Episode 2: Breathing Space
By Bernard Doove © 2009

Bethany was in a quandary. She had never intended to hand over the lycanthrope to the hunters; that had only been an excuse she had used to discourage Kenís ideas of Ďliberatingí the creature. She had plenty of legitimate excuses for this, ranging from shooting an animal that they werenít licensed to hunt, to pointing out that it was obviously someoneís pet. She had already told the sheriff that it was actually an exotic animal from Asia that looked a bit like a wolf, and it had obviously escaped from its owner, pointing out the custom-made shorts. After all, plenty of chimpanzees were often made to wear clothes. Of course while it was lying in a heap, it hadnít looked so obviously strange except to the trained eye, and while the sheriff was an honest hard-working officer of the law, he wasnít the smartest man in the county. She had easily persuaded him that she was the person whose responsibility it was to track down the supposed owner.

No, Bethany had fully intended keeping this incredible specimen for herself to study. Visions of fame and fortune had mixed equally with professional curiosity. She had only agreed to see Ken in order to further her own goals by finding out what he knew, if anything. Unfortunately for her, he proved to know too much, and he had presented her with a dilemma. While she had been prepared to prevaricate in order to retain a unique specimen, her sense of ethics rebelled when it turned out that the specimen was in fact a sentient being like herself, no matter the outward form. Much to her frustration, Ken had proved that point beyond doubt.

"Damn it!" she swore. "Okay, Mr Morita, you can take him, but on one condition." She had no intention of letting this golden opportunity slip completely through her fingers.

"Whatís that?" Ken asked with relief.

"Heíll be needing medical attention for a while. Iíll see him on a daily basis, and while Iím there Iíll do some tests. Oh, nothing stressful, I assure you," she hastened to add as Ken started frowning. "Iíll ask his permission before doing anything, but I cannot treat him as effectively as possible without studying him."

"I suppose that I canít argue with that," Ken replied.

"Good. Now where do you intend to take him, and how do I contact you?"

Ken pulled out one of his business cards. Taking a pen from the desk, he wrote his home address on the back, adding a little map and verbal directions to aid in finding the dirt road to the secluded cabin.

"You certainly live in the middle of nowhere. No wonder that fox woman of yours hasnít been seen up until now."

"Oh, I wouldnít quite say that," Ken demurred.

Bethany was going to ask what he meant by that, but she decided that it could wait. "Now how are you going to get him there?"

"I have a pick-up truck," Ken answered.

"Bring it to the side gate and Iíll let you in. We donít want anyone to see you taking him."

Ken nodded and left to fetch his truck. Bethany quickly let him in and closed the gates. They then went back to Kayde and assisted him to the truck. Ken had thrown a mattress in the back before heading to the veterinary clinic, so Kayde was able to lie comfortably in the back. With the tonneau cover in place, he was totally hidden.

Kayde was again tired out by the effort, and he fell asleep as Bethany instructed Ken on the care and feeding of a creature in his condition. Ken backed out of the yard and Bethany closed the gates once more, hoping that she hadnít made a mistake. She had taken note of the truckís licence plate though, just in case. She hastened back inside to see to her patients, and of course their owners who would be more than a little annoyed by now at the delay caused by the unplanned meeting.

Ken carefully drove home. Not only didnít he want to disturb the sleeping lupeen, he had no intention of attracting any attention. He could do nothing about the bumps and shakes of the dirt road however, although he did his best to minimise them. It therefore took him a bit longer to get to the cabin than usual, but the trip concluded without incident.

Jazmyn was waiting for Ken on the porch as he drove up. She walked over to him and gave him a hug as he got out of the truck. "I knew you could do it," she told him proudly.

"We were lucky. Iím pretty sure that she had no intention of letting him go until she was convinced that Kayde was a person and not just an animal. Even so, I bet she could have hung onto him. I hope that revealing your existence to her doesnít come around and bite us in the ass."

"Weíll deal with it if it happens," Jazmyn said confidently. "Now let me have a look at Kayde."

