Power Games 5:
The BoogieKat Killer

by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/M, M/F sex
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Officer Jeremy Fender glanced up when the buzzer requested admittance from the outer entrance hall of Alkatraz Prison. A glance told him it was one of the many priests that visited every day, though not one he knew.

"ID up to the window, please," he said, carefully examining the picture ID compared to the giant of a Panther-Tiger hybrid it went with. Satisfied he was dealing with the real Conroy Steevers, he pressed the button to unlock the door.

"Please sign in," he said as the giant came inside the relatively small interlock between the main lobby and prison blocks. "Who are you here to see?"

"Doug Berten," Conroy said simply as he signed the book.

"Who is Rapentap?" he asked with conversational curiosity.

"Are you sure you want to know?" The dark-furred Xanith chuckled, glancing down at the guard with a distinctly amused expression. "He is called the Thief of Innocence. Though I assure you, Mr. Berten's actions were beyond what most of the faithful would accept."

That raised an eyebrow, though Jeremy nodded and wrote something in his log before glancing at the other side of the interlock and nodded at the two officers there.

"Officer Winterlight will show you to his cell," he told the priest

"You asked," Conroy pointed out with a low chuckle, moving to follow the other guards, inclining his head towards the White Wolf and Tiger politely before following the White Wolf into the complex while the Tiger remained at the post.

"Did you know Mr. Berten before he was captured?" Officer Winterlight asked.

"Only by reputation, and not what he was doing," the hybrid said, shaking his head slightly. "Keep in mind, I was only a kitten myself when he started, and only getting out of college when he was captured. He must be in his seventies now," he mused.

"Only sixty-two," Winterlight said evenly. "If his confessions are to be believed, he started when he was ten and never really stopped. You have quite a twisted soul to deal with in this one."

"Very twisted, and very sick ... gifted as well," Conroy agreed as they started back into the cells. "He did manage to avoid capture for ... what ... forty years, before he was caught? I had thought it was only thirty, myself."

"Quite a few numbers came out over the years," Winterlight nodded and opened the door to a secure meeting room containing little beyond two chairs and a small metal table. "Thirty is what the press seems to like, his confessions go back quite a bit further. If you would wait inside, Berten will be brought shortly."

"Thank you," he nodded, taking a seat and inspecting the two bottles of dark, fragrant oil that had been brought in for him. "Is this room monitored? It is preferable for us to have privacy for the rites," he explained.

"It is monitored, sir," Winterlight answered. "This is Alkatraz. No one here can be trusted to be unmonitored."

"I understand. We will make do," he nodded, leaving the Wolf to go fetch the criminal he was waiting for.

'Conroy' leaned back as the officer left, keeping his thoughts to himself. He would have to be marginally more circumspect this time ... even the people of Megakat City had standards, and the guards would be unlikely to stand for his true purpose.

The Boogiekat Killer would be in the room shortly. They would be watched, but he could work around that. He just had to make sure that his new friend didn't balk at talking to him when he found out that the priest he was speaking with didn't truly serve his master.

After all, he had so much more to offer than Rapentap did, these days.

Desperation was likely his best weapon. No matter how strongly true servants believed in whatever reward they had been promised, it was the rare one that did not want to stay here longer.

The door opened and Officer Winterlight showed an aging, overweight piebald tom in to the room. He took his seat, glancing back at the Wolf nervously, his tail swishing back and forth.

They both remained silent until the door closed and they had the illusion of privacy at least.

"Who are you?" Doug Berten demanded with a low hiss.

"Conroy Steevers, the priest you've been looking for ever since they set the date of your execution," he replied quietly. "And if you want any chance of reward or redemption, you will accept that," he added, just loud enough for Doug to hear him. "I can help you, Mr. Berten ... for a price."

"What price?" he asked in the same tone.

"That when you leave this place, you resume your work," Conroy smiled darkly. "And that you seek vengeance on those who put you here. That isn't too much of a price to ask, now is it? And one that I'm sure your Master would approve of," he purred lowly. "As a matter of fact ... I could show you, if you wish."

Doug regarded him evenly for a calculating moment, then nodded. "Show me."

Conroy reached out, placing his hand on the kat's forehead.

"Make a sound, call out for the guards, and I will not be responsible for the consequences," he told Doug before closing his eyes, drawing him down into the abyss that awaited him every night, past the howling souls of the damned and the dying, past those who called out to darkness in their desperation, into the very bowels of the black reaches where Rapentap awaited him.

The ancient Kat sat on a throne made from the bones of kittens, shrouded in a tattered cloak, the hood pulled back to reveal his moldering face, hollow eye sockets occasionally flickering with some loathsome thing that crawled behind them. An emaciated kitten sat at either side of him, one male, one female, chains around their necks looking up hopelessly at Doug and the giant Xanith who led him here as Rapentap scratched their heads with bony fingers and mock tenderness.

Doug recognized them. The first two kittens he had killed, once he had been consciously aware of the being of power who sat before him now. His first sacrifices to his god.

"Go ahead; ask him any question you have," the Priest commanded him, now seemingly transformed into a massive being of shadows and blood, rather than dark fur and red stripes.

"Master," Doug dropped to his knees, his head bowed in reverence and a bit of fear. "Will I still feel the pleasure I have known with my work, after this priest has done his work on me?"

"You will," the rotting figure promised him. "Just as I have still known the pleasures of my trade after my ascension. I have promised you rewards ... trust our Priest, and you will become my hand upon this world. Beyond the reach of the Enforcers. You will become what you have always tried to be."

"Yes, my Lord," he shivered in excitement at the prospect. "I will do as you say. I will do as he says."

"I am not surprised by this," Rapentap chuckled, a raspy, rattling sound. "When the time comes, you will bring me many new souls, and create terror throughout the city that has rarely been known. You will also settle things with those who lived."

"Adults, Master?" Doug glanced up, not so sure about that. He knew he'd do it when Rapentap or Conroy said to, but it didn't sit as well as his other duties.

"They will not have to be, when you face them," the shadowy figure next to him promised with a low chuckle. "If you are satisfied, we should return soon, before the guards become suspicious. There is much to do, before you are free."

"I am," Doug nodded, eager to return to his body and begin again. "It will be good to be free again."

"Have some patience," Conroy warned him, taking his hand and beginning the return journey to their bodies. "And have faith. You will be free."

The return was much faster than the journey to reach Rapentap had been. In a seeming instant, Doug's eyes flashed open, covered by the inside of Conroy's hand. The Xanith pulled it back, taking one of the two bottles of oil and uncorking it, dipping his fingers into the dark liquid, seeming to prepare for something.

Even though he could pass it off as shock, Doug Berten would have allowed this Kat to cut his heart out right now, if it came with the words that Rapentap wished it for him to be free.

"I will have to see you again next weekend," Conroy explained to him quietly, leaning forward and marking a symbol on his forehead with the oil, opening the second bottle and repeating the gesture, mingling the two scents. "Clean that off whenever you have to; it does not have to remain."

"I understand," he replied with an outer calm that did little to hide his eager willingness from Conroy. "I will be here."

"I'll hold you to that," the Xanith chuckled. "Now... I believe we still have some time on the clock, before our appointment is over. Why don't you tell me a bit about yourself? I'm an admirer of your results, but I've never had the opportunity to speak with you directly before."

Doug brightened considerably to have even a few minutes to talk to a kindred soul and began to detail his life on a level that would eventually shock even the detectives that had hunted him from the beginning.

"Mother?" a pre-teen golden-orange tabby poked her head out of the kitchen at a gasp from the small living room. "Mom?" she repeated with a bit more volume and worry when there was no reply.

"It ... it's all right Tamera," a shaky reply came, drawing the girl into the room to look the small black and white TV. "The news just startled me."

"Doug Berten?" she glanced over at the marmalade shekat in her mid-twenties. "Who's that?"

"A very bad Kat who's about to get what he deserves," the shekat told her quietly, getting up to turn off the TV. "You don't have to worry about him though. So... let's figure out what to do for dinner, okay?"

She was clearly trying to brush it off, to act like it didn't really matter. Tamera wasn't fooled; she'd heard that tone before, most memorably right after her grandparents died.

"All right," Tamera nodded. "Maybe chicken and alfredo veggies?"

"Sounds good to me," Connie smiled, starting out to the kitchen. "So, how was school today?" She asked, pulling out the pots they'd need.

"Okay," she shrugged a bit, still watching her mother carefully. "I kicked tail in the tag football game in PE, Katian still sucks, math is too easy."

"It'll get harder," Connie chuckled. "Need any help with your Katian tonight?"

"Why won't they let me take the harder courses now?" she almost whined.

"Honey, we've already talked about this," Connie pointed out as she started the pre-prepared vegetables and sauce she'd made during the weekend. "You're already taking the most advanced math classes they offer at your school. Maybe if you can get your Katian grades up, they'll let you move ahead to the high school courses next year," she offered.

"Yes, mom," she sighed. "I could use some help with them, please."

"I'll help you with your homework after dinner then," Connie told her, getting the water started for the pasta. "Anything else? How're your science classes going?"

"It's not bad," she shrugged. "It's just the why of things I already know."

"It'll get to be more useful as you get older," she smiled. "Just keep it up; maybe one of these days you'll get in with Pumadyne."

"I guess," Tamera said, not all that sure it was something that appealed to her, but not about to say her mother wasn't right. "Maybe next year'll be more interesting when there are labs and stuff."

"It usually is ... just watch out for biology," she chuckled. "You'll learn more about the insides of frogs than is really healthy to know."

"We'll see," she giggled. "Dinner smells good at least."

"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence," Connie said dryly. "Set the table, okay honey? This should be done soon."

"Yes, mom," Tamera giggled and hurried off to get ready for dinner.

Later that night, after Connie had finished helping Tamera with her homework and sent her to bed, the marmalade shekat sat down in the living room and pulled the stopper out of a bottle of whiskey as she turned it on, turning to the late-night news.

She looked at the bottle as the screen faded in on a re-broadcast of the story she'd seen earlier. She'd come so close to having a problem with it, before. She'd stopped before getting that far, but she didn't particularly like to flirt with the possibility anymore. It was why she hadn't had a drink since her parents had died two years earlier.

"...officials at Alkatraz have announced that the execution of Douglas Berten, better known to our viewers as the Boogiekat Killer, has been scheduled for execution by hanging one month from today," Anne Gora explained. Connie took a long drink from the bottle.

Screw it. If her parents dying warranted a drink, this did too. Maybe more than one.

"The Boogiekat, also known as BKK by detectives, conducted a thirty-year reign of terror throughout MegaKat City, attacking kittens, killing them later in his nefarious career. But now, after nearly fifteen years in the system exhausting his appeals, a story nearly half a century long is drawing to a close."

"Bullshit," Connie growled lowly. Maybe it was for him. But it wasn't for people like her, for the people who'd survived, or who'd lost a kitten to that son of a bitch. It had almost ended for her already, really... she'd thought that after the last appeal had bombed, it would be over, that she could finally move on. But then this had to come up and remind her.

She closed her eyes and took another drink, letting the hard liquor warm her as Berten's picture appeared on the screen. He looked like an old tom ... weak, exhausted, broken ... pitiable. So very different from how she remembered the monster in the closet that still haunted her nightmares. She pushed him out of her mind, trying to focus on what had happened afterwards, the good parts. Not everything he'd touched had been ruined.

She smiled faintly as she remembered Chance. That had been one of the good parts. It might not have been long, but the tabby tom had managed to make her feel safer than anybody else had since, something she'd needed badly at the time, through the trials and stress they'd both lived through. It was too bad her parents had been such jerks about it, and that they hadn't really had anything more in common. Sharing a rapist wasn't really a good basis for a relationship, and her folks pushing her to try and find somebody more 'on her level' hadn't helped anything.

She had to wonder what they'd think of him now, if a top-ranked Enforcer pilot would be welcomed differently. Not that it mattered; they didn't have enough in common then, they probably had even less in common now. He'd clearly moved beyond all this. He'd really made something of himself.

She chuckled, indulging in a moment of bittersweet reflection. Chance, the 'street kit' her parents hadn't thought was good enough for her, was an Enforcer, well ranked and highly regarded. And she was here ... she didn't have a dead end job, but she knew full well that the bright point in her life was Tamera, not her career.

Sometimes she wondered, just how her life would have gone if she hadn't broken up with Chance. Would things be better? Or would they both be worse off, trying to make a relationship and a life work that hadn't really been meant to?

She put the stopper back into the bottle and got up to put it away. Last thing she needed was a serious hangover in the morning. As she got up, Anne was interviewing some bleeding heart who was going on about how useless and inhumane the death penalty was, and she growled as she turned off the TV.


Across the city, Chance was voicing much the same opinion of the speaker, quietly fuming as he picked up the remote and turned off the news. His ears were flat, his tail-fur fluffed out in irritation.

He'd been in a dark mood all day, ever since he'd gotten home from second shift, and Midnight had a pretty good idea why.

She just had to figure out some way to get him to talk about it. It wasn't healthy to keep it bottled up the way he was doing.

"Ready for bed?" she asked him quietly, brushing her milk-filled breasts against him as she gave him a sound kiss intending to gauge his inclination to wear himself out with their bodies. It usually left him much more inclined to spill whatever he needed to verbally.

He wasn't particularly enthusiastic, but he returned it, wrapping his arms around her and warming to the affectionate contact.

"Sorry," he murmured softly after a few minutes. "Guess I've been in a pretty crummy mood tonight, huh?"

"Yes," she nuzzled him. "The kits were scared."

"Ah crud," he sighed, almost seeming to deflate. "I'm sorry. Long shift, mostly paperwork and dealing with Feral, and then that crap on the news everywhere.... What'd you tell 'em?"

"That you had a hard day and it wasn't them," she said with a gentle kiss. "They'll be fine, love. It's just the first time you've been really unsettled when you came home."

"It might happen a few more times, in the next month or so," he admitted, rubbing her back and returning the kiss. "I've got guard duty for the execution ... how much do you know about that freak?"

"BKK? Not much," she admitted. "By the time I kept up on the news, he was mostly out of it. He scared the crap out of my parents though. He's more to you, I'm guessing."

"Yeah. And your parents were right to be scared. I was his second-to-last victim," Chance admitted quietly. "Y'ever wonder why I don't like guys, he's the big reason. You're the first person I've told about it since he went to prison," he told her seriously, looking into her eyes, trying to get across just how badly he didn't want to have to tell the story to anybody else if he could avoid it.

"If Jake doesn't know by now, he doesn't need to know from me," she smiled gently at him. "Neither does anyone else, love."

"Thank you," he murmured, kissing her and leaning back against the couch with a shudder. "He killed another kitten after I got away," he murmured softly. "That was what got him caught, and what got the Enforcers enough proof to hang him. You know why they call him the Boogiekat?"

"No," she snuggled into his lap.

"He was the monster in the closet," Chance explained, holding her close. "I still remember that week ... plumber came over early in it, I found out later. Nice guy, even cut the rate for the job since he could tell we were strapped for cash," he chuckled bitterly. "When Mom found the bill and didn't see him, she assumed he'd left. He was hiding in my room instead. Three nights ... I spotted him once, but Mom and Dad both thought it was just a nightmare. Mom almost caught on ... she smelled him there, but she assumed he'd gone in during the day. She was pissed, but she didn't realize he was hiding in the crawlspace just three feet in front of her. Not until the third night, when...." Chance's voice broke, and his squeezed his eyes shut, his scent heavy with shame and age-old fear.

"Love, you are safe here," she said softly but firmly, drawing on more than two decades with Jake and far more persistent evils to try to help her mate. "I will never think less of you for what others did."

"Thank you," he murmured, nuzzling her neck and inhaling her scent. "I got away, don't really remember how anymore, and he got away after that. The Enforcers were sweeping the neighborhood when they caught him walking away from an apartment a block or two away ... little kit, six years old, still warm when they checked her bedroom," he shuddered. "Mom ... she went a little crazy, I guess, not that I was that much better for a while."

"Oh, baby," she hugged him as best she could. "I'm sorry that happened to you, and you are definitely right about Jake not needing to find out. The execution brought everything back up?"

"Yeah ... that, and convincing Feral to give me guard duty without telling him exactly why," Chance nodded. "Didn't think he'd do it, but he told me to let him think about it over lunch, then told me I was on the walk just before we went out for our flight patrol."

That was enough to silence her with a worried expression.

"Love ... are you sure that's a good idea?"

"Yes," he said certainly. "I want to be there to watch that bastard swing, and if he tries to get loose ... I'm not gonna let him hurt any more kittens. Can't leave it up to others."

Midnight sighed and snuggled against him. "What can I do to help you through this?"

"Let me know if I'm getting into a bad mood?" Chance suggested. "I should be better after tonight ... just the first time in a long time I've thought about it."

"I will," she promised with a kiss on the cheek. "Any particular distractions you'd like?"

"Mmm ... tonight, or in general?" He asked her with a half-way grin.

"In general," she giggled and kissed him. "Then tonight."

"Mmm... in general, keep me focused on what's going on," he purred, kissing her back. "Maybe we'll get out, just us and the kits, some time ... zoo or something, maybe."

"I can see to that," she smiled and nuzzled him affectionately. "And tonight?" she asked with a throaty purr.

"Mmm ... for tonight, the kittens are asleep and I've got about twelve hours before my next shift," he rumbled, kissing her deeply. "Want to try and make it to the bedroom, or take advantage of the fact they can't get out of bed yet?" He asked her with a grin.

"Now that depends," she rubbed her body seductively against his. "On whether you intend to wear yourself out or not. Though upstairs, I do have a little something new to show you."

"Then we'd better get up there first," he chuckled, licking her chin and picking her up as he stood.

"I thought so," she nuzzled him and ghosted her tail down to rub against his crotch. "I hope you like it."

"I'm sure I will," he purred, kissing her as he carried her up the stairs. "Let's just hope the kittens stay asleep for another hour or two," he added with a chuckle and let her open the door to their bedroom before setting her on her feet. "Now ... where should I wait for this surprise?"

"How about naked on the bed, lover?" she winked before unbuttoning the nursing blouse she had on and tossing it into the laundry hamper.

"Works for me," he grinned, following suit, undressing quickly and getting his clothes into the hamper before climbing into bed to wait for his mate to come out of the master bathroom.

He was several minutes waiting, time he indulged in a few fantasies about what she might have in mind. His eyes went directly to the door when it opened, and it drew a rumble from deep inside him.

The deep wine red teddy's bustier was cut well below her nipples, the crotch barely qualified for a string bikini and mesh stockings that worked down to matching high heels.

"Now when did you pick that up?" He asked her with a grin.

"A couple days ago," she purred seductively. "Your female squad mates took me shopping when you were out with the guys."

"Why do I have a feeling that they arranged for that?" He rumbled deeply, spreading his legs to reveal his full sheath, dark red tip poking out of it. "So ... care to get a closer look at what that outfit does to me?" He grinned.

"Because it was," she purred into a rumble of her own and crawled onto the bed. "You've been moody, and they don't like it any more than I do."

"Sorry," he murmured, kissing her tenderly, rubbing a hand down her sateen-clad side. "Always love you though, and the kits."

"I know," she leaned forward to kiss him soundly, lowering her body to rub the silky material against his crotch. "We do it because we care about you."

"Mmm ... luckiest tom alive," he groaned lowly and rubbed against her eagerly. "You want to be in charge tonight?"

"Sure, handsome," she kissed him again before sliding down his body and capturing his half-hard erection between her full tits.

He moaned lowly, reaching down to rub her ears tenderly, feeling her breasts pressing tightly around him. This had always been a blast, but ever since her chest had started expanding when she was pregnant, it had been something else entirely.

His shaft hardened quickly, his rubbery barbs brushing her chin lightly before she tipped her head down to lick at the spongy cone at the tip, drawing another deep, lusty groan as he glanced over to see if she'd closed the door.

He closed his eyes after seeing it was safely secured and let himself drift into the heady pleasure of a shekat who knew him so well.

Well enough that it didn't take her long to have him at the brink of his first orgasm of the night. He whimpered softly as she kept him there for a few minutes, teasing and pulling back time and time again until he roared as he came hard, pumping his seed into her mouth to be swallowed eagerly.

"Mmm, I've missed my tabby seed," she purred and licked him clean before sliding up to rub her sateen-covered sex against his hard shaft. "I think I could come just like this, get you wet even before my panties come off."

"I bet I know how to guarantee it," he purred, kissing her hungrily. "Want me to make you glad for the soundproofing?" He grinned.

"Always," she moaned, the swollen lips of her sex trying to pull the hard cock against it inside despite the cloth separating them.

He grinned, pressing her up, reaching down to slip his fingers into her panties, rubbing her clit as he rubbed his shaft against her slick lips. He leaned up, closing his lips around her swollen, hard nipples, lapping and nipping at them gently.

"Oh Bastet!" she cried out sharply, pressing her breasts forward as the first twitches of an orgasm began at her clit.

He closed his lips around her engorged nipples, suckling lightly until he got just a taste of her sweet, rich milk, working her clit hard and fast with slick fingers as he tried to push her over the edge.

It didn't take much, and her body pressed hard against him, her clit twitching as her body cried out to be filled when nothing was inside her.

He obliged her without a word, pulling her bikini bottom aside and pressing his own throbbing cock up into her, moving his head up to kiss her hungrily as she cried out.

The rush of her passion was nearly enough to draw him to the brink again, but he managed to hold back, to keep thrusting up into her as her pleasure peaked, slowly receded and began to rise again.

He was only partially aware of the way she tugged at him to roll over, but he moved without thought and began to take her hard as he pinned her under his greater weight.

He kissed her again, then started to lick at her throat and face as he braced his feet against the foot of the bed, pushing himself into her hot, wet body as his hand found her breasts and started working them with practiced skill.

"Love you," she moaned breathlessly between whimpering cries of raw pleasure.

Chance roared, pumping a load of seed into her sex, continuing to thrust into her with an eagerness she'd grown to love over the last few years.

"Love you too," he groaned, kissing her as they mated.

"Ouch," Rock winced as Jake took a snap-kick across the side of his head and got slammed to the mat, only to roll to his feet and crouch slightly to face off against the sleek black shekat that was his physical mirror in many ways.

"Now you see why I got out of this," Chance agreed with a wince of his own. "He's still got a chance, if he can take her down before time's called, but she's damned good."

"So's he," Amanda reminded him, even as Kathie's riotous cheer ended the conversation in time for them to catch the end of a leaping stomp that landed squarely on his opponent's head and followed her to the mat to smash her head down.

"No arguments there," Chance winced. "Yeesh, that could do it."

"Nope," Kathie countered as the black shekat reached up and grabbed his ankle, accepting the damage as she twisted under him and shoved herself up to throw him off balance.

"Time!" The referee called, causing both bloody opponents to settle on their feet and bow to the other with an arm tight across their chest. The referee glanced at the judge's table, made a quick hand signal, and nodded. "The match goes to overtime!"

"And that's why Midnight stopped coming to these," Chance winced as the two combatants moved in close. They didn't have the time to circle and jockey for position much; one minute to get as many points as possible, or to knock out their opponent.

"No!" Rock couldn't stop the terrified gasp that came out as she made a snap-kick and twisted her hips at the last second. Jake's entire body cracked sideways, his eyes closing as they rolled back and he hit the mat, blood oozing from his mouth.

"Shit!" Chance swore under his breath, though he grabbed Rock's shoulder to keep the tabby from going into the ring. "Rock, he'll be okay," he reminded his cousin. "Not just because of who he is either."

"No one's died from an MMA fight the three decades," Kathie added, though she was on her feet to put herself at Rock's other side. "He doesn't look that bad from here."

The referee walked over to Jake, checking on him until the paramedics took over and took his limb form out on a stretcher.

With a nod to the judges he walked over to the heavily breathing and bloody black shekat and raised her arm. "The match goes to Kyale Bulank!" he called out to wild cheers.

"Come on, let's go check on Jake," Chance told Rock, snapping his attention from worrying long enough to start making their way to the medical center where they'd be able to find the unconscious tom and several others, both winners and losers of earlier matches.

"Right, yeah," Rock nodded and followed his cousin to the space they'd both seen too much of by some accounts. "It's days like this that make me wonder why he does it."

"'Cause when he wins, it's a real rush ... besides, consider what you guys do," Chance pointed out, making his way to the most recent arrivals.

"Yeah, but that's to get off," he objected. "I happen to know he doesn't like getting beaten up like this."

"He'll be fine," a petite blond who'd cleaned Jake up smiled up at the tabbies as they came into view of her patient. "Should be up and about in an hour or two. He was just knocked out. Nothing is broken or ruptured."

"That's what I figured, but his boyfriend worries," Chance smiled, nodding towards Rock. "We'll wait ... or at least you will," he told Rock. "I'll go grab us all something to drink."

"Sounds good," Rock nodded and settled himself on the edge of the cot Jake was laying on. "I could use something strong right now," he added and reached out to gently brush damp hair from Jake's face, wanting to see and feel for himself that what she said was true.

"I'll be back soon," Chance reassured him, heading out to the ring's bar.

A thunderstorm in his head, that's what was going on. Something hit him, and hit him hard, and now there was nothing but throbbing pain in his head.

Must have rattled his brain pretty hard to knock him out.

But what had he been up to, before that? Probably the MMA match, though it might have been on the way there.

With a whimpering groan, he forced his eyes open, hoping he wouldn't have to try to form words to get a clue.

"For what it's worth, you made it to overtime in the match," Rock offered quietly, rubbing his cheek. "Why do you go and do this to yourself?" He added, offering Jake a glass of water when the battered tom managed to push himself partially upright.

It earned him a faint smile before Jake sipped the water and swallowed the coppery mix it made in his mouth. "To test myself. Against another person is the only challenge worth the effort."

"Right ... well, just remember, you might not be able to get killed, but if you give me a heart attack out there, I don't bounce back the same way," Rock murmured, kissing his forehead lightly.

"You cheer as loudly as anyone when I win," Jake countered with a bit of a smile and continued to sip his water.

"Told you he'd be okay," Chance offered as he came back, giving Rock a second bottle of beer.

"I'm not going to feel like moving for a couple days at least," Jake admitted weakly. "This is going to really hurt by morning. She gave me a beating."

"I'm not gonna argue with that," Chance agreed easily.

"You just scared me, badly," Rock admitted, kissing his forehead. "Even knowing what I do about you."

"You don't need to be afraid for me here," Jake turned into the kiss. "We're all too good to kill by accident."

"Of all the things you could be sensible about, you pick getting the shit beat out of you," Rock mock-groaned.

"Could be worse," a familiar voice teased them. "He could be doing it professionally."

"Hi Terin," Jake smiled at her and relaxed back onto the cot. "You catch the match?"

"Oh yeah," she grinned back. "You rocked."

"He usually does," Chance chuckled. "Think she's got a good shot at the championship, so no shame in losing to her at all."

"Buddy, she's taken four national championships," Jake laughed, then winced as it moved something that shouldn't have moved. "Kyale Bulank is incredible."

"Does that mean you're game to meet her?" Tod Bermen asked from just outside the group.

"She wants to meet me?" Jake blinked up at him.

"After the fight you put up?" He grinned at his protégé. "You impressed her. I didn't even manage that."

"Most people don't manage to step on her head," Chance pointed out with a chuckle. "If she's not too busy recovering, I don't think Jake'd mind."

"Definitely not," Jake agreed. "I think I'll even manage to stand up for it."

"I don't think so," Rock glared at him with as firm an expression as he'd ever worn. "You just took a blow to the head that knocked you out for the better part of an hour. You are not exerting yourself early."

"She'll be in shortly," Tod chuckled. "Now that we know you're up to it."

"I'm not sure to be flattered or afraid," Rock deadpanned.

"Flattered," Jake grinned at him. "Definitely flattered. I may have made a splash on the circuit this year, but I'm hardly world class yet."

"Key word there is yet," Tod reminded him with a grin. "Give it a few years. You're already besting most of my records."

"Please don't try and convince him he could make a living at this," Rock glared at the detective and part-time MMA fighter that was coaching Jake.

"Wouldn't dream of it," Tod grinned, though his tone was honest. "Seriously, he's got far too much of a career in the Enforcers for me to try that."

"And more than a few folks threatening him life and limb if he does," a low, highly amused and heavily accented voice added from behind the chocolate brown tabby. "It might earn him points as a Master, but many of us would be highly annoyed to have to deal with you on a regular basis."

"I'm not that good," Jake reflexively denied his true skill.

"Clawson, you went three rounds and almost had me twice," the sleek black shekat pointed out sternly. "You nearly won on points in overtime. Do not demean my skill by denying your own."

"It's a bad habit of his," Chance smiled. "Give him time, he'll admit he's actually pretty good in a couple years. You're incredible," he told her sincerely.

"Thank you, Chance," she inclined her head to him. "Your skill as a pilot is nearly legendary."

"Thank you," he smiled. "Though I think you're here to meet him, not to trade compliments with me, so I'll get out of your way," he said, backing off to enjoy his drink while Jake had a chance to meet the fighter who'd just royally kicked his tail in front of a huge crowd.

"Thank you for an excellent fight," Kyale inclined her head to him. "Perhaps we can have a sparring match before I leave next month?"

"I'd love to," Jake grinned broadly.

"Just try not to knock each other out this time?" Rock asked his mate hopefully. "You don't know when to give up unless somebody reminds you to, and they don't have judges for sparring."

"Don't worry, I know how to spar," Jake leaned up to lick his nose playfully, only to settle back down with a low moan.

"As do I," Kyale assured him. "We will not injure each other this way when we spar."

"I just worry; somebody's got to keep an eye out for him when he's on the ground," Rock chuckled slightly.

"You are welcome to watch," she offered honestly. "I mean no ill towards him."

"We'll see when the time comes," Rock suggested. "I don't necessarily know what my schedule's going to look like ... or if he's going to decide I don't need to babysit him," he chuckled, scratching Jake's ears lightly.

"You mean I get a say in the matter?" Jake teased him.

"I will leave you to your recovery, Clawson," Kyale bowed to him. "When you feel well enough to indulge him, we will schedule time to spar," she said before walking away.

"Okay, I am impressed," Terin watched the battered black shekat walk away as if she was uninjured.

"I'm in shock," Jake murmured. "She's one of the top fighters in the world."

"You're exaggerating, at least a little," Terin told him. "She's not that renown yet."

"She will be," Jake said with utter certainty.

"Okay, okay, but how'd you like a leg up on her next time?" she grinned deviously.

"Depends," Jake regarded her warily.

"Come on, I haven't changed that much," she pretended to be in a huff. "My squad and a couple others are willing to train you how we fight."

"What are they getting out of it?" Jake asked, still suspicious.

"A rep like no other," she pointed out.

"A rep for training Jake, or a rep for having him on your squad?" Chance asked her evenly and got eyes rolled at him for it.

"A rep as a department," she told him. "If a gunner can fight like that, just what would folks think Special Ops could do?"

"Your call, Jake ... though it'd be handy for this, if nothing else," Chance offered. "Might even be useful day to day."

"It would be," Jake agreed, though he was still a bit suspicious.

"Come on guys, when have I ever done you wrong?" Terin asked plaintively, looking between all three of them. "We've been friends for years."

"You're right, but we've been hearing that SO wants to get their hands on Jake almost as long," Chance pointed out.

"They'd sure love it, but it's not what I care about," she reminded him. "I fought that werewolf with you when I was just a beat cop in training."

"In other words, don't hold my career choice against me," Jake nodded. "Sorry, Ter."

"It's okay," she settled down.

"Is the offer just for Jake?" Chance asked her curiously.

"Mainly, but I doubt anybody'd object to training you too," she smiled at him. "You do pretty well when it doesn't involve high flying kicks."

"Flying feet aren't my strong point," he chuckled. "If I'm not gonna get my tail handed to me every time we practice after this, I think I'd better join in, if you're willing."

"Sure," she grinned at him. "Glad you're both coming. I have to get going though. Good fight Jake. I'll still bet on you next time."

"So there's the ulterior motive," Chance snickered, catching a dirty look from Terin as she left. "It's certainly going to be interesting, once you're back on your feet."

"Definitely," Jake smiled slightly, then cautiously sat upright again. "Up for helping me to the car?" he glanced at his mate. "I'm ready to recover at home."

"And I'm ready to have you there," Rock smiled, helping him up and out with Chance's help.

Rock relaxed back, looking around their exquisitely decorated home done in modern style with erotic touches tastefully placed here and there thanks to Midnight's efforts to make it more than a bachelor pad for two. It still wasn't completely home, not in looks, but he could feel and smell himself and his mate everywhere and it was definitely starting to feel like it.

Besides, the extra space he had was worth it ... he'd never been able to afford a place like this on his own, and the fact that they were paying to own it instead of to rent it was making it feel like home faster than it would have otherwise.

As he heard the doorbell ring, he couldn't help but reflect that the neighbors were pretty nice too, though he wasn't sure why they'd be dropping over now ... not likely to be anybody else though. They weren't expecting any packages, and with Jake out sparring with Kyale, he knew it wasn't going to be somebody calling with bad news about Jake's patrol.

He opened the door and blinked in surprise, the reflexive 'hello' frozen in his throat as he recognized the pair of Wirehair Dachshunds grinning up at him.

"Hi Rock!" The twin Dachshunds said cheerfully.

"How've you been?" The male, Jordan Wexler, asked him with a grin.

"Pretty good," Rock smiled and stepped back. "Come in. We have a lot to catch up on."

"No kidding!" Jordan's sister agreed as they stepped inside, their long, thick tails wagging rapidly. "Looks like you've been doing pretty good for yourself since coming back here ... you finally find a Master or Mistress who could keep you happy, or is this all yours?" Henrietta asked him with a grin.

"Yes, no and no," he chuckled and headed for the kitchen. "I'm doing fairly well, my boyfriend is an Enforcer Gunner, so two-thirds of this is on his paycheck, though it's mostly his best friend that has the aesthetic touch. I'm the Master between us. What would you like to drink?"

"You have to ask?" Jordan chuckled.

"Right; Bloody Mary and a double whiskey sour," Rock chuckled.

"And if the Bloody Mary doesn't singe my fur, it's too weak," Henrietta grinned as Rock went to start mixing the drinks. "So, an Enforcer and a sub? Good find. Would he happen to be the delicious tom in the picture?" She asked, nodding towards the portrait. "I know that's your body in the background."

"It is, and he is," Rock glanced at the painting with a warm smile. "That's the moment we met, by the way. A friend of Jake's who knows his tastes convinced him to sit for a painting, and invited me to stand in for who he had a crush on at the time."

"Oh? You know who it was, or just the story?" Jordan asked curiously, sitting down comfortably.

"Oh, Kats, I had no idea what I was getting into," Rock laughed heartily as he took a seat nearby. "It's a story to tell, too," he grinned, a distinct fondness in his expression as his mind drifted back to that day. "It was almost five years ago, now. Hard to believe, sometimes.

"Tommy is an artist we both knew, though from very different circles. Anyway, the way he said it, he'd been trying to convince Jake to pose for a dom/sub picture for some time, and finally pulled it off with a promise that it would be demure enough to pass muster if his CO saw it and someone who looked like the guy he really wanted would play dom for it."

"Let me guess, it was a guy who was seriously unavailable," Henrietta shook her head a bit. "Not a new story there."

"The understatement of the decade," Rock nodded. "The guy he wanted couldn't fuck a tom if his life depended on it, quite literally I expect. Never mind one like Jake.

"It was a pretty simple pose, and what Tommy had said made me think Jake probably knew what he was doing, at least for someone his age. Then I got a look at him, when he was kneeling there.

"He was hungry for something he thought he knew the name for, but didn't," Rock's voice turned soft. "I could almost feel how badly he wanted to lean forward to suck me, but even more, I saw how he looked at the whip. It wasn't fear, or apprehension, or even incomprehension. It wasn't anything I should have seen in someone without a mark on him I could see. He wanted it, even more than he wanted me.

"He's into pain like I've never seen before. I've never been so glad for our time together than when I try to find a new way to push him. He's got a pain tolerance you wouldn't believe, and gets off on pain alone when he's not in a fight."

"Mmm ... he sounds very appealing," Henrietta rumbled, licking her lips as she took her drink from Rock after he spiked it with a shot of capsaicin oil. "Maybe we'll get the chance to meet him later?" She suggested with a grin.

"I expect so," he chuckled. "Though don't get your hopes up on having fun with him. He might not be monogamous, but he's very rarely willing to go for anyone else, and females just don't work for him."

"Pity," she mused, taking a sip of her drink and nodding approvingly as it burned down the back of her throat.

"Does he mind an audience?" Jordan asked with a grin.

"Very rarely," Rock purred back. "Usually quite enjoys it, as long as they keep their hands to themselves."

"Well, maybe we'll talk him into a show then," Jordan grinned. "Be good to see you in action," he winked. "See what you've done with those lessons we gave you."

"How long will you be in town?" Rock asked, thinking over various options if Jake was just too sore after another round in the ring with Kyale, even if it was more friendly.

"Oh, we plan on sticking around for a while," Henrietta smiled. "We're staying at the local temple, helping with a few special projects for them."

"Then I'm sure you can have a show or three," he licked his lips in anticipation of it. "Jake's sparring with the Kat who knocked him out cold in an MMA match last week, so he might not feel like too much when he gets home. I'm sure they're giving each other quite a beating and calling it practice."

"I'm sure," Jordan chuckled. "So many people who'd be excellent sadists are wasted on that hobby, I've always thought."

"Not the way Jake talks about it," Rock shook his head. "It's something completely different from what's for pleasure. It's about the challenge of going up against another expert."

"I'm sure he enjoys it though," Henrietta pointed out. "How do you feel about it though?" She asked Rock, cocking her head.

"Scares the hell out of me," he admitted quietly. "It's a lot like his job, though. I have to trust someone else to keep him safe. I don't like it, but I have to deal with it. It's part of who he is, and I knew all of it going in."

"True," Jordan nodded, sipping his drink. "Are you still going to Bastet's services?" He asked, changing from a subject he sensed wasn't a particularly comfortable one.

"I dropped out for a while, but after all that's happened, I'm going again," he nodded. "Doesn't always feel right, but ... They are real, and I can't think anything else now."

"Maybe you'd be more comfortable with the Lord and Lady?" Jordan offered. "You know you've always been welcome, here as well as in Sayden Bay, even if you only paid a visit once in a while," the Dachshund smiled.

"Maybe," Rock gave it real consideration. "She's just who I was raised with. Jake'd probably like it better if I went somewhere else too."

"Oh? He has issues with Bastet then?" Henrietta asked, sipping her drink. "We'd be more than willing to introduce you at the Temple, if you wanted ... both of you even," she offered with a smile. "We've moved up in the world a bit since you left Sayden Bay, they wouldn't have any problems with somebody we introduced."

"Yeah, he hates Her," he admitted. "Rather passionately at times. I think I'd like an introduction, though I'm sure Jake'll dig around the regs before accepting. He's still nervous about breaking them."

"We have people who know every Enforcer rule in the book by heart, Rock," Jordan chuckled. "And how to get around them, in most cases. Besides, an introduction wouldn't mean he had to join. What's his problem with Bastet, if you don't mind my asking?"

"What do you know about the Champions?" he watched them both for a reaction.

"A fair amount," Henrietta said, straightening up a bit from her relaxed pose on the couch. "The Lord and Lady are still looking for theirs, debating with Tamorl over some different candidates. He's connected to Bastet's then? Or is the Champion himself?"

"He's Her Champion," Rock admitted quietly. "Halikar's too. And he hates it like you wouldn't believe."

"That would tend to complicate things a little," Jordan murmured. "Though we might believe it ... he isn't the first to despise the role."

"Honestly, I can't much care who believes it," Rock told them quietly. "Or if it's the real truth. Someone who can bring him back from death is going to an awful lot of trouble to make it seem true, and Jake's believes it for his own reasons. It's like any other touchy subject. You don't bring it up unless you don't have a choice about it."

"Understood," Jordan nodded his acceptance. "We didn't mean to pry. How do you feel about it though?"

"You're asking that a lot," he chuckled weakly. "I wish it didn't bother him so much, 'cause it's been a blessing for me. He's come back, healthy and whole, from things that should have killed him. Flip side is that because he hates it, he doesn't take any more risks than he needs to. He's mellowing too, the longer we're together. I like to think it's because he's got something that makes him happy."

"You just haven't been on the receiving end of us in professional mode before," Jordan chuckled. "That's good, and you're probably right about why. So ... you don't have problem with the Champions as a whole?"

"The reason Jordan's trying to get you nailed down there," Henrietta chuckled, "is largely because ... well, as we said, the Lord and Lady are considering several candidates. We believe that you're one of them, and one of the better choices."

"No, I don't have a problem with them in general, except for the part where they're the only thing that can really kill Jake," Rock regarded them warily for the first time in a long time. "Why would I ever want to be one?"

"Well, for one thing, then you'd know at least one Champion who wouldn't kill Jake," Henrietta offered. "There are four real candidates, one of them in Sayden Bay who we've largely discounted ... she has the potential, but she lacks the other qualities that we'd want to see. The other two are both in MKC, and there's you. You ... you're a good person, Rock. Once a Champion is chosen, we will back them, support them. It will be our duty. But until then, we have a certain amount of choice in who we back, and we would prefer somebody who reflects the more socially acceptable face of pain and pleasure."

"Who are the others here?" he asked evenly, understanding the point they were making.

Henrietta and Jordan looked at each other, like they were considering how much to tell him.

"We would greatly prefer it if you didn't go looking for them," Jordan told him after a moment. "But one of them is Maxwell Steele, a brown-furred, fairly unexceptional artist who doesn't fully recognize his potential yet ... though there's an inkling of it there, he doesn't realize what it really is."

"And the other is Karetha Long," Henrietta continued, picking up where her twin left off. "You may be familiar with her?"

"A Margay female?" he asked and got a nod for it, then shuddered. "Yeah, I know of her. She's gotten kicked out of Warlords, among other places, for being too extreme. Word is she's killed a sub or two, but it's never been proven. Somebody I never want Jake anywhere near."

"Understandable," Jordan nodded. "You can see why we'd prefer you as a Champion than her. Whether or not the rumors are true - and we're not saying either way, we don't know - she isn't the sort of person you want to run the chance of becoming the face for your faith. However, she has a dedication to pain that is very nearly unrivalled, and thus she must be considered."

"In case you're wondering, we did recognize your potential when we first met you, but it's not the main reason we took an interest in you," Henrietta told him. "It was a very nice perk of having a very good lover," she smiled.

"Being able to enjoy both sides didn't hurt, I expect," he chuckled a bit. "So what do They expect of Their champion?"

"No, it didn't," Jordan grinned. "And that ... it's more difficult. The Lord and Lady aren't overly interested in how things turn out, so long as they don't lose out in the process. Tamorl is more aggressive, and they are all three likely to back the same Champion."

"The main expectation would be that you not throw your life away," Henrietta explained. "That you hold out through the largest parts of the contest. Beyond that ... there is far too much that is uncertain to be sure. You would have certain gifts, abilities, that would be yours to use as you chose to use them. I suspect that it wouldn't be unreasonable to guess that you'd use them to protect Jake?"

"Yes, I would," he nodded. "Is there anything to the champions game on our level beyond defeating other champions?"

"It's ... yes, and no," the Dachshund told him, finishing her drink. "For one thing, it varies, wildly, depending on the goals of the deity backing them. Jake is going to be expected to take a much more proactive role than you would be. By the way, there would be no problems with you protecting him. So long as, by the time the next Champions are chosen, you haven't fallen, the odds are that it will be acceptable. No matter who wins, the Lord and Lady are likely to do so as well. As such, you aren't going to be expected to, say, hunt down and defeat Dark Kat.

"However, we would appreciate it if you would be willing to take a more active role with the church ... not to become a priest, but to present a face for us, to make us more visible in an acceptable manner. Frankly, it would be nice to be able to take a place in the city similar to that Bastet and Halikar's priests have."

"I'm not sure pain will ever be as accepted as the Mother and Protector, but it would be nice to be better accepted, instead of just tolerated because the law requires it," Rock admitted. "Even after six years, Jake's still nervous about how close he might be to losing his commission over off-hours activities. He's not, but they got to him good when he enlisted."

"They tend to ... if the two of you wanted, we could try to see if some of the Enforcers in the temple might be able to get them to back off a little, but if he's known to be a Champion they're probably going to keep an eye on him anyways," Henrietta sighed. "At least they haven't tried to capitalize on it, if they do know."

"Oh, they know," Rock muttered. "You can thank Jake and a massive attitude problem when it comes to being treated differently. As subby and attention-shy as he usually is, he's got a hell of a backbone when you push the wrong way, and Feral's met it. I'm sure the rather frequent attempts to get him to transfer to Special Ops is all about his status as a Champion. Or at least that She won't let him stay dead."

"Yegh!" Jordan shuddered, shaking his head. "Well, that answers the question of just how public a role he's going to take. It's not going to be quiet, I'm sure."

"I'm half surprised it didn't make the news even up there," Rock chuckled without humor. "About four years ago, when that werewolf was torturing females to death, an Enforcer cadet was killed, and then they said the announcement was by mistake."

"We heard something about it; we were a little too busy trying to figure out if one of the MKC candidates might have been the werewolf to worry about the cadet," Henrietta admitted. "I understand it was eventually discovered that it was just a mage who didn't know what he was doing?"

"Yes, Jake's second-oldest friend no less. That dead-then-not-dead cadet was Jake," Rock explained. "He died in front of three other cadets and made it all the way to the morgue. It doesn't get more public than being the first cadet to be killed on duty in eighteen years, and then wake up in the morgue twelve hours after it made a special report. It was kept as quiet as possible, but that wasn't all that quiet, especially not among the Enforcers."

"Who know just how hard it is to make that kind of mistake," she nodded. "You must have been terrified, before he woke up."

"More angry and trying not to think about it," Rock said quietly. "Midnight knew all about what Bastet does to him. It wasn't the first time she said he wouldn't stay dead, just the first time I had to face it. Right then, I was more concerned about keeping his partner, my cousin Chance, from going over the deep end again. The terrified kicked in after the emergencies were over and he was sleeping in my arms. I don't think I stopped shaking for days."

"After he was safe, then you get scared," Jordan smiled, shaking his head. "That's ... very you."

"What good does it do to freak out during an emergency?" Rock raised an eyebrow, though there was something of a grin there too. "Maybe you should tell me a little more about Eshik and Marka, and what their church is about."

"Sure, though I think you could find out pretty well by asking your neighbors," Jordan chuckled, the two of them settling in to start giving Rock the run-down.

Jake bowed deeply to Kyale, his right arm tight across his chest, as they ended their final sparring session for the night. He was breathing hard, but feeling great. It was incredible to test himself like this, to not just learn, but to finally teach a skilled warrior something in exchange.

"Thank you for sparring with me," she said as she rose from her own bow of respect. "Do you have plans for lunch?"

"Not really," he admitted. "I'd been planning on making something when I got home, assuming I could stand up in the kitchen long enough," he chuckled.

"Care to join me at Su'Don, then?" she offered as they climbed out of the ring.

"Sure," he said easily. "Be good to try someplace new for once," he chuckled and walked with her to the changing rooms and a badly needed shower. "I've heard of it, but never been there."

"The food is reasonably authentic, spicy and fresh," she said as they paused at a pair of lockers they were using and stripped off the skive shorts they both wore in the match.

"Sounds like a place to take the gang to," he grinned and stripped off his matching skivvies, tossing them into his locker and walking into the open showers with her.

He turned the water on hot, and stepped under it with a groan of pleasure.

"Hot showers are a pleasure," Kyale smiled slightly as she wetted down her short fur.

"I've always thought so," he purred. "Especially after a workout like the one you gave me," he grinned over at her, appreciating the short, tightly muscled body that wasn't all that common in the city. It was nice to see someone else built like him; short, lean, fast and strong.

If she'd just been a tom, he'd have been seriously tempted. As it stood, she'd stand out in his mind as one of the more attractive examples of the female of the species for some time.

"Thank you," she smiled and used the excuse of soaking her back to get a good look at his body without the tension of a match in his muscles. "I have heard you are Bastet's chosen one of your generation?"

"Yes," Jake sighed in resignation as they finished cleaning up and turned the blowers on to dry off. "Where'd you hear about it?"

"Around," she shrugged. "I like to know who I'm going to fight, when I can. It was something I heard a few times."

"Well, it doesn't help in the ring, as you can see," he chuckled weakly. "I don't really like it getting around that much," he admitted, fluffing his fur out to help it dry.

"Why?" she glanced at him. "I have heard you do not like it. I do not know."

It took him a moment to place what she was asking, then he shrugged a bit.

"For one thing, I don't like the fact that She's in control of my life," he told her. "I never got a choice in it. Everybody thinks it's some sort of honor, but they don't have to live with it. They don't have to wake up every day and know that if something happens, Bastet's going to send them back, and keep doing it, until they jump through Her hoops. Whether they want Her to or not."

"It happens much?" She cocked her head at him.

"Not the part where I come back, but the part where she's screwing around with my life is almost constant," he muttered, shaking his fur out. "And then you've got her priests and priestesses, they just can't leave well enough alone."

"Do others bother you so greatly?" Kyale asked as they turned off the blowers and walked back to their lockers to dress for the public.

"Not really, but I'm not their Champion," Jake pointed out, pulling on jeans and an undershirt before buttoning up a medium green collared shirt. "They don't have a divine mandate to make sure I breed, among other things," he grumbled lowly.

"I can see how that could be most irritating," she nodded, her shorts and light gray T-shirt making her look much more casual than him. "What do you do, beyond fight MMA?"

"I'm an Enforcer gunner ... a lot of my time goes into keeping the Black Sun the top jet in the squadron," he grinned, finishing buttoning up his shirt. "Try to get some time to hang out with my friends, spend time with Rock ... occasionally kitten-sit for Chance and Midnight," he chuckled.

"A full life," Kyale smiled and walked with him as they left the dressing room and into the training spaces of the MMA complex, and the air rich with sweat, exertion and a touch of coppery blood.

"I like to think so," he smiled back. "You have a car, or do you want to navigate while I drive?"

