Your best chance to survive is to run.”

It rankled her to admit it, but Jess thought there was some wisdom in that. “Then help me convince the Sisters to move camp.” They had been adamant about not moving, since there were so many here that needed help. “I’ve done everything I can, tried every argument I know, but they won’t budge. Maybe hearing it from you will actually convince them.”

She looked up at him. Moving the wounded would take time. Plus they actually had a safe place to move them to. A group their size wandering aimlessly would be an easy target – not only for Santiago’s soldiers, but other opportunistic marauders. “How long do you figure we have?”

Pinocchio had turned his head to the woman and actually looked at her as she spoke. There was a softness about her but also a harness as well. Something wild behind the gaze of her eyes. He could also tell...she was real. Real like he was. It was that glitter in her eyes, that one of hope. Something this place didn’t seem to have when he looked at these digital beings around him....except the Sisters...and that was eerie to him.

He gave a shrug, “I don’t know, a few days. But now would be a good time to start.” He drew in a breath as he stood. “I’ll talk to them, for what good it will do. If they are as stubborn as you say....” He grabbed his boots and started putting them on. He needed some weapons, guns. He left the city with just his revolver.

He needed to get to his stash. Lucky he still had it. Set it up when he first got into the Realm. He drew in a breath and looked at her, “Let’s go talk to them then...” He didn’t know what really other than...parting ways.

Jess nodded. “This way.” She honestly hoped that Pinocchio would be able to convince the Sisters to move. Maybe hearing it coming from one of Santiago’s former soldiers would carry more weight.

Former soldier, she thought. She’d have to keep an eye on him. This could be an elaborate setup by Santiago to entrap them. But she didn’t think that he was Pinocchio was. He smelled too honest and too upset. But still, she felt slightly uneasy as she led him towards where the Sisters had congregated. She caught the eye of the elder one that normally requested her to do things for them and waited for her to acknowledge their presence.

The elder old woman walked over to greet them. The silence around them disturbed Pinocchio. She walked up and hugged Jess then looked at Pinocchio who backed up a step, as if he was going to be hugged as well and he wanted no part of it.

“Look, you have to...” Pinocchio started out but then the old Woman interrupted.

She motioned Pinocchio over into another area of the barn and he followed. Inside people were gathered. The sick, homeless, weak and hungry. Sisters could be seen tending to them, feeding, healing, caring.

Pinocchio took it all in as he was forced to walk amongst them. Children looked up at him with sad eyes, women stared, men injured just watched. As he walked through, Pinocchio could see what past orders he had given had done. He felt sick.

She stopped and looked back at him as if telling him now to speak.

He looked about then back to her, “If you stay, he will finish what he started. He will send his men in and undo what you have done.” He stepped closer, “You are fighting a losing cause.”

The old woman shook her head and placed her hand upon his heart which he backed away.

“He will come in with tanks, large equipment...there is no stopping him.” He urged.

Jess had followed silently, watching Pinocchio’s reaction. He clearly was feeling pain over the suffering he had caused. And he was trying to help them in his own way. And he was telling the Sisters what Jess believed deep down in her heart. Santiago would come for them. It was only a matter of when.

She stepped up even with Pinocchio. “He’s right,” she said quietly, looking the Sister in her eye. “If you’re not willing to move elswhere, we should at least find a place we can evacuate to if we have to. Otherwise,” she looked around at the wounded, “this will all be for naught.”

Pinocchio glanced over at Jess then the old woman. “This is nuts!” he threw his hands up. But as he turned, he saw eyes upon him. He took them in then sighed and he then grumbled to himself. He was going to hate himself for this later.

He looked back to Jess. “If they won’t leave, then we have to find some way to get them to protect themselves. Some of these people can fight.” He motioned around. “I...I got some stuff stashed...” He rolled his eyes, “Why do I feel like I’ve more than entered the Twilight Zone.” He started walking out, “Come on,” he motioned to Jess.

Jess couldn’t help but let out a morbid chuckle. “If you only knew...” she muttered under her breath. Although the Night Gallery might have been a more appropriate choice she thought with grim humor. With a last squeeze for the elderly Sister, Jess started after Pinocchio.

Catching up with the man, she started asking questions. “What exactly do you have stashed? How much? And how far away is it?” Timing would have to be done carefully to avoid Santiago’s patrols. “And you don’t have to do this,” she said. “If you don’t want anything to do this, let me know where they are and I’ll retrieve them.”

Pinocchio ignored the first few questions but then flashed her a look as she asked where the items were and she would retrieve them. He held his tongue and looked away walking along. “I have a stash of weapons, bombs, grenades, equipment to survive out here if I had to...Just didn’t think I would have ever...had to.” He ended softly as his brow furrowed at the thought.

“I had it since I first entered...” He stopped in correcting himself, “When all this started going down.” He had to remind himself, some of these people weren’t real. That was just what WAS getting his goat. Here he was...helping VC. People that weren’t even real...not a lick of them. Not like him.

“Hang on a second,” she said, turning around and ducking into the last building where the Sisters happened to store their food. She wasn’t certain how far they were going, and it would be better to bring something along in case they ran into trouble. Grabbing a small bag, she snatched a loaf of bread and a small slab of cheese. A couple of handfuls of dried fruit went into the sack as well. Meat would be easier to catch as they traveled rather than carry with them. Tying the bag to her belt, she went outside with the supplies and played catch up with Mike again.

He made it to the road and started walking. He stopped and looked about, “Okay, I need you to tell me where we are. And we walk, not taking any vehicle. Not noticeable of Santiago’s men are about. We can hid in the woods better that way. We need to go west of the city and north.” He informed her.

Jess nodded, approving of his tactics. Traveling by foot wouldn’t be any big hardship for her. “We’ve got a bit of a walk ahead of us. We’re about ten miles east of the city. We can follow the road for a while, but we’ll have to cut into the woods eventually if you don’t want to go into the city.”

“How long is it going to take to get there?” She’d be okay in the woods without a tent or sleeping bag, but the same might not be the same for him. “Before we go to far, do we need any gear? Are we going to be spending the night in the woods?”

Pinocchio kept walking however his pace was slower for Jess to catch up with him. His mind was working on what needed to be done. He then heard her coming up beside him and glanced to her. “Great,” He grumbled under his breath as he listen to her tell of their location. They did have a walk ahead of them. Day at the most if they made good time. And avoided any of Santiago’s men.

“Yeah, we will.” Lucky his car was there so getting back wouldn’t be a problem. He chewed on his inner cheek glancing to see the stash she had, “I...if you want to bring it, I won’t need it.” He said in regards to the gear. He had spent nights out with less than what was on his back. Sadly was back then, he could build a fire...now...well they will find out.

“Okay.” Jess didn’t really need any gear either. If the weather turned nasty, she’d survive it. And it would be better to get moving instead of backtracking for items that neither of them really wanted or needed. If Santiago was a close as he claimed, they’d need all the speed that they could.

He motioned with his head for her to follow, “Try and keep up,” he said as his pace picked up.

Jess shook her head. “You really know how to make friends, don’t you?” she muttered. She could easily outstrip him in both terms of speed and stamina just to show him up. But that would mean revealing her abilities, something that she wasn’t eager to do.

After about an hours walk in comparative silence Jess abruptly halted, raising her hand. She stood stock still, listening intently. Her nostrils flaired slightly and then she tensed. “Off the road!” she hissed in a whisper. “Now!” Grabbing Mike by the hand, she jerked him off the road and into the scrub lining it.

Pinocchio walked along but then he stopped as Jess did and was just as still. His eyes looked about, didn’t see anything. He listened, thought he heard something but wasn’t sure. But then she grabbed him and was jerking him off the road. Mike ran after her then dove into the scrub line.

He laid flat on his stomach as he looked out. Then he heard it, a truck, sounded like a HumVee. He got lower...if that was possible. His eyes narrowed, patrol, two maybe four guys tops. Just let them pass and nothing would happen...nothing...he hoped.

Jess’s thoughts were a silent mantra, a prayer that they kept on moving. And then she realized her teeth were considerably sharper and her hair and nails longer. Horrified that she was losing her control in a fear reaction, the mantra shifted, hoping Pinocchio wouldn’t look at her as she reversed the transformation.

The HumVee rolled into sight and Jess stopped breathing. Stomach to the dirt, she froze, willing them to keep moving. Just keep moving, she thought over and over. Just keep moving.

And as if they heard her prayer, they did.

But she didn’t let out a sigh of relief until they passed beyond her hearing. And even then she didn’t lose her caution. Causiously she belly crawled towards the road, moving silently. When she verified that she couldn’t see them, she rose to a crouching position for a few moments, and then finally stood up. She looked back at the brush and took a deep breath and nodded, indicating that they were gone.

Pinocchio stayed where he was, he was a bigger target. He watched Jess crawl, she did it with such natural easy. His eyes stayed on her but here and there would flash about. He held his breath the whole time he felt.

His eyes watched as Jess made it to the road. He found himself admiring her ass and mentally slapped himself. Why? He couldn’t figure it out. Part of him guessed he was still tied to the snake.

He moved when she indicated it was clear. Moving up to her, “We better put some distance between us and them incase they come back.” He grabbed her arm and started pulling her along, but heading into the tree line. The way he moved through them seemed natural, like he had done this before. Which he had, when he first got to the realm, got to know the woods well. Only way to stay alive...unless one did what he did... Gave in.

“Good idea.” Amazingly, she didn’t tear off his arm when he grabbed her and started dragging her into the woods. Instead Jess let him guide her. She was familiar with these woods, but from a slightly different perspective, one lower to the ground. All of her landmarks were now slightly off.

Realizing that he was still holding her arm, she pulled away gently, a faint blush on her cheeks. Old and half remembered emotions and longings where creeping into her, things she thought she’d never feel again. Even though now was not the time nor the place. Nor could she figure out why she was having them – if she was reacting to pheromones, or if there was something deeper going on.

They both moved quietly through the woods, not making as good time as when they were traveling on the on the road. Plus now they were heading in slightly the wrong direction. They were now heading in more of a western direction than the northwestern on the road. So that would add to the time that it would take to get to his stash of weapons. “We’re not going to make it there in one day,” she guessed, waiting to be contradicted. They were getting further off course by the moment. “Do you have a place you want to stop for the night?”

Pinocchio could feel the anger in him building, the longer the walk was, the further west the were going. Now it would take even longer, and time was not on their side. He stopped when she spoke, his eyes looking out into the nothing, keeping his mouth closed before he snapped and said something he would regret.

Slowly he spoke, “I know and no I don’t. When we get tried and nearly dropping then we just rest where we are at if it is wise to.” He looked back at her.

“Fine,” Jess said a bit peevishly. If he was going to be like this the rest of the journey, it was going to be even more of a joy, she thought sarcastically. He may be angry at the situation, but she wasn’t going to let herself be the target. “You know I’m not the enemy,” she said. “I’m just trying to help.”

“I didn’t volunteer for this duty. To be put in the Realm, I mean. I was...assigned it.” Which was true in a sense. Problem was that it wasn’t an assignment she couldn’t refuse. “And I’ve been trying to find a way out ever since.” Although sometimes she wondered if it wasn’t better that she was inside. Outside, she’d be subjected to who knows what test to find the limits of her abilities. “This is going to go a lot easier and faster if we work with each other and stop biting each other’s head off.” She looked at him with a half smile on her face. “Truce?”

Pinocchio stopped and looked at Jess, his mouth opened but then it closed once again. He drew in a breath, opened his mouth again and even raised a finger at her but then he just sighed and shook his head, “Truce,” He gave in. “I’m... Sorry if...my attitude toward you is to....harsh.”

“It’s okay,” Jess said, half grin still on her face. “You’ve been through a lot in the last 24 hours. I just wanted to get out of the firing range.”

He started walking again. “It just seems that ever since I got here, nothing has gone right. I thought it did for a while but I was lying to myself.” he said to her as he kept walking, moving branches aside. “I tried to do my mission. Unlike you, I volunteered. Biggest mistake in my life.” He said under his breath.

She followed along beside and slightly behind him, his words floating back to her. The trees and bushes made it impossible for them to walk side by side. “With an exception of a few, I think everyone feels that way in here.”

He finally came to a log and sat down to rest motioning her to sit as well. “I realized something, you can’t kill what won’t die. You can’t kill that which controls the game. And he controls the game.” He looked to her. “Now all I want to do is get some moment, catch the first boat out of here heading south. I know, cowardly... But this coward is tired of fighting.” He sighed in looking out.

She sighed also, taking the seat a few inches from him. She also stared out into the trees, unable to see the horizon. “You know, I feel that way sometimes too. Except that I remember that if I get out, it’s only a matter of time.” Jess wasn’t referring to Santiago in particular, but the group of men who had placed her inside the game. They would do something worse to her. And as for running away inside the game, unless a stronger resistance developed, Santiago would soon control it all. Neither option particularly appealed to her.

“You’ve been doing it all on your own, right?” She guessed that since he hadn’t mentioned any comrades in arms or allies. “Cause I felt the way you do for a long time. But it helps to have friends to watch your back.” She wasn’t trying to recruit for the Sisters by any means. “I mean, it helps if you can trust people worth it, even if only for a little while. Let you rest and heal and think instead of just having to react constantly. And then for some reason, you resume the fight, even though it seems to be the craziest, most suicidal option. Or at least that’s what happened in my case.”

“But I guess you’re not me,” she said, guessing his reaction before he could say it. Jess turned to him, shifting on the log to look at him directly. “And since the Sister’s aren’t here to object, let’s make a deal. You get the weapons back to the Sisters and you’re free to go. We won’t try to stop you or convince you to stay.” She held out her hand. Instincts told her that she could trust him. Otherwise, Santiago, she guessed, wouldn’t have been trying to kill him. “So what do you say? Deal?”

Pinocchio looked at the woman but then looked away as he stared at the ground. He had left the fight long ago, joined the other side. Now... He closed his eyes. He turned his head to Jess when she shifted. He held her gaze, listening to her intently.

Pinocchio looked down at her hand then back to her. He slowly reached out and took her hand. “Deal,” He said quietly as he continued to stare at her. He just sat there staring at her, still holding her hand till he slowly pulled it away. “You hungry?” he asked reaching for the pouch to get some food.

Jess held his stare as well as his hand. There was nothing challenging in his stare, unlike the canines and once a mountain lion she had to face down. But her heart was pounding rapidly. “Yeah,” she said, watching him open the sack. She was starting to feel hungry, but what she felt more was the tingling of her skin where he had touched her.

“There should be some dried fruit in there, and some fresh bread. Meat’s getting harder and harder to come by,” she apologized. “If we get the chance, I could probably catch something...er, I mean I set a decent snare trap. That takes time though” Nervously, she hoped that he hadn’t caught her slip up. It would be awkward to explain how she was planning to catch rabbits or other small game.

Pinocchio pulled out the fruits and bread, tearing a chunk off and handed it over to her. “I’m not worried about it. Would be nice but I can wait till we get to my hideout. I got some dried meat there. Jerk.” He handed her some fruit as well. Pinocchio had caught her little slip up but didn’t say anything...at this moment.

“We’ll catch a few hours of sleep too if you want. Trade off watches.” he slid down the log to land on the round so the log was now his back rest. He chewed at the fruit, his eyes staring out and he started to zone out. His hand absently reached up and touched the area where he had been shot. His eyes closed and his eyelashes glisten with tears when he did.

Jess stayed on the log, her senses alert, taking the first watch without saying a word. Pinocchio was still recovering in a way and probably could use the rest more than she needed it. But she was still surprised to look down at him and see the anguish on his face. Gently, not to startle him, she leaned down to awkwardly place her hand on his shoulder. “Hey, it’s gonna be okay.” And she almost believed it.

Slipping off the log, she crouched next to him. She knew what it was like, to feel alone and friendless and to watch your world crashing and burning around you, but leaving you alive to suffer. Not certain how he’d react and wondering if she was making a big mistake, she put her arms around him, just to let him know that he wasn’t alone.

He didn’t jump, he didn’t moved. He just tried to keep still or he was going to lose it. He knew he was, he was close to it now. But then he heard her coming down beside him. He turned his head and opened his eyes. The blues glisten with tears held back.

As Jess moved in, he didn’t fight her, he felt her arms go around him. He shook at first, almost wanting to push her away. However Mike fought it and he finally slipped an arm around her, burying his head in her neck. He didn’t cry just trembled a little. He then however did something that surprised him. He turned his head then kissed her, it was soft at first but then deepened.

She hadn’t expected this. She had expected to hold him while he cried, to whisper comforting nonsense syllables, and ease him to sleep that he needed. And she certainly hadn’t expected to start kissing him back, her hand coming up to cradle the back of his head.

It had been years since she had kissed anyone, touched anyone in a sexual way. She was shaking almost as much as he was as desires she had thought long dead and never to have a chance to be revived suddenly sprang to life. Part of her mind told her that she shouldn’t be doing this, that she should pull away. He didn’t know what she was or what he was getting into. This would only lead to disaster.

Pinocchio pulled Jess closer and then to straddle his lap. A hand slowly traveled up her back while then other played in her hair then the back of her neck. However he suddenly stopped, his breath held as he squeezed his eyes tighter closed. He felt like curling up into a ball because all he kept seeing was not this beautiful woman before him, but a gun barrel pointed at him then a bullet racing through the air.

He started to tremble even more, tears stream from his tightly closed eyes. He pulled her into his chest and held her with a crushing hold it seemed. He buried his head in her neck, “Why did she have to do it?” he whispered into her skin, “Why?”

“Shhh....” she whispered, tightening her arms around him comfortingly. So that’s what had happen. A lover, she guessed from the intensity of his emotions, had betrayed him. Perhaps was even was the one who shot him. Either way, the man was in a lot of pain, and trying to hold it all inside. “Let it out. It’s just going to poison you otherwise. There’s nobody here but me. Just let it go.”

Jess’s lips softly brushed his head, offering what comfort she could. Gently she rocked him back and forth, letting him cry out his pain. Her own eyes were misty with tears. This level of pain was something she was all too familiar with, and had fought a long battle to overcome. She just hoped that he would be able to heal.

Pinocchio sniffled as he tired to reign back his tears. He could feel how tight his chest was. How much it was hurting. He drew in a breath and pulled back, his eyes looking at her. He had great sadness in them, and it went deep.

He leaned in and kissed Jess softly again, but this time he moved so that they were now stretched out against the log and he was over her. He felt the need to drown his feeling, to forget them and this was the only way at the moment that he could think of to do that. And perhaps, it would also rid him of that other feeling, that other woman.

Jess settled to the ground, his weight resting firmly on her. Her fingers lightly ran through his hair as she kissed him back. They were both in need of physical comfort, both needed to know that they weren’t alone in this digital hell. The rational part of her mind was yelling at her to stop. A lover, or even a one night stand was something that would make her life infinitely more complicated now. But she ignored that voice in favor of animal instincts. Maybe they were just using each other to forget, but maybe it could be the start of something deeper.

She kissed Mike back passionately, her other hand exploring his back. If she had any questions about his story of being a soldier, his muscular body pressed against hers would have dispelled them. Nose pressed against his skin, she inhaled his musky scent as she opened her mouth, bringing her tongue into play. She wasn’t exactly certain how far he wanted to take this, but she was willing to go wherever he led.

Pinocchio kissed Jess deeply, his breath heavy as he pulled away to kiss along her neck. His one arm was under her, supporting her, the other sliding down her body till he reached her waist band. There he tugged at the shirt and pulled it free somewhat, his fingers at last touching her skin.

He gave a low moan as he did so and his body pressed more into her. He moved it up slowly then around, touching here and there. His mouth covered her with wet kisses, moving from one side to the other. He then found her bra. His fingers traced along it before lifting then slipping under to cup her. He gave a squeeze just as his mouth covered her again for a deep kiss.

Jess arched into both his touch and his kiss. Moaning as well, she slid her hands further down his back, one stopping at his belt and one continuing on until it cupped his ass. The one at his waist started tugging his shirt upwards. Urging him to sit up for a moment, she peeled her shirt off and then his.

Her breathing grew noticeably heavier at the sight of his chest. His was a body of a man who took good care of himself. She reached out and placed her palm flat against his sternum, feeling the strong heartbeat there before moving it downwards. Jess smiled at the feeling of soft skin, firm muscles, and ticklish hairs as she reached his waistband. All thoughts of safety and stopping miles away, she paused and looked at his face, waiting for his next move.

Pinocchio sat up at Jess’ urging, having felt her desire to touch him he started to pull off his only to stop and stare at the body before him. His blue eyes caressed her lean muscular form only to be jerked from his daze by her helping.

As his shirt was removed, Pinocchio tossed it aside. He sat still and seemed to hold his breath as she touched him, especially on his chest. He almost feared she would curl her fingers in, dig into his chest and rip his heart out. But she didn’t. Jess’s hand was going down his chest.

His eyes caressed Jess as she waited upon him, then he slowly reached up and started undoing his pants. He worked them open but then just left it at that, his own hands going to her waist band and started work them open.

She lifted her hips, helping him peel her jeans off of her waist. Her hand slipped further down his abdomen, slipping over his well defined abs to cup his groin. She smiled up at him as she lightly squeezed and felt him jump against her. Her fingers kept busy, lightly stroking him through his underwear.

Reaching up, she pulled in back down against her body, kissing him eagerly. Jess couldn’t help but moan at the feel of his skin against hers, the way is body cradled against hers. She had never thought that she would feel this again, and she was relishing every moment of it.

Mike closed his eyes at Jess’ touch upon his groin which made him shiver. His eyes opened to catch her smiling at him then giving him a little squeeze which made him jump a little. He was moving at the time she was reaching up, dropping his arms on either side of her before going down to kiss her in return.

He moved an arm around and under Jess, dragging her more into him as he devoured her in a very possessive and dominating kiss. His breathing was heavy, being dragged in through his nose. He reached with his other hand and took hold of her wrist. Pulling his mouth from her, he moved right to her breast and covered one as he bit the nipple while sucking upon her.

Jess let out a loud moan, pushing into his mouth. If any of Santiago’s men were around, they would have been discovered. But that was the farthest thing from her mind as his mouth devoured her. She spread her legs wider, feeling almost obscenely wet. Turning her head, she started kissing the crown of his head, his cheek, whatever part of him she could reach.

Mike groaned against her soft skin as he was moving her hand down into his underwear so that she could really feel the hard flesh that was there. He moved her hand up and down him before letting her go and his hand coming up to her breast that he was suckling upon. He cupped it and pushed it up a little. Sucking kisses were placed upon it before he came up and kissed her neck, “Oh God,” He groaned as he started to move his body over her, more than ready to enter her.

Her hand continued to stroke him, pulling him nearer and guiding him were they both wanted him. She let out a soft hiss as he breached her. Though by no means a virgin, it had been a while for her, so her passage was tight. But she didn’t let him stop or back away. She arched up to ease his entrance into her. Letting go of him, Jess wrapped her arms around his back, pulling him close to her. Once he was fully inside, she let out a loud groan, pressing her head against his shoulder.

The initial entry was tight and it made Pinocchio’s body shudder greatly. He had dropped his head down against her shoulder as he pushed in to meet her. Once the touched, he held his position, savoring the feeling of Jess’ pulsing walls around him and he tucked into her warmth. It was almost comforting in a way.

Other than involuntary twitches, Jess held perfectly still beneath him, a smile on her face as she tried to catch her breath. She was tense beneath him, but not because she wanted to stop. Instead, she was trying to push herself closer into his body.

He turned his head, his breath upon her ear as he slowly drew his hips back. The pull was just as pleasurable as the push. He pulled nearly out but then went back in, this time it wasn’t slow for he rammed into her, grunting as he did so. He repeated it again before a pace was starting to be set. His mouth seeked out her throat, kissing, licking, biting into her as he started to slightly let loose.

He wasn’t gentle by any means, and that was just how Jess wanted it. She relished the bites at her neck as she arched up to meet him his movements. Her fingers dug into his skin, scratching his back. They both needed the pain and the pleasure, a harsh reminder that they were still alive and not ghosts in the machine.

She placed nipping kisses on his neck and shoulders, careful not to break his skin. That would have disastrous consequences. But she didn’t back off one bit. If anything, she urged him on, squeezing with her vaginal muscles as she scratched and pulled and nipped at him.

Pain, oh the pain, he needed it, longed for it, and it indeed reminded him that he was still human, still alive, still real. Her nails upon his back, her nipping, all sensations he could relate to. It caused him to put on a brutal pace, hammering harder and harder till he was feeling it, she was feeling it and grunts, growls were pushed from him and her.

“Ahh, shit,” after some time he grunted that out for there was that familiar tightening, expanding and then that surged of flooding fluids into her. His last one was thrusted up hard into Jess that it made her move, not like they hadn’t been inching across the ground as it was. Pinocchio was amazed she took it, every bit of it and liked it. Hell she seemed to have wanted more...not that at the moment he would have wanted to give her that but really they were taking a risk as it was doing this in the open.

Feeling him surge into her triggered her climax. She shook with her release and let out a cry that was less than human but more than an animal in heat.

When he was finished, he dropped down upon the body below him, panting and trying to calm down. He didn’t say anything, just laid atop her, trying to catch his breath.

He didn’t seem inclined to talk, and neither did she. Jess just breathed heavily, her body relaxing. Her back should be covered in scratches and small bruises from the rough ground, but she knew by the time she dressed her skin would be unblemished, like all the other times she hurt herself. She just hoped Pinnochio wouldn’t notice.

A corner of her mind was relieved that he hadn’t triggered...a loss of control. The Sisters weren’t here to remind her of who she really was. But though it hadn’t been his intention, Pinocchio just had – that at her core, there was a woman who just wanted to be loved.

Not sure quite what to do or to say, she just continued to hold him, listening for potential danger. Eventually she let out a heavy sigh. “I don’t know about you, but I hate awkward silences.”

Pinocchio had been breathing into Jess’ neck, not wanting to move. He had originally just wanted to fuck her to get his mind off of things, to get the feel of Inga from him, to relieve some stress he was feeling, he could think of a hundred of excuses but now...now he found he didn’t want to leave, to get up. There was just something about her that...

Her words broke his chain of thought. He lifted his head then kissed her deeply. He pulled back, “Then don’t say anything,” he kissed her again then pulled back, finally forcing himself to push back from her, though before he did, he lingered looking down at her. All he hoped for was that if she was going to shoot him, she do it soon and do it quick.

However he pushed from her, pulling away and drawing his pants back up. “Get some rest, I’ll keep watch for a few hours.” He said in looking about. He looked back to her, his eyes locking to hers. There was a slight pain in his eyes as he gazed to her but then he looked away.

Jess sat up, watching him intently as she reached for her clothes. They had just been trying to ease the pain, she told herself. Just sex and nothing more. Then why did she feel...bonded...to him? Why did that expression of ache on his face turn a knife in her gut? Her animal instincts coming to the fore after sex? The fact that he was the first real person in this godforsaken game who had actually been decent to her? Or the fact that they were both more alike than she wanted to admit?

She did not need this, she told herself firmly. This would only end as a disaster. He would hate her for what she was, and it would be better to play it off as a pity fuck. But Jess couldn’t do that, had never been good at hiding her emotions. She was falling hard for Pinocchio, feeling emotions she thought she’d never experience again.

She sat up, leaning her back against the tree, patting the ground besides her, offering. Sleep was the furthest thing from her mind, and she could sense danger before it came too close. All she wanted to do was try to take away the pain in his eyes. “Who was she?” Jess asked softly. Tiptoeing through a mine field, she guessed, but she’d never really been known for tact. And she wanted to know who the competition was, be it a ghost or a memory or a still living lover.

Pinocchio looked away when the question came. It was almost like a slap in the face, one he could feel stinging deep down into his heart. He looked up at the sky, “She was the devil in disguise. I let her put her tongue in my ear...I couldn’t run fast enough.” He sighed in looking back down.

He stood up putting himself more back together, his gun being strapped back on. He looked over at her. His hand rested upon his hip, he should really go check around. He however walked those few steps and sat down beside her. “It’s something I don’ want to talk about at the moment, not sure I’ll ever be ready to.” He reached up and brushed her hair back. “All I can tell you is trust, is going to be very hard to get from me.”

Jess reached up and pressed his hand to her cheek, eyes closed and leaning into his touch slightly. She wanted so badly to answer that he could trust her, but could he? And did she trust him? Not completely was her conclusion. If she did, she’d tell him everything before letting this newfound relationship progress any further. About the medical experiments that had been run on her. About her abilities that turned her into myth become reality. That there was a dark beast in her waiting to burst out of its cage the moment it got a chance. But she didn’t, so how could he trust her?

“I understand,” she said simply. She’d tell him as much of the truth as she could and leave it up to him. “There are things about me I can’t talk about. Things that would make you run away and never look back. Maybe in time I can tell you, but I don’t think either of us are ready for that now.” Opening her eyes, she looked at his unflinchingly. “Knowing that, are you saying that you want to give whatever is happening between us a try?”

Pinocchio looked to Jess, understanding. There were things about him, he feared to tell anyone. Things he did, regretted even doing at all. He looked down as she went on, “Maybe,” he echoed softly. He drew in a breath and looked to her, “Let’s just take this one step at a time. Besides, you might think of me as an asshole later,” He gave a little smile.

“One step at a time is good.” At least she had made him smile. And her heart gave a little flip at seeing it. “Trust me,” she said with a toothy grin. “There will be times you think I”m an utter bitch.”

He got back up, “Get some rest, I’ll check around. Give us at least two hours to rest then we go at it again, okay,” He stepped over the large log and before going to check around, glanced back at her. “Scream really loud if you need me.” He walked a few good paces away, checking about.

“Trust me, you’ll hear the screams,” she called after him. Probably not hers though. Shifting onto her side, Jess curled up into a ball, and let her eyes shut. She didn’t let herself fall completely asleep, but did drowse for a while. She was troubled by half dreams, half worries about what would happen at the next turn of the moon.

After about an hour, Jess sat up and looked around. She wasn’t going to get any more rest than she already had. Spotting Mike standing a few feet from the other side of the fallen log, she stood up. “Mike? I’m not going to get any more rest. Why don’t you try to get some shut eye and then we’ll head on?”

Pinocchio had come back within that hour and watched Jess sleep. Her dark hair reminded him of Inga’s, but just the color. And when she was sleeping she looked just as innocent. However he noticed the way she slept, it reminded him of a dog curled up and with those little twitches here and there, also of a dog when it was dreaming. He thought nothing more on it as he picked at the ground with a stick he found.

He then got up and checked around again, relieved himself then ended up standing looking about, his back to her. He was playing with a toothpick he found in his pocket as he thought of all the shit he had been through as of late. And how shocked Inga would be if she knew he was alive.

His head turned to look over his shoulder, her voice triggering his hand to go immediately to his gun. He released his grip and stepped over the fallen wood. “Just for a little while,” He pulled his watch off and handed it to her, “Here, just an hour, okay.” He then sat down, his back to the tree and closed his eyes. He probably wouldn’t get much sleep either.

Instinct to protect herself triggered when he went for the gun, Jess forced her hand to relax before she took the watch. “One hour,” she agreed as she watched him sit down. Stepping into the bushes, she started to walk the perimeter of the clearing, watching and listening carefully.

Reassured that they were still alone, Jess took care of some basic biological functions. Returning to the clearing, she sat down silently and leaned back on her arms. She stared up at the half moon, which seemed close enough to touch. She was starting to feel it’s pull, the waxing influence becoming stronger and stronger until she had to give into its fullness. Forcing her eyes shut, she rested her head in her hands, wondering how she was going to be able to explain herself to him.

And an hour later, she was still trying to figure it out. Giving up with a sigh, she stood up and walked over where Pinocchio sat. Carefully watching in case he went for the gun again, she reached out and gently shook his shoulder. “Hey. Time’s up.”

Pinocchio woke his hand drifting to his gun but then he realized where he was and who was shaking him. He looked up at Jess and nodded, “Yeah,” He said in pushing up off the tree and stretching. He looked about, “Was quiet huh.” He walked over and picked up the bag. “Let’s get going.”

The pair walked a long ways before he motioned her off into the tree line deeper and to a hole in the ground, covered. Mike climbed down into it and littered about were weapons, crates of food, blankets, everything he would need to survive if he had to. He pulled out some gas cans and set them by the latter.

“Grab those crates over there, they have ammo in them. Stack them up here. I’m going to fill up the car. We got wheels to go back with.” he said in taking a can to climb back up and head for his Chevelle which was covered.

Jess whistled low when she saw the stash he had managed to amass. After having to scrounge for what the Sister’s needed, this was practically a treasure trove of supplies. Looking over at the crates, she judged the weight of them. They’d be heavy for a normal person to move on her own. And they’d still be a bit heavy for her to move unless she Changed. But that wasn’t an option.

Making a big show, she picked up the box, grunting. Walking with short steps, Jess carried it over to where Pinocchio had pointed out. And she repeated it with the second box. Taking a deep breath, she turned back to him. “Got any idea what we should do if we run into another patrol? We’re not going to be able to offroad in that,” she said.

“Don’t need to go off road,” He said in holding the gas can while he filled the car, “This baby will leave them in a trail of dust.” He patted the car, the one thing in the real that didn’t cheat on him, try and kill him, was always there when he needed her.

After filling the car, he popped the trunk. He made room for the boxes in the trunk then returned to help her. He stopped looking at them then back to her, “You...” there were no drag marks on the ground which is what confused him. He shook his head, “Grab one end and I’ll go up first.”

He grabbed it then started heading up the ladder, taking them out to the car. Soon they were packed and he was down below making sure things were secure, counting his inventory and thinking, needed to restock. He then thought, jumping on a boat to the Bahamas wasn’t a bad idea either.

Crap, she thought. He had noticed that she had moved those almost too easily. Resolving to be more careful, she made sure everything was secure. And she started thinking of something to explain her unusual strength. She decided she could tell some things about what had been done to her, but not everything. Not until she saw and gauged his reaction.

Looking up at the sky, she tried to figure out how far away from the Sister’s camp. And she wondered what would happen when they returned. Would Mike stay or go? And if he went, would she follow him or would she stay. Only her sense of obligation was holding her with the Sisters.

She sighed as she thought about the healers, hoping nothing had happened in her absence. If Santiago’s men were as close as Mike was hinting at, they’d better hurry back. “How long do you think before we get back?” she asked.

Pinocchio heard Jess shout down to him below with her question. He paused a moment and that is where he took off his dog tags and left them there. He was no longer Michael Pinocchio. That man died. He walked over and climbed out, “About a half a day, maybe 8 hours in driving.” He shrugged. “We’ll be there soon enough baring we keep away from the patrols.”

He closed the hole back up and covered it so well it was hard to tell it was there. He walked back to the car, throwing open the door. He only hoped Santiago hadn’t gotten there and they were to late. For he didn’t want to return to smoke from burning buildings.

Seeing him cover the hole, Jess took a seat in the passenger’s seat of the car and settled in. A relatively long drive, but she wasn’t looking forward to hauling the supplies back to the camp on foot. “Then let’s get this show on the road.” She noticed the lack of the dogtags, but didn’t comment on them. Letting go of the past and searching for a new self was difficult to do. She knew that from personal experience. And maybe, she thought looking at Mike out of the corner of her eye, she could help him.

She closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the seat as he started the engine. It had been a while since she had ridden in a car. It would be a temptation to give into the urge to roll down the window and stick her head out of it, sampling the breeze as they sped down the road...

The Chevelle rumbled to life, the heavy motor purring at it’s owner and knowing what he wanted. He slowly pulled away from the area and made it to the road with little bumping and shifting of the passenger. Once on the road, the car sent them both back into the seat as it tore off down the road, the wind whipping through the car. Pinocchio glanced over as he shifted in his seat.

“Just relax, going to be a long drive,” He reached behind the seat and tossed her an MRE, Meal Ready to Eat, “All I have for dinner. At least it’s food.” He said as he went to driving, his eyes concentrating on the road and he seemed more relaxed now that he was in familiar territory...his car.

“Thanks.” She ripped open the pouch, nose wrinkling at the contents. “And the old saying is true. It’s a lie three times.” But he was right. No matter how it tasted, it was edible. And there was a wisdom in her instincts – never turn down a meal because you never knew when you’d eat next.

Flipping the package over, she reviewed the instructions on preparations. She pulled out the snack bar, unwrapped it, and bit in. Leaning her head back against the seat, she enjoyed the feeling of speed. “So do you own one of these on the outside, or is this some sort of wish fulfillment?” she asked.

Pinocchio glanced over at the woman beside him then back out the window, “Little of both. Mine wasn’t near as supped up this one is.” He shifted in the seat seeming to settle down in the seat more. “It’s in storage right now. Had to put it there when I was sent on some missions over seas,” he commented as he reached for the canteen of water and took a swig from it.

“Tell me something...How much about the Sisters do you know. I never really could understand why Santiago wants them gone so badly.” Or he just didn’t want to...he knew it wasn’t just because they could heal...it was something more.

Jess took a deep breath, looking thoughtful. “They’re different,” she said slowly, as if trying to choose the right words. “They have a belief in a higher power, that they’re paving the way for a messiah that will save us all by winning the game. I guess what it boils down to is they have faith.”

“And I think that’s why Santiago is so afraid of them,” she added thoughtfully. “He wants to be God here, and isn’t willing to share power with anyone. He’s afraid that the belief in a coming messiah will spread, that everybody will be watching for this coming savior. And that somebody will either put up a figurehead or claim to be that messiah. My guess is he figures if he eliminates the Sisters, he eliminates the competition. Plus, according to the Sisters, the messiah is supposed to be accompanied by a warrior and a healer. Eliminate the healers and...” Jess shrugged, not bothering to finish the sentence.

“Belief...not part of the programming,” He grumbled under his breath. “They didn’t program God into this fuckin place. How can they have a belief?” He glanced over but then looked away. What she said made sense. Santiago wanted to be all controlling. He had ideals, dreams...of the way it should be. What the four fathers of our country didn’t do the first time. Santiago wanted that.

“And that’s what scares him. Officially there is no God, but they have faith and with faith, hope. It’s something beyond his, and our, control, that can’t be predicted by running a line of code through a simulation. I don’t know if this is some sort of glitch, or a random error, or a practical joke by some programmer. But they have belief.”

“well if they are waiting for this...this savior...this messiah...they have a long fuckin wait.” He said under his breath. “Ain’t no one going to be able to take him out.” His avoided a pot hole in the road, what was once flat and probably maintained but now falling apart. Only suitable for tanks now.

