Dark Side of the Moon

Shay Sheridan


If you haven't seen the miniseries The 10th Kingdom, you should -- especially if you like the idea of fairy tales reimagined and turned upside down. This post-series story was my entry for a "Night of the Full Moon" Challenge, following Wolf during an entire night from moonrise to dawn.

The characters belong to the writers and producers of The 10th Kingdom, Hallmark, Simon Moore and NBC and not, alas, poor little old me. Wolf is solely responsible for the misuse of boldface.


I. Cause


"Virginia!"

"Virginia!"

"Vvviiiiirrrgggiii--"

"What? What? Stop yelling!"

"I'm not yelling!"

"Good Lord! What is your problem?"

Wolf stood in front of the open refrigerator, his arms folded. Virginia took in his expression of petulant annoyance and sighed deeply. "What is it now, Wolf?"

"What do you mean, 'what is it now?' I just have one little question. I'm entitled to ask questions, right? Or maybe I'm not? Is that what you're saying?"

"Wolf --"

"How could you not buy milk when you know we're out of it? You know I like it. You know --"

"You know, Wolf, this is beginning to get old. I apologize for forgetting to buy it. Next time write it down. Or go shopping yourself."

"But it was your turn --"

"Don't whine. I hate it when you whine." She turned her back on him deliberately and started for the door.

Wolf slid ahead of her, cutting off her exit. He loomed over her, his eyes flashing angrily. "You hate me whining? How about my tail -- you hate that too, right? I bet you hate everything about me that's wolf, don't you?"

"Come on --"

He leaned in and showed his teeth. "Well, don't you?"

"Cut it out!" Virginia put her hands on his chest and shoved him away, exiting into the living room. Despite herself her heart was pounding. This was getting serious. He'd been edgy all day, and things clearly had been headed in this direction. But now he actually was beginning to frighten her. And it had only just gotten dark.

"Virginia!" Wolf was right behind her, and she jumped. He looked pained. "I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, I don't, I don't even know what I'm saying. Don't leave. Don't." Now there was genuine panic in his voice.

"I'm not going to leave. I just don't like being yelled at."

With a stricken expression he sat down heavily on the couch, burying his hands in his hair, tugging at it. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm bad, I'm so bad! Why does this have to happen? I can't I stop it! Why? I know why, it's because I'm bad! Nasty! I don't deserve --"

"Stop it, Wolf, you'll hurt yourself." Virginia could feel her fear and annoyance melt. More than his babbling apology, it was a memory that came to her suddenly, of herself yelling, screaming at her father, "How could you forget to pick up coffee? What's wrong with you, Dad?" Though she hated to believe in PMS, she'd had a few episodes that were, well, suspiciously textbook. Hard as it was to accept, Wolf was exhibiting the same kind of behavior. And in his case, it really was moon-related. She sat down next to him, rubbing his back. "Don't pull your hair out. You won't like being bald."

She succeeded in making him smile, if wanly. He leaned against her shoulder with a shuddering sigh, and she could feel how hot he was. He seemed to read her thoughts. "I know," he said, and allowed her to brush the hair off his sweaty brow. "Moonrise is close. Don't feel too good."

"Look, why don't you lie down here, or in the bedroom and I'll get you something cold to drink."

"Virginia, you know what this is. I don't think ice water is going to help."

She bit her lip. "How about ice water and a leg of lamb?"

Interest flickered. "Better."

Virginia went into the kitchen. When she was PMS-ing, the thought of food made her want to puke. So much for the similarity of their cycles. The huge leg of lamb, wrapped in butcher paper, lay on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. She had to laugh. He'd been so keyed up about the milk he hadn't even noticed it. That was a first! She put some ice in a glass and filled it with water, then for good measure plunged a clean dishtowel into cold water too, and went back out to the living room. He'd taken her advice to stretch out on the couch, but she could tell from the way he was holding himself that the cramps had begun. He'd explained it to her, after that first full moon they'd been together, in Little Lamb Village. Although he was only a half-wolf, his body wanted to shift, to change into animal form, and the result was deep, painful spasms as his body fought itself. It would be a while before this torment stopped.

A thought struck her, and instead of going to him she went into the bathroom. She set the glass and towel down on the sink and opened the medicine cabinet. Surely there was something here that would make him feel better -- stop his fever, lessen his aches. She ignored a prescription for a sinus ailment that belonged to her Dad, ditched a bottle of cough syrup dated 1993 and considered what was left. She was concerned that something too strong might hurt him, due to his strange physiology. She briefly considered Midol, but discarded the idea. Bloating was not the issue. Ah - plain old generic ibuprofen. Just one couldn't hurt, could it? And it might help.

"Wolf, how're you doing?" She knelt in front of the couch and gave him the glass. He kept one hand clenched to his stomach as he took a few tiny sips. He was breathing shallowly, making little panting sounds, and his eyes had taken on a glassy feverish sheen. "Listen, try this pill. It might make you feel better."

He took it from her, examining and sniffing the pill dubiously. "Smells disgusting."

"Don't smell it, swallow it." She hesitated. "You have taken pills before, haven't you?"

His answer was a withering glance. He swallowed the pill with a theatrical expression of distaste. "Yuucchh." He let his head flop back down.

Virginia .put the towel on his forehead but after a moment he shook it off. He glared at her suddenly. "Don't. Want. That. Just...leave me alone, okay?" The words were practically a snarl. He shoved the glass into her hands.

"Now, Wolf, we're not going to start that again," she said firmly. "You promised to let me take care of you, remember?"

"Yeah, and you promised you'd tie me up, and you didn't!" There was anger in his voice, but also a note bordering on panic.

"I didn't promise, I said I'd think about it. I told you. If we're going to be together, we have to learn to live with this."

"I have lived with this. You should tie me up. Before it's too late."

"That's not going to happen."

His reply was a low, angry growl. "You're worse than my mother!" he muttered under his breath.

"Good!" She put the glass down on the table and leaned over him so she could look him right in the face. "Wolf, I'm not tying you up. That's just - just weird. I know you. This time can't be as bad as it was in Little Lamb Village. There was other stuff going on. You were under a lot of stress. The Queen -- I didn't understand then --"

"And you think you do now?" He made a really unpleasant face.

Virginia fought to keep her tone even. "I'm trying to. You explained it, to me, remember? There's nobody trying to control you now. You're a good person, Wolf. I love you, Just remember that. Anything you do is okay with me. Just trust me. I trust you."

His eyes changed and she thought they began to tear up. He turned away to bury his face in a throw pillow. More of the emotional roller coaster. Deep sympathy welled up inside her. She hated to see him feel so raw, and she gave him a hug, "I'm going to start dinner," she said softly. He nodded mutely, still not meeting her eyes.

In the kitchen she seasoned the lamb, stuck it in a pan and threw it in the oven. It wouldn't take long - he liked meat barely warm. She was having left-over spaghetti that was waiting to be warmed up. She set the table, then opened the fridge. Let's see - what goes with lamb or spaghetti? Amend that: what goes with lamb or spaghetti that both of us will eat? She bent over to poke through the crisper bin.

"Virginia."

He was in the kitchen? "I thought you were lying down." Virginia sorted through zucchini, corn, potatoes, tomatoes - boy, these are really overripe --

"Hungry."

"Dinner will be ready soon --"

"Now."

