But Only Regret Insidiously Survives

Artisan Market 

He'd given in. The previous weekend his little produce stand had remained out in the wide open, standing in the sunny yet chill field and veritably daring anyone to approach. Now, though, like so many others before him, Shane had elected to move the operation into the massive barn where close company and overhead heaters could ward off the oncoming winter. Accordingly he'd elected to shed the dark turtleneck that would otherwise universally accompany him out of the house until March, throat unseasonably exposed above his green and white flannel.

Offerings remained sparse, apples still taking the top spot. Bundles of beets and radishes were available, but, well, who really wanted those? Few heads of lettuce as well, and some bunches of kale that he'd finally given in and started growing. Unfortunately a little late, as that fad had died down. Not really on the cutting edge of innovation. Did have a decent stock of eggs.

And of course there was a wooden crate of dark brown swingtop bottles at the foot of the stool he perched upon. Maybe he'd actually sell some of those today. Had already predictably cracked into one.

Shane eyed the floor, the melange of passing footwear, not really seeing any of it. He was almost just going through the motions at this point, continuing on with his daily while constantly pondering in some region of his mind whether any of that other insanity could be real. Outwardly, it didn't change his behavior much. A little more dour. A little.


Today was a brisk autumn day and her sights were set on finding something to bid the time goodbye with. Maybe, she’d find something to take home, but the goal was primarily just perusing the different stands while pushing pressing anxious thoughts away. To simply enjoy herself was the main attraction to it all. And! It was hard to forget there was still a gallery she needed to check out having met the owner of one at this very place months ago, the memory swimming back up while on the grounds.

Noting a stand that the wolf all but whined at as a breeze brought with it the smell of food things, Natalie made her way over with a smile. Natalie would look to his face as she greeted him noting how he wasn't exactly even taking in the crowd. Must be a slow day. The fear of him being a vampire was not really there in the slightest as he didn’t smell like the bird had, so she could easily be her more natural self, thankfully! ”Hi, did you grow all these yourself?”

Feminine shoes below warm leggings came into view, but it wasn't until a voice addressed him that he really noticed. Looking up and suddenly standing in an awkwardly stiff motion, he blinked twice at the woman before him before her question seemed to penetrate. "Oh," he began dumbly, before nodding. "Can confirm."

Taking a brief survey of his goods, he frowned for a moment before correcting himself, "Uh, not the eggs. Chickens did those."

Clearing his throat and shifting his beer to the left hand, his right was held out, face rearranged into something approaching a smile. Almost. "Shane."

His attention seemed to be grabbed as he looked up at her, nodding to the question before audibly doing so. She beamed back, already looking over the veggies he had on display. The quick correction though had her gazing back to him. Not… the eggs? Oh! A small laugh would escape, shaking her head. ”I bet they’re hardworking, too.”

Hand given towards her with a close smile as if it was hung on something, a name was dropped. Stepping up, she offered a hand back and shook firmly. ”Natalie.”

"Anything you recommend in particular?"

Nodding at the name and using his now free hand to scratch along his bearded jaw, he surveyed his goods. "Not the kale," he bluntly replied after a moment's consideration. "Unless you need it for something. Apparently it's supposed to taste like that but..." He shrugged. "Dunno why people eat it."

Shane wasn't much of a salesman, wasn't really used to or comfortable with trying to convince people to buy. If they wanted something, great. If not, their business, their prerogative. "Eggs are good," he did assure, though undercut it a bit a moment later. "But they've been breakfast on my farm all my life, so prob'ly biased." Again he shrugged.

At last the obvious occurred to him. "Oh, d'you wanna know what. D'you like apples?" Assuming he wasn't met with a negative, he would reach for one of the last five sansas, then produce a knife and slice a little spear off, offering this to her. "These're pert-near the most popular."

