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Chapter Nine

A whole week went by before I was able to stand again.  During that time, Bastion did everything he could to keep me company.  His family even brought me the first share of prey after they hunted.  The weak and infirm get to eat first and all that.  I'm not one who typically enjoys sitting around all day, but I have to admit that it was nice to get to relax for once.


My body, on the other hand, did not relax in the slightest.  In the time that I was healing, the fur on my arms spread to cover the back of my hands, and thick leathery pads covered my fingers and palms.  My back was, by then, completely covered with fur, and it was starting to make its way up my chest and belly.  Even my face wasn't safe from it, as it began to grow up the sides of my cheeks as well.


"You know, you look good with sideburns," Bastion joked once.  I scowled at him, but couldn't help but crack a small smile.  I still wasn't happy about this, but with Bastion being right there, it was easier to cope with.  Bastion was noticeably changing as well.  He was still recognizable as the Hybrid I had met a week ago, but there were some very obvious differences to him.  The most obvious change was that his face was beginning to push forward into a muzzle, and his nose was starting to turn rough and black.  I mentioned this to him, and he only smiled, saying that nature was taking its course.


He hadn't tried to kiss me again since the first day, and I won't lie... I really wished that he would.  I would lie awake every night, thinking about that innocent little peck and the effect it had had on me.  Was I falling in love, I wondered?  Love had been a foreign emotion to me ever since I'd been infected. After all, when man and beast alike hated you, who was there for you to love?  But now that Bastion had come along and shown me his kindness and his bravery, everything had changed.  Did I love him?  I didn't know yet, but I could honestly say that I wanted to.


So, when I woke up a week after the incident occurred, I finally felt better.  My ribs still ached, but the wound on my stomach was all but gone. Bastion was nowhere to be seen, so I decided to surprise him this morning.  Putting my hand (paw?) on the tree behind me, I was able to pull myself to my feet with little trouble.  It took me a moment to gain my balance after having been on my butt for the past seven days, but I was soon making my way through the wolves' camp, searching for their alpha.


When Bastion was nowhere to be found, I gave sup searching.  He was probably out hunting or something.  I walked a little ways down away from the camp and came across the nearby stream.  It was the same one that my old tribe had followed whenever they moved camp, though I couldn't be sure if I was now upstream or downstream from them.  I ran my paws over my skin.  It was sticky with sweat and grime.  I couldn't really imagine myself smelling much better, either.  Wolves may not care if they smell one way or another, but I like to think cats are above that.  Going down to the edge of the water, I looked around, mostly out of habit, before stripping out of my clothes and stepping into the shallows.


The water deepened quickly, and I was soon up to my waist.  I scrubbed my body vigorously until all the sticky nastiness went away, and then I dunked my head under the water.  When I resurfaced, I took a moment to massage my scalp.  Ever since I first began to change, I've found that I greatly enjoy having my head and ears scratched.  Naturally, there was nobody who wanted to do that, so I was forced to do it myself.  I always found it immensely relaxing, and it never failed to bring a purr to my chest.


"I thought cats hated water!" a voice called out from behind me.


My eyes went wide, and I spun around to see Bastion lounging at the edge of the water.  With a high pitched shriek, I covered myself and sat down in the water, hiding my body from him.


"How long have you been sitting there?" I demanded.


"A few minutes," the wolf-boy replied.  "Don't worry, I didn't see anything I wasn't supposed to see.  I covered my eyes!"


"Go away!" I hissed.  "I'm naked in here!"


Bastion shrugged nonchalantly, "It's only natural."


"Yeah, well, it's not natural for boys to peep on girls when they're bathing!" I shot back.  "Turn around!"


With a hearty laugh, Bastion stood up and turned away from me.  Before he could steal a glance, I scrambled out of the water, quickly dried myself off, and pulled my clothes on once again.  I didn't say anything to him, though.  For a minute, I just stood there and stared at him.  He was never dressed in more than a pair of ratty old cargo shorts, and his body was... well, incredible.  His arms and legs were rippled with muscle, and his back, chest, and abs looked as if they had been chiseled out of stone.  Very, very hairy stone.


