“Is he dying?” “No, just wishing he was. I’ve seen this among humans before, it’s nasty, but they recover.” “Pity.” Yawned a third, male voice “If he died he would finally be out of our territory…” “He’s bleeding from the nose.” The first, younger female voice observed “Should we be concerned with infection?” “No, it doesn’t spread between species.” The elder female voice explained.
“Right, let’s go then.” The male voice suggested decisively “No reason to stick around here.” “But what about him?” the younger female disagreed quickly. “His den is just over the hill, he’ll make it back just fine…” “Please. Does he look like he’s in any condition to ‘make it’ anywhere?” she shot back. “I don’t see how it’s any concern of the pack.” The male argued back gruffly. “Elderrrr…” the younger female whined plaintively, drawing the word out to pitiful lengths. “You may.” The elder female voice decided “But he’s your responsibility!” A moment later I felt myself being gently picked up and carried off briskly to points unknown.
Now one would think that the circumstances ought to generate more than a pained apathy on my part. You would, however, be sorely wrong. I had been working as a fire watcher for close to six months at this point. For those of you who have never worked for the parks department, a fire watcher basically sits around in a glorified deer stand all day, get this: watching for fires. If you can deal with living literally thousands of miles from the next nearest person it’s a pretty good gig…sit on the Internet gaming all day, read, write, stream TV…no, not bad at all…
…until you eat some ‘iffy’ canned goods and poison yourself. I had gone out to maybe catch some fish for dinner when it hit. Within minutes I had vomited up everything but my intestines, and had immediately about-faced and started for the radio in the watchtower…thirty feet down the trail the dizziness and headache had moved in at full force. Then, the next thing I notice is that I’m somehow lying on the ground, looking up into the painfully bright sky.
Everything seemed to ache, throb, or radiate agony, depending on its preference, but at least screwing my eyes shut made the headache nominally better. I knew I should be doing something, but between the roaring wildfire in my guts and the stabbing in my head I just couldn’t remember what it was, and almost certainly couldn’t have made my body respond to orders to do it anyway.
No, here it was going to be, until the sickness’s passing or my own. Curling up as much as I could I could almost convince myself things could be worse. And then I started hearing voices standing over me talking, arguing really. That’s about when I decided I was probably on the Last Train West, so what did it matter how my brain perceived it?
Younger-female carried me for quite a ways, or at least it seemed like quite a ways, my lucidity was only spotty and was getting worse as time wore on. I didn’t care, I just wanted the jostling around to stop so I could go to sleep and not hurt so much.
Our walk ended somewhere cool, dark, and smelling strongly of dog. Young-female gently set me down on something soft and crunchy that felt sort of like a tarp thrown over a pile of hay. Had someone drug me off to a barn somewhere? I lived at the highest point in the area: you could literally see for miles from up there, and I couldn’t remember even the indication that there was anything out there.
“Hey.” Younger-female said as I felt someone feel my forehead “You should try to get some rest, okay? I’ll try to keep anyone from bothering you…” Forcing my eyes open with a real effort of will, I could just make out the form of my host disappearing into the gloom. Looking around a little before a wave of dizziness convinced me it was a bad idea, I found that I was in some sort of cavern system. I was lying, it turned out, on an elk skin covering a large pile of leaves. I could also see a faint glow radiating from around a curve in the passageway: probably where everyone else was.
Curling up as tightly as I could without further aggravating my insides, I wondered just what I had gotten myself into. Some kind of cult or survivalist group? Antisocial speleologists? Or even something more ominous…a reality TV crew? Nobody had tried to get me to sign any release waivers, so I was probably at least moderately safe on that front. The issue was pretty much moot though, since I wasn’t in any condition to do anything about it anyway. With that in mind I fitfully drifted off to sleep.
I woke a second time to the disconcerting feeling of something licking my face. “What the…” I yelped, trying to focus my eyes. It wasn’t working well until something cold and wet poked me in the ear. That drug me out of it pretty instantaneously, and the next thing I knew I was sitting upright with a squirming, wiggly little puppy shooting me indignant looks from the other end of the pad. “Oh, I’m sorry.” I sighed, wishing the walls would quit moving around “You scared me there, little guy.” Offering my hand for inspection by way of an apology, and soon he was enthusiastically trying to climb up my chest to have another go at my face, tail wagging with manic glee the whole way.
After the little critter had worn himself out we settled down with him cuddling up where I lay back down. And even though a puppy couldn’t make anything better, having my new companion around really did make me feel better. He was completely black, without so much as a spot of lighter color on him, and was of a breed I couldn’t quite identify, though definitely one of the long-haired Northern varieties.
One major factor of the human psyche is the urge to name things…it just really bothers us not to have a name to call something. I never really made a conscious decision on the topic, but I had already started thinking of the little guy as ‘Midnight’. “So how about it?” I asked the puppy “You look like a ‘Midnight’ to me…” Midnight, however seemed more interested in continuing with his naptimes than discussing the matter. “Midnight it is!” I announced, almost grinning “But don’t think you get to complain about it later.”
Pretty soon I was nodding off again, or at least trying to, when a pair of people showed up at the entryway. “I found him!” one of them yelled over his shoulder. A minute later a couple more showed up, and one of them approached and sat down next to me. Now that she was closer by I could actually see her in the dim light. She was an attractive, athletic-looking lady with hair so blonde it was almost white.
“I’m sorry” a voice I recognized as the younger female from earlier (at this point I didn’t have a clue how much time had passed) said “We told the pups not to bother you, but this one never seems to want to stay with the others.” “He’s fine.” I yawned, giving Midnight a hug “He’s kind of growing on me actually…” Laughing cheerfully she patted me on the shoulder “Give it time…he’s just about run the rest of the pack collectively out of their minds!” “I had Dalmatians when I was growing up, after them I doubt Midnight here could phase me.” “Midnight?” she asked curiously, raising an eyebrow. “Well, I had to call him something.” I shrugged.
“Speaking of which, what’s your name?” I questioned. “Alex.” She supplied helpfully. “Nice to meet you, Alex.” I yawned “My name is Nick, but you can call me ‘Hey plague vector!’.” I joked. “Well, I’m glad to see you’re feeling a little better.” Alex observed “You weren’t looking too good there for a while.” “As long as I don’t move around too quickly the urge to vomit up my intestines remains merely a suggestion rather than an overriding directive.” “That’s certainly an improvement.” Alex agreed “For the first day or two I was pretty sure there was going to be intestines involved before things got any better. Between that and your nightmares you’ve been keeping me pretty busy around here!” “I’m sorry about that.” I blushed “I didn’t mean to make trouble for anyone…I didn’t actually know there was even anyone else out here for that matter.”
“What are you doing out here, anyway?” I wondered, trying to sit up with Midnight doing his sleepy best not to have to get up and move. “We’re werewolves.” Alex replied airily “Many of us of lupine descent prefer to live in nature, away from human society.” “Oh, okay.” I nodded, trying to decide if my new acquaintance was having a laugh at my expense, or, much more worrying, was completely out of her mind. Given the choice of being poked fun at or stuck in a dimly lit cave with a band of raving lunatics, I would much prefer the mean sense of humor.
Seeing my incredulous look, Alex sighed deeply. “Well, there goes that plan…I was hoping to have you get to know everyone a little bit before you found out, but now you think we’ve all gone around the bend, sooo….” Alex started to change before my eyes, growing taller and more muscular, while at the same time somehow acquiring a tail while her face elongated into a muzzle and she sprouted a pale fur coat, many shades lighter than her hair had been. When everything quit shifting around there stood before me what was obviously a werewolf. “We’re friendly! Really!” she assured me quickly “You don’t need to be scared!” “I’m not!” I denied emphatically. “Your pants suggest otherwise…” Alex disagreed.
