This, In Remembrance

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  1. This, In Remembrance
    An Original Story by Peregrine & DotCom

    It gives me strength to have somebody to fight for; I can never fight for myself, but, for others, I can kill.
    Emilie Autumn, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls
    Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved.
    Martin Luther

    It had been ten months since she'd returned from active duty, eight months since starting physical therapy, six months since being fired from her third job, four months since moving back in with her parents, nine weeks since being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and five days since she'd slept more than two hours at a time.

    So, really, Master Sergeant Molly Christine Rhodes, Air Battle Manager for the 339th Air Control Squadron, was doing just fine, thank you very much.

    And it was true, too. Well. Mostly true.

    Molly had been a climber since the age of two, literally. Twenty-eight-year-old Diane Rhodes had woken up some twenty-four years ago just in time to see her toddler maneuver herself over the edge of the supposedly inescapable, hyper-safe crib her mother-in-law had spent a miniature fortune on, not trusting her son's new wife to buy something "appropriate for the baby".

    Three days later, Diane had signed Molly up for a Tiny Tumblers class at the local gymnasium. To her knowledge, little Molly had really like the class, but she'd soaked up the lessons, anyway. Even at two, there was a drive in her, to learn everything she was shown, to be the best, and to achieve perfection long before the could spell, or even say the word.

    Molly had dropped out of gymnastics four years later, just as her teachers were making unofficial plans to enter her in the Olympics ten years down the road. But Molly was bored, and Molly was hard-headed. Molly would not be made to do anything she did not want to do, so Molly was done with gymnastics, but not before discovering she was good at learning, and good at taking orders. Very good.

    She graduated high school a year early, at the top of her class, having lettered in three varsity sports (soccer, basketball, and swimming, for what it was worth -- very little, as it happened), not because she like sports, and not because she was smart, but because she was a hard worker. She thrived on doing, and on being the best, and she knew, even before graduating Dartmouth College one and a half semesters early, that it was going to be the Air Force or bust.

    When she was accepted into the Air Force, after hours of training, studying, and piloting lessons, it was as one of eight females on a list of 93 total recruits. She graduated at the top of that class, too, and for the first time, she was proud of herself. Not because she was the only student not to have come from military background, and not because she was the first female ABM to have graduated in the top three percent in over ten years. But because she was, she knew, surrounded by other people like her -- people who weren't driven by hedonism or pride, but by a desire to serve, a need to push themselves to their absolute furtherest limits -- and she still came out on top.

    Her mother had cried when Molly learned she was going to be shipped out just two months after completing her training. She'd been just twenty-five at the time, one of the youngest pilots in her squadron. But Molly had been glad. This was where she thrived. She pressure, the nerves meant nothing to her. Her greatest fear was failure, slowing down, going backwards. In a jet, that was impossible.

    Ten days before Molly was headed home for two months' leave, she was flying recon with two of her pilots from their base. It was a strictly non-combat mission. This far out from the frontlines, they didn't except to see so much as a dog taking a shit. Hell, Molly had been singing some stupid pop song under her breath -- and Molly didn't sing. She couldn't remember the song, either. She didn't really want to.

    She did remember seeing a flare of orange out of the corner of her right eye. She remembered, because she'd thought it had been pretty at first. A burst of orange against a blue-black sky. Pretty. Pretty stupid.

    She'd turned, maybe expecting to see a watercolor painting. Instead, one of her engines was on fire. And then the world exploded.

    After that, things were hazy. Well, no. Memory was hazy. Voices, faces, colors had been hazy. The heat hadn't been hazy. The pain hadn't been hazy.

    And no, almost a year later, the burn scars covering her neck back, and right arm had been reduced to itchy pink whorls of skin. She still walked with a crutch and a limp -- impressive, after they'd told her she'd never walk again. But of course, Molly had never heard, never understood the word 'never'.

    She'd survived those long months after the crash where others had fallen apart, victims of insatiable anger and depression. Molly, though, Molly was a pusher. She loved to push. She loved to do. She loved to check things off the list, especially hard things, especially things she should have never been able to do. So, instead of crying or dreaming, or killing herself, she'd started to walk again. And then, after the Purple Heart, she'd started to work again. And just when it seemed like maybe things could go back to normal, she'd started to dream again.

    That was right around when she'd stopped sleeping, too.

    That was the worst part about all this, about what her family and her bosses said was totally acceptable, what her doctor, her therapist, and psychiatrist, all called PTSD. Molly didn't lose. Molly did. Molly fought. So, why the fuck couldn't she get over this shit?

    And why couldn't she sleep?

    Yawning, Molly raked a hand through unruly brown hair, adjusting the air conditioning to blow more directly into her face. Even in Fort Worth, she didn't need the AC at this time of year, but according to the painfully bright numbers on her dash, it was going on 4 AM, and Molly was tired and too smart to be on the road now., and too tired to be on the road. Whichever, she knew it was a bad idea to be driving half asleep, but lately, it was the only thing that worked.

    Fort Worth at 4 AM on a Tuesday morning was quiet. The garbage trucks weren't out yet. No one was rushing to work. The sun was nowhere near rising, college kids had gone to bed, and even the birds couldn't be bothered to be out not. Molly liked quiet. She craved quiet. That had never been true before, but then Molly was a very different person now.

    Dependent, for example. She'd moved back in with her parents after two months of increasingly desperate insistence from her mother, though the real trigger had been losing her job at the coffee shop in Dallas. Molly had never lost a job in her life, then, over the course of two months, she'd lost three. Lazy, irresponsible, needy. All of them were words Molly hated before they could have been used to describe her. Now? Now, she didn't even like to think about them.

    She hated the way her parents were so used to coming into her room to wake her from screaming nightmares, they had it down to an act. Like parents of a newborn. Her father would come in and wake her, sit with her until she stopped screaming and remembered where she was. Hold the trash can in one hand and Molly's hair in the other on the nights when hyperventilating made her sick to her stomach. Walk her downstairs to her mother, where she already had a cup of honey-sweetened hibiscus tea ready to go. And Molly would thank them tersely and insist that she was alright, and wait for them to go to bed again before turning on early-morning infomercials and adding two shots of whiskey to her tea.

    Molly's older brother, never as driven, never as ambitious as Molly, was a high school teacher in the next town over, with two young kids of his own. They weren't allowed to visit Aunt Molly anymore, because Aunt Molly woke the baby when she had 'special bad dreams'.

    But this morning, Molly beat the system, skipped trying to sleep altogether, and taken her father's car out. It was better when she slept during the day, anyway. Everyone was at work, so she wasn't ruining any nights when she woke up in hysterics. Her mother, she knew, an RN at the Mercy West Hospital ten minutes down the road (also conveniently where Molly went twice a month for continued PT for her leg), was probably only a few weeks from trying to take a night shift so she could be home with Molly. Molly planned on arguing that point as long as she could.

    She loved her parents. But this was getting out of hand.

    She hadn't realized she was falling asleep until she jumped in her seat at the honk of a taxi horn. She had drifted to a stop in the middle of an intersection. Better than an accident, she supposed, but still time to get off the road. The last thing she needed was for her parents to think she couldn't drive herself anywhere.

    There was a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts three blocks from her house, and that was where she headed now. She'd gone to high school with the kid who ran the early morning shifts, but that had stopped being awkward a long time ago. Molly wasn't shy about her handicap. Ten months ago, they'd told her she wouldn't be walking anymore. Now, she could leave the crutch in the car most days.

    Molly wasn't shy about most things. Maybe that was why Sara Jenkins let her finish off three pots of coffee at a go most nights.

    Yawning, she reached down to turn up the air again, and flicked the radio dial on a hunch. It was halfway through a song Molly didn't recognize when she realized she was wrong -- she did recognize it.

    Before she even knew what was happening, she saw a flash of orange out of the corner of her right eye. Gaping, Molly looked around in disbelief.


    This was impossible.

    She'd just been driving her father's car down an empty street -- hadn't she?

    But a look to her right confirmed otherwise. She could see the wing of her F-16 cloaked in a thick cloud of black smoke. She could feel searing heat at her back, could feel her stomach leap into her throat as the plane began to lose altitude.

    Remarkably, Master Sergeant Molly Rhodes did not panic. She gasped, coughed on the thick, acrid fumes, whimpered at the pain as the fire peeled flesh from her bones, but she didn't panic. Both hands on the joystick in front of her, she pulled up hard, already scanning her field of vision for somewhere to land if it came of that, eyeing the eject button carefully --

    It was the sound of the tires screeching that brought her back just in time to see her father's car hit the dog that had run out into the road.
  2. He had been running. Running so hard, and for so long, that even he was starting to feel the strain. But the form he wore was made for running, and the pads of his feet scraped against the asphalt, propelling him forward. His tongue lolled out out his mouth, his big, barreled chest heaved rhythmically, and his feathered tail streamed out behind him.

    The few people he passed at this time of night stepped out of his way in surprise, but they would never remember him. Stray dogs were not that uncommon of a sight in the suburbs, and even if someone should try and catch him, he was maneuverable enough that it would be possible to tumble right past them before they could latch a hand in his long fur coat.

    The pounding of his heart accompanied the beat of his feet and the litany that ran through his head. Run, run, run, run. There was time for nothing more, nothing more than those words, which pushed him on whenever he thought he might begin to flag.

    There would be time later to worry about what was certainly coming after him in the dark, the reason he was now running until his heart collapsed. They had called him traitor, had ignored everything he had told them, and sentenced him to death. Sentenced him to death for protecting the thing that they considered most precious. Sentenced him to death for taking the life of his, of their, chief.

    There was no greater shame than to avoid the rulings of the clan. The clan was everything, it was what every shifter lived for, every day. It was what had kept him alive and safe since he had finally come in off the streets, had fed him and protected him and taught him. He in turn had always served the clan to the best of his ability. But now his name would be blacklisted, and before the week was out the news would have spread to every shapeshifter community in the country. Within three weeks it would be all over the world, and there would be no home for him, anywhere. Nowhere except the streets that he had allowed himself to believe that he would never need to return to.

