In deference to the driver, Kehpri restrained herself, and instead of singing, settled for merely humming along with the music on the radio. The wind whipped through the car windows, ruffling her curly, long hair.
A pair of ridiculous pink sunglasses was perched on her nose, and both feet were up on the dashboard as she enjoyed the trip. A cooler of beer and sandwiches was safely ensconced in the back seat. "How big is the lake?" she asked, finally.
"Big enough to be a lake… There's also an island in the middle of it," Chance said, her fingers tapping against the steering wheel. She was feeling oddly relaxed as they drove further into the Reservation towards Nevada and the high desert mountains.
There was no badge that was left at home, and she had a gun. But there was always a gun. She didn't feel safe without something to equalize her with the raw power of Weres.
"Nice. Are there boats?"
"No, no boats. No houses, people, or bathrooms. A two-mile hike nearly straight up, but it’s worth it for the peace and the beauty. Snow takes forever to melt up there, and it will be cool in the pine trees." She looked over, pushing the straw cowboy hat up on her forehead a bit, and grinned at Kehpri.
"Good." The brunette closed her eyes and leaned her head back in the seat, enjoying the feel of wind and sun on her face and even the occasional pothole that they ran over.
Chance turned her eyes back to the road. Her right hand fumbled with an old cassette and plopped it in the outdated cassette player in the car. She started singing with Jimmy, "Wasted away again in Margaritaville, Searchin' for my lost shaker of salt. Some people claim that there's a woman to blame..."
The passenger opened one eye to watch the singing, enjoying the other woman's voice. Only when she was done with the first song on the tape did she interrupt. "What is it with you and Jimmy Buffett?" The road had turned into a dirt path somewhere along the way, and she really wasn't sure how much further they were going to go on it before the hiking was going to start.
"It’s Jimmy, what’s not to love?" She was wearing her 'It’s five o'clock somewhere' t-shirt and well-worn faded jeans. "His songs are fun, and about drinking and being free. Everything we aren't in our culture."
"So, is there a woman?" At the puzzled look, Kehpri grinned impishly, "A woman to blame somewhere?" A bounce nearly sent her sunglasses flying, but she managed to save the pink plastic monstrosities that she'd gotten at the deli with the sandwiches.
Chance just sighed and pulled the car over, parking it under a tree. It was hot out, almost stifling. She opened her car door. "It will be better once we get up a little higher."
"Oooh!" Kehpri jumped out so that she could watch the agent. "There was a woman!"
There was a flicker of a flash of something dark moving in the trees and the brush. Chance looked, but didn't see anything, and looked back at Kehpri. "There's always a woman. Tell me you aren't hiding out here in the middle of nowhere, because of a woman."
"I'm not hiding out here in the middle of nowhere because of a woman," Kehpri answered easily, reaching into the car for the cooler. Slamming her door shut, she looked around.
"After you, super agent."
"Could you not call me that?" Chance said. She hated it when Halstead did it.
"Oh, ok." Kehpri hurried to keep up with the longer legged woman. "I'm sure I'll find some other way to annoy you." She perked up. "Want to sing trail songs?"
"No, not really…" Chance grabbed Kehpri by the belt loops on a pair of familiar looking shorts and turned her towards the right trail.
"Party pooper," she mumbled, falling into step on the right trail.
There was a crack of a twig, and before Chance could pull the small pistol from the back of her pants where it was hidden, a slim African-American woman was standing on the trail. Her head was cocked in question. "Agent Pavel," she purred out.
Chance grinned. "Katja," she said in greeting, and held out her hand.
"Agent Pavel, we are old friends, what is this?" And then the other woman walked forward like a stalking cat and gave Chance a nearly full body hug.
"I knew there was a woman," Kehpri mumbled from behind her.
"Yes." The woman frowned as Chance got loose. "You never call. You come in and save a girl's life and then poof, you're gone."
"Well, I was just doing my job..."
The werecat just sniffed and rolled her eyes. "Agent, it is never a wonder why you are single."
From her spot behind them on the small trail, Kehpri narrowed her eyes, watching the feline like woman. "Nice of you to introduce us, Agent," she called out, annoyed at being ignored.
"What? Oh, um, Katja, this is Kehpri. Kehpri, Katja." She started easing back towards Kehpri, as Katja's dark eyes seemed to be undressing her and then some. "Katja here is with the Sierra Cougar clan." Then in a fit of desperation, added, "Honey," and put her hand around Kehpri's waist.
Kehpri looked up at her in surprise, then over at the suddenly annoyed looking Katja. "Right…Honey cakes." She smiled widely and slapped Chance on the ass.
Chance glared at Kephri for a moment then just gave a strained smile, "Nice to see you again. Tell your mom hi."
Katja looked at them dubiously. "She's only human, Chance, let me know when you break her and I can show you all sorts of things."
Chance just swallowed.
"We'll let you know if we ever need a threesome." Kehpri was smiling so widely it hurt, but it was a hurt she was fine with.
"What? Threesome...no, don't. No threesomes." The agent’s voice had gone up a few octaves. She took the cooler out of Kehpri's hands and started herding them up the path and away from Katja.
"Bye, Katja! Good to meet you!" Kehpri managed to get out before she was bodily shoved ahead of the agent and up the dirt path. "Admirer?" she asked, laughing.
"Her father was a coke head, and went berserk. I and my old partner saved her and her mother. It’s just a little misguided hero-worship."
"I'm pretty sure she wanted to do more than just worship." Kehpri pretended to think about it. "Or maybe that's exactly what she wanted to do."
Chance grimaced. "Stop, stop that. Lalala…I did not hear that. She's like seventeen or something."