“Aw, damn it!” I swore, noticing the spreading wet spot on the front of my pants. “Umm… It must have been Midnight!” I decided, trying to save face “Don’t ‘yall house-train your pets around here…oh…wait.” I sighed as another realization hit me. “Midnight isn’t a pet, is he?” “Nope.” Alex smiled in the way one does when praising a particularly clever child. “So why’s he a puppy and not a people or a wolfy?” I wondered, genuinely curious. “We can breed with wolves and humans, but not others of our own kind, and our young tend to take after their non-Kinde parent as far as natural form goes.” “Really.” I nodded, fascinated by the genetic implications “So are there any physical differences based on parentage?” “That would make sense, but no.” Alex shrugged. “You’re making me wish I’d taken a course on evolutionary biology…” I lamented “Or at least had internet access!”
“Well, you’re certainly taking things quite well…” Alex decided, sounding relieved. With a smile that should have been extremely disconcerting in its toothiness, but somehow was just kind of endearing, she flopped down on the cushion with Midnight and I. “If ‘yall were planning on eating me or something you’d have done it by now.” I yawned. “True enough.” She nodded seriously. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my pack to death, but most of them are quite short on logical reasoning…”
“I never even knew that there were caves out here.” I mused “Let alone anyone living in them…I’d probably have been more discreet up there in my big glass display case…” Alex started giggling at that, a surprisingly petite sound coming from her current form. “Yeah, I’ll bet you would have, wouldn’t you?” Over the next few minutes Alex did her best to get her fits of giggling under control while I disproved equivocally the theory that one can pass out from blushing too hard. See, one of the benefits of living a thousand miles from civilization (by float plane) in a forest close to the size of West Texas is that I had (erroneously, it turned out) the assumption of absolute privacy. So I had been quite content to indulge some of my more…eclectic personal quirks.
“How long have you been spying on me?” I growled. I may have been sick, but I wasn’t sick enough to not be angry…and embarrassed. “The pack has had a guard on that watchtower since the day the parks service began construction. It’s an intrusion into our territory, what would you expect us to do?” “I guess I can understand that.” I grudgingly admitted “But you can’t expect me to be happy about it.” “If it makes you feel any better, I had almost all of the watch shifts.” Alex admitted a bit nervously. “Perv…” I laughed, more amused than annoyed. It’s not every day you get to embarrass a werewolf. “Don’t flatter yourself.” She teased back “Bare in mind, you’re the only show in town that I’m not related to!” “Gee, you really know how to flatter a guy.” I sighed as soon as the laugher induced coughing fit had passed. “Here I was going to ask you out on a moose hunt or whatever it is that a werewolf girl does for fun around here…”
“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue for a while.” Alex observed “Traditionally one must be able to move under their own power before hunting moose. It just tends to work better that way…” “Bah! I can walk just fine.” I grumbled, dragging myself shakily to my feet with a great deal of effort. “I’m going to go catch a moose right now. Matter of fact, why don’t I get two while I’m up, then ‘yall can have one to for your…crap!” I had managed ‘up’ on my own, but apparently ‘forward’ was a bit too optimistic: I promptly fell back onto my cushion, nearly squashing Midnight in the process. Giving me a reproachful look he trotted up and sat down on my chest as if to say “Don’t do that again, stupid!”
“See, even he knows better than that…” Alex chided “Now I’ll tell you what we are going to do. We’re going to go get you a dry pair of pants, and maybe a bath. You have a hot water heater back at your cabin, don’t you?” “Yeah, it does.” I admitted, blushing again at the reminder of my recent predicament. “Though I’m not sure I’ll be able to hike that far right now, even with help…” Alex just laughed, then scooped me up like I wasn’t any heavier than Midnight. “I can bench pretty close to 1,100 in this form. It’s not a problem.”
In a short amount of time I was flopped out on my sofa while Alex was running a bath and Midnight, who had put on the most pitiful show imaginable until Alex finally gave up and let him come, was quite occupied sniffing every square inch of the cabin. He proved to be quite thoroughly entertaining, particularly when he discovered the ribbon paper for the ancient line printer the forest service had hooked up for the weather monitoring equipment. The printer had started up while he had been sniffing the large pile of random wires coming out of the equipment closet, scaring the crud out of the little wolf pup, who promptly defended himself against the offending ream of paper.
When Alex decided the tub was filling properly and returned to the main room the paper had pretty much been vanquished into small scraps with Midnight firmly planted in the middle, looking quite pleased with himself. I, meanwhile, was trying to laugh and cough at the same time. “You probably shouldn’t have let him do that.” She sighed “He’s insufferable enough as it is without you encouraging him.” “I didn’t encourage him, I was sitting right here.” I defended weakly. If you don’t have an excuse, try missing the point: confuse your opponent, then run.
Alex had turned back to her human form when we had come inside, for practical reasons if nothing else: the cabin had lower than code ceilings, I assume to make it easier to heat, and doorways were a trifle dangerous if she didn’t watch her head. “Do you think you can get yourself to the tub on your own?” she asked. I was about to come back with a less than friendly retort when I realized she was being serious. “I think so.” I nodded, mellowing my tone. “I’m pretty sure I’m past the point where you have to worry about me dying on you. Just don’t offer me food, okay?”
“We can compromise on that for the moment.” Alex warned “But we’re going to have to get some fluids into you soon, one way or another. You’ll only get worse if you get dehydrated…” “They teach you that in werewolf school?” I joked weakly. “No, med school.” She explained seriously “It can be a little bit tricky taking Kine to the doctor, so we try to have a few in the packs, for convenience’s sake. I specialized in pediatric medicine, but you have to be familiar with general practice too in order to graduate. I took electives in veterinary medicine as well, so it ended up being a nicely rounded little package.” “That makes sense.” I nodded. “So you went to civilization for classes, then came back here?”
“My father was a wolf.” Alex explained “So I’m much more comfortable in that form…it’s just more convenient to stay with the wilderness packs than to join an urban one. And traveling back and forth is easier than you would expect…” “So you prefer being a wolf then?” I wondered, growing more interested than ill. “Mildly.” She shrugged “There’s an intermediary form between human and werewolf which I usually stay in…if you’ve ever run across furries online?” “That would be a safe assumption.” I nodded “But if you’ve been watching me you already know that…” “Yes, but I was trying to be polite.” She informed me, brushing off my scowl airily. “Well you can go around here however you like.” I shrugged “It doesn’t make any difference to me…”
“So, you won’t be watering the furniture any more then?” Alex grinned, making me blush again as she changed the subject. “I mean, I know about your little infantilist quirk, but we never thought you might not be housebroken yet!” Midnight was giving me an understanding doggy grin from his spot on the floor. “I mean our young usually quit wetting at six to eight months, so we thought surely an adult…” “You don’t quit, do you?” I interrupted in blushing exasperation. I was quickly coming to the conclusion that Alex was relentless when she latched on to something . But in a cute sort of way I would not have previously thought possible.
“Nope, never quit.” She laughed cheerfully. “But…” she drug out the word “I’ll make it up to you when you’re feeling better!” “I’ll bet you say that to all the males.” I groused. “No…Just you…” Alex said quietly before quickly changing the subject. “So, how about that bath?” “Maybe in a little bit.” I yawned “I think I may settle down and take a nap here first.” “No. Bath first, then nap.” Alex informed me. And then I found myself being carried across the cabin by a werewolf.
“I can walk! I can walk!” I protested. “You had your chance.” Alex grinned, obviously enjoying herself “If you’d behaved like a good little boy the first time…” “Midnight! A little help, maybe?” I tried hopefully. The little furball dutifully got up and padded after Alex, apparently for his own amusement rather than any inclination to attempt to help rescue my dignity. “You ate my printer paper! You owe me!” I argued, unconvincingly.
I was set down on the toilet before I could think of a more convincing argument. Wolf puppies are apparently beyond my ability to guilt trip… “Right, off with them.” Alex instructed, waving at my sodden clothes, while showing no indication of any intent to leave. By this point I didn’t really care any more, so I just stripped down and climbed into the tub. A good, steaming soak is almost always helpful when one is feeling poorly, particularly since I had collected a good assortment of scrapes and bruises from falling down in non-padded areas. Caves are like that.
