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FLIPSIDE
AUTHOR'S NOTE
PROLOGUE
CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX
CHAPTER X
CHAPTER XI
CHAPTER XII
CHAPTER XIII
CHAPTER XIV
EPILOGUE

CHAPTER XI

The trip to L.A. was hectic. John had been mildly hung over for most of the flight out.

They started shooting the day after their arrival. Most of the first night had been spent getting everyone acquainted. There were three other models that Mike would be working with. After a few hours and a few drinks they began to feel comfortable with him.

At first Mike had been nervous, embarrassed, and uneasy while he modeled. A modeling coach was on hand to help him along and coax him into the various positions the photographer wanted.

Most of the outdoor settings were located at private estates. A hoard of private security men kept the curious at bay.

As he had been told before, he modeled various combinations of shirts, pants, and sneakers. Most of the poses were orchestrated, along with lighting and location, to accentuate his physique. One topless, full-length bathing suit shot of him standing under a small waterfall was chosen to be the first poster.

One thing that surprised Mike was the level of patience and professionalism shown by the photographer, coach, crew, and other models. The atmosphere was lighthearted but serious. He never felt as if he were being exploited, something he was sure he would. He had heard nude models often talk that way about Playboy and he got the same feeling, even though he was keeping himself covered.

After the first few hours, he had learned to relax and enjoy himself. He had never been a ham, but he found that being a model could be a lot of fun. Most of the crew liked to keep the atmosphere light. The fact that it was also hard work kept him from enjoying it too much.

When they had finally finished the three day shoot, he told them as much. If things worked out - another "If," in Mike’s opinion - he would be glad to work for them again.

Gordon had occupied his time by filming nearly every second of his work with a camcorder. Bloopers and jokes abounded.

Mike and John spent the next two days running around the city, taking in the sights, and catching some time on Venice Beach. People stared through the ring of guards to catch a glimpse of Mike giving John a long belly rub on the beach.

Neither Mike nor John had ever been to California and they both had a ball, Mike taking great joy is setting the usually mellow Californians agape. He signed a lot of autographs, and they both shopped their legs off.

They shared a hotel room, sleeping in separate beds. On the sixth day, they flew back to Chicago to be back in time for the auditions. They barely had time to unpack and fall into their beds. The auditions started at nine the next morning.

Mike, John, and the ever-present guards were ushered in at about seven thirty to avoid detection. The lights were out everywhere but on stage. The desk Gordon told him was set up near the back of the center section was invisible.

"Can you see it with those glowing eyes of yours?" he asked John.

John peered carefully into the seats. "Nope. The stage lights wash it out."

"Good." Mike said, inspecting the rented equipment. There were two large amps, a large drum set, a box of drum sticks, a set of keyboards, and two guitars.

"Did you guy all of this stuff?" he asked Gordon.

"It’s rented, not that you couldn’t afford to buy it all yourself, though."

Mike smiled, because Gordon was right. After Gordon’s fifteen percent and taxes were taken out, Mike still had over eighty grand in the bank. He still had trouble believing that. "Speaking of which," he said to Gordon, "I think I’m going to need someone to help with my finances. I don’t know if I’m capable of managing all of this money."

"We can take care of that any time. Just don’t let me forget."

"I won’t."

"Will you buy me a new car?" John asked with a smile. "I really like that new Ferrari."

"You have to buy me a new Ferrari, remember? And Disney World, as I recall."

"Oops, I forgot about that. Give me a couple of days."

They milled around as the line formed outside. Mike played around with one of the guitars. Before long, it was time to start.

"Okay Mike, up to your hiding place." Doug called from the invisible table.

"How many people are out there?" he called back as he and John walked up the aisle.

"One hell of a lot. It’s quite a good mix, too. I was expecting more guitarists and less drummers and vocalists. I guess I was wrong."

"What have you told them?"

"All they know is that someone big is assembling a band." He held up a large stack of papers and photographs. "I’ve got the photos and questionnaires right here. We can look at them as we call each one up. We’ll start with the guitars."

Mike and John sat at the table. A dim light was mounted to illuminate a shelf underneath and was shielded to prevent it from shining on them.

"Are you sure they can’t see us up here?"

"Positive." Gordon said, directing his muzzle to the mic. "David Friedman, you’re up."

A tall wolf with shiny black fur stepped from the wings and onto the stage. His fur looked to be slightly longer and thicker than John’s.

"Hire him." John said, elbowing Mike. "What a hunk!"

Mike laughed.

"Go ahead and plug yourself in, Dave." Gordon said into the mic.

"Do you even need that thing?" Mike asked him.

"No, but I want this recorded, so we may as well."

Dave did so and turned his attention back to the blackened seating, fiddling with a few adjustments.

"Tell us a little about yourself."

