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Shosuro Miren

Aberrant: Children of Heaven - Chapter Two: The Best Intentions

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The flight out of Ibiza was as clandestine as you could get in the early afternoon. Packing was done with haste, mostly Puck just dumping essentials and small, expensive and saleable items into the expensive luggage set he dug out of the depths of walk-in closet in his room. He left a note, written in surprisingly elegant handwriting, on the table, thanking the Quinn family for their hospitality and apologizing for the hasty departure - polite and done in under a minute. Then they literally snuck over the fence at the back of the estate, where a cab was waiting on a small service road running between the estates of the neighborhood.

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They drove to the docks, not the airport, and boarded a small but luxurious sea plane. Once they were all in and the luggage stowed, Puck ducked into the cockpit to give their destination, "Quebec City. How close can we get?"

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"Iles de la Madelane is ours," the female nephilim replied, flipping switches and doing other inscrutable actions that would takes them from the water to the air. "There's a boat service into the city, but it'll take a few hours. I can try to fly in low, closer, but there's a good chance we'll get tagged and taken in as smugglers."

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"Madelane, then. Any customs or visa issues?"

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"There's a dozen blanks in the closet in the cabin, depending on what you need. Some money, too. I'm cleaned out on clothes, though, and wouldn't have anything for the therian anyways." She glanced back at him, her smile distant and professional. "Either buckle in as co-pilot or go sit with your Sumaya and the therian. We're taking off now."

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Puck made his way back into the cabin, pausing to grab the forged documents out of the closet along with one of the rolls of human money from a box with another half-dozen rolls. He slipped into a seat and belted in next to Cinnamon just as the plane revved up and pulled through the water and up into the sky. "We're going to land on a nephilim island in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and take a boat into Quebec City. We've got some starter cash and ID's. We need to decide on who we're going to be while we're there. Tourists from the Iles de la Madelane is the easiest story, but it'll mean we're on a restricted visa and any hotel we stay at will require us to register so the city police and Sentinels can keep an eye on us." He grinned at Devon, "Well, you and me, mostly. Since we're both such monsters."

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He flipped through the passports in his hands, glancing through the filled-in parts that set up sketchy but usable alternatives to the generic 'tourists'. "Let's see...." he chuckled, "oh, here's my favorite. The personal servants of the Bishop of Eastwick. Ah, that takes me back.....unfortunately the good Bishop had the indecency to die a year ago and there's been a snag in the confirmation of the new one we set up. Apparently some human actually managed to make a legitimate bid for the position. So that's out. Pity. So much freedom for so little scrutiny." He sighed and continued sifting through false identities, "There's also novitiates on a pilgrimage to the Grand Cathedrals around the world. Quebec City has a Grand Cathedral, but passing as clergy...." He glanced up at Devon and shook his head. "I barely know enough to really do it, and I don't think you could pull it off at all even if I glamoured you to look human. You're just a bit...wild...for a nice young priest and his pretty new wife."

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He tapped the passports against his lip, thinking, "Although, I could probably pass well enough, with Cinnamon to help me, and you could be our bodyguard while we travel. The dynamics are close enough to the truth that so long as someone doesn't ask me to perform a mass or bless a baby, we might just pull it off." He cycled through the last ones, shaking his head. "Ehh, I think those are our best options. Cinnamon? You're our human expert, what do you suggest?"

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Jasmine settled back into her seat, looking pensive for a moment. She must've been used to flying, for she didn't seem disturbed by the takeoff, or even the bit of turbulence they were encountering during ascension - something else Puck noted with a bit of interest, though he was pretty sure there wasn't much Cinnamon could do to surprise him at this point. But she bit her lower lip a little and studied Devon carefully for several long moments before answering. "We'd have to have a good reason for having a bodyguard. A priest is a bit low of a position, unless you're from a very influential family with enemies. I'd rather not travel as anyone influential. The less attention we attract, the better. Can I see those for a moment?"

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"You haven't even told us where we're going when we get there. Will we have to fool many people?" he asked, as he handed her the passports.

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She flipped through them slowly, noting the lack of visa stamps, and other information. "These aren't filled in, they don't even have pictures. How do they help us?"

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"I can glamour them to look like us, with the appropriate information. Just so long as they're not taken too far away, we'll be fine," he said, as she handed them back. He took the two men's passports, and motioned for her to keep the female one.

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"Oh. Wow. I never even.. thought of that." She drummed her fingers against the armrest, then her eyes brightened, and she perked up. "I know! We're doing a Grand Cathedral tour, right? So could you glamour a couple visa stamps for contested territories? Like, maybe we started off in California, traveled through Mexico, then hit a few of the eastern European cathedrals, that sort of thing? That would explain the bodyguard, it's very common. And not something we would tie up Church resources for, if it's a personal trip."

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He nodded, tucking one away and handing the other to Devon. "Yeah, that's easy enough."

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"So, where are we going, once we get there?" Devon asked, glancing briefly at the passport as he stowed it in the inner pocket of his jacket. Unlike the other two, he was fidgeting a bit, and had glanced out the window more than once during takeoff. "You got someone in mind to talk to?"

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Jasmine licked her lips nervously, the nodded faintly. "Yeah. I.. know a nun there. My sister."

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Devon scowled, his brow furrowing slightly. "Why are we going to see someone in your family, if you're being hunted by your father?"

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"We used to get along well. She didn't always agree with all the rules, either. I'm hoping maybe she knows someone we can talk to, someone who'll be willing to listen." She shrugged, glancing out the window as the island of Ibitha slipped away from view. "It's the best place I can think of to start."

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Since Cinnamon was his guide and she’d picked her sister as a trustworthy source, Devon couldn’t argue with the plans. Also, he didn’t have a better one, when it came right down to it. That wasn’t true, he realized a beat later. The bottom line was that they were doing this to help him, and he needed their help because he didn’t know what the fuck he was doing. That impotence—as any kind of failure to perform—put the therian in a grumpy mood.

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And they were flying. He hated flying. The potential for his death through no action of his own scared him deeply, not that he was ever going to admit that to these two. Going down in a bloody tangle of flesh and bone because he didn’t dodge the tank shell was one thing. It was quite another to die in a metal tube plunging into the earth because someone else fucked up.

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His urge to fight or flee rose and Devon choked it back. Carefully, he got to his feet, removed his jacket and hung it on the back of his chair. Each movement was precise; the normalcy restored some of his calm. It was hard to rage when the thinking mind was focused on hanging a jacket in such a way as to minimize wrinkles.

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It was a calmer Devon that retook his seat. He undid two more buttons on his shirt, as if having the top one open wasn’t enough to feel comfortable. He missed Puck eyeing the V of exposed chest with interest or the way Cinnamon shifted with the tiniest hint of unease. The therian then moved to his sleeves, unbuttoning them one at a time and rolling them to his elbows. “Now that we have a plan, what do I need to know to be a human bodyguard?”

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“Much the same as you would as a therian bodyguard,” Puck observed.

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“So I can assess threats on my own and act proactively against them?” Devon asked curiously. “I see someone who looks like he might a threat and I get to tear his arm off?”

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Puck’s eyebrows rose. “Is that a normal reaction in therian society?”

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“Depends on the nature of the offense,” Devon admitted with a shrug. “But not really arm removal. It’s a bitch to regenerate. My point is this: all I know about humans is that they like to steal land from therians and they’re easy to kill once you peel back any metal they’re hiding behind.”

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"I have an idea." Jasmine's voice was clipped, and irritation had shifted her normally warm brown eyes to disturbingly dark. "We can sit here, for the duration of the flight, and debate therian vs. human politics. We can have a rousing discussion regarding the fact that before humans went to war with the therians over North America, they were dying by the thousands during the Black Plague, since it was spreading through over-populated cities so fast not even the sanctified healers could keep up with it. That even though we were roughly forty percent of the world's population at the time, we were living on about twelve percent of the world's land mass, while therians were living on about eighty-five percent of it. Hell, I'm sure Puck here would even have something to say about the fact we both restrict his race nothing but piddling island blips scattered across the globe, based on something they did as a collective group several thousand years ago!"

