'Let me take care of this Taylor.' Jason's green eyes met mine as he slid from his stool.

I'd be damned if I let this scrawny bird prince be my savior. I was as much a man as he was, and I was more than ready to vent my frustrations. Gay or not, I am far from helpless. I suppose the recent events left me a bit emotionally raw, and I was itching for a fight. Then again, I was tempted to see exactly how able he was. I stood beside the stool and gave the fallen drunk a swift kick.

'Friend of yours?' My muscles tensed and readied to spring into action. Jason met my grin with a frown. His eyebrows pushed together as though I had done something wrong.

The four friends led by a brown haired man came toward us. All were clad in jeans and t-shirts. None of them were exceptional in appearance. Too much alcohol had reshaped their bodies into softer things.

The only one of any merit or mention was well into ruin by alcohol. He stood behind the Neanderthal brunette oaf of a man that wore dingy cotton and jeans. By their stench they had been worn many more times than washed.

The young blond still had a small hint of muscle beneath the flab that was sure to consume his body in the near future. I suspected he was only a few years out of high school, and a complete failure in life. He was the 'jock' now 'failure'. He just didn't accept it yet. The poor fool still had some misplaced pride.

The slut who had laid our menus on the table was back at the bar wide eyed and watching. She didn't seem so much surprised as she was intent on the upcoming show. I could smell the damp culminate between her thighs and nearly gagged.

The oldest and leader of the group swung a pool cue. Jason caught it in his hand as though it was nothing and twisted his wrist. The wood splintered with a wooden crack. The sound was followed by a squeal as Jason's foot planted firmly in the groin of the young blond beside him. He spun and lashed the pool stick end against the leader's face sending him to the floor. Two down, two to go.

Jason threw the pool stick end to the ground as he stepped over the bodies moving toward the two that remained.

'Enough!' My voice bounced back from the cheap wood paneled walls. My words were loud and angry as the tiger threatened to emerge.

I heard the intake of breath from the slut. She ran along the bar and out of the door into the daylight as though it might protect her. Well' so much for a kind and quiet meal. I was still hungry and the hollow ate at my chest.

I walked passed Jason and backhanded the young redhead that was poised for attack. His body spun and fell to the floor. I didn't do any permanent damage. I only wanted my fucking dinner!

My legs launched me into the air and I landed in front of the small window where the fat grill cook stood staring. It wasn't a normal hop by any means. My body flew nearly eight foot up and crossed the twenty feet it took to pass the bar.

'Two cheeseburgers and fries.' I knew my tiger eyes were showing. I felt powerful and alive and let my energy spill out through my voice. 'Now!'

The last of the four ran for the door. There was nothing left of his concern for his friends. He ran with self preservation guiding him, and never looked back. I heard an engine roar to life outside. Wheels kick gravel against the side of the building as he made his escape.

A slow growling chuckle climbed up my throat as the smell of urine wafted past my nose. The poor man had pissed himself and I wondered how long it would be before he realized it.

The sound of a drum stick clattering to the floor drew my attention to the stage and the wide eyed band members.

'Don't even move.' The smell of more piss flooded the air as I looked back to the cook scrambling to put together our meal. 'You about done?!'

'I'll be outside.' Jason's voice sounded angry as he let out a short huff. I turned and saw his angry eyes as he shook his head. He stepped over our 'friends' and continued out the door.

A crunch of paper landed on the window sill and I heard the frantic stumble of feet. The cook ran to the store room and presumably the back door. I snatched at the sound and grabbed the bag of lunch without breaking eye contact with the frozen, and somewhat soiled, band members. I walked toward them and paused. I could hear their hearts beat faster and their lungs struggling to keep pace.

'By the way, you SUCK!' I turned, walked a few steps, and kicked the door off its hinges splitting it in two.

I climbed on my bike barely noticing Jason jump on quickly after. Key in the ignition, I kicked it to start and spun the tires as I hopped out onto the highway. Jason clung tightly behind me, but it seemed only enough to keep him from falling to the pavement. There wasn't any stolen intimacy and it bothered me.

It reminded me of my father and of a conversation not too long ago.

My uncle David and my father were having a heated discussion regarding my ascension as heir to the Pack. Even though they were talking in hushed voices I still heard their words. My hearing has always been better than most. I pushed my ear firmly against the cold wall and listened to them as they stood outside in the backyard.