Okay so not the kale for sure then, though his opinion on it had her letting out a small huff of a laugh. It wasn’t so bad, you just had to massage the leaves and spice it enough. Before she could offer the advice, he was off onto eggs. All his life he’d had fresh eggs, how nice! Sort of jealous of that, she believed him on the fact they were good, the wolf pushing to get those with images of it delicately taking them in its mouth as if it were a retriever.

But then, he seemed to have an idea for something, something being apples. ”Yes,” she responded easily, watching as Shane grabbed for the very thing he was talking of. What should’ve been an eagerness, and there was from Natalie to see how it’d taste, it suddenly was overshadowed by a very real concern at the knife being produced filled with whines in her head that were swallowed down. But as the skin was cut, the air perfumed by fruit, she took in a breath trying to calm that duel part of herself while taking the piece offered. ”Thank you,” she said, words a bit shaky, but were quickly cut off by taking a bite off the slice, the juices sweet immediately to the tongue. ”Oh! This is good. What type of apple is it?”

Smile, small but genuine, lifted his features as he watched her enjoy the apple, oblivious to any internal struggle. "Sansa," he answered quickly. "Have always been popular among some for the flavor, but saw a spike last few years after that..." A pause as he tried to recall what he knew of the shift. "That game show. About thrones." Shrugging, Shane offered the supremely unnecessary insight, "I never watched it."

Not meaning to rush her in deciding if she wanted to buy, he casually sliced off another bit, offering this as well as he mused, "Heard there were wolfhounds or something in it, though. Might have a look someday for those. D'you like dogs?"

As she finished the rest of the piece, Natalie listened, intrigued. Sansa like in Game of Thrones! She could see how that’d pick up business on it, though the apple itself should be just as appreciated without that comparison. It really was tasty.

Natalie really didn’t need another slice, but she sheepishly took the one offered as Shane went on. ”They were really smart and its definitely worth a watch outside of even that,” she admitted. ”And yeah, I love them. I used to have a golden.” But, now Boris was unfortunately not here. And from what she'd been told, dogs wouldn't like her all that much anymore.

”I’ll definitely take the last of these and a dozen eggs.”

Nodding, he really didn't establish any further conviction to ever sit down and watch. Shows weren't really that compelling for him. He liked stories... well enough, but the number of hours spent just sitting and staring was a hard no. Often he didn't have opportunity to be that idle, and when he did there were other priorities. Audiobooks could be digested better, listening while choring. Maybe someday they'd make a book of the show. Use the script or something.

Shane didn't pay a whole lot of attention to pop culture.

The nod briefly grew more vigorous, smile deepening as she confirmed the love of dogs that all reasonable people shared. There was no follow-up to her mention of her own companion, though, understanding what "used to" likely meant after three decades of dogs.

It did put a thought in his head, though.

"Good stuff. This one's yours, you wanna finish it off." Offering the rest of the sliced apple, he would be happy to eat it himself if she declined. Prepping his scale, he weighed out the plump final four and punched the results into his phone's calculator after leaving the knife on the produce stand. Closing up a recycled cardboard case of a dozen eggs after giving them a final once over, he added their price to the sum as well. $5.36. Per policy he rounded to the nearest quarter. No one had time for smaller coins. " Five twenty-five."

Opening up the moneybox, time came to execute his fledgeling plan. Frowning in a way that was only convincing for how naturally a look of mild disapproval sat on his face, he lied, "Oh. About outta change. Two minutes, can grab more from the truck."

At the offer, she’d grin and take it. ”Sure I can, thank you.” No use in wasting it especially considering it was lunch. As he prepped the scale, Natalie watched Shane work.

As the amount was given, she set down the cut into apple on his stand and fished for a wallet in her small purse. Opening it up with a click of buttons unsnapping, she looked up at the ‘oh’. Taking in his face, Shane looked pretty disappointed as the announcement that he was out of change was said. Just two minutes, that wasn’t bad. ”No worries, take your time,” she reassured. Things happened, no use to get all in a wad about it, especially after he’d been so helpful and nice.