"My name’s Dave Friedman. I’m from here in Chicago. I’ve been playing since I was thirteen. I’m twenty-two now and I’ve been in two bands. I have varied taste in music and I’m not locked into any one particular style of play."

Gordon and Mike divided their attention between the figure on stage and his questionnaire. "What’s your favorite current song?"

"Uh, Never Let You Go."

"Good start." Mike said. "Do you drink much?"

"I don’t drink at all, sir. My dad..."

"Please don’t call me sir. It makes me feel like a tyrant."

"Sorry. Uh, my dad was an alcoholic. I never touch the stuff."

"Drugs? Please be honest. You’ll be signing a contract with a lot of specifics involved. Being honest now will save you a lawsuit later." Gordon said.

"I’ve tried pot twice and speed once about three years ago. I didn’t like either, so I’ve never done it again. I haven’t tried anything else."

"Religious preference?"

"Protestant."

They skimmed the questionnaire some more.

"Looks good so far."

"Hire him." John said again.

"Shush." Mike said, directing his attention back to Dave. "Did you bring anything to play?"

"I know a lot of songs. If you don’t have anything specific in mind, I can play some riffs from them."

"Are you interested in lead or rhythm guitar?"

"Either will do. I like solos but I like to slam our rhythms, too."

"Can you be subtle?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, can you play mid-tempo stuff with a lot of subtle harmonics? Can you sing while doing it?"

"You mean, like say, Boston?"

Mike thought for a few seconds, running songs through his mind. "Yeah, something like that."

"Yes, I can do both. I can play just about any Boston song. They’re one of my favorite bands."

"Play the final solo from Hitch A Ride. I know they trade back and forth, but bring them together as best you can."

Dave smiled.

"That’s a good sign." Gordon said.

"I guess you realize that I’m not going to be tuned like them?" Dave asked.

"Yeah, go ahead."

"What’s he mean?" John asked as Dave tapped his foot a few times and started playing.

Mike leaned closer. "Boston can’t be easily duplicated because their sound is heavily technical. A lot of equipment is needed to recreate it."

"Oh."

Dave finished, never missing a note. Mike was impressed. "Play your favorite song," he said, "Starting with where he begins to scream."

Dave played some more, again performing perfectly.

"Okay, thank you." Gordon said when Mike had finished with him. "We’ll be in touch. This phone number is correct?"

"Yeah, thank you. Oh, don’t we get to find out who this ‘someone big’ is?"

"You’ll know if you make it." Gordon answered.

"When will that be?"

"We’ll be calling some time tonight to let you know whether you’ll be coming back tomorrow. Make sure you’re home. Did everyone hear that?" Gordon finished.

A chorus of jumbled ‘yes’s’ came from the wings, and Dave left.

"Hire him." John said yet again.

"Next, John Gilden."

The auditions took all day. They worked right through each meal, munching on delivered pizzas and subs. After the last applicant had left, Mike leaned back, blowing a deep breath into his bangs. "Thank God that’s over. Some of those guys couldn’t play their way out of a wet paper bag."

"Okay," Gordon began, "Let’s start with the guitars again. Who goes besides the one’s we threw out right away?"

"Dave stays." Mike said without looking.

"Which one?" Gordon asked, shuffling through the applications. "There were three."

"The first one."

"Yes!" John exclaimed, clapping his hand on Mike’s shoulder.

"You are hereby prohibited from having sex with my band."

"Not fair!"

"Who else?" Gordon asked, ignoring John and spreading applications and photos out on the table.

They went though them all, narrowing the field down to five for each instrument. When they reached the vocalists, one picture caught Mike’s attention and he settled it. "I want him."

"He was kind of ugly." John said.

"Maybe so, but he has the voice I want. Or voices, I should say. Everyone sounded okay, but he’s right on the button. And he’s practically the Rich Little of singers."

"Yeah, he is a stand-out, isn’t he? Good, that means we won’t have to worry about vocalists tomorrow."

The next day was harder for the applicants. Mike drilled the guitarists mercilessly. They were handed sheet music from one of Mike’s more complicated songs, threatened about using it outside of the auditorium, and made to play in pairs. Three were eliminated for not being able to time it correctly.

"I love this stuff!" Dave exclaimed after flawlessly playing through it. "I can’t wait to see the rest of it!"

"I like his attitude." Gordon whispered to Mike.

"I like his talent."

"I like his body." John added.

"You are a tramp." Mike said before turning to Gordon. The auditorium was cool, but he was plenty warm sandwiched between them. "He played that perfectly. I’m impressed."

"Steve is the other one that stands out." Gordon said quietly.

"Yeah, but Steve is hung over. At least, he looks hung over. Is he hung over?"

"I think you’re right."

"It’s way to early for him to be celebrating. Throw him out."

Gordon made a note. "Tony Sparcessi."

Tony walked out and took his place behind the mic.

Gordon looked momentarily confused, then shook his head. "Oh hell, Tony, I’ve made a mistake. You weren’t supposed to be here today."