She held up a hand then, in a halting gesture, as if she'd just thought of something else. "No, wait. I have a better idea. We can all take turns, one at a time, and throw all the insults and assumptions our race has come up with out there on the table for the other two. That way at least it's fair. Or..."

She sat back then, and arched an eyebrow at the therian, her flare of temper lessening then slightly. "You could remember the fact that you came to us for help, stop throwing out random insults, stop assuming all humans are exactly alike, and I can answer your question about how to pose as a human bodyguard. Which would you prefer?"

The therian stiffened in his chair and his aura of inhumanness increased. He may have had human features--two eyes, two ears, two arms and two legs, and all of the rest, but no human could sit with such barely controlled menace. "Those weren't random insults, Cinnamon. They're random facts. The humans didn't ask if they could negotiate new territory. They just killed the people holding the land they wanted." He smirked nastily. "But it was okay to kill therian men, women and children, to burn them in their homes with bombs, because humans were dying.

"But you're right - we're not here for a cultural exchange." He clapped his hands on his knees suddenly, the motion a sharp sign of his irritation. It didn't help; his fingers dug into his knees as he asked tersely, "So, tell me. How do I pretend to be a human bodyguard?"

"Yeah, cause your people had been sooo willing to negotiate with us in the past over land rights. Why should I even bother to help you, if you believe humans are nothing but selfish monsters?" She snapped, her temper flaring back to life in full force.

"Amongst other, less selfish reasons, you'll help because your master there agreed that you would." The disdain in his voice was palpable, and Jasmine's eyes widened with indignation and fury. Though the situation with Puck was complicated, he hasn't treated her like property, even if he'd warned her the other nephilim might. He hadn't wanted a Sumaya, and had only taken her as one to save her life.. and at great personal inconvenience, too. So far, her 'soulless master' had shown a lot more civility than this arrogant therianthrope, who dared to rub her supposed 'slave status' in her face. She turned away from them for a moment in an attempt to control her temper. Inside the little plane, loose items rattled slightly - seat belts, magazines and trays, the restroom door - as if they'd been jarred by turbulence.

Stop it, stop it, STOP IT - you're in a plane, for the Father's sake!

Jasmine's hand clenched tightly on the armrest, then loosened once the rattling stopped. She turned to Puck first, her voice brisk and business-like. "You should do fine as a priest. You'll want to be kind to people. They will call you 'Father', and you should act like one, preferably a gentle and caring one. The other kind exist too, but a gentle priest doesn't draw too much attention. People may bless you, or wish you a good day. You should respond likewise, calling them 'my son' or 'my daughter'. If anyone asks, we'll be from a new parish in Los Angeles. The city is so big, and it changes constantly, so that should keep people from asking questions. Do you have a gun on this plane?"

He shook his head negatively, and she sighed, scowling at Devon as she turned to him. "Human guards do not act overly aggressive." If you see a possible threat, unless it seems immediate, you should tell lean in and whisper it to your employer. In act, you may want to do that on occasion anyway, or if we're needing to get out of a tense situation. It'll look good. Puck, if you can glamour him to make it look like he's carrying a concealed handgun once we've passed customs, that's better. More realistic. Human bodyguards, much like human women, are expected to be seen and not necessarily heard. So keep your muzzle shut, and we should do fine." If her own voice was a bit baiting, it was no worse than his smug expression, or the way he'd goaded her about her position.

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The turbulence hadn’t helped and neither had her words. It was why he’d thrown the slave-thing at her, because he was anxious and afraid and he could neither flee nor fight. The verbal bitchery wasn’t helping hold his instincts at bay, any more than reminding himself that he was in an airplane was helping him keep his human form.

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The muzzle comment had him on his feet before he thought about it. “Don’t,” he growled, and the word rolled through the cabin like a living thing, full of anger. “Don’t call me an animal unless you want to see why your kind fear me.”

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“Devon.” The single word was from the nephilim, who was much more familiar with therian psychology than Jasmine. Puck was speaking softly, but most importantly, he gave Devon a choice. “Would you like to discuss this once we land?”

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The answering growl sounded like it had come from an animal, not a man—which was a sharp reminder that while he might look nominally human, he wasn’t. The suggestion from Puck was enough to stop Devon from letting go anymore. He practically vibrated with the urge to rend the plane to pieces, to have the space to run or fight. Devon drew in a deep breath, then another. His thick fingers attacked the buttons of his shirt, pulling them off when he couldn’t get it open fast enough. His belt and fly were next and Devon shoved his pants down his legs.

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Cinnamon shrunk back into her seat, her skin pale, while Puck eyed him. Devon didn’t have time to consider what their expressions could mean as he kicked off his pants and shoes and stripped the shirt off his shoulders. Clad only in boxers, he sat down on the floor and crossed his legs, resting his palms on his knees.

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He breathed in deeply. I am the son of Caine. His breath slipped outwards in a steady surge. I am the son of Lilith. Breathe in. I am in control. Breathe out. I am the Black Wolf. In and out he breathed, reminding himself that he was not a mass of instincts like some monster the humans scared their children with at night. He was Devon Carson. He was the Black Wolf, and there was nothing he could not do—including fly in a plane with an infuriating human girl.

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She was, oddly, silent for the rest of the ride. Something about his final display of temper had shut her down, and she kept to herself for the remainder of the lengthy flight. And lengthy it was, lasting somewhere around the eight-hour mark. Once Devon had eventually collected himself and returned to his seat, he and Puck spoke a little more about Samael, and the situation at hand. But something about the way Cinnamon had pulled into herself, curling her legs up into her seat and wrapping her arms around them as she gazed out the window at the cloud-covered landscape, instinctively stopped either of the two men from addressing her directly. Eventually, Puck settled in for a nap, and suggested to the others that they do the same.

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Several hours later, they reached Iles de la Madelane, and exited the little sea plane under cover of darkness. The nephilim spent a couple moments talking to the pilot, and then they caught a cab to another set of docks on the other side of the island. They purchased tickets for a ferry that was scheduled to depart a couple hours later, and then, after a grumbled suggestion about hunger on Devon's behalf, Puck wisely sought out a restaurant. The waitress was a rather plain-looking nephilim, in contrast to several of the ones Jas and Devon had been exposed to back on Ibitha, and especially standing next to Puck. She took their orders quickly and curiously, then hurried off with their menus to fetch them drinks.

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"We're going to need new clothes," Jasmine said, breaking her lengthy silence. "Devon, your clothes seem fine. But no respectful woman, and especially not a priest's wife, would be caught dead wearing anything this short, or exposing her arms like this. And Puck, your clothes are just.. all wrong. They need to be simpler, more conservative. No leather, no studs, no jewelry. Plain pants, some color would help you look a little more human, too. We don't usually wear all black like that, unless we're going to a funeral. Or unless you're dressed in a priest's cassock, but that's usually reserved for formal occasions. We do need to get you a clerical collar. Even in their off time, holy men aren't usually caught without one in public, unless they're in some sort of exercise clothing or working on their car, or other messy stuff like that. So whatever you choose will need to button all the way to your neck. Oh, and no makeup. Though I'll need some."

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Puck moued in a momentary fit of pique at being told just how plain he'd have to be, and he shrugged. "I'll do my best, but I may actually need some make-up." He held up his hands as Cinnamon started to object, "No, like concealer and nude base. I can tamp down pretty hard and look mostly human, but...it'll be hard, I'll be distracted and I might slip on the documents. It's better if I have some makeup to lend a hand."

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At his new companions' twin look, he shrugged. "This isn't the first time I've gone playing in human lands, it's just been a while."

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"This ain't a damn game," Devon growled, still annoyed from the flight.

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"No," Puck answered slowly, "that would be fun. This is infiltration of a people that would rather see your and my heads on pikes than knowingly speak to us, over a matter that may very well mean our world is about to be burned to the ground over...." The nephilim visibly caught himself and tapped his fingers on his leg, letting out some tension that honestly had nothing to do with sneaking into human territory or dealing with a grumpy therian. "Look, there are limits to what I can do and things we can do that will make it easier on all of us. So, let's go do some shopping and then get on the boat."