Ken nodded and took off the tonneau cover and Kayde blinked in the bright light.

Although Kayde had slept for a while, the shaky ride on the dirt road had woken him again, and he was very happy that the journey was finally over. When he got over being dazzled, Kayde focused on the vixen. <You must be Jazmyn,> he said.

<Yes I am. Welcome to our home, Kayde.>

Kayde looked around. Her home was apparently a well-maintained cabin surrounded by gardens, all situated within a forest. At least it seemed he would be recuperating in pleasant surroundings. <Nice looking place that you have here,> he told her.

<Thank you. We work constantly to improve it,> she said with evident pride.

Kayde looked at Ken and asked, <What is your relationship to this human?>

<He is my life-mate,> she answered.

Kayde nodded. <I guessed as much, considering the effort that he went to in getting me.>

<We can tell you all about it later. Right now we had better get you comfortable inside.> She turned to Ken and said, "I have the spare room ready. Iíll help you get him inside."

Ken was happy for the assistance. The unsteady wolf was too large and cumbersome for just one person. Supporting him on either side, they helped him walk inside. Without stopping in the living room, they took him to the spare bed and laid him on it, propped up by several pillows.

Kayde sighed with relief. The surroundings might be unfamiliar, but at least they were amenable. From what heíd glimpsed as they came in, the inside was as well cared for as the outside, with a comforting hominess. Right now though, he was hoping that would extend to a good meal. He was starving!

<Could I get something to eat and drink, please?>

<Iíll get you a drink immediately. A meal wonít be long. Ken commed me to let me know what sort of a diet youíd need to aid recovery, and Iíve been cooking something especially for you.>

<Thank you. Youíre most generous,> Kayde said sincerely.

<You can repay me later with some news from back on the old world. Itís been a long time for me.>

<The old worldÖ that sounds so strange to me. It still seems like a bad dream.>

<It will get better. Now Iíd best get you that drink.>

Jazmyn left, but she was soon replaced by Ken. The man said something incomprehensible to him, but his tone was warm and friendly. He handed a remote control to him, pointing at the portable TV. Kayde nodded. The tech might be different, but some things were readily recognisable. He wasnít in the mood for TV though, so instead he closed his eyes to rest. A few moments later, or so it seemed, Jazmyn touched him on the good shoulder and handed him a steaming mug. He sniffed it Ė chicken broth. Not exactly what heíd been expecting, but welcome nevertheless.

As he slurped the hot soup, Jazmyn said, <No caffeinated drinks for the moment. This will be a lot better for you anyway.>

Kayde shrugged, then regretted it as his shoulder stabbed him with pain. He finished the broth quickly and asked for another. Jazmyn quickly had it filled again. It slaked his thirst and quelled his hunger pangs, but Jazmyn assured him that solid food was due soon.

Kayde asked, <While I am waiting, can you tell me how you got here?>

Jazmyn gave him an account of how she fled for her life, causing a few raised eyebrows. She described how Ken ran into her, brought her home and cared for her. She had just about covered the first day when Ken walked in with a plate filled with hot food on a serving tray.

"Here you go. Plenty of iron-rich food to help rebuild your blood supply, and lots of nutritious goodies for the rest of you." As Jazmyn translated, Ken allowed the wolf to carefully reposition himself before putting the tray in his lap.

The food smelled delicious. <Thank you,> he said as he picked up the fork, noting that there was nothing needing to be cut with a knife.

<Youíre welcome,> Ken replied.

<I thought that you didnít speak my language?> Kayde queried.

<He doesnít,> Jazmyn responded instead. <He just knows a few words and phrases. Obviously this language was of no use here, so I have never taught him anything but a few phrases.>

<I see,> Kayde said, then started eating with gusto.

Kayde had intended talking more, but a full stomach quickly made him drowsy, and he didnít even notice Ken removing the tray and plate as the couple left him to get some more rest.

"Heíll probably sleep for hours," Ken commented.

"It would be best if he did so," Jazmyn agreed. "We can wait for answers to our questions. Do you think that you got away clear?"

