Disclaimer:  This is meant as an XWP über, and as everyone knows all things XWP belongs to The Powers That Be, and not a certain little dragon. It is also very much based on "The Island of Dr Moreau", which also belongs to a whole heap of people other than me. No offence intended, and no profit made, you know how it goes.

Warnings: As always in my stories, the main characters are lesbian. I can't write it any other way. *grins* Also, it is a slightly darker story of course, and contains quite a few swearwords.

On a special note, two of the characters in this little fic is named for one of my best friends and her girlfriend, I just hope they're not offended. ^_^;

Feedback is, as always, very much appreciated, at rosmari.karlssonfaltin@telia.com .

The Island of Beasts
by Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson

How did I end up on that island of hell? In a sense I think I had been heading there for a good long while.

Allow me to explain why.

See, I was an alcoholic and a womanizer, determined to spend my life so plastered I couldn't remember who I was, until the booze, one of the any number of diseases the women whom I had for sport could have carried, or the lowlife dregs that occupied the same space in the world as I, did me in. It was my way of killing myself, and damn if I didn't try it real hard, too.

When I was a teen, I was involved in an… accident. I killed my best friend, and that's all I'll say about that. I didn't mean to, God knows I'd rather have bit the bullet myself than see him hurt, but that's not how things went.

Court found me guilty and so did I, but the thing about being connected to old money is that there's always a loophole. Even for the black sheep of the family.

So many years later, drinking my way into hell with a zeal that was right near religious, I got into the worst mess of my entire life. I haven't a clue how it happened, but when I came to I was buck naked and curled up behind some cargo aboard a boat.

The sailors came close to killing me on the spot when they discovered me. Whatever they where shipping out to that remote, off-the-map island, was not the kind of stuff that they wanted witnesses to. But I got lucky, and bad weather made them in sore need of an extra pair of arms, so I made myself useful until they arrived at the island. It wasn't the first time I pretended to be a sailor, and it wouldn't be the last.

On the island I made a bad choice, although I thought it was the only one at the time. There would be times later when I wished I had simply stayed on the pirate vessel and let them try to kill me as we got near a real port instead of staying on his island.

He met me at the tiny wooden docks where the supplies were unloaded, surprised at my presence but civil about it in that smarmy, nauseating way some men have that are used to manipulating people to their wishes. I thought I had gotten lucky again when he eventually told me that he was in need of a handyman that could do the daily fishing and any number of odd fix-up jobs around the place. In return I'd be fed, clothed and kept in booze for the six months it would take until another boat came along, one that would take me back where I came from. It seemed like a sweet deal, and I accepted.

Boy, was that ever stupid of me.

He was Doctor Viktor Schaussen of Hamburg, though I'm sure that was a lie too, as the man was no more German than my left pinkie - and my French mama would be upset if anybody suggested that, but no matter; I called him Doc. The islanders, I would soon find out, called him Father.

There were things he told me from the start, but most of the truth I discovered on my own, step by step, during the months of hell that I stayed there. Perhaps it would have been less horrifying if I hadn't.

This island that I had stumbled upon had no real name, and could not be found on a map. The only way to find it was if someone, through some accident of fate, actually steered right upon it by boat… or had access to certain military information. The island had been the site for military experimentation once, though what military is more than I could tell you, and while the scientists had in the end been forced to close up their labs and leave, their subjects had been left to their own devices on the island.

The research had been genetic manipulation, or some other fancy name that means pretty much the same thing; human beings twisted and toyed with until they were more animal than human.

Two generations later Doc arrived. Dusted off the old furniture and brought in his own equipment, and started the whole, dirty business over again. Only, he called it research, research on what the island's own version of evolution had done to the creatures that descended from those that had been left there before.

At first I actually believed him. I saw the creatures that passed as people on that isle, and while some of them were so hideous they made my hands itch for the shotgun Doc gave me, others looked little different from any other woman or man I could have met in a bar. Hell, some of those women were pretty enough that I'd have offered them a drink, even.