Tony stares their way for a few seconds before drooping visibly and starting off the stage.

"Wait!" Gordon cried out, collecting himself. "I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that you were cut. Congratulations, you’re it. We didn’t even consider anyone else. Be back tomorrow morning at nine."

Tony gaped. "I made it?"

"See you tomorrow. No celebrating." Gordon replied evenly.

Tony jumped and ran from the stage. They could hear him howl as he left.

"He does have a good growl." John said.

"I noticed that you furry types do that a lot."

After Tony they finished for the day, picking those who would be the actual band members. Dave Friedman was the obvious choice for guitar. He was better than Mike. Tony could also play keyboards and passable guitar. The bass player was a semi-short, brown and gray wolf named Jim Fallon. He had been a real stand-out, playing effortlessly. The drummer, also brown and gray, was a tall man named Eric Rush. Mike rounded out the band.

Mike and John were standing in the wings, hidden by the large stage curtains. The band was assembled around the equipment, chatting with excitement. There was no question that they were it, and they were getting acquainted.

"I wonder what they think of your smell." John whispered right into Mike’s ear. "I’m sure they’ve caught scent of you by now."

Mike shrugged as Doug walked out and got their attention. "Good morning, gentlemen. It’s time to meet the fifth member of the band. I assume that you’ve come to the conclusion that you all made it."

They all nodded nervously, wondering who the "someone big’ was.

"The fifth member will be the principal songwriter, play lead and rhythm guitar, and sing backing vocals. He has indicated that he will be doing the writing but will also be open to input should any of you have it. He already knows that he’ll need help writing drum parts. I want to make one thing clear immediately. If, after seeing who he is, you decide to decline; there will be no hard feelings. The next in line behind you will take your place, and you’ll lose out on one hell of a good album and a lot of money. Keep in mind that he wants a clean band, image is a concern of his."

"All I know is that he’s already famous." Eric said from within the drum set.

"Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you the man behind this band. Mike?"

Mike walked out, followed by John. They all gasped, the sound of four indrawn breaths greeting him.

"Mike, meet your band."

"Congratulations." Mike said, feeling slightly stupid.

They stared in amazement for a few seconds and none of them so much as twitched.

"No way!"

"Is this for real?" Jim asked from behind his bass.

"I thought I smelled something funny."

"How real it is depends on how badly you want to play stadiums." Gordon said with a smile.

"Well, I’ll be damned!" Dave said, leaning down to retrieve the pick he had dropped before shaking Mike’s hand.

"Were you up there the whole time?" Dave asked, gesturing into the seats.

"Yup. I’m the one who’s been making your life so difficult these last couple of days."

"So that was your stuff we were playing?" Jim asked.

"Yeah. The slow one’s called Love Bites. The other one is Excitable."

"Well hell, I’m in. If the rest of the album is half as good..." Dave began.

"Me too." said the other two in unison. "My parents will completely flip." Jim finished alone.

"Great!" Gordon said, clapping his hands.

They spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know each other. Within an hour their apprehension from meeting a walking monster had faded and they loosened up, talking about themselves openly. Mike ended up telling half his life story.

He bummed Dave’s guitar and played bits and pieces of various songs for them. After half an hour he finished. Amazingly enough, they all seemed to like it.

"Seriously? You all think they sound good?" Mike asked them.

"Hell yeah." Dave said. "Don’t you guys think so? It’s definitely not typical. I’m tired of every band sounding alike."

Everyone else agreed.

"Thank God. The last thing I wanted was to find the best musicians only to discover that they hated the music. We would have had to go through all of this again."

"So when do we start recording?" Tony asked, amazed at his sudden luck.

"As soon as we get a demo tape made and somebody hears it." Gordon answered.

"How are we going to get a demo tape made?" John asked.

"Simple. I call a studio and tell them that Mike Riggs and his band want to come in and make a demo."

"In an actual studio? Do you think they’ll just jump at it like that?" Mike asked.

"Yes. I’ve already hinted at it to a couple. You know how the entertainment business types are; wink at them and they’re yours, if you have something they want. And they want you, you seem to have a persuasive quality like no other. Industry people see you and see dollar signs."

"Okay, so when?"

"I can imagine having us in a studio, strictly for the demo, within two weeks."

"I didn’t know you could get an actual studio for demo tapes." Dave said.

"Normally you can’t, but Mike here is a hot item."

"That’s not a lot of time for these guys to learn an album’s worth of songs."

"I still can’t believe this." Eric said with a sigh.

"I’m just a guy, guys." Mike said.

"You all will spend the next two weeks playing." Gordon said, adopting a commanding tone. "I want you to be ready when we get the studio time. Your contracts are already drawn up. All you have to do is read and sign. That will leave you all the time in the world for playing."

"It’s kind of unusual to have to sign a contract to join a band, isn’t it?"