"I usually run," she said. "I think I can direct a car."

"I'd run along with you, but then I'd have to come back for my car before I went home," Jake chuckled, directing her to the mid-sized car he and Rock shared. "I can probably get directions if we manage to get lost, so don't worry about it too much."

"Okay," she nodded and got in. "It is on the wharf."

"Gotcha," he nodded, climbing in and pulling out, making his way to the wharf, the smell of the sea and fish markets blending with the restaurants in the area to make a scent belonging uniquely to the area.

"Always an interesting part of town," he mused as they pulled up in front of the restaurant and found a parking spot with little difficulty. "It smells good too."

"Good," Kyale said as she got out, sniffing the air with a soft sound of longing.

"You miss home?" He guessed, following her inside the simply decorated building. Even at this early hour, there was a fair sized crowd and the food was plentiful. In the back, he could hear the splashing of fish and other seafood being caught from tanks and dispatched.

"Yes," she admitted as they stepped up to the front counter and paid for the meals. "It is nice to be treated as a valuable person without beating another. It is still home."

"Are you planning on going back after the championships?" He asked her curiously as they were told which table was theirs and went up to the large buffet to build a plate of spicy sautéed shrimp, whole fried fish, snake, seasoned worms, grubs, snails and grasshoppers and various vegetables cooked in every way possible on a base of thin rice noodles.

"No. I will continue to fight the circuit," she said, quite willingly helping herself to the more exotic offerings of insects and grubs.

Jake kept mostly to the more usual offerings, the shrimp, fish, and snake, but he couldn't help but think of what Zach would have thought of the place. Maybe if he ever came back to pay MKC a visit they'd stop by.

"So how long has it been since you've been able to take a vacation from the ring?"

"I do not," she told him simply as they walked over to the drinks selection. "I have fought competitively since I was six."

"Six?" He asked her, shock clear in his voice as he almost dropped the glass he was filling with milk.

"Yes," she nodded. "It is not unknown to start even younger. My father wanted a son to train. He settled for me after many years."

"Well, he got a Hell of a fighter out of 'settling,'" Jake told her respectfully. "I hope he came around to see that eventually?"

"Only in raising me as a boy. It worked until I began to have a fertile cycle," she said as they found their seats. "He held it at bay for many years with herbs and magic. By the time he no longer could, a recruiter for the MMA had found me and did not care if I was male or female. It was too late to help my father, but he did save me."

"Parents," Jake sighed, shaking his head. "At least you got out of there. Did you ever manage to patch things up?"

Kyale paused, then shook her head. "The village beheaded my father for teaching a female to fight. They would have beheaded me if they had captured me."

"He ... shit, I'm sorry," he murmured. "I didn't have any idea they were that...."

"Different," she offered him an alternative to the words she was sure he was trying not to say. "Things are very different back home. Some better, some worse, some are just different."

"Yeah," he nodded. "Have things changed any since you've left?"

"Legally, a small amount. Socially, I doubt it. Such changes take many generations."

"Yeah," he nodded. "Well ... at least you're out of it," he offered, not really sure what else to say.

"It is not so bad, Jake," she smiled at him. "It made me strong and gave me the skills to have a good life among the MMA. Have you ever traveled?"

"Some," he nodded as they started to eat. "Mostly to Karalanol; I have a few friends there."

"I have never met someone from Karalanol that I know of," Kyale mused. "How do they fight?"

"Depends on if she's in the air or back home," Jake chuckled. "Amanda's one of my squad mates. Generally, she fights with a spear or knife. Damned good too, though she doesn't fight in the ring most of the time."

"They fight to survive then, not just as an art?" she asked curiously between garlic-roasted giant grubs.

"They still live by the old ways," he explained. "They fight for defense, for hunting ... they haven't really gotten to the point of fixing it down as an art. If she learned to fight the way you can, it'd be used in battle within a year, I'm sure," he said seriously. "One of the reasons she's up here is to pick up some of our techniques, combat and otherwise, so she can take some of them back with her."

"Amanda is an important person in her land?" she asked, curious at the idea of an ancient way having a place for females as something other than kitten producers.

"Daughter of the chieftain," Jake grinned. "You know, she'd probably like you, if the two of you met. Would you be interested, some time?"

"Yes, I would," Kyale inclined her head. "Thank you. Your tastes are not as exotic as your moves would indicate."

"I guess not," he admitted, taking a bite of his own snake-meat and rice noodles. "I learn from everywhere ... eating is another story. I'm a little surprised there's enough market for the more unusual foods here to make it worth their while," he admitted.

"More than half of the MMA fighters I've met come from lands that eat insects of some kind," she pointed out. "Only the very richest lands can rely on animal meat."

"You've got a point," he admitted. "It's still pretty unusual around here ... even people who've immigrated tend to stick to animals and fish, most of the time."

"Because they can, I expect," Kyale said. "I do as well. When I can, a taste from home is still nice."

"I can understand that," he smiled. "Seems to be a common denominator with people who travel a lot."

"If you ever feel like trying a few things that probably won't taste all that strange, I can point out what is likely to go down easily," she offered honestly.

"Maybe some time," he chuckled. "For today though, I think I'll stick to the snake."

"As you wish," Kyale nodded. "Have you fought in the real world yet? You have the stance of someone who expects it to be real, at least some of the time."

"I have," he nodded, thinking back. "My first real fight was against a werewolf that was terrorizing the city a few years back. The biggest was helping Amanda's tribe against raiders. Now and then a perp forces it too, though I don't see many of those, being in the air most of the time."

Henrietta paused mid-sentence and looked at the door. "Rock dear, would you go let your boyfriend in, and possibly calm him down a bit?"

"Okay...." Rock got up and headed for the door, honestly not that surprised. She'd always had good ears ... though if Jake was upset about something enough that she knew it already, he had to wonder just what the Hell had happened.

"Jake?" He asked, opening the door just enough to see his boyfriend completely fluffed out, combat knife in hand and ready to rush into the room. "What the Hell?" he all but flung the door open.

"Who's in there?" Jake demanded, his tail lashing and fear on his scent.

"Henry and Jo ... Henrietta and Jordan, a couple of my friends from back in Sayden Bay." Suddenly it clicked, and he let out a tense breath as he realized what must have happened.

"They're priests, Jake, not from Bastet's temple either. Want to come in and meet them?" He offered, moving back out of the way slightly to let him see in more easily as Jordan leaned out where Jake could see and waved slightly.


"Hi," Jake answered, still uneasy, but he slid his knife back into his boot after walking in. "You were Rock's teachers," he said as he tried to settle his fur. "Sorry. A presence like yours is rarely good news for me."

"So we've gathered," Jordan nodded, standing up with Henrietta, both inclining their heads to him politely. "Jordan Eshik," he said, offering his hand to the lean tom. "And my sister, Henrietta Marka."

"What are you here for?" Jake asked after shaking hands. Despite his unease, he kept his tone polite.

"Mostly to catch up with Rock, partly to discuss a religious matter with him," Henrietta said, deciding that being wholly honest would probably be the best choice. "It's been years since we've had the chance to talk, and we were glad to hear he had such a handsome partner now," she smiled.

"Flattery will get you nowhere with him," Rock chuckled as he guided Jake to the couch and sat down, turning his attention to grooming what he could get to and relaxing adrenaline-tightened muscles while he was at it.

"They serve Eshik and Marka, the Lady and Lord of Pain's Pleasure," Rock added with a gentle kiss on Jake's cheek.

"We are the Master and Mistress of Sayden Bay's northern temple," Jordan nodded. "We're visiting the temple down here for a while. If you'd prefer, we could leave, and come back another time,"

"But we'd love to get to know you," Henrietta finished for her brother.

"Jake, they're good people," Rock drew him into a lingering kiss that managed to take his boyfriend's mind off everything for a moment.

"Mmm, and you like them," he chuckled softly. "Friends of yours are welcome here."

"Thank you," Rock smiled, hugging him close. "So, now that you're not worried that I'm about to be made off with, how'd it go?"

"She's pretty amazing," Jake smiled and snuggled against him. "Her upbringing puts my problems into real perspective. No one risked being beheaded by their neighbors over how I was raised."

"That's a fairly safe bet," Rock murmured, rubbing his side. "I'm still not counting on you and your mother making up though. Planning on seeing Kyale again?"

"I'm introducing her to Amanda in a few days," he chuckled. "While she's here, I plan to learn what I can from her."

"And what'll you do when you get good enough that they start telling you to go to other places for the fights?" Rock chuckled, nuzzling Jake's neck.

"It won't happen," Jake chuckled at the absurdity of it to him. "There will always be new fighters, and there is always someone better."

"I see what you meant about him being modest," Jordan chuckled. "You two are a good couple."

"Thank you," Rock grinned, scratching Jake's side lightly.

"I prefer to be realistic," Jake licked Rock's jaw affectionately. "No one will be the best forever. It's not how things work."

"Hardly being the best forever, but you're not even admitting that you can be the best for a while," Rock chuckled, returning the lick. "Don't worry about it. I'm just glad you had a good time, and came home in a condition to snuggle."

"We were only sparring, worrywart," Jake teased him. "I'm barely bruised."

"Rock does worrying very well, especially if it's about people he cares about," Henrietta smiled. "Would you like us to take a look at some of the bruises? We're both good healers."

"Comes with the territory," Jordan chuckled. "But if you're fine, don't worry about it, just making the offer."

"I'm fine," Jake said, though he smiled his thanks. "Last week it would have been most welcome."

"That was just after she beat him into the mat," Rock said dryly.

"That was a match," Jake added.

"I have yet to see much difference," Rock pointed out.

"The amount of blood and broken bones," Jake said. "Sparring leaves bruises, nothing more."

"Give it up, Rock," Jordan snickered. "Only way you'll talk him out of it is probably going to be to offer him a more enjoyable way to end up in that condition," he winked.

"It hasn't worked yet," Rock grumbled.

"You're getting better at trying, though," Jake purred with an affectionate kiss to the jaw. "Maybe when it's not part of my paycheck anymore you'll have better luck."

"You get paid for the matches?" Henrietta asked, cocking her head slightly. "Beyond the prize money?"

"No, no," Jake shook his head. "As an Enforcer. I have to stay in shape and ready to fight, even as a gunner."

"Ah, okay," she nodded. "That makes sense. Jake? Do you mind if we end up asking some questions that are usually fairly personal? Mostly about what you enjoy doing with Rock," she explained.

"It's not much of a secret," he said with only a touch of wariness.

"They mean it for the best, love," Rock promised, holding him close. "It won't be used against you."

"All right," Jake sighed, leaning into the contact. "Why do you want to know, anyway?"

"Well, we are priests of Eshik and Marik," Jordan explained. "Are you familiar with them, and their particular area?"

"I've heard a bit," Jake kind of shrugged. "Basically the patrons of S&M."

"Basically, yes," he nodded. "The masters of pain and pleasure, and the guardians of those who enjoy giving and receiving both. Beyond the simple fact that we're both into it, we like to get a feel for people who might be interested in the temple."

"Besides, it's always fun to hear what Rock gets up to," his sister grinned.

"Or you're just perverts with a good cover," Jake chuckled.

"I notice that you're not telling us not to ask though," Jordan winked.

"I said all right to the questions," Jake snorted. "What more invitation did you want?"

"So, just what part of it are you into? Whipping, beating, sharp objects, stranger stuff...?"

"Sharp pain," he said simply. "Whip, claws, bite, blades, capsicum, burns, electricity."

"Mmm ... and which of those do you indulge the most?" Jordan asked, a little taken aback by the abrupt hostility.

"That you actually do, and that you want to?" Henrietta asked with a grin, trying hard to keep up the good humor and lightness when the one they were talking to didn't welcome their interest in him.

"We do claws, capsicum, electricity," Jake answered simply, giving nothing he wasn't directly asked for. "That I want to do, Tamorl's Rebirth ceremony."

"Jake ... if you're not comfortable talking to us, just say so," Jordan told him after a moment. "We don't really want to push you, and to be honest, we weren't hoping to meet you as priests today ... it just seemed like a good idea to let you know, once we found out you'd had problems with them."

"Yes, I do, and I don't want to talk to any of your kind," Jake told them bluntly. "It's on Rock's word of your intentions that you weren't shown my knife when I got home. I'll answer your questions, but I'm never going to like you."

"Jake," Rock started.

"It's all right, Rock," Jordan told him, shaking his head. "I can understand not wanting to talk about it, especially since he hasn't had the chance to get to know us outside of being priests, the way you did. Whatever it is that Bastet and her priests have done to you, to earn your enmity, I am sorry for it."

"If you would like, we can leave," Henrietta offered. "No hard feelings, and I'm sorry that we've intruded into your home. It wasn't our intention."

"I know," Jake settled, something close to an apologetic look on his face. "Next time, maybe Rock can visit you?"

"That would probably be for the best," Jordan nodded slightly, standing up along with his sister, pulling a card out of his wallet. "Give us a call at the temple some time; we've got the local number on the back, we'll set up a time to meet," he said, handing the card to Rock.

He was glad they hadn't mentioned Rock's potential as a Champion already. He wasn't sure he wanted to find out how Jake would have responded to that. He couldn't recall anyone having more of an issue with him being a priest than with who he was a priest of.

"I will," Rock promised and showed them to the door. "It's not about you guys, or Eshik and Marik or even anything you said. Divine power has never meant good things to him, no matter the package or wording," he said, his voice low. "I'll work on him, but don't expect miracles overnight."

"We don't," Jordan reassured him, reaching up to squeeze his shoulder. "Don't worry about it; we've had nastier conversations than that and come out of them just fine," he smiled, before the two of them started out for their car.

Rock closed and locked the door, turning back to Jake ... he really didn't know what to say. On the one hand, he understood Jake's hostility; given his issues with Bastet, he shouldn't have been that surprised. On the other hand ... they were his friends, dammit, and they hadn't done anything.

It added another wrinkle to the question they'd had for him too. What the Hell would he do if he did end up becoming the Champion they chose, and Jake couldn't take it?

"Sorry I didn't call the gym and warn you we were going to have company," he decided on finally. "Didn't expect them myself, really."

"I spent the last couple hours over seafood and snake with Kyale," Jake sighed. "Sorry, I know they're your friends."

"Wouldn't've helped then," Rock murmured, sitting down next to Jake and rubbing his side. "And yeah, they are ... they'll live though, they were right about that. So ... was it just them being priests, or something they said?"

"They're strong priests," Jake murmured and snuggled close, his body trembling ever so slightly. "They ... it ... scares me," he admitted very faintly.

"Yeah, they are," Rock nodded slightly, holding Jake close. "They don't want to scare you, if it helps any ... think Henry likes you," he chuckled. "She knows you don't go for fems though, so you don't have to worry about that angle."

"It doesn't help," he said quietly. "I don't mind you talking to them, or sleeping with them, or whatever," Jake closed his eyes and rested his head on Rock's shoulder. "Pretty sure you can answer whatever they want to know as well as I can, with less tension."

"Honestly ... they probably won't have too many questions," Rock murmured. "Jake ... promise not to freak, with what I tell you next?" He asked him hopefully. "It's nothing bad, they didn't do anything wrong ... it's just something that could be touchy."

"I wish I could say I'm surprised," he sighed and tried to relax against his boyfriend. "I promise I will not freak out, no matter what it is."

"They told me that the Gods of Pain haven't yet chosen a Champion," Rock told him quietly. "They've got four people, between Sayden Bay and MKC, that they're considering, and I'm one of them. They are giving me a choice about it, at least," he offered. "I have the feeling that if I tell them no, I won't hear about it again. Not from them, anyways."

"And the reason you're even considering it is?" Jake looked up at him, a sick knot in his stomach.

"It'd be one less person who could really hurt you," Rock told him softly. "And one of the other candidates ... if what I've heard is true, she's a grade-A headcase, and there's no way to prove it. Mostly the first one there."

"Rock ... you know that if you accept, and anything goes really wrong, it'll kill me for real, for good," he looked up with worry on his face.

"I'm not sure if I will accept," Rock told him, kissing his cheek gently. "And besides, if I accept, that's not necessarily proof that I'll be the one who gets the job anyways, I don't think. It'll be a mark in my favor, but there are at least two others who've got a good shot at it in this city alone."

Jake nodded and stretched up to claim a real kiss. "Thanks for the warning, love," he murmured. "It's more than we usually get."

"Yeah ... don't worry, I haven't promised anything," Rock murmured, wrapping his arms around him and holding him close. "Haven't even agreed to anything more than meeting the others at the Temple. So ... want to relax a bit?"

"Yes," Jake smiled and squirmed into his lap to claim a full-on kiss while nimble fingers unbuckled Rock's belt. "Until neither of us can move anymore," he added with a lusty rumble.

"Simple, or more complicated?" Rock grinned. "For some strange reason, I think I'm leaning towards complicated today," he winked.

"And tape it for your friends?" Jake raised an eyebrow with a grin. "How about a challenge? See just how many kinks of mine we can work in before I can't take anymore."

"Hey, if you're up for taping it, works for me," Rock purred. "I'll just have to remember you've got work in a day or two," he teased lightly.

"Mmm, yes," he licked his whiskers and slid his hand inside Rock's unzipped pants to rub his full sheath. "There is still plenty we can do."

"Oh yeah," Rock grinned, kissing him and reaching down to undo Jake's pants. "Mmm ... maybe I'll invite the neighbors over to watch too," he teased, squeezing his rump. "Let them handle the camera," he winked.

"You won't hear me object," he moaned and arched up to press against his lover's chest as his breath quickened.

Rock made short work of undressing his lover, rubbing his sides and back, claws tracing along his sides lightly as they made out.

"Go pull the hooks down, I'll grab the toys," he grinned, licking Jake's nose playfully when the smaller tom whimpered at the loss of contact.

It took a moment for the words to register, but he reluctantly slid off his lover's lap and walked to their bedroom to set the wrist hook and ankle straps up, then turned to watch Rock pick out quite a selection of his favorite toys for the evening.

The ones he'd been expecting were out first; the needle-lined cock ring, the slender metal rod to slide down into his shaft once he was hard, the declawed hellcat they'd gotten after Kathie had demonstrated just how thoroughly it got him off ... really, most of them were suggestions she'd made for them and took care to be sure they knew how to use them to best effect for the least damage.

The cuffs came out next, along with the blindfold, and Rock walked over to bind his naked lover, his hands above his head, his eyes covered as Rock walked around him, clawing his back and sides lightly, tracing furrows through his cinnamon fur.

"Ohhh," Jake moaned and pressed into the contact, his muscles rippling as his tail curled to the side to expose his ass.

"Wait here," Rock purred, leaving him alone and heading out the front door, presumably to get their neighbors.

He would chain him up first, with nothing in him or on him to keep his mind from what was coming. Hopefully it wouldn't take long to get them to come over, if they were going to.

Jake squirmed a bit, thinking about what he'd seen come out. If Rock didn't get back soon, the cockring wouldn't go on; he'd be far too hard for it. He whimpered softly at that thought, of losing out on the tiny needles piercing his most sensitive skin.

The door opened and closed a few moments later, and he could smell the two males and Jaguarundi fem from across the hall. With them were three much less familiar scents; a Wolf bitch, her male, and another female Kat.

"Well, he certainly looks good," Joe rumbled deeply.

"He'll look better soon," Rock grinned, and Jake was glad to feel the cockring going on, just in time to keep him from getting too hard for it. It was enough to make Jake whimper, his body responding to the tiny, sharp pain with a surge of arousal. "We've got a camera over there; you guys get it running?" He suggested, nuzzling Jake's neck from behind.

"Sure thing," Shanisha purred deeply and quickly moved to take charge of the device.

"Who else is here?" Jake asked with a trembling moan as Rock's had tightened around his balls, squeezing them.

"Martina and Randal Queensblood, and her pet, Judie Feral," Rock told him just before claiming his mouth in a kiss that melted all resistance to anything.

"He promised quite a show," Martina's strong voice rumbled, openly eager for the display of pain and blood that was to come.

"So, how do you want to start?" Rock asked Jake with a low rumble, enjoying the way his lover trembled in anticipation. "The whip, shocks, claws, or burns?" He licked Jake's neck, running his claws up his tender sheath, tracing the old scar up his cock before playing a claw along the spongy cone at the top.

"Anything," Jake cried out when Rock made a tiny pinprick in his cock's head with a claw. "Anything, Master."

"Then why don't we start by prettying you up, hmm?" Rock grinned, nipping his shoulder lightly and hooking a claw through one of his barbs. He purred deeply at the way Jake thrust his hips forward into his hand and the whimpering sounds of approval.

A few more piercings, and he moved around, licking the blood and pre-cum from Jake's quivering, rock-hard cock before fetching a length of fine gold chain, starting to thread it through the small holes he'd made, encircling the lean tom's shaft and going down to the top of his sheath.

"Definitely pretty," Shanisha purred deeply and watched in fascination of just how Jake reacted to pure pain.

"Hot too," Judie purred. "Damn he likes that."

"I haven't even gotten started yet," Rock grinned, leaving the chains around Jake's shaft as he stood, licking Jake's nipples, coaxing them to hardness before piercing them with his claws and hooking a pair of small loops through.

"Tease," Jake whimpered with a shudder.

"Oh, he's not teasing yet," Randall chuckled. "Not if I'm right about what he has in mind."

"And what do you think I have in mind?" Rock asked, nuzzling Jake's collarbone as he string some more of the chain between the piercings.

"Have you ever tried doing more than just putting the piercings in for him?" The male Wolf grinned.

"Oh, I think I get the idea now," Rock rumbled deeply. A moment passed, then he hung something from the chain, making it tug at Jake's pierced nipples and making the lean tom pant slightly.

"Simple, but a nice show," Rock stepped back to consider his work and nodded before going to the Kat-cock dildo and spread a thin layer of gel on it. "For the audience, this emits an electric shock at random intervals."

"Sounds like fun," Mike grinned.

"Oh it is... especially for him," Rock grinned, pressing the dildo up into Jake's ass, leaving the switch off as he made sure the tip was seated up against his prostate. "Ready, pet?"

"Always," Jake shivered, both in anticipation and the pleasure of being filled.

Rock flipped the switch, letting the first jolt rip through Jake's ass and prostate with a crack that was still barely audible outside of his body. The effect was instant and obvious as Jake stiffened and cried out, a sound nearly desperate in his need to come from the raw pain already inflicted on him.

His shaft twitched and oozed blood, the cock-ring keeping him from actually getting the release he wanted so badly. Rock worked the dildo in and out of him, the electrode-barbs occasionally sparking inside his body as they went off in random places and at random times.

"Do you want to come, pet?" Rock purred, nipping at his throat as the needles dug into his rigid member. "Or do you want to keep going until you don't have a choice?"

"No choice," Jake managed to gasp out, his entire body trembling in need.

Rock thrust the dildo up deep into his ass, the bulge at the end the only thing keeping it from disappearing into him entirely as he bit down on Jake's scruff roughly, tugging at it, rubbing his own shaft against his rump.

Each spark that went into Jake's body drew another delicious cry and harder trembling, but he held it back, wanting more before he gave into the intense burning pleasure.

"Being difficult tonight, are we?" Rock rumbled around his scruff as the dildo was thrust in and out roughly. "Joe."

"Yes, sir," the male Jaguarundi nodded and stood. While Rock continued the punishing pace with the dildo, he took the slender metal rod and dipped it in the capsicum oil. "Still a minute, 'k?"

Rock held still now, leaving the dildo in Jake's ass, reaching around to grip his cock and hold it still for the other tom.

Jake whimpered, wondering what was about to happen with his body held so still.

Joe licked his whiskers and slid the tip of the rod up Jake's cock, leaving a trail of chemical fire on the sensitive flesh. It was quite enough to make Jake sob at how badly his body rebelled at being held back.

"Don't stand directly in front of him when it goes in; it can come out like a rocket," Rock grinned down at the Jaguarundi as he ran it around the very tip of Jake's throbbing, dripping cock.

"Please," Jake begged, almost desperate for the incredible pain and sensations of the capsicum oil and rod inside his urethra.

There was a pause, the rod leaving Jake's shaft for a moment. He didn't know what was up ... then the metal rod pressed up against the slit in his tip, and the raw, burning pain that flooded his nerves told him exactly what the delay had been. Joe had dipped it in the oil again, giving him a full-strength shot of liquid pain straight to his nerves.

It was all Jake could do to hold back for a few seconds, to give the rod and oil time to set off every nerve in his body. He drew a gasping sob, then screamed as Rock pulled the dildo almost completely out of his ass and shoved it back in, right into his prostate with a full charge of the shock.

Joe had just a half a moment to duck before Jake's cock spasmed, spraying cum out from behind the rod as it shot across the room. Mike yelped as it hit him, and Rock purred as he worked the sparking dildo against Jake's prostate until he was completely spent, hanging limply by his wrists as his body twitched.

"You have a real prize there," Martina rumbled deep in her chest. "To be so into pain ... it's amazing."

"I'd push him farther, but his job gets in the way," Rock rumbled, nuzzling Jake's neck and pulling the dildo out of him, turning it off. "You want your ass filled, don't you?" He crooned into Jake's ear, reaching around to lightly claw his pubes.

"Yes," Jake gasped out as he struggled to stand on his feet with mixed success. "Take me."

"In a bit," Rock rumbled hotly, reaching down to stroke his bloody cock, rubbing the chains against his member.

He reached up, undoing the cuffs, keeping Jake from falling to the floor completely as he helped him down onto his hands and knees, the weight swinging down low, tugging at his nipples and drawing a groan from the prone tom.

It didn't take long for Jake to sink forward, leaving his rump up but most of his weight on his chest against the floor.

Rock opened up the drink cabinet, pulling out the heavily cut capsaicin he used for milder drinks and taking the top off. He raised Jake's tail, dribbling a bit of the liquid into Jake's stretched out ass, letting it burn its way up his insides.

"Mind if I borrow Mike for a bit?" He asked the two Jaguarundis with a grin as Jake whimpered and squirmed.

"Not at all," the pair grinned back even as the Cocker Spaniel stood, his short tail wagging quickly as he waited for instructions.

"Suck him off, while I take him," Rock purred deeply, gripping Jake's hips and rubbing his cock against his ass, enjoying the hint of tingling heat from the liquid still around Jake's pucker. "Do a good job of making him appreciate those chains, and I'll see about a special reward for you," he winked, then groaned as he sank himself into Jake's burning ass. There was just enough capsicum left there to give a bite to it along with the tight pleasure.

"Let me under," Mike nudged the side of Jake's muzzle. "It'll be worth the effort," he promised, helping the exhausted tom to lift himself up by his arms and squirmed under him, letting most of Jake's weight rest on his back as he nuzzled the still-hard cock, making the fine chains tinkle against each other.

Rock reached up, running his claws down Jake's back as he started thrusting slowly, savoring the feel of his mate's body around his, Mike holding himself so that the weight between Jake's nipples was still free to swing, tugging at them with every movement.

Soon Jake moaned deeply, his body moving and tightening in time with the thrusts as Mike slowly engulfed his cock in his mouth and began to work the fine chains with his spongy tongue.

Rock sank his claws into Jake's back slightly, blood oozing through his fur as he shifted to hit his prostate, pushing him forward into the Cocker Spaniel's mouth. Mike pressed the chains against his shaft, rubbing them against the sensitive flesh there as he suckled and licked at Jake's member, his tail wagging hard and fast.

"Oh yeah," Jake arched into the pain eagerly, his body tightening around Rock's cock as he began to thrust into Mike's mouth more willingly.

Rock growled lowly, his balls starting to twitch as he fucked Jake hard and fast, sinking his claws deeper into his shoulders. Finally, he roared, pumping a thick, hot load of his seed deep into Jake's ass.

"More," Jake moaned when Rock stilled to catch his breath.

"Mmm ... in a bit," Rock grinned down, pulling out of him, semen dripping down his balls. "Mike? I should be good enough not to get you, but do you or your Masters want me to be certain I don't?" He asked, picking up the declawed hellcat that had gone unused up to this point.

"Try your best not to," Shanisha said. "Pain isn't his thing, just subbing."

"Promise then," Rock nodded with a grin, limbering up the whip and bringing it down across the fresh cuts in Jake's back.

The yelping cry turned into a deep moan as Jake lifted himself up to give Rock a straighter target and put his back further away from the hungry canine sucking his cock, using the fine chains attached to it to very good effect.

Rock reached up, taking the blindfold off of Jake, letting him see their audience of five, Shanisa still using the camera, and Judie was pressed between her two Masters, only manners keeping the two Wolves from enjoying their pet along with the show.

Rock promptly got his attention back, bringing the multi-thonged whip across his ass, blood seeping from the shallow cuts the studs on its length left in his hide.

"Ohhhh!" Jake thrust his hips forward, nearly choking his eager Cocker Spaniel for a moment before drawing back with a shudder at the combined effects of pleasure on one side and pain on the other. "Love that thing."

"I know you do," Rock purred, the next hit curling around to catch Jake's stomach, just a few inches above Mike's head. "How much longer do you think you can hold out?" He grinned, aiming the next blow below Jake's tail, the thongs of the whip twisting around his firm buttocks, clipping the nerve-dense flesh he's just stretched out so well.

Jake whimpered, his cock jumping in Mike's mouth.

"Up," the lean tom ordered, tugging on Mike's shoulders. The Spaniel was startled, but did as he was told, pulling back and looking up at Jake. "Just support," Jake got out before he cried out from the next strike across his back, his body trembling at just the edge of an orgasm he was tried to hold back.

Mike took Jake's arms over his shoulders, scratching at his bloody back lightly with his blunt claws, licking his neck as Rock took the whip low again, up between Jake's legs to cut into the tender flesh behind his balls.

It was all Jake could take and he roared, his hips jerking up as his balls gave their all, splashing his seed all over Mike's chest.

Mike yurred softly, nuzzling Jake's neck as he was splashed, Rock finally putting the whip down and licking one of his lover's cuts.

"Any other toys?" Jake panted, clearly spent but game for more if it was on offer.

"Yes, but you have to go back to work in two days," Rock had to laugh before he kissed him soundly. "I'll string you up in the shower, just no more damage for a few days."

"Deal," Jake relaxed into the contact, oblivious to his audience, or even the Kantin sitting in front of him with his seed oozing down his front.

Rock purred, helping him up and starting back for the shower.

"Hope you guys all liked the show," he grinned back at them. "Leave the tape; Mike, we'll talk over your reward once he's lucid again, but I've got a couple ideas I think you'll love."

"I don't doubt it," Mike grinned and stood. "Need any help cleaning him up? I am a full time paramedic."

"No thanks," Rock grinned back. "I'll keep it in mind if things ever get more serious though," he added seriously, before getting Jake out of the bedroom and into the large shower they made such good use of while their guests found their own way out.

Chance panted, sucking air into his lungs as his body shook uncontrollably. Midnight was below him, her slender legs wrapped around his. He knew her body was squeezing down around him, but he could barely feel it, her body was so full of their juices.

Even after years together, kittens together, it still amazed him at times what her scent and body could do to him. She'd been a lovely, tiny thing with something of a chest when they met. Now, she had an incredible chest, a real curve on her hips, and was still tiny and delicate everywhere else.

"Love you," she purred and nuzzled him affectionately.

"Love you too," he panted, holding her close as they snuggled and enjoyed the afterglow. "Damn you're hot."

"I've never felt like this with anyone else," she purred, running a hand down his side. "Have you thought about my next heat?"

"Mmm ... some," he rumbled. "Are you sure you want another litter this soon? Especially if they turn out to be trip's again?" He chuckled.

"Ah, baby, I love being pregnant, and having kittens," she purred deeply. "I'd have them every time, if we could afford it."

"Well, I definitely think we can handle another litter," he purred, rubbing her back as she snuggled against him happily. "Your folks didn't know what they were in for when they let you marry a Furlong," he chuckled, kissing her tenderly.

"No, but I did," she smiled and nuzzled him. "Schedule the time off in six weeks then."

"I'll see what I can do," he chuckled. "Mmm ... so, how big a litter do you think we'll have this time? And just how many do you plan to stop after?" He added, scratching her side playfully. "You can only feed so many at once, you know," he teased.

"This litter will be weaned by the time I conceive the next," she giggled. "I'll stop when I need to, or you want to. My family tends towards small litters, so two or three are most likely, given we got three my first time."

"I'll hope you're right," he chuckled. "I don't know if you're up to five or six," he teased, rubbing her belly tenderly.

"They'd weigh more than me, I think," she laughed lightly, then her ears flicked. "Heather wants attention," she murmured and kissed them as they reluctantly separated. "At least she waited this time."

"Better than last time," he purred, kissing her back before she got up to pull on her nightgown. "Though sometimes I think you're psychic about those kits; I couldn't hear a thing."

"I'm their mother," she smiled knowingly at him before she slipped from the room.

Terin grinned as Chance and Jake came into the Special Forces training gym, her short tail flicking happily to see them and most of her short, tawny, spotted fur on display with only a muscle shirt and shorts to cover her.

"So, you guys didn't chicken out," she grinned. "Good to see you; we've got the best around to put your tails on the mat tonight. Captains Sharten and both Killhearts are in."

"You'll need the best," Jake grinned cheekily back.

"Pff - confident, aren't you?" the wiry Serval smirked. "How 'bout you, Chance?"

"What about me?" the tabby chuckled. "Ready to join in, and smart enough to know I'm not gonna beat anybody while I'm following the rules, so I'm not worried about it."

"Oh, so now you're following the rules?" She grinned. "Feral must've put the scare in you."

"Huh?" He asked, cocking his head and trying to figure out what she was talking about.

"Oh c'mon, we've all heard about it. Spending your next night off on deathwatch? Whatever you did to piss Feral off, I hope you enjoyed it."

"Chance?" Jake looked over at his partner with a raised eyebrow. "How'd you manage that without me?"

"Eh, don't ask," Chance grumbled. "Remember that day I spent in and out of Feral's office a couple weeks ago?"

"Yeah," Jake looked at him funny, then shook his head. "All right."

"So what happened?" Terin pressed. "He catch you with his niece or something?"

"Terin, don't," Chance told her seriously. "It's nothing big, okay? I'll lose a night off, watch that bastard swing, and Feral'll be happy. C'mon, we came here to train, right?"

"Uhm ... right," Terin said dubiously, startled by Chance's reluctance to talk about it. "Let's get going."

"So how is training going to start?" Jake asked to change the subject.

"By a two on one match with us," A powerfully built tri-colored shewolf told him, glaring down at the flyboys with an even larger black male at her side.

"The Captains Killheart," Terin supplied. "She's Hala, he's Xax."

"Whoa," Chance murmured, looking up at the two Kantin. "So uh ... who's got the two, and who's got the one?" he half-joked.

"Clawson against us," Hala said evenly. "You're up against Mirix," she nodded towards a smaller male Wolf with white fur, a black chest and crystal blue eyes.

"Just remember Jake, you've got to stop while you can still fly this time," Chance murmured, turning to look at the Wolf he was supposed to fight, still taller than him by almost a full head and build like a brick, but a much better match than the two Alphas.

"I'll remember," he nodded and sized up his opponents.

"So will we," Hala added. "We have watched many of your MMA matches."

"I'd be disappointed if you hadn't," Jake cracked a grin at her and turned to the central circle in the mat floor for matches.

"Hold up, we're going to watch your partner first," Hala told them.

"Thanks," Chance chuckled slightly. Now that he could size up the Wolf a bit better, he was a bit more confident. He was pretty sure he'd still get his tail handed to him - he was going to be fighting somebody from Special Ops, after all - but he was reasonably sure he could keep from embarrassing himself entirely now.

"She's not out to embarrass you," Mirix chuckled low in his throat as they took to the mat. "Neither am I. We're just trying to get a feel for your strengths, weaknesses and natural style. I understand you are a street-trained wrestler?"

"Wrestler, boxer, bit of both," Chance explained. "The 'whatever works that doesn't get you killed' school of fighting," he added.

"It's a good place to start," Mirix nodded. "Ground rules: no eye, throat or groin strikes, at least not until we both know you're good enough not to do real damage when you spar."

"Anything else?" Chance asked him, rolling his shoulders and stretching out his muscles, getting ready for the fight.

"Nope," the black-chested white Wolf grinned and dropped into a balanced defensive stance. "We don't believe that there are rules on the street."

"Not that I ever noticed," Chance agreed, shifting into his own stance, keeping his eyes on his opponent, getting a feel for the role he was supposed to take for now. They circled for a few moments, Mirix holding a defensive stance as they gauged each other.

It wasn't long before Chance moved in for the attack, staying as light on his feet as he could so he could try and stay clear of any of Mirix's attacks. He was keeping especially close watch on his feet, knowing that the fighters here knew he had problems with kicks.

His first punch met thin air, and before he could blink he was flat on his back, staring up at a shadow as Mirix stepped back.

He twisted to his feet, tail swishing behind him as he tried to figure out what had just happened, so he could keep it from happening again. The Wolf couldn't be that much faster than he was.

At least he didn't think he'd lost that much of his skill.

He only just saw the punch coming at him as Mirix took to the offensive and closed on him fast.

He twisted back, throwing an arm up to deflect the blow, his other fist shooting forward to meet the Wolf. He felt the punch catch him; he hadn't managed to block it, but twisting back had kept it from hitting with its full force. His own punch clipped Mirix's shoulder, but it was a glancing blow at best.

At least he was making contact now.

He tried to keep his breath in as a blow caught his midsection when he moved away from the one headed for his face.

He twisted again, spinning this time and bringing his arm around in a backhanded blow that hit only air as he was taken down to the mat again with a grunt.

Damn this guy was fast!

Chance got to his feet again, passingly grateful that this wasn't a real fight. If Mirix hadn't backed off after each takedown, he'd be hurting bad right now. They circled each other briefly before the Wolf closed in on him again, this time to grapple in a test of strength.

This, Chance was good at. He caught the Wolf, grabbing hold of him and pulling him close enough that he'd have to take them both down to drop Chance.

He didn't doubt that Mirix would be willing to do it, but he was actually hoping he would. If he could get it down to a matter of strength, he'd have a chance. He could already feel that he had a minor weight and definite strength edge, but he was sure his opponent held the lead for skill and probably for sense of balance.

Chance's eyes went wide at the abrupt appearance of sharp teeth and powerful jaws open right in front of him.

Without thinking about it, he ducked his head, bringing it up under Mirix's jaw to slam it shut the only way he could without losing his grip. He got a grunt of surprise for his efforts, and he was fairly sure a sound of approval from the sidelines somewhere.

A click of a tongue came from there as well, and Mirix shifted from just trying to push Chance around to a twisting sweep to take them to the ground.

Chance grunted as he hit the ground, but quickly pushed up, twisting to try and get on top of the Wolf, putting all his weight into the shove and every advantage he knew he had to pin the squirming, struggling Wolf down and keep him there.

His body was straining to keep up when Mirix made a surprise twist and got a leg loose. Suddenly Chance felt a strong paw under his midsection just before it kicked up and out.

It wasn't full strength, the position wouldn't allow it, but it was enough to knock the wind partially out of him when he landed on his tail. He barely had time to blink before Mirix was on him, trying to pin him.

He was trying to suck in air enough to breathe, to keep fighting, but it wasn't easy. The only thing that was keeping him from admitting he was beaten was sheer stubbornness, something he had in spades.

"Kiet!" Hala called out sharply, causing Mirix to let go and straightened up.

"Good fight there, Furlong," the white-chested black Wolf said and offered him a hand up.

"Thanks," Chance panted, standing up and giving a respectful bow to his opponent. "Glad you weren't really trying to take me out," he half-grinned.

Mirix cracked a wicked grin before they walked out of the circle. "Just wait until you see what the Alphas do to your partner."

"I'm trying not to think about it too hard," Chance admitted as they got clear, Jake following the two Alphas to the mat. "Any idea why they're going for two on one?"

"Because they know very well how he hands one on one," Mirix chuckled. "His Mixed Martial Arts matches are quite well recorded, you know."

"True," Chance conceded as Jake settled into a defensive stance in the center of the mat with a Wolf in front of him and a Wolf behind him. "Well, let's see how it goes."

Jake was a lot more cautious this way. He was trying to keep his attention split between the two of them, and that put an entirely new angle on things than Chance usually saw in a match or in a fight. He wasn't sure just how he was going to handle it, honestly, and this side of Jake's fighting was all new.

Hala moved first with a fast rush that would take most opponents down under her hard mass, or squarely into the bigger mass beyond.

Jake ... he went straight up, angling to come down on her head if she didn't alter course.

She did, of course, twisting out of the way and wheeling around to face him when he landed, swinging at him to try and catch him between her and her mate.

"I don't think he does fighting on the ground," Chance mused and watched as the two Wolves shifted around, working Jake with a skill of a lifetime of hunting together as they traded blows that rarely hit.

Xax mad a sudden lunge at almost the same moment as Hala, only this time when Jake leapt up and out of the way, Xax was ready for it and lunged up himself.

The Wolf clamped his jaws down around Jake's right arm and wrapped his arms around his body, pulling them both down to the mat with a heavy thump that left both a bit stunned.

For Xax, it wasn't much of a loss, but for Jake, by the time he'd caught his breath and oriented himself, Hala had him pinned down with her jaws on his throat, her powerful legs pinning his and one hand splayed out in a threat to his groin.

"Shit," Chance swore under his breath, both in surprise at seeing the two Wolves react the way they had, and in concern that Jake might not realize he should surrender here.

He was pretty sure he would ... Jake wasn't stupid, and this wasn't a match or the real thing ... but he was unpredictable at the same time when he got it in his head to win.

"It's called team tactics," Mirix said with a grin as Jake relaxed in surrender. "Something Kats aren't as good at as we are."

"You do realize you're talking to a pilot and his gunner, right?" Chance asked him with a bit of a chuckle. "We get teams."

"But do you get sacrificing for the team?" Mirix raised an eyebrow as Hala helped Jake up. "A few do, but not many Kats do."

"When survival's on the line? Yes," Chance said seriously. "I do, anyways. A bit more common where I come from. Think Jake does too, if it came up."

"Hard for an immortal to sacrifice much of importance," Mirix said in a mixed tone.

"You don't know what he does for his friends," Chance shrugged, trying hard not to get into an argument with this Wolf.

"Don't knock Jake just because of what he can do, Mirix," Terin agreed, walking over. "And remember, Wolves aren't the only ones who make damned good teams. Bet those two together could take any three of your pack if they had to, maybe four."

"Just don't ask for it," Chance said uneasily, his mind flashing back to when he had seen Jake in action and how bloody it tended to tern out. "Not unless you're ready for a few months off on medical leave."

"From that look, somebody is trying to set someone up for a serious beating," Jake observed as he joined the three of them with Hala and Xax.

"Well, it's not me," Chance chuckled slightly. "I'm trying to talk him out of it."

"I'm just pointing out that the Wolves don't have a monopoly on working together, that's all," Terin shrugged, though the grin she was wearing said plainly that she wouldn't have minded seeing the results.

"Uh-hu," Jake regarded her skeptically.

"Anyway," Hala interrupted, her eyes on both toms. "What is the most dangerous situation you can think of on the ground?"

"That we're likely to get into, or in general?" Chance asked her.

"That you're likely to get into, as Enforcers."

"Given our line, crashing in the middle of a riot, worse if it's one caused by a crowd panicking during an Omega attack," Chance told her.

"Pilot and gunner, remember," Terin chuckled slightly as Hala rolled her eyes. "They don't do face-to-face with perps that much."

"So fifty-to-one odds?" the big Wolf asked, trying to work out how that would actually happen.

"Something along those lines, and people we're supposed to actively try not to hurt," Chance nodded. "People who are panicked, not crooks. Any time you crash it's bad, crash where you've got a panicking crowd, and it's a disaster. One of the first things you learn flying with the Black Knights."

"Not exactly the kind of danger I was thinking of," Hala admitted with a shake of her head. "There is little training will help there. You just have to clear out."

"Well, you didn't ask for something you could train about," Chance pointed out. "Beyond that ... probably somebody getting the drop on one of us with a gun or a blaster. Not likely to happen these days, but probably more along the lines of what you're thinking of."

"More along the lines of what we face," she nodded. "We have a move that almost always works, if you're interested."

"Sure," Chance nodded with a glance at Jake. "Never know when it'll come in handy."

She nodded. "Want to see it in action, or just learn?"

"Will we be the ones holding the blasters?" Chance asked with a knowing grin.

"If you want," she grinned back.

"They better be," Mirix grumbled even as he walked over to a cabinet and pulled out two blasters..

"Just for reference, when you pull the trigger, they do fire, just not enough of a charge to do much damage," Hala told them.

"Which is a good thing," Terin chuckled as Jake and Chance took the blasters. "When you're learning, you've got a good chance of getting shot at least once."

"Jake first?" Chance glanced at his partner hopefully.

"You are such a pussy sometimes," Jake laughed and checked his weapon. "Okay, who am I trying to bust?"

"SandClaw," Hala nodded to the Serval.

"Hey, you're the one who doesn't really mind getting things broken, if it happens," Chance chuckled as Terin rolled her eyes.

"You're just worried about getting home and having to explain a sprained arm on a night you weren't in the air," she teased Chance and stepped up to the mat.

"What range?" Jake glanced between them.

"Any you want," Captain Sharten spoke up for the first time. "She can take you."

"Don't give him any ideas, Cap, please," Terin looked at the part-Panther. "Have you seen what he does to people?"

"He's a gunner," Sharten reminded her.

"He's a ranking MMA fighter," she told him.

"Freeze!" Jake used her distraction to get to near touching distance from her head, the muzzle of the blaster less than an inch from her skull.

She nearly jumped in surprise, raising her hands in the correct respect and shifted back in a natural seeming nervousness until she felt the blaster against her skull.

With the same casualness, she shifted her head forward just a bit.

"Do not move," Jake growled in warning, shifting one hand from his blaster to reach for a pair of cuffs that weren't there, but would have been.

Staring right at her, he didn't even see her twist her hips sideways until her hand was on his wrist and she yanked him forward. If was only enough to take him off balance for more than a second, but it was enough for her to grab the blaster by the barrel and twist it out of his hand.

Any other situation, Jake probably would have fought back, but he reminded himself not to this time. The entire move took less than a second, and left Jake unarmed and Terin with his blaster in her hand, ready to turn on him if she had to.

"I'm impressed," he admitted. "Ready to try that when I have a clue you can?"

"Sure," she nodded, handing the blaster back to him. "Just remember, no fair pulling the trigger just to stop me," she added with a chuckle.

"I won't," he promised and stepped back several paces. "Now freeze," he raised the weapon, leveling it at her chest.

Chance watched, taking mental notes of what she was doing, and how she was doing it; he was going to be next, and he wanted at least some idea of what would happen.

"He learns fast, I'll give him that," Hala murmured to Captain Sharten.

"You expected any less?" he chuckled in return. "That's not just any gunner."

"As has been pointed out several times already," she said dryly and watched as Terin worked to get close enough to touch and Jake warily tried to keep her just a bit further out. "You're going to have to cuff her sometime, Jake," she called out.

He flattened his ears slightly and stepped forward, getting into her arm's reach, though she seemed to be cooperating.

It ended in a flash as she took half a step forward, twisting her hips to move her body out of the way. The blaster went off as she grabbed his wrist and pulled, grazing her side without doing any credible damage.

Again, faster than any of them could follow, she was two paces away from a shocked opponent with the blaster leveled at him.

"Y'know, one problem with this occurs to me ... it works against Enforcers pretty well, but only because we're not supposed to go around shooting people. A jittery crook, even if he was close enough to pull it off, don't know how well it'd work," Chance observed. "This time only worked because Jake had to go up and cuff her."

"You are right," Hala acknowledged. "It won't work on someone who intends to shoot you. But jittery, it does usually work on. Go in and take Jake's place. Play a bank robber. You've got Enforcers outside, and she's your hostage."

"Well, at least this probably won't take long," Chance half-joked, knowing the scenario, or any other he'd be given, would need him within arm's reach before long. On the bright side, this one gave him the leeway to get a grip on her arm before they were ready to go, something Jake had to wait to do.

"Hold still and keep quiet and you'll get out of this alive," he growled lowly, holding the blaster to her head.

He barely realized he'd pulled the trigger when things became a blur.

It was the last thought he managed before he was staring up at the ceiling with only a vague sense of movement from when she'd grabbed his gun-hand and thrown him.

"Anybody want to see that in slow-motion?" Terin asked as she offered Chance a hand up.

"No thanks," Chance chuckled as he stood up. "Sorry 'bout your fur," he added, noticing the short, singed fur on her cheek where he'd clipped her.

"No problem," she grinned. "You've got a damn fast trigger finger," she grinned at him with real approval.

"Well, I want to see it," Jake said firmly. "Even if it's not useful as it is for you, it's a good trick. It'd probably work with a knife too."

"I just meant I don't want to see the part where I get my ass knocked to the mat in slow-mo," Chance chuckled. "The move, I'm up for."

"Generally, yes," Hala nodded. "Come on Xax, let's teach the flyboys how to fight Special Ops."

Conroy smirked inwardly, smugly satisfied with his work as he was led back to Doug's cell. It was a long walk, through Alkatraz' Death Row, and to the very back of it at that. From here, it was just a short walk to the execution chambers that waited for the dozens of kats sitting quietly in their cells, occasionally glancing up at the massive Xanith being led past them, their attention attracted to him by some subconscious sense that he deserved it.

He paid them no mind though. His attention was entirely on Doug Berten, and what he was about to set in motion.

"Visitor for you, Berten," the guard said gruffly, letting him in, standing nearby in case he tried anything.

"Good evening, Douglas," Conroy rumbled lowly.

"Good evening, Conroy," he nodded to the priest who had become his friend and confidant. "This is the last time, isn't it?"

"Yes ... just a few more hours now. Have you had your meal, or is that waiting yet?"

"Roast chicken and sweet potato hash," he nodded. "It was good. It's been ages since I had real food."

"That's not what you really want though, is it?" The priest rumbled lowly. "You are still willing to go through with this, I assume?" He asked, pulling out a different bottle of oil from the first time, the last one to complete the anointment and spells he had spent weeks putting in place.