I got to know some of the more peaceful ones during my stay there. They served Doc and his team of a few scientists and whatnots up in the fancy mansion that covered the labs like a nice coat of cake frosting. What lay underneath was nothing short of rotten, and believe me, I know rotten when I see it. Even so, these peaceful ones, whether pretty or ugly, were rather complacent and seemed to worship "Father" with all their primitive selves, regarding whatever he said as absolute truth.

I should have realized that he was slipping them a little something in their food and water, but then again, I didn't realize that he was slipping me a little of the same, either. I spent my days in a drunken haze and never questioned things that obviously did not add up. Like the ones that disappeared. Or the horrifying screams I overheard once or twice while working in the mansion myself.

The wild ones were dangerous. Less affected by whatever drugs administered to the other lot, these creatures were more wild, violent and openly rebellious to "Father's" regime. The only thing that kept them at bay was the fear of the weapons and, I realized later, the gruesome torture that some of their number endured in those labs.

I was given a small hut near the beach, as I went out every morning to fish and, evidently, so that I wouldn't be underfoot and ask uncomfortable questions. I had all the booze I could drink to occupy my time when not working, and I had a shotgun and a magnum to ensure me that the wild ones did not attack. Doc never really considered them a threat anyhow. It was his mistake.

What turned my life around, and not for just for my visit to hell island either, started off as just another evening of Jack and me being sociable. There was an awful racket outside, and finally I went out to yell at whoever disturbed my steady drinking until I'd pass out for the night, and maybe wave my shotgun around. What I saw was one of the more hideous males chasing a female around, coming to a stop virtually on top of my cabin when he caught up with her.

Ok, so I'm a woman of pretty much no morals. And I was good and gone on my way to liquor-induced oblivion, but… I'm a damn good shot even with booze in my system, and I wasn't about to watch a girl get raped right on my front lawn.

I also rather enjoyed singeing a few hairs off his ass for disturbing me.

I was still yelling at his running form as she dashed through the door behind me and into my hut. It startled me enough to make me stop yelling and get back inside, as I knew none of the primitives on the isle dared near my hut, friendly or not. And who knows, maybe I was afraid she'd hog my Jack.

She was hiding under my desk, shaking and staring out the door. Whatever braincells I had left that wasn't swimming around on their way to a premature death must have kicked in then, because I closed the door carefully and went to sit on the bed. Soon enough she dared out from under my desk and sat on the floor to stare at me. I lay back on the bed and continued my drinking, speaking to her occasionally, and she seemed to relax considerably.

I really have no recollection of what happened during the rest of that night, which is something I truly regret. If I had been just a little more sober I am sure I wouldn't have done… whatever it was that I did that ended her up in my bed. I am sure I was not forceful however, as for one thing it's just something that's not in my nature, forcing women. For another, I have since seen just how much stronger, faster, and everything else-er than me this particular bedmate was, and have no doubt that any forceful behaviour on my part would have ended me up in bits and pieces rather than bed.

I woke up next morning, still with a nice buzz in my head but at least clear enough to realize that there was a naked woman in my arms and the smell of sex in the air. Eventually my mind got around to the fact that the woman in my arms was one of the islanders, and therefore not entirely human, and I admit that I felt panic start to creep up my sluggish spine. She was asleep however, and I stopped thinking for a while to just get a good look at her.

To put it simply she was, is, and always will be the most god-damned gorgeous woman I have ever seen.

She lay snuggled close on my chest, her face peaceful and innocent in sleep, as well as startlingly flawless. Her body was the same way, strong, tempting muscles hidden in perfect and generous curves under skin a shade to golden to be a mere tan. She was considerably shorter than me, but compact in a way that promised power if she needed it. Her hair was blonde in a way, though speckled through with strands of white and red that made me think of the fur of some large cat or other, and far too silky for my sensibilities. I couldn't keep from running my fingers through it, and that was when she awoke.