"Not really. Besides, Mike’s a picky bastard."

"I just don’t want any druggies or fat people." Mike said defensively. "Where are we going to rehearse? These guys have seventy minutes of songs to learn. I’ve written a bunch more to make our concerts long enough to be worth the money without resorting to covers." He didn’t mention that they were songs from Pyromania.

"There isn’t enough room in the house." John added.

"We could knock out a wall downstairs." Gordon suggested.

"I don’t think the Bureau would like that." John said. "It’s still their house."

"I suppose I could move out." Mike mused.

"How could you afford a new house?" John asked. "Maybe you should wait until you have a steady income or at least a lot more money. The rent you’re now paying for the house is a lot less than the cost of owning your own."

"Yeah, I guess you’re right. So, what do we do?"

"Are you sure you all can’t fit in the den?" Gordon asked.

"Well, we could fit if we took most of John’s stuff out." Mike answered. "There wouldn’t be a whole lot of room left over. We could move the stuff upstairs. John’s TV is a lot nicer then the FBI issue one in the living room anyway."

"Okay, let’s try that for now. If it’s just too cramped, we can figure something out."

"All right, let’s go." Mike said, turning to the other guys. "Do you know where I’m staying?"

"The entire United States knows where you’re staying." Dave said with a laugh. "Hell, even the Kremlin knows!"

"Okay, it’s lunch time. Why don’t you guys go home, get your stuff, and show up at about, oh, three o’clock?"

"Okey-dokey." Tony said, getting up. "How do we get passed the demilitarized zone?"

Mike and John laughed. "We’ll let them know you’re coming." John said.

The next two weeks passed in a blur. Adidas called to say that catalog sales were beyond their expectations. The catalogs themselves had already handily outsold any in their history. Mike was offered a commercial contract for sneakers. Gordon handled the details.

The band practiced in the den, finding just enough room for them and their equipment.

Everyone loved the songs and caught on to them quickly, especially Dave. He seemed to have a natural knack for timing and arrangement. Mike was quick to point out that Dave was much better then he. In all fairness, Dave became their lead guitarist.

During a lunch break Eric gave Mike a nudge. "We haven’t thought to come up with a name yet."

"That’s bad karma." Tony said, sipping his iced tea.

"I’d forgotten all about that." Mike said. "Any suggestions?"

"Isn’t it obvious?" John asked from his perch atop Dave’s amp.

"What?"

"Wereman, of course."

"No! Absolutely not!" Mike insisted.

"Cool! Why not?" Tony asked.

"Because I’m not a wereman. And besides, I want the name to reflect the whole band, not just me."

"I like it." Tony said.

Everyone else agreed, causing Mike to sulk.

"On, come on Mike!" Dave prompted. "It sounds totally cool! And as for what you said, it will reflect the whole band. Just bite us."

Mike hurrumphed.

"You are the driving force behind us. The songs are yours."

"Yeah, but a song without a band is just a song. You guys are as instrumental to this as I am. The band as a whole will add personality to the music. You know I want everyone to have equal part in all of this."

"And, as equal band members, we all vote for ‘Wereman.’" Dave said, gesturing to the others. "That makes it four against one."

"Five." John added.

Mike scowled.

"What else do you want to call us, ‘Fifty-Two Guitar Tracks From Hell?"

Mike laughed and gave in. "All right, damn it. You win."

Eric started a drum roll. "...And now, gentlemen, I give you..."

"Wereman!" they all yelled in unison, Eric ending with an ear-splitting cymbal crash.

"Well, it looks like you’re going to have to bite us now."

"Line up."

"I’m first." John said.

"Do we get to pick where?" Jim asked.

"I know where I want mine." Dave said. "Just a few nibbles ought to be enough, right? Just enough to work your magic?"

"I know where I want mine, too." John added. "And it ain’t where you want yours."

"John’s the smart one, satyrs." Mike said with a smile. "It’s got to be a deep, flesh-tearing bite."

"You could make it interesting." Jim offered. "You know they say that you keep going if someone tears up your member during orgasm. A little pleasure, a little pain..."

"That is gross." Mike said with a wince.

"Yeah." John agreed.

"I can out-gross anyone in here." Dave offered.

"You guys do not want to start a gross-out contest with me." Mike warned good-naturedly.

"I think I could beat you." Dave said confidently. "You’re too respectable of a guy."

"I’ll go first." Mike said. He leaned back and put an arm around John. He sat for a few seconds and collected his thoughts, getting the story straight in his head. A smile slowly grew across his face as the climax came to him.

"Maybe you shouldn’t have said that." Eric said to Dave after seeing Mike’s smile.

"Here we go." Mike began. "Okay guys, imagine this; you’re on your knees."

"Sounds good so far. What’s the gross part?" Jim asked.

"Oh, you just wait! You have no clue!" Mike thought before continuing. "Oh, by the way, close your eyes. I want you to visualize this intensely."