Nodding and resealing the amply-full-of-change box. he tucked it under one arm and made off, issuing many a "Sorry," and "Pardon," and the occasional "How're you now?" as he made his way through the crowded indoor market, bumping into a handful of familiar faces in the sea of shoppers. Wasn't long before he'd reached his truck and was popping open the cab, not to acquire more change but to free the two mutts that had been resting within. About time to let them out for a walk anyway. Leashing both, he hit the ignition long enough to roll up the cracked windows, then double-timed it back. Both for courtesy's sake and because it was pretty cold out.

His attention on the return trip was focused much more on the dogs, mumbling praise and instruction in equal measure. Daryl, the young yellow lab mix, seemed to quietly enjoy the crowd and resultant attention, tongue lolling as he bobbed along. The german shepherd mix, Dan, squirrelly as ever, managed to obediently stick by Shane's side but was wiggling mightily the whole way. The man himself wore a broad grin as he reappeared, eager to give all involved the treat of good company.

It died quickly as first Dan then Daryl grew suddenly tense and began growling not five feet from the produce stand. The crowd withdrew to an extent, those closest growing nervous at the proximity of restless animals. The dogs themselves tried to follow, to return the way they'd come, but were prevented by the leads. Their growls shifted to pained whines as a confused Shane berated both. "Here now, you're fuckin' up, bud. What's...?" he scolded uncertainly, not at all used to such behavior. He tried again to lead them back to his stand.

Natalie waited patiently for Shane to arrive with change in tow. It was hard not to think that this wouldn’t have been a problem if he’d had a card reader, but maybe Shane couldn’t afford them or didn’t prefer using it. Totally fine, either way, she’d pluck through some incoming messages while doing so.

It was a sudden smell of dog that had her looking up, paired with whining close, the wolf growing restless. And there was the shop owner with two gorgeous, fun looking, but very scared animals. Was that because of her? Dismayed, she grimaced as Shane continued to try to get them to come over, taking a very forced step back as hackles raised in the metaphysical space, her eyes changed to their forest green unknowingly. ”Uh, what’s wrong with them?”

"Dunno, they aren't-" He felt stupid even offering the excuse. 'He never does this' was basically the catchphrase of bad dog owners, but the man was legitimately perplexed. The response was cut off anyway as the shepherd, always the more aggressive of the pair, made a tentative lunge toward Natalie and barked loudly. He never got close, even without the leash's impact. Didn't seem to want to get within biting distance.

"Dan!" Shane yelled sharply, face going red with embarrassment and anger, but still mostly confusion. Gripping firmly on the leads and kneeling, he reached for the animals. The lab continued to cower back, but the shepherd snapped toward the outstretched fingers. Again no contact, and Dan wimpered desperately right after, almost apologetically, and cowered away as well.

Standing, Shane looked back to his customer with a grimace. "They don't-" he began, but cut himself off this time. Her eyes were striking, vivid and bright. How had he not noticed before? Didn't matter. Focus, Shane. "Sorry," he offered awkwardly. "I'll be right back."

Panicked mutts firmly in tow, he made his way back outside. The crowd was much more ready to give him space now, but that was no comfort. Even the way both animals had calmed some by the time he reached the truck did nothing to erase his bewildered shame. It was meant to be a nice surprise. What had gotten into them?

He lingered, gave a few reluctant scratches before heading back for the barn. Didn't really expect her to still be there when he got back.

Shane was scrambling for excuses for his dogs and Natalie felt a thread of guilt. She knew why, very clearly and the reality her life had become was on full display. Heart beating loudly in her ears, she couldn’t take her eyes off the dogs and as one lunged at her aggressively there was a full on rush forward of the wolf to give a growl of warning back that the girl had to swallow as best as possible, ending up with coughs while something in her back threatened to snap.

Hand coming up to her mouth to hold more back, bites at the air from the dog again had a wave of heat pulse through, the wolf thrashing for purchase and control, achieving it. They were higher up than this animal and wanted to demand submission. And then Shane made eye contact in a string of words and the stop of them had her anxiety pelting up. No doubt her eyes were giving away the animal by now, the threat of shifting all a very real actuality. ”Its okay,” she croaked, feeling light-headed. Natalie had to get out. Absolutely, had to.