“We’re got a few more hours, take a nap.”

Jess arched an eyebrow. “You’ve got such a way with people, you know that?” It was a good idea though. She closed her eyes and slumped down in the seat a bit. “Wake me if we run into trouble, or if you want to take a break for a while.” She didn’t fall asleep, but considered his words. He was right in a way. Someone who wanted to take out Santiago would be asking for a hell of a lot of trouble. “Lord have mercy on whoever’s soul that tries,” she half muttered.

Pinocchio drove and drove, how long, he lost track. His mind thought upon what Jess had told him. Santiago was trying to eliminate the hope, crush it like he did everything else. He was fighting it like it was a real thing and keep it from spreading. Why did it remind him so much of the Bible? Probably because it was...in a sense. He snorted, a modern day messiah...not possible.

Now in the car, she allowed herself to fall into a deeper sleep than earlier. She had almost forgotten the sound of a motor, the slight sway of the seat, and even how the car lurched as it hit smaller ruts in the road. It all lulled her deeper into unconsciousness, one blessedly free from the dreams and worries that haunted her.

He drove some more, the land passing quickly by and behind them. He turned onto better roads and knew this was risking being spotted by patrols but it was the quickest way. He then slammed on the breaks. His arm automatically reached out and stopped Jess from hitting the dash board. His eyes looked out at the distant smoke rising from their destination.

“Damn...” he said quietly for he had a feeling he knew what happened.

Stunned out of a sound sleep she bounced off his arm and back into the seat. Irritated, she was about to make a snarky comment about his driving skills, or lack thereof. But as Jess opened her mouth, the scent hit her. Burning wood. Her head snapped back to the road, eyes seeking where where they were to end up. “Oh god no,” she whispered.

She couldn’t smell death in the air, but with the bodies flashing out, she wouldn’t unless she was at the spot where the body had been. The person’s scent just stopped at that point. But with smoke rising, she didn’t doubt that there hadn’t been casualties or fatalities. She turned back to Mike, eyes wide with worry. “How far are we?”

Pinocchio shook his head, “Not far,” he breathed then closed his eyes as he knew they were to late. Opening them slowly he started again, driving and pushing his car as fast as it could go.

Upon reaching the area, no bodies could be seen, tank tracks could. The barn was on fire, nearly to the ground already. Pinocchio got out, no people were around. He saw shell casings about. He picked one up then looked about. “We’re to late,” He breathed.

“No,” Jess said, exiting from the car. Her heart was pounding as she surveyed the destruction of the barn. The stink of fuel and gunpowder overwhelmed her, but underneath it she could smell the coppery scent of blood. But she couldn’t tell if anyone had died – her sense of smell wasn’t discrete enough to tell in this form. “I should have been here,” she whispered.

Circling around the perimeter, she tried to make sense of the tracks. In shock, she just interpreted what they told her. “They came in from that way,” she said, pointing back along the road they came. “It was dumb luck that they missed us. Probably that convoy we saw was the advance scout.”

Moving woodenly, she walked towards the smoldering barn. “A lot of soldier’s lined up here.” Her arm swept across her body in front of a piling of cases. Avoiding disturbing patches of ground, she knelt down and sniffed and studied the depression on the dirt. “And a lot of people died here.” Her voice was hollow, letting the scents tell the tale. The grief would come later, once she had time to process her emotions. “She reached down and placed a hand reverently on the ground. “The Sisters died here.” She shut her eyes and a shiver passed through her frame. The only people who accepted her, who reminded her of what it was to be human, were gone.

There was a slight rustle in the wood behind her. She whipped around, inhaling sharply and squinting into the foliage. Not seeing anything, Jess drew herself to her full height and cupped her hands in front of her mouth, forming a tube of sorts. Taking a deep breath, she let out a soft, mournful howl that ended in a quiet whine. If there were survivors, they would know that the wolf cry was safe to come towards. The people the Sisters were aiding didn’t know her secret, but they had been told that there was a trained black wolf-dog that warded the perimeter. And if it was a soldier that responded, Jess would make him sorry that he had ever put the uniform on.

Pinocchio walked around, not saying to much. He didn’t’ need to. He knew, from doing this first hand. What they did, how they executed the maneuver and the people. He then looked over, hearing Jess call out. He looked back around, kicking at things. Doll from a little girl. Hay about the flooring. “I don’t think you are going to...”

He looked up as he heard the brush being parted. Venturing out, with a gun in hand... The one called Florence walked up. Her grip tight upon the trigger. It actually made Pinocchio kind of nervous for he knew a M16 had a very sensitive trigger. She looked at them, her white gown dirty and she looked determined.

Then slowly she lowered the gun and dropped to her knees in silent tears.

And in a heartbeat Jess was kneeling in front of Florence, her own tears mingling with the Sister’s as she pulled her close. “I’m sorry, Florence. I’m so sorry,” she whispered over and over. She could have been apologizing for leaving, as if she wouldn’t have been slaughtered or recaptured. But all she could think was she should have been there to help, that maybe more would have survived if she had been there.

Jess pulled back enough to look at Florence’s tear streaked face. The fact that she was alone and was willing to use (let alone had) a weapon told Jess the answer to her next question. But she felt compelled to say it anyway. “There are no other survivors?”

Pinocchio reached over, grabbing Florence under the arm, “No time now, let’s get the hell out of here first.” he said in pulling Florence up as he looked around. He went to take the gun but Florence jerked it away. She pushed him off then stood in shaking her head to Jess about her question.

It was a knife wound to the heart. The entire enclave, gone, and in the space of a few hours. “He’s right. We need to get out of here. We can mourn later,” she added, wiping her tears away with the heel of her hand. Survival had to come foremost now. They needed to get to someplace less dangerous quickly. Jess was starting to believe that there was no place safe left in the virtual world.

He ran back over to the car and climbed inside. Finding the nearest town was best bet, away from the fence. “We get away from here, far away. Away from the fence.” He started the car as Florence climbed into the back seat. She had to squeeze in because of the supplies but found a spot. She started looking at it then back to him, her head turning to Jess. So he was actually being nice and giving up some of his stuff.

She started searching threw it, finding some cloths and started to change. “Hey!” Pinocchio started to protest as he saw her arms moving in the review mirror but then started grumbling under his breath.

Jess, meanwhile, had climbed back into the passenger seat. “Leave her alone,” she snapped. “Just go. Go whatever way you think they didn’t go, Mike.” She was able to force away her grief for the moment, but her guilt and anger were boiling under the surface also, all three ready to rush out at a moment’s notice.

But there were practical reasons to get away from there as quickly as possible. Santiago’s soldiers might still be nearby. And like vultures claiming a discarded carcass, looters would show soon, drawn by the smoking ruin of the building for anything that could be used. Jess had no desire to be around when they showed up, especially when there was a car full of supplies nearby.

Pinocchio drove, for how long, he didn’t know. Florence hand changed and had her hair pulled back. He kept thinking, where to go. Yes far from the fence but where. Yes they needed supplies....they...they...THEY? Since when did it become THEY? Damnit...he got suckered again.

Pinocchio sighed as he drove, making sure to pass the very close towns and headed out further. He finally came after four hours of driving to a town. He pulled up to the church that said “Hell’s Little Angels.” He looked about, “About as good a place as any.” He said in stretching, checking his gun. “I’m going for a drink.” He said and started heading for the bar.

Jess rolled her eyes at the name of the bar and it’s location, but she got out of the car. “You okay in here, Florence? I’ll be back in a moment,” she said before heading towards the door. She normally avoided alcohol, given how it messed with her reflexes and inhibitions, but with the emotional turmoil of the last 48 hours, a drink sounded good to her.

Or it did until she stepped inside, and realized she was one of the few women in the bar. It didn’t take a psychic to realize what a lot of the men were thinking – fresh meat. She could feel eyes on her, staring at her, sizing her up. And she knew better than to show weakness than reacting, or leaving. Instead, she walked up to the bar, giving the appearance of ignoring everyone except the bartender. “I’ll have a beer,” she said in something just above a grunt.

Pinocchio looked sideways over to Jess who walked up beside him. He was sitting upon a stool, small glass in hand with brown fluid inside. He snorted for he knew it was trouble to have someone like her in here. It wasn’t the fact she was what she was, and he didn’t know it. It was the fact she was a woman and probably the best looking one in here. She was cleaner than the others as well.

Pinocchio guessed it would be only a matter of time before a fight broke out. Just his luck but then, he thought, would be a little exciting...however at the moment, he just wanted to keep a low profile for right now. Didn’t want anyone, especially a certain someone, to know he was still alive.

After staring down a few of the more timid men she locked eyes with, she tried to ignore the man on her other side, the one that insisted on drawing too close for comfort. Instead she concentrated on making her elbows as pointy as possible, and to jab them at every given opportunity to clear some space as she drank. Pinocchio didn’t seem inclined to talk, and she wasn’t in the mood for idle chatter either. Unfortunately, the man next to her didn’t pick up on that. “Let me buy you another one of those, baby,” he said. The scent of unwashed flesh, unbrushed teeth, and stale alcohol assaulted her nose.

She didn’t even bother to look at him. “Not interested.” Jess rolled her eyes and let out a disgusted sigh as she felt a hand were it most definitely did not belong. For the first time she turned to face the drunken fool. “You have five seconds to get get your hand off my ass before I remove it. From your wrist.”

Pinocchio rolled his eyes. He could see what was coming. It was going to be a mess and more than likely he was going to be sore come morning or nursing a black eye. He looked over, his eyes going down to the large meaty hand on Jess’ ass. He felt a pull of something inside him as he looked back up to the taller man. Yeap, he was going to get his ass kicked.

“You heard the woman, get yer meat hooks off her.” To bad it was against the law of the land to used a gun in a bar. Well...at least he still had his hunting knife.

While Mike had spoken, Jess had been calmly counting. “...three...two...one.” Without changing her expression, she reached behind grabbed the offending hand and shoved it away from her butt. Following through in about the space of a half second, she rotated her body, bringing her elbow up and connecting with his nose.

The momentum carried her off the stool she had perched on. As the drunk’s hands went up to his bleeding, and possibly broken, nose, jess noticed the four toughs who had been playing pool step away from the table, cues still in their hand. “Aw crap.” But part of her was spoiling for the fight. And it looked like that part was going to be happy.

Pinocchio looked at her, “Oh now you think,” He grumbled under his breath. “Just remember, you started it,” he told her in coming to stand beside her as he looked at the guys approaching. He shook his head, this was going to hurt, either way, it was going to hurt.

“Hey, you weren’t the one being felt up!” Jess snapped. Although he was right. She should have thought instead of giving in and reacting. The beast in her was baying, eager to come out and fight. Too eager for the feel of bones crunching and the smell of fresh blood...

Without waiting, Pinocchio drew back and threw the first punch, might as well get things started as an eruption of noise let out and cheers, bets and the like as a fight broke out. Pinocchio took one to the jaw as it was two against 4 and the numbers didn’t look good but damn... Someone was holding their own.

Ducking a viscous blow to her head, Jess dropped, sweeping one leg in a wide arc. She managed to kick him to the floor, but grunted as a booted foot hit her side. Grunting, she stumbled, but regained her balance. She could taste her blood when her teeth closed on her tongue. Trying to keep her teeth from sharpening, she let out something that sounded suspiciously sounded like a growl. Jumping back to her feet. She struck out again, catching the man who kicked her in the jaw. She made sure to keep her back to Pinocchio, so neither of them would get rushed from behind.

Pinocchio felt Jess’ back to him. He at least had her to watch it. But damn. Suddenly as he went to punch one. One of the men was hit with a pool cue, cracking it over his head and he went down. Behind him stood Florence, but her hair was short, she had gloves on with the finger holes cut.

She then quickly turned and clubbed the other in the face with a powerful hit. Pinocchio took advantage and punched the guy in the gut then elbowed him in the jaw sending him down before Pinocchio kicked him in the gut a good few times.

Jess looked at Florence a bit stunned. “For preaching nonviolence...yikes.” Her fist snapped up, impacting with the nose of the man she knocked down earlier, sending him crashing to the floor again. That was met with a murmur of disapproval from the crowd. Taking on four men she was able to keep control. But more, she couldn’t be certain that she would be able to keep her wilder side firmly in check. “I think we’ve overstayed our welcome.”

“I agree,” Pinocchio said in looking around. He grabbed Jess and flung her behind him, pushing her toward the door to get her out. He kept looking at the others, his hand wiping blood from the corner of his lip.

Florence pulled Jess out and ran over to the car. Then Pinocchio had dashed out, flying down the stairs, sliding over the hood and landing on his feet. It was then he whipped out his gun and aimed it at them, “Back off, or you will receive a shower.”

Jess angled forward slightly so that she was in front of Florence. She hoped that if Pinocchio noticed her trembling, he thought that was from fear and adrenaline, and not an effort to hold the beast at bay. So tempting to charge the chasing crowd, to let her claws score flesh, her jaws close around limbs and feel bones snap between them....

She pushed back the bloody images into a corner of her mind. One that was growing increasingly crowded with such thoughts. Gripping the handle of the door with a white knuckled grip, she held it open for Florence to slip it into. All the time not taking her eyes off the group of men from the bar.

Pinocchio glared at the men as he held his machine gun to them, the band of men halting at the door. His eyes were intense, just waiting for a movement. He slowly moved slipping into the car behind the women. The car rumbled to life and he backed out then tore away, spitting up dirt and rock from under the tires.

He sighed in dropping his gun down as he drove. “Great,” He grumbled under his breath as he wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth again. He could feel a ache building in his jaw. He glanced over to Jess then to the healer in his car, her appearance vastly different. “This is so fucked,” He grumbled.

“Tell me about it,” Jess growled in agreement, but for different reasons. She closed her eyes, making a face as she concentrated. This wasn’t going to go any further, she was going to relax, it was over and she wasn’t going to lose control now...

Her nails, which seemed to have grown during the conflict, were now their normal short length. And the welts that had been scored into the fleshy part of her palm quickly disappeared as her hand unclenched. Opening her eyes, Jess blew out a deep breath as her body further relaxed. She wasn’t certain how much Pinocchio had noticed though, and if he wasn’t going to ask, she wasn’t going to tell.

Florence placed her hand upon Jess’s shoulder. She knew she needed not heal her but was trying to comfort her. Sooth what was inside her. She stroked her arm gently, noting the wounds healing. She also had caught the glance Pinocchio threw at Jess, seeming to note it as well.

Pinocchio couldn’t miss it. He was still bruised and battered while she...she looked like she just woke up all fresh and new. He pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car. He walked around back, trying to piece this all together. What the hell was going on.

He was thinking back to when she spotted those guards. The way she moved. Then how she took his fucking like...no scratched upon her that time either. And now this? He just stood there with the trunk open, holding a jug of bottled water and a cloth.

Florence looked to Jess and then pushed her, urging her to get out and talk to him. She was giving Jess that look of, he must know.

Jess shook her head, leaning into the Florence’s shove. “I can’t...” she hissed quietly. The Sisters had found out by accident. She had never told anyone before. And what would his reaction be when he found out...

She didn’t know what would hurt her more – seeing disgust in his eyes, or pity.

She looked at her palm, studying the blood that was on her palms. This time it was her own blood, but how many times had it been others? She closed her hand into a fist. She looked at Florence, eyes bright with suppressed emotion. “I’ll try,” she said.

Still, Jess looked a bit reluctant as she walked over to the trunk where Pinocchio stood, trying to come up with a way to tell him. Deciding to take the bull by the horns, she spoke almost before he acknowledged her standing there. “I...ah...guess you’ve noticed by now that I’m different.”

Pinocchio poured some water onto a cloth and started to clean his cut knuckles, “Noticed?” he looked to her, “How could someone not. What the hell is going on?” He turned to her, his jaw showing a little bruise. “I mean the Sisters, I knew about but...” he shook his head and turned away. “Maybe I shouldn’t know. Better off.”

She leaned against the trunk, arms crossed, her hands gripping each arm just above the elbow. “I told you that I’ve done things that I’m not proud of,” Jess said slowly, trying to figure out the best way to say, staring into the distance. It was easier if she didn’t look at him as she spoke. “What I didn’t say that it was a two way street.”

“I was put in before Santiago took over as part of an experiment. Not one of it’s observers, but as the subject. Things had been done to me while I was in the real world, and the powers that be wanted a safe place to test my new abilities – accelerated healing, heightened senses, increased strength and a few other nasties. They didn’t want to risk me getting loose in the real world.” She chuckled darkly. “They didn’t count on me getting loose in here.”

“So it’s in my best interest to stay as far away from Santiago as I can. I don’t know how much he knows about me, and I really don’t want to find out. He may try using me as a weapon, or as an exotic pet.” She took a deep breath and looked at him. “I can tell you more, but I can guarantee that you’re not going to like what you hear. So ask yourself this. How much more do you really want to know?”

Pinocchio looked at Jess but then looked away. He just took it all in with little comment. “He doesn’t know about you...at least I don’t think he does.” He commented. He turned and leaned against the back of his car, staring at the dirt. He was debating if he wanted to really know anything. He looked sideways at her then threw the cloth into the trunk.

“I’m not sure I want to know anything any more. All I can think about right now if finding the first boat out of here.” He sighed and placed his hands upon the trunk to close it. “Why don’t we find a saver haven for now, then we talk some more, okay?” His tone was softer and not as it’s normal gruff sound.

“Okay,” she said, pushing away from the car. Her body language relaxed, more from his reaction than from learning that Santiago wasn’t after her yet. He may not know the full truth, but he knew as much as she was willing to divulge at the moment. Maybe he would be be different than she thought, content with what she had told him and not want to know the gory details. Maybe this wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.

And maybe she could grow wings and fly them back to the real world.

Sighing, Jess pulled away from that depressive thought. “Where is ‘safe’ anymore?” She started back towards the passenger door, not looking at Florence. She knew that the Sister had meant for her to divulge everything, and would be disappointed she hadn’t. And like a stubborn child, Jess was digging in and holding onto that last secret for as long as she could.

Pinocchio thought a moment then shook his head, “I don’t know,” He answered honestly. “The west coast?” He looked over at her but knew that was out of the question.

Florence reached forth and shook her head. She knew they had to stay around. Find the other groups of Sisters around plus...the coming of the One would be soon. She could feel it. They had to stay around for that.

“It’s going to take a long time to get to the west coast,” Jess said after a moment’s thought. “And things may not be good there either. We haven’t exactly been able to get news from there. For all I know, there’s another Santiago wannabe setting up court there.”

She looked over at Florence, noticing her agitation. “There are other groups of Sisters hiding out here. Santiago’s going be picking them off next. Maybe as we work our way west we should try finding them and warning them to be careful.”

Pinocchio glanced over then looked at Florence, “Find the other Sisters, is that the plan for now?” He asked in driving to find the nearest down. “Going to take some doing unless she knows where they are at. Going to have to ask around...without getting into trouble,” he stressed in looking at Jess.

“That wasn’t my fault!” she blustered, blushing in embarrassment as she tried to defend herself. “If certain hands hadn’t been roaming where they didn’t belong, none of that would have happened!”

Florence had shook her head that no, she did not know where the others were.

Pinocchio sighed. “Look, we find a town, ask around, and get a place to sleep. For now, let’s all just try and keep a low profile okay?” He said in driving. It was another good couple of hours before they reached the next settlement. He pulled up to a place, not a bar, that looked okay. He secured the car then motioned for the women to follow him inside to get a room.

“Low profile, gotcha,” she said before getting out of the car. Making sure that Florence was in front of her, followed Pinocchio into the hotel. Unlike the bar, this place was cleaner and had a less seedy feeling than the bar. They might actually be able to get a good night’s sleep here.

The question would be how to pay for the room. Paper money was pretty much valueless and a barter system firmly entrenched now. The question would be what exactly what would be wanted in return. They didn’t have much to offer that could be spared.

Pinocchio had reached into the back seat of his car and pulled out a two bottles, one he kept in his jacket, the other, well he knew what to do with it. He walked up to the counter and looked about. The place smelled clean, looked clean, no unsightliness hanging about.

He placed the bottle upon the counter with a thud, making the guy behind it jump as he looked up, pulling a device from behind his ear.

“Room, large bed, hot water,” Pinocchio ordered, his hand still firmly gripped around the unopened bottle.

The man looked at it, “Is...is that real?” He asked staring at it, tongue running over lips.

Pinocchio looked at it, “About as real as you will ever get. “You give us what I asked for, AND no problems, unexpected guests...you get this and another one when we leave.”

The man looked at it then turned grabbing a key, “Honeymoon suite, around back, yours.” His eyes never left the bottle.

Pinocchio released it and took they keys. As soon as he let go, the bottle was snatched. Pinocchio motioned with his head, “You two go to the room, I’ll pull the car around,” he said in walking out to the car, shoeing some kids away.

Catching the keys that Mike tossed to her, Jess lead Florence around the corner of the building to the back where the honeymoon suite was. Not certain quite what to expect, she opened the door and stepped inside.

It was by no means luxurious compared to the old standards, but it looked palatial compared to some of the places she had stayed recently. The first room had a couch that could fold out into a bed, as well as a table and chairs. There was also a TV in it, although she doubted it worked still.

But it was the furniture in the second room that really caught her attention. “Damn it, how long has it been since I’ve slept in an actual bed?” she wondered aloud as she flopped down on the king sized mattress. Longer than she could remember offhand, she decided. Mike had said something about hot water as well. Which meant she could shower or (she dared to hope) even take a warm bath instead of dunking herself in a nearby stream like she was used to doing. “Well, I can say one thing, Mike. You sure know how to come through for a girl.”

Pinocchio walked in, closing the door behind him then placing a chair under the knob to make sure it stayed shut. He turned in looking about, not as impressed as her for he had been in Santiago’s City, living the good life not to long ago. He walked into the bedroom and started checking around, moving things around to make sure no “Holes” could be seen or used to peek through.

He then checked the bathroom, found the hot water did work and smirked. “I do my best,” He said in looking at them, “You two take this room, I’ll sleep out here,” He offered as he check to see if the couch folded out.

“Okay,” Jess said a bit uncertainly. He had said earlier that he wanted to talk about their tryst in the woods, but somehow she doubted that either of them would be eager to bring it up too quickly. Plus she had to admit, although she wouldn’t out loud, that part of her was hoping that it would be him and her sharing the bedroom and Florence on the couch. But she didn’t know how to ask that. Besides, she hadn’t told Florence what happened, although she didn’t doubt that the Sister somehow knew about her and Pinocchio. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise her if the Sisters had a prophesy about that as well as the coming messiah...

She started to snicker almost uncontrollably at that thought. She rubbed her hand over her face, trying to pull it together. “Okay, it’s official. I’ve lost what little bit of my mind I had left.” Taking a deep breath, Jess tried to make herself calm down. “How safe do you figure we are here? Think we’ll have enough time to look for any Sisters around here, or should we head further west?”

Pinocchio looked over to Jess as he heard the snickers that wanted to go into laughter. He guessed it was just the weariness of the drive, what had happened. It had finally caught up to her. He pulled off his jacket and threw it down, his vest still on and all his other equipment. He shrugged at her question, “I don’t know. Probably about as safe as any other place. Of course I wouldn’t let me guard down to much.” He threw himself down on the couch and sighed as his body stretched out.

“I’ll go get us something to eat later and ask around, see if anyone has seen them around,” he sighed in closing his eyes, “May cost a few rounds of ammo but we’ll find out. If not we go to the next place till we do.” He opened his blues and looked at Florence who seemed to tell him thank you in her eyes.

“Why don’t you two go take a shower, bath or something, relax, I’ll keep guard,” he said in sitting up and pulling off his holster for his sub machine gun and checking it over.

“Shower sounds great,” Jess said. She looked at Florence to see if she wanted one first, but the Sister didn’t seem to want to. “If I’m not out of there in thirty minutes, rescue me before I turn into a prune.” With that, she got up off the bed and went to the bathroom.

She kicked the door behind her and, with a tired sigh, started to pull off her shirt and bra. Her nose wrinkled as she looked at them, and wondered about the possibility of getting them washed. She’d ask about that later, she thought as she removed her jeans and underwear. It was horrible that what was once considered commonplace was now considered a rare luxury.

And speaking of rare luxuries, she stepped over the edge of the tub and turned onto the shower. Mike’s payment had been well spent she thought when she felt the hot water hit her skin. Changing her mind when she realized that it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, she hit the plug on the tub and let it fill with hot water. With another sigh, this one of contentment, she sank up to her neck and let her eyes shut.

Pinocchio sighed as he heard the water go on and Florence had left him alone. He was glad to be alone for a while, able to sort through his thoughts. He wondered sometimes how he got into these messes. Volunteering for the Realm, realizing this was just one big fucked up mess no one could win. Sent on a mission that there was no returning from, marrying a bitch of a woman and loving her.

He sighed as he leaned back and then stared up at the ceiling. This was not where he expected to be at all. More and more the thought of going to some island was sounding better and better each moment.

Jess allowed herself to soak for about ten minutes. Any longer and she would have fallen asleep in the tub. She scrubbed herself briskly with the threadbare cloth. She even ducked her head under to rinse her hair. Reluctantly, she got out of the tub, grabbing a towel to dry herself off.

Feeling a lot more relaxed than she had in a long time, she looked with slight distaste at her travel stained clothes. Jess really didn’t want to put them back on. Maybe Florence, or even Mike, had something she could change into. Wrapping another threadbare towel around her body, she gathered her clothes up and stepped out of the bathroom. “Whoever’s next, I’m done,” she called out.

Pinocchio glanced up, he paused a moment as he took her in, that towel barely covering, that look of being relaxed was upon her and she seemed to glow a little. He slowly looked away as Florence got up and headed right for the shower. She smiled at Jess then closed the door behind her, leaving the two alone.

Pinocchio was cleaning his guns and looked up again, “Enjoy the water?” He asked knowing full well she did, but hey, it was conversation. He was not one that was very good on conversation...case in point back when they...had their roll. He had a feeling she was going to be asking him soon about that...after all he did say they would talk...later...and now...was later.

“Yeah,” Jess said, walking over to the bed and sitting down. “Only problem is that now I’ve got to figure out how to get those,” she gestured to her pile of clothes, “clean. I don’t exactly have anything to spare. Not that I had much, but there wasn’t exactly anything salvageable left.”

She looked down, seemingly fascinated by the rough texture of the bedspread. “I just want to say that I appreciate what you’re doing. I mean, I know you just wanted to get the hell away from the Sisters, and here you’ve ended up saddled with me and Florence. We don’t really have any claim to your help, even with what happened in the woods.” Her face flushed a brighter red, but she didn’t look at him. “If you still want to head to the border, Florence and I will be able to get along no problem. Our deal was that you bring back the supplies, and you kept your end of the bargain. What happened afterward isn’t your fault and definitely not what you bargained for.”

Pinocchio looked over at Jess, setting his weapon down. He looked over to his bag. He had a spare tee-shirt and pants. Three in fact. He drew in a breath thinking, well nice legs and body, he wouldn’t mind her walking around in a towel for a while.

Pinocchio knew he should just leave. He should just get his shit together and start for the border, Canada or Mexico. Find a boat, sell his car and hop aboard. But something in him was telling him no. He lifted his head and gazed at her. Then he got up and went over to his bag. He pulled out the shirt and pants then walked back into the bed room. “I’ll stay with you till I know you are safe. How’s that?” he tossed the clothing down beside her then he leaned down, his mouth finding her neck.

Jess had been about to say thank you, for both the clothes and the offer of help, when she felt his lips find her neck. Her eyes fluttered closed at the warm sensation. She arched up to meet his touch, her head tilting to one side, baring her neck further to him in surrender.

He wasn’t sure why he was doing this. He shouldn’t be. Hell he should be keeping his distance from her. Don’t get attached. Remember what happened the last time.... He stopped kissing her neck, his breath seeming to hold as he remembered the betrayal. He dropped down to his knees before her, his eyes closing as he sat back. He opened them as he gazed to her. “We should really talk,” He said softly, his fingers lightly brushing the outside of her legs.

[Now?] she thought as her eyes popped open. [He wants to talk now?] Jess took a deep breath and tightened the towel around her. He was right. They should talk. About what happened in the woods, about why he got shot, about why she was different. And the last item was exactly what she didn’t want to talk.

She swallowed and nodded, shifting slightly and patting the side of the bed, indicating he should sit even with her. Her mouth was oddly dry as she looked into his eyes. It was hard to concentrate when she stared into them, just as it was hard to concentrate as he stroked her legs. “I guess we can’t dance around this much longer.”

Pinocchio shook his head as he pulled his hands away and then raised up to sit beside her. “No, it’s not good to anyway.” He said quietly. He looked over to her a little then drew in a breath. “I honestly don’t know where to begin.” He folded his hands upon his lap and tried to think of a good place to.

He closed his eyes, “You know I used to work for Santiago...well what you don’t know is...I was his right hand man. I was...responsible for a lot of what you see out here.” He looked to her.

Jess blinked up at him. She had been expecting something like he had been military and displeased Santiago, but not that he was that close to him. And how he had been able to amass such an impressive cache of weapons and food while others were scrabbling hand to mouth. It explained a lot about his bitterness, his fear, his guilt.

Without realizing it, she reached out and lightly put her hand on Pinocchio’s thigh. Her mind went back to finding him bleeding on the street from a fatal gunshot wound. “Is that why you were...the way I found you?” They were both alike in that way. They were both on the run. “But, why?” she said, looking up at him. “Why would he turn against you...” she trailed off before completing the sentence. “Unless you betrayed him?”

Pinocchio saw the look of disbelief in those eyes. She had expected something else, probably that he was a grunt and nothing more. But he wasn’t...he had gained the man’s trust and worked his way up, took it so...heartlessly. And at the time why the hell not. It was just a game...right?

She still touched him, he looked down as she did, seeming to feel something, a bond of sorts. He slowly looked up to her as she finished her sentence softly. He drew in a breath. “I betrayed him in a way...yes.” He looked away then reached into his pocket. He pulled out something wrapped in a tissue and handed it to her. It was a gold band, a wedding bend.

“I saw what was going on around me. The death, the empty promises he was feeding. How only the strong and the followers were allowed in his city. He picked and choosed who would live and who would die. I went along for a while but then...” he sighed.

“I was married. She also worked for Santiago but was a civilian...not military. I feel in love with her...more like she made me fall for her. She weaved her spell around me. Stuck her tongue in my ear...I couldn’t run fast enough.” He was looking at the floor, the patterns forming the patterns of his messed up life.

“I didn’t want to do it any more. I told him...she was there. He said it was the stress, was getting to me...take some time off and really THINK if over. He claimed I was his best man...” He snorted, “I was expendable is what he meant.” He looked at the door.

“The moment I left his office...I was dead. That night I went home...I had not a clue of what was going on...what was to happen. My dear wife,” He spat out, “Came home, fixed dinner, romantic...we made love...then when she went to get us something to drink, she came back and I was looking down the barrel of gun. Her blue eyes were ice cold. She pulled the trigger and...that is when you found me.” He looked to her. “For being tired of all the killing. For wanting to just lead a normal life for a change with someone I love...I was killed...shot...murdered. They think I’m dead and I would like to keep it that way.”

He got up, knowing now she wouldn?t want anything to do with him. Not after that story. “Keep the ring, sell it, get what you can from it and get the hell away from here. Take her with you,” he motioned, “It’s not safe. Just...get as far west or north as you can...anywhere but here.”

Jess had stayed silent as he spoke, for fear that he would stop if she interrupted. She looked down at the ring in her hand, It could buy a lot out here on the frontier – a home, protection, a way out of this hellhole. This was just what was needed to run away, disappear, and begin anew somewhere far, far away. Just what he needed to get farther away from Santiago. His ticket out of here. And he was giving it to her and Florence with no strings attached. That proved to her, despite what he kept saying, that he wasn’t the monster that he claimed to be.

Standing up, she placed the ring on the table beside the bed. “You made a mistake, Mike. You thought that it was only a game. So you played it for all that you were worth. You do what you have to do to survive in this digital hell, and tried to get out while you still had your soul. Just because you were on Santiago’s side of the fence didn’t mean you was any more safe. It’s probably even more dangerous in there than out here. And you found that out the hard way.”

Jess walked towards him. “I’m not a priestess or a holy person. I can’t offer you absolution for your sins. All I can offer is understanding.” She lightly, almost cautiously rested a hand on his shoulder. “The way I see it, what’s happened to you, what your wife did to you, is punishment enough for what you’ve done. But I won’t judge you by actions I haven’t seen you commit. I can’t. I’ve done thing that are just as horrible.”

Pinocchio looked at her, “I didn’t make a mistake, I sold my soul to the devil.” He sighed, “And I’m paying the price...ten times over.” He turned to face her. He didn’t get it. He figured she would be appalled by what he told her. He could see Florence...in a sense not... She was a healer, she forgave. But this woman...

He frowned as Jess went on and he tipped his head. He didn’t get it. Just as horrible as he? Did she take lives willingly. Cause she was ordered to? Cause she...”What do you mean...just as horrible?” He didn’t get it at all. Not this beautiful woman.

Now it was Jess’s turn to withdraw. She let out a heavy sigh and pulled back. “You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.”

“Have you ever heard of Project Bisclavret?” She paused a moment before continuing, trying to figure out the best way to explain it. “You’ve worked with K-9 units? Police dogs? Search and rescue teams? Bomb sniffers? They can be trained to do wonderful stuff, those animals.”

“But what if it they take it a step further? What if they were able to send the police dog into an alley and have it report back where the suspect was hiding? Or how many live people are trapped in collapsed building? Or tell you if the bomb is C4 or TNT or a dummy just by sniffing? All without risking a human life?”

She walked over to the bed and sat down on it. She couldn’t look at him and stared sightlessly at a spot on the floor midway between them. “That was the goal of Project Bisclarvet. I don’t know if it started out military or a private outfit, but it quickly became military. They started breeding for a new kind of ‘smart dog’ but it quickly became clear that just adapting canine DNA wasn’t enough. Although smarter than average, it became clear a human intelligence was needed for what they wanted.”

Now that she was talking, the words were coming easier, even though she was reaching the more personal part of the story. “But by that time, the parameters of the experiment had changed. An assassin was wanted, one with a good disguise, and the ferocity of an animal. Something more feral than the domestic dog, yet retaining that sense of loyalty. And so they took ‘volunteers.’ Some of them probably knew what they were getting into. But some of them were lied to.”

“One of the first generation of...werewolves, for lack of a better word, was ready and a safe place was needed to test it. They didn’t want to risk her getting loose in the general population. Harsh Realm was online and an isolated subroutine created to contain the testing facility. While there, every possible attack was thrown at her. Wild animals, other werewolves, Vcs, and...real people. She slaughtered them all.”

“However, whatever Santiago did to take over the Realm corrupted the subroutine, opening a port key between it and the main game. I took my chance, and I escaped.” Jess let out another heavy sigh, and looked at him for the first time since she had started talking. “I’m that first generation werewolf, Michael.”

Pinocchio stayed where he was at, didn’t move as he listened. He wasn’t surprised if what she was talking about did indeed start out private but turned military. Most things often did when it involved the government. They just come in and take over when they feel they would benefit or the hard work was already done.

As she moved away, he shifted to face her, seeing the...hardness of this all upon her. She was telling something personal he guessed. Just as he did. But then the word came...werewolves. Okay...what the fuck was that all about?

He raised an eyebrow at the word...she. What she said about corruption of the game being taken when Santiago grained control made sense. Santiago was worried about that, wanted them...taken care of. These openings, leaks in the program. He wanted them sealed. There were several in the realm leading to subroutine programs. Preliminary sub programs that were first tested.

“You...” he said from where he was at. “Okay some of what you said makes sense but...werewolves? Might as well tell me they have vampires here as well.” He shook his head. “What you said about glitches, yeah, I get but the rest...” he just couldn’t curl his military training or even his own...beliefs around what she was telling him.

Jess had expected his reaction to be something like that. She hadn’t quite believed it herself, and she was the one experiencing it. “Before you think I’m crazy, let me prove it to you.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, concentrating. Given how she had almost lost control and Changed (as she called it) in the car, she figured it would be east to shapeshift enough to prove that she was telling him the truth, but not far enough to put him in any danger.

Except nothing was happening. No tingling of the skin as her hair thickened into fur. No ache as her bones stretched and shifted. No having to roll her tongue out of the way to keep it from being punctured with her fangs.

After a full minute of trying, she let out a whimper as she dropped her head into her hands, frustrated. “I don’t get it,” she said. “Whenever I don’t want it to happen, I’m fighting to keep from Changing. The one time I do, I can’t.” She glanced at Pinocchio sideways through her fingers. God, what was he thinking of her now. Well, she could guess the answer to that. “And now you probably think I’m a complete nut.”

Pinocchio stood there, arms crossed as he waited to see what she was going to do. Damn she really believed this. Could have been a corruption in her coding, making her think this actually happened.

He let his arms drop as he looked at her then sighed as he walked over, he sat down on the bed beside her. “You know...lot of things happen in the Realm...maybe somehow when all this happened,” he motioned around, “When Santiago took over, your...coding got...written into and this was all...” he shrugged, “Substituted in so you really believe it.”

Eyes closed and head bowed, Jess leaned slightly against him. He was rationalizing, coming up with alternate explanations that made more sense than believing in a B horror movie monster. If she hadn’t Changed before being plugged in, she might have believed that too. “I wish that were true.”

But wishing would do no good. Jess looked up at Pinocchio, about to ask how he would explain the slight physical changes he had seen, how rapidly she healed, if her code had been changed. Instead she found herself aware that the only thing she was wearing was a very ratty towel. “I, uh, guess I should get dressed,” her mouth suddenly dry.

Mike had leaned into Jess as well, hearing a heavy sigh coming from her. He somehow felt though his explanation was not satisfactory for her. But it was all he could think of. And possibly the coding corruption wasn’t allowing her to believe anything else. He turned his head just as she looked at him.

Just then, Pinocchio as well became suddenly aware of what she was wearing. He looked down at her, her skin smelling clean and her eyes were soft. He noticed she had not moved, but then neither had he. He only gave a nod but found himself leaning down to her, ready to kiss her.

Jess held still, frozen in the moment as he leaned closer. Werewolf or corrupt code, he didn’t seem to care, and she wasn’t certain why that thought suffused her with warmth. She was anticipating eagerly the brush of his breath against her cheeks and his warm lips on hers...