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The Black Wolf huffed, but the three headed off towards the shopping district of Iles de la Madelane. Makeup was easy to pick up, including a kit proper for the wife of an ambitious priest. The clothes, though, they almost missed the boat over that. Cinnamon picked out enough proper outfits for herself in less than a half hour; the rest was spent 'negotiating' with the prima donna nephilim. For every brown or grey inconspicuous outfit Cinnamon brought him, he'd counter with something technically following her instructions, but more stylish and in bright reds or striking whites. Devon paced the store and eyeing the clerk, a pretty young nephilim boy that was caught between laughing at Cinnamon and Puck's back and forth and how easily his attempts to flirt with the therian flew completely over the intense man's head. Watching the clock, Devon finally grabbed a half-dozen of the suits they were nitpicking over and shoved them at the counter.

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"We're going to miss the damn boat," he snapped.

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Puck sighed and added on last suit, a blue one he and Cinnamon had finally agreed on, and a good chunk of the money they'd gotten from the plane disappeared inside the cash register. They changed on the ferry and repacked their luggage; Puck took the Ibiza clothes to someone on the ship and came back with a little bit more money and some jewelry for Cinnamon that looked real unless you had a jeweler's magnifier. "There we go, darling," he beamed as he clasped a gold link chain and an antique-looking amber pendant.

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The ship horn announced their arrival in Quebec City and instructions for where each class of passengers was to go for customs and disembarkation. Puck held out his arm to his Sumaya - Mrs. Julia Simons for the moment - and smiled. "Shall we go, my dear?"

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Puck's Suit and Cinnamon's Necklace
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“Just a moment.” Devon blurted out the words as if he’d been holding them back. “I’ve got something to say and it should be said before we get into that mess of hu- people.” The other two turned back expectantly, their expressions both curious and concerned. Devon pulled them to the side out of the traffic of the departing passengers. “I’m sorry. I’ve been snappy since the flight.”

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“I don’t know if this is a good time--” Puck started but Devon stopped him.

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“Yes, it is. ‘Cause we’re about to go into a possibly hostile situation, and you say things that you have to say before you do that. I’ll teach you how to deal with anxious therians later, but my… issues don’t negate my responsibility for acting the way I did. Cinnamon of the humans, you have the… my apologies. I’ll make contrition later, when we have time.” Devon’s manner was both formal and earnest; out of the way of the traffic, it looked like the priest’s security was giving him last-moment reminders about safety.

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“How do you plan to do that?” Puck asked, smirking a little.

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“I’ll… cook dinner for you both, when we have time and a kitchen.” He smirked suddenly. “Or an open fire. I’m better with a grill, honestly.”

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“You can cook?” Cinnamon asked a little surprised. “I mean, you’d cook for me?”

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“For both of you. I’m not a great cook, I warn you. But I can cook a piece of meat.” Devon was still smiling. “And while we eat, I can teach you how to deal with my kind when we get antsy. Is that a good retribution?”

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Jasmine blinked at him, looking a bit startled. There was a brief moment of silence, and as that moment stretched out, Devon's smile faltered a little. "Is that not enough? If you feel something else is in order..."

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"Oh, no! No, that's fine! Your apology is fine." Jasmine flushed slightly, looking a little embarrassed. "I mean, that's not even necessary. The contrition part, that is. Although, it would be interesting... to see a man cook."

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Devon furrowed his brow at her, looking a little confused. "What's interesting about watching a man cook?"

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"Human men don't cook. It's not.. done, I guess. Women do all the cooking in the homes. Bachelors mostly eat out, or eat with their families. Head and sous chef positions in restaurants are held by nuns, since that's a profession. Lower-income women are sometimes employed as prep cooks or line cooks, but only if their guardian is unable to support them. Men are expected to support their women, whether wife, single daughter, spinster sister, or widowed mother. It's a bit shameful, to have to allow a woman under your care to earn an income."

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The two men stared at her for a moment, and Puck rolled his eyes derisively. "That's retarded. So, your society has decided that half of it's population is incapable of caring for itself? How.. enlightened."

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Jasmine considered his condescension for a moment, then frowned thoughtfully. "Wait.. what half of the population are you talking about? The men, or the women?"

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"Mmm.. I suppose that depends on how much importance you place on cooking," he smirked. "Come on, we'd better get moving, or they'll sail back with us still on board." He held out his arm again, and this time Jasmine took it. They stepped off the boat together, looking every inch the respectable couple, with Puck's glamour in place and Devon following a short distance behind. But as they wound their way through the crowded docks, and cautiously made their way through the mess that was Canadian customs, Jasmine found herself silently marveling at the other thing a man had never done for her before.. none of them had ever apologized.

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__________________________________

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Three and a half hours later, the sun was rising behind them as they sped down the open roads outside Quebec. Puck had insisted on driving, and had driven fairly respectably within the city limits. Once they'd hit the mostly deserted backroads, however, he'd slowly opened up to a level of speed and easy recklessness that had both of his passengers clenching the handles, as if they were preparing to abandon the vehicle at the first possible opportunity. Jasmine in particular was biting her lip, and her normally dusky skin had taken on a bit of an ashen undertone. Puck glanced over at her briefly, even as he reached a curve and took it at a solid thirty miles per hour faster than the sign on the side of the road had suggested. "Something wrong, Cinnamon? You look a bit peaked."

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From the back seat came a tense, snappy reply that reminded Puck of the plane ride from Ibitha. "Could be because you're tossing her around like a pebble in a tin can."

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Jasmine shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut as they approached another turn, her voice voice sardonic and irritable. "No, it's because I'm scared for the human race. Who will warn them about a possible mystery invasion if you kill us with your driving before we get to speak to anyone?!"

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"Spoilsports," he pouted, but slowed the car down to a speed that was, if not totally comfortable, at least close enough to the speed limit for his passengers to unclench.

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Jasmine let out a slow breath, and tilted her head back against the headrest in relief. "Thank you. We should be there soon. You guys will probably have to wait outside, while I go in to speak with Alicia."

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Devon scowled, looking displeased with this particular plan. "I'm supposed to be your bodyguard. I have to be near your body to guard it, Cinnamon."

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She laughed a little, and shot him a little smile over her shoulder. "Thanks. But I'm in a nunnery, I should be fine. We'll announce ourselves by our aliases, I'll request a private audience with Sister Alicia on a private matter of the faith. That way we'll be alone when she sees me, so if she shows her surprise, no one will be there to observe it. I'm fairly sure she'll be willing to help us, I'm just not sure if she can. She may not know anyone who will listen, and if that's the case, we'll have to move on. But 'Lesha and I have always been close."

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Puck nodded, taking the last turn-off at a sign that informed them Saint Benedictine's Abbey was two miles ahead. "Anything else we should know, Cinnamon?"

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She was quiet for a moment, her gaze flickering out over the Canadian countryside. "Yes, I suppose there is one more thing. If she agrees to meet you, you shouldn't call me Cinnamon. She'll get the wrong idea."

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"So what should we call you," Puck asked, shifting the car as the road underneath them turned from asphalt into gravel.

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"Jasmine. My name is Jasmine," she replied quietly.

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“Pretty,” Devon said after a moment, a rakish grin lighting up his face. “Prettier than Cinnamon. And not nearly as obnoxious to pests, eh?” Jasmine glared at him but he could tell she was trying not to be nervous. “But ya make a fine tea.”

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“You’re impossible,” Jasmine huffed at him while Puck and Devon exchanged chuckles. Still annoyed, she all but pouted as Puck parked. She was still silent as the young woman turned and marched toward the nunnery.

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“You did that on purpose,” Puck observed to Devon when she was out of earshot.

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The therian, still clad and looking odd in his glamour-obfuscation, nodded smugly and leaned against the car. “Better she be annoyed with me than nervous.”

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“One might call it kind of you.” Puck’s small smile remained as Devon looked sharply at him. “Almost noble.”

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“Shut up.” Devon wasn’t aware of it, but the tips of his ears were turning red. Puck bit his lip to keep from laughing as the indomitable Black Wolf, the modern-day human boogeyman, stared sullenly at the woods facing the nunnery. It was a long moment of indecision on Puck’s part, but he finally decided that it was one of the cutest things he’d seen in a long time.