The satisfied smile that shaped alluring full lips seemed to hint that she had enjoyed our night together at least, and then she opened her eyes. They were golden, and so open and trusting that what was left of my brain backfired.

When she moved against me with a low purring sound, all thoughts of not quite human islanders or genetic whatevers was the last thing on my mind. To me it seemed like I hadn't had a woman in forever, and damn, was she ever beautiful.

I didn't get around to do the fishing that day until rather late, and my brand-spanking new, clearly feline and not entirely human lover sat waiting for me on the beach while I hurried to empty the nets. Her large, trusting, golden eyes never left me, and I swear my heart was doing an odd little dance in my chest every time I looked into them.

For a while I had quite an interesting new hobby.

I'd go about my chores as usual, getting fairly plastered while doing it, then meet her by my hut and proceed to roll around in bed with her with a dedicated desperation that I previously had only held for booze. She seemed to be hovering around me all the time, unless I was working near the mansion, always smiling and looking at me with those trusting golden eyes.

I talked to her a lot. She wouldn't answer me, of course, and I'm sure I wasn't much of a conversationalist anyway, but I kept talking to her. Perhaps I was feeling a bit lonely or something. And I for some reason I wanted to know her name.

I don't think I had ever really expected her to answer me, but she did. With a sweet voice heavily accented with rolling R's that turned me on because it sounded so much like that sexy growl she would make in bed, she told me her name was Ria. She had a very limited vocabulary, but she did speak, and the more I spoke to her, the more she learned. I didn't quite appreciate how smart she was, then, or how quickly she learned.

Looking back I realize that for the first time in my life I was actually happy.

Time passed on this way, and without me noticing it, our ever-increasing activities began weaning me off the alcohol. Oh I still drank a lot, but it was getting to be less and less, as I simply did not have the time to drown myself in a bottle when I could drown myself in her instead.

She was sweetness itself. I discovered cuddling with her, as well as a multitude of other simple pleasures that wasn't directly connected to sex. Her thirst for knowledge made me dig into my foggy memories to drag out snippets of information to teach her. She seemed convinced I knew all the secrets in the world… a strange feeling for someone who would have been kicked out of school if the family had not bought off a few teachers to keep me from creating another scandal. Or maybe it just was so that they wouldn't have to put up with me coming home, I don't know. Either way, Ria's gentle presence became a constant in my life.

And I buried the fact that she wasn't really human somewhere deep in the back of my mind.

Like I said, because I no longer had as much time to spend drinking, I was slowly veering towards sobriety. Had I been self-aware enough to realize it, I'm sure I would have been terrified, but I wasn't, and things happened accordingly. Then one day I caught a look on her face as I reached for an unopened bottle of Jack. I wavered. And ended up asking her if she wanted a drink with me, not because I expected her to get drunk with me or nothing, but because it was suddenly clear to me that she despised it and I didn't know how else to ask.

She told me no, she couldn't abide the stench. Her nostrils flared as if to emphasise her point, but it was the utterly revolted look in her eyes that did me in. That, and something that looked like fear that flashed by in those gold eyes for just a moment. Just like that I put the bottle back where I got it, and damned if it wasn't still there, unopened, the last time I set foot in that hut.

I've never tasted a drop since.

Oh, I won't pretend I wasn't tempted a lot, that getting sober and staying that way wasn't damned hard. Or that doing so on that specific island wasn't utterly terrifying. But every time I came close to drinking, I'd remember that look in her eyes, and that just decided it for me. I'll admit also that once the booze got out of my system my head cleared up, and I realized just what a dangerous situation I had gotten myself into.

I needed to stay sober and keep on my toes just to make sure we'd both make it. Yeah, that's right, by then I really didn't want to think of waking up one morning without her.