'He has far too much of his mother in him. How could he ever have the strength to lead us?' My father's voice was angry. He was talking about me.

'He's his father's son. You couldn't possibly have a feline son.' The words were spoken and I heard bone meet flesh and a body fall to the ground.

'Don't you EVER say that again. I will have no son that is feline, even if I have to kill him myself.' My father's voice seethed with rage.

I was a happy child until I turned the age of 12. At first I dismissed the urges I felt as something silly and forgettable. Then, as the months pushed on, and my growing desire for the same sex intensified, I became afraid.

His words bored into my heart like a knife and turned my fear into terror. It also became my greatest sadness. My father would no longer love me. We had grown distant during my teen years, but I told myself it might somehow pass. I hoped that maybe in the upcoming months, something would change. I would be the son my father wanted.

The full moon of my seventeenth birthday barreled down upon me like a speeding bullet bringing about my doom. The moon rose and the entire pack gathered round and stood naked in the moon light as I circled with the raging fire. It was the first full moon after my seventeenth birthday and my day of changing.

I felt the fire warm my skin and my blood boil as the light of the flames danced in the corners of my eyes. Tears flooded down my face when I saw the color and stripes erupt along my arms as they stretched and pulled into paws. It was the second saddest moment of my life. My biggest sorrow lay in my father's eyes as I roared mournfully into the darkness.

'You are not my son. You will never be pack.' His steal blue eyes glowed back at me through the night. His heart slammed shut and he turned. 'You are exiled.'

The pack roared to life as I watched them changing form. The shadows stretched along their bodies as they fell forward and snouts stretched and snapped at me dripping saliva. Fur erupted and bones stretched as the writhing brown mass of wolves grew thicker and angrier.

'Let the freak pass.' My father's words were angry and garbled as his wolf entity rolled through him.

The words struck me like a punch to the stomach.

'NO! He is not pack. He has come into our territory without permission. He is not your son, he is not pack, and therefore must die according to law!' I could tell by the nasal voice it was Dean Robinson.

His grey eyes and sneer landed on my father's new mate Loren. A small grin stretched across her face as she turned to my father. 'He's right you know.'

My father's claw like hand swung, blasted into Loren's face, and sent her soaring backward. 'Silence whore! Do you challenge me Dean?'

Dean was more half man and half wolf as he roared back at my father. 'I do, Gregory.' Not only was it a challenge, it was an insult to address him as anything but Agrik during ceremony.

They leapt into the air and clashed. Those aligned with my father began fighting against those with Dean, and I ran between the chaos.

'You missed your turn.' Jason's yells finally penetrated my thoughts as he tapped my shoulder.

Somehow in the last few of travel we found ourselves in grassier plains. We were on a desolate highway that had just intersected behind us. I pulled over and parked at a sign reading 'Amber 12 miles'. My stomach gurgled and reminded me of the lunch I had shoved into the saddlebag before tearing away from the Bar & Grill. I turned the key and the low rumble gave way to the hissing sound of wind through the tall fields of grass.

I steadied the bike between my legs and felt the weight shift as Jason climbed off. The drumming sound of water hitting earth filled my ears. I was reminded of my own plight as a twinge of pain rolled through my bladder. I kicked down the metal brace and pulled the bike backwards to set it on the kickstand. Safely in place I lifted my leg slowly over the bike. The ache from the atrophied muscles of my thigh made me groan.

Unsteady on my feet, I wobbled slightly as I made my way to the other side of the street to relieve myself. A snap, a quick zip, and paradise was mine. It still makes me grin to think of the absolute pleasure of a really good pee.

Flicking away the last bits of my torment I finally tucked away and fastened my pants. I turned to see Jason glaring back at me.

I threw my arms in the air in frustration. 'What!' I didn't owe him a damn thing, and the last thing I wanted was his judgment.

'Can we eat now?' His voice was low and he enunciated every syllable as though he detested each word that passed his lips.

Yep' something had definitely climbed up his ass in the last couple of hours.

'Help yourself.' I matched his tone and added a little of my own disgust at our predicament.

His anger seemed to slip away as he took a deep breath and his shoulders fell in defeat. He opened the sack of our now questionably fresh lunch and rifled through its contents.