"Ooooh…you cradle robber!" Kehpri laughed evilly. "I think there's a law or something against dating people below eighteen, isn't there?"
Chance just glared over at Kehpri. "You better start saving your breath, ‘cause you still have a two mile hike."
Laughing again evilly, Kehpri did stop talking and started to concentrate on the actual hiking.
Two miles later she was dying, sucking in mouthfuls of air as she scrambled up over a boulder. Leaning against the rock, she had to swallow mouthfuls of air before she could manage to gasp something. "I hate you," she gasped. "You tricked me into this, trying to kill me."
As they got closer to the top, the air did cool off quite a bit, and the trees got thicker. Chance was carrying a backpack, the cooler, and Kehpri.
Even with the help, she wasn't sure she was going to make it. "This lake better be close," Kehpri gasped, feeling definitely out of shape.
"I did not lie. I told you, at least twice, that it was a two mile hike nearly straight up," she chuckled, feeling only a slight burn with the muscles in her abs, but she figured that was ‘cause she just got her stitches out.
"There's no hurry, just rest for a bit. We're almost there."
"Better be." She took a few minutes to rest. After that, she was feeling almost good enough to walk on her own along the trial, which seemed to have leveled out a bit. "Oh thank God." Kehpri trailed along behind the agent. "That wasn't a hike; that was a mountain climb!"
"It’s worth it. I promise. We just go around this bend and…whoa!" She shouted the last part as an older African-American woman and two large cougars stood in the path. "Jesus, Kimberly."
The strange woman let her braided hair tilt back and let out a beautiful rich laugh. "Chance, you and your friend sound like drunken grizzly bears coming up the trail."
"Hey, your girlfriend is back," Kehpri wheezed, bending over and bracing her hands on her knees to breath. She was in horrible shape, and she knew it. She probably should actually eat more.
Chance put a hand on her chest and got her breath back. "Kimberly, Kehpri. Kehpri, Kimberly. Kimberly would be Katja's mother, and Pride mother to the Sierra Nevada Cougar clan."
"Oh, sorry, you look a lot like your daughter." Kehpri raised a hand from where she was catching her breath and waved in what she hoped was the right direction.
The African-American woman walked forward and gave Chance and hug then took Kehpri's hand, holding it a moment, "An honor. You must be special. Chance never brings friends with her." The two cougars sat like silent sentinels, their eyes never leaving their Alpha.
"I'm a special pain in her ass." Kehpri smiled at the cougar Alpha, instantly deciding she liked this woman.
Chance rolled her eyes and Kimberly laughed. "Good, she needs that, she gets too melancholy left to her own devices. You've met Katja. I'm sorry, Chance, I know how her crush makes you uncomfortable, but she is so close to eighteen and she thinks this makes her all grown up."
"Oh, don't worry. I'll tease Chance about it incessantly for the next little while." Kehpri smiled at the obviously uncomfortable agent. "So you're pack owns the lake area?"
"Yes, and I didn't mean to intrude. The boys and I were just making sure there was nothing or no one dangerous lurking about for your day. I just didn't expect you so quickly. I will leave you two to your romantic getaway. And don't worry; I'll make sure Katja comes with me."
"Thanks Kimber... What? No, she's just a friend."
"Thanks, Kimberly." Kehpri smiled widely. "My sweetheart and I really have been looking forward to getting away."
"What?" Chance looked between the two women.
Kimberly just laughed again. "Chance, you're too easy. You wear everything on your face for the world to see. A pleasure, Kehpri, take care of Chance, I'm fond of her, even if the blood of dogs runs in her veins." She made a gesture and the two cougars sprung silently to her side.
"Bye, Kimberly, good to meet you." Turning, she laughed as she saw the expression still on the agent's face. "Come on, big dog, I hear there's water nearby."
"Glad you have your wit back, sweetheart," Chance grumbled then started forward, not looking back at Kehpri's laughing face.
This had to be the best she'd felt since... Kehpri's laughter died and she followed along more soberly.
The path dipped down and then the trees thinned out and the lake looked like a huge blue mirror, the small island rising out of the middle was the only thing breaking the illusion of the mirror.
Kehpri was startled out of the beginning of a really good funk by the sight that lay ahead. "It's beautiful!" she yelled, taking off at a run past the taller woman towards the water’s edge.
Chance chuckled and followed more slowly behind. She found a good open place and opened the backpack, pulled out a large blanket and spread it out on the ground. She then lay down on the blanket, tilting her cowboy hat down over her eyes.
There was a delighted laugh from the waterside followed a little bit later by the splash as Kehpri waded in then dove further into the water. It was cold, fed by the crystal clear mountain streams, and she came up sputtering, but happy.
A trail of clothes led the way to the edge of the water.
"Aren't you coming in?" she called, floating on her back and kicking her feet to send water splashing around.
"Um, no, cold," Chance said with a yawn.
"Hmph…" Kehpri floated in the lake for a little while longer, but eventually was forced out when she started getting too cold. The sun felt good on her cold skin as she got out.
"Any chance of lunch?" she asked hopefully, picking up clothes as she went.
"Sure." Chance sat up, stretching. She took her hat off and ran her fingers through her hair. Her blue eyes ran over Kehpri's naked, wet body. "You need to eat better."
"Really? The occasional Three Musketeers bar isn't good enough?" was the sarcastic answer.
"Really, now stop being cranky with me. I didn't have to bring you here." She reached in the backpack and tossed a towel at the woman's shivering frame.
"Sorry. You're right. Thank you for bringing me. I just..." She grimaced and quickly put on her clothes, feeling uncomfortable. "Guess I hadn't realized how much weight I'd lost." That wasn't really true, but it was easier to say than the truth. That she'd felt like wasting away, disappearing.