Stuck in her head more than anything as the wolf barked back, she didn’t hear the words, attention fully on the scrambling dogs that were being pulled away. Months ago, the surprise would’ve had her elated, ready to burrow hands into their fur and play with them. Now, all she could feel was aggression not hers and an incoming shift. The crowd was too much and she looked around with wide green eyes before taking off towards an exit as bones threatened, some already bending in the wrong direction, ready to snap.

Hand slipping into her pocket, a quick text was given to the first contact name she could get to with an ‘A’, landing on her group message with Alex and Dante.

help pls shifting
location pin


 Dante frowned at the incoming text. Of course she was in Red Rock. That would, typically, be very problematic, being so far across the map. Fortunately, he was in the area today - a stroke of luck that he was uncertain Natalie would ever come across again!

Hide Ill ne there in five

 Which was... probably not fast enough to intervene. He couldn't even properly text fast, but damn if he didn't abandon the task at hand and put a lead foot down on the accelerator to get to Nat.

"Oh." Gone. The crowd itself seemed more or less the same as before the whole incident. Given nothing had really come of it, a couple rowdy dogs were hardly noteworthy beyond the moment, and folks continued about their browsing and chatting. "Fuck a duck," he mumbled, eyes briefly finding the ground before he took a breath and began scanning more thoroughly for her.

Nothing. Asking the proprietor of a neighboring booth, he did get a vague indication toward another exit. Frown firmly entrenched, Shane looked to his stand. It would be fine for a few minutes without him. Maybe something would go missing, but it wasn't as though his were the really valuable wares on offer. Anyone felt the need to steal an apple probably needed it more than he did. What he needed was to apologize. Cash box still under one arm, he slid the carton of eggs atop it and headed for the exit as well, gaze sharp as he sought out that zigzagged yellow sweater or those gleaming green eyes.

No sign within the market's barn enclosure. Attaining the exit and stepping again into the chill near-winter air, he regretted the lack of turtleneck as he scoured over the immediate surroundings. How far could she have gotten? "Natalie?" he called, clear but not a shout. Least he could do was offer the eggs along with his apology.

Oh thank goodness Dante responded and was on his way so quickly.


The instructions to hide had her looking around wildly. She couldn’t go back into the market area. There was the sparse Red Rock woods, but that was too far. The parking lot didn’t seem right either. Where exactly was she supposed to hide in a place like this? Her car? Nope.

Gaze landing on the port-a-potties had her immediately reeling. No, absolutely not. A shoulder gave out. Trying to hold in the cry by biting into her palm, Natalie had second thoughts. It’d offer her cover and once the wolf was just there she doubted it’d stay, but at least people wouldn’t give much attention as to who had just went in.

Hurrying towards where a stand of them were, she really hoped that wasn’t Shane following, picking up on her name on the wind some ways back.

This was not his best week ever. The lost sale was negligible, but much about the encounter was going to bother him for a while. Shane didn't like to leave bad blood hanging, and while he couldn't be anything close to certain that was the case, the woman's abrupt disappearance didn't exactly scream satisfied customer. Maybe she'd been spooked—understandable—or just embarrassed as he was by the dogs' strange behavior. Misbehavior. Or maybe she was terribly offended, felt accosted. Hell, maybe she'd just remembered an urgent nail appointment or something, he didn't know. He hated not knowing, pessimistic mind settling on probably spooked and offended. "Mmm," he grumbled to himself, looking around a few moments more.

No, if she'd come out this way he'd been far enough behind that she wasn't yet loitering by that exit. Back to the parking lot then, maybe she'd circled around. Weather like this, chances were slim she'd walked to the market, even if she'd struck him as the Red Rock type. She hadn't.