'You know you can't eat that. I can smell that it's spoiled from here. God you're stupid!' I shook my head and rolled my eyes.

The bag of burgers and fries fell from Jason's hand and he hung his head. I watched as he dropped to his knees. His chest heaved and shook his entire body. I wasn't sure what was wrong with him until I heard his sobs. They burst from him as if his will to contain them had been shattered.

'Damnit!' I may not be the most compassionate person in the world, but tears are one thing I cannot bear. I walked around the bike to where he knelt.

'We can get something to eat in the next town. It's only a few miles away.' Leaning down I put my hand on his shoulder.

'Don't fucking touch me!'

He swung his fist outward in an arc with perfect aim. A flash of white filled my vision as the back of his clenched hand met my cheek and knocked me to the ground. The breath was pushed from my lungs and I struggled for air.

The world wavered as I lay in the tall grass. I'm not sure what surprised me more, his words, or the fact that he hit me. My breath finally returned and I cradled my eye with my hand as my fingers felt along the ridge of my bruised cheek. '

'Yep' that's going to leave a mark.' The sun light peaking over his shoulder nearly blinded me.

'I'm sorry Taylor! I didn't mean to.' Jason cowered over me and flinched back as I sat up.

'You are a royal pain.' I couldn't fight the smile on my face as I looked into his blood shot green eyes.

Even though the turn of my lips and the pressure against my bruised cheek caused me pain, I couldn't hide my grin. Like so many times in my life recently, the tides of emotion surged through my chest and waned as a new feeling took hold. He looked so lost and defeated I felt almost ashamed.

Normally my mind would have screamed 'Suck it up you big pussy!', but we had a lot in common. If the situation was different and I didn't have him with me, I might be the one sitting alone sobbing on some deserted highway. For every person in the world that needs to be taken care of, there is someone that has the desire to protect them. It keeps the protector busy enough to forget their own pain.

I've heard there are people that are just happy, but I knew of only one. Well, to be honest, I didn't even know her. She was my mother, Kaitlyn. I've memorized her photo but I still carry it with me. It is the one and only tangible memory of my past life I brought with me. It's a simple picture.

They must have been camping or hiking. Her long red hair was aloft as if having been lifted by a gust of wind and her head was tilted back. She had turned from the camera and held up her hand up as if trying to hide from the impending flash. She looked wild, free, and happy. The sparse woods behind her were lit by either the rising or setting sun as flashes of light peaked through the foliage along the horizon. I don't know why, but I have always imagined it was early morning, and that she had just begun a perfect day.

The odd gurgling sound that rumbled from my stomach reminded me of my hunger. I had all but ignored my celebration dinner two days ago. I was too nervous to eat. We were celebrating my impending ascension to the position of Agrik. I would take the form of a wolf and eventually take control of the pack. I'm my father's first and only son with my mother, Kaitlyn.

I glanced back to the rusted worn sign 'Amber 12 miles'. I got up and walked over to my bike. Loosening the strap I flipped open the cover and pulled out the atlas. I searched for the city of 'Amber' in the index, but it wasn't listed. I wasn't too concerned. There aren't many places in the United States where you could drive for more than a couple of hours without finally find a larger city.

Even with my small meal of the coyote from the night before, I was near starving. Changing form takes a lot of energy and I'm a teenager. We're always hungry.

'Well Prince, what do you think about getting something to eat in the next town?' I climbed on my bike and gave it a push forward and off the kickstand.

'The name is Jason, and I'd really like that. I'm famished.' His words held more strength as though he had regained some control of himself. 'Try to use a little control in the next place 'eh? Please, no more bars.'

The last of his words were spoken against my back as he climbed onto the bike and nestled in against me. It would be a lie if I said I didn't relish the weight of him against me. A Lycan without a pack is a sorrowful and desperate creature. We thrive on contact and the company of our own. I couldn't help but chuckle at my own thoughts. 'What a strange pack we had become.' With that I started the bike and we crept back out onto the highway.

For the first time since my escape, I drove at a leisurely pace and without the rage of speed that usually carried me down the highway. Fifteen minutes later we were entering the lovely town of 'Amber Population 28'.