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-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

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Up close, the nunnery looked far too much like the monastery Jasmine had escaped from in Europe. The stone masonry and heavy wooden doors were just as she remembered from her imprisonment. She shivered a moment before reaching out and touching the doorbell next to the speaker box. There was a long pause before a feminine voice asked, “Yes?”

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Showtime. Jasmine drew a deep breath and pressed the speaker button. “Hello. My name is Julie Simons. I’d like to talk to Sister Alicia, please.”

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It would have been rude to inquire as to the details of her desired meeting but Jasmine could almost feel the other woman’s curiosity, even over the intercom. “Please come in.” The door opened, and Jasmine tried to enter with confidence, not fear. She had nothing to fear, not here.

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-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

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Devon and Puck both tensed as Jasmine disappeared behind the massive wooden door. Both of them were trying to relax but neither one was succeeding. “Can you cook?” Devon asked suddenly.

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“I can. Sometimes I enjoy it, though usually I enjoy the pleasure of cooking for others.” Puck’s eyes narrowed as he contemplated the therian guarding his body. “Why?”

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Devon paused a beat too long; it was just enough time for Puck to be sure that what he said wasn’t his real reason for asking. “I can’t contemplate a man that doesn’t know how to fix his own damned food. Who wants to depend on someone else for dinner?”

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“Retarded. As I said.” Puck shook his head.

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“I can agree there.” The two men fell into a silent contemplation of the members of the male humans, and the bizarre life they lived.

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Though the exterior of the building was incredibly similar, the interior of this building was a far cry from the cold, sterile walls of the monastery. Of course, this was a building for the daughters of Seth, revered holy women who had shed their baser inclinations in pursuit of a life devoted to honoring God. The monasteries were nothing more than holding cells for the morally corrupt and the spiritually (and oftentimes mentally) weak. These women had earned beautiful surroundings in the eyes of God, or at least in the eyes of whoever was managing the abbey's pocketbook. It was a fairly new building as abbeys go, as they all were in North America. After all, humans had only been in dominant possession here for a little over a hundred years. Nonetheless, it was built with beautiful marble and stone, pulled from the earth by miners and shaped by masons. It was a time-honored tradition that humans did not use the miraculous powers given to them by God to erect a church, not a single stone was to be lifted by magic. Instead they must be shaped by hand, much in the way God shaped Adam and the three women.

This particular abbey was built mostly of limestone and stucco, and done in a combination of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, but on a smaller, more intimate scale. The main hallway they were walking down was beautifully carved, with beautiful arches and Corinthian-style columns that led up to cream-colored ribbed and vaulted ceilings. The hall lacked a clerestory, however, and the vaulting went no higher than the second floor roof of a traditional building. If it hadn't been for the paleness of the limestone and the tasteful, modernized lighting, the abbey would have been a dark and dismal place, with it's arched hallways off to the sides that made you feel as if you were about to be led down into a tunnel. Instead of a hallway however, the sister who had led Jasmine in took her to a room just off to the side, right before the large double doors that led into the sisters' private chapel that they abbey centered around. Only visiting high clergy, the sisters themselves, and the priests who took up residence nearby were ever allowed to see the inside. Even the sentinels that guarded the abbey attended services in the towns or cities nearby, for Jasmine had heard that the sermons for the daughters of Seth were very different than those for common people and regular clergy. They had, she supposed, different types of challenges and temptations than regular humans that needed to be spoken to, though it was not uncommon to see traveling nuns attending normal services when there was no abbey located nearby.

The Abbey Hall
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The nun led Jasmine into the side room. It was obviously intended for the sisters to receive in, for it held a couple comfortable sofas as you walked in, and towards the back of the room there was a small table with four chairs circling it. The furniture was covered in fine fabrics, rich in texture and light in color, carrying the soft elegance from the main hall into the room itself. This room had the same limestone flooring, but was mostly covered in elegant rugs that left only small strips of tiled floor showing. The only real color in the room came from the rugs, and on the walls of the room where hung modern, museum-quality displays that held colorful statues and paintings, all scriptural in design or subject matter. Elegant arched windows that were meant to let in the light lined the wall opposite the door, but that day it was cloudy and overcast outside, as if a storm were brewing. As a result the room seemed cold for all it's beauty, and Jasmine shivered slightly despite herself.

"Please, wait here. Sister Alicia will be with you shortly." She was an older woman, in her mid to late forties perhaps, and concealed her curiosity well, though Jasmine could tell from the woman's voice she was itching to know more about her fellow nun's mysterious visitor. She closed the door quietly behind her, and Jasmine was left alone in the room. She wandered around slowly, glancing at the paintings and tapestries stored in their temperature-controlled displays behind the protective glass. There was an old, tattered fabric weaving of Adam and his third wife, Eve, the one whom he had accepted and from whom all humans were descended. There was a statue of the Prophet Nosha, who had led the humans in revolt against the Nephilim Empire, and by organizing many miracle workers they had washed away their slavers with a wave that had flooded most of the world. Along the long section of wall to the right of the door, there were three pages from a Bible in the Middle Ages - Jasmine could tell by the ornate calligraphy of the first letter, and the elegant, handwritten text that followed. Such work had often been done by nuns in days of old, before the printing press had been invented, so Jasmine wasn't surprised to find some of it displayed here. She was still studying it when the door opened, and her sister Alicia walked in.

Their eyes met, and Leesha's widened slightly in shock. She was seven years older than Jasmine, and had truly become an adult woman since the last time they'd seen each other. Her face had thinned out a bit where Jas's still held the softness of one's late teens and early twenties. And, of course, she had acquired the androgynous look of a nun. Her hair was cut short, about an inch in length, and worn natural. Her face held no makeup, and her figure was minimized (whether through bindings or surgery Jasmine couldn't tell) and concealed under the shapeless garments of a nun - in this case, a pair of loose trousers and a tunic top, all in shades of cream and brown. Of course, even without all the trappings, and despite the suppression of her femininity by the nunnery, Alicia was still beautiful. She had their mother's elegantly tilted eyes where Jasmine had gotten their father's sterner, almond-shaped gaze. They both sported the same shape of nose, and naturally curly hair, though only the barest hint of her sister's curls remained. Jasmine's lips were fuller, but Alicia's were generous as well, and made for mischievous smiles. Now, however, they were pressed together sternly, and the playful tilt of her eyes gave them a sharp look as they narrowed briefly and suspiciously at her younger sister.

Jasmine forced a smile at the other nun, who was still standing in the doorway, watching curiously. "Thank you, I certainly appreciate it. If we could have a moment alone, so I could speak to Sister Alicia please?"

The nun flushed a little at being caught watching, and nodded slightly, but Alicia held up a hand. "Please excuse me for one moment, Ms. Simons. Let me clear up my schedule so that we have some time." Jasmine nodded nervously, and Alicia disappeared back out of the door with the other nun, closing it most of the way. She could hear them murmuring softly, but she was mostly distracted by the changes in her older sister. They had always been the mischievous ones, unlike their brothers and their youngest sister, Tamara. Perhaps she had learned from watching her sisters get into trouble, but Tamara was growing up to be a proper young lady, happy with her role as pampered youngest child, future wife and mother, and favorite daughter. Of course, Jasmine and Alicia had been young when their father was doing his real ladder-climbing within the church, and their mother's attention had been split between her children and household duties, and her husband's pressing social engagements. Perhaps her oldest daughters had resented the lack of parental involvement, since their mother had only enough time and patience left after social obligations to meet their needs and chastise their wrongs, and very little time for affection or tenderness. Perhaps they had just been born strong-willed. But either way, Alicia and Jasmine had both railed against the wrongs of society against women, they'd come up with ideas to run away, and dreamed up tales of adventures they'd go on together. Until one day, when Jasmine was eleven years old, and her oldest sister, her idol, was packed up and shipped off to the nunnery. She'd been given a choice, her father had told Jasmine later - grow up and act like a proper young lady, or follow her ambitions within the confines of the nunnery, and in the name of the church. There were no other options, and Alicia had finally bowed to the pressure, and joined the nunnery. She had never cared much for the idea of a husband and children anyway, and had finally decided that given the options, the life of a nun would prove satisfactory. Jasmine had wept buckets that night, because she knew then that she was all alone in her dreams of ambition and family, in her desire to have it all. She wanted to have children, and to be a better mother than hers had ever had been to them. She wanted to do something she could be proud of herself as well, something that didn't revolve around the achievements of her husband and sons, and the successful marriages of her daughters.