    And, as if that wasn’t enough, his own clan would be sending the hunters after him, the ones who dealt with the shifters who went rogue. They couldn’t even allow him the shame of living in exile. He had to receive the ultimate punishment, and they would not be satisfied until he got it. And shifters never forgot.

    But Adair had run anyways. Even though that name would be burned from the face of the world, even though he could no longer define himself by the basic principles that guided most of his kind from birth. Even though running would mean losing the only life he had ever loved, and perhaps sacrificing his existence even more surely than if he had stayed to face his punishment. He had run anyways. He didn’t have time right now to think about how much that tore him up inside, about how it left a gaping hole where the existence he had built had once been. He was nothing now, nameless, clanless, a drifter with a price on his head. But he couldn’t let that blackness drag him under. Something had told him that couldn’t just be the end, that his duty had not ended with the death of the traitorous clan leader and his cohorts who had come to pick up the ancient shapeshifter artifact his clan guarded.

    There was one rule, one rule that no one ever broke. Don’t let the humans know about the existence of shapeshifters. Horror stories were still told about the supernatural war, the war that had taken place thousands of years ago and still haunted the collective memory of those who remained. In that war, the supernatural species had gone from an almost countless variation to the five species that still existed today. Should it ever come to a war with the humans the supernaturals would lose. Even if the supernaturals were much harder to kill, the humans would win every fight through sheer strength of numbers. They fought amongst themselves often enough. Give them a common enemy and there would be no stopping them until every supernatural person had been wiped from the earth.

    There was no evidence that any human still alive knew about the existence of the shifter clans. But the kind of money it would take to corrupt a shifter clan leader had to be copious, and someone with that kind of money would be no fool. Given the right profit, he or she would reveal the clans in a heartbeat. And somehow, the one now nameless had to make sure that didn’t happen.

    He had taken the form of a German Shepherd, a massive example of the breed, with long, straight back legs, deep red, tawny, and black markings, sharp ears, and dark, intelligent eyes. It was an unfamiliar form, especially to a man from a clan that specialized in quick shifts between cat and human. But there were a surprising number of similarities between the form of the heavy, wild looking grey tabby tom he usually adopted, and the dog who was putting every ounce of his determination into forward momentum. The cat was a much more level ride than the dog, focusing on quick bursts of graceful speed. But they both knew how to move in a way that someone who had only ever been human could never understand.

    The asphalt was starting to wear through his pads, and he could almost feel the blood that would soon be seeping from his feet, marking his trail even more clearly than it already was. He slowed from a run to a lope, and from a lope down to a walk. His tongue flopped up and down, spattering his saliva over the sidewalk, and he shook his head in irritation, ears rolling back and forth. He lifted each foot one by one, testing it against the sidewalk before shifting the pads back to full strength.

    He could smell the trail he was leaving behind, even though all the pollution of the human city. And if he could smell it, the hunters would most certainly be able to. He had been running for hours, since the sun went down and he had finally been able to slip away unnoticed from the compound where he was being held until he could be quietly executed. But he needed to change his plan.

    He slowed, panting heavily, and tried to think while the sound of his own blood rushed in his head like the surf. Everything around him seemed oddly silent, as though it was waiting to pass judgement upon him. He had left the few people behind as he had run, slipping through the side-streets until he came to rest in a parking lot where a few shop signs still glowed.

    He needed a way out, a way that would allow him to completely slip out from under the looming thumb of his hunters. And the only way to do that was to risk breaking the cardinal rule, the one he was going to such trouble to try and save. He was going to have to involve a human.

    But this person need not know he or she was getting involved. All he needed was a brief respite, a journey that would leave no trace of his existence to be followed. At least until they caught his scent dancing on the wind, purely by chance, and he had to run once more.

    He turned his head from side to side, looking all around. It had to be the middle of the night, when most humans were safely asleep in their warm, comfortable beds. Not out on the road, taking in the night air. But his sharp ears could pick up the sound of an engine, and it was drawing close.

    There was only going to be one shot at this car, and he couldn’t mess it up. Humans could be annoyingly observant drivers, when they wanted to be, and if the car swerved around him his plan would never work. He would simply have to pray to the gods of luck that one thing, one thing after a series of unfortunate events, might finally go his way.

    He gulped, a human gesture that translated over automatically into dog attitude, before shaking out his head once more. This was going to hurt. No matter how careful he was about this, it was going to hurt. And he would have to accept that. Anything that broke could be healed, but that wouldn’t stop the pain from registering as the bones in his body snapped like twigs. But such was the power of a three thousand pound piece of machinery, and such was the price of his plan.

    There was no time for him to hesitate. He had work to do, and to complete that he needed to escape. To escape, and to survive. Whatever that survival took. He wiped all thought from his mind and dashed out into the road, throwing himself under the wheels of the car that glowed like twin suns, rising out of the darkness.
  3. Fuck.


    A fucking dog! Where had it even come from? One minute, Molly was driving down an empty road, the next -- Jesus Christ, had she killed it? She must have. She'd felt it pass under the front right tire of her father's Honda, there was no way in hell -- and, yeah, it had been a big motherfucker, but...shit. Shit. She'd hit a dog. Killed it. Probably some family pet from nearby, gotten over or under a fence, run into the road. She'd have to find whoever it belonged to. Have to go to there door at four in the morning. A weekday, too. Christ, what if they had kids? What if she had to explain to some ten-year-old girl her dog was dead because Molly hadn't been driving her car. Not really. Her body was there, but here mind...Jesus Christ, her fucking mind --

    Molly lost track again of how long she'd been sitting there, her steering wheel caught in a white knuckle, super-glue grip. It was the sound of her own breathing that finally pulled her back to reality. She hadn't even realized that was what it was first. It sounded like air being let out from a tire, wheezy and panicked and making black spots flare up in her vision as she fought not to pass out. That would be easier. She'd have less to explain that way, but she'd hate herself forever. How much more of a coward could she be?

    Slowly, joint by joint, she unstuck her fingers from the wheel and made herself breathe like a goddamned human, reaching over to open the door, trying not to think about what she was going to find. She'd felt a tire go over it. One tire. So, what, was it still trapped under the car? Did she risk trying to back over it again without hitting it? Or did she drag it out from between the wheels like something already dead?

    Oh, she was going to be sick. She was sure of it.

    And then what? What if the family filed charges? Would they take her license? They'd taking flying from her first, and now driving? What was next? Public transportation? A fucking bike? Would they just keep picking away at her until she had nothing left, no way to move herself around? She'd freeze to one place and stay there forever with only her feet and her own bum leg as company.

    That leg nearly buckled beneath her as she stepped out of the car. She was on the wrong side of the street, she noticed, parked just under a yellow-orange streetlamp, with long strips of burnt black rubber extending from her rear tires in chaotic swirls across the road. She was lucky she hadn't hit anything. Well. Nothing louder than a dog. She was luckier she was in front of a park. No houses close enough to have heard her faux pas. Not that that changed much. She had still hit a dog. Killed a dog.

    She got out of the car and shut the door with trembling hands and carefully lowered herself to her knees, holding her breath, hoping she wouldn't see anything under the car. Maybe the dog had been part of the panic attack. Maybe she'd just imagined --

    It lay on its side, its ribcage rising and falling quickly, high pitched whines making her head ache. She could smell blood.


    Molly straightened to her hands and knees and shut her eyes and held her breath as her stomach threatened to rebel. She gagged once, twice, refused to vomit, then made her stomach cooperate before climbing back in the car.

    Anyone watching now would think they were seeing a hit and run. Police would be called. She would plead guilty, and they would take pity on her, a wounded soldier, young and pretty once, now quiet and a prisoner to her own fucked up nightmares.

    But Molly had been a good pilot. She could maneuver a 40,000 pound jet through a tight corkscrew. She could back a 3000 pound piece of shit over a dog without hitting it again. And she did. Somehow, she did. Because she had steady hands even when she was scared out of her mind. It was when she tried to return to normal life that she had problems.

    She got out of the car again feeling numb and sat next to the dog and next to her car and carefully lifted its head into her lap. Maybe she was expecting it to die there. She was still parked on the wrong side of the road. What if another car came? She felt warm blood sinking into the lap of her pajamas. She'd have to throw them away. They would make her mother cry otherwise.

    The dog was wheezing and whining and she just sat there, stroking it's blood damp ears. Her hands had stopped shaking, but then she'd also stopped thinking. She was waiting now. Waiting for it to die. Her hands searched for a tag and found none. Where would she take it when it died? She could just leave it? Was she supposed to drag its corpse from house to house asking if she new its owner? And how would that look? A haggard-looking twenty-six-year-old in blood stained pajamas with a dead dog in tow.

    "Hi, is this yours? I'm sorry I killed it, I thought my jet had been hit."

    Yeah. Right.

    She wasn't sure how much time passed before she started to shiver in the cold. The dog was still whining, still bleeding, still alive. And the sky was getting lighter. She made the decision to take it home without ever really knowing how or why or when. She should have taken it to the vet, but she couldn't just leave it there. Someone would wake up in the morning to find their dog. She didn't know where the nearest vet was. Her house was three blocks away. Maybe it would be better if it died at her home. Or maybe she was more of a coward than she thought.

    The dog was heavy, and Molly was tired, and her leg ached. Still, though. She talked to it like it would make a difference.

    "C'mon, buddy," she panted as she scooped careful arms under its belly and barrel chest. "You're alright. Just gonna take you home for a little bit. Clean you up. And in the morning we'll go find you're owner. Maybe they'll know what to do. Maybe I can pay your vet bill."

    Except, aside from the blood behind its ear, it didn't seem to be broken. It should have been. She was not doctor, but she knew a broken bone, and this hundred pound dog had faced down a car thirty times its size. There should have been shattered ribs, compound fractures. More than a bloody gash. Maybe she was still dreaming.