But then the bathroom door came open and Florence walked out. Pinocchio was suddenly up like a shot, causing Jess to fall over. “Uhhh, I’m...going to go out and see what kind of food I can scrounge up.”

Florence looked between the two but then looked at Mike and shook her head, pointing back to the shower.

He shook his head, “Later,” he started heading for the door but then Florence grabbed him and spun him around to cause him to head right into the bathroom. He looked back at her as she shooed him inside then closed the door behind him.

A flush crept up Jess’s cheeks, and she scrabbled back up onto her feet, making sure the towel still covered her even though Pinocchio was occupied by Florence. Her shoulder smarted where she had landed on it, but almost immediately the pain faded.

She walked over looking at Jess, her body had been covered in clothing, having brought it in there with her. She smirked, as if telling Jess, she knew what was up between them.

“What?” Jess said, trying to bluff Florence. She didn’t think the Sister believed her. “It’s not like anything happened...now,” she quickly amended. Jess didn’t look at her as she grabbed the shirt Mike had given her and pulled it on. It was too big, but she wasn’t going to be choosy. “And I told him. Everything.” She started pulling on the pants. “Not that he believes me,” she muttered. “But in ten days, he will have to,” she muttered. “And then what happens? He won’t have anything to do with me then.”

Decently covered and somewhat re-centered, she looked over at Florence. It was amazing the transformation that the woman had gone through in such a short time from mild mannered healer to the woman who knocked out two men with a pool cue in a bar brawl. As much as Jess had lost, to her it seemed that Florence had lost even more. “How are you hanging in, Florence?”

Florence looked over at Jess, hearing the shower go on and then a groan. She smiled then looked back to Jess. She nodded she was okay as she sat down on the floor and started putting on her boots. She sighed in looking at Jess as she folded her arms there. She wanted to tell her that things would work out. That this was what they both had to go through, she and Mike.

He was the one...she knew it. He already proven the protector part was in him. He wanted to protect the Sister, now he was protecting them. He could have just left them but he didn’t and well...when the time comes...he will know.

Jess let out a sigh of her own and fell backwards on the bed, letting her legs dangle off the side of the mattress. This was all happening so quickly. Her and Mike, the slaughter of the Sisters, the fight in the bar, her disbelieved confession. She rolled over on her stomach, folding her arms under her head as she listened to the noise of the shower. Jess wasn’t certain what lead her to tell him about her lycanthropy. Although she hadn’t quite expected him to come up with the rationalization of corrupted code. But if he stayed around her for any length of time, he’d see that she did actually Change. And then he’d see what kind of fighter she really was...

Fighter. Warrior. Jess sat back up and looked over at Florence, brow knitted in thought. “He’s part of it, isn’t he? Part of he prophesy?” The messiah was to be accompanied by a healer and a warrior. Florence fit the healer part, but was she supposed to be the warrior? And if not, was Mike? And if he was, where did she fit in?

Florence looked away from Jess and didn’t show her anything but her back as she turned around, acting as if fixing something. She thought about the prophesy and she wondered if this man really was and truly a part of it. The others had thought so, the Elder seemed to know. But...

Florence sighed and she knew better. She turned back and nodded a yes.

Just then Mike walked out, seeing her nod. “What she saying yes to?” He asked, his blue eyes seeming to hold a more relaxed look to them.

Damn. He was back before she could ask Florence if she was involved in the prophesy. And if he was involved like Florence seemed to think, Mike didn’t need to be burdened with that knowledge now. He was dealing with enough between being on the run, his guilt, and coping with what his wife did to him. And he probably wouldn’t believe the prophesy any more than he did that she was a werewolf. Jess didn’t exactly lie, but not the full truth. “She was answering a question I asked about what she believes.”

She took in his relaxed state. He was a handsome man, and even more so when the perpetual scowl she had seen on his face was gone. They were so much alike, both carrying so much pain and both feeling so unworthy. She found herself thinking that he was a man that she could easily fall in love with. That was the last thing she needed, the last thing he needed...

...and probably already too late.

“Okaaay,” Pinocchio looked between the two women then shook his head as he walked back out into the other room. One could hear him putting his boots back on. Once finished he leaned back on the couch and was looking up at the ceiling.

Florence walked over and sat down beside Jess. She looked at the young woman and placed a hand over hers. She looked back out the door to where they could barely see the man on the couch. She looked to Jess for she knew both would go through a lot, good and bad, healing and hurting.

Jess followed Florence’s gaze, and then quickly looked back to her. She didn’t understand what the Sister was trying to communicate to her. Something about Mike? Something about her? “What is it, Florence?” she asked. “What are you trying to tell me?”

She then grabbed Jess and started pushing her, making her go out to him before turning herself and crawling back upon the bed to curl up and get some sleep.

“Wait, Florence, what are you doing?” Jess asked as she was unceremoniously shoved out of the bedroom. She turned around to step back into the bedroom, only to find the door shut in her face. “Okay...” She wondered if this was a dog felt like when it was put out for the night.

She turned around and gave Pinocchio a half smile. “Looks like you’re stuck with me for the night.” The question was where was she going to sleep, if they got any sleep at all. He had almost kissed her, but that could have been a fluke. “I’m used to sleeping on the ground, so don’t feel that you have to be chivalrous and offer me the couch. Unless you want to to share,” she added, not quite believing that she had just said it out loud.

Mike turned his head, hearing the door close. He sat up more, bringing his arms to his knees and leaning upon them. He wondered what that was all about. He looked at Jess, a little smirk then played upon his lips. “Who said I was going to offer to sleep on the couch?” He leaned back as if to make a point.

He then patted the spot beside him. “I can share,” He informed her, reading upon her face that she was wondering where her question came from. He figured eventually he would be carrying her in to join Florence. But for now, he would relax with her.

She smirked at him as she walked over to the couch. “Why am I so surprised by that?” Although it wasn’t true. He had offered, no given, them hard to come by supplies almost without hesitation. Paid for the room for all of them without asking for anything else. Offered to see them to safety. Most men Jess knew wouldn’t have hesitated to demand that she put out in return.

She sat down in the spot that he had vacated. “Hopefully Florence will fall asleep and I’ll sneak back in there,” she said. “It’s funny,” Jess mused. “It’s almost like she knows about what happened between us.”

Pinocchio looked over at Jess then the door. He shook his head as he snorted then looked back. “I don’t know. Those women are a mystery. Sometimes...I feel like I know what she wants to say without her trying to even tell me.” He turned his head to Jess.

“They’re like that,” Jess said, still looking at the door. “They all just have this way of...looking...at you, almost as if they can see right into your soul. They get you to tell you things that you don’t even want to tell yourself.”

He reached over and handed her a pillow then pulled her to lay down so her head was laying upon his lap. “get some sleep,” He said in looking out the window. He was rubbing her arm then started stroking her neck and hair, all of his touches light.

Jess gave a soft sigh, relaxing against him, His touch was meant to be soothing, but it did little to ease her towards sleep. Her own hand started to gently stroke his thigh, her touches equally light. His scent, clean but musky, filled her nostrils. She suppressed a tremor that ran along her spine.

She glanced up at him, intending to ask if he saw anything out there. Instead she was struck with how he looked, the pain and weariness etched on his face. Jess wanted somehow to ease that pain, but didn’t know how. She pushed up and climbed up his body so they were almost eye to eye. “Mike? I just want to say...” Except that she couldn’t get the words out. ‘Thank you’ seemed so trite. ‘I understand’ he wouldn’t believe. And ‘I think I love you’ would be too frightening, to her.

Mike looked to Jess as she moved. He wondered what she was doing but then she got up right to him. He was looking into her eyes, his blues caressing. He wondered what she wanted to say but looking at her lips he didn’t care, just wanted her to kiss him.

His hand moved to the back of her head then leaned in and he kissed her hard. His other arm curled around her slender body and pressed her close against his body.

Jess melted against him, tension she didn’t realize she was carrying melting from her body. One hand reached up to cup his cheek, tips just barely brushing his skin. A shiver ran down her body as his arm pulled her even closer.

Her hand slipped down his neck to stroke his chest. Through the thin fabric, she could feel the slight rise where the microchip was implanted. Hers was long gone, gouged out once she figured out that it was being used to track her as well as monitor her vitals like she had originally been told. He would have to get rid of his too, but she wasn’t about to bring that up now.

Instead she shifted so she laid fully on him, pulling the pillow that he had placed on his lap to one side so there was nothing between them other than their clothing. A dim corner of her mind was worried about the fact that he didn’t believe what she had told him, but the other argued that maybe if he could overlook it. And a third more primal part told the other two to shut up and enjoy this as her kiss grew more passionate and violent.

Mike kissed Jess deeply feeling that primal effort as well. He moaned softly into her, his hands roaming her body, moving up and down her back then around to the front. He cupped her breast and gave them a little squeeze before curling his arms around her once again.

He pulled from the kiss and in a strong arm move it seemed, he lifted her up and then laid her down on the couch, his body following as he positioned himself over her. His body pressed into hers with its weight. He then lavished her neck with kisses as one hand that wasn’t supporting him was working to get her clothing off, starting with her shirt first.

Jess arched beneath him, trying to assist him as he pulled the fabric away from her body. Her own hands weren’t idle as she reached down and peeled his shirt up and off just about the same time he bared her chest.

She scratched her nails lightly down his spine and then squeezed his ass. Her legs fell further open, cradling him against her. She resumed kissing him in short, nipping bites, devouring his mouth, but careful not to bite him. If she bit him accidentally, she wasn’t certain that she could live with herself.

Mike groaned as bare skin touched bare skin. He hated having to stop kissing her so she could get his shirt off but he was rewarded by that heat. He kept lavishing her neck with kisses and nips. Hips pressing down into her sex and pushing a little.

Damn he was hard for her. For the first woman he saw since that day not to long ago. Was he whore, a slut. Did the marriage really not mean anything and he was fooling himself? Or was he just doing this to know...it wasn’t him, that someone could still want him.

It didn’t matter at this moment, her hands were doing all the right things. He kept up the same pace as she, reaching between them to undo his pants and hers as well. “Want you, need you,” He breathed.

Jess’s hips lifted as he peeled her pants away. “Need you just as much,” she whispered back. And unknown to him, she was having the same doubts, was wondering why she was acting like a bitch in heat, and if the emotions she felt were just simple lust combined a need to feel human again.

But now was the wrong moment to be contemplating that. Not when she slipped her hand into his fly and began stroking his cock, relishing its length and hardness. With her other hand, she shoved at his pants. The only thing now on her mind was getting him naked.

Mike was pulling her pants off, getting them away from this female body under him. His mouth still lavished her but then as he was sliding his hand up a bare leg after her clothing had been tossed aside, he gasped. She had touched him, gripped him and was now stroking him. He shivered under her touch and goose bumps broke out over his body.

He slowly brought his head up to hers then covered her lips with his. He knew what she wanted, but he was slowing them down, savoring this moment yet again. He curled his arm around her and rolled a little on the large couch, placing him to the back and she was pressed to him. His pants were down to his thighs as he was caressing her. All doubt, all thought was now leaving his head and this moment was all he wanted.

She whimpered as he held her still, until she realized why he was slowing her down and what he wanted. They were relatively safe here and could take the time to enjoy the moment and savor the sensations. It didn’t have to be a fast, frantic coupling like had been in the forest. It could be something more.

Making herself slow down, Jess released his cock and returned his kiss, her tongue exploring his mouth. She pulled herself closer to him, her leg hooking around his waist to anchor herself next to him. Her movements became languid as her hands roamed over his back. A small voice in the back of her mind still argued that she shouldn’t be doing this, but there was no way she was going to stop now.

Mike moaned softly, a hand going down to hook upon her leg. The skin was soft there. He caressed it, his rough hands smoothing across the flawless skin. He moaned softly, yet again, as his hand moved from the bend of her knee up along her thigh and then around the curve of her ass.

He pulled back slowly from the kiss. His cock throbbed between them, pinned there by their bodies. His eyes bore into hers with something that was hard to make out. He leaned in and kissed her neck, working his way slowly around to her shoulder and over it.

He then pulled her back a little where his head dropped down to a pert little nipple which he teased with his tongue and breath before the started to suckle upon it.

Jess let out a sharp gasp, arching up and pushing her nipple further into his mouth. She hadn’t expected this tenderness. Before it had been a hard and fast rut, both of them seeking solace in a physical act. But now there was something more, something she wasn’t ready to voice

Meanwhile, her hands weren’t idle at all. They roamed over Mike’s back, kneading sore spots and tension away from the hard muscles, learning every curve, every bump of his spine, coming up to tangle in his hair and keep him close.

Her nipple was hard and ready for the taking. Mike did not hesitate to do so either. He had worked it to that point and the way she gasped and arched up into him, he knew she liked it. His mouth kept worshiping her, even as he groaned in feeling her hand tangle in his dark curls.

Lifting his head, Mike covered her lips as his body shifted to move over her. Having removed his pants he now was positioned just right except he hadn’t enter her yet. No, instead he was rubbing, teasing it seemed as he breathed heavily, teasing himself and her it seemed.

One hand then moved down her body and hooked a leg, pulling it up to his waist. This opened Jess up and as he kissed her harder and deeper, he started his push with a shift of his hips, breaching her opening and slowly working his way deeper. It was so hard for Jess not to urge him to move faster. This tender slowness was a sweet agony. Planting her other foot flat on the bed she arched her hips up, easing his entry inside of her. She returned his kisses with all her passion.

When he was fully inside of her, her hands slid down to his ass. She squeezed each cheek as she relished the feeling of Mike stretching her wide. “Don’t move,” she whispered. “Not yet.” She arched underneath him, trying to get that much closer, to get him that much further inside her.

Mike groaned into Jess’ skin then shivered as he became fully seated within her. He hadn’t felt like this with Inga, that he knew for sure and that was probably what was scaring him. Yes, his love making with his wife was special but with this woman, he could feel more of a....a bond there. It was almost as if she knew what he wanted, their hearts beating as one.

He looked down at her, her whispered breath penetrating his thoughts. He nodded a little in not moving, just feeling the warmth of her around him. He wasn’t going to move unless she wanted him too. So he turned his head and started kissing at her arm then shoulder as his own moved under that body to support her.

Jess didn’t move except for a slight tremble. Her eyes were closed as she savored the sensation of being stretched. When her eyes opened and she was surprised to see the tenderness in his gaze, and maybe something more. For the moment, all her worries about the Realm faded away, just leaving the two of them.

Her hands stroked up and down his back, enjoying the feel of smooth skin and firm muscles. She was enjoying being pinned beneath his strong body, but she wanted more. After a few moments, she flexed her hips against Mike, letting him know that she was ready.

Mike groaned into that soft neck as her hips moved. It made him move from the force in which Jess moved them both. He raised his head and looked down at her. He didn’t say anything as his hips started to move, slow but forceful. Hooking his hips just at the end of each thrust.

A grunt left his lips before he leaned down and captured her lips once again, his weight now bearing down upon her as he starts to move faster and harder. His breath was being drawn in through his nose and a little growl left him.

Being as small as the couch was, his leg slipped off the couch and it sent the two tumbling upon the floor, him on the bottom and she on top. He hit it with a thud and a grunt, a little shocked that it happened.

She was moaning, moving underneath him. Each thrust he filled her, rubbing and hitting the right places, bringing her more and more pleasure. She felt like she was floating, tumbling through space...

...and let out a loud ‘oof!’ when she landed on top of Mike.

Lifting her head, she looked at Mike, and couldn’t help but laugh at the stunned look on his face. She gently stroked his face as she sat up slightly. “You okay, Mike? Didn’t break anything...important?”

Mike looked up at Jess, his hands sliding to her waist as she sat up. He felt his breath return and a little smile turned up the corners of his lips. “I don’t think so,” He then chuckled. He reached up and pulled her down at the same time nearly sitting up. He kissed her deeply while leaning back down.

His legs bent and dug into the rug. He then started moving his hips and he groaned deeply as his one hand slid to her ass to push her down upon him, “No... Nothing Important broken,” He murmured over her lips.

“So I see,” Jess said, as she sheathed him. She sat up a little straighter, pushing her chest out a bit more. She squeezing her vaginal muscles, tightening her grip on him. Pulling her legs up, she started to ride him.

Tilting forward again, she resumed kissing him. Her fingers lightly scratched down and up his chest, stopping only to tease his nipples.

Pinocchio looked up at Jess as she sat up, his hands going to her hips, thumbs gently rubbing the skin. He closed his blues just briefly as she squeezed him and shifted upon him. His grip also tightened upon her but just a little.

He growled a little as Jess scraped her nails down his chest, his body shivered as well. He moved his hips in time with hers, that was till she teased his nipples. He sat right up with a very sharp intake of air. He then latched his lips to hers, hard, in a fever kiss. His mouth exploring hers. His hands rising her up and down at a faster pace.

Her nails scratched over his ribs to his sides, digging in for purchase as their thrusts sped up. Jess pulled herself closer, as if wanting to melt inside of him. To fuse them into one being, to not be certain where she ended and he began.

She was forced by a need for air to break off the kiss. Jess tilted her head back, adding a rolling motion to the plunges of her hips as she let out a series of short, sharp cries. Her spine went stiff and a shudder swept through her from head to toe, quivering in his grasp.

Mike gasped at the kiss was broken. He too groaned as well, his head pushing back as her plunges were diving him insane with desire. He looked up as she cried out. She was going ridged and he felt the shudder go from head to toe.

He pushed her down upon him harder. A driving force to bring him to the brink of release. It was a feeling he liked. It took away all that was around him. All the heart ache, all the problems, it took away the Realm. He just wished he could feel it all the time.

Still shaking, Jess slumped forward to rest against him. Aftershocks were racing through her body, and she still gave little gasps as she shifted against him. Her fingers were clutching his skin tightly. For the moment, every worry and concern was driven out of her head.

Lifting her head, she looked up into those blue eyes. It gladdened her to see the pain had retreated, if only for the moment. She stretched up to kiss him again, resisting the urge to say something in a smart ass voice that would ruin the moment.

Mike’s head dropped back and his sighed, his grip also loosening as well. He finally moved a hand up her back, gently caressing it with the lightest of touches. His fingers seemed to dance before reaching her hair and petting her lightly.

As Jess lifted her head, he turned his eyes more toward her, meeting hers. And if reading her mind, “No smart ass remarks,” He smirked that charming smile of his, blue eyes dancing. He leaned up and met her kiss, his arms going tighter around her as he seemed to deepen it as it dragged on.

She chuckled lightly into the kiss at first. He already knew her that well, that she made those flippant statements as a form of protection and camouflage. It was a way to seemly distance herself from feeling too deeply.

As the kiss deepened, she melted further against him. They both smelled of sex and sweat and each other, a heady combination to Jess’s enhanced olfactory sense. And if she hadn’t been concentrating on the feel of her tongue playing over his lips, she might have wondered why she felt so bonded to this man.

Rolling them slightly, Mike turned them to their sides. In doing so he broke the kiss. Slowly he pulled from Jess, groaning a little as he did so. He then twisted his body, reaching back behind him to get a blanket and the pillow. He motioned for her to lift her head so he could place it under her.

He then covered them, seeming to make them at home right there on the floor. Mike had slept in worse places. When he first entered the realm, he slept where he could. Cold hard ground, dingy floors, even in the back set of his car once he got it. This was a luxury compared to some.

He laid his head down, seemingly being a very different man that what would probably wake in the morning or in a few hours.

Jess shifted her head to share the pillow with him, resettling her arm over his side. He seemed different at the moment. His guard was down, and she couldn’t help but wonder if it would still be when they woke up. She doubted it given what she had seen earlier, but she couldn’t help but hope.

She let her eyes close. It was warm and comfortable next to him. And hopefully it would be for quite a while. Maybe the next few days and nights. Or at least until the next full moon. She bit her lip, and then forced her muscles to relax. She’d face that night when it came. And if he wasn’t ready to believe, she’d try to hide it.

Moving by feel, Jess kissed his forehead and then snuggled a little closer. Her breathing slowed, and she drifted into a light doze.

Mike slept, his arm around her and it drew Jess close to him. He slept soundly for about an hour, then it started again. The night mares. The dreams of Inga shooting him. He twitched and moaned, letting go of Jess and rolling to his back. His arm would jerk a few times.

And then he sat up quickly. His hand was over his chest again, his eyes wide with a fear and shock. Then his blue eyes would blink and slowly they were turning cold once again. He sagged, slumping his shoulders as he realized he was still alive, still stuck in this hell, never able to escape.

Jess had fallen into a deeper sleep than usual, trusting her animal instincts to wake her if anything went wrong. Stretching out against him, she soaked up his warmth, unaccustomed to sleeping hear someone. She felt Mike shift away from her, and opened one eye but immediately shut it. But when he sat up was when she came back to full consciousness.

She sat up as well, gently placing one hand on his back, hoping not to startle him. His eyes had that flat, closed off look once more. Something clearly had upset him and he was retreating, although she wasn’t certain what. “Mike?” she asked softly.

Mike closed his eyes, his heart rate slowly. He lowered his hand from his chest then carefully got up. He grabbed his clothing and started pulling them on. “I’m going to get us something to eat.” he stated while he finished dressing.

He was quiet, the images still fresh in his mind. He pulled his boots tight, lacing them up then started strapping his gun back on. He knew or felt Jess wanted more from him. For him to talk, to open up. But now...was not the time. He feared he would snap at her, at Florence and just leave them which...at this moment, wouldn’t have bothered him on bit.

Jess watched him get dressed. She wished he would open up and tell her what was troubling him, but he wouldn’t. Besides, she hadn’t exactly been forthcoming at first. Sometimes she wondered if she would be dealing with two different Pinocchios, and how long she would be

She gathered up her clothes and started to pull them on as well. Knowing that it would only probably make the situation worse, but she couldn’t help but ask. “You want some company, or you want to be alone?”

Mike turned his head to her quickly with a defensive look on his face. “What? You think I’m going to leave or something?” He snapped out as he stood. “I don’t need your help. And I’ll return.” He grabbed his jacket and pulled it on, heading for the door in a few quick steps.

He stopped a moment, taking not his hand was shaking as he reached for the chair to move it from under the knob. He moved it then drew in a breath, “I just want to be alone for a while,” His voice softer before he left out.

Backing down, she nodded. Once the door closed, Jess pulled her legs up against her. She crossed her arms and rested her forehead on them. She had overstepped a boundary for certain. Problem was she couldn’t quite label what was going on between them. Lust, a mutual need being fulfilled, if they were just convenient for each other, or something more.

She looked at the closed bedroom door, thinking. She didn’t particularly want to go back into where Florence was sleeping and disturb her. Besides, the couch and blanket still smelled of him. Deciding the floor was still the best, she wrapped the blanket around her, inhaled deeply, laid back down, and closed her eyes.

Sleep was a long time coming.

Pinocchio was gone for a few hours. Having stopped at the bar, he got a few much needed drinks. He needed to clear his mind of Inga. Of the feeling she left in him. Of everything. He then headed out, searching for food, real food and gas.

The gas was easy. Hooking up with a guy, he got a couple of cans, filled up the tank. Traded a little trinket he found for it. Then the food. He tried to find fresh apples, bananas, hard boiled eggs. The least he could do to make up for snapping at Jess like he did.

He felt guilty inside. At least now that he cooled off. Before he could have cared less. Just got in his car and drove. But there was something about her that was just, not allowing him to do that. He still couldn’t figure out what it was. If it was just the great sex or...guilt over the sisters.

Whatever it was...he would figure it out later and hope it wouldn’t tarnish him even more.

It had been a restless few hours, but Jess had managed to get some rest. She sat up and yawned, feeling her muzzle extend slightly and then retract as she stretched and shook her head. “Great,” she muttered in disgust. “*Now* I can Change.” Standing up, she stretched her arms above her head and then relaxed.

Grabbing the blanket and pillow, she tossed the pillow back on the couch and started folding the blanket. She could still smell their combined scents on both items. Jess let out a heavy sigh and flopped back on the couch, legs stretched out in front of her. “What the hell is wrong with me?” she asked as if expecting an answer. Here she was, sleeping with a man who probably didn’t give a damn when it came down to it, something she vowed she would never do. And to make matters worse, she was allowing herself to become emotionally attached to him.

Giving up on finding an answer on her own, she walked over to the bedroom door and leaned her ear against it, trying to determine if Florence was awake or not. She didn’t want to disturb her if she wasn’t, but could use the company if she was.

Just then the front door opened. Mike walked in holding some things that were covered. He looked over to see Jess at the bedroom door and then it opened as well. Florence stood there, rubbing her eyes with one hand. She was dressed and she then smiled when she saw the two of them.

“Morning,” He grumbled in closing the door behind him. He walked over to the small table and then placed the wrapped up bundle down. He opened it up to reveal what he had managed to get. All fresh including the bread and butter.

His blues drifted over to Jess even as Florence pushed past her and went over to the food. She was picking it up and examining it, shocked he even got it. He moved away and over to her. “I’m...sorry about how I acted earlier.” He moved past her and headed for the bathroom.

Watching him disappear, Jess was surprised that she had gotten that apology. “Will wonders never cease,” she said once he was out of earshot, making a mental note to apologize to him as well for pushing. She crossed over to the table and looked at the food. She then looked back at the bathroom and smiled.

Selecting an apple and a slice of bread liberally buttered and sat down and began to nibble at it, mentally shaking her head. Just when she started to think that she had Mike figured out, he did something that blew here assumptions out of the water.

Having downed the bread and starting on the apple, she called out to Mike. “Have you eaten yet?” she called back to the bathroom.

Mike stood in the bathroom, staring at himself in the mirror for the longest time. He then snapped out of his own induced trance and went about his business. When finished, he was washing his hands when he heard Jess yelling to him.

He walked out, “Yeah, I did,” He lied for his food was in the liquid form and right now food just didn’t want to be settled atop of it right now. Besides, he had MRE’s he could eat later. This was for them to enjoy.

He walked over tossing his body down into a chair. Florence was eating happily though her looks between the two told them she knew something was up.

Though not quite believing him, Jess still reached for another piece of bread as she bit into the apple. Fruits and breads were a rare treat for her since she tended to live on meat she caught. That way there had been more for the Sisters and those they were healing.

She did make herself pause to say something on her mind. “I’m sorry about this morning too,” she said, looking at him with slightly downcast eyes. “I didn’t mean to push or imply anything.” Trust between them was going to be hard to establish. But then he had warned her of that from the beginning. She just had to remember it.

Pinocchio looked up to Jess, his lounging position causing him to not look very far. He pulled himself up right then leaned forward. He placed his hand upon her leg, “I know,” was all he said before pulling back and returning to his slouched position. His eyes however told the story. It told her he understood what she meant.

She gave Mike a small smile and a slight nod. The message was received and she slumped back as well, taking a more relaxed pose as she sat on the bed.

Florence looked between the two then shook her head. People in love, she didn’t understand. Always tip toeing around issues and never admitting to what they felt. She shifted then saw the eggs. She grabbed one and tossed it to Jess with a smile.

Jess let out a little yelp and caught the egg, praying that it was hardboiled. Fortunately it was, she discovered when the shell crunched slightly in her hand. “Very funny, Florence,” she muttered as she started to peel the egg.

“So what’s our next step?” she asked before biting into the egg. They couldn’t stay here forever, she reflected as she chewed. Santiago would start making a push to expand his territory eventually. And those who resisted would have to head westward, be assimilated, or be destroyed. “Do you know of any Sisters in this area, Florence?”

Mike leaned back more into his chair as he thought. He looked over to Florence who looked down and drew in a breath. Mike had this feeling that Florence didn’t want to find them. That she had other plans.

He leaned forward in his chair, hands on knees, “She doesn’t want to go back to them.” His gaze was focused upon Florence. Florence however did not look at him.

Florence looked up at the two, how could she tell them that the other sisters would be just like the tribe that was killed. That they would not fight. And she wanted to fight. Yes she was a healer but she also needed to heal the land of the cancer that was spreading upon it and the other sisters just would not understand.

“Okay,” Jess said slowly, turning her attention to Florence as well. However she was no closer to figuring out what Florence wanted. Except that she kept flashing back to the mental image of her coming out of the forest, gun in hand...

“You want vengeance,” Jess said. She understood that feeling all too well. When she had first escaped, the wolf had been ascendant in her mind. And it was pissed. And any human in her way had paid the price.

Florence looked down and nodded a little. She then looked between the two and drew in a breath. She wished she had some paper and a pen...something to write her thoughts down on. She wanted so much to tell them but how could she.

Pinocchio leaned back, what Jess said making perfect sense. He remembered that look of this healer when she came out of the woods. He closed his eyes briefly then opened them again. “So she doesn’t want to go back...now what?”

“That’s the big question,” Jess said. “Do we keep running westward or head south? Find some place and dig in?” She didn’t know of any formalized resistance movement they could join. “All my instincts say to keep moving, but how long can we do that realistically?”

She leaned back, rubbing the bridge of her nose. And what she wanted to ask, but wouldn’t, was would Mike still be with them? He had made it clear that he wanted out on his own. But he had come back when he could have left? Maybe it was an indication that there was something more than sex going on between them. But she couldn’t be sure.

Mike looked over to Florence, threw a glance to Jess that lingered a little then back Florence once again. What was going through that healer’s mind. He could see upon her face she wanted to say something, badly too.

Florence shifted then shook her head. She didn’t want to leave, well not this area. Not after what she knew of the coming. He would arrive in this area. She knew it. But how could she express it.

She shook her head again then looked to Jess as if for help. Jess knew of the tales. So in crossing she went over to her and crouched down beside Jess. She held up her finger in the number one, pointed to the ground to indicate here.

Jess nodded, understanding. That was the reason that Florence wasn’t eager to leave. The question in her mind was how to explain it so Mike would understand. She doubted that he’d believe. Some days, Jess wasn’t sure if she believed herself, to be completely honest.

“Mike, remember what we were talking about earlier? About the messiah the Sisters believe in?” Jess paused to rub her nose, trying to think of the best way to say it. “Florence believes that the savior is going to show up here.” She cocked an eye towards Florence. “Soon?”

Pinocchio shook his head, his eyes rolling and he suddenly felt weary. He sighed, shaking his head. “There is no messiah. No one is going to come here and save us all.” He stressed looking firmly at Florence.

Florence held his gaze for she knew it was to be true. She read the writings, she knew now she was a part of it and so was he. He was the warrior to protect the simple man. He had to be. She looked over to Jess and nodded to her Soon. Yes, he was coming soon and it would be best to be around when he showed.

Best for them all.

Feeling like she was between a rock and a hard place, Jess rubbed the bridge of her nose. Her own beliefs about the messiah were somewhere between Florence’s and Mike’s extremes. She believed that eventually, someone would take down Santiago. He was, despite his god-like status, only human.

But she didn’t have Florence’s unwavering faith. “Well, that’s the rub. Florence believes there is one, you believe there isn’t one, and I’m a fence sitter, which is a pain in the ass.” She let out a sigh. “So now that we know where everybody stands, that still doesn’t tell us what we’re going to do.”

Pinocchio rolled his eyes. Messiahs, faith...since when was faith a part of this game? Non was programmed in. Hell some thought the higher authority was Santiago. And to a point, he was. A heavy sigh left him and he groaned as he suddenly got weary of what was going on.

“Look, there is no Messiah, savior or whatever you want to call him. No one is going to be able to able to defeat the man. He has to much...around him to do that. His forces are strong and there is no way in hell anyone out here in the frontier is going to band together and stop him. It would anything short of a miracle to do that.”

Florence looked at him pointedly.

“Fine, she wasn’t to stay, we find her other Sisters and drop her off. Me..I’m heading south and getting on the next boat out of this hell. Find some beach and drink beers all day while I scope out the size of the bikinis that pass by.” He got up and headed for the bathroom to relieve himself.

His words stung. Not his disbelief, which she understood on some level. But just being able to pull up roots and run, tail between her legs, rankled. Perhaps it was wolf instinct in her – the territorial bitch coming out to fight to hold onto the area she claimed.

“Fine, go ahead. Run away,” she muttered. Jess had noticed that he hadn’t mentioned her in his plans. And though part of her had expected it, it still hurt. She hadn’t been expecting protestations of undying devotion, but at least some acknowledgment. “Go stick your head in the sand and hope that Santiago doesn’t turn his eyes southward.”

Pinocchio had heard her comments. Jess just didn’t understand, know what he knew. He walked out of the bathroom, “He’s already turned his eyes south, had been for a while.” He looked at her pointedly. “And its not sticking your head in the sand, its called survival. Something you should know about...right?”

Florence rolled her eyes and sighed then stood up shaking her head. She knew anyway it was going to be hard for him to leave. He wouldn’t leave cause it was in his destiny to meet up with the one that would make them three. And as for Jess’ roll, she guessed she was the one to make him stay.

“Now you can come with me, is up to you. But even as fucked up as this place is, I prefer to breath, so it is up to you.” Mike informed her.

Florence looked to Jess.

Jess noticed out of the corner of her Florence looking at her, but she kept her eyes fixed on Mike. “If he’s going to be heading south eventually, what’s the point of going? He’ll be there eventually and you’ll be forced to fight or flee again.”

Not looking at either of them, Jess stared at a spot on the floor about half way between her and Pinocchio. “Anyway, I can’t just up and run. I made a promise to the Sisters that I’d watch over them. Repay them for some things they taught me. And even thought it may be a stupid decision, I can’t break that promise. So I’m staying.”

Pinocchio threw himself down on the couch, grumbling coming forth from him. He looked over at her, crossing his arms before him. He sighed heavily, his mind trying to decide what to do. He closed his eyes and ran his hands over his face, grumbling to himself.

He decided then that he would help them to find the sisters then see where to go from there. “Alright, fine,” He looked over to the two women, “I’ll get you to your Sisters,” He didn’t say much more than that afterwards. However it was enough to make Florence smile a little for she knew, with that time they could get him to change his mind.

“Thanks,” Jess said. Mentally, she smiled. He tried to project an image of someone who didn’t care about anyone but himself, but every time he could abandon them, he didn’t. Deep down, despite what he said, he seemed to be a decent guy. Of course, Jess wouldn’t be so crass as to point that out to him.

Instead she drew her legs up against her chest, crossed at the ankles. Jess was more than a little relieved that Mike wasn’t going anywhere, but she wasn’t about to point that either. Her gaze rested on Florence as she rested her knees on her chin, wondering how soon the chosen one would show up. Then her eyes flicked to Pinocchio. “Since that’s settled, what’s our next move?”

Pinocchio drew in a breath, his mind trying to work on this current mess he got himself into. He dragged a hand through his hair then let it drop, falling like a dead weight. It was silent in the room for a while before he spoke. “I guess the thing to do is ask around. First to find out if any of Santiago’s men have been in the area.”

He then looked down at his chest. His hand going up over the bar code chip there. He then reached for his knife and pulled it out. “Then we see if any of the Sisters have been around or are in the area. But first....” He looked to Jess, “You need to cut this thing out of me. They can track me with this.” He pulled his shirt aside to reveal the chip.

She had noticed it earlier, but during foreplay wasn’t a time to mention it. “The sooner the better,” Jess agreed. This wasn’t going to be pleasant for any of them, even if Florence could heal it almost immediately. The chips were the way for Santiago to keep control over his people. You couldn’t do anything in Santiago City without one. Get rid of it, and you went off the grid. Which wasn’t always a good thing.

Jess took the knife and checked the sharpness of the blade with her thumb, nodding her approval. “This is going to hurt. I’m sorry.” Forcing herself not to hesitate, she placed the blade on the skin next to the chip and started to slice, working quickly to minimize the pain.

Florence had never seen one of those thing, so when Mike pulled his collar to reveal it, she was amazed. She moved in closer, seeing she would be needed anyway.

Mike looked to Jess as she came beside checking the knife for sharpness. He knew it was sharp but he wasn’t going to say anything. As she spoke, he just nodded, his teeth already clenched. He drew in a breath and held it, his head tipping back and away.

Then came the pain and he jerked, a growl falling from his clenched teeth. God, it hurt but she was working quickly, thank god...or whoever.

She winced at the growl, but was impressed at his self control. A lot of people would be making a lot more noise. Jess continued moving the knife until the chip was exposed. “There’s the little bastard,” she said, repositioning the blade. Carefully, she twisted the blade and sliced the chip free.

She tried to ignore the scent of fresh blood as she tried to close the flap of skin she had sliced. “Florence, if you wouldn’t mind?” she asked. The wound wasn’t deep, but would be an annoyance if it wasn’t cared to right away.

Pinocchio swore his teeth cracked or were about to soon. The pain felt like it was going to blind him. He then flinched a little as she dug out the chip. Blood ran down his chest a little and he sighed as the pain stopped. He opened his eyes and looked down, seeing the chip. In a quiet voice, “Crush it, break it do whatever, just destroy it.”

Florence looked at the chip then moved in to do her work. She too was amazed at how much pain the took. He pulled her half gloves off and then placed her hand over the area. A yellowish glow seemed to appear and the skin started to heal. She pulled her hand away and it looked like nothing had been there at all.

Jess watched Florence and Mike for a moment before she dropped the chip to the floor and started grinding it under her heel. After a few seconds, she lifted her foot and nodded when she saw the chip in pieces on the floor. “Well, that’s one down,” she muttered.

Glancing up and seeing that Florence was done, she handed the knife back to Pinocchio, hilt first. “You’ve got an incredible threshold for pain,” she said with a bit of surprise. “I think that would have had my brother crying like a baby.”

Mike relaxed as he felt the pain subside and he forced himself to unclench his teeth. He looked down, only thing left was blood. He looked to both the women, “Thanks.” He reached out and took the knife.

He flipped open the holder and placed it back. He shrugged, “You get used it it after a while.” He got up and went into the bathroom, cleaning off the blood. When he returned, he drew in a breath, “Okay, who is ready to venture out into town? See what we can find?”

“Sounds good to me.” If they were spending any time in the area, it would be good to have an idea of what was around them. Plus they could see if they could get a lead on any of Sisters in the area. Not to mention if there was a pro or anti-Santiago feeling to the area.

“Anybody got any contacts in the area?” This was beyond where she had claimed as her territory, and she didn’t think Florence knew anyone. But she could have be wrong.

Florence shook her head and from the look upon Jess’s face, well she didn’t either. He got up and looked down at them, “Well come on, we might as well go start making some ‘Friends.’” He headed for the door, pulling his leather jacket back on.