His mercurial changes were certainly hard to follow! There was an entirely new sound in his voice; he was almost growling, but there was velvet in his tone, too. Intrigued, Virginia started to straighten up, two ripe tomatoes in her hands, to find Wolf standing so close that her back bumped him as she rose. She could feel him shiver at the touch, though he was radiating heat like a furnace. He didn't move to let her pass, in fact, he leaned forward, and she was effectively trapped against the open refrigerator. The combination of cold in front of her and intense heat from him made her catch her breath. "You're feeling better." He certainly was - she could feel the bulge in his pants rub against her as his hands came up around her waist and pulled her tightly against him. The cold air - and the feel of him - made her nipples stiffen. And the way he was snuffling at her neck aroused her even further.

This is crazy! He was nearly passed out on the couch fifteen minutes ago, and now --he was horny as hell, huffing in her ear, which tickled and excited her and --

Wait. Wait. Wait. "Wolf - uh, Wolf, could we move away from the fridge? I'm about to fall in."

He growled in reply, but released his hold enough to allow her to move. But he didn't let go entirely, and as she closed the refrigerator door with her hip, he spun her around and slowly pushed her back until her rear end bumped against the kitchen table.

She got a look at his face and had a rush of panic. He was staring at her with a frightening intensity; his cheekbones and jaw looked somehow altered, sharper. His eyes seemed more acutely angled, though she knew that couldn't really, possibly be true -- could it? and they glowed that peculiar green-gold color that meant the animal was in charge.

She felt a fluttery surge of adrenaline. Suddenly nervous, ill at ease, she fought to calm herself: This is ridiculous -- Get a grip! This was no blind date with a suspicious character. This was the man -- the wolf --- the man -- she loved! Hadn't she just told him anything he did was fine with her? She did trust him.
Didn't she?

She realized she was still clutching the vegetables, and laughed, a little breathlessly. "Let me put these down --"

His response was to grab her suddenly by the shoulders and bite her on the neck.

Virginia was so startled she fell backwards with a cry. Her hands clenched convulsively, squeezing the overripe tomatoes into sauce. Her neck stung and a plate seemed embedded in her back. She hoped he actually hadn't broken the skin. A few love bites were great, but that had been more painful than erotic.

"Wolf - you hurt -- Oof!"

The breath was knocked out of her for a moment as his body landed on top of hers, pinning her to the table. She heard the sound of breaking china as plates flew onto the floor. The salt and pepper shakers slid sideways, sent flying by an errant elbow. Silverware jangled as it catapulted onto the linoleum.

"Wolf! Stop it! This isn't fair!"

Wolf didn't respond, at least not in words, but instead slammed his mouth onto hers. His mouth was savage, restless, sucking, licking, pressing, exploring hers with his busy tongue. She felt the sharp points of his teeth but he didn't bite her, just crushed his lips to hers in a frenzy. He half-supported himself, half lay across her, and with her feet dangling over the edge Virginia had no leverage to push him off. But somewhere in the middle of the kiss she discovered she had no desire to shove him away, not now that he had started licking her neck, and now -- What is he - Oh, yes! certainly not while he was biting at her tee-shirt, ripping it apart with his teeth and then licking down her neck to Oh yes Do that again nibble at her exposed breast. She could feel how excited he was as he rubbed his crotch against her leg, and the edge of his canines raked her skin as he suckled her nipple, but despite the ferocity of his actions he wasn't hurting her now, Oh, No, Not in the least!

His stubbly face seared her as he slid his face to the other breast, and shivers of desire ran up from her groin through her entire body. She was aching for him now, very turned on and panting and This is insane! I'm making dinner and he's supposed to be feeling lousy what are we doing Oh who cares, just lick me there! Wolf had trailed his tongue down to her stomach, while his hands fussed at her waistband. A whine of frustration escaped him as the button refused to open. He pulled his hot mouth away from her navel and Virginia wasn't going to stand for That, No Siree! so she reached down to unbutton and unzip her own pants. She'd forgotten the tomato guts that covered her hands, and left sticky red hand prints on her stomach. Wolf growled impatiently, then pulled off her jeans and underpants in a series of jerky motions. Virginia forced herself up to a sitting position; though she was now so turned on she couldn't really see straight. Her own hands flew to Wolf's zipper, but he was ahead of her, pulling his fly open, groaning and snarling inarticulate sounds all the while.

He shoved her - not painfully, but not gently, either -- back onto the table. She was about to protest but his face was suddenly between her legs, and he was nuzzling her, moaning with ecstasy at his mate's smell. And then she was moaning herself, because he was licking up the inside of her thigh, darting his tongue around and into her most intimate parts until Aahh there, he'd found her clitoris and was nipping and licking her there until she thought she'd pass out.

"Wolf! Oh. My. God. Wolf!" The rest was lost in the onrush of pleasure.

She thrashed and writhed under his mouth, and when she could find it in herself to speak words again there was no time, because his mouth was replaced by the insistent feel of his erection and she looked up to see his strange eyes locked on hers as he thrust himself forward to join with her.

Wolf loved to say wonderful, sweet things to her while they were making love, until they both became inarticulate with passion, but not this time. His eyes were those of the wolf, not the man that he was, and he wasn't saying anything that could be recognized as words. He was growling, or grunting, and with each thrust his tone went higher until he was nearly howling. Virginia found it unbelievably sexy, and as she rose to meet him and he moved relentlessly in her, she began to think of it as a kind of wolf song he was singing just for her.

Their movements were becoming more frenzied, and Virginia could feel both of them tensing, herself hovering on the verge of a second orgasm. Wolf clung to her as he began to speed up his movements with an even greater urgency. His muscles clenched and unclenched. Virginia laced her fingers through his shaggy hair; grateful he hadn't ripped it all out earlier

And then she was swept over the precipice into another crashing orgasm, and Wolf was right there with her, and now he really was howling as he climaxed. There was a moment of suspended movement - and time, it seemed, and then he collapsed heavily on Virginia and the table.

Virginia was fine, but the table had had enough. There was a creaking noise, then the sound of splintering wood, and with a deafening crash the entire table collapsed onto the kitchen floor. Virginia was sandwiched between the table and Wolf, and this time the breath really was forced from her so thoroughly that she strained to draw air into her lungs. A moment later the kitchen clock fell off its perch, hitting her on her forehead. Stunned, she put up a tomato-covered hand to touch her head, and then everything went dark.


Wolf had not really been thinking in an organized way - or even a human one - since he'd walked back into the kitchen. Any shred of clear thought that remained after that had been driven out of his head the moment he drew Virginia's scent into his nostrils. After that, the moon and his own desire had driven him on, his body leading, his brain tuned only to sex, hunger, need, Virginia.

The crash was like a slap in his face - dazed though he was, his fog cleared for a moment, and he realized he was lying on the floor, atop a pile of wood and china and food, and -- where was he? A flash of alarm penetrated the haziness, then a stab of panic as he focused and saw his mate unconscious on the floor underneath him.

"Vir-: his voice was thick, and he cleared his throat. "Virginia --" To his horror, she didn't move, didn't react at all. And he noticed smears of red across her stomach and forehead. Blood? Was she hurt? -- or -- not -- Dead? His heart pounded out a staccato drumbeat. He leaned close and sniffed at her, but his senses, usually so acute at the full moon that they were nearly painful, seemed to have shut down, overloaded. Fear, terror, panic filled him. Something was wrong, something different than just the moon. His ears were filled with white noise - he couldn't hear her heartbeat, couldn't detect the cub, and when he touched her, looking for signs of life, it was if he felt her through padded gloves. What was happening?