    It was a long moment before she could heft the dog into the front seat beside her, and another long moment she spent trying to keep from getting sick on the side of the road. God, she was tired.

    But she got back in the car anyway, and turned the AC all the way up, and the radio all the way down, and she kept one hand between the dog's ears the whole way back to her house.
  4. It wasn't as bad as he had expected. The pain of the car rolling over his body broke everything all at once. Apparently it also broke his pain receptors because he couldn't feel anything. No, that wasn't quite right. He could feel the broken rib sticking up through his flesh and the second rib embedded into his lung. He could feel the air leaking from the puncture wounds, could feel the blood that was quickly pooling around his body. The dog let out an instinctive whine, even as it knew it was dead.

    But he wasn't dead. Even from the moment the car ran over his body he was shifting. Shifting from the broken mess of a creature that lay silently under the car to the whole and healthy creature that had run for hours. Maybe that was why it didn't hurt. Maybe the pain of shifting was unreal, and that meant that he could no longer feel anything, even as his ribs slowly dissolved and reformed into their proper position. The pool of blood he would be leaving behind was hopefully small enough that the human who had hit him would not see it. But it would tell volumes to the hunters on his trail. They would know he had been hit, but they would also know that he was not dead. Blunt force trauma could never kill a shifter. They would know his plan of escape, and they would start tracking him again, slowly, thoroughly, meticulously, circling out from this very spot until they had covered every square inch of ground in this city.

    But it would give him the time he needed.

    The dog was continuing to whine, perhaps from some remnant of the shock that had just gone through its whole body. Right now, he wasn't sure he could stop it, even if he wanted to. Of course, it didn't occur to him until the human was looking right at him that there was something missing in this whole scene. The dog was unharmed. Panicked, but unharmed. And he knew that the wheel had rolled right over him. But what kind of a wound was acceptable.

    He couldn't have anything broken. An animal would heal too slowly for his purposes, and any human with a severely wounded animal would go to the vet. There were enough odd things about him, like the fact that it was nearly impossible for him to be drugged in any way, shape, or form, that the last place he wanted to go was a veterinary, where everything that should be about an animal was known as well as everything that shouldn't be. That ruled out anything severe. Nor was he willing to relinquish anything that might help him fight for the life. There would be no damaged eye, no ripped ear, no cracked tooth.

    But he needed to bleed. He needed to look wounded, even though he was technically in near-perfect health. The blood soaking his fur would add to that illusion. But he needed to make sure that the blood was explained.

    It was never pleasant to shapeshift to a wounded form. In fact, it was about as far from pleasant as it was possible to get. As soon as he finished his shift he was left with scrapes and bruises all over his body, as well as a ragged gash in his forehead that seeped blood. And as soon as the shift finished the pain arrived. He let out a loud whine, scolding himself for the instinctive reaction. Right now it would aid his act, but at any other moment it would be an unforgivable sign of weakness.

    A part of him wondered whether or not he might have damaged his head in the accident. The head of a shifter was always the most sensitive part of the body, and the least easy to heal. A concussion was a concussion, no matter what form he was in. He would be able to repair the tissue of the brain, but the small gland that controlled his ability to shift, if damaged, would need to heal normally. Perhaps he had damaged it. Perhaps that was why his thoughts were so cloudy, and why his ability to control himself seemed to have deteriorated.

    So wrapped up was he in his own thoughts that he didn't even notice when the car rumbled to life. It wasn't until he saw the tires start to move that he noticed. Was she leaving? The dog let out another whine, desperate and panicked. No. That was not part of the plan. He had not even imagined that would be a possibility. Pets were supposed to be the one thing towards which humans were almost always sympathetic. Surely this human couldn't be leaving him here?

    But, no, the car was moving backwards not forwards. Cautiously, carefully, nudging its way around his limp, whining form. It took all of his willpower to lay still, to remind himself that it didn't matter if she ran over him again. To remind himself that , the way things were looking now, she wasn't even going to hit him. But the space under the car was dark and terrifying, and panic was on the verge of setting in.

    He had definitely hurt his head. It was the only thing that could explain the lack of the extreme self-control he had possessed almost since birth. And the part of his brain that was still a shifter, the small part that remained separate from the animal brain despite the blow, was annoyed. He might mess things up if he wasn't careful, simply because he wasn't thinking clearly. He would have to analyze every action three times over before doing it, unless the action came directly from the mind of the dog, and he could be certain that his intelligence as a shifter had no impact upon it.

    And then he could see the sky again. The close darkness of the underside of the car was suddenly replaced by the infinite darkness of the heavens, hazed out by a nearby street lamp. This would be the moment when everything could go wrong. When the human would leave. But she, and he knew it was a she now, didn't leave. She came to him, cradled his bleeding head in her lap, and sat there. He whined piteously, silently begging her to take him away from this place, to bring him to safety. But she just sat there with him, waiting for something to change.

    But nothing could change. He was intact, far more intact than he had any right to be. And the dog that he kept paralyzed was panicked, so the whining, the panting, went on and on and on. Finally, she seemed to realize that he wasn't going to die, that she needed to make a decision. And it was with a great, mental sign of relief that she began to gather him in her arms, and slowly moved him over to the car. The dog did not care for her words, but the shifter welcomed them. It meant she was a caring soul, all things considered. And it meant she wouldn't dump him until he was ready to go.

    He lay limply on the front seat, tail curled between his hind legs, whining and shaking. But her warm hand between his ears was comforting, and slowly he began to relax. First the whining stopped, and then the shaking lessened. And her hand was warm on his head.
    • Nice execution! Nice execution! x 1
  5. Molly wasn't a pet person. She hadn't much liked babies, either. Whatever part of her that was supposed to lose its mind over big, soft features and an inability to talk must have been broken. She'd never wanted a pet before, not a cat or a dog or a gerbil. She'd had a goldfish as a young child, her parents' way of feeling our her responsibility, getting her ready for the puppy she'd definitely want. She'd kept it alive for twelve years, not out of love or devotion, but duty. It had died six months before she'd left for college and she'd flushed it down the toilet herself without ever naming it anything other than 'Fish'.

    But she'd be lying if she said the dog's piteous whining didn't get to her. Maybe it was guilt or nerves, or maybe she was just tired. But she found herself nervous, anxious, almost speeding to get home...and then what? Crush up some Advil in apple sauce? Drag this hundred pound dog up to her room and out a Bandaid on it? What had made her think she was remotely qualified to handle this? Why hadn't she just taken this poor animal to the vet? And what was the supposed to tell her parents? She was an pilot of the United States Air Force, retired at age 26, with a Purple Heart and more charming accolades than she knew what to do with. She was way, way past taking home strays -- had never been there to begin with -- and she didn't even know if this was a stray to start.

    For a moment, the car slowed again as Molly reconsidered. It was too late to leave the poor animal there, and it was clear he was injured, if not so badly as she had thought before. At the very least, she ought to turn the thing over to the pound, file a police report, and wait. Problem solved. She'd made up her mind and actually started moving to the police station before she realized her hand, still coated in the animal's blood, was still resting on its head, scratching aimlessly between the ears.

    And it was still whining at her.

    Molly swore as she yanked the wheel hard to the left, pulling an ugly u-turn in the middle of the street...and probably scaring the ever-loving daylights out of the thing in the seat next to her. Again. She exhaled, annoyed, and looked over to it as she turned back toward her house.

    "Sorry, bud. Shit night." Then she laughed a little. "But then who am I telling, huh?"

    The rest of the ride was quiet as the dog -- a big German Shepherd -- seemed to relax finally, easing into what she might have called a half doze if she hadn't been so afraid he was still dying. It was going on 5AM by the time she reached her home again, yawning, making it a solid 42 hours since she'd even tried to sleep. Well. Fat chance, now. Her parents would be waking up in the next hours, and while they were far from heavy sleepers, at least now what she'd moved in, it wasn't unusual for her to be up, puttering around the house. How she'd make struggling with a 100 pound dog sound like puttering was a little beyond her, but one step at a time.

    It was around there she snapped back into military form. This -- doing, checking things off a list -- this she could do in her sleep, or her lack there of. She pulled into the garage and shut off the car, giving the dog another scratch behind the ears before lumbering out of her side. Her leg ached beneath her. Twelve pins, three titanium plates -- one for each bone in her leg -- and a new kneecap. All the surgeons said she'd gotten lucky. A crash like that should have killed her. She'd gotten past the 'if only' stage easily enough, and now only though it ironically. Still. Her leg hurt like hell most mornings. Nights, too. And whenever she breathed.

    She half limped, half marched around to the other side of the car pulling open that door, before reconsidering.

    "Uh...stay. You know 'stay'? Stay," she ordered awkwardly. She'd read somewhere the thing about dogs was making sure they knew you were the alpha. Or some bullshit like that. "Good boy," she added. Not that she knew it was a boy. But whatever.

    She hobbled over to the door leading into the house and a short hallway which spread into the main living area and the dining room/kitchen behind it. She'd only lived in the house a few years before going off to school, so her bedroom wasn't really a 'room' at all, but was a loft shoe-horned into a one floor bedroom with a door installed for privacy. The stairs were at the end of that short hallway, maybe ten yards from her parents' bedroom door. If she could get that far, she might be okay. As long as the dog didn't make any noise. Now, or ever again. And as long as it didn't eat, or need to use the bathroom.

    Trying to hide the dog from her parents was a bad idea, and she knew it wouldn't last long, but she didn't want to explain how she'd found it, or why she'd been out at all. Not yet. She needed to at least pretend to sleep first.

    She went back to the side of the car, looked down at the dog, a sighed, arms akimbo. "Alright, buddy. Let's do this. quiet, alright? Do you know quiet? Shh? No noise? Jesus Christ, I'm talking to a fucking dog. Alright." She stooped, scooped the dog up under its belly again, and straightened, swallowing a gasp of pain as her bad leg quietly told her to fuck off.

    She leaned a hip against the door, staggered into the house, and hooked a sneaker around that door, too, kicking it shut behind her.