"Are you done yet?" he asked.


"Ah, yes!" I stammered, blushing and hoping desperately that he hadn't guessed what I had been staring at the whole time.


Bastion turned around to face me again, "Well, I'm glad to see that you're up and about again."


"I feel a lot better," I said.  "I don't know how you managed to be such a good doctor out here in the forest, but you made me all better!"


Bastion took a step closer to me and reached out and took my arms in his hands.  My heart began to beat faster in anticipation as he pulled me closer to him.  I began to close my eyes, expecting him to lean in and kiss me, properly this time.  Instead, I felt his hand, which was now more of a paw as well, reach up and began to stroke my face.


I opened my eyes, "What are you doing?" I giggled.


"Honestly, I'm surprised you're taking it this well," he answered.


I sighed and looked down at my arms and the black fur that now covered them, "I still can't say that I'm happy about all this," I admitted, "but I guess I can deal with it for a while longer."


"Not that," Bastion corrected me.  "I meant this," he ran his fingers over my cheek and nose again, "your face."


"My what?" I asked, startled.  Suddenly, comprehension dawned on me, and I yanked myself out of his arms.  Spinning around, I ran back to the stream and collapsed onto my hands and knees, looking at my reflection in the water.  I stared at myself for a few seconds, and then recoiled, screaming!


My face was gone!  The face I'd had for all of my life was gone, and a horrible, ugly, hairless cat's face had replaced it!  There was nothing even remotely human about it anymore.  It was feline through and through.  Once the fur began to grow over it, it would be completely indistinguishable from a normal panther's face.


"No," I screamed, backpedaling to get away from my hideous reflection.  "No, no, no!"


"Eve, calm down!" Bastion shouted, running up and grabbing my shoulders.  "Calm down, it's all right!"


"It's not all right!" I shouted back.  "My face changed!  I'm ugly!"


"Stop it!" Bastion ordered, pulling me to my feet to face him.  I buried my face in my paws, hiding myself from him.


"Stop it right now!" he commanded, pulling my paws away from my face.


"I can't!" I sobbed, tears pouring down my feline cheeks.  "I'm ugly!"


"Stop saying that!" the wolf-boy shouted.  "Don't you have any idea what you're saying?"


"Bastion, look at me!" I cried.  "I can't even recognize myself anymore!"


"But I can!" he asserted.  "And that's what matters!"


I froze, looking at him.


"Eve, do you think I'm ugly?" he asked after a few seconds.


"No," I answered immediately.  "Of course not!"  It was true.  Even as a Hybrid wolf, he was gorgeous.


"Do you think I look the same as I did before my father bit me?" he asked.


"No," I admitted.


"No, I don't," he confirmed.  "Not even close.  Now, if you can see beauty in me when I look like this, why do you think I can't see it in you?"


"Because I... I..." I gasped, trying to think of a reason.  None came to mind.


"Please, Eve," he pleaded with me, "Take my word for it.  I don't care if you're human, Hybrid, or Feral.  You're still the most beautiful woman I've ever laid eyes on."


I looked at him, my eyes wide and watering, before I finally broke down again.  This time, though, I reached out and wrapped Bastion in a big hug, pulling him to me like a teddy bear and burying my face in his chest.


"Thank you," I whispered.


"Any time, Eve," he replied.


I looked up at him again, and said the words that had been begging to come out of my mouth for the past week, "Bastion, I love you!"


For the first time since I'd met him, I saw genuine shock on the wolf-boy's face.  For a moment, I thought that I had gone too far, and that he was going to push me away and tell me that we weren't allowed to do that.  Even if we were both Hybrids, I was a panther and he was a wolf.  Those two species did not fall in love with each other.


Instead, he reached out, cupped his paws around my face, and pulled it to his.  We stayed like that for what seemed like an eternity, our faces pressed together, lips locked.  My heart felt as if it had been set on fire, and I couldn't have been happier.


When he finally pulled away, he stared into my eyes for a moment, a wide grin on his face, before saying, "Eve, I love you too."




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