His vision blurred as he hyperventilated; he felt dizzy and nauseated. His hands tingled and he trembled all over, close to fainting. He couldn't think, couldn't move beyond the relentless cry of Virginia! like a howl in his brain. And then he began to howl aloud, kneeling by his mate, head back, not a howl of passion, but one of loss.

Virginia! Dead? Cub! Dead?
Wait
Heartbeat?
-- Something? I have to - What?

"Awroooooooooo!"

No! Stop! Do! Something! Help!
Help...That thing - the phone - Virginia - said - emergency--
How?

Even in his calmest moments, Wolf hated using the phone, the one piece of technology he just couldn't handle naturally (unlike the blender, microwave, oven or television). He had a tendency to hold it too far away and shout into the mouthpiece. This was not one of his calm moments, and whatever Virginia might have told him about calling 911 in an emergency was now lost in his frenzy. He stumbled from the kitchen to the living room.

Where?
Where is it?

He blinked and shook his head. Something was wrong with his eyes -- why couldn't he see well in the darkened room? His hands fell onto the cordless phone by mere chance, and he held it in one hand, shaking it, shouting, "Help!" towards it, but nothing was happening and in frustration he hurled it across the room, where it smashed into the radio.

"--- Yankees! Theeeeeeeeeee Yankees take the lead!"

A man was shouting in the apartment, and people were screaming, a crowd of them, like the crowd that had tried to kill him in Little Lamb Village, and Wolf felt the hair- and fur- stand up all over his body. He pressed himself back against the wall, trying to make himself invisible, and slid down to the carpet. Hide. They were coming for him - why? He hadn't done anything!

Had he?
had he?
Virginia?

No no no no no no
Calm down, calm down
Get Help
That's right, yes, yes. That's what I have to do.
Need to get help
What did I do?
No!

Get someone!
Where?
Go. Go for Help!
That was it, yes, help was OUT THERE someplace.

Wolf pulled himself upright and fled towards the door. A shred of clarity made him zip up his pants as he vaulted down the staircase towards the lobby.

Nineteen flights later, panting, Wolf crashed through the front door into the street. Thenight was full of sounds - sirens, traffic, distant music, voices - all of which reverberated in his ears. He felt completely disoriented, and, whimpering a little, he turned left towards Fifth Avenue for no apparent reason except it was more brightly lighted than Madison.

Where?
What?
Help Virginia!

He chewed his lip in confusion. Thoughts were not coming to him in any sort of coherent way. He knew he was looking for help, but the capable Wolf who could navigate the Disenchanted Forest and save the Nine Kingdoms had gone AWOL. Blindly he ran across the street, oblivious to the M2 bus that honked and nearly flattened him. He looked up. There was a mountain before him, a granite mountain with footholds and a castle on top, maybe help was up there, and he started to climb, tripping and pulling himself up as he went.

Help!
Get Help!

But when he reached the summit, dizzy and breathing heavily from the climb, he realized numbly he'd only scaled the huge staircase at the front of the Metropolitan Museum, and it was closed, abandoned for the night.

With a groan of impatience Wolf lurched back down the steps, pausing at the bottom, swiveling left and right, trying to figure out where to go, what to do. There was a long rectangular fountain at sidewalk level, and looking at it made him thirsty, so he bent over to drink. The water felt good, cooling, and he gulped it down greedily.

"Eeuuww - that guy is drinking out of the fountain!" A small group of teenagers stopped on the sidewalk to gape at him.

"Gross me out. Yo, what is he, a dog?"

"Hey -- 'Who let the dog out? Woof, woof, woof!'"

Laughter.

Cruel laughter. The schoolyard. They were laughing at him again, the children of the town, laughing at the misfit half-wolf boy who dared to show his face among them. Stop it! Wolf had to make it stop. He straightened up in a swift movement, snarling, lunging at them. The boys yelped in surprise, scattering.

"Shit, man, you're crazy!"

"I'm outta here, Kevin."

The teenagers disappeared, still laughing, but nervously. Wolf leaned against a lamppost, his eyes darting around. They were after him. He had to get away. He had to get --What did he have to get?

What was he forgetting?

The lamp above him shut off suddenly, following the timer that flashed the avenue's lamps on and off in sequence. Wolf looked up, and his eye caught the moon through the trees. Oh, it was so beautiful! It wrenched his heart to see something so lovely, so perfect, so ---

Virginia! Beautiful, perfect Virginia!
Where is she?

::Panic:: Heart thumping, searching for--

Searching for...?

Oh
The
Moon!

His mind shutting down, Wolf lurched off into the park. Towards the rising moon.


II. Effect


Ouch.

A troll was poking a stick into Virginia's back.

And a giant was sitting on her head.

That just wasn't fair!

"Not fair!" she muttered, wrestling a dwarf who was sitting on her chest. She opened her eyes. Cursed dwarf - he was invisible! "Get off!"

The sound of her own voice startled her awake. "Where the --?" Virginia looked around. The ceiling seemed to be unusually far away. Then her eyes focused more clearly, and she realized she was on the floor. Of the kitchen.

The kitchen? Why would she be on her back in the - A blush spread over her face and neck. And chest. She looked down. She was virtually naked. Oh yes - she and Wolf had been...and they'd...and then he'd...and then the table --

Oh, cripes! The table! Virginia sat up, and the troll ceased sticking the - spoon - into her back. The dwarf disappeared as crockery was pushed aside. The giant sitting on her head remained, however. She had a whopper of a headache.
Slowly she picked her way out of the rubble. The kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off in it. Her table! The dishes! Confusing sticky smears of tomato innards all over her! What a mess. She cradled the remains of the Krazy Kat clock to her chest. It was going to cost an arm and a leg to replace all of this . Why couldn't Wolf have picked the bedroom for their little escapade?

Come to think of it, where was he?

She found it hard to think. Her head was still pounding. Loudly. Insistently. And she was hearing voices. The voices were yelling. She stopped picking up dishes and listened intently.

"Miss Lewis! Miss Lewis!"

Not in her head. At the door. She'd better go answer it. She looked down at herself - uhh, not like this. Her jeans were lying in the sink, for some reason, and she pulled them on swiftly. Her tee-shirt, however, was hanging by a thread, so she scooped up a pinafore-style apron from a hook and slipped it on. Scanty, but it covered the important bits.

In the living room she had to shut off the radio, which was, strangely, broadcasting the last inning of a ball game. That was weird. And weirder still, the telephone lay in the middle of the floor, its antenna broken. What had gone on here? The front door was closed but not locked, and she flung it open to find Mr. Murray and his wife... and his mother... and some other relatives peering at her. Thank goodness she'd forbidden them to enter the apartment without permission, or they would have found her splayed out naked on the floor. Well, that would add to her iffy reputation in the building, no doubt.

"Miss Lewis - are you all right? We heard a terrible crash! We've been knocking for half an hour!" Murray was wringing his hands, a caricature of dismay.

"Uh, yes, sure, I'm fine. Just a little accident. The kitchen table -- ermm - broke, uh, somehow."

"Oh, no, defective furniture! Forgive us! Forgive us!"

"You didn't buy it, my dad --"

"Oh, please, please let us fix it! Or replace it! Yes, mother, we shall replace it, won't we?"

"Yes, Aubrey, right away, dear!" Mother Murray scuttled away.

"No, really, not right now --"

Murray flashed Virginia an obsequious smile. "Now, I'm sure the master would want me to --"

"Not now!" Virginia shut the door firmly, narrowly missing Murray's fingers.