"Itís hard to tell. Too many people involved, so there are many ways things can yet go wrong. Doctor Carter will probably come here this evening, and sheís still an uncertain quantity."

"It canít be helped, but if nothing else Iíll have someone to turn to if I get seriously sick," Jazmyn pointed out.

"Yeah, I suppose. I admit that Iíve been concerned about that possibility, but Iíve been too worried about exposing you to do anything about it."

Jazmyn hugged Ken amorously. "You worry too much about me, but I love you for it."

Ken kissed her then said, "Letís hope that this Doctor Carter is trustworthy. Frankly I got the impression that she was more upset at losing a valuable specimen than concerned about doing the right thing. Hopefully giving her two subjects instead of just one will mollify her. Are you prepared for some rather personal prying?"

She gave him a lopsided grin. "Since when is that any different from a regular physician? Anyway, I pretty much expected that when I conceded letting her come here."

"Donít hesitate to let me know if she goes too far. I wonít have my wife treated like a laboratory specimen."

Jazmyn hugged him fiercely. "Just donít do anything that might make me lose you," she said fervently.

Kayde did sleep until late afternoon. A full bladder woke him then, and Ken had to help him to the bathroom and then back to his bed again. Jazmyn then took the opportunity to chat with the wolf while Ken made dinner.

Jazmyn continued to describe the events that had happened since she arrived, how she learned English and Kenís generosity and kindness. <Fortunately my gift for languages enabled me to comprehend and adjust far more quickly than I would have otherwise.>

Kayde said, <I suppose Iím going to have to learn this English. I donít have your facility with languages though.>

<Iíll be happy to teach you. I donít mind translating for you until you can cope by yourself.>

<Thank you. So, youíre a Reformist?>

<I was, or at least I was a strong supporter of my Companionís beliefs.>

<No wonder you fled for your life,> Kayde commented.

<Is it still as bad?> Jazmynís curiosity had been awakened after she had long since put aside any hope of ever hearing anything about her former world.

<Worse if anything, although that might be a good sign in a strange way. It shows that the movement is spreading and the authorities are reacting to that.>

<Did it affect you?>

Kayde looked sad. <It never really got a chance to.>

<What do you mean by that?>

<I never got to know my Companionís stance on the subject.>

Jazmyn was perplexed. <How could you not know?>

<Because he was killed in a car accident two days before I was released from the Quickening facilities.>

Jazmyn gasped. <YouÖ you never met your Companion? I canít comprehend how that must feel to you.>

<Itís like a massive part of me is missing. Iíve been wandering the world trying to fill it.>

<How could you afford to do that?>

<As you know, we become legal persons as soon as we are quickened. As his Companion, I automatically became his heir in the absence of a spouse, and his family is quite wealthy. Iíve been travelling for years and Iíve hardly made a dent in that inheritance.>

<All these years and youíve never found someone to replace him? Thatís very sad. However, never give up hope.>

Kayde snorted in derision. <I seem to be stuck in a world that regards me as a freak. What do you think my chances are?>

<Better than you might think,> Jazmyn demurred. <Remember that I found my Lifemate here.>

<Lightning might strike twice, hey? Pardon my scepticism.>

<If youíll pardon my optimism.>

<Deal! Now tell me more about my new neighbourhood.>

Jazmyn was still trying to describe a year and a half of new experiences when Ken announced that dinner was ready. He asked Jazmyn to ask Kayde whether he wanted to have his in bed, or was he feeling up to sitting at the dinner table. Kayde opted to get out of bed. While it couldnít work miracles, food and sleep had done wonders, and he managed to get to the table without assistance, although Ken hovered nearby just in case. Once seated, he was served a juicy steak with vegetable sides. He was forced to ask for someone to cut up his steak, but after that he coped just fine with one hand. As he ate, he felt strangely at home. While his Companionís family had welcomed him into their home, his presence was a constant reminder to everyone that he had been intended as a twenty-first birthday gift to their son/brother, and it made their sense of loss linger. With all the good will in the world, they still had not been able to make him feel as comfortable as these two near-strangers were doing. He began to feel just a tiny bit more optimistic about the future.