The Alicia that came back into the room a moment later was a changed woman - Jasmine could see that now. She swallowed nervously, but hurried over to her sister and hugged her anyway. Leesha stiffened - it had been a long time since anyone had dared to touch her, but she gave her youngest sister an awkward half-hug in return, then pulled back and looked at her critically, her hands still on Jasmine's upper arms.

"Jasmine, what are you doing here," Alicia asked. "Calling yourself by another name, lying to a nun? The sentinals reported to Sister Leah, they saw the car you arrived in and the two men waiting in it. What sins are these you're committing?"

Jasmine's hopeful expression fell, and she shook her head. "Leesha, I swear, it's not anything bad! I'm here looking for help, I didn't know who else to go to! I thought you would be willing to listen, to help me."

Her sister arched a delicate eyebrow, looking a bit relieved. "You're here seeking assistance? I might be able to provide that. Do you need transportation home? Shelter from those men you're with? We can house you here until assistance arrives, the sentinels can take care of them--"

Jasmine broke away, pulling back from Alicia and shaking her head firmly. "No, no - it's nothing like that! One of those men, he needs to talk to someone. Someone in the church who's willing to listen, there's a possible threat and--"

"And he needs a woman to talk to a nun for him? What nonsense!" Her sister scoffed, shaking her head firmly. "What kind of a man doesn't just go to a priest with his concerns, why in Eden would he need a woman to--"

"A man who's not a human, Leesha! He's--" She cut off for a second, and her voice dropped low. "Alicia, no human will listen to him alone, he's a therian, he needed me to--"

"A therian?!" Her sister hissed, and then drew back further, looking horrified. She shook her head, and whispered softly, her voice cracking. "God, Father was right, you're truly corrupted."

Jasmine stiffened, her eyes widening slightly, her cheeks flushing in anger and surprise. "Father was right? What do you mean, 'Father was right'?"

"You think he didn't call when you were sent away? He had to tell us what to tell people, if we were asked. We had to know the truth, Jasmine. I know what you did, how far you've fallen."

"What I did?" She spat the words out, her eyes flaring angrily at the stranger sitting across from her that looked like her sister, and her voice rose higher. "What I did?! I didn't do anything, Leesha, except pray for it to stop!! But God didn't bother to answer those prayers!!"

"God doesn't answer the prayers of sinners, Jasmine! He gave you a choice, the same as me. You could have chosen a nunnery, you could have escaped a life of family servitude, like I did, but you didn't. You were selfish, you wanted to be a woman and to be important! You can't have both, girl!" She shook her head, her expression a combination of indignation and sadness. It infuriated Jasmine, and she could feel her temper burning hotter, deep inside her stomach, but Alicia continued. "Father's right, you need to go back to the monastery. I'd hoped and prayed you'd change your mind, but it's too late now. You need to be purged of your sin, you need to be cleansed. I've already informed the Sentinals, we'll keep you here until he arrives to get you."

"What?" Jasmine went pale, the red flush of temper draining away from dusky skin until it held an ashen grey undertone. The thought of seeing her father and of facing those monastery walls again filled her with dread, and she shook her head slightly, her voice dropping to a whispered plea. "Don't do this, Leesha. Please. I'll go away, you'll never see me again. But I can't go back there! You don't know what it's like!!"

"Girl, you don't have a choice. The Sentinels are waiting outside in the hall, don't fight it, just--"

"No!!!" Jasmine pushed past her sister and slammed open the door. The other nun, Sister Leah, let out a cry of pain as she was shoved back in between the door and the wall as Jasmine exploded out of the room. True to Alicia's word, sentinals - the guardians of the church in all official capacities - were lined up in the hall outside waiting for her. She let out a cry as one snatched her arm, but managed to yank it away. Two of them stepped in front of the main doors, blocking the exit, but she flung her hand up sharply and for once, didn't resist the power she felt flowing through her. A burst of air slammed into them, throwing them through the main doors and sending them tumbling down the stairs leading up to the abbey. They landed in the courtyard but the others were right behind her, grabbing for her, trying to close the distance. A quick flick of her wrist and divine energy flowed through her in another powerful burst, sending them skidding away from her as she ran. But there were too many of them, they were surrounding her, and she felt the panic rise up higher in her throat. They circled her, trapping her between their threatening forms and the stairway leading back to the abbey. Panicked, she swung her arm around in an arc, and fire blossomed where she gestured, forming a protective circle around her to hold off their approach.

Her sister ran out of the front door, but pulled back sharply as she felt the scorching heat from the circle of flames as they flared higher, warning her away. "Jasmine, stop!!! Someone get her, we can't let her escape!!"

"Stay back!!" Jasmine screamed in reply, her breath coming fast, but they didn't listen. A truck screeched around the corner, carrying more of the church's holy guard, and drove straight towards the terrified young woman, hoping to frighten her into dropping her guard, but it had the opposite effect. Jasmine's eyes widened in terror as the truck veered directly towards her, and with another sweep of her arm and a quick, defensive flick of her wrist, she reacted. The circle of fire surrounding her swelled, and then swept forward, gathering together in a huge ball of flame the likes of which no one present had ever witnessed coming from a single human before. Then, with that flick, she sent it hurtling effortlessly towards the truck. It impacted against the front of it and exploded, sending the vehicle flying into the air with the men still in it. It flipped, and rolled as it landed, the front engine still burning with the remnants of the powerful young human woman's blast.. even as she stood there, looking terrified at what she'd done.

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The soldiers were surrounding her, their guns rising. Everywhere she looked, men waited to grab her from beyond the flames.

,,

Then Devon was behind one, and Puck’s glamour couldn’t hide what he was anymore. One big hand grabbed the human’s gun and shoved it down while the elbow of his other arm smashed into the man’s nose. The violent strike threw the man backwards to crack his helmet against the stones of the yard.

,,

Two steps brought Devon to the next man, who was only starting to react to the angry therian in his midst. Devon thrust the butt of his stolen gun at the sentinel, rocking him backwards to the ground. Two more steps took him past the crumpling human and put him in grabbing range of the next hapless guard, who was merely punched in the nose and went down holding his face and sobbing. The next sentinel was downed with two quick punches, one to the sternum and the other to the back of his neck.

,,

In seconds, Devon had downed a quarter of the sentinels. But now the others were raising their guns. “Cinnamon, down!” he roared and the girl hit the dirt. It was only after she was on the ground that she realized why he’d yelled that. The gunfire from the remaining sentinels was very loud, and Devon was the one on the ground, his chest a mess.

,,

The car snaked in sideways, slamming three more sentinels and knocking them down. Unfortunately for them, their momentum threw them right into the fire. “Get him in the car!” Puck screamed as he reached back and popped open the rear door.

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Jasmine hesitated, then shifted the flames to include the car and Devon. The therian was stirring; as the human woman watched, he was lifting his head, his gray eyes roving around the battlefield. When he saw her, he rolled over and waved for her to come before starting to crawl toward the car. Shaking with adrenaline, she raced over to the fallen man and grabbed him under the arms. His hands, still surprisingly strong, grabbing at her shoulders as she bodily dragged him backwards.

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They flopped into the backseat with Jasmine on the bottom. She didn’t even have time to be scared as Devon rolled onto the floorboard and lifted his feet, pulling them into the car. Puck wasn’t waiting for the door to close; he backed the car up at unsafe speeds and executed a sloppy turn to get the car straightened out. Bullets slammed into the side and back as Puck sped down the road, and one punched through the side window, narrowly missing his head.

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For a second, the only noise was the racing car engine; then Devon coughed. “Oh, Father!” Jasmine gasped as she bent over to peer at him. “What… what should I do!”