"It’s okay. Stick with me. I'll get some meat on your bones. It was kind of nice cooking for more than just me."
"So that means I can come by for dinner more often, right?" Kehpri grinned, sitting down on the edge of the blanket and looking hopefully at the cooler.
Chance nodded, "Yeah, I'm not home a lot, but when I am, sure." She took a long time digging through the cooler. Somehow, Kehpri had changed from being insane to...what…that she didn't know.
"Free dinners." Kehpri flopped back to lie on the blanket to stare up at the sky above. "I like it out here. It's quiet."
"Yeah, some of the cleanest air in the US is right here. It’s a nice place to escape to." She pulled out a sandwich from the cooler. "Roast beef or turkey?"
She shrugged, "Whichever you don't want," stretching out. "Why do you live in that crappy apartment complex if you could live out here?"
"‘Cause this is Cougar territory. I only come up with their permission." She tossed the turkey to Kehpri, and opened the roast beef. "Beer..?"
"Hmmm, sounds good." She propped her head up enough to unwrap the sandwich and start devouring the well-stuffed sandwich. After months of being hungry, she was starving these days. "How'd you save her life…your girlfriend that is?"
"My girlfriend?" Chance asked, frowning, and handed a beer over. "I don't have a girlfriend, married to my job, remember."
"Uh huh… That's not what Katja thinks." She took the beer. "You saved her life? How'd that happen?"
Chance rolled her eyes. "Well, the local sheriff out here called us in desperation. The Pride Alpha had gone berserk. He was too far away, but my old partner and I were out here following up on some leads, so she agreed to check it out on a favor." Chance cracked open her own beer and took a small sip.
The sandwich didn't last long; neither did the beer, as Kehpri waited to hear the rest of it, certain there was more.
"So we come out here. I guess Gregory, the Alpha, had a drug problem, and had, well…freaked out. Kimberly had taken her and Katja and locked them down in the basement of their house. Most Alpha's have holding cages for some of their more out of control members of their packs or prides. Sorry, off topic. Anyway, they'd locked themselves in there to get away from him. We showed up, three pride members had been torn apart. Lots of blood, and well..." She put her sandwich down, not hungry anymore.
"You ever seen a Were freaking out on crack, holy shit," she shivered. "We weren't really prepared for that. He attacked us and we shot him and he didn't drop. I unloaded my entire clip into him and he just kept coming at us. He was in his half-form, huge, claws, blood… Yeah…"
She blew out a breath. "I think I'll go for a swim."
Kehpri nodded slowly. "I'm glad you saved them." She felt bad for bringing it up, and wished she'd just dropped the whole thing earlier. Sometimes she was just too curious for her own good. "I'll watch your sandwich while you swim."
"Thanks. Those roast beef ones can be tricky." She slipped out of her hiking boots, and unbuttoning her pants slipped them off, and then her Buffett t-shirt. "Be back in a bit."
"Take your time." Kehpri didn't even try to keep the leer off her face as she watched the well-built woman go in the water. "Look, but don't touch," she chuckled and snatched up the sandwich, introducing it to her stomach.
Chance stepped into the water, which was cold, causing gooseflesh to rise on her skin. She waded out to deeper water then dived in. She swam, gliding through the water, enjoying the pull of the muscles. After a lap to the island and back, she was able to put the past away.
That night had been horrible and terrifying. Emptying a full clip of sliver into a Were and have him still come at you, yeah, she remembered afterwards, laughing with her partner as she was loaded into an ambulance. That had been the night Alexa had lost her leg.
She swam another lap then checked the blanket where Kehpri was. She wasn't sure, but the woman might have been napping. She frowned a bit and studied the woman's outline. What the hell was going on with them? Why had she allowed this insane woman so deep into her life? Maybe, it was a shared understanding of life-altering pain.
"Your sandwich wandered off, sorry. I couldn't stop it," Kehpri called form where she was lying on the blanket, eyes closed, enjoying the stillness and the feel of the sun on her skin.
Blue eyes blinked and came back from her musing. "It did, huh?" She treaded water close to shore.
"You really should have seen it. It was amazing. I've never seen a sandwich run before." Kehpri grinned, cracking open one eye to watch Chance.
Chance laughed. "That is amazing. And where did it run off too?"
"Into my mouth…I think it committed suicide."
"Huh? Don't that beat all. You know, Kehpri, you are one weird duck." Chance twisted around back into the water, and swam another lap.
"So I've been told," the brunette mumbled, closing her eyes again.
Silently, Chance swam back and crept out of the water. Naked, her bare feet made no noise on the sand and rock up to the blanket. In a quick move, she scooped Kehpri up. "Steal my sandwich, will you."
"AH!" Kehpri squealed in surprise and tried to squirm her way out of the woman's arms. "Put me down!" she laughed, eyes widening as they moved closer to the water. "No! Not with my clothes on!" she yelled.
"Shouldn't have eaten my sandwich then," Chance chuckled. She stopped at the water’s edge and rocked her arms back. "One..."
"No!" Kehpri laughed, trying to at the very least get a hold of the taller woman so that she wouldn't be launched.
"I'll get you for this!"
The agent’s arms rocked back a third time. "Three…" She launched Kehpri up in the air…then caught her again. Laughing so hard she could hardly get her breath, she gasped out, "You... you... should see your face."
"I hate you," Kehpri sputtered, managing to get her hands free. In desperation, she tried finding out if the agent was ticklish anywhere.
Chance nearly dropped Kehpri. She was not ticklish, but the woman had hit a sensitive spot. "Whoa. Hands…"
"Why yes, yes, they are." She gave up the search for a ticklish spot and raised an eyebrow, watching the other woman's face. "So, you just going to hold me here all day or do something?" a waggle of eyebrows followed.