    The stairs were a little more difficult, and she had to stop to rest every third step, half breathing heavy, half laughing at herself.

    "Sorry, dude," she panted quietly. "I am outta shape. Been a while since I went running. Dunno if you noticed, I'm a cripple now."

    Finally, they reached the top with no further incident, and Molly staggered over to the window seat her father had built for her sixteenth birthday and put the dog down there, before standing back, gasping. Her leg hurt so bad, it made her teeth buzz, and she hesitated only a second before hauling herself up onto the cushioned seat beside the dog, leaning back against the shuttered window to close her eyes.

    "Good boy," she said again. "Good boy.

    She was like that for almost five minutes before she realized two things:

    1) She'd nearly fallen asleep there, blood-stained pajamas and all; and

    2) Her hand had found the dog's head again. She didn't even remember putting it there.

    Surprise or something else made her leap to her feet. Right. Bloody dog.

    She stood and looked around her room for anything that might help her, abandoning that effort just as soon as she realized the could count most of the items in her room on one hand. Bed. Dresser. Lamp. Computer. The bed had no headboard and no box spring. The lamp had only a stained, white shade. There was no desk. Molly had never been very sentimental. Neither had she ever planned on moving back here. That would be moving backwards, and like a shark, that sort of nonsense would kill her.

    But then, she hadn't planned on being shot down out of the sky, either. Hadn't planned on it messing with her brain chemistry so hearing the wrong song on the radio put her back in that flaming cockpit.

    Yawning, she shook herself, then turned to the dog again, a little more confident. "Stay," she said. "I'll be right back."

    She was back in military mode again, sneaking out the door, shutting it behind her, boiling some water in the microwave, grabbing towels, guest blankets, a pad of gauze, a bottle of peroxide, and an old t-shirt from the laundry room. And some Neosporin. Did dogs use Neosporin? Probably not. But she felt better with it, anyway.

    She brought all of that upstairs and laid it on a towel on her floor. Then, maybe stalling, she left again, grabbing a big bowl of cold water and half a pack of cold cuts from the fridge. She was almost back up to her room when her mother caught her.


    "Molly?" Her mother was at the edge of sleep, and under any other circumstance, Molly would have been fine. Sure, a bowl of water was a weird thing to sneak away to your room, but people gave you surprising passes for PTSD.

    "What are you doing up, sweetheart? Could you not sleep again?"

    "I'm fine, Mom," Molly said, turning away.

    "Do you want some coffee?"

    "No, thanks. I'm gonna try and lay down."

    "How 'bout a little breakfast? What's that? Sandwich meat? I can make you some eggs."

    ", I'm just...I have some crackers upstairs, I -- "

    "What is that bowl for?"

    "Nothing, I -- "

    "Molly? Is that...blood?" And now Diane was awake and in panic mode. Molly felt her shoulders sag in exhausted defeat.

    "Molly? What happened? Are you alright? Are you bleeding, sweetheart?" Molly knew that tone. Her mother had started reading up on PTSD about two weeks after Molly was diagnosed. This was the 'you're not wrong, I love you, let me help you' tone that she so often used when Molly had nightmares.

    "Mom, please. I'm fine. I'm just going to bed."

    "But your pajamas -- Molly, please tell me what happened. I'm not angry, Molly, I'm only -- "

    "I know you're worried, Mom," Molly said, struggling to keep her voice even. She was tired. There was a maybe-dying dog upstairs, possibly waiting to shit on her carpet. Her mom was on the edge of a full-on freak out, which would only bring her dad, and then she'd have to explain, and she was so not in the mood --

    "Molly -- "

    "I hit a dog," she said finally, closing her eyes to avoid seeing her mother's expression, whatever it was. "I couldn't sleep. I took dad's car out. I...I dunno, fell asleep at the wheel or something, and I hit a dog."

    "Oh, Molly, sweetheart..."

    "It didn't seem all that hurt, just...confused, so I...brought it home. I'm just gonna clean it up, and then start putting out flyers. The vet's too far away, and the police would have put him off to the pound. Please, Mom, don't freak out. It's fine. Just...let me do this, alright?"

    There was a long pause, and Molly opened her eyes to see yet another familiar, nauseating expression. 'I understand you need to do this as part of your healing process. You have my support. I love you.'

    "Alright," Diane said finally. "If you're sure. But if you need anything, Molly, even just a ride to the grocery store -- "

    "I'll tell you or dad, I know."

    Diane gave her a watery smile, and Molly tried to return it, giving her more of a grimace instead. She started to retreat back upstairs, then sighed, turned around, set the bowl of water on the counter, and wrapped her arms around her mother's waist, kissing the older woman on the neck.

    "I love you, Mom."

    "I love you, too, sweetheart. Try to get some sleep."

    "I will."

    Just as soon as she triaged this dog.

    Back up stairs, she set everything up on her two-towel operating table, then hefted the dog into her arms again before sitting crossed legged on the floor with the dog's head in her lap.

    " you some food. It's only sliced turkey, but...y'know." She held a piece up in front of the dog's face. "There's more where that came from, if you want it. But you have to sit still. And please don't bite me."

    She reached over and tore the old shirt into strips, soaking one in peroxide, before holding her breath and using the fingers of her free hand to gently probe blood-slicked fur until she found a spot that seemed stickier than the rest. She winced in sympathy, then picked up her rag.

    "Okay," she said again. "Here we go. Please don't bite me, okay?" She wasn't really afraid of the dog, but if her mother found out, that would certainly complicate things.

    She gently dabbed at the ragged wound, thinking it maybe seemed worse than it was, even if there was a whole lot of blood. She didn't know how much blood a dog could lose before it died. She was pretty sure it was about two for a human to start feeling gross. By the time you got to four, you were in serious trouble. This didn't even look like one pint of blood, but dog's were a lot smaller. And she'd hit this one with a car. Run over it. So, maybe just a gash and a few bruises were lucky.

    "Good boy," she said again without really thinking about it. "That's a good boy." She reached over for another rag, this one soaked in warm water, carefully cleaning away the remainder of blood from the dog's fur, though she'd probably have to give it a bath or something later. Maybe she could take it to the dog park. It could swim or run through some sprinklers. And maybe someone would recognize it, and she could go back to sneaking crackers and sandwich meat into her bedroom for her own benefit.

    She was yawning by the time she finished, and after ultimately deciding not to cover the wound in Neosporin, she stuck the gauze pad down and tied it on with more strips of shirt, maybe the dog look like an idiot. She stared at it for a moment, then laughed, scratching its head again almost affectionately.

    "Sorry, dude," she said. "At least you don't have to wear one of those cone things. Oh, but don't...poke it or whatever, okay?"

    She eased out from under the dog's head, throwing away wrappers and bloody pieces of shirts, setting up a little nest of blankets and pillows on the floor. The dog was big enough to get up onto the window seat itself if it wanted to, but she figured he'd be sore, and she wasn't too keen on lifting him anymore, either. But she did, anyway, one last time, to put him in the bed she'd made for him before cleaning up her little operation room. She set the pack of deli meat and the bowl of water by its head, feeling so tired she felt nauseas now.

    She yawned again, standing over it. "Don't pee on my carpet," she said. "And don't throw up, or get food everywhere." And don't die. She didn't say that last part. Except maybe in head head. Accidentally. The therapist told her she was supposed to stop doing that. But the therapist had probably slept last night instead of hitting a dog with his car.

    "Stay," she added one more time, for good measure.

    She could hear her father downstairs, talking to her mother, hushed voices that meant they were talking about her. And now, probably about the dog. She thought about going downstairs to confront them, to remind them she was still an adult, that she hadn't just brought this dog home on a whim, and she had no plans on keeping it. But she was too tired.

    "Stay," she said again, because she was too sleepy to do anything else.

    And she kicked off her shoes and fell face first into her bed, bloody pajamas and all. She was asleep half a minute later.
  6. By the time the car pulled up into the garage he was feeling nearly well enough to get up and move on his own. Under any other circumstances he probably would have done just that. But he had fallen asleep on the ride to the girl's house, and if it hadn't been for the bump separating road from driveway he probably would have slept all the way into the garage. He let out a whine as the bump jostled him, but it was more out of humiliation than from pain. He had fallen asleep. In an unknown place. With a human in his presence. It was uncommon, but what if he had reverted to a human form while he slept? What if he had automatically healed his wounds? He ran a quick physical making sure that nothing had changed while he slept.

    When the car came to a stop and the woman came to get him, he almost moved. She was hiding him, and he wanted to make things easy on her. Carrying a hundred pound dog up the stairs was not something that would be easy, especially if the smell of metal in her leg was anything to judge by. But, just before he moved, he froze, swearing at himself. He was a dog that had just been run over by a car. A dog that had been lying perfectly still for a very long time. If he suddenly got up and move now, would it ruin things? The worst part was he couldn't even figure out whether or not it would be bad to move. He had always been able to make these kinds of calls before, back on the street where the only thing between himself and discovery or death was his own quick thinking. He would have to tell his clan that getting run over by a car in the body of a dog, even a big dog, was a bad idea. He let out another whine when he realized that he would not be telling his clan anything. Maybe not ever again.

    Indecision paralyzed him right up until the point where she picked him up. The dog squirmed automatically in her arms and let out a whine. He promptly clamped his jaws tight, and did his best to shove his tongue down the back of his throat. The dog couldn't understand her words, only her tone, but the small, undamaged part of his shifter mind still knew English. She needed him to "shh". Most likely, that meant that there was someone inside the house that she did not want to know about him. But that worked for him. the fewer humans he got involved in this the better. One was far too many already. However many were inside the house would be even worse.

    He whimpered quietly in response to her voice as they traveled up the stairs. It was a good voice, low and calm despite the stressful and potentially overwhelming situation. His tongue was lolling out of the side of his mouth, and even the shifter was starting to panic a little bit that she might drop him on the way up. If she dropped him he was going to run. The crash would bring anyone in the house running, and he didn't want to have to deal with that. She had broken his trail, and there was technically no reason to stay there.