Florence got up and quickly got ready, running to get her gun then came back out. She was ready to go. She looked over at Jess and knew she was too and the trio headed out. Pinocchio walked, taking a back route through the town to come out in the central area where he had gotten some of the food.

He looked about, standing there with the other women around him. He reached into his pocket and pulled a tooth pick out, starting to gnaw upon it. He then saw a guy walk up to him, walk around each girl then stop before him, “How much fer the dark one?”

Pinocchio raised an eyebrow and looked back at Jess.

Jess rolled her eyes and then fixed her would be owner with an icy stare. It wasn’t the first time and probably wouldn’t be the last she had been propositioned or offered protection or even outright tried to claim her as property. Just like she was an animal.

Never mind the fact that part of her was.

“More than you could afford,” she said archly. Jess’ left hand went around to her back to wrap her fingers around the handle of the gun she had liberated from Mike’s small arsenal.

Mike looked at the man then grabbed him by his collar, hauling him close to him. They were nose to nose, Mike’s eyes boring into the other man’s, “Does it look like I share?” He asked slowly and through gritted teeth.

The other man shook his head quickly and then was dropped.

“Beat it,” Pinocchio growled out and the man took off. Mike looked back at Jess with a little smirk. “Let’s go girls,” He started walking, pushing through the crowd and asking some questions.

She didn’t release her grip on the gun until the man was out of sight. Jess couldn’t hide the smirk on her face at Mike’s possessiveness. Maybe there was a little more than just sex going on between them. Instead she followed Mike, taking a few strides to catch up with him. “You didn’t have to do that,” she said in an undertone. “But thanks.”

The crowd was much the same as the other settlements she had been in while running errands for the sisters. People looking for whatever meager necessity that would get them through one more day. Women willing to trade their bodies for their next meal. Men desperately looking for the necessary gas or parts, wiling to do whatever it took to get it. Children whose eyes were devoid of hope or life.

She prayed that she never became like that.

Mike dared not look in their eyes. He couldn’t for these people, were some of the ones he caused to be in this condition. Burning their homes, killing the fathers that fought to protect their families. If anything, guilt was heavy upon him but he dared not show that weakness. Instead it made him steel himself even more.

Florence however was opposite, she wanted to help but not at the risk of them. She learned her lesson for them doing so cost her Sister’s many lives. She saw Pinocchio wonder away from them, going over to talk to an old man. She moved in closer to Jess as she looked about.

She then saw Pinocchio nodding and the old man pointing. She turned her head to see what if anything at all and it ended up being a direction. She looked back as he nodded and seemed to slip the man something as he walked away.

Mike came back, “A group of Sisters passed through here a week ago. But so did some of Santiago’s troops, last night.” He looked about. “And could very well still be here.” He looked about. “The women were headed north. I say we head northwest.” He started to leave when he came to a dead stop. He quickly turned for behind him, just walking casually, looking about, were some of the Guard.

Jess followed Pinocchio’s glance and then quickly looked away. She had to force herself from tensing, from looking like anyone who was on the run. But her mind was a whirl. Were the guards looking for Mike? For Florence? Or for her? There was an off chance that they could just be a patrol or soldiers off duty, but she wasn’t willing to take a chance.

“Keep moving,” Jess said in an undertone, nudging Florence forward with her shoulder. “I don’t think they’ve spotted us yet. It was hard not to reach behind her for the comforting reassurance of the gun. Equally hard not to Change and bring the fight to the guards.

Florence turned and started walking, her eyes ever searching for a place to be lost in. She spotted a crowd but as she started heading towards it, she heard a shout. She winced as she knew what it was.

One of the guards was yell over to Pinocchio. Pinocchio had been trying to separate himself from the women when he too winced in hearing the shout. He stopped and turned around. Well if he was to keep his secret, they could not go back, ever. Death was going to come to them.

“Hey, where are the rest of your men?” One asked then frowned as if he was recognizing him or trying to.

An itch was irritating Mike’s hand and he tried to hold back from going for his gun, “They are...” But before he could finish all hell broke loose and Mike was diving out of the way as the Guards drew their guns and started shooting.

“Oh shit,” Jess said, the last intelligible thing she said. She shoved Florence to one side, knocking the Sister out of the way. There was no pretense of trying to control her reaction. She couldn’t have leashed the wolf if she wanted to. Her mate was being threatened, and all her instincts demanded she protect him.

Snarling, her fangs erupted from her gums as her muzzle extended. Her nails lengthened into claws as her legs reformed, knees coming higher and instep lengthening. Fortunately because she was wearing Mike’s clothes, they didn’t rip as badly as if she had been wearing hers.

Not that it mattered to the black furred creature of instinct. Letting out a angry roar, and ignoring the bullets, leapt for the nearest soldier. She felt her claws sink into flesh, and tasted fresh blood.

Florence fell to the ground than rolled as Jess shoved her. She then rose up to her knees and crawled away for cover as people started to scream and run. A man fell before her, shot in the back and before she could do anything about it, he flashed out in blue digital light.

Pinocchio had his gun drawn and was firing when he stopped as he watched in awe of what was happening to the woman he had bedded twice. He blinked and really wanted to rub his eyes to clear what he saw but he knew...it was real.

Shaking from his daze as a bullet nearly hit him, he started firing and hope to god, he wouldn’t hit her...it...whatever.

Jess held onto the body until it dissolved in a flash of light. One of the things she was paranoid about was creating more werewolves. Sometimes she thought it was because the human in her didn’t want to condemn anyone else to this kind of life. Other times she thought it was because the wolf in her didn’t want any other competition.

Snarling, she leapt for the next soldier. She let out a yip as a bullet whizzed by her ear, close enough that she could feel the heat of its passing. This soldier didn’t seem to be as phased by her appearance, or hadn’t seen her Change. Too close to get an effective shot at her, he clubbed at her head, connecting solidly with the top of her skull. Jess let out another yelp and clawed at his face and then sank her talons deep into his torso.

Florence fired and actually took a life, killing one of the soldiers while Pinocchio got the ones she couldn’t get and Jess as well. However, suddenly, She saw Mike running over toward her and grabbing her arm, pulling her up. “Lets go!” He shouted, very loudly so that Jess could hear, if she even wanted to or could in this state.

He pulled Florence along, struggling with her for she kept trying to go back for Jess, “She can take care of herself,” He growled as if knowing what she was thinking. It was strange how he did.

Mike glanced back, looking back to Jess as he pushed Florence, his heart didn’t know what to do, what to think...and his instincts told him to get to the car and hightail it out of there.

Instincts abating a bit, Jess saw him leave out of the corner of her eye. She waited for the body in her talons to flash out and then dropped to all fours. Slightly hampered by the clothing she still wore, Jess followed him, heading for the car as well.

Her mind wasn’t on the fact that now he’d have to believe her. Or now that he may not want anything to do with her. That he might be horrified that he had bedded something more than animal, but not fully human anymore. And almost as if afraid of being abandoned, she bolted past him and Florence, making a beeline for the car.

Reaching it before either of them, it took a little working of her oversized paws to trip the door handle. The door popped open and she scooted into the back seat, doing a credible imitation of a puppy about to get her butt smacked with a newspaper.

Florence saw Jess pass and she quickly stopped struggling against Mike and ran after her, racing to the car. Mike was brining up the rear, firing back behind him. As Jess jumped in, Florence stopped and as Mike fired, padded him down for his keys, reached into his pocket, pulled them out then jumped into the driver’s seat.

Mike had to do a double take as his car started and he wasn’t behind the wheel. He quickly dived into the car as Florence floored the gas peddle. Dirt and stones shot up from the tires as they placed distance between them and the town.

Mike looked back out the window and saw the last soldier he shot die. He closed his eyes, for his secret was safe. No one to report back to Santiago. He looked back to Jess. That large wolf that was half human and half beast in his back seat.

He sighed and blinked, “Well...guess you proved me wrong.” He turned back to the front looking out to where Florence was going. But he couldn’t help but look back at Jess again.

A soft whine was his answer as the wolf stretched out across the back seat. This was going to be the tricky part. The adrenaline and fear and anger that had triggered her Change were not easy things to overcome. Jess closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing and heartbeat, willing both to slow. It wasn’t easy with Mike watching her.

But after a minute she could feel the pain start. She let out a cry as tail, muzzle, ears and claws retracted as the fur became hair and bare skin. Her teeth became small and square again, no longer the fearsome fangs. Jess let out a moan and rubbed and rubbed her eyes with a hairless palm. Turning her head, she found herself looking into Mike’s eyes.

She didn’t know what to say to him. Especially after his theory of code corruption being violently proven incorrect. Instead she stared at him, looking more like a deer caught in the headlights than a wild predator. “Did we get them all?” she asked quietly after a moment.

Pinocchio had looked way when Jess started changing. However looking away and listening were two different things. He could hear her moans, the bones crunching, shifting back into place. He cringed and winced at the sounds.

Florence reached over and placed a hand upon him, telling him it was alright. Then Jess’ voice filled the air.

Mike turned his head to her, blinking for he could not believe she was back to normal. He reached out and touched her, quickly at first then more settling, “Yeah, we got them all.” He shifted in his seat to more look at her. “Are you...alright?”

“I’ll live,” she grunted. Grabbing his hand as a reference point, Jess slowly sat up, slowly gaining her bearings. Rapid shifts, especially under emotional stress, always disoriented her. She rubbed her free hand against the place on her skull where she had been clubbed.

Realizing that she was still clutching Mike’s hand, she let go of it, she relaxed her grip, but didn’t let go. Jess blinked once, clearing the last sense of fuzziness from her brain. “Are both of you okay?” she asked.

“Just a few scratches,” Mike replied as he gazed into her eyes. He still held her hand, wondering how it could be. Was all the tales he was told, read about, really true. That werewolves did exist and she was an experiment of man trying to make one, domesticate it?

He looked over at Florence then back to Jess, realizing he was still holding her hand. He pulled his away slowly, not able to help but glance at his hand as he turned forward again. He then reached down and grabbed a bottle of water.

He handed it back to her, “Here.” He turned back to her, “Well, I guess I got egg on my face. That is why you have been running, thinking Santiago wants you.”

Jess nodded, grateful for the water. “If not him, somebody else. There has to be records of what I am in here. And if not, he has access to the outside world. I’m sure he studied all aspects of the Realm before he took it over.”

“So you’re...okay...with this?” she said a bit incredulous. The Sisters had accepted her without question, but this was different. She wasn’t sleeping with any of the Sisters. “Cause I’ll be frank with you. Sometimes I’m not.”

Pinocchio looked down, trying to remember back of anything unusual. But then there was just some information he was not privy to. Some he was not allowed to see though he saw a lot. He had been tempted at times to break in and when he got the balls to, something came up...always. Like... Santiago knew.

He looked back to Jess, giving her an honest look, “I don’t know,” He said quietly then turned to the front motioning for Florence to slow down.

Jess nodded, although she didn’t think he saw it. It was an honest answer. If he had said anything else, she would have known he was lying. But this uncertainty...it was reassuring in a way.

Although she didn’t know why she was expecting more. It wasn’t like they had exchanged pledges of undying love. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. No, all they had done was have sex twice. If anything, she was in debt to him for the aid he had been giving her.

She let out a small sigh. What would come next would be inevitable. The only question was would it happen right away, or in the future. “If you don’t want to get any further involved, just pull over and let me out. And don’t worry. I can take care of myself.”

Pinocchio flashed a look back at Jess. One of confusion, hurt, anger. He looked away quickly, hoping she didn’t catch it. His hand curled upon the door handle, gripping it firmly.

Florence slammed upon the breaks and looked back at Jess, shaking her head violently, to let the woman know she was not going to let that happen.

In Florence hitting the breaks, Mike was thrown forward and if he hadn’t placed his hands out to the dash.... He looked over at Florence, “What the hell... You’re not driving any more.” He growled.

Jess, not expecting the sudden stop, bounced off of the back of the front seat. “Damn it, Florence,” she snarled, although whether it was from the sudden braking or her reaction.

It would be a wrench to leave Florence, to go back on her promise to protect the Sister. But it would be harder to live near Mike while he had that look into his eyes. The one where he’d look at her and just see an animal. Something less than human.

But still, she owed Florence. She glared at the woman, but surprisingly backed down after a few seconds. “Okay, I’m not going anywhere now. But maybe you should let Mike drive now.”

Florence smiled and grabbed Jess’ hand to tell her thank you. She wished she could voice it but this was all she could do. She nodded in pulling away, agreeing to let Mike drive. She climbed out running around to his side.

Mike looked back at Jess, “Thanks, it’s damn hard to get tires let alone brakes.” He hesitated a moment before getting out, looking to Jess once again before going around to his side and climbing in. He slammed the door closed and just sat there. Thinking.

Florence hopped in as well and just looked at the two then pointed north. She then tapped herself in the chest and pointed again.

Pinocchio glanced at her, “Yeah, I know but we are heading west.” He said then started driving.

Florence reached over and slammed her foot on the brake once again.

“Woman!” Mike growled in glaring at her. “If we don’t we could very well be leading the Guard right to them!” He snarled. He looked back at Jess, “You talk some sense into her.”

She shook her head at his winning manner. But Mike did have a point. “He’s right Florence.” Jess leaned forward into the front seat, imposing herself as a barrier between Mike and the healer. “We don’t know if the Guard are following us. We can’t just rush blindly forward and lead them right to where the other Sisters are.”

“We head west two, maybe three days. Then once we’re certain that Santiago’s men aren’t following us, we double back northeast and look for the Sisters, if it’s safe.” Jess sat back and crossed her arms. “How does that sound?” she asked both of them, looking from Florence to Mike.

Florence sighed then sat back crossing her arms. She looked over at Mike, seeing his fingers tightly around the steering wheel. She then looked back at Jess then looked away.

Pinocchio drew in a breath, “Thank you,” He spoke to Jess then placed the car back in gear and started driving. He drove for quiet a while still finally the darkness had taken over and blanketed the land.

He pulled over and moved the car as far into the woods as possible. He pulled out a cammo net and threw it over once the stuff they needed for camp and the women were out. He used this excuse to let the women set up the camp and give him some time alone to think.

He wondered what he was going to do. Should he really stay? Help these women out? And what of Jess? With her being...well...what she was. He shivered at the thought that he could wake up one day with her teeth around his neck.

Mike didn’t know if he could handle that.

Jess busied herself with setting up the camp, clearing a spot to sleep, debating if they wanted to risk a fire with it’s light and smoke. But her mind was on on what had happened earlier. He was far too...accepting...of what he had seen. No comment had been made, no references to what she had done, other than him asking her if she was alright.

She hadn’t been alright ever since they began the damn experiment.

It was only a matter of time, she thought to herself. It was too late to tell herself not to get attached to him. And that would make it all the worse. He’d bolt, or use her nonhuman status as an excuse (even if it was legitimate) to leave. And she prayed that she could control the wolf when that happened.

Mike finally finished up. And he stayed by the car for just a little while longer. He watched the two women in the distance as she worked to get camp up. Sleeping bags were laid out, no tent. Couldn’t take that chance. A small fire was build, something very low and used mostly to cook with for there would be no heat from such a small flame.

He finally pushed from the car and walked over, picking his way through the brush. “We take shifts tonight on guard duty. He informed them as he stopped, standing over them. “Two hour shifts then in early morning we break camp and get moving again.”

Jess nodded. Just four hours of sleep, and they would be on the run again. “I’ll take the middle shift,” she volunteered. It would be darkest then, and when she’d be the most useful with her enhanced senses.

Seeing that he wasn’t going to bring up what happened or her shapeshifting, she didn’t either. Instead she watched the fire, keeping an eye on the amount of smoke it was putting out. “How many do you figure we should expect?” she asked, referring to Santiago’s Republican Guard. “I don’t know if they realized who they were dealing with, but I figure when word gets back to Santiago, he’ll be sending a unit after me.”

Pinocchio threw a few more small twigs upon the fire while Florence was heating up some soup in a can. She glanced to Jess, seeing how she was and then to Pinocchio who was quiet, except for his announcement.

He only replied with a shrug at first then shook his head, “You think Santiago would want you that badly?” He snorted and shook his head. “Santiago could care less about you. You are nothing to him but a fucked up glitch in his system. He’ll send troops out to kill you but you won’t be his top priority. No...” He looked down, “It will be me...” he added in a lowered voice.

“He won’t kill me,” Jess corrected. “They’ve had chances before, and never had.” A bitterness crept into her voice. “I’m too valuable. They’re going to try to recapture me. And try to replicate the experiment. I may be a glitch to him, but one that he’ll try to exploit.”

Florence shook her head, then wrote in the dirt, “Then One, he wants stop,” she looked at the two, “Not you,” she continued to write. “Faith, he more fear.”

Pinocchio looked at Florence, know that was true, or why would he be hunting the Sisters down. He looked over to Jess then looked away. Florence stood and grabbed her gun, heading off to do her patrol, leaving the two alone.

Jess read the words and sat back on her heels. It was the only thing made sense. She watched Florence’s retreating form. “Well, I guess that settles who takes the first watch,” she muttered.

She stretched her legs out in front of her. “She’s right, you know,” Jess said, nodding her head back in the direction Florence left. “I’m an annoyance, you’re a threat, but what Santiago really fears is anything that threatens his order.” She blew air out through puffed cheeks. It was safer to talk about Santiago and the Sisters than what had happened earlier.

Pinocchio looked up to Jess from his side of the small fire. “What threatens his order are people like you and me running loose. What scares the shit out of him is people believing in something other than him. You, me, we just disrupt his order, he can get it back. But she...this so called One, she believes in...He can’t fight what isn’t there. So he takes it out on people like her.”

“If Christ was stopped all those years ago...you think there would be religion like we see it today? Santiago, unlike others before him, knows the power of one man, one idea...and he will stop at nothing to prevent that from happening.”

“Preaching to the choir, Mike,” Jess said with a half smile. “The question becomes how to best to protect the Sisters. Florence is convinced that the One is going to show up around here somewhere. Soon probably. Otherwise she wouldn’t be so stubborn about leaving.” She glanced back at the forest. “Question becomes what happens if somebody does show up. Santiago has a visible target, and I’m curious what his reaction will be.”

Jess looked down at her hand, noting that it wasn’t trembling. That was a good sign. She tended to get almost uncontrollable shakes just before a spontaneous Change. “I guess we should get some sleep,” she said. She gestured towards the soup can. “Go ahead, if you want. I’m not hungry.”

“Well I can tell you it won’t be no invitation for dinner and a movie that’s for sure,” Mike grumbled under his breath. “More like tanks, helicopters, whatever it will take.” Of course Mike wasn’t telling Jess either that Santiago was already destroying every jump port into the Realm already. So there was no chance now, of the so called One to come in.

Pinocchio looked over at her then at the can. He gave a sniffle as the air got colder and he shivered a little. He moved over looking into the can then as he went to grab it, jerked his hand away for he burned his finger tips, “Son of a...” He grumbled the rest under his breath.

Jess shook her head, knowing exactly what that last word he said was. “You can say it and I won’t get offended, Mike. Technically, it’s what I am.” She had been referred to as a bitch even before she had become a werewolf, and the word didn’t bother her now. “But don’t even think about calling me puppy or doggie.”

She held out her hand, palm up. “Come on, let me take a look at your hand. I’m not a healer like Florence, but I might be able to do something to help it.” It was probably no worse than a scorch, and some water run over it should remove any sting.

Mike looked over his shoulder at Jess, his eyes going to her hand then back to her. He held her eyes for a moment. Contemplation deep in his eyes which could be read. He then finally turned away, looked at his hand then drew in a breath as he stood.

He moved back to her and took her hand, his rough hands touching her and he half expected to feel fur. Even if she was...human. “I’ll be okay,” He grumbled under his breath.

She had seen the initial hesitation. And Jess had been expecting it. Still, he had reached out to her, which was a good sign. But she doubted it would be a long time, if ever, before he could look at her and not see the beast beneath the surface lurking.

Jess turned his hand, looking at his fingertips. “Yeah, it’s nothing,” she agreed, trying to ignored the pleasant tingling his touch inspired. Just because the wolf was under the survace didn’t negate the feelings and desires experienced by the woman. She looked up at him, trying to read his expression, her own trying for neutrality.

Mike just watched as Jess turned his hand over as he took a seat beside her. He could feel the soft tender touch, even if her voice pretty much said it was nothing much. He turned his eyes to look at her and this time more closely.

He wondered if it hurt. Wondered how it happened. When it happened. Were they in danger of her? He pulled his hand from her and looked away quickly before she could catch him, eyes turning to the ground, “Told you,” He mumbled under his breath as hands draped over his knees.

“Yeah,” she said, staring at the toes of her shoes as well. Jess wanted to reassure him that she would never attack him or Florence, that she was in control of the wolf. Except that she couldn’t lie to him. She wasn’t as in strong control as she’d like to believe. Her losing it and Changing to slaughter the Republican Guard was proof enough of it.

“So,” she said looking around. “You got any questions about...you know...it?” Jess hated the way that she sounded like a young kid talking about a taboo subject like sex. But she just couldn’t blurt out the word lycanthropy. “I mean, if the situation were reversed, I’d have questions.” Just hopefully not too hard ones.

“I just want to know...you going to attack us?” He stood up and moved to the other side of the fire. “Will I have to sleep with one eye open to make sure I wake in the morning?” He threw some more twigs into the small blaze that was building.

He looked across to her, “I thought when you...that you were just...that...” He looked away, revealing a little to her how much he felt like a heel for not believing her.

“...That I was delusional at best, a stark raving mad glitch at worst.” She let out a heavy sigh. “I don’t blame you for not believing me. To be honest, I can’t blame you. I didn’t believe what I was told, until I saw the video of me Changing. And even then, it was still a struggle until I was able to be more conscious of the wolf’s actions.”

“I’ve been with the Sisters for a while, and never hurt any of them. Florence trusts my control completely. And back there, if If I were going to go berserk and kill you, I could have done it long ago. During the battle, when I found you, the night in the woods, last night...”

Now she was bringing up a touchy subject. “If you don’t want to continue with...what we had...you don’t have to worry. The only time I lose control is when I feel physically threatened. Usually I can keep an handle on it during emotional situations. And the day before the full moon I isolate myself to remove the risk.”

Mike looked up at Jess when she mentioned those...nights. He held her eyes across the fire while she tried to shrug them off as nothing. But he knew better, it wasn’t nothing for either one of them. He looked away, staying silent, not sure what he wanted.

He wanted to believe her words. He wanted to know that what they shared could become something special. He...he... He got up and stalked over to her. He reached down, grabbed her and pulled her up to him. He then leaned in and kissed her deeply, thinking, would this be considered a physical threat?

Jess had watched his approach with some trepidation, not certain what he was doing. At least until he pulled her to her feet and began kissing her. She leaned into him, arms going around his shoulders and waist, holding him tight against her. Even though her instincts were saying to push him away before they both ended up hurt, before she hurt him. But it was too late for that already.

She was breathing heavily when the kiss broke. There were so many things she wanted to ask him. Such as when he rolled over in the middle of the night, would he freak to find a wolf laying there next to him. Was she just a rebound, a convenient momentary replacement for the woman who had clearly broken his heart. But instead what Jess found herself doing was kissing him again, her fingers digging into his flesh to anchor herself more firmly to him.

Pinocchio was panting as well. His eyes holding hers as he felt Jess’ arms around him. His eyes were searching hers, as if for some answer to a question that was never asked. He didn’t know why he felt this pull to her, he just did. He in fact really wanted to just run away. But for some reason, he didn’t, couldn’t.

Pinocchio groaned as his lips were covered once again, being devoured. Feeling her fingers dig in made him tighten his hold around her, pressing her into him more. He started pushing her down, down to the ground.

Jess pulled him down with her as she settled onto the ground. The twigs and rocks that poked into her back didn’t matter. All that mattered was the feel of his lips on hers, and the need to get even closer. Even as he settled against her, she felt the need to get closer to him, skin to skin with him.

She kicked off her shoes and spread her legs as she squirmed against him. Jess started tugging his shirt over his head. She had no idea how much longer this would last between them, but she intended to enjoy it while she could.

Mike groaned, never letting up on the kiss. His head was telling him things he didn’t want to hear for his heart ached and wanted...needed this. He wanted her to fill the void left inside him. Even being who she was, what she was. He didn’t care, or his heart didn’t at least.

Mike’s body settled between her legs, grinding himself up into her. The tug of his shirt moved him against her as well. A small tear could be heard but he didn’t care as he moved from her lips to her ear. His breath was heavy against her, as were his hands as they caressed her.

But then he heard movement, a twig snap, rusting of the brush. He stopped, his breath held. He tried to listen harder, boot upon leaves...Florence? A sneeze came...it was Florence.

Her head had turned towards the sound. It was tempting to Change, to give into the instincts to protect and find out what was causing that noise. But Jess knew that it wouldn’t be a wise move. Mike was accepting her now as a human, but what would his reaction be if he suddenly found a wild wolf in his arms? Not a good one, she guessed.

Florence walked up, breaking through the brush just as she sneezed. She stopped in raising her head to see the two upon the ground, one atop of the other.

Jess looked up at her, face flushing red. She didn’t look away from the Sister though. “What?” she asked unrepentantly. And she didn’t release her grip on Mike, keeping him cradled close to her body.

Mike would have moved but, one he was being held down and two, well until he calmed down some...he thought it best not to. He rolled his eyes and looked away, a heavy sigh coming from him.

Florence gave a little smile, a blush then turned to leave. She only came back to get a jacket which she scooped up.

When Florence vanished again, Mike finally moved and rolled off Jess. He ran his hand over his face, thinking he was doing just that with the wrong part of his body. He had to stop doing that or one day he was going to get caught with his pants down.

He sat up, knees bending and arms resting on them. His head hung down, then he gave a little smirk as he looked sideways at Jess.

Jess sat up too, crossing her legs at her ankles, arms resting lightly in front of her. She was breathing a bit more heavily than usual as she watched him. If she didn’t know any better, she would have sworn that she was in heat.

And yet it was more to it than simple lust. There was a connection between them that was deepening with every moment. She had fallen fast and hard for Mike Pinocchio, and Jess wasn’t going to fight it any more.

She slowly crawled towards him, her movements slow and deliberate. More cat like than canine with the deliberate sway of her hips. Ducking her head below his, Jess then lifted it to kiss him.

Mike didn’t say anything as Jess started to move, merely quirked an eyebrow as she approached. His eyes traveled over her, her movements cat like and he got the impression she was stalking him. His eyes were transfixed upon her and he moved his arms down as she got closer.

Mike closed his eyes, his head leaning in to met her kiss. He felt his heart start to race again while he leaned back, pulling Jess with him as he circled his arms around her. His movements this time letting her control.

Jess followed him, leaning heavily against him. She settled on top of him, letting her legs slide to either side of his waist. All the time kissing him deeply as her arms went around him tightly.

She inhaled deeply, smelling both his and her arousal, which turned her on even more. Jess sat up, bringing their groins into firmer contact. Her hands strayed to his stomach, lightly scratching over his abs before she grabbed fistfuls of the fabric and started to work his shirt over his head.

Mike returned the kiss as much as he could. As deeply as he could. Jess was stealing his breath away. He moaned softly into her while hands traveled down her body and to her waist, gently rubbing along the pants line.

As Jess pulled away, he felt his hardness pressing up against her heat which made him groan deeply. He looked up at her, hands still upon her waist till she grabbed a fist full of material and started pulling it up over his head. He sat up, helping her with it and once it was over his head, he leaned in and started kissing at her neck.

Jess let out a moan and squeezed her legs against his hips. Her head tilted back, baring her neck further to Mike. Both a motion of submission and trust. But there was nothing submissive about how her nails raked over his chest. Or how she nipped at his neck in return, extremely careful not to break his skin.

But she did pull away long enough to yank her shirt over her head. Taking his hands in hers, Jess guided them to rest the fingertips on her breasts, wanting and needing to feel his skin against hers. Her breathing was heavy as she scooted down to rest on his thighs, just far enough so she could reach his fly unobstructed.

Mike’s body shivered as he felt the scratch of nails down his chest. He also felt a little fear as Jess nipped at his neck. Fear and heighten arousal, it was a strange mix and a heady one as well.

Mike had pulled back when Jess’s shirt came off but then his wrist here captured and being guided to her chest. Almost instantly his hands spread and he cupped her breast, thumbs moving under, fingers to the sides. He then brought his thumbs up and brushed over her pert nipples while he leaned in and kissed at her lips, taking several from her as he could. All the while, feeling Jess working his buttons open, belt flopping aside while she tried to free him.

It was hard to resist the urge to press forward into his hands, to continue kissing him, to let her hands go still. Instead she forced herself to keep moving, to pull at the waistband of his jeans and underwear carefully down his legs. She took his hot erection in her hand and stroked the length of it slowly.

Eyes not leaving his, she pulled away and backed further down her body. Her tongue appeared to briefly moisten her lips before flicking against the tip of his erection, probing against the slit. She placed little kisses against the crown before licking him much as she would an ice cream cone. Then with a quick bob of her head, Jess swallowed him whole.

Mike groaned deeply, his breath hissing out at the feel of a warm hand upon his length. He shivered, feeling goose bumps travel up his body, seeming to cover it. However he held her gaze even as she backed down his body. He watched her carefully only to have his eyes snap shut and an even deeper groan leave him as she licked him, probing his most sensitive areas.

Then came the licks the torture of hot tongue to his body only to be cooled by the air. It made him shiver more, his legs trembling before she engulfed him and started giving him a mind blowing pleasure. He felt all thoughts, all fears just zip from his mind as he dropped back with a thud and a groan, hips pushing up against her.

Jess, carefully avoiding using her teeth on him, continued to work her mouth up and down on him. Her hand came down to tease the sensitive sac as she timed the dip of her head with the thrust of his hips.

She kept an eye on him, watching his expressions change. When he seemed too close to cresting, she backed off slightly, her motions becoming gentler as an idea formed in her mind.

Mike was groaning deeply, his hands leaving her and curling into the grass and dirt below. He pulled at it as his hips rose then would fall as Jess tortured him. He was getting so close when Jess backed off and he groaned almost as if it was painful. But not to loudly as to draw attention.

He swallowed hard as she stopped it seemed, panting to get himself under some control. He lifted his head to gaze upon her and saw some sparkle in her eye of an idea forming. He wondered what the heck it could be.

Jess flicked her tongue playfully against him one last time. She lifted her head, her gaze half lidded and heavy with desire. She inhaled deeply, taking in their combined scents of arousal.

She sat back on her knees, still grinning at her. Her hands slowly went to her zipper and lowered it. As well as her pants and and underwear. She gave him a saucy grin and turned on all fours, presenting her ass to him.

Mike shuddered at the feel of her tease upon him but then she moved. He watched her closely, wondering what the heck she was up to. He then cocked an eyebrow as she moved in slow motion.

He shifted in moving to his knees and saw her present her ass to him. He reached out and touched it with a soft touch, caressing tenderly before he drew his hand back and smacked her with a smirk to his lips.

Jess let out an indignified squawk at being slapped on her ass. She twisted her head back around to look at him, an expression of part surprise and part growl on her face.

“Like a little bitch in heat,” He grabbed her waist and hauled her back against him, his chest to her back as his teeth latched to her earlobe. His other hand slid up her body to her breast, gripping and squeezing as he breathed heavily against her hear, “Mine, little bitch,” he moaned and held her tightly to him as he lifted her to rub against her.

If it had been anyone else, they would have had their throat torn out for calling her a bitch, technically correct or not. Hissing, she squirmed back against him, trying to slide him inside of her.

One of her hands reached backwards to bury her nails in his ass. Jess twisted her upper torso just enough so she could look at him. “Mine,” she growled, digging her nails a little more before kissing him possessively.

Mike groaned at the clawing, at the possessiveness in her voice. It sent a shiver through his body and he wasn’t sure at the moment if it was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, he was still trying to figure out why he said she was his. And right now was just not giving him a chance to really think on it, just react.

With a shift of his hips, his cock drove into her. He held her tightly against him as he drove deeply into her. “God woman,” He breathed softly, husky. “What the hell are you doing to me?” He really didn’t need to know the answer, didn’t really care, but this woman had a hold on him he couldn’t quiet figure out yet.

Her eyes shut as she felt herself be spread apart. Jess spread her legs wider, trying to draw him deeper inside of her. She butted back against him, unable to answer his question. Because she was wondering the same thing. He had managed to get under her skin, inside her head, and into her heart.

Jess’ hips pushed back against his groin a little, indicating that she wanted more. No, she needed more from him. She didn’t know if werewolves paired up like wild wolves. But she suspected that it was something that went beyond biology, an attraction she had to figure out for all their sakes.

Pinocchio was groaning deeply, hammering into Jess the best he could. He finally couldn’t take much. He pushed her forward, his body following as he got her to lay out under him while he supported himself over her. Now his hips really punished her and sweat rolled from him then dripped down upon her body.

“Shit, woman,” he mumbled then leaned down and kissed across her shoulders, placing little bites here and there. He could feel his release fast approaching.

Belly down on the ground, she arched back against him. Jess’s fingers dug furrows into the ground as he continued to pound inside of her. The feeling of his teeth biting into her shoulders spurred her on to his climax...

...which broke over her when she felt his teeth sink into the side of her neck. Jess squealed, not out of anger but out of pleasure. Her body shook with an intense orgasm as she pushed back, trying to keep the sensations intense and pull him over the edge with her.

His teeth sank into her neck, now drowning out his own cry as he grunted against it. He was pulled over the edge by her squeezing which caused him to pulse within her with each shiver of his body, each thrust he could manage before one hard one was delivered and he held himself with in her cave.

How long was it before he stopped, Mike didn’t know, but when he did, sagged down upon her but tried to keep his weight upon his arms and elbows. He let out a long breath then nuzzled into the back of her hair. Her smell was pleasing to him, comforting. The feel of her body under him. It was scaring him that he was getting...comfortable with her, wolf side of her aside. It was the woman side he was now more worried about. What it would truly do to him.

Each of her exhalations was a soft, contented moan. Even naked on the forest floor, Jess was surprisingly comfortable. The heat radiating from him made her slightly drowsy, so she folded her arms and rested her cheek on them.

Glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, Jess gave him a small smile. He seemed so unguarded and open at the moment, something she wished she could see more of. So Jess wisely kept her mouth shut for fear of saying something that would cause his barriers to come snapping back up, shutting her out again.

It was quiet, the sounds of breathing, the sounds of the forest, the animals and such. He liked the quiet and his head was clear of thoughts. Something that hadn’t happened in a long time. He moved a hand over her arm, laying his head down to look at her.

His blues were soft, unguarded, peaceful. He finally moved, shifting his body so he would slowly pull from her and then laid beside her. He was propped up on one arm. Reaching, he ran a hand over her back, following the curve of it over her to her ass then back up again. He saw the mark he left upon her which caused him to lean in and kiss it.

He then moved his lips to her ear, a breath heating it. “Does it hurt?”

Jess rolled onto her side, letting out a soft sigh, wondering which he was referring to. “The bite? No. In fact that will heal over and disappear in a few minutes. But if you mean shape-shifting...”

“It hurts,” she said simply. “Take your thumb and pull back against it with your other hand,” she said, demonstrating the motion. “Feel that? Magnify that by one hundred and all over your body and you’ve got an idea of what it feels like sorta.”

“A lot of us went mad from the pain. That and the shock of finding ourselves in a new body – it’s enough to break a mind. Others like me learned to deal with it in a way, although you’d never really call us normal.” Jess rested her head on her folded arm, watching him carefully. “Does that answer your question, or do you want to know more?”

Mike was moving his hand over her back, slowly again as he listened to her. He then looked at her and nodded but then furrowed his brow. “Answers that one but...when you are in that state can you....do you still...think the same? Is that you inside still or a new personality? Could you...” He couldn’t finish the rest of the question. He wanted to know if she would hurt them because she wouldn’t know who was friend and who was a foe.

Her expression became even more serious. Jess had been dreading him asking that question, but he had a right to know. “It depends,” she said honestly. “Sometimes I’m just a girl in a dog’s body. Sometimes it’s pure wolf instinct. But most of the time, it’s a mix of the two. Early on, the human was sort of an observer, but as I learned to control the Change, the more mental control I gained. But I do backslide.”

She sighed as she looked in his eyes, and rolled onto her side facing him. “I tend to revert to more an instinctive animal when I’m threatened. Life or death situation, like those guards. Or if it’s a full moon, and I haven’t Changed for a while to work off some of the stress. I’ve never attacked the Sister’s while I stayed with them, if that’s any comfort to you.”

Mike pulled his hand away when Jess rolled over. He held her gaze as spoke of animal instinct. Then he looked up at the sky, knowing that it would be a full moon...and soon. In at least a week if not less.

“So the moon here effects you the same way as...” He fell short. “I mean...” he shook his head. Of course it did. This was as much like the real world as it was being out there. Sometimes, very few times, he questioned if he really wasn’t out there...in the Real World.

“Yeah,” she said, answering his unfinished question. “It does.” Jess watched his face carefully, trying to read his expression and gauge his reaction to what she was telling him. “When the time comes, I’ll slip away for the night so you don’t have to worry about...anything.”

The conversation was getting a little too intense for her. With the sisters, there had been no discussion, literally and figuratively, about her what happened to her when she Changed. Talking about it with him was as freeing as it was terrifying. “Maybe we should get dressed,” she said in attempt to change the topic. “Florence will be back soon and it’ll be my watch.”

“Umm, yeah we better,” He said having snapped out of the daze he had placed himself in. Mike was trying to imagine would it could be like. He was trying to really imagine how bad it would be but all he could see was her...even in that state, being gentle with him. Approaching him from the woods like a dream, a large black wolf coming over to him timidly.

He sat up and reached over for his pants, then shirt. He was pulling them on, laid back and was doing his belt when he stopped. He laid there staring up at the night sky. Little dots of light looking like stars but in his mind really wern’t. He turned his head to Jess, watching her. Her dark, her pale body, reminding him of HER, Inga but the women were so vastly different...he hoped.

He had felt this way before with Inga and look what happened to him...almost happened to him. In a way, it made her nerveous but in other way, comforted him to know, she saved his life when she could have let him die. And that she...protected them...all.

Putting her clothes back on was sort of like donning armor. What was it about him that stripped away her defenses? Jess hadn’t talked to anyone about what went on in her head when she was a wolf. And although initially hesitant, it seemed like second nature with him. Which worried her in one way, but was oddly freeing in another.