It was obvious to Kayde that Jazmyn and Ken were made for each other despite coming from different worlds. They worked together so well, touched each other lovingly, and laughed a lot. It made his loss feel even more poignant, and he might have become depressed if it wasnít for the fact that their sheer happiness at being together was so contagious. In fact he could not help smiling when they did.

After the couple had cleaned up the dinner mess, they seated Kayde on an easy chair while they sat together on the sofa. They had an odd three-way conversation, with Jazmyn acting as interpreter between he and Ken. Kayde told them how he eventually parted company with the family and started his life as a wanderer. He didnít know exactly what he wanted any more, but he was certain it wasnít going to be found maintaining the status quo.

Weeks turned into months as Kayde travelled around the country, then other countries, occasionally taking a job, although he only did so for the social interaction and not for the money. A few times he thought heíd found some place to settle down, but each time the dream fell apart and he set off again. Lately heíd been disappearing into the countryside for days or even weeks, which is what heíd been doing when heíd been caught by the storm and flung into a strange new world. He had to admit that being the only lupeen in a world filled with humans was very daunting, but perhaps the challenge would bring something new. <Or perhaps Iíll go look for a way back,> he concluded.

<You can try that without us,> Jazmyn replied. <This is where I belong now, and we fear the possibility of accidentally crossing over.>

<I can understand that,> Kayde said, then his ears twitched. <I can hear a vehicle in the distance. Could that be the vet?>

Jazmynís ears had picked up the noise also. <Iím unfamiliar with the sound of that vehicle, so you are probably right. We have very few people driving up this way, but our neighbours know about me, so theyíre okay.> She turned to Ken. "A carís coming."

Ken got up. "Iíll meet Doctor Carter outside, if itís her. Might as well make us all some coffee, Jaz. It might help make the visit more comfortable."

"It canít hurt," Jazmyn agreed.

Ken went out onto the porch and waited. He could hear the car now and didnít recognise it as either Elizabeth or Rickís, or even his sister Sakuraís. Sure enough, a Nissan Pathfinder turned into his driveway and Ken could see Bethany behind the wheel.

She pulled up right next to the steps, shut off the engine and got out. Looking about, she commented, "Nice place you have here. Iím glad to see it. I was half expecting to end up at the old sawmill with egg on my face."

"Iíve been nothing but honest with you, Doctor Carter. I hope that youíll do us the same favour," Ken replied.

She nodded. "I suppose Iíd better do what I said Iíd do then. Is he awake?"

"Kayde is awake and has been chatting with us. He slept a lot of the day and has a good meal, so he seems to be doing okay."

"Good, although Iíll make certain of that for myself." She took her kit out of the car and stepped up onto the porch.

Ken opened the door for her and they walked inside. Bethany came to an abrupt halt as she came face to face with Jazmyn. Ken said, "Doctor Carter, I would like you to meet Jazmyn whom I am proud to call my wife. Jazmyn, this is Doctor Bethany Carter."

"Welcome to our home, Doctor," Jazmyn said.

Although she had been expecting to see a fox woman as Ken had forewarned, the reality was still a shock. She was dressed in a pretty skirt and a flattering tank top, and she spoke perfect English; she seemed soÖ normal. Then something else registered. She looked at Ken and said, "Your wife?"

Ken solemnly replied, "Yes, doctor, my wife. I realise that you might find that shocking, but by the customs of the world she comes from, itís perfectly normal. We fell in love after she had been staying with me for several months."

Bethany nodded slowly, taking in that concept. Now she could finally understand his motivation Ė he had a huge emotional stake in this too. She looked back to Jazmyn. "Sorry for being rude. This is a bit of a shock to me." She held out her hand to shake Jazmynís. "Iím pleased to meet you, and I hope that you will give me the opportunity to examine you professionally."

"I would be happy to do so, Doctor," Jazmyn replied with a careful smile. She didnít want to give the doctor the wrong impression with a toothy grin.