No glimpse of that eye-catching sweater greeted him by the time he reached his truck again. Both dogs seemed their normal selves again as he opened up the cab to store the money box. "Gonna have words when we get home, bud," he warned the shepherd. But... they'd both been weird. Freaked out. Something had triggered it. Couldn't figure what. Giving each a good chest rub and a small headbutt to Dan, he locked them back in, taking the eggs on a continued search about the rest of the lot. Had to keep at it for a bit more. Had to.

Hey this was a really silly stupid idea that she was only doing because there was no other way she could think of. If Dante had a problem with wrestling a wolf out of an outhouse then maybe he shouldn’t have turned her in the first place.

Luckily as Natalie neared, there seem to graciously be an empty stall that she stepped into right as a her right leg gave out before breaking and bowing into a different formation. Shuffling inside with a yelp, already regretting it all with the smell making her nauseous, the door swung to a close. Out of the immediate gaze of the public, big breaths would take place before the shift ran full force. Natalie tried her best to keep most of the pained noises from escaping as her human body replaced itself with that of an overgrown timber wolf that wanted out.

It wasn't as if he knew what she drove. But neither was she likely to be hiding underneath any of the vehicles arrayed in—in his opinion—shamefully haphazard rows. And if she were, well, that was a fair sign she'd rather he leave her be. Fair enough. Simple matter to take a peak through windshields and driver's side windows, whichever came up first, see if he could catch her before she pulled out.

No dice. Shane was beginning to suspect the opportunity lost. Maybe the next weekend or the one after she'd breeze back through and he could offer amends. Irksome. Patience was a strength when it came to waiting for the good, but not so much when it felt like he wasn't following through on a necessary task. Heading back inside, his various cursory greetings and apologies were even more terse than usual. No call to be impolite, but he was in a bit of a hurry.

Didn't manage to spy her back in there either. Had hoped maybe she'd headed back to shopping after, he didn't know, running to the bathroom or something.

Oh. Hadn't checked over by those mobile outhouses. Might ought do, sake of thoroughness.


 It was some fucking miracle that no podunk cops had snared him flying well over the speed limit on his way to this fucking... glorified barn. He did his best not to fly into the parking lot and send gravel scattering when he found a spot, but did find one with several jerky movements that made the truck rock around the turns. Some compromise between being inconspicuous and not being too fucking late to handle this problem.

 He moved at a brisk walk, hair down, face stern, eyes threatening to twist from brown to maroon. He was uncertain of where he was going exactly - there was no scene of people panicking, no massive wolf wreaking havoc or ripping anybody's head from their shoulders. There were a pair of dogs in one truck that he passed, and one of them seemed furious with his presence. No surprise there.

 He'd catch Natalie's scent before too long, and would veer sharply along his path to follow it upwind. Shortly after, he could feel her presence as well, something of an added beacon, steering him more certainly. Unfortunately, moving a bit like a dog with a mind for its nose on the trail and nothing else, he'd cut off another man, nearly his height with cropped blonde hair, likely heading towards this row of portable toilets to use the john. "Sorry," he muttered, scanning the little symbols on the doors near the handles. Green, red, green, green, green, red. One of these held his progeny in her moment of misfortune.

Really it was a miracle no one had tried to open it so far as a wolf scrabbled around the tight space, entirely unhappy. Why was it blue dark and bad smelly? The dogs weren’t here, it was stuck, there was nothing to take aggression off on except for clothes and a toilet paper roll that had teeth sunk into it and torn through in a matter of seconds.

A sudden presence got closer and closer and she knew that smell! Letting out a loud talking whine, the wolf charged into the wall of the small cage with a shoulder, causing it to move an inch across the snow, plastic reverberating with a loud bang. Not much luck, she prepared to try again.

Seemed a weird scrabbling sound was coming from that way. Bit like a pup trying to get out of its crate. Coming from one of the portajohns? Shane didn't think too much of it, figuring some poor idiot had gotten his zipper stuck, likely. They'd figure it out.