Chance sighed then did drop her on the damp sand and rock on the bank. "Way to push the moment too far, crazy lady."
"Oof." Kehpri got up, rubbing her butt. "Way to drop me like a sack of potatoes," she grumbled.
Chance just sniffed and went back to the blanket, and stretched out on her front. "You did it to yourself."
"You have a real problem flirting, don't you?" Kehpri trailed along behind her. "You know what flirting is, right?"
Chance blushed then rolled over and sat up, reaching for her shirt. "It’s a thing people do to gauge sexual interest."
Watching something that was definitely below Chance's face, Kehpri smiled. "You've never flirted?"
"Well, um, sure, everybody flirts."
Kehpri moved closer, looking skeptical. "So you know how to flirt then, right?"
She pulled her shirt on, feeling silly. "Of course I do."
"Ah, what..?" Chance turned around.
Crossing her arms, Kehpri smiled. "Prove it. Since you know how to flirt, let's hear it. You've never flirted back to anything I've said."
"I don't have to prove anything." Chance was feeling really silly now. She grabbed her pants and stood up to put them back on.
"So you admit that you don't know how to flirt." Kehpri sounded victorious.
Chance buttoned her pants then turned around. "No, I don't admit anything."
"Chance doesn't know how to flirt. I can't wait to tell this to..." she paused. She didn't have anyone to tell. "Hmm. Tell this to your coworkers."
Chance snorted then took a couple of steps forward, putting her firmly in Kehpri's personal space. "Flirting is something real people do. People who work 9 to 5 and then go home, eat, fuck, and then sleep like babies. I'm not real. I'm an agent with the federal government. I rarely have meaningful interactions outside those with my coworkers or people I’m arresting."
She reached up, tracing Kehpri's eyebrow, then the finger moved down the side of her face to the woman's lips. She traced them as well. Her head moved forward, coming close, but not touching Kehpri. She smelled, taking in Kehpri's scent, then breathed out so her breath puffed out on the skin of the woman's neck, cheek, and then her ear.
"Uh huh, flirting bad," Kehpri mumbled as every square inch of her skin suddenly came alive. She shivered as the other woman's breath brushed across that suddenly sensitive skin.
“So, want to go back to my place and fuck?” Chance said the words low and breathy.
Kehpri's entire body screamed yes to that proposition. Her mind, on the other hand, reminded her what this woman had just said about normal relationships. "How charming," she shoved away from the taller woman. "So instead of flirting you'd just use me for sex?"
Chance chuckled. "All you wanted me to do was flirt, and I did. Thus proving I can flirt. You're just mad ‘cause you liked it."
"That wasn't flirting. That was propositioning." Angry with herself for starting something she didn't want to finish, she went to the blanket and flopped down. "I'm taking a nap."
"Well, maybe that last part was, but before that…admit it, that was flirting." She sat down next to Kehpri.
"Hmph…" Kehpri closed her eyes, her lips curling upwards without her permission. "Yes, that was flirting. Way to take it too far though, crazy woman," she echoed the agent's earlier words.
Chance snickered. "I apologize." She was silent for a moment. "Still friends?"
Both eyes snapped open, "Friends…really? You consider me a friend?" What felt like a lifetime ago; she would have been horrified to hear the pleading note in her voice.
"Well, yeah, I'm not certain how that happened, but we've slept together twice...erm, in a non-sexual friend comforting manner."
"Guess you’re right, that means we're friends." Kehpri smiled and bounded up. "That means that as my friend, you're going to take me out to dinner tonight to an actual restaurant, right?"
Chance made a face. "Uh, that sounds more like a date than a friend thing."
"We'll go to a non-date kind of place. No romantic food. Come on, we can find an actual nice restaurant. I bet you haven't gone to a nice place in forever."
"No, and to get good service, we may have to leave the Reservation." It was odd. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been out to eat. Well, with someone other than Zoya.
Immediately, Kehpri started to roll up the blanket and pack things back into the cooler, "Even better. Be good to see the outside world again."
Chance blinked and wondered what had just happened. Her eyes narrowed at Kehpri. The woman had done some sort of mind control thing again, she must have.
Chance shook her head, "Outside world. See, that right there causes a sort of them and us mentality. It should just be an ‘us’," she lectured, although her tone was warm as she picked up and repacked the backpack.
"Sure, it should just be an ‘us’, but it isn't. It's a ‘you’ and ‘them’ sort of deal." Kehpri did her part by holding onto the blanket. At least the way back would be downhill.
Chance sighed and put her cowboy hat back on.
Which Kehpri immediately reached over and stole, plopping it on her own head.
"Hey," Chance said as the hat was taken off her head. Kehpri just smirked at her and took off down the mountainside. "Damn it," Chance grumbled good-naturedly and took off after her.
"See, it's not a date restaurant." Kehpri had to talk, loudly, over the country and western that was being played by the band over in the corner stage. The table was piled high with their plates, and she was eagerly eyeing the platter of BBQ ribs that had been brought over by the waitress.
Chance chuckled as she leaned up and over and cut off a couple of meaty ribs from the rack and plopped them on her plate. She pointed her knife with red barbeque sauce dripping off of it over at the dance floor where couples were stepping to the band. "Kehp, this is the romantic restaurant here. Might not have the candle light and the violins you're use to, from wherever you are, but here, this is where you bring a woman when you want to impress her.”
Taking her own share, before someone got greedy, Kehpri eyed the dance floor speculatively. There did seem to be an awful lot of couples out there, and she did see a lot of what seemed like dates going on around them.