My little bubble of happy didn't go by unnoticed by others, although I might have thought it would at first. I don't know how I could have thought it wouldn't happen sooner or later, but then again I was ignoring quite a lot of things back then.

So the evening when my Ria stumbled into the hut all bloodied and torn I can honestly say that I was in no way prepared for it. Nor did I realize that it was the beginning of the end for that isle; all I saw was my gentle lover hurt. I vaguely remember grabbing my shotgun and scooping Ria up in my arms to carry her over to the mansion.

Damn, I really must have been out of it… the mansion was a good distance away from my hut, and despite her deceptive size, Ria was heavy. It didn't even slow me down. And thinking back on it now, what in the world did I think I was going to be able to do if we were attacked while walking, with Ria all but unconscious in my arms? The shotgun wasn't going to be enough protection against what was coming, that was for sure.

I got her to the mansion and didn't stop for niceties when I encountered the servants and other doctors, I barged on until I found the Doc himself. I don't remember what I said to him, perhaps I threatened him if he wouldn't immediately get off his ass and heal my girl, I'm not sure. I know that he looked very surprised, and that Ria was frightened out of her mind.

I refused to let her go, so after a moment of hesitation Ria and I were brought to the facilities underneath the mansion. Ria shook so badly that it was quite obvious to everyone present that the only thing keeping her from clawing her way out of there was the fact that it was me holding her. I didn't much think about the speculating looks thrown my way by Doc as I was preoccupied keeping Ria calm enough to let the other scientist types patch her up.

Also, I was standing guard to make sure they didn't try anything funny with her. Even as distraught as I were, one glance around the room they had led me to was all it took for me to get freaky flashbacks to old movies like Frankenstein and the like. It was obviously the nesting place of madmen, and I had brought my woman there. I pretended that I didn't notice anything, that I was too upset and too much of a simpleton to realize what some of that stuff meant, knowing that it was just about the only thing I could do at the time.

They patched her up just fine, without any funny stuff that either of us could tell, but I heard them comment between themselves in words and terms that I wasn't supposed to understand. And OK, so I didn't understand it all that much, but despite my pitiful school efforts I was no stranger to some of the terms in latin these people were tossing around. I thanked them profusely, acting a bit drunk in the process, grabbed my girl and headed for the exits.

Doc wasn't about to let us go. He wanted to know who had done this to Ria, and insisted that I let one of the scientists check her for sexual assault. The scientist in question stepped up with a big shot of something nasty-looking, apparently thinking that since Doc had suggested it, it was how it had to be. Ria clung to me so desperately that I could feel every rapid beat of her heart as it seemed to jump right out through her skin.

I stopped the guy with the syringe. Then I asked my girl if she had been raped. I know it wasn't the most gentle or sensitive way to go about it, but damn, I wasn't in a situation to be gentle, and I was about three little letters away from going berserk on the populace with a chainsaw as it was. For some reason Doc and the others seemed surprised that I thought to ask Ria at all, and even more as my lover stood angrily, gave me a glare and strongly stated in halting and slightly broken english, that no, she wouldn't let anybody touch her that way because she was mine.

Then she added in a different tone and in words from my mother's native French that she belonged to me and me alone. I'm sure my stupid grin was completely inappropriate for the occasion, but I didn't have much say in the matter anyway.

When asked who had done this to her, Ria reluctantly admitted that it was several of the wild ones that had attacked her. Apparently there had been increasing hostilities against her from them ever since they began smelling my scent on her, and she had ended up fighting quite a few of them.

So I'm not a sensitive person. But knowing that my girl had been in trouble for some time and never told me about it, hurt. I barked something along the lines of "hey you're not going back there and that's final", I think - and maybe a "baby" or something affectionate like that I suppose - and this time I was just to pissed for the whitecoats to stop me. Doc hollered to me just as I was about to carry my girl out the doors of the mansion that I was under no circumstances to retaliate on my own, he and his people was going to make sure everything was taken care of. In fact, he didn't want me or Ria to step outside the hut for a few days until he had taken care of the dissenters, as he called them.