Clothing back in place, she glanced over at Mike laying on the ground. Moved by an impulse she didn’t fully understand she leaned over him and kissed him, lightly pulling on his lips before withdrawing. “Thank you for trying to understand,” she whispered.

His view was suddenly blocked. Mike turned his head slightly toward the cause only to have his lips being covered by another. He closed his eyes instinctively, a hand also moved, reaching up to her. His hand rested upon her upper arm and flexed a little as to grip it.

When she pulled back, he opened his eyes, staring up into hers. He didn’t know what to say to that statement. He was trying and the key word was...trying. With his defenses down for a moment, he leaned up and kissed her softly but deeply. He then pulled back then gave a little smirk, “Just don’t give me your fleas.”

Jess gave a little snort of laughter, an all to rare true smile spreading over her face. She would have made the same joke if the situation had been reversed. “Then keep your cooties to yourself.” It was tempting to pull her (and his) clothes off and resume their lovemaking. But Florence’s watch was just about up and she would be returning soon.

“Get some rest,” she said. “I’ll wake you in a couple of hours for your watch.” Reluctantly she stepped back. “I’ll let you know if I see anything out of the ordinary.” Still, she was reluctant to step any further away.

“My cooties are already all over you so to late for that,” He smirked then laid back as she stood. He watched her, knowing she was reluctant to move away. He then sat up, got up himself, grabbed her and just nuzzled into her neck, “Just scream really loud and I’ll find you. Don’t try anything foolish... okay?” I don’t want to lose you, He thought to himself.

Jess couldn’t help but melt against him. It was rare that she let her neck be so exposed, either in human or wolf form. “I won’t do anything foolish. But the same goes for you.”

He pulled back from her, raising his hand with hers in it and kissing the back of her hand softly. “Go find Florence, I’m sure if we let her she would stay out there all night.” He then swatted her on the ass to sho her away.

She smiled back at him, trying to duck away from his swat. “Get some rest,” she admonished once more. After blowing a kiss at him, Jess then turned and walked into the low scrub, sniffing. Florence’s trail wouldn’t be too hard to pick up. The Sister deserved a chance to rest as much as her lover did.

Mike settled down, checking the small fire. He then heated up some water and found a tea bag and made some. He was doing it for Florence, guessing she would need it. He then made her a little meal with the rations he had.

Meanwhile, Florence came up from behind Jess and touched her shoulder, just to let her know she was there. She didn’t want to scare her. And after all, Florence had learned very young to move quietly.

Jess had thought she heard someone coming up behind her, and was about to turn. She was relieved to see that it was Florence though. Jess gestured back the way she had come with a nod of her head. “It’s my turn to watch,” she said simply. “I think Mike’s got dinner ready for you.”

She wasn’t going to bring up what the Sister had walked in on. That was between her and Mike. Besides, she was still trying to work out what was going on between them. Some times he was icy and distant only to melt against her a moment later.

She looked back to the forest. She’d have plenty of time to mull over their growing relationship while on watch. Assuming that nothing was amiss. “Anything unusual out there, Florence?”

Florence gave Jess one of those looks, seeming to tell her, ‘What do you think?’ But then shook her head no to answer the woman in some kind of fashion. She then turned and walked away, leaving her to do what Florence had been, just checking around.

She walked back, seeing Mike laid out, one eyes open as he heard her coming back. She also noted the gun he had at ready but he was relaxed seeing it was her. She gave a quick smiled then nodded to the food to say thanks. She then started eating, just glancing out at the woods and wondering...what was in store for them next.

Seeing that Florence made it back safely, Jess then scouted further into the woods. She didn’t pick up any other scents than their own, but still she prowled. Two circuits around their camp, and then she extended the range, wanting to see what else was in the area.

After about ten minutes walking and listening and sniffing, she came to a clearing. Peering out through the foliage, she saw a building, apparently abandoned from the looks of the windows. Curious but above all cautious, Jess decided to take a risk. She undressed and Changed, going all the way to a wolf’s form, figuring that she could pass for a stray dog if she unexpectedly came across someone.

There was no sign of anyone as she purposefully meandered across the clearing. A quick sniff revealed that no one had recently entered the building. But people had been in there at one point, and stripped out everything useful The large main room was empty. But what she saw in a small side room surprised her. A reclining black leather chair, reminiscent of one in a dentist’s office in shape, sat untouched in the middle of the room.

“A Jump Port,” Jess thought to herself. She remembered vaguely through a anesthetic haze walking up in a similar chair and being told that she had made it into the Realm. Cautiously she circled the chair, as if expecting someone to suddenly appear in it, studying the hookup. “Hmmm...inbound only.” Useful knowledge, but not of immediate use to her and Mike. Besides, even if they could get out, Jess, at least, would just be going out of the frying pan and back into the fire.

Quietly and silently, she exited the building and bolted back for the woods. Instead of Changing and redressing, she grabbed her clothing in her mouth and slunk away. Santiago might be aware of the Port, and could be watching it for any would be assassin sent through it. The sooner she got back to camp, the better.

Fortunately nobody seemed to be following her. Near camp, she paused and Changed back to a human. Quickly she redressed and stepped back into the camp.

Florence slept quietly on her bed roll while Mike was sleeping upon his. However he woke when he heard noises and had his gun ready when he saw it was Jess. He rose to a stand and paced over to her, seeming to read the look upon her face. In a whisper he asked, “What is it? You find something out there? Guard troops?”

His hand was clenched around his gun tightly, ready to put it into action at any moment. He then glanced back at Florence, “Should we wake her?”

Jess glanced over at the sleeping woman. “That’s your call. I’m not certain how critical this is. But don’t get your hopes up.” She looked back the way she came, listening for any sounds that seemed out of place, still paranoid that there were soldiers in the area.

When she turned back to Mike, her voice was rapid, but quiet to keep from traveling. “About half a mile west of here is there’s a Jump Port.” She raised a hand, shushing him before he could respond. “It’s entry only. I poked around a bit. But I didn’t see any signs of anyone guarding it. Which worries me, cause somebody is making sure it’s ready to be used.”

Mike looked back to Florence then out to the woods. Florence wouldn’t understand the jump port but somehow he got a feeling she might. He drew in a breath nodded his head back to her, “Go wake her, she can at least watch our back.”

“There are tons of them all over the place. Santiago has been working way around to try and find these things, destroying them. Probably hasn’t found this one yet.” He said looking off in that direction. So probably no Guard but let’s not take chances.”

He started walking a little way into the woods....

Jess watched him walk off before turning to where Florence was sleeping. She wasn’t sure she bought the ‘no Guard around’ line that Mike had reassured her of. If not the Republican Guard, there were other groups out there that might want to control the jump port for their own uses.

Walking to the sleeping woman, Jess crouched beside her bedroll and shook her shoulder lightly. If this were her being woken up this way, the person might just lose a hand. “Florence, wake up. We might have trouble.”

Florence woke up and blinked a few time before getting up and rubbing her eyes. She grabbed her gun and started to follow Jess.

Meanwhile, Mike made his way to the jump port but never right up to it. He was at the wood’s edge, looking out at it. There was a field between them and his eyes were scanning around for movement. For some reason, he got a strange feeling in his gut.

It was telling him something but he didn’t know what or even why but he knew this, it had to do with him and this place.

Jess led the way through the woods silently, impressed at how quietly she was able to move. Almost as quietly as she did. Nostrils wide, she followed Mike’s scent trail to where he stood on the fringe of the forest.

Jess paused at the expression on his face. Making just enough noise so he could hear her coming, she walked up next to him. She glanced from him, to the building, and back to him, trying to divine what that look meant. “What is it?” she whispered. “What’s wrong?”

Mike turned his head as he heard the noise but then looked back out. He narrowed his eyes a little at that feeling spread more through him. He then felt Florence touch him and he looked back, “Nothing, that I can see,” He responded.

He wondered if he should go out there, go take a look. But then what if nothing was there like she said but then someone did show up? What then? He then tipped his head and motioned, “Seems like we aren’t the only ones who spotted it.”

A raggedy bunch of people were moving about but then stopped to see the building.

Jess watched as a few of the bolder members of the group entered the building. “None of them look like Guard,” she said. They all had too ragtag a look. These were people who didn’t live in Santiago’s perfect city.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen enough,” she said. Jess glanced around uneasily. If she had her way, they’d be far from here before any of Santiago’s vaunted Republican Guard arrived. She knew that Florence wanted to stay in the area, and she was okay with that. She just didn’t want to be right on top of the building.

“Scavengers,” Mike said quietly, “Just looking for whatever they can to trade or keep.” He too watched carefully, counting in his head the number of people, less than ten and two kids. Couldn’t be no older than five or six.

Florence pointed to the building then looked back to Jess, trying to tell her that was the place, she knew it. She then sighed and nodded slowly moving to get away. She stopped however looking back as one of the kids started to cry. It was a cry of someone scrapping themselves and she was a healer.

Pinocchio reached out and grabbed her arm before she could move, “No, nothing a little water and bandages can take care of. They don’t need to know we are around or they will be attacking us to get what we have and I ain’t giving up my car to anyone.”

He pulled the two back to move away. Still watching the clearing, she backed away. Florence’s motions had clued her into the fact that there was something important about that building. But Jess didn’t want to figure out the nuances of her message with so many people around.

Her eyes flicked back and forth between Florence and Mike and the building. “Yeah. The sooner we get out of here the better.” Although with Florence convinced the messiah would be arriving soon, she doubted that they would get far away. Maybe that was what Florence was telling her? That the port was connected somehow?

Mike started to move back, slowly crawling his way from he clearing. “With those people around, there has to be some kind of settlement near by. We can go there and hide out for a while, mingle with the people and find out what is up.”

His voice was barely above a whisper as he spoke to the two women while moving away. He finally stood when they seemed a safe distance away. “Let’s pack up camp, and drive over,” he informed them going to do just that.

This time Florence didn’t say a word, more like objected physically for it was all she could do instead of speak. She nodded in agreement and followed moving ahead of them to do just that.

Jess was a bit surprised at Florence’s complicity, but she didn’t question it. The sooner they broke camp and got into the settlement, the better. Letting the others deal with the fire, she started to pack up the bedrolls. They might even find a place to sleep the night away...

The night of a full moon.

“Shit.” Jess said, and then sighed heavily. “We may have a problem. Or more accurately, I may.” She licked her lips nervously. “It might be better if you two head on in, and wait for me to catch up tomorrow.” With the Sisters, she could slip off to the peace and quiet of the woods and revel in her canine senses in relative peace and safety. She wasn’t certain she could control her reactions in the noise and confusion of a settlement.

Pinocchio stopped as he had kicked out the fire, looking over at Jess confussed. Florence however didn’t stop, having known what Jess was indeed speaking of. She looked to Pinocchio as he had stopped then tugged at him to keep going but he ignored her.

“What problem?” He moved away going over to Jess. “I’m not leaving you behind,” He seemed pretty strong and adimate inw hat he was saying.

Florence reached out to grab his arm again but he jerked it away. She looked to Jess then moved away to leave the two alone.

Jess’s heart fluttered at the possessive sound in his voice. But she had to be practical to keep him safe. “It’s a full moon tonight,” she said as if it explained everything.

“Look, I know I said that I’d never hurt you. And I wouldn’t willingly or knowingly ever. But I don’t trust the beast inside of me. It’s a wild animal, and on nights like this, it can get the upper hand all too easily.” She bit her lower lip. “If I...did something to you, I couldn’t live with myself. I’m trying to keep you safe.”

“I don’t give a shit about the full moon or what you would think you could do to me. I’m not leaving you behind. Not out here for someone to just pick you off cause they need some coat or are starving,” Pinocchio grabbed her arms as he spoke and squeezed them to let her know he was serious.

“And I am more than capable of defending myself, Mike,” Jess responded. She didn’t pull away from his touch. It was comforting in a way to know that he was so defensive of her, but he was picking the wrong time to show it.

However Florence came back up and moved between them, pushing him back from Jess shaking her head at him.

“I’m not leaving her,” He snapped at Florence seeming to know instinctively what she was trying to tell him.

Florence glared at him.

“No and that...” He jumped back in pain as Florence stomped upon his foot, “Owwww!” He glared at her as she crossed her arms then quickly pointed back at Jess.

Mike looked to Jess then back to Florence then lowered his eyes, “Fine, if it’s what she wants.” he mumbled then grabbed up a blanket and stormed off toward his car.

Florence sighed looking back to Jess.

Jess shook her head, a sigh escaping her as well. “What am I supposed to do? You and I both know that it’s too dangerous. I may not attack him, but what if I attack someone else?” She gave another deep sigh as she stepped forward to squeeze the Sister’s arm. “Try to make him understand.”

She glanced at the sun, still low in the east. “I guess I could come into town and slip away in a few hours. Maybe I can explain a bit more to him. But I’m spending the night away, and rejoining you at dawn.”

Florence shrugged to Jess as if to tell her it was truly up to the woman if she wanted to come. Florence didn’t think Mike would ever understand. Right now he was torn by a lot of things. His emotions going this way and that. His heart still broken from what happened to him.

Mike slammed the trunk closed, having bruised himself in doing so. He welcomed the pain. It seemed to be the only constant companion he had that didn’t fuck with his emotions. He walked around to the driver’s door and climbed in, slamming it closed and waiting for Florence. He had the keys in the ignition, ready to start it.

He closed his eyes, the vision of Jess as a wolf appeared. He shook his head and squeezed his eyes tighter to try and clear it for it morphed into the image of Inga as she held the gun up to shoot him.

He snapped his eyes open, his fingers tightly gripping the steering wheel. Was he making the same mistake with Jess as he did with Inga? Was she too...going to turn on him?

Jess bit her lip, understanding Florence’s movements. Going with them would only cause more problems as night fell, and she and Mike had the same argument yet again. “Okay. I’ll stay here. I’ll be in this general area if you need to find me. I’ll try to hold off the Change as long as I can.”

She jumped slightly when the slam of the vehicle’s trunk. He was angry with her, which she really couldn’t blame him for. But he had to understand. Jess couldn’t always control the beast within on full moon nights. She was doing this to protect Mike. She was doing this because...she loved him.

“Be careful, Florence. And keep an eye on him for me.” Before she could change her mind, Jess turned and walked resolutely into the woods.

Florence nodded to Jess, standing there watching her before she vanished into the woods. Coming back to the car, she saw Mike sitting there, glaring and hurt. She wasn’t sure he could understand but in time, he would.

Climbing in, she noticed the look he just gave her then looking away. She lowered her head as the car threw dirt and leaves behind it as it pulled away, leaving Jess alone while the went to the settlement and Mike straight to the bar.

Jess, meanwhile, continued into the forest, determined not to give into the impulse to go back and trail his car. To say that she was wrong and she’d never hurt him. But she couldn’t trust herself. Besides it was better this way. Although she wasn’t looking forward to having this fight every month.

There was one worry every month she wouldn’t have to face at least. Her hand rested on her stomach, feeling for once a sense of regret. She wasn’t certain if it was the Change, the experiments that had been performed on her after, or if it had been a preexisting condition, but she had overhead while being physically evaluated prior to entering the game that she would never be able to get pregnant. Before, it had seemed a relief, not wanting to have any children be subjected to the same experiments and curse that she was. But now...now it seemed to be a lost opportunity.

Jess shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. It would do no good to brood over what she was no longer capable of. She had enough things to worry about and sorrow over without adding something that couldn’t be changed. Hoping that she was far enough into the forest she wouldn’t stumble across any of the scavengers, she sat down against a tree and closed her eyes and waited for nightfall and the rise of the full moon.

Florence hung around, making arrangements for rooms. She then started searching for Mike and it wasn’t hard to do. She went straight for the place she thought she would find him.

She walked into the bar and found the man sitting upon a stool at the bar, drinking a shot. She walked over, paying no mind to staring eyes and placed a hand upon his shoulder.

Mike shrugged it off, “Leave me alone,” he grumbled under his breath. He head a sigh from her. He turned his eyes to her, hurt, anger, all showed in the blues. She leaned over to scribble in the dirt upon the bar but he pushed her hand away, “No.” He didn’t want to hear it or read it.

Florence sighed and sat down beside him, placing her hand upon his arm, this time was not shrugged away as he just gave in. Seemed like he was doing that a lot lately. “I could be a real ass and just leave.” He mumbled. Florence knew though he wouldn’t. “I could,” he looked at her as if she said he wouldn’t.

He pushed from the stool and nearly fell as he tried to stand, Florence caught him but he pushed her away. He walked out and once the cool air of the night him, he seemed to sober up. Behind him Florence followed. She stood watching him as he looked back towards the woods then closed his eyes tightly, wavered a little then pushed on towards his car.

She reached out, quickly going after him and grabbed his arm, trying to pull him to the room she managed to get. Mike stumbled a few paces with her before stopping, “I can’t...can’t leave her alone...out there,” He clumsily threw his arm out that direction. Florence tried again to pull him, he jerked his arm away and ran off towards the woods, leaving her with the car and a heavy sigh.

Whoever hurt him, hurt him deeply. Florence could not understand though was why because of what she was seeing from the man. No matter how gruff he was, deep inside, she saw a love there that needed a place.

The scent of blood hung heavy in the air.

And the not-quite-wolf relished it.

It had taken all her cunning, all her wits, to bring down the old, cagey buck. Jess, if she could still be called that, had to forsake her four legged form for the advantage of the saber-like claws. The rage and pain that was normally kept leashed tightly was allowed to rampage. It wasn’t a kill. It was a slaughter.

Crouched in front of the slashed carcass, she tore at the belly, eager to get to vitamin rich organs inside. But her blood stained muzzle lifted when she heard the sound of approaching footprints. The instinct to protect her kill from any and all comers. Jess let out a low growl whose message was clear. Stay away.

Pinocchio was hit by leaves, scraped by branches as he moved through the brush. He looked about, the moon lighting the ground. He heard something, smelled something but wasn’t sure what it was. He however turned his head back to the Jump port. A pull in his gut wanted him to go to it but a pull at his heart was stronger.

He moved on, but then froze as he heard that growl, “Jess?” he asked in a low tone, not moving as his eyes scanned the darkness.

The syllables meant nothing to the wolf creature. But the human in her vaguely stirred. She could see almost as clearly as day the human that was blundering towards her kill. The growl grew in pitch as she stood up on her hind paws and stepped over the carcass. Jaws and claws dripping with gore, she gave her final warning for him to go away. The wolf was being held in check by the human just barely.

Mike heard the growls and he lowered the foot he was about to take a step with, but then something snapped and if he hadn’t reacted so quickly, the trap would have sprang and broken his ankle. However in doing so, it sent him right toward the direction he was warned not to go.

He came tumbling forth, hopping on one foot before falling over, hitting the dew wet ground and hard as the air was pushed out of him.

The sound of metal on metal triggered memories in the werewolf. Not ones fully understood, but all too clear feelings of pain and fear and anger and rage and terror and hopelessness. Of being poked, prodded, and violated with sharp needles and bright knives. Of yelps and howls and screams.

She could see the human now, cowering on the ground like she had cowered so many times. A man, like the most of the others who had hurt her. Her snarl took on an angrier tone as her hackles bristled as she started towards prone man, murder and revenge on her mind.

Pinocchio kicked at the trap to get it way from him but his head turned only to see a large black wolf coming at him with anger deep embedded in it’s eyes. So this is what she meant. Though how could he be sure it was even her.

He quickly reached and grabbed a fallen branch and just as her teeth went to sink into him, he rammed it between her teeth so she bit into it instead of his arm and it took all his strength to push her back and hold her back, “Jess!” He shouted at her, “It’s me.”

She felt splinters in her tender gums and lips, and it angered the beast in Jess’ soul even more. She jerked her head to one side, ripping the branch from his hands. Snarling, her jaws tightened on the wood and then there was a crunching sound as it cracked.

The werewolf spat out the branch rather contemptuously. She swept out with a long foreleg, the claws easily shredded through his clothing, scoring flesh beneath. She could smell fresh, human blood now, and the wolf whined in eagerness for a kill.

Pinocchio cried out and pulled back, rolling as he did. Pain was racing through him. Flashes of Inga came to him. The flash of the gun going off. Without hesitation, he drew his gun from his hip, flipped the safety off and as he rolled ended up on his stomach.

Blue eyes flashed with a pain, a sorrow, a hurt that only etched in deeper as he pulled the trigger. As if in slow motion, when the wolf charged at him, the bullet hit the shoulder, ending it back with a whine that only related in shock.

The wolf let out a loud yelp, twisting the as the pain knifed into her shoulder’s flesh and bone. Knocked onto her back, Jess tried to roll onto her stomach and rise, but her right leg gave out on the first attempt. But the pain did have one positive, if it could be called that, affect. It cut through that instinct and rage straight to the psyche of the woman.

Brown eyes blinked as she managed to raise onto digigrade hind legs, a human awareness showing in the lupine face. Horror washed over those expressions at what she had almost done, and what part of her still wanted to do, goaded by the scent of blood and gunpowder and the stink of fear and the pain of her throbbing shoulder.

Unable to speak clearly with a canine muzzle, Jess reached forward to apologize by touch and then stopped at the renewed stab of pain. Instincts were coming to the fore again. Not of fight, but of flight. She didn’t want to see the horror and disgust on his face. After almost killing him, she couldn’t face him. She may love him, but could he after what she had almost done? Turning, she bolted, crashing on two legs back into the underbrush, seeking a dark place to hide and lick her wounds, a sorrowful and pain laced howl echoing behind her.

Pinocchio kicked away from Jess as she reached out, his gun pointed at her. As she turned and ran, Mike pulled himself up and went back the other direction. He quickly broke through the woods only to run into Florence.

She quickly grabbed him, noticing the blood, “Leave me alone!” he snapped at her, pushing her away.

Florence stumbled back and watched him as he vanished around a corner. She then looked in at the woods and quickly ventured in. She head a gun shot and had to know if Jess was okay.

Jess hadn’t made it far. Crashing through the brush, she had tripped and fallen, landing on her wounded shoulder. She cried out again in pain and curled up on the ground, whimpering and letting out an eerily human sobbing. It was her worst nightmare almost come to life. The only difference was that in her nightmares she actually killed him.

Her head jerked up when she heard the footsteps of someone approaching. A sniff confirmed that it wasn’t Mike, but Florence coming. Raising to three legs ears flat against her skull and tail tucked firmly between her legs, she started to limp away, not wanting to face her either.

Florence broke through the brush and looked to Jess, ears back, teeth showing. She could see the blood dripping down. She pushed forth and quickly ran to her, slapping her on the snout when Jess snapped at her.

It took all her strength to push her down and she was not putting up with her snipping either. She pulled her hand from her glove and placed it over the wound. Her hand started to glow a yellow tinge as she started to heal the wound.

Jess let out a loud yelp, writhing under Florence’s touch. The bullet working its way out of her flesh was almost as painful as when it knifed in. Her accelerated healing was being kicked into overdrive, augmented by Florence’s gift. It also triggered a spontaneous shapeshifting.

Sitting up, Jess batted the healer’s hands away. “Damn it, Florence!” she snapped. “You know I heal without you having to help!” It wasn’t out of anger at her friend Jess spoke, but out of anger and fear of what Mike would think. She shook her head. “I can’t go back, Florence. Not after what I almost did.”

Jess shoved away from her, not looking in the eyes. “Go take care of Mike, Florence. I got him a bad cut across his ribs.”

Florence pulled her hands away, sitting back on her heels as Jess snapped at her. She rolled her eyes at the woman then stood, stumbling back a little when Jess pushed her. She grabbed her arm and shook her head to her, telling her no, she was not going to leave her.

Her grip was strong and not relenting and with a jerk she pulled Jess.

And Jess stubbornly planted her feet. Each word was growled through clenched teeth. “*I* won’t go *back!*” Jerking her arm, she managed to break Florence’s grip and backed away a few steps out of reach. “Damn it, Florence, I almost killed him.”

She wouldn’t look at Florence. “It’s better this way,” she muttered more to herself than to the healer. “It was only a matter of time. And even if he forgives me now, we’re going to do this again next full moon. And the one after that. And the one after that. Until I completely lose control.”

Jess looked deep into Florence’s eyes. “Tell him that I’m sorry,” she whispered, tears falling from her eyes. “And tell him that I love him.” And then she was gone, melting into the night as she Changed to blend into the darkness.

Florence stumbled back, looking to Jess with hurt in her eyes. She kept shaking her head but knew it was usless as the woman took off to melt into the darkness. She sighed in looking down. Tell him that she loved him. She would try but not like she could voice the words. But then Mike seemed to know what she was thinking.

She wondered back slowly, trying to find the man. Once she did, things went on from there. They never again spoke of Jess. Mike never even revealed it to the new guy, Hobbes who was the One.

When Hobbes showed, things in the Realm changed. Mike had changed. It was suttle little things but still she saw him change. Jess had hurt him, but not in the physical sense. Emotional. In a short time, Mike had his heart broken twice and it seemed he vowed never to let that happen again.

A great deal of months had passed since the parting. Florence guessed about a year, could be less, could be more. Only really Hobbes seemed to know. Always writing these letters he knew would never reach the one it was intended.

The group was now traveling north, trying to work a way around Santiago’s men that were pushing west. They were along a dirt road, Pinocchio was down on his knees, trying to change the flat the had gotten.

Pinocchio was trying to break a lugnut loose while Hobbes watched. Beside him a little dog named Dexter sat, looking out towards the woods. “Mike, let me try.”

Pinocchio looked over at him with this look like the kid was insane.

“Come on, I think I can get it,” Hobbes insisted.

“Fine, fine, you try it,” Pinocchio wipped the sweat off with the back of his arm.

Hobbes walked over, placed the lug wrench upon the nut and in standing used his foot to push upon it. Didn’t budge. Pinocchio smirked at him. Then Hobbes jumped upon it and dropped to the ground. He looked to Pinocchio with a smug look.

Pinocchio rolled his eyes, grumble under his breath and pushed the kid side, “Get out of the way.”

Florence just snickered as she stood guard.

The gray wolf watched the humans doing something to the metal box with a curious expression. He was puzzled by his packmate’s reaction. The black wolf-not-wolf normally didn’t like humans in her territory. Sometimes she looked like a human and spoke with them, trading the skins from their meals for shiny metal that made loud noises in the strange stick she carried. Or she would stay wolf and growl, slinking back deeper into the forest. But this time was diffferent. She had taken her human shape, putting on the strange smelling not-skins that other humans wore.

But she didn’t go out to bark at them. Instead she crouched unseen, watching, smelling of fear and uncertainty and shame. Gray Wolf stayed at her side. She wasn’t his mate, but she was his Alpha, and he would obey her wishes and protect her to preserve the pack. His ears swiveled a moment before wolf-not-wolf’s head turned. He whined, pawing at her thigh. The low rumble meant that more humans they normally fled from were coming in more metal boxes.

Crouching beside the wolf that had been her constant companion for the last six months, Jess watched Mike hungrily. She was torn – did she slink back into the woods or step out and reveal hersef? Take a chance, and see him just one more time, or withdraw to the safety of the forest? It sounded like that choice was about to be taken from her. Dropping one knee, she shifted from a crouch, bringing her rifle to the ready as she heard the patrol rumble up the road.

Florence, like the wolf in the woods, felt something inside her. She couldn’t explain it, even if she wanted to. She turned back to Pinocchio and Hobbes rushing to them and motioning them to either hurry or hide.

Pinocchio looked up, “Shit,” he cursed as he reached into the car for the keys and locked the doors. He grabbed Hobbes, “Woods, let’s go.” He took off ahead of the blonde, Dexter ahead of him.

Florence brought up the rear, looking behind her as she moved. Pinocchio found a ravine and pulled Hobbes in, looking over to watch, gun ready.

“You think it was the Guard?” Hobbes whispered, his own gun drawn.

Pinocchio shrugged, “Who knows, who cares. The sooner we get out of this area, the better.”

The wolf next to her whined and turned to go, but a look from Jess stilled him. Hands tense on her weapon, she watched as the military transport rumble up the road. The vehicle stopped and disgorged armed soldiers shortly in front of Pinocchio’s car. She swore under her breath as one of the soldiers barked ‘fan out’ and they spread towards both the woods towards her and the ravine where they were hiding.

The wolf whined again as Jess sighted her weapon on the leading soldier. One lip curled back revealing an eyetooth, a snarl more fitting to her wolf side than her human face. Her finger curled sightly on the trigger, but she didn’t take her shot just yet. She inhaled a breath and held it, waiting.

Pinocchio realized he was holding his breath. He glanced behind them then back before them. He was trying to think of what to do. Damn the guard. He could feel his heart rate quicken. He was not going to get caught and was not going to let Hobbes either.

As the men fanned out, Hobbes too looked about then he felt a hand upon him, grabbing him and pulling him. Pinocchio had moved and was pulling Hobbes, urging him to go. The two with Florence leading the way, moved deeper into the woods.

Jess held her breath as a soldier came within five feet of her hiding space. If it had been her standing there, surverying the forest, she would have had no problem sniffing out a stranger hiding in her bush. And she didn’t exhale as the soldier moved on.

But the group across the road weren’t so lucky. She saw several soldier’s guns snap to focus on a very small area. Which happened to be just where the trio had disappeared earlier. “Freeze!” the troop commander yelled. “Put your hands on your head and back towards my voice slowly!”

Pinocchio stopped, a cringe upon his face as he heard the words. He looked slowly over to Hobbes who was raising his hands slowly. Pinocchio however noted Florence was missing. Good...good.

He too raised his hands, slowly turned and started toward the soldiers. He didn’t need to say anything. The soldiers knew who THEY were. He rolled his eyes, “You know, you boys really need to find something else to do,” he commented in heading over.

He payed for it with a smack to the jaw, courtsey of the butt from an M-16 riffle. He winced as his head jerked about, “Shut up,” came the order then he was shovered forward, stumbling.

Hobbes just looked over then was pushed to follow.

Even the gray wolf was surprised at the anger in Jess’ growl. The wolf scampered out of the way when she aimed the rifle and fired a single round. The bullet flew true, striking the temple of the soldier that had bashed Pinocchio.

He flashed out in a blue light before his body even hit the ground.

She ducked behind the tree, breathing heavily as gunfire now came in her direction. Gray wolf had scampered away, knowing what gunshots meant. And Jess remained where she was, calmly firing her shots at every opportunity, picking off another soldier who was too close to the brushline for comfort.

The shock of the soldier being hit took some for a moment but Pinocchio was the first to respond. He quickly grabbed the gun the man hand snatched Hobbes by the arm and jerked him, nearly throwing him behind a tree.

From another direction, Florence opened fire as well.

“Where the hell that come from?” Hobbes asked scurrying over to a fallen body, grabbing their guns and taking up his to pick off another.

“Who gives a shit...” Pinocchio growled in ducking back as bark flew at his face. He rolled the other way, ditching the riffle for his sub machine gun.

Hobbes rolled on the ground, taking out the last man. Both stayed still for a moment, breathing heavy, eyes searching the trees for more movement.

Florence was the first to venture forth only to have Pinocchio’s gun leveled in her face but was quickly pulled away as he grabbed her and pulled her against the tree. “Hobbes, you okay?”

“Yeah, you?” he responded from the ground.

Pinocchio took a quick inventory, other than the bruise forming from the hit and a few scratches from the bark, he was fine, “Well I ain’t flickering out. See anything?”

“No,” Hobbes slowly got to his feet.

Pinocchio slowly came around the tree, blue eyes scanning one direction while Hobbes had the other. Slowly the three ventured out, Florence guarding their back. “We get to the car, get the tire on and get the hell out of here.”

“I want to check the trucks?” Hobbes answered.

“What? What for?”

“See what we can find.” Hobbes started heading for them.

Jess had just about made up her mind to leave without saying a word when she noticed the wolf was gone from her side. She looked around frantically. “Gray?” she hissed quietly, knowing that if the wolf, he would come to her side. “Gray!”

A movement behind the truck caught her eye. Oh no, she thought. Gray had seen her interact with other humans in one of two ways, either trading with them, or fighting with them. And since she had shot the soldiers earlier, the wolf had assumed that Pinocchio and his companions were also enemies to be killed and moved into an ambushing position.

So she didn’t have any choice. Gun still at the ready, Jess stepped out of the woods and onto the road and let out a loud whistle to attract Gray’s attention.

Pinocchio shot Hobbes a look then rushed after him. He snatched at the arm and hauled the blonde back, “I’ll go first,” He then moved forward going to the back first, gun drawn, pointed and ready to fire in case he had to.

He reached over and pulled the first flap back. It was then Pinocchio was attacked. The large gray wolf sank it’s teeth into his arm, knocking him backwards. Pinocchio hit the ground hard, he had also cried out. Dexter was barking as Hobbes ran up.

He raised his gun, just the but of it to hit the wolf away as Mike struggled with it, blood running down his arm as the wolf sank it’s teeth deeper into his arm.

Jess had seen what was about to happen and reacted almost instantly. There wasn’t time for her to shapeshift, but that wouldn’t matter to the other wolf. She let out a snarl of her own as she ran and tackled the wolf, knocking the three of them to the ground.

Grey let out a yelp and released Mike’s arm as Jess sank her teeth into his ear in disapproval. Using her momentum, Jess rolled, grappling the wolf and dragging him away from the humans. They scuffled for a moment before Gray whined again and cringed away, tail between his legs, fawning at her feet.

Jess for her part stood up, looming over the wolf, staring down at him, making sure he had no questions about who was alpha. She couldn’t break her stare to look at Mike, although she wanted to check him over, make sure he was fine, try to apologize for what she had done. Instead she stared tense at the wolf, waiting for someone else to make the next move.

Pinocchio was sent tumbling with them and Hobbes had in time stepped back as the body of the woman flew at him. Pain shot through Pinocchio’s arm as he tumbled till the wolf let go. Reflexes and survival kicked in and he quick scurried back feeling Florence behind him helping, dragging.

He looked back to her then over to the woman now standing over the wolf. Hobbes dropped down next to the other two, grabbing Mike’s arm to cover it up but then looked over at the woman as Mike just stared, his breath held. Then came a whispered voice, “Jess?”

For an irrational moment, she had hoped that he wouldn’t recognize her. But she had to wait until Gray dropped his eyes and turned his head, baring his neck to her. Unable to stall any longer, she turned to face him. “Yeah, Mike. It’s me.”

It was hard for her not to drop at his feet and put on much the same cringing display that Gray had for her moments ago. Dimly she registered Florence and Hobbes’ presence, as well as a dog yapping, but her attention was focused on Mike. Her hair was a bit longer, her body a bit thinner, but otherwise she appeared unchanged, other than a haunted look in her face.

“You know her?” Hobbes asked in looking back to Mike then to Florence. The woman nodded as she tired to get Mike’s sleeve up on his sweater.

She changed but didn’t. He was sort of dumbfounded, not sure what to say or to do at this moment. He knew his arm hurt, he hand scratches on him but that didn’t compare to the pain that was in his chest.

He pushed Hobbes away as he forced himself to get up. He still stared, the pain, the hurt registering in his eyes. He started to take a step toward her but then he whirled around and headed for his car.

She saw the pain in his eyes, an echo of what was going through Jess’ heart. Fear of rejection kept her from going after him, from reaching out to touch him.

Hobbes looked back to Mike then back to Jess, “I’m Tom Hobbes,” He held out his hand to her. “Just how do you know, Mike?”

Jess shook his hand absently, most of her concentration on the retreating figure. “Jess. And that’s a long story.”

“HOBBES! Leave her along and let’s go!” Mike shouted without even looking back.

“Mike, wait!” Stepping past Tom, she addressed her ex-lover. After hurting for almost a year, aching and beating herself up over what happened, after wishing to see him one last time to at least clear the air and ask for forgiveness, she wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass by.

“I’m sorry about what happened that night, Mike. That was exactly what I was trying to avoid. I didn’t want you to see me that way, not only because I was afraid of what I would do, but because I was, am, ashamed of what I am.” She knew she was babbling, and that she probably sounded like a lunatic to Hobbes, but she had to get it out before Pinocchio disappeared out of her life again, this time for good. “I’m sorry.”

Pinocchio heard her voice but he ignored it. He didn’t want to turn back. He felt if he did, it was over for him.

Hobbes moved aside as Jess went after Mike. He looked to Florence who was holding Dexter. “Let me guess, I’ll have to ask him?” Florence just nodded.

Pinocchio stopped by the driver’s door, his hand upon his gun that rested at his thigh. He closed his eyes with his back still to her as she spoke. He then opened his eyes, his head tipping back toward the sky. He gave a heavy sigh before slowly turning to face her.

“It was all about you. YOU didn’t want me to see you that way. YOU were ashamed.” He stepped closer to her his voice showing the hurt, “...but what about me? I didn’t care of your turned into a Mutant Ninja Turtle. I loved you. Yeah, you hurt me, but Florence took care of that. The physical ones anyway. But you hurt me worse...just like her...like Inga. YOU left me. Never even said goodbye. Left ME because YOU were scared of what I would think about you. You might as well of killed me that night...cause I died again the moment you didn’t come back.”

He stepped back, hating the fact...he had no where to leave to.

Her heart caught in her throat when he said that he had loved her. Loved. Past tense. Had she been that much of a fool to throw it away because of her fear? “And I loved you, Mike. And it tore my heart out to leave like that. But I wasn’t thinking like a human that night. I was thinking like the wounded animal I was. And I listened to my every instinct to flee.”

“And I couldn’t go back and face you. Not after you were forced to shoot me. It was a miracle that I only clawed you. My God, if I had bitten you--” She wiped a hand in front of her face. That was the one promise she made to herself that she had kept – not to bite anyone in the game and make any other werewolves. Not only would they be competition for her, but she wasn’t certain the Change would be corresponded to the body hooked up to the Realm. And then her head snapped up, eyes widening in horror. Her memories of the night as a werewolf was hazy until Florence had tackled her, healing the gunshot to her foreleg. “I didn’t bite you, did I?”

“N...” Mike stopped before the rest of the word could get out. His eyes looking past her as one of the radios in the hummers squawked. He gritted his teeth then pushed past her stalking over to look in the window. “Company’s coming,” he barked.

Hobbes moved over, “More troops?”

“It ain’t Santee Clause,” the man growled in return. “We need to book. Now.”

Hobbes quickly looked to Jess, “We can’t leave her here.”

Pinocchio looked back then to Hobbes.

“We can’t, Mike,” Hobbes pressed knowing what his answer would be.

With a growl, “Get the mutts into the car.”