"Yes," he nodded to both questions. "I'm ready."

Conroy took the top off the bottle, staining his fingers and marking Doug's head.

"You know what you have to do, yes?" He rumbled deeply. "Go along with the guards ... let them think that they are killing you. And keep faith. You will be His chosen servant soon."

"I understand," he nodded, though there was a nervous edge to it. "Am I going to feel it?"

"If they do it right ... no," Conroy reassured him. "A proper hanging will break your neck, you'll be unconscious before you strangle. And they're very careful about that sort of thing; it's bad press if they're not."

Doug paused, then chuckled weakly. "Given who some of the survivors have become, I'm not so sure they'd care about bad press just now."

"The Commander himself is going to be here," Conroy chuckled. "Don't worry though ... there's nobody more concerned with appearances than that pompous waste of fur."

"Maybe," Doug nodded. "He's pretty eager though; even came down to gloat today. He's been looking forward to this for most of his life. I really should have known he'd be trouble, being a Feral."

"Oh, he's not going to be the biggest trouble you'll have," Conroy purred lowly. "I understand another of your little friends pulled some strings to be here tonight. Maybe you'll recognize him."

"The tabby," Doug stiffened, suddenly sure of it, then he frowned. "No, he wouldn't have to pull any strings. He'd be in the front row with the rest."

"Perhaps ... at any rate, he doesn't want anybody to know who you are to him. But I want you to know. You're his nightmare, Douglas. Just like you are for everybody else here to watch you. And you're going to be the Boogiekat, very soon ... nobody will be able to stop you. And you'll have a chance to repay some of the injustices you've suffered as well."

"Yes," he purred deeply, looking forward to the results of today, after the unconsciousness and death were behind him. "It will be incredible. I will enjoy looking at all their faces. To see for myself what they feel towards me and my work."

"Just remember ... what I need from you is terror," the priest said lowly, conscious of the guards nearby, but keeping quiet enough they wouldn't hear him. "From this entire city ... make yourself memorable, Douglas. Remind them of why you were the terror of this city. Make sure there is at least one who will remember you, at first."

The old tom nodded. "I will," he promised. "Will I see you again, after today?"

"Perhaps ... when I want to see you, however," Conroy said with a low growl. "If you try to double-cross me, you will discover entirely new definitions of punishment."

"Right," Doug blinked, at an utter loss for the sudden turn of mood. "Why would I ever want to?"

"You probably wouldn't," Conroy granted. "I've learned that paranoia is a very healthy quality though, when dealing with people like what you will become. I believe they're on the way ... be strong, and have faith in Rapentap. All is in place, and the only way you can lose what you have coming to you is if you live."

"Somehow, I expect that won't be a problem," Doug chuckled darkly. "Far too many people intend it to happen, by hanging or otherwise."

Chance checked his uniform and blaster one last time before heading out to meet the other guards he'd be working with tonight. He wasn't nervous, though he had to admit his nerves were shot. It was a strange feeling, really. He knew that tonight was going to be fine. He wasn't worried about how well he performed - if it came down to it, he knew what he'd do, and he knew he was quite capable of it. Doug Berten was going to pay for what he'd done, one way or another, and then Chance was going to go home and try to finally move on with his life... really move on.

But at the same time, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was going to go horribly, horribly wrong tonight. Given that he was just as sure it was going to go fine ... it made for a unique sense of dread and confidence all at once.

"Lucky you got here when you did," a white-furred Wolf grinned as Chance came out to join the other guards.

"Oh?" Chance chuckled. "Why's that?" He asked, trying to spot the guard's nametag.

"Yeah. Newest guy's got the last meal detail. I was the lucky guy this time," Timber Winterlight said, rolling his eyes.

"Just as well," Chance chuckled grimly. "Besides, I'm only here for this. So, he freaking out yet?"

"Freaking me out, but that's about it," the Wolf grumbled. "Never saw anybody so damned easygoing about the fact he's gonna die."

"Pity," Chance shrugged. "I was hoping he'd try and bolt."

"You've really got something against this guy," Winterlight observed. "Hit somebody in your family?"

"Neighbor," Chance said with another shrug. "Not in the vic's family, so this was the only way to get in here."

"Well, watch yourself. We've got the press here, including Miss Gora this time. They're letting them make a circus out of this, so if he does bolt it'll be all over the TV."

"I'll be careful," Chance nodded, filing that bit away, though he'd already heard it was likely. This was BKK's death after all. The guy who'd terrorized the entire city for a generation. It had to be public. Too many people needed to know it was over.

"Well, let's get going ... keep quiet, and don't talk to him after he's out of the cell. Good chance he'll try to get to you, but don't let him. Remember, you're a professional tonight ... and you are going to go watch a guy die, even if he deserves it."

"I know it," Chance nodded grimly. "Don't worry. I don't want to see this fucked up any more than you do, unless he does it."

"Well, let's get going," Winterlight said, nodding back towards the corridors. "Keep to the middle as much as you can, and don't let anybody near your weapons. Never know if somebody's going to try something, and you do not want a riot on your hands if someone does."

"Right," Chance shifted, his dress grays and pilot's wings marking him as an outsider to this place as he followed the two much taller males to the cell of the person who had done more than any to define his life to this point.

When they got there ... Chance was almost disappointed, in a way. BKK ... Douglas Berten ... was talking with a hulking Xanith, as big as Feral. He seemed serious ... not frightened, not cheerful, just....


Through the eyes of an adult, he was a Kat, a tom, like anybody else. Not a monster. Not until you got inside, until you knew what he'd done. No wonder he'd blended in for decades before he'd been caught.

Then he looked up, met Chance's eyes, and smiled.

"Hello Chance," Doug greeted him. "It's been a long time."

Chance set his jaw, not responding. Hadn't been long enough ... too long at the same time. Too long to see this, but not nearly long enough to be ready for it ... in court, he'd had reasons to keep from going after his victims all over again. Now, he didn't have anything to lose.

"It's time, Doug," Winterlight told him. "Stand up, back up to the bars, you know the drill."

"Of course," he smiled politely at the Wolf who had been part of his life for the last year and put his hands through the opening in the bars to he securely cuffed. Then he stepped forward and gave them three paces between him and the door so they'd open it.

Winterlight did so, keeping his eyes on the prisoner and the priest who'd been visiting for the last month.

There was something about him he didn't like, and Chance didn't much like it either. Maybe just the fact that he would be the priest who'd try to comfort somebody like Berten in his last hours. Maybe that he'd apparently done such a good job of it.

"Should I go on ahead, or would you rather escort both of us?" Conroy asked with a low rumble.

"Andolon will show you the way," Winterlight nodded towards the buff Tiger with them.

"Thank you," he nodded, coming out and following the Tiger away. "I'll see you soon, Doug."

"Are you hoping I'll try and run, Chance?" Doug asked amicably as they took the slightly different route to the execution site.

"Keep quiet, Berten," Chance muttered. He couldn't help but start to think that Midnight had been right ... this wasn't a good idea. He should have been home tonight, with his family, not here. He wasn't going to run ... and he seemed to be enjoying seeing him.

"Have you told that pretty thing you married about us?" Doug continued on, unperturbed, not even by the low growl Winterlight gave him. "I bet your kittens are going to be lovely."

"Awfully cheerful for a man who's about to find out what the gods think of thirty years of rape and murder," Chance muttered lowly, the tip of his tail switching back and forth.

Doug smiled. "I already know. Not all of them are like your favorites. Some approve of what I do."

"Quiet down, Berten," Winterlight growled.

"What are you going to do?" He nearly laughed. "Put me in solitary? Do you know who Lt. Furlong is to me?"

"The guy who put you here," Chance growled lowly. "Now shut up!"

Winterlight to blink in surprise. His tail lashed sharply as he realized just how many favors the tabby must have called in or bluffed about to get this close, especially today, and especially with a weapon.

"You're in good company, you know," Doug continued undeterred by the hostility on one side and growing distress on the other. "Your Commander is one of my kittens too."

"I've never been yours," Chance growled, fighting to keep control.

"You've been mine for years, kitten," Doug purred. "No matter how much you've tried to fight it."

"Furlong, be quiet," Winterlight hissed in his ear, a plea and warning all in one.

Chance did as he was told, tail lashing, the fur along it fluffed out in agitation. Damn it ... maybe he didn't look like a monster, but he was one, all the same.

At least it wasn't far now. They turned a corner and saw the door labeled 'Execution Chamber.'

"Halt," Winterlight ordered, pausing both smaller toms before he walked forward to unlock the door.

It was only now that Chance realized how very quiet it was. Almost solemn. He had a feeling that the prisoners were normally rowdier ... was it the execution, or who was getting it?

When they entered the sterile room the size of tennis court he spotted Feral first, his eyes almost reflexively drawn to the Commander's dress uniform and its fair sized collection of medals and ribbons. Next to him on the hanging platform was the priest, a Kat that somehow managed to be both bigger and more imposing than the one next to him.

Andolon was off to one side of the room with several other guards, and Winterlight quietly told Chance to join them as he led the prisoner to the platform and the three Kats waiting there.

The tabby did so, glad to be further away from Berten as he walked up the platform, his eyes moving between the Commander, the priest and the hangkat, his tail swishing back and forth ... now he was starting to look nervous.

This was how it was supposed to be, Chance felt. It was his turn to be worried, scared. His turn to die.

On a level, Chance wished that execution methods hadn't become so civilized in the last century. Someone like Berten deserved some of those old methods Jake and Zach could go on for hours on. Like the penalty for treason in Megalith City times, or the death of ten thousand cuts from Xenquii.

The priest spoke a final few words to Berten, touched Berten's forehead briefly, and stepped away before turning to walk down the stairs to the space under the platform where the rope would stop Berten's fall.

The hangkat put the hood over Berten's face, and in that last moment Chance could see that his eyes were closed and lips moving in something like a prayer. On the other side of the viewing window, he could see some of the victims ... survivors, parents, people he'd seen in court before. Ann Gora ... Chance did a bit of a double-take as he recognized one of the younger shekats in the audience.

Connie was here ... he hadn't expected that.

She looked like she was doing okay at least. Her folks weren't with her; it didn't look like anyone was with her. Maybe she was just trying to save whoever was in her life now the trauma of seeing somebody die.

He could still remember that first look at death in the flesh, the moment when it became a real thing and not an abstract thing prettied up by funeral directors or glamorized in the movies.

That day it had been a friend, shot by people he still didn't know for reasons he still couldn't understand. The next was someone he didn't know, but had hated passionately for the minute between realizing it was a knife in his hand and breaking his face in. Later, three friends and two strangers in a car crash drove home the point of not driving drunk.

Then there was four and some years ago, and the partner he'd lost, only to get back. He wasn't exactly numb to it now, but the shock value was gone after what he'd seen of the werewolf's victims.

He held down a shudder at that memory, and at the rest that began to pour into his consciousness from deeper in his mind.

"Pssst," a very low sound to his left brought him back to the present day in time to take in the scene of Commander Feral with his hand on the lever and a potbellied piebald tom about to drop.

This one was different from all the others. Those people ... even when they deserved it, there had always been something sad about it, about the potential being lost. He just couldn't bring himself to see this the same way. If he was right about Feral being another victim, then this was a measure of justice that very few such cases had.

Feral pulled it, and the bottom dropped out beneath Berten. He fell ... but not quite far enough.

There was a choking sound, and the body twisted and writhed, jerking around in a desperate effort to escape.

Chance heard Feral gasp, a horrified sound that didn't quite seem right, then the Commander looked right at him and roared "Furlong! Shoot him!"

It took him a brief moment to realize what he'd been ordered to do ... but he did it. His blaster was out of its holster while the other guards were still shocked by the order. He fired at the struggling figure, three pulls on the trigger before he had a chance to think about it, to question what he was about to do. Each shot found its mark; the side of Berten's hood smoked where two of the shots had gone through, and his uniform was smoldering over his heart.

He had to admit. During the last few weeks, he'd occasionally fantasized about this ... about shooting Berten. But not like this. He holstered his weapon, silently struck by the complete lack of the sick feeling he'd always had when he'd risked killing somebody, let alone the one time he'd done it before.

Then it hit him just what had happened. The execution had been botched ... he'd finished the job, on orders, granted, but he'd finished it, with the cameras rolling outside and civilians watching. He glanced sideways at the window, and just saw Connie staring at him before the curtain finished falling to block off the scene.

It had all happened in the space of two breaths.

"What the Hell happened?" Feral roared with a level of fury that made even Chance jump, though that rage was focused squarely on the hangkat.

"I'll have to find out, sir," the smaller Kat said as calmly as he could, though it was clear that he was badly rattled. "I checked his weight and the length of the rope this afternoon, it shouldn't have changed that quickly. Somebody may have altered the knots since then."

"You will, or I will," Feral promised with a deadly growl. "Dismissed. Furlong," he turned to the tabby. "Go get that scale."

"Yes sir," Chance nodded, turning to look at the shocked, shaken Wolf next to him. "Do you know where they keep it?" He asked.

"Yes," Winterlight nodded, responding to the direct question without thinking. He turned to leave the execution chamber.

Chance groaned quietly as he pulled up into the driveway, laying back in the driver's seat for a moment and closing his eyes.

Hell of a night, no matter how you looked at it. He'd just spent four hours helping with the investigation into what the Hell happened with the hanging ... somebody had fucked around with the scale. Probably wouldn't keep the hangkat from getting fired, but it meant he wouldn't be up on charges unless they could prove he did it himself.

The officers who'd shown up to take charge when Feral had to finally face the cameras were something else too. None of them were people Chance knew by anything more than a call name or by reputation ... rumors, and nothing more, but they were unmistakable all the same. It was downright freaky to meet a dozen Ghosts in the flesh and realize that they weren't just a myth to inspire or threaten.

He finally got out of the car, groaning inwardly as he noticed Jake's parked a few houses down. He wasn't looking forward to this ... he didn't think that Jake was there for a morning training session, so that meant he'd probably seen the news.

Steeling himself he walked to the front door and unlocked it. When he pushed it open, it took him a moment to realize Midnight was there to greet him with a tight hug.

He returned the hug, automatically at first, then with more sincerity and enthusiasm, hugging her tightly and kissing the top of her head.

"You haven't been waiting up, have you?" He asked her with a soft murmur, not looking up just yet. He didn't want to see how many of the people whose scents he was recognizing were still there.

Jake, Rock ... Meg, maybe Mindy, then the rest of the Black Knights ... almost like a celebration, though it was far more sober.

"Yes," she murmured. "We saw the news, didn't want you to come home alone."

"How much....?"

"Kathie and Amanda watched the live broadcast," she said gently and coaxed him into the living room where his close friends and family had gathered. "They saw the botch, Feral's order, your shots."

"And so you guys all rushed over to make sure I was okay, huh?" He asked with a bit of a sigh, taking a seat next to Midnight.

"It's the first time you've had to do something like that," Rock pointed out. "Even with who he was...."

"Not really," Chance murmured, then clamped up as soon as he realized he said it. "Look, I've had a bad night and a very long morning. I'll be fine, promise."

"Son," Meg began, than paused, assessing him evenly. "Will you be up for a family and friends dinner tonight? No questions about what happened."

"Sure," he nodded. "It's just been a long night, Mom. After what you guys saw, I got a crash course in Feral on the warpath, IA, and media feeding frenzies all at once."

"Did you meet a Ghost?" Colin Black asked, trying to contain both his curiosity and worry.

"...Yeah, I did," Chance nodded. "Feral's main investigators," he explained to the people in the room who weren't Enforcers. "And I do mean Feral's from what I saw. We still don't have any real answers, but it was rough."

"Who?" Colin asked, only to get his ears bopped by Kathie when she stood. "What?"

"He's had a long shift, he's okay. No more questions on it until we get to the lodge," she ordered evenly. "Okay, Black Knights, lets go."

"Thanks," Chance said gratefully, looking at Jake in particular. "I'll see you guys tomorrow when our shift starts."

Kathie raised an eyebrow at that as her squad began their goodbyes to Midnight, Rock and Meg. "You're not flying, you know that, right?"

"So I'm being optimistic," he half-laughed. "IA's not going to be on me too much, not with Feral giving me the order, and I should be done with the head-shrinkers pretty quick, I hope. I'll still at least drop by so you guys know I really am okay."

"Good," she nodded and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "You know we're here for you, if you need a distraction from being grounded."

"Thanks," he smiled. "Just nobody go and get into anything I should be getting you out of before I'm back in the air," he added, squeezing her hand lightly before letting her head out.

"Hey, that's my job!" Joan objected playfully from where she was standing next to Meg.

"As if that's ever stopped us," Jake grinned back at her.

"After all, somebody's got to rescue you when it goes off," Chance grinned along with his partner, getting a dirty look from Joan before she was herded out along with the rest of their squadron by Kathie.

"At least you'll have a night or two to finish getting the rest of your tweaks to the Black Sun in place," Chance offered Jake once they were on their own. "Hope this didn't end up interrupting anything?"

"Nothing we wouldn't have interrupted anyways," Rock snorted. "You are family, y'know."

"And my partner," Jake nodded, then reached out to grip his shoulder. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"See you then," Chance nodded. "Unless I end up seeing you tonight," he added with a chuckle.

"Well, I'm not going to drag you two there, but you're welcome as always," Meg smiled. "Chance, Midnight, and the grandkits are the only one we'll katnap if we have to," she chuckled, giving her son a hug and kissing his cheek lightly.

"Oh, we'll be there," Rock promised with a grin. "Sleep well, cousin," he added as he and Jake turned to leave, the lean tom clearly relieved to see his partner in such good shape.

"You guys too," Chance called after them. "And you too, okay?" He murmured, kissing his mother's forehead lightly.

"I'm supposed to be taking care of you, remember," she chuckled, swatting him with her tail. "He got what he deserved, Chance. You did the right thing."

"Thanks," he murmured, hugging her again before she started out. "Should probably check with Bruce in a day or two, make sure she is handling it well," he mused after the door closed, sitting down next to Midnight again. He let out a deep sigh, leaning heavily against her.

"You were right," he murmured softly, closing his eyes and grateful for her supportive embrace.

"About what?" she asked softly.

"That I shouldn't have done this," he explained, wrapping an arm around her. "Bastard remembered me ... recognized me even. Probably would have punched him out if the other guard hadn't interrupted. And then the botched hanging ... Hell, if Feral hadn't ordered me to take the shot, I probably would have just let him strangle."

"Chance, if he hadn't ordered you to shoot, killing him would have been murder," she tried to make it sound better than it did. "You did exactly what you had to, either way."

"You're right," he murmured. "Just don't particularly like it either, either way." He sighed and rubbed her side. "Kittens were asleep before any of this got going, right?"

"Long since asleep," she nodded and kissed his cheek. "They're with your mother today. She thought you could use an uninterrupted sleep."

"Now that sounds good," he chuckled slightly, returning the kiss. "Thanks, to both of you ... so, up to bed?" He asked her hopefully, taking her hand.

"Yes," she smiled, nuzzled him, then stood. "Let's get some rest."

"What are they going to have to eat at this dinner?" R'ars almost managed not to whine. With her hands over her distended belly her loose dress could, from just the right angle, make her look less than heavily pregnant. "I'm starving."

"Barbecue, grilled meat and all sorts of sides," A'zay smiled reassuringly at her from the driver's seat of their large van.

K'dar leaned forward from the third row and patted her sister's leg. "You're always hungry, eating for two," she giggled, a strange look on her over two-foot long muzzle. "Don't worry, I hear these Furlongs are serious eaters too."

"Well, they certainly are if Chance and Stacy are any indication," A'zay chuckled. "Don't worry, they'll have plenty of food for all of us, I'm sure. The squad all chipped in to help cover the non-tabbies."

"So how many of them will be coming on such short notice?" K'dar asked curiously, watching the city streets pass by as they worked their way to the public park where it was being held.

"Stacy said it would be most of the extended family in the city," he hedged a bit around what he thought that meant and what he got the impression it did. "I'm not sure how many that is, but the clan mother said the squad and our kin would be no trouble to include."

"Oh my ... they might not even notice you," R'ars mused as she saw the large number of cars, bikes, and vehicles of all shapes and sized parked around the public park they were using for the gathering. "Are you sure you didn't drive to a carnival by mistake?" She asked with a chuckle.

"Quite sure," he nodded and found a spot for their van. "It smells too meaty for a carnival."

"Which I'm going to call a good thing," R'ars grinned, licking her long lips as they parked and climbed out, her large nose taking in the scents of the place along with her sister's and their mate's.

"Halikar protect us," a young teen nearby gasped, staring at them with frightened eyes.

"Relax!" Kathie's voice called out from further away. "They're Knights."

"She's right, guys!" Stacy called out next, closer. "This is A'zay, our Deathwalker, and his two mates, they're good."

"Sorry about that," Chance said as he approached from the crowd. "Not everybody here's familiar with the different folks we have on the squad."

"We're used to it, this far from home," A'zay grinned at him. "Sometimes I'm surprised anyone gets used to the jaws."

"Can we eat?" R'ars asked anxiously.

"Of course," Chance smiled at her, eyeing her extended belly. "When are they due?"

"Another four months," she sighed deeply. "You Kats have it so lucky, you know."

"Tell that to Midnight during the last month or so," he chuckled, indicating where they could get their food. "Andy's got the barbecue pit working full time, so help yourselves," he told them.

"Tell her about the folks who carry for a full thirteen months when she does," K'dar winked at him before following her pack to the food.

"They're why we insisted on chipping in," Kathie added softly to Meg. "Between them and the three Hyaenodon coming, the meat can disappear fast."

"Even by Furlong standards," Stacy grinned.

"We won't tip them off about where to find Andy's restaurant normally then," Meg chuckled. "I'm a little surprised those two are in the Pilot and Gunner programs."

"They're transfers," Kathie explained. "They were air corps in their homelands, or something along those lines. They aren't organized like the Enforcers are. When the first tour was over, they decided to stay."

"That makes sense," she nodded slightly. "Around here, I'd have expected them to go for the combat units," she chuckled.

"Yeah, that's what most people think until they see 'em in action," Chance grinned. "A'zay's as good a shot as Jake is."

"That's saying something," Meg raised an eyebrow at her son in surprise. "Thirteen month pregnancy ... how big are the pups when they come out?"

"Around fifty pounds, as I understand it," Kathie smiled softly, looking at the three unusual Kantin that were taller and heavier than even the big Tigers. "E'gra's will be about the same, though his mate isn't showing as much yet. Oh, and where he comes from, the surname is in front. Ku'mid is the pack name, even though they say it first."

"So ... what should we call him?" Meg asked, twitching her tail and trying to sort it out.

"We call him ShatterCoil," Stacy chuckled. "Don't worry about it too much. He answers to all three."

"E'gra," Kathie supplied with a bemused shake of her head. "The darker male of the three is L'ern, and the female is Seratilista. She's very much in charge of the three, especially these days."

"She's pregnant too," Chance told her as another van pulled up. "Seems to be a recurring theme with the squad's mates," he grinned playfully over at Rock, who rolled his eyes and shook his head.

"I take it that Midnight wants to go for another litter," Jake teased as he walked up with a grilled sausage of some kind in a thick bun. "I think Andy's scared of the big guys."

"Can you blame him?" Chance laughed. "They could eat him out of business if they put their minds to it," he grinned as the Hyaenodons climbed out. "Be right back; going to grab some of the pork while it's still there."

"As if we'd ever run out of food," Meg huffed in mock indignation, only to plaster a welcoming grin on her face and headed off to greet the next three giants. She gave Kathie a quick smile of thanks when she realized the squadron leader was at her side.

"Glad to see you made it," Kathie thumped the biggest of the three on the arm as high up as she could easily reach.

"And miss a chance to socialize?" he grinned down at her. "We've got two Furlongs by blood and one by mate in this clan. We would never ignore an invitation to eat with them."

"Welcome to dinner," Meg grinned up at the huge Hyena-like people with small saber-fangs and short, sleek fur of mostly dark browns and stripes.

"Thank you," the visibly pregnant female of the three smiled in return as she was helped out by the smaller of the two males. "We are the Ku'mid. I am Seratilista, this is L'ern" she inclined her powerfully square head towards the darker, and slightly smaller, of the two males. "And our Black Knight is E'gra."

"A pleasure to meet all of you," Meg smiled warmly. "It's not easy to convince Chance to bring his squadron-mates and family together," she chuckled.

"As I heard it, he wasn't asked," E'gra chuckled. "Go ahead, Seratilista. I'll catch up."

"Thank you," she inclined her powerful head to Meg before making a beeline for the food.

"She is eating for two, possibly three," E'gra said by way of explanation and apology. "She is always hungry now."

"She'll get along fine with your gunner's mate, from the sound of it ... as long as they're not after the same plate," Meg chuckled. "Don't worry about it, I'm quite used to the effect being pregnant has on somebody's appetite. As is Andy," she added with a chuckle at the audible groan from the pit-kat as he saw the three additional massive Kantin. "Just not when they're quite your size."

"At least we don't have litters the size of some Kats and Kantin," E'gra rumbled in amusement. "I can only imagine what they would be like eating for seven."

"You'd strip the city clean of anything edible in a generation," Kathie deadpanned. "Chance seems to be holding up pretty well," she added, glancing at the tabby as he talked to a few cousins he hadn't seen in a while.

"That Kat was not one he'll ever regret having dead," Meg admitted. "Add that it was a direct order from Feral himself ... he's probably put it behind him by now."

"I get the feeling this wasn't his first kill," Kathie probed for a bit more info on an event she only had the barest facts on.

"It ... wasn't," Meg admitted. "You do your best for your kittens, but sometimes there's no way to keep them out of trouble. When he was fourteen, he got involved in a fight. The other Kat came at him with a knife, he defended himself."

"I knew he was acquitted of wrongdoing, but a juvenile record is difficult at best to get details on," Kathie kept her voice low. "I know he's survived more hell than that too. It's what really has me worried about this kill. He shouldn't have been where he was. On the job, he's flawless. Jake thinks he's not quite right, but good enough to fly. Midnight ... she's worried, but thinks he'll be okay. I see someone who's worried by not having his gut twist in a knot by what he did. What do you see in your son right now?"

Meg paused, looking after Chance.

"Someone who's worried that he'll end up not caring about it anymore. He's seen what happens to Kats who stop caring when they kill somebody. I'm sorry to say that some of them have been family. He'll learn, I think ... what happened last night was a fluke. He did something that should have been done fifteen years ago, and he knows it. He's just not sure if it's okay to know it yet."

"At least everyone who knows him agrees," Kathie nodded with a small breath of relief. "It'll take a few days for Psych to figure it out, but he should be back in the air by the time we get back from the squad retreat this weekend."

"I might be biased, but it will take more than this to unhinge him," Meg chuckled slightly. "He's been through a lot, and managed to come out of it better than almost anybody expected him to."

"It shows, sometimes," Kathie nodded. "Have you seen Midnight and the kittens?"

"A while ago," Meg nodded. "She's all but glowing, and they are growing fast. She's trying for a big family even by our standards."

"Hope Chance is up to it," Kathie chuckled. "He's got the largest family of any of the Knights ... and not just counting the extended one," she added, indicating the crowd of over two dozen. "The pups A'zay and E'gra's have on the way aside, he and Stacy are the only parents on the team, actually."

"Now you see why we have this sort of extended family," Meg grinned.

"It's the old way of families," Kathie smiled with faint regret. "This kind of connection is too rare these days."

"It's self-defense, in the Bars," Meg chuckled. "Andy's got the restaurant, I run an apartment complex ... in general, we've tried to work our ways into areas where we can help each other out; it keeps us close. If you think the wedding was something, just wait until you're invited to the triplet's coming of age, if they make it," she grinned.

"If they don't, there will be serious hell to pay," Kathie almost growled, then caught herself. "Sorry, the squad is family for most of us. Most of us don't have kits of our own, so we take a personal interest in those that do."

"The squad would have to get in line, if there was somebody to blame for it," Bruce said seriously as he brought Meg a sandwich and soda. "But that's not always the case."

"No, though they've got a good shot at it," Meg smiled, looking at her son and daughter-in-law off in the crowd. "Disease and accident happen, but they're less likely to be a problem for them, I think."

"As long as he's an Enforcer, that's definitely true," Kathie nodded. "We live dangerous lives, but the health care is excellent. It's not going to be like growing up in the Bars for them. They'll always be part of the Black Knights family, and like you, we take care of our own."

"So I've heard," Bruce smiled. "Friend of mine told me about what you did for Chance's predecessor. From the sound of it, I don't think he could be in a better unit."

"Thank you," Kathie actually blushed lightly. "It's a team effort, and they pull my tail out of the fire too, when I need it."

"Literally on occasion, if Paladin's rep is anything close to true," Bruce glanced towards the calico shekat chatting it up with a couple Furlong toms, and flirting shamelessly while she was at it.

"Oh, it very much is," Kathie laughed. "She got that call for good reason, and it came right out of one of Feral's rants about her tendencies. She's saved each of our tails a couple times, though. He's not ready to piss off the entire squad yet."

"So that part of the Knight's rep is true too, then?" Bruce looked at her curiously.

"I dearly wish," she shook her head. "His Ghosts could kick our tails across the continent if he really wanted them to. It's just a bad idea to have your best recruiters decide you aren't a good CO, and he knows me well enough to know I would make a PR nightmare for him if I decided he deserved it. So he sticks to ranting and I spin things the best I can to potential recruits."

"So what's the deal with these Ghosts?" Meg asked her. "They were mentioned last night, too, but I've never heard of them."

"I'm not surprised," Kathie smiled slightly. "They officially don't exist, but they are the Enforcer ... well, they're the folks you send when you need it done yesterday and know not to ask how it happens, or you're the Commander and you need to trust what you are being told is the complete truth. They're the folks that keep Internal Affairs in line too. Scary folks. I met one once, years ago. Nobody's ever freaked me out like that, before or since."

"So are they likely to cause any trouble for Chance?" She asked Kathie, frowning a bit. "Intentionally or otherwise... I don't know what this might end up doing to his long-term prospects."

"It'll just make him more appealing to Special Ops, Supernatural Investigations won't care and hell ... it's low on the scale of what Black Knights get into," she chuckled low in her chest. "No, he won't catch much flack for it from anyone who matters. Might even get him noticed to become a Ghost, if he keeps it up around the Commander."

"From the sound of it, I don't know that he'd want the job," Bruce chuckled. "He likes the Commander well enough, but Chance takes a lot to hit that sort of loyalty."

"But he has it to give," Kathie added. "If the Commander earns it like Jake has, I wouldn't be surprised if he became a Ghost someday."

"It would certainly be unusual," Meg mused. "Though from what you've described, I'm not sure if it would be a good thing, necessarily."

"I'd hate to loose them, and I would, if it happened," Kathie admitted.

"Well, with any luck it won't get that far," Meg smiled, watching Chance and Midnight from a distance.

"Bet you're glad you're a Kat now," Chance chuckled as he and Midnight walked away from E'gra and A'zay and their pregnant mates, heading off to see where the kittens had gotten to in the well-attended collection of kittens playing. "Lot shorter, at any rate."

"No kidding," she leaned against his arm. "I could be on my second litter by the time she gives birth to the first."

"And she'll probably only have one," Chance said, shaking his head. "I would not want to be A'zay while she's in labor," he chuckled, rubbing her side lightly.

"At least she'll have good painkillers, assuming she goes for them," she giggled.

"Unlike you," he muttered good-naturedly. "I want them if you do that again."

"Ah, I wasn't that nasty," she couldn't hold back her laughter.

"Yeah, well, I'm still wearing a codpiece cup next time," he mock-grumbled, turning to steal a quick kiss.

"Just show up in full body armor," Midnight had to stop walking, she was giggling so hard. "They won't think poorly of you."

"Jake would never let me live it down," he shook his head.

"No, but he wouldn't think poorly of you," she snickered.

"Come on, let's go get the ones we do have," Chance said, shaking his head again. "Hey Christie! How long until you've got your own to spoil?" He asked the pregnant tabby fem playing with their triplets with a grin.

"Two months," she grinned back, her hazel eyes lighting up at the subject. "Doc said I'll have two. I can't imagine being your size and giving birth to three this size," she added to Midnight in real admiration. "Furlong blood does not do small."

"No, it doesn't," Midnight chuckled. "But they're worth it," she added, kneeling with Chance to pick them up, rubbing their backs.

"At least they're not getting into the barbecue yet," Chance chuckled. "That'd be a real nightmare later."

"Wait until we have three or four litters to feed as teenagers," Midnight giggled, real mischief in her eyes before she nuzzled Heather.

"As long as they're potty-trained by then, it'll be less painful on everything but the wallet," Chance deadpanned, nuzzling Carmin's head lightly.

"Three or four litters?" Christie's eyes went wide. "You really don't aim small."

"We're going to try for more next month," Midnight purred softly, not minding the way her daughters pulled at her long black hair or tried to climb onto her shoulders and head. "I hope it takes as well as last time."

"She's been looking forward to being a mother for about half her life now," Chance chuckled. "She's making up for lost time now," he winked. "Fortunately, I like kittens too, or it'd be a nightmare for one of us ... probably me," he grinned.

"As if we would have gotten together like this if you didn't want them," Midnight leaned over to kiss his cheek. "You're a great tom, but I wouldn't have married anyone who didn't want lots of kittens."

"Just as well," Christie chuckled. "I'm good with a smaller family for now, and so's Josh."

"Well, hey, somebody's got to break the family traditions," Chance chuckled. "Where is he, anyways?"

"Work, I'm afraid," Christie sighed, shaking her head. "He'll be by in a bit, if he can get away, but you know how it is."

"Yeah, managers have almost worse hours than Enforcers do," Chance nodded. "At least this one will last long enough for him to catch half of it."

"It should," she nodded. "With a little luck, things'll slow down by the time the kits are born. It's year end at the shop right now, so it's the usual chaos. Couple months down the line...."

"And he'll be able to enjoy being a first-time father," Midnight smiled.

"With any luck," Chance nodded. "It's not something to miss out on."

"Is that what you've been telling your big friends over there?" Mindy grinned as she walked up behind them, scritching Pat's head affectionately as the kitten perched on her mother's shoulder, reveling in the attention.

"I wasn't a father yet when they made the choice," he grinned at her. "Those two stay pregnant for over a year."

"And we've already both commented on how much of a nightmare that would be, so don't - especially since you've never been through it," Midnight grinned.

"For which I'm grateful, for now," Mindy smirked. "So, what do you know about 'em?" She asked Chance curiously, glancing back at the two packs.

"They've been my squad mates since I graduated," he shrugged. "Good folks, if a little odd. They aren't from here, just decided to stay."

"So ... anything else?" She asked him. "I mean ... what are they like? And are they more like Wolves, or Kats?" She added, her tail swishing behind her. "If you know, obviously; that part I could see you not really knowing."

Chance looked at her blankly, then shook his head with a laugh. "I haven't heard them talk about dating, but I haven't heard anything to indicate they wouldn't."

"You're interested in them?" Christie asked Mindy incredulously. "Mates aside, look at 'em! They're huge!"

"They're different," Mindy countered with a smirk. "And I like different. Besides, I wouldn't be the first person in the family to take an interest in 'huge,'" she chuckled, nodding over her shoulder to one of their cousins and the Xanith tom he was dating.

"Or small," Christie giggled with a nod towards Chance and then Rock. "Family goes both ways."

"Yeah, well I'll see about making up for my brother for now," Mindy winked, heading off to go talk to the massive Kantins.

"Here's hoping it's a quiet couple of nights for everybody," Chance murmured as he and Jake rode the elevator up to meet the squad for their orders for the night. They knew they wouldn't be flying, but they also knew that Kathie would have their instructions ... not that they were expecting anything new. They'd been grounded before, and the routine was pretty much the same from one time to the next. Paperwork, time to work on their jet, and quietly praying that their flight wouldn't end up needing them when they weren't there.

"Here's hoping you get released for flight duty soon," Jake agreed fervently. "I hate being grounded almost as much as you do."

"Hell, they can't keep me down that long," Chance pointed out. "Feral's the one who told me to take the shot in the first place, there's no question it was good, and even if they're going to have the shrinks clear me first they don't have that much to keep me out of the air on. If I'm down for the rest of the week I'd be surprised."

He just hoped he was right. He'd go stir crazy if they kept him on desk duty that long.

"I don't think anyone doubts about it being a legit shot," Jake said as they got off on the pre-flight deck. "But you know how they can be about the first kill on duty."

"Yeah, I do," Chance nodded. "Hell though; this is the cleanest death I've seen, whoever's responsible. Anyways, it shouldn't be too long." He settled down as they approached their squad-mates, waiting for the night's orders.

Through the greetings and grins, it wasn't hard to tell they were concerned. Anything that kept a jet on the ground was worth of it.

"I see you both made it," Kathie said as she entered the briefing room. "You know where SI has their main briefing room?"

"Yes," Jake nodded.

"Definitely," Chance nodded. "We've got some friends over there."

"Well they want you until you're cleared for flight duty again," she handed them a packet of papers. "Report to Detective James Brown now. They have a case for you to help out on."

Chance blinked, taking the papers.

"Whoa... well, okay," he said, slipping the packet under his arm after a glance to make sure of what they were. "C'mon Jake," he said, turning around to head for the elevator with his partner.

"Try to stay out of trouble, you two!" Joan called after them, openly teasing their affinity for being in the middle of anything overtly weird.

"We always try," Jake said just loud enough for her to hear, his grin only for his partner to see.

"So, who'd you have to bribe to get us this while we're grounded?" Chance asked Jake with a grin of his own when the elevator closed.

"No one," he chuckled deeply. "I just mentioned within a SI earshot that we were grounded for a few days. They did the rest. They really do want us."

"Well, they're gonna have to keep working at it, but this is a help," he chuckled. "So ... any idea what this case is?" He asked curiously as they headed down towards the middle floors.

"I don't know for sure, but I hear the big one right now is a series of jewelry story robberies that are physically impossible," Jake winked at him. "That's how they got kicked up to SI at least. No way will we have a case of our own, so it'll be one of the bigger ones."

"Makes sense," Chance nodded. "We'll just have to see how impossible they really are," he grinned. "At least it's not another murder case ... really suck to have to handle another werewolf."

Jake shuddered, the sound that came from his throat instead of a word was a sharp reminder that the werewolf was his BKK. For very different reasons, but it was what he just couldn't deal with the idea of repeating.

"Sorry," Chance murmured apologetically. "How is Zach doing, anyways?"

"He still has an issue with his temper, but otherwise they say he's doing well, and he likes it there," Jake answered, still pulling himself together as the elevator opened to a busy hallway. "He's not that good a hunter, but he learns history fast enough that he manages. Wisekats don't go hungry unless everyone is."

"That's good," Chance nodded. "You know if he ever plans on coming back?"

"I doubt he'll stay in Karalanol for life, but he hasn't said anything about coming back here," Jake admitted. "It's not something we talk about much."

"Right ... so, what do you know about these robberies?" Chance asked, searching for another topic that was less touchy as they walked towards the briefing room.

"Not much," he admitted as they made their way to the familiar briefing room that SI used for major operations. "Jewelry stores, banks, coin dealers. They don't take cash, don't leave any visible trace and fool the security systems, even the good ones. The first couple were thought to be an inside job, then the pattern got bigger and Sashari nosed around, found a few traces that kicked it right to SI."

"Don't take cash? That's definitely not the usual burglar," Chance mused as they entered the room, two seats near the door empty, the main group waiting for them with idle chatter.

"Good to see you made it in good time," Detective Brown greeted them. "Now that everyone is here, let's bring Clawson and Furlong up to speed."

Rock sat in his car, just looking at the quiet, out of the way building that served as the primary temple for the Lady and Lord of Pain's Pleasure in MegaKat City. He never would have guessed what it was, if he hadn't known; as was often the case, it was little different from any other building in the area. If anything, he might have guessed that it was a club, from the people occasionally heading in and out, but anybody in the city who was seriously into the S&M scene knew the truth, whether or not they went there.

He still wasn't entirely sure about this, about becoming any more involved with people who made Jake so uncomfortable.... Yet it was Jake who had all but insisted that he bring the last tape they had made, and a couple others where they had gone even further.

He was sure that Henrietta and Jordan would appreciate it, at least. He chuckled inwardly, finally getting out of the car, as he thought about what might have happened if things had gone better.

Nothing to do about it now but offer Jake's apologies when he met them. He walked up to the entrance, and the lean Panther who worked as something between a temple guard and a bouncer.

"Rock Furlong," he said, introducing himself. "I'm here to meet Henry and Jo," he explained.

"They're expecting you," he nodded with a bit of a grin. "Good to see you coming by, after hearing so much about your talents."

"They might be exaggerating a bit, but when they invited me I couldn't very well turn them down," he chuckled. "So, should I just try to find them myself, or wait for them to come out? I'm not quite sure what the custom is around here," he admitted. He knew that the Temple prided itself on a certain amount of secrecy, particularly regarding who its parishioners were, but he wasn't sure how much that extended to guests.

"They have the guest quarters on the second level, third from the door, on the left side," the Panther explained. "You may wait for them if you wish, or ask one of the Acolytes to show you the way; you'll know them by the red stripe down their sashes. Just don't go through any door with a sash across it without permission from those inside." The mention of sashes drew Rock's attention to the red one the guard was wearing, and the broad, dark blue ones worn by most the people he'd seen going in and out.

"Thanks," he nodded and headed inside. Very briefly he entertained the idea of looking for the room on his own, but thought better of it when a slender white shekat wearing a dark blue sash with a red stripe, and nothing else, walked by and smiled at him. "Ma'am," he focused her bright blue eyes right on him. "I'm here to see Henry and Jo. Rock Furlong," he introduced himself belatedly.

"Ah, good to see you," she smiled brightly, exposing sharp white teeth. "I'll show you the way," she offered, nodding towards some nearby stairs, turning to start up them. She led the way to past several wooden doors with varying levels of intricacy in the carvings on them, most depicting some manner of sexual act, the one she stopped at depicting the most graphic, sadistic ones, though it didn't show that much. Nothing worse than what he'd seen at Warlords once in a while, at any rate.

He noticed that the door seemed to be secured with nothing more than a black sash across the opening, draped through the handles. His guide knocked, waiting for a muffled response from inside before she spoke.

"Masters, Mistresses; Rock Furlong is here," she called.

Another muffled response, and she nodded, backing away from the door, turning slightly away from it respectfully.

"You may enter," she told him. "I will replace the sash after the door is closed."

"Thank you," Rock nodded to her, wondering what he was about to walk into as he removed the sash and opened the door. He felt her take the sash from his hand before he stepped inside.

He was almost glad to see that the scene inside was almost domestic. Henry and Jo, relaxing on a pile of cushions opposite a pair of Kats who wore black sashes with gold hems, matching the ones that Henrietta and Jordan had on, though Jordan's sported a white strip down the middle.

"Welcome, Rock," a rich orange shekat with copper hair and brown stripes on her tail rumbled deeply as the door was closed behind him. "Take a seat," she said, indicating the cushions scattered around the room.

"Thank you," he nodded and chose a spot closer to them than the two other priests, though not by a lot. He was sure his uncertainty on many levels was obvious to all four of them.

"Rock, this is Emiss, and Matark," Henrietta explained, indicating the orange-furred shekat and the Snow Leopard in turn. "The Mistress and Master of this temple."

"A pleasure to meet you," Matark said with a friendly rumble.

"We understand that this situation is rather complicated for you," Emiss said. "Both for you, and your mate. He is well-known to us, both as a masochist almost without equal and for his association with Bastet. If there is anything we can do to make you more comfortable with it, or answer any questions you might have, we would be glad to do so."

"Is there going to be any trouble higher up if I talk him into coming here?" Rock decided to start with easier questions.

"Not at all, so long as he follows the rules," Emiss said easily. "He'd be welcome, and not because of his status. Our gods have no particular quarrel with Bastet or Her chosen."

"Good," he relaxed a bit. "I wasn't sure, given he got into pain to piss Her off. What will you, and Eshik and Marka, expect of me, if I'm chosen as their champion?"

"He may have intended to piss Her off, but he still enjoys it," Emiss chuckled. "As for what you are expected to do, you won't be expected to become a priest, if that's what you're worried about. Though we would prefer if you could attend services from time to time, possibly speak out for the faithful."

"When are services?" Rock asked, suddenly very aware that he had no idea what went on during them. Up to this point he'd assumed it would be similar to those he'd attended to Bastet, but it could be very different.

"We tend to hold them the night before Halikar's main services," Emiss explained. "The main ones, at any rate ... however, we do have an initiation scheduled for later, if you would like to attend."

"I would," he nodded. "Beyond the general principles that Eshik and Marka stand for, I really don't know much about Their church."

"Most don't, though many think they do," Marik said easily. "Eshik and Marka are the Lord and Lady of Pain's Pleasure. Many believe that we're a glorified S&M club, but we're actually at least a bit more tame than most would expect."

"During most services," Jo chuckled. "Eshik and Marka are also the patrons of forbidden relationships, though that's a less celebrated aspect these days. At least in areas where there are few relationships that are truly considered forbidden."

"Yes, mostly adhered to by certain Dachshunds from Sayden Bay," Marik chuckled. "Though the owners and patrons of the Knot Hole are among our quieter supporters in the city, along with a number of Enforcers. Not your mate's squad-leader, but a few of her lovers have been."

"I can't say I'm surprised, given some of her stories, and the help she's been in explaining the limits to Jake," Rock chuckled lowly. "She has a definite talent for pain."

"Yes ... she'd be welcome here, but she prefers Halikar," Emiss smiled. "Besides, actually being a known member of the Temple is kind of a giveaway that you consider the Enforcer limits advisory at best," he chuckled. "As for the service you'll see, we're initiating a new member of the church, so it shouldn't be anything that extreme. Nothing like our promotion to Master and Mistress of the Temple."

"No," Henrietta laughed, shaking her head. "And just as well; we'd scare off the lay members if we went that far that soon."

"So are you going to keep us in suspense forever on what you brought?" Jordan grinned at Rock.

"Just waiting for an opening," he grinned back and pulled out three videotapes. "Jake suggested we watch them."

"Oh?" The Dachshunds perked up. "Of games?"

"Of us," Rock purred in memories of those nights.

"Back to your question," Marik grinned, his thick white and gray tail twitching eagerly as Rock put a tape in the VCR. "Our ideal situation? We, personally, would like an advocate. Somebody willing to speak for the community, and the faith, once it was time. Somebody who would set a good example, show that we're not twisted sadists. That is our preference. There are those who wish to see a more extreme Champion chosen, and Eshik and Marka have not been overly clear as to their own desires. You would have to watch out for some of Tamorl's faithful though ... there is a splinter sect in the city who feel that this gathering of Champions is the ideal time to see the entire world plunged into the burning sea of pain."

Rock raised an eyebrow at that. "Well, they wouldn't be the first doomsday cult to show up."

"No, though I imagine they'd be the first one that might consider you their harbinger of doom, so to speak. In the long run, they shouldn't be too much trouble unless you were to decide to back them, but I'd be rather surprised if you did. That's more the style of a certain Margay they're interested in."

"I can't see myself supporting a doomsday cult," Rock shook his head and sat down as they settled in new positions to watch the tape of Jake taking incredible amounts of pain and orgasming from it again and again.

"We wouldn't expect you to," Henrietta reassured him. "Mmm ... you weren't kidding about him enjoying it, were you? So he started because Bastet disapproves?"

"As far as he knows at least," Rock nodded. "Given his first experiment in pain involved taking a knife and cutting himself from sheath to tip, I'm not sure whether it was to piss Her off or make himself unsuitable for Her needs before he understood what She'd do to keep him. Says he came so hard he passed out from it too."

"Could also be a seriously repressed feminization or castration fetish," Emiss mused. "You've said he can't perform with fems, right?"

"Not after the first couple months into his first relationship with one," Rock nodded, his expression grim. "That's more from rebelling against pressure from all sides to breed. He was getting it from his folks, several priests and Bastet Herself before he turned thirteen."

"Oh brother," Henrietta groaned, shaking her head and snuggling up against Jordan.. "Did he ever try therapy to get past that in particular?"

"He'd have to find a reason to want to be with a fem to do more than see the suggestion as anything but another attempt to push him into having kittens," Rock sighed. "He knows he did it to himself, and he's just doesn't have any reason to undo it. If Midnight isn't enough reason for him to change, it's down to mellowing with age or falling in love."

"Well, given that he's got you, I'd say he's already done one of those two and is happy with it," Jordan smiled up at him. "Maybe Bastet will back off on the kittens with some time."

"Falling in love with a female," Rock corrected himself with a low chuckle. "I seriously doubt that She'd back off, and I'm sure his mother won't," he grumbled, his eyes flicking over the show he was making of Jake on the small screen. "He's mostly settled down about it now that he doesn't see his mother or priests very often."

"So that's why we set him off?" Henrietta asked. "Or is it just a more generalized dislike?"

"Henry ... the best way I have to explain that is something my aunt Melia said he'd told her. She's a priestess of Bastet who was there when he woke up from the dead during that werewolf hunt. He was washing the blood off when he commented that she hadn't hit on him yet. I'm not sure if she was more shocked that he expected her to as he was washing death from his fur, or if he was that she didn't and still hasn't. Manipulation is all he's ever known from priests."

"That's a generalized dislike, and one I can sympathize with," she nodded slightly, looking up at Rock. "And I hope that you'll let us know if you start feeling we're pushing you too much. On the one hand, we don't want to ... but on the other hand, there is quite a bit at stake here."

"I know," he said quietly. "I will, and unlike Fela Bast-Daughter, you'd probably back off."

"Fela's a dear, and she means well, but she's entirely too driven," Emiss grumbled. "It's a common failing with priests, but she makes an art form of it some days. My honest opinion? I'd say that she's the best possible chance the Demon and his cronies have of winning this, for just that reason."

"Her, or his mother," Rock agreed grimly. "Though things are still early, given we're probably looking at another five or six decades before it's over. I doubt the gods even know what all is going to happen."