I've got to admit that the old guy had me pegged. If Ria hadn't needed me by her side right then I would have taken my gun and my shotgun and made sure the world was a few bastards less. As it was I didn't dare to leave her, although I thought I'd make that little trip once she was better.

Yeah right.

Anyway, a couple of the scientist types gave us a lift in the truck back to the hut, providing us with some extra food, booze and water to tide us over for a day or two, as well as some extra ammo for my shotgun, just in case. I was surprised to find out that there was an electric defence thingy built into the walls of my hut that once activated would give shocks to whoever tried to get in. I guess I finally had the answer why the islanders avoided my hut, but at the moment I'd take whatever protection I could get for Ria. Our escort kept asking me questions about Ria and about our sexual interactions, as apparently the idea of one of the islanders being gay was very intriguing, but instead of telling them all to go to hell - pointless, I know, we were all already there - I asked them rather evilly if they wanted me to demonstrate my technique. I should have paid more attention.

I got Ria back into the hut and into bed, where I fully intended to keep her for the foreseeable future. I locked up around us and found the activator for the defence system where I had been told to look, and had it up and running as well. Even so, I made sure the shotgun and gun were both loaded and within reach, and then sat guard, watching the night through the one little window of the hut.

A strong wind started blowing, and it wasn't until well past midnight that I realized that the howling of the wind wasn't just the wind.

My lover got out of bed and hovered nervously by my side, her much keener senses picking up whatever it was that I only thought I had heard. We sat there listening, and she told me she could hear guns, and screaming, and the howls of the islanders. We cracked open the window the hear better, and after a while she told me she could feel a faint scent of fire on the wind. The sounds got stronger as the night passed on towards morning, and as the sun was about to begin to rise on the horizon, Ria gasped and growled quietly.

I followed her gaze out through the window, and at first I couldn't see what it was that she had seen. Then I caught just the barest hint of something moving towards the hut. Ria was still growling as the first one jumped up on the roof.

The defence system released an electric shock that sounded almost like thunder in the eerie quiet that had settled around the hut, and the bluish light bathed the scene like lightning, with a similarly lethal effect on the creature that had landed on the roof. It was then, during that bluish light, that I saw that we had been surrounded by far more creatures than I had seen at any one time before on the island. And on and on they came, making the hut shake violently as they killed themselves on the electricity running on the outside of the walls.

I was afraid the walls would break before they did when the attacks suddenly stopped. Looking out confirmed that they were still there, just more cautious since several of their number had already died in their attempts at getting inside. For a long time there were only sporadic attacks or things thrown, and Ria and I got whatever I had in the way of weapons ready in case we would need to make a run for it.

Finally a rock was thrown that didn't cause an electric discharge. I checked the activation hatch only to find that the system appeared to either have run out of power or simply burnt itself out. Another few rocks were thrown, and when that didn't cause a discharge either, a howl went up around the hut.

Ria and I burst out of the hut at the same time the creatures attacked. I kept her behind me and my weapons clearing us a path as we ran as fast as I could go away from there. The beasts chased us, but seemed more fearful of my guns than of the electricity, and kept at a distance. I picked off whoever dared closer as we ran, but eventually we had to run out of ammunition.

For a while the bluff of my shotgun held them at bay, but it wasn't to last. As one large beast lunged towards me I suddenly heard a furious lion's roar from behind me, and a blonde blur that was my Ria raced past to clash with the attacker with murderous intent.

I can't put in words the horror of that night, of all the things I witnessed that has haunted me since, especially not that sight. My Ria, my beautiful, gentle, sweet lover, transformed into a most lethal beast in her efforts to protect me, fighting so many, too many, of those nightmares with nothing more than muscle, fangs and claws. I saw her covered in blood both her own and theirs as she bit and tore and clawed at the mass of bodies charging her. Not many of them made it past her.

