by Togi Kayako (土宜草子)
Jasper had been trained in situational awareness and combat readiness since she was a child, carrying on a family tradition that stretched back for several centuries. When she rounded a bend in the quiet forest trail and found a woman sitting on a weathered bench, the absolute last thing her brain should have spit out, no matter how accurate, was: big lady hot.
The threat assessment came quick enough on the heels of the thought to keep her from immediately having to leap into the bushes in shame. It sized up the unexpected woman thusly: a head taller, significantly more muscular, dressed in loose athletic shorts and a tank top that wouldn’t hamper her movement, probably unarmed, and inexplicably holding one of her shoes in her lap. Not safe, but not dangerous enough to make it a fight or flight situation — regrettable, because Jasper did way better with those than surprise social interactions.
“Hey, uh, everything okay there?” she asked. The woman whipped her head up to reveal big, brown eyes, gone even wider from being startled. Jasper held both palms up and aimed for a smile that hopefully conveyed I’m not armed rather than the more accurate I could have a knife in both hands in under two seconds. It helped that she was on the small side and wearing the unthreatening combination of a dark red jacket, leggings, mismatched striped socks, and a faded Saturn Arising t-shirt. With the worst of her scars covered by clothes or the glamour from her ring, she passed pretty well as an ordinary woman.
Whatever calculations had frozen the woman in place seemed to finish, and she broke into a warm smile that was almost too much for Jasper’s poor gay heart to handle. “You scared the shit out of me, but yeah, I’m okay. Mostly. My shoelace snapped mid-run and I tripped right out of my fucking shoe.” She held up one half of a bright red lace, frayed end dangling like the world’s saddest party streamer. “Was gonna just tie it back together, but I guess the other half made a break for it somewhere.”
Jasper kept the woman in her line of sight while she scanned the path and spotted the other piece of her shoelace in seconds. It was at the edge of the path, near a tangle of sticks, but more or less in plain sight. “Is that it?” she asked, gesturing toward the lace and using the motion to make her step back look natural.
“Where— Oh, yeah! Good eye.” She put her unlaced shoe back on and half-slid, half-stepped across the path to retrieve the lace. “I’ll have to get something easier to spot to replace these. These are red, right? I can’t really see reds that well.”
Her willingness to share a weakness like that with a total stranger tipped Jasper’s evaluation further toward safe and also made Jasper want to shake some sense into her. Still, something about the woman felt off, so Jasper kept the distance between them. She decided to stick around for the moment, because the last thing she was willing to do was turn her back on a potential danger.
It didn’t hurt that the woman was stupidly attractive. Jasper’s thirst-brain and business-brain briefly overlapped in a little Venn diagram where the center read make sure you can see her again. Her hand dug into one of her jacket pockets and she pulled out a long piece of black ribbon.
“Hey, this might work better than two half shoelaces,” Jasper said, holding up the ribbon with the warmest smile she could muster. “Should hold up at least long enough to get you home without getting eaten by wolves or anything.”
The woman had kind of frozen mid-reach when Jasper said wolves. “There aren’t actually wolves around here… right?” Her body language said scared but the tone of her voice said threat in a way that had Jasper easing back another few steps, plausibility be damned.
“No, sorry, bad joke.” Jasper held both her hands up again. “There might be a few coyotes, maybe, but we’re way too close to the city for most wildlife. The biggest problem I ever have is raccoons getting into my garbage.”
“Oh, cool, my bad.” Somehow the woman hunched forward a bit, ducked her head, and started projecting about twelve different kinds of sorry. “It’s, uh, a bad time of the month, you know how it is.” She chuckled weakly and flicked her eyes up to Jasper, then away the second she was caught looking.
Jasper’s brain clicked the puzzle pieces into place as the woman relaced her shoe with the ribbon. A quick check of the moon phase on her phone — only a few days out from full — all but confirmed it. The woman was a werewolf, and not registered with the Bridgers’ Union unless she had literally done it today.
“Yeah, for sure,” Jasper said, shooting for a bit more airheaded. She toyed with one end of her ponytail, twirling the dark strands around her finger and using the motion to draw attention to the stylized letter B pin on her lapel. The woman looked, but her eyes slid back to her shoe with no sign of recognition. Definitely not registered. “Are you gonna be able to make it home okay? You don’t live too far away, do you?”
Apparently a bit of concern was the perfect tack to take. Ms. Werewolf tied off her shoe and beamed at Jasper. “You’re a total sweetheart, huh? I’ll be fine, it’s like maybe five miles tops.” She waved the number off casually, which made sense for both how fit she looked and a werewolf’s natural boost to strength and endurance near the full moon.
“Just trying to lend a hand,” Jasper said, adding her best bubbly laugh. She got sidetracked briefly by the flex of the woman’s thighs as she stood up and shook her foot a few times to make sure the shoe was going to stay on.
“Hey, I appreciate it,” she said. “Not everyone would’ve stopped. I’m Kay, by the way — should’ve said that earlier. It’s nice to meet you.” Instead of holding out her hand to shake, she did some clumsy hybrid of wave and finger guns, accompanied by a sheepish smile.
Jasper managed a normal wave in return. “Nice to meet you, Kay. I’m Jasper.” They both took a step forward, realized they were going in opposite directions, and awkwardly circled around each other with several feet of space between them. “I’m headed that way, so have a good rest of your run!”
“You too — or, your walk or whatever. I— Yeah, bye!” Kay spun around and sprinted off down the path, vanishing around a curve in seconds. Jasper stifled a laugh as she resumed her route toward the union headquarters. It was a nice change to not be the most awkward person in a conversation, no matter the circumstances.
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“Ah, my favorite grandkid!” Grandma Jade’s welcome boomed out through the union hall’s arching rafters the second Jasper walked in the door. It didn’t matter if it had been a day or the rare full week since they’d seen each other last: she only had the one greeting and the one volume to deliver it at. How a thin, gray-haired woman barely tall enough to clear Jasper’s shoulder could project so effectively, she had no idea. Jade definitely hadn’t passed the ability on to anyone else in the family.
Jasper hurried over and let herself be pulled into a tight, old-lady-lotion-scented bear hug before her grandmother could ask for one. The hall was largely empty at this hour, save for a few folks who had seen it all before. Kurt, one of the senior huntmasters, tapped two fingers to his dark, balding head in a vague salute as she passed. His assistant Cynnie did the same but with a crisp precision they hadn’t given up on yet, despite how many years they’d been with the union.
“Hi, Grammie,” Jasper said. “Can we talk in your office?” She kept her voice down, despite the fact it wouldn’t make any difference. Even if the hall didn’t echo like crazy, Cynnie had some kind of vampiric heritage that let them practically hear a pin drop anywhere in the union.
“Of course, sweetheart! Is your father giving you grief again?” Jade didn’t bother keeping up the illusion of privacy, talking at full volume as she led the way to her office. “I keep telling Jet to let you sow your wild oats if you want — I know he was made for celibacy, but I certainly never was and goodness knows whoever fathered Jet wasn’t either. Not a one of them was the settling down type!”
Years of training via dealing with Jade let Jasper power through her desire to run and keep her face fixed in a placid smile. “I appreciate it, but it’s more of a business thing I that wanted to talk to you about?” She hadn’t meant to make it a question. Jasper’s resigned herself to just having one long, pained groan as her internal monologue for the day.
“Oh? You manage to run into trouble between your house and here?” Jade ushered her into the cramped room with its narrow, barred window bracketed by pastel green curtains. A weapons rack with blades and guns, all polished to a shine and neatly stowed, sat above a delicate curio cabinet full of tiny glass animal figurines. Most of the massive desk and one of the two chairs next to it were piled with paperwork and folders, maybe three-quarters of which was actually union paperwork. Jasper knew from experience that the rest was a mix of memes and pictures of dogs, to the deep despair of every intern that wound up sorting it all out.
Jasper shut the door, planting her shoulder into it to get the ancient, warped wood to budge all the way closed. The whole building had been enchanted over multiple generations, making it nearly indestructible but impossible to upgrade. “Not really trouble, but I think I ran into a werewolf who’s not registered. She seemed….” Jasper leaned back against the door, scanning the rough stone ceiling like it could produce the description she needed. Like a himbo, her brain insisted. “Well, not a threat, anyway.”
“That’s fine, then. You think you can track her down and get her to fill out all the paperwork? When is the next full moon, anyway?” Jade shifted her paper stacks around with precision, pulling out forms and informational paperwork about the union. A few dog pictures got shaken out onto the floor so she could reuse the folder they had been in to gather everything together and pass it over to Jasper.
“In a couple days,” Jasper said absently as she leafed through the papers. “I gave her one of my ribbons, so I’ll just track her from that and bring her in. Shouldn’t be any trouble.” Filling out multiple pages of paperwork about what was probably a traumatic event wasn’t likely to endear Kay to her, sadly.