Florence was already heading that way, grabbing Jess by the arm and dragging her around to the passenger side. She was shoving her in, letting out a whistle for the wolf then looked to Jess as if telling her to call him.

Hobbes ran over, Dexter ahead of him and hopping in between Florence and Jess. He barked then turned his head as Mike threw open the driver’s door to get in.

Sticking her head out the window, Jess let out a low whine and a sharp yelp, one that made Gray’s ears perk up. He trotted towards the car and stopped short, bouncing back and forth on his forelegs uncertainly. “Come on, boy,” she said, slapping her thigh. “It’s okay, c’mon.” He whined, and then scrambled into the car, trying to get as close to his alpha as possible.

“Good, boy,” Jess said, scratching behind Gray’s ears. “All mutts and sons of bitches accounted for,” she added with a pointed look at Mike. She hadn’t intended to come along with them like this, but Jess didn’t want to stay behind and face Santiago’s troops either.

Dexter bounced between the two at the front seat then moved down to Hobbes’ lap. He then laid his head down as the car threw dirt and stones up as it raced off.

Pinocchio stayed silent, seeming to chew on his inner cheek, biting his tongue from saying anything. His fingers kept turning on the steering wheel.

Hobbes glanced back at Jess, then to the wolf. He gave a smile, “So how did you meet Mike?”

“Can it, Hobbes, none of your business,” Pinocchio spoke lowly.

“I think she can answer on her own,” Hobbes pointed out, ignoring the growl from Pinocchio.

Gray’s head lifted at the growl, and Jess pressed it back down on her knee. She’d have to work on the wolf’s socialization around people she thought, scratching behind his ears to reassure him. “Long story that I won’t bore you with the details. I used to live with the Sisters, and Florence and I met Mike at about the same time.”

It was easier to concentrate on the wolf and avoid looking at Pinocchio. It was clear from his attitude and Hobbes questions that Mike and Florence didn’t talk to anyone about her. “If he’s told you about the devil who stuck her tongue in his ear, then I’m the hellhound he probably hasn’t mentioned,” she said, then looked up in the rearview mirror. “Let me out about two miles down the road. I won’t bother you again.”

Hobbes gave a little chuckle, “The only reason he told me about her is because he had to. Mike doesn’t chitchat much.”

Pinocchio just threw a look to Hobbes. A few moments passed, “We’re not stopping till we get some distance between us and them. Two miles ain’t going to cut it, sweetheart.”

Dexter popped his head up to look at the wolf then laid his head down between the seats as he just looked at them, his little tail wagging.

“I think Mike is right,” Hobbes informed Jess, “We need to put some distance between us first. But as soon as they are gone we can take you back...if you like. Where are you from?”

Jess reached over to offer the back of her hand to the dog to sniff as she thought the best way to answer Hobbes’ question. She was relieved that Dexter didn’t seem to be freaking out over her scent. Or maybe he wasn’t able to differentiate between her and Gray.

“West coast, originally,” Jess said. “Now, nowhere in particular.” There were lots of drifters now, people without homes wander from place to place to scratch out a living however they could. And she doubted she’d be around long enough to have to reveal the full truth.

Gray lifted his nose to sniff at Dexter’s, assuming the dog was a small, somewhat deformed wolf pup. Jess smiled and patted the wolf’s head. “So how did you end up with Mike?” she asked.

Hobbes reached down and pet Dexter as he stretched forth his nose to sniff. He then turned his head to Hobbes, his tail wagging even more before looking back then laying his head back down.

“He robbed me,” Tom answered as he looked to Pinocchio.

Pinocchio just glanced out of the corner of his eye to the other man but didn’t say anything.

“He took my engagement ring to my girl and traded it for a spot on a boat,” He smiled a little.

“Which you didn’t let me take,” He grumbled. “Could be on a beach right now...” more words were grumbled out but they were under his breath, barely audible.

“Since then, we’ve been together,” Hobbes finished.

Jess shook her head. In some ways, it sounded like something Mike would have done, although she couldn’t claim to know him well enough to say it sounded exactly like him.

She glanced over at Florence, itching to ask the Sister a few questions. Ones that she couldn’t ask in front of Pinocchio and Hobbes. Such as if Hobbes was the messiah that the Sisters had been waiting for. And more importantly, how Mike had been doing since she left.

Florence caught the glance Jess gave to her and her eyes knew what she wanted and answered with a later for even Florence knew now was not the time. Since being with these two men and especially Mike, she learned she had a bond with them. Mike seemed to know what she wanted to say or needed to at times and she didn’t want him to know now.

Idly she scratched at Gray’s ears, noticing he wasn’t holding his weight properly on both forelegs. “Paw,” she said, followed by a ‘good boy’ when Gray placed his leg in her upturned hand. “Found him caught in a wolf trap. Fortunately for him, his leg wasn’t broken,” she muttered as she ran her fingers over the foreleg. It was safer to talk about something, anything, but how she knew Mike. “He still favors this leg though.”

“Maybe Florence can help with that?” Hobbes offered as he looked at the healer.

“Great, now she’s a vet,” Mike grumbled as he took a turn, the car till barreling down the road at a good clip.

Florence looked at Jess then held her hand out for Gray to smell, back of her hand showing to him after she removed her glove. Dexter perked his ears up then pushed up, his tail thumping then stretched his nose out and then licked Florence’s hand.
Then he barked. The little terrior as if telling the wolf he can trust her.

Grey gave a little whine, looking at Jess with long suffering eyes as he let Florence touch him. She petted his head, making a soothing rumble. “S’okay.”

Hobbes smiled down at Dexter and he patted his head who looked back to him and nuzzled his owner’s hand as he shifted a little upon the center section.

“There’s a settlement up ahead. I need to find a tanker to get some fuel,” Pinocchio threw to Hobbes.

“You think they have one?” Hobbes shifted his attention.

“Better hope so,” Pinocchio looked down at the gas gage.

“It’s big enough that it might have one,” Jess said. “But I haven’t been there too much.” Settlements made her uneasy now. Too much potential trouble – most men not being afraid of trying to take advantage of an unaccompanied woman. And too much potential for her to lose control.

All the while, she was half wondering, and half dreading, if she could get some time alone with Mike, to try to explain without yelling. Not that was likely to happen, given his apparent attitude.

Florence worked at healing Gray’s leg, her hand lightly glowing of a yellow hue. She didn’t make any sudden moves nor try to touch him any more than what she was already. Soon she pulled her hand away and returned her glove to cover her hand.

Gray whined, a bit uncertain at the human’s touch, and then put his leg down. He bounced it a few times, as if not believing the pain was gone. The long tail started to wag and he licked at the glove covered fingers.

As the car pulled into the outskirts, some people mingling about turned their heads as it did. It was rare to see a car still able to move. Some parted the way as Pinocchio slowed his car down.

He pulled up to a group of people, leaning out the window, “Hey, there a tanker around? Some place to get some fuel?”

A busty woman turned then came over. She looked in, taking in the two women, the dogs then the two men. “Yeah, there is. What’s it worth to you?”

Pinocchio reached into his pocket and flicked a packet of cigarettes to her.
She looked at them then smiled, “For this handsome, you can drive over to my place and use whatever you like.” She winked at him.

Jess bit back a growl, an instinctive show of territory. She and Pinocchio may have parted ways, but there was still a primal, possessive part of her that still considered him her mate.

“Just the fuel, doll face,” Pinocchio informed her.

“Your loss,” She then pointed down the road, “Follow that turn to your left then keep going about a half mile then right. Can’t miss it. As for Joe.” She stepped back and opened the pack. “Hey, you got a light?” She asked.

Pinocchio looked to her, “What’s it worth to you?” Then the car pulled away, the words Bastard being drowned out by the motor.

Hobbes looked over then shook his head.

And this time Jess did let out a dry sounding chuckle. Some things apparently never changed.

Going the direction she indicated, soon the tanker was in sight. Pinocchio pulled up then climbed out, “You guys wait here.” He then went around to the trunk and pulled a bottle out form his stash and made his way over, hiding it in his jacket.

A rather gruff looking man came out to greet Mike, the two talking as Hobbes climbed out to stretch his legs. He left the door open for the women to crawl out. Dexter was the first to join him, hopping out and quickly going to find a place to use as he sniffed around.

Soon the exchange was made and Mike came back, “Hobbes, get the cans.” He shouted as he started opening the gas tank. Hobbes pulled out four cans, Florence grabbing two and he the other two.

Gray bolted out of the car the first chance he got. He also sniffed around, eventually lifting a leg against a tree. He then came and sniffed at Dexter, almost bowling the little dog over in his enthusiasm.

Dexter was looking over at Hobbes when Gray came over. His head turned and he stumbled upon his little legs then butted his head against Grays before he started bounding around him, moving under him and jumping around.

Jess meanwhile stretched, looking around. The area seemed vaguely familiar to her, although she couldn’t say why at first. She walked a little further away from the car, trying to puzzle out why she was feeling so uneasy. She walked a little further down the road, took a look at set of lean-tos and a poorly maintained cinderblock building with a tin roof.

And remembered.

She went pale, and started backing towards the car. “How long are you guys going to be?” she called out, body tense. “Cause I’ve got to get out of here.”

Hobbes sat the gas can down next to Mike as he was filling the car. His blue eyes watching the two dogs, a little worried about the bigger dog.

“Don’t worry, Hobbes, I ain’t about to let that bigger dog eat him before I do,” Pinocchio commented.

Hobbes was about to respond when Jess approached. He looked about then to her, seeing she was pale and nerveous. “You okay?” He asked in approaching her, meeting her half way. “We shouldn’t be long? Why? We were just passing through.” He placed a hand upon her arm so he could comfort her.

Pinocchio glanced up. He wanted to go to her, his body did but he wasn’t budging.
The words that came out were not the ones he wanted to say, “Well we ain’t stoppin ya, Goldielocks.” He looked back down tipping the can more.

Hobbes just looked back then to her, “What is it? You know this place?”

Jess had jumped when Hobbes touched her, and immediately shied away from his grip. She was still tense, eyes trying to scan every way at once, body primed for fight or flight. “There’s an interface about fifty yards into that brush that leads to a subroutine containing a genetic testing laboratory. I don’t know if it’s still active or not. It’s where I came from.”

Gray, sensing her unease, trotted over to Jess, ears up and alert. He bumped against her legs, trying to let her know that she wasn’t alone. “I’ve avoided them for this long,” she muttered almost under her breath. “I’m not going back. I won’t let them take me back to that hell hole.”

Hobbes looked about toward the brush but couldn’t see anything. He furrowed his brow then looked back to Jess. “You sure?” He asked in starting in that direction.

Pinocchio dropped the can and quickly ran to grab Hobbes, “If she says so, she means it. Listen to her,” he snapped in jerking Hobbes back. “Fill the car up the rest of the way so we can leave.” He pushed Hobbes in that direction then walked over to Jess.

He walked up to her, looking down then back to her, “I’m not going to let them take you back. We fill the car up and we can take you far from here, a safe distance away. ”Okay?” his voice was soft, quiet, hands resting upon his hips cause he knew better, unlike Hobbes to reach for her.

Hobbes looked at Florence as she helped, “She...she means something to him doesn’t she?” His voice a whisper and answer was a knod.

Jess nodded, her body still tense. “Thanks.” She was still primed for flight, ready to bolt as the least suspicious sound. It took a lot of willpower to stay and wait. She argued it was because she could travel farther faster in with Mike and not that she didn’t want to leave him again, even if he hated her now. This might be her only chance for an apology, and she took it, short and sweet. “I’m sorry, Mike. For everything that happened that night. I shouldn’t have left you like I did.”

As if the admission was too much for her to deal with, she abruptly changed subjects. One eye was kept on the brush even as she attempted to untense a little. “Does he always act like a three year old?” she asked, gesturing back towards Hobbes with her head. “Tell him something’s hot and he burns his fingers verifying it?”

Mike looked away, “Yeah, well... You should be,” He mumbled under his breath as she tried to apologize. He drew in a breath glad she was changing the subject. He looked back to her, “Hobbes?” He glanced back to him, “No, just naïve about life. He’s never...had to put up with life crapping on him.” He shrugged.

“But he’s smart, will give him that much. He just sees the good in things where you and I... We tip toe around things to make sure they don’t go off like a land mine.”

“All filled,” Hobbes shouted as he was placing the cans in the trunk. Dexter came running over and jumped in the open door, barking as if telling them to lets go.

“Get in,” Pinocchio motioned with his head to Jess as he headed around the car.

Jess had accepted his rebuke quietly. It seemed clear to her now where she stood with him. He hadn’t forgiven her for that night. Hell, she hadn’t forgiven herself for that night. And his observation was rather insightful. Right now she was tiptoeing around one hell of a land mine. She almost wished one of them tripped it so that she could deal with the explosion.

She was relieved though when Mike said it was time to go. “C’mon, Gray,” she said to get the wolf’s attention. The wolf ignored Jess’ command, but stared at what Jess had pointed out as the area the portal was located in. “Gray, come here,” she repeated, dropping her voice. The wolf looked to her and then back at the foliage, whining. “Gray! Here!” This time’s Jess’ voice was laced with a sharp growl. After one last whine, the wolf cringed over to where she waited, tail tucked low, and scampered into the car. Jess followed, slipping into the back seat. “Let’s get the hell out of here.” She glanced at the others, trying not to let her relief at leaving show. “So is there any destination you guys have in mind, or is it just wherever the road takes you?”

Hobbes turned in the seat, “We were heading West. We heard of some resistance groups out that way and hope to pull the together as one so we can fight Santiago when the time comes or need be.”

Pinocchio had already started the car and it was pulling away at a fast clip. He seemed a little calmer that before. And from his vantage point, he could see Jess in the mirror. He glanced to it, his eyes resting on her and when she would look, he was looking away.

His mind was drifting to past times, before Hobbes. The times before the departure. Of her kisses, how she held him and he held her. His heart ached and he shifted in his seat as he cleared his throat but didn’t say anything. “Well don’t put all your eggs in one basket, Hobbes. Like I said before, who’s to tell if these guys are the ravage and pillage type? You may have no hope of getting them to work together. Or either that they are the farmer type.”

“But the farmers of the revolutionary war fought as well,” Hobbes pointed out.

“If you haven’t noticed, this ain’t 1776,” Mike pointed out.

“But they are farmers,” Jess said. “And it’s their homes and land that are being threatened. Farms that have probably been in their families for generations. That’s been enough for them to go to war before. Somehow I don’t think they’re going to roll over and let Santiago take over without a fight.” Her gaze rested on Hobbes as she sat back “Question is though, like Mike said. Can you get them to work together?”

She wouldn’t have been so relaxed if she had been back where the car had been parked. A man in a khaki fatigues was holding the leash of a light gray beast that looked mostly wolf, but there was something vaguely mannish about the forepaws and shoulders. A muzzle was strapped tightly over its snout, as well as a collar around both the neck and hips, with a long steel rod connecting them over its spine.

The wolf creature sniffed and clawed at the ground, scratching at the tire tracks. The soldier watched carefully, not looking away as his shoulder radio crackled to life. He reached over to answer the question. “She was here.”

“If I don’t try, then we won’t know now would we,” Hobbes smiled.

Pinocchio rolled his eyes.

They drove for some distance before Mike pulled over on the road. He climbed out, “Stretch and bathroom breaks.” He started heading for the woods, “Hobbes stay with the car till I get back.” He shouted over his shoulder.

Florence crossed her arms as she leaned against the car, watching as Dexter bounded off after Mike. She glanced over at Jess, giving her this look that told the woman, some things just never changed.

Pinocchio found a good area, his head looking around as he went to relieve himself.

Jess looked at Florence and then in the direction Mike had taken. “The hell with this,” she said. Here she was acting like some puppy anticipating being punished for wetting the prized Persian rug. No she was going to get this over with. Thank Mike for getting her the hell away from that settlement, and then take off. Nothing she could do in front of a stranger like Hobbes.

“Stay,” she snapped at Gray as the wolf started to follow her into the woods. She worked into the woods, following his trail. But she stopped before she could see Pinocchio. “Mike? We need to talk before this goes any further.”

“Now?” Mike looked down, it was to late to stop what he was doing but at least she was a distance away. He frowned and looked out into the woods. He then looked up. Damn he had to pee.

Finally he was finished and once tucked away, he came walking back towards her voice. “What’s to talk about?” He asked, one hand on his hip as he stopped a distance from her.

Jess had posed herself, casually leaning against a tree, sole of one foot flat against the bark, arms crossed over her stomach. The tension she was feeling could be seen in the quivering of her thigh, and her clenched fingers. “Well, let’s see. There’s the weather, if the Cubs had a shot at winning the World Series in the real world. Oh, and there is the whole thing that happened that night.”

“I’m sorry. I was working in a whole different mind set that night. It was one of my worst nightmares come to life. And the animal instinct to flee was too strong to fight. And by the time I was back to normal, I was too far away to find you.”

Mike crossed his arms, a classic case of defense. “The Cubies, they ain’t going to win till we are long...gone from here. They didn’t win it here, ain’t going to out there.” He shifted.

His eyes looked away from her, out to the woods, “Yeah, it was a nightmare. For both of us. The two women in my life that I cared about hurt me... And not just physically. Wounds heal, are forgotten, but...” He furrowed his brow and stopped there. He looked back to her.

He sighed softly, arms uncrossing, “You made me realize something. I’m never going to be happy in this place... Ever. Cause just when I think things are going to be okay...it all falls apart.”

Her own arms fell to her sides. “I don’t think anyone or anything was ever meant to be happy here. I mean even if Santiago hadn’t pulled his coup, I would still be...” She trailed off, not wanting to trigger any more memories again today.

“You’re right about wounds not healing,” she said, rubbing her shoulder, the same one he had hit when he shot her that night. “I wished it had left a scar.” A badge of shame, something to remind her of what she could have had, and lost due to her own stupidity.

“If you want me to leave, I understand. I’ll just gather Gray and go,” she said looking away from him. “Probably the best for us all.” She had a mournful, wistful expression on her face, as she seemingly thought out loud. “But there’s still this stupid part of me that’s still stupid enough to wish...” No, that wouldn’t happen. She had hurt him too badly, and she didn’t think he’d be willing to take that risk again.

Pinocchio was looking down at the ground too, his foot kicking at the grass. He looked up to Jess, she was looking away. The light shined down upon her, making her glow and the expression upon her face. He looked away quickly but his eyes only returned.

And before he knew it, knew what he was doing, he had crossed that distance between. His body pushed against hers as he shoved her back into the tree. His mouth covered hers in a heated kiss that told how much he had missed her. It went on for some time, how long he didn’t care. To feel her, to taste her again...it was something he had only once dreamed about.

However as quickly as it had happened, he was away, “You do what you want,” he breathed then turned and walked away.

She stood there, stunned by both the kiss and his words. So he was leaving it all in her hands, and Jess wasn’t quite sure what to do. He hadn’t asked her to stay, but he sure as hell hadn’t told her to go away.

She tackled him from behind.

Her momentum had them tumbling until the came to a halt, Jess straddling Mike’s midsection. Staring down in his eyes, her hair tumbling forward, Jess flashed him a wicked grin, one that was tinged with desperation. “You said for me to do what I want,” she said before kissing him hard. She wasn’t going to be stupid and walk away again unless he told her to go.

Pinocchio was tackled from behind and he rolled which caused them to tumble even more till suddenly he was looking up at Jess as she sat upon him. His breath was heavy from the wrestling but then it got even more so as she leaned down and kissed him hard.

Immediately, his arms shot up around her. A hand gripped her hair, the other held her tightly to him. Fingers pulled slightly, controlling her as he pushed up against her kiss, seeming to take over.

Jess wasn’t about to fight him for control as long as he continued kissing her like that. Her arms went around him, pulling her tighter against him, almost as if she was afraid he would get away from her somehow.

Eventually she did have to pull back from him long enough to take a breath. “The others are probably wondering where we are,” she whispered before resuming kissing him, running her fingers through her hair.

As the kiss broke, Mike drew in a breath or two as he gazed up at her. Still holding her tightly to him he started to nod in agreement with her but only found himself kissing her deeply once again.

He rolled them over so he was on top of her. His body pressed against hers in such a way that the two were fitted to each other. He then pulled back slowly from the kiss, his mouth still working upon her skin thought, moving along her neck.

His hand still held her hair but the other was following the curve of her hip and leg before dragging it up once again.

Jess’ legs curled around his hips, cradling him closer to her. Her head tilted back, baring her neck to him further, a submissive gesture. One that also pushed her breasts against his chest.

Her fingers still combed through his hair, nails scratching his scalp lightly. This had been what she had been dreaming of almost nightly since the night she had ran away. Jess’ hands started working down his back, fingers grasping and releasing as she worked lower.

Pinocchio’s breath was faster. His heart pounded in his chest. He had dreamed of this for so long. His heart ached for it. But his head finally kicked in. He grabbed her hand, a tight grip about her wrist as he closed his eyes tightly.

He then looked up to her, his eyes pained. He then slowly pushed up, “If we...if we do this...again...let’s...do this right. Slowly.” His eyes drank in her face, “Get to know each other first. I don’t want to screw this up. Again. I’ve...I’m a different man than before.”

Jess sat up, watching him closely as he spoke. “I’m not the same woman either,” she said, nodding slightly. “I don’t want to blow this second chance either, Mike.” She reached out for his other hand with her free one. “We’ll both take it slowly.”

She took a little sigh. “I guess we should head back before Gray comes searching for me.” The wolf could be very protective of her. She’d have to make certain the wolf started seeing Mike as part of the pack.

Her hand curled around his other one and he held it, turned it and brought it to his chest as he stared into her eyes. He didn’t move, wasn’t in a hurry too. It was like he wanted to stay this way forever. And in a way he did. He feared somehow, this new beginning would get screwed him...by him.

As Jess went on, Mike just nodded but still did not move. He instead found himself leaning forward and kissing her, but softly this time. It wasn’t till Dexter came bounding up, barking, sitting and wagging his tail did Mike pull away at last. He looked down at Dexter then back to Jess, “Dog is just like Hobbes, annoying at times.” He pulled his body up then pulled her up as well.

“Come on, better head back,” He reached out for her hand as he started back.

Jess looked down at Dexter and reached over to ruff his ears as she followed Mike, still holding his hand. “Aw, I think he’s kinda cute. Dexter, I mean. Although I’ll bet he’s a deadly menace to ankles.” She wondered what his reaction to her shapeshifting would be. Gray was almost used to it...

“Mike?” Jess said, coming to a halt. If she was staying around, this would have to be confronted. “What are we going to tell Hobbes about me? Or I guess I should say how are we going to tell Hobbes about me?” She wouldn’t be able to hide it for a long time. Especially when the full moon approached.

Pinocchio had kept walking so when Jess stopped he was jerked back. He turned his head to her and gave her this look...the one that gave clue to her having three heads or something. “The truth,” he stated plainly. “Listen, if there is one thing about Hobbes I know. You tell him the truth or you don’t tell him anything at all. So its up to you what you want to do.”

“I guess it’s the truth then,” Jess said after a moment’s thought. This would be the first time that she would willingly and voluntarily admit to what she was without anyone having seen her shifted beforehand. “This is going to be a bit weird.”

Pinocchio shrugged, “You think that is weird. Wait till you find yourself doing what the kid asks of you to do. Willingly. That is weird.” He let go of her hand to push through the brush and slide down the small hill before bounding out to the other two.

“It’s about time, my eyes were turning brown,” Hobbes started for the woods.

Jess opened her mouth, and then shut it. “Nope. Not going to say it. Too easy of a joke,” she said as he passed by.

Gray stood up from where he had laying by the car. Pausing to scratch his midsection with a hind foot, he meandered over to Jess and sniffed. His head turned towards Mike and he growled softly. “Hush,” Jess ordered, grabbing his muzzle and closing his jaws. “Behave.”

Pinocchio just gave Hobbes a look and nothing more was said between them as Hobbes past with a smirk playing on his lips. Pinocchio then looked down at Gray hearing the growl. “Watch it, I could use some seat covers.” He moved past and down going to his car to check it over.

Dexter bounded back around and after Hobbes, trotting after his master but glancing back to Gray then kept going.

Gray continued to stare at Mike until Jess tapped him on the nose. He then whimpered and settled back down not meeting Jess’ stern gaze.

“Sorry about that, Mike. He’s not used to being around people for a long periods of time. Socialization hasn’t been high on my priorities.” Cautiously, almost afraid of opening an old wound. “What happened that night...after?”

Pinocchio looked back at the wolf, “Yeah, well I know how he feels.” He leaned against his car, waiting for Hobbes and Florence seeing as she vanished as well.

He glanced over to Jess then looked down. “I...got drunk, falling down drunk. I waited for you to come back even as Florence insisted we leave.” He kicked at a rock. He looked back up to her, “After...I don’t know, a while we went on.”

She couldn’t look at him either. “I ran from Florence. She, uh, found me and healed the gunshot, although it wasn’t necessary. I regenerate fine on my own. But I ran as hard and fast and long as I could, until I collapsed.”

Jess’ arms were crossed over her stomach, a posture that made her look defensive and trying to keep from being ill at the same time. “It took me a while to get up the courage and strength, and to find the trail back. I wasn’t exactly paying attention. Could have ran through a whole platoon of Guard and not have noticed it. So I was careful, and that took too much time. Cause by then, you were gone.”

“I know you said you accepted what I am, but I’m not sure I have. That is why I ran away, not because you shot me, but because of what I did and what I am. And I’m so afraid of what you’re reaction will be if you wake up and find this,” a partial shapeshift, letting the fangs and claws grow, a black down covered muzzle push out half its length, and pointed ears stretching above where a human’s were set, appeared and melted in the space of three seconds, “laying next to you.”

Pinocchio looked to Jess, “You never gave us the chance to find out, did you.” He looked away. Pinocchio wondered if this was why he hated dogs so. Cause of what she did to him. He wouldn’t doubt it but then he also really didn’t hate dogs either, just didn’t like people catching him being nice to them.

“Get in the car, we still have a ways to go. HOBBES!” he shouted in turning to get in.

“No, I didn’t.” Jess let out a sigh of disgust at herself. Barely five hours into this second chance, and she was already blowing it. She gestured to Gray into the car. The wolf looked at her and at Pinocchio uncertainly but scampered inside.

She slipped into the car without saying a word. It looked like she could not mention that night ever again. Which would bring up a whole new set of problems come the next full moon. She didn’t want it to be a repeat performance.

Pinocchio got in, closing the door and looking out the passenger window, “Come on Hobbes,” he shouted out as the young man came back with Florence beside him. He was carrying Dexter.

“Calm down, we’re coming,” Hobbes came over and then got in, leaving Florence the front seat. He shifted in beside Jess, placing Dex in his lap.

Pinocchio felt something he wasn’t sure of and turned back to start driving. The roar of the engine filled the car and soon dirt was kicked up as they pulled away.

As the car jolted to life, Gray rested his head in Jess’ lap. She stroked his head abstractedly, trying to figure out what to say to everyone. Anything she might say to Mike might lead him to lashing out again. It appeared that the night over a year ago was a forbidden subject.

She glanced out of the corner of her eye at Hobbes, considering what Pinocchio had told her earlier. “You tell him the truth, or you tell him nothing at all.” If she was around for any given amount of time, she’d have to explain her odd nighttime absences. And maybe telling him would be a way to make Mike understand why she was so ashamed of that night.

“There’s something you need to know if I’m going to be around for a while,” Jess said, still scratching Gray’s ears. “I’m not exactly what I seem to be.”

Pinocchio glanced at Jess in the review mirror but didn’t say anything. He had told her what he thought. It was up to her. And he had no say or control over her. He looked away, his mind focusing on the conversation while his eyes just took in the road.

Hobbes looked to Jess and glanced to Mike then back to her. “Well, I don’t think I fully understand what you mean by that but then... Who is exactly what they seem?”

“Good point,” Jess said with a half smile. Her fingers continued stroking along the centerline of Gray’s head, pausing gently to scratch between his eyes. “But for me, it’s a bit more complicated.”

“I was in here, tucked away in a subroutine before Santiago pulled his coup. I was part of a medical experiment, the first successful one, that changed my genome into what they were looking for. But I wasn’t a volunteer.”

“These people didn’t just rape my body, they violated my mind and raped my soul. I became something more than animal, but less than human.” Jess paused long enough to wipe a tear away, hating the fact that she still cried over what had been done to her. “And even after being away from there for so long, trying to convince myself that’s not true, there’s always going to be a corner of my soul that believes it.”

Hobbes frowned as she spoke, trying to comprehend what she was telling him. “You mean you are VC and you know it? And are aware that they altered you?”

“No Hobbes, she is real, like you and me. VC’s aren’t aware of what they are, except Florence,” Mike commented from the front.

Hobbes looked back to Jess, “So...what...did they...make you?” His eyes showed his pity for her and his hate for what they did but also the confusion on what to believe.

“This.” She stared at a spot on the grill covering the windshield, focusing where two bars intersected. A year’s worth of practice had given her a refined control over her Change. Unlike the first night where she tried to tell Mike, this time she was successful. Fangs sharpened, a proto-muzzle pushed out, nose darkening to black, fur covering her cheeks as her ears gained points.

She reversed the Change before it went much further, so she wouldn’t tear her clothes or her shoes. Gray looked up and whined, trying to figure out why she was shifting when the moon wasn’t in the sky, or there were men holding weapons nearby.

Hobbes sat back in his seat as he heard bone moving and reforming. His blue eyes went wide and he held Dexter to him tighter. However the little dog seemed not so frightened as his tail just thump against his master.

“Ohhh,” Hobbes breathed out then looked to Mike who was just looking ahead and driving. “Well I guess...this place still holds...secrets.”

“Yeah, a lot,” Mike grumbled out. “Who knows what else the damn lazy geeks forgot to take out or just ignored.”

Hobbes nodded remember the lake and the glitch with the portal into a subroutine program back to World War II. He looked to Jess, “Does it...hurt?”

“Like hell,” Jess said. Gray licked at her hand, but she ignored the wolf. Now that her secret was out in the open, she felt strangely reluctant to continue. But she forced herself to keep speaking.

“I was one of the lucky ones, if you can look at it that way.” She didn’t look at anyone in the car, choosing instead to stare at a spot on the back of the driver’s seat. “Most of the people they tried this on got stuck in the middle somewhere. A partial Change, some worse than others. And most of them went insane. I don’t think I fully escaped that either.” She shook her head. “Or that could be them telling me twenty-four/seven that I’m nothing more than an animal.”

“But you are more than an animal,” Hobbes pointed out. “If you weren’t, you would not be here now and probably never take human form again...right?”

“Maybe. It’s just hard to overcome that constant message they tried program into me,” Jess said. “And then proved it,” she muttered, eyes flicking to Mike.

Pinocchio cleared his throat but nothing more came from him. “Well be reaching this farm land in less than an hour,” He finally spoke. “We’ll park and hide the car outside and walk in. I’m not taking any chances.”

“Sounds good,” Hobbes sat back thinking, an hour was a long time.

“Probably should leave Gray to guard the car then.” she said, stroking the wolf’s ears. She was amazed at how well he was behaving in the confines of the car. She then sighed and leaned back to look out the window at the passing scenery.

Pinocchio shrugged, “If you want.”

“It might be best,” Hobbes spoke out. “If they have farm animals, the wolf might make them nervous.”

“Not to mention me, but we’ll play that by ear,” Jess added. Her scent was still human enough that domesticated animals eventually accepted her, but wolf enough that it sometimes took a long time for them to do so. She’d have to make sure she stayed downwind of anything sensitive or potentially dangerous for a while.

It was not long before Pinocchio pulled over into a well wooded area. He made sure the car was covered well, doors were locked and when the others weren’t looking, made sure fresh water and some meat was out for Gray. He crouched down to the wolf, keeping a safe distance. “You take care of my car...I’ll take care of Jess for you...okay?”

The wolf gave a little whine, pawing at the ground. It was clear that he did not like the idea of being away from his alpha, but Jess’ earlier command of ‘stay’ had been equally clear. Reluctantly, Gray dropped his haunches and shoulders settling down between Pinocchio and the meat.

Jess stood a little ways off from the others, trying to see what she could learn by scent. Although she had seen Mike leave out food and water, but had missed the exchange. “So how do we do this?” she asked the others. “Go in and announce ourselves, or start discrete inquiries?”

Pinocchio sighed seeming to understand Gray. He pushed up, paused a moment then moved away. He was turning about, taking in the landscape as if memorizing it. “Okay kids, remember where we parked.”

Hobbes glanced back to Pinocchio then to Jess, “I think a more discrete manor is the way to go. We can check the place out first and see who is in charge if there is anyone. For all we know they could just be peaceful farmers and nothing more. Hoping Santiago will never come this way.”

Pinocchio nodded, “If that is the case, we are screwed.”

Jess nodded her head as well. “If that is the case, hopefully we can convince them otherwise.” That would all depend on the reception they got. Some places you could slip into the crowd and blend in without any difficulty. Others were very suspicious of
outsiders, and that would make their work that much harder.

As they started down the road, Jess paused, sniffing. A frown creased her face and she scanned the surrounding scenery, still sniffing. “That’s odd,” she murmured, clearly distracted by something. “I thought I smelled...nah. Couldn’t be.”

Pinocchio nearly banged into Jess and managed to side step around her. “Need to put break lights on you, girl.” He grumbled under his breath then stopped with her as well. He looked about, “What? A BBQ? A Mickey D’s? Fajitas? What?”

Hobbes looked about and the noticed that Dexter wasn’t with him. He looked about then realized, Dex stayed with Gray. He smiled, “What? What did you smell?” It was then he noticed Florence looking about, her weapon at ready as if she...smelled something too.

“I thought I smelled...” Jess’ voice trailed off uncertainly as she wrinkled her nose, inhaling deeply. “Couldn’t have been,” she said more to herself than to the others. “Last I heard, he was dead. And besides, I was the only one...”

She frowned and shook her head, obviously reluctant to discuss it further. “Sorry. Nose must be playing tricks on me.” Jess gestured down the road. “Let’s go.”

Pinocchio grabbed Jess’ arm and stopped her. “What do you mean wrong? Playing tricks. You smelled something. And who is this HE?” He asked in glancing to Florence. “Cause whatever it is you smelled...” he motioned with his head to Florence, “She is spooked as well. And you know she can sense danger.”

Hobbes came close as well, gazing about, “You said the last you heard he was dead...who was dead. Is there...another like you in here?”

“Not sure,” Jess said uncertainly, and hating the fact that she wasn’t sure. “We crossed an animal trail of some sort. And there was a scent that smelled like a wolf sorta. It reminded me of a male I knew at one time.”

“I was the only one I was aware of in here. That doesn’t mean that I’m not.” Jess rubbed her shoulder as if remembering an old pain. “And we weren’t exactly encouraged to get along. So if there is another one in here, it may not be a joyous family reunion.” She paused. “On second thought, thinking about how well I got along with my parents, it would be like my family reunion.”

Pinocchio didn’t like the sound of things. He turned away, running his hand over his face. He drew in a breath, “Alright, maybe and maybe not this other one his here, right? After all this could be old and he could be dead, right?” So he hoped.

“Maybe,” Jess said, hoping the same thing. She had no desire to face another werewolf. She had almost blundered back into the lab subroutine, and didn’t want to run across anyone that would give them even a hint of where she was.

Hobbes though had a feeling that was not the case from the way Florence was moving about. “Let’s get to the farms or settlement and maybe we can find out from there.” He started walking again.

Jess took a deep breath and then started walking again. There was a shift in her attitude. Now she was projecting confidence. Her head was up, her eyes bright and alert, and her arms swinging freely at her side. If there was another werewolf in the area, she wasn’t going to be looking submissive. She didn’t want to get into a fight, but she wasn’t going to roll over and show her belly either.

The small group wandered about, seeing farms indeed set up but also a small town. Pinocchio grumbled something about the old west, no law and order he guessed but people were moving about like thing had changed it seemed.

Some stopped and watched them pass, others just ignored them. Hobbes gazed about, “Wow, they have silos and...”

“Yeah, organization. We might have gotten lucky,” Mike said as he saw a saloon. “Well I’ll be, finally a bar not in a church.” He be lined for it.

“Mike,” Hobbes quickly followed.

“Listen kid, we can get information from here. People talk when drunk.” Mike walked in, the door swinging as he entered and went to the bar.

And Jess followed right behind him. And again she stopped short, head snapping to her left, looking at the end of the bar. A man with dark blond hair stiffened as well and turned his head, gaze locking onto Jess. Slowly he rose off the stool and turned, staring at her.

Jess stayed in her spot, stiffly watching the man approach never looking away from the blue-gray eyes. Her lip curled slightly, but she didn’t snarl or growl as the man approached equally stiffly. “Well if it isn’t the alpha bitch,” the stranger said in a low voice.

“Whiskey,” Pinocchio ordered and turned to ask what the others wanted. He stopped in seeing Jess and some other man standing toe to toe. His eyes narrowed as he wondered if she knew him.

Hobbes was passing and stopped, “You know this man?” He asked Jess then looked at the guy.

The guy didn’t respond to Hobbes, but his focus remained on Jess. “You little ass sniffer.”

Jess’ eyes narrowed as she stared at him. “Ball licker.”

“Son of a bitch!” they both said at the same time with a laugh. Both broke out into grins and hugged each other tight. “God, Neil, I thought I was the only one in here,” Jess said pulling back to look at him.

Neil shook his head. “Nope. I was plugged in just after you escaped. You,” he said touching the tip of her nose, “have caused quite a brouhaha. The scientists were panicked and thought they’d send in two of us to see if they could find you that way. Didn’t figure on the fact we’d make a bid for freedom too..”

“Two? Who else is in?” Jess asked. “I thought I smelled--”

“Yeah, he is.” Chris’ demeanor turned serious. “And he’s around here somewhere on his own. We still don’t get along.” He looked over at Hobbes. “And speaking of not getting along, are you going to introduce me to your friends?”

“Oh yeah,” Jess said turning to Hobbes and Florence. “This is Neil Ryland, an old friend of mine. Neil, this is Tom Hobbes, Florence, and Mike is around here somewhere.”

Hobbes eased a bit and sighed for he thought already there would be trouble. He was relieved to know that Jess knew this man but it appeared, he was also like her if he understood correctly.

“Nice to meet you,” Hobbes responded. Florence just looked at the man and then nodded to him heading over toward Pinocchio.