"I suppose Iíd better look at my patient now."

"Heís right behind you, Doctor."

Bethany turned around and saw Kayde watching them with interest.

"We were having a nice conversation when you arrived," Jazmyn explained. "Iíll be translating for you, of course, although I suppose that you donít normally have patients with whom you can converse."

"Not ones that can reply, at least," Bethany said fervently. "Letís have a look at that dressing first."

Bethany removed the bandages and redressed the wound after nodding in satisfaction at what she found. Then she asked Kayde to cooperate with an intensive examination which continued until Kayde gave a jaw-cracking yawn.

Bethany announced, "Thatís enough for today. Kayde needs his rest. Please convey my thanks to him for being so helpful."

<The doctor is grateful for your cooperation, but itís time you got back to bed.> Jazmyn beckoned Ken over to get him to help steady the weary wolf, and they got him quickly to bed. He was asleep almost the moment that he hit the pillow. Ken closed the door behind him although he felt fairly sure that nothing was going to wake the weary lupeen for a long while.

"Would you like a cappuccino, Doctor?" Jazmyn asked.

"Iíd like that, but please call me Bethany."

"Well, Bethany," Ken started, "How do we stand?"

"In what way, Ken?" Bethany queried.

"In just about every way that you can think of, I reckon. You have been entrusted with our secrets. Are you going to tell anybody? Are you biding your time for your own purposes? Or are you really going to help us?"

"You really are the suspicious type, Ken," Bethany said.

"Do you really blame me? And that didnít answer my questions, by the way."

Bethany sighed. "I wonít pretend that this isnít a golden opportunity for me, but my conscience wonít let me betray you. Everything that you have shown and told me just makes it even clearer that I have no right to claim Kayde, and while Iím not exactly comfortable with the idea of you and Jazmyn being married, an animal she isnít. However, you have to realise that other people are going to see things differently, and youíre not in the clear yet."

"How so?"

"Those hunters came back, and I gave them my reasons why they werenít getting Kayde back. They werenít happy at all about that. Even though I told them that they had no legal right to him, they went away proclaiming that they would get him back, one way or another."

"Damn. I wonder what trouble theyíll stir up?"

"Who knows? Iím glad that you took Kayde here. I still intend learning as much about him as I can, and you too, Jasmine, but itís better that you keep him out of view for now. Iíll save up my research for the day when you wonít be hiding any more."

"You think that will happen? Weíve managed to keep Jazmyn pretty much a secret so far."

"What? Absolutely nobody? Youíre far too optimistic, Ken. Youíve just been lucky so far. Even way out here, the unexpected can happen."

Despite his bravado, Ken knew she was right. Sakura, Elizabeth and the children were proof of that. "Alright, but for now, you keep your end of the bargain and weíll keep ours."

Jazmyn walked over with three mugs on a tray. "If you two are through being so depressing, how about we chat about more normal things?"

They chatted for about an hour before Bethany announced that she needed to head off home, adding, "Iíll be back again tomorrow evening. I donít expect there to be any problems with Kayde, but donít hesitate to call me if there is."

"Weíll do that. Thanks, Bethany," Jazmyn said gratefully.

"Goodnight," Bethany said, then got into her car and drove off. She saw the two in her rear-view mirror, standing arm-in-arm. She still hadnít embraced the concept of being married, or Life-mated as they explained was the proper term, but damned if it didnít intrigue her.

Ken said to Jazmyn as they watched Bethany leave, "So what do you think?"

"I reckon that she can be trusted. She has too much to lose otherwise, and I believe weíve hooked her personal interest also. Letís just hope that those hunters donít cause her trouble. She does not have the same emotional investment as we do."

"Amen to that," Ken said as he took them both inside.

Kayde woke up later that evening, once again due to the need to go to the toilet. He carefully made his way to the bathroom, encountering no one on the way. As he relieved himself, he heard noises coming from the other bedroom. He recognised the sound of love-making and he was happy for his hosts, but he wondered how he could ever achieve the same. Happily he did not have much time to dwell on that thought because he fell back asleep again as soon as he hit the mattress.