"Hmmm... I guess it was all the pickup trucks out front that threw me off." It was as far away from a romantic restaurant as she could have pictured, especially the sawdust on the floor, but it did have a rustic charm, she supposed. Suddenly, she laughed. "Guess I can't judge anything, considering my living accommodations."
"Admit it, you like the pink flamingos," Kehpri mumbled, a bit of sauce smeared on her chin as she took a bit of ribs.
"They have a bit of surreal charm. You have some sauce…no…no…would you wait for me to tell you where it is before..." She sighed and leaned over, wiping it off…which earned her a wink.
"You know, you might not know how to flirt, but you can be charming when you forget to be all bitchy." Kehpri started on the next rib, watching the other woman closely to see what sort of reaction that would earn her.
The agent wiped the sauce off her finger and fidgeted for a moment. "Thanks, I think."
"I just call them as I see them. A fringe benefit of being insane, I’ve been told."
"Uh huh…" Chance busied herself taking some more ribs then snagged a roll. She munched away happily for a moment. "I don't think you're insane, well, I did at first. Something hurt you...here," she reached over and touched Kehpri's temple with a finger, "and here." And she touched the woman's breastbone over her heart. "And when the pain is so bad, sometimes the world and everyone in it goes all wonky."
Kepri's chewing slowed and her eyes watched Chance with a new wariness to them. She knew she'd been letting things slip, but this wasn't good. Sane people had reasons to do what they did. Sane people might be suspicious and warrant a background check.
"Somebody hurt you too."
"Yeah, but I passed the psyche eval to carry a gun." Chance grinned then picked up the last meaty rib on her plate and tore into it.
That was a worrying thought. "It only gets worse, you know. Whatever hurt you, it doesn't just go away because somebody says you’re fine to go to work and carry a badge and gun."
She really should stop while she was ahead, but Kehpri had found out that she always pushed further than she should with Chance.
"No, no it doesn't. It gets better when I stop those hunters from making orphans of little boys and girls." She clenched her jaw for a moment and blew out a breath. Her new mantra was not to let Kehpri push her buttons.
"You know, until you're ready to listen to your own advice do not lecture me."
"I am listening to my own advice." Kehpri’s grin was harsh. "I'm out here having a vacation." She put down the well-picked bone on her plate and shook her head. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I keep pushing. I shouldn't."
Chance stared at the other women for a moment and did something she was probably going to regret. She did something spontaneous. She stood up and grabbed Kehpri's hand and said, "Let’s two-step."
"Two step?" Kehpri let herself get dragged out of her chair, eyes widening as they moved towards the dance area. "I don't know how."
"Just follow my lead," Chance said with a grin. God they were probably going to start a riot or something, two women out on the floor dancing together.
This really didn't seem like a terrifically brilliant idea to Kehpri. She was pretty sure that most of the people dancing around them owned shotguns in the back of their trucks parked outside. Of course, she was in the company of an FBI agent.
Chance was laughing as she attempted to show Kephri how the steps went. The other woman seemed to be having a good time, and nobody else on the dance floor seemed to care.
Laughing, Kehpri leaned against the other woman, shaking her head. "I've never been a really great dancer.”
"You're one of those nerdy, bookworm types. Inside reading some Nancy Drew Mystery while the other kids were playing kickball?" The agent chuckled, her blue eyes lighting up as the weight of the world and the past seemed to ease off her even for a little bit.
"I did not read Nancy Drew." Kehpri managed to look affronted for a few minutes before smiling. "It was the Hardy Boys."
Chance made a face. "Eww, the hardly boys is more like it."
"Hey." Mock-punching the agent's shoulder, Kehpri shook her head. "Don't you knock my Hardy Boys." Somehow they'd wandered off the dance floor over to the bar and she raised an eyebrow in question, "Beer?"
"Nah, I'm driving." There was a tap on her shoulder and she turned, looking at Halstead. "Hey..." He belched alcohol into her face. "Mind if I take your bitch for a spin."
Chance sighed in frustration, "Halstead, just walk away."
"What's up, Super Agent, afraid your girl might find the thought of being with a real man appealing."
The brunette curled her lip at that. "You mean a real drunk, right? No way am I dancing with you." Kehpri jerked her head towards the door, "Why don't we just go?"
Chance nodded. "I'll get the bill."
"Don't walk away from me, bitch." Halstead went to grab Kehpri, only to find his wrist clutched tightly. Chance's fingers were wrapped tightly around the flesh.
They were starting to attract attention, and Kehpri looked around nervously, "Guys." She placed a hand on the agent's tense arm. "He's drunk, just let the jerk go."
"Hey, is this guy bothering you?" Several large cowboys were now standing behind them.
Chance smiled evilly at Halstead, the man's pickled brain, not really understanding what was going to happen. She looked up and actually batted her eyelashes at the men. "Yes, gentlemen, he is."
It took a lot, but somehow, Kehpri managed to avoid laughing, nodding vigorously in agreement and smiling her best smile at the group of rather large men.
As the cowboys wrestled a kicking and screaming federal agent out the door, Chance got her wallet out and left more than enough for dinner and a healthy tip. "That's why I hate it when you call me super agent."
"Right…no more super agent." She'd have to come up with a new nickname for the agent. "We out of here?"
"Yeah… Sorry about the beer. I still have some at my place if you really want a drink."
"Sounds good…" In fact, sounded really good. She saw a couch in her future again. Smiling happily, she jumped into the car.
For a second night, two nights in a row if you will, Chance found herself on the couch with a woman. In a purely non-romantic way, well, the more she drank, the more she remembered touching and kissing Kehpri's skin…and that probably wasn't healthy.
Because if there were two more fucked up people on the planet who should not have any romantic entanglements with each other, it was them.