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“Up. Side.” He talked like it hurt, and Jasmine winced as she took his hand and helped him sit up. Devon immediately flopped onto his side, and the woman stiffened as his cheek rested on her thigh. She was about to push him off when he coughed painfully and spat something up to drop on the floorboard.

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She peered at it then gasped, “Is that a bullet?”

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“Oh, you’re able to eject bullets?” Puck sounded relieved.

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“That’s normal?” Jasmine asked as the therian shuddered and hacked again.

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“For powerful therians, I’ve heard it’s possible.” Puck grinned at her in the rearview mirror. “It means we don’t have to dig them out before he heals; his body will remove them and then heal. We’ll just have to wait.”

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“Do… Can I help?” Jasmine winced at the terrible gagging noises coming from him.

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“Need meat… after,” he rasped before returning to the process of vomiting bullets from his stomach and lungs.

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They made it through a dozen or so streets before the barricades were up, Puck's driving skills tested to the limits as he sped along the thoroughfares, taking tight turns to avoid their pursuers and avoid clipping terrified pedestrians at the same time. By the time they'd made it to the small dock he'd spotted from the streets, Devon had managed to get the bullets out of his body and heal up most of the actual wounds.

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"We're here," Puck said a touch breathlessly. "I don't suppose either of you know how to run a ship?"

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Jasmine shook her head in a wordless 'no' and Devon groaned out, "Not well, but I can help you if you do."

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"Well, we're about to see how much I remember from the Quinn's yachts." He helped pull the bulky therian out of the car and onto the small pleasure cruiser. "Cinnamon, see if you can find any food downstairs while I get us up and running. Devon, uh, just sit there and don't eat us, okay?"

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Despite his levity, Puck's mind was racing through what he knew about modern boats and how to get them running without a key; it really had been simpler when all you had to do was run up some sails and hope the winds were with you. He jimmied the door to the captain's cabin and pried off the panel around the ignition. It took a few tries, but the motor purred to life with minimal spark damage to his fingers, and they were underway. He pointed them upstream, back towards the nephilim-controlled of the Isle de la Madelaine; it was back-tracking, but after Cinnamon's pyrotechnics at the abbey, he was pretty sure they needed whatever sanctuary they could find at this point. Jasmine came back up on deck with some beef jerky and several pounds of uncooked hamburger patties; Devon ripped into the raw meat with a grimace at the pre-processed taste, but healing was more important than flavor at the moment and it was all they had.

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They'd barely made it around the Íle d'Oléans before the border patrol ships started appearing. He grimaced and wondered how long he could keep a glamour around the whole ship, then cussed in that peculiar language Jasmine had heard snippets of since being caught up with the beautiful and enigmatic nephilim. "Cinnamon, I don't suppose you've got some fireballs that could melt an entire river fence, do you?"

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She glanced ahead of them and swallowed hard, already feeling the cost of her spontaneous eruption at the abbey. Oh god, did I kill those men? She shook her head, shaking and curling up on one of the built-in seats. "N-no, I don't think so. Maybe one section, t-to slip through-"

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Puck gave a sharp shake of his head, "No good, they'd know exactly where we'd be and just gang up there." He gave the wheel a sharp turn, his two passengers sliding hard against the change in momentum. "We need new transportation, and some that doesn't scream 'escaping fugitives'. Any ideas?"

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"Get us on shore again," Devon growled, more from hunger than bad temper but it was still intimidating. "I'll get us a new car."

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Puck headed them to the nearest marina, pulling the little cruiser up to the first empty dock and jumping onto the pier, tying them off more out of habit than care for the ship going drifting. The trio made quick time back to shore, not running but definitely making better time than the leisurely stroll of the clueless humans around them just out for a day on the river. Devon scanned the road running along the marina and picked his target, a large, sturdy-looking blue minivan and moved quicker than Puck or Jasmine could stop him once they realized his plan. The van hit him squarely across grill of the vehicle, pushing the dense therian several feet into the street and leaving a dent in the front bumper. Devon had chosen well, though - the van hadn't been going fast enough to kill him or for him to completely crush the front of the car.

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Puck grabbed Cinnamon's arm and thrust her at Devon's crumpled form while he headed for the human man getting out of the driver's seat. He snuck up behind the man, snaking an arm around his shoulder in a secure hold and managing to get a hand over his mouth before the poor man could scream. He pulled him back to the van, mostly hidden from the mariners and other possible onlookers by the van itself. "Don't struggle and this will go better for everyone," he said quietly in the man's ear. "We don't want to hurt you, but we're all going to go for a bit a ride."

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He pulled the key bob from the man's hand and unlocked the car, "Open the side door." He pulled the man's body into a painful twist when he hesitated, "Like I said, I don't want to hurt you, but I will." The man made a strangled half-sob and pulled the door open. Two children, a girl of eight and a boy of four, were seated in the two bucket seats just behind their parents, and another bench seat too up most of the back of the van. Devon and Jasmine stumbled into the backseat, the smaller human woman struggling to help the larger therian into the car. The two human children stared in shock at the weird things going on, thankfully still silent instead of screaming at the weirdness. Puck shoved the man in with them and cautioned his Sumaya, "Get his cellphone and keep an eye on all of them."

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He shut the door with a sharp slam, then slipped into the driver's seat. The man's wife was staring at him in horror, her mouth open in a silent O of fear. Puck put the car back in drive, completing their carjacking/kidnapping in under thirty seconds. He eased them back into the flow of traffic and quickly locked the windows and doors from his master controls on the driver's door. "Do you have music?" he asked the wife, his voice jarringly conversational.

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"W-what?" She swallowed hard and glanced back to her children, who in turn were staring at the bleeding man-shaped but not human person curled up on the backseat.

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"For the kids," Puck responded impatiently. "I don't want them screaming, so do you have any music we can put on to distract them?"

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"Are-are you going to k-ki-" she started to ask him, hysteria setting in as his words put her mind on the danger to his family.

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"Not if I don't have to," Puck's irritation was showing through as he kept one eye on the roads and the other searching for CDs or cassettes or something to stave off the tantrums building the back as the kids finally picked up on the fear of their parents. "We just need your car and if you cooperate, it'll just be one bad car ride you tell you friends and therapist about over a lot of wine. If you behave and keep your kids from freaking out." He looked over at her, his personal glamour slipping as his focus was split between making the van look undented, tinting the windows just dark enough to look normal while keeping anyone from being able to see inside, and keeping a lid on his own fears.

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The wife, long accustomed to following the orders of the men in her life, stumbled through the glove compartment for the case of children's CDs, slipping one into the player. Upbeat children's hymns hummed out of the van's sound system, an absurd juxtaposition to the situation, but the little girl began singing the lyrics loudly and off-key, bouncing up and down in her chair. The little boy took a little more convincing and Puck gave the mother another stern look when they pulled up to a stop-light; she gave the boy a wobbling smile and began singing herself. He still wasn't convinced and the woman finally gave her husband a terrified look and motioned him to start singing as well. Puck winced at the complete lack of anyone in their captive family to carry a tune, but it kept them distracted and let him thread his way through the city, using the GPS navigation software displayed on the screen on the dashboard to find the small, forgotten side-streets to get them past the blockades and out into the countryside.

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Twenty miles outside of Quebec City, Puck finally relaxed enough to glance over his shoulder at his two current partners in crime. "Well, that could have gone better. How's he doing, Cinnamon? Oh, and next time you visit family, try not to blow up the abbey, 'kay?"

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"Somehow I doubt I'll be welcome for many visits in the future." She glanced down at the therian, who was curled in on himself, hunched over in the seat with his arms wrapped around his midsection. She couldn't see his expression, so she leaned down slightly herself, and brushed some of the dissheveled hair back from his face so she could gauge his pain level. "Hey crazy, how're you holding up?"

He glanced up at her with a grimace. "Crazy got us the car, didn't it?"

"We won't argue the wisdom of the plan at the moment. How bad is it, one to ten?" she asked, as she tried to do a discreet check for blood or other obvious injuries.