Pinocchio however had turned and downed his drink when he saw the two hugging. He sat the glass down and looked over but just turned way. He wasn’t going to show her he was jealous. Nope, wasn’t going to do it. It was bad enough he knew himself.

“Nice to meet you too,” Neil said, showing some rare to be found now manners and offered Hobbes his hand.

Jess’ eyes were following Florence and then scanning the bar. “Neil here is someone we can talk freely in front of,” she said. “How long have you been here, Neil? Long enough to get a feel of the place?”

“Few days,” the other werewolf said. “Not long enough to get into trouble, if that’s what you mean.”

“Oh, there’s Mike,” she said. “Guess I better introduce him to you before he gets too drunk. He’s a real people person, you see.”

“Is he the one I can smell on your...”

Jess didn’t let Neil finish that sentence by jabbing him in the gut with her elbow. “Come on,” she said, starting towards where Pinocchio was.

Pinocchio leaned against the bar, just watching the pair as they approached. Hobbes had already joined him, whispering the guy’s name into his ear. “So...found yourself a friend?” Pinocchio looked to Neil then back to Jess even though Hobbes whispered to him to be nice.

Jess could smell the jealousy radiating off of him. It was reassuring after the cold shoulder routine at the car. And a bit perversely, she wasn’t in a mood to reassure him at the moment. “Neil’s an old friend of mine. We go way back.”

“Yeee-yeah,” Mike stretched out the word before turning away to order a beer.

Hobbes sat down beside his partner and looked to Neil, “So what can you tell us about this place? It seems they must have laws here or some kind of governing body here.”

Neil shrugged. “Bunch of farmers mostly getting what they need by growing or bartering for it. No real official in charge, but they do hold a sort of town council meeting every Saturday night.”

Jess shook her head. “Sounds like a wild time,” she commented drily. One eye was still being kept on Mike, watching his every reaction.

“Sounds like an ant hill about to be stirred up,” Pinocchio grumbled under his breath.

Hobbes glanced over but then looked back, “Well that gives us time to check things out before we go talk to them. Let them know that Santiago is heading this way.”

Pinocchio shushed Hobbes, “Don’t say that name to loudly...we don’t know yet if these people are sympathizers of the bastard,” he hissed out.

Neil shrugged. “Mostly it’s quiet anticipation, hoping he’s going to overlook them. If there are sympathizers, they’re keeping quiet.”

“What about you, Neil?” She signaled to the bartender for two beers before turning to face the other werewolf. “Where do you stand?”

“Can’t help but be grateful in some ways. He’s probably the reason we’re still out here, Jess. But he’s just as bad as those scientists who made us.”

Pinocchio looked over to Neil, “Grateful...greeeeat,” he grumbled under his breath turning a way to swig down his beer.

Hobbes just ignored him, “Well we have to tell these people, he is not going to over look them. And they can’t just fall in under him. He will still destroy them cause he doesn’t need them.”

“Yeah, that’s going to be easy,” Pinocchio shook his head.

“Still, we’ve got to try,” Jess said. She was uneasy about Neil’s statement. But then this area seemed relatively untouched by Santiago. He hadn’t seen the Sister’s settlement be wiped out. Or seen the people who were homeless and hopeless just because they didn’t fit into Santiago’s vision of a neat and orderly world.

“Like I haven’t heard that a million times,” Pinocchio looked to Hobbes.

Hobbes just shrugged with a smile. “I think we should find a place to stay.” He looked to Neil, “Well, you know of a place we can stay?”

“Yeah, like a bed and breakfast?” Pinocchio shifted in his seat and turned at last to face everyone. Now that he had a few drinks in him he was feeling a little better.

Florence just kept looking around as if expecting something to happen, her hand always near her gun which no one seemed to notice.

“Don’t get many travelers through here,” Neil said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “But there’s a flop house about a block over.” A speculative glance flittered over Jess. “Or I’ve got a lair about half a mile outside of town. Though it would be a bit cramped for everyone. Might be more comfortable for you Jess since...”

“No,” Jess said curtly. “We’re not getting split up.” Florence’s tenseness had finally caught her attention.

Neil shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

Pinocchio narrowed his eyes at Neil’s offer for Jess to stay with him and was about to answer when she spoke up. He relaxed back into his seat, a little smug look upon his face. There was something about this guy, he didn’t like. And it wasn’t jealousness either.

Hobbes nodded, “Good, can you take us to it?” Hobbes patted for Mike to follow who was looking at Florence, reading her.

“Sure,” Neil said, standing up. Without a backwards look, he got to his feet and started out of the bar.

Jess picked up three bullets out of a pouch at her waist and placed it on bar. Grabbing the two bottles she followed Neil out, knowing that the others would be coming. Neil was setting a good pace, and heading past several dilapidated buildings.

“You know, Jess,” Neil said with a backwards glance. “The full moon’s coming up soon. If you want to meet up tonight, I can show you a place to run wild without having to worry. Might be better to do it ahead of time so you don’t have to search it out yourself the night of.”

Pinocchio followed out slowly, letting Jess move ahead of him toward the lumbering Neil. He had not missed a word he said and bit his inner cheek to keep from commenting. Oh the things he wanted to say. Wanted to pound into the man...but what right did he have? And would Jess even understand? Of course she would...

Mike was a fool to think they could start over. A year or so may have passed between them but his attraction to her was still there. It was there the moment he laid eyes upon her. And the hurt was still there as well. Of her leaving him. He couldn’t just...ignore it.

It was like him telling Hobbes before, to forget Sophie. He was dead in her eyes. All of them were. There was no way she was still out there waiting for him. But he saw in Hobbes’ eyes, the hope was still there. The love was still there, if anything getting stronger with each passing day.

Jess shook her head. “Nope. I need sleep more. I’ll be able to find you the night of no problem.”

“Suit yourself,” Neil said, stopping at a dilapidated two story building. “Here’s what passes for the hotel in these parts.” He glanced towards the setting sun. “I’m going to head off for the evening. I’ll hunt you down tomorrow, Jess.” And with a little wave to the others he started to amble off down the street.

Jess looked at the building and then back to Mike, Florence, and Tom. “Well, let’s get someplace to sleep.” The question though for her was how many rooms they would be getting, and who would be sharing which room.

“You guys wait here,” Mike grumbled and pushed past everyone as he went up the steps and inside.

Hobbes looked about, taking in all the buildings. It looked to be a small town, with some sign of organization. Stores were about for food and clothing, black smiths, other specialty items...kind of reminding him of the old west but a more modern look.

Florence still kept looking down the streets, as if expecting something to happen or come from that direction.

Mike came out, approaching the small group, “Got us two rooms, all I can get. They ummm...don’t get very many strangers in these here parts,” H imitated the man inside. He tossed Jess a key, “You and Florence, me and Hobbes,” he turned and started walking back in, leading the way to the upper level rooms.

Jess had caught the key tossed in her direction without blinking. “C’mon Florence,” she said, wondering if the Sister was going to kick her out of their room like last time. Although with Mike sharing the room with Hobbes, she doubted things would end up the same way.

As she followed the group into the building, she glanced backwards, wondering what Florence had been so paranoid about. She remembered that whenever Florence got worried about something, it was time to start paying attention.

Florence followed Jess up the stairs. She too wondered if some time, she and Hobbes would be ending up sharing the room. Wouldn’t be a first that all three had slept in the same place.

Pinocchio handed the key to Hobbes who was opening the door when Pinocchio grabbed Jess by the arm, “You and me,” he pulled, “Going to look for some food. Maybe we can get a decent meal for a change.”

Florence took the key as Jess was pulled away.

Pinocchio headed down the back entrance but paused at the stairs. He turned looking at her, “How long till...” he motioned to her, “...before you...”

At least he was talking about it, which was a good sign That he wanted to be alone with her was an even better one. “Tomorrow around nightfall is when it’ll happen, so I’ll try to duck away a few hours before sunset. Everything should be normal until then. Or at least what passes for normal around here.”

Slipping past him she led the way down the stairs, heading towards outside. The scavenging she was used to doing was in the woods. It had kept her and Gray well fed, but she doubted that it would be best to feed them carrion. “So where do we start?”

Pinocchio snorted a little when Jess said normal. What was normal around here in the Realm. He then smirked at her last words. Seemed like she knew him somewhat better than he thought.

He followed the shapely she wolf down the stairs and out the door. Around the back of the building he quickly grabbed her and pushed her up against the wall. His mouth covered hers and his body pressed. His hands held her wrist to the side.

He pulled back, breathing heavily...

Jess stared at him, mouth open and breathing heavily as well. Her hands rotated so she was gripping his wrists, not letting him pull away any further from her. She looked at him through hooded eyes, tongue lightly tracing her lip.

Her grip squeezed him tightly before pulling him back against him, kissing him passionately. But it was a moment before she pulled back, but not too far. “If this is going slow...I’d hate to see what going fast is for you.”

Pinocchio was panting as well, trying to figure things out. Mostly why the hell he was doing this. This was far from going slowly? Was it his form of pissing on her and marking his territory?

Well whatever it was, she caught him off guard as she pulled him back in and kissed him passionately. He returned it, panting even more heavily due to his increased heart rate. Blue eyes caressed her face then he smirked, “I don’t know...you might like it.”

Releasing her hands, he grabbed her legs and lifted her while he pressed against her, his mouth wondering over her neck, murmuring words.

“I did before,” she murmured softly. At least this time everything was out in the open, there were no secrets between them. He knew what he was getting into this time.

She wrapped her legs around his waist tighter, and her arms around his shoulders. Squirming, she rubbed against him as she looked at him with a smoldering gaze. “Convince me, Mike,” she growled seductively.

His lips parted and a soft moan, growl was released against Jess’ ear softly. He felt his body shiver then quake at her squirming and teasing. He ran his lips over her jaw line till his were over hers, “Michael, call me Michael.” He leaned in and kissed her deeply, slowly lowering her legs so that his hands could undo the pants she was wearing.

Getting them open, his breath being drawn in through his nose, he groaned into the kiss as a hand slipped down to cup her.

Jess’ tongue almost withdrew into her mouth as she let out a gasp. She already felt so wet, and they really hadn’t done much yet beyond kissing. Her legs were shaking as he stroked her and she let out a breathy moan. “Michael....”

Her hands didn’t stay still. They traveled over his broad chest, relearning the curves and planes of muscle through clothing, until they rested on his crotch. She smiled into a kiss as she felt the hardness there and gently squeezed.

Michael moaned, pressing himself against Jess’ hand. How long had it been? How long had he dreamed of this moment? How long had he missed her touch, her caress, her kisses? Not since Inga had Pinocchio wanted anyone more.

Pulling his hand out, he slowly pulled away however never more than a few mere inches. He gently turned her around, pressing his body again to her as his mouth latched upon her neck, sucking and nipping as he worked his way up.

However hands were not still, carefully, he was working her pants down. Sliding over slender hips, he pushed while his steamy breath graced her ear.

She placed her palms flat against the wall, supporting her weight and giving her leverage to push back against him. Jess’s head tilted to the side, baring her neck to him, the only person she’d make a submissive posture for.

“Michael,” she whispered in a breathy tone. One hand reached behind them, her hand clutching at his ass, holding him tightly against her. She had missed the sensual caresses intensely, though wouldn’t entertain the thought of anyone else touching her like this.

Mouth covered exposed skin, making it red and sensitive to his touch. And once her pants were down, he worked upon his own, button after button just not coming loose fast enough. The belt was opened and at last he was able to free himself. The air struck him but her warmth kept him from shivering.

However it was the tone of his name from her lips that had a sensation going from the base of his spine up to his neck and across his shoulders. His hardness tapped at her ass as he pulled back some, bending her slightly as well. “Tell me you missed me. Tell me you want me,” he groaned into her ear, his just right outside her entrance, teasing and waiting for those words from her lips.

“Missed you,” Jess moaned. She could feel him rubbing against her. Her hand on his ass tightened as she tugged him closer. “Don’t want you,” she growled back at him. “*Need* you, Michael.”

No one else would be able to pull that admission to her. She twisted her head further to look at him, her eyes flashing with heated desire. “Need you, Michael,” Jess repeated with a hint of a feral growl. She ground herself against his groin.

Pinocchio shivered when Jess first said her words. To know he could get this from her excited him more and her tugging upon his hips only urged him on. As she twisted her head, his blues went to her eyes. He was reading all she wanted him to read in them and that growl...was the capper.

Taking hold of her round smooth hips, he thrusted into her, burying himself deep within her as his mouth covered hers as to dampen her scream plus his moan. “Ohh, god,” He finally broke the kiss, “Feel so...shit.”

She felt almost obscenely swollen around him. Or Jess was extremely tight. Either way, it made his entry painful. And Jess relished that pain. It reminded her that she was alive, that she was real, and maybe, just maybe, she was loved.

She let out another low growl and ground back against him, trying to get him deeper inside of her. “Michael,” she moaned as her fingers scraped against the wall in front of them.

It was tight, a bit painful, but felt so wonderful. His hips held still for a moment, letting Jess push herself back upon him. It was then that he moved a hand from her hips around to her front, to her stomach and his leaned against her fully.

“I missed you,” he sighed against her skin and his body shivered from that admission. Pinocchio started kissing at her neck again, soft, slow kisses. It was then his hips started to move, slow movements at first before more hard and steady was worked up to.

The words were sweet music to her ears. Jess timed her movements to be in sync with his. The hand on his ass gripped and released in the same pattern as well, her nail digging in slightly to urge him on even faster.

“Missed you too,” she moaned softly. Pulling her other hand from the wall, she guided the one resting on his stomach up to cup her breast. Her head turned to try to kiss his face. The words were a mere whisper that could only be heard if you were listening closely. “Love you.”

Pinocchio, with Jess’ guidance moved his hand slowly up her slender body to cup her firm breast. A small groan was let forth as his fingers scraped a taut nipple then it rested at the center of his palm while he gave a squeeze.

His other hand moved around her waist, dragging her back against him as their timing did not call for him to keep pulling her. His head turned as well, his breath hot upon her lips. The words she breathed over his made his knees weak for a moment. An admission of something that had not been voiced but was there.

He did not return it. Action to him spoke volumes and he answered her with a deep kiss, having to crane her neck and his own to do so. His hips never relented and if anything her words spurred him on to a harder and faster thrusting. His other hand moved from her waist down to finger her wetness, trying to drive her to that bliss in which she was taking him.

Jess let out a squeak, swallowed by his kiss. She jolted against him, body shaking from head to toe as she spasmed in pleasure. Only the hand at her chest and groin kept her upright as her legs turned to jelly.

She slammed one hand against the wall, nails thickening to claws for half a second, leaving a deep set of gouges. His unspoken message was understood, and she tried to covey that in her own kiss. He wouldn’t be able to say it out loud. But she knew now. Because she felt the same way.

Pinocchio tore his lips from her, his mouth finding her ear as he drove hard and fast, a demanding pace. The slide was getting more and more loose, a more comfortable fit but still tight. Feeling every part of her he could. Hooking his hips he seemed to nearly lift her off her feet each time.

Lips working down her neck, Pinocchio felt the pressure building in him quickly. His release was fast approaching and it was going to be hard holding off for he wanted her to cum with him.

Her nails were digging deeper gouges into the wall. She pushed back against her lover, needing to feel all of him rub against her. She wanted to be able to smell, as well as feel, him on herself hours later.

Needing something more, she pressed her hand over the one cupping her groin, trying to guide his fingers...to right where they needed to be. Jess let out a whimpering gasp, trembling against him, so close to tumbling over the edge with him...

Fingers teased the taunt skin of her breast, others were guided to where she wanted, rubbing, pulling, flicking at her while words were breathed into her skin. All she could feel was his lips moving, a kiss, a small suck while relentless hips moved against her.

His body was so alive at this very moment that he couldn’t take it any longer. His hand tightened upon her breast. His own body seeming to tighten all over. He gave on last final hard thrust and with a bite to her neck, he released.

It was hot and painful but also relieving and so wonderful. Did she know how often he would dream of this, having her back in his arms only to wake up alone and getting angry. This time...he would not have to wake...for this was real.

Jess was breathing heavily as she leaned against him. Eyes shut, she turned her head to nuzzle and kiss his neck. Like him, she had dreamed of this moment again. Only she was afraid that if she opened her eyes, he would be gone.

But she couldn’t stand there with her pants down forever. She took a deep breath, kissing his neck one last time, and opened her eyes.

A slow withdrawal was given after he kissed her lips tenderly. She was real...this was real and she was back in his arms. But he wondered briefly, would the pain also come back?

Back a little away from Jess to allow her to pull her pants up, he took care of himself, sex filling the air around them. He buttoned his pants back and straighten out, shifting his gun back to his thigh in place.

He looked back to normal then slowly he looked to her. “Com’ere, darling,” he pulled her to him and kissed her tenderly again.

When the kiss broke, Jess looked up at him, smiling softly. Stretching up on her tiptoes, she rubbed her cheek against his lightly. He hadn’t responded to her declaration of love verbally, but she was starting to learn that he didn’t talk about his emotions. It didn’t mean that he didn’t feel them.

Arm wrapped around the slender waist, he closed his eyes as she rubbed her cheek to his. He pulled so he could take her hand then pulled her along but never let go of her hand as he walked from behind the building to gaze about. “Let’s check down this way. Got to be some kind of restaurant or something around here. Store...” He had a feeling they should have brought their own food.

“Easier done than said,” Jess said. She squeezed the hand tightly holding hers and looked at him with an impish smile. “We just follow our noses,” she said, tapping hers with a long index finger.

She paused and inhaled deeply, sorting through the various scents. It was hard not to focus on the virile scent of the man next to her, but Jess managed to concentrate elsewhere for the moment. “That way,” she said pointing to their right.

“Let’s go then,” He turned right and started walking only he stopped mid way as some men in strange uniforms stepped out from around the building. “What the...” He noted the guns, the nets, and...his head turned to Jess. These guys were what she feared....

Jess had immediately tensed seeing the uniformed men. “No,” she whispered as six dart guns and three net guns were leveled at her. They had found her, and were here to take her back. Letting go of Mike, she took a half step away from him. The guns tracked her, and she tensed further, on the cusp of Changing. Behind the cold spike of fear, she was cursing herself as twenty kinds of fool for having stepped blindly into a trap.

“Come here, Jess,” a tall man with a deep, raspy voice said. He was dressed in civilian black slacks and a denim shirt, but the dark haired man was clearly in charge. His attention was focused on the werewolf, clearly not considering Pinocchio a threat. “Make this easy on us, Jess, and we’ll make it easy for you.”

Pinocchio glared, his body tensed. He narrowed his eyes as the man called Jess forth to come to him. He then quickly drew in sub machine gun from his side and with a grab of Jess’ arm pulled her with him as he opened fire.

“Not making anything easy, you should know that!” He shouted as he tossed Jess ahead of him running as he fired and hoped Hobbes and Florence would hear to give them aid.

Jess didn’t need any encouragement. The moment Pinocchio pushed her, she bolted. Almost simultaneously, she felt a sharp pain in her arm. Snarling, she swiped at her shoulder, hand pulling away a dart, the kind used to inject sedatives from a distance. Whatever its payload was, sedative or liquid silver, it was in her system.

“Don’t let her get away,” the head scientist yelled as he ducked for cover.

Pinocchio dived around a corner and laid down more fire. He could hear shouting, people running. He glanced to Jess as he backed out of the line of fire. “You okay?” but then he saw the dart. His eyes dashed to hers with worry.

Behind the scientist, Hobbes and Florence appeared, firing shots. “Pinocchio!” Hobbes shouted.

Florence moved showing these men she could lay down some fire as well.

“Hobbes, over here!” Pinocchio shouted. Reaching behind him, he pulled out a gun and shoved it to Jess, “Here.”

Jess took the gun as she backed away from the line of advancing soldiers. She was trying to figure out what they had injected her with. If it had been silver, she would have dropped dead, victim of a massive allergic reaction and anaphalactic shock. She wasn’t feeling a drug induced sleepiness like a tranquilizer would cause. Her body did feel odd.

Even as she shot one guard, his body disappearing in a haze of blue static even before it hit the ground, the animal in her growled, wanting to remind these insolent tailless monkeys who was predator and who was prey. But to her horror, one of the few times she tried to will a shapeshift to do carnage, she found herself staying stubbornly human. “Oh no,” she whispered, suddenly understanding what the contents of the dart had been. They had gotten smarter than when she had managed to escape. “Mike! Run!” she screamed as she turned and bolted. Fight wasn’t an option for her like this, so it was flight or recapture.

Pinocchio glanced back to her, hearing her scream at him as she bolted. He glanced back, firing to cover them then quickly followed as best he could. He growled under his breath, guessing this really had to be about Jess and they wanted her back. Well over his dead body was that going to happen.

He reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her in another direction. “This way,” he pulled her along, hoping Hobbes and Florence went another way.

Jess followed, firing back occasionally at their pursuers, trusting Mike to find a hiding place for them. She was surprised that they weren’t trying to shoot her legs out from under her, since she could regenerate the damage. That either meant that they were loaded with silver ammo, or that the drug they had given her was more powerful than she thought.

When the turned a corner, Jess tugged Pinocchio down a side street, hoping to double back. It smelled abandoned, and she hoped that her sense of smell hadn’t been affected by the drug.

Pinocchio looked about, his heart pounding as it always did during battle. He raced down the alley she pulled him down but then he stopped as a wall loomed before him. He whipped around but then looked back. There was a glitch in that wall. But where it lead...that was unsure. Could take them to Santiago City, To the men chasing her or just to the other side.

She hadn’t paid any attention to the wall, other than it was a barrier. Jess was looking for another place to hide when she saw Mike staring at it. “A glitch?” she asked softly. A way out of the dead end she had inadvertently led them down. Since they didn’t know where it headed, it could be their savior or their destroyer.

A sound of tramping boots was heard approaching, and she squeezed his hand. “Can’t go back and there’s no place to hide.” She pressed her lips to his lightly before taking off running towards the wall, dragging him behind her. Jess wasn’t going to leave him behind again.

Mike had a knack for finding glitches, be it by accident or on purpose. Where some lead, he knew, others, chances had to be taken. Some could lead you to safety, or just dead space as him and Hobbes experienced before. Others...well...they lead to places he didn’t want to go to.

The kiss Jess placed upon him was tender and he could tell she was scared. She didn’t want to get caught and he didn’t want her to either. The pull jerked him but he followed. “Let’s hope this just takes us to Kansas,” He followed through, both running only to come out the other side upon a road, paved. He pulled her to make her stop as he looked about only to hear guns, cocking guns. He froze. Slowly he turned his head.

Behind them Waters stood, a grin upon his face, “Mike Pinocchio.”

“Ahhh, hell,” Pinocchio groaned as he dropped his gun and raised his hands.

“Crap,” Jess swore under her breath. She had hoped that they had gotten cleanly away, but it didn’t appear to be the case. From the sounds of it though, they were more interested in her lover than her. Following Mike’s lead, she also raised her hands. “Friend of yours?” she asked out of the corner of her mouth.

She curled her fingers slightly, testing. Hoping against hope that the guards had misguessed the dosage of the inhibitor she had been given. It was a tricky drug to administer – body weight and adrenaline level in her blood both affecting its effectiveness. She thought for a moment her nails lengthened slightly, but she couldn’t be sure. Hopefully it would wear off quickly, but not soon enough as far as she was concerned. Especially when there were guns cocked at her and Pinocchio.

Pinocchio just gave Jess this look of, ‘Yeah, right.’ Slowly he turned as he heard one man rush over and grab his gun from the ground.

“Search them,” Waters ordered as he stepped forward. “Well well. It’s a pleasant surprise.”

“I can change that for you.” Pinocchio offered.

Waters quickly drew back and punched Pinocchio, hitting him square in the jaw.

Mike’s head turned, his jaw moved from side to side as he slowly turned his head back. “You hit like a little girl.”

Waters was about to hit him again when another voice appeared. “Hello Micheal.” The soft voice was clearly female. From behind the block of men, a dark haired woman with ice blue eyes came forth. She was not tall but her presence seemed to show how important she was.

Pinocchio just glared.

“Mel, Santiago wants a report,” The woman’s eyes never left Pinocchio’s.

“I’m not going to leave...” Waters started.

“I’ll be fine,” She moved past Waters as he moved away, grumbling under his breath.
She walked up, ignoring Jess completely. Her attention was all on Pinocchio. When she was close to him, she stared into his eyes then whispered, “I missed you.” She then pulled him down to her and kissed him, deeply.

Jess had a sullen expression on her face as the soldiers had frisked her. “Watch it,” she snapped as hands went places she really didn’t appreciate. But when the woman appeared, especially with the attention she was paying to Pinocchio, Jess’ attention had focused on her.

She could feel the drug in her system weakening its hold on her Change. The adrenaline surges appeared to be countering it, or she had received a weaker dose than she had first thought. She wasn’t able to shapeshift yet, but she would be soon. Especially given the surge of anger both the human and the wolf felt as the woman kissed her mate. A soft growl filled the air.

As Inga pulled back she had to smirk at the reaction from the both of them. She slid her hand down his cheek before pulling back further. She looked to Jess for a moment, eyes traveling over the woman then looking away. “I missed you, my husband,” stressing the last words for Jess to hear clearly.

“I bet,” Pinocchio growled. “Though I’m sure the bed hasn’t been empty or cold as of late either.”

“My heart has been empty,” She informed him.

“It always has been, at least that hasn’t changed,” he looked away and past her. If Jess though he was cold to her, he was freezing to Inga.

“You know I have always loved you, Michael.”

“Gee, that bullet in my chest told me differently,” came his response.

“Who is this?” She asked in walking over to Jess.

Well there was no doubt about who she was now. Jess levelly looked Inga in the eye. Inga may have not known specifically who she was, but Jess had no doubt that Inga had a good guess what she was, at least to Mike.

It was eerie how there were so many superficial similarities between them. Almost the same height and build. Both had pale skin and dark hair, though Jess’ was cropped short versus Inga’s shoulder length. But the eyes spoke volumes of differences – Inga’s ice cold blue while Jess’s brown pulsed with a feral warmth.

“So, you’re the... one who shot him,” she said in an almost conversational tone. Jess had nearly said ‘bitch’ but she wasn’t going to insult herself. She could feel herself instinctively trying to shapeshift, trying to throw off the drugs, trying to get away. But she tamped down those instincts. She wasn’t going anywhere without her lover. She inhaled as Inga neared, noting that there were two male scents clinging to her.

“I had my reason’s to,” Inga spoke, her voice level and calm. She looked Jess over then looked back to Mike, “I see you still have an attraction for dark haired women...I wonder why?” She gave a little smile then looked back to Jess.

Pinocchio kept his mouth shut, staring ahead and hoping Hobbes would not follow till much much later.

Inga walked around Jess but stopped behind her, “I’m going to warn you,” her voice quiet, “I know what you are, what you can do. It’s best right now just to play along.” She moved away and between them, “Bring them along. I’m sure the General would like to speak to them.”

Pinocchio was shoved forward, his hand now brought down behind him and cuffed as he was lead to a hummer with Jess behind him.

Jess didn’t visibly react to what Inga had said. But a cold shudder had ran through her. Very few people in the Realm knew what she was. That this woman did, and her previous relationship with Mike, made her doubly dangerous.

Hands cuffed as well behind her, Jess climbed up into the hummer after her lover. While waiting for the soldiers to clamber in after them she took a moment to lean close and whisper in Pinocchio’s ear. “We’re screwed. She knows.”

Pinocchio stayed still, fingers clenched behind his back for all he could think of was killing Inga for what she did or what she would do. He still hurt, he still felt that sting of what she did to him even now. Only did his head turn slight to hear Jess did he move. He nodded slightly. “Figures.”

The other soldiers climbed in and then the Hum Vee jolted and started to speed off.
Pinocchio noticed it wasn’t toward the direction of Santiago City. Probably a base or camp set up near by. “They still want Hobbes. We’re safe as long as he’s out there.” He breathed under his breath.

“How you feeling?’ he asked her leaning against her a little. “She may know but right now, they ain’t doing nothing to counter that.” A thought occurred to him but he wasn’t going to voice it just yet.

Jess leaned back, comforted by even that slight contact. “Feeling...bitchy, but not able to do anything quite yet.” The drug was wearing off, but not fast enough as far as she was concerned.

Keeping an eye on the soldiers. “How long will they keep us alive as bait? If I shift, I’ll take out a few of them, but I can’t guarantee we’ll get away.” What she didn’t mention is that she might get shot and incapacitated for a while. And she didn’t know if Inga had armed some of the soldiers with silver or not.

Pinocchio shrugged, “Depends if I piss Santiago off right away for not. Either way, he knows Hobbes, he’ll come so he’ll keep us alive...for now.” He looked out the back, the road passing behind them. He just didn’t like the fact Inga was there and so far from the City. Something was up...he could feel it.

“Do me a favor,” she said in a low voice and rubbed her cheek against his shoulder, the only affection she could express with her hands cuffed behind her back. “Don’t piss him off right away. I’d like to keep you around for a while.”

At that point, one soldier pointed his rifle in the pair’s direction. “Slide apart you, you two,” he said, making a little side to side motion with his gun. Jess, expression smoldering with the effort of holding back her instincts and a growl, slid so there was about six inches between them.

Pinocchio leaned into the nuzzle Jess gave but then blue eyes glared at the soldier. “And what you going to do, shot us? Don’t think Santiago will be to plea...” He paid with a hit to the side of his head with the but of the gun.

Pinocchio was then jerked away as few inches. He winced as he felt blood making a tiny trail down the side of his face from his temple. He looked over at Jess, “Answered that question.” He looked back to the soldiers, “I’ll remember this.”

“So will I.” The smell of her lover’s blood sent another surge of adrenaline through Jess. It was strong enough for her to feel her skin start to tingle, the first indication she was about to Change. She quickly damped down that feeling, knowing that now wouldn’t be a good time. All she would be able to do would be to kill a few soldiers, and maybe get her lover hurt or killed in the process.

Besides, if she played her cards right, she might have a chance to take out Santiago. But if Inga Fosse knew who she was, there was a chance that Santiago knew as well, and had taken precautions.

The Hum Vees stopped and the two were dragged out rather roughly, especially Pinocchio. “Easy, boys, I think Santiago wants me in one piece.”

“He didn’t say anything about undamaged,” Waters informed him and punched him in the stomach. “I’m going to love torturing you,” He hissed into the doubled over man’s ear.

Pinocchio just glared.

“Bring them this way,” came the voice of Inga. She walked ahead and over to a shelter, two cages in fact. Each was placed into side by side cells.
Pinocchio was tossed into his, making him slide across the cold flooring of concrete to the wall.

Uncuffing Jess, she was just shoved inside. Not as harsh as Pinocchio. The door was locked. Inga walked over to Jess, “I suggest you behave...for now.” Her voice was filled with hidden messages. She turned and walked off.

Pinocchio pulled himself up and slowly walked over to the bars that parted them, “Now we wait.” He looked over to her.

“Easier said than done.” Jess started pacing the wall that separated them. The reason for the incessant moving was twofold – the agitation from the approaching full moon, even though it was still hours away, and the fact that she had developed a slight case of claustrophobia due to the time she had spent caged in the laboratories. Despite Inga’s suggestion to behave, the wolf in her just wanted out...out...*out.*

She finally paused in front of Pinocchio, hand holding the bars in a white knuckled grip. “I don’t know that I can hold it together, Michael,” she said softly. “I’m afraid that by the time Santiago does show, I’m going to do something stupid. Especially if he lets us hang here for a while.” And though she wasn’t speaking it, there was another fear. What if Santiago knew, and was planning on exploiting it?

Pinocchio had been in this situation for too long and so he moved to the bend by the bars and sat down, sprawling in fact. The last time he was in a jail with Santiago, he was beaten nearly to death. If it wasn't Hobbes...

Pinocchio got up and moved over to Jess, a hand reaching out and touching her hair, caressing to try and calm her down. “I know it’s hard, but you have to keep your wits about you. And don’t worry, can’t do anything more stupid that I have done before.” Of course she could shift in front of him...

“Oh, he’ll let us sit for a while, especially with no food or water for a few days, that way when he does, we are weak and almost willing to do anything for the water or food.

“No, you don’t understand,” Jess said through clenched teeth. “I don’t have a few days. Not with tomorrow being the full moon.” She wasn’t willing to say more on the off chance that Santiago didn’t know, and she was damn sure that they were being monitored somehow. She wasn’t going to tip her hand if she could avoid it.

“What do you think is going to happen the moment the moon rises? I still get hurt when hit with standard weapons. And once I’m incapacitated, one of three things is going to happen. He’s either going to kill me out of hand because I’m too dangerous, hand me back to the Project Bisclarvet scientists, or run his own tests on me.” Jess’ hands tightened on the bars, and her eyeteeth sharpened slightly, a sign of how afraid she was. “I can’t let that happen.”

Pinocchio saw it in her eyes, the seriousness. He had forgotten about the full moon. Had forgotten that she would...change of no will of her own. Shit...shit..shit...shit.

He placed his hands over hers, getting close, “I know...I know...I’ll think of something...” He could only think of one thing...giving himself up to Inga and hope she will accept his terms.

Jess’ hands rotated to hold his tightly. She leaned against the bars, getting as close to him as she could. “I’ll try to keep from Changing as long as I can. I may be able to buy us an extra hour or two.” She gave a deep sigh. “If I hadn’t stepped into that glitch, we wouldn’t be in this mess now.” She knew not only was she dead, but Pinocchio would be too once Santiago had Hobbes. “I’m sorry, Michael.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Pinocchio stroked her hair as he tried to hold her. “I probably would have pushed you through it anyway.” He leaned up and kissed her forehead. “Hey, don’t worry about it. You didn’t do anything. Besides, I get myself into these things. Just sorry I dragged you along.”

He rested his forehead against hers. “There may be a way to get YOU free of all this.” He drew in a breath, shivering at the thought. “I’ll...cut a deal with Inga. Me for you to be free. I’m what she wants.”

She jerked her head back. “No,” she said firmly, a hint of a jealous growl lacing her voice. “I’m not going to let you get all noble and self-sacrificing. I didn’t drag your ass back to the sisters just to stand by and watch it get shot again.”

She looked at the bars, an almost calm detachment replacing her near panic from earlier. “There has got to be a way out of here,” she said, trying to spot some weakness that they could exploit.

Pinocchio stepped back as Jess got angry. He ached for her and wanted to hold her.
“What other choice do we have? I’m not going to stand by and let them keep you caged. Turn you over to those...those others. No...I won’t let it.” He moved closer.

“It has to be this way,” His voice was soft and quiet.

It was then a few men came in with food and water. A surprise to Pinocchio. Was Santiago getting soft. “Back away from the bars,” came an order as three other men with guns stood and one pushed the trays through the small slit in the bars.

Jess was about to argue that there had to be another way, that she couldn’t walk away again when she was ordered back. Her nostrils widened at the scent of food. “Probably Inga’s doing. Doesn’t want to have me bitchy and hungry,” she muttered.

Taking her tray, she scooted over to the wall separating her from Pinocchio, trying to get as close to him as she could. She picked up the sandwich, sniffing carefully. “Doesn’t smell drugged,” she commented before biting it. She chewed and swallowed, and then took another bite, wolf instincts telling her to eat since she didn’t know when her next meal would be.

Pinocchio just looked at the food then pushed it away toward Jess. “You eat, you’re going to need it more than me.” He looked out the door the stood up, “HEY!” he shouted out to get the attention of one of the guards.

The man just looked at him.

“You tell Inga Fossa I want to speak to her, now,” He growled out, his face cold.

The guard stepped away and walked off.

Pinocchio walked back and sat down, it mattered to him not what Jess said, this was the only way.

She swallowed the last of the sandwich, looking at him mournfully. It may be the only way, but she didn’t have to like it. “Michael, you can’t trust her,” she said in a quiet undertone. “She’s already shot you once. What makes you think she’ll actually follow through and let me go?”

Pinocchio glanced back to Jess. “I won’t trust her, not ever again. But one thing about Inga...except our marriage... Well you know, she has been true to her word. And if not, it’s a chance we have to take.” He walked back over to her. “I’m going to protect you. It’s my job. And most of all...I...love you.” He said softly in touching her hair.

Jess reached up and caught his hand in hers. Holding his hand tight, she pressed a kiss to his knuckles, tears rolling out of her eyes. Why did he have to say those words now that she had been wanting to hear for so long when they were just about to be separated again.

“Michael,” she whispered softly. “If they do let me go, I’m going to do my damnedest to get you out as well, whatever way I can. Cause I love you too much to just leave you behind.” Somehow, some way, she’d get him back.

Pinocchio reached up with his other hand and wiped her tears away. He wanted to hold her but the damn bars were in the fucking way. It angered him but he didn’t show it. “No... I need you to take care of Hobbes first and foremost. He’s more important.”

He knew she would shake her head but he also did as well, “No, promise me. He’s your freedom from here. He’s the one. I’ll be alright.” He tried to assure her.

She didn’t believe him entirely when he said he’d be okay. Santiago wanted him dead, Waters had said he wanted to torture him, and Inga had already attempted to. But Jess knew him well enough now to know that Pinocchio would be stubborn and refuse to take any other answer from her. So she bit her lip and nodded her head. “I promise, Michael.” She wished she could get closer to him as she pressed herself against the bars. “I promise.”

“That’s my girl,” he whispered as he too pressed to the bars and wrapped his arms through them to hold her. He hugged Jess as much as he could, rubbing her back till he heard the door open.

Three men came in and Pinocchio pulled away. “Put those on him,” one of them tossed Jess over some cuffs.

Pinocchio knew what they were for, Inga was ready to see him. He looked back to Jess and nodded to her, “I’ll be okay,” his voice soft.

Jess had caught the cuffs tossed to her effortlessly. She glared at the guard, memorizing his scent as well as his looks. “Turn around Mike,” she said, waiting for her lover to present his hands. Hoping they wouldn’t notice, she slipped her thumb between his wrist and the metal as she clipped each shut. The cuffs were loose on his wrists, hoping that he could pull free of them if he had to. “Don’t do anything too stupid, Michael,” she whispered in his ear.

She then glared back at the guard. “And what about me?”

Pinocchio had felt what she had done but made a face like the cuffs were tight. He nodded as she whispered in his ear, “I’ll try not to but that is really hard not to do.” She gave a little smile.

The guard motioned her back, “Just get back.”