    No reason except for the fact that he could hardly tell right from wrong anymore, and making a mistake was the last thing he wanted to do with the hunters on his tail. The problem was choosing to do nothing was a choice as well. And he didn't know if it was the wrong choice or the right choice. Perhaps she would be able to protect him. That thought earned a dog-like snort of laughter less than half a second later, which could luckily be covered by the fact that his carrier had just come to a sudden halt. That, and she probably wouldn't be over-analyzing dog noises at that moment. What had he been thinking? How could a human protect him from some of the most deadly shifters in the world? No, he was going to be running for the rest of the foreseeable future, until he found some evidence to prove his innocence or was killed. But he would stay here until he was able to make judgement calls once more. That was for the best.

    The window seat was soft, and he allowed his body to relax into it. By now most of the blood on his fur was dry. Hopefully he wouldn't be making too much of a mess. She sat down next to him, and for a moment they breathed in the silence together. Her hand was back on his head, rubbing the fur between his ears, but his eyes didn't even flutter. Maybe it was the dog, but there was something nice, something reassuring, about the feel of her hand resting on the top of his head. Something soothing.

    He was catapulted back to wakefulness as she suddenly stood up. He let out a whine and tried to move, but the functioning part of his brain held him still. No moving. He didn't know when that had become a rule, but it was the rule now. He wasn't going to break it. So "stay" was perfectly fine with him. He watched her leave the room through half-closed eyes.

    She came back for a moment, and he tried to lift his head to watch her a little clearer. But his head didn't move, only his eyes and his tongue, which was lolling out of the side of his mouth and fluttering with every breath. And then she was gone again. But he was safe, at least for now. And so he was almost asleep again when he heard the voices. His eyes snapped back open as some part of him told him that this was important. It felt like there was something crawling around inside his ears, and suddenly he could hear the voices downstairs. In his bleary and only partially functioning state he could only make out one word in about five. But he got the important ones. Blood. Dog. Home. Alright. Love. Sleep.

    Someone had found out about him. Someone who was going to let him stay. He didn't realize this pressure had been upon him until it left. Now he was safe, really and truly safe, at least for the night. It would take time for the hunters to track him this far, time that he could use to heal. Heal and plan.

    His ears crawled back to normal moments before she entered the room again. She moved him to the floor, placing his big head in her lap once more, before politely offering him a piece of lunch meat. The dog told him to take it, since it was, after all, food, and he had been running all night. The hunter demurred for now, and his nose tipped away from the food. She began to clean his wound after that, and he accepted her ministrations with something almost akin to laziness. Of course, his tail curled back up between his legs as she worked around his eyes and ears, but he did not move. He was not allowed to.

    She ended by wrapping his head in a bandage, something that he planned to remove at the first given opportunity. He wasn't about to let it become infected, and the bandage got in the way of his vision. Her voice was full of sleep, and the dog could no longer understand what she was saying. But she moved him back up to the window seat, and by now he had become used to being moved in that way that he did not try and get out of her grip. He lay there for a few moments, ignoring the tantalizing smell of the meat only a few inches away from his nose.

    As soon as he heard her lay back down he was moving. He sat up carefully, looking around the room with bright eyes. She was already breathing the deep and even breath of those sleeping. He let out a small whine, but she did not stir. His tongue lolled out of his mouth, and he smiled.

    The first thing he did was snap up the lunch meat, swallowing the thin slices of meat without chewing. That very important task completed, he proceeded to carefully paw off the bandage covering his head, although he was careful not to open up the wound that had scabbed over. He needed to leave the wound. She would be checking it tomorrow. But he didn't need the bandage.

    He lapped up a few tonguefuls of water, before curling his tail in and placing the tip of his nose on his paws. The dog laid like that for a few moments, eyes fluttering closed, before opening his eyes back up, yawning wide and hopping off the windowsill. He looked around the room, breathing lightly, before moving to the bed. Once more the shifter demurred, but this time there was no reason to ignore the desire. He was a dog, he was safe, and her hand felt nice on the top of his head. It did not matter that he was not supposed to move. He hopped up on her bed, careful not to bump into her, before curling up by the side of her legs. He panted happily, nuzzling his nose into her blankets. Moments later, he too was asleep.
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  7. She didn't wake screaming, so she counted it a good day.

    But now, still now, even ten months later, she lay very still, so tense it almost hurt as panic threatened to flare in her chest. This had been how it started. Before the panic attacks and the nightmares and what her doctor called 'triggers', things like shitty pop songs putting her back up in the sky, thousands of feet up, with nothing between her and the ground but metal and fire.

    She'd been with someone at the time. Her first and last 'someone' since coming back. She didn't even remember his name, which ought to have been a decent indication of whatever the relationship had been. She'd woken and flown into a panic, and when he'd woken up beside her, roused by her breathing and her sudden, uncontrollable whimpering, she'd broken his nose before even realizing where she was.

    The doctor said this could be as much an indication of insomnia as acute stress disorder. Sometimes, she might experience little half triggers, like hearing a loud noise and dropping into a crouch without even thinking about it. Or waking up expecting gunfire. The key was not to panic. The key was to keep breathing and try and look around and get a hold on her bearings.

    And that's what Molly did. But until she knew where she was, she couldn't relax. No, she had four years of bone-deep training that knew better than that. Her ears strained in the silence of the day, her muscles so tight, they ached. And she lay there and she looked around and she made herself stay very still, as if she feared movement would begin some chemical reaction she couldn't slow down or control. It would take her somewhere far, far from the safety of her warm bed in her parents' house in Forth Worth, Texas. A thousand feet up and surrounded by fire.

    She sat up with a gasp and only then realized she'd forgotten to breathe while she'd looked around. That was always the hardest part, the breathing. Hardest, because it was so easy to mess up. You took just one breath too quickly, and then you were hyperventilating, and people were staring, confused, annoyed, pitying...God, she fucking hated the pity, knowing she'd gotten off better than most, luckier, whole-r, alive-r than most, and --

    And she moved her leg and hit a dog, and that right there was enough to undo her.

    But Molly was stoic, always had been. She didn't scream. She wanted to, but she didn't. The stifled the noise into a hysterical sort of giggle, clapping her hands over her mouth to hold her breath when she felt the panic rising again. No. Not yet. What time was it?

    Trembling, she threw aside sheets and pillows to uncover her alarm clock. LED numbers glowed 8:03 AM. The panic fled suddenly in a wave of frustrated disappointment.

    Great. Wonderful. Fucking brilliant. That made three hours' sleep in two and a half days.

    And there was a dog in her bed. Where the hell had -- ?

    The memories of last night -- that morning -- flooded back. The trigger. The car. The dog in the road. Carrying him home, cleaning him up. Hadn't she put him up on the window seat? She blinked dumbly, sleep still clouding her mind. The little bed she'd made was still there, if a little ruffled. The pack of deli meat was still there, maybe a slice or two lighter.

    But the dog was in her bed. When had that happened?

    She laid back down, still trying to get her heart rate back under control. That had actually been a pretty decent waking. Four times out of five, it was nowhere near that smooth. Even if she didn't wake up screaming, she'd forget where she was, maybe knock a book to the floor, and the sound would have her crying and shaking before she realized it. Luckily, this usually only happened when her parents were out of the house. The only thing Molly hated more than crying was other people seeing her crying.

    Still, it was with a shaking hand she moved over to scratch the dog's ears. Carefully. She didn't know this dog, and while it hadn't bitten her yet, she knew from experience waking a feral animal with a touch, even a gentle one, was grounds for retribution.

    She lay there a few minutes, half asleep, her face just a few inches from its nose. She was almost asleep again when a fragmented memory woke her for good this time, or as well as anything could when you were an insomniac.

    It was still early. She wasn't sure how much sleep dogs needed, and she'd feel pretty bad to subject anyone, even an animal, to her sleep schedule. She decided to leave it there for the moment. There was water and food -- sort of -- in the room. And if the dog was house trained, maybe it'd come get her if it had to go outside. OR maybe it would use the towels she'd left down from last night.

    Or maybe it would just use her bed.

    With a groan, Molly rolled over, grabbed her computer, and crept downstairs, silently mocking herself the whole way down.

    "Really, Mol? Afraid to wake the dog? Really?"

    She was still mocking when she disappeared into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal and the largest mug of coffee she could find.
  8. He woke barely an instant after her, his peaceful sleep disturbed by the sudden tension that radiated through every muscle of her body. He had gained that natural reflex when he was still living on the streets, when waking at the slightest hint of danger was the key between safety and punishment. Normally he would have been moving by now, trying to get away from whatever was creating such tension, but there was something holding him in place.

    He wasn't supposed to move.

    Really? Still? He had been still all night, except for that one moment where he had evacuated his perch on the sill and gone over to sleep next to her. Was he not allowed to move? Even though he had been still for a whole night, and the dog was clearly not badly wounded by the hit?

    Yes. Stay still. Be safe.

    And so he didn't move. He didn't lift his head, he didn't even open his eyes. Even though a part of him wanted to move over to her, to reassure her with his warm, furry, heartfelt presence. Because he was grateful to her, in an odd sort of way. She had hit him, but he had been the one to put himself in that position. She had gotten him away from the hunters, and for that he would never be able to thank her enough. And so he wanted to calm her down, reassure her from whatever terror had awoken her.

    But there was something taught, something bowstring tight, in her form, something that would probably snap at the slightest stimuli. And he didn't want that. Hell, he didn't need that. He did not want to be living with someone who would wound him, because right now he might very well react by instinct. He was hunted, he was fighting for his life.

    And somehow he didn't even so much as flinch as her leg collided with his back. Perhaps he was still asleep, and he had yet to realize it. Perhaps the dog was asleep, and the shifter was conscious despite that. But he didn't move. He didn't move as she rolled slowly out of bed and went downstairs. Briefly he wondered if she had ever changed out of her bloody pajamas, but the room stank of so much blood that he couldn't tell one item more or less.