Everyone closed their eyes.

"You’re on your knees, using your mouth and tongue the best way you know how. The smell and taste are driving you crazy, and you can barely keep your hands off yourself. You can look up and see the hard, flat stomach moving in and out as your lover breathes deeply."

Various shifts in position took place around the room.

"You’re very good at what you’re doing, and they’re moaning constantly, moving their hips rhythmically."

John shifted closer and slid an arm across the small of his back, wrapping it around his waist in a hug.

"Keep your eyes closed and visualize what you’re doing." Mike chided when Tony peeked. "You know you can’t stop because they’re close to orgasm, but the taste, smell, and fun are really getting to you. You feel almost delirious. That yummy fluid is almost running out of them."

Everyone shifted some more. "God, these guys are easy to work up." Mike thought. "Wait until I shoot them down."

"You can’t keep your own hips still, and you’re dying to get off yourself. You can feel a soft breeze brushing your bare, hanging balls. You feel like the slightest touch would send you off. There will be no slow, sensual lovemaking this time. You’ve got to finish them, and you know they’re ready. So, you quicken the pace to a near-frenzy and just BURY YOUR TONGUE IN HER CUNT, LICKING HER IN A FURY UNTIL SHE COMES ALL OVER YOUR SNOUT!"

"Oh God! Grossss!"

John let him go and bent over, squirming in disgust and crossing his legs. Everyone cried out, squirming and shivering like John was.

"Got you!" Mike thought with a self-satisfied smirk.

"Oh, that’s so sick! I think I’m going to puke!" Jim cried, standing and nearly doubling over in a cringe. Everyone else was twisting around in slow-motion seizures.

Mike sat back and enjoyed the show as they all writhed and rubbed their snouts. Dave put his muzzle under his waist band and took a deep breath. "Oh, that’s better!" he said with a shudder.

Everyone else followed his lead, making Mike laugh hysterically. They were still squirming when he could see again. It occurred to him then just how well he had gotten them. They all had sisters who have since passed away, and they all have that strong canine ability to remember scents as if they had smelled them yesterday. As soon as Mike had pulled his little surprise, he was sure the memory of their sisters’ mating scent had rushed in on them.

"That was the sickest thing anyone has ever done to me." Eric said, shaking his head one last time.

"Never, ever do that again!" Tony said to Dave, shaking a finger at him.

"No argument here. I couldn’t touch that one."

"I warned you." Mike said smugly. "You keep forgetting where I come from."

"Which, by the way, is a good thing for you." John said in a moment of seriousness.

"Yeah, I guess so."

"So let’s keep it that way and not do that again, okay?" John asked with a smile as he sat next to him again.

"I wouldn’t put you through that twice. God, it was funny, though. You all fell for it hook, line, and sinker."

"I still think I’m going to puke." Jim said.

"Want to smell mine?" Tony asked.

"Whore."

"Only for my friends."

"I suppose that means you’ll charge."

"I hear that John comes pretty cheap."

"You do?" Mike asked him.

"I do not!"

"Oh, so you’re expensive? How much?"

"That’s not what I meant!"

"Gotcha."

"I think we’d better get back to work. You guys are still hopelessly screwing up Gods of War.

They sent their demo tape to, of course, Capital. Mike was relieved to find that his old contact was alive and kicking as a werewolf, and Gordon smoothed the whole thing over.

The media found out immediately that Mike was starting a band. Gordon’s phone was ringing off the hook. He took every opportunity to complain about it, but Mike knew that he was enjoying himself. They both took great delight in driving MTV News crazy by telling them next to nothing.

Capital, after hearing the demo, signed them on for what seemed like an ungodly amount of money. Having been done in a studio, the demo tape had a high quality sound. They had been impressed, as the up-front offer suggested.

They had even agreed to Mike’s altogether unforgivable demands. He had insisted, mostly through Gordon, that he retain a considerable amount of control over every facet of his career. They had agreed readily, even making suggestions.

As a matter of fact, they were put off by neither Mike’s demands nor the album’s length. According to Gordon, they knew when they had a good thing. To give up Wereman would mean that someone else would sign them.

The band was flying to Hollywood tomorrow to begin recording.

Jerry set the photo album down on the end table and finished his coffee.

The last few months had been the hardest of his life. He still woke up some nights with Mike’s dead body laying in front of him.

He knew that he was only torturing himself by looking at those last few pages of the album, but they served as a sort of therapy for him. They allowed him to remember Mike as he had been in life; always laughing, always caring, the sun shining on his perfect silver fur. He didn’t want to remember the dirty corpse and matted pelt. He had gotten over him enough not to cry when he looked at them.

The doorbell rang and he walked over to answer it, looking out through the window. Mr. Peller from next door was standing outside, holding a Tupperware container full of chicken soup. Jerry knew it was chicken soup because Jake Peller had been pouring it down his throat for months. Jake was seventy two and a firm believer in its healing powers.