Alex let me yawn and sigh for a while before declaring that it was ‘Time for some actual washing.” I had just given her my best ‘not now, thanks’ look when she assumed a form I’d not seen before: a very attractive anthro wolf, the most immediately striking feature of which was the silver-white color of her coat. I didn’t really have time to analyze things too much before discovering that while weaker than her werewolf form anthro-Alex was still quite strong enough to administer a semi-willing scrubbing. “I’m not planning to be repeatedly banging my head on the shower curtain rod.” She announced after I had given in to the inevitable (albeit not unpleasant…). “I didn’t think you would mind!” “No. Only dogs and huge wolf-creatures are allowed in my cabin.” I disagreed in an unconvincingly cross tone. “Whatever you say dear.” Alex nodded, ignoring me completely.
After Alex had decided I was washed quite well enough for her satisfaction I had to abandon my pleasantly warm tub. “I wish you had some better towels…” Alex mused, digging through my bathroom cabinet while I stood directly under the little room heater in the ceiling, and beginning to shiver a little anyway. “It’s been a low priority when they fly in supplies.” I sighed, taking several of the best of the threadbare and fraying veterans from the pile she offered. “With aviation gas costing what it does I’ve a suspicion that the only reason I even get food is because the parks department is afraid of what would happen if they turned me loose with my old .30-30 and no game warden for a thousand miles.”
“So how do you get your diapers sent up?” Alex questioned “That seems like more trouble than towels…” “I buy in bulk when I go into town.” I blushed “We get a sporadic ‘personal property space’ allotment.” “At least you’ve got a decent first aid kit.” She observed, setting out a bottle of iodine, cotton balls, and a handful of bandages of various sizes. “Grandmother would probably be more than a little cranky if she had to go into town for supplies, and Walking Between has never been one of my strong points…”
We lapsed into silence for a while as I was distracted from my questions by the repeated, thorough, and unpleasant application of iodine and bandages. “Yeah, well just wait until they need to take your temperature, then we’ll see who laughs!” I grumbled at Midnight, who was still watching smugly from just outside the door. “If you would quit squirming it wouldn’t take so long.” Alex chided, jabbing the last few untended scrapes and cuts. “Well it stings!” I sulked, feeling a little put upon.
“We’re done!” Alex finally announced “Now let’s get you into something warm. The last thing we want is for you to catch a cold on top of everything else.” “Wouldn’t that just be fantastic?” I yawned, getting up and following Alex to the small bedroom on the other side of the cabin. I had just done the laundry the other day, and there was a clean footed sleeper sitting on top of the laundry basket waiting to be put away.
“That will do nicely.” Alex nodded, tossing it to me “Practical and cute!” “I wasn’t expecting company.” I sighed lamely. “That’s no excuse.” She teased “You should always keep your house looking its best. Visitors can drop in at any time in this neighborhood.” “Oh yeah?” Well when I was at your house I found dog hair on your sofa!” I accused as seriously as I could manage while attempting to get dressed without falling flat on my face.
“If you keep being cranky you’re going to have to take a nap.” Alex informed me lightly before musing for a second “Though I suppose that doesn’t work quite as well as a threat since we both know you’re getting one now anyway…” “How come Midnight doesn’t have to take a nap too?” I argued for the sheer sake of being contentious. “He’s on guard duty.” Alex informed me seriously “We never know when we’ll be attacked by vampires or another box of printer paper, and if we don’t post a watch we could get caught with our pants down…again in your case…” “Perv.” I sniffed haughtily “You’re never going to quit bringing that up, are you?” “Probably not.” She agreed thoughtfully “It’s way too much fun.”
Sighing in exasperation, I flopped down in bed and turned towards the wall, sulking a little. “Oh don’t be like that.” Alex sighed, sitting down next to me and rubbing my back until I relented. “That’s better…” she nodded gently “It’s no fun if you don’t get to joke around about things.” “I’m pretty sure I’m too tired to be insulted for very long anyway.” I yawned, snuggling up under the blankets. I was pretty sure I was too tired to continue the conversation for a whole lot longer for that matter.
“Do you mind if I use your computer while you’re napping?” Alex wondered. “Help yourself.” I agreed “Neither of mine are locked, and the parks service weather station stuff isn’t good for anything anyway. Never have decided why they bother putting a monitor on them anyway, it’s just kind of a waste of money they could use to bring me some damn towels…” I rambled before conking out entirely.
When I woke up again I didn’t feel great, but at least I wasn’t tired any more. Midnight was conked out on top of my laundry basket, but quickly extracted himself and padded after me as I went to look for Alex.
Looking doesn’t take all that long when you only have four rooms. Particularly when you can see into all of them from any of them if I leave the doors open…Midnight and I found Alex in the living room on the computer. I was debating sneaking up on her, but the sound of Midnight’s toenails on the wood floor gave us away. “It’s not a great idea to sneak up on a werewolf.” She laughed, not even bothering to turn around.
“We need to work on his pouncing.” I grumbled “He’s never going to catch anything like that…” “That’s very parental of you.” Alex smiled before executing the least subtle segue in history. “Speaking of parenting, I was going to do some research online, but then I just went through your bookmarks toolbar, which saved me a lot of time by the way, and I’ve decided that you really need to quit being sick so we can get to know each other better!” “You’re…quite forward, aren’t you?” I blushed, not the least bit sure how to react to this turn of events. “Werewolves you take in stride, but this throws you for a loop?” Alex sighed, rolling her eyes at me “Things like that make me glad that pretty much every hang-up you can think of is a human sociological quirk.” “Yet another benefit of being raised by wolves?” I sighed, wishing blushing wasn’t a reflex reaction. “Plus, nobody ever tells wolf pups not to roughhouse inside.” Alex agreed “It’s one of the things that makes our pack the one family always wants to visit on vacation.”
“Well, I sighed, lacking enthusiasm in a very obvious manner “I really need to climb up the watchtower and make sure nothing has caught fire in my absence.” “You’re not going to climb anywhere for the next few days.” Alex informed me, rejecting the idea entirely “Doctor’s orders. Plus, no one in this building, yourself included, believe for a second you can just scamper up the ladder anyway.” “Well somebody has to keep an eye on things.” I argued “We’ll all kind of be up a creek if the place burns down around our collective heads.” “I’ll keep an eye on it.” Alex agreed. “Well, more specifically I’ll have someone keep an eye on it…”
“That’ll work.” I agreed “But make sure they know if we have any unreported forest fires I’ll have their fuzzy butt in a sling!” “I’m sure they’ll be dreadfully afraid.” Alex informed me cheerfully as I flopped down on the couch, Midnight immediately joining me.
“So…” Alex wondered, rolling the computer chair up next to the couch armrest where I was settling down again for lack of anything more productive to do. “I was kind of curious what brought you all the way out here in the first place?” “I was working in a stressful, menial job, and this one offered better pay and some peace and quiet. Us antisocial hermits tend to be big on peace and quiet…It kind of goes with the territory.” Alex was giving me a look that said she thought there was much more to it than that, but that she was going to let it slide for the time being. “You act like there’s answers you’ve already formulated that trouble you when they aren’t the ones I give.” I mused.
“I admit I had drawn some assumptions from the data we had gathered on you…” “And what data would that be?” I asked sharply, momentarily more annoyed than sick. “Just public records stuff.” Alex hastily assured me “Nothing too personal: the schools you went to, things like that.” “Ah yes, the indescribable hell-holes of my youth.” I sighed “So formative and yet so deeply repressed!” “Yes, children can be fun, can’t they?” Alex sighed sympathetically “I was lucky in that regard: the first person I had trouble with I pulled into the little girls’ room and werewolfed.”
“That must have been great!” I snickered “Who could she tell that wouldn’t send her to see the school psychiatrist?” “Every time she looked at me funny after that I’d show her a little bit of fang.” Alex confirmed. “Sarcastic and evil.” I grinned “Two qualities I find attractive in a girl!” “You’re serious.” Alex decided after staring at me for a minute. “Oh, Grandmother is going to love you…” “Umm… Good?” I shrugged, or at least did as much as possible while jostling for space with a puppy intent on conquering as much couch as possible.