The woman who was currently using Chance as a body pillow mumbled something and tried to bury her face in the other woman's cleavage to avoid the sunrise. "Make the sun stop," she mumbled.
"Huh?" Somehow, Chance had drifted off over the night. She blinked and stared around the room. They had fallen prey, apparently, to the comfy couch. "God what time is it?"
"Don't care," Kehpri mumbled, tightening her arms around the other woman’s body, a slow smile forming as she realized exactly where both of those hands had ended up.
Chance grunted and cursed the fact she hadn't called about the blinds over the patio door, which had been broken for seven months now. "‘Kay, hold on." Her head was pounding, and she wondered how much they had drunk last night. She sat up then stood up, never once letting go of the body in her arms.
She slowly shuffled to the bedroom, and with her eyes open only to little slits, she navigated by memory.
Kehpri let out an, “oof” of surprise as she got picked up without much of a warning. They didn't seem to be hitting anything though, so she kept her eyes closed and smiled when they found a bed. Not that she was going to move her hands anytime soon.
Chance had nice thick curtains over the windows in here, for those occasions she worked all night and needed to sleep during the day. She merely laid them down on the bed and started a light snore, nothing too loud or deep.
It was later, Kehpri didn't know how much later, but it was late enough that she felt rested. Making a little sound in the back of her throat, she stretched, plastering her body against the other woman's body. "Mmmm…morning…" Cracking her eyes open, she judged the light seeping in through the edges of the curtains. "Afternoon, actually, I guess."
"Mmmmhuh," Chance mumbled out. Her body was loath to give her back from the realm of sleep, considering she had years of sleep to catch up on.
Without really thinking about it, she slipped her hands under the agent’s shirt and rubbed bare skin over that toned stomach. "You're working today, aren't you?" she whispered, nuzzling against the woman's neck.
The stomach muscles tightened slightly, and Chance murmured out, "On call today. One day off, one day sort of off. Back-up if anything bad goes down."
"I know what on call means," Kehpri mumbled, slowly rubbing her hand across that stomach in soothing circles. "More sleep time then."
"Mmmmhuh," was Chance's reply. Her arms wrapped around Kehpri and pulled her back into the curve of her body, "Tickles."
"Sorry," was the mumbled answer, and that was the last thing Kehpri remembered for a little while.
The next time she woke up was at the urging of her bladder. "Ugh," she grumbled, getting up out of the bed and trying to find her way to the bathroom without bouncing off too many walls.
Chance snorted and wiped at a sleep-encrusted eye, trying to get it open. Blurrily the numbers of the clock swam into view.
"Two pm, shit, where has my day gone?" she said more to herself than anybody else. She stretched and got up. Scratching her head, she reflected she felt pretty darn good. She'd slept through the night without one nightmare and no calls from work.
She pulled the clothes off that she'd gone to sleep in and rummaged around for the t-shirt and shorts she'd been wearing on Friday, they still had to be clean.
The toilette flushed and a second later, Kehpri emerged from the bathroom, yawning and stretching as she shuffled down the hallway. "Is it breakfast time?" She was ravenous.
Chance pulled a shirt down over her head. "Sure, I might have to run to the store though."
"I don't suppose there's an IHOP around?" She really had a craving for greasy food. "Ugh, why did we drink so much after we got back here?"
Chance belched. "I have no idea. And I can make greasy food, if that’s what you want, or we can brave the diner down the street?"
"Diner?" she made a face. "That would involve going outside though." She trailed along after the agent. "Coffee would be good though?" she asked hopefully.
"Beans are in the freezer, and the pot’s by the stove. Give me fifteen minutes to run to the store and I'll make you biscuits and gravy, perhaps hash browns too, if you're lucky."
"Mmmm…" She made it as far as the living room before making a beeline for the couch and curling up on it. "I'd marry you if I could, in exchange for you cooking breakfast."
Chance started laughing, dropping her car keys. "I'm much easier to live with if you just come over once in a while for food, ask my two exes."
Covering her eyes with her arm to keep out that pesky light, Kehpri groaned. "You tried to kill me with all that alcohol." The laughing wasn't helping.
Chance scooped up her car keys, still snickering at the thought of her being married, and walked over to the couch. She leaned over Kehpri. "Poor baby, I believe I was right there with you…drink for drink."
The woman opened an eye to look up at the woman leaning over her. "I thought you were going to go get me food?" The urge to reach up and kiss her was hard to avoid.
Chance's eyes seemed to go even bluer, and she swallowed nervously, feeling a whole lot of things she shouldn't be feeling.
Focusing on the lips that were hovering above her, Kehpri licked her own lips. "Unless you had a better idea?" she whispered, once again going from standstill to aroused so quickly it really hurt.
"Um, one..." Chance croaked out, her throat suddenly dry. But it’s a really, really bad one. “I should go to the store."
"Okay." Kehpri sighed, flopping herself back down onto the couch.
Chance frowned, feeling a little miffed. Kehpri would just give up so easily, "Right, breakfast coming up."
"I'll be waiting." The brunette smiled, "Agent?"
"Uh, yes?" Chance asked.
Taking a risk and fully anticipating being tossed out on her ass, Kehpri leaned up out of the couch. Quickly, so as to avoid getting slapped or worse, she pressed her lips to Chance's. She'd wanted a kiss for far too long, and the sleeping in the same bed had not helped things at all.
Chance was surprised, but not really. For a second she did nothing then she returned the kiss. "You are such a flirt," she said against Kehpri's lips.
"Damn you," Kehpri groaned. "Can you just kiss me back like a normal person?"
Chance chuckled. "Okay, how should I kiss you back? Or should I have not done that?"
Kehpri opened her eyes and frowned. "Are you asking me how to kiss me back? I've never had this much conversation before a return kiss."