She went into the living room, checking the couch, then the bedroom, the bathroom, the small room that had been her bedroom once, the tiny balcony, then circled back to the kitchen. Wolf wasn't anywhere. This was not good. Why would he have left her? Surely even in his moon-mad frame of mind, he would have stuck around to make sure she was all right! Wouldn't he?

She went to the window. The moon was shining brightly, its yellow-white orb just emerging from the tree line of Central Park. There was so much she still didn't understand about Wolf, about the way the moon affected him. Oh, she knew it made him horny, made him ravenous for meat --

Meat! That's what was bothering her! The smell of roasting lamb permeated the house. Virginia raced back into the kitchen, cautiously climbing over the detritus of the table. She grabbed potholders and opened the oven. The lamb was there, all right, smelling divine, cooked to perfection.

Cooked!

The way a normal person would eat it, not Wolf.

And the fact it was there at all perplexed and worried her. This was definitely not like him. That last time, he'd gobbled down platter after platter of ribs, a live rabbit (or so she suspected) and an entire hen-house of chickens. She really didn't like to go there in her thoughts, but couldn't help herself. If he hadn't eaten the lamb --

Somewhere in the distance she thought she heard a howl. Coming from the park. Virginia shivered. She had to find him, before he got so hungry he ate something he shouldn't.

Or someONE.

She grabbed her coat and ran.


Hungry.
He was so very painfully, emptily, hollowly, howlingly hungry!

Wolf sniffed the air, searching for the slightest hint that food was near. Since he'd entered the park, his senses had sharpened somewhat, and the feeling of dullness had passed, though he still wasn't thinking in a way that could be called human. Instinct was driving him now, as he passed silently through the darkened paths of Central Park. He needed to slake his gnawing hunger, and he whined a little, rubbing his aching belly. Desperation was growing, and unease about something he couldn't quite form into a thought.

Wait!
He stood completely still, listening, sniffing. There was a rustle in the undergrowth to his left. And on the wind, above the mulchy smell of dying leaves, a delicious note of --

Rabbit!

Wolf turned his head sharply towards the scent and suppressed a snarl. With infinite care he picked his way through the grass. His foot crunched on a fallen leaf that had lain hidden by weeds. A small brown rabbit looked up, startled. Wolf pounced.

Maddeningly, his timing was off. The rabbit darted away, not destined to be Wolf's appetizer on this particular night.

Wolf lay on the ground, tearing the earth with his fingers, whimpering and growling with frustration. He needed to Eat. Now...wait...

What's...?

He pushed himself to a standing position, unaware of the leaves clinging to his shirt and his knees. If he listened carefully, blocking out the muffled traffic noises, he could just barely hear voices, the sound of laughter and the clink of dishes. Where there were dishes, there would be food. Human food, dangerously overcooked, but food all the same.

Dishes... An image of broken crockery and blood passed on front of his eyes, and he shook his head. What was --
::Sadness/Fear:: Go find --
???

The image faded, and he turned towards the distant voices.

He tracked the sound to an area within the park encircled by small, low buildings. The entire area was ringed by a stone wall topped by metal fencing.

A prison!
Don't go inside
But -- hunger --
Run, they'll catch you!
Chain you!
Throw you in solitary!
But -- Hunger!

The noises of food preparation came from beyond the fence. And something else, something much more compelling. Rich, musky smells.

Prey!
Many kinds of prey!

Wolf drew the mingled scents deeply into his nostrils. Goats! Birds! Rabbits! Sheep! Other things he couldn't name. He swallowed the saliva that suddenly filled his mouth. What was this place? He sniffed again, thought he detected bears, too, and shuddered.

But - Hunger!

He jumped up onto the chest-high wall and shook the chain-link fence. He had to go inside!

Wolf climbed up the fence, shoving the toes of his boots into the small links. His hand reached the top and suddenly he yelped in pain as something sharp sliced open his palm. The shock made him release his hold and he tumbled backwards onto the ground. He landed with a thump but the grass was soft, and he licked his hand, soothing it where the razor wire had cut through the skin.

Must get inside!

Wolf prowled the perimeter of the wall, sniffing, whining, seeking an entrance. The stone wall angled down until it disappeared into the ground, but the chain-link with its dangerous crown continued. Fifty feet from where he'd fallen, he found a gap where an interloper before him had bent back the fence. It looked wide enough for a person to crawl through. Or a wolf.

And then he was inside.

He followed his nose and found the dish clinking and food smells came from a large tent. He maneuvered around until he found an open flap, and peered inside. Men and women in white shirts and black pants bustled about carrying trays from a kitchen at the rear. In front, richly dressed people sat at tables decorated with candles and mirror balls. Heat lamps created an artificially balmy atmosphere inside, though a brisk autumn wind had begun to kick up.

Wolf lurked behind a rock, watching the comings and goings. The scent of live animals was calling to him, but the plates of rare roast beef that passed by were enticing as well, making him salivate with anticipation.

"No, I told you - no eating until the guests are served!" An imperious voice close by drew his attention, and he turned to watch a fat man in a formal suit chastise a cringing underling. "You! What's your name?"

"Uh, James, but I'm sor--"

"Do you want to work for Grand Entrances or not, James?"

"Of course I --"

"Or do you want to be just another unemployed actor? One without a catering job?"

"It was one strawberry --"

"I could fire you right now for that strawberry!"

"Yessir, you're right, I, um, apologize."

Wolf bit back a growl. He recognized the sense of the scene, if not the content: the alpha male, the fat one, was showing dominance over the other, who was wisely deferring. His instincts warned him to avoid them, his status in relation to them unknown. He ducked and moved away, keeping an eye on the lighted tent.

Inside, a blonde woman in ball gown was stepping up to a platform with a slender metal pole on it, and he started as her voice suddenly echoed from a box behind him. "Friends of the Central Park Zoo, I'm Ivana Trump --" polite applause from all the tables - "and I welcome you to 'Midnight Madness Under the Stars!'" Music began to play. A waltz.

Midnight Madness...? The scene seemed jarringly familiar.

::Puzzlement::
The ballroom - something he had to do. Was ordered to do.
Poison them.
Kill them all.
No!
Have to save them - have to save...her --
Her...

Wolf drew in a sharp breath. His heart thudded in his chest.The thought evaporated as a waiter placed a tray of beef on a prep table in front of where he crouched.

The tray slid off the table easily, as easily as Wolf himself slid off into the shadows to consume his prize. In a matter of minutes he'd gobbled down all of the meat, and lapped up the last of the bloody juices from the tray.

Heaven!
Rapture!
Succulence!
More?

But the missing tray was causing consternation, and too many people were hovering, fussing, looking, blaming each other. The fat leader appeared, his dominance apparent over the black-and-white clad underlings. Voices were raised.

::Alarm::
Soon they'll begin beating the underbrush, searching with dogs.
If they catch me, I'll be beaten.

He fled deeper into the shadows.

The scent of animals - four-legged ones - was near, so near that it was intoxicating. He caught a whiff of bears again, and ducked away in the opposite direction. He passed under a sign but did not bother to look at it, though even if he had, the words "Petting Zoo" would have been meaningless in his current state. The moon was high overhead, and though he'd just consumed enough meat to feed a table of ten, his stomach twisted and churned, unsatisfied. And the tray of meat had come too easily; eating it didn't fulfill the need to Hunt.