“She’s kind of the bosses boss of the pack.” Alex explained “So yes, it would be a good thing.” “What’s she like, by the way?” I wondered, trying to conjure up a mental picture of what a werewolf grandmother might be like. Mostly the images that came to mind were like something from a bad cartoon: all aprons and pies, and cheerful fang-filled smiles. “Grandmother is Grandmother…” Alex shrugged “It will make a lot more sense to just meet her.”
“Anyway!” Alex declared, changing the subject to more immediately pressing matters “It’s time to attempt to get some fluids into you.” “That’s probably the worst idea in the history of …well, probably ever, come to think of it.” “It’s absolutely necessary to your getting better.” Alex explained, obviously gearing up for a battle I wasn’t sure I could provide. “You will feel a lot better once you aren’t dehydrated any more.” “Oh, I agree with you.” I explained “That’s not the issue. The issue is if I’ll be able to keep anything down…”
Ducking into the little kitchenette, Alex returned to sit down on the floor next to me and pass over a sippy cup. “Sports drink.” She explained “Very mild, but has all sorts of great vitamins and electrolytes.” Taking the cup without comment, I decided to humor her. Which, considering even the thought of eating something made me feel queasy probably was not amongst my best decisions ever. Predictably, about two minutes after I finished the cup I was in the bathroom vomiting it all back up again.
“Well, that was a spectacular failure…” I groaned while trying to rinse the taste of bile out of my mouth. “ I was afraid of that.” Alex sighed “Ah well, c’est la vie…on to plan two.” “I’m not sure I like the sound of ‘plan two’…I don’t suppose it involves curling up and dying quietly?” “Curling up is fine, but dying would be more than a little ungrateful at this point, don’t you think?”
Alex shooed me back into the bedroom, informing me that “You may as well get comfortable, this could take a while.” Sighing, I flopped back down on the bed while Alex got a black and white cardboard file box that wasn’t something of mine and began digging out an IV drip kit and several bags of fluid. “You just keep that sort of stuff lying around your den?” I wondered aloud. “No, the antibiotics need refrigeration.” Alex explained “I popped into town and picked them up while you were asleep.”
“You’ll have to explain how you managed that particular…Hey! No stabby!” Alex had taken the opportunity presented by my confusion to attempt to place the IV catheter. ‘Attempt’ because regardless of how bad I feel I can still move pretty damn quickly if needles are involved. “Naughty little boys don’t get a lollypop.” She warned. “I wouldn’t be able to eat it anyway…” I grumbled. Still, I sucked it up and let her stab me with it. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Alex consoled “I told you I’d done the whole medical school thing, it’s not my first time inserting one of those!”
I charitably admitted she was right while she was setting up the drip and pushing a couple of CCs of what I assumed was an antibiotic of one sort or another. “Well,” she nodded, inspecting her work “Now we just have to sit around and wait for an hour or so... I’d ask if you wanted to watch a movie or something, but you don’t have a TV.” “Since we’ve got such stellar reception out here.” I joked. “Seriously though, I’ve got a ton of stuff on one of those boxes over with the computers. Network attached hardware RAID for the win!”
“Except all the machines with decent screens are in the other room, and you don’t get to stand up and walk around for a while.” Alex informed me. “Midnight and I could watch something though!” “No fair.” I grumbled in a borderline sulk. It was starting to seem like the world was picking on me intentionally at this point… “I was kidding.” Alex sighed “You’re really a bit more touchy than I imagined, you know that?” “I don’t feel that great and I’m kind of…well…” trailing off, I just stuck my tongue out at her.
With a grin Alex reach across and popped a paci in my mouth. “There we are.” She grinned at my startled expression “Settle down and take it easy means settle down and take it easy…” Maybe I shouldn’t have left quite so much…umm…stuff sitting around the cabin. Somewhat inconvenient of the middle of nowhere to be so populated, if you think about it.
By now it had gotten pretty late in the evening, and the sun had been well and truly down for more than a while. “Well, it’s probably about time for bed…” Alex yawned, getting back up from the computer. “What do I have to do to close up for the night?” “Just close the storm shutters and the front door.” I shrugged “And that’s mostly because I’m paranoid after I had a bear try to get in here one night…” “Think they would do any good?” Alex mused “I’d never actually thought about it…even a grizzly won’t typically walk into a werewolf den…” “The way this cabin is built, it would surprise me if you could get them open with a sledgehammer.” I shrugged, stifling a yawn “It’s cheaper to overbuild things than to have cute little technological parts.”
It didn’t take long (not surprisingly) for Alex to close the windows in all four of the rooms of my little mansion, and soon she was puttering around happily in the kitchen making tea. “Teas,” she informed me “have a wide variety of medicinal and even magical powers attributed to them. Like this particular one is a good, calming recipe for when one is having trouble going to sleep. Grandmother has sworn by it for years.” “That’s nice, but I’m really about as calm as I’m likely to get.” I explained. “Oh, it’s not for you.” She grinned.
“So what are you all stressed out about?” I wondered. Blushing for the first time that I’d noticed, she nervously collected her thoughts before just spilling the beans. “I’ve been crushing over you for months now, and it’s exciting to finally get to hang around and see if it still works when we peel the idealistic version away. “I hope that I don’t end up being too much of a disappointment…” I sighed. And the kind of scary thing was that I was serious. There was something about Alex that I think I could enjoy having around…Was I developing a crush right back? It was more than I wanted to think about at the moment…
After taking off her shoes (how do those stay with her when she changes shape?) Alex settled down on the other side of the bed with her teacup and one of the collection of mostly random paperbacks that were scattered throughout the cabin. “All those books and I couldn’t find one trashy romance novel.” She complained “I may have to have a talk with hotel management!” “So you settled for Go Go Dancers of the Apocalypse?” I observed. “Well it is an autographed copy…” Alex laughed.
“Well, whatever works for you then.” I yawned, scooching over and resting my head on her shoulder. “Exactly right.” Alex agreed, rubbing my head idly. Snorting loudly, Midnight extracted himself from his chair and padded off into the other room. I could swear I saw him roll his eyes at us too… “He’s still at that age where he tries to avoid girl cooties.” Alex laughed. “His loss.” I yawned, deciding that I was officially down for the night.
…At least mostly I was down for the night. In the very late night or very early morning, depending on one’s viewpoint, weather rolled in as it is wont to do. The ensuing thunder didn’t wake me, but a fuzzy, scurrying thing rushing in from the main room and throwing himself bodily under the blankets sure did. “Wuss.” I grumbled as Midnight burrowed himself a comfortable little nest between Alex and I. “It’s just a little thunder…It’s not like you’re even at risk of getting wet in here…” Midnight just thumped his tail under the covers and licked my chin. “Fine, but only for tonight.” I sighed, not really wanting to put forth the effort that would be necessary to toss the puppy back out of bed. “But if I wake up with fleas I’m going to shave you bald and spray paint your butt orange!”
The morning dawned to the sound of blowing sleet. “Looks like we’re going to be stuck inside for a while.” Alex observed. “Heh. Did you want to get out of bed?” I yawned. Bed was warm and cozy. Out could stand to have the thermostat turned up fifteen or twenty degrees. “You’re welcome to get up if you’d like.” I offered generously “The thermostat is just on the other side of the living room…” “Let’s make Midnight do it.” Alex decided, eliciting a derisive snort from somewhere under the covers, followed by her jumping a little bit in surprise.
“Don’t think I won’t bite you back Pup!” Alex declared at a lump in the blankets, which playfully growled back at her. Then, a second later in a flurry of fur and bedding (and cold air…) I had a pair of wolves tearing off into my living room. Fearing for the safety of my computer hardware (and a truly disturbingly expensive spotting scope that I’d found at a pawn shop cheap…) I was up and out almost as quickly as they were.
To my absolute amazement the two showed a tremendous amount of dexterity romping all over the (quite messy) cabin without actually knocking anything over. Eventually Alex got him cornered and began licking him into submission. “Okay, okay! Break it up you two…I swear there’s something very wrong with the world when I’m the mature, responsible one in the room!” I ordered severely. Shifting back to her furry form, Alex couldn’t help but grin as she continued scratching Midnight behind the ears. “I can see the irony in that, yes.” She nodded. Midnight, meanwhile, was lying on his back with his legs up in the air and a thoroughly pleased doggy smirk on his muzzle.