Jasper frowned at the worksheet titled Full Moon Planning Guide!!! like she could will the text to turn into something less obnoxious. At least it had a few practical considerations, like a space to write in who you wanted to stay with you, anything you might be allergic to, and who did or didn’t know about your condition.
With the excuse of wanting to find Kay as soon as possible, Jasper managed to escape Jade’s usual rundown of who the most eligible people in the union were. She stopped by the armory to check out one of the seeking stones, and her eyes caught on the small case of silver blades and ammunition. They didn’t see much use — most werewolves welcomed the union’s support and didn’t mind the rules they imposed — but Jasper’s stomach turned at the thought of them anywhere near Kay. She left the union at the fastest walk she could manage that wouldn’t make anyone think there was an emergency.
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Kay’s tiny rental house was easy to find, tucked away in a quiet suburban neighborhood that Jasper knew was mostly occupied by people involved with the union. The yard looked well-maintained: the hedges were trimmed, the grass was short, and there were even some flowers poking up out of the wooden planter hanging off of the porch railing.
A light was on inside, visible around the edges of the slat blinds. Kay was probably home, but Jasper wished the house had a driveway so there would be a car for further confirmation. The seeking stone in Jasper’s hand tugged her toward the house, so unless Kay had left without her shoes, or managed to replace her laces really fast, she basically had to be in there.
Jasper circled around the block and vaulted over the fence into Kay’s back yard. It was as tidy as the front and empty except for a corrugated metal shed that seemed to be set up half on and half off a small concrete patio. It was staked down with ropes and tent pegs on the grass side, and surrounded with a staggering amount of cinder blocks on the patio side. One section of wall bulged out oddly and was braced with a couple thick pieces of wood and more cinder blocks.
Creeping around to the front of the shed, Jasper found the door was not only locked but also had a sturdy bar across it. In any other neighborhood, the odds of someone’s calling the cops on Kay would have been astronomical. Jasper pulled her picks out of her jacket and made short work of the cheap padlocks, easing them free and nestling them into the grass without a sound.
The bar was trickier, but she managed to maneuver it out without scraping it against anything. Jasper tipped it sideways, intending to prop it against the wall, but misjudged the distance and knocked one end against the shed’s low roof with a faint clang. She set the bar down and held her breath.
Seconds later, a window cracked open and Kay called out, “C’mon, little dudes, shoo! You’re interrupting my workout.” Jasper pressed her lips together hard to stifle her laughter. Of course Kay was the kind of person who talked to animals that came into her yard — she might even have names for them. Jasper made a mental note to ask later if she got the chance.
Since Kay seemed not to be coming out, Jasper started in on shifting open the shed door one painstaking inch at a time. The job didn’t take enough attention to stop her persistent mental images of what Kay working out might look like. Maybe she was lifting weights with those ridiculous arms, breathing hard, covered in a sheen of sweat— Jasper shook her head hard and focused on the contents of the shed.
A massive pink dog bed took up almost a quarter of the floor space, and the number of patches on it suggested it had doubled as a chew toy on many an occasion. There was an entire bin of actual dog toys, many of them the puzzle kind that could hold food or treats, and a massive, empty water dispenser. Some kind of metal cage attached to the ceiling contained a plastic bin filled with kibble and a small lock box. Squares of what looked like carpet samples and small lengths of rope tacked up at various places along the wall completed the ‘world’s saddest werewolf shack’ look.
The patio door slid open, and Jasper glanced back to see Kay silhouetted in the light from her house. She was pulled up to her full height, hands on her hips, cutting what would have been quite the imposing figure to most people. “Hey, there’s nothing in there but some stuff for my dog. How about you fuck off and I won’t call the cops, okay?”
“Ah, ‘I have a really big dog.’ That’s a classic,” Jasper said as she got to her feet all slow and casual. With the full moon so close, the last thing she wanted to do was make any sudden movements. “Doesn’t hold up so well when people realize they only hear your dog once a month.”
“Wait, you’re that gal from earlier.” Kay let out a low growl that made Jasper’s hair stand on end. “What the fuck are you doing at my house?” She took two steps out onto the patio, looming forward and cracking her knuckles. Jasper’s pulse started to race with excitement, but she reminded herself she wasn’t here to fight.
“I’m with a group called the Bridgers’ Union,” she said, keeping her hands spread and a calm smile on her face. “You probably haven’t heard of us, if you had to throw something like this together for yourself, but we’re kind of a community outreach program for people who have unusual needs.”
Jasper’s eyes had adjusted enough that she could see Kay’s eyebrows starting to crinkle together. “So you guys are like… what? Werewolves Anonymous? The Underground Railroad but for dogs?” She shifted back toward the house, hands lifting up and beginning to ball into fists as she glanced around the yard. “Are you some kind of werewolf hunters?”
“I’m not here to hurt you,” Jasper said, keeping her eyes down, off of Kay’s face. “All we need is for you to fill out some paperwork, and then the union can help you deal with your transformation in whatever way works best for you.”
“Uh, paperwork?” Kay’s hands drifted back to her sides, though they were still tense. “And like, no offense, but I didn’t think you personally were here to hurt me, unless your ‘union’ likes getting its members mauled. I figured you’d have, I dunno, a sniper in the bushes or something.”
Jasper snorted and gestured to the flat, open suburban yards around them. “One, that’s ridiculous.” While Kay’s eyes tracked the arc of her right arm, Jasper flipped one of her knives out into her left hand. “Two, if we fought?” Jasper waited for Kay to notice the knife, pivoted, and sent it flying straight at one of the carpet squares on the far wall of the shed. “I would win.”
It sank into the wall several inches with a satisfying thunk that made the shed ring like a bell. “Holy fucking shit,” Kay whispered. She stared at the knife for a comically long time, then slid her eyes over to Jasper. “Right, paperwork, not a problem, ma’am. Lemme just… go get a pen.”
“Thank you for your cooperation,” Jasper said in her best perky customer service voice. Kay backed into the house without looking away, stumbling over the step up. When she finally moved out of sight, Jasper went to collect her knife, glowing with satisfaction.
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The kitchen’s sunny breakfast nook was probably Jasper’s favorite place in the house. She sat on the padded wooden bench in nothing but her pajamas and the ring that kept her glamour up, one leg tucked under her, staring out past the pale blue curtains at her dad’s tidy herb beds and small flower garden. “And after all that, she requested me to keep her company through the full moon for some reason?” Jasper scooped up the last of her cereal and crunched it with unnecessary force.
“Maybe she feels safe around you, sweetpea.” Her father, Jet, nudged a plate of sausages toward her and rewrapped his thick green shawl closer around his shoulders, then took a moment to tug his long, black ponytail free from the fabric. When he started chafing his hands together, Jasper rolled her eyes and hopped up to tap the thermostat a few degrees higher. Her dad beamed at her, bringing out all the smile lines on his broad face. “I’ve always heard werewolves are excellent judges of character.”
“So Kay’s the exception that proves the rule,” Jasper countered. She shish-kebabed a pair of sausages on her fork and started nibbling on the edge of one, pointedly ignoring the way her dad was staring her down. “Who feels safe around somebody who breaks into their house—”
“—Walks into their backyard,” Jet murmured. “I looked over your report and signed off on it, by the way, so you can file it when you go in tonight.” He was doing his best to look serious, but Jasper saw the crinkles at the corner of his eyes. It was too early to start another round of the conflict of interest argument, especially when no one at the union seemed to care about her family approving each others’ paperwork.
Jasper gave up on being delicate and chomped a sausage down in two bites. “I broke into the shed, at least,” she said, scowling at the petulant edge that had snuck into her voice. “Not that it took much. It was so sad, seriously. And obvious! If her neighbors didn’t already know what was up from day one, they probably would have after a month or two of her rattling around in there. She’s a disaster.”
“Is she now?” Jet said, oh-so-mildly. “You wrote some very flattering descriptions about someone you think is a disaster. Especially that bit about her thick, muscular arms?” Jasper shot him a warning look as she chewed another huge bite of sausage. “I’m only saying, it would be fine if you were interested! She’s known to the union now, and clearly she doesn’t mind your company.” Displaying his usual tact, her dad didn’t voice the fact it had been most of a year since her last relationship crashed and burned, but Jasper swore he was thinking it loud enough that she could hear it.
Dialing her look up to a glare did nothing to stop the cherubic smile her dad had locked on her. “I barely even know her,” Jasper said, the words directed mostly into her coffee cup. It was about as likely to believe them as her dad was, given his fatherly sixth sense for when Jasper was nursing a crush. “But she is kind of cute.” Jasper conceded the point to her dad with a sigh and tossed back the last of her coffee.