"That ... is rather the point," Marka chuckled darkly. "The outcome is still up for grabs, but the way she'll push Bastet's Champion into the middle of things isn't the best way to keep him alive. Of course, it is the best she can do for making him the victor, rather than merely performing well, so that undoubtedly has quite a bit to do with it. One of the flaws of looking at things in terms of good and evil. One side or the other has to win, and it's got to be yours."

"I think that might be Halikar's influence, perhaps even more than Hers," Rock mused quietly. "I still don't quite get how those two ended up with the same champion."

"Besides the fact that they've been allies for centuries, there are some who believe they're closer than that," Jordan chuckled. "Lovers tend to work together in divine realms as well as mortal ones."

"Hadn't heard that one," Rock shook his head. "Still makes a mess for Jake. Sometimes I wonder how much of the tom I fell for is really him, and how much are things he wouldn't be if he hadn't been tortured most of his life the wrong way."

"Unfortunately, the only ways out of it would probably be fatal... if not right then, then when Bastet's followers got a hold of him," Emiss mused quietly. "If it helps any ... he has chosen you, now. Whatever got him to that point, you can't do anything about it, you can only make the best of what's there now."

"I know," Rock smiled softly. "It helps that there is no way to fake that level of enjoyment," he nodded to the screen and Jake's approaching orgasm from the whip on his back alone. "He's not as angry as he was a few years ago either. Though as you have seen, the mental scars are still there."

"Understandable," Jordan nodded. "Do you know if there's any way to at least reach a truce with him?" He asked. "Even if you don't become our Champion, it would be nice to see you a bit more often," he smiled.

"Oh, I'm sure there is," Rock nodded firmly. "He gets along with my aunt Melia well enough. It's mostly a matter of letting him get to know you as people, and not just the tingle on his spine when you're around and realize that you're a set of priests who aren't out to use him."

"Mmm ... maybe a double-date some time?" Henrietta suggested. "Dinner, movie, something he'd enjoy?"

"Likely a good start," he nodded. "When he gets back from the squad's weekend retreat?"

"Sounds good, assuming nothing comes up between now and then," she grinned, glancing at the clock on the VCR. "It's about time, I believe; shall we head down to the ceremonial chambers?"

"Sounds good," Rock nodded and stood. "Do I just sit in the back and watch?"

"Please," Emiss nodded, standing as well. "Henrietta and Jordan will be with you, in case anybody questions your presence. If the Initiates object, then you will be asked to leave. Please don't take offense, but some of them are taking fairly large steps having the other members of the congregation there, and you aren't joining yourself."

"I understand," he nodded politely. "I won't take offense if they would prefer I'm not there."

"Let's go then," she said easily, leading the way out, the four priests wearing only their sashes as they headed down.

"Just so you know, you won't be expected to strip," Jordan told him easily. "Not unless you feel more comfortable that way."

"Is everyone else going to be?" he glanced at him.

"Yes, they will be," he nodded. "At least after the initiation begins. It's not a requirement, but one of our tenets is that in the confines of the temple, we have no need to conceal what we are. It's why most of us only wear the sashes, and Initiates are expected to undress completely during the ceremony."

"Then I'll feel more comfortable undressed," Rock told him, his eyes on the path they were taking and everyone he passed.

"There is a changing room there," Marka offered as they reached the ground level, indicating a fairly innocuous door with no sash across it. "Jordan and Henrietta will wait for you; we have to go prepare to welcome the new members."

"Thank you," Rock inclined his head to them and walked into almost the only room that hadn't had a sash across it.

He made short work of stripping, leaving his clothes in a small hamper with a latch. When he came out, Jordan reached in, taking a dark blue sash and threading it through the handles of the door.

"So, let's go find somewhere to sit," he said cheerfully. "Any questions, feel free to ask."

"Thank you," he nodded and followed the long-bodied pair, appreciating their wiry strength, and memories of them that didn't seem nearly as old as they really were.

He noticed now that the sash across the main door was different too ... the same dark blue as the one on the changing room. Jordan pulled it aside without a second thought, opening the door and walking in with his sister, Rock not far behind them.

They paused to close the door, then led the way to a row of seats near the front, a sparse crowd of onlookers, mostly in dark blue sashes or ones with red stripes down the middle, already seated and waiting, some snuggling, some aroused, others simply there and waiting for the ceremony.

"It looks like the colors have a rank association," Rock spoke quietly, not wanting to disturb others with his questions. "What do they mean?"

"First off, that you're a member of the temple, rather than just a guest or onlooker," Henrietta explained briefly. "Dark blue is for the lay members, like the initiates will become. A red stripe down the middle is an Acolyte; qualified to help with services and help people in the Temple, but not a full priest yet. Red is either a guard, or a full priest, usually both like Doruth outside. Red with a black stripe is a priest qualified to hold full services and ceremonies, and black is the Master or Mistress of the Temple."

"A white stripe, like mine, marks you as a healer as well," Jordan added. "And the gold hem is for a professional sadist outside the temple. A deep red one is a professional masochist, though we only have Jennes around today with one of those," he said, nodding towards a handsome Cheetah tom who came in, wearing a bright red sash with a black and white stripe down the middle, the fringe around it looking almost like streamers of scarlet blood.

Rock nodded, people watching as he digested the information. "Why do you hold major services the day before Halikar's folks?"

"That depends on who you ask," Jordan grinned. "At this point, it's an age-old tradition. Some people think it was because Eshik and Marik wished to receive their due before Halikar did."

"Some others think that Halikar's faithful did it as a means of trying to find ours and target them for conversion or harassment," Henrietta added.

"And then others think that it's because for a stretch, we wanted to show Halikar's priests that we didn't just have reprobates and lower-class people attending services," Jordan finished.

"Just how big is this contest between Eshik and Marik and Halikar?" Rock asked, starting to worry again.

"These days, it's not," Jordan reassured him. "Oh, we might get into a debate if we were to show up at the temple ... maybe an argument ... but unless they were die-hard fanatics, it wouldn't turn into a fight."

"However, you can imagine how the Great Protector used to view a sect of sadists," Henrietta pointed out. "It didn't matter so much that we had masochists as well, and those who weren't necessarily into physical pain at all, the fact that most of our leaders enjoyed it made us a threat to the faithful, in His eyes."

"At least when He didn't have greater concerns to the safety of His territory," Rock nodded. "I'll try to bring up coming with me to the next weekly service with Jake before we all have dinner. Sometimes I still have a hard time figuring out how he'll react to an idea. It seems likely he'd like it here, but it could unsettle him completely too."

"We can break him into it too," Jordan chuckled, settling back as the parishioners all focused forward on the two dressed toms who came in, and the Rottweiler bitch in a simple dress who was with them, none of the three wearing sashes over their clothes.

Rock was sure these were the initiates, but kept his thoughts to himself in the general silence. This was a time to watch, not question.

Emiss and Marka, wearing their black sashes and nothing more, began the sermon, the two of them welcoming the Initiates.

As he watched, Rock realized that this particular sermon wasn't one they'd written, but rather ... almost a play, really. They were re-enacting some legend he wasn't familiar with, taking the roles of Eshik and Marik greeting a group of guests, welcoming them into their home.

He thought back, trying to remember what little he'd seen of their services with Henrietta and Jordan ... services hadn't exactly been what had been on his mind most of the time, even after they'd stopped being clients and started being friends and lovers.

It was erotic, in a subtle way, the movements and tones, even when it slipped into a language he didn't know, and didn't seem to even be related to Katian.

Marka walked around the Rottweiler, his tail trailing around her body. He leaned in close, stage-whispering something Rock couldn't understand as he reached around her, a claw tracing the underside of her chin as she shivered slightly.

Emiss was apparently sizing up one of the toms while her mate spoke with the Kantin. She leaned in, saying something quietly to him, nodding towards the other newcomer. He looked over at him, trying to act surprised or conflicted with only marginal success at it.

"Want a brief run-down on the 'show'?" Jordan asked Rock quietly.

"Go for it," he nodded, his attention mostly on the stage.

"It's a re-enactment of the story of the first disciples of Eshik and Marik," he explained quietly. "Travelers came to their home, seeking shelter and food. The Lord and Lady saw potential in them. Some of the travelers were the sort to enjoy pain, and others were the sort to enjoy giving it. With the Lord and Lady's guidance, they learned to recognize their desires, and to act on them safely. The travelers didn't leave for months, and when they did, they would become the first Priests."

"We'll see the Initiates give and receive?" Rock asked in a low voice, his attention largely on the Rottweiler bitch as Emiss reached down, slowly tearing the dress with a claw, revealing her naked body beneath it.

"As they prefer," Jordan nodded. "The Rottweiler is a wonderfully shameless sub, though she has to learn the value of limits yet ... not entirely unlike your Jake, though she could lose much more than him."

"How?" Rock glanced between his friend and the Kantin that had captured his attention, largely oblivious to what the two toms were doing with Emiss. Why did he keep thinking Jake would like her?

"Jake could lose a job," Jordan explained. "At this point though ... she's far too inclined to let a dom go too far, just because she's too much a gamma to object. Believe it or not, she was actually referred to us by a social worker; that should give you an idea of what she's let people do to her."

"Damn," Rock whispered, his eyes going a bit wide. "Jake wouldn't even do that, unless he was trying to get killed. He's a serious masochist, but I'd barely call him a sub."

"She's a Kantin, Rock, and a gamma at that," Jordan pointed out quietly as she very nearly melted at Marka's attentions. "She's got it on a genetic level ... a real blast if you're good, but if you're counting on her to say when you've gone too far, it can be terrifying, as some of her boyfriends could tell you."

"I expect so," he nodded, trying to grasp it as he watched the incredibly enticing display as Marka raked his claws around her breasts, drawing the most wonderful whimpers from her throat.

She was a far more entertaining show, really, than the two toms. It was clear to him that they were familiar with each other, and as one of them took up a riding crop it was really nothing that Rock hadn't seen before.

He'd seen the sort of play going on that was between Marka and the Kantin before too, admittedly, but anybody who was as into it as she was was a pleasure to watch. He whispered something to her, and she nodded, her cropped tail wagging ecstatically behind her. Jordan raised an eyebrow as Marka signed something to the healer.

"They don't usually need him around for an initiation," the Dachshund murmured as the Cheetah walked out to get something. "It's more a formality than anything else, but Marka just told him to get his kit. This is probably going to get a bit rougher than usual."

"Sounds like she might have more in common with Jake than I thought," Rock murmured, appreciating her even more. "Has she ever had a good dom, before she came here?"

"Not long-term, I don't think," Jordan shook his head. "Just enough to whet her taste for one."

The Cheetah returned with his kit, and opened it up, setting it to the side for ready access later as Marka returned to the altar and reached under it, pulling out a long, flexible rod and a shorter one that Rock recognized as a cattle prod. Jordan's eyes widened and he shook his head.

"Okay, one of them is crazy ... and I'm not quite sure which one. This is going to get messy."

Emiss looked over at him, and he nodded to her as they signed back and forth briefly, setting the two tools down. They backed up a bit, the three Initiates a little surprised that it was over so soon, dark blue sashes being pulled out for them.

"It seems like all three of you are ready for your new positions; you are welcome to the Temple, and to find yourselves private rooms for a while if you wish," the Leopard chuckled, handing the sashes out. "Be welcomed to the Temple of Eshik and Marik, and among Their followers."

"We apologize for cutting things a little short, but one of our Initiates has interests that go a bit farther than the Rite would usually go," Marka explained to everybody as she put the sashes on the two toms. "If you wish to stay and watch, you may, but it will be very intense."

Some of the couples rose understandingly, starting out of the main room, possibly to find private ones for themselves. Others stayed, curious about what this new masochist might do with the two leaders of the Temple. Henrietta and Jordan were among them, and Rock was simply riveted by the promise of something that might make Jake's eyes widen in surprise. It was getting far too difficult to find new things that they could do, not that Jake ever complained about old favorites.

"This is far beyond what Jake would be allowed to do, at least receiving," Henrietta warned him, seeming to pick up on his interest. "We have something a bit less damaging you might consider for him, but we'll address that later."

"I understand," Rock nodded.

While she talked, Marka ran his claws down the Rottweiler's body.

"What is your name?" He asked her gently. "Say it, that the Temple knows who it is about to taste."

"Barbara Cannick," the Rottweiler bitch said clearly.

"And are you sure that you wish to suffer the pain I have offered you? Before I am done, before the Temple has had its fill, you will need a hospital or a highly skilled healer."

"You have one here, Master," she pointed out with a grin, dropping to her knees and looking up at him. "I am willing, and I am eager."

"Very well. This is usually not something that I would do to a new Initiate, but you are more experienced than most," he told her, taking the sash from her shoulders and setting it to the side. "However, I want you to learn something from it. If you are feeling faint, you will tell us. If you want me to stop, you will tell me. These are your rules, within the walls of the Temple."

"Yes, Master," she nodded. Rock could already smell her arousal at just the thought and anticipation of whatever he had offered her, and he was sure that it was going to be bloody. Marka picked up the long, flexible rod, and swung it a few times in front of her. As he caught the profile, Rock realized that it looked distinctly phallic.

"A sjambok," Jordan told him. "Have you ever heard of them?"

"No," he murmured, his mind going over what it could be, given flexibility and apparent texture.

"To be blunt, it's the cock of a rhinoceros that's been cured and oiled," Henrietta explained. "Surprisingly effective," she added, just as Marka brought the slender tip down across Barbara's shoulders. She barked sharply, the blow opening up a wound that bled freely as Emiss picked up the cattle prod and jabbed it into her side with a sharp crack and the smell of singed fur.

"Intense will be right," Rock rumbled, his body showing the effects of the show so far to anyone who cared to see. "Jake will be jealous of her."

"You're considering taking her home some time, aren't you?" Jordan chuckled as Marka struck again, his own shaft hard as he enjoyed the chance to cut loose with a tool he usually didn't use for pleasure.

"If she's at all inclined to, I think we'd all enjoy it," Rock nodded, his hand unconsciously slipping into Jordan's lap to fondle the hard cock there, his fingers tracing the slight bulge in his sheath that would swell into a full knot in time.

"If Jake doesn't mind you playing, I could help with yours," Henrietta rumbled lowly, her hand in his own lap, toying with the tip of his cock as Jordan pressed into his touch and Barbara moaned in pain and pleasure as the cattle prod found its way between her breasts and she leaned into the contact.

"He's never minded, so long as he gets first say if things get serious," Rock said with a quickened breath from her touch and the sounds from the stage. With a moan of his own he leaned over and took Jordan's half-hard cock into his mouth, swirling his tongue around the smooth length so different from his own.

With his attention away from the stage for a while, he let himself savor the taste of Jordan's shaft, the wire-haired Dachshund's hand stroking his ears as his sister slid her hand along Rock's cock, playing with the rubbery barbs and stroking it for a few moments before she shifted. He moaned around Jordan's shaft as he felt her tight, slick sex slide down around his, squeezing down around him.

"Oh yeah," Henrietta moaned lowly as she leaned forward to kiss her brother with Rock between them, pleasuring them both as they pleasured him. It was almost the polar opposite of the threesome on the stage in every way but that all were enjoying it.

They weren't the only couples together; before too much longer, the entire congregation that was still in the room had found partners, low moans and sharp barks or mewls of pain and ecstasy chorusing through the chamber, interrupted occasionally by the crack of the sjambok or the cattle prod. Jordan moaned into his sister's mouth, running skilled fingers back along Rock's spine, finding a pressure point all three were familiar with and pressing down on it, pain shooting out along Rock's nerves as Henrietta's sex worked his barbs.

Rock was simply not interested in holding back, and with a rumbling growl around Jordan's cock, he thrust his hips up against Henrietta as his balls began to empty themselves into her hungry body.

Her sex tightened around him, spasming as she came, the two siblings making out as they both orgasmed, and Jordan's knot swelled fully. Rock closed his fingers around it, squeezing it, and that was all it took for him to pump his thick seed up into the tabby's mouth.

"Oh! Master," Barbara moaned, "I'm...." The scene up front stopped, the Kat and Xanith priests both setting their toys aside and helping her to stay on her knees.

She was a bloody mess, but as Rock sat up, licking Jordan's seed from his lips, he couldn't help but notice that the floor and walls were both clean, though they should have been covered with the blood she'd obviously lost.

Jenna, the healer, came forward, moving past his superiors with obvious comfort in doing so, laying his hands on the Rottweiler and crying out sharply. He closed his eyes, his fur tightening, splitting, staining red as he began to bleed from wounds he accepted from injured bitch. It was an eerie sight, but before long he stopped, taking his kit from Emiss and starting to work on patching both himself and his patient up with obvious skill.

"Mmm ... are you going to want to meet her later?" Henrietta asked Rock with a lazy rumble, leaning back to kiss him, licking her brother's taste out of his mouth.

"Yes, I would," he purred into her mouth. "She's hot stuff."

"How about when Jenna's done with her?" She grinned, sliding off his shaft with a low groan. "Think you'd be good for her, even if it wasn't a long-term thing."

"Thank you. I'll do my best for her, if she's interested. I'd like to introduce Jake to someone like her, that gets pain the way he does," Rock added. "He does enjoy inflicting pain, but there something not quite right there too."

"How so?" She asked him cautiously.

"He's completely in control," Rock assured them. "And I'll be there, if she goes for it, and if he does. It's like he's more into inflicting pain because he can't do it to who he really wants to hurt. There's a release, but it's not from enjoying it. Not like we do at least. It might just be that he knows I'm not really into it that much, or that he enjoys when I hurt him more than when he hurts me. He's not an easy person to get to play around either."

"I understand," she nodded. "We're just a little worried about things getting out of hand with her. It's good that she told Marka though; it means she does recognize her limits, she just doesn't always care."

"Very much like Jake," Rock nodded, relaxing between the two long-bodied Kantin. "I wouldn't have been surprised if he ended up like her, if he'd hooked up with someone who didn't know limits well."

"But you aren't worried about that now?" Jordan smiled at him.

"I think he has enough going on now, even without me, that he wouldn't throw it away."

"That's good ... and when he eventually decides to retire, I think you'll have a very happily devoted pet," Jordan chuckled. He looked up, deciding that they were mostly done with Barbara's care for now. "C'mon, let's go meet her," he smiled.

"Quite possibly," Rock smiled at the thought and stood with them. "It would be a nice change to worrying whether he's coming home or not."

Tamera giggled as one of the fairy-kats she was playing with swished his tail against her nose playfully, flying off and leading her through the wild meadow she was playing in, towards the cool, green, inviting forest further off.

A flutter of laughing butterflies exploded in a wash of color and motion from the flowerbed at her bare feet. She laughed and tried to catch them without really trying.

She pounced and caught one of them, the butterfly erupting into a flying swarm of smaller ones, swirling around her before flying off. She heard a huff in the distance, and looked up. She saw a majestic unicorn, golden horn gleaming in the sun, his white pelt glossy and sleek. He turned, flicking his golden tail up as if trying to get her attention again, then trotted back into the woods.

With a purr of admiration and excitement, Tamera raced after him, only peripherally aware of the fairies and butterflies around her.

She wasn't even that aware of the generally shifting feel of the forest ... at first. The further she chased the unicorn, the darker the woods became ... blocked off from the sun's warmth, there was a chill in the air, and the mighty oaks of the outer reaches of the woods seemed to be giving way to older, more gnarled trees, branches catching her clothes like grasping fingers as she chased after the occasional glimpse of white or gold.

The butterflies and fairies were no longer around either when she paused to look around. Flickers of shadows and dark laughter replaced them around her. The babble of a brook nearby whispered of drowning creatures instead of refreshing them.

Her ears flattened in a mixture of confusion and distress. Fairyland shouldn't be scary. It was wrong.

She saw something dark moving out of the corner of her eye, but by the time she turned to see what it was, it was gone. A frightened whinny somewhere in the distance ... cut off in the middle of the sound with something of a gurgle.

She whimpered, shivering briefly before she focused her mind on the flower filled field filled with sunlight, turned directly around and ran.

A chill ran down her spine as she heard a howl in the distance, then a savage snarl behind her, getting closer, something crashing through the trees. They seemed thicker now, like they were gathering together, trying to stop her from getting away. This wasn't how it was supposed to work! She was supposed to be back in the field, where it was safe, with the friendly, playful fey and pretty things!

Something snagged her hood, and she realized that her clothes had changed somehow. When had that happened? And why were they so familiar?

A deep, hate-filled howl consumed her attention from everything else in the next moment, driving her forward through the trees and bushes despite it being darker in front of her than behind her.

She heard the trees behind her crash to the ground, felt something huge and powerful and menacing grab her cloak and pull her back with a jerk. She screamed -

And shot straight up in her bed, panting, eyes wide with terror as she heard her Mom calling her name from the other room.

"Mom!" she cried out in relief and scrambled out of bed.

As her foot touched the floor, a dark, hairy hand that had to belong to a body far too large to fit under there reached out and grabbed her ankle, dragging her under as she clawed at the carpet frantically and screamed.

"Tamera!" a strong voice reached her panicked mind, though it did little more than that. "Tamera!" it demanded again, this time the world morphed again. She was in her bed, her mother shaking her, but she was still on the floor, being dragged under it.

"Tamera," her mother's voice dragged her a bit more into the safer of the two worlds. "It's just a nightmare, dear," she crooned, trying to both wake and sooth her. "You're safe now."

She finally managed to snap into full wakefulness, sheets twisted tightly around her from her turning during the night, her mother's hands on her shoulders, then her arms around her.

She was safe. It had just been a bad dream ... a terrible, terrible dream ... she was awake now.

Wasn't she? It had seemed like she was the first time too ... but there weren't any monsters here. Just her mother's comforting arms and soothing words to end her sobbing.

"So if he doesn't leave prints, tracks, fur or photos, just what are we looking for?" Chance asked Detective Bermen as they walked up to the latest of the 'Ghost Thief's' hits; a jewelry story in a moderate neighborhood with no signs of an intruder, other than the complete lack of merchandise.

"For the things that the mystic types don't notice as well," he chuckled. "We also tend to be better at piecing their clues together than they are. Something about being outside the web making it easier to see the strands."

"Right," Chance nodded, looking around, then looking up, checking the ceiling. "What do we know about the security system here?"

"Three cameras," Bermen pointed to them, all obvious. "The door and windows have alarms, though the cases themselves do not. That's the only way in or out," he nodded towards the front door. "The back room is covered by cameras as well. CSI has been all over the place for traditional trace evidence, and kicked it to us when the cameras came up working and with nothing on them but that the merchandise was here at one am and gone by one thirty."

"Disappeared all at once, or bit by bit?" Jake asked, thinking over what he knew of that could make this sort of thing happen.

"A few pieces at a time," he answered. "It's a very strange thing to see. A piece is literally there one second and gone the next with no apparent movement."

"If it's by magic, there are at most a half dozen in the world skilled enough to cover the traces from me," Detective Sashari, a regal Lioness with dark golden fur told them. The intricate headgear of fine gold chains that marked her as a traditionally trained Taelyn mystic the only deviation from her Enforcer uniform, even if it was a dramatic one.

"What about dimensional wormhole, teleportation, or some other way of doing it without actually coming in here?" Jake asked her, thinking through the scientific approaches somebody might take.

"If you mean by magic or mental gifts, they all leave a similar trace," she told him politely.

"He's thinking technology," Chance said absently as he checked out the place, though he seriously doubted he'd spot anything that CSI missed.

"That would not be something I can usually find a trace of, though Toama may," she glanced at the regal albino Cheetah female in black trimmed white robes of a priest of Izaris, The Keeper of Records.

"I can, though it will take time," Toama's voice was distant, her red eyes unfocused. "There are no obvious disturbances of that scale."

"Worth a shot," Jake murmured, looking the cases over for any sign of how they were opened or accessed. "Everything still locked, from the outside in?"

"Yes," Bermen nodded. "When the pieces went missing, the cases were still closed as they vanished."

"Good trick," Chance mused, checking the fixed surfaces of the case to see if there was anything rigged in them. "These new, or have they been here a while?"

"The last time they changed the cases was eighteen years ago," he answered, giving Chance a curious look. "What are you thinking?"

"If they're that old, it couldn't be something like that," the tabby shrugged. "I was wondering if maybe the cases themselves had been rigged ... Hell of a way to pull off a robbery ... or an insurance scam, if you were inclined to."

"Quite true," Bermen nodded in agreement. "Cases are carefully investigated for such simple answers before they get kicked up to us. We do double-check the reports and scenes, but we have yet to have a mundane crime sent to us."

"Figured it was worth a shot," Chance chuckled. "Okay ... so, no way around the cameras, no way around the cases without breaking them, which they haven't... all the other cases are the same way... anybody know of a connection between the vic's, besides the fact that they all run places that are worth a bundle to hit? Maybe our Ghost Thief is the real thing."

"It wouldn't be the first time," Bermen said with a thoughtful nod. "If there is a connection, it is very distant at best. Different families, different sources, different neighborhoods, different security companies ... this is the fifth hit."

"Tasked spirit, maybe?" Jake suggested from where he was. "Pieces aren't related either though ... maybe some necromancer with a habit to support." He got back up, looking over at the albino Cheetah helping them. "Would you be able to detect something like that?"

"That is more my field," Sashari told him. "There are spirits involved, but they are all bound to a body."

"Okay, so that limits things a bit," he murmured, trying to think of what could have done that.

"Anybody we know of who does things like that?" Chance asked. "Who could've done it for somebody else, maybe?"

"Yes, but if it is one of the known perps, they've got a new method," Bermen told them. "We know how to detect all the known ones, and there are several that would work."

"Yet they all leave traces that are not here," Toama nodded. "We have suspicions, but nothing yet we can prove."

"Right ... we'll need to try and find a way to narrow it down then," Chance nodded slightly. "Are we allowed to open up the cases, check inside? Don't know if we'll find anything there, but it can't hurt to look."

"Yes, we are," Bermen nodded. "The scene is all ours now."

"Right then," Chance nodded, opening up the cases and looking inside, inspecting the cases and shelves carefully, looking for any trace on the small patches on the display that had held the jewelry earlier that morning.

"Think I might have something here," Jake called out, looking over the workbench where a half-finished necklace was left. "Might not be anything, but there's some wax on the table here."

"I'll have the lab check it out, but it is likely just some of the wax they use in making jewelry," Bermen nodded as he pulled an evidence bag out of his pocket and scraped the small sample into it before writing his name, date and time on it and sealing it with a sticker.

"Could well be," Jake agreed. "But if it isn't, might narrow things down a bit."

"What, theft by mannequin?" Chance half-joked. "Or did I miss something in the books we got to go through when we transferred?"

"There are several items that use wax and could play a part in this," Sashari said. "If that is part of such an item, we could find out from it."

"Find out what it is, or who has it too?" Chance asked her, making one last sweep before closing and re-locking the cabinets, leaving them as he found them.

"That depends on how well shielded the item, and it's users, are," Sashari told him. "Finding out what it is from is typically much easier than tracking it."

"Right ... well, anything else here? Maybe if we compare to the notes from the last few scenes we can spot something in common," Chance suggested.

"That would be next," Bermen nodded. "Come on, let's see if you get lucky again and see something we haven't."

"Here's hoping, sir," Chance nodded, starting out along with Jake.

Silence reined in the crowd at the primary MMA gym in MegaKat City. It wasn't who was fighting, everyone was used to their sparring matches by now. It wasn't that they were both using weapons, though that was rare in the gym. It wasn't even that they had a few more visitors than usual watching them.

What held much of the experienced fighter crowd still in fascination was watching their training taken to the art; something few ever tried to do, and fewer managed.

It wasn't a fight; it was a dance as deadly as any battle and evenly matched.

The two Kats were dancing back and forth, the sharp clack of wood on wood as their staves struck each other. Once in a while, one or the other would jump in response to a low blow. It was a study in different styles; Kyale, as was her usual way, was brutal, to the point, her weapon flashing in constant attack or defense.

Jake was showier, in a different way, both ends of his staff darting to intercept hers as he spun and twisted, trying to hit one of her hands and weaken her grip on the weapon.

"Fifteen minutes ... I can't believe one of them isn't ready to drop yet," Tryce Sharten murmured, easily as fascinated by the unusual match as any of the warriors who fought these two.

"They've both got endurance you wouldn't believe," Terin grinned, her stubby tail twitching behind her. "Different styles too, always fun to watch."

"Hard against soft, always the most fun to watch," another of the fighters grinned over at them from the other side of the ring. "Even if Clawson's 'soft' is one of the hardest you'll ever see."

"And one of the fastest," someone else added, getting into the all-angles critique of style and movement. "You have no idea how glad I am he's Enforcer."

"Yeah, but Kyale's the one who isn't - and she's the one who'll hand you your ass," the first fighter chuckled, wincing as Jake clipped her arm, and she responded by cracking the end of her staff against his hand directly, pulling the blow just enough that she didn't break the delicate bones there.

It was more than enough to disarm him though. Likely he wouldn't have in a real fight, everyone watching him knew his ability to ignore pain and damage went beyond the sane, but here he did as he was supposed to; the staff went down and he treated his right hand as broken instead of just stinging.

"It's not over?" someone behind them, a young voice, said in surprise.

"Not with these two," a female chuckled at him. "They're both eskrima trained. The real thing for her goes from staff to stick to knife to bareclaw."

Sharten was a little surprised to see that she wasn't dropping her staff, but nobody else seemed surprised about it so he assumed it was normal between Jake and Kyale. Of course, as he was seeing, it seemed to work in his favor. Kyale was good with her staff, but better bare-handed, and Jake was able to just keep from getting hit as he worked his way in closer to her, dropping down to try and sweep her legs out from under her.

She jumped up and cracked her staff across his chest, from shoulder to hip. The impact sent her to the far side of the ring and left him gasping for breath.

"Ouch," Terin winced. "Good thing he's still grounded for now."

Jake managed to get to his feet though, going after Kyale despite the obvious pain he was in.

"Good thing he's as stubborn as he is," Hala added. This was different from their training matches; he had the sense to stop when he was supposed to in those. Here, he just bulled forward, only letting pain get in the way when the rules said he should. She had to wonder how much of it was because he knew he wouldn't be allowed to be permanently injured.

"Very little," Terin answered the unasked question as they watched Jake come in for a high snap-kick that Kyale blocked with her staff. "He's like this in academics, inventing and everything else too. Guy just doesn't know how to do less than his all."

Much of the crowd gasped when the staffed snapped in two, and at the two expressions it brought.

Kyale grinned viciously, and Jake actually looked uneasy as he backed off, his mind making the change over to Kyale at her most dangerous.

Kyale adjusted her grips, coming at Jake hard and fast with the advantage of two to three feet extra reach, forcing him to keep back to avoid being hit by either makeshift baton.

There was a rumble of approval when Jake suddenly darted forward, bringing a leg up as he leapt to take her strike in the meat of the thigh and letting it push him in a sacrifice move that let him get a hold of her wrist and pull her down with him. A claw to a pressure point on her wrist forced her to drop one half of her staff, and the impact with the mat knocked the other away.

She brought a knee up sharply into his stomach, matching it with an elbow blow to the shoulder that let her throw him off of her and get back, away from him and up onto her feet, both of them finally starting to tire visibly.

It didn't slow the action down much though, as the bout progressed to a punishing exchange of kicks, punches, knees and blocks that eventually came down to Kyale's slightly greater height and mass pushing Jake against the cage, pinning him there for the five seconds it took to end the match.

"Remind me not to get back into MMA," Hala chuckled. "We get into enough trouble in the field."

"Noted," Terin grinned up at the two Captains and watched her friend leave the cage, completely at ease around the bare-chested black shekat as they walked together for the changing room.

"So, what's Jake's new friend like?" Jordan asked Rock curiously as the two of them sat in the bar of the Pizza Pound along with Henrietta, nursing their drinks while they waited for Jake and Kyale to arrive after their sparring session.

Rock though about it briefly, trying to sum up what little he knew personally and the extra tidbits he'd picked up from Jake talking about her and their matches.

"She's a professional MMA fighter. Solid black, all muscle, lithe masculine build a bit taller than him," he chuckled. "They met in a match that she won but he managed to show very well, so she asked about sparring with him while she was in town. They've gone out a couple times a week since then. I can't say I know her well, but given how relaxed and positive he is about her, she's doing something right. Her accent can be a bit heavy, but she's usually easy enough to understand when I've been around. Doesn't seem to have much of a life outside of the MMA."

"You know where she's from?" Henrietta asked with a sip of her Bloody Mary.

"Umm, not exactly," he admitted. "The same general part of the world as Xenquii, I think."

"Must be a Hell of a fighter," she mused. "From what I know, that part of the world doesn't handle women warriors well ... about as well as Traveris does with dominant males."

"You know more than I do then," Rock said. "If they talk about her background, he doesn't say much about it to me."

"Probably something she's not too interested in talking about then; we can work with that," Jordan chuckled. "So, any idea when they'll be here?"

"Either any moment, or not for a couple hours, depending on how lost they got in the shower," Rock rumbled in deep amusement. "And not the way I'm sure you just thought either."

"There they are," Jake's comment brought their attention to the entrance where Jake was pointing to them, a sleek black shekat at his side wearing the absolute legal minimum in sportswear next to him.

"Are you sure not the way we just thought?" Jordan snickered, grinning and giving a light wave to show they'd spotted them.

"Not after seeing him react to a shekat he loves when she touches him," he shook his head, his voice low and serious.

"Right, consider it dropped," Jordan said with a short nod.

"Thanks. So, want something to drink before we find a table?" Rock asked as Jake and Kyale approached.

"Sure," Jake nodded, catching the bartender's attention. "A stormfront for me."

"And the lady?" he looked at Kyale with a smile.

"Something fruity, little booze," she half requested, half asked.

"I make a great strawberry daiquiri," he suggested. "It tastes just as good with a half shot."

"That then," she nodded.

"We're picking up dinner," Henrietta said with a smile.

"Thank you, ma'am," Kyale bowed to her as their drinks were put together quickly.

"So, how'd the match go?" Jordan asked the two Kats easily as they all stood to work their way to an open table.

"Great," Jake grinned, still a bit jazzed from it. "It was a training stopper, and the Captains were there with SandClaw. Doesn't get much better."

"Which means he either won, or came extremely close to it," Rock chuckled.

"She pinned me against the cage," Jake shook his head in denial of a victory.

"Still pretty good, from what I know about you guys," Rock grinned. "You didn't surrender the match, at any rate. So, your new friends in Special Forces scared yet?" He asked with a wink as they each selected a chair, the fragrant smells of varied types of pizza on the buffet waiting for them.

"The big bitch wanted to be reminded not to come back to MMA," Kyale grinned, clearly proud of having made that impression on her.

"Hala Killheart," Jake supplied her name. "I vote for food now. I'm starving."

"Grab a plate and whatever looks good," Jordan grinned. "And watch out for the Four Alarm Special, if they've got it."

"Oh they do," Henrietta grinned, sniffing the air. "And only watch out for it if you don't get along with spice," she added, sticking her tongue out at Jordan playfully before heading off for her own food."

"Rock did show you those tapes, right?" Jake raised an eyebrow, amusement clear in his amber eyes.

"Yes, but you don't have quite the same situation here that you did in those, and I think management would object to you changing that," Jordan chuckled, selecting a few slices of pizza for himself, staying clear of the almost painfully fragrant one covered in peppers and spiced meats that his sister took two slices of.

Kyale gave it a sniff and raised an eyebrow at the other female. "That's spicy even for my tastes."

"I'm steering clear, then," Jake shook his head with an easy laugh as he picked out more normal looking pizzas, along with two slices of a spiced apple crisp turned into a pizza.

"Wimps," Henrietta winked. "I happen to enjoy this sort of pain, myself."

"Just remind me you have eaten that before it comes up," Jordan chuckled, swatting her rump with his tail as he walked by on his way back to the table.

"Maybe," she teased, pilling several more less offensive slices on her plate before heading to their table.

"Masochist of a new level," Kyale said as she put her plate on the table next to Jake.

"Part of the job, dear," Henrietta chuckled as she took her own seat, Rock shaking his head as he sat down between she and Jake. "It's my favorite sort of pain, though I'll admit that the heartburn in a half-hour or so isn't quite as enjoyable," she grinned as she took a bite and savored it.

"Do you try to include pain in everything you do?" Kyale asked, watching in utter fascination at this strange idea of fun.

"Not everything," Henrietta said, shaking her head. "Driving, for example... very bad idea to mix those two."

"That's my sister's idea of a joke," Jordan said dryly. "Seriously, no, we don't. However, for her in particular, there's a perverse little extra kick we get sometimes out of finding public ways to indulge ourselves."

"Even more if someone else provides the how for anyone who cares to indulge?" she guessed.

"It helps ... and besides, neither of us is a particularly good cook," Henrietta chuckled, taking a drink of her soda. "It's something of an acquired taste too."

"You're talking to somebody who grew up eating bird peppers in everything," Jake snickered. "They're as hot as anything you eat."

"And yet, you thought it would be too much," she smirked, holding up her second slice. "Care to try it after all?"

"It is for pure spice," Kyale point out. "Good food is balanced in spicy, sweet, bitter, salty and savory. That is not balanced."

"A good meal is balanced that way, as is life," the Dachshund smiled. "Parts of the meal can go one way or the other. I do plan to have more than just this, but I like to start with my favorite parts."

Kyale considered her, then nodded. "As you wish," she said simply.

"Okay, backing away from arguing about pizza," Rock chuckled slightly, working on his own sausage-and-pepperoni, "The guys from Special Forces there for any particular reason, or just watching?"

"Just watching," Jake said. "Probably wanting to get a look at me under different rules. MMA doesn't have nearly the formality or restrictions Enforcers usually spar under."

"I've never really understood that, myself," Rock chuckled. "I mean ... MMA, you're not usually fighting somebody who's actively trying to kill you, at least. You'd think that if they're going to go so far, the Enforcers would go just as far, or farther."

"A difference is that the Enforcers can not afford to risk a month-long injury from practice," Kyale suggested.

"The real difference is just in the assumptions," Jake shrugged. "Enforcers aren't supposed to go hand to hand, and training to the level we're at, or even that Terin's at, takes years of practice and a lot of dedication. It's not practical for the average Enforcer to put in that many hours of training."

"While you just pull it off by not sleeping," Rock chuckled, turning to give Jake a light kiss on the cheek.

"I have more dedication than the average Enforcer," Jake countered with a teasing grin.

"To all your interests?" Jordan asked as they settled in to enjoy their meal and talk. "Why'd you get into MMA in the first place, given the possible conflict with the Enforcers?"

"It kinda just happened, really," he shrugged. "Being fourteen and a geek when you get into college is a fast way to get to the top of the picked on ranks. I got into martial arts to even the odds a bit, found out I had a talent for it, that I actually enjoy it beyond the effect of reducing how often I got beaten up. Somewhere in there I started watching MMA matches, just to see the art in action.

"You might be surprised at how many Enforcers fight in the cage," Jake said. "In the Academy, one of the combat instructors suggested I try out for a local competition, and I've been hooked on it since."

"Chance tried it for a while too, but he doesn't have the speed to keep up with most of the fighters, so the rules kinda work against him that way," Rock chuckled.

"Yeah, MMA really doesn't cater to wrestlers," Jake nodded. "It was built on fast and agile, but that's how unarmed and unarmored combat works, really."

"Chance boxes too, but not quickly," Rock nodded. "Though you should see him in a real fight some time, it works better than you'd expect."

"Yes, but mostly against other people who learned the same way he did, I imagine," Kyale pointed out.

"And I'm sure he'd be the first to point out that that's what it was meant to work against," Jordan chuckled. "And really, as long as it does what it was supposed to, that's the important part I'd think."

"It is, and he's a much better fighter than almost everyone he might face on the street," Jake nodded. "Not many thugs are combat trained, and Chance is one of the best fighters in the pilot ranks."

"And you have a distinct lack of lifelong-trained martial artists in this city who make trouble for the Enforcers," Jordan smiled. "It's just as well, really, the city's large enough it would be utter chaos if everybody could fight like the people in some parts of the world ... yours, for example, from what I've heard," he said with a nod towards Kyale. "Where do you come from, if you don't mind my asking?"

"A small village near the source of the Ed'ug'ar River in eastern Majeare," she said between bites of fried potato slices.

"That's... not an area I'm familiar with," he admitted. "But if they produced a top MMA fighter, it's got to be the wrong place to mess with."

"That is what our neighbors seem to believe," she nodded with a slight, but vicious looking smile. "Every male is trained to fight, and most are at least as good as I was when I was recruited."

"Just as well that they agree," Jordan chuckled. "For their sakes."

"So just how much traveling do you two do these days?" Rock asked them curiously. "Sayden Bay down to here isn't too much, but it sounds like you get around a fair amount."

"It depends on whether or not there's something going on in other Temples," Henrietta explained. "Particularly if there's a crackdown somewhere, we'll often be asked to help with evacuating people. There are some advantages to Sayden Bay's networks."

"That kind of thing still happens?" Jake frowned.

"In some places," she nodded slightly. "It's uncommon, but between countries that decide they don't want us at all and those that have a perverted view of Their teachings, like Traveris, we usually find ourselves having to smuggle one or two dozen people into Sayden Bay every year or two. And given the types of people we have to work with in Sayden Bay, it's rarely a good idea to let them work unsupervised."

"Understandable," Jake nodded. "I shouldn't be surprised, I know, but it kinda is. Have you traveled anywhere that wasn't under evac orders?"

"Yes, and those are much more pleasant trips," Henrietta smiled. "We've traveled to visit friends, to help consecrate new temples, and just to see some of the other traditions among our faithful."

"And there was the Grand Convocation two years back," Jordan grinned. "That was a blast."

"Given what you two are into, I can only imagine," Jake shook his head with an easy laugh. "How often are they held?"

"Every three years, though I'm afraid that those are limited to the faithful," Henrietta told him seriously. "Members of a Temple; we have distinct rules about protecting the people at our own temples, and when it comes to people from all across the world, we're even more careful. Even limited to members of our Temples, some people attend in veils or masks."

"It's that dangerous to be known?" Jake frowned deeply, honestly not getting it.

"In some places, and for some people, yes it is," Jordan nodded. "Around here, not so much, though some people keep it quiet for the sake of their reputations. To most people, Eshik and Marik are nothing more than gods of sadism, and so there are places where they're considered evil rather than merely different. In a place like that, if you were a doctor or other person trusted by your people, would you want to be known as a worshipper of the 'gods of sadism'?"

Kyale nodded in understanding, thinking back to her childhood while Jake mulled the question over. "Do They go by different names elsewhere?"

"They do," Jordan nodded. "Different titles, different names ... the role, however, is always there. There's a little debate as to whether it's different names, or actually different gods, but that's where theology comes into play."

"I believe they go by Kyan and Kyale in eastern Majeare," Kyale said, and tried not to react to the shock across the table. "It is common to name a promising kitten after a god," she explained. "So my father named me after the male of the Challengers of the Ways in some kind of private joke, I think. I still do not understand him."

"Maybe he was hoping that naming you after one of them would make them inclined to protect you," Jake suggested. "By their title, it sounds like you'd be the kind they would be partial too."

"Quite possibly," Jordan nodded. "I'm not too familiar with that particular name, but I do remember it was unusual for being one of the few in an area that expanded on Their roles. Are you a follower?" He asked her curiously.

"As much as I am of any," she nodded. "I am a female raised as a male in a society that has very definite ideas of what each can be. It is difficult not to view life through the eyes that They profess to use."

"That would do it," Henrietta nodded sympathetically. "Would you be willing to discuss Their philosophy in your region some time? We don't go into too much detail about other areas, and it sounds like it's at least a little different from the core of the mainstream faith."

"Quite willing," Kyale smiled slightly. "I would say it is. Kyan and Kyale in Majeare are the ones who challenge beliefs, the ways we do things. They are the great rebels among our gods, but they fight with words and ideas, not weapons."

"That part is similar, we just don't usually view Eshik and Marik as challenging such beliefs on a broader scale," Jordan said easily. "It sounds like an interesting variation, though I imagine it made things a little difficult at home."

Kyale paused, working to place an explanation into words in the right language before she spoke.

"I do not know," she admitted. "It is the only life I knew there. A shaman saw me shortly after I was born, as he sees all kittens. He has visions about the kitten, tells the father. Many times he tells him the kitten's name. Most who are named after the Challengers become very skilled. Others prefer their own kind. For me, he told my father that I was his son, born to the wrong body."

"Is that something you've ever felt yourself, beyond your eventual profession?" Henrietta asked, focusing more fully on Kyale than on her meal now.

"When I came of age, yes," she nodded slightly. "I was told my entire life I was a tom, but I found other toms attractive. I thought I should have been female. It is not strictly forbidden, but it is not welcome. Father was furious when he caught me looking at toms.

"It was not until a girl my age sought my attentions that I understood I was not a tom, or at least not a normal one. Father held it off for another year by saying that was what the shaman had told him, that I was a tom, even if I was not formed right. It was shameful to admit that his only son could not have kittens, but not so shameful as admitting he trained a female to fight and be a warrior.

"It was not until I was away for more than a year that I understand I am born female, and herbs I take my entire life had changed much of that."

"If this isn't comfortable for you, please tell me and I'll back off," Henrietta told her seriously. "But how do you feel more comfortable?"

"I have not been female long enough to know if I like it," Kyale tried to explain. "I am more easy as a tom. I have been one much longer."

"I think I understand," she nodded slightly. "We've seen cases of people who've been described that way before - fems born as toms, toms born as fems - where the situation was literally true. More often Bastet's domain, but we try to help when we can."

"Here," Kyale motioned to the city and MMA circuit in general. "It is of little importance. Few care if I prefer toms, few care I desire rarely. I thank you for your concern. I find my way slowly now."

"Fair enough," she smiled. "Those herbs you mentioned... were they heat suppressants, or something more?"

"Yes, yes," she nodded. "No heat, male scent, male muscles, height, face, fur. Made me sick some times too. Very simple to make, very potent to take. It is nine mixtures in all, though not all have to be used. Father made sure I knew how to make and take them, though not why. He said they were for my health."

"And you're probably lucky they didn't destroy it," Jordan murmured, shaking his head. "If it's not a secret, it might be good to know what they are and what they do some time; I'm sure there are some people who could be helped by it. But I'm not surprised it made you sick sometimes."

"Better than dead," she said evenly. "If I had not taken them, people would have learned I was female much faster. They beheaded my father for the crime of training a female to fight. They would have beheaded me if they had caught me. I will teach you. They are not a secret. They come from the healing herbs."

"Definitely better than dead, I just hope they didn't do any long-term harm," he said gently. "Those sort of changes are impressive though."

"I was fed them while I still suckled," Kyale tried to explain. "Every day I took them. It would not be so ... so ...."

"Dramatic?" Jake suggested softly.

"Yes," she nodded her thanks. "It would not be so dramatic, taken by an adult."

"Sounds like an all-natural version of HRT, almost," Henrietta mused, finishing her first plate. "I'll be back soon," she promised, getting up and heading up for seconds.

"HRT?" Jake glanced at Jordan.

"Hormone Replacement Therapy," he offered. "Part of the treatment for transsexuals; load the body full of the hormones for the opposite sex, and the various characteristics start to shift. Can have some nasty side effects, but it's usually the first step towards actually making the transition."

Kyale cocked her head slightly. "Why would someone wish to?"

"There are some people who honestly do have a soul of a different gender than their body," Jordan explained. "Given their preference, they'd live as, say, a dog instead of a bitch. But most people are raised to match their body, rather than their spirit."

She nodded, thinking about that, and how it could happen as the conversation drifted on without her.

Connie smiled to herself, humming a tune softly as she strolled through the park where Chance had agreed to meet her at. It was warm, with a nice breeze, ands the flowers were fragrant all around her.

She could see him, setting a picnic blanket out in a small grove of trees. He looked up at her with a slightly bashful grin, gesturing for her to come over. With a grin she jogged over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before they sat down on the blanket.

"It's a lovely spot," she smiled shyly at him.

"Thanks," he grinned back, kissing her lightly. "Glad you like it ... it's usually pretty quiet over here, and I know you don't really like crowds that much." He opened up the lunch cooler he'd brought along; she could tell it was a little beaten up, definitely used, probably in a factory most of the time, but he'd tried his best to clean it up. He pulled out a can of Kat Kola and passed it over to her.

"Especially not with older guys around," she nodded, then shuddered at the memories it couldn't help but bring up. "Let's not talk about him, okay?"

"Gladly," Chance agreed, nodding seriously. "Don't have to worry about him though ... right now, it's just you, and me," he said with a winning smile, kissing her again before opening his own soda and taking a drink. "Brought a couple sandwiches too," he added with a nod to the cooler.

"That means we can stay until it's almost dark, unless you have to go to work somewhere?" she snuggled up against him, enjoying the warmth of his body and the comfort in his scent.

"Nope," he purred, leaning against her lightly. "My night off tonight," he smiled, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her close. She always felt safe like this; his stocky, well-muscled body had practically been built to protect people, and it was hard to believe that anything bad could happen when she was this close to him.

He could make the terrors of the past few years disappear so quickly, so easily, it was more than enough to make her want to just stay in his arms forever.

When he kissed her, though, that was what really got to her, and the way he made her feel when he touched her, the heat of their passion when he mated her. For a few minutes, everything was right in the world.

It made the way his hands were gently roaming her sides something to look forward to, instead of something to be tired of, the way it had been with the guy she'd dated briefly before Chance. He turned towards her, kissing her lips tenderly, licking them lightly.

She moaned into the touch softly, her body hungry in a way it very rarely was.

"Think ... think we might have time for more than lunch?" she asked him hopefully; her desires open to him in her scent.

"We can make the time," he purred, kissing her again, laying them both down on the blanket and moving his hand around to rub her belly lightly.

Her purr deepened at the touch, and she reached up to draw him down for another kiss as he slipped his fingers under the belt of her jeans.

He undid the buckle, fumbling for a moment with the button of her jeans as he kissed her hungrily, his tongue exploring her mouth, his powerful body covering hers.

"Love you," he murmured as their lips parted, finally getting her jeans open and sliding them down when she lifted her hips. She toed her shoes off as he brought his hands up under her shirt to fondle her through her silky bra.