They were getting more rural, and the van had crossed over onto bumpier roads. Devon let out a low growl through gritted teeth. "About an eight."

Puck glanced over his shoulder briefly. "Can you heal him at all?"

"I can try." She bit her lip, looking apprehensive. "It's not my strong suit."

"Can it hurt?" he replied, and she shook her head in response.

Her eyes fluttered shut and she shifted in her seat, turning towards him and extending her hands, fingers spread and palms toward him. She concentrated hard, but at first Devon felt nothing. Her breathing grew deeper, and her brow furrowed as she squeezed her eyes tighter shut, trying to block out the distraction of the radio. The singing had faded away as the family watched, curiosity temporarily overriding fear as they waited to see an actual miracle performed. Finally, Devon began to shimmer faintly, and the pain receded just enough for him to catch his breath a bit. Jasmine wavered slightly before dropping her outstretched palms. She grabbed hold of the seat in front of her for support, and drew in a shaky breath as she fought back a wave of dizziness.

You suck, girl. You can light things on fire, blow up a car, maybe even kill people, but you can't heal a couple broken ribs? It's absolutely pathetic.

Puck glanced at her briefly in the rearview mirror, a frown on his face. "You okay, Cinnamon?"

"Yeah," she replied bitterly, "but that's all I've got."

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“It’s pretty good.” Devon’s voice still carried the strain of hurt, but he sat up and leaned back against the seat. His gray eyes locked with the human male’s; the man blanched and looked away. That’s right, buddy, it’s the big bad wolf in your car. The kids he ignored. “Thanks, Cinnamon.”

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“You’re welcome,” she murmured looking away from him.

Lilith, I need a blow job. Somehow, Devon managed to not say this aloud despite the fact that the urge to fuck something senseless was very strong right now. His eyes drifted back to Jasmine, lingering on the curve of her shoulder and full lips. He had to quickly let go of the thought; he could feel his needs stirring his body.

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“Where are we going?” he asked, leaning forward and putting his arms on the back of the seat. The young boy in front of him leaned away, which Devon pretended not to notice.

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“I’m not sure. I’m just driving at this point,” Puck admitted.

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“Keep going until we run out of road.” His eyes were drifting to Jasmine again, and this time their gazes caught. She looked away first, looking uncomfortable, and Devon wondered what was in his expression that made her feel like that. He closed his eyes and leaned back, focusing on his breathing. After a moment, the mantra in his head started, calming his thoughts. I am the son of Caine…

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“You’re a therian.” The human male’s voice broke into his meditations and Devon opened his eyes.

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“Yeah, and?” The Black Wolf gazed at the man, waiting for him to do something. He was the one with an issue right now. The man clearly wanted to make an issue, particularly in front of his kids, but his eyes dropped. That was the cue for the little girl to start crying.

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“Shh, Mary, honey… shh…” her mother whispered frantically, her eyes locked on the monster in the car.

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The kid wasn’t detoured by her mother’s words, and her voice reached annoying decibels. “Mary? That’s your name?” Devon stared at her.

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“Yes, it is,” her mother answered when the girl couldn’t.

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Devon nodded and bent down to dig in his duffel bag, glad that they’d had the presence of mind to drag the luggage with them so far. It only took a moment to find the wrapped chunk of caramel he’d packed before leaving South Africa. “If you’ll stop making that noise, I’ll give you some of this.”

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“What is that?” the father asked quickly and protectively.

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“Caramel.” Devon pulled a piece of it loose and popped it in his mouth. “My aunt makes it.” He offered some to Jasmine, who hesitantly took a piece, before offering it to the father. “Try it, if you want.” The human slowly pulled a chuck off and tried it. After satisfying himself that it didn’t contain razor blades, glass or any discernible poison, the man allowed his children to have some. They enjoyed it, but more importantly, it shut them up.

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Hours and two quick refills of the gas tank later, it was dark when Puck stopped the car. They’d gone through all the CDs and Devon was sick of human church-music. He was grateful when the car stopped out in the middle of nowhere. “Alright, humans, pass over your cell phones.” The man did--the wife didn't own one--and Devon yanked the battery before passing the phone back to him. “Thanks for the ride.”

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The man shot him a sour glance but Puck quickly distracted him by offering some money. “For the gas and the inconvenience,” the nephilim told him.

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“And the damage to your car,” Devon added as he took in the front of the van again. He slung his duffel bag onto his back and looked around. Empty farmland stretched out before him, but beyond the field, he could see trees. Perfect.

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“So… what’s the plan again?” Puck’s inquiry waited until the humans were starting to drive away.

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“We walk. We’ll circle north and east until we come to the river again.” The therian scented the air and took a couple of steps, heading into the corn and toward the wilderness beyond.

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Puck glanced at Cinnamon, then back to Devon as they began walking. "Any idea how long this is going to take," he asked, his tone easily conveying his concern about their human companion. "Are we going to have to spend the night out?"

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"Only seven or eight nights." Devon's announcement was delivered casually, even as he hopped on top of a log with careless grace. "Shouldn't be more than that."

,,

"Nights?" Jasmine stopped and looked up, startled. It hadn't really dawned on her that we were going to be tromping through the wilderness, much less for days. She was suddenly aware of her clothing – a loose, calf-length, modestly cut brown wool skirt, a button-down cream silk blouse, and a pair of sensible, matching heels. The guys both stopped when she did and glanced back at her for a moment, Devon wearing a puzzled expression, oblivious to her dilemma, as Puck's expression of concern deepened. She forced a little smile, and started walking again. "I guess that's not too terrible. I went camping once, on a spiritual retreat."

,,

"It won't be so bad. I'll find us food and shelter." Devon turned back and started walking again, confident that Jasmine would follow. "I'm still guarding you guys, remember?" Despite his somewhat jovial nature, the therian felt a deep need to fight, feed and then fuck. Images of shoving his cock deep into Jasmine until she screamed with pleasure flooded his mind, and he resolutely shoved them away. He focused his agitation on forward motion.

,,

Puck frowned at the heels and motioned for the human to walk in front of him. His reasoning mind told him this was a good idea so he could catch her if she tripped in her shoes; the heels weren't that high and she walked easily in them, but she obviously wasn't used to being in the wilderness. The larger part of his mind was enjoying the view from taking up the rear and he tried not to chuckle at his internal double entendre. "What kind of camping was it, Cinnamon? Walks in the woods and a cabin at night, or actual roughing it?"

,,

"The first one, for me. The women stayed in a large, communal cabin together, and the men stayed in tents in a clearing a little ways away. But we spent the days taking walks through the woods, and having outdoor prayer meetings. At night, Dad and the priests gave campfire sermons. But it was nice - kind of peaceful, to be away from the noise and bustle of the city."

,,

"So," Puck responded sardonically, "you've never been camping."

,,

Devon snorted. "Camping is not hanging out snuggly in some cabin, roasting marshmellows and telling prayer stories around the fireplace. I'm gonna show you camping." He smirked and his mouth engaged before his brain filtered the words. "I guess you could say I'm going to pop your campin' cherry."

,,

Puck snorted and nearly tripped, swallowing a laugh and grinning at Devon. "Mmm, I do love cherries myself. Really any kind." There wasn't any hint of alpha challenge in the nephilim's eyes, only an amused lust that encompassed -both- his companions.

,,

Something in Puck's voice made Devon glance back and the look the other man was giving him utterly floored him. Men didn't look at men like that! Devon's brain protested, right as he missed a step and face-planted in the thick moss. Quickly, he regained his feet but failed to regain his dignity, slapping at the dirt on his pants. Focusing on his clothing allowed him to ignore Puck and that look in his eyes.

,,

"Devon, are you okay?" Jasmine stepped forward towards him, but he was already pulling himself to his feet and feigning nonchalance. She glanced between the two of them, looking a bit confused. "What are you two talking about? How did we get on the subject of fruit, anyway?"

,,

Devon blinked at Jasmine, the clear, sweet smell of her filling his senses. A quick glance at Puck confirmed that -yes-, Jasmine was -exactly- that naive. There was something more to the message there, but Devon looked away before Puck tried to hump his leg or something. "I'm fine." The words were gruff and almost snapped. "Watch your step there." He held out his hand to help her over the 'bump' that had tripped him. When she was past, Devon returned to the front of the group.