“Well, you two will have a good chance to get to know each other tonight, won’t you?” Jet perked up, grabbing his phone with one hand and patting himself down for his glasses with the other. “It’s almost like having a slumber party! How about I bake something nice for you two to share?”
Jasper got up so she could reach across the table and slide Jet’s glasses down from the top of his head. He blinked at her like a sleepy owl and then broke into one of his booming belly laughs. It was the only time he got anywhere near her grandmother’s volume, to Jasper’s eternal relief. “That would be great, dad. Thank you.”
Everybody loved her dad’s baking. It almost felt like cheating to use it to get on Kay’s good side, but since she’d managed not to outright run away when Jasper started throwing knives, Jasper figured she deserved a treat. If the image in her mind was of the two of them curled up side by side in pajamas, feeding each other bites of homemade cookies, that was between her and her conscience.
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Jasper had often wished she’d inherited any kind of magical ability from either side of her family, but never more than now. Something like opening a portal to literally anywhere else, sinking into the floor, or going invisible. She would have even taken turning into something small that could scuttle away, in a pinch.
But no, here she was, holding a box of her dad’s best peanut butter cookies awkwardly off to one side as her grandmother crushed her into a big old hug, right in front of Kay. “You’re here late, Grammie,” Jasper said, putting a bit of tension into the hug in the vain hope she could get out of it faster. Kay didn’t seem to notice, busy glancing around the room and swinging the duffel bag in her hand idly back and forth.
“Heard you were coming in, and you know I couldn’t miss a chance to say hello!” Jade finally, finally let her go and Jasper whipped the box of cookies between them like a shield. “Oh, did Jet make those? Can I take one? My son,” she said to Kay. “He’s a marvelous baker. I’m sure these will make your night nice and special.” She nudged Kay with an elbow — or tried to, because Kay launched herself a solid foot and a half to one side to avoid it.
Kay jammed her hands into the pockets of her baggy shorts, but the fabric wasn’t loose enough to hide the fact she was clenching them into fists. “Sorry, ma’am. Bit on edge.” She glanced between Jade and Jasper and then crumpled in on herself, hunching her shoulders up and ducking her head. “I don’t want to cut your visit short, but maybe we can get me somewhere safe first? It’s kinda… open in here.”
“Yes, absolutely,” Jasper said. She cracked open the box of cookies and jammed a couple of them into her grandmother’s hand. “I checked on our forums earlier and found this tracking app that one of our werewolves’ wives made. It does moon phases and sunset times and everything.” Jasper held up her phone so Kay could see the screen. “We’ve got over an hour before sunset tonight, but we can definitely get settled in early.”
“And that’s how we know you’re my grandkid. Always prepared!” Jade patted her on the back, two solid thunks that Jasper had to brace against. “I’ll leave you two be now. Have a good night!” With a huge, obnoxious wink that made Jasper’s soul leave her body, Jade strolled out of the hall.
Jasper nodded toward a door in the opposite direction and power-walked to it, confident that Kay would have no trouble keeping up with her longer legs. “So, that was my grandmother,” she said by way of an apology, once they were safely out of earshot in a small side hallway. “You’ll get used to her if you’re around a lot. She basically lives here.”
“She seemed fine?” Kay caught up to Jasper and gave her a one-shouldered shrug. “Kinda loud, maybe, I guess? I can’t really judge. Everything’s just a lot right now.” Her eyes darted around in nonstop motion: along the doors lining the hall, back over her shoulder, and even up to the ceiling.
Jasper dropped her voice a bit to match Kay’s near-whisper. “It’s not you, she’s super loud. Here, this is the room they reserved us for the night. What did you decide on doing to handle your transformation?”
“I talked to a lady earlier, and uh, didn’t a hundred percent understand everything she was saying, but it’s like… magical handcuffs? If they don’t stop me from changing, they’ll keep me from hurting y— anybody.” Kay sidled back a step, hands up like Jasper was going to go for her throat.
“Sounds good,” Jasper said, hoping she could channel even a fraction of her dad’s gentleness. “How about we air high-five on not hurting each other and head on in?” She held a hand up, keeping it close to her shoulder.
Kay managed a teeny tiny sliver of a smile, so hesitant that it made Jasper itch to swaddle her up under a thousand protective layers of blanket right that instant, and mirrored the gesture. “Thanks,” she said, so quiet Jasper almost missed it under the creak of the door opening.
The long, narrow room had clearly been built with security in mind: the gray stone walls were entirely unbroken except for the door and one thin, barred window made of frosted glass. Two tall-backed red armchairs sat at a companionable angle on either side of a small end table, which held a tall candle in clear glass and a pair of thick metal shackles resting on a nest of coiled chains. Jasper wrinkled her nose at the sight, but caught Kay sagging with relief out of the corner of her eye.
“Cool. Just need to move one of the chairs. Maybe the table too — I don’t wanna wreck any of your guys’ furniture if things go south.” She eyed the two chairs for a moment before tossing her duffel bag onto the one with a scuffed arm.
“I can get the table,” Jasper said, circling around Kay with a wide margin and staying in her line of sight. By the time she’d gotten the cuffs out of the way, Kay had hoisted up the chair with one arm and relocated it all the way next to the door. Jasper trailed over with the table and candle, setting it far enough away that she couldn’t catch the latter with her elbow if she was sitting. “Do you need any help setting up the rest?”
Kay was already unzipping her bag and setting out a pair of metal bowls with food and water, plus a few chew toys. “Nah, I’ll put the dog stuff over here and you can hang on to the rest. If I don’t turn, you can just toss things over to me.” She spread a tattered blue blanket out on the floor and gave the setup a decisive nod. “Okay, can you chain me up now?”
Jasper choked on her own saliva and broke into a coughing fit. She gave Kay a quick thumbs up to indicate she wasn’t actively dying and braced a hand on her knee to support herself until she could clear her throat. Kay waited patiently, with the manacles dangling from one hand and the chain draped casually over her shoulder.
“You don’t want to do it yourself?” Jasper asked weakly. Guilt was starting to overtake her interest, and she hadn’t been coping that well with the interest alone. Her brain was a war zone of conflicting feelings, but her body was already moving over to Kay, hands steady as she reached out to take the manacles.
They were heavy and the metal was cold except where Kay had been hanging onto it. “I don’t know how they work and I don’t wanna do something wrong, so no,” Kay said, sticking both her arms out toward Jasper and fixing her eyes firmly on the floor.
There was no way any skill was required: you put your hands through the center and then closed them. “Whatever you want,” Jasper said, like it was a selfless choice on her part and not deeply, hopelessly self-indulgent. She had signed up to help Kay, no matter what form that took, and she had a duty to the union to see it through — plus a personal duty not to make things totally weird in the process.
Jasper hinged both manacles open and clicked them shut around Kay’s wrists as gently as she could. The manacles shimmered for a second, and Kay flinched as both of them shrank to fit in the blink of an eye. “Are they too tight?” Jasper asked, slipping a finger in along the metal to check and doing her best to ignore the gentle warmth of Kay’s skin.
“S’fine,” Kay said. “Wasn’t expecting the whole magic thing, y’know?” She held out the chain next, along with a sturdy-looking padlock, and tapped a bolt in the floor with one foot. “Don’t leave me too much slack, okay? I don’t want to be able to get anywhere near you. Not that you can’t hold your own! But pretty sure knifing me would go against our whole high-five agreement.”
“Oh my god, I wouldn’t have to knife you,” Jasper said. Kay failed to look convinced, and Jasper hid her gritted teeth behind a tight smile. She hated being underestimated, no matter how often it happened. “How about a quick demonstration? You try to stay standing, and I’ll try to tug you down to the floor.”
Kay snorted and shoved the chain into Jasper’s hand. “Go for it.” Jasper ran the chain through the loop in the floor, got a good grip on the other end, and started pulling.
At age ten, Jasper had won the union’s kid arm-wrestling tournament and also nagged most of the adult contestants into letting her try to beat them as well. She’d only managed about half of them, but the startled look on their faces had stuck with her for life. Kay’s face had the same expression now as she tensed her thighs and leaned her weight backward while Jasper dragged her hands steadily down to the floor.
The end result of Kay on her hands and knees, breathing heavily, was more satisfying than slapping someone’s hand to the table — a bit too satisfying. Jasper let the chain go slack, but Kay seemed frozen in place. “Are you okay?” Jasper dropped into a crouch to peer at Kay’s face even as she nodded. Kay was flushed, whether from exertion, embarrassment, or both. “I’ve got some kind of demonic blood, from my mother’s side. Didn’t get the cool horns, sadly.”
That got a weak chuckle from Kay and she shifted back into a more comfortable position. “You’re strong as fuck though. I even got buffer after the whole werewolf thing, but you’re just— damn.” Kay gave her a lopsided grin and an emphatic thumbs up, and Jasper felt like someone could have knocked her over with a single thrown cotton ball.