"Love you," she whimpered, moaning into his mouth as his tail brushed against her wet underwear.

He purred deeply as he reached down, stroking her through her panties briefly before reaching in, stroking her sex with his powerful, thick fingers, paying special attention to her clit as they made out and she mewed into his mouth.

"Fill me, Chance," she gasped, spreading her legs and lifting her knees. "Want you."

He took a moment to undo his own pants, his raging erection springing out as he kissed her again.

"Thought you'd never ask," he grinned broadly, moaning deeply as he slid his shaft into her tight, hot body, the two of them heedless of the others in the park as he thrust into her, wrapping her entire self in a safe, passionate heat she'd never get enough of.

She whimpered and cried out softly into his mouth, tightening her body around the thick maleness inside her and relishing the way it sent sparks of pleasure throughout her body.

He braced himself over her, curling his fingers in the blanket and grass beneath it as he thrust into her, his eyes closing slightly as his shaft throbbed inside of her, his barbs working her sex. His balls started to twitch lightly, and he shifted, rubbing his smooth, conical tip against the front wall of her pussy.

"Oh, yes," Connie cried out, her body arching up against him as the walls of her sex squeezed and milked her lover, eager to feel his seed in her body.

She squeezed her eyes shut as he threw his head back with a soundless roar of pleasure, pumping his seed deep into her hungry body, thick semen pooling inside of her.

"Yes!" she cried out, right on the edge of pleasure and unable to stop herself from tumbling over it. "More, baby," she begged shamelessly.

Only instead of grinning down at her and taking her again, he slumped forward, his full weight on top of her.

"Chance?" She asked, worried as he slipped out of her ... then screaming as she realized that there was a wire hanger twisted tightly around his throat. There was no question about whether he was alive or not anymore as she struggled frantically to get out from under him.

"Oh no, little one," a voice that had haunted her all her life laughed in delight as Chance's body began to move, pinning her down and thrusting into her hard.

"Somebody help me!" She begged, screaming loudly.

"Like you helped me?" That sick voice crooned, raspier than she remembered but otherwise unhindered by the tight wire around the throat. Chance gripped her wrists, bruising them, his cock cold and hard as a rock inside her pussy ... she felt like she was tightening, painfully tight, a stabbing, ripping sensation she'd only felt once before, and never wanted to feel again.

"Stop it," she begged, tears welling up in her eyes at pain that was only partially physical. "I never hurt you!"

"You watched," he countered, kissing her with cold, dead lips as she realized that there were people who'd heard her screams ... but they were just walking past, glancing and moving along, maybe a bit more quickly.

"What?" her confusion stilled her for a brief moment, but only until his next thrust made her scream.

"I like this scream better now," the animated dead above her grinned. "You were a fool to think you could run from me."

"You're dead!" She screamed at him, then screamed again as his shaft hit her cervix, starting to force the painfully tight muscles open, driving the breath out of her.

"Not even death can protect you from me," he laughed hoarsely. "Your death will only be the beginning of your torment at my Master's hands."

"Stop!" She shouted, trying to push him off of her, trying to get out from under him, whatever she could do to try and get away from him. He was just too strong, just like the BoogieKat Killer had been when he'd taken her this way.

"Please stop," she begged, shocked when he did.

"You're not so tight now," Chance's dead face morphed into a much more terrifying one. Not the old Kat she was watched died not two weeks before, but the BoogieKat Killer in his prime. "Maybe I should show you what I did to him, mm?"

"Go away!" She whimpered, trying to shrink back from him as he undid the makeshift garrote around his throat and took it off his head, revealing the thin line of blood where it had been tightened around Chance's throat so tightly that it had cut into him.

It wasn't bothering the BoogieKat though. He pulled out of her, seed dripping from her sex down over the tight, furless pucker of her ass.

"I've got a better idea," he grinned down at her. "Start running ... maybe you'll find somebody who actually cares about what I'll do to you before I catch you!"

She didn't even wait for the words to register, she simply bolted the instant she could squirm out from under him.

"Run, my kitten!" his voice taunted her from behind. "You'll never run far enough to escape me."

She ran as hard as she could, soon panting as she ran and screamed through the park. Despite being half-naked, cum dripping down her thighs, nobody paid her more attention than a passing glance. It was almost like she was invisible as she fled from the monster behind her. She tripped, and glanced back in horror to see that the grass had wrapped itself around her foot. She tore it loose, and started running again, the park seemingly endless as she tore across the landscape that was starting to fight against her.

Her throat was sore when she all but collided with a powerful body. At first she recoiled, but the gleam of a badge brought her forward with a sob of relief.

"He's after me," she cried out to him.

Powerful hands closed around her shoulders, and he twisted her up against the side of the car.

"Nobody's after you," he rumbled deeply. "But it looks like we just found ourselves the streaker everybody's called in."

"What?" she half-struggled, more in shock than any real attempt to get away. "You're arresting me?"

"Nah," he grinned. "Pretty little thing like you? You don't need a record." He reached around her with broad, dark-furred hands, pushing his powerful fingers up into her dripping sex, then pushing the semen-covered digits up against her lips. "Play nice for my partner and me, and maybe I'll even give you some clothes for when you walk off."

She quivered, taking his fingers into her mouth on reflex more than willingness. She'd rather prefer to be arrested.

"What do you want to drop me off at a hospital?" Connie asked, her entire body shaking.

"Your word you won't tell anybody what we're gonna do to you, and you letting my partner tie you," he grinned, reaching down and unzipping his pants. "Open the door and give him a kiss."

She nodded. It wasn't as if she was going to get out of them taking her, she might as well get something out of it. She reached out to stroke the big tom's sheath as she turned and closed her eyes for the kiss. The less she saw, the easier this was going to be.

She was shocked beyond words by the response she got. Rather than a normal kiss, she was greeted with a woof and a broad, wet tongue washing over her face!

"Meet my partner," the Xanith behind her grinned.

Connie choked back a response, only to hear her own voice. "How ... a dog?"

"Canine unit," the powerfully built Panther behind her laughed. "Get down on your hands and knees, slut," he ordered her, backing up to let her move. "Let Nicky at your pussy."

For a moment she froze, then she did as she was told. No matter how sick this guy was, he wasn't trying to kill her.

"That's a good girl," he grinned, opening his pants up a bit more, his barbed shaft sliding from his sheath. "So, while you let him play, why don't you show me how good you are at sucking cock?" The Airedale behind her leaned forward, his cold, wet nose pressing against her pussy as he licked at her.

She shivered and opened her mouth. Her weight shifted as she lifted a hand to fondle him, hoping beyond hope that he might not hurt her if she cooperated, pleased him. It wasn't as if her body hadn't been used before with much less at stake.

The dog climbed up on top of her, humping her hip, his thick, massive cock slowly emerging from his sheath as the Panther gripped her face, moaning as he fed her his cock and she did her best to suck the massive length of hard flesh.

Despite wanting to gag, she did her best, using the few tricks she'd learned with Chance to pleasure this much larger, and much less kind, tom.

He forced himself into her throat, choking her on it briefly as 'Nicky' found the entrance to her body, pushing his cock up into her sex, still dripping somehow. The juices there made it easier, let him slide into her with obscene ease... she couldn't help but think that he was the first canine she'd been with.

Not exactly the first experience with a knot she'd thought of!

She squeezed her eyes shut and let her body do it's thing, responding to the thick male musk in her nose, the taste of tom in her mouth, and the hard, hot flesh between her legs.

It was a sick knot in her stomach, but she pushed it down. Anything was better than what she'd run from.

"Well, well, I guess you really are a little slut these days," that sickening voice crooned.

Gods ... he was here, and she was helpless! The dog, happily humping her, forced his knot up into her while the Panther fucked her face!

"Ah, Doug," the Enforcer greeted him. "She's not very skilled, but she's got a good start."

"Yeah, well, I didn't get that long to teach her," Berten joked with the Panther. "Don't worry, I'll make sure she's a lot better next time."

"Good," he rumbled deeply before it mutated into a groan. "What did you have in mind for a first lesson?"

"You and Nicky seem to be off to a pretty good start; why don't I just jump in somewhere after you're through with her?" Berten grinned wickedly.

"Works for me," the Panther groaned, thrusting hard and fast, pulling back with a roar as he pumped his thick, hot seed all over Connie's face as she started to struggle again, trying to get away from the big dog humping her before it tied her.

It was no good. The Panther held her in place, and Doug grabbed her tail, pulling it up sharply as the airedale woofed ecstatically, his knot swelling until he tied with her, bigger than just about any Kantin as he humped her, drooling on the back of her neck as his seed pooled inside her.

"Now if you'd get him out of her, we'll start the real fun," Berten purred.

"Gladly," the Panther grinned, walking around and taking his partner's hips, pulling him back. Connie screamed as his knot ripped out of her pussy, but still tried to bolt. She only made it a couple feet before Berten's grip on her tail stopped her cold.

"Bad girl," he laughed, pulling her back with incredible strength, tossing her on top of the Panther, now on his back on the ground.

"A bit of fight in this one," the Enforcer grinned up before twisting her to her back and grabbed her hips in both hands to force her down on his cock, the massive member ripping her ass open side. "Thought you might like to watch her face."

"I've already done that," Berten grinned, taking her legs and spreading them wide. "I wanna hear her scream this time," he added, shifting to force his cock into her ass along with the Panther's while Nicky trotted around to push his dripping, drooling cock into her mouth, heavy with her own flavor.

When Berten grabbed her hips to hold her in place for them, the Panther grabbed her wrists and pulled them out and back, holding her tightly against his chest for Nicky to force himself deeper into her mouth.

"That's a good girl," Berten purred, nosing her top out of the way, licking at the nipples of breasts that almost seemed to disappear entirely as he and the Panther raped her ass, blood seeping from her torn anus as the dog's cock blocked off her throat. Tears streamed down her face, her jaw forced painfully wide around his knot.

"Damn this is good," the Panther groaned, his balls twitching as he thrust up hard and fast, rubbing against the other cock in her ass as much as her body. "Fuck her Nicky. All the way in, boy," he growled the order.

Connie would have screamed, but the sound would have been wasted. Her tongue was forced to the bottom of her jaw; she felt her jaw cracking, and wept as her lungs burned for air, the throbbing cock in her throat choking her. She thrashed her arms and feet, but it was no good; she was being held so she couldn't get either of them.

"Soon, my kitten, you'll join the others you should have joined fifteen years ago," Berten crooned, his tone right on the edge of orgasm as her awareness slipped away.

Her vision was starting to blur, but then he said something that put a whole new angle on this.

"I think I'll let your little girl be for a while, before I take her too," he crooned, licking her throat.

Her claws came out; Connie thrashed and struggled, trying to get loose enough to kill this bastard again. All she did was waste her energy, what little air she had left.

As she finally started to black out, she felt the Panther and Kat on top of her erupt into her virgin ass. The dog pumped his own load down her throat, and she was vaguely aware of laughter as her feeble struggles ceased.

"Jake, want another pancake?" Midnight asked as she poured the next round for the two tabbies. "Or would you rather have the cinnamon raisin toast?" she purred with a knowing grin at the tom she'd all but raised.

He almost answered, then laughed with a shake of his head and just grinned as she turned to lay out four pieces of the bread on a tray and turned on the broiler.

"It's official; she knows you better than you do," Rock grinned at Jake. "Thanks for having us over for breakfast, Midnight."

"Well, you guys did agree to come along and help kitten-watch today," Chance grinned as he set down glasses of juice, about the best he could really contribute to the cooking. "Lot easier than when there's just the two of us."

"Especially with three," Jake snickered. "I can't imagine how you're going to cope with six, all under a year old."

"Cloning," Chance deadpanned. "I figure if there's enough of me to work an extra shift or three, it'll really help with the mortgage payments too."

"Just make sure you don't make enough that Midnight doesn't need the original anymore," Rock grinned.

"As if!" she shot back before delivering the next round of pancakes. "Though it could be fun to have two of him in bed."

"Now I thought you liked just having one tom to yourself?" Chance chuckled, taking his plate, perking up his ears as he heard the TV in the other room. "Sounds like the news; mind if we turn it up? They might've come up with some leads on the Ghost Thief last night."

"Go ahead, dear," Midnight smiled in easy tolerance for his occasionally obsessive streak towards work and fighter pilots.

"In local news, Enforcers have released the name of the victim of last night's vicious murder," Anne Gora announced. "According to sources inside the Enforcers, the victim was one Connie Withersan."

For a moment, Rock was witness to a look of absolute shock on his cousin's face. Then Chance was out of his seat, running into the front room as Anne continued to speak.

"The apparent motive was sexual assault; our sources say that there is no sign of theft, or of forced entry. They are currently looking for leads, and hope that neighbors will come forward with anything unusual they may have seen last night."

"Shit," Chance swore under his breath.

"Chance?" Jake and Midnight were in a race to get to him first, both trying to remember that name in association with anything.

He was visibly shaken when they found him. The story had ended after that, moving on to more suitable material for information to go with the morning coffee.

"Damn it," Chance muttered, turning it off, going for the phone and dialing the number for work. "Jake, you remember anybody in Homicide who owes us a favor?"

"Umm, Detective Seriad," he suggested.

"This is Lieutenant Furlong," Chance said, every ounce of authority he could muster in his voice as he talked to the receptionist. "Put me through to Detective Seriad, if she's in."

There was a pause, then a longer one as Chance's tail began to really lash and Jake walked up to Rock.

"Who's Connie Withersan to him?" he asked, his voice low.

"Ex-girlfriend, I think," Rock murmured, watching Chance. "Haven't heard a thing about her in years ... two of 'em broke up, her parents were a piece of work but that's about all I know about it."

Jake nodded and turned his attention back to his partner as he finally got through to Detective Seriad.

Chance's tail was swishing irritably. He was vaguely aware that Midnight was nearby, worried, but right now his focus was entirely on the time it was taking to get Detective Seriad to the phone.

She was out in the field ... he wasn't sure where just yet, but the possibility that she had the case he was going to ask about ... well, that would be an incredible stroke of luck.

Inasmuch as anything connected to this could be lucky, at any rate. He'd just had to turn on the news this morning, hadn't he?

"Detective Seriad here," her voice finally answered.

"Rashee? This is Lieutenant Furlong," he told her. "I'm sure you're pretty busy right now, so I'll try to make it quick ... I just heard about the Withersan case on the news. Connie's an old friend of mine, and if you know anything about it, I'd appreciate it if you could keep me in the loop, off the record?"

"Even our debt?" she asked with a friendly grin in her voice.

"Of course," he said easily. "Only fair. You know anything about it, or should I get back to you tomorrow?"

"I'll swing by after lunch. I should be done here by then. If you know her, I need to talk to you anyway," she said.

"Come by for lunch and we'll feed you," he offered hopefully.

"Deal," she all but purred.

"Thanks," he nodded. "See you then," he added before hanging up... and realizing he'd just gutted their plans for the day.

"Ah crap, I'm sorry," he groaned, looking over at Midnight apologetically. "I could try to call her back, reschedule?"

"Don't you dare," Midnight said firmly, her tail swishing sharply. "But you are going to tell me who this Connie is to you that none of us know her and she gets this kind of reaction from you."

"Old girlfriend," he explained, walking over to put an arm around Midnight and sat down with her on the couch. "Haven't heard a peep from her in years, but ... well, it's not every day you hear an ex was murdered," he murmured.

"No," she nuzzled him. "It's not."

"For a while, we both thought it was pretty serious ... this was about ten, eleven years ago, mind," he chuckled slightly. "We were close, even if her parents hated my guts. Eventually though, we just realized that we only really had one or two things in common, and it wasn't going to work out. Honestly, I haven't thought about her that much since then ... not until I saw her in the audience, at the execution," he mused. "She was another one of the BKK's survivors."

No one missed how Jake stiffened, or when he realized this wasn't news to anyone else.

"Sorry, but it wasn't for me to tell you," Rock said softly as he drew Jake close.

"I realized ... but not him," Jake voice was sick.

"Sorry," Chance murmured, looking up at his partner. "I... Hell, I did mean to keep it a secret, but you can understand why, right?" He asked him hopefully, hoping that Jake wasn't hurt by the secret between them.

"Crud, yes," his partner nodded quickly and walked out of Rock's embrace to sit next to Chance and squeeze his shoulder. "I do understand, buddy. You aren't the only one who has things that he doesn't want common knowledge. Maybe Meg can take the kits today?" he glanced between Chance and Midnight. "I think the fun is over."

"I'll call and ask in a little bit ... give her a chance to wake up and get her coffee first," Midnight chuckled slightly. "Should I ah ... go do the dishes or something?" She asked, offering the two toms a little privacy to talk.

"You already know about it," Chance pointed out. "Don't worry about it ... just keep an ear out for the kits," he murmured. "So ... where should I start?" He asked Jake, honestly not sure. He knew that he deserved to know, but he didn't know what to tell him just now. It had been easier after hearing about the execution, when he'd had a goal in mind. Today ... he didn't have any sort of a plan, even a half-assed one.

"How'd you meet her?" Jake suggested, dropping his eyes a bit. "I know enough about BKK's MO from Modern Criminal History that you can probably skip most of those details," he added as an offer. "Did you feel better after killing him?"

"Honestly, yes, I did," Chance murmured. "Not because I did it, but knowing that son of a bitch was actually dead ... that was better. And we met in court, actually," he explained. "After the first trials were over and they had convictions, John Steele threw the book at him. No deals for him, not until he had enough time stacked up that BKK would have had to be damn-near immortal to see a parole date, even if his execution was commuted.

"Going back, Connie was case number five, and as usual I was one of their star witnesses for establishing the pattern. That was the first tricky one; Connie's folks lived in an entirely different part of town, the defense tried pushing that, but it didn't work. The entire city was the Boogiekat's playground, and everybody knew it.

"At any rate, we started hanging out a bit ... it does a lot for making friends when both of you have the same nightmares. We didn't have to talk about it, didn't have to tiptoe around topics that might bring it up ... it wasn't awkward, the way it could be with people who knew, but hadn't gone through it themselves."

Jake nodded, an odd sort of look on his face as the differences between their traumas were noted.

"Jake?" Midnight flicked a look at him, and only got a shake of the head in return.

"Once things had settled down, that was when you realized you didn't have much else in common?" Jake half-asked.

"Once things had settled down, and the fun of dating somebody her parents didn't approve of," Chance chuckled slightly. "Really, the fact we didn't have anything much in common was the big nail in the coffin, but her folks didn't help much." He smiled a bit, remembering her. "We had some good times, but it wasn't going to work out."

"You never knew what happened to her, until this?" Midnight asked gently.

"No, not really," Chance admitted. "I called her once, on... shit," he added quietly, checking his watch. "Twenty years to the day, yesterday," he murmured.

"Of ...." Jake started, only to have his eyes widen as he put the information together and shuddered. "That is one sick copykat."

"How long until yours?" Midnight asked, suddenly very afraid.

"Jake, it's not necessarily a copykat," Chance pointed out. "I mean ... there are only so many days in a year. The odds are pretty out there, but it could happen... and it's about a month," he added, glancing back at Midnight. "Nothing's going to happen," he added seriously.

"Buddy, promise me you'll be careful that night, okay?" Jake nearly begged, honestly terrified at his very core by a logic he hated and didn't dare ignore. "You aren't just anybody these days. If a freak coincidence is going to manifest, you're a prime target."

"Of course I'm going to be careful," Chance nodded, turning back to him. "But hey, I'm probably going to be up in the air or out looking for leads on the Ghost Thief ... if there is some sort of copykat out there, he's gonna have a damned hard time of pulling that one off."

"It's a night we have off," Jake told him, even as he forced himself to settle and put the fear away until he could deal with it without making this harder for his partner. "If you don't mind, I'd like to stick around until after lunch. We make a good detective team, and I'd like to help settle this one."

"That's fine, Jake," Chance nodded. "Hell ... to be honest with you, I'm not really that broken up about it, more pissed off than anything else. She was a good Kat, and she'd already dealt with one psycho in her life ... more than enough."

"Agreed," Jake nodded.

"Do folks feel up for finishing breakfast?" Midnight suggested.

"Sure," Chance nodded. "Might as well do it before we get the details," he murmured.

"Definitely," Midnight kissed his cheek before she stood to toss the cinnamon bread that had burned during the crisis and start it over while the guys sat down at the table.

Detective Rashee Seriad drew a breath before she knocked on the door to the Furlong home. She really hated this part of the job, the talking to family and friends of a murder victim.

She just hoped that Chance had been more shocked at a familiar face in Ann's report than still close to her. That he hadn't asked about the kit was a point for that one. His face as he answered the door was another one; he was glad to see her, but he didn't look like a grieving boyfriend or close friend.

"Good to see you, Rashee," he smiled slightly. "Just wish it was for a better reason. C'mon in."

"Thank you," she nodded and walked inside, noting, to no real surprise, that Midnight, Jake and Rock were all there. "You know I have to ask," she apologized, "but where were each of you in the last fourteen hours?"

"We all understand," Rock reassured her. "Pretty boring answers though; Jake and I were at home, and the neighbors can confirm it if you check."

"So can complex security cameras," Jake added.

"Midnight and I were enjoying the fact that two of the three kittens are usually sleeping through the night these days," Chance added. "Catching up on our sleep, though we don't have much in the way of proof."

"Jake and Rock arrived about nine-thirty for breakfast," Midnight added.

"When was the last time someone can confirm your location?" Seriad asked.

"Around ten last night, when we left Meg Furlong's," Midnight said.

"If it helps any, I don't even know where Connie lives anymore," Chance offered. "I could describe the building Anne was standing in front of, but that's it. I know you can't just take my word for it, but we haven't seen each other in ... gotta be ten years by now."

He didn't like the way her ears flicked at that. It was an incongruous movement at best, except he knew she was too good a detective to be obvious about less than minor revelations.

"Okay, just what did I say that was so interesting?" he asked with a sigh. This day was just getting worse and worse.

"What was her family condition when you saw her last?" she asked evenly.

"How about everyone sitting down?" Midnight suggested as she tried to guide folks to the table.

"Two parents who were desperate to pretend they weren't middle class, and more or less cheerfully single," Chance told her, though he did sit down. Whatever this was, it wasn't going to be good, he was sure.

"How did it end between you two?"

"Drifted apart ... wasn't either of our first breakups, and basically we'd found that we didn't have as much in common as we thought we did at first. Better as friends than a couple."

Seriad nodded. "Chance ... when was the last time you saw Connie Withersan?"

"I didn't talk with her about anything; barely noticed she was there, actually, but I saw her at the BKK's execution," he told her matter-of-factly. "But like I said, all I did was see her ... a little busy with other things at the time."

"Understandable," Seriad nodded, grateful that he had an explanation that meshed with the diary entry. "So she never tried to contact you?"

"Not that I'm aware of," he said, shaking his head and glancing at Midnight for confirmation.

"No," she agreed. "This is the first I've heard of her."

"And she has passed on messages from other former girlfriends," Chance added. "Can you tell me what happened?"

"Some at least," she nodded. "She was definitely murdered and I expect sexually assaulted by at least two males. It's one of the more violent scenes I've been to in a long time."

"Shit," Chance muttered, shaking his head. "No husband or boyfriend?"

"According to her diary, you were the last male she had any thoughts about," Seriad told him quietly. "That was the night after the execution. She seems to have been single for at least the last two years and rarely inclined to change that. I wish you had talked to her that night. She might have told you who had sired her kit."

"She had a kitten?" Chance asked, his ears flattening. "Did the killer...." He trailed off, not wanting to give voice to what he was worried about.

If this was a copykat... he might have gone that far.

"We don't believe so, but she was pretty hysterical after finding her mother like that. She knew to call 911. Wouldn't let me in until a uniform showed up to vouch for me. Good looking ten year old tabby. I wish she hadn't had to see what she did."

"No kidding," Chance murmured. "Rashee ... you'll probably find it out yourself when you go through her records, but I should let you know. She was at the execution because she was one of the BKK's vics, twenty years ago yesterday."

"I know, from the diary, would have guessed from her being there and her age," she nodded. "I probably know a few things about you that you'd rather I didn't from it too. Can you think of anything else that might be useful, or questions? I realize you're going to want to investigate, and I'm going to ask you, as a friend, not to. It won't look the way you mean it."

"I know it won't," he nodded slightly. "Besides, we're still with SI at the moment, and it doesn't sound like that qualifies. I can't think of too much else that's useful right now, but I'll let you know if I remember anything ... is her kit going to be living with her grandparents?"

"They died two years ago," she told him quietly. "She's staying with a friend's parents until we can track down who her sire is."

"That's good," he nodded slightly. "Last thing she'd need after that is being packed off to Kitten Services and a bunch of total strangers."

"She'll be headed that way in a few days at most," she shook her head. "Even if we find her sire, she doesn't even know his name, much less him, and that's as close as she has to kin that she knows of. Whether it's to strangers she's related to, or strangers she isn't, they'll still be strangers."

"Yeah... but at least she'll have a little time to try and cope first," he murmured. "Sorry ... thanks for the info, Rashee. So ... I seem to remember I promised you lunch?" He suggested.

"You can owe me a dinner if you'd rather," she offered with a glance at Midnight. "I'll admit that a home-cooked meal I didn't make would be very welcome."

"We haven't eaten either, and between Midnight and Jake, they can make something up pretty quick, probably," Rock offered.

"Assuming you don't mind?" Chance asked his wife.

"Not at all," she smile and all but pulled Jake into the large kitchen. "Sit tight, talk, we'll have good, hot food out shortly."

"I'll get it!" Bruce called out at the knock at the door, detouring from his trip to the kitchen for a soda. "Hello?"

"Hello," a female voice answered that perked four sets of ears at the dining room table around the corner. "I'm Detective Seriad. Is Chance here?"

"Yes, he is," Bruce nodded, leaning over to try and get a glimpse of the shorter Kat who owned the tail whose chocolate brown tip he could see poking out from behind the Detective. "Should I go get him, or do you and your little friend want to come in?"

"If we could come in, it would be best," Seriad told him, and stepped forward when he stepped aside before turning to urge her charge in. It gave Bruce a good look at the kitten, and he couldn't help but think it was a Furlong, despite not recognizing her. Did the entire force know what Furlongs looked like and where to bring lost ones to?

"Is there something up?" Chance asked, coming out of the dining room to meet Seriad.

Bruce glanced up at him, then back down at the little girl, ten, maybe eleven years old. The tip of his tail fluffed out a bit before he caught himself as he realized how strong the resemblance was between the two chocolate on golden tabbies.

"Who's this?" Chance asked, it showing on his face that he'd noticed too.

"This is Tamera Withersan, Connie Withersan's daughter," the detective began. "According to her birth certificate, a Tom 'Chance' Furlong is her father. Between her looks, the timing and knowing you, it was kind of an obvious conclusion."

Chance had been half expecting it, in the very back of his mind, but it didn't make it any less of a bombshell. He swallowed, looking down at the kitten who was looking back up at him, not sure what to make of him. He was keenly aware of the fact that everybody else in the house had heard the announcement, and that they weren't saying anything at the moment.

He got down on one knee, so he was a bit closer to Tamera's height.

"Tamera ... how old are you?" He asked her, trying to do some quick mental math to figure out how old she could be without him having noticed that Connie was pregnant when they broke up.

If he was the father, she could only have been a day or two along ... it was a pretty narrow window, given that he was sure she hadn't been in heat at the time.

"Almost eleven, Chance," she answered, straightening herself a bit to look him in the eye. "I don't know, Mom never said who my sire is, but I look a lot like you."

"Yeah... you do," he agreed, trying very hard not to look as shaken as he felt. "I'm sorry about what happened to her," he added softly, knowing it wasn't much, but all he could really say right now.

"Chance, we'll do a paternity test to make sure, but until it comes in, I can't think of a better couple and family to take care of Tamera," Seriad said. "You have to admit, she sure looks like Furlong kin."

"Yeah, she does," Chance nodded, looking up at Seriad. "It's just ... well, more than a bit of a surprise. Midnight?" He asked, looking over his shoulder, back towards the dining room. "I think you should probably come out here."

"I heard," she said when she appeared around the corner and smiled at the tabby kitten. She had to admit it; the family resemblance was striking, though she wasn't as good at tabby markings as she was the solids and facial structure that most of her friends used.

"Hello, Tamera," she walked up to the kitten and knelt before reaching up to scratch behind her ears. "I'm Midnight Raven, Chance's mate," she added with a smile as the kitten relaxed. "Have you had dinner yet?"

Tamera nodded shyly, then glanced towards the dining room where the rest of those there were trying to get a look at her without crowding her or Chance. "Big family," she murmured.

"Yes, a very big family," Midnight smiled. "I happen to know there's some chocolate chip mint ice cream cake left in the freezer."

"Okay," Tamera smiled weakly, though the chocolate brown tip of her tail flicked a bit more eagerly at the prospect of the treat and she followed the slender, short black shekat into the kitchen, leaving the adults some privacy to talk.

"Chance?" Meg glanced at her son, hoping for something of an explanation without grilling him.

"I didn't even know Connie was pregnant," Chance said with a bit of a shrug, not honestly sure what else to say. "If she is my daughter... dammit, Connie never said anything, not even in the letters I got from her for a few months after that. I didn't have any idea."

"At least you're in a good position to take care of her now," Meg sighed with a shake of her head. "Poor girl."

"I'll get back to you when we have paternity test results," Seriad said. "She's a good kit, just doesn't like to sleep alone right now."

"I can imagine," Chance nodded. "Do you have anything else that came up during the day? While you're here," he added as she turned to leave.

"Yes," Seriad nodded, turning back towards them. "Not something we need getting out though," she added, glancing at Meg and Bruce apologetically.

"We understand," she nodded and turned back to the dinning room to give the pair enough privacy.

"I spoke with Detective Sandru earlier today," Seriad said quietly. "Lioness in SCU, worked the werewolf case you guys got mixed up in. Anyways, she says that Connie's death may be connected to an earlier murder this week... it looks like we might have a copykat out there, mimicking the BKK. Six days since the execution, and two murders...."

"Which means that if he's working damned fast, there's going to be another in three days," Chance murmured. "That was Berten's MO ... always attacked on the third night. He's no garden-variety copykat though ... he knows enough to have known the exact date of Connie's attack."

"And the other one too," Seriad told him. "He's going after BKK's prior victims on the date of their initial attacks, two for two. There's been a ten year old vic too, a new one. Not enough to be sure she's part of the pattern, but it's scary enough to notice."

"But hang on ... didn't you say something about multiple attackers in ... this last case?" He asked her quietly. "Multiple copykats? That doesn't make any sense, not for this case ... and while I'm glad he did, it's hard to believe that anybody duplicating Berten's MO would have left...." He jerked his head back towards the kitchen where Midnight was getting Tamera some dessert.

"Chance, we don't know if it's a copykat, weird timing or just bad luck," she reminded him. "It's high on the list of suspicions, but this is a huge city and we don't have the evidence to prove it's the same attacker yet. The labs will need a few days to work all that out. It's just detective gut reaction right now. We've been wrong before."

"Right," Chance nodded. "I'm just sayin'... this time, I don't know that I think it's all that likely. Anyways, thanks for the information... and for letting me know about Tamera. Let me know what the paternity results are; we need to come in for any more lab work for that?"

"If you'd drop by HQ Medical for a blood draw, it would speed things up," she nodded. "They got hers when they did a medical check on her this morning."

"Sure thing," he nodded. "I'll stop by in the morning. Anything else you can tell me?"

"Give me a break, Furlong," she rolled her eyes, though there was a bit of a grin on her face. "I haven't had this case forty-eight hours yet."

"Okay, so I'll wait until tomorrow to ask why you haven't solved it yet," he teased. "Thanks again ... see you tomorrow, and good luck."

"Thanks," she reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "Right now I'm going to pick up my daughter and hold her for a long time. Let me know if you need anything for Tamera. Her things should be released from the crime scene in a day or two."

"Will do ... and you go do that," Chance smiled, giving her shoulder a light squeeze before she turned and left.

Jake closed the door to their condo behind him before he reached out to touch his lover, turning the big tabby around for a soft, lingering kiss and embrace.

"So ... up for indulging in something unusual tonight?" Jake asked with a low purr.

"What've you got in mind?" Rock purred, kissing him back as Jake slid his hands down his broad chest.

"Pretend I'm a virgin," he grinned shyly, a bit embarrassed by the request despite all he'd asked for in the last few years. "The not into kinks kind."

"What brought this on?" Rock asked with a chuckle, starting to undo Jake's shirt.

"Enough gory details on that murder that gentle and painless is appealing," he admitted, pressing into the touch with a soft groan.

"That I can see," Rock murmured, nuzzling him and sliding his shirt off. "And I'm up for it," he added with a low rumble. "So, what'd you think of Tamera?" He asked, reaching down to undo Jake's belt while Jake worked on unbuttoning his shirt.

"She sure has the looks to be his kit," he started with the obvious. "She's been touched, though the spirit isn't very strong that did it. She'll probably be pretty bright when she's not trying to relearn the entire world."

"Any idea what spirit?" Rock asked him, pulling his belt out of his jeans and tossing it to the side. "And you're probably right ... didn't know Connie that well, but I seem to remember she was pretty smart most of the time, and I know Chance is, even if he doesn't admit it," he chuckled slightly. "Wish he'd found out a better way," he murmured.

"Me too," he murmured, claiming another kiss. "At least he's set up as well as he could be to have a new kitten in his life. I could tell Midnight took to her quickly."

"I think Midnight could find out he'd accidentally sired an entire clan and she wouldn't mind too much as long as she got to take care of them," Rock purred into the kiss. "So... why don't we try taking this to the bedroom before we get too much further?"

"I'd like that," Jake smiled, nuzzling Rock's bare chest as he slipped into a 'nervous virgin' mindset.

"Come on," Rock purred, picking him up and carrying him on back into their home. "I don't think I'll ever get tired of this," he grinned.

"I'm sure I won't," Jake slid his arms around his neck and nuzzled him. "Love how strong you are."

"I'll just have to remember to keep working out then," Rock purred, nuzzling him back and setting him down on the bed, making short work of undressing the rest of the way. "So, what do you want to start out with?" He rumbled deeply.

Jake licked his lips nervously, his eyes lingering on Rock's crotch as he shimmied out of his own jeans, though he lift his skivvies on.

"So it's my call, hmm?" Rock purred, climbing onto the bed. "Don't worry, I'll be gentle with you," he promised, straddling Jake's hips and kissing him tenderly.

He felt as much as heard the low moan from the lean tom under him, but it was the way Jake slipped a hand between them to fondle his balls that drew one from him.

"Love you," Rock rumbled lowly, shifting to lick at Jake's neck, reluctantly moving so that Jake couldn't reach his balls for a bit as he moved down further, teasing his furless nipples with his tongue.

"Love you too," Jake shivered, his hands exploring his lover's powerful chest. "Love how you touch me."

"Just wait until I'm really going," Rock grinned up at him, reaching up between Jake's legs to fondle him through his briefs. "Spread your legs, okay?"

He nodded with a low moan and did so, his eyes dilating slightly as he watched his lover pretend this was their first time together. It brought back incredibly intense memories from that real first time, both with Rock, and when he'd first been naked with another tom.

Rock slid his briefs down slightly, just enough to expose his sheath and half-hard shaft. He nuzzled the swelling pouch, inhaling his lover's scent hungrily as he fondled his balls directly.

"Oooh, that feels good," Jake gasped, honestly a bit shocked at how intense the pleasure was without any pain.

"And I'm only getting started," Rock grinned, licking him from the base of his sheath to the tip of his shaft, working his briefs off the rest of the way as Jake whimpered and tried not to squirm too much.

He tried to form a response, only to give up as Rock's tongue swirled around the smooth, conical tip of his cock, then across the slit.

Rock took him into his mouth as he hardened, starting to bob his head up and down the smaller tom's stiffening cock. He slipped his hand down from Jake's balls to finger his tight pucker, pausing a moment to look up at him.

"There's lube in the nightstand; grab it for me, will you?" He asked, before taking Jake's cock in his mouth again. He felt through Jake's body as the lean tom reached over to get the rarely used bottle and hand it down.

"Mmm, good," Rock purred deeply, privately amused that Jake was so surprised by the simple pleasures they hadn't indulged in for some time.

"Remember," he winked up at Jake, "you did ask to be treated like a virgin."

He opened the tube, spreading some on his fingers before returning them to Jake's ass, slicking and slowly stretching the muscles there as he suckled his cock, paying careful attention to his barbs with his tongue.

"I remember," Jake moaned, nearly a whimper as his hips rocked between the twin pleasures. "Feels so good."

"Prove it," Rock grinned up at him around his cock, burying his nose in Jake's pubes, working the smooth tip with the back of his throat as he sucked him off, finally working his fingers up into Jake's ass and fingering his prostate.

"Yes!" Jake roared at that first hard press against the sensitive gland, his body responding on instinct to the pressure and pleasure. He cried out a second time as his balls pulled up against his body in a reaction that spiraled completely out of his control.

Rock closed his eyes, rumbling lowly as he swallowed every drop of his lover's seed. He took a few moments to lick him clean after he'd finished, relishing the way he whimpered and quivered, but most of all, with how completely Jake gave into the experience.

Slowly he moved up, kissing him hungrily as Jake panted and slowly relaxed into a puddle of soft fur.

"Are you ready?" Rock asked, lightly scritching Jake's chest, relishing the way he relaxed in his arms. "Or you want to take a turn putting your mouth to work?" He added with a grin, his own cock rubbing against Jake's thigh.

"Want to taste you," Jake all but quivered in excitement at the prospect and pressed upward lightly, urging Rock to roll to his back.

The big tabby did so easily, spreading his legs, his shaft standing tall and thick between them as Jake looked down at it and licked his lips.

"Just remember, no teeth," Rock grinned up at him.

"No teeth, right," Jake nodded before sinking down to rub his cheek against the rock-hard, musky offering of flesh. "Love how you smell, how you feel."

Rock groaned lowly, reaching down to rub Jake's ears.

"Go ahead and take your time, if you want," he purred. "Not gonna rush you, but what you're doing feels really good."

Jake smiled, purring deeply as he gave Rock's cock a lingering rub, then sank down a bit further to nuzzle his heavy balls. "You have any idea how much this turns me on?" he asked before drawing one large orb into his mouth.

"Which part of it?" Rock groaned lowly, his shaft twitching slightly at the pleasure that tingled through him as he rubbed Jake's ears and Jake worked his balls with a skill he'd honestly forgotten much about. They'd focused enough on pain and fucking that it had been a while.

With a sound of pleasure Jake let it slip from his mouth and nuzzled the heavy pair. "Feeling your balls and cock against by fur," he answered, his breath warm against their surface. "Tasting you, making you moan."

"We'll have to practice it a bit more often from now on," Rock grinned down at him. "Mmm ... seem to remember you like it when I come all over you too," he added with a moan as his shaft twitched with Jake's hot breath washing over it.

"I do," he shivered in anticipation before moving up a bit to rub his face against the hard cock again. "Love how you taste," he rumbled and slowly sank his mouth down around his lover's thick cock, exploring every inch of it with his tongue.

"Fuck yeah," Rock moaned, thrusting lightly up into Jake's mouth, his balls already twitching with pleasure. "Damn you're good at this, Jake."

He got a purring rumble in response, and Jake brought one hand in to cradle and fondle his balls. How long had it been since he'd given Jake full leave to indulge his taste for this?

However long it had been, he had to do it more often!

He fought the urge to claw Jake; while it would have normally been something he wouldn't have hesitated to do, tonight wasn't for pain. Instead, he spread his legs a bit further, rocking his hips up against Jake's face.

His lover rumbled, applied more suction as he worked up and down the hard length with a passion for it that rivaled only his passion for pain.

Rock roared, pumping ropes of thick seed into Jake's mouth, arching his back off to bed to try and push deeper into his hot, wet, hungry mouth and found it open to his advances, willingly taking him in until he couldn't press any further forward past Jake's nose.

Jake followed him down as the intensity passed and he sank down to the bed again, slowly drawing back to lick him clean.

"Oooh ... hard to believe it's the first time you've done that," Rock teased, pulling him up and kissing him hungrily, the two toms enjoying their mingling flavors and their lax bodies.

"Mmm, feel like finishing the job you started on my ass?" Jake asked, running his hands down Rock's hard body.

"Sounds like a plan," Rock purred, rolling over on top of Jake. "Like this, or you want up on your hands and knees first?" He grinned, licking Jake's nose.

"I'd like to watch you this time," he turned his head into the movement for a kiss and brought his knees up. "Take me," he cooed, his shaft hard and demanding between them.

Rock shifted down a bit, pressing his shaft up into Jake's lubed, stretched ass with a low moan, kissing him hungrily as he relished the feeling of his lover's body tight and hot around his member.

This part he would never miss. No matter how often he was buried inside Jake like this, the way he moaned and cried out in absolute abandon at being taken. It was heaven, even after years together, and all he could ever think of was that it would only get better.

For the briefest of moments, Tamera was almost able to pretend that she was at home when she woke up. Unfortunately, as her nose and sense of touch pointed out that there were two people in bed with her, and neither of them smelled like her mother, she also found herself unable to slip back into the happy dream she'd almost thought she was waking up into.

Still, she snuggled up more closely against Midnight, the black-furred shekat in her satin nightgown a comforting presence, at least.

Chance, behind her, was still sleeping soundly. It wasn't that she was uncomfortable with him there, really. It was just that she'd never shared a bed with anybody but her mother before ... not a grown up, anyways.

While Midnight was a fairly decent substitute for her mother, Chance being there broke the illusion quickly. Her mom had never let her stay in the bed with her when a boyfriend was over. She'd never explained why, she felt safe enough with Chance on her other side, but her mom had been adamant about it.

"Ready for breakfast?" Midnight's soft voice broke into her thoughts.

"Sure," Tamera nodded slightly, sitting up as Midnight slipped out of bed, careful not to wake her mate at such an early hour.

"Then come to the kitchen and we'll fix something up for you," Midnight smiled and helped her get her feet on the floor without waking Chance.

"Thanks," she smiled back, following Midnight out. "Does he usually sleep in like that?"

"Whenever he can, between kittens, rotating shifts and other commitments," she nodded. "It's quite early for him to be up. What appeals for breakfast?"

"I'd usually just have cereal or something," Tamera told her. "I'm usually up pretty early on the weekends," she admitted with a bit of a blush. "But... if it's okay, could I maybe have some eggs or something?" She asked hopefully, not wanting to push her luck.

"Sure thing," Midnight smiled brightly as she pulled the carton of eggs out. "What about cinnamon french toast, bacon and juice?"

"Uhm ... sure!" Tamera blinked. "Can I help?"

"I'd like that," her smile turned to a grin. "How about starting with cracking two eggs in a dish while I get things together?"

"Okay," Tamera nodded, taking a dish and the eggs from Midnight and carefully cracking first one, then another, into the bowl, carefully trying to keep from breaking any of the shell in. "So... what do you usually do?" She asked, hoping to keep some conversation going.

"I take care of the house and kittens," she smiled. "Chance makes enough as an Enforcer pilot that I don't have to work anymore."

"Cool," the tabby mused. "Mom always had to work," she murmured. "She'd still be in bed now, usually...." Her tail curled lightly around one leg as she remembered.

"It's okay," Midnight knelt and hugged her. "It'll hurt for a long time, but it'll get better in time."

"Why?" Tamera murmured, pressing back against Midnight, squeezing her eyes shut. "Why would somebody hurt Mom like that? Why didn't he do it to me instead?" She whispered.

"Some people are very sick, dear," she tried to reassure her. "They have reasons for their choices I can't even begin to understand."

"But he was after me," Tamera pointed out, her fur starting to stand up on end. "He was in my room, not Mom's!"

"He?" she looked at the kitten seriously. "You've seen the attacker?"

She shook her head.

"Not really ... but it's the same guy who grabbed me the other night. Mom woke me up before he could really hurt me," she said with a tone somewhere between dead serious and knowing how ridiculous it sounded.

"Tell me about it," Midnight asked, gently but firmly. "You might be surprised at what I don't think is ridiculous."

"Well ... the last couple nights, I've been having bad dreams," Tamera admitted. "Before it happened," she added. "When I'd think I was waking up, I'd try to get out of bed, and the monster would grab me and pull me under. But Mom would come and wake me up for real, and I'd be in bed, but... I know it was real! It wasn't just a dream, not the last parts."

"Did it leave any physical evidence? Bruising, scratches, or the like?" she asked, working it over in a mind nearly as well educated on the supernatural as any priest.

Tamera nodded, reaching down and pulling up her nightgown, brushing the fur on her ankle back to show some bruises, at least a couple days old. "Just this, but dreams don't bruise you at all, so...."

"You could have hit yourself on something in your sleep, but it's not likely to leave a mark like that," Midnight said after she looked at the finger-like marks just above her ankle. "Would you mind talking to a friend of mine, a priestess of Bastet and skilled diviner? She might be able to put a little more detail as to what is dream and what is real."

"Okay," Tamera nodded seriously. "You believe it?"

"I've seen too much in my life not to give it the benefit of a full investigation," Midnight nodded. "Compared to some things I've witnessed, this is quite believable."

"I didn't tell the Enforcers," she admitted. "I probably should have, huh?"

"Yes, you should have, but you told me, and that's nearly as good," Midnight tried to reassure her. "Now, feel up for eating breakfast before I wake up Chance and we see about those dreams you're having?"

"Sure," the kitten nodded, getting back to helping Midnight make breakfast.

Shier Khan surveyed his domain in MegaKat City as his stretch limousine pulled into the estate, lush in the manicured trees and water features from his homeland's palaces. It was not home, it was not even his finest residence, but here was his most treasured possession.

His heart lived here.

"All is ready, master," a petite golden tiger tabby shekat wearing a traditional blue and golden sari bowed to him as he stepped out of the limo. Her accent was noticeable, but he smiled privately at how much her Tusandrin had improved since his last visit. She looked better too. Good enough to be worth bedding, if he didn't know he'd have company while he was here.

He nodded acknowledgement of her words and walked up the main staircase into his home. His nose twitched, and a low chuckle rumbled up from his chest.

"You must have a much more competent second than last time I visited," he called out, his fine suit doing nothing to hinder his naturally powerful grace as he walked into his rich dark wood office to greet his long-time lover.

"You could say that," Ulysses Feral rumbled in matching amusement as he looked up from doing work at the grand desk and leaned back in the plush leather chair. "You could also say that I can do paperwork anywhere and here, with you coming, is much more pleasant than my office at headquarters.

"Is your work finished?" Shier raised an eyebrow

"It is for tonight," Feral purred, pushing it off to the side and standing up to meet Shier, welcoming his embrace and fierce kiss.

"Good," Shier claimed a second kiss and drew him against his body fully. "Because I have plans for you, and they do not involve work."

"Good," Feral purred, hugging the Tiger tightly, drinking in his scent. "To be honest with you, I'm glad to have work over with for the night. I don't think I've ever had a week this insane without a giant monster attack."

"So I have heard," Shier licked his cheek and pulled back slightly so he could take his lover by the hand. "Come to the lounging room. We will eat, enjoy ourselves, and you can let go of this week."

"That sounds good," Feral purred, following him to the lounge. "An evening at home, more or less?"

"Has there ever been a reason not to?" Shier chuckled deeply. "When you have all that we do here?"

"I certainly can't think of one," Feral rumbled lowly, taking up a comfortable place in the cushions in the lounge next to Shier. "I'm more than happy to stay home, especially tonight. So, how was your trip?"

"Long, dull and very profitable," he summed his last four months up and leaned over for a kiss, his hand playing across his boyfriend's broad chest, beginning to work the long trench coat off of him. "Very much unlike yours, I hear."

"No," Feral laughed darkly, returning the kiss. "Unfortunately, it's been quite the opposite... except for the long part. My Ghosts are still trying to find out exactly whose tail I'm going to have to break for what happened at the prison earlier this week."

"And for the next few hours, none of that is your concern," Shier told him with determination, sliding a hand down to play his fingers under Ulysses' belt.

"If you're trying to distract me, maybe I'm not the one who should be undressing," Feral purred, working on Shier's suit slowly. "I'm glad you're back in town," he murmured, kissing him tenderly.

"So am I," he rumbled, undoing the brown tom's belt and pulling his slacks down as he abandoned all interest in talking and going slow. Dignity and patience had its place, and it wasn't with a lover of so many years after months apart.

"I mean it," Feral rumbled, getting Shier's suit and belt off before grunting a bit as he was pushed back into the cushions with a heated kiss that he returned eagerly. He slipped a powerful hand into the Tiger's pants, fondling his sheath and shaft as powerful hands, his own and his lover's, got rid of the rest of their clothing.

They both groaned into the other's mouth as the powerful body rubbed against theirs, encouraging their arousal until Ulysses grabbed Shier's ass to increase the friction for them both.

Fur and flesh rubbed against each other, and Feral rolled one shoulder up to put himself on top of the Tiger, growling playfully as he started rubbing faster, their balls bumping against each other.

Shier groaned deeply and wrapped his legs around his lover's, locking them tightly against each other as the strokes became quicker and the pressure tightening between their bodies, making their balls rub instead of bump.

Their fur was soon slick with pre-come, the universe forgotten but for their pleasure.

It wasn't long before Feral roared, the tensions of the day draining from his body along with his seed as he came hard, matting their fur with his juices and making it slick for his lover.

Shier's breath quickened, the soft, slick, wet hardness around him.

"Come, baby," Ulysses whispered throatily. "Drain your tensions onto my fur."

He kept moving, rubbing against Shier, reaching between them to close his hand around their rods and hold them tightly against each other as he worked to get him off.

It wasn't long before he'd succeeded; Shier roared, spraying his own seed onto their bellies and Ulysses' fingers.

"Mmm, I needed that," Shier nuzzled him, licking along his jaw. "It's not the same with the submissive ones I usually get."

"No, it's not," Ulysses purred, nuzzling his neck. "Though there's something to be said for them too," he added with a low chuckle.

