"For the last time, shut up. We're not going to catch anything if you keep scaring the prey away with your chatter."
Jake rolled his eyes. "What prey? Is there even anything to catch in this bloody city?" He grunted as he adjusted himself on the scraped tarmac. Debris cut in his chest, his legs, poking him uncomfortably. "We've been here for hours. When you said hunt, I thought you meant something fun."
"That's because you have the attention span of the monkey you are," Liam retorted. He hadn't shifted in all the time they'd lain in wait, sprawled behind the remains of a low wall. Jake just snorted.
"So, what exactly are we looking for?" he asked. "Some of the giant pigeons? A couple of fat, juicy mice?"
Liam kicked him in the shin. "Don't let Mosley hear you say that. He's a nasty little bastard. He could kill you and make it look like an accident."
"You two. Shush!"
Jake craned his neck to the side. A brown haired fox, crouching a few yards to the side, was shooting them a reproachful look. He turned toward Liam, mouthing "jerk", and the both of them had to bury their mouths in their sleeves to suffocate a very undignified bout of chuckling.
Well. Life with the rubbish shifters wasn't too bad, after all.
"Why is there an e-mail from SuckAnyCock.com in my inbox?" Koit asked, only raising his voice slightly because he really didn't want anyone but Sera to hear about this. He was fairly sure it was her fault, and as soon as she undid it, things would be great.
"Because I thought it would help you lighten up some." She smiled sunnily, like some sort of angel which she absolutely was not.
"What the hell, Sera? This is just—" Koit's eyes skimmed over the message, and part of it caught his eye: Don't let yourself be hampered by standards; strive to suck any cock, every cock! And his username was monstercock37, for fuck's sake. The guys were... just... fucking crazy. Why would anyone want to suck a cock just because it was a cock? This made no sense, and yet Koit could feel heat pooling in his belly at the idea of his lips wrapped around—no. No.
"There are girls on the site, too," she said, like it was any sort of comfort, except it kind of was. She knew him too well.
"Not many." He was actually looking now, like some sort of freak. Most of the pictures were guys, but there were some girls, too, every so often and—oh. He was fairly sure he recognized that mouth. He'd had sex with her last week and she had taken interest chiefly in sucking him off. When he looked up from his screen, Sera's smirk was firmly in place.
"Payback's hell," he said. It was the only thing he could think of.
Alec stopped on the opposite side of the small bonfire Nahele, Hyrad, and three of the elder clan members claimed as their own. Nahele smiled when he approached, but when their eyes met, the smile faded.
"Alec," Nahele said, putting aside his empty bowl.
It was now or never. Alec took a deep breath, his voice carrying easily when he spoke. "Nahele, you are no longer fit to be alpha," he said, and was surprised that his voice was so steady. "It's time for you to step down and another to step up."
The gathering all but exploded into a sea of murmurs, and Alec watched Nahele's eyes grow wide with shock. The seconds it took for that shock to turn to anger were like an eternity as Alec stood there, refusing to step back or show any sign of weakness.
"Silence!" Nahele roared, and the clan immediately hushed, all eyes turning to Nahele as he stood. "I have served this clan for centuries. I have helped us unite, grow, and prosper." Nahele's eyes bored into Alec. "I will not yield my position, nor will I step down."
Alec felt his heart pound in his throat, but he allowed himself only one swallow, his tail swishing behind him resolutely. "Then I challenge you for the title of alpha and will meet you in the challenge field to prove myself your worthy successor."
The crowd of feral-Maith broke out into murmurs again. A few even cheered him on, clapping and yelling encouragements. Alec thought he might be sick just from the effort it took not to tremble in the swarm of energy around him. Before he could show any sign of his condition, he turned abruptly and walked away from the bonfires toward the clearing where the fight would take place.
Saturday morning was yet another hot, dry day. To beat the heat, Panos and Jason had packed the car up and started out shortly after dawn. As Jason had a Jeep, he drove. Panos, with a hand placed on Jason's lap, guided him through the town center, through the outer lying suburbs and into the countryside.
"Thank God for air-conditioning," said Panos.
"I'll say," agreed Jason looking at the heat haze that shimmered just above the bitumen of the road.
After two hours in the car, Jason spotted a sign that said 'Daylight Beach'. "What about there?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Panos. "Should we go somewhere that's signposted?"
"Probably not," said Jason. "But keep your eye out for a little track or something and we can go down and check out a more secluded spot."
Not two minutes later, Panos said, "Stop!"
Jason indicated and pulled over to the side of the road.
"There's a little track back there. I'm sure of it."
Jason reversed a couple of meters and was just able to make out an area where the grass and shrubbery wasn't so thick. "It looks like it used to be a track," he said.
"But that's what we want, isn't it?" asked Panos. "Not much chance of anyone else using it."
"I didn't know you cooked," Jason commented as he sat and watched the Perel sauté button mushrooms and some sort of crystalline grain he'd never seen before.
"Cooking was one of my responsibilities in my mother's household, and probably will be again when I am married," Ferran replied.
"You're getting married?"
"At some point. It's expected," the Perel demurred, stirring slowly. "Fertile females take many husbands. Those who can breed occupy themselves with caring for the children; those who cannot, take care of the household. Our females are highly educated, far more so than... anyhow, when my cousins and I return, we'll be the right age to be married. Ney and Parr are already promised to someone."
This information didn't sit at all well with Jason, despite telling himself he needed to be tolerant of other cultures. "Why do they let you leave?"
"Our mothers have learned that it is in our best interest to allow us some freedom before our marriages. Those who can afford it send their unmated sons to travel beyond Perelan; those who cannot, make do with a period of liberty on our home world. I'm very fortunate to be here."
His words said 'fortunate' but his tone was low, and Jason had learned when Ferran's quills went completely flat like that, Ferran was sad or disappointed. He stepped in behind Ferran and put one arm gently around his shoulder, saying nothing, just holding and offering support. Ferran's quills fluttered against his arm, but the wide smile he turned on Jason was reassuring.
I was sixteen the first time I saw another construct. He was about my age, slim and graceful, his long cat-tail balancing him as he danced. Long black hair poured down his back, like a mane against his tawny skin.
Daddy Frank had sent me off on an errand down the midway of Consolidated Shows, the carnival we were with that year. It was a bad operation, with every joint rigged, paper hangers and dips all over the midway. But they had good, solid rides and a terrific freak-show. Mama had let me join that one this year. They billed me as "The Teddy Bear Boy." I made about six dollars a week, sitting in a chair, dancing a little to some Big Band, and selling pitch cards along with tiny teddy bears in pants.
I saw the construct and stopped there on the midway, not remembering my errand, not caring that we were ten minutes until opening. He danced on that stage like a wisp of golden flame. I wanted to watch him forever. I wanted to talk to him, to get ice cream with him, to watch him dance, to dance with him, although my great clumsy bear paws wouldn't match his grace. I wanted to kiss him.
The thought surprised me, and I dropped the bucket. I'd never wanted to kiss anyone except Mama and Daddy Frank. I sure didn't want to kiss this boy that way. I picked up the bucket and hurried off for the radiator water Daddy Frank had sent me for.
I thought about him all the way to the water pump, wondering how his hand would feel in my paw. Maybe all smooth and velvety like paws of the kitten the Siamese twins had. They were pretty girls and they had a little smoke-gray kitten that was part of the act.
He wasn't on the stage when I walked back. Only Cinnamon, the colored hoochie dancer was out there, her face bored as she went through her rehearsal. I dropped off the water and scooted to the freak tent just as the horn announcing the opening blared over the loudspeakers.