Despite all the precautions and Jasper’s display of strength, Kay spent the last twenty minutes before sunset pacing back and forth across the narrow room. When the timer on Jasper’s phone beeped a one-minute warning, Kay plunked down on her blanket, curled up on one side, and clenched her eyes shut. The clock hit zero, and while she shuddered all over with a low whine that was pure wolf, she didn’t change.
Kay’s eyes opened and Jasper amended that to mostly didn’t change. They were the same warm brown, but the irises had expanded and the whites of her eyes were almost entirely gone. “I think it worked,” Kay said slowly. Two red-brown ears with tufted white centers popped up out of Kay’s hair and she let out a startled yelp, tossing her head like she could somehow shake them off.
When nothing else happened, she settled back down and reached a hand up so she could poke at the new ears. “This isn’t so bad, I think. I still feel really restless, though. Can you talk to me about something? Anything’s fine. Just need a distraction.” She picked up a neon green toy shaped like a bone and started tossing it from hand to hand before bringing it up to her mouth. One good chomp was all she managed before her eyes flicked over to Jasper and she cringed, yanking the toy free.
“Whatever you need to get through the night is fine,” Jasper said. “It’s not even that weird — it’s like a stress ball for your teeth, right? And I won’t tell anyone, promise.” Kay’s grateful look left Jasper all but melted into a puddle on the floor. Why did she have to be so cute? “Right, talking about stuff. Have you ever seen Saturn Arising?”
“Don’t think so,” Kay said, muffled by the toy she was gnawing on. Jasper caught a glimpse of fangs that definitely hadn’t been there before. Kay cocked her head to one side, which made her ears wobble and left Jasper biting her tongue to keep from cooing at her. “Wait, wasn’t that the shirt you were wearing the other day?”
Kay remembered her shirt? She’d definitely made a lasting impression with that knife throw. “Yeah, it is! So it’s a show about this woman who works as a janitor, but it turns out she’s secretly the heir to an alien royal family—” Jasper dove right into a summary of her favorite show and Kay listened intently to every word. By the time Jasper started yawning, Kay was sprawled out with her head pillowed on her arms.
“Can prob’ly get some sleep now,” she mumbled, not even opening her eyes. “Thanks, Jasper.” She nuzzled her nose further into the crook of her elbow and then stilled, breathing slow and even. Jasper tucked herself up into the armchair as comfortably as she could, and turned her jacket around to use it as a makeshift blanket before dozing off.
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Sunlight in her eyes and a serious crick in her neck were Jasper’s first conscious sensations, and she hated them. By the time she’d squinted through adjusting to the stupid sun, Jasper realized she was alone in the room and all of Kay’s stuff was gone. There was a note tucked under her phone: Thanks again. Same time next month? – K. Only the tiny smiley face after the signature and phone number at the bottom kept Jasper from feeling utterly crushed.
The fact that Kay had left a note within arm’s reach of her and slipped out without waking her up was impressive. Jasper didn’t have the hair-trigger reflexes of some of the union members who had seen more years of combat, but she was a light sleeper. Even with her ex-boyfriend, it had taken over a month of sharing a bed before she didn’t jolt upright the second he moved. Jasper tucked that new information about how safe she felt around Kay into the same file as most of her thoughts on Kay, the one labeled To Think About Never in huge, red letters.
Before she could wake up fully and over-analyze what she was doing, Jasper managed to send off a casual text: Hey, this is Jasper. Same time next month is fine. When no immediate reply came, she went about returning the room to how they’d found it and headed home. If she broke in through her own bedroom window to get inside, it wasn’t to avoid having a conversation with her dad, it was good practice to keep her skills sharp.
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After a few weeks, Jasper had herself mostly convinced that she had been overreacting. Kay couldn’t have been that attractive. She’d been a little cute and then had needed help in a way that fed Jasper’s interest. With this belief firmly in mind, Jasper waited until a week before the full moon and sent a text to confirm the date and time with Kay. A thumbs-up emoji was her only response, which was fine! It was strictly union business, nothing more.
Her web of lies held together until the night of the full moon, and fell apart the second Jasper walked into the union hall and saw Kay’s face light up at the sight of her. Kay was even cuter than Jasper had remembered, sitting on the edge of a table and kicking her feet back and forth. Her hair had been shaggy when they first met, but she had an undercut now, with a thick wave of brown hair on top that flopped charmingly to one side.
“Jasper! Hey,” Kay said, still smiling as she hopped down off the table and scooped up her bag off the floor. “How are you? I didn’t want to head back in case we were going to use a different room or something. Hope that’s okay.”
The sudden flood of words after a month of silence left Jasper reeling, like a gut punch from a swarm of unbelievably aggressive butterflies. “Okay, I mean, hi! That’s totally fine, we can go back together.” She hitched her sleeping bag a little higher under her arm and started off to the room, then remembered manners existed. “How have you been?”
“Really good, actually.” Kay walked along close at her side, half a step ahead and turned so she could face Jasper. “I think not changing — or mostly not changing, I guess — helped a lot. I’ve had all this energy and I got a ton of stuff done.”
Kay unlocked the door and held it open for Jasper. “You even got a haircut.” Had she just said that with her own demi-human mouth? It sounded so judgmental. Jasper regrouped and tried again with, “It looks really nice.” Weak, but a lot better than the messy pile of things she was also thinking, like how much she wanted to nuzzle against the short fuzz at the back of Kay’s neck.
“Oh, thanks! I’m glad you like it.” Kay coughed and turned to busy herself with unpacking her bag. “So, uh, I know things went okay last time, but I’d rather be chained down again, if that’s cool with you?”
Jasper nodded, but took the time to smooth out her sleeping bag on the floor before attempting to speak. “It’s fine, but you don’t have to worry about my opinion on this, okay? I’m here to help as a union member, so whatever you need to be safe and comfortable is what’s important.”
“Right, I forgot this is your job.” Kay slipped the manacles on by herself, but fumbled the padlock when she tried to open it. It slid across the floor all the way to Jasper’s feet, which she took as a sign that she might as well deal with that part. “Thanks,” Kay said, giving the chain a couple of experimental tugs. “Maybe next month I’ll feel up to waiting it out on my own. Feels kinda bad to make you waste your time.”
“I really don’t mind,” Jasper said, starting to reach out for Kay before she realized how weird it was to touch someone chained to the floor. “Besides, it’s not a waste of time if it’s my job, right? I might even manage not to do weird things to my neck this time.” She retreated to her sleeping bag as she chattered and patted the shiny green surface. “Probably one of the most practical gifts I’ve ever gotten — my ex-boyfriend did one decent thing at least.”
Kay wouldn’t make eye contact with Jasper all of a sudden, probably because she had veered into seriously oversharing land. “Right, I’m sure you don’t want to hear about any of that mess,” Jasper said, forcing as much cheer into her voice as possible, “and I talked you to death last time anyway. Tell me something about you!”
“I’m a personal trainer,” Kay said slowly, dragging her palms back and forth on her thighs. Jasper caught herself watching Kay’s shorts start to shift up with the motion and stretched out on her back to look at the ceiling instead. “It’s pretty fun, most of the time. Made it easy to move out here, after… y’know.” She shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t really date or go anywhere, so it’s been a lot of quiet nights at home watching TV when I’m not working out.”
For the second time since she’d met Kay, Jasper felt puzzle pieces clicking together in her head. If she was uncomfortable with talk of an ex-partner and said she didn’t date, Kay was probably aro, ace, or both. Jasper bit back the urge to explain her dad was ace too — the awkwardness level in the room was already too high.
Kinda sucked for her burgeoning crush, but it was fine. She would work on getting over it, and remember not to bring up romance or sex stuff unless Kay said something otherwise. Fumbling around for a new topic, Jasper fell back on her nerd side and asked, “How do you feel about board games?”
“Like Monopoly? That’s… not really my thing.” Kay’s nose wrinkled in a way that suggested she too was a survivor of childhood Monopoly trauma.
“No, like Settlers of Catan?” Jasper dug out her phone and hunted down a picture of the game to show Kay. “Or anything else made in the past twenty years or so. I wouldn’t make anyone play Monopoly, I’m not a monster.”
“Settlers of what now?” Kay peered at the board setup with no sign of recognition. “Pretty sure I’d remember something like that if I’d played it. It looks complicated.”
Jasper leaned in, bright-eyed with the fervor of finding a potential new convert. “It’s not that hard, actually. Pretty sure there’s a copy kicking around the union somewhere. I’ll teach you if you like — it’ll be a great distraction.”
“Okay, sure. Why not?” Kay was smiling now, with the blissful ignorance of someone who had no idea how deep the rabbit hole she was about to step into went. Jasper dashed off to find a copy at a speed she normally reserved for life and death situations, giggling as soon as she was out of earshot.