His ears picked up the sound even before his nose detected the animals' presence. A trio of goats roamed a small paddock enclosed only by a wooden fence. Wolf lurked behind an enormous tree, upwind, and even though his attention was focused on the goats, part of him was aware that the tree bark did not smell normal, not real. He had no idea or interest in the fact that the tree was man-made, hollow, created for children to play hide and seek in, though at another time he might have found it a fascinating wonder. A white goat nibbled at the fence, and all three were oblivious to his presence. A cunning look played over Wolf's dark features.
Stupid goats!

His eyes narrowed, selecting, and one animal came into sharper focus. Its pungent scent played in his nose and up into his brain. Other sounds, other sights disappeared. His world contained only himself, the moon, and the white goat. Slowly he stalked it, moving ever closer, tree to bush to rock, and then in a move of heart-stopping fluidity, he vaulted the fence. The goat barely had time to look up before the wolf was upon it.


III. Abyss


Where to look?

Virginia paused by the 79th Street entrance of the park. The sound had come again, from this direction, but how could she possibly hope to find Wolf even if he were here, even by the considerable light of the full moon? And how crazy would she have to be to go into the park by herself at night to look for him?

She paced the sidewalk that ran alongside the park, leaving the lighted plaza of the Met behind her, not daring to venture into the park proper. Oh, this was hopeless! She didn't even really know that Wolf was in the park! Maybe she should have tied him up after all - at least she'd know where he was.

Or maybe she should just let him do his wolf thing and come home when it was over.

No way. He'd get killed, she knew it. Or He'd kill...No, no, nothing good could come of thinking like that.

She walked slowly in a downtown direction, paralleling the park, pausing every so often to look over the wall. Occasionally she'd enter, walk in about twenty feet or so, and call his name, but she heard nothing in reply and the darkness spooked her. She cursed herself for not even bringing a flashlight, though she doubted she would have had the nerve to go deep into the woods to use it. When had she become such a coward? She was a New Yorker, dammit, fearless and tough and --

Bull. She'd been foolish to ride her bike through the park on the way to work, she knew that now. Hell, last time she did so she'd been knocked over by an enchanted dog, and look what that had led to -- trolls and curses and poison and pain and...

Well, Wolf.

All those other times, those years, riding through the park, she hadn't ever imagined that anything could happen to her, really. Why should she, when her life wasn't real? What had there been to lose? Now - she felt her throat close with emotion - now there was everything to lose. And now she was too afraid.

No. She couldn't be afraid. There was no time for fear. She set her jaw.

Looking around, Virginia realized with surprise that she'd already crossed 65th Street. Still there'd been no sign of him. He could be anywhere in the city by now, though she felt strongly that in his present condition he'd gravitate to the woods. She had to go in, had to look for him properly.

There was a large building on her right, where the park offices were housed, and the area around it was brightly lit by ornate lampposts. Maybe she'd go into the park here, where it was relatively public, then venture further in. Yes, that seemed like a plan. Virginia descended the staircase to the level of the path, and resolutely turned into the park. Surprised, she recognized where she was, near the entrance to the zoo. Her father had taken her there many times as a child, and she still remembered staring at the famous, crazy polar bear who swam in his pond in endless circles. They'd had to give the bear some kind of therapy, she recalled reading, to cure its obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Which, or course, made her think of Wolf.

A strong gust of autumn air pulled at her, and she gathered her trench coat more closely around her. It was getting cold out, and under the coat she was only wearing the ridiculous pinafore apron over her jeans. Suddenly she wondered if, wherever he was, Wolf had a coat. He'd been feverish when she'd last seen - touched - him. Great. Something else to worry about.

The front gate of the zoo should have been closed, but it stood open, and a uniformed guard waited by the turnstiles. In the background she could hear music. Virginia paused. She didn't really want to go into the zoo - she needed to search the more remote areas. And if Wolf had come this way, she knew the guard wouldn't be sitting there calmly drinking coffee. She turned to her left, going deeper into the park.

And then a horrible sound stopped her - a sound of terrified animals shrieking, bleating, screaming, and it froze her in her tracks. She turned in time to see the guard drop his coffee, curse, and grab a radio from his belt. A moment later he took off down the pavement, away from the gate.

She waited a moment, indecisive over what to do. But that sound - ! She hated to think it might have something to do with Wolf, but...

She pushed through the turnstile, unchallenged, and walked briskly towards the sound.


Wolf sat on the ground, leaning against a tree. His mind was filled with vivid images of violence: tearing flesh, blood, the moon, terrified eyes, bones crushing, more blood. He no longer felt the devastating hunger that had driven him, but other feelings had begun to stir. He held up his hands in front of his eyes, and saw that they were covered with blood. His shirt, too was soaked in it. He knew it wasn't his own. He groaned. It had happened again.

It was an old, familiar scenario. Over and over again since he'd reached puberty--his time in prison accepted--when the moon was full something violent like this had occurred. The pull of the moon blanked him out nearly completely, sometimes for close to 24 hours. But during those hours there would be occasional periods, brief though they were, when he'd come back to himself, when the feelings of self-hatred would begin. It always happened this way. He couldn't even enjoy being a wolf, when he felt such guilt for behaving like one. Such disgust for what he'd done.

Or what he feared he'd done. Frankly, he rarely had any idea, except from the evidence left behind. In Little Lamb Village he hadn't really, truly, one hundred per-cent, cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die, known if he'd killed Sally Peep or not, until it had been proven he hadn't.

At least this time he knew it had been a four-legged animal; he could tell from the smell of the blood. Wolf looked at the moon, hating it. There were still hours before it would set. There was only a short time, he knew, before it might overtake him again. He needed to clean himself up, act tike a human being, try to get home and convince Virginia to tie him up --

Virginia!

Oh, he was bad, bad, bad! All this time, and Virginia was lying there, maybe Dying! His mate! And he'd forgotten her! This was worse than he'd imagined. He'd let her down. Maybe even let her die.

She could be dead. The cub could be dead.

He howled - he couldn't help himself.

It was a terrible, plaintive sound, and it raised the hackles on all who heard it.


"Jesus, Mary and - what the hell happened here?"

The guard looked shaken, and the small group gathered around the pen made noises of distaste, disgust, fear.

Virginia crept in among them, careful to stay tucked in the shadows. As the people shifted their positions, she caught glimpses of what was in the paddock - two very nervous, bleating goats at the far wall and some kind of animal - or what was left of it, lying in the middle. And blood. Everywhere. Her stomach turned.

A zoo park ranger was climbing into the pen. "Nothin' much left, the head - looks like the carcass got dragged away. That way." He pointed and Virginia slunk back further.

A man in a tuxedo wiped his mouth with a handkerchief. "What do you think it was?"
And then, with a nervous giggle, "Anything running around loose here, Ronnie?"

The ranger shook his head. "Only these and the llama. Don't worry. I suppose it could be a coyote. They've seen them as far south as Van Cortlandt Park --"

"A coyote? Are you kidding?"

The ranger shrugged. "I'm just guessing. I can't imagine one making it into Manhattan, but I suppose it's possible. I wouldn't rule out some sicko --"

Then they heard it, a low, mournful howl from deep inside the zoo.

The guard looked around nervously. "Should we, should we go after it?"

"I wouldn't, not in the dark. Besides, if it ate, it's not gonna be hungry again tonight." He climbed out of the pen and crossed to the man in the tux. "I'll get the guys to make sure everything else is locked up. And I'd wind up your party ASAP, just to be safe."