He opened the door with a smile. "Jake, how’re ya doin’?"

"Fine, fine." Jake replied in his usual redundant manner. "How are you today?"

"I’m okay. Come on in. I see you brought more soup. Thank you, but you really don’t have to keep feeding me."

Jake walked in and headed for the kitchen. "Nonsense, nonsense. Ain’t nothin’ a good bowl of homemade chicken sup won’t cure, even the blues."

Jerry smiled as he followed him into the kitchen. Jake got out a pan and dumped soup into it, stirring it some before getting a bowl. Jerry would offer to help if he thought it would do any good. Jake, however, would pick up a truck with his bare hands and change a tire before asking for help.

Jake had long ago adopted Jerry as a sort of surrogate son, so he knew where everything was. Jerry wasn’t hungry but knew better than to argue. Jake didn’t get out much, so Jerry was glad to be a constant companion. Besides, he was just eccentric enough to be fun. He asked him how his day was going.

"Oh, good enough for a retired old man, good enough." he answered as he turned the burner up a notch.

"Would you like something to drink?"

"No, no, I’m not thirsty, thank you."

"Let’s go into the living room while that warms up."

"Fine. Oh, I’m not interrupting anything, am I?" Jake asked as he walked into the living room. He spied the album on the table.

"No, I was just having a cup of coffee."

"...And looking at your album again. Mike was a good boy, but you got to let him go, son. He’s with the Lord now, and damned happy to be there. Be glad for him and move on. It’s not healthy to take so long to get over him." Jake said gently.

Jerry would have been angry with anyone else for talking about it so brazenly, but coming from Jake it somehow sounded comforting. "I am over him. There’s nothing wrong with remembering. It’s just a little bit harder with..."

"...The monster." Jake finished as he eased himself into a chair.

"He’s not a monster. He’s just...Mike without the fur. I’ve seen him on TV and I’ve seen him on film from that cell downtown. I’ve seen him on posters and driving a certain car. Every nuance, every movement, every word is just like Mike. He uses the same words Mike would use, he chews his claws just like Mike did. He covers his mouth when he laughs, one more little thing Mike did. He even has the same eyes. Mike’s weren’t blue, but they still look like his. His voice is the same. That footage they showed of him playing basketball with that John guy - he used to cheat like that playing me all of the time."

"Jerry, that thing on the news is not Mike. He may have been Mike where he comes from, but he ain’t here. There was a female living here that he was engaged to, remember? He walked in here that night expecting to see her."

"Yeah."

Jake was about to say more when his watch beeped. Jerry looked at it in amazement. "You bought a digital watch?"

"Damned doctor made me, the heathen. Said I was forgetting to take my heart medicine. He must have been right," he said, chuckling with a soft snort, "Because here I sit whilst my medication waits at home. How do you get this damned thing to stop?" he asked, poking frantically at the tiny buttons. It finally stopped and he looked up. "I’d love to stay, but I can’t miss my pills. My doctor, the hi-tech heathen, says that it’ll kill me to."

He pushed himself out of the chair and moved toward the door. "You enjoy your soup, now."

"I will, and thanks again. You know you’re welcome to come back over after you’ve taken them."

"Oh, I think I’ll take a nap, yes, a nap. You know how us old people are."

"Bye."

"Bye."

He had just closed the door when the phone rang.

"Grand Central Station." he muttered as he jogged over to answer it. "Hello."

"Hello, is this Jerry Sillet?"

"You got him. Who’s this?"

"This is, uh..." A long sigh interrupted the voice. "...Mike Riggs. I understand that you called my agent."

"Oh." Jerry said, unsure of what to say next. Truth be known, he hadn’t known what to say when he had called.

"Uh, look, I’ve been avoiding talking to you because I’m not sure if I know what to say; or what you would say."

"I’m not sure myself." Jerry said slowly. "I don’t know why I called. I think that maybe I thought I could somehow deal with Mike’s death better if I knew that you weren’t really him. But I don’t think that will work now that I’ve seen you so much on TV and in the papers. You’re so much like him..."

"...And yet, I’m not. I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to tell you. I...don’t know you." Mike said carefully.

"Are you still, you know, gay?"

"No." Mike almost said, then checked himself. He had almost forgotten what ‘gay’ meant to a werewolf. He wasn’t altogether sure of how to answer to that. He decided to say what he thought would be less painful for Jerry to hear. "No."

"That John Carter guy?"

"Oops." Mike thought. "Yeah," he said aloud, "But we’re not really serious. Well, we are, but not..."

"I understand."

"Hey, I know that tone. Don’t think that you’re losing me, or him, I mean. He’s gone, God bless his soul, and I’m just not exactly the same person. Please don’t feel that way. I know this is hard for you, I’ve already gone through something similar."