With the perfect mix of good dice rolls and impressive strategy for a first-time player, Kay beat Jasper at three games out of four before they both got too tired to focus on playing. Jasper turned off the overhead lights, leaving nothing but the candle between them to see by, and squirmed her way into her sleeping bag. “Thanks for playing with me,” Jasper said, covering her mouth as a huge yawn got her.
She heard rather than saw Kay yawn in response. “Yeah, it was fun. We should do it again sometime.” Kay shifted from one side to the other with a soft clink of her chains and curled up. “Maybe pick something you can win next time.”
Jasper snorted a big, dumb laugh against the corner of her pillow. “Them’s fighting words, missy. Today was just beginner’s luck — I’ll get you next time.” Had that been too flirty? She fidgeted with her glamour ring, spinning it around and around with her thumb.
“I believe in you,” Kay muttered, thankfully sounding nothing more than tired. “Let’s get some sleep first though. G’night, Jas.” Jasper said good night too, trying to ignore the way her heart latched onto Kay sleepily calling her a nickname.
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Waking up from sleeping on a stone floor was only a minor improvement over waking up in a chair, and starting the day with a muffled curse from Kay when she tripped over one of Jasper’s feet wouldn’t have been her first choice. Given the fact that sunlight wasn’t searing her eyelids, it was stupidly early enough that she’d have to call the two mornings a draw.
“I can still beat you at Catan with a broken ankle,” Jasper said, working one arm free from her sleeping bag to shake it in Kay’s general direction.
Kay’s hands were on the bag’s zipper in seconds. “Holy shit, I’m so sorry, let me take a look—” She yanked the bag open and Jasper yelped loud enough to make her own ears hurt from the echo as the chilly pre-dawn air stole all her preciously hoarded body heat.
“Not actually broken!”Jasper said, trying to claw the sleeping bag back around her shoulders while Kay tried to catch her thrashing feet. “It was a joke. I may freeze to death now, though. Or die of morning.”
Kay swore again, quiet enough that Jasper suspected she hadn’t been meant to hear it. “Joke, right, of course. Sorry. Again.” Kay switched gears to tucking her back in, but Jasper was already too awake and batted her hands away.
“Do you have time for breakfast? I know a great diner nearby.” Jasper eeled out of her bag and stretched with a huge yawn. “All can be forgiven for the low, low price of a cup of coffee.”
Kay was watching her, eyes wide in the dim light, and Jasper couldn’t read her expression. “Seems like a pretty good bargain,” she said, breaking into a slow smile. “I’ve definitely got time.”
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It took Jasper a week before she could convince herself to write the text at all, and a few minutes more to work up the courage to hit send, but she finally managed. Want to come to a board game night at the union with me next Friday?
Kay didn’t reply until almost an hour later, long past the point Jasper had stopped watching her phone. She scrambled for it when it beeped and it took her two tries to put in her unlock pattern correctly. Sounds good as long as you’re ready to lose. :)
I am going to kick your ass so hard you won’t be able to look at a hexagon without crying. Jasper sent the message, immediately regretted it, and spent two minutes of frantic searching to see if there was a way to undo a text. When a line of laughing emojis showed up on her screen, Jasper found herself smiling back at them while her treacherous heart picked up its pace in her chest.
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Over the following months, both game nights and diner breakfast after the full moon became regular things. Jasper still wouldn’t let herself text Kay as much as she wanted to, but they always had a chance to catch up when they were at the union together. The new wall calendar Jasper bought hung next to her computer, with each full moon marked by a little cartoon wolf sticker so she could easily count down the days.
On the night before the next full moon, Jasper packed up her laptop and sat staring at it for a few minutes, turning her phone over and over in her hand. Would you be interested in watching some of Saturn Arising tomorrow? sat on the screen, unsent. Her ex had grudgingly let her show him two episodes before declaring it “too ridiculous for anyone to enjoy” and refusing to watch any more of it.
In retrospect, he’d been a jerk. Kay never had a harsh word to say about anything, outside of their friendly trash talk over board games. Jasper conjured up the image of Kay’s warm smile, the same one she got to see every time they met up, and hit send.
Kay answered right away: That’s your fav, right?? I’d love to! There was a heart emoji. Jasper sent back a thumbs up and then set her phone aside so she could muffle her anguished groan by smashing her face into her pillow.
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Jasper stomped her way into the union hall maybe twenty minutes to sunset and used her murderous glare to keep the few people hanging around from asking any questions that would slow down her progress toward Kay. She took a second to collect herself outside of what she’d come to think of as their room, but all the deep breathing in the world wasn’t doing much for her.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said as she pushed the door open. The room was much warmer than the hall, thanks to a space heater she’d requisitioned once winter hit. Kay was sprawled out across her usual blanket, manacles already in place but not chained down to the floor. Jasper had slowly been convincing her it was okay to only wear the manacles for most of the night, though Kay still insisted on being fully restrained for the change itself and if Jasper was sleeping.
Ninety percent of Jasper’s irritation melted away at Kay’s welcoming grin, but that vanished in a heartbeat as Kay started sniffing the air. “You’re hurt,” she said, scrambling to her feet and making it to Jasper’s side in under a second flat. “What happened?”
“Had to track someone’s escaped construct down. I fell into a ditch, among other things.” Something poked the back of her neck when she stretched, and Jasper tugged another twig out of her hair. “I think it was meant to be some kind of animated pony toy for her daughter, but it got out of their yard and booked it.”
“Let me see your injury,” Kay said, in the most insistent tone Jasper had ever heard out of her. “Please, Jas. I can smell the blood, and I need to know you’re okay.” Despite the hint of growl in her voice, her eyes were wide and had a hint of shine to them that Jasper absolutely did not want to see turn into actual tears.
She shrugged out of her jacket and set it on the chair behind her, then peeled off her sweat-soaked shirt. A leaf had worked its way down into her bra, so she fished that out while turning so Kay could get a better look at her side. It wasn’t the first time she’d had someone check her over for injuries. Jasper clung to that familiarity rather than the tsunami of discomfort hitting her as she stood in front of her crush almost topless.
“They’re mostly scratches, but I can clean them and slap some bandages on if it’ll help,” Jasper offered. Probably a good idea either way, and something to do with her hands sure sounded amazing right about now.
“It really would, thank you.” Kay seemed magnetized to her as Jasper dug out her first aid kit and perched on the edge of her chair to get to work. Kay took all of half a step back and then sank down to sit at Jasper’s feet. Another fun mental image to add to the towering pile Jasper had to ignore. She swiped an alcohol wipe over her collection of tiny cuts to distract herself, then took her time dabbing them with a healing ointment and sticking bandages over any that were plausibly big enough to need one.
Jasper got to her feet, giving Kay a slow turn. “I’ll be good as new in a few days, promise.” There were also some bruises dotted along her shins that would be turning hideous colors by then, but with any luck Kay’s nose wasn’t good enough to sniff that information out. “Feel any better?”
“Maybe a little.” Kay let her head fall forward, baring the back of her neck and making Jasper’s pulse go haywire. “It’s dumb, but all I can think is that I should’ve been there to protect you. And I know you can take care of yourself, but, like, you shouldn’t have to all the time? Does that make any sense?”
How was someone that sweet even real? Jasper reached down to help Kay back onto her feet and then kept holding onto her hands, because it had been a shitty day and she had too many feelings. “It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not. You want me to be safe, and that’s always nice to hear.”
“Well… good.” Kay jolted as her transformation hit. Her hands gripped tight around Jasper’s, and her ears flattened back, but she stayed put. “Ah man, speaking of being safe. I guess you win that point.”
A rogue giggle slipped out of Jasper’s mouth. “I’ll still chain you down if you want,” she blurted out, then immediately had to backpedal. “No, sorry, that sounds too weird, I meant if it helps you feel less anxious or whatever. Look, it’s been a really long day.”
“Want a hug?” Kay offered, doing the little head tilt that would have made Jasper agree to literally anything she asked. For the most part, Jasper wasn’t a hug person, but it felt different when it was an option rather than an obligation. She probably shouldn’t, but between Kay’s sweet brown eyes and her own exhaustion, all the resolve not to make her crush worse was gone like it had never existed.
Jasper nodded and Kay lifted her manacled hands up so she could fit Jasper into the loop of her arms and pull her close. Kay was warm all over, even in the cozy heat of the room, and her shoulder was at the perfect height for Jasper to rest her head on it. She was big and solid and steady as Jasper hesitantly wrapped her arms around Kay’s waist.
Kay let out a gusty sigh that ruffled Jasper’s hair and settled into the hug like she had no plans to ever leave it. Jasper closed her eyes, and let the context of why they were hugging slide out of focus. “This feels really safe,” she whispered, like it was some great secret and not just something weird her exhausted brain had spit out.