“Well, I guess I’m out of bed.” I sighed, dealing with the thermostat. “It looks that way.” Alex nodded cheerfully “And I’m guessing you’re feeling better too…” “Quite a bit so, yes.” I agreed. I don’t know if it would be a good idea to push things if I could help it, but I didn’t feel like I was going to keel over dead at any minute either. “So, breakfast then!” Alex decided. “I hope you like canned food.” I warned “I’ve not gotten re-stocked in a while, so the selection is somewhat sparse.” “Oh, it’s not as bad as all that.” She disagreed optimistically.
While she was digging around the pantry, probably discovering that it in fact was as bad as all that, I went to take a look at the windows. The steady tapping of sleet against the storm shutters was an almost ominous sound, and the weather station readout confirmed that it was officially ‘cold’ with a wind chill of ‘really cold’. The storm shutters would almost certainly be frozen closed, but then there wasn’t any reason to open the windows in the first place: the weather had reduced the sunlight to merely a dim remnant, and there wasn’t a view much past the porch railing.
“That nice out, huh?” Alex wondered, noticing my expression as I stared through the slots in the shutters. “The good news is that nothing is likely to burn down in this mess.” I nodded happily “So I don’t have to bother with climbing the tower today.” “Don’t think for a second that I would have let you anyway. Ice and ladders…just not the best combination one could come up with…” “Much like those reconstituted eggs that you’re attempting to make.” I observed wryly “I still haven’t figured out how they expect you to work those things…” “The trick is not to care how they turn out.” Alex informed me without looking up “ Just throw in whatever you feel like and then cook it until it’s mostly solid. Preferably in an oil of some sort…that usually keeps it from charring.”
I was left to contemplate these revelations after she shooed me out of the kitchen with vague instructions to ‘keep taking it easy, Rome wasn’t built in a day’. “Though it did burn to the ground in a day on at least three separate occasions. …We only had something to do with the first two times, the third time it was the Visigoth and Ostrogoth clans apparently. You have to admire such a practical and assertive means of lowering your property taxes…Our system would work so much better if angry villagers occasionally sacked their local IRS office.”
“Your ideas intrigue me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.” I quoted. “Can you work a battering ram? Our usual guy called in sick and the short notice has kind of left us in a bind on that front.” Alex joked while frying her culinary masterpiece.
“That’s actually starting to smell pretty good.” I grinned. “Aww, I’m sorry honey but you can’t have any. We don’t want to push your tummy too hard too fast.” She explained extremely apologetically. “But I’ve got some juice for you, so that’s better than nothing, right?” “It’ll have to be.” I sighed. Getting mad at Alex wouldn’t solve anything. I doubt it would even make me feel any better… She was starting to grow on me, damn it…she was just so perky and contagiously upbeat. It made her hard not to like. And Midnight, likewise, was just too cute for anything else. It was looking like I was stuck with them…and maybe that was okay.
“Well, I guess while you’re doing that I may as well go make sure everything is working properly up top…” I decided, pulling on my boots. “Are you sure that’s a good idea in this weather?” Alex asked dubiously. “Nope.” I shrugged “But it’s got to bet done, regardless, and I’m the one here who knows what it’s supposed to look like.” Grabbing a coat from the wall peg, I unlocked the door and gave it a good shove to dislodge the ice on the door frame. “I’ll be back in ten minutes, tops.”
Ten minutes was probably even a decent estimate…it was still sleeting fiercely and the metal rungs going to the tower were thoroughly iced over, which was no surprise: it had been a common occurrence over the last few months off and on as the season began gearing up for the winter. Ask, however, and the military surplus markets will provide, and after the first time I nearly plummeted to my doom (or more likely nasty bruising) I had ordered a pair of navy deck boots. They’d pretty much instantly destroy any flooring you care to name, but they also made ice, snow, and glaciers a non-issue.
After giving everything a good once-over I cranked the temperature up as high as it would go to keep the windows from icing, then got myself back into the cabin. “What’s the verdict?” Alex queried from the kitchen as I was shuffling out of my boots and coat. “Everything’s looking fine.” I explained, dragging myself over to the couch with a yawn. “I’ll have to take a look at the antenna again this evening to make sure, but it seems like they’re thin enough that they’re shedding ice on their own and I won’t have to worry about it.” “That’s good then, right?” she nodded, making her way to the couch with two plates and two glasses of the reconstituted orange liquid that was the closest thing to juice I had left.
Depositing one of the plates on the floor for Midnight, Alex then joined me on the couch. Taking my glass of the pseudo-juice, I nodded the affirmative. “The irony is that they use them for the transmitter on the little weather monitor, but when we get these big storms it cuts the effective range down to only a couple of miles.” “Sounds handy for monitoring weather.” She agreed. We let the conversation drift off, as Alex had the luxury of eating food that needed to be chewed. Midnight on the other hand gave the impression of being part vacuum cleaner, his food disappearing with a rapidity far disproportionate to his size.
Once he had run out of food he hopped up on the couch between Alex and I, sitting rigidly at attention while watching for the least little sign that something might make a break for it from Alex’s plate. “No begging.” She grinned, tapping his nose with her fork “If I give in and give you some pretty soon he’ll be trying it too, and he really can’t have any!” Midnight gave her a look that clearly expressed that he didn’t think she was fooling anyone, turned around in a circle twice, then flopped down with a sigh that could only be produced by the long-suffering.
“He’ll get over it.” Alex shrugged, observing my raised eyebrow. “If you give a pup an inch, they’ll try to get a mile…” “And yet you’re allowing him up on the couch.” I mused. “There’s a fine line between discipline and cruelty.” She reproached seriously “At least until shedding season rolls around again.” “That’s something I’d not given full consideration to…Maybe I should lay in a supply of replacement filters for the furnace now…” “Quite pragmatic of you.” Alex agreed “That’s good forward thinking preparedness there.” “…said the department of superfluous redundancy.” I nodded.
After breakfast the pressing concern became how to spend the day stuck in the cabin. For lack of much else better to do we sat down and I showed Alex how to pull up video from the data server while Midnight busied himself with wandering around looking for something to play with. Despite his having pretty thoroughly ransacked the place the day before, most of the cabin still warranted additional inspection. “I wish I had a tennis ball or some rawhides or something to keep him occupied.” I sighed “I kind of feel like a bad host!” “Oh, he’s okay.” Alex laughed “If he had gotten bored he’d be teething on your foot by now. They’re neither shy nor subtle, you see…” “Well, if we get a break in the weather we should take him outside for a while and let him air out a bit.”
“You make him sound like a set of linen or something.” Alex laughed, genuinely amused for some reason. “When we’re done with that, maybe I’ll take a ride in your washing machine!” “And clog up the plumbing? Not on your life! I’ll fight to the death to avoid having to get a repair guy out here!” My seriousness only made Alex grin more, and even Midnight popped his head in from the kitchen where he was trolling for scraps to yip happily.
“What would you do if it broke, anyway?” she wondered. That was a good question, come to think of it… “Probably throw it out in the yard and light it on fire.” I decided after a bit “See how much of it is actually metal.” “That’s one solution I guess.” Alex nodded dubiously. “No,” I explained slowly, as if getting a difficult point across to a kindergartner “Fire is usually the solution to a problem. It’s like the t-shirt said: ‘You can fix any personal problem with judicious application of high explosives’.” “We are really going to have to start working on your people skills…”
“I have great people skills.” I argued “They are so good I moved up here just to be able to have a people-free lawn…or something. I thought that was self-explanatory.” “Self-explanatory: Now shipping with directions!” Alex nodded, managing to not crack a grin. I couldn’t, and it took a bit for the giggles to die down to a reasonable level again. “Well, usually I would just watch TV and roll ammo until the weather clears up a bit…The repeaters for the web-link are line-of-sight, so gaming is out for the time being… What do ‘yall do all day in the pack anyway?” I mused, thinking maybe she had some ideas how to pass the time.