Jerry shook his head, clearing the haze caused by hearing that voice again. "I’m sorry, I’m just a little confused. I know you’re not him."

"You two were engaged, weren’t you?"

"Yeah. We were going to get married this past May." he answered sadly.

"For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about...Mike. I know that what I’ve said on tape sounds a bit impersonal. I want you to know that, as a real person in the real world, I really do feel for everyone who misses him. I wish this had never happened for both of us."

"I do too, but I’ll get over it. A little more time and I’ll be fine."

"Do you have a neighbor named Jake Peller?"

"Yeah."

"How is the old goat?"

Jerry snorted. "He’s doin’ fine. He was just here a minute ago. He has a digital watch now so he won’t forget his medication."

"Jake, a digital watch?"

"You heard it here first."

He heard the voice on the other end brighten. "That’s good. He’s a

good old soul."

"Yeah, he is. Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve got a pot of his chicken soup on the stove. It is nice to know that you’re enough like my Mike to care. That makes me feel better."

"I’m glad, I really am. Well, good bye then."

"Good bye."

Mike’s voice echoed in his head as he walked into the kitchen to save the soup.

Mike hung up and sat back with a sigh. That had been a hard phone call. It prompted more reflection on his life. It was January, nine months after his accident.

It had been a bittersweet Christmas. He had gone shopping without John to buy him some presents. Although he was getting very rich, he still couldn’t afford to get him a Ferrari. He had settled on some clothes and a replacement for his aging stereo.

John had reciprocated with clothes and a few other things, including a trip to get the top of his ears pierced. Gordon had somehow managed to get him a customized razor to replace the clumsy surgical shaver he had been forced to use.

The bitter part was that it was the first Christmas in two years that he hadn’t been able to spend with Deb.

He and John, along with many of their friends, got hopelessly drunk on New Year’s Eve. John had been so wasted that he actually seriously asked Mike to spend the night in his room. Once he had recovered enough the next morning, he had gushed out a sincere apology. Mike laughed it off and thought no more of it.

His relationship with John was rolling along. They had begun kissing in front of others, something Mike wouldn’t do before. The first time it happened he had been fatally embarrassed. The guys thought little of it. "Maybe a little jealousy." according to John.

Mike found that he was comfortable with it now. The thought that he was kissing a man didn’t seem to bother him anymore. When he had the time, which wasn’t often, he contemplated sex.

He still prayed regularly. John would join him if he happened to be there at the time. Mike could sense no animosity from God. Maybe John was right. Maybe God wanted him to accept his new life completely. They continued going to John’s church, where they frequently saw John Perkins. Over the months they had started to become friends. It wasn’t hard since, in a way, they always had been.

The thought of sleeping with John seemed less and less disgusting as time went by. He had stopped arguing with himself over the purely physical aspects and concentrated on his feelings for him. He had to confront his feelings head-on. He was falling in love with John.

It didn’t anger him, only confused him. He would have been content to have John as a close friend. Why hadn’t he left it at that? Why hadn’t he just stopped the whole thing before it could start? It didn’t help that he was a curious person by nature, and tended to dwell on things too much. The kissing was surely a factor. They had come very close to heavy petting on a couple of occasions. The belly rubs didn’t help, either. Mike found himself looking forward to them. Not just to receive them, but to give them. He realized that he liked being affectionate with John. What confused him was that he could have those feelings in the first place.

He recalled what Doug had said so long ago when he had first arrived; the feelings were there, just programmed out of him by the society he grew up in.

Was he right after all? Probably not, because it didn’t fit in with his faith. As a matter of fact, Doug hadn’t asked him about overtly personal matters since about two months ago. John must be keeping him informed.

John didn’t help. He was just so damn...deserving! He was fun, empathic, honest, sensitive, and he took good care of himself and those he liked. They still worked out each day together, too.

Even the thought of oral sex was becoming less horrible. He found himself becoming curious. He spent every day surrounded by people who did it as a matter of course. They joked about sex just as anyone else would.

Before, they had talked about making the one you love happy. Mike was feeling a genuine desire to make John happy. It was an emotional desire, not a physical one, but a desire just the same.

He was also starting to realize that he was the closet pervert, not those around him. He was the only one that wanted what he considered normal. He wasn’t surrounded by a cliché of faggots. He was surrounded by normal, well-adjusted people. People who love and need to be loved.

Maybe it was time to give love another chance. He couldn’t go on denying his feelings forever.

"You look introspective." John said, walking into the living room.

"Hi John." he said, accepting John’s kiss as he sat beside him.

"What’s on your mind?"

Mike was still a little scared, but he decided to be honest. "I was thinking again."

"About what? Oh no. I know what happens when you start to think."

"What?" Mike asked with a smile, accepting another small kiss.

"You say something, go to bed, and I end up blowing myself."

"You do that?"

"I thought you knew. You didn’t think we were joking, did you?"