“I’m glad,” Kay whispered back. One of her hands stroked over the ends of Jasper’s hair, right between her shoulder blades. Jasper squeezed Kay a little tighter, and stayed put well past the point that anyone could have reasonably kept calling it a hug rather than a cuddle, but Kay didn’t pull away at all.
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They never got around to watching Saturn Arising the night Jasper was injured, but Kay texted to ask if they could meet up and watch it another time. Jasper jumped at the chance, and Kay suggested they marathon it at her house. Hyped up on anticipation and busy imagining five hundred different but equally unlikely scenarios, Jasper barely slept the night before and passed out all of three episodes in.
She woke up the next morning stretched out on Kay’s couch with a pillow under her head, a blanket tucked up to her chin, and a bottle of water on the floor within easy reach. A note next to the water read: Figured you needed the sleep, so I paused the show. Try again next weekend?
Jasper was still reeling from the amount of care showered on her when Kay returned from a morning run, breathing hard. A few strands of hair were stuck to her forehead, which Jasper locked her eyes on to avoid the patches of sweat-soaked tank top clinging to Kay’s torso that she wanted to stare at instead. “G’morning,” Kay said, waving like Jasper could have somehow missed her. “You sleep okay?”
“Great, actually,” Jasper said, realizing how true it was as the words left her mouth. She was so well-rested that she might have even been able to manage a run of her own — before coffee, even. “Thanks for letting me sleep. And sorry to pass out on you.”
Kay waved the apology away. “Aw, it’s fine. You only drooled on me a little bit.” While Jasper’s soul was exiting her body in sheer horror, Kay kept right on talking: “Want to go get breakfast? There’s a place that does amazing smoothie bowls — I bet you’d love ’em. Just lemme take a quick shower first.”
Jasper managed some kind of affirmative noise and Kay headed for her bathroom, peeling off her shirt as she went. The second she was out of sight, Jasper let herself tip over sideways onto the couch. She stared off at the far wall until some semblance of rationality floated up out of the whirling mess of hormones that took up more and more of her brain with every passing day.
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Kay was clearly trying to toss and turn quietly, but the manacles made that impossible. “Something on your mind?” Jasper asked, peering into the dark but unable to see anything beyond a Kay-shaped lump on the floor. Before Kay could even start to apologize, Jasper added, “I was still awake.” The amused huff from the other side of the room told her she’d managed the perfect timing.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Kay said, rolling over again with a muffled clank. “Just a busy week. Normally I try to wear myself out before the full moon, like run a lot or whatever — it helps. But I haven’t had a chance and I’m just wide fucking awake tonight.”
Jasper turned on her phone flashlight and did her best to ignore the time. “There’s a training room we could use, if you wanna try to burn off some energy.” She slid out of her sleeping bag and unzipped it so she could wrap it around her shoulders as a blanket cape. “Only rule is that if I fall asleep, you have to carry me back here.”
“I wouldn’t leave you sleeping in some random room,” Kay said. She was already on her feet, shaking out one leg and then the other. Jasper caught a hint of her fangs when she smiled and added, “I might do a few sets of Jasper-lifts before I brought you back, though.” Jasper put a hand to her heart in mock-outrage, and chucked her pillow at Kay’s head.
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Kurt’s birthday landed on the day of the full moon, and he had invited everyone in the union like always. Jasper’s dad had been tasked with making a few small batches of cupcakes for people with special dietary needs, which of course meant Jasper got drafted to help carry them to the hall. There was no escaping at that point without hurting Kurt’s feelings, so Jasper grabbed a drink and tried to find some quieter corners to hang out in.
The festivities were still in full swing when Kay turned up later in the evening. With a few drinks in her system, it felt natural for Jasper to stretch up on her toes and wave with both arms as soon as she spotted Kay across the hall. Kay was laughing for some reason, and Jasper was heartbroken that she couldn’t hear it over all the music and chatter.
Jasper hurried over as Kay did her best to ease through the crowd with her huge duffel bag clutched to her chest. Kay’s smile had gone strained by the time Jasper made it to her side, and she flinched when a new song came on with bass loud enough that Jasper felt it in her bones. “Let’s get out of here,” she half-shouted toward Kay’s ear, already dragging her to the nearest exit.
The music was audible right up until they got to their room and closed the door so the soundproofing enchantments kicked in. “Thanks, Jas. You’re the best,” Kay said, dropping her bag so she could give Jasper a quick hug. Jasper made a grumpy noise as she started to pull away and clung tighter. “You doing okay there?”
“Might be kinda drunk,” Jasper told one of Kay’s collarbones. They weren’t great to rest her forehead against, but she didn’t want to move. “Hey, you wanna see something cool?”
“Sure, as long as you’re not about to puke,” Kay said. “That would be pretty uncool.” She was rubbing gentle circles on Jasper’s back with her big, warm hand and it was nice beyond all reason.
Jasper shook her head, hard enough to confirm she hadn’t had enough to be dizzy. “I’m not that drunk, promise.” She grudgingly let Kay go and took a step back, holding up her right hand with her glamour ring. “So you know I fight stuff sometimes, right?”
“Yeah, the bit where you threw a knife into a sheet of metal kinda was a dead giveaway,” Kay said, sticking out her tongue. She was relaxed and smiling, but Jasper felt like she was standing on the edge of a cliff.
“So sometimes… it doesn’t go great, and I get hurt.” Jasper shut her eyes and pulled off the ring. There was no change on her end — the glamour didn’t have any physical sensation to it. Knowing that Kay was getting her first look at the huge scar that ran all the way from Jasper’s left eye down to her chin was a pretty strong emotional sensation, though.
Jasper startled when Kay’s hands landed on her shoulders to pull her back into a hug. “But you survived,” Kay said. Her voice was strained and she was holding on to Jasper really, really tight. “You survived,” she repeated in a whisper.
“You don’t think it’s ugly?” Jasper asked. It felt like she was seventeen again, getting out of the hospital after the job that had gone horribly wrong and peeling off the bandages to see the damage for the first time. “I can keep the ring on, if you want.”
Kay let out a mix of incoherent growling and some choice curse words. “Only if you want,” she said, fierce and insistent, “and if anybody tells you you’re ugly, you let me at them and I’ll make sure they won’t say it a second time.”
Jasper’s laugh was a little choked up, but it helped ease some of the awful tension in her gut. “You can’t murder people just because they’re jerks. Union rules.”
“You guys are such killjoys.” Kay let out a big, dramatic sigh and tucked her chin over the top of Jasper’s head. “Okay, you want to know my big secret? You can laugh, but don’t tell anybody.”
Jasper tried to shake her head, but mostly gave herself a noogie on Kay’s chin. “You don’t have to share something back if you don’t want to. I just wanted to show you.” Some part of her had known Kay wouldn’t care about the scars and Jasper had never been happier to be right.
“It’s fine. Mine’s really dumb.” Kay took a deep breath. “Right, and again, it’s totally fine if you laugh — Kay’s short for Karen. I don’t hate my name or anything, but it kinda became a meme and people just would not stop with the dumb jokes, so I started going by Kay.”
Jasper tried. She really tried, but relief and alcohol were too potent a combination and she fell into a helpless giggling fit, shaking in Kay’s arms. They stayed like that until her alarm went off and Kay pulled away so she could get her manacles on before sunset.
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“Dare,” Kay said in between bites of her current favorite chew toy, a rubber crescent moon with a weird face that Jasper had given her. Her ears twitched all over when it squeaked against her still-flat back teeth. Jasper wasn’t sure if Kay had even realized she was doing it, but it was so cute that she couldn’t bring herself to mention it.
Their full moon nights really had started to feel like slumber parties, and in a moment of weakness, Jasper had suggested the quintessential party game. Now she was stuck trying to think of innocent options while most of her brain took a swan dive straight into the gutter. “Can you do a flip?” she asked.
Kay hopped to her feet with a grin and tossed her toy off to one side. “Forward or backward? Wait, no, better do forward. Might catch myself with the chain otherwise.” Jasper watched in awe as she stretched her arms up, then whirled forward in a ball and landed on her feet again. “Your turn,” Kay said. “Truth or dare?”
Jasper gave her a brief round of applause and Kay took a deep bow. “Truth. Also, can you teach me how to do that sometime? Maybe not tonight, though.” She grabbed her bag of snacks and tugged it over to find a small paper box sitting on top. “Oh yeah, dad made cupcakes today. Want one?”
“I will eat literally anything your dad made,” Kay said, words tinged with the reverence that most people had for Jet’s baking. “Though you’ll have to give me a week or so if it’s chocolate.”
“Even his stuff would be gross once it was a week old.” Jasper tried to peel the tape off neatly for all of two seconds before getting out one of her knives to deal with it the easy way. The lid popped open to reveal two cupcakes heaped with rainbow frosting, each with a little candy pride flag on top, one bi and one ace. Jasper held the box up to Kay with a grin. “Happy pride month!”