"For heaven's sake, Ronnie, I've got the Mayor here --"

"Yes sir, well, I didn't vote for him. It won't bother me if somethin' eats him."

"I just wish I knew what it was."

Virginia shivered. She knew.


Get up, Wolf!

He stopped his howl, whimpered once and shook his head. He had to get up, keep moving. He rose slowly, fighting the lethargy that always followed the adrenaline rush. His legs were uncertain under him, and though his stomach was almost painfully full, his head felt light.

There was a small man-made pond up ahead, and Wolf sank down next to it, unbearably thirsty. He drank, then washed off the bloody reminders of his hunt as best he could. The water was cold, and now that his shirt, neck and hair were wet he began to shiver in the chilly air.

He looked at his reflection in the water. By the light of the enormous moon he saw his dirty, disheveled image and was filled with disgust. But the moon stared back over his shoulder, not reproaching him, instead singing a soothing, soundless, tuneless song, and by and by he didn't feel quite so guilty, didn't think about what he'd done, and began to feel quite numb.

No! Wake Up! Pay Attention!

He gritted his teeth, trying to stay focused.

But it's So Beautiful!
No it's not, it's Bad!
It's not bad, You're bad --
No! It's the moon!

He had to stay in control, or he'd forget who he was again. Forget about Virginia.

Wolf ran, only to discover there was no escape. Everywhere he went he found his way impeded by a wall topped with a fence that was itself crested with evil, painful-looking wire.

Trapped!

He could feel himself begin to hyperventilate, and though the sky was open above him the feeling of the walls closing in was powerful. He closed his eyes so he wouldn't see the walls, and tried to take stock.

Be Calm, Be Calm, You're OK, You're--
Lost!
You're Lost!
No Way Out!

He had no idea where he was. He had no idea where Virginia was. He couldn't get to her, couldn't save her, his mate, the only person who cared if he lived or died.

He slid down against the bark of one of the artificial trees. He was cold, so cold. There was an opening in the tree, and instinctively he backed into it, seeking shelter. He curled up on the floor, wet and shivering and unhappy and wept for his miserable state.


Virginia was alone. The park ranger and his team had swept through the buildings near the paddock, shutting away animals, checking locks, bolts, bars. The tuxedo-clad man and his cronies had disappeared towards the sound of an orchestra which had since stopped playing, and now she could hear voices moving toward the entrance of the zoo. The guard, with a last scared look over his shoulder, vanished towards the gate. Clearly everyone was taking the attack seriously. And here she was, alone.

But not really alone. Animals stirred, whinnied, bleated softly, lowed and cooed in their separate shelters. They seemed restless, which enhanced Virginia's nervousness. What if she was wrong? What if there was a, a coyote or something?: Or a crazy, twisted human being with a machete?

Or, and this was even more unsettling, what if it really was Wolf? If he was capable of doing this, how could she really know what he'd do to her?

This was not what she wanted to be thinking.

By this point Virginia had passed right through nervous, spooked, frightened and terrified, and was beginning to feel numb. Numb is good, she thought. Numb lets you do stupid things. Like stalking your half-animal boyfriend through a deserted zoo after midnight, when he may or may not be capable of, or prone to, ripping your throat out. Well, gee, that didn't sound So bad, when she put it that way...Cripes!

She kept to the path that wound its way through the Petting Zoo, peering intently into the shadows. The moon was very bright, and her eyes got used to the darkness. She could see fairly well, except for the very darkest areas. Not as well as an animal could see, of course; their eyes were suited to hunting in the dark --

She banished that thought, and instead picked up her pace. She passed the aviary, but no birds were stirring. They, too, had been locked up tightly, away from whatever had killed the goat. There were small hut-like buildings on both sides, one of them designed to look like Noah's Ark, but there were heavy bolts on all the doors. And then she reached the end of the path, which dead-ended in an empty pen against the zoo's outer wall. No Wolf.

Virginia looked around, now desperately troubled. If that had been his howl, which she assumed it was, then where was he? She looked up suddenly, scanning the trees. No, wolves don't climb trees, she reasoned. They're not cats. Oh, God, maybe it had been a bobcat - No, no, that had definitely been a howl.

There was something odd about several of the trees - a couple of them, placed across the path from each other, had such large diameters that they reminded her of the Huntsman's lair back in Wendell's kingdom. They were as big as California redwoods, though they appeared dead, their upper limbs cut off. And since when did redwoods grow in New York? She put a hand on one trunk and squinted at it. Even in the shadowed light she could see it wasn't made of wood at all, but some kind of heavy plastic, or fiberglass. Huh - a fake.

This wasn't helping. She had no idea what to do. It was possible, she thought, that he had scaled the wall and escaped, though, looking at it, it seemed terribly high and terribly lethal with that ribbon of wire at the top. Virginia sighed bleakly. "Oh, Wolf. Where are you?" Her voice sounded loud in the stillness. She turned, shoulders slumping, and started back the way she'd come.

It wasn't really a sound she heard, just a whisper of one. There was a lull in the traffic beyond the wall, and in that moment Virginia thought she heard something -- something like heavy breathing, or sighing. Or a whimper. But where...? She tilted her head, trying to follow the sound, unaware of how animal-like her posture had become. There - there it was again, from somewhere low... around one of the massive plastic redwoods.

She didn't see the opening at first, because it lay on the shadowed side, and she walked completely around the tree and had to backtrack to pick up the sound again. On the dark side of the tree one shadow seemed deeper than the rest, and when she put out a hand at waist level she found there was a child-high opening in the trunk. Something - someone - was in there, breathing stertorously but rhythmically, whimpering a little as he did so.

Virginia's pulse raced, but she made herself crouch down by the opening. "Wolf?" Nothing. An icy finger of fear traced down her spine. If it is a sicko with a machete, that's all folks. She spoke again, a little louder. "Wolf? Are you in there?"

There was a sharp intake of breath from within the tree. She knew that sound - Wolf made it every time he was taken by surprise. There was a moment when she heard nothing. And then her heart lurched as two amber eyes opened and glowed at her from within the pitch black of the tree's hollow.

"Wolf - God! You frightened me...Wolf?"

"Virginia?" The voice was raspy, but unmistakably his. "Virginia..." His voice faded away, replaced by snuffling noises.

"Oh, Wolf, don't cry, come out, I'm here - " Her words were cut off as two cold hands lunged out of the opening, grabbed her arms and pulled her into the tree.


IV. Absolution


"Wolf! What are you doing?" Virginia was knocked onto her side, dragged forward and gathered up in Wolf's arms. "Oh - what, you're soaking wet!" Her arms went around him, appalled at the state of his shirt, at how cold he was.

"Virginia. I thought. I looked. I couldn't. Dead. Prison. Hungry. The cub. Lost. The moon. You were. I did. Oh. Virginia." He rambled crazily in her ear, shaking, whimpering, kissing her in between words on the eyes, face, neck. She couldn't understand exactly what he was trying to tell her, so she merely shushed him and held him tight until, finally, he ran out of disjointed thoughts and quieted.

They lay there for a little time, Virginia making soothing sounds, Wolf calming down with relief, clutching his mate to him for dear life. Virginia tried to wrap her coat around both of them, but it was too small and the air too cold for it to do much good.

"Wolf," she said at length, "we need to go home."

His teeth chattered. "I know...but, but, Virginia, I don't know where that is. We...no way out--"

"We'll find a way." Virginia hoped she wasn't making false promises. She paused, momentarily unwilling to move. If it weren't so cold, if he weren't in such a high-strung state, it would actually be kind of romantic here, in their own little wolf den inside the tree.