    And then he began to wonder what to do. It would be easy to simply go back to sleep. The dog was somewhat hungry, although not badly, and it had relieved itself quite by accident upon being struck by the car. So it did not need anything. And its code was simple. Eat when hungry, sleep when not. By its terms, it should be sleeping. Especially after yesterday's traumatic incidents.

    The shifter, the nameless entity who should be the one in control, who was desperately trying to reassert dominance over the simplicity of the dog brain, was far more on the fence about it. On the one hand, this room was safe. As long as he did not move he would not give himself away. Until he was certain that he was entirely able to reason through things it was best to stay still, stay away. For there were humans downstairs. He could hear them. And he didn't know what they knew. Add that to the fact that he was supposed to be confused and injured and by far the most practical thing to do was to just stay still.

    Yet there was something that overruled all practicality and all caution. And that was curiosity. The shifter was burning with curiosity. In what kind of place had he found himself? Who was he now sharing a house with? What was the place like? It was not often that he got to be somewhere brand new, and the urge to explore was almost too great to resist.

    But he wasn't supposed to move.

    A small whine slipped from between his lips, and one of his feet kicked out as though sleep-running. It was not pleasant, being conflicted over something that should be so simple.

    It took him nearly ten minutes to reach a decision. He would stay where he was, at least until she came back. When she came back he would move, not to fast or too well, but he would move. And, judging by her reaction, he would continue to move or fall back to staying still. How he hoped he would be able to move. He was not used to staying still for hours on end.

    But the dog was happy. And it was the dog who put him back to sleep. He would wake when she re-entered the room.
  9. She stayed downstairs as long as she could. Her father, an accountant for a local credit union downtown, must have been running late that morning. Most days, both her parents were gone by 7:30. Most days, that was when she allowed herself to fall asleep. The dog had thrown her off that morning, which was maybe for the best. She knew her mother knew about the dog, which probably meant her father knew, too. Still, the last thing she needed was both of them seeing her in still bloody pajamas. Even if it meant nothing, it would have sparked both of them to stay, and then she would have gotten even less sleep than usual.

    She pretended to be asleep on the couch in the living room when she heard him coming down the hall, quickly yanking a throw blanket over her to keep him from noticing the blood. She heard him stop over her, pause and look down, probably hesitating about kissing her on the forehead. It had been his customary greeting for about two weeks when she'd first moved back. That stopped after she'd nearly given him a black eye when the tender touch woke her from a particularly nasty nightmare.

    She waited, holding her breath, for him to notice the blood on his car -- had there been any? She'd been too tired to check last night -- and decide, no, he needed to stay with her daughter for the day. Forty-two-year-old Frank Rhodes was nothing if not a devoted family man. It was the sort of thing Molly might have respected and even admired if it didn't mean spending the day on edge, trying to convince her father that she wasn't broken, like he seemed to think she was.

    But she heard him pull out of the garage finally, and a moment later, she rolled off the couch and into the kitchen. Little sleep meant no appetite, and though she'd knew it'd wreak havoc on her stomach later, she opted on the wonderful appetite suppressant coffee offered. Her mother had made another pot, an entire carafe, because she knew Molly liked it...with a bright yellow Post-It.

    Morning, Mol! Please try not to drink all of this just to keep yourself awake. Love, Mom.

    Molly rolled her eyes, yawned, and reached into the cupboard for a travel mug. Before moving in with her parents, she'd been all about espresso and syrups. It was the one vice she allowed herself, overpriced coffee drinks with seasonal flavors and cloying little nicknames.

    Ever since coming back, she could only really handle black coffee. It made her shake something awful. But it kept her awake, too. And that was all she really cared about now.

    She took her coffee and a handful of shredded wheat squares and sat on the couch to turn on the TV. She knew daytime TV schedules like the back of her hand now. Kiddie cartoons in the AM, new characters she didn't recognize after school. Court dramas, talk shows, infomercials peppered in here and there. It didn't matter. When she was sitting on the couch, she was drinking coffee or fighting sleep.

    Today, she managed another two hours before the paranoia started to creep in. It started as next to nothing at first, just like it always did. Turning down the TV volume to better hear anything that might be happening behind her. Turning on all the lights in the living, despite the fact that the floor-to-ceiling glass sliding door let in plenty of light. She got up and locked that, pulling aside the shutters so she could see what was happening outside, and then sat down again in her father's armchair, which sat in a corner. She felt better being able to see the whole room. It didn't occur to her she was acting strangely until she turned off the television altogether, swinging it toward her to use it as a reflection of the wall.

    She sat still for a second, trying to laugh at herself, before she realized she was disgusted, and retreated upstairs again. For walls, and only one entrance, aside from the window, which was two stories up.

    It wasn't until she was actually standing in the room, looking at her handmade dog bed, her two-towel operation table, and, of course, the dog still in her bed that she remembered the dog at all.

    He was -- she still hadn't actually checked that it was a he, though she felt sure somehow -- still sleeping, as far as she could tell, and for one venomous moment, she envied him. How nice it must be to sleep through the night, untroubled, unbothered by the fact that you were in a strange place with a strange person.

    Then she reminded herself he was lost, separated from his owners -- assuming he had any -- and she'd hit him with a car.

    The strange bandage she'd tied around his head earlier that morning was gone, and a moment's searching found it in a crumpled heap on the floor. She made a face. Gross. But then she wasn't really surprised. She was supposed to use her crutch to go up and downstairs, and that hadn't last more than a few days.

    The thought made her chuckled to herself, and she crossed the room to clean up her little triage space, tossing the jury-rigged bandage in the trash before grabbing up the deli meat and going back to her bed, falling to her knees beside it.

    She reached out a tentative hand, whispering quiet assurances.

    "Um...hey, buddy. It's me again. Just gonna check your head. Let's...keep going with that thing where you don't bite me, huh? Good boy..." She offered the turkey with one hand, found the wound with the other. It had stopped bleeding, though she figured that'd hurt for a few days. Still. Apparently, he could moved himself, if he'd gotten down off the window seat and up onto her bed by himself. So, really, he was doing okay. Maybe that trip to the dog park could happen today. Maybe he'd be off her hands by the end of the day, and she could prove to her parents she was, in fact, capable of rational thought.

    She ran a hand down the dog's head, stopping at its neck again to feel for a collar. Still nothing, but she'd thought maybe she'd missed it in her panic and exhaustion last night.

    She was beginning to wonder if the dog had a name. She'd called her fish 'The Fish' for twelve happy years...but somehow, that felt wrong for a dog, at least one as pretty as this one was.

    Not that it mattered, since, if everything went according to plan, it wouldn't be her problem in just a handful of hours.
  10. For one moment, for one blissfully joyful moment as he awoke, the dog was gone, and he was left with nothing but his own mind, his own impulses, his own reason. For one moment he allowed himself the tantalizing belief that everything had just been a dream; that he had never run away from his prison and was bravely facing execution today the way he should have in the first place. Or, better yet, that the whole murder of his chief had been nothing but a sick illusion in his own mind, brought about by stress and lack of sleep.

    But even as he allowed himself to dream of such a possibility he knew it was nothing more than a dream. The shifter was already starting to fade away under the strain of injury, and the simple thoughts and motivations of the dog were resurfacing. The surface he was laying on was far too comfortable to be a prison cell, or even his own bed. And, far more tellingly, were he where he belonged there would be no reason for him to be a dog in the first place.

    But he was a dog. He had killed his chief and he had run from his sentence. He had gotten hit by a car and gone home with a human. And, although he was better than he had been yesterday, the part of his brain that retained his thoughts and personality and reasoning ability through whatever shifts he made, was still damaged. He was still going to have to double check every action, simply to make sure that some strange mixture of canine and human thoughts was not getting to him and making him act out of character.

    He kept his head down and ears relaxed as she entered the room, but he did watch her move about with some fascination. She was a strange human, based on what he knew of them. Most humans would still be asleep right now, for one thing. Most humans would also be a lot more interested in interacting with him. Briefly he remembered, back when he had still been on the streets, shifting into a cat form to try and hunt for a little bit of food. A young human had approached him, hand outstretched tantalizingly. He had allowed her to pet him, gently, until she tried to grab him, and then he had clawed her and ran away. But most humans seemed to have a soft spot for the animals they had domesticated, at one point or another. It was almost strange to him that a human would have the desire, or perhaps the sense, to simply leave him alone.

    She did come over to him eventually, and he greeted her arrival with little more than a blink and half a tail-wag. He sniffed her hand experimentally, before taking the turkey delicately out of her fingers. He felt her probing around the wound and the dog wanted to snap. That was tender, and should be left alone. But the shifter knew he needed her on his good side, at least for now, and so he lay his head back down and allowed her to probe. The throbbing was entirely tolerable, especially compared to some of the injuries he had sustained in play-combat with his clan mates, back when he had still been trying to assert his own dominance.

    He felt her hand stray down the back of his neck, although what exactly she was looking for he didn't know. His experience with some of the finer details of human life was hazy. The clan lived among humans, but at the same time it was entirely isolated. They only lived in human society because they had no other choice, and as much as possible they stayed contained to themselves.

    He rolled lazily over onto his side, stretching out under her hand. He really wanted to get off this bed, but it seemed rude to push past her. He would get off, just as soon as she moved.
    #10 Peregrine, Feb 18, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2014
  11. Despite herself, Molly had to fight a smile when the dog took the last slice of turkey from her fingers. She wasn't sure why. There was nothing sweet or affectionate about an animal notorious for taking food taking food. It hadn't even looked at her while it did it. It just ate. Big deal. So did she. There was absolutely no reason why it should be endearing.

    But it was.