"I wasn’t sure."

John chuckled, embarrassed. "Masturbation is masturbation. What’s on your mind?" he asked, understandably eager to change the subject.

"A lot of things. You, mainly."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Getting hungry? I swear, I’m really tough. We don’t have enough tenderizer."

"I’m serious." Mike said, his stomach beginning to buzz.

"Sorry. Anything I can help?"

"Well," Mike began, totally at a loss.

"Take your time."

"I’ve never asked you because I was afraid of what you’d say. I’m trying not to be afraid anymore."

"Of what?"

Mike collected himself, sighed heavily, and turned to face him. John shifted a little closer and bent a leg around him.

"If you feel it, say it. If you don’t, say you don’t."

John stared at him for a few seconds, his whiskers and ears moving back slightly. Mike could almost hear the gears turning inside the furry head.

John took a deep breath, his eyes drilling into Mike’s. "Are you sure you want to hear?"

"Whatever it is."

"I’m hopelessly in love with you."

There, he had heard it. Mike lowered his eyes indecisively. He knew it was true. He had known for months. It seemed much harder to hear it spoken, though. He was fighting a battle inside, a battle that he felt he was about to lose. Maybe, he thought, he was winning.

"I thought that’s what you’d say."

John didn’t reply. He just sat and waited for him to continue.

"I..." he began, taking another deep breath. He stopped, meeting John’s unwavering gaze. There was no way he could ignore what he saw.

Something inside him clicked. "I...I think that, well, I think that maybe I love you too."

John’s expression didn’t change, surprising Mike. The only obvious reaction was a slight twitch of his whiskers. "Maybe?" he asked, his ears flicking once.

Mike took another deep breath. "Yes."

"Yes, you love me?"

"Yes, I really love you."

John jumped, startling him. His ears perked up and he practically choked Mike with a deep, long-tongued kiss. "You have no idea how badly I’ve been wanting to hear you say that!" he said, kissing him again.

"Whoa!" Mike said, pulling his face from John’s. "I’m not done yet."

"What?" John asked, looking, for God’s sake, like a happy puppy.

"I’ve also been thinking about, well, you know, me and you..."

"Yeah..." John prompted.

"Well, I’ve been thinking that, well, that maybe making love wouldn’t be such a bad thing."

There, now he had said it. Upon his admission, it seemed as if a weight had been lifted. Worrying had been half the problem. Maybe God did want him to adjust.

"You mean it?" John asked, still grinning like a little boy - or a little dog - at Christmas.

"Yeah."

An indescribable expression crossed John’s face. It wasn’t victory. It was a look that showed he knew the full magnitude of what Mike had just said.

He kissed him, a long, passionate kiss. Furry hands roamed his back, claws tracing the lines of muscle through his shirt.

Mike responded for a few seconds, feeling the furry, rippled back through the open part of John’s shirt. He let the kiss last, enjoying the feeling and breaking off when he knew it wouldn’t be too soon.

"Not now."

"Why not?" John asked, swallowing audibly and resting a hand on Mike’s hip.

"Because right now would be like, I don’t know, an experiment. I don’t want it to be that way. When the time is right, we’ll do it. Now, it wouldn’t be right. Besides, there’s a guard not fifteen feet away.

"Okay." John said, kissing him softly on the lips. "But remember; it’s no new thing to me. I’ll be ready when you are. I’m just so glad that you love me too. I’ve been wanting to say it for so long."

"I’m sorry I’ve been an insensitive bastard." Mike confessed with a grin. "I’ll do better."

They snuggled on the couch and watched TV for a while, Mike finding most of the sitcoms to be completely lame.

"We better get to bed." he said after a while. "We have to get up at six or so to be ready to go."

"Yeah, you’re right." John agreed. "I’m glad we got the packing done today."

They walked down the hall, wrapping an arm around each other. They stopped at the end of the hall, their doors on either side. They both stood uncomfortably for a few seconds.

"Do you think we could, you know, just share a bed?" John asked uncertainly. "We don’t have to do anything."

"Sleep in the same bed with you and do nothing? Ha!" Mike said, trying to lighten the atmosphere. "Let’s hold off on that, okay? I just can’t."

"Okay." John said, reluctantly letting him go. "Looks like another night of unavoidable self gratification." he thought to himself before giving him a kiss on the cheek. "I guess I’ll see you in the morning."

Mike thought for a few moments, not saying anything. John started to walk into his room. Mike followed him.

"John?"

"Yeah?" he answered, turning around.

Mike glanced back down the hall to make sure no guards were lurking and stepped up close. He hung his arms lightly around John’s neck. "I think that now wouldn’t be an experiment."

"Are you sure?" John asked softly, his lips brushing Mike’s.

Mike felt himself begin to smile. "I said I love you. Kiss me before I change my mind. You don’t get a second chance."

John smiled back and kissed him.