“Oh, it is, isn’t it? Thanks.” Kay plunked down next to her to check out the cupcakes. “They’re almost too pretty to eat. Is this one supposed to be for me? It’s half right, at least.”
Their hands bumped together next to the bi flag cupcake and Jasper stared at her. “That one’s mine, actually. Sorry, is the other one wrong? I thought—”
“You’re bi?” Kay asked. Her ears perked straight up and her eyes were wide enough that Jasper could actually see the whites. “Oh my god, I’m an idiot. You said ex-boyfriend and my brain was just like, ‘Well, shit, another straight girl crush,’ and gave up instantly.”
The puzzle pieces that Jasper had thought she’d assembled correctly turned out to have been jammed together wrong under high pressure and were now flying apart in every direction. “Okay, but you said you didn’t date?” She was proud of herself for managing the question when one hundred percent of her brain was busy with the word crush in flashing neon letters.
“Yeah, since I got turned into a freaking werewolf,” Kay said, reaching up to poke one of her ears. “There was no way I could date somebody without them noticing all of this. I mean, I guess I could have after you brought me here, but….” Her eyes flicked up to Jasper and away as she started slowly curling inward on herself. “Ah, fuck, I already said the crush thing out loud, didn’t I?”
Jasper pushed the box of cupcakes aside, but before she could think of what to say, Kay sat bolt upright and said, “Wait a sec, it was your turn. Truth! Did you have a crush on me too?” She looked so pleased with herself, with a big, toothy grin that made Jasper want to kiss her senseless — an option that was a lot more possible all of a sudden.
“Yeah, but it’s not past tense,” Jasper said, reaching out to take one of Kay’s hands and squeezing it tight. “I do have a crush on you. Since I thought you weren’t interested, I tried not to, but that really, really didn’t work.” It was way beyond a crush at this point, but the last thing Jasper wanted to do was drop the L-word too quickly and freak Kay out.
“Are we dating now?” Kay blurted out, wrapping a hand around Jasper’s wrist like she might make a break for it. “I mean, fuck, Jas, I like you so much. You’re amazing, you’re so nice to me, and I’ve thought you were stupid hot since basically day one. I was a goner from the second you chucked a knife into my shed wall.”
Snippets of memory were resurfacing for Jasper: every time she’d shown off her strength or weapon proficiency and Kay had stared at her in what was now clearly not shock. “Wait, so when I hauled you down to the floor on the first full moon here, was that sexy for you?”
“Probably would’ve jizzed in my pants if I hadn’t been so stressed out,” Kay muttered, looking around at everything in the room that wasn’t Jasper. “Sorry if that’s weird, or not what you’re into or whatever.”
Jasper grabbed Kay by the chin and tipped her face up. “Kay, that is ten thousand percent what I’m into, you have no idea. I worried I was being a total creep about it all the time.”
“Hey, me too.” Kay nuzzled her cheek into Jasper’s palm with a soft smile. “But I guess it worked out okay in the end, huh?” They both leaned forward at the same time. It would have been a head-on collision, but Jasper’s quick reflexes let her tip sideways to turn it into a slightly clumsy kiss instead.
She registered heat and the faint smell of rubber on Kay’s breath before Kay shoved her away at full strength. “Teeth!” Kay yelled, pointing at her mouth with both hands. “Sorry! We can’t — if I even scratch you with a tooth right now, you might turn. They gave me a big safety lecture when I handed in all that paperwork.”
“You just about gave me a freaking heart attack,” Jasper said, breaking into relieved laughter as she flopped back onto her sleeping bag. “But yeah, safety first. We can kiss in the morning?” Waking up at dawn was suddenly at the top of Jasper’s list of favorite things to do.
“First thing in the morning,” Kay agreed. Her voice was husky and her eyes were locked on Jasper’s lips. “We’ve waited this long, right? A few more hours isn’t that bad.” She tugged her blanket over and stretched out next to Jasper, reaching one hand over to take her hand again. “We can hang out until then. Talk.”
Jasper, struck with a wicked impulse, said, “Hey, it’s your turn now, right? Truth or dare?”
Kay’s eyes went huge again at whatever manic grin was on Jasper’s face and she licked her lips nervously. “Truth?” She sounded even less sure than she looked.
“Tell me a fantasy you’ve had about me.” When Kay tensed up all over, Jasper stroked a hand down her arm and gave her hand another squeeze. “I won’t laugh or anything, promise.”
“Will you tell me one of yours later?” At Jasper’s nod, Kay clenched her eyes shut and took a long, slow breath. “Okay. I guess— ah, fuck, this is so weird. Please don’t laugh, seriously. I’ll die.”
Jasper poked her in the side, making Kay squeak and try to roll away, only to be stopped by their joined hands. “I won’t,” Jasper said. “I’m not in any position to judge anyway, trust me. I’ve thought about you a lot, and not just sex stuff. Last week, I spent like an hour daydreaming about taking you to dinner — holding doors for you and pulling out your chair and things like that.”
Kay cracked one eye open and her smile went soft. “Really? I’d love that. Going on dates, I mean — I don’t think anybody’s ever pulled out my chair for me, but I’m game to try that kind of stuff if you are. Since we’re girlfriends now?”
Girlfriends hit Jasper right in the gut. She started to pull Kay closer, but remembered herself and switched to hanging onto her arms like they were the only thing keeping her tethered to the ground. “Yeah, we’re girlfriends, you huge dork.”
“Says the woman who can quote every episode of Saturn Arising from memory?” Kay was holding on just as tight, and her ears were twitching up a storm as she looked at Jasper.
“You’ve already watched the whole thing three times, and only one of those was with me,” Jasper pointed out. “Also you’re trying to side-track me. Tell me your fantasy. No judgment, no laughing, cross my heart.”
Kay stuck out her tongue, but didn’t argue. “Fine, if you wanna know that bad. So we’re here and rough-housing a bit. I try to pin you down and you break out of it and you tell me if I’m gonna be a bad dog, you’re gonna have to treat me like one.” Kay tucked her legs up and her head down in what looked like a solid attempt to become an armadillo. “And then you chain me up on my hands and knees and rail me, basically.”
“We could do that,” Jasper said, getting a little breathless at the idea. Even imagining Kay naked felt too potent to deal with, now that it was something she might actually get. “I mean, if it counts as railing with hands, because I definitely don’t have a strap-on in my bag.”
“What, now?” Kay poked her head up, ears flattened, looking so shocked that Jasper instantly started formulating an apology. “Like, yes, very yes, holy shit, Jas, but… you don’t think the dog thing is weird?”
Jasper let out a nervous little laugh, fighting her own urge to squish into a ball. “I don’t know if it’s weird, but it’s definitely hot. Though maybe — does it have to be a bad dog thing?” Despite her best efforts, she had to hide her face against her arm to continue. “Like, if I still chain you down and everything, is it okay if I call you a good girl instead?”
“Yeah,” Kay said, so softly Jasper could barely hear her, “that would be… really nice, I think.” She was starting to uncurl and her ears had straightened back up. “You don’t have to be mean. I just like getting bossed around a lot and, uh, most people don’t expect that, I guess?”
“Their loss,” Jasper said firmly. “Right, if I’m gonna be bossy, I want you naked. Or at least half naked.” She sat up and tugged at the bottom of Kay’s tank top. “No way to get this off with the manacles in the way.”
“What if I told you I wasn’t super attached to the shirt?” Kay asked, sitting up and watching Jasper’s face carefully. “I think you could maybe get it out of the way if it wasn’t in one piece.”
Jasper turned and started to fumble for one of the knives in her jacket before realizing this was very much an ask first situation. “Wait, did you mean cut it off you, or tear it off you?”
“Maybe tear it? Not sure the knives are a great idea when I’m already jumpy.” She relaxed as Jasper set her jacket back down, but flinched away when Jasper reached for the neckline of her tank top. “No, too close to the teeth again. Fuck, sorry, I’m so worried about biting you by accident.”
“I’ve got an idea.” Jasper hopped up and dug through Kay’s bag, pulling out her bright green bone-shaped toy with a flourish. “Let’s give you something safe to bite on instead.” She pressed it into Kay’s hand and stood over her, summoning up the best intimidating look she could manage. “Now be a good dog and put that in your mouth for me.”
Kay shivered all over and popped the toy in her mouth like a gag, biting down hard on the center. When she looked up at Jasper with her big puppy eyes, any possibility of mean or even a little stern flew right out the window. “You are so cute,” Jasper said, reaching down to tousle Kay’s thick hair. “Now let’s get your clothes off, huh?” Kay nodded so hard her ears wobbled.