They pulled Pinocchio out of his cell and soon were gone for a very long time. At last a man walked in. he opened the cell door, “Get out,” He motioned with his head, “Yer free to go.”

Jess glared at the guard as she stepped forward. “Yeah, right,” she snorted. “Where’s Pinocchio?”

“Never mind that,” he said gesturing her out. “Just get out of here.”

Walking sideways so she wouldn’t turn her back to the guard, she passed by the guard. And the moment she was clear of the door, she bolted for the nearby trees. She changed her direction three or four times to throw off anyone who might be trailing her, but she didn’t go far.

When she finally stopped, she was breathing heavily. Jess dropped to her knees, arms wrapped around her chest as she tried to catch her breath. “God, what am I going to do?” she said half thinking aloud and half praying. Curling over into a ball, she tried to think of how she could get Mike away from Inga. She was so distracted, she didn’t feel the wet tongue licking her arm, and she jolted up to look into Gray’s eyes.

Florence had to do her best to hold back Gray and keep him from bolting up to Jess. But she was a cautious woman and she wasn’t going to have him giving her position away if someone was following. So she waited till she was sure. Then released him.

She walking up and crouched down beside her, giving her that look and knowing something was wrong. She looked about and noted there was no Pinocchio. She looked to her, eyes telling her to tell her what happened.

Jess sat up, pulling Gray into her lap, clutching him tightly as tears rolled down her eyes. Seeing Florence, she put her arms around the Sister. “We came through the glitch,” she said without preliminaries. “And were captured almost immediately. Santiago doesn’t know about what I am, and I was afraid he’d find out tomorrow night. So Mike made a deal with Inga to keep them from finding out. Him for my freedom.”

She pulled away then, regaining some composure as she wiped the tears from her eyes. There would be time for crying later on. “We have to rescue him.” There was no way she would leave her mate behind. Not again. “Is Hobbes nearby?”

Florence held Jess in comforting silence. It was all she could do being as she could not speak. She pulled back with Jess did, looking at her carefully and listening. Mike gave up himself for her. Something he only did for those close to him. Anyone else and he probably would have said leave them and they woud be off.

She ran her hand down Jess’ hair then nodded to Jess’ question, looking behind her to indicate he was back that way. Suddenly a little dog came bounding up and jumped up licking at Jess’ face.

Dexter’s little tail wagged as he licked at her but then he sat down as if knowing she was upset. He looked off in the direction in which she came then back to her before turning his head as Hobbes came up. “Where’s Mike?” He asked but then gave pause at the expression upon Jess’ face. “He’s still in there?”

Jess patted Dexter with one hand, wiped at her eyes with the back of the other. “Yes. He’s with Inga Fossa. He traded my freedom for him.” She looked up at Hobbes. “There’s somebody named Waters who had a grudge against him, and supposedly Santiago is their or nearby.”

Pulling her feet beneath her, she braced herself against Gray’s back and stood up. “We’ve got to get him out of there,” she said, looking back the way she came. “We can’t leave him there. He seems to think that Inga won’t let him be killed, but I don’t buy it. I have to get him away.” She looked back at Hobbes and Florence. “But how?”

Hobbes went tense as he heard the name Waters. He then drew in a breath as Sanitago was mentioned. He glanced to Florence then back to Jess, reaching over to help her stand but was to late. “I don’t plan on leaving him there either. I’ll catch hell for it but we don’t leave friends behind. Especially not after what he did for you.” He touched her shoulder.

“Come on, lead the way there. Do you know how many guards were about? What the place was like. Was there a fence?” He went on asking her questions about the surroundings and asked her if she remembered the inside of the buildings as well.

“I didn’t see much of the insides of the buildings. Just a holding cell area.” Jess wracked her brains for more information. “Seemed a little light to me as far as guards go, given that Santiago’s supposed to be here, but like I said, I didn’t exactly get a chance to poke around.” Crouching down on her heels, she drew a diagram in a patch of dirt of what she remembered, pointing out fencing, guard stations and anything else of import she remmebered.

She looked up at him, pushing bangs that fell into her eyes back. “There’s two things to keep in mind. One – Inga told me she knows what I am, and seemed interested in keeping that quiet.. Everyone else seems oblivious. But more importantly, all my instincts are screaming that this is a trap for you.” She stood back up, dusting off her hands on her worn jeans. “So how are we going to go after him?”

Hobbes crouched down with Jess as well did Florence. He was listening to her, his eyes going over the details she could recall and seemed she was right. It was not as secure as one would think it would be. He glanced about then back down before looking at her. He stood up, sighing slightly.

“My instincts tell me also it is a trap,” Hobbes commented. “And I think...Santiago is not even here...not even aware of what is going on out here.” He looked to her, “There would be more men then there are.” His foot messed up the ground that she drew in.
“I think Inga wants something else.” He looked to Jess. “She let you go on purpose, knowing you would come to me. I think she knew Mike would give himself up for you...knowing full well you would have better luck finding me than he ever would.”

He shifted, “We need to find out where she is holding Mike...and I have a feeling...that is going to be easy.” He started walking.

“And how do you plan to do that?” Jess asked, following him. She sped up her pace to walk beside him. “Don’t tell me you’re planning to walk up there and ask where he is. I could Change and go in and scout some more...” She trailed off, realizing that was just as dumb as going up and knocking on the gate and asking to see Pinocchio. Inga probably had told the guards to shoot a black wolf on sight.

She took a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. “So what’s your idea? How do we find out where he is?” And more importantly, how were they going to rescue him?

Hobbes just looked at Jess when she suggested changing then slowly his blues drifted down. At his feet little Dexter sat. He looked up at Hobbes and started wagging his tail. He then looked to Jess, tail still thumping.

“Mike’s got a small wireless camera that we used before to hook onto his collar. They won’t find it. We can then watch where he is going.” He looked to her. “Dexter is a lot smarter than you think. Right boy?” He smiled down at his little dog.

Gray was leaning against Jess’ legs, trying to offer her some comfort. Mindlessly, Jess scratched his ears as she looked at the little dog. She couldn’t send Gray in either, since he would be just as visible as she would. “It’s worth a shot,” she said.

“Is Mike’s car nearby?” she asked. Jess hadn’t thought to ask how they had gotten there, or even how Hobbes had found her. The glitch could have taken them five meters, or five miles away from the town they had been at. And a second thought chilled her further. “Those guys who we were fighting. What happened to them? They didn’t follow you by any chance?”

Hobbes nodded to her then motioned her to follow with his head. Picking their way back through the wood, Hobbes answered her question, “We lost them thanks to Gray. After you two went through the glitch, they had no idea where you went. We bugged out quickly.”

He got to the car and opened the trunk, pulling out a hand held device with a small screen and handed it to Jess. He then pulled out the small camera then bent down to attach it to Dexter. “I’m sure they will still be looking,” he said with a glance up. “Check to see if you can see.” He nodded to the device in her hand.

Jess hit a button on the unit and frowned as Gray explored the strange apparatus that had just sprouted on Dexter’s back. “I might, if there wasn’t a nose on the lens. Back, Gray.” Grabbing the scruff of the wolf’s neck, she pulled him back behind her and away from Dexter.

Shielding the screen from the sun with her hand, she frowned and looked at the screen. “Yeah. Little grainy, but you can tell what you’re looking at.” She looked up at Hobbes, trying not to let her nervousness show. “Ready as we’ll ever be I guess.”

Dexter stood still as Hobbes finished up the smiled at Gray. Dex turned his head to Hobbes then back as his tail wagged. “Yeah, it’s going to be grainy. Pinocchio said something had to be replaced but other than that it works.”

He stood up, “Let’s go Dex, let’s go find Mike.” He started walking, Dexter bounding in front of him. Once they reached a location, Dexter trotted off to head down below, sniffing around the fence for a way in.

Hobbes moved in close to Jess as did Florence watching as Dexter made his way inside, being very clever for a little dog and waiting, crawling at times till he got inside. Then he started sniffing around to locate Pinocchio.

Jess took a deep breath, trying to remain calm. Her white knuckled grip on the monitor told otherwise. She held it down so that both Florence and Hobbes could easily watch. “Come on, Dexter,” she quietly urged. She was half afraid that Dexter wouldn’t be able to find him, and half dreading what would be revealed if Dexter did.

Gray, sensing the tension, kept brushing against the three’s legs, whining. His alpha was upset, and the grouchy smelling human she was fond of was missing. So he kept bumping against them, trying to comfort them all.

Dexter moved along the halls like a little covert ops. He would sniff then peek down a hall way before trotting along. He then sniffed at a door and scratched at it. A little whine was let out.

“Dex?” Came a gruff voice from under the door.

Dexter pawed at it again then lowered down and laid down so the others could see.

From the crack in the door, Mike could be seen laying upon the floor, one eyes was blackened and a corner of his lips was cut. It was obvious he took a beating.

“What you doing here, get out of here,” He hissed as he tried to look down the hall but was only greeted by a wet tongue. “Eww, damn mutt. You tell Hobbes get the hell out of here, go, get!” Poking fingers through he tried to push him away.

Dexter got up and started running down the hall to come back.

Relief surged through Jess at the sight of her lover. “He’s still alive,” she whispered, as if confirming it to herself. He didn’t look good, and she could feel her fangs sharpening at the thought of her getting her claws on whoever beat him up.

“Okay,” Jess said taking a deep breath. “We know where he is, and we know he’s alive.” She looked up to Florence and Hobbes, the animal showing in her dark eyes. “Now what do we do? Go in and get him?”

Hobbes shifted then shook his head, “No, we wait a few days. I want to see the coming and going of the place.” He learned that much from Pinocchio. And he knew it was going to be hard on Jess but it had to be done. They needed to know when the guards changed, how often people came and went. What was the best way in and would they need some diversion and if so...would those be expected.

“Wait a few days?” Jess exploded. Tense from the urge to Change that was building in her body, she glared at him, unaware that her teeth and ears were going pointy. “Mike’s in there with Waters and Fossa doing God knows what what to him, and I’m supposed to hang out here a few days?!?”

Hobbes looked to her, “I know this is hard on you but so far he’s not dead.
And she placed him in a nice room. She has no intentions on killing him. As for Waters, he’ll beat on him but Inga won’t let him kill Pinocchio. They need him to get to me. So don’t worry.”

He looked back out, “He’ll be fine.” He hoped.

Jess’ jaw snapped shut as she glared at Hobbes. A quiet snarl escaped her as she crossed her arms over her chest. Then she smelled fresh blood and looked down and hissed. She hadn’t realized her claws were growing and had scored her upper arms.

Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and reversed the Change. Another deep breath and she opened her eyes. “Okay,” she said in an angry and reluctant voice, implying that he had better be right. “So let’s find a place to set up camp.”

Florence watched Jess in silence however she was ready to stop her if she attacked Hobbes. She was not going to let Jess harm the One and being as Pinocchio was not there to protect him, she took up that job.

“I know it’s hard, I want him back as much as you do but we really don’t know what we are up again. The smart thing to do is wait, and besides they would expect it. Expect you to come break him out right away. We wait till they get a little relaxed.” He pulled away once Dexter came running up, panting. Hobbes reached down and picked him up. “Hey little guy, good boy.” He was petting him as he carried him back to the car.

Jess looked at the building, as if she could see through stone to where Mike was being held, until Gray bumped her thigh with his head. Reluctantly she started towards the car, but her body language was still tense.

There was a snarl on her lips, but she made no sound. Wrenching the door open, she climbed into the back seat of the car, where she was surrounded by her lover’s scent. Burying her head in her hands, she broke down into heart wrenching sobs.

Florence climbed in the back seat with Jess, placing her arms around her to hold her and rock gently as she rubbed her back. Dexter joined them and laid his head upon Gray, giving her a very sad little look once his camera was taken off him.

Hobbes climbed in to start the car, however he reached back, “We’ll get him back...I promise.” He squeezed her hand then turned back to drive them away from the place to an area where they had picked to set up camp.

Jess sat up and nodded when she felt Hobbes touch her. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she sniffed, but stopped crying. “I hope you’re right, Tom,” she said in quiet voice. Most of the rest of the ride was spent trying to distract herself by petting Dexter and scratching Gray and leaning against Florence.

When they reached the chosen campsite, Jess looked at the sun sinking low in the horizon. “Tonight’s a full moon,” she said in a matter of fact voice. “It’s not going to be safe for me to stay here tonight.” She pointed at a stand of trees by the road. “It’d be better if I hang out in the woods. You might want to stay away from there until sunrise.”

Hobbes got out, gathering some things from the trunk as he listened. He looked out at the woods then up at the sky. She was serious. Very very serious. She was a... “Okay,” Hobbes said as he laid out the rolls for the bedding. He wondered though, she said for them to be safe but what was going to keep her from attacking them.

Florence placed her hand upon Jess’ arm as if to tell her or beg of her not to do something stupid.

Jess reached across and squeezed Florence’s hand lightly. “I’ll be okay. I promise.” She knew that Florence had an inkling of what might happen. “As long as you guys stay close by the fire and don’t come looking for me, it’ll be okay,” she reassured Hobbes. That had been what had gone wrong with Pinocchio that last time – the wolf had seen him not as a concerned lover, but a hunter set out to harm her.

However, with the passage of time, she had learned to control the wolf’s instincts more. Still, it wouldn’t be good to tempt fate around Hobbes and Florence. Not when there were other targets nearby.

Turning she started walking towards the wood line. “’I’ll leave my clothes over here,” she called back as she started to pull her shirt over her head. “See you dawn.”

Florence watched as Jess walked away. Hobbes kneeling beside her. “She going to be okay out there? I mean...” He trailed off as Florence nodded in looking back at him. He sighed softly. He didn’t like her being out there...alone. It was the gentleman in him but he somehow knew to resist any urge to go out there and make sure she was okay. “Dawn huh...then it is over?” He asked Florence who shrugged.

Gray whined as he watched his alpha leave, but knew better than to follow her during a full moon. Jess was topless by the time she stepped by the first tree, completely naked by the time she passed it, and furred before she got three steps beyond that. Grimacing from the familiar pain, she dropped to all fours, holding still for a moment to make sure everything was right. She gathered up her clothes in her mouth and left them at the base of the tree. And then it was deeper into the forest, away from the temptation of Hobbes and Florence and towards the temptation of the compound.

But she had time to kill before nightfall. She killed a rabbit and fed on it, sating the instinct to kill. Then she paralleled the road to where Florence had found her. And then she followed her trail back to where Mike was being held. Running along the fence to a corner, she dug a hole and squeezed under the fence.

Moving silently, she ghosted past several guards, black fur blending into the darkness. Recalling what she had seen on the screen, she slipped into the building and found by sight and scent the room where her lover was being held. Working at the door cautiously with her paw, she managed to get it open and slipped her head inside.

Pinocchio laid upon the bed, curled up and half concious, thanks to Waters. He was chained to it. Blood had dried but some was fresh, soaking into the pillow under him.
His head turned, blue eyes blinked at the sound of the latch to the door being released. He could only guess it was either Inga or Waters coming in. If it was Inga, she was going to be pissed. If it was Waters...he could get another beating.

Jess could smell fresh blood, and a low growl sounded. The anger fueling it wasn’t aimed at Mike, but at those who had beaten him. The wolf in her wanted to hunt down Inga and Waters and inflict the same on them. But the human knew she had to get him to Florence and Hobbes, and the sooner the better. Revenge, however sweetly tempting, would have to wait.

Slipping further into the room, she kept her tail between the doorjamb and door so she wouldn’t be locked in with him. Stretching out further, she lightly nuzzled his shoulder, whining softly before her tongue swiped across his cheek.

Pinocchio jerked his head around, the evidence of what happened to him showing upon his face. “Jess?” He sat up quickly, wincing as he did and went to grab her but his hands jerked for he was still chained up. The chains rattled even as blue eyes quickly went to the door. “Where’s Hobbes? You got to leave. Get out of here.”

“Go on, get,” He realized who he was or more like what he was talking to. She said in her wolf state, she was more apt to think on instinct. So he kicked at her to get her to leave.

The animal in her reacted almost before she could think. Strong jaws clamped around the meaty calf of the kicking leg, fangs already penetrating the thin fabric. One wrong twitch on either of their parts, and Jess would bite into his flesh, bringing about the same Change in him that Jess was cursed with.

Pinocchio grimaced, waiting for that moment of teeth to penetrate skin. Just one more added bit of pain to pile on top of what he was already experiencing. He turned his head away, waiting for that sensation even as the moment she had attacked him the first time was replaying in his head and the pain that followed after.

The wolf wanted to bite down, to taste rich blood and savory flesh. But the human in her won this small battle, and Jess let go of his leg with a whine. Apologetically she head bumped his hip, trying to communicate that she was sorry and hadn’t meant for that to happen.

The pressure on her tail was growing worse. She looked around. Despite being savagely beaten, Mike had been given a standard cell with bedding. More importantly, a pillow. Snagging it in her jaws, she turned and slipped it into the door, so it wouldn’t close and lock her in as well. Standing up on her hind legs, she started to closely examine where the chains connected to the wall.

The pressure was released and Mike opened one eye as his pillow was taken away. He raised an eyebrow as he saw her take the pillow and stuff it in the door. It was then he sat up but unable to do anything else since his hands were bound.

Wrist raw from the shackles, he moved closer but not to close, fearful somewhat, “Please,” He said softly, “Leave before they catch you. You can’t get these off me.” He held up his wrists. “Please...Jess.”

Jess sniffed at his wrists, lightly licking the back of his hands. She couldn’t bite the bracelets off without nicking his skin. But that didn’t mean she could pull them from the wall. Rearing up on her hind legs, half leaning over him. Biting close to where the chains hooked onto the wall, she started to pull backwards.

Her ears flattened against her skull, eyes slitted shut. The pressure on her mouth was almost to the point of pain. And she wasn’t certain which would give first – her teeth or the links. But it was neither. Instead the wall gave away, bolts holding the chains in place freeing as the plaster crumbled and cracked.

Pinocchio saw what Jess was doing so he helped out. Pull upon the chain’s himself, he tugged with foot to the wall when suddenly both of them went tumbling over. He feel off the bed, free. And groaned from the pain he was feeling. He rolled over, pulling his body up to his knees and looking around, “Why does it hurt so much if it ain’t real?” he grumbled.

He quick moved over to the door, “Come on,” He told Jess as He got ready to get the hell out of there.

Jess placed one ear flat against the door and listened carefully. The hallway sounded empty. Edging in front of him, she slowly eased the door open and peered out. If she had misjudged and there was someone waiting on the other side with weapons, Jess was going to make damn sure that she took the bullets instead of him.

The hall was as empty as it sounded. Pushing the door open further, she motioned Mike out, hoping that they could sneak out unnoticed. Of course, a six foot midnight black werewolf creeping unnoticed down a stark hallway would be a minor miracle.

Pinocchio followed behind her, he had on hand placed upon her, while he looked back to see if anyone was following. He then heard a noise and he was sure Jess did too. Suddenly shouting from behind them could be heard.

“Time to run,” He told her as he knew it was discovered he was gone. Pinocchio started pushing her getting her to quickly get them out of there.

It was bound to happen. Jess had hoped for more time before Mike’s absence was noticed. She could move a lot faster than he could, even just on her hind legs, but she wasn’t about to abandon her mate. So knowing she was going to have hell to pay for it later she did the only thing she could think of.

Abandoning secrecy for speed, she turned, scooped Pinocchio up in her arms, and started to run like hell.

“He....” Pinocchio never got the rest out before he found himself being jostled about. He was man handled over Jess’ shoulder and before he knew it, they were heading out in blazing speed. He could hear gun fire coming at them and wished to hell he had a gun.

Busting through doors, all he could do was hold on for dear life and pray a bullet didn’t hit him. His dog tags fell out, tinkling together as he was bumped around suddenly they were outside and sirens were going off. He looked about. “Where’s Hobbes?”

Jess’ ears flipped back at his question, but she couldn’t answer for two reasons. First was that she wasn’t going to stop to answer his questions while bullets were flying past them. Second, she couldn’t speak that well in this form.

Reaching the relative protection of the trees, she put him down and dropped to all fours. Bumping her head against his leg, she started guiding him through the woods in a zig zag pattern to confuse any would be pursuers, intent on rejoining Hobbes. As much as she wanted to check him over and make sure that he was okay (not to mention bitch him out for the bargain he had struck), that would have to wait until they were in a safer space.

Pinocchio felt ground under his feet. Forcing himself to remain standing and with the bump to his leg by the large head, he started to move. Military movements were given, following her zig zag pattern. At times he would stop, pains in his body forcing him too. But he didn’t give up moving, thinking if Florence and Hobbes were close by, they would bug out, and he would be healed soon.

Breaking through the wood line, he saw Hobbes and Florence. “Mike!” Hobbes, the only one able to speak came rushing over. Both humans had awaken, worried about Jess for she had not returned and they were taking shifts anyway for watch.

Dexter ran up to Pinocchio, jumping and barking. “Quiet, mutt,” Pinocchio snapped as he nearly feel over. “We got to get out of here.”

Hobbes grabbed him and started helping him back to camp while Florence was quickly throwing things together and racing to the car.

Jess never strayed far from him, but alternately bolted forward to guide him, and fell back to obscure their trail. She broke from cover about the same time that Pinocchio had, but further down the road. Claws digging into the blacktop, she turned and scrambled towards the car, snarling at Gray to get back as the wolf charged forward to greet her.

A mad was made to the car. Mike was helped in back, arguing all the way with Hobbes he could drive. “No, I’ll drive,” He pushed him in back with groans from Mike.
Dexter jumped in with Florence after allowing Jess and Gray in back with Mike.

Soon the black car was tearing away down the path it created only to be met on pavement by two hummers. A man was outside of it, holding his gun. He ran over to the car, “Get out of here, we’ll try to hold them off.”

The man had been someone who had helped them before. Hobbes nodded, “Be careful.” It seemed he gathered more men to his ranks. Tearing off once again, gun shots could be heard, just to make it look good as one of the Hummers exploded.

“Head north,” Pinocchio instructed as he winced in pain.

She was shaking as she sat in the back seat of the car. It was hard for Jess to believe that she had pulled it off. That she had single pawedly gone into the compound and gotten her lover out. It seemed almost too easy now that she looked back on it. But given how difficult her life had been recently, she wasn’t going to question easy too hard.

Turning her head to look at Pinocchio, she saw him wince in pain. Almost without thinking, her head then shot forward to Florence, taking her arm in her mouth. Jess’ teeth were gentle, not even scoring the healer’s flesh as she guided Florence’s hand to Mike’s shoulder.

Florence looked back knowing he was in pain. She shook her head to Jess, telling her later if she could and petting her head.

“Later, not now, we just need to get as far from her as possible at the moment,” Pinocchio answered in shifting again and groaning. “And Hobbes, don’t you damage my car either.”

“Just relax,” Hobbes answered back.

The drive was long and in finding an abandoned house, Hobbes pulled up and around the back to hide the car. He got out and helped Pinocchio out. Pinocchio groaned as he was helped then more as he walked.

Getting inside, Hobbes set him down, “I’ll look around.”

‘Yeah, you do that,” Pinocchio answered then sank down on the old mattress with a groan. Florence came over and started to work. She winced in noting the bruises of his ribs as she removed his shirt. She shook her head.

“Yeah, Waters doesn’t like me very much.” Pinocchio answered.

Jess, still canine, growled at the sound of Waters’ name, ears flattening and her teeth showing. She didn’t want to leave Pinocchio’s side, but there were other things that needed to be done. Such as making sure the rest of the house was secure. After sniffing noses with Gray, a signal for him to stay and be on guard, she started to examine the rest of the house, making sure it was as empty as it seemed.

After being satisfied that no one else appeared to be around, and miraculously finding a set of clothing she could squeeze into, she Changed and got dressed. The jeans were low cut and left a gap of about three inches between the waistband and the almost too tight tank top her bust was almost spilling out of, but at least she could move about as a human without being totally embarrassed. Barefooted, she walked back to where Mike was and crouched down next to Florence.

She knew she was about to get yelled at. Which suited her fine, because she had some yelling of her own to do. But her voice was soft as she took his hand, fingers gently brushing his skin. “How are you doing?”

Pinocchio looked over to Jess, the expression on his face told it all. What the hell kind of question was that. All she had to do was look at his bruised and battered body and know. But he didn’t say anything, just looked back down to where Florence rested her bare hand. “Just heal what you can, the rest can wait. I don’t want you wearing yourself out.” He instructed Florence.

She in turned just looked at him with that expression that asked if she looked that stupid.

Pinocchio turned back to Jess, “I thought I told you to get Hobbes away from there not to come back and get me.”

“Well, I did half of it. I got Hobbes away.” Letting go of him, she crossed her arm over her chest a bit defensively. “There’s no way in hell that I was going to leave you any longer than I had to and give them more time to prepare for a rescue effort.”

“Besides, Fossa knew what I was. For all I know, she thought you were the same as me.” To be honest, that thought hadn’t crossed her mind until she noticed the tears in his pants leg where she had almost bitten him earlier. But it made a good excuse now. “You really think I’d leave you behind to face those damn experiments that I had to?”

“Inga didn’t want me for that,” Pinocchio snorted as he rolled his eyes. “She wanted me back. I was her husband and he wanted me back cause she knows I’m the only fucking one who would stand up to Santiago and question him. I don’t jump when he asks me to. And she wanted to fuck me again. She didn’t care about you. For all she cared, she would have locked you up in a fucking dog cage and let you starve to death.”

He winced at Florence, “Ouch, careful,” He looked to her. “But now that you broke me out, you beat everything you just said...is going to be fucking true. I told you to clear the hell out. If you would have listened...” He winced again and glared at Florence. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she does hook up with your friends now.”

“Too late for that, Mike.” Jess said, a growl coming into her voice. “If I had listened to you, I would have been running away again.” Disgusted she stood up and started to stomp to the door. “I’m sorry I love you too much to just abandon you like that.” With a snarl she turned on her heel and stalked out the doorway.

Pinocchio watched as she got up, storming from the room. He fought with himself for a moment then pushed Florence away and got up. He stormed out after her, “Just where the hell do you think you are going?” He snapped at her, reaching to grab her arm.

“I’m not leaving, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Jess snapped back. “I just needed some fresh air.” She jerked her arm from his grasp, but then softened her stance. “Did you really believe that I would leave you behind?” she asked, a sadness in her voice.

“Yes!” He snapped out but then quietly followed it with, “No.” He sighed as he stepped closer. “No, I didn’t. I knew you would. Knew Hobbes wouldn’t either. I only...hoped...” He sighed again.

“Thank you though,” He leaned in and nuzzled her ear gently, “Thank you for not leaving me.”

Jess stayed tense against him, and then melted as she felt his breath against his skin. “I’m not going to make that same mistake again, Michael,” she said before brushing her lips against his. She kissed him softly. Turning to press her body against his.

Mike shifted little, merely wrapping his arms around her and holding her to him as they kissed. He pulled back slowly, caressing her hair. “I’m not going to leave you either. I don’t care what kind of firestorm I have to go through, I won’t. Even if you tell me to.”

Jess slipped her arms around him, trying to be careful in case Florence hadn’t completely healed him. She lightly ran her nose over his cheek and kissed the corner of his mouth. “I’m never going to tell you to do that, Michael. Or if I do, I won’t be in my right mind.” She kissed his mouth again gently.

The kiss was a tender one. Mike returned it just as softly. He then gave a little chuckle, “And you are saying you are in your right mind now, being with me?” He couldn’t resist saying it.

“Come back inside, please...” He pulled back and started pulling her along.
He was still aching, bruises were still upon him but not as badly. He walked back in, Florence and set out some fruit she found. She looked up to the both of them and gave a little smile.

“Thanks,” Jess said smiling back. She sat down by Florence and pulled Mike down along side her. Her hand lightly rubbed across his back, trying to soothe away the discomfort. “So did the two of you see anything last night?” she asked, reaching behind her to scratch Gray’s ears as he bumped her.

Florence shook her head as Hobbes came in, “Secured.” He announced as he came over to crouch before the pair. “How you doing?” He asked of Mike.

“I’ll live,” Mike answered as he leaned against Jess as well.

“We know that,” Hobbes teased, “Hard to kill someone like you.”

He turned laying his head upon her shoulder, suddenly feeling tired. “You take first watch, Hobbes. I need some rest.”

Hobbes nodded, “You do that,” He moved over to start lowering him down and grabbing a blanket to place over him.

Jess helped Pinocchio settle, shifting so his head rested on her outstretched legs. Gently she stroked his cheek and then tucked the blanket tighter around him. “I’ll watch over him,” she said to both Hobbes and Florence.

Her hands kept stroking him, both wanting to soothe his pain and reassure her that he was real and with her. “Let me know when it’s my watch,” she said to Hobbes, but her eyes flickered between him Mike, trying to pass on the message that she’d stand his as well.

Hobbes nodded with a little smile. “You get some sleep, Mike. We’ll wake you when it’s your turn.” He smiled a little at Jess before walking away.

Mike felt his eyes fluttering, fighting to stay open. However Jess’ petting was putting him to sleep. He snuggled down, the smells of her comforting and at least he knew that while he slept, he wouldn’t be waken by a fist slamming into his side or some place else.

Jess continued to stroke his head as she leaned back against the wall. Her eyes half shut as she tried to get some rest herself, but she would turn he head at every little sound. Hobbes walking by on his patrol. The scratching of mice in the wall. But eventually her hand stilled, lightly resting on his shoulder as she fell into a light doze.

Shifts changed and Hobbes was now sleeping as Florence took her turn. Mike only moved a little, moaning as he did. He blinked as he woke. It was to silent for him.
Often he found himself waking like this.

The feel of the warm body near him was of Jess. He pushed up looking at her. He had never expected to find anyone in the Realm but yet here she was. He feared if they got out, she...well what would she want to do with him once she found out about...

What was he thinking? They were never going to get out.

He snuggled up to her, slipping his arm around and pulled her to him, burying his face in her hair as he snuggled down once again to rest.

Jess stretched, one leg twitching as she resettled against her lover. Belly to belly, she wrapped an arm around him and let out a contented sigh. Not able to get back to sleep but unwilling to move away from her lover, her hand lightly stroked the small of his back.

And that gave her time to think. Now that the pressure of the full moon had receded, she couldn’t believe the stupid risks she had taken. Pinocchio had been right to hell at her, although the animal in her had felt that it was right to go and rescue her mate. And he was right – she had probably made things worse for herself. Well, what was done was done, she mused. She’d face it with him as it came.

Pinocchio sighed softly, her stroking of his back was putting him deeper into sleep. Her scent as well. It made him feel...secure in a way he hadn’t in a long time. Also made him more determined to keep it. Which caused his arms to tighten around her, a few words quietly mumbled out.

Not long, Florence came in and crouched down before Jess to see. She touched her arm to wake her to let her know it was her turn but was giving her a chance to turn it down, being how Mike was wrapped around her so.

She was half dozing, still lightly rubbing Mike’s back when she felt someone touch her arm. Jess lifted her head slightly, glancing down at Pinocchio before up to Florence. “Do you mind?” she whispered, trying not to disturb him. She didn’t think that she could extricate herself without waking him. And to be completely honest, she didn’t want to try. “I’ll stand a double watch tomorrow,” she offered.

Florence nodded to Jess the stepped away. She wasn’t really that tired and once checking on Hobbes, she tucked him in, brushed his hair back then headed off again. Hobbes only fussed a little before settling.

Mike on the other hand lifted his head and suddenly was kissing her. Jess’ talking had waken him, the vibration he felt and he heard. “You don’t have to stay here with me,” he whispered over her lips, his eyes still closed but he was rubbing his lips over hers.

Jess returned his kiss lightly. “No, I don’t have to,” she whispered back. “But I really don’t want to go on watch. I’d rather stay here snuggled in your arms.” She squirmed a little closer, working one of her legs between his. “You’re a bad influence, Michael Pinocchio.” She continued to kiss his lips as her hand stroked his back, savoring this rare, lazy moment together.

Mike moaned softly for her leg was now pressed to a more sensitive area and he couldn’t help but thrust his hips into her. “I am not,” he breathed in nearly rolling on top of Jess as he kissed her again but more deeply. “God, want to make love to you. Right now,” He groaned in working his way down her neck.

Eyes closed in pleasure, Jess stretched beneath him, tilting her head back in a pose of submission and trust. “Want you too,” she whispered as her fingers dug into his back. One eye slitted open to see Hobbes sleeping nearby. “Way I see it we’ve got two options,” she whispered. “We either sneak into the next room or we can see how quiet we can be.” She bent her head to lick his ear before whispering it. “Not making love to you is not an option.”

Mike moaned as Jess clawed his back and unlike her, he paid Hobbes no mind. His fingers were already working at her pants to he had no need to voice his answer to her. Like hell he was going to get up and move. Would be to painful on his cock for one.

“I said now,” He finally answer her while he shoved his hand down her pants to cup her wetness. Fingers wiggling, he stimulated her as he pushed the shirt aside so his mouth can cover her hard and pert nipple.

“Yessir...” she hissed, squirming under his pleasurable assault. Her own hands started moving to his groin, unzipping his fly and working his pants down his hips. Her nails scratched back up the inside of his thighs and then over his ass. But as one hand moved around to the front of his groin, the pressure switched to the pads of her fingers. One hand gripped his cock and stroked it while the other rubbed firm circles while the other continued to scratch at him.

The scratching was fucking cranking Mike. He had to bury a groan in Jess’ neck so as to not wake Hobbes. Oh fuck, this was going to be hard. He was as hard as anything already and with her hands upon him, he could likely cum with just that.

Shifting his weight, he grabbed at her pants and flung them open enough to shove his hand down to cup her. The heat and wetness he found made him thrust his hips against her hand. “Fuck woman, It’s going to be hard to stay quiet.” He breathed into her ear.

Jess bit back a moan at the feel of his breath in her ear and his and between her legs. Much to her chagrin, she realized that she was having the exact problem. It was amazing how he brought out the animal in her.

Her hand tightened on his cock, squeezing as she stroked him. So so hard and so hot, she thought that he might scorch her. “You want me to stop?” she hissed as she continued to dig her nails into the small of his back.

A mere growl was let out as Jess’ answer and the digging in his hand into her cunt. He dipped his middle finger into her entrance and pushed, wiggling it while he latched his lips over hers. “That answer your question?” He voiced quietly.

Mike moved, slowly pulling his hand out and pushing her pants down. He had to shift from her at times, and she had to wiggle her hips as well to get them down but once the were, he pushed back to get at least one leg out.

Letting out a soft hiss, Jess twisted and squirmed beneath him, trying to aid him as much as she could and not disturb Hobbes. Anything to get his fingers, or something thicker, into her. Fingers clawing at his back, but became more gentle as the slipped around to his groin.

The zipper sounded unnaturally loud as she lowered it. But all thoughts of noise were banished as she reached in his fly and squeezed his cock. She almost was afraid that he’d burn her hand.

Pinocchio had to bury a moan in her chest. His body shivered once Jess touched him. Skin to hot, so soft and her fingers were....He couldn’t wait. Though he wanted to do more to her like taste her, pleasure her more, he couldn't. He pulled her hand away pushing his own pants down past his hips to then position himself as he grabbed her leg to lift.

The initial push in was, almost painful but with her wetness, he slipped in. He again bit back a moan, fingers gripping her to a near bruising state. “Shit,” he hissed quietly.

Jess’ head tilted back and she let out a soft hiss, her fangs and claws extending. She clamped down on the Change almost immediately . It was frightening and exhilarating to realize that he was the only one who could provoke this reaction in her. “God, Michael...” she moaned.

At last he was in, he couldn’t move however. It was too wonderful. He had to pant for a few moments before hips could be drawn back and he would start moving. His face stayed buried in her neck, trying to keep from making to much noise but in doing so, he was gathering her scent to him. A wild animal scent like that of the forest as well. He shivered before hips moved a little faster.

Jess wasn’t able to dull her fangs or claws. His fingers dug into his back, scratching and raising small welts. The animal in her wanted to mark him, to make certain that anyone and everyone knew that he belonged to her. She kissed at his ear, trying to be careful and not nick his skin with her fangs. “More...” she moaned softly. “Michael....”

“Shhh,” Michael breathed against her ear as he tried to give her more. If he could, he would have her screaming by now, as she did before but he couldn’t, not with Hobbes still in the room. So he settled for a few hard, grunting thrusts. There was a burning inside him that needed to be fed. Needed to be released and it was coming close to that moment when it would be.

Her hands slid down her back to anchor on his hips, her claws digging into into his ass. Jess bit down on her lip, trying to stifle the urge to scream. Rocking her hips hard against him, she started trembling as the pressure between her legs transformed into pleasure. She arched beneath him, head snapping back and baring her neck to him.

It didn’t take long. The need and hunger was just to much. With a few more thrusts, Mike was buried deep in Jess, his cock welling and releasing inside her while his mouth was upon her neck, biting her as he cried out with his release.

Her teeth clenched shut as she bit back a scream of her own. The pain of the bite blended with the the bliss of her orgasm. Her hands tightened a fraction more before relaxing. Her claws and fangs slowly retracted as she relaxed beneath him. Her neck remained stretched below him as one hand lightly stroked him.

Mike had bitten her, marked her like some animal. And Jess didn’t seem to mind. He slowly lifted his head, her own turned away. He leaned in and nuzzled her cheek before kissing it so the could pull off. He pulled her close, not bothering to put himself away. Hands wound around her, pressing her to him. No words needed to be said.

Jess could smell her blood, his semen, and their sweat, a heady combination that she never thought she would get enough of. She could feel the bite wound on her neck heal over, and for a moment she wished that it wouldn’t, that she would have some permanent mark from him. Her hands on his back relaxed as her arms tightened around him, holding him close, possessive. She pressed her lips to his forehead as she let out a sigh of contentment.

“Fuck, baby,” He groaned quietly as he shifted some as his cock softened in her and was forced to pull away. He rolled them to their sides, still keeping the contact, not wanting to let go. His eyes fell on the bite, watching it heal over and like her, wished it wouldn’t. He wanted to bite her again just to see if it would stay but knew it wouldn’t. “Love you,” he offered up instead, knowing that soon, it would be his turn for guard duty.

“Love you too,” Jess whispered softly as a hand strayed up to stroke his face. “Get some sleep, Michael,” she said, kissing his lips lightly. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us tomorrow.” They were still too close to the compound in her opinion, and since Inga knew what she was, then Inga also probably knew how to contact those who wanted Jess back.

The End