“Oh, about what you would expect.” Alex grinned “A lot of the usual human stuff, and a lot of the usual wolf stuff: socializing, hunting, teaching the pups, napping a lot, mating… Mating is always a good way to spend some time.” “Okay then…” I nodded, blushing like crazy. Werewolves were apparently significantly less familiar with the concept of too much information. “You’ve got some interesting ways of passing the time yourself!” she suggested with a level of subtlety akin to a semi-truck speeding on a gravel road. “Come on…it’s not like everyone here doesn’t know, and who else would I tell?” she wheedled. Which actually was kind of a convincing argument when you got down to it. Seeing my thoughtful expression she grinned at Midnight “He’s going to say ‘yes’.”
A few minutes later found me sitting cross-legged on the bed while Alex was cheerfully ransacking the room. Midnight, to my relief, had just given us a look of supreme and utter indifference and curled up on the sofa to nap the day away. Or possibly see if he could shed on it badly enough to lay permanent claim to it. It was kind of hard to tell. “You’re embarrassed about having a puppy see you.” Alex grinned, making conversation as she sought the back of the closet. “That’s kind of cute in a really ignorantly backwards way…he’s not a child you know.” “He’s a young ‘un...” I argued, regardless of the fact I’d not even thought of that potential issue. I’d been thinking of him like a wolf, not a little kid. That had more than a little creepiness potential to it.
“Yeah, a puppy. A werewolf puppy. Big differences.” Alex sighed, rolling her eyes at me. “We have a different and much more rapid mental development than you do.” I was just beginning to swing into ‘scientific curiosity’ mode and was more than a little annoyed that the Internet was down when I noticed that Alex had her hands on her hips, her tail giving away her mild annoyance. “You’re pretty easily distracted, aren’t you?” she sighed. “Yeah, I kind of am.” I agreed “It’s a byproduct of the stressful, fast-paced environment in which I live and work.” “Poor child…” Alex grinned “I don’t know how you cope with it all!”
Alex had already assembled a good variety of supplies on one of my nightstands. “Belt.” She requested, tugging at the cuff of one of my pant legs. Obligingly unfastening it, I realized the problem: the buckle was a largish piece made of turquoise and old Morgan dollar coins. “Silver is actually a problem for ‘yall?” I wondered aloud. “It hurts a bit, yes.” Alex nodded “It’s sort of like picking up something just a little too hot in the kitchen.” “That could be a small issue…most of my shiny things are pawn jewelry I collected when I was working out west.” Unbuttoning my pants, Alex whisked them off in the same motion, before making a ‘tisk’-ing noise and shaking her head.
“You got yourself all wet when you went up to the tower!” she chided “I guess I didn’t notice since you have black jeans, but that doesn’t mean you won’t catch a cold on top of everything else…” “They would have dried on their own eventually.” I sighed, earning myself a look, but no further rebuke on the matter. Feeling my shirt and finding that more than a little water had found its way down my jacket collar and onto it as well, Alex told me to hold up my arms and unceremoniously relieved me of that as well. “Last one!” she announced cheerfully before relieving me of my underwear, and with them my last vestiges of modesty.
“I’m going to go hang these up in the utility closet so they dry out quicker.” Alex decided “There’s no sense running a whole cycle through the dryer if it’s only a couple of things…” “The power grid here gets angry if you try to use the furnace and the clothes dryer at the same time anyway.” I shrugged as she ducked out of the room briefly.
“Right. Where were we?” she asked rhetorically. Unfolding a diaper she retrieved from the packages in my dresser, she slipped it under me as I cooperatively lifted up a bit for her. “Down.” She instructed, tapping me gently on the hip after positioning everything to her satisfaction. Settling back down with a crinkling sound, I watched Alex ponder the immortal question: powder or lotion? It was, as always, a tough decision, but powder eventually won out, and after a good sprinkling she folded up the front of the diaper and fastened the tapes.
“Now we just need to get you something warm to wear, and we’ll be good to go!” she informed me cheerfully. Holding up a red pair of two-piece jammies, she explained that “I would pick one of those cute little footed sleepers in your closet, except if you walk around here in them all day you’ll start to wear out the feet after a while.” “I likes these too.” I informed her as she pulled the shirt over my head, then held out the pants for me to step into. “Well, that’s what counts, as long as they’re warm enough!” Alex agreed cheerfully. “Speaking of which, does the furnace in here ever actually catch up with the thermostat?” “It will if you give it about six hours.” I nodded, quite resigned to that particular fact of life.
“Well, it can’t be helped I guess…” Alex sighed before continuing in a more cheerful tone of voice “Why don’t we scoot on in to the other room and find something to do, how’s that sound?” “Okies!” I grinned as she gave me a crinkly little swat on the butt and steered me into the main room.
Alex put on some random cartoons, more for background noise than anything else, while I cheerfully flopped down on the shaggy old wool rug that took up a large part of the floor in the main room. I had determined shortly after I moved in that it was in fact supposed to be its particular dirt colored shade of grey. Or at least if it wasn’t grey it wouldn’t become less so without a lot more than the two days I’d spent trying.
Sitting down next to me, Alex offered a selection of coloring books and a box of colored pencils for my approval. She herself had selected another well worn paperback of dubious literary value from the pile. “I couldn’t find any crayons.” She commented, sounding a bit surprised. “No crayons.” I informed her haughtily “Pencils better!” “If you say so, dear.” She humored, turning her attention to her book as I tried to locate where I had left off coloring last time.
Coloring became a lot more interesting when I started printing out line art I had dug up online and gave up on coloring books full of TV characters that grate on one’s nerves. Alex showed mild interest in that, looking over my shoulder for a while before returning to her book. ‘Art time’ lasted for a good forty-five minutes to an hour before I started getting restless again. It always tended to take quite a bit to get me to sit still for any length of time…
“Are you done with that for now?” Alex questioned, looking up over the top of her book. “Uh huh.” I nodded, putting my coloring things back on the shelf. Looking out the window I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that the weather showed no tendency to slack off any. “No outsides yet.” I sighed, tapping on the windowpane. “The good ones tend to last a while.” She shrugged, wiggling her toes at me. Sitting back down next to her on the rug, I grabbed her foot and began tickling her paw pads. “You have soft feets.” I informed her seriously. “I wants to paint your nails!” “You have nail polish around here?” she wondered, giving me a bemused look. “Nope…I’ve got rattle cans though!” “You are not spray painting my toes.” Alex said decisively. “You can give Midnight a haircut though…”
Midnight was giving Alex a really unpleasant look from a perch on top of one of the bookcases as I wandered off in search of scissors. “How did he get up there in the first place?” I wondered to myself as I snagged a brush and the box of random craft-y things that lived in the top of the closed. Tossing the box back on the rug I went to fetch Midnight off the top of the bookcase. “Come here you!” I laughed as he was scooting back as close to the wall as he could manage. “I’m not going to cut your hair, silly pup!” I assured him, tweaking his muzzle playfully “I’m just going to make you pretty!”
With a resigned ‘chuffing’ sound Midnight let me grab him off the bookshelf and settled down on the rug next to my box-o-stuff. “You’re a heavy little guy.” I observed “What have they been feeding you?” “Mostly elk.” Alex said, not looking up from her book. “We had a mild winter last year, and now they’re all over the place.” “Huh. I don’t think I’ve seen one around here…” I commented, beginning to brush out Midnight’s coat. “Well yeah, what do you expect? You spent most of your first week here up in your little tower blasting at things with that poorly disguised piece of field artillery you’ve got.” “Yeah.” I grinned “Good times, that.” “You’re incorrigible, you know that?” “Hey, it’s part of my job.” I defended “Why else would they have given me a giant deer stand?”
After his initial rebuttal, Midnight decided that this whole brushing and grooming thing was something he could get behind, and I soon had him lying on his back wit a very contented doggie grin on his muzzle. What he really needed, I had decided, was some beaded puppy bangs. Which turned out to be a very time consuming process. Midnight didn’t seem to mind though, any kind of being paid attention to was thoroughly satisfactory in his opinion.