    She scoffed at herself and wandered further into her room, yawning. It was hardly 10:30 in the morning yet, and she already felt half done with her day. That was life now. She hadn't reapplied for a job since moving back to Fort Worth. She'd filled out plenty of applications, drafted and redrafted her resume, collected referrals and letters of recomendations, even just for simple waiting jobs. She could swim in the reams worth of cover letters she'd written. But she'd never sent any of them out. Why? It wasn't like she had any real skills. She was a fast learner, sure. But everyone said that. No office managers needed to be able to pilot an F-22 at 200 miles per hour, and it wouldn't matter to them she was a pretty decent shot, given she'd only had basic ground combat training. No, Molly was pretty unmarketable. She was good at working hard. Until a glass fell to the floor and she fell apart.

    So, that was it. Some days -- most days -- she went to the park and tried to run. She never got very far before she was wincing and walking again, fighting tears and furious frustrations at her own inability to move her body. She kept the house clean, not because her parents asked, but because she needed something to do during the day. Every other week was physical therapy. That was where she really got to let loose. Her current physical therapist (and there had been three of them) always complained she pushed herself too hard, kept reminding her it was therapy, not Olympic training. Promised she'd hurt herself if she didn't calm down. Maybe she could see there was more than one type of therapy going on there.

    Fine. Molly would put up with the questions and pitying glances until her attitude overwhelmed this guy, too, and she was moved down the line to someone who swore up and down they could handle an angsty PTSD vet. It was better than the kind that involved sitting in a room with a little half empty zen garden in the corner.

    She walked over to the window, leaning over the window seat where the dog was supposed to have slept, to peer out into the empty streets. It was a nice day. Not quite warm outside, but sunny. And sun was good. "Fresh air" was good. Everyone said so.

    She turned back to the dog, arms folded over her chest, and stared at it for a moment. It wasn't whining anymore, and seemed to have gotten enough rest to be at least semi-functional. And it'd have to go out sometime. Really, that was probably the best way to get it back to its owners. They'd be out somewhere putting up missing dog flyers. She'd be out walking a missing dog, maybe putting up some flyers of her own. And it'd keep her from falling asleep accidentally.

    "Alright, waddya say, dog?" she asked aloud. She'd have to figure out its name soon. Maybe she'd just starting saying random words and see what it responded to. Of course, that was also a great way to get a dog named 'food' or 'park'.

    "You wanna go on walk? You know 'walk'?" She'd have to run next door to borrow a leash and collar from the Michaelford's next door. Maybe they'd know whose dog it was. They'd know the fastest way to get to the dog park, too. And she could borrow a cup of dog food or whatever. How long could a dog that big survive on slices of turkey?

    She started moving around the room, grabbing clothes. She considered a shower, then changed her mind. It wasn't hot outside, but these days, even a few miles' walk could have her sweating like a pig in summer.

    She started to change out of her pajamas, unthinking, then stopped when she remembered the dog was in the room. She wasn't sure why she stopped. It was a dog. It wasn't like it was going to snap pictures or snatch her clothes and run into the street (well. It might do that. If that happened, she'd let it go. She'd rescued it once already, and she had more clothes in the dresser than she knew what to do with). But still, it seemed odd with it just staring at her. She started back, pants halfway down, before she realized she was acting crazy again, grunted, and finished changing, tugging on sweats, a t-shirt, an a blue hoodie.

    She grabbed her tennis shoes and socks last, sitting on the bed to scratch the dog behind the ears again.

    "Walk?" she said again. "You wanna go on a walk?" She didn't wait for an answer -- wasn't expecting one -- instead grabbing the bowl of water and taking it downstairs, shouting over her shoulder as she went.

    "C'mon, boy. Um...come. Don't...don't stay anymore. Stop staying. Come. C'mere." She refllled the bowl with clean water, set it on the floor, and turned back to the dog.

    "Okay. Now stay. I'm just gonna run next door, and -- and I'm talking to a dog. Just...stay. I'll be back in five."

    Then she turned and jogged out of the kitchen, down the hall, and away from the house. Just to see if she could.
  12. He sat up in bed as soon as the human moved away, hanging his front paws over the edge of the bed, curling his back legs to the side, and perking his ears up curiously. His tail beat rhythmically against the covers, and his black eyes followed the human as she crossed the room.

    He studied her curiously, head tilting slightly to the side. She certainly was a strange human, he had to give her that. Perhaps he would have been better off not binding himself to someone who seemed to have no tasks to occupy her attention. Yet it was also likely that anyone else who would have been out driving at the time of night he needed would have their own little quirks, and for all her brusqueness, she seemed generally sympathetic to him.

    But she must be rather lonely, the human, if the way she kept talking to him was anything to judge by. He panted at her, trying to be social, but it was hard to act like anything other than a dog when you were a dog. Briefly, he wondered if he was as much in the wrong identifying her as nothing more than "human", as she was in identifying him as "dog". After a moments deliberation he resolved to keep an ear out for her name. She would eventually respond to something.

    But he could say, with absolute certainty, that he did not want to go for a walk. The last thing he wanted to be doing, now that he had successfully evaded the hunters, was spread his scent even further around the neighborhood. Thank you, but no thank you. He would keep himself firmly sequestered in this house until such a time as he considered himself back in his right mind. Until that time, he would not be taking any unnecessary risks.

    But he was not going to be staying still any longer. He had watched the human, judged how she felt about his apparent health, and she did not seem particularly surprised by his well-being. There was nothing in her attitude that hinted that she thought he should simply be a shivering wreck lying on the bed. He was done with staying still, and since both shifter and dog agreed that movement seemed like a good idea he hopped off the bed, landing heavily.

    However, the moment he moved, he found himself wondering if he had made a mistake. His eyes had never left the woman, and now she was glancing at him slide-long, some sort of concern plastered on her face. It was too late to fake injury now, and there was no way h could take back his actions, so he just watched her right back, tail still wagging slightly. It wasn't until she turned away and quickly changed her clothes that he realized she hadn't been reacting to his movement. Shifters had no concern with nudity, after all, clothes were not part of a transformation. But humans had many strange customs when it came to clothing, customs that apparently somewhat extended to animals as well. He yawned widely, satisfied with his view, before sitting down, wagging tail now once more beating out a staccato rhythm against the floor.

    He was definitely good to move, because, after she left the room, she called out for him to follow. He moved hesitantly through the door to her room, before deciding that there was nothing to be gained from staying upstairs and barreling headlong down the stairs and clattering his way into the kitchen. He sniffed the bowl of water, licked it, and then turned his attention back to the human.

    She was starting to grow on him, all things considered. And he couldn't help but believe that having a dog to take care of might be a good thing for her, as much as his escape had been a good thing for him. He would make a good pet, while he stayed. There weren't many dogs, if there were any, who could actually understand everything you said. It was the least he could do to repay her kindness.

    As soon as she was out the door, he devoted himself to exploring the house. The dog kept his eye peeled for anything he could get into, but the shifter was far more concerned with defense and potential escape routes. More than likely, when the hunters finally caught up to him, they were going to find some way into the house before attacking him. If such was the case, he wanted to make sure that he always had a way out. Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you wanted to look at it, the house was full of windows. Large windows with broad planes of glass that would certainly shatter should he throw any objects, or himself, at them.

    There were three doors that allowed access in and out of the house, one to the front yard, one coming from the garage, and one leading to the back yard. And, as far as he had yet been able to tell, every window on the upstairs floor had a small portion of roof sticking out in front of them. There were far worse places he could have found himself hiding.

    He made his way back into the kitchen and laid down next to the water bowl, once more lapping at it experimentally. He would need to keep his strength up while he was here, but also make sure that he didn't waste too much time just lazing about. Were this place one of his clan homes he would practice quick-shifting, but that was not going to be an option here. And he still refused to go outside. But surely he could find some ways to keep himself entertained.
  13. She was only next door about fifteen minutes, but it was still ten more minutes than she was comfortable being...anywhere. She'd always been a bit of an introvert, but talking to your parent's old friends was that much harder when you'd gone away for school, after being the valedictorian, graduating early, joining the Air Force...and then returning as a wounded, psychotic vet almost ten years later.

    Molly still hadn't decided which kinds of questions she hated most.

    The honestly curious were certainly the easiest to face, even if they took the most time, and being too long in any one place made her nervous and fidgety.

    "Oh, you're home again? What happened?" Expecting a visit, casual news, or the soft end of a career. She had to admit there was something about being able to say she'd been shot out of the sky. But of course, those questions always led to the less innocuous and inane.

    There were people who thought they were being brave and honest by asking 'how she was', 'what had happened to her', was she 'officially disabled' now. Like they wanted to rub their own self-esteem and courage in her face. The ones who tip-toed around the questions weren't much better. She could read the, "So...what's wrong with you?" just as clearly in words as she could in half stares, broad, sweeping gesture, long awkward silences, emails to her parents from old family friends.

    But the worst of it were those people that reminded her of herself, who knew she was back home because she couldn't live on her own or hold down a job. And not because of her leg, but because of her fucking head. Those people were always taken aback, no matter how well they tried to hide it.

    "PTSD? Really? That', what does that mean?"

    And she started with the basic definition, slowly turning off her brain, preparing for the blow. Waiting for them to ask why she couldn't get over it, snap out of it, giving them polite, medical deflections while demanding the same of herself. Those nights, she never bothered going to sleep at all. Those nights, she'd train on the treadmill in her father's study until her leg cramped and fell out from beneath her, and she might have cried from the pain if she hadn't already been so angry.

    The Michaelford's weren't so bad anymore, though they were still far too careful and polite around her. She'd been over once, literally borrowing a cup of sugar, and John Michaelford had knocked a glass over in the kitchen.

    Molly hadn't given into instinct, hadn't even moved, which was good, because when mostly people broke a glass, they looked down at the glass. The Michaelfords' eyes shot to Molly. Like they were waiting for her to explode or something. And the worst part had been she'd been ready to.

    Nothing so exciting happened this time. They didn't call her parents to come pick her up. John hadn't sat her down in the living room with her feet propped up because she'd nearly passed out from fear. There was no excessive apologizing in offhand whispers. There was just sincere (right?) interest in a new pet, a new hobby, and promises to set up doggy playdates, until they realized, no. The dog, too, was only temporary.