"Yes, and watching with one," he licked his whiskers back in at memories of previous evenings where he had done so. "To watch you thrust into her body again and again, making her cry out in pleasure until you drive yourself in with a roar, your entire body stiff, your instincts taking over," he looked up at his lover and pulled him in for a heavy kiss. "I have passed many lonely nights with that image."

"Mmm ... maybe if we get a chance, I can get a couple pictures for you to enjoy before you leave again," Feral chuckled. "If it makes you feel any better, I tend to pass my nights imagining you like that," he rumbled deeply. "Though occasionally with more exotic company than your own hand," he added with a kiss that was claimed and held as they both relaxed.

Shier ran his hands down Ulysses' back, enjoying the powerful body under the short fur. "Perhaps," he rumbled, more than slightly turned on by the idea. "For now, how about relaxing in the pool?"

"Sounds good to me... maybe that attractive young thing in the blue sari can bring out drinks for us?" Feral suggested. "What is her name anyways?"

"Cammy," Shier nuzzled him. "Drinks, a snack ... or to join us as well?" he rumbled softly, liking the idea a great deal.

"I think so," Ulysses rumbled, returning the nuzzle before standing up. "Maybe relax a bit before then, rest up so we can give her the breaking in she deserves... assuming that we will be?" He added, raising an eyebrow with a half-grin as his lover stood and slid his arms around him.

"Only enough to be sure she understood what I might expect of her," Shier licked Ulysses' ear. "It was by no means a breaking in."

"Then we'd best take a few minutes, make sure we can live up to her expectations," Ulysses chuckled, kissing his lover. "Let's go, I think I still remember the way to the pool."

"I would hope so," Shier chuckled and walked next to him into the hallway and down the corridor to a room that smelled perpetually of steam. "It has only been four months since we last shared it."

"Four long months," Ulysses agreed, reaching the room and sliding into the hot water with a low groan. "Some days I wonder if I'd be better off sub-letting this part of the house than getting Manx to keep our facilities budget up to date," he chuckled.

"He's still giving you too little money for the basics?" Shier raised an irritated eyebrow as his mind instantly went into plotting mode. "I really will find time to lean on him this trip. It is quite unacceptable to conduct business in a land that refuses to keep an adequately supplied military and refuses to allow me to supply my own."

"Oh, we have the basics, and we can maintain them most years, it's just actually improving anything that takes a disaster to make happen," Feral grumbled. "You remember what it took to get the funds to upgrade to blasters for more than special forces."

"Yes, I do," he nodded grimily. "I must to admit I'm glad I was not in town for that one. Werewolves ... you manage to attract the strangest of things here."

"And it's only likely to get worse," Ulysses said grimly. "Did I ever tell you what we found out about that Cadet who came back from the dead, Clawson? Seems he's connected to something that's going to get much bigger."

"No, I haven't heard about this," Shier raised an eyebrow as Cammy walked into the room with a tray heavy with fruit, sliced meat, cheese, bread and a pitcher of chilled milk. "What is coming?"

"Apparently he is Bastet's Champion, in some sort of divine... game, to see what direction the world will go in for the next generation. Unfortunately, this is a particularly important contest for whatever reason, and so it's going to be even more chaotic than usual. We've got reason to believe that at least one Omega is involved as well."

"Ah, yes, the Divine Challenge," Shier nodded. "It is typically simpler in Tusandrin, but we have far fewer factions and a much a more ritualized method."

"Unfortunately, we're not so lucky around here," Ulysses sighed. "We've got one Champion on our payroll, don't have anything more than hunches about who the others are or what they'll try to do, and only know that at least one of them has tried to blow up a good portion of the city before. It's done wonders for Clawson's job security though," he chuckled grimly.

"Is he being difficult about staying?" Shier asked, sliding and arm around his lover to draw him close in the warm, swirling water.

"Thankfully no," Ulysses murmured, snuggling up against him, wrapping an arm around his back. "Not yet, at any rate. However, there are several... well, I wouldn't say they're strikes against him, but he'd have a harder time keeping his position normally. His tastes could cause him quite a bit of trouble, but given what I've learned about these Champions, I'm not sure if it would be prudent to take action if he ever did something to warrant it."

"Taste for what?" Shier looked at him curiously.

"Pain, of all things," Feral chuckled slightly. "According to his entrance interviews, he has a distinct taste for pain in the bedroom ... so far, he's kept himself sensible about it, but the regulations about sadists and masochists alike in the Enforcers are clear. If he ever did cross a line, I'm not sure if we could afford to lose his services to the Enforcers if we had to deal with one of the Champions. To say nothing of what Bastet's and Halikar's priests and priestesses might think of it."

"Yes, I could see that becoming an issue," he nodded thoughtfully. "Have you looked into the limits on independent contractors? It may be a way to keep his services if he loses his badge."

"It may," Feral nodded, considering the idea. "It certainly has potential ... have to look into those rules. The statutes are particularly strict, especially if he was discharged from the Enforcers for a breach of regulations. Thanks for the suggestion though, it's worth looking into. Of course, if he keeps himself toned down the way he has so far, it won't be an issue."

"Hope for the best, prepare for the worst," Shier chuckled and kissed him soundly. "Does he have a steady lover?"

"I think so," Ulysses nodded slightly, returning the kiss. "One of his partner's relatives, I think. Now ... was that meant as a subtle hint to pay more attention to mine?" He chuckled.

"I won't dissuade you of that notion," he rumbled, sliding his free hand down to Ulysses' lap and shifted his full focus on making out until Ulysses was hard again and moaning as much as kissing.

"I can live with that," the dark brown Kat rumbled deeply, glancing back over his shoulder with an amused expression at Cammy, standing near the door and trying to be unobtrusive while she got an eyeful and waited for orders. "Would you care to do a bit more than watch?" He suggested with a throaty purr.

"Yes, master," she purred in return, her tail twitching eagerly as she walked to the edge of the large hot tub and casually unwrapped the soft blue sari to reveal a curvy body marked very closely to a tigress, though she clearly wasn't one.

"Very nice," he purred, taking her hand and guiding her down into the water with them, pulling her around to sit in his lap. "Why don't we give your Master a show, hmm?" He rumbled, turning her head back to kiss her and found her not only eager and willing, but already decidedly aroused.

"Thank you," she moaned into his mouth as his fingers slid between her legs, causing her to spread them wide and rock her hips. "I would like that, masters," she wiggled her tail between them, encouraging the arousal against her back as she reached her arms up and back to wrap around his neck.

"Good," he purred deeply, wrapping an arm around her to fondle her breasts. "Do you like it rough?" He asked her, squeezing one of her nipples lightly. "Or should I hold back?"

"I would prefer you didn't break anything, master," she told him with a shiver of excitement. "I would love to be so well-used I can't move in the morning."

"All right then," he rumbled deeply, shifting down beneath the water and rising up, driving his hard, thick, barbed member up between her legs, stretching her tight body as hot water gave way to hot flesh around his shaft.

"Ohhh, yesss!" Cammy cried out, arching her back forward so each thrust slammed his sheath against her clit. She would have been willing to fake this being good, but the way his huge cock stretched her as she held on for dear life and he held her hips to keep her from going far was enough to push her right to the edge of an orgasm in the first few strokes.

"Mmm, so very delicious," Shier rumbled his own approval at the way her breasts bounced in time to Ulysses' thrusts and the open ecstasy on her face.

"An incredible treat," Feral agreed with a low groan, her body hot and tight around him. "She's very good," he rumbled hotly, fondling her breasts, running his hand down her sleek, wet belly, rubbing her clit hard and fast.

"Don't hold back on my account," he told her with a deep purr, his barbed tip rubbing against her g-spot as she began to thrash, her voice nearly a sob from his efforts.

Ulysses could only groan when her body clamped down around him, milking him as her entire form tightened with a scream of pleasure.

"Love watching you enjoy one like this," Shier moaned deeply, his hand and eyes doing nearly as good a job of pushing him to the bring as Cammy's body was for his lover.

"You'll be joining me soon enough," Feral groaned, his balls twitching as he thrust a few more times, then pushed her hips down, burying his tip up against her cervix as he roared with his orgasm, pumping her body full of his seed hard enough he could feel it pushed back against his tip when there wasn't enough space through her cervix to take it deeper inside her.

"Mm, yes," he eyed the much smaller form of their playmate as her body continued to shudder and tremble, slowly coming down from what Ulysses had done to her. "You want her front, back, or share her up front?"

"You have to ask?" He chuckled, pulling out of her with a groan, rubbing his shaft between the cheeks of her ass. "If you need any lube, let me know now," he rumbled to Cammy, reaching under the water and fingering her tight ass.

"It ... would be a good thing," she said, almost surprised to hear her own voice despite the truth of it. A normal guy was one thing ... this one was significantly larger.

"Then if you can distract her while I get her ready...." Ulysses trailed off with a grin, flipping open the concealed compartment in the tiles next to the pool and pulling out a tube of thick gel that the water wouldn't break down. He took off the cap, shifting her forward in his lap a bit to meet her employer as he pressed the tip of the tube up against her anus and squeezed a bit onto the nerve-rich muscle there.

He wasn't sure whether she moaned from what he was doing as he started to stretch her out, or from enjoying playing with Shier's balls and the tip of his cock, but her tail and body language left him with no doubt that she was enjoying it all.

He spread the gel out a bit, then pushed the plastic tube into her ass, making her tense up a little and squeeze some of it inside her body without any effort of his own. While she teased and played with Shier, he took his time, nibbling on her ears lightly as he used the lube almost like a small dildo, working it in and out of her, spreading its contents through her tight ass.

She tilted her head back and shivered as Shier roared, squirting his seed on her chin and down her throat.

Ulysses purred as he pulled the tube out of her ass, lifting her up a bit to let Shier paint her with even more of his come, the shadows of the water and the three lovers in it rippling on the wall.

When Shier was finished, Ulysses sat her on the side of the pool, shifting around to face her before he slid down, starting to lick his lover's seed from her breasts, throat, and chin with tender care, his wet tail flicking as he enjoyed the Tiger's flavor.

He felt powerful hands slide down his shoulder and across his chest before Shier's chest was against his back and cock against the curve of his ass.

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you'd want me to take you while you play with her with your mouth," he rumbled hotly in Ulysses' ear.

"I haven't had nearly enough to drink yet for that, tonight," Feral chuckled, turning to kiss Shier hotly. "Besides, you know how I love your taste," he purred hotly, licking Shier's lips to convey that the slip on the date and its meaning was forgiven.

"That I do," he rumbled, enjoying the sight as he took in his lover's powerful body with his hands while Ulysses finished cleaning her off. "I happen to love how you feel as well," he added, his hand cupping the big tom's heavy balls, fondling them tenderly.

"Mmm ... and how I feel through the walls of a certain very attractive young woman?" Feral rumbled, turning to give Cammy an affectionate lick.

"That sounds like a wonderful start to the evening," he caught Ulysses' jaw to turn him into a kiss, then backed off a bit to give the pair space to get ready for him to join in.

Commander Ulysses Feral was alone on the platform with the condemned tom. His hand was on the lever, the hood over the tom's head ... but he knew it was Berten. The guards were there, watching ... the hangkat was nowhere to be seen....

This time, it would go perfectly. He'd pull the lever, Berten would drop, it would all be over. It would be over, for him, for Furlong, for the victims left in the audience ... none of them would have to be scared of him anymore. Whether of him, or the chance he might escape.

"Does the condemned have any final requests?" he asked, performing his role as executioner.

"Actually, I do," Berten laughed, his voice raspy and hard. "I want you to suck my cock one last time before I go," he said with an audible sneer.

Feral wanted to just pull the lever and get it over with, but something seemed to have other ideas; he found himself on his knees, fighting against himself even as he undid Berten's belt.

"You remember the first time, Uly?" Doug purred, face still hidden by his mask. "When you pleasured me like this?"

Feral couldn't stop himself from unzipping the monster's pants, but he had enough control left to unsheath his claws and rip Berten's cock and balls off with the underwear that had been over them.

The Boogiekat howled with pain, blood spraying Feral's face, hot and thick and far more copious than it should have been. He heard the sound of the platform dropping, and a body falling, but still the spray continued. Once he finally managed to get out of the geyser of blood, he looked up towards the platform where Berten should have been... and he was gone, his body replaced in the noose by that of Shier Khan, still twitching at the end of the rope, hooded head at an unnatural angle and his groin ripped out.

"No!" Feral gasped in unabashed horror, just before reality began to lock down and his focus narrowed. He slashed through the rope with a swipe of his claws, allowing his lover's body to fall to the ground and let it there.

A snarl that was positively obscene in its resonance echoed through the room as Feral dropped to all fours and turned the full power of his mind and body to one purpose: to seek and destroy Doug Berten.

The entire tenor of the prison had changed. It was dark, deserted, with the lights flickering, in a state of disrepair that only normally existed in Feral's mind during the darkest times of Manx's budgets coming through. It was a terrifying place, but not one that frightened Feral. Not right now.

"Come and find me, Uly... you know where I'll be," Berten called over the intercom, the sound of a kitten crying in the background doing nothing for the Xanith's mood.

Somehow, he did know too ... the visiting area.

He didn't question it; no different than how he usually acted on his gut instinct. He simply raced off in a direct path for the front of the prison, his mind going over situations and knowledge built up over a lifetime as an Enforcer in an Enforcer family at a furious pace.

"Daddy!" A familiar voice screamed over the intercom in the distance, a scream Feral was entirely too familiar with. He remembered it, and the shots that followed ... shots he'd fired, years before.

He barreled through the doors into the visiting area, and was greeted with a sight well over a decade old; one of the visiting rooms, two dead guards, a dead inmate and his wife ... what was different from what he remembered was that the little girl wasn't dead, but instead terrified in Berten's grasp, a feline shield between the rapist and the enraged Enforcer carrying a gun stolen from one of the guards.

"Hello, Uly; hope you don't mind, but I borrowed these... he didn't need them anymore," Doug sneered with a gesture towards the dead inmate. "She's a pretty little thing, isn't she?" He said, nuzzling the terrified little girl's face. "Think you can save her this time?"

Berten hadn't even finished talking before Feral fired, a perfect shot that should have hit Berten between the eyes and left the girl uninjured. He'd trained long and hard for this reflex and the aim that went with it; the ability to fire without missing or thinking.

He didn't know how it happened. It shouldn't have happened. Berten's brains should have erupted onto the wall behind him, his body hitting the ground before he could even realize that Feral had pulled the trigger.

Instead, earning a look of shock from both adults, it was the kitten whose life was ended abruptly by Feral's bullet.

"Uly, Uly," Berten sighed. "You really need to be more careful!" He fired back at Ulysses, disappearing back into the corridors before Feral could recover his nerves to do more than take cover behind a counter.

Adrenaline hushed the voice in the back of his mind that was screaming that there was something horribly wrong, that this wasn't real, it couldn't be real.

Instead, he lunged forward, following his quarry with no regard for himself, and only a short prayer to Halikar to protect him.

He followed Berten towards the exit from the prison, wondering where the Hell the other guards were... what had happened to the Enforcers who'd been there. Alarms blared, keeping him from focusing too much as he chased after the Boogiekat and followed him out into the Yard. He could just see Berten disappearing into a supply warehouse, a short sprint away.

He made it in a heartbeat, and knew what was about to happen not quite soon enough to stop it from happening.

The world went black at the board against his head, pain dimming briefly before he could open his eyes again.

"How good for you to join us, Lieutenant," a deeply dangerous voice from the dead past drew him fully back to awareness. "Are you going to make this easy on yourself?"

"What the Hell is going on?" He asked with a growl. He knew that voice ... it wasn't the Kat he was after though. "Where's Berten?"

"Berten? No one by that name here," the voice sneered as a powerful hand pulled his head back giving him a sweeping glance at the gathering of at least a dozen thugs, his partner tied up and unconscious not far from him, and finally the broad black face of the Panther who had been the center of his life for the last few months. "You don't look so happy to see me, Feral. Did you really think I wouldn't figure out what you and your friend where?"

"You're dead, Kythar," Feral growled lowly, trying to figure out what was wrong with what he was saying ... what was wrong with all of this. What was happening?

"Not before you," the Panther promised, his steel teeth gleaming in the warehouse's dim light. "Though we're going to enjoy you a great deal before that, if you don't talk."

Feral remembered this now... and what was so wrong about the situation.

Kythar was at least thirty years dead.

And yet, a part of his mind was able to rationalize it easily. After all ... Berten was dead too, it hadn't stopped him from coming back.

"Fuck you, Kythar," he growled, knowing this wasn't going to go well. His body still bore scars from this, his mind too, though he wasn't about to admit it to anyone.

"Just as stubborn as your partner," he snorted. "Well, we'll just have to show you on her what we'll do to you if you don't talk. Tell us soon enough, you both might even live to see dawn."

"You touch her, and I'll kill you myself," Feral promised with a low growl.

"Uly, do what you have to," she whimpered, looking up at him ... Janet Mercer. He remembered her, plain as day. They'd already been at her, he could tell ... she had tear stains in her fur, off-white seed dripping down her chin, blood here and there, though she hadn't been beaten all that badly yet.

How long had it been before she'd begged him to talk when they wouldn't listen to her? Desperate to buy them time, to prompt him to blabber anything they might listen too so they might still be alive when the raid finally showed up.

He'd been too young, too shocked ... too scared ... to do anything but stare at her mutely.

"I will," he promised her, fighting the lump in his throat as he remembered it ... and as Kythar's goons started stripping her.

"You really should talk, Uly," Berten crooned quietly behind him. "'Cause whatever they do to her, I'm going to do to you," he grinned audibly, scratching the back of his well-bound captive.

"I've endured worse," he growled back, trying to look away from the memory made even more graphically real than he thought it had been.

"Maybe so," Berten purred, reaching down and shredding Ulysses' pants with his claws. "But then, I hadn't had fifteen years in prison to learn how to really make it hurt when we met."

Janet winced as her tail was lifted up and out of the way, two fingers shoved up into her ass roughly, a motion that Berten mimicked on Ulysses as he kept taunting him.

"Ever wonder what she'd have been like, Uly?" He grinned viciously. "If she'd have stayed your partner, after you watched them rape her?"

The scream she tried to make as a Wolf working for Kythar shoved his cock up into her ass was silenced by a tabby tom's in her mouth. "If she'd have had a family, kittens?" The Boogiekat groaned, sinking his shaft into Ulysses' ass.

"If she'd have had yours?" He sneered at the Xanith he'd raped over half a century before, before anybody had even known the BoogieKat Killer existed. Before anybody would admit he had, even now.

Ulysses started to curl against his bonds; not fighting them, but at the collapse of his own will.

He had thought about it. He knew her flesh, her passion, her desires. He hadn't loved her, but he was skirting the edge of it when this had happened.

He hadn't touched another Enforcer since, either.

"And look how that turned out," Berten chuckled, groaning as he pumped his first load up under Feral's tail, the Wolf tying Janet's ass as the Kat pumped a load onto her screaming face and the questioning started again. "Couldn't even keep your lover from being hung from your own gallows."

"Not real," Feral snarled a denial that they both knew was hollow. Believed or not, the sight of the mutilated Tiger dangling had shocked him badly.

"Oh, but it is for you now," Berten grinned. "You saw it, you did it, you will never look at him and not remember it. Just like you'll never forget that little kitten when you saved her from the mean old... nnngh... Boogiekat by blowing her brains out of her pretty little head!"

"No!" Ulysses cried out, no longer aware of much beyond what the monster above him was saying and trying to deny it as the determination that had seen him through so much began to crumble against an opponent that knew everything he did, and so much he had forgotten.

"Just as well you let them kill poor little Janet," Doug groaned, reaching around to grip Ulysses' balls and sheath, popping his claws out and sinking them into the tender flesh. "Imagine if she had had your kittens!" He laughed, clawing up Ulysses' sheath as he fed the growing sense of weakness. "Imagine what I'd do to them!" He threw his head back, roaring as he came again, tightening his free arm around Ulysses' throat.

"With your luck tonight, you'd even end up join-" Berten started to finish his taunt, but was interrupted as Feral was jolted awake by a powerful hand across his face.

"Wake up!" Khan's deep voice demanded nothing less than absolute obedience, and he got it, even if Ulysses wasn't coherent in the least. "What are you waiting for?" he snarled at the guards over his shoulder as he held Ulysses fairly flat on the bed, his eyes on the phantom form that was leaving their bed.

Shots rang out, the two Panthers were doing their best with what they had. Even if the shots were useless, the interruption seemed to do the job. The faint form faded from view with a snarl of outrage, disappearing from sight.

That he was gone was all Shier cared about as he focused on his lover, trying to get his attention focused enough to see if he was all right. He knew his security officers would handle everything, including getting his physician.

Feral clung to Shier, gasping for air, his throat in pain.

"Have them call SI," he croaked once he could talk again. "And the Ghosts," he added, shifting to sit up against the headboard a bit, his body aching. "That son of a...."

"Done," Shier nodded. "I have those with great knowledge of vengeful ghosts, if you would have their aid."

"If SI can't find something themselves, thank you," Feral nodded, starting to settle down, wrapping his arms tightly around his lover. "Are you okay?"

"I am fine," he ran his hands down Ulysses' back, trying to sooth his fur down. "My physician will be here to see to your injuries, and gather evidence, unless you would prefer to go to one of your own?"

"I'm sorry, but I'll want Dr. Evers to handle this," Feral said, shaking his head and turning to nuzzle Shier lightly. "She's one of my Ghosts." He sighed, pressing against the Tiger.

Shier could tell that he was fighting to stay as settled as he seemed to be, to keep from shaking and showing how badly rattled he was by this.

"I saw some of what he did," Shier began, his voice low. "Would I be wrong to believe there was far more than when he took you?"

"He killed you," Feral whispered quietly, pressing against him and found a warm, strong, supportive embrace. "And that was only the start, after I wouldn't play his sick game the way he wanted."

"A repeat of what he did to you before?" Shier asked very softly, one ear twitching as he heard two guards and others running towards the room.

"After a fashion ... I think it would have been," Feral growled lowly. "I got him back for that one though ... that's when he started twisting things," he shuddered, then looked up in mild shock. "You know?"

"A great deal of it, yes," Shier nodded and kissed his forehead in apology. "My staff is very good at what they do, much like your Ghosts. They investigated you when I became interested in you."

Whatever Ulysses was going to say was stopped by a polite knock on the large double doors.

"Dr. Suraus is here, sir," a deep male voice said through the doors.

"I'd rather not deal with him, but if you'll insist, I will," Feral told Khan quietly, knowing that his lover would prefer if he would at least let his own doctor see him.

"If you can stand, I'll send him away," Shier kissed him gently.

"That much I can do," Feral said firmly, moving the tangled covers back and moving to stand up. Difficult, he hurt in ways he hadn't in a long time, but he stood and looked at his long time lover.

"Thank you," Shier slid from the grand bed, kissed him, and walked to the door, opening it only slightly. "Thank you for coming. He prefers his own physician to see to the minor injuries."

"Very well," the male's voice seemed unhappy, but obedient.

"The Ghosts said they would be here shortly, sir," a different tom spoke. "A helicopter will arrive with them."

"And SI?" Feral asked, reaching over for one of the robes they kept in the room, wrapping it around himself, almost more disturbed by the fact that he had been fucked by the nightmare he'd had than by the nightmare itself.

Still, he couldn't shake the sense of reality from it ... particularly the missed shot that shouldn't have happened.

"Yes, sir," the Panther responded. "I told Lt. Cmdr. McKysn that you had requested them as well. She said that she would bring Sashari, Toama and Brown with her."

"Thank you. Could somebody bring a glass of warm milk? I believe that's all the more we need," he said, looking back at Shier hopefully.

"Yes, sir," the Panther guard nodded before Shier closed the door and turned to draw Ulysses into his arms.

"It will be all right, love," he rumbled softly in support.

"Not until that son of a bitch is dead for good," Feral muttered, pressing against Shier lightly. "But for tonight ... this is good," he decided, closing his eyes and leaning more heavily against his lover, trusting him to take care of everything for now.

The Boogiekat materialized, a translucent, faded form, in the middle of a dark, incense-filled room. He curled his lip in a frustrated snarl, swinging an insubstantial hand at one of the braziers ... and was surprised when the smoke curled as though he had actually hit it. He paused, considering this development, until his musings were interrupted.

"Well?" Conroy's deep voice rumbled.

"Feral got away," Berten complained, turning to look at his benefactor. "His lover woke him up ... I didn't know he had one."

"The Tiger, Shier Khan," the giant tom nodded, his own lips pulling back in an angry snarl that didn't quite make it to his voice. "It will be a very long year before you get another chance at him."

"At Feral, yes," Berten growled. "He was stronger than I expected this time ... I'll be ready for him next time. Until then ... I'm going to make sure that meddling Tiger regrets interrupting me."

"How do you plan to do that?" Conroy raised an eyebrow at him.

"He has kittens," Berten pointed out, purring as his plan took on more form. "I'm sure he does ... I could smell them. I'm sure they'll be wonderfully enjoyable."

"He is not a wise target to anger," Conroy warned him. "His resources are vast, and heavy magical. Should he turn them on you, I can not protect you."

"As if killing his lover while they shared a bed wouldn't accomplish the same?" Berten laughed harshly. "At least this way I'll get some true enjoyment out of it... besides, I think I'm going to try something that should make this city really sit up and take notice when I'm back. I don't see why I should be stuck in one place at one time any more."

"Killing Feral would have been useful," Conroy growled. "Killing the Tiger's kits will help with nothing."

"I am not your servant," Berten growled back. "I serve a far greater power than you, and I will do His work."

"You doubt my authority to order His servants to task?" the dark giant rumbled in a warning, even as power began to gather in the room. "You forget our bargain so quickly?"

"I have done what you commanded of me!" Berten pointed out quickly. "Tonight I was interrupted, but I will punish the one who interrupted me! That does not mean I won't complete our bargain."

"Part of that bargain was that you obey my edicts," Conroy reminded him. "There is good reason not to anger that Tiger more than we must."

"There is better reason to make him fear us," Berten countered. "Several of them, as a matter of fact."

"I am listening," Conroy gave him the opening grudgingly.

"If his kittens die, it will distract him from his support of the Enforcers," Berten explained. "With sufficient trouble ... say, several of them dying over the course of one night... he will almost certainly return to them, turning his attention from MegaKat City. And if he does that, not only will his attention be turned from the city, but he won't be around to save Feral the next time I have the chance. And then...." He trailed off, glancing down at his translucent hand with a satisfied expression.

"And then there's the fear that will be created if I strike at the children of such a powerful tom," he purred. "I've already become stronger, started to feed on the survivors and the people who learn about me."

"You intend to spread your terror around the world, not just this city," Conroy nodded, considering the plan. It did have merit as it was given. The risk was high, but so was the potential reward. "You do know that you will not be able to strike Feral again until next year."

"Yes... though next year, I will have the power to destroy him the way I wanted to," Berten grinned viciously, earning a curious look from Conroy.

"Do tell, I enjoy your stories."

"Oh, it's not very much to tell," Doug chuckled slightly. "It was going to start off by letting him hang me again ... only hanging me would mean strangling himself while he sucked my cock. Where it went from there would have depended on if he was actually stubborn enough to do it."

"He is," Conroy assured him. "If he believed it would kill you, he'd do it."

"I might have strung him along that long then," he mused. "I don't know him all that well these days... though you would be amazed what's in that head of his," he grinned, and knew he had a very interested audience that had forgiven him whatever annoyance he'd generated so far.

"I don't know how much you know about his early career, but he had a number of very bad experiences," Berten rumbled lowly. "An undercover operation against a Panther called 'Kythar' was a big one ... he and his partner were found out, they were tortured and raped before they finally escaped ... or before Uly did, at least. The best part is that if there was ever a fem that he would have raised a family with, it was her."

"Really?" Conroy perked up sharply, his mind already plotting on how to use that to his advantage.

"There is so very much about her that he regrets ... things that did happen that shouldn't have, that didn't but should have ... the usual things that happen, but nobody even suspects them."

"Tell me," he rumbled, a plot already half-formed and growing deadly as he worked out various details and contingencies. "What he remembers her as. What he desired in her."

"She would have been the first love of his life, the first fem he was attracted to for more than a few nights ... he had fantasies about her, not sure if they ever came true ... it's hard to tell them from memories," he admitted. "More importantly, he trusted her... they'd been partners for some time when it happened. It's one of his greatest weaknesses ... he blames himself for not confirming what she finally told Kythar and his gang. I imagine they'd have killed them anyways, and so does he, but it was much more painful for them both ... especially for her."

"He may well meet her again," the giant tom grinned dangerously. "Her spirit reborn into a new body seeking him out."

"Don't bother, unless you'll be ready in a year or less," Berten laughed. "He'll be dead by then."

"Oh, she could be ready within the week if I wanted," Conroy laughed, a deep, booming and unsettling sound. "Go have fun with the kittens in Tusandrin. I have work to do to torture Feral while we wait for his time to come again."

"Enjoy yourself - I know I will," Berten grinned viciously, bowing theatrically before fading from view, leaving Conroy to remind himself to check the news over the next few days.

"Hi!" Tamera said brightly as she climbed into the front seat of Midnight's van, buckling in and holding her backpack on her lap. "Thanks for picking me up," she said, glancing back to see that the three kittens weren't along for the drive.

"How would you like to watch your father play softball with his squad?" she smiled over.

"Sure," Tamera said, looking over at her curiously. "They play softball? Thought they were always doing Enforcer stuff."

"After shift, the squad tends to do something together to wind down," she explained and pulled into traffic. "Tonight is practice, but they have tournaments against other units."

"How good are they?" Tamera asked with a bit of a giggle.

"Not champions, but they usually place well enough, and they have fun with it," she giggled herself. "It's fun to watch them all act like big kits."

"That oughta be something to see," she giggled. "It's kinda strange, you know?" She murmured, leaning back in her seat.

"What part of it?" Midnight glanced at her.

"Having a Dad ... having a family where there's time for things like that," she admitted. "I was in a few sports and stuff through school, but... I never really found out that much about what Mom liked to do when she wasn't working or taking care of me."

"I doubt she had time for much else," Midnight said gently. "I was raised by two working parents and no extended family to speak of. There wasn't time for much outside of the twice-yearly vacations. The big family is all Chance, and a few friends."

"Probably not," Tamera admitted. "I kinda wonder if she'd have been happier if she hadn't had me, sometimes."

"What makes you think that?" Midnight tried not to ask too sharply.

"She always had to work and do stuff to help take care of me; she didn't have time for herself or for friends that much," Tamera explained. "She never said anything like that, not that I heard, but it's just something I wonder about. And now... if she'd thought she'd make up for it later, she isn't gonna get the chance anymore," she murmured softly.

"It's not like that, sweetie," Midnight said gently, regretful that she was driving and couldn't hold her. "I'm sure Connie didn't want to have a kitten so young, but it's a joy to help your kittens grow up to be fine young adults. She raised you well. That wouldn't happen if she wasn't proud of raising you."

Tamera was quiet, thinking it over. She closed her eyes, but Midnight didn't need to see them to know she was hurting.

"I miss her," she murmured softly.

"You probably always will," Midnight said gently, bringing her tail up as the best she could do for contact. "You are handling it very well, you know."

"Have to," the kitten said, swallowing a lump in her throat. "Gimme a week to get settled," she joked weakly.

Well, that was definitely like her father. Get the crisis over with, then react to it.

"What's funny?" Tamera asked with a funny look in Midnight's direction.

"You never met your father before, but that is just like him."

"Guess that's a good thing," Tamera tried to giggle. "Midnight? What if I'm not? His daughter, I mean?"

"If you have nowhere else you'd rather go, we'd probably still adopt you," she said simply. "Your mother was important to him once, and you're a good kit. It'd be nice to have another pair of hands when I have a second or third litter able to walk all at once, and you have a good hand in the kitchen. Did you ever want little siblings?"

"Sometimes, I guess... be nice to have somebody else to get fussed over. Especially when my Katian grades are coming in," she blushed a bit under her fur.

"Well, until someone says otherwise pretty strongly, you have three," Midnight smiled at her and pulled into a park near Enforcer Headquarters. "If we're lucky, there will be another three or four in seven months."

"So I'd better be sleeping in my own room before too much longer," Tamera giggled, unbuckling her seatbelt. "Will it just be Chance and his friends here tonight?"

"On the field," she nodded and got out. "Family and friends, and the occasional opponent, sometimes watch. Though I'll be lobbying Meg heavily to take all kittens from the house for that week. No one would sleep, and kittens need their sleep."

"So that's why I'd always go stay with Roxie every few months," Tamera mused as she climbed out, looking around for the ball park and starting over towards it with Midnight not far behind her.

"Most likely," Midnight smiled. "What sports do you play?"

"Depends... used to play baseball, now it's mostly soccer, I was going to try for football and hockey when they open 'em up for me. Math team too, but that's not really a sport to most people," she shrugged a bit. "Good at it though."

"Very much like Chance," she mused as they walked up to the chain-link fence separating the spectator area from the field. "What else do you enjoy?"

"The usual sort of stuff," Tamera said, thinking it over. "Kittens, puppies... the four legged kind anyways. We couldn't really have pets at the apartment most of the time, but we had a cat that was hit by a car for a little while, before he got better and the manager kicked him out."

"Any preference, or just small and fluffy?" Midnight asked, really thinking it over. Her mother swore that pets were good teachers, though she never did understand why.

"Small and fluffy mostly ... friendly too," Tamera said, thinking it over. "Never had brothers or sisters to help take care of, guess I kinda treated the cat like one," she admitted.

"You have real ones now," she smiled down and put a protective hand on her shoulder. "We'll see if pets happen when they're a little older."

"M'kay," Tamera smiled up at her as Chance and his squad-mates came out to take over the field. "Whoa," she murmured as she saw the massively built Hyaenodon and Andrewsarchus appear.

"Yes, they are massive," Midnight nodded. "Their pups will be born only a few pounds smaller than you, I believe. R'ars and Seratilista's bellies are huge."

"I'll bet," Tamera murmured. "They're Chance's friends though, right?" She asked, looking up at Midnight.

"Yes," she smiled down and hugged her to her side gently. "They're friendly, just huge. Have you seen a Xanith before?"

"Yeah, but most Xanith couldn't swallow me whole," she giggled weakly. "Those guys ... almost look like they could."

"Mmm, A'zay in particular," Midnight nodded in agreement. "You don't need to worry about them though. They're good people. They've been Black Knights longer than Jake and Chance."

"Are we gonna meet 'em later?" she asked, her tail swishing behind her.

"If you'd like," she smiled down. "I know the squad's eager to meet you when you're up for it."

"I'm not sure," the tabby kitten admitted, shifting uneasily as she stared out at the mismatched group that formed the team. "Maybe for a bit though... you and Chance'll be right there, and I've already met Jake."

"Yes, we will be," she assured her. "There's nothing to be worried about with them."

"I'm sure there isn't ... I'm just not really up too much for being social right now," Tamera said quietly. "Did you ever lose somebody like that?"

"No, I haven't," Midnight admitted. "I haven't lost anyone close to me yet except Jake, and he doesn't stay dead. It's happened to those close to me though."

"He doesn't ... what?" Tamera asked, looking up at Midnight incredulously.

"Remember when I told you that your dream being real wasn't the most incredible thing I've witnessed?" Midnight smiled down in understanding. "I've seen Jake die, and recover from it. It's made him miserable most of his life, too."

"But... that just... it doesn't make sense," Tamera pointed out. "How... how'd he do that?"

"He doesn't," she tried to keep it relatively simple. "Bastet and Halikar have plans for him, and they won't allow him to rest until they are done with him."

"Oh...." Tamera trailed off, clearly trying to make sense out of it until she was distracted by the practice ending and the squad walking in from the field.

Before Midnight could draw her over to the team, Chance was waylaid by a golden tabby shekat.

"Glad I caught you," Seriad smiled weakly when he grinned at her. "Results came in from both DNA tests. Can we talk in private?"

"Sure," he nodded. "Hey guys, I'll catch up with you in a minute," he called to his squad-mates, heading off to follow her. "So what's up?" He asked as they headed towards the showers. "Paternity come back negative?" He asked her, trying to figure out what would throw her off like she was.

"It came back positive," she shook her head. "Look, you bolt on me and I'll be the one to skin you alive, but ... you're a good Enforcer and you've been a good friend. The DNA tests came back on Connie's assailants too. A dead Kat, a Panther and dog that aren't detailed enough to be real, and you."

Chance froze where he was standing, staring at her in disbelief.

"You're shitting me," he said bluntly.

"I wish I was, Chance," she told him, facing him squarely. "Right now you aren't as dead as it would normally be, but ... it's not going to be good until somebody figures out how the results happened."

"No, it's not," he murmured. "It'd be a halfway decent case too ... I swear, I haven't seen her since the execution," he said seriously. "And only for a few minutes from the other side of the glass. You said there were three others, and one of 'em was a dead kat?"

"Your saving grace," she nodded. "The other individual was Douglas Berten. A generic Panther and dog, as in the four-legged kind, were, were also in there, but they didn't have any individual markers."

"Berten was dead for days before she was killed," Chance pointed out irritably. "Somebody at the lab must've screwed something up, that's all there is to it!"

"That is being investigated, and the tests run again. Just don't be too surprised if you get stuck on desk duty for a while. If the results weren't so weird, you'd be under arrest by now," she warned him quietly. "It's one hell of a coincidence, no matter what you think of its validity."

"I know, I know," he muttered. "Look... what's this going to end up meaning, even with the weird shit?" He asked, glancing over at Midnight and Tamera. "And is there anything I could do that might end up making it a little less severe?"

"Cooperate, and be right about not having touched her in a decade," Seriad said quietly, aware that everyone was giving them space, but also knew something incredibly serious was up. "Right now, I'm using the weirdness as grounds to not report the findings until a second test says the same thing, if it does.

"If it does, it's going to SI for review, you'll be on desk duty if you're lucky, your daughter will probably be placed with someone else," she sighed. "If it goes that far, a lot will depend on what IA turns up, and how the DA and Mayor's office takes it. I'm sorry, it's the best I can do for you."

"I know," he nodded seriously. "You know this is bullshit, right? I wouldn't have lied about something like that."

"I believe you," she told him honestly. "Knowing ... that's harder right now. I wouldn't be doing my job if I just took your word for anything in a case like this."

"Fair enough," he nodded slightly. "What can I and can't I say?" He asked her. "I know they're going to ask what this was about."

"Don't say more than that there were complications with the test on Connie's killers," she told him. "Sorry, but the rest you shouldn't even know yet."

"No problem," he nodded. "The part about it coming back positive on Tamera I can say, right?"

"Yes, that's public record and it'll hold as is unless there's a challenge to it," she nodded and turned to leave. "Hope the rest of your night goes better."

"Well it'd have a damned hard time going worse," he half-laughed, grumbling as he turned to join the others, his face showing every bit of his irritation with the situation.

It had to be a fuck up in the lab. It could happen in the best of circumstances, especially if whoever was running the paternity test was near the test on the material from Connie.

Hell, if they'd been running a test to see if they could link Berten to another cold case, that'd even explain why his had been there ... and maybe why the Panther and dog's DNA was screwed up.

It all fit together well enough ... almost as well as the case against him would, if they decided to prosecute.

And he had to sit on it, at least until they had the second test back. If that one said the same thing ... shit. If that one said the same thing, he was royally screwed ... and so was Tamera, probably. If they were lucky, she'd be back at her friend's until they found out what happened in the lab. If not....

Now that he knew she was his daughter, he wanted to see her in the foster system even less than he had before.

"Spill it," Kathie walked up to him, just far enough away from the others that it could stay private if he wanted it to be.

"What I can spill, there's something up with the test on what they got from Connie's body," he told her quietly. "And off the record, I might end up on desk duty in a few days," he muttered lowly.

"Ah crap," her ears flattened. "You two and getting grounded," she muttered, more in frustration for them than at them. "Okay, I won't press, but tell me if I can help out."

"I will," he nodded. "And if it gets that far, I'll need all the help I can get," he admitted, his tail-tip still betraying his irritation as they went to catch up with the others.

"Well, I got some good news out of all that too, at least, and that's what's important," he told them, walking over to Midnight and Tamera.

"They proved you are my father," the kitten guessed with little effort.

"Yeah, they did," he smiled down at her, kneeling so he was more at her level and giving her a hug. "I'm sorry I haven't been able to be there for you before, but I'm gonna try and fix that now," he promised her quietly.

Tamera just nodded, a lump in her throat as she pressed tightly into the hug. "Why didn't she tell you?" she whimpered against his fur, unable to stop herself from breaking down in public.

"I don't know, honey," he admitted. "I really don't know, and I wish I did."

"Come on, let's go home, have a nice quiet meal and hot chocolate?" Midnight suggested, warding off Jake approach with an apologetic glance.

"I think that's a good idea," Chance nodded slightly. "Sorry to run off guys. I'll see you for shift tomorrow," he said as he stood up, and got a mixture of concern and acceptance from the rest of the squad.

Rock checked the clock as he toweled off after a shower; he'd taken a half-day from the work site to meet Kyale, at her request, and Jake wouldn't be home for at least an hour, more likely two. It was about time for her to arrive too; good timing, really, even if he didn't know why she wanted to talk to him, let alone with Jake gone.

If she'd been staying longer, he'd almost have wondered if she was going to ask his permission to court Jake, but she'd be leaving tonight, not long after Jake got home if plans went right.

He pulled on a t-shirt as the doorbell rang, and headed out to meet her, opening up the door to reveal the black-furred foreign shekat.

"Hi, come on in," he said easily, stepping back to let her in.

"Thank you," she inclined her head politely and stepped inside to put down her large duffle bag, a smaller one landing on the floor next to it. "I do not mean to go behind his back, to say, but I did not want him to take my gift a bad way," she started to explain as she picked up the smaller black bag, still the size of a large briefcase, and walked to the coffee table in the living room to put it down.

"Oh? What is it?" He asked her curiously. "If you can say, of course," he added, knowing she might want it to be a surprise for both of them, though it seemed almost like she wanted his advice about it instead.

"Yes," she nodded, unsnapping the latches of the hard-sided bag. "His issue with bedding a female ... the herbs I used may allow him to mate without pain. They make a female smell male very well."

"I see," Rock nodded slightly. "Thank you... do you know what they will do to the female? Especially if she's in heat?" He asked her, glancing at the packages of herbs and the instructions for their preparation and use.

"It depends on the preparation and timing," she reached for the pages of carefully hand written instructions. "If used as a paste, rubbed into the fur and flesh, it should have little other effect," she handed him one of the pages. "If created as a tea and drunk, it would disrupt her fertility."

He was sure, given her level of mastery of Katian, that it had been quite a labor for her to write.

"I understand," he nodded, looking over the page. "I will let him know you left it... are you worried that he'll think you're pushing him to take a female mate?"

"Yes," she nodded and stood, the other papers in her hand. "He would not be wrong that I find him appealing that way. It is not why I wish to make the gift. He has been kind to me the way few have. If my knowledge can make him hurt less, I would like it to happen."

"For what it's worth, I'm grateful for it," Rock smiled, standing and squeezing her shoulder. "He doesn't like to admit that it hurts him, but it does... I've tried similar things, but this might do the trick for him, if he ever decides to try for kittens."

She nodded, a somewhat surprised look on her face before she smiled slightly. "My thought was if he loved another female. He seemed content to be without kittens."

"I'll be honest with you, I'd be less surprised if he decided to do it for kittens than if he did it because he fell in love with another fem," Rock chuckled slightly. "There are some issues there... nothing you'd have to worry about. I'm sure he'll appreciate the thought, but I'll be sure not to tell him until after you've left, if you'd rather."

"I would," she nodded seriously. "I will be in MegaKat City in four months. Enough time I hope he will not see it as a proposal unless he wishes too."

"That's fine," he nodded, packing the instructions back into the bag and closing it up. "Would you like something to drink before I get dinner started, or you want to help in the kitchen?" He asked her easily.

"Yes, and I will with what I can," she nodded to him, staying where she was until he had put the case away in the bedroom, then followed him to the bar. "A sweet drink?" she half-asked, not sure what was available, or what he knew how to mix.

"Sure," he said easily, pulling out a bottle of kahlua and one of the chocolate liqueurs that Jake had a bit of a taste for and mixing the two, passing the glass over to her. "Simple, but it ought to work out for sweet," he grinned as he put the bottles back in the bar. "By the way, I didn't think to ask about this before, but you don't have any problems with eating beef, right?"

"No, no problem," she smiled and sipped the drink. "I like beef."

"That's good," he smiled back, pulling out the small steaks and setting them on the counter. "Could you pull down the pepper grinder, seasoned meat tenderizer, and paprika?" He asked her as he started fishing around in the fridge, pulling out a jar of minced garlic.

By the time he turned around she had the items next to the steak and slipped out of his way again. He couldn't help but wonder about how she picked out the containers so quickly, though it was a reminder that he was alone in the house with someone who could beat Jake into the ground.

"I'm glad you're friendly," he chuckled slightly, shaking his head and pulling a meat-tenderizer out of the drawer, bending down to pull out a frying pan and a medium-sized sauce pan. "Hate to think of what you could do to me if you weren't," he grinned over at her, putting the pans on the stove and heading back for the olive oil and a box of instant-rice mix. "Can you get the rice going while I prep the steaks?"

"Yes," she nodded, quickly moving around without seeming to hurry, pausing briefly to read the instructions on the rice box, clearly unfamiliar with the item.

"Measuring cups are in the cupboard above the sink," he offered as she started to look for them, spooning some of the garlic onto the steaks, then crushing some of the pepper on, and sprinkling them liberally with the tenderizer and paprika before starting to hammer them flat.

He noticed her watching the preparation with interest, even as she accomplished what he had set her to. Despite her grace, he was sure cooking, especially with these kinds of methods, was not a common event for her.

"Usually eat out?" He asked her easily as he flipped the steaks over and repeated the process with the other side while she waited for the water to start boiling. "At least when you're somewhere it's a possibility?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Where it is not, I can cook the way I know. I have never seen rice cooked this way."

"It's a lot easier than making it normally ... especially for rice pilaf," Rock admitted. "We'll do up frozen veggies too, but they can go in pretty much at the last minute," he explained, pulling down some olive oil and starting it heating in the frying pan.

"I can see that," she nodded. "Your easy to make foods are exotic to me. It makes for a interesting meal. Do you like to cook?"

"Sometimes; Jake's more into it than I am, but I've learned to do a bit better than the average bachelor over the years," he smiled. "Once in a while, I found out that clients liked actual breakfast in bed," he chuckled. "So it paid to learn how. By the way, when you put the sauce mix and rice into the water, maybe toss in a teaspoon or so of curry powder?"

"I will," she nodded before pouring the rice in, then the powder for the sauce and added the curry powder after a sniff to see what was in it.

"Great," he grinned, sprinkling a little water into the frying pan to test the oil, following it up with the steaks when the water started skittering across the pan, going for a meat fork while the steaks sizzled and browned. "Thanks for the help, by the way. I can do a meal like this on my own, but it's always more fun to cook with company."

"Faster too, I think," she nodded, casually stirring the rice and powder in the water as it began to bloom into the base of the sauce.

"Very true," he chuckled. "You want me to mix a little light 'nip in after the rice is finished?" He asked her, turning the steaks in the oil.

"I do not think so," her ears flicked uneasily. "I do not enjoy it," she said to cover the full extent of her reaction to this casual use of the potent herb.

"Fine by me," he said easily, looking over at her after a moment. "You're used to people talking about the strong stuff, aren't you?" He guessed, picking up on the more subtle signs of her uneasiness.

"Likely," she nodded. "It makes you see things, hear things, that are not there. Very dangerous to others. I might kill and not know."

"Oh Hell no," Rock said, shaking his head sharply. "That sort of stuff I wouldn't touch, certainly not that casually. Don't blame you for not liking it if that's the type you're used to," he chuckled slightly.

"Good," she nodded, watching the sauce thicken slowly as the rice cooked. "Smells good."

"Thanks," he smiled. "Go ahead and put a lid on it, and turn the heat down, it's pretty much set-and-forget from here." He cut one of the steaks through the thickest part, checking if it was done. "Lemme know if you don't like your steaks well done," he added. "So, where are you heading to next?"

"I like bloody meat," she said quickly. "Next is Lothos. They are offering their national champions for MMA challenges," she grinned predatorily.

"Too bad for them," Rock grinned, pulling the thickest steak out quickly, seared and browned on the outside, still bloody inside. "Following the circuit until the next nationals in MKC?" He asked her curiously.

"Yes," she nodded. "I make very good money. Every championship I win is more I can earn in demonstrations and training. I am not enough of a name yet, but I am making one well."

"Ever planning on settling down?" He asked her casually, pulling down the veggies to get them started. "I know Jake wouldn't mind you sticking around," he chuckled.

She smiled, almost shyly, and nodded. "When I am good enough to live well without fighting often. I do not know if it will be here. This city is not easy ... comfort ... it is very different for me. I do like Jake. I will speak to him when I return," she promised in a tone that reminded Rock a little too much of a blood oath from the streets.

"I think that'd be good," he smiled. "Whatever comes of it ... this might be kinda private for you, but what are your tastes in a lover? If you're interested in Jake, it might be good for you to know what sort of things he enjoys."

He kept his expression as neutral as he could as she worked through the shock of the question coming out of the blue, then watched her thing about it.

"You are not asking about what I find desirable ... appearance?" she asked, wanting to be sure she understood what he wanted to know.

"Not really," he acknowledged. "I kinda figure that if Jake wasn't your type, you wouldn't be interested, but... well, I don't know how much you know about his tastes, and I'm wondering if they're at all compatible."

She settled in against the wall, her eyes down, going over what she knew and what he was asking, and what he was really asking to know.

"I desire toms," she said, still a little uncertain. "I do not know more than that."

"Have you ever been with one before?" Rock asked her, trying to get a feel for just how inexperienced she was as he started putting things aside to stay warm for when Jake got home, rather than to cook.

"No," she shook her head slightly.