After quite a long time indeed I finally decided that his makeover was complete. While he wouldn’t be winning any dog shows, nor was he likely to be mistaken for a demented child’s arts-and-crafts project. Which was a trade off I suppose…. “All done!” I announced cheerfully. Midnight just yawned and licked my hand, thwapping his tail lazily on the floor. The picture of overwhelming enthusiasm, I assure you. “He looks very nice.” Alex complimented, looking up from her book again. “I’m glad you approve.” I nodded “As soon as I find some more beads I’ll do you too.” “I’ll let you do my nails, but that’s it...” she disagreed “I’m quite happy in my un-beaded state.”
As if reading my mind (or the thoughtful expression on my face) Alex added that “You shouldn’t even think about doing it while I’m asleep either!” “Fine.” I grumbled, turning to Midnight “You’re a team player…” “Next you’re going to say you like him best.” Alex joked, sticking her tongue out at me. “Well, maybe I do.” I teased back “He wasn’t the one who was refusing to share the solid food…”
“Oh that reminds me, one of my packmates was going to run some errands anyway, so I got him to get you some less repulsive things from the store.” “It’s not nice to tease people like that.” I grumbled “ ‘Cause unless your pack has a seaplane stashed away here somewhere…” “You will notice that there are several grocery bags on the kitchen counter, which were dropped off while you were in the other room getting your puppy beautification supplies.” Alex laughed mischievously. Looking around the corner into the kitchen I saw that there were in fact several grocery bags on the counter.
“How did you do that?” I wondered curiously. “Magic.” Came her matter-of-fact reply. “No, really. I didn’t hear an engine or anything outside, how…” “Magic.” She repeated, giving me a look of absolute dead seriousness. “You’re not kidding, are you? Wow…” I trailed off. “I know, I know…” Alex apologized “I keep putting cracks in your brain. But at least we now have some proper juice that won’t clog up a bottle.” “Which I appreciate, by the way.”
Wandering into the kitchen, I went to see if anything needed to end up in fridge. It turned out Alex had already taken care of it, but I did find a tube of tennis balls. “It looks like we’ve got Midnight covered for the afternoon.” I grinned, holding up the tube fore the room’s consideration. Midnight immediately perked up his ears and bolted over, tail wagging so hard his whole backside was shaking with enthusiasm. “You didn’t think that through very well, did you?” Alex groaned “Do you really want a manically hyper puppy tearing around your living room?” “Both of ‘yall were earlier.” I reminded her “As long as we keep it away from the computer I don’t think it would be too terrible.” “It’s your house.” She shrugged “But lunch first…well fed little ones play better.”
Alex set out more of the breakfast concoction for Midnight, then got a bottle from the kitchen cabinets. “We’ve got apple, orange and grape…” she yelled from the depth of the refrigerator “What would my little guy like for lunch?” “How about a beer?” I asked sweetly. “Grape it is.” Alex agreed, ignoring me completely. Filling the bottle up, she settled down on one side of the couch, patting the seat next to her.
Settling down next to Alex I snuggled in to her shoulder with a happy sigh. “Maybe I’ll just stay here for a while, you’re soft and fuzzy!” “I thought you wanted to eat…” she reminded me, offering the bottle. “Oh…right.” I nodded, allowing her to begin to feed me. Alex was pretty comfortable in her furry form, and I was soon able to lay everything aside but nursing the bottle.
Grape juice is pretty good, and only having had really freezer-burned juice mix for the last day or so only reinforced the notion. When I finally took a second to look around again the first thing I noticed was the happy little grin on Alex’s muzzle. “What?” I wondered, checking to see if I dripped or something. While tasty, grape juice leaves a tremendous stain… “Nothing, I’m just happy.” She shrugged. “Now were you going to finish the rest of this or were we done for now?” That was an easy one: my belly and backbone felt way too familiar with each other for my taste. “It’s always about food with the little ones…” Alex laughed as I launched back in to finishing up the bottle. I just grunted my agreement at that, she didn’t seem to mind.
After everyone was good and fed I was giving some serious thought to napping away the afternoon, but, unfortunately, as soon as he saw me getting up off Alex’s lap Midnight came running over with the tube of tennis balls in his mouth, tail wagging madly. “Okay, I guess I did kind of promise…” He actually nodded as he dropped the plastic tube at my feet. I’d be lying if I said that particular facet of my fuzzy little friend wasn’t the cutest thing I’d seen in a long time…
Setting aside the plastic lid, I pulled the tab on the metal ‘freshness seal’, releasing the smell of rubber and new felt with a little whooshing sound. “You can’t help but like that smell…” Alex commented from where she had settled back in to read in the recliner across the room. I resisted the urge to make a joke about her getting out of the line of fire. Mostly because it was probably a good idea.
“And away we go!” I grinned, dumping out a ball and flicking it at the front door. Midnight was off almost as quickly, snatching the ball out of the air before it made it more than halfway to the door. Trotting back over to the couch, he dropped it at my feet with an expression that clearly said that I would have to try harder than that. “Okay then…” I thought to myself as I threw it again, this time putting a backspin on it so it changed direction when it bounced off the floor. That one stumped Midnight for a moment, but he quickly changed direction and caught up with the ball again. “Don’t look so pleased with yourself!” I warned happily as I took back the tennis ball “I haven’t given up yet!”
Thirty or forty minutes later I was beginning to think that maybe I should. Midnight had constantly caught everything I threw, no matter how tricky I tried to be. And on top of that we seemed to be tiring out at about the same rate, so I probably couldn’t even outwait him…
Eventually, by unspoken mutual consent we both just sort of trailed off. Midnight turned his attentions to gnawing up the remains of the ball, while I slid down off the couch onto the floor next to him. It was kind of fun to watch him oh so seriously tear off little pieces of rubber and neatly set them in a pile next to him. And, completely unrelated to anything, I realized that I really needed to tinkle.
One thing that one discovers, often much to one’s chagrin, is that once people are potty trained it tends to be very thoroughly ingrained. For some reason intentionally trying to wet oneself takes a bit of conscious effort. And having Alex and Midnight right there wasn’t making it any easier…After a second or two I relaxed a little and a warm wetness began to spread through my diaper, which I could soon feel start to bulge a little against my pajama bottoms.
With a pleased little yawn I rolled over on the rug and decided that now might not be a bad time to nap for a bit. By this time the furnace and thermostat settings were just beginning to make each other’s acquaintance, so the big poofy wool rug on the floor was even a comfortable substitute for crawling back into bed. Except for the floor’s distinct lack of anything resembling a pillow…except for the fuzzy black thing busily scattering random tiny scraps of rubber and yellow fuzz on my floor.
“C’m ’ere you…” I grinned, snuggling up to the mildly reproachful wolf pup. “Yeah, I know, I’ve got a lot of nerve interrupting your tennis ball-ing.” Midnight tolerated becoming bedding though, and despite his shifting around every now and then to get a better angle on the mortal remains of his ball, I had in short order managed to drift off to sleep.
I woke up to someone thumping me repeatedly on the arm. As that’s not typically part of my routine it got me to open my eyes quite quickly. I found myself to be face to muzzle with wolf-Alex, who, it turned out, was chasing something in her sleep. (Midnight’s nap, I noticed, was not the least bit disturbed—he was used to it by now I guess.) Deciding to be bratty about it, I caught her back feet.
“Mugraw?” she mumbled, not quite awakened “Why did you wake me up? I was dreaming about chasing rabbits…I’d have caught it too!” “You can talk in that form?’ I wondered, my brain being exercised yet again today. “Of course.” She yawned, giving me a look like I must be slightly dense for questioning something so obvious. “So why doesn’t Midnight?” I wondered, prodding him with my foot. “Because he doesn’t want to.” “Fair enough.” I shrugged, absentmindedly scratching Alex behind the ears.