    They'd given her a leash, a collar, a basket full of dog toys, a twenty pound bag of dog food, and a little dish full of treats. Too much for a dog she was probably going to return in the next day or so, but she was too tired to complain.

    She made her way back to her own house, kicked open the door, dropped everything on the kitchen counter, and then went back to make sure she'd locked up behind her, all without every really thinking about it.

    Then she sat down on the kitchen floor and exhaled shakily. The dog was still there beside the bowl of water. She found she couldn't keep herself from stroking his ears this time.

    "You ready, boy?" she asked wearily. She no longer even felt up for a walk, but she knew if she didn't move, she was going to freeze, and that was much, much worse.
  14. He lifted his head up when he heard her practically break down the door, but scolded himself for twitching so much. He was hunted, and that made him worry about everything, but were the hunters to arrive they would not be so noisy about it. The silence should be the thing to bother him, the moments when it seemed as though the entire world had gone quiet and it seemed as though there was nothing left to touch him. That was when he should worry.

    Of course, there was always the possibility that the hunters might do something completely out of the blue, just to take him by surprise. Maybe one of them had shifted into the human, and was approaching him right now, machete strapped to "her" back so that he wouldn't notice until it was too late. That thought alone almost made him scrabble to his feet and bare his teeth at her, but he forced himself to sniff cautiously instead, every muscle in his body tense and ready to spring to his feet. She smelled of coffee. A fact that no self-respecting shifter would ever think to duplicate.

    Paranoia. That was good. It meant he was getting back to normal. A dog knew no paranoia. It only knew what was right then, and what had been. It would never bother with pointless fears about the future. Right now, paranoia was probably more than a little bit good for him. It would keep him on his toes. And it would keep him from doing anything stupid. Like going for a walk.

    He sat up fully, panting happily at the human and wagging his tail with some measure of self-satisfaction, before yawning widely, and laying down with his back butting up against her leg.

    Don't make me move, he begged with every bit of doggie body-language he knew. And a little bit of human as well.
  15. For a moment, Molly stared down at the dog, expressionless. She'd only ever had one pet, Fish, in her life, and she had fell nothing for it but a dull sense of compulsion to feed it and clean the tank.

    And of course, she felt nothing for this stranger's dog, either. It had been not even twelve hours since she'd practically killed the thing with her father's car. Weird recovery time or no, she knew she was tired, and probably more lonely than she was willing or able to admit. But she couldn't pretend seeing the thing ready, maybe even excited for her return wasn't sort of...nice. To walk into the kitchen and see a living thing without feeling a spike of panic or anxiety dart through her was new. She didn't hate the feeling. But she didn't want to get used to it, either. The dog was purebred, and friendly enough. Someone was missing it, and it wouldn't be long before that person found it. The most she could hope for after that was a reward. She didn't relish the idea of getting a dog of her own.

    Even if this one was forcing her to go outside, and maybe interact with people. In a new, open space. Challenging her agoraphobia, and helping to keep her awake.

    She snorted and the spell was broken as she reached over to scratch the dog almost affectionately under its chin.

    "Maybe I'll get a job as a dog walker," she said drily. Right up until a car backfires and I let all the dogs run into the street.

    Crouching, she reached up to the counter to grab the collar and leash. She wasn't stupid. She didn't think the dog could know what 'are you ready' meant. But she'd walked in with a collar and leash, and it had seemed happy enough, tail wagging and all. Of course, she'd also been lugging food, treats, and toys, so it might just be reacting to that. Or even just her presence, though that seemed less likely.

    But she had to get out of the house sometime, and she figured the dog wouldn't mind a walk. A German Shepherd this big probably didn't spend a whole lot of time lazing around a closed space. She'd need to hang up posters, too. The sooner she got rid of the dog, the better. For both of them.

    "Alright, bud," she said again, doing her best to use a soothing tone. Hopefully, the dog would know what a leash meant. Dogs like walks, didn't they? So, it'd be excited to see it. Not angry. Fuck, what if it had been abused or something? Unlikely, since it hadn't so much as growled at her yet, but still. Every animal had its triggers. She wasn't afraid of being bitten. But Molly hadn't been so great at being backed into corners lately, and the last thing she needed was to explain to her parents why she'd hurt the dog she'd rescued last night.

    "Good boy," she went on gently, trying to loop the collar under its neck. "You wanna go to the dog park? You, I'll bring a ball or some shit. You like toys? And not biting? And treats? All that sounds good, yeah? Especially the not biting?"
  16. How far was he going to let this go? From everything he could tell, this was not a human he wanted to upset unnecessarily. But binding was one of the greatest shames to a shifter. It represented submission, submission and the handing-over of control to the person who bound you. Being bound without your consent was one thing. Being bound without trying to fight in any way...

    But who was he fooling? He had already broken the greatest taboo, and one more would make no difference. That wasn't what was holding him back. The simple fact was he truly did not want that leash about his neck. But it was also going to be a delicate balance. Right now, this human was his safety. And also his primary giver of food. In a place like this, it wasn't as though he was going to be able to hunt for his own food. He would eat almost anything he could get his hands on, be it eatable by the form's standard digestive system or not, but with a yard and a house it was doubtful he could find enough to survive without her. So that made him dependent on her.

    He shook his head, ears laying tight against his head. He shifted away from her, so that he was no longer in contact with her leg, and then stood. Of course, he didn't move far. Just far enough away that she wouldn't be able to get the collar around his neck. And then he sat back down and panted at her some more.

    This game might be interesting, if he approached it the right way. It might almost be amusing to see how hard he could get her to try before she gave up.
  17. Molly was not so foolish as to think the dog's moving was coincidence. In that instant, it became clear that the dog didn't want the collar, or the leash. But she did not immediately take it as a sign of rebellion, and certainly not one of refusal to go on a walk. She didn't know much about dogs, but she knew about instinct, and she knew, or she thought she knew, this animal was playing with her.

    It was both endearing and frustrating at once, and Molly stared at the thing, caught between amusement and irritation.

    Finally, she sighed and stood to grab a treat off the counter.

    "Alright, then. We'll play nice cop. You down for bribes, guy? You want a treat?" She knelt again, leash and collar in one hand, bone shaped dog treat in the other.

    She held out the latter first, for the dog to sniff and identify, or whatever it would do. She was pretty sure there was still some lunch meat in the fridge, too. It had seemed to like that as well.

    The collar and leash she kept half hidden behind her back. The animal was clearly not stupid. It would still know it was there, certainly. But hopefully, hunger or curiosity, or food-based trust would make it forget. For a few seconds, at least.

    "C'mere, boy. Come get a snack, okay?"
  18. There was no doubt that the treat smelled enticing, especially to his dog nose. He tilted his head sideways, sniffing absentmindedly, while still wondering whether or not to approach. There was no doubt that the dog would go up willingly, given half a heartbeat of control. But the dog also wanted to go outside, sniff some bushes, mark a few corners. And that was the last thing he needed. No, far better to just stay inside.

    He was, however, inclined to play with her. If he was pretending to be a dog, he wanted to be a dog. The childish games that he had gotten to play as a kid were long past. He had assumed the responsibility of any adult in his clan, and while there was always time for fun, the truly innocent banter of childhood was gone. So why not take advantage of it now, when there was no one to judge him except for a human looking at a dog?

    He stood up, tail wagging, and took a hesitant step forward. He was tempted to rush her for the treat, but he had a lurking suspicion that would not be a good way to get into her good books. Another step, and then another, almost within touching distance. If she reached out suddenly, she might just be able to tap the tip of his nose.

    And then he was gone. Prancing backwards, haunches down, tail wagging wildly. He yelped softly at her, spun in a quick circle, and then sat back down, head tilted to the side, tongue lolling out of his mouth. He might, if she asked nicely, go out back and consent to play with her. He panted a little harder, laughing silently at her expense.
  19. It was playing with her. Like this was some sort of game. Like this was the fun part, and they didn't have shit do to, places to go.

    And it would have been fine if it hadn't been so...endearing wasn't even the word anymore. It was downright charming. Cute, even.

    Molly resented it immediately.

    She exhaled, pushing bushy brown locks out of her eyes.

    "Of for the love of...come on, you wanna go outside, right? On a walk? To the park?"

    She tried a new technique, stowing the treat up on the counter, and reaching for a rawhide bone with one hand and a short, thick tug rope with the other. It had been all neon colors once, bright oranges and yellows, presumably so it didn't get lost at the dog park they'd never be finding their way too. Sure as hell couldn't be for the dogs. They were color blind or something, right?

    She tossed the dog the bone then knelt again, holding out the tug rope with both hands. She was bigger than the dog, but only by about twenty pounds. And it had a four-leg advantage. Presumably, none of those legs had been crushed in a plane crash. Or a car crash, for that matter.

    Pushing the thought out of her head again, she whistled softly, trying not to sound amused.

    "C'mon, boy. You wanna play games? Let's try this one."
  20. He paused for a moment, staring at the rope and tried to anticipate exactly of what this new plan consisted. He could see both of her hands, which meant the chance she was going to be able to collar him was very slim. What exactly she expected him to do with the rope was more than a little bit of a mystery. The way she held it made it look as though she was preparing for a fight, yet why offer it to him unless she wanted to keep it?

    Of course, that could be the purpose of the game. Both of them grab it, and see who can keep it in the end. He had little doubt that he would win that particular tug-of-war, although the ones he was used to usually had a lot more people in it, and a much larger variety of forms.

    He approached, carefully, warily, expecting a trap. But, at the same time, his tail was wagging happily, practically creating a breeze in the still room, and his ears were perked forward. Finally convincing himself that perhaps this really was just a game, he moved forward.

    He mouthed the rope, before biting down and giving an experimental tug. He could play this game, but his attention would still be partially focused on making sure that there was no collar waiting somewhere to trap him. He tugged again, a little harder, but hardly enough to unbalance her. He didn't want to send her sprawling.
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