Chance rolled her eyes then kissed Kehpri again, doing her best to be very thorough and not leave any part that might be important to the kissing process un-examined.
"Much better," Kehpri whispered against the warm lips that had just very thoroughly kissed her. "Now breakfast." Her stomach gurgled in agreement.
"Fine," Chance sighed. She grabbed her keys and left.
The second the door was closed, Kehpri stood up and started to search for her clothing that she'd changed out of. If she stayed, she was going to throw herself at the federal agent. That was bad news on so many levels she couldn't even start to list all the reasons. Prominent on that list was the fact that she was a wanted fugitive, and the fact that there was a very high probability that Chance was being used by whatever was going on in that hospital.
"Stupid, so stupid…" She found her faded and torn jeans. Leaving her borrowed clothes folded on the bed, she took one last look at the room and left, making sure the door locked behind her.
A little while later, Chance came through her front door juggling bags. "Hey. I decided I liked you and bought some potatoes to turn into hash browns." When there was no answer, she went absolutely still. All her senses took in her apartment and she looked at her plant.
"She left Tree, didn't she?" Tree didn't respond, but Chance knew Kehpri was gone. She put the food in the fridge and grabbed the one beer left in the fridge then went over to the couch, hitting play on her CD player.
Kehpri’s hands were shaking again as she sat on the chair in front of her improvised lab bench. She’d raced over to her makeshift lab from Chance’s apartment, shaken by the realization that she’d been feeling good, which wasn’t a good thing.
She didn’t deserve to feel good, didn’t deserve the fun time she’d been having. No, she wasn’t here to make friends or enjoy herself. She was here on a mission damn it, and she should remember that.
Grabbing the printout that was two days old, she read over results that were anything but surprising. With a grunt she tossed the sheets aside and picked up the voice recorder, clicking it on.
“It’s been two days since I was here last. I’m not sure what the date is, but I’ve had a…nice time, a really nice time with Agent Chance Pavel. I started to write up a list of why this wasn’t a good idea, but there are a few counter points that I came up with that are really good. One, she’s really hot, two, she’s actually kind of funny when you get to know her, three, she’s really, really hot.”
Kehpri hesitated for a second then continued. “And she helps the nightmares go away.” That was a big point as far as she was concerned.
Clearing her throat, she went on, “Now, on to the other news. The genetic test results are back. There’s no doubt about it, Chance has markers for both recessive genes. That means there’s better than a ninety eight percent chance that she is capable of shape changing.” Reaching over to her keyboard, she quickly called up the agent’s file that she’d gotten off the federal database.
“Her record very clearly states that she was tested, repeatedly, for shape changing ability and deemed a normal human, as per Congressional Act 1698.45 sub section ten. I don’t know how she managed to hide her ability, but she did. The interesting thing, of course, is that it means that whatever little tests Miller is carrying out, she’s going to misinterpret the results. At best, it’s going to skew her study. I wonder how many other Weres are out there hiding like this in plain sight.”
That raised, again, a troubling question about what she should do with the genetic test. If the wrong people started using it, they could start discriminating a whole new class of people.
“I returned the picture to Super Agent’s…I mean, Agent Pavel’s place. I don’t think she even knows I borrowed it. Hopefully it’s going to stay that way.”
The recorder clicked off and Kehpri studied the filed picture of Chance on the computer screen in front of her.
Contemplatively, she clicked on the recorder. “I’m going to try to infiltrate the hospital again. I know there’s something going on there, but I have to get access to Miller’s private records to find it. My best shot is late at night, third shift. The hospital is severely understaffed anyway. It should be easy to get in after Miller goes home.”
Pulling open a drawer, she smiled fondly at a picture that was inside. It was too painful to look at often, so she didn’t keep it out on the desk. There were three people in that picture, smiling up at the camera from a picnic bench. One had curly, long brown hair and looked like Kehpri, if the woman hadn’t been so thin. The younger man had an open, kind face, the type of person who trusted instinctively. The redheaded woman next to them sat straight, stiff, but she was smiling as much as her companions.
“Don’t worry, guys, I’ll get revenge for what happened to you. Maybe I’ll even manage to get forgiveness.”
Chance felt annoyance bubbling around in her head as she stood in the living room of the man who was going to get away with raping a little girl. Her blue eyes were shuttered as the wife of the man went on and on about how those filthy monsters were out to get her family and all other good, God-fearing folk.
"So, ma'am, you're saying Weres came and kidnapped your husband?"
The wife's beady little eyes, hard and cold as agates, glared at her partner. "Please, tell me I have not been wasting good breath on your humble ears, boy?" She turned to Chance as if expecting confirmation, but found Chance's face hard and impassive, no help there.
"Of course that's what I've been saying. I didn't want you folks in the first place, since you already came here and accused my Harold of having relations with an…an animal."
"Actually, ma'am, I came here to accuse your husband of forcing a twelve-year-old girl to have sex with him." Chance's voice was as stark and stinging as her words.
"Yes, well, I called the local sheriff. Thomas, such a nice man, but he told me since Harold was already the subject of an ongoing investigation, I had to call you." The woman sniffed and dabbed at her dry eyes, as if they had produced tears of any kind in years.
"Well, ma'am, that is true. So what makes you think Harold was kidnapped?"
Harold's wife just stared at them, as if it was obvious. "Because, Agents, he isn't here. And it is now Monday."
Gibbons and Pavel just stared at each other.
"He missed church yesterday. Since we've been married, Harold has never missed church."
"Oh..." Chance let it go at that, choking back all the snide comments that wanted to come out. "You mind if we look around?"
"Now, it’s high past time you started doing real work."