Jasper grabbed the manacles and pulled Kay’s hands back behind her head before she went for the tank top again. It took her two tries to get through the thicker material at the neckline, but once she did the whole thing ripped straight down the center. Kay’s moan when the pieces of her shirt fell to either side was muffled but very enthusiastic. Jasper yanked at full strength to snap the straps and tossed the tattered remains of the shirt off to one side with a grin.
Kay didn’t have anything on underneath, and Jasper took a good, long look to enjoy it. Her tits were cute and perky, and looked even smaller compared to the broad stretch of her shoulders. She had just the slightest curve to her stomach, and a trail of dark hair leading down to the edge of her pants that Jasper desperately wanted to lick.
Far too late to be helpful, Jasper asked, “Uh, hey, do you have a spare shirt with you?” Kay winced and shook her head. “I’ll try to find you something tomorrow, but I guess I better not tear anything else, huh?” Kay only shrugged, grinning around her toy.
She got up at Jasper’s urging and stood still while Jasper tugged her shorts down. The panties she had on underneath were pastel pink, with a pattern of moon phases across the front, and Jasper cracked up. Her head thunked forward against Kay’s muscular thigh and her laugh cut off as she got a deep breath full of the scent of Kay’s arousal. “Can I go down on you?” Jasper asked.
Kay shook her head and moved her hands back so she could take the bone toy out of her mouth. “I’m not a huge fan, sorry. Is just hands okay? I mean, I’m happy to go down on you, well, not right now, but in general—” Jasper cut her off by yanking her underwear down her legs.
“That’s all fine,” Jasper said, holding up a hand before Kay could try to apologize more. “I know we need to talk about this eventually, but for right now I wanna chain you to the floor and get you off whatever way works best for you. Now stay put for a second.”
Jasper dragged her sleeping bag next to the bolt set in the floor, and steered Kay over by the hips. They hadn’t chained her to it in months, but Kay had never stopped bringing the length of chain and padlock along with the manacles.
“Now let’s pretend we’d figured this out a lot sooner,” Jasper said, hooking the chain to the manacles and threading it through the bolt. “So I show you how strong I am and then I fuck you into the floor.”
She’d expected Kay to give up right away, but if anything, she fought harder this time. Jasper got to watch her muscles strain without all the stupid clothing in the way. The view was so good that she wound up toying with Kay a bit, letting her have enough slack to straighten up before tugging her right back down again.
Kay’s chest was heaving by the time Jasper stopped playing around and pulled her all the way to the floor. Jasper yanked the chain tight, leaving almost no slack, but she kept the key in the lock where Kay could reach it.
Circling back in front of Kay, Jasper stripped out of her pajamas. She took a second to steel herself before pulling her ring off too, dropping it onto her discarded clothing. The hungry way Kay was staring at her didn’t change in the slightest, but Jasper still felt a bit better when she was out of her field of view again. Getting to drag her hand down the sheen of sweat on Kay’s back helped a lot, as did the startled yip she got when she nudged Kay’s legs further apart.
Kay had never sprouted a tail with the manacles on, but there was a patch of thicker hair at the base of her spine that Jasper suspected was where one would have been if she had. Jasper hovered her hand over it, but decided she’d put things off long enough. Really, between the two of them being so clueless, it had gone way beyond long enough.
She squeezed the inside of Kay’s thigh and Kay let out a full-on growl. “Fuck me already, Jas, or we’re gonna find out if I can break these chains when I want to bad enough.” Kay shifted forward, resting her head on her arms and lifting her hips up even higher.
The coarse hair between her legs was slicked down with sweat and how turned on she was. Jasper dragged two fingers through the mess and they slipped inside Kay’s body without her even trying. Despite how easy they’d slid in, Kay clenched down hard enough that Jasper worried she might not get her fingers back until Kay was good and done with them. She wrapped her other arm around Kay’s waist and pressed the heel of her hand over Kay’s clit.
“That’s perfect,” Kay said, rolling her hips to grind forward against Jasper’s hand and then back to fuck herself on her fingers. “Okay, maybe another finger. Or two. You’ve got small hands.” She giggled, which made her tighten up around Jasper in some really interesting ways. “Also I might kinda be a size queen.”
Jasper pulled her hand back and tucked four fingers together before sliding back inside Kay all at once. “I’d love to see what kind of toys you have. If all mine are too small for you, we’ll have to go shopping, or maybe we’ll need to find out if you can take two at once.” Kay swore and pushed back hard enough that Jasper had to hang onto her to keep from tipping over backwards.
“Anything you want, Jas, please, don’t stop—” Kay broke off with a sharp moan as Jasper curled her fingers a little and started thrusting in earnest. Everything was so hot that Jasper almost thought she could get off from it, between the heat and pressure on her hands and the unbelievably good view of Kay’s body tensing up in front of her a little more with each roll of her hips.
If sympathy orgasms had been a thing, Jasper was sure watching Kay come would’ve made it happen. She shook all over, her thighs snapped together, and she clenched down on Jasper’s hand so hard it almost hurt. Then she went boneless, flopping over onto one side and letting Jasper’s fingers slip out of her.
Jasper eyed her hand, wet nearly to the wrist, and brought it up to her mouth to give it a small lick. “Oh, fuck, that’s hot,” Kay said breathlessly, watching her with half-open eyes. “I wish I could taste you right now. Or kiss you. I’m not even sure if it’s safe for me to finger you, damn it.”
“Do you mind me grinding off on you?” Jasper asked, dragging her fingers up through the soft hair on Kay’s thighs. “I can think of at least one way you could taste me too, if you don’t mind me making a mess of this.” She retrieved the dog toy from where Kay had dropped it at some point and tapped it idly against one of her legs.
“Hell yes,” Kay said. She rolled over onto her back, scooting around a little to shift her arms to a more comfortable angle. “I’m all yours, at least from the waist down tonight.”
Jasper had to close her eyes, because Kay watching her rub the toy between her legs was one step too much for her to handle. It was worth the embarrassment when she passed it back and got to see Kay lick it clean with a filthy curl of her tongue. Jasper wanted a time machine, stat, but she settled for straddling one of Kay’s strong thighs.
Getting some pressure where she needed it was a relief. “I’m gonna come in like thirty seconds,” she muttered. Kay grinned and flexed her leg, making Jasper moan and grind her hips down. She braced her hands on either side of Kay’s waist and let her head fall forward. If the sleeping bag wasn’t already a loss, she felt like she was soaking enough that it would be soon.
“You smell so good right now, Jas. It’s driving me crazy,” Kay whispered. “I bet I’m gonna smell like you all night.” Jasper gave up on any hope of taking it slow, bucking her hips and grinding her clit down hard against the solid heat of Kay’s thigh. She pressed her mouth against her arm as she came, muffling all the squeaky, embarrassing noises as much as possible as she rode out the aftershocks.
Kay had unchained her hands from the floor at some point and helped support Jasper as she eased over to one side. Her leg was in a cooling wet spot, and the floor was uncomfortable as ever, and she still couldn’t kiss Kay, but Jasper was smiling so hard it hurt.
🌒 🌓 🌔 🌕 🌖 🌗 🌘
Jasper woke to the feel of Kay’s body twitching against hers and immediately fumbled for her phone. A quick check of the clock confirmed it was, by barest technicality, dawn. “It’s morning,” Jasper whispered, curling closer up against Kay’s warm back.
Kay mumbled something incoherent back and tossed an arm over her eyes. “Wait,” she said, slow and groggy. “Morning? Morning!” All at once she was in motion, squirming to roll over without putting any space between them. She patted down the top of her head and once she confirmed the wolf ears were gone, she dove straight for Jasper mouth-first.
Jasper leaned in too eagerly and their lips met hard enough that they both yelped and pulled back. “How are we so bad at this?” Jasper asked. She started giggling, which set Kay off, and they wound up clinging to each other and laughing with their foreheads pressed together.
“Not enough practice,” Kay said, almost managing solemn except for another giggle slipped out. “Okay, hold still this time.” She leaned in extra slow to give Jasper one of the softest kisses she’d ever had.
They both had morning breath, it wasn’t even light out yet, they were laying on a very hard floor without a whole lot of padding, and Jasper wouldn’t have changed a thing except to have done it months sooner. She pushed Kay onto her back and swung a leg over to straddle her to take charge for round two.
She got all of one heated kiss in before Kay said, “Not gonna make it that easy for you,” and rolled them further into the room. Jasper managed to get back on top, but she put a hand out to brace herself and smashed it straight into the box of cupcakes they’d abandoned. Lukewarm frosting squished between her fingers and she shrieked at the top of her lungs.
Kay laughed so hard she started wheezing. Jasper tried to wipe frosting on her nose in retribution, but Kay caught her wrist and licked a stripe across her palm instead. The frosting abruptly shifted from a problem to an opportunity.
Later, in the shower at Kay’s house, they would discover that rainbow frosting could leave rainbow stains in all kinds of places. They swore each other to secrecy, and sealed the bargain with another kiss.