It wasn't until a long time after all the events on that isle that I came to the realization that my Ria had been one of Doc's special projects. I heard the whitecoats say things that night that didn't make sense to me until later, and it all added up. They had… enhanced her somewhat, though I have no idea how, when or exactly what, only that Ria was far faster and stronger than most of her opponents that night. Her claws that appeared to be ordinary nails in their retracted state must have been about two inches long when she fought, and I would see her slice them through the barrel of a rifle like it was paper. Still, she was already wounded, and her opponents too many. Eventually she would have been overrun, and we would both have been killed.

I was actually grateful when the truck drove up to us and the whitecoats shot electric bolts and tranquillizers through the writhing bodies.

I was pulled up on the truck almost before I knew it, but somehow I still managed to grab a hold of Ria and pull her up to me before she had gotten shot with the others. Another truck drove up, and the creatures that didn't run off was soon loaded into cages on them. Doc came up to me and Ria and started going on about how this was a most unfortunate development, and how he needed to contain the islanders to stop this mad behaviour. From what I understood by his somewhat megalomaniac speech, the wild ones had finally rebelled and many had died in the process, both islanders and Doc's cronies. The mansion was burning beyond rescue, and most of the islanders that had served Doc were gone while many of the wild ones were still on the loose. He intended to collect as many of his favoured samples as possible, then kill the rest and hole up on the beach in wait for the ship to arrive so he could repeat his experiments elsewhere.

I was so outraged by the sheer idiocy of this man that I did not react in time. Ria, tired and so wounded, did not either. Someone slugged me over the head, hard, and I went down on my knees. The last thing I saw before a second blow sent me to la-la land was my Ria slicing through a rifle in her struggles as a bunch of them held her and Doc held a needle to her neck.

I woke up to pandemonium. I have no idea how long I was out, but when I came to I was tossed in a heap in the back of the truck, near one of the cages that had been filled with islanders. I wasn't the only one that had returned to consciousness, and the nightmares packed to bursting in the cage not far from me were almost so deafening that I didn't realize what else was going on.

I wasn't sure where we were, just that it was some other location than where I had last been conscious, and there were more of Doc's people about. They were fighting more islanders again, but their elevated location on the trucks combined with the superior weapons gave them a nasty advantage over the primitive beasts that howled and snarled around us. I looked around for my Ria, and finally spotted her at the other end of the truck, near Doc himself. She was lying in an unmoving heap, either unconscious or dead, I didn't know which, but at least she wasn't in one of the cages. Of course, once I thought about that it hit me that it probably meant that my lover was already dead, since the whitecoats had hurried to pack the unconscious islanders into the cages before.

I… don't want to sound like some overly romantic shithead, but the thought of her gone… did something to me. I turned back to the cage near me, and looked into the eyes of one of the beasts. I recognised him from the hut, he had appeared to be some sort of pack leader, and Ria had fought with him right before Doc showed up. In fact I could still see her blood around his mouth, as well as the wounds she had given him.

If she was gone I wasn't about to stick around either. But first I was going to make sure those bastards that took her from me got theirs.

I got back on my feet and lunged at the whitecoat nearest to me. I lucked out, he had the keys to the cage, and I snatched them from him before I shoved him off the truck and right into waiting clawed arms. His screams never reached me.

The other whitecoats noticed me then, but I was already at the cage, turning the key in the surprisingly old-fashioned lock. I looked into the eyes of the pack leader again, at close range. For a moment everything seemed to happen in slow motion… some of Doc's cronies were running towards me, but my hands were already opening the door. The animal's eyes stayed locked with mine for what seemed a long moment - I still have vividly detailed nightmares about those eyes - before they shifted to Doc for a moment, and then returned to me. It seemed like… an understanding.

I opened the cage.

