When I first woke up, I wasn't really sure just where I was. I mean, I remembered falling, but at the moment I couldn't remember why. I found myself in a dark bedroom, lying on an incredibly soft bed, but propped up on my side. I tried to speak, but the only noise was a rather small squeak. Apparently that was enough, for a moment later a woman I didn't recognize appeared by the side of the bed.
"Oh, you're awake. I only stepped away for a moment to get a glass of water and... well no matter. How are you feeling? Would you like something to drink?"
"W... wa... wat..." I couldn't seem to make the word come out of my very dry mouth.
Smiling, the trim blonde handed me a small glass with a straw. After a couple of sips I felt like I could speak once more.
"Where am I," I rasped.
"Oh, you're still at Leigh's. Do you remember what happened?"
"Not really, I... I remember falling for some reason, but now I can't remember why."
"It'll all come back to you. I'm sure part of it was due to the loss of blood as well as the knot on the back of your head. While I'm on that subject, I wouldn't suggest trying to sleep on your back for a few days until those cuts heal a little more, could be a painful experience for you." "Cuts?" I asked as I felt my eyes closing once more.
"Leigh will fill you in when she gets back, now get some rest," she replied sounding far away. As I drifted back to sleep I wondered if she hadn't drugged the water.
The second time I woke up, the sun was back up and Leigh was curled up in a chair beside the bed. She was clearly sleeping comfortably and I was loath to wake her up. She looked so sweet and peaceful. Unfortunately, my loud groan caused by trying to get up ruined the image. Without a word, she hopped up and helped me to the bathroom.
"I think we need to talk," she said once she had me situated on the toilet.
"Ummm... I'm not sure this is the best time," I replied, embarrassed.
"Oh, I'll get you all cleaned up first and comfortable, but we're going to have to have a long talk. One in which I have a lot of explaining to do, I'm afraid."
I looked at her and decided that whatever it was that she had in mind it was important to Leigh, so I went along with it. Once I was done with my business, she ran the bath for me and once she got me in the tub, gently scrubbed me down. In a way it was a soothing experience, at least until she got to my back. She cleaned around the scrapes but made some odd, confused noises. When I asked what was wrong, she told me nothing and finished my sponge bath. Somewhat clean, she dried me off, wrapped me in a robe and escorted me to her living room where she left me to make a phone call.
When she came back, Leigh handed me a cup of coffee, curled up on the couch next to me and said, "Ok, I have some things to explain to you and I want you to just listen to the whole story before you interrupt. It's kind of long and involved, but you need to hear all of it before you form any kind of opinion. Do you want to eat first?"
I nodded and she got up and returned to the kitchen. She came back a few minutes later with some toast and scrambled eggs. Once she had me situated and I was eating she began talking.
Leigh had been engaged, she'd told me that, while she was working on her undergrad degree in biology. Apparently, the guy she was engaged to was majoring pre-med and very much a player. Leigh had known he was screwing around prior to the engagement and hoped that the ring he'd given her was the sign that things were going to change. Up until that moment, they hadn't been really serious about each other, but Leigh hadn't been dating anyone else. Long story short, the engagement had fallen apart when Leigh had stopped by to see him out of the blue one night in October and caught him in bed with one of the members of the cheerleading squad.
"At that point," she told me, "I was just so pissed that he was still screwing around on me that I just threw the ring at him and stormed off. It wasn't until I'd calmed down a few hours later that I realized that it was one of the male cheerleaders he'd been in bed with."
Leigh had finished her undergrad degree that fall and had been accepted to veterinary school at UC Davis for the following fall semester. With nothing but time on her hands before the start of school again, she'd accepted an invitation to a study program in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The opportunity would give her the chance to study some more exotic species than we have here in the states and allow her to get away from her former fiancé who had spent the whole semester trying to win her back. The program was really quite useful and for a final project, the twenty students involved were flown Manaus to study wildlife on the Amazon.
A few days later, on one of her final nights in Brazil, she went out to enjoy the nightlife with some other students. They got separated on their way to a club and all Leigh remembered was a large weight coming down on her and something biting into her shoulder. The creature tore into her left shoulder and broke her collarbone before being chased off by some locals who'd heard Leigh cry out as she went down. Bleeding and going into shock, Leigh remembered very little before waking up in a hospital some thirty-six hours later.