Almost ran into someone. Fella came out of nowhere, it seemed. Was walking really determinedly toward the toilets. Fair enough, he thought. Gotta go, you gotta go. Even apologized. Shane nodded absently in response, unbothered. Didn't see Natalie anywhere this way either, but it did look as though a couple of the seats were taken.

Wait, other guy wasn't taking any of the clearly empty options. Well that seemed odd. Time to ponder this mundane mystery came to an abrupt end with the animal yowl and sudden violent shift of the blue plastic shack. Reflexively shifting into a wider stance as his eyes darted about, Shane settled his focus on the assaulted structure.

"Kay..." he uttered, confusion evident in his dry tone before he called out more loudly. "Y'alright in there, bud?" Someone was clearly inside, and probably not having the best time just then.

 One plastic loo rattled tellingly, and Dante glowered at it as he ran through his options. He could try to squeeze himself into an already tight space with a pony-sized wolf and try to knock her unconscious - that would leave him toting a mysteriously naked young woman back to his truck. He could whip the door open and try to make her run off, but who knew what sort of trouble she would cause. He was going to have to just wrangle her, which was also not a favorable option - being seen in public in close contact with a suspiciously large beast.

 The blonde man seemed intent to help. Dante drew a hard breath, approaching the portapotty with a dark expression. This was, at the very least, better than anyone having seen her shift, or having caught her on camera.

 Dante yanked the door open and wedged his body into the opening, having only a split second to survey the scene of shredded cloth and toilet paper, the pungent smell of human waste, all tucked into narrow corners around the gargantuan wolf inside of it. "Inconvenient," he muttered to the beast, hands reaching out to rub her ears. No need to get her fired up and angry when she was likely already eager for a meal. Hopefully the pack of jerky inside his jacket would be enough to lure her into a peaceful exit.

That was a voice, but wasn’t the one expected. Eyeing that particular wall, her ears went forward as she cocked her head some. Who? Stepping back, she readied herself to hit the wall again when suddenly the door was ripped open and Dante was towering over her inside the small space. Forced to shuffle back and become one with the wall, bending awkwardly in the process, the reach for ears was allowed despite the words that had her human side letting out snort. This wasn’t her idea either.

The smell of food in a close pocket had a nose wriggling near the jacket, the wolf wagging its tail thunkedly against the sides of the space. Please food. She was starving, wasting away, all bones.

Hey now, that hardly seemed called for. That's all the guy needed, having uncomfortably violent expulsions in a public toilet, and some other guy tears the door open. Inappropriate. But Shane knew he didn't have the full picture. Maybe the other bearded guy knew who was in there, maybe someone with... What was it? Epilepsy, that's the one. Could be seizing up in there. Seemed unlikely, but fuck, this was already am unusual situation.

Intentionally or not, Shane couldn't say, but the big guy blocked most of the doorway with his figure. Most, but there was definitely a lot of fur and muscle on the other side as well. Big for a dog. Too big. Without really meaning to, he was taking several steps back.

"Kay..." The word slipped out unbidden this time, tumbling out of his hanging jaw. Trying to get a handle on things, recover, respond appropriately, he finished the echo, "Y'alright in there, bud?" This time, though, it was aimed at the man in the doorway. Shane wanted to run, felt he ought, but couldn't with another guy right there in danger. If he was in danger. Had to find out.

 Natalie was all obnoxious tail wags and wriggling nostrils. He held one hand over the treasure trove pocket, the other on her ear. Behind him, the man was still present, and Dante would spare him a glance over his shoulder as he... repeated himself. Just a man and his very large dog. People had seen stranger things, right?

 "Yep," he confirmed, gruff but calm in his assurance, trying to pry a piece of jerky free from its wrappings to hold out to Natalie without spilling the whole bag. "Got it handled." In other words, get lost, bud. He wasn't down to risk the wolf in the crapper deciding something with a heartbeat was more tempting than dehydrated beef.

Garbled noises strung together as words made her ears flick, recognition titillating as to whom. No solid guesses because guess what, there was jerky, the only high powered smell right now besides urine and sweat.

