Seven

Grey stretched as they stood on the edge of the woods. The moon would be rising soon, and when it did, Teddy would change. It was difficult to watch; being a Lycan, Grey’s transformations were all voluntary and felt more like stretching a muscle than reshaping her nature the way Teddy’s was. She hated seeing the way it twisted him, hated hearing the tortured sounds halfway between an animal’s and a human’s that escaped his throat, wanted more than anything to take his pain away.

For that reason, however, she refused to leave him alone. If he was going to transform, she would too. They’d had this as a tradition ever since they had met and become best friends and Teddy assured her that it definitely helped having her by his side—a best friend he genuinely could share everything with, as he said.

After the initial misery of the transformation, the two would often run through the woods together, bounding through the leaves and branches and dodging around massive tree trunks. His pack usually joined them moments later, entering the woods from different places, and they’d run together for the rest of the night. It could be liberating, almost fun.

It had caused somewhat of a stir at first, Lupe worrying what kind of message it sent that her purebred daughter was running through the woods with a beta scoundrel. But the two of them didn’t care about any of that. That freedom was everything. It was the one thing that made the supernatural disruption to their normal lives almost worth it.

Unfortunately, this month’s transformation wouldn’t have a ton of freedom. They had to sniff out Shepherd’s whereabouts, see if he’d been in or around the woods recently, check their boundaries for any trespassers that may have taken him…

It was a lot for them to do, but it was Teddy’s job and she knew that he could use someone like her to keep him grounded in the mission rather than giving in to his wolf senses and going off on a rampage.  Alphas could help with that, being able to convey simple orders to the betas to keep them focused on accomplishing a goal.

“Are you ready?” Grey asked, shaking her hands out as she prepared for the change. Teddy was still folding his clothes.

“As ready as when I came out of the womb,” he joked, motioning at his toned, mostly nude form.

It was a testament to their friendship that neither of them was bothered by the fact that they were both stripped down to their underwear. Clothes just got ripped and destroyed when their bodies changed anyways, so there was no point in wearing them. Though Grey wasn’t exactly the most comfortable in her skin generally, she always felt comfortable around Teddy. Julian, too, though she found herself naked around him a whole lot less for obvious reasons.

Neither of them was bad on the eyes, either, so she thought she was rather lucky that she got to see as much of them in the buff as she did. She rather thought that most of the girls in their theatre classes would die of jealousy if they only knew…

Right now, though, Teddy wasn’t looking so great. He already looked pale and drawn as the sun began its inevitable descent down and it was only a matter of time before the moon rose. He’d been spending the whole day preparing for it—as well as you can prepare for it in any case—but there was still fear in his eyes even after all this time.

Grey reached out and took his hand briefly. “Remember who you are,” she said. She knew she should add that he needed to remember his mission, too, but she had to admit she wasn’t exactly looking forward to the safe return of her husband to be because the minute he was back, she had to face the reality of her own situation. Then again, the punishment for not finding Shepherd would fall on Teddy and she didn’t want him to suffer either.

“It’ll all be all right,” she added, as much for herself as Teddy, and then the moon appeared on the horizon.

Teddy’s shoulders tensed and he gasped, falling to his knees. Grey stepped back, feeling the tears prick her eyes as they always did at this part. A series of snaps and cracks echoed in the otherwise silent clearing and Teddy’s mouth and jaw began to elongate into the shape of a snout, his teeth growing rapidly and jutting violently over his lips. Long lines of drool and blood dripped from them and he made a gasping-snuffling sound before another series of cracks pulled his shoulders out of joint and his fingers began to transform into claws. Sharp, bristly wires began poking up out of his skin, turning into the familiar tawny and white fur she had come to associate with Teddy as a wolf. She caught one look at his eyes, glowing with a cold inner light that barely resembled her best friend’s gaze, and then she took a quick step back to begin her own transformation.

Lycan shifts were almost instantaneous. It was a lot like falling into an icy cold river, except when you came back up for air you weren’t in your same body anymore. Your senses opened, stretched towards something different, something deeper, connecting to some long-forgotten instinct held within your consciousness that felt more like a weird niggle in the back of your head when you were a human.

She’d once asked her father what she looked like as a wolf and he’d told her that she had silver fury and the strangest green eyes he’d ever seen in one of his kin. He described her as having an otherworldly grace, like a ghost more than an actual animal, but Grey had never seen or understood herself in that sense as a wolf. Vision, smell, hearing—all your senses, the things that came together to create a sense of self and relation to the rest of the universe, they were all different in a wolf’s body.

As her paws hit the earth, she pointed her snout up into the air and howled. A moment later, Teddy joined her, howling. Distantly, other howls pierced the night and Grey and Teddy were off to meet his brethren.

Scenery fluttered by, the freedom tempting them both. Two other streaks joined and she felt the distant consciousness of the other two betas join tentatively with hers. She conveyed their objective as best she could: Smell. Alpha. Threat. Find.

The wolves all broke off, heading in different directions though she still felt them within her range so she could keep them on task.

It didn’t take long for them to get a hit: Teddy had smelled something. She received his message clear, though the meaning was a bit muddled. Weird. Herbs? Squirrel!

Grey huffed in the back of her throat, conveying that chasing squirrels was not the objective. But Teddy persisted: Squirrel but not. Weird.

Curiosity got the better of her and she darted off to join Teddy in his hunt, telling the others to stick close but pursue their own leads. She understood what he meant immediately as she came closer to him and caught a whiff of what he was smelling.

It was a strange earthy scent, but not one that was native to these woods. Mixed with the smell that was, as Teddy mentioned, very herby—sage, maybe?—she smelled something distinctly…squirrel-ish.

While individually she might have been able to write them off as simply strange, the combination of the two had her wondering just what she was dealing with here.

She latched onto the scent, taking off just ahead of Teddy who had to lengthen his gait to keep time with her. It was moving fast, which meant that whatever she was smelling had to still be in the woods.

Grey wasn’t sure it had anything to do with Shepherd’s disappearance. Quite frankly, she wasn’t sure she cared. It was something that decidedly did not belong in their territory, and even if she didn’t necessarily agree with the politics of her family or species, she would protect what was hers and these woods belonged to her.

She caught sight of the weird squirrel just as it was running up a nearby oak tree. She knew she had to act fast. Her wolf form had no thumbs and couldn’t climb—the only option was to become human again. She didn’t think it would be too much of a problem; squirrels, even magical ones she greatly suspected of being a familiar to a witch, weren’t known to be particularly smart or even capable of conveying her identity to anyone.

So just as it started its scamper upwards, Grey leapt into the air and transformed mid-leap. Her supernatural momentum carried her to the tree, where she was able to slam her hand down on the squirrel and wrap her hands around its little body.

“Gotcha!” she declared, grinning in triumph.

That was when the squirrel did something even more unexpected: it transformed into a human too.

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