"Would you care to try some time?" He offered her neutrally. She was attractive, certainly, but he'd rather have her as a friend than anything more. "I'm a reasonably good teacher, I've been told," he chuckled slightly.

She cocked her head slightly, considering him on criteria he really couldn't be sure of.

"Yes, I would," she decided with a slight nod. "Most have been too afraid of me to show interest."

"Their loss," he chuckled. "If you'd like, I think there's time tonight, before your flight," he offered her.

She stepped up to him, caressing his jaw and chin with slender fingers even as he worked on the weird sensation of someone smaller than him having so much authority when they weren't paying for it. "Jake is not likely to mind?"

"No," Rock said, shaking his head slightly. "If he was, I wouldn't have suggested it," he said seriously. "Though if you'd like, we can wait until he's back and ask him first."

"I believe I would prefer to ask him," she decided after a moment. "He deserves a say in what his mate does."

"That's fine, though technically we're not mates yet," Rock smiled, giving her a light kiss. "Maybe after dinner, if you're up to it. Until then, if you're interested in finding out a bit of what he's into ... well, I know he wouldn't mind if you watched a couple of our home videos," he chuckled slightly, mentally going through their library and wondering if they had anything reasonably tame.

"That would be quite interesting," she sort of purred, both excited and unsure about watching her friend in porn.

"Very interesting," Rock chuckled. "I'll be nice, start you off on a slow night," he teased lightly, heading out into the front room and selecting one of their private tapes for her, loading it into the VCR. "Jake can go a lot farther than he did this night, and we haven't even really toyed around with how far he would be willing to go, thanks to the Enforcers," he explained, getting the tape started and checking the clock to see when Jake would be back.

"He has told me about that," she nodded, following him and finding a comfortable spot on the couch. "Few details, though I believe I understand what he likes the most."

"It can be a little out there for some folks, particularly if they're not used to kinks at all," Rock nodded slightly. "Freaked Chance out a bit, at first," he chuckled, watching for her reaction as much as the show itself as he started it running.

"Two toms, or what you do?" she asked, though her eyes were on the line of Jake's body, strung up in their large shower with water raining down on his nude body.

"What we do," Rock explained. "He's straight as an arrow, but he understands two guys. He just doesn't really get mixing pain and pleasure the way we do."

Kyale nodded, a shiver passing down her tail as Rock's strong hands ran down Jake's sides, drawing a whimper of desire from the lean tom. "He does not understand the joy of fighting as we do either. He fights to win, not to further himself as a warrior."

"He understands it, just not when it comes to fighting," Rock tried to explain. "In the air, he gets it ... in contests that aren't about fighting, he gets it, even in some of them. And there was a time when it was different, but ... Kyale, have you ever killed somebody before? Personally, using your skills?"

"Yes," she nodded seriously, a trace of pride behind her words. "I have three heads on my hand," she lifted her left hand, displaying a black palm.

He had to look closely, but under the good light he could see three lines of dashes tattooed on her skin.

"Each is a name. Each is a head I took in protecting my people."

"For Chance, it isn't a matter of pride, but he's killed before too ... it's put a different light on fighting for him, in a lot of ways," Rock explained, seeing clearly that she didn't really understand. It just wasn't part of her to regret a kill.

"Not everyone is meant to be a hunter," she made the best concession to the idea she could.

"No ... and not every warrior is meant to fight the same way," Rock nodded. "But that's a subject for another time, really. For now, we've got a show to enjoy," he chuckled, sitting down next to her.

"Agreed," she purred, shifting to touch him as she watched his naked and highly aroused body grab Jake's hips and slam into him with a groan bordering on a roar. "You enjoy each other greatly," she added, her tone dropping as arousal kicked in.

"The best way to do it, I've always thought," he purred, reaching down to rub her leg lightly through her slacks as she started enjoying the show. "Jake usually agrees," he winked.

"So he has said," she returned the touch, completely at ease with mimicking movements. "Do you enjoy more than that?"

"I do," he reassured her. "I won't say that I've never met a kink I didn't like, but I've experienced a lot that I do, from 'normal' sex on out to more extreme things. I've actually got a couple things that I've got some interest in that weird Jake out," he chuckled slightly, nuzzling her neck a bit.

"Truth?" she raised an eyebrow at that.

"Yeah," he nodded slightly. "Not serious interests of mine, more quirks that I get in the mood for sometimes. Very occasionally, I get in the mood to have a partner who plays the part of a four-legged pet, and ... uhm...." He trailed off as he realized that his other kink that Jake wasn't into might not be taken well by the current audience. "Well, sometimes I like the idea of a male lover playing the part of a fem, down to the clothes," he admitted, blushing a bit.

She cocked her head slightly, thought about it ... he was sure in context he had no familiarity with ... and nodded, apparently unperturbed by it. "He would look odd," she murmured, her eyes on the TV but he hand sliding up his leg and her scent decidedly turned on.

"He actually looks pretty good, but that's neither here nor there," he smiled, kissing her cheek lightly, running a hand up her side and fondling her breasts lightly.

A soft, half surprised sound came out before she pressed into the contact slightly. Her own hand slipped further up his leg, brushing the side of her hand along his groin and up his full sheath.

"Jake's home," she said with a quick breath just before he heard the door unlock.

Rock leaned back slightly, not at all worried about Jake spotting them so much as turning to greet him.

"Hey hon," he grinned. "Hope you don't mind the video, the conversation got interesting while we were making dinner."

"I bet," he looked at the pair curiously when his ears picked up his own moans. "Planning on taking it any further than teasing her?"

"That depends on you," Rock said easily. "Apparently she's never been with a tom before," he explained. "I offered to help her change that, but she wanted to wait for you to give your blessing first."

"Go for it," Jake grinned. "He's a great teacher, no matter what the specifics. Want me to find something to do for a couple hours?"

"I'm fine either way," Rock smiled at her and motioned to the tape. "I'm not shy about my body or sex."

"If you wish to stay, I do not mind," Kyale said, though she did blush a bit.

"I do like watching him enjoy himself," Jake rumbled softly and dropped his small duffel bag to the floor with a light thump. "Just forget I'm here," he suggested as he walked past her to settle down in an overstuffed chair not far away, but with a good view of both the TV and them.

"So, why don't we start up where we left off?" Rock purred, reaching up to turn Kyale's face towards him, kissing her lightly on the lips. "How far have you gone with a tom before?"

"This far, with you," she said simply.

"Let's change that then," he murmured, kissing her again, deepening it a bit as he started to pull her t-shirt from her jeans. It took her a bit to figure out what his tongue was doing in her mouth, but soon she murred and began to kiss back.

Rock slipped his hands up under her shirt, fondling firm, small breasts directly, rubbing her nipples with his thumbs as he murred into her mouth, trying to encourage her to start doing a bit of exploring of her own between surprised sounds of pleasure.

He didn't resist at all when she shifted forward, pushing him back on the couch and ended up straddling his hips. He felt as much as saw the intensity of her reaction to the hard cock trapped in his pants rubbing against her equally covered sex.

He pulled his hand out from under her shirt, pushing it up and off of her before starting to undo her pants, knowing that she wanted him to pick up the pace. He didn't mind letting her take more of the lead; it was a good sign, as far as he was concerned.

She was hungry, comfortable with it, just terribly inexperienced for her age on how to go about foreplay. How to move did though, and she pushed his shirt up as she leaned forward and brought her legs together, making it easy to push her jeans and underwear down, then off when she'd toed her running shoes off.

"Want room, or relative comfort?" He asked her with a grin, reaching down to undo his own jeans and start sliding them off when she lifted her body to give him space for it.

"Room, I think," she licked her lips before lowering her head to lick an exposed nipple.

"There's a bed too," Jake suggested with a throaty rumble.

"You want to wait that long?" Rock asked Kyale with a teasing rumble, scratching her back lightly with his claws.

"No," she rumbled, arching into his claws with a rowel as her legs slid apart again, pressing her swollen, slick crotch against his hard cock and rocked hips as the pleasure built inside her.

"Brace yourself then," he rumbled, giving her a moment to do so before twisting up and over, taking them down to the floor, putting himself on top of her. He reveled in how easily she moved her body to go with him, and the sensation of having her natural combat reflexes suppressed for his benefit.

He kissed her, hot and hard, rubbing his shaft against the slick lips of her sex. She spread her legs, her knees raised as she cried out, pressing and rocking against him, her body already twitching when she reached down to squeeze his ass, her fingers taking in every curve and contour.

She might have been a bit impatient, but Rock wasn't; he took his time, rubbing himself against her sex, his rubbery barbs brushing her clit once in a while as he made out with her and fondled her breasts, trying to push her over the edge once before he'd even penetrated her.

He knew he could, if she let him. He moaned into her mouth, enjoying the way she rubbed her legs along his as their bodies pressed and rubbed.

Abruptly she threw her head back, away from their kiss, her teeth fully bared and a sound that raised the fur along his spine erupting from her throat as her sex closed around emptiness while her lower lips tried desperately to suck him inside.

He nibbled at her collarbone, letting her ride out the pleasure, her legs tightening around him and her claws popping in and out as her muscles contracted through her body, largely out of her control.

"Good?" He asked her with a wise-ass grin once she'd come back down a bit. "'Cause it gets better."

"Intense," she shuddered, panting heavily as she brought her head up to kiss him more leisurely. "Show me."

"With pleasure," he rumbled, sliding down, then pressing up, his thick, barbed shaft sinking into her hungry pussy.

He was startled at how tight she was! More than most virgins even, the care she took for her body translated into an incredible, vise-tight grip around his cock, her slick, hot flesh clinging to every inch of him as she cried out sharply at finally feeling what he body had been so desperate for when he'd rubbed against her.

He drew back, lifting his hips until he'd pulled almost all the way out of her before driving into her welcoming body again. The incredible tightness just beyond the slick layer between them made him glad he'd gotten her off once already. He wasn't going to last long like this.

Knowing that he wasn't about to set any endurance records, he decided to give her a ride she'd be a long time forgetting instead. He shifted, searching for the rough patch of skin along the wall of her sex that he knew she'd never have felt before, finding her g-spot and starting to drive himself into her pussy with all his might.

She mewed and rowled, then squeezed her eyes closed when her breath hitched in a now-recognized build of unstoppable pleasure, this time with all her body's desires fulfilled with him deep inside her.

Her slick body rippled around his shaft, pulling at his barbs hungrily until he threw his own head back with a roar, his balls pulling up close to his body and began to pump his seed deep into Kyale's body.

He grunted with each following thrust that pumped another squirt against her cervix until he was finally spent and looked down at a very relaxed lover purring up at him.

"Think you have more in you?" she licked his nose playfully.

"If I don't, then something's seriously wrong with me," he teased playfully, nuzzling her neck with a grin.

"Wasn't sure how much the porn exaggerates things," she nuzzled him before he felt her tense and rolled with her shift that left him on his back and her straddling his hips, his hard cock still deep inside her.

He watched her eyes close in pleasure as his cock shifted inside her while she settled in place.

"Oooh ... with me, not that much," he rumbled up at her, leaning up to nuzzle her breasts, licking at them as she started to move on his still-rigid member. "Mmm ... think we've created a monster here, Jake," he grinned.

"Somehow, I doubt either of us are going to mind," Jake rumbled, through it was almost more groan from the efforts of his hand. "You know how much it turns me on to see you really get off with a shekat."

"Shame you're heading out of town tonight," Rock groaned, reaching up to take her hips, helping to guide her movements so he'd hit the most sensitive spots inside her body.

"I'll return," she breathed deeply, arching her body back as she road him, enjoying every motion nearly as much as she enjoyed a good fight. "Are all toms this good?"

"Mmm ... afraid not, beautiful," he chuckled. "Some are better, most aren't as good, I like to think. I've had a lot of experience with different people."

"Keep me returning," she groaned, then shivered as the pleasure began to mount. She reached down, bracing against his chest as her fingers worked through his fur.

He ran his own fingers through hers, leaning up to kiss her. They moaned into each others mouths, though the sound was soon overpowered by Jake's grunts as he came.

"Want to ... mmm ... try something different after this?" He offered with a low groan of pleasure.

"Sure," she breathed in deeply, squeezing her body around the thick, hard flesh inside her. "Just ... ohhh ... leave enough time for a shower and food."

"It's already cooked, that'll make it easier," Rock chuckled, then moaned as he came again, pushing to rub himself against her g-spot as he tried to give her a third orgasm.

He had to keep thrusting past his pleasure again, but as he came down he could feel her sex begin to quiver. It wasn't long, he knew how to push a female far better than she knew how to resist his efforts.

Once she'd come again, he pulled her down, kissing her tenderly.

"Want to see about working Jake into this too?" He asked her with a purr.

"If he wishes," she glanced over her shoulder at the highly aroused tom she desired far more than the one mating her.

"What's the plan?" Jake raised an eyebrow at his lover, a grin on his face.

"Triangle, give her a little experience with oral before we turn her loose on toms who aren't expecting to have to warn about teeth?" Rock grinned over at him. "You get to eat me out of her, I'll make sure you don't get bored while you're working on her?" He winked.

"Works for me," Jake chuckled as he stood and stripped the remainder of his clothes off. "Why don't we move this to the bed though, since you've both gotten off a couple times now?"

"That really would be the best idea, I think," Rock chuckled, moaning as Kyale reluctantly stood and slid herself off of his shaft. "Damn you're tight," he purred as he got up himself.

"Much less than two years ago," she chuckled and offered him a hand up. "Did not have tits then."

"Well, the ones you've got now are just fine," he smiled, leading the way into the bedroom. "Some guys like 'em big, but most who are worth anything won't fixate on it."

"That is good. I am not sure I like having them," she said as she followed him into the large bedroom and king-sized bed that was clearly one of their major investments. "I look female now?"

"Yes, you do," he reassured her easily, giving her a light kiss as the three of them climbed onto the bed. "Not always the case?"

"No," she shook her head and waited for a better clue as to what they had in mind. "Not female, not fully male."

"Spread your legs," Jake nuzzled at pubic fur that smelled more of his mate than a female. "Your nose in his crotch."

Rock turned around to give her a better shot at it, putting his own face between Jake's legs and nuzzling his balls lightly, licking his sheath and barbed shaft. "Just be careful about your teeth," he warned Kyale with a grin before taking Jake's cock into his mouth.

He knew she watched him for a bit, her fingers fondling his balls, then shifted to lick him clean of their mixed pleasure as Jake thrust his tongue inside her to begin licking his mate's seed out. Instead of following suit and taking him into her mouth, she turned her mouth to exploring his balls with a definite fascination for them.

Rock groaned, his own fingers working on Jake's balls and legs while he suckled his shaft. He didn't have any problems at all with letting Kyale explore, and it reminded him to take a little time of his own; he pressed a finger up into Jake's tight ass, searching for his prostate to add a little extra to the blowjob.

As much as he enjoyed giving this attention to his lover, his mind was on what Kyale was doing, on reading her reactions and what might be good to explore next. It was fun to have a newcomer like her; a virgin with no real inhibitions about losing it and a solid understanding of the theory of pleasure.

She could have definite potential as a third person in a triad, he thought... if either she or Jake was interested, at any rate. Except for Midnight, she was the first he honestly entertained the thought with.

Given a bit more experience and practice, he was sure she'd be damned good, and the control she had over her body was incredible. It gave him a bit more insight in how Jake had learned his body control. The combat training they shared had definite advantages in bed.

She moaned against his cock, her body responding to Jake's efforts even as Jake's responded to his.

"Kyale, to your back," Jake rumbled. "Let Rock take care of your mouth."

She nodded slightly and rolled, allowing him to spread her legs wide as he focused on her clit and the sensitive folds of her labia.

It only took Rock a moment to realize what Jake was suggesting. He turned around, kissing Kyale, nuzzling her neck and letting the lean tom beneath him focus on getting her off this time.

Chance smiled as he watched Tamera and Midnight help the kittens eat between working on their own meals. They'd only started the shift from puree to small pieces of real food, though Midnight still nursed them regularly as well. It was a pattern Chance didn't know from his own family, but she was firm that it was good for them and he wasn't about to argue with her.

"So, how were your days?" He asked once they'd settled in for their own again.

"It's good to be back in school, even if I wish everybody wouldn't look at me and be all nervous all the time," Tamera said, her mood mixed. "Thanks for letting me stay at CW for the rest of the year."

"Hey, you've got enough stuff changing on you," Chance said understandingly. "Your school doesn't have to be one of them. Plenty of time for that sort of thing later. And they'll start to adjust once they know you're handling it okay, I'm pretty sure," he added with a smile he meant to be reassuring.

"I hope so," she murmured, only picking at her food as she looked down at it. "Sorry, just everything reminds me of Mom."

"I understand, honey," he said, reaching over and squeezing her shoulder gently. "If I could help 'em find who it was that did this, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

"I know," she managed a smile at him. "Have they made any progress on it?"

"Not much," he said softly. "But I'm keeping tabs on it."

"Thanks," she murmured and made a concerted effort to eat. "You play well, even if you don't play by the rules," she managed a grin.

"Not sure if that's quite the lesson I oughta be teaching you right now, but it's usually the best way to play the game ... as long as you only bend the rules instead of breaking 'em," he chuckled. "So ... what sort of things are you interested in?" He asked her, hoping she'd settled in well enough to be able to talk about things without hurting too much.

"I like math, and sports," she giggled. "Midnight asked me that a couple hours ago."

"Afraid I wasn't really listening too well," he admitted with a chuckle. "Think at all about what you want to do, one of these days?" He asked her curiously. "When you get out of school?"

She blinked, then really thought about it. "Something where I won't have to work like Mom did," she said. "Programming, engineering. I'm good enough at a lot of sports; I can probably get a scholarship."

"I'll bet you are," he grinned a bit. "Ever think about flying?"

"Who doesn't?" she grinned up at him.

"Some people don't ... want me to see if I can talk Kathie into authorizing a trip up for you some time?" He offered her with a broader grin, glad to see her enthusiastic about something.

"Oh yeah," she lit up almost as much as he would have at her age. He could tell she wasn't as fixated as he had been, but she was definitely not faking the interest.

"Thought you might," he chuckled with a smile. "I'll see what I can do tomorrow... shouldn't be too hard. Might as well take advantage of being a pilot when I can, huh?"

"Yeah!" Tamera grinned, but Midnight caught the wording and looked at him curiously before the kittens demanded her attention again.

It was largely forgotten after that, the kittens and their conversation taking up the rest of dinner. Before too much longer, they'd finished, settling in the living room with the kittens to relax and watch TV, Tamera sprawling out on the floor as Chance found a late run of Scaredy Kat.

"Midnight?" Chance asked her quietly. "I've been doing a bit of thinking, and want to run it past you before I bring it up to Jake or anybody else."

"I thought something was up," she kissed him on the cheek. "What is it?"

"I'm thinking about transferring into SI," he explained. "Between the kittens ... you ... Tamera...." He trailed off, leaning against Midnight lightly and scratching his son's head. "She already lost her mother," he said quietly. "Doesn't need her father off getting himself shot at all the time."

"But you've wanted to fly jets your entire life," she kept her voice down, but not the shock.

"Yeah ... and there are probably some ways I can keep in the air part time. But I've got you and the kits to support now, and I think I can do it better if I'm not always on the line of fire."

"Is Supernatural Investigations really that much safer?" she looked up at him. "They seem to always be in the middle of the most dangerous crime sprees."

"I'm a solid five times more likely to get myself killed or seriously hurt as a pilot than working for SI, even with my luck," Chance explained quietly. "SI... you're investigating Omegas and the like, but most of them aren't the dangerous sort and those that are, you're not supposed to be facing off against. SI doesn't go charging into the face of a 50-foot lava monster ... pilots do. It's a lot safer than the other real opening I have, being Special Ops."

"Yes," Midnight shivered. "You know I'd like you to stay alive, but would you be happy in SI?" she looked at him in concern.

"That's what I've got to figure out yet," he admitted. "I could probably stay on call for serious problems, so I wouldn't be abandoning everybody... I'd be able to keep my license, so I could still fly, it's just a matter of figuring out the exact regs and what to do with them."

"Would civilian exhibition flying do it for you?" she asked softly, then smiled at Tamera when she glanced over her shoulder at the quietly talking adults.

"It'd be a help, at least," he chuckled slightly. "Just have to figure out how to get a plane for it. Mortgage comes first. Jake and I might figure something out."

"He's got at least two stunt-quality ones that I know of," she kissed his cheek. "I know he'd be thrilled to have to show them. I also happen to know, once he was convinced you weren't trying to do it for him, he'll be thrilled with the transfer."

"Maybe it'll help if I bring the idea up first," he mused. "I know he's loved working with SI on the Ghost Thief. It will probably mean a little less publicity," he added as he turned to kiss her, sure she wouldn't really care, but wanting to be sure she was aware of it.

"Makes you less of a target," she murmured, returning the kiss gently. "You already are one being so close to Jake."

"We'll see what he thinks about it then," Chance murmured, wrapping an arm around her and hugging her gently. "And don't worry, you'll still get up in the air some time," he added, looking over at Tamera with a bit of a grin.

"Enforcer jet or something Jake built, it'd be cool either way," she grinned back, flicking her tail out of Heather's grasp and over Pat's head, causing the slender black on chocolate brown tabby to roll backwards.

"Knowing Jake, it might be cooler going up in one he built," Chance chuckled, amused by the expression on Pat's face as she stared at the ceiling.

"Prrt?" she said quizzically, apparently trying to figure out just where she'd gone wrong to end up in this position before her father reached down to help her sit back up again.

"He's that good?" Tamera giggled as she watched the antics of the two little females while their brother watched from the couch where he had been sleeping next to his father.

"It's a bit of a sore spot for him, but he belongs on a Pumadyne design team more than the Enforcers," Chance admitted. "Just don't bring it up with him, okay? He likes it when people like his babies, but he doesn't like being reminded that there was a time when he wanted to do it for a living."

"I won't," she promised, nodding seriously. "Why couldn't he?"

"Company politics, as I understand it ... it's a long story," Chance admitted. "And not one that I know if he wants spreading too much...?" He asked, glancing at Midnight.

"No, he doesn't, but she's family," she nodded to the younger shekat. "She deserves to know why her uncle snarls every time Aerospace comes up."

"Okay," Chance nodded. "Somebody he interviewed with decided to steal his designs instead of showing them to other people as his designs," he explained. "Nothing that Jake could prove, especially not back then, and nobody believes him who could do anything about it. The guy who stole his stuff pulled enough strings from there that nobody else would hire him as a designer."

"That sucks," she flattened her ears in real anger for him. "A long time ago?"

"Yeah... you were probably just a year or two old," Chance mused. "At any rate, he tries not to think about it too much... and if it hadn't happened, I'd never have met him, and he'd probably never have met Rock, so things worked out pretty well in the end."

"At least there is that," she nodded, absently tugging her tail from Heather's grip. "He doesn't seem very angry anymore."

"He usually isn't, though it gets touchy when somebody brings it up," Chance agreed. "He just doesn't like having to remember what happened."

Tamera nodded, turning back to the TV while her tail entertained the girls. "I'll be careful about it around him."

Jake replayed the three hours after he'd come home from the after-shift softball for the dozenth time since he'd dropped Kyale off at MKC South International Airport.

She had offered him, not the kiss on the cheek or handshake he'd half-expected, but the MMA salute, her arm across her chest, then extended it with her fingers curled and claws gleaming. He knew it as an offering of mutual trust when you gripped another's forearm in her homeland. You put sizable veins in the path of another's claws and trusted them not to hurt you, even as they offered you the same.

It was the first time, since Midnight had began dating Chance, that he honestly wondered who he was hurting more with his issues about females. He was out of his mother's house. She hadn't spoken to him since he'd moved out. None of his relatives had. Even Bastet's priestesses were civilized around him.

Maybe it was time to look at his choices again. Everything was different from when he'd first made them, back when he was twelve, and even younger. He'd spent more than half his life resenting the world, resenting the things he couldn't control.

Now ... now he had a lover of almost six years who cared for him, whom he loved and trusted almost completely. He had a home that really was his, was theirs. He had a career he enjoyed, and prospects for the future that were almost as bright as they had been when he'd entered college.

Maybe it was time to change things, dramatically even, for his next quarter century.

He absently opened the door, and sniffed at herbal smells he wasn't used to.

"Hey Jake," Rock called out easily, setting down the small sheaf of papers he'd been reading and getting up to greet his lover with a kiss. "How'd it go?"

"Just fine," Jake smiled and pressed close to enjoy his lover's strength and warmth. "I saw her off on the plane. I think I'll miss her."

"You did spend time with her most days," Rock smiled and kissed his forehead. "She'll be back in a few months to whip you back in shape."

"Yeah," he chuckled. "What are you reading? It smells odd."

"Actually, it's a parting gift from Kyale," Rock explained easily. "She didn't want you to know about it before she left because she thought you might freak out a bit ... they're some of the herbs she used to take, they'll make a fem smell like a male, if you ever find one you want to try and have as a lover... or to have kits with."

He blinked, a half-shocked look on his face. "Given what happened ... I probably would have," he admitted reluctantly, lifting his muzzle up for a kiss. "What do you think of her?"

"In what way?" Rock chuckled, heading for one of the seats and pulling Jake into his lap. He started purring softly when Jake shifted to straddle him and snuggle close. "This afternoon was fun, but I wouldn't go pushing you into anything with her, unless you wanted it. She's an interesting female, even if she is still working on what it's like to be one."

"Some of the choices I made years ago ... I'm thinking it might be time to really look at them, figure out if I want to keep them," he tried to explain something he was only just working out for himself. "Figure out if we want to keep them."

"Okay ... is this something you want some time to think about on your own, or something you want to talk about now?" Rock asked him seriously, giving him a gentle kiss that was nearly melted into.

"Talk, then think," he murmured, settling in to relax in his lover's arms. "It affects you as much as me. You deserve to be part of it."

"Okay," Rock nodded slightly. "So... where do you want to start talking things over? Fems in general?"

"It works as well any anywhere," he chuckled weakly. "You remember why I turned against them?"

"Your mother was pushing you to have kits when you were way the fuck too young for it, as I remember," Rock grumbled, the tip of his tail twitching angrily at the memories. "The basics of it, at least."

"Not just her, but Bastet and her priestesses too," Jake nodded. "I'm not too young anymore. I'm not alone now either. I know how to tell if she's fertile now. I've met three now that have made me regret that I can't react right to her."

"Three?" Rock asked curiously. "Midnight, Kyale I'm guessing... but who's the third?"

"Felina Feral," he chuckled slightly. "She's ... well, she's a fighter, smart and tough as nails."

"Well, you certainly aim high," Rock chuckled, hugging him lightly. "So... are you thinking of trying to handle female lovers, or considering more than that?"

"There will be kittens if I accept females," Jake told him with quiet certainty. "By a priestess or two if nothing else. It'll bring my mother back into the picture too, and her determination to have Clawson grandkits without a daughter to have them."

"Do you think you're ready for that?"

He looked up, meeting his mate's eyes with all the seriousness in his life. "If you're there with me, if the idea appeals to you, I think I am."

"I... I'll admit, maybe not immediately," Rock admitted, kissing Jake gently. "But some time? Definitely, at least if the fem's any good."

"Love, you get to approve of her," Jake promised with a lingering kiss and relaxed a bit. "I was thinking ... start with Kyale when she returns. Just trying, see if the herbs work. Midnight's desires ... it's scary sometimes. Kyale ... she's doesn't want anything. She's just after living her life."

"And Midnight could get awkward, especially if she did end up having kittens," Rock agreed. "I would not want to get in the way if your mother insisted on raising the kittens as Clawson kits and tried taking them away. We... well, we could try finding a decent dame, just to have kits for you, but I don't think that's what you want."

"Any raised as Clawsons, I want us to raise," he said firmly. "I do not want my kin anywhere near them. They did enough damage already. And no, not really. She'd be with us at least a year. I want to like her."

"That's what I figured," Rock nodded easily. "If you want to try fems without kits before Kyale comes back, we can see about something, but... well, I'm willing to wait," he chuckled slightly.

"We'll see, okay," Jake smiled slightly. "As you said, there's a serious can of worms we'll be opening when it gets out I'm even looking at females."

"Yeah," Rock nodded slightly, then chuckled. "At least if it is Kyale, we know she'll be able to kick your mother's ass if she has to... and any of the Priestess'," he teased.

"And is more than willing to," Jake added with an amused rumble. "So ... well ... What do you think about making us a little more official?"

"I was starting to wonder if you'd ever ask about it," Rock grinned broadly. "Just haven't wanted to push you into it or anything."

"Thank you," Jake lifted his head to kiss his lover softly. "For being patient with me, and wanting to stay longer."

"You are worth it, Jake," Rock smiled. "Besides, we've practically been mates for years, it's just a matter of whether or not it's official," he chuckled.

"I know," he ducked his head a bit. "With all your family ... I don't have any kin who'd actually come. It's ... it takes a lot of nerve to stand there by myself."

"Jake... if you want, it'll just be the two of us there," Rock told him easily. "Honestly, I've never really been thinking of a big wedding or anything for myself. Hell... if you don't really want a wedding at all, I'm okay with it. I don't really think we need a priest to say we're mates."

He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it to work a few things out.

"Figured you'd want the same kind of event all your other kin have had," he murmured.

"Jake?" Rock chuckled. "Who am I going to be mates with; you, or the ceremony? A big one... well, it might be nice, but I'm not really that attached to the idea." He nuzzled Jake lightly, then chuckled as an idea came to him.

"Of course, I could always see what's involved in the weddings that Eshik and Marik preside over. Let Henry and Jordan handle it. That'd keep the families out of the big part of it, if we wanted."

Jake raised an eyebrow at that, then chuckled softly. "Though not many of our friends."

"Hey, it was just a thought," Rock chuckled. "Besides, I don't even know what's involved ... for all I know, it could be some sort of a mass transfusion. Y'want me to check with 'em though?"

"Why not," he shook his head with a chuckle of his own. "I'd say it couldn't hurt, but I'd not so sure if those two got you in a room alone," he added with a wink.

"I am," Rock chuckled. "Don't worry though, they also understand 'not right now.' So, maybe the next time you've got a day off we can talk to 'em about it, maybe see about when they'll be having a service we can sit in on?"

"Sure," Jake leaned up to kiss him. "Find out if they'll even perform ceremonies for folks who aren't members."

"Sounds good to me," Rock smiled, kissing him back. "So... have fun with Kyale earlier?"

"More than usual," he admitted with an affectionate nuzzle that turned into a line of kisses up Rock's neck. "Enough to make me very hungry for what you were giving her."

"I think we can arrange for that," Rock rumbled deeply, kissing Jake heatedly and reaching up to dim the lights.

"Shier, I am not a broken kitten!" Ulysses Feral glared up at his long-time lover in a kind of frustration he'd never expected the big Tiger to generate. While he had refrained from trying to stop him from going to the Tower, he was hovering of all things. Hovering!

"No, you are my lover, far more important to me than any of my wives or children, and you were nearly killed in my bed by a ghost we have not stopped," he replied, his thick stripped tail lashing in frustration. "Helpless is not something I handle any better than you do."

"We are not helpless here... not totally," Feral offered. "SI already had a briefing prepared before the doctors were done with me."

"That is good for you," Shier rumbled as he came around the desk to slid his arms over Ulysses' shoulders. "What can I do to protect you?"

"Tonight... you can make sure that if I have nightmares like that again, you wake me up," Feral told him seriously, turning to kiss him lightly. "Two other old victims of Berten's have died like that, and some kittens on top of it. We don't know if he'll only try once, or if he'll come back."

"I will," Shier promised. "Have you determined any links between the adult vics?"

"They... we," Feral muttered, "were all old victims of Berten's... we've all been attacked on the anniversary of our original assaults. And it seems he does leave behind DNA...." He trailed off, then snarled as a fresh thought occurred to him, shaking his head. "What do your people know about whether or not a ghost can sire kittens?"

"If it is in their purpose, yes, they can," he nodded seriously. "My great-great-great-grandfather did to have the son by his first wife he wanted."

"And if it isn't? It just occurred to me that if that son of a bitch leaves DNA the lab can find, then he could sire kits as well, if he left a female victim alive who happened to be in heat." Feral sighed, shaking his head. "That would be the last thing we need. Those Werewolf pups are enough trouble already."

"But the ones your officers are raising will make exceptional warriors when they are old enough," Shier reminded him with a kiss on the cheek. "Who is the next adult vic?"

"We're not sure," Feral admitted. "He was active for over forty years, and most of that we don't have records on. He's got different people for any time he wants, and we don't know who they each are... really, it's a wonder he's taken as few as he has already."

"He may ...." Shier paused and looked up at a sharp knock on the office door. "Come!" he looked up in annoyance as his estate truchsess all but rushed in with a mobile phone in hand.

"Apologies, sir, but it is a call from the palace. Most urgent," she said rapidly in her native Tusandrin.

"I'll take it here," Shier replied just as quickly, taking the phone. "Shier Khan," he said, his full irritation showing in his voice as his truchsess stepped back but stayed in the room for instructions.

"Sir," the male voice on the other end spoke in Tusandrin as well, though Ulysses could catch most of it. "There has been an attack on the palace. Several ...."

"What!" Shier roared, all his fur fluffing in a raw rage that still paled in comparison to the previous night.

"Kittens were killed, as well as Abha and Lakshmi," the voice continued unperturbed. "By what survivors said, it was a ghost."

"What more can you tell me?" Khan growled lowly, his tail lashing angrily. "Did anybody catch this spirit?"

"No sir," he said. "It was seen well enough to recognize again. The kittens were Yuvaraj, Phoolendu and Baldev, sir. It was, ahem, mating in nature, sir."

"Yuvaraj...." Shier's voice dropped to a whispered before he gathered himself. "I will return now."

"What is going on?" Feral asked Khan when he hung up the phone, having only caught half of the truchsess' side. "Your kittens... what happened?"

"I would hesitate to jump to conclusions, but it seems that Berten can strike in Tusandrin," he said, the phone slowly placed on the desk, his local truchsess no longer in evidence. "My heir, two other kittens and two of my wives were killed tonight."

"Berten was never in Tusandrin, even if he had the power to leave MegaKat City and strike, how could he...." Feral swallowed hard. "You'll have to return, of course. I'll come with you."

"And the case files, pictures of him over the years?" Shier let a slow breath out to focus. "At least someone saw the ghost well enough ID him."

"Of course," Feral nodded. "Officially, I'll be there to help with the investigation since we suspect a link to Berten."

"Good," Shier glanced towards the door when it opened again.

"The jet is fueled and ready for you," the truchsess said with a power. "Your helicopter is ready to take you to the airport."

Chance nursed a cup of coffee as he and Jake sat in Woodrow's Diamonds' back rooms with the door cracked open and silent alarms hooked up to each case to alert them and backup if anything was opened. It was one of the half-dozen shops SI had staked out in hopes of catching the Ghost Thief in the act, and after three nights locked up inside, both toms were getting restless.

"You know if they got anything on that wax yet?" He asked Jake quietly.

"It's enchanted, it's got spirit residue on it, and they don't know what it's from," he summarized the twenty-minute report he'd listened to in rapt interest down to its key points for his partner. "Top guess is some kind of Hand of Glory, but it's not the typical kind."

"Hand of Glory... y'know, if there was ever a decent argument against hangings, those things have to be it," Chance mused. "Still, not that handy... if it's not the usual type, we don't even know if it'll have the usual effect on us."

"One of the reasons for the extra alarms and backup outside," Jake shrugged. "Besides, we already know it messes up a lot more than the usual one would."

"True enough," the tabby admitted, half an eye on his partner and the rest on their excessively dull stakeout. "At least the guys outside can get fresh coffee that doesn't taste like sludge."

"You and that stuff," he snickered. "So what did Sandru tell you after practice?" Jake glanced at him.

"Ugh," Chance groaned, shaking his head. "Don't freak out, but it sounds like when they were typing the DNA from Connie's crime scene, it matched my profile. They must've had one of the new techs handling it and he screwed something up; they're sending it through for a re-type and they'll probably have the results tomorrow... y'wanna know the really rich part? They found Berten's there too. So if they're gonna arrest me, they'd better have a judge who'll swear out a warrant on a corpse too."

Jake groaned, rolling his eyes. "Well, at least that's enough reasonable doubt to keep the DA or Feral from stringing you up right away."

"Tell me about it," Chance nodded. "Anyways, they're sending it back for a re-test ... we'll have to see what turns up from that. They'll probably turn up some screw up in the lab and then they'll figure out who really did it... they did have some other profiles they couldn't ID, so I'm guessing it's got something to do with that. It'll work out... I hope."

"Me too," Jake nodded solemnly. "No one needs that kind of grief."

"Especially not with Tamera in the picture now," Chance nodded. "Speaking of that ... I've been doing a bit of thinking, about the odds we keep ducking. You ever think of transferring ... maybe switching to SI permanently?"

"A few times," he nodded with a curious look for his partner. "Thought of Special Ops too. Why?"

"Like I said ... odds of us living to a ripe old age as a pilot and gunner are pretty slim, even as good as we are," Chance explained quietly. "SI, the odds are a lot better, and ... well, to be honest, I'm not so crazy about Special Ops either."

Jake nodded, thoughtful about it. "What about being a pilot?" he glanced at his partner briefly. "That was your dream."

"Well, it's not like they'd take my license if I transferred," Chance chuckled a bit. "We could probably stay on call for the big alarms... and I might be able to figure out something to let me fly exhibition, for the Enforcers if nothing else. Besides... maybe I've dreamed about being a pilot, but Tamera already lost her mother. I've got more than just my dreams to look out for."

Jake smiled softly, somewhere between sad and proud in the expression. "You know SI wants us. It shouldn't be hard to arrange for the transfer."

"Here's hoping," Chance nodded slightly. "Midnight kinda mentioned something when I brought it up to her, thought I'd bounce it off of you ... after the transfer, what'd you think of putting one of your birds in the air shows? Something that'll burn the paint off Pumadyne's jets," he chuckled.

An absolutely evil look crossed Jake's face with the grin. "Now that sounds like fun, and I finally have a pilot that can do it too."

"Not to mention letting those jerks know -" Chance stopped mid-sentence as a strange feeling came over him, something like a static shock building in the air. "What the heck...?"

"Our thieves, or worse," Jake half growled, his ears flicking back as he got up and slipped towards the door to the main room where all the jewelry and stones were. "Call for backup."

"Right - don't do anything stupid, okay?" Chance reminded him, flipping the radio on and lifting it up to call it in before he followed his partner.

"Never do," Jake grinned back at him, his blaster drawn as the light brightened and three Kantin, all big dogs, walked into the room and began to quickly stripping the place clean, working as if there were no cameras turned on.

"Ready?" glanced up at him.

Chance nodded, trading his radio for his blaster and moving to follow Jake. The two of them turned, leveling their weapons on the Kantin in the room.

"Freeze, Enforcers!" Chance barked at them with all the authority and alpha-tone he could manage.

All three of them froze on pure reflex, then the largest of them, some kind of Wolf-Mastiff mix, turned with a snarl.

"Put down the diamonds and put your hands in the air!" Chance ordered them, ready to dive to the side if the mix charged them. He was pretty sure he could take him without having to shoot; he just hoped Jake would focus on the other two if it turned that way. He could see his partner using the deep shadows of the room and his blatant presence to sneak close to them.

"I said freeze," Chance growled at the mix when the big Kantin began to edge forward towards him while the two others, also mixed-breed Kantin from what he could see, moved towards the outer wall.

"What are you going to do, shoot me? I'm not even armed," the Wolf-Mastiff pointed out with a smirk.

"Blasters don't have to kill," Chance pointed out, his eyes flicking to the flash of light against the far wall as it dissolved for a brief moment; just long enough for the other Kantin, and Jake, to bolt through it.

The mix-breed charged, catching Chance and slamming him back into the wall, knocking the blaster out of his hand. Chance answered with a fist to the Kantin's kidneys, snarling as he tried to figure out what happened to Jake and the other crooks.

"Big mistake," he growled at the Kantin, slamming his hard head up into his jaw and knocking him back before following through with a high kick square on to the chest. He felt ribs give way, though not the crack of bone as the Kantin flew backwards into a case and lay there, gasping for breath as he was cuffed.

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law," Chance told him, his card out though he didn't need it and only his determination to do things right keeping him from skimping on them.

"You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. We have no way of giving you a lawyer, but one will be appointed for you, if you wish, if and when you go to court.

"If you are not a MegaKat City citizen, you may contact your country's consulate prior to any questioning.

"Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me? It'll go easier on you if you tell me where the Hell your friends and my partner just went!"

"You're not about to find him," the mix-breed sneered back at him.

"You're on camera right now, so I'm going to be nice," Chance growled back. "Where will I be picking up my partner?"

"In a body bag if he catches up with them," he snorted. "Otherwise he'll wander home on his own."

"And do you know what will happen to you if they kill him?" Chance pointed out. "Murder charge. Murder of an Enforcer. And even if they don't catch your buddies, you will probably be finding out what death row's like unless you help us stop them from doing that. And if they are caught, then all three of you will be facing that. Will you let your entire pack go on death row, just so you can keep a few rocks?"

"You don't have anything on me except for B&E," the Wolf-Mastiff barred his teeth as lights and sirens pulled up outside.

"Any death that occurs in the commission of a crime is considered homicide, buddy," Chance pointed out lowly. "And if your buddies kill my partner, you're an accomplice. Same penalty as if you did it yourself."

"Furlong, what's going on?" a strong female voice demanded over his shoulder radio.

"We have one of three perps in custody. His two friends and Jake were teleported somewhere; he isn't saying where, but he has stated that his partners are willing to kill mine if that's what it takes to escape. I was trying to convince him that it was in his best interests to make sure that doesn't have a chance to happen. I'd open the door for you all, but I'm afraid the proprietor didn't think we should have the codes to his security system."

"You stay ...." her voice was cut off by excitement outside the front window. "Looks like they didn't go far," she picked up. "Clawson dropped his badge just outside the wall. We're tracking."

"Find him; I can stay here with our new friend all night long if I have to," Chance told her easily.

"The proprietor should be here sooner to open the door," she told him, settling into her roll as coordinator of two separate missions at once.

"Great; we've got a while to get acquainted then," Chance said, flicking off his radio and settling in to wait.

"I'm not telling you anything," he growled.

"Suit yourself," Chance flicked his ears back in annoyance but followed procedure and settled back to wait for the proprietor in silence. He hated it when they pulled this one and he couldn't talk any more.

It was only about a half-hour later that his prisoner started coughing, looking queasy and a little sick.

"You okay over there?" Chance asked, getting up from his seat but not going closer just yet.

"Wha'it look like?" he growled weakly, coughing again, this time spitting up a thick black goo.

"Shit," Chance growled, keying his radio. "This is Furlong, we've got a medical emergency in here, and I've got no clue what it is. Perp coughing up something black, no idea what's happening. We need medics, biohazard prepped now."

"Called in," the sergeant's voice came back to him a moment later. "You keep clear unless you know you can help," she added in a definite order. "We'll break the window if the guy with the key isn't here when the medics show."

"Right," Chance nodded slightly, swallowing hard. "Make sure a quarantine's ready too ... I think I'm going to need it after this, even if I'm the only one who gets out of here."

"It will be, Furlong," her voice became more reassuring in tone. "Try to get anything out of him you can. What it is, where it might have come from."

"Right," he nodded, cutting off his radio, his attitude towards the Kantin changed drastically now. "They're going to try and get medics in here, won't be more than a couple minutes. What did you guys use to get in here? It might be what's made you sick," he said, latching onto the obvious thing that could twist him up inside the way he had to be.

A spat of coughing held the answer back, but eventually the big Kantin looked up at him. It didn't take much for Chance to realize he knew he was dieing, and quickly.

"Hand of Glory," he got out before his body tried to expel more of the black gunk.

"A Hand of Glory doesn't do this!" Chance protested, though he knew it didn't really matter right now... it was doing this. "Where can we find your friends?" He demanded. "We might get them before this kicks in!"

"Probably too late," he shook his head, the black goo oozing from his ears, eyes and nose. "Can't stop."

"Then at least tell us where to find the Hand so nobody else does this!" Chance nearly begged him. They probably had it with them, but if they didn't ... shit, if some pup somewhere found it and this ended up happening....

"Don't know," he managed before sliding to the floor, no longer able to even hold himself upright. "Gone."

Just then, the door shattered, the alarm going off as the paramedics broke through wearing hazmat suits. Chance swore as the Kantin shuddered and stilled, what was left of his insides oozing out, leaving the stink of death behind in a sickly sweet cloud that made even Chance gag.

Chance shuddered and let the paramedics do their thing, spraying him down, stuffed into a quarantine suit and hurried off to Serenity Thorn for observation.

This week was really starting to suck on a whole new set of levels.

Lieutenant Commander Recka Thomas sat quietly as the jet she was in touched down at Shier Khan's private airfield outside his palace in Tusandrin. The palace was a beautiful one; spires and marble, moats and gardens.

And armed guards, doing their damnedest to secure a facility that hadn't been built for it, against a foe they couldn't do a damned thing against.

The Panther stood, grateful to be out of her seat after a long flight, and waited for her Commander and his lover to stand as well.

She could sense the tension throughout the entire compound. She hoped that Khan's presence would help to calm them... it was somewhat painful, being around this many people strung out as badly as they were.

She felt the relief the instant the Tiger was identified stepping out of the small business jet. It spread like a wildfire, but with it came a very different kind of fear. Guards afraid of their Lord when they had not protected their charges, and civilians afraid of what his rage might bring on them.

"Truchsess Niteesh," Khan greeted the slightly younger Tiger in a suit who approached them. "This is Lieutenant Commander Recka Thomas of the MegaKat City Enforcers, a Ghost. Assist her in any way," he instructed in crisp Katian.

"Yes, sir," Niteesh bowed deeply to his master before turning to Recka. "If you would come with me."

The Panther turned to do so quietly, still getting a feel for the place that resonated with an age and steadfast certainty of its place in the scheme of the universe that mirrored it's master's lineage and personal accomplishment.

"Lieutenant Commander Thomas, am I correct that you possess a mind-gift?" Niteesh asked with the same kind of reserved politeness that she could feel everywhere here.

"You are," the Panther nodded. "It's not an easily defined one... a mix of empathy and an ability to deal with spirits. It's one of the reasons I was chosen."

"It will not hurt that you are a Pantheress," he added evenly. "It is inappropriate for a female to speak of the kind of things that have happened to a tom not her husband. Do you wish to see the dead or the living first?"

"At the risk of sounding callous, the dead," Recka said. "The living will be there when I'm done with them, the spirits of the dead may not be. What sort of mages or psis are available here, preferably female?"

"What do you need?" he asked in tern, perfectly serious. "Master Khan will have them woken and flown in."

"A necromancer and an exorcist, first... I believe the local equivalent would be a sechena? If that covers both, I would only need one person. Beyond that, it won't be necessary, but another empath would be preferable. It's good to have confirmation of my own impressions. If it will take some time to get them here, then I can speak with the survivors first."

"There are two empaths in the palace now," he said, taking a wide hallway that sloped down somewhat into a living area below ground level that was many degrees cooler than the gardens. "A sechena lives in a village nearby. She should not take an hour to arrive."

"The sooner the better; in the meantime, I can speak with the survivors," Recka nodded, changing her plans and feeling the overall tenor of the space shifting to a very female dominated tenor. She was sure that the survivors were in a back space away from the central fountain and the public areas. "Thank you," she nodded to him while never missing an opportunity to check out the adult females of various ages that watched her. Most were Tigers, a few were other breeds, and all were strongly focused on their sensuality, though it was background now to their fear.

"Lieutenant Commander Recka Thomas, this is Lady Bakula, Lady Indukala, and Princess Salila," he introduced the two adult Tigresses and one very early teenaged one. "They witnessed the attacks. I will leave to arrange for the sechena, and send the empaths to you."

"Thank you; please knock before anybody else joins us," Recka said with a polite bow before turning to the three survivors, waiting for them to be alone before she spoke again.

"I'm sorry about what happened to you ... the empaths should be here shortly, I'll have some questions for you then. Before then, were any of you hurt during the attack?"

"No, ma'am the eldest of the three, likely almost Shier's age, drew herself upright to answer, her hand gently stroking the teen's hair. She was terrified, sick to the core of her being, but determined not to shame herself or her husband by acting less than dignified. "It was a horrible thing to see, nothing worse."

"I'm glad," she smiled slightly. "Princess Salila? Would you like anything to help calm your nerves?" She asked the youngest of the three Tigresses. Khan's daughter, she was guessing, likely an older one if his heir had fit Berten's tastes.

She looked at her nervously, then nodded. "If it would not be trouble, Ma'am," she spoke with the slow care of one that was less than confident with her command of the language.

"Is there anything specific you would like... or something I should ask for?" She asked, looking between the princess and the two adults, not sure what Tusandrin had.

Back home, she'd have recommended warm milk, or maybe a bit of brandy, but while she was sure she could get either, there might be something better here.

"Sula tea with some milk wine," Bakula suggested with absolute deference to the older Tigress, and got a nod in return.

"I believe we could all use a cup," Indukala agreed.

"I'll have it brought in," Recka said easily, standing to go step outside and ask the guards to have some brought in.

"It should be here in a couple of minutes. This will be easier on all of us if you're fairly relaxed. So... the two of you are among Shier Khan's wives, and you're one of his daughters?" She asked them, trying to find something suitable to talk about that wouldn't be particularly charged, emotionally.

"Yes," Indukala nodded, relaxing slightly as the subject shifted to things she understood very well. "I am his second wife. Bakula is his sixth wife. Salila is his second born daughter."

"Your daughter then?" Recka asked her easily, smiling at the younger Tigress.

"No, ma'am," Bakula blushed at the thought she might have born such a high-ranking kit. "Lady Aditi, Lord Khan's first wife, is her mother."

"Ah... is she busy elsewhere at the moment? " Recka began, only to realize from their emotions that the Tigress was most likely dead many years. "I'm sorry," she murmured before getting up as there was a knock at the door to admit the two empaths and the tea she was sure were waiting.