"I just remember being really hot," she said, "Like being in the Deep South with no air conditioning in the middle of summer. When I finally came to, I found myself in a nearby hospital with a huge bandage on my left shoulder and my arm in a sling."
Leigh had recovered quickly and flown back to the states, with a surprisingly small scar to show for her adventure. Gathering her things, she'd begun the long move to UC Davis and was out driving the first time it happened.
"I was driving into Phoenix with the sun going down when I began to feel strange. I just had this feeling like I had to get off the road and outside as soon as possible. So I checked into the first hotel I saw got my stuff in my room and went for a walk."
She hadn't gone very far when the moon started to come up and she felt this shifting happening to her. One minute she was just walking in a very dark abandoned park and the next she was running on all fours looking for something to eat. The two jackrabbits she caught took the edge of her overpowering hunger and she went in search of something to drink. It was her moonlit reflection in the fountain that set her back.
"I suddenly had the features of a large black cat. I was startled, more because I could still think and reason like a human, but I looked decidedly less than one."
Leigh had roamed around all night and was almost back to her hotel when she began shifting back. She barely managed to make it back into her room before she finished shifting and found herself naked on the street. Exhausted, Leigh had flopped onto the bed and slept all day. She spent the next two days in Phoenix trying to decide what to do about her new problem, before writing it off as being some weird dream and heading on to Davis.
"I was sure that the whole thing was just some nightmare, but I couldn't find a rational explanation for why the blouse and shorts I was wearing the day before were missing. In the end I just decided that I needed to be at school and put it all out of my mind."
Leigh had finished driving to school a few days early and stayed at a friend's apartment while she looked for a place of her own. With a suggestion from her friend, she used a matching service to find a roommate and an apartment. That was the first time she met Hudson. Leigh paused at this point and there came a knock at the door. A few minutes later, she escorted the trim blonde I vaguely remembered from earlier into the living room.
"Andy this is Hudson. She the doctor who came to check you out last night, do you remember?"
"Vaguely. You got me a glass of water right?"
Hudson smiled and came over to me. "That's right. Now let's check out those nasty scratches on your back. You were bleeding pretty good when I got here and I was afraid I was going to have to take you to the hospital, but once I got the blood washed away, it turned out the scratches were more superficial than anything. Let's have a look, shall we?"
I nodded in acquiescence and turned as I lowered the robe Leigh had lent me. Hudson made a few Hmmms and Ahhs as she looked at my back then let me put the robe back into place.
"Looks like you're healing just fine. I'd still take it easy about lying on your back for a day or so, though. How's you're head?"
"Clear, no headache," I replied as she gently probed the back of my head.
"Thanks for checking him out, Hudson, I know it's your day off and all," smiled Leigh as she got up to see the doctor out. The two women disappeared down the hall talking quietly and a few minutes later, Leigh returned.
Leigh gave me a lopsided grin as she whisked away my dirty dishes and returned a moment later with the coffee pot and a second mug. She filled her mug, topped mine off and continued her story.
Hudson, as it turned out, was the perfect roommate for a vet as she was studying medicine. She was also the perfect roommate for a new were-panther, but Leigh didn't know it yet. The move went easily and both girls managed to get all of the furniture into the apartment without any help. That was the first time Leigh began noticing the changes. It had taken three of them to move her desk out of her apartment in Las Cruces, but she and Hudson managed it easily by themselves. The girls quickly became friends and settled into the apartment. Then, a few days before the first full moon since she'd moved, Leigh noticed the restless sensation was back. She began spending hours outside just watching the night, Hudson joined her the first two nights and they just sat. She also noticed that her glasses were no longer necessary to see clearly, in fact they were just making things blurry.
On the night of the full moon, Leigh was out on the semi-private deck of the apartment looking over the woods behind the complex when she shifted again. Bounding off of the deck, she once again found herself famished, in spite of the fact that she'd just had dinner. Padding through the woods in search of food, she'd found herself nose to nose with two large black cats. She'd backed off quickly, startled into having human reactions as both cats gave cautious growls at her.
"The oddest thing was that one of these huge panther like creatures smelled familiar. I was so confused by that. In the end they went one direction and I went the other."