Hands were messing with the bag of it and her tail thunked at a greater pace, watching keenly everything Dante was doing. A whine escaped and then another before a piece was handed over. Teeth chomped at it, not caring if fingers or a hand were a part of it, before moving on to full on trying to bite at the pocket where the treats lied, willing to pull harshly at fabric if Dante wasn’t quick enough. This was too slow.

"Kay," he repeated yet again, though the tone was far less certain than the acknowledgment suggested. Didn't feel right, leaving it at that. Whatever thing in the stall was, felt dangerous. But the guy had from the start moved with recognizable confidence. This didn't seem some brave fool looking to prove his mettle. Guy seemed to know what was going on and legitimately have it handled. Maybe it was just the monstrously biggest dog Shane'd ever seen, and the guy had stuffed it in the toilet for a hot minute? Seemed fuckin' weird, but was there a more rational explanation on the table?

Something caught his eye and he froze. Panic didn't set in easy and he didn't hold long, but this did need a moment to register. Even once he began moving again, taking another step back, two, the implications couldn't fully land.

"Kay." One more time. "Holler y'need... any..." Trailing off, he continued to retreat, Needing distance to process. Managing to shamble back around the corner of the building, he would finally turn, walk like a man half asleep back to the exit, back inside, back to his produce stand. Eggs would be set unsteadily down, arms would fold over his chest as he carefully perched upon his stool, leaned against one timber of the stand.

Eyes were on the ground, much as they'd been when Natalie first approached. Once or twice a potential customer greeted him. He didn't respond, didn't even hear. His money box was back in the truck anyway, but it didn't matter. All he could see was the floor of the portajohn, right between the big guy's feet. No blood, no sign of...

Just the tatters of a yellow knit sweater, telltale zigzag pattern ripped asunder.

 Nat clipped his fingers, but the only sign he'd felt it was a minor deepening of his frown, watching the man back away. Dude was stunned, it seemed, and Dante hated to imagine what he might have seen. This might entail some sort of damage control. Fantastic.

 The guy turned away, and he felt the pinch of teeth through his jacket and the harsh tug of the fabric. "Hey hey, alright," he grumbled at her, one hand moving to push her snout away while the other jammed into the pocket to pull out the entire package of jerky. He'd hand her another one, and then, with one more cursory glance around, he would step back to allow her proper room to exit the loo.

 Fuck the clothing. It would just be another suspicious element for him to be seen trotting around with shredded fabric on top of being seen with a too-large wolf. He let the door fall shut, and then meant to lead Natalie in a very wide arc, away from the crowd, back to his truck.

Pulling at it, there was a vein of thought about how good it’d feel to keep on doing so, tear, and shake what prize parts of the jacket would come with the food. Looking up at him with puppy dog eyes, she was tragically bullied with a snout push. Letting go after enough force was convinced of the action, the wolf was rewarded with the sight of the whole package of jerky.

A piece was given that she quickly snatched up. Smacking the treat down as Dante moved back, she rearranged paws to take advantage of the space. He had more meat and she followed just in case a piece was given again, nose up and attention on him. As the cold ground was felt underpaw and fresher air smelt, she looked at the small line of people with some hesitation while the door shut with a firm hit of plastic. Lowering her head, the wolf’s tail curled down, not so sure. She shouldn’t be seen. Remember the jerky though. Exuberance tempered, the timber followed closely as some human thought pulled through while being led away from the crowd that had a huge part of her wanting to bolt or bite or both.

 She was hesitant, as she should be. Dante couldn't blame her. Secrecy was ingrained in any half-wit animal that could register its human thoughts in a different body. Not that Natalie was a half-wit. Just a unit of comparison.

 As long as she followed properly, though, he would make quick work of circling around to his truck, feeding her pieces of the jerky the whole trek. This was really not ideal at all, but he'd have to make do with what he had - be quick, don't let a scene unfold, just get it over with and get out. Still, there was some half pinch of relief when they finally reached his truck, and he would open a back door for her, tossing in what remained of the jerky. If she needed help getting in - which, being so giant, she probably wouldn't - he would hoist her rear end up after her, then shut the door.