Kayde slept until mid morning. When he made his way out to the living room, he found Jazmyn working on some baking but no sign of Ken.

<Good morning,> Jazmyn said. <Take a seat at the table and Iíll serve you some breakfast.>

<Thanks. Whereís Ken?> Kayde asked curiously.

<He went to his office. He took a day off work yesterday to deal with you, but couldnít skip another day.>

<Of course. What did you plan to do today?>

<I bake treats occasionally, and this seemed as good a time as any. That way I can be around to tend to you if necessary.>

<Thank you, but as long as I donít over-exert myself, I should be fine. I already feel a lot better than yesterday.>

<Then we wonít undo the good by trying to do things that weíre not ready for yet, will we?>

<Yes, nurse,> Kayde replied with a grin.

<And I have the perfect non-strenuous activity in mind for you.>

<And whatís that?>

<Iím going to teach you the English language.>

Kayde groaned.

<Come on, it wonít be that bad,> Jazmyn said with a good-natured glare.

<I told you, I donít have your facility with languages,> Kayde objected. <I picked up a smattering of several in my travels, but just enough to ask the essential questions like whereís the station, point me to a hotel, and where are the public toilets?>

<Plenty of people learn languages without my special gift. Youíll just have to try a bit harder. Youíre not a tourist here, and while you might try to find a way back, I would not count on it. You are going to have to communicate with people here, and I cannot be there to translate for you all the time.>

Kayde sighed. <I suppose so. Just donít expect miracles, okay?>

Jazmyn walked over to him with a plate loaded with egg, bacon and hash browns. Placing it in front of him, she said, <I wonít be unreasonable, I promise. Weíll start immediately though.> She handed him a utensil for the food. "Fork," she said, and made him repeat it before he could eat.

And so Kaydeís education commenced.

Although the weather was relatively cool, Jazmyn normally had the front door open for fresh air. Of course, to people who possessed fur, this was very comfortable. It was also easier to hear vehicles approaching from further away. It did little to detect arrivals that did not come by car however, especially if oneís mind is focused on language lessons.

There was a perfunctory knock at the door before a boyís voice called out as he opened the insect screen door. "Hi Jazmyn! Mom sent me over with that pound of sugar that she borrowed."

Matthew didnít come over as often as he used to since they had gotten the internet connection up at the sawmill residence, but he was still welcome at Ken and Jazmynís place at almost any time. He had been one of Jazmynís earliest friends since accidentally meeting her the previous year, and the vixen still enjoyed it when he or his sister visited. He was halfway to the kitchenette when he spotted Kayde looking at him, wide-eyed in concern.

"Oh wow! Another one! Hi, Iím Matt. Whoíre you?"

"This is Kayde, Matt. He doesnít speak English yet. Iíve just started trying to teach him." She turned to the wolf and said, <Kayde, this boy is a friend of ours named Matthew, although heís almost always just called Matt. He and his sister, Tina, were the first two people to meet me since I started living with Ken. His family lives at the old sawmill further up the road.>

Kayde relaxed, relieved that there was nothing to worry about. He held out his hand. "Hello, Matt."

Matt shook his hand with a grin a mile wide on his face. "Hi, Kayde. You look different to Jazmyn."

Jazmyn said, "Kayde is a lupeen, a wolf morph, not a fox like me."

"Howíd he get here?"

"Remember how I told you that I somehow crossed over during a storm? Well Kayde did the same a few nights ago. He was shot by some hunters who were frightened of him. We convinced the vet who fixed him up that he needed to be with us."

"Hey! Is he that werewolf that they had on the news on Sunday?" Jazmyn nodded. "Boy, did they get it wrong! Iím sorry that they shot you, Kayde."

Jazmyn translated that last bit for Kayde who nodded and smiled at the boy.

Matt said, "I gotta go. Mom wanted me back straight away. Just wait until she hears about this!"