Finishing her successful hunt, Leigh came back the apartment and was preparing to jump back up on the deck when the two cats she'd met earlier suddenly boiled out of the woods next to her. They both sniffed at her, she sniffed back and before Leigh could make sense of what was going on, they all began tussling playfully underneath the deck. After a bit of this playing around, the three of them jumped up on the deck and Leigh let them into the apartment. As large cats will do, they flopped on the floor together and soon fell asleep. When she woke up later the next day, Leigh found herself nude and curled up next to her equally nude roommate. The panthers were nowhere to be found.
"I started to freak actually. I knew that I would be nude when I woke up, but I was sure I had shifted back and my roommate had taken advantage of me. As I got up, I noticed Hudson was awake and watching me."
Hudson had managed to calm down Leigh before she'd gotten to hysterical and explained that she knew her secret. Hudson had apparently been infected some three years previously and had been watching all the signs in Leigh. Not being sure what exactly Leigh was going to shift into, Hudson had slipped off late in the afternoon the day before so she could watch from nearby and protect her new roommate. Once she had Leigh settled down, Hudson had explained a great many things about being a shape-shifter to her and later introduced her to Marilyn, the other panther and Hudson's sometime hunting partner. Hudson had also explained that the shifting took a great deal of energy and that was why Leigh always felt famished once it happened. Also, Hudson had explained to Leigh that she would want contact with others of her kind. It wasn't a matter of sexual preference it was just the need for physical contact. They weren't going to be lovers they would just find it easier to sleep together from time to time, especially if one of them ever got hurt, it would help speed the healing process.
"So you see," continued Leigh as she wound down, "This is what I am now. I was fortunate that my eyes changed colors and I could see better so that all the people who know me just assumed that I finally got contact lenses.
"I realize that I should have told you before, it's just that I've never had the changed forced on me when the moon wasn't full. Oh, I'd heard stories from other shifters that it could happen during sex, but I'd never witnessed it until last night. I hope you're not angry with me."
"Shocked, I guess," I replied after a moment of carefully studying her. "Surprised that you didn't have me for your meal after I fainted last night.
"Well... you were temping and the blood smell... as I said, I do remember and react in a lot of human ways. I ran off to get Hudson who was just coming back from the party herself. When she saw me, she immediately grabbed a first aid kit from her car and followed me back up to the apartment. Once she saw you on the floor, I knew I could safely run off to hunt. I came back as soon as I could and shifted back. The problem is that changing back that quickly took a lot of energy so I just crashed in the chair next to you while you slept."
"So you can consciously shift back to being human," I asked still trying to digest all this information.
"Sometimes. Not during the full moon, but the two or three times it's happened without the moon being full, yes."
We talked for a long time that afternoon. I learned that lycanthrope was a disease and spread via open wounds, but only by direct contact. The thing Leigh was worried the most about was that she had possibly infected me. It was entirely accidental, but sometimes a scratch was just as effective as a bite like she'd suffered. What was bothering her was that my scratches, two of which had required a few stitches to close were healing far too rapidly for a human. On the other hand, Hudson had run a quick blood sample from me for the antigen showing infection, but it was inconclusive. Leigh also pointed out the good side of being a lycanthrope. In addition to the improved eyesight came a great deal of physical strength, improved sense of smell, and immunity to disease. It was a lot to digest and I was still a little out of it. Eventually, Leigh led me back to her bed and tucked me back in. She curled up next to me and we slept.
The next day I felt a lot better. I got up to use her shower while she slept and found a change of clothes sitting by the bed. Leigh stirred a moment later, giving me a sleepy grin while she stretched.
"I see you found your clothes. I asked Hudson run by and get them. You really need to lock up better you know," she teased as she slid out from under the covers. I realized that this was the first time I'd ever actually seen her in the buff and it was an amazing site. She posed for a moment before herding me into the bathroom.
"That was the other thing I forgot to tell you about. I haven't had to shave in years."
"Huh," was the only response I could make to that.
"One of the other things that comes with the disease is complete control over hair growth," she continued as she bent over to turn on the water and flashed her bare pudenda at me. "I haven't had to shave my legs or anywhere else since I was infected. It was also useful when I was dating this guy who didn't like the bare look. I just decided that I wanted a trimmed bush and within a few hours I had one. Sure beats the itching that comes with shaving it and letting it grow back."
I just stared as she stood and climbed into the shower. A moment later, she got out, grabbed my arm and pulled me under the spray.
"I'm not trying to seduce you here. You need to get cleaned up before you go to work and I need to get down to my work too. We'll talk in a few days ok."