But they couldn't stay. She stirred and he released her. She crawled out of the hollow and turned to help him. He moved stiffly, unwinding himself from the small space. They stepped onto the path and Virginia gasped as light fell on Wolf's bloodstained shirt, but she bit back her shocked reaction. There were questions she wanted to ask, but this was not the time, not while the moon still might be influencing him. And she wasn't sure, down deep, if she really wanted to hear the answers.

She guided them back towards the entrance. Now that she'd found him, the park didn't seem threatening any more, and its shadows were just that - shadows, not inky pools concealing danger. She cast her eyes at the sky, at the moon, then threw a furtive glance at Wolf. He appeared disheveled, damp and somewhat depressed, but not dangerous or delusional.

The front entrance was locked, gates pulled across the turnstiles.

"I told you we can't get out," he whined. "We're trapped --"

"No, Wolf, we are not trapped. Let's be logical here. There is a way out."

"Not for the animals."

Okay, that was logical, if unhelpful. "How did you get in?"

Wolf screwed up his face and chewed his lip. "I don't remember," he said finally.

"Okay, okay, think...did you climb the fence?"

"I told you, I don't remember!" His voice was harsh, suddenly. He closed his eyes and regained control, then scrutinized his palm. "I cut my hand."

"Let me see." The cut wasn't deep, but it had a ragged look that could have come from the wire. "All right, we won't climb. Except -- Wait a minute..."

Virginia had a sudden flash of herself peering over the stone wall of the park from the street. There hadn't been any razor wire on the Fifth Avenue side --

"Wolf, come here!"

"It's no use --"

"Wolf, Come Here!" The command made him blink. But he came.

There was a storage shed that abutted the wall. More chain-link fence enclosed the shed, but it was only six feet high, and though there were spikes, it had no wire looping around the top. "Give me a boost." Wolf lifted her up until she could get leverage on the shed's roof. She climbed up the rest of the way herself, carefully avoiding the spikes, and crawled along the slanted roof to the wall. There was only a gap of a few feet between the shed's roof and the grey stone She found herself overlooking the cross street that traversed the park, and it looked to be about an eight foot drop to the road. She gestured for Wolf to follow, and he climbed the fence easily and came to the edge of the wall.

Fortunately there was little traffic in these early morning hours, or they would have been in danger from cars whizzing across town. Wolf leapt down first, then reached up and helped Virginia. And then they were actually, finally free.

They walked back to 81st Street at a brisk pace. Virginia was sorry she hadn't taken her wallet when she left so suddenly - a cab would have been nice, as she wanted to get Wolf home as quickly as possible. As for Wolf, he was silent on the way uptown, but every now and then he'd sniff, look up at the sky, sigh deeply. He seemed to have sunk into his own thoughts.

Virginia rushed them through the lobby, grateful no one was there to see how awful they looked; between the dirt smears and bloodstains, the two of them made a frightening pair. Once in the apartment, Virginia dropped her coat and ran to turn on the shower, letting the water run until it was quite hot. Wolf had paused at the door to the kitchen, and stood looking at the rubble with blank eyes, as if he hadn't seen it before, and couldn't quite understand what he was seeing. She propelled him towards the bathroom, pulling off his ruined shirt, then pushing him onto the edge of the tub so she could strip off his pants and shoes. He let her push him and pull him any way she chose. His listlessness worried her.

She made him stay under the hot water until his shivering stopped and all the rusty smears of blood had washed down the drain. He yelped as the water hit his torn palm and numerous small scratches, and Virginia was glad to see some sparks of energy returning. But he hadn't said anything since they left the park, and she realized after some futile efforts on her part that he wasn't making eye contact with her either.

Virginia stripped off her own clothes and stepped into the shower, thinking that some physical contact might lure Wolf out of his mood. But just as she joined him, and reached up to touch his face, he moved aside and stepped out of the shower, grabbing a towel and heading into the bedroom.

"Wolf? Can't you wait just a second..." Her voice trailed off. He didn't answer, so she made quick work of her own shower. She briskly toweled off and wrapped herself in her robe.

She found him in the kitchen, picking up bits of china from the rubble. "What are you doing?"

"Have to clean up."

"It can wait." She put a hand on his arm, but he shrugged it aside. "You should go to bed. You had a rough night. Come on." This time she put her hand firmly on his, refusing to let go, and finally he put down the broken china and allowed her to lead him to the couch. There, he sat huddled, knees drawn up, eyes fixed on a point inside himself. So she sat down with him. "Please," she said softly, "please talk to me. Let me help."

He shook his head. "Virginia..." He sounded tired, but more than that, defeated. "It was terrible."

"I know."

"There's no way to stop it -- it keeps happening, over and over again, no matter how hard I fight. I try to be better, I try so hard for you --" He swallowed. "I can't control myself. I behave like a wild animal, a monster --"

"You're not a monster."

"But you don't know me. What I'm like. Not really." His eyes finally met hers, and his voice grew harsher. "I hunted, I killed something tonight. I tore it limb from limb. I ripped its throat out. I ate it. All. Raw. Cripes, I am what I am, Virginia, and no matter how hard I try, I can't change the fact that I am a wolf, an animal!"

"Yes. You are."

He flinched, perhaps expecting she would argue with him, deny what he had said. Maybe hoping she would.

"You are an animal, Wolf, and sometimes a wild one. And you know what else? You are sometimes a very strange person, too. And sometimes you are so wonderful I can't imagine you really exist... And sometimes you're impossible. Should we make a list? Good points: sensitive, loving, funny, sexy; bad points - odd sense of timing, obsessive, intense, eats raw meat - and then what about me? Do I get a list too? Good points - well, you'll have to fill those in -- bad points - scared, sometimes moody, doesn't trust easily, makes far too many lists - we could go on and on, if you'd like, figure out exactly what's wrong with both of us. Frankly, I think it's a waste of time."

She paused, feeling tears well up, and took both of his hands in hers. "Stop trying to change for me. I never asked you to, you know."

"But --"He pulled a hand away and gestured towards the kitchen door. "I almost killed you!"

"No you didn't. You just got a little carried away. So did I. It was an accident. Just a bad choice of location. Everything else was amazing." She squinted at him, thinking of what he'd just said. "So you do remember that!"

He shot her a sideways look under his lashes, and a corner of his mouth went up. "Virginia, some things are hard to forget." She smiled at him, moving closer. Wolf seemed to relax, just a little, but his expression became troubled again. "Something else. When we were, when you - had the accident, I couldn't help you. I tried, but I couldn't seem to do anything. Everything got all -- jumbled up in my head. If you really had been dying, it wouldn't have been any different. I would have done the same thing - run away!"

"You didn't run away, you tried to help. You got confused because of your cycle --." Virginia stopped. Wolf was shaking his head.

"No. A wolf always protects his mate, even during the full moon. Always. It's an instinct. My change -- what happened should have snapped me out of it. But it didn't. I got worse and worse, and for a while I couldn't even hear you or smell you or --" He sagged a bit lower on the couch. "I'm not even a good mate for you."

Virginia considered what he was saying. "A wolf always protects his mate?" Wolf nodded. "Wow. And that feeling of not being able to smell or hear well - does that happen a lot?"

"Never."

"Not Ever?"

"Never. Usually everything gets sharper. It would be like my tail got smaller, instead of fuller, during the full moon. See?" He wagged his extremely bushy tail at her for emphasis.