 Quickly, he made it into the driver's seat, started the engine, and drove out of his spot with the same earnest sense of needing to escape. "Lemme get you out a ways so you can eat something real," he grumbled to her, meaning to take them out into some part of the wilderness to fulfill his offer.

The jerky helped keep the wolf going even if it did occasionally stop or let out a warning growl if someone got too close for its liking. Eventually, they’d come upon an exhaust smelling hunk of metal that the name of truck was supplied for. As the door was opened, she watched as the rest of the bag was thrown in up high somewhere into the bowels of metal. A timid shake of her tail low to the ground as she sniffed hard at the surrounding door frame, eventually the giant wolf would lift itself to hind legs, front paws on top of the backseat. Beginning to climb in, the help from behind urged her forward at a quicker pace before the door was shut solidly behind. Looking at it, attention went towards sniffing at the chair towards where the jerky had fallen to.

Nosing about the plastic, she snarfed up what was left as Dante arrived in the front and the engine rolled to a start. The sudden shift of movement so quickly had her losing balance, quickly plopping down onto the seat to prevent herself from falling uncontrolled.

Words made their way over and the idea made sense. Real food, like elk or mule deer or fox or anything, but small grisly tidbits would be great. A whelm of momentary fluttering panic and gross gut feeling had her moving a jaw around for words as green eyes watched the side of Dante’s head. ”Sowrey.” It was guilt.

 Dante checked his mirrors obsessively as they made it to a higher speed road, glancing with a bristling sense of unease even on straight paths. No one appeared to be following them, but what sort of evidence they may have left behind left him restless, wary.

 Natalie speaking in her garbled wolf mouth pulled him from his cycling thoughts of concern. He leaned forward slightly so that he could wind a hand back, meaning to scratch her head reassuringly. "Don't worry about it. We'll talk about it later." When she was easier to understand, at least.

 If she had nothing else to say to him, he'd complete the drive in the same tense silence, pulling his truck down a narrow forest trail and parking to the side in the frosty, dying grass. He stepped out and paused, testing the air, listening for any errant hikers or hunters. When he was certain it was clear, he would open the back door for Natalie to exit. His beast rumbled, wanting to come out and join her, to run together - he wanted that, too, but it would be denied. He had to play babysitter right now, pretend to be human in the event something came up on their tails.

 "Go get 'em," he encouraged her, and if she moved, he would trail behind her at a slower pace, lighting a cigarette.

A hand came her way and ears lowered, though it happened to be a scratch in response with words of reassurance. Talk about it later was as good as they could do now and she agreed. It was too tiresome to keep up words despite the want to explain. With a sigh, the wolf lowered its head, trying not to focus too much on the movement and the way it turned a pretty empty stomach.

Eventually, they were slowing and she watched as the man left the cab. Lifting to paws, the wolf shuffled over to a window to watch Dante, warm breath fogging the view. Suddenly, the door was opening and she paused from outright jumping down until permission was given.

Jumping out, she ran a few feet, shaking her coat out before noticing Dante following behind. There was some questioning if his wolf would join, but it seemed that wouldn’t be the case if that lighted stick meant anything. Letting out a big huff at the lack of play, a drifting of prey scent had her attention snapping forward. Snuffling at the ground, tail wagging, she began to follow it at a trot, hunger a good boost to get on out and about.

 Dante could smell what the wolf caught, too, and his beast yearned with even greater ferocity to be set free. Still denied, but perhaps a bit maroon-eyed, he would follow Natalie along as far as he could before the thick underbrush grew too tall for him to stick to her properly. He stuck to the foot path instead, and when the cigarette was expired, he put it out. With an eager wolf lending a hand to his senses, he would spend the next stretch of time listening for her where he could, keen on any sound of a kill.

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