I was flung across the truck by the force when they poured out of the cage and sent sprawling on the floor. I watched, eerily detached, from an upside-down viewpoint how the pack leader and a few others attacked Doc, and how they tore him apart as they toppled him off the truck. Doc held a weapon in his hands, and in some kind of death spasm it fired, tearing the pack leader in two, but it was just too late. Doc was gone.

The other beasts overran the whitecoats, and it was a bloodbath on both sides. I ignored it all as I crawled across dead bodies to get to Ria's unmoving form, and somehow in the melee I wasn't attacked.

Imagine my shock, and my joy, at finding that Ria was still breathing.

Somehow I managed to pull us both into a corner, hiding us under some corpses conveniently there, and waited for the raging battle to move on. And it did. I pulled Ria's unconscious form with me and got down from the truck, somehow managing to sneak away into the night with her in my arms. I heard the insanity continue all around us, and, come to think of it, the islanders must have turned against one another at the end, because surely all of Doc's cronies had been killed by then. Never the less, I carried Ria down to the tiny dock and aboard my fishing boat.

A massive explosion shook the ground as I cast off for the relative safety of open waters, although I have no idea what on that island could have created an explosion of that magnitude. I did sit and watch the island go down in flames from my vantage point of a small fishing boat slowly heading out for the open seas it wasn't built for, with my unconscious lover tucked into my arms. The fire spread quickly, until it seemed most of the island was burning, and I wonder if perhaps Ria and I were the only survivors.

I never found out. I do know that I lost consciousness sometime during the next day, and we drifted for days before we were found by a freighter ship and rescued. They had an old doctor on board that got us back on our feet before the freighter reached port, but we ended up staying on that old ship with it's rambunctious but good-natured old captain for nearly three more months, until it got us back to where I had come from, before.

He also married my Ria and me.

Getting back to the US and the mainland put me in a position to use family resources, and it didn't take too long until I had gotten us a house in a small, friendly, out-of-the-way town where people wouldn't be asking uncomfortable questions or make our lives miserable. Where the neighbours didn't mind the lesbian couple next door, and didn't warn the kids away from "the strange-looking woman with yellow eyes".

I told our neighbours, Madelyne and Richard, a story to explain Ria's unusual appearance and innocence to the supposedly modern world - the true irony of it all was that it was all true too, I just didn't go into that the genetical oddities Ria had inherited from her parents was due to genetic experiments making people into animals and such - and they welcomed us with open arms. Maddie especially took a very protective stance where Ria was concerned, while Richard and I did the male bonding thing somehow… it amused our ladies something awful, and Maddie would call us "our boys Ricky and Mickey", though I suppose that wasn't so bad. I still prefer to just be called Mike, although I guess it's still better than being called Michaela. I never did think it suited me much.

The kids loved Ria, and Ria simply adored them. It saddened me that I couldn't give her a kid of our own, but I also knew that Ria felt very strongly that her genetic heritance shouldn't be allowed to be passed on. I disagree, in my opinion she is simply too good for this world, and anything that comes from her has to improve it greatly. But then I'm obviously biased too, since I'm head over heels in love with her.

Being unofficially adopted into the Matthews family seemed to cover that fairly nicely though, since Maddie and Richard's three kids adored their "aunt Ri" an awful lot. My own family, well, let's just say that they're baffled out of their collective wits that I've turned my life around like this, and they're not objecting that I'm tapping into some of my inheritance to make us a home we can keep. In fact I've written to my mother a few times, telling her the same story about Ria that I told Maddie and Richard at first, and I have even gotten a few careful replies as well as a Christmas card with a picture of a nephew I didn't even know I had.

Life seemed perfect, right? So of course something had to happen.

Maddie and Richard was over by us, and we were all having a barbecue in the back yard. The kids had been around for the food and then scampered off to play as they usually did, no-one really thinking much about it. Until the eldest, William, came running up to his parents with tears in his eyes, telling them that he couldn't find his baby sister anywhere.