,,

She lasted longer than Puck though she would. In fact, they walked for hours before he could see the subtle signs that she was starting to flag. Her shoulders drooped a little bit at first, but the occasional assistance Devon offered kept her from struggling with major obstacles, and other than that she seemed fine. Since the nephilim was behind her, he couldn't see the occasional wince of pain or the slight swell of her lip where she’d bit it to keep from whimpering. But finally, the inevitable happened. Jasmine tripped slightly, stumbling forward and stubbing her toe. It seemed like a small stub, but their human companion let out a sharp cry of pain, and reached out to grab onto something nearby.

,,

Puck was at her side instantly, wrapping an arm around her waist to keep her from falling. "Easy, Cinnamon," he murmured in her ear and she felt the world shift to the side as he bent and picked her up. "Devon-"

,,

"Shh!" Devon's sharp hiss cut Puck off. "We're not alone." As his two companions began to study the darkening woods around them with worry, the therian clarified, "I can smell 'em. Therians."

,,

Her eyes widened slightly in fear. It was an instinctive human response, the slight flaring of the nostrils, the hiss of indrawn breath that she held instead of releasing. Running into a pack of therians in the woods was a lot scarier in Jasmine's mind than dealing with their bristly therian bodyguard. Her tongue slipped out to moisten her lips nervously, as her arms tightened around Puck's neck instinctively. "H-how far away?" she whispered.

,,

"Close." Where Jasmine was uptight, Devon was slowly relaxing. "Lycos," he muttered before tipping his head back and releasing a howl. It wasn't a human throat trying to emulate the song of the wolves. It was a beautiful, rising call of companionship and greeting. And after a beat, seven or eight voices called back. "They're coming to meet us. No sudden moves until I confirm you guys are with me, okay?"

,,

Puck gave a short nod and cradled Cinnamon close to him, protective of her and bowing to Devon's strength against what he hoped was a group of far less powerful therians headed their way.

,,

Devon stood straighter as six wolves stepped into view. They were bigger than dogs; neither Jasmine nor Puck were sure if that was how big wolves got or if they were bigger because they were therians. They formed a loose semicircle around their group as a woman stepped out. Her skin was a rich copper tone and her features were sharp. Her appearance was secondary to Jasmine and Puck because she was distractingly naked. Long, black hair fell around her shoulders as she straightened and addressed Devon, and only Devon. “Brother. You are far from home with that skin.”

,,

Devon nodded. “I am far from home, Sister. I had heard that there were the People of Lilith were still here, but I didn’t think that was true.”

,,

“You should know that when we put our minds to something, we overcome all trials.” Black eyes that seethed with anger flickered over to Jasmine, and Puck felt her tense with fear. “What brings you here, with a human hostage?”

,,

“She’s not my hostage. She’s my commitment.” The word seemed to mean more to the therians; they all shifted and one of the wolves growled. Devon growled back.

,,

“Why would you need a human to help you?” The woman’s question was spat with anger and narrowed eyes.

,,

“That’s a matter to be told over fire and food.” Devon didn’t seem put off by their hostility. He was still standing relaxed and casual. “That is, if you’re giving that.”

,,

“That depends on your name and where you hail from,” the woman said. Devon tilted his head and she frowned a little. “Sahale Lycanis, Red Fangs.”

,,

“Devon Carson, Black Wolf. It is a pleasure to meet a sister such as you, Sahale.” Devon inclined his head a fraction of an inch.

,,

Sahale’s eyes narrowed at the name. “I cannot say the same, Black Wolf. You are far from your uncle and his protection.”

,,

“I haven’t needed his protection in a while.” Devon’s posture changed subtly; he had lost much of his nonchalant attitude, standing taller with his broad shoulders squared. “Do you think I need it for a reason, or are you an animal who refuses basic courtesy?”

,,

“We don’t give courtesy to our enemies,” Sahale replied coldly.

,,

Devon’s head came down a touch and he looked a mere thought away from launching himself at the woman and attacking her. In fairness, she seemed to be pondering the idea as well, and the wolves with her were all tensing their bodies, preparing for a fight. “Are we enemies? I don’t recall doing anything to you.”

,,

“You’re with the Betrayers, and that is enough.” The woman snorted in derision. “And just like them, you like to act as if you did no wrong.”

,,

“My fathers offered to take you with them.” Devon unslung his bag from his shoulders, dropping it to the ground. “Your fathers refused.”

,,

“They abandoned the land that we had shared with them when they fled their homelands! Had they stayed and fought, we would still control Canada!”

,,

“No, you’d just have more bodies to bury. The humans were too determined to drive us away. Better to let them have that victory and retake the land later.” Devon still spoke calmly, but he was cracking his knuckles and rotating his head on his shoulders. “We can bitch back and forth for days. Point is – you going to take us in or not?”

,,

“Oh, we’ll take you in, but not as guests.” Sahale smiled but it wasn’t a pleasant expression. “Liwanu will decide what to do with you.”

,,

“Okay.” Devon grabbed his duffel again, as if that answered everything. “Let’s get moving, then. My human commitment’s just about done in. She needs rest and food.”

,,

As the therians began to move around them, Puck stepped closer to Devon and whispered, “If they’re going to be hostile, then maybe we shouldn’t go someplace with a lot more of them than us.”

,,

“If we stay here, I can take all of them. But probably not before the three or four still in the trees kill you or Cinny.” He gave Jasmine a lopsided grin at the unauthorized nickname, and she smiled back weakly, despite herself. “But if we go to their home, then I fight one guy, and they leave you alone until I win that fight.”

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Sahale led the three through the forest. Devon seemed at home and utterly relaxed despite their situation. He acted like they were strolling through a park rather than walking deeper into captivity. Though he was confident in his ability to beat the leader of this pack, he knew better than to assume the victory was settled.

,,

The trees thinned a little when they saw their first house, but unlike humans, therians didn’t build in clearings. The houses, such as they were, are tucked under the trees. The buildings were all mobile housing, RVs or small cabins made of logs, mud and shingles.

,,

Sahale turned once they were inside the settlement and said, “Human, glowbug. Stay here. Black Wolf needs to talk to Liwanu.”

,,

“Nope.” Devon crossed his arms, his legs spread wide in a firm stance. “I have made a commitment to them, to guard them. Until I know they’re safe, they don’t leave my sight.”

,,

Sahale growled. “You talk like you have a say, Wolf. You don’t.”

,,

“Care to test that?” Devon’s voice was cool and dangerous, but there was a hint of excitement in his tone.

,,

The two therians stared at one another for long minutes. Finally Sahale lowered her eyes and said, “You can stay in sight of them while you speak with Liwanu. If he doesn’t mind, of course.”

,,

Devon nodded once in acknowledgement and his manner had shifted to polite. “I’m sure he won’t, once he understands that I’m committed to them. Even given our issues, I know that he will not insist that another therian break his word.”

,,

“No, he will not.” The man who had stealthy joined them was short and lean but there was a sense of power around him. It was like the aura that Devon exuded; the therian mark of true strength. “Black Wolf, come and speak to me. I would know what you’re doing here, and why you’ve brought a human to my lands.”

,,

“Gladly.” Devon glanced at Jasmine and Puck as if to warn them to be good, then followed Liwanu to a spot within sight but out of hearing.

,,

His companions watched as he walked away, Jasmine worrying nervously at her lower lip. She felt Puck shift his footing slightly and she glanced at him, a flicker of embarrassment at having to have been carried finally catching up to her. “You can put me down now.”

,,

“I could,” he agreed in a low murmur, making no move to set her down. “But your feet are still blistered,” he continued on in an infuriatingly calm, logical voice, “and you’ll wince and either step around gingerly or sit down. Either will be seen as weakness to our...hmm...hosts. Whereas me standing here, holding you without needing to set you down, might just give them pause on thinking the two of us easy and injured prey.”

He shrugged and grinned down at her. “Or I just like being all manly and holding on to you. I’ll let you decide, ‘Cinny’.”

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