“A girl could get used to this …” she whined happily, thumping her tail on the floor. “Glad to be of service.” I nodded seriously. During all this Midnight had woken up and was now sitting at the front door giving Alex and I a distinctively needy look over his shoulder. Getting up, I took a look out the window…if anything the weather had gotten worse over the last few hours. “I’ve got perfectly good indoor plumbing.” I offered him dubiously “You should consider trying it, then you won’t even have to de-ice your butt!” Midnight just continued to stare at me expectantly.
“I’ll get my coat…” I sighed, dragging myself to my feet. “I’ve got it.” Alex corrected, adding idly that “You’d be surprised the things that cheerfully roam around in this kind of weather.” “I was happier not knowing that.” I groused, reflexively glancing at the ‘cannon’ hanging from pegs above the front door. “Should I accompany you, my lady?” I joked, cutting a ridiculous image as I bowed as low as my now hefty diaper bulge would allow. “That won’t be necessary, good Sir-Knight.” She joked back “Besides, a shotgun won’t do much against the things that go bump in the night around here.” “Oh, it’s not a shotgun.” I grinned incorrigibly. Opening up my desk drawer, I held up one of the three-inch-plus shells that took up most of the drawer. “It’s called an ‘express rifle’.” I informed her, setting it on the floor for the wolf to examine. “They were popular back when Africa was still the ‘Dark Continent’, though there’s not much call for them now days.”
“In the event a tyrannosaurus tries to eat us I will certainly keep that in mind.” Alex agreed seriously as I let the pair of wolves out the front door. As I got settled back down on the couch it occurred to me how much more empty the cabin felt with Alex and Midnight gone. “Must be going soft.” I grumbled to myself. “Oh well, they’ll clear out soon and things will get back to normal soon enough…”
I had to admit though that I wouldn’t mind this turning into the new normal… “Maybe I can enter into some sort of lend-lease agreement with the pack.” I mused to myself As soon as the internet was back up I would see about ordering a large doggy bed. If I scooted the desk over I could fit it in right next to the… “We’re back!” Alex announced cheerfully, having taken her furry form again, probably so that she could work the doorknob.
She brushed off the majority of the snow clinging to her fur before grabbing a dishrag from the kitchen and toweling off Midnight’s superficial dampness. “All taken care of?” I asked, losing my furniture related train of thought. “Yep. That just leaves you!” “Hmm?” I wondered semi-idly. “I didn’t say anything even vaguely resembling…Hey! Stop that! Bad wolf puppy!” Midnight had, for some reason, gotten it into his head to sniff me somewhere I had zero interest in him putting his nose. “People shake hands, damn it!”
Midnight, while looking slightly miffed, nevertheless was tactful enough to knock it off. “Everyone in the building has known you need a change since you needed a change. I was just waiting for you to say something.” Alex pointed out. “Maybe I’m not ready to say something yet.” I argued playfully “Maybe I’ll say something when I’m good and ready to, and not a moment sooner.” “Maybe I won’t let you have a choice in the matter…” Alex grinned back equally playfully “Little boys only get to make suggestions, Mommies and Daddies get to make choices!”
With an odd shimmering effect she began to gain both height and bulk, transforming in seconds from furry to werewolf. “Come here you!” she laughed, scooping me up in her arms before I could object. Not that I had any real intention to… Ducking her head at the now somewhat too low doorway, she set me down in my bedroom with instructions to “Wait here for a minute while I get a towel.”
I didn’t think that things were soggy enough to need a towel, but nor had I considered that cold, uncarpeted, stone and wood floors weren’t exactly the most pleasant thing to be lying down on… “Got one!” she announced in triumph, nearly clipping her head on the doorframe. “Now that you’re almost better it’s my turn to be the invalid.” She joked as I hastily tried to warn her. “Then next week will be Midnight’s turn.” “It will be a lot less funny once you discover what a lousy medic I am…” I warned, shaking a finger at her reproachfully. “I’ve seen that huge first aid kit under your bathroom sink.” Alex disagreed conversationally as she laid out the towel on the floor and patted it invitingly “I refuse to believe you can’t perform open heart surgery with that thing.”
“It was a gift.” I grumbled as I flopped down on the towel “I put holes into things, patching them up is a different department!” “I don’t believe you.” She decided, whisking off my pajama bottoms. Sticking my tongue out I proceeded to end the conversation. “Yes, well. That doesn’t mean that I’m wrong.” Alex shrugged, content in her righteousness.
Untaping my current used and more than slightly bulging diaper, Alex folded down the front and slipped it out from under me. Tossing it in the trashcan, she proceeded to clean things up with an (almost unpleasantly cold) packet of wipes, then patted me dry with a washcloth. Then, unfolding a new diaper, she casually lifted up my backside and slipped it under me. Had I not gotten to know her over the last few days it would have been quite disconcerting that she was as strong as she apparently was. “I carried you in here, remember? Why the surprise now?” she laughed. “Dunno.” I shrugged. “Well then…”
Sprinkling on a liberal helping of baby powder, Alex fastened up the front of the fresh diaper. “There we go!” she nodded “We just need the pants…or a better heater.” It was apparently a rhetorical question—I doubt her magical grocery delivery service would be interested in doing HVAC work, and I’m pretty sure that there wouldn’t be a right way to explain the details to the parks service either. ‘Werewolf magic’ might be the true answer, but it sure wouldn’t be the right one…
Alex, meanwhile, had gotten my pajama bottoms while I had become distracted again, catching my foot and pulling them on. “You’re far less argumentative when you’re distracted.” She observed “Am not!” I disagreed, shaking my head in the negative. Partially just for the sake of being contrary, and…well, pretty much entirely to be contrary, truth be told. Giving me a ‘see, what did I tell you?’ look Alex started to turn around and head back to the main room, when I latched onto her tail.
“Up!” I demanded plaintively, trying for a cute look. “Okay then.” Alex agreed, scooping me up with ease and carrying me into the main room. Sitting down gently on the couch, she shifted around some so that I could settle in a bit more comfortably. Alex was fluffy and quite warm, and I soon snuggled up cozily in her lap. (Werewolves have quite a big lap, and if you can get over the presence of the various sharp, toothy bits they’re much cuddlier than one would guess…) The media player I used as a surrogate television was still playing from the cartoons earlier in the day, and Alex paged through the play queue until she found a documentary on lodges of the National Parks system that had aired a few months back.
“Educational.” She informed me in passing. “Paci.” I nodded with equal seriousness as I snagged the item in question and popped it in my mouth, draping the ribbon around my neck. “Yes it is.” She agreed, her attention mostly returning to the screen. I had no particular interest in watching TV at the moment, but I was quite content to spend the rest of the evening napping in her lap. Midnight had similar thoughts apparently: I felt the sofa shift as he hopped up on the other end before circling around a few times, then settling into a ‘doggie donut’. A soon-to-be vigorously snoring doggie donut.
“The gang’s all here…” Alex grinned before turning the volume up a little to compensate for Midnight’s distraction. “Yep.” I yawned, snuggling in a little better. Observations are for the awake… Tucking my head up into Alex’s shoulder, I sighed happily and closed my eyes. The TV program droned on in the background as I idly sucked on my pacifier and thought about nothing in particular. After a while I felt Alex begin to absentmindedly rub my shoulders. Grinning quite contentedly I very quickly found myself relaxing to the point of near catatonia. “Good, yes?” Alex asked quite rhetorically.
Rhetorical questions were probably the best sort by this point: I didn’t have the inclination to wake up enough to respond to much of anything. As evening slowly turned into night nobody was displaying interest in changes to our comfortable little denning arrangement, and when I stopped to actually pay attention to it, Alex’s slow, deliberate breathing made me realize she’d fallen asleep before I had this time. Werewolves get tired too, I guess, and since nobody had opened the storm shutters today everything was basically locked down for the night.
Without any pressing need to get up, and in the process interrupt everyone’s oh so comfortable slumber, it was beginning to look a lot like this was going to officially be bedtimes for the night. The decision having been made, I closed my eyes again and drifted off to sleep as well. The way things have been going, it was pretty much guaranteed to be an interesting morning…may as well be rested for it!
To Be Continued...