It was dingy and looked abandoned. Rows of dilapidated homes lined both sides of the road. Many were boarded up or caving in on themselves. Yards were not mowed and the chain link fences that bordered them had long since fell into disrepair. The sidewalks had lost the battle against nature. The grass and weeds that pushed through the many cracks threatened to consume the concrete forever.

I worried we had entered some strange suburban ghost town. I had enough gas to get us several miles further down the road, but right now I was hungry. My heart sunk as I glanced along the skeletal remains of this withering relic of society until I spotted a pig of a man in a rocking chair on his porch. I say 'pig' because he was well past overweight. His belly protruded obscenely beneath his overalls and his round snubbed face reminded of just that. A pig. I slowed my bike to a stop and cut off the engine.

He waved, 'Hello there strangers. Lost your way?'

I pulled off my helmet and ran my fingers along the itchy sweat soaked hair of my neck. It had grown a lot in the last few days and I wished I had more money and time to visit a barber.

'A little sir, but right now we'd really like to find a place to sit and eat. I don't suppose your fine city has such a place?' Even if he was a disgusting looking thing, I hoped he might help.

The man rocked backward and laughed as he held his hands against his ample gut. 'Young man, you must need your eyes checked, but I do think I can help you.' His fat face curled into a cherub like smile as he leaned forward.

He stretched out his arm pointing further into the town. 'At the stop sign, take a left and look for Leon's on the corner. At least I think that stop sign is still there. Damn kids! You tell Leon that Boris sent ya.' With that said he leaned back and gave us another wave.

'Thank's Boris. Much appreciated.' I started the engine and his final words were garbled by the rumble of the motor.

I pulled on my helmet for lack of a better place to put it and proceeded further into town. The houses as we entered the center of town were only slightly better maintained than the ones we had already passed. As Boris had said, there was a stop sign, and the sign on the corner declared this intersection 'Main Street'. True to his word on the adjacent corner was a two story red brick building with a large white sign jutting out dangling atop a glass door with faded blue lettering. 'Leon's'

The first floor walls were made up of a mass of unkempt ground to ceiling glass that let you peak in, but hid the details of whatever was inside. The distortion in the glass and the waver within them told me they were the original panes. The glass was imperfect and of a style long since forgotten.

Again I pulled my helmet off as I killed the engine and wait for Jason to climb off the bike behind me. He hung his helmet on the handle bars as he passed and waited on the sidewalk in front of our parking space. I hung my helmet on the other handle and dismounted.

'It's food. We won't stay long.' I tried to reassure Jason as he stared back at me with disapproving eyes.

I stepped up onto the curb and passed him moving toward the glass door that led to our next meal. 'Our next meal' the thought worried me. I had only enough money for me. If I continued to feed both of us, and considering the extra weight, between gas, food, and lodging, I'd be broke before we got to our destination. It was decided' I would take a job in the next city to earn a little more money so we could make the trip. I didn't know where I was going, but for some reason' I knew that it was still far away and that I wouldn't have the means to get there with the current state of my wallet. I wasn't totally broke, but I wasn't overflowing with cash either.

We went through the door and found the grease stained interior much like the rest of the town. Old. The once white tile was stained a muted amber, and the ancient yellow flowered wallpaper had taken on a sickly brown. I slid into the first available booth that sat against the window. We were right near the door and if it became a necessity I could burst through the glass. The room was confining and stuffy. The weight of eyes from several patrons rested upon us.

There was a line of worn blue padded stools along the counter and a grill window that gave glimpses of a sweating young woman working diligently on someone's order.

'I don't like this place Taylor, we should go.' Jason's eyes were filled with dread and his forehead furrowed with worry.

'It's just one meal. We're both hungry'' My words were interrupted as the waiter approached.

'Hello. My name's Will. The special is Meatloaf, but unless you have the desire to shit yourself to death, I'd recommend the cheeseburger platter.' His eyes crawled along my skin and then moved to Jason.

It was almost as though he were taking stock of us. His smile was forced and he resembled a puppy that had been kicked too many times. He was too thin and his shoulders were rounded as though he had carried too large a burden for too long a time. His fingers raced along his order pad nervously and his silver blue eyes seemed to search for escape. The boy had a lot of nervous energy.

'Nice hair. He placed the menus in front of us. 'I'll be back in a moment for your order.' His voice seemed strained as he stared at me. It was almost as though the withering death of this town had somehow crept its way into his veins.