The Matthews' youngest, Emma, was the sweetest and most precocious three-year-old I ever saw, and Ria's favourite. Sarah, the six-year-old middle child, came up to my Ria clutching Emma's favourite toy, the one that Emma never parted with, ever. So Sarah turned to my Ria with her big blue eyes and begged auntie Ri to find her baby sister, handing her the toy.

God knows I'll never make assumptions about what kids know ever again.

My Ria looked up at me briefly, and with that single look a part of me started making plans for who to sell our house, and where we would go from here. Ria brought the toy up to her nose and scented it, while asking Will and Sarah to show her where they had found it. I didn't need to look at Richard and Maddie to know that they were looking at Ria funny.

The kids brought us to a spot in the street outside their own house, and Ria knelt down to catch Emma's scent on the pavement. She was no longer wearing her sunglasses, and I don't think I was the only one who saw my beloved's eyes glow with the hunting instinct. After that Ria shot to her feet and looked alertly down the street, before setting of at a dead run.

Richard and I ran after her as fast as we could, leaving Maddie bringing the kids behind us at a slower pace. We were still running when we saw Ria catch up to a large waste-disposal truck - apparently she is fast enough to match a car on short distances - and leap onto it.

My lover clung nearly upside down to the truck like it was the easiest thing in the world, and it looked to us as if she just lightly punched the back of the truck and peeled it open. I got a closer look at the back of that truck later that day and saw the deep indentations from Ria's claws where she had hung from it, not to mention the way she had pierced the thick metal hatch in the back and bent it open like it was made out of paper. The truckdriver never figured out what had happened, but from what I heard he quit his job soon after that, too shook up about it to drive that route again.

In the truck among the garbage was little Emma. Apparently Ria had heard her cry out as she was running out of air, which spurred the rather impressive display of my love's abilities.

As happy and grateful as Maddie and Richard was to have their little girl back, they didn't forget what they had just witnessed Ria do. My beautiful wife clung to me as I held her, and I think she was scared how our friends would react to her now. Now, I liked Richard and Madelyne well enough, but if they were going to say or do anything to make Ria uncomfortable I was going to take my wife and leave without as much as a backwards glance, and I wouldn't regret it once. But Ria would be much more sensitive to something like that, so I figured I'd at least have a chat with Richard and feel him out.

Later that evening, as the kids had gotten to bed, Maddie called us up and asked us to come over. I had decided to tell them the whole truth, all of it, and hold nothing back. And I did. The whole sordid story about that island hell, Doc, my alcoholism, Ria's dual nature… everything. Ria didn't say a word during all of it, instead she clung to me and refused to look at Maddie or Richard.

To their credit I must say that their reactions proved them the good, honest folk I had thought them to be before. When I finished my tale, neither of them spoke for a good long while. Richard looked shaken and serious, but I couldn't tell with my friend if that was a good or bad sign in this occasion. It was Maddie that broke the silence when she started crying something awful and bounded over to the couch next to me and Ria, grabbing my startled wife and proceeded to hug the stuffing out of her.

I don't know who was more surprised of my wife and I, as Maddie was hugged Ria and bawled, and Richard came up to me and pounded on my back in what I assume was an approving manner and grunted something. After Maddie, and my Ria who started to cry a bit herself, calmed down, the four of us talked long into the night about everything that had happened. It was quite an emotional evening.

The next day all three of the kids came over, bringing some gifts for my Ria. The framed children's drawing of me and Ria, with the words "auntie Ri, our hero" on it, was my wife's favourite and ended up on the kitchen wall. Personally I kind of liked the T-shirt Maddie had gotten Ria that had a nice glittering print of a lion's head on the chest… my baby looked quite fetching wearing that.

Watching my Ria that day, as she played around with the kids and joked with our friends - our friends that knew the truth but accepted us anyway - made me realize something I hadn't given much thought before.

We've finally escaped the island of beasts. We're together, and we're safe.

And we are home.

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