"Goodbye, Matt. Please thank your mother for the sugar."

"I will. Bye, Jazmyn! Bye, Kayde!" With a cheery wave, he departed.

<He seems like a nice boy,> Kayde remarked.

<He is, and so are the rest of his family.> Jazmyn proceeded to tell Kayde all about them, and their role in the events that led up to her mating with Ken. She had barely finished when they heard a vehicle approaching.

Kayde looked at Jazmyn queryingly, but she just grinned back. <It sounds like Elizabeth is coming to see for herself. After being surprised last time, she probably wants to find out all about you. If sheís bringing Tina, youíd better watch out Ė sheís quite a tail hugger!>

Jazmyn met Elizabeth at the door. "Is what Matthew told me true? Thereís a wolf-man here?" Elizabeth asked.

"Come on in and see for yourself," Jazmyn invited.

Elizabeth came in, saw Kayde, and shook her head in wonder. "This place is becoming Grand Central Station for furry people."

"Elizabeth, this is Kayde. If you heard that new article about a werewolf, thatís him."

"Hello, Kayde. You arenít really a werewolf, I hope?"

"Hello, Elizabeth," Kayde said with a smile.

"Kayde has only learned a few words of English so far, so you canít really converse unless I translate," Jazmyn explained. "And no, heís just a wolf morph, not a werewolf."

"Thatís okay, Jazmyn. I just wanted to confirm what Matt told me. I left him minding Tina and the stove too, so I need to hurry back. Iíll drop by at a more convenient time for a real talk."

"Okay, Elizabeth. Tell Tina hello for me."

Elizabeth departed, driving out barely before Ken arrived home. Jazmyn met him on the porch with her usual ĎWelcome homeí hug and kiss.

"I take it that Elizabeth knows about Kayde?" Ken asked.

"Yes. Matt dropped by and of course he told her about him, so she had to come to look for herself."

"Fair enough. So howís Kayde doing?"

"He hasnít over-exerted himself, so heís been fine all day, but he hates his English lessons."

"If thatís the worst that happened all day, then I call it a very good day." He waved to Kayde as he entered. "Hello, Kayde."

"Hello, Ken. How are you?" Kayde replied.

"Good, thanks." Ken didnít try to converse more. He was sure that Kayde would only understand some phrases so far.

Jazmyn said, "I was wondering though why Elizabeth didnít already know about Kayde. I thought that you would tell her and Rick at work today."

As Elizabeth was Ken and Rickís receptionist and secretary and the only other people besides Kenís sister who knew about Jazmyn, she thought he would have told them why he had been absent the previous day.

"I thought that it would be best to keep this to myself for now. What they donít know canít hurt them. I didnít think about Matt dropping in though. Oh well, I hope Iím just being paranoid."

The rest of the evening went similarly to the previous one. Bethany arrived to check Kaydeís progress and expressed great satisfaction with the rate of healing. She then continued her detailed examination of the wolf until she ran out of tests that she could perform with the limited equipment at hand.

"I really wish that we were back at my clinic. This is a bit frustrating."

"If this incident blows over, we could probably oblige you, as long as you donít mind opening up for a night visit while nobody else is around," Jazmyn told her.

That sounds as if you have done excursions like that before," Bethany commented.

"We have," Jazmyn admitted.

"Then Iíll hold you to that. In the meantime, can we start on a detailed examination of you tomorrow?"

"Thatís fine by me."

Bethany left feeling that she had accomplished a lot that day.

Wednesday was usually Kenís work at home day, but because he missed Monday, he chose to go into the office as usual. Jazmyn continued trying to teach Kayde English, but was getting a bit frustrated by his poor aptitude for the task. She had to remind herself occasionally that it had only been two days and Kayde had not been created with the same ability as she had. About midday, they took a break for lunch, and afterwards she let him rest on the porch while she did some gardening. Then they had another session of English until Ken came home.

Kenís partner and friend, Rick, visited that evening, having now been told about Kayde by Elizabeth.