'Where's the restroom?' I needed to know. This was the second time someone had made a comment about my hair, and the last I remembered' it was just a muddy brown color. Had my helmet made it all stick up? It wouldn't have been the first time.

Wil pointed out the dusty door in the corner marked 'Men' and turned. I slid from the confines of the booth and walked to the bathroom. I didn't have a comb handy, but I could at least try to mash it down if it was too scary looking. Surely they had a sink in there with running water.

'Order whatever you like, but I want a chocolate shake.' I looked over my shoulder and found Jason's worried eyes.

I twisted the old metal doorknob. It was one of those oval doorknobs you find in the oldest of houses with too many layers of pain hiding the once delicate design on the oval metal surface. The door gave way and I flipped the switch along the wall as I entered. Closing the door behind me I turned and stared into the mirror.

'What the FUCK!' I was shocked and the words escaped my lips in a lingering hiss.

I looked at my reflection in the dirty cracked mirror. My hair was white with black stripes. It was the same pattern of my true form, but had somehow pushed through to my more human nature. I had changed too many times after gaining my form, and a piece of my humanity was now forever lost. I knew why it happened, but I can't say I liked it. I looked like a freak!

The longer I stared the more my heart and mind settled. It was kind of cool. There wasn't much I could do about it, and I knew from my teachings that hair dye wouldn't cover it. I had no choice but to accept it. Heaving a sigh I went to the urinal and relieved myself. I washed my hands at the sink and again took stock of my new hair style. It hadn't just grown, it had flourished! The white and black stripes were swept back from my forehead and cascaded beyond my shoulders. I suppose I would have noticed sooner if I had spied it in my rear view mirror as I sped down the highway, but the helmet I wore had hidden it from me.

I ran my fingers through my long black and white striped hair and then breathed a heavy sigh. It is what it is. There's no changing it now and I might as well accept it. This would however make it harder to get a job, and right now I knew we needed more money. There wasn't much I could do about it at the moment, and hopefully, the lax standards of employees of a larger city would give me an opportunity.

I washed my hands in the spluttering spray of water beneath the rusted faucet and searched for something to dry myself. The paper towel holder was empty and I wiped my hands against my jeans. Why are there never any paper towels in these dives?

I opened the door and made my way back to our booth against the window. I slid in across from Jason.

'Why didn't you tell me?' I couldn't help my anger. He could have warned me!

'Tell you what?' Jason eyed me suspiciously as though I had lost my mind.

'MY HAIR!' I spoke in an angry whisper. 'You could have told me.'

'It's always been that way.' Jason looked at me as though I were crazy.

The realization hit me. As I thought back, I remembered he hadn't really seen much of me in my human form. I didn't know how long my hair had been this way. I had always worn my helmet. Even our coupling had been after I had spent too much energy changing from one form to another. I suppose this was the price I paid. It could have been worse though. At least my eyes hadn't changed to the feline slits emerged in amber.

Wil placed our food before us with a careless clank of glass against countertop. I hadn't taken notice of my chocolate shake until now. A large tulip glass was filled with the frozen brown sweetness and beside it stood the metal container it had been prepared in. I took a quick sip from my chocolate shake to avoid any attempts at conversation.

'If you need anything let me know.' Will paused and stared at me. He looked to Jason turned, and walked back to the patrons at the bar.

The food was good and I drank the shake so quickly I had momentary migraines as the cold froze my brain. It was worth it though. It was soooo good. Finally sated, I leaned back and wished I had a place to sleep. Good food and a full belly often made me seek a place to rest but suddenly I was exhausted. My arms felt like dead weights pulling me to the floor.

Wil approached and placed the small green ticket on our table. No sooner had he let loose of the paper than a deep rich voice interrupted.

'Welcome, I'm Leon. We have rooms upstairs if you need to rest. You look tired.' His voice was a baritone wash of sound against my ears.

He snatched up the bill and gave it a quick glance. His eyes turned to Wil and then back to us. 'The meal is on the house. If you'd like to rest I have rooms on the second floor.'

'We'd like that very much.' My words were slurred and I looked to Jason. Fear filled his droopy eyes, but sleep stole me away.

I remember the feel of strong arms laying me to bed as my head rested against a soft pillow. The rest was a blur.



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