She leaned against him, mystified. And then, suddenly, she had it, though she didn't know why it came to her. "Wolf, did you ever take anything during your cycle before? I mean anything like medicine?"

"Nope. Well, except that one time a guard felt sorry for me and gave me something that was supposed to make me sleep through it."

"'Supposed to?' What happened?"

He looked a little abashed at the memory. "I, um, huff-Puff, Virginia, it's kind of, well, embarrassing."

"What?" Pause. "Tell me!"

"All right, all right, all right. Instead of falling asleep I ended up on a parapet. Naked. Singing. The other prisoners were all chanting 'Jump! Jump!' and I almost did."

"That's awful!" It was awful, though Virginia couldn't get the picture of Wolf, naked and singing, out of her head, and had to contain a snort. She cleared her throat. "Wolf, I think that pill I gave you affected you the wrong way. Like, like -- well, like you were drunk. No, worse. It made you high, stoned, you know. Like you were on a bad trip or something." He was looking at her with a complete lack of comprehension. "Okay. Never mind. But it was my fault, not yours. I should have known not to give that to you."

"Not your fault. You were trying to help. I know." Wolf put his arms around her and Virginia snuggled up to him. "Thank you for trying." He nuzzled her hair.

"Wolf, I won't ever let you be alone again when you go through this." She lay her head on his chest, comforted by the steady sound of his heart beating. "I was so worried about you, that something terrible would happen to you. And it did. I guess that, until I can think of something better, next time I'd better just tie you up, like you said."

"It's probably for the best, Virginia."

"It's still weird."

"I know."

She sat up and gave him a little kiss. "Come to bed?"

"Okay." They got halfway to the bedroom. "What about the kitchen?"

"Leave it for tomorrow." She tugged at his hand.

"But -- what about the leg of lamb?"

"It's okay. I put it in the fridge before I came after you."

"That's not what I meant. Uh -- aren't you even a little bit hungry?"

She looked up at him. "Ah. That means You are. How can you be hungry, after you ate a whole..." An image of the paddock swam before her eyes. "Um, never mind. Let's not go there. Want a snack?"

"Yes, please. Succulent, juicy, fresh frolicking lamb, please."

"It's cooked, you know."

He shrugged. "I'll make an exception."

Virginia did eat some of the lamb, her spaghetti dinner having been one of the casualties of the kitchen avalanche. Wolf finished it, pronounced it delicious even though it was cooked, and washed it down with a quart of water. He thought a quart of milk would have been better, but wisely did not say so.


V. Aftermath


It was nearly dawn before they finally made it to bed. Wolf lay watching Virginia close the drapes against the gray-streaking sky. She crawled into bed next to her mate and Wolf felt more contented than he had in days. As Virginia settled herself against him, he suddenly turned and tenderly put his hand on her cheek. "I just realized..."

"What?"

He stroked her face. "You rescued me this time."

"I guess I did. Good for me!"

"I like it better the other way around."

She poked him in the ribs. "Sexist."
He gave her a puzzled look, which they both knew was a sham, as he understood perfectly what she meant. "Did you say 'sexy?' That's one of my good points, as someone recently informed me." She laughed. Then he grew serious. "You were very brave to come after me."

She scoffed. "I was terrified. You have no idea."

"But you came anyway. That's what makes you brave."

Wolf looked at the gray rectangle of the window and thought about the night, the park, the treacherous moon. Virginia studied his face, and softly asked, "So...is it all over now, until next full moon?"

"Yes." He heard her sigh with relief. "Almost..."

He'd let the velvet tone back into his voice. "Wolf...?"

"Mmmmm...?" He moved until he was leaning over her, gave her a lingering look, and then began to kiss softly down her throat. She lifted her chin, allowing his stubbly jaw to play over her neck, down to the hollow between her collarbones. He could feel her body awaken to his touch, her sleepiness vanquished by desire, and as Wolf rolled sideways to cover her body with his own Virginia willingly shifted too, so that he could slide her legs apart with one knee. One of his hands reached under her nightgown to cup her breast as he began to kiss her on the mouth.

The kiss was tender, probing but gentle. This time there was no frenzy or rush in Wolf's actions; he felt no need to hurry. Virginia was stroking his shoulders, his back, and when her fingers combed through his tail, he gasped inadvertently with the sensation, and ground himself against her.

"You are a vixen," he groaned hoarsely, as she pulled slightly at his tail. She giggled, amused by his words. Wolf flicked his tail out of her grasp, and slid down towards the foot of the bed. She took the opportunity to slowly remove her nightgown, teasing him with the gradual revelation of her luscious body. He rewarded her with a soft growl of appreciation for the show, then ran his hands down her legs and then up the insides of her thighs. He felt her shake as his fingers played over her stomach and then through her pubic hair. When his finger entered her, she made a little sound, a soft "oh!" that was more erotic to his ears than the loudest scream of pleasure.

Wolf kissed one perfect breast, and then the other, then nibbled and licked them, with no fear this time that his teeth could hurt her. He was aware of the growing ache of his own desire; his erection was beginning to throb, and his tail, stiffening, seemed to pulse along with his racing heartbeat. He drew himself up until his mouth found Virginia's again, and the sensation of her naked body sliding under his was almost unbearable. He panted into her neck and licked the delicate inner curve of her ear. Virginia twitched in response, and he wanted to laugh, to shout his joy that his touch was pleasing her.

Virginia reached down between them and slowly stroked him, her hand gently encircling, then pulling slightly at his erection. He moaned and growled and huffed impatiently, and in response her legs opened wider, and he let her guide him until with a single thrust he was buried deep inside her. The sensation was overwhelming. There was nothing like the feeling of being joined with her, his mate, his beloved Virginia, who truly loved him, no matter what he'd done, who was his forever.

And then they were rocking together, rubbing and thrusting and moving in concert. And the moon gave him a parting gift, for suddenly all of his senses expanded to their limits. He felt Virginia's skin, softer than the finest silk, yet it burned him like a thousand suns; colors that had never existed exploded before his eyes; his nose was filled with infinite variations of Virginia's scent, and he could hear her breath and his and the cub's heartbeat as they combined to form a perfect song of love and joy and ever after.

Afterwards they both seemed stunned by the intensity of their lovemaking, and they lay quietly in the bed watching the dawn. It had been a long, arduous night, and it had ended as it had begun, in passion.

But Virginia was not quite ready for sleep.

"Wolf?"

"Mmm?"

"I have to know."

"What?" His eyes flicked open.

She sat up and looked at him. "Back in prison --"

Uh oh. What was coming? "Um, yes?"

"When you took that sleeping potion and were up on that parapet --" a glimmer of amusement played on her lips "-- what exactly we're you singing?"

"Oh." He sat up against the headboard and looked at her, relieved that her question had avoided other uncomfortable issues concerning his imprisonment. "Just a little wolfie song. We all know it."

"I'm waiting..."

He cleared his throat and began to sing, in a lusty and slightly off-key voice:

"100 tasty and succulent sheep,
100 bundles of fleece--
If while you are dining, one happens to bleat,
99 sheepies remaining to eat!

99 tasty and succulent sheep,
99 bundles of fleece --
If while you are dining, one happens to bleat,
98 sheepies remaining to eat!

98 - "

By the time he reached 90, her stomach hurt from laughing.

By 85 she'd started hitting him with her pillow.

By 80 she was singing with him.

And the day began.


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