Chance bit her lip for a moment. "So, where was the last place you saw Harold?"
"After dinner Saturday night, he was going out to the garage to work on his stuff."
"You know what that stuff might be?"
"No, it wasn't my place to ask. The garage was his domain, just like the kitchen was mine."
Chance scratched her head and looked in disbelief at Gibbons. Her partner was no help. "Uh, thank you, ma'am, we’ll just look around if you don't mind."
They ignored the sharp retort from the woman and went outside.
"So the only reason we’re here is because he's already a part of an ongoing investigation?" Gibbons asked, his eyes taking in the landscape.
"Pretty much," Chance confirmed.
"Any chance he was kidnapped?"
"That's a possibility, considering what he did, and how low an opinion the Weres have in us to actually get justice. But before we jump on that bandwagon, why don't we just do a little old-fashioned looking around." Their steps took them to the old looking barn a few meters from the main house. The barn itself wasn't that large, and probably housed a workshop, since Harold and his wife didn't really look like farmers or ranchers.
"Door’s locked," Gibbon's said, letting the padlock drop.
"Could be still in there just hiding from his wife. Let's look around and see if there is another way in." A quick look around found some windows, all either shut or boarded over.
"God I don't want to talk to that woman again," Chance muttered as she went back to see if there was a key for the barn. Grumpily, she returned a few minutes later, key in hand.
The lock opened easily, showing it was well maintained, and she and Gibbons pushed the doors open. There were various workbenches and tools inside, as well as various big game trophies.
Chance's eyes scanned around the room. There were various rifles and guns displayed. There was mold, and a forge for melting and making homemade sliver bullets.
"Ah, jeeze," the muttered curse came from Gibbons, and Chance turned towards him. The blood drained from her face, and for a moment, she thought she might hurl. Along one wall was the mounted heads of various Weres, all in their half-human half animal form. On the ground was the fur rug of a huge wolf.
Dimly she was aware of Gibbons, his all-American boyish face pale with the understanding of what they were seeing, running past her and out the door, back into warm sun of normalcy. All she could do was stand there with all those glass eyes staring coldly back at her, feet frozen for a moment. She fumbled for her phone. Pulling it out, she stared at it dumbly. She couldn't see the numbers, why couldn't she see the numbers. Finally, she made the phone work, but when she spoke, it didn't sound like her.
"Sir, we have a situation at 43 Old Post Rd. Yeah, the rapist. He's missing, but we've found a bunch of Weres heads mounted to his workshop wall." She paused, listening. "Will do…" She hung up the phone. Her fingers felt frozen, and in a daze, her eyes darted around. She turned to follow the path Gibbons had taken out of this maze of horrors. Her eyes caught the reflected flash of light, and she paused, letting her eyes focus on it. Sitting on a table was a picture frame of two men laughing, their faces nearly cheek to cheek, looking almost like twins.
"Gibbons!" she shouted, exiting the barn at a run, "Gibbons!"
The younger man looked up from were he was doubled over. "What, Pavel?" he snapped back.
"He didn't do it!"
"He has a brother, a nearly identical brother. He's not our rapist."
"Shit. Then where is he?"
"There are two guns missing. I'm thinking he's out protecting his brother. We have the rape kit. It’s only a matter of time before the swab come, back as a close match, and with everyone watching those crime shows any more..."
"It’s a matter of time before we haul in the brother. Sneaky bastard…"
They slid into the jeep and Gibbons had it moving before the doors were shut. Chance reached for her phone. "Yeah, it’s me. We're looking for a younger brother, he's the rapist. Have someone locate him and pick him up. Were going back out to that little girl's place, I think our guy isn't kidnapped, I think he's buying insurance so his baby brother doesn't go to jail." She ended the call and snapped the cell shut.
Time seemed to crawl, as no one knew how much of a head start Harold had after he made this decision, which was either last night or an hour ago. Either way, he was ahead of them. They made a mad dash to the border town of Cats Paw, which was only a short ways away, but still seemed like forever.
Gibbons slammed on the breaks and they skidded to a halt in the gravel driveway. They were both leaping out of the car, hands going to guns, sprinting up to the house. She nodded to Gibbons and he nodded back, skirting around the house as she knocked on the front door, trying to calm her voice. "Hello, anyone home?"
At first there was silence and then the creak of a floorboard then the turn of the knob. "Yes, can I...Agent Pavel? Is everything okay?" Chance stared down into the caramel eyes of Chrissy, the young victim’s mother.
"Is everything okay here? Nothing weird happened lately."
The mother's eyes narrowed. "We are dealing the best we can, considering. You're scaring me. Now, what's going on?"
"I had some concerns about the case..."
Gibbons came back around the house shaking his head.
"...and your safety, we just wanted to follow up with you."
"Honestly, I'd rather you left, seeing you will only upset my daughter more."
"I understand. Still, my partner and I will hangout for a bit, but we will move down the road so as not to disturb your daughter."
The door was slammed in her face, and she and Gibbons, puzzled, made their way back to the car.
"Drive down a ways."
"Where do you think he is?"
"I don't really have a clue."
"Think he's in there, holding them hostage?"
"No, she didn't seem too stressed out, like they were in danger."
Her phone rang and she fumbled for it, "Pavel here." She listened for a moment before replying. "Thank you, sir." And then snapped the cell shut.
"Looks like Harold went to pay his brother a visit. They currently have both of them under arrest. Harold wasn't too pleased Junior dipped his wick in some tainted beast. Guess he was trying to steer him back on the correct path."
"Shall we tell them?" Gibbons pointed back at the house.
She shook her head, "No. Their lives will get complicated enough, might as well give them a moment of peace."
He nodded and started up the car, turning it out onto the road.