Ren had been in bed for nearly three hours, utterly and almost painfully wide awake. Her parents had waited entirely too long before retiring, and she’d forced herself to remain deathly still as the sounds of teeth being brushed and tiny snippets of late-night conversation slowly ceased to drift down the hall. She had to be absolutely certain they were asleep.
When the house had been silent for over half an hour, she slipped out of her bed, moving slowly so the springs didn’t creak and betray her. She stood stock-still for several moments, bare feet gripping the carpet and back straight, looking for all the world like a wary deer creeping into a forest clearing. Apparently satisfied that everyone else in the house was asleep, Ren cautiously padded her way across the room to the window. She pulled back the curtains with a small sigh, face upturned to the luminous moon. Her small hands trembled slightly as she eased the window open, but it slid easily. Removing the screen was also a simple matter – this was a newer house, with all the conveniences of modern fire codes, and the screen swung out on a hinge to lie flat against the exterior wall. It was, Ren had often mused, as though the designer had expected someone would want to sneak out of the smaller second-floor bedroom.
She climbed out of the window nimbly, deftly swinging her legs over the ledge and catching her balance on a bit of protruding brick. She clung easily to the wall, using the drainpipe and an iron trellis as hand- and footholds until she could drop confidently the last six feet to the ground.
Ren landed in a crouch, one hand splayed in front of her. Her long brown hair fell over her face in tangled curls, leaving the moon to pick out her full lips and dark, shadowed eyes. Though by daylight her skin was a richly dark tan, it seemed almost to glow under the light of the moon.
She was wearing only a pair of silk pajama bottoms and a thin tank top, and she shivered a little as she stood. Glancing about to ensure that no one else dared intrude, she carefully peeled off her top, revealing dark, erect nipples and a beautifully smooth back. She next stepped out of her pants, leaving the girl naked in the moonlight. Ren stashed her clothes behind a rosebush, neatly folding each item of clothing before hiding them carefully amongst the thorns.
Finally she stood clad in nothing but moonlight, not even clothing burdening her. The hazy light seemed to linger on her form, picking out a small smile on her lips and flashes of silver in her dark hair. Her eyes flickered closed, and she opened her arms as though trying to embrace the night.
“Mother Moon,” she whispered. “Take me home.”
The prayer had not even faded on the night air before she began to change. Her eyes narrowed while her face and ears elongated. Her limbs twisted in movements that managed to be both bizarre and beautiful, and in less than a minute where a girl had once stood was a wolf as black as midnight.
Ren thought of transforming much like opening her eyes after a long sleep. Of course the world hadn’t ceased to be while she was unconscious, but the sudden richness of it made her feel as though she’d been deaf and blind until that very moment. Her vision was still steeped in the night colors of black, grey, and silver. Her nose and ears, however, more than made up for the lack of color. Suddenly every sound had a new character and each scent told a story.
She stretched her furred head upward and sniffed the wind. She could tell which neighbors had mowed their lawns earlier that week from the faint whiffs of gasoline and burning vegetable matter that still lingered. Someone a few doors down had cooked bacon not long before, and her fur bristled slightly at the telltale musk of domestic dogs. All of them were inside at this hour, and she almost relaxed before a sudden gust of wind brought another scent to her attention.
It was utterly unfamiliar, but she recognized it somewhere deep in her gut, in the wolf instincts that shrouded her human mind in this form.
Somewhere nearby, somewhere on her turf, was another werewolf.
Ren set off instantly after the scent, dully noting new details as proximity brought them into focus. She learned he was male a block down. And young, she decided. About her age, perhaps a shade younger.
She resented the intrusion. She had graduated college full of hopes and dreams that seemed finally in her grasp, only for her mother to fall ill. Instead of trying to start the business she’d always wanted, she’d ended up moving back home and taking a job at the local bookstore to help cover the hospital bills. The blessing of the moon had been her one freedom – her nightly excursions in which she answered to no one but herself.
The scent was nigh-overpowering by the time she reached the park and the copse of trees where she had spent many nights. Ren preferred to get away from houses and crowded neighborhoods: she’d hate to find out that she’d accidentally hunted down a neighbor’s cat. But the little wood was full of squirrels, mice, and the occasional fox. Plenty for her to stalk, chase, and even kill if the mood took her.
He wasn’t even trying to hide from her, she realized. He was all over silver grey, and leggy. He was thin beneath his shaggy fur, and his tail lowered slightly at the sight of her.
I’m bigger than he is, Ren realized. It was a strange thought. She wasn’t especially tall as a human and hadn’t considered herself to be an abnormally large wolf, either. A sudden impulse took her, and she bounded straight for him, barreling directly into him and knocking him to the mossy ground.
The two wolves tumbled and snapped at each other’s throats for several minutes, the male several times almost managing to throw Ren clear but never quite succeeding. Finally Ren locked her jaws around his throat and the fighting ceased, both wolves breathing heavily and snarls dying in their mouths.
Golden eyes locked on Ren’s, the wolf beneath her began to shift, fur and muscle dwindling until her teeth brushed smooth human flesh.
“I yield,” the boy said softly. His eyes were golden brown as a human, and his hair was dark and shaggy. Ren felt rather than saw that he was still thin, but also taller than she would be as a girl.
“You’ve never met another one, have you?” the boy asked, remaining deathly still. Ren pulled away reluctantly. She hadn’t. She hadn’t even been sure there were others.
“I’m Nicolas,” the boy continued. He couldn’t have been more than twenty, two or three years younger than Ren. His features were soft, almost dreamy. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”
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