"At this rate, youíre going to have to open up a halfway house for furry people," Rick said with a grin. "Have you any idea what youíre going to do with him once he has healed, and if you manage to get away scot free?"

"Frankly, no," admitted Ken. "Even if he stays with us, I think heíd get very bored with nothing to do."

"He could always do what I once suggested for Jazmyn," Rick pointed out.

"Still on that kick? I donít know if that would be any better for him than for her. Thereíd be almost the same problems in the long run. Still, thatís up to him to decide, I suppose."

"Keep it in mind, my friend. Sometime the decisions end up being made for you, and not necessarily in your favour."

Bethany showed up promptly after dinner. Jazmyn was ready for the intense examination that the doctor gave her. In fact she was quite eager. The lack of a doctor had been one of her major worries while living with Ken. In her world, Companion morphs were just as susceptible to disease and injury as humans, so having Bethany in the know was taking a load off her mind.

"You seem remarkably comfortable for someone standing around in the nude," Bethany remarked at one point.

"Why not?" Jazmyn replied. "I rarely needed to wear anything back in my old world. My fur is quite enough to keep me comfortable. It took me a long while to adjust to wearing clothes frequently here."

"Is that common back there?" Bethany asked curiously.

"Itís a different culture. Even humans were a lot less uptight about clothes, at least in my country. Morphs rarely wore more than shorts like Kayde, if anything at all."

"Some people look better clothed than naked," Bethany pointed out.

Jazmyn laughed. "I suppose youíre right, and admittedly I had some nice formal wear also."

"Youíre a very beautiful fox-person, Jazmyn. Iím beginning to see why Ken was so attracted to you."

"Iím pretty sure that he liked me for more than my fur," Jazmyn replied with a knowing smile.

"Good. He didnít strike me as being the shallow type. Iím glad to hear that I was right. Still, a man and a foxÖ it seems so surreal."

"If it makes you feel any better, only a small proportion of Companion morphs have this close a relationship with a human. Mine was more like a daughter to my Companion. Itís something very different from how I feel about Ken."

"Donít mind me, Jazmyn. I might think itís weird, but Iím not condemning either of you for your feelings. Maybe in a few months it might all seem like old hat to me too."

After she finished that night, Bethany informed them that she wouldnít be coming around the next evening as she had a previous engagement, but she would probably be around on Friday. She left them with a cheery wave, very pleased with all the data she had gathered.

Thursday passed uneventfully, and by Friday, Ken was beginning to relax. It seemed that they had managed to pull off Kaydeís disappearing act without a hitch. In celebration, he quit work a little early and brought home Chinese food for the three of them. Kayde showed remarkable dexterity with chopsticks and, combined with a strong appetite, easily finished before the other two. Ken was just fetching some dessert when Jazmyn stiffened.

"I hear a car," she said.

"Bethanyís a bit early today," remarked Ken.

"It doesnít sound like her car, Ken."

"Who would be coming up here at this time? Better take precautions and hide away."

Jazmyn nodded and told Kayde to go to his room. When it became clear that the unfamiliar car was coming to their cabin, Jazmyn followed him, pulling the mobile bookcase in front of the door for concealment. Ken hastily cleared some of the mess away, realising belatedly that there was too much there for just one person. Nevertheless he stepped out of the front door just as the car pulled up. It was a standard street car, not well-adapted to the rough dirt road that it just traversed, and it looked very muddy due to overnight rains leaving large pools of water and mud. The occupant though was dressed immaculately in a suit, and stepped out of his car without paying any attention to its condition. He walked up to the porch steps and stopped there.

"Are you Ken Morita?" he asked.

"I am. Is there anything that I can do for you?"

The man pulled out a wallet from his inside coat pocket. Flipping it open, he showed it to Ken. "My name is Agent Fairbanks from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I was hoping that you could answer some questions for me about a missing exotic animal, Mr Morita."

Ken stared at the badge, the letters F.B.I. burning into his sight, and his heart sank rapidly.


To be continued in Episode 3.

All characters and this story are copyright © 2009 Bernard Doove.

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