She said as she sized up the power and skill of the Tigresses, one cinnamon and one with rich flame-colored fur, both clearly older than Shier Khan though not yet with more than a fleck of gray.

"I am Trilochana," the flame-furred one inclined her head. "This is Daya. How may we be of service?"

"You can help keep me grounded, confirm or contest my findings when we are finished?" Recka said as she took the tray with a pitcher of warm milk wine, large tea pot and six small cups.

"Of course," Trilochana said as the two empaths settled down on the pillows, easily relaxed in this duty and among these people as Salila moved to pour and serve the tea.

"What would you like, Lady Recka?" Salila asked, her mind acutely embarrassed that she couldn't pronounce their visitor's correct title.

"A little milk and sugar, please, and none of the milk-wine. It can interfere with my gifts," Recka smiled.

Salila nodded and prepared it with quick, skilled hands, offering the first cup to their guest. The next went to Trilochana, then Indukala, Daya and finally Bakula before she prepared her own with a healthy dose of the milk wine.

For Recka, it was an insightful look into the relative rank of the five Tigresses in the room as she followed Salila's mind go over their preferences and work out who was served when, though all received perfect care.

She gave everyone time to relax, sip their tea, and generally settle a bit more before she spoke again.

"I'm sorry about what has happened here; what can you tell me?"

"It was a spirit, ma'am," Indukala spoke for them all. "We saw him, saw some of what he did. A small male Kat of three colors, near his prime. Not like the ones that live here.

"He took Abha first, then began to attack the kittens. Phoolendu and Baldev were killed. Lakshmi was killed when she tried to stop him from killing Master Khan's heir, Yuvaraj. She failed, Yuvaraj was dead before the spirit left."

"He attacked Abha first ... is she native to Tusandrin? Did she spend time in MegaKat City as a kitten?" Recka asked, reaching into her jacket for the file of data on the case, pulling out Berten's picture and a number of others, one of his old photo lineups. "And did he look like any of the toms here?"

The kitten screamed, her eyes fixed on the picture of Berten as she tried to crawl into Indukala's body for protection they both knew the elder Tigress could not provide.

"Yes, Abha was the daughter of a city noble. She was educated in many lands," Indukala said, her expression grim. "Yes, MegaKat City was one of them. The spirit is of that tom," she indicated Berten without hesitation. "His markings are most distinctive."

"I'm sorry, but we had to be sure," Recka said apologetically, putting the picture away. "Did he leave of his own will, or was he driven off?"

The attack here had been prolonged, sustained, even after he'd had his initial target if she was right. There had been kittens here, granted ... but he'd been interrupted attacking the Commander and left. Here, he had stayed, killed others.

Why the difference?

"I struck him with a prayer ribbon just before he vanished," Bakula offered. "It should have driven him away."

"How did he respond?" Recka asked, trying to place anything she knew about their prayer ribbons. Driven off... but this time, by something that should have hurt him, not by bullets he should have been able to ignore.

"He snarled, hurt, and disappeared," she answered quietly.

"What type of spirit was the ribbon you used supposed to work against?" She asked, running over the type of wards she was familiar with and what might have done it.

And then there was the big question... was Berten still a ghost, or something more? It would answer a lot of questions.

"A ghost," she said. "The soul of one who was once alive, and no longer is."

"Thank heavens for that," Recka murmured. If he had been affected, he was still a ghost. They could handle ghosts ... it was easier handling ones that needed to finish business that could be allowed to finish, but at least it wasn't going to take as massive an effort as it would for a demon.

"Can more of those ribbons be used to secure the palace and quarters? Our first duty should be to prevent another attack."

"We are working to do so, ma'am," Indukala inclined her head. "What can you tell of us him? Who and what he is after. Who is at most risk."

"Kittens," Recka said softly, getting up to get the door. "He was a pedophile... he raped and murdered kittens in life, and has done so in death. He has also attacked former victims of his. Assuming that nobody else here was a victim... then the kittens are the only ones in danger. But they will be in a great deal of danger, if he tries this again," she concluded. "We're hoping to find out more from the victims.

"Have any of you heard of Douglas Berten, or the BoogieKat Killer, before tonight?" She asked them. "From anybody else in the palace, or yourselves?"

The kit glanced at her elders before shaking her head.

"Only the news of him when he was arrested many years ago, then recently when he was executed, ma'am," Indukala said after searching her memory, and Bakula agreed with her.

"Is there anybody else here, besides Shier Khan, who spent any time before they were teenagers in MegaKat City, more than fifteen years ago? We need to know if he has any other people here he can come back to victimize in the future."

"I do not believe so," Indukala said after a long moment to think. "Few kittens are sent that far away that young."

"Unsurprising ... do you know about the guards? Might any of them have been in MegaKat City, possibly born there and moved here later? It's possible that Berten attacked because he came here for Abha, and so if we can find out about any other victims here he might have had, it would make it easier to keep everybody safe from another attack."

She opened up her senses fully, searching for any trace of recognition or fear beyond what she was already aware was there. She didn't think they would lie about this, but she was alert for that as well.

Still, they had every reason in the world to cooperate, and she expected them to do so for their sake as much as anything else.

"We do not know the guards well," Indukala told her. "They do not come into the wives quarters often. Truchsess Niteesh should know that information about all who live or work here. It is his purpose to know all that happens within these walls and make sure it runs smoothly so it does not burden our Lord."

"I will ask him then," she said easily. "Thank you for your time, and I'm sorry I had to ask about this. We will find the one who did it, and stop him for good," she promised.

"He has attacked the house of Shier Kahn," Indukala met her gaze firmly. "He has killed his wives, daughters and heir. Douglas Berten has declared war on the House of Khan. He will pay by your hands or ours."

"He will," Recka agreed. "We killed him once already. This time, we'll make sure it sticks."

Indukala flicked her ears at the next knock, holding what she was going to say.

Recka stood to answer the door again.

"The sechena has arrived, ma'am," the guard informed her quietly.

"Thank you," she said with a respectful nod. "We'll be out in a moment. Lady Indukala, did you have something else you wanted to say?" She asked, closing the door and turning back to her.

"No," she bowed her head slightly. "Thank you for your assistance. We will be in the wives quarters should you need us."

"Thank you. I may wish to speak with you again when I'm done with the spirits here." She bowed respectfully, then turned to leave with the other empaths.

"Your impressions?" She asked them quietly as the guard led them back out.

"Princess Salila is far more afraid than she is admitting to," Trilochana said evenly. "She expects she will be hunted by this ghost soon. She witnessed a great deal more than she can comprehend yet."

"Indukala is outraged," Daya added. "More angry than fearful. This is an attack on her home. It is a very serious offense to a noble. Entire bloodlines have been slaughtered over far less."

"My impressions as well ... I wish there was something I could say to help soothe the Princess' nerves, but I only know enough to scare her worse at this point. Perhaps that will change shortly. You won't have to join me when I speak with the spirits, unless you wish to," she told Daya and Trilochana seriously.

"Thank you. The sechena is more qualified to assist you with them," Trilochana said, not really trying to cover how uneasy she was at the prospect of facing the dead. "

"I would like to join you, if I may," Daya said, her mind somewhere between curious, nervous and grieving now that she was not trying to shield herself. "I was close to Phoolendu."

"I may be speaking with her," Recka warned her. "It may be a chance to say goodbye, or it may be very painful. I've learned the hard way that you can't always expect the best of such reunions, especially so shortly after death."

"I defer to your judgment," the younger Tigress bowed her head before they turned to a wide corridor that was very minimally lit.

Shortly, they reached the main room where the sechena was waiting for them. The others in the room were treating her with obvious deference, and Recka could tell why. The Tigress, all but gray with age and hunched over, leaning on a heavily carved stick, had to be well into her second century. Her body had clearly seen better days, but her eyes were bright and clear, and Recka could sense the power practically rolling off of her. She bowed respectfully, almost out of a reflexive urge to satisfy the wizened old crone of a Tigress as much as out of real respect.

"Sechena, my apologies for disturbing you at this hour," she said respectfully, struggling over the words despite using her best Tusandrin. "But I need one better versed in dealing with spirits than myself to continue my investigation."

"When Lord Khan himself appears at my door, it is good to take notice," the ancient chuckled. "What is it that you hope to learn from them?"

"First, I'll admit that I'm rather hopeful that we can find Berten there yet... can you bind spirits, as well as summon and exorcise them?" Recka asked her, honestly worried about her advanced age if they had to do so.

"Yes," Jagrati nodded slightly. "I am skilled in all of the sechena's arts."

"Good. I will want to try and capture Berten then, if we can. Beyond that, I'm hopeful that one of the victims might have some insight into how he did this, what his motives were ... I have my own thoughts, but this doesn't feel right for a typical attack."

"I understand," Jagrati nodded. "Let us begin. Spirits rarely linger, even without the funeral rites."

"Fortunately, it's only been half a day by now," Recka murmured as they walked through the palace. She looked around curiously, feeling the empathic traces of the attack dwindling. "We're not going to the scene of the attack?" She asked the other Xanith with her curiously.

"No," Jagrati glanced at her, curiosity in her mind. "The spirits will be with their bodies."

"Ah, I see; my apologies," Recka said easily. "Back home, traumatized spirits are more likely to be found near the site of the trauma, I wasn't aware that it worked differently here."

"We believe in the link between body and spirit," Jagrati said as two guards opened great double doors to a cool room lit only by torches and resonating preservative power. "Until the funeral rites are performed, it is a rare spirit that will abandon its body so soon."

"I understand, and that changes things," Recka nodded. "Thank you; you don't have to join us," she told the guards as she, Jagrati, and Daya entered the room with the five corpses resting on stone platforms draped in rich cloth.

The three Tiger kittens, all pre-teen, and two adult Tigresses, had been bathed, groomed and dressed in what Recka expected was their best finery that spoke a great deal to Shier Khan's wealth, given they were minor wives.

It also spoke to how important it was to their relatives that they did not appear to have been as mutilated as she knew they had been. She couldn't tell until she was very close, but paint and fur had been applied to cover what had been ripped out in their struggles.

"Who do you wish to speak to first?" Jagrati asked politely.

"If you think you can summon him, Douglas Berten, the BoogieKat Killer," Recka told her. "If not, then Abha, the first of his victims tonight."

"If he is still within Tusandrin, he will come." Jagrati nodded and glanced around the room with little movement and shuffled over to the circle of candles and incense pots to light them.

Both shekats watched in fascinated interest as the ancient Tigress settled in the middle of the gathering fragrant smoke. She began to chant, low and slow in a language that sounded like a distant predecessor to Tusandrin.

Minutes passed with no reaction ... no visible one, at least. Recka could feel the power build in the room as Jagrati's spell worked, but Berten must have been beyond the reach of the spell.

She pulled her phone out, flipping it open.

"Can I make a call without disrupting anything?" She asked quietly. "I suspect he's back in MegaKat City, and would like to warn our people."

"It should be fine," Daya replied quietly when it was clear that Jagrati was oblivious to them. "Technology rarely disrupts magic."

"Understood," she nodded, quickly speed-dialing the office back home.

"Felina, this is Recka," she said quietly, not wanting to distract the ancient Tigress. "Let SI know; Berten is back in MKC already, or has at least left Tusandrin. We may have another attack. I'm trying to contact the victims now, will report through the Commander later," she explained, waiting for an affirmative response before hanging up.

"Can you shift to summon Abha, or will you have to start over?" She asked Jagrati when the Tigress finally stopped chanting.

"Yes," she replied quietly, the word sliding into the ancient tongue of the spells. This time it was only a moment before the translucent form of a young Tigress sat up from her body in a bit of confusion.

"Abha?" Recka asked her gently. "I am Recka Thomas, of the MegaKat City Enforcers. Your husband, Shier Khan, asked us to help find the one who attacked you ... how much do you remember about what happened?"

It was always tricky dealing with ghosts. You couldn't be sure if they were aware of their death or not, this soon after. You couldn't be sure if they wanted to help or not, either, and those who didn't could be as dangerous as what had killed them.

The spirit shuddered, then nodded. "It was the one you killed for his crimes. He said he was to complete what he started."

"I'm sorry I have to ask you this, but what did he do to you?" Recka asked. "And could you pick him from a photo selection? I have to be certain that it's the same spirit."

"It was," Abha said with absolute certainty. "I can point him out."

Then she paused, looking at her body, then the ground, then anywhere but at the living around her. "Can you not find out from my body?"

"We could, but it would take longer... and we hope to find out things that we can't from your body. Did he say anything more than that he was there to finish what he had started? This attack... it was incredibly violent for him."

"He ... thanked me for giving him such an easy access to Khan's kittens," she barely whispered in her shame. "He was very angry that my husband stopped his last attack. This was retribution for it. I watched ... after my death ... he was drunk on the terror he created."

"This was not your fault, Abha," Recka told her softly. "Will you be able to move on peacefully before his destruction, or will that hold you here?"

"I will stay if I husband wishes me to," she said simply, the cultural training behind it intense despite her education around the world's great cities. "I have no wish to stay for myself."

"I doubt that he will want to keep you from peace," Recka said. "I only wanted to be sure that Berten would not hold you here ... do you have any messages you want delivered?"

"I will be waiting for him," she managed a small smile.

"I'll let your husband know," Recka smiled slightly, dearly hoping she'd interpreted the message properly. "Thank you for your help... can you tell us who else is still here? If we don't have to disturb someone who has moved on, we would rather not."

"We are all waiting for our funeral rites," Abha told her.

"Thank you. If you can, would you have Phoolendu come next? Daya wanted to say goodbye, and I'll need a moment before more questioning."

"I will," she inclined her head slightly before drifting towards the younger of the two female kitten's bodies. It took only a moment for her to rouse the five year old's spirit to join them.

"Phoolendu, this is Recka Thomas of the MegaKat City Enforcers," she spoke carefully in Tusandrin. "Tell her what she wants to know."

The kitten nodded, clearly scared but taking comfort from the spirit of the older Tigress behind her.

"Daya is here to talk as well," Abha continued with a reassuring smile.

"Don't worry, I'll keep it short," Recka promised, glancing back at the emotional Tigress with her. "If you want to say goodbye, now's your best chance," she said softly, not really wanting to get between them for the moment.

"Rest well in The Garden, Phoolendu," Daya knelt to be on eye level with the kitten she had begun to train. "We will meet again."

"Not too soon, I hope," the kitten said with a weak smile. "I'll meet you there," she added, leaning forward to try and hug her teacher. Her ghostly arms passed through living flesh, making Daya shudder and nearly whine in pain at the contact.

"Not too soon," she recovered and smiled at the kitten before standing and backing off a bit to give Recka the floor.

The Panthress, having arranged her questions mentally, stepped up to speak with Phoolendu.

"What can you tell me about the attack?" She asked in careful Tusandrin, kneeling to look into the young Tigress' eyes.

"It began as a good dream," she said, her fur fluffing and her tail tucked tightly between her legs and down one. "It turned dark, scary. Then he appeared as Siva. He took me as he would his wife."

"Did he kill you in the dream?" Recka asked her softly, knowing the girl was telling her the minimum she needed to. "Or outside of it?"

"In the dream," she answered, her eyes downcast. "He took great pleasure in it."

"Phoolendu, listen to me," Recka said firmly. "What he did is not your fault, not the fault of anybody but him. And we will punish him for what he has done."

"He said I was his now," she looked up in anguish. "I was promised to Lord Tanish."

"You couldn't stop him ... and when we destroy him, you won't be his any more," Recka said, her tail twitching behind him. "You're not going to be his."

All the same, she quietly made a mental note to check into Berten's faith a bit more deeply, and his knowledge of magic. It could have some sort of meaning, some importance to how he was operating.

Or to what his ultimate goal was, if he had one.

This had been a Homicide/Sexual Crimes case, then SI's, but now that the Commander had been attacked, the Ghosts were involved. Recka, unlike many of her comrades, didn't believe in cutting out those who had begun the investigations unless it was absolutely required.

She'd worked with Seriad and Sandru enough to trust them to be involved and know their value. Sashari and Toama as well, along with Furlong and Clawson, though she wanted the Champion of Bastet involved more to get to know him for future need than any use in this case. Such opportunities were not to be wasted.

The kitten nodded, still afraid but soothed by her words. "I like Lord Tanish."

"And you will see him again some day, just as Abha will see her husband," Recka promised, quietly praying that she wasn't promising more than she could grant. "Would it be possible for him to be brought here?" She asked Daya quietly.

"Yes," she nodded. "He should be on his way for the funeral by now."

"Do you want to see him again, before the funeral?" Recka asked the kitten gently.

"No," she shook her head quickly. "I will wait until it is time."

"I understand," Recka nodded. "Thank you, Phoolendu. I will leave you be for now."

"Thank you," Phoolendu bowed to her and went back to her body to settle down until her funeral.

"Who next?" Abha asked her politely.

"Unless anybody else wants to say something, knows something that hasn't already been said, there's no need to disturb them. Thank you for your help; if anybody else has messages they want to send back, I'd be happy to deliver them."

"He can kill outside of dreams," Abha said. "No one else wishes to speak to the living."

"Thank you for the warning; we will leave you be then. I hope that the afterlife will be pleasant for you all."

"Thank you," she bowed in respect. "May Maya aid your search and Shakti guide your hand," she offered before returning to her body.

Berten grunted raspily as he came, his pale, unearthly seed splattering over the sheets and soft, dark fur of Chance's three infant kittens.

He had some time left before he could take Chance. But once he'd tracked Tamera's mind here, he'd known that he couldn't just take to stalking her again.

Connie's little girl ... Chance's little girl too. It was too good to pass up.

So he'd left a little calling card in the room with the younger kittens, younger than even he had a taste for. He let his spirit fade out of sight, and slipped himself into Tamera's dreamscape, watching her silently from the closet.

She was restless, excited and afraid all at once. It was a sweet start to his evening with her. He was less thrilled with how disjointed things were in her dream. She was flying, he could tell that much. The air was crisp and clean. Beyond that, it was largely indeterminate.

Dull. Not much to work with... and yet, everything to work with. He had to admit though, he preferred the more involved dreams to play with. There was so much more involved... it usually meant a deeper dream, something that they valued. Her fairy meadow... that had been fun to play with.

The dream that Abha had been having... that had been a positive pleasure. She'd made it so much more entertaining too, dreaming about her childhood travels and excitement. Here though... not nearly as much to warp.

The clouds thickened and darkened as his influence began to spread through Tamera's dreamscape. The winds picked up, and her dreams of flying began to become more dangerous.

He felt her mind tense, then she went right for the storm, spreading biological leather wings to catch and manipulate the winds.

Clever... fairly clever, at any rate.

Berten spread wings of his own, the great, black, tattered wings of a fallen angel and went after her, extending his claws into great razors as he took off in pursuit of his prey, the clouds thickening into great black thunderheads above them.

He knew the instant she recognized his presence. She twisted around, lightning fast and full of rage, as her poorly visualized body flowed and set into a feathered four-limbed dragon with great eagle wings and dove right for him.

He twisted his form further, swooping out of the way. Muscle, feathers, he added more and more to his frame, searching through Tamera's nightmares for the biggest, nastiest creature he could.

By the time she had caught up with him, he had it. A grotesque, raven-like beast with black feathers, razor-sharp talons and a cruel, serrated beak that flashed up at her, cutting into her side only to find metal there.

He blinked as the flesh and blood dragon became one of technology built like a tank with wings and crackling with fury as it charged him heedless of the danger or risk to herself.

She was faster than she should be. Did she know he'd killed her mother? Perhaps... it could explain a few things. Rage and a youthful imagination could be a formidable combination here.

But he'd learned to manipulate dreams far better than she'd get the chance to. He swooped away, spreading his wings and commanding the gathering storm. Lightning crackled across the bottom of the clouds like a sheet, then down, striking the metallic form Tamera had chosen and super-heating the wings, shorting out systems inside. He took the offensive, diving towards her and hurling her stunned body towards the ground below.

Metal flowed to flesh again, the energy of the lightning absorbed and channeled as she spread her wings, then folded them into a dive that took her into the earth without so much as a rumble to mark her entrance.

Why couldn't she have been in her Fairyland meadow again? It would have been so much easier to work with that... he'd have had more to use.

While he was trying to come up with something, he was only vaguely aware of her reappearance behind him for a split second before she tried to pull him into a crystal that appeared out of nowhere. Caught unawares, he was dragged in and trapped.

He felt her pride swell, and with it the wild storm she was flying in, drawing it up to a true tempest that only magic could create.

Just then, at that moment of her supposed triumph, he shattered out of the crystal, his form changed once again. He was a fanged, slavering fiend now, muscles rippling, great wings unfurled behind him, a shaft bristling with dripping spines between his legs as he stole command of the storm, buffeting her with hurricane force winds.

"What do you think I am, girl?" He sneered at her. "And who do you think you are!"

"You are in my head," she snarled, fighting back with the kind of indifference to injury that only the young or the very experienced could exhibit. "You are not welcome here!"

"I may not be welcome, but here I am," he grinned viciously, swelling up to massive proportions. "I am the master of dreams, and you... you are a mewling kitten," he said, lashing out with the power of his will, enforcing the reality he wanted on her dreams, restoring her body to its natural form....

Without the power of flight.

He grinned even wider when all her bravado and will fled her into raw terror as she screamed.

That scream cut through the protective layer of slumber covering Midnight like a knife. She sat up bolt straight, registering the sound and quickly realizing that it was coming from Tamera's room.

She'd have thought it was a nightmare, but there was something different about the sound that hurried her natural dead bolt to the room just across the hall from the master bedroom. She flung the door open, unconcerned by normal niceties.

What she saw made her sick to her stomach. Tamera was awake now, crying as she was forced to suck the cock of a translucent piebald tom in his prime who looked like he was smoking faintly. He turned to look at Midnight, and as he did she saw the blaster wounds on the side of his head.

She already knew who it was though, just from his markings. Without thinking she rushed forward with a snarl, the power Bastet had once granted her to protect herself now called up to protect her kitten.

She felt the power surging through her, even as Berten turned to answer it, snarling, his claws out as he leaped at her, rage in his eyes at being interrupted.

"She's mine!" He snarled at her.

"Not while I live," Midnight retaliated, her open hand slamming squarely into his chest, channeling the power of the Mother of All Kats to mark and burn her enemies into his form.

He howled in pain, sinking his claws into her arms and twisting, throwing her back into the bed with Tamera where she scrambled to put herself between her husband's daughter and attacker.

"I can arrange for that to stop being a problem," he growled menacingly, flexing his hands... he didn't come after the enraged shekat though. "Now leave here while you'll still have three kittens of your own!"

He was bluffing, she was sure of it. And he was not doing it the right way.

"Bastet!" she called out, her tone more command than prayer as she focused inward on everything that made her a living embodiment of her deity. "Protector of hearth and home. Banish this Kat from your home," she demanded as her body began to glow, taking on the rounded form and brown-tabby colors of the one she was calling on.

He howled in rage, but fled, passing through the wall and fading from the house. She could feel his presence leaving, leaving Tamera shaking behind her, leaning forward to cling to her slender frame.

"He's gone now," Midnight said soothingly, turning to embrace Tamera. "Are you hurt?"

"N-no, not really," Tamera managed to get out. "A-are you?"

"I'm fine," she murmured, nuzzling her. "Think you can stand with me to check on the kittens?"

"Yeah," she nodded, getting up, shaking as she looked down at her torn nightgown with chagrin.

"You can change that before the Enforcers get here," Midnight promised as she helped Tamera stand. "I don't think we'll be sleeping in this house until this is over."

"Thanks," she murmured. "Let's check the others first though ... hope he didn't hurt them."

"They are younger than he likes by all accounts," Midnight said softly and supported Tamera as they made the short distance to the infant's room.

They arrived to the sound of the triplets mewling in general irritation at the sticky substance in their fur.

"They're okay, right?" Tamera asked, trying to look up over the edge of the crib, her tail swishing nervously.

"Yes, just very unhappy," Midnight held back her gag reflex at what she saw. "Bring the phone, please."

Tamera turned and ran off for the cordless phone, coming back with it a minute later.

"Can I change now?" She asked hopefully.

"Yes, just be very careful not to disturb anything he may have left on it," Midnight turned to hug the girl. "You were very brave, no matter what he did."

"Thanks... I'd feel a lot better if Chance were back though," Tamera admitted before turning to head back to her room and change.

"So would I," she murmured as she dialed.

"Captain Ricee," a strong and somewhat distracted female responded after three rings.

"Heather, it's Midnight," she opened, catching the sharp intake of breath on the other end. "I need a CSI team at the house, an hour ago," she said as she heard water running in bathroom across the hall, then gargling, and winced for the lost evidence. "Berten was here. Came all over my kittens and was working on Tamera when I interrupted him. I managed to drive him off."

"Oh crud," Heather hissed. "I'm sorry I can't send Chance home, but he's tied up in decon right now. I'll call Jake, and the SI CSI unit will be there soon. They can clean up at the jewelry store later."

"Decon?" Midnight asked incredulously. "What happened?"

And why was it all happening to them?

"He nabbed a perp who dissolved from the inside out half an hour later," Heather explained briefly. "He should be released by shift end if nothing happens."

"And he's planning on transferring there to get away from danger," Midnight murmured, shaking her head. "Please call me if anything does ... do you think what happened was contagious?" She asked. You could never be sure with SI.

"I'm sorry, but if we knew, he wouldn't be in decon, one way or another," Heather tried to be gentle. "SI has far fewer deaths, but we face stranger things than pilots. Do you have any detectives you'd prefer on the case?" she offered, a respect given to one she considered one of her own.

"Detective Seriad please," Midnight said softly. "Tamera knows her, and she's familiar with the background on the case."

"I'll send her as soon as I can," Heather promised. "The CSI unit is on its way with Jake. Please try not to clean the kittens up too much. I know it's hard, but we need as much evidence as possible to get all the cases shifted to us."

"For Bast's sake, make sure Jake knows that nobody was seriously hurt," Midnight said seriously. "Chance too, if we can't get there by the time he's ready to be discharged."

"I will," Heather promised, pausing as she sent that message. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Double check to see how much therapy is covered for Chance's dependents under his health insurance," Midnight chuckled weakly. "If Tamera didn't need it before, she certainly will now ... for now though, I think that's all. Thank you."

"I will," she promised. "Take care, Midnight. Do you have any friends in the temples? I would not recommend sleeping outside one until we get this guy."

"Chance has an Aunt who's a priestess of Bastet; we'll try staying there," Midnight agreed. "I should probably let you know; he responded very badly to Bastet's power. It might be helpful."

"Yes, thank you," Heather sounded decidedly pleased to hear that. "At least we know who and what we're dealing with. All that is really left to work on is how to stop him for good this time."

"Is that all?" Midnight chuckled weakly. It sounded so simple when she put it that way. "I'm sorry, I have to go check on Tamera. Thank you for your help."

"Anything for family," Heather said firmly. "Take care."

"Thank you," Midnight smiled slightly and hung up to go take care of Tamera. They should both be dressed before the unit, and Jake, arrived. It twisted her gut to leave the kittens mewing and messy, but she knew she needed to for a little while longer.

"Cops are coming, aren't they?" Tamera whimpered, her tail tucked firmly between her legs as she looked up from the bathroom sink and the mouthwash she was trying to use to get the taste from her mouth that was now more memory than reality. She was pretty much dressed already, her torn nightgown traded for a loose shirt and slacks; she'd expected to have to meet company.

"They are, and Jake," Midnight nodded, taking the mouthwash from her. "Do you want to stay with me while I get dressed?" She asked her.

She just nodded, hating to admit it but unwilling to be alone even that much now.

"It will be okay," Midnight promised with a kiss to her forehead and walked to the master bedroom for a quick change from her nightgown to a simple maroon dress that showed off her curves, though little fur. "We're going to stay where he can't come until he's destroyed."

"Where?" Tamera asked, looking up at Midnight and showing her fear plainly in young eyes. "He found me and Mom, he followed me here, he'll follow us where ever we go next!"

"Yes, he will," Midnight pulled her close for a hug. "He fled from the power of Bastet that I can call upon. In Her temple, there will always be a priest able to drive him away before he gets to you."

"What if they don't get there in time? He doesn't start out where they can reach him." Tamera shuddered, squeezing her eyes shut. "H-he did hurt me, in my dreams," she murmured. "Do you think that's how... how he hurt Mom?"

"Yes," she murmured, regretting the truth of it. "The priests can create protective wards, and others that will warn them of his approach. It will be enough."

"I hope so," Tamera whispered, hugging Midnight tightly. "They're going to let us stay?"

"Yes, they will," she said with the absolute certainty of knowing from experience how the request would be handled. "We will see the end of this nightmare. I promise."

"I hope that's Jake," Tamera murmured at a knock on the door, reluctantly disengaging herself Midnight's slender body.

"And CSI," she nodded and walked with her to the front door. "I want to clean the kits up."

"How long will they take?" Tamera asked, following Midnight, staying close, her tail swishing nervously.

"I don't know," she admitted and answered the door, not the least bit surprised to see Jake in front of the other Kats in uniform, or that he rushed the two steps to hug her tightly.

"Are you going to be okay?" he looked down at Tamera.

The kitten nodded slightly, hugging him tightly as the other officers came in.

"We'll all be fine, with a bit of time," Midnight reassured Jake. "I drove him off before he could do any major harm, thank Bastet."

"Where are you going to stay?" He asked as she all but hauled the CSI team leader into the kitten's room.

"Do whatever you have to so I can get them clean," Midnight practically ordered the startled detective before turning back towards Jake.

"You're not going to like it, but probably with Chance's Aunt 'Melia. It's the safest place right now."

"In the temple," Jake's ears flattened sideways in distress. "Why not Halikar's, or somewhere else? Somewhere they actually protect people."

"Because Bastet's priests can protect us against Berten, Jake," Midnight told him. "I don't know if Halikar's can. They defend, but Berten is a monster that preys on kittens. He flies in the face of everything Bastet's faithful stand for."

Jake nodded, reluctant but with much less fuss than she'd have expected.

"You can clean up the kittens now, ma'am," a CSI officer said after touching her shoulder. "Thank you for leaving the scene untouched for us."

"Thank you," she said, hurrying in to take them into the bathroom so they could be washed. "How's Chance?" She asked Jake as she started the water for the bath, trying to soothe the kittens with Tamera and his help.

"Pacing, for the most part," he chuckled weakly as he wiped the worst of the ghost-seed from Carim's fur. "We haven't told him just yet. I figured it would be better for him to hear about it along with how everyone was doing all at once. They weren't going to let him out either way."

"After I get the kittens cleaned up, can we go to see him? What's the...." She shuddered a bit at the thought. "They think he'll be okay, right?" She asked softly, cleaning up Pat's fur.

"I doubt they'll let you touch, but we can see him," Jake nodded as he got the nightclothes and diaper off Carmin, then put him in the luke-warm water with his sisters.

"That's good ... he'll hear about it soon enough, I know, but I want us there when he does."

"Agreed," Jake nodded, then leaned over to kiss her cheek while the three of them worked to calm and clean up the kittens. "He's going to have a fit about not being let to take this case," he tried to make a joke of what really would happen.

"He'll go absolutely ballistic," Midnight chuckled weakly. "Maybe he'll go back in the air for a while ... I hear you caught your Ghost Thieves, even if it wasn't for long for one of them."

"It won't be long for any of them," he nodded regretfully. "That thing they were using eats them from the inside out. Pretty gross, really."

"Creepy," she shuddered. "At least it shouldn't attack you or Chance ... I hurt him, Jake," she added softly. "Maybe badly."

"Maybe that'll make him easier to stop," he murmured, glancing up as a CSI officer hovered by the door. "Yes?"

"We've finished with both bedrooms," she said politely. "The detective is here to talk to Tamera."

"Tamera? If you can handle it now, it would be best ... we'll go see Chance afterwards," Midnight told the kitten, who nodded and got up to go answer the questions waiting for her.

Chance wrinkled his nose a bit at the chemical smells that still lingered on his gear as he walked out of the decon area. They'd disinfected everything, just in case, and while they were satisfied he wasn't about to dissolve from the inside out, he was privately wondering if somebody was trying to punish him for that. He just hoped it wasn't too strong; he didn't want to upset the kittens before he had a chance to change.

He walked out into the waiting room, and spotted Jake, Midnight, Tamera, and the triplets there, Tamera pressed against Midnight's side almost like she'd been welded there.

"Hey, I'm out, nothing to worry about," he told them cheerfully, thinking they were just worried about him. "Wasn't a big deal after all."

"Good," Midnight breathed a sigh of relief and nearly rushed forward to hug him. "A lot happened at home while you were on shift."

"What?" He asked her, glancing down at Tamera, who looked at least a little ill. He hugged Midnight tightly, then leaned back. "Midnight, what happened?" He asked her softly.

"Berten," she knew it was all he really needed to hear to have a fair notion of events; his fur stiffened and stood up just hearing the name. "I interrupted him before he got very far."

"Are you all okay?" He asked, looking at his oldest daughter in particular. She nodded slightly in mute response.

"He didn't really hurt me," she added, unsettled even more by his reaction. "Midnight scared him off."

"We're going to stay in the temple until he's caught," Midnight said firmly to forestall any other ideas he might have. "Bastet's power will keep him away."

"Melia should be willing to take us in for a while," Chance agreed, too stunned to really object to the idea just now. "Until then...." He shook his head, growling lowly. "Damn it, that -" He caught himself before his language got too much rougher. "Jake, any ideas how one of us can get somebody to let us into the loop a bit more here? If the rumors are right SI lost this case the other night."

"Not all the detectives are off it though," he nodded, thinking. "I'll work on it. You take care of family."

"Right," Chance nodded, letting Midnight go and moving to hug Tamera. "We'll get him," he promised her quietly, rubbing her back.

"What if he can come in the day?" she shivered, hugging him tightly.

"Ghosts don't do that, honey," he lied to her, quietly praying that he was right in this case. He usually would be; ghosts and daylight didn't usually get along. "Besides, during the day you'll be at school, or with one of us, and he won't come after you like that."

She nodded, more needing to believe that really believing. "What about everyone else?"

"The Enforcers are going to stop him, honey... we're still working on how to find him, but we will. Now that we know the temples can keep him out, maybe that'll help."

"Focus on yourself, Tamera," Midnight knelt to hug her as well. "Let the adults worry about everyone else for now."

"Okay," the kitten murmured, closing her eyes to try and hide the tears that were starting as she began to come down from the terror of before. "C-can we go somewhere safe now?" She asked hopefully.

"Of course we can," Chance nodded. "You'll be staying home from school today, don't worry about it ... just let me call Melia and we'll get going."

"I arranged it before coming here," Midnight said before he could go look for a phone. "The van is packed with what we'll need for a few days. We just need you."

"You've got me then," Chance chuckled slightly, standing back up. "Let's go... I'll drive, need to stretch out a bit after that quarantine cell," he grumbled.

"At least they didn't keep you in there for a week," Jake tried to tease him as they all walked out to the van, each adult carrying one kitten.

"Don't remind me that they wanted to at first, just to be safe," Chance grumbled. "If you hadn't caught the other two, I'd still be in there."

"Are you planning to stay at the temple too?" Jake switched subjects as they settled the triplets inside the van.

"I want to be able to do what I can to help protect my family, Jake," Chance told him quietly. "Can't do that from the house while they're somewhere else."

"Good," he nodded, letting his real reason for the question go unsaid as Tamera settled down in the back row next to him. "Everybody still think that SI is less dangerous than flying?"

"Jake, MMA for a living is less dangerous than flying," Midnight pointed out with a huff, making him chuckle.

"Hey, given why Chance brought up the transfer to us, it's a legit question," Jake countered in good humor.

"Well, Midnight's right," Chance chuckled slightly. "Besides, given what Melia kept telling Rock and me about you being trouble, SI might be good to have at our backs."

Even over the sound of the engine turning over, he caught the sharp sound of shock that came out of his partner and winced. How the hell did Jake not know about it?

"Okay ... what has she been telling you?" Jake asked evenly.

"Just that, with everything going on," Chance said, keenly aware that Tamera was listening in, "you'll probably end up being a bit of a magnet for weird stuff that's up SI's alley. And given what we've already gone through, I don't know that I'm necessarily going to disagree," he chuckled, trying hard to keep this light-hearted.

"Nothing exactly new there," Jake nodded and visibly relaxed. "Sorry, I'm still uneasy about what they say sometimes."

"What do they say?" Tamera asked, looking back at the two toms. "Is there something wrong?"

"No," Jake shook his head. "They just think I'm special. It's caused a lot of friction over the years, though things have mellowed in the last couple. They want me to be something I'm not, and I'm not willing to bow to the pressure. You can ask Melia about divine champions and my clashes with the priesthood if you want."

"Okay," Tamera nodded slightly, not really sure what was up, but knowing a 'not right now' when she heard it. This one even made sense. You don't want to rile someone about folks they were on their way to deal with, however briefly. "What's MMA?"

"Mixed Martial Arts," Jake smiled over at her slightly. "It's a kind of professional fighting, like boxers."

"Only faster and more bloody," Chance added. "I did it for a while, but, well, against the likes of him, a wrestler doesn't stand much chance. Just not fast enough, or prone to doing enough damage."

"You're a wrestler?" Tamera asked him, her ears perking up a bit.

"Well, that's what I call myself when I'm following the rules," Chance chuckled a bit. "When I'm not, I usually fight dirty, because it usually matters what happens then. More than just a win or a loss."

"A pretty good boxer too," Jake added with a grin, more than happy to help improve his standing with his new daughter. "He's still well-ranked among Enforcers."

"Cool," she grinned, leaning forward, dearly grateful for something else to think about. "Will you show me some moves?"

"Sure," Chance grinned back. "After things have settled down a bit maybe. See about getting you up in the air some time first," he smiled, not quite sure about the sudden cloud that crossed her expression before she pushed it away.

"Sounds good," she said with a shaky smile instead, her attention abruptly shifting to the grand primary temple to Bastet in MegaKat City. "It's huge."

"No kidding," Chance agreed. "Don't think I'll ever really get used to this place... it's something else when you're above it too."

"Especially at night, when a service is going on," Jake added with a slightly sad smile as they pulled into the parking lot where a heavily built priestess was waiting for them. "It's all lit up, glowing from the inside out through stained glass. It's quite a show."

"I'll bet," Tamera nodded, climbing out after they'd parked while Chance opened up the side door.

"Chance, Midnight, Jake, it's good to see you here... is this Tamera?" The Priestess asked, coming out to greet them.

"Yap," Chance grinned at his aunt before he got close enough to hug her. "Wants to learn how to wrestle like her dad."

"She'll be the holy terror of her school one of these days," Melia chuckled, leaning down to give Tamera a warm hug. "Are you okay?" She asked her gently. "I know it's been rough on you lately."

"I'll survive," she said with a grim determination she was far too young for. "I still miss my Mom, but Midnight and Chance have been great. She risked her life for me tonight."

"I heard," Melia nodded seriously. "If you need to talk to anybody, about anything, just let us know... I'll come over if you want to keep it in the family, but we're all willing to talk."

"Thanks," she murmured, clearly drawn back to what she didn't want to think about. "Just want a good night's sleep right now, ma'am."

"That we can do; come on, let's get you all settled in. Ah... Jake? Do you want to come along as well?" She asked the cinnamon-furred tom. "Everybody's promised to behave," she smiled slightly.

"For a bit," he nodded, both in thanks and acknowledgment that he would. "The next couple shifts are going to be very long ones."

"No doubt, but Chance and his family will be safe here," Melia reassured them all, turning to lead them in. "Come on, we'll show you your quarters, and how we will keep you safe."

"Thank you," Midnight inclined her head and picked up the car chair Pat was resting in. "Tamera, would you take Heather so Chance can bring the suitcase?"

"Sure," Tamera nodded, taking the kitten from their father. Heather opened her eyes sleepily as she was handed off, mewling a yawn and sticking a tiny fist in her mouth to suck on it as Chance got the suitcase and they walked into the temple together.

Midnight seemed almost at home, Jake clearly knew it well though he was uneasy. Tamera was wide-eyed as she took it all in, wealth, artistry and age on a level she'd never witnessed before.

"You can feel it, can't you?" Jake's voice was low, meant only for her.

"The hum?" she glanced up at him. "Yeah. Not everyone can?"

"Not these days, no," he shook his head as they were showed through the main chamber and into the areas generally off limits to the public.

"Why not?" She asked, only half paying attention to what Melia was saying at the moment.

"Some because they do not want to, others because they are so far out of touch with the energy of the universe that they can not feel it," he explained as best he could. "What you are feeling is the energy of sanctified ground and many people with access to great power. A mage's home will feel much the same."

"Oh... so most people could feel it, if they wanted to?"

"Yes," he nodded. "The calmness and soothing you may hear folks speak of when they talk of the draw of services is feeling that energy, when they do not understand what they are really feeling."

"Oh, okay," she nodded, thinking it over. "Is that what keeps people like him away?"

"In a way, yes," Jake considered the whys. "I believe it is more that they know the power means there are people who can find and destroy them here."

"With things like Berten, they also know that we'll follow them as far as it takes," Melia interjected. "You will be safe from him here, Tamera, and we'll show you how to stay safe outside our walls," she promised.

"Thank you," she nodded with a shy smile for the priestess that reminded her a lot of her father and grandmother.

"Would you like to have one of us stay with you today, to stand watch while you rest?" Melia offered. "I think your folks could use little privacy tonight."

"If you want us there, we'll be there," Chance added seriously.

"No ... I think I'd be okay, as long as somebody was there. I just don't want to be alone if he tries to get into my dreams again," Tamera explained, wrapping her tail around her leg a bit. She barely realized how soon Jake had his arms around her.

"I'll stay too, if you'd like," he offered quietly. "I'm an old hand at dealing with nightmares."

"Won't Rock be worried about you, after everything?" she looked up at this friend of her father's that resonated with a great deal of power and didn't act like he had any.

"I'll call him, but if you'd like familiar company, he'll understand," Jake assured her. "He's your father's cousin. Family is very important to them."

"I'll be okay," Tamera decided after a minute to really think about it. "I just need somebody who can wake me up ... that's how he's come after me."

"He won't get close enough to touch your dreams," Melia promised and opened the door to a large room with a plush bed, the floor deep in cushions and three cribs. "Initiate Lyth requested first watch," she motioned to the chocolate on red tabby tom barely in his teens.

"Hello," he smiled, standing up and bowing a greeting to the new arrivals.

"Hi," Tamera smiled a little shyly, looking around the room, and up at a long ribbon of paper with wards written on it in old Katian that ran around the outer edge of the room, ready to be brought up by the door.

"I took a few extra precautions, Priestess," the tabby told Melia. "Just in case, since we're not dealing with somebody who's really solid this time."

"You pay attention well, then," Melia smiled approvingly at him. "I was in my thirties before I could have attempted this."

"I'm just good at remembering shapes," he admitted, though it was obvious he was pleased with the praise. "Thank you. Do you want some help putting the kittens to bed?" He asked, looking between Midnight and Tamera.

"Yes, thank you," Midnight nodded and walked up to the cribs to put Carmin to bed.

Lyth walked up to Jake, taking Pat from his arms as Tamera handed Heather off to Midnight to put into the second of the three cribs.

"It's good to meet you, Mr. Clawson," he said respectfully, rubbing Pat's back and taking her over to the third crib, putting her in gently with a soft scritch between her ears. "Wish it was under better circumstances."

"That's usually the case," Jake admitted. "Life's not for the fair of heart."

"Maybe not, but we do what we can to improve it," Melia said. "Tamera; you and Lyth feel free to chat for a bit if you want, but try to get some sleep today. You're safe here, I promise," she smiled as the kittens quickly settled down to sleep themselves.

"The adults definitely need their sleep too," Midnight smiled at her in thanks. "It's a big relief to have someone who can watch over her so we can."

"It's a pleasure, Midnight," Melia smiled. "You know what we do here, and when there are kittens involved, it's all the more important to keep them safe. Come on, I'll show you to your room now," she said easily, leading the adults out of the room and leaving Lyth to put the rest of his ward up in place.

"We aren't kicking anyone out of their room, are we?" Chance glanced over at her.

"Nah," Jake chuckled. "They keep rooms free for stuff like this."

"Yes, we have an entire wing dedicated to people being stalked by vengeful ghosts," Melia joked. "Seriously though, putting a family up for a few days, or even a few weeks, isn't anything new to us. It may become more of an issue if we have to support large numbers, but we might be able to find ways around that too... I've spoken with Fela this morning about the possibility of trying to prepare wards for families with large numbers of kittens in Berten's preferred age range, and we're going to put out word about coming to the priests if your kittens suffer from unusual nightmares. SI informed us that that was one link between most of the cases."

"The other is being a previous vic," Chance told her quietly, making her tail fluff slightly.

"Yes, I'm sleeping here too," he sighed.

"We'll prepare a ward for your room as well then," Melia said firmly.

"Only on the day he did it before," Chance objected. "Only one night a year."

"Are they sure of that limitation?" Melia asked him seriously. "Have there been any survivors who weren't attacked again? That's the only way I would feel safe relying on that, and the only way you should. If that."

"You know we don't know who half his vics are, and I'm sure no one's admitting most of his earliest ones could even exist," he sighed. "I'll only sleep here though, if it'll make you feel better."

"It'll make us feel better," Jake and Midnight said in firm unison.

"We'll call it unanimous," Melia said. "We don't want to take any chances with this, Chance. We'll hold off on the full-wall wards if you want, but at least let us mark the doors and any other access points."

"Can't ghosts walk through walls anyways?" Chance pointed out.

"Yes, but there's a symbolic importance to marking the doors. He might be able to come through the doors, but a ward on the doors and windows does have impact; it makes it clear that he is unwelcome, and will rob him of at least some of his power if he enters despite the censure. It will also rob him of any divine patronage he might be benefiting from, unless they're willing to risk sparking another Godwar just to get at you."

Chance nodded with a sigh.

"Even when he's coming in through the dreams?" Midnight asked. "It's how Tamera said he attacked her."

"He'd have to enter the room you are in to enter your dreams, since you said he was physically there when you came in, and he leaves physical evidence," Jake added. "I don't think he hates you enough to risk that."

"Jake's correct, though it doesn't matter if he has to come in physically or not," Melia agreed. "Again, it's a matter of a symbolic protection that matters greatly with mystical concerns. You are in Bastet's temple, She has forbidden dark spirits to enter the room ... it is possible to find loopholes, but any loophole will have the consequence of seriously pissing off not only Bastet, but every one of Her priests and priestesses in this city. Not a good way to start your afterlife." She opened up the door to their room. "Make yourselves at home ... I wish we could offer you some other means of protection, but this is the best we can do for now."

"We're making progress on the case," Jake smiled at her, then hugged Midnight before turning to squeeze his partner's arm. "Between SI and Feral's Ghosts, we'll find a way to stop him for good."

"And you need to go home before Rock calls the Enforcers and finds out half of what happened without the part where everyone's okay," Midnight gave him a kiss on the cheek. "You sleep well. We'll be fine."

"I'll see you tonight, buddy," Chance smiled as Jake backed out and they entered the room. "Get yourself some rest, and let Rock know we closed our first case," he added with a grin.

"Will do," Jake grinned back over his shoulder before heading towards the front of the temple as the door closed.

"I hope they catch him soon," Chance muttered, his put-on good mood disappearing as he looked around the nicely appointed room that was all about comfort in down, velvet and cushions.

"He will be," she murmured, shifting around to slide her arms up arms his neck and claimed a kiss. "It won't be bad."

"Maybe not, but...." Chance sighed, returning the kiss, wrapping his arms around Midnight and hugging her close. "I'm supposed to be able to take care of you and the kits," he murmured. "And here we are, running away from that bastard, letting him drive us out of our home, because I can't."

"Because you care enough about their safety to take us where we are safe," she countered. "It may hurt your pride, but it means you are a good father."

"It still hurts my pride," he chuckled slightly, nuzzling her neck. "That's just a hurt I'll get over. You're sure he didn't hurt you when you saved Tamera?" He asked her.

"Yes," she relaxed in his arms. "He threatened, but he didn't do any more."

"Good," he murmured, rubbing her back. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to help you. I'm starting to wonder if Tamera's in more danger with us than with somebody else," he admitted.

"She's a target, has been before she knew you existed," she reminded him. "He was stalking her before Connie died. Now come to bed. We both need some rest."

"You're probably right," he agreed, stifling a yawn as they both undressed and he followed her to the bed of cushions waiting for them. "Hope this is over with soon," he murmured as they laid down next to each other. "Worst part is not being able to help with it."

"I know," she kissed his cheek and snuggled close to run one hand down his body.

"Is that a hint to shut up and stop thinking about it?" He asked with a slight chuckle, snuggling up himself, reaching up to scratch the back of her neck lightly.

"It's the best way I know to wear each other out enough to sleep quickly," she smiled and nuzzled him, sliding her hand down to play her fingers along his sheath. "It's sexy too, making love in the Temple of Bastet."

"You think so, huh?" Chance purred lowly, warming up to the idea a bit. He was tired, and the night had been Hell, but he could certainly come up with worse ways to get the day off to a good start.

"Very much," she purred, rubbing against his side affectionately. "But anything with you is sexy."

"If you're trying to fix my wounded pride... it's working," he chuckled, turning towards her, kissing her tenderly, running a powerful hand down her side. "Guess it'd be a shame to pass up a night of free babysitting, huh?" He asked, cracking a bit of a wise-ass grin.

"Almost criminal," she licked at his lips for admittance and fondled him to hardness, her chest vibrating softly in pleasure when he slid his fingers lightly across the lips of her sex, teasing her slickness.

He took her tongue into his mouth, suckling it lightly as he moved his hand up, fondling her breasts and spreading his legs to give her a bit better access to his sheath and stiffening shaft.

"Mmm," she finally broke it off and slid down his body, kissing along the way until she reached the tip of his cock and slid it into her mouth to play her tongue along the conical tip and rubbery protrusions down the hardening length.

Chance groaned, rolling to his back, rubbing her ears affectionately.

"Love you," he rumbled deeply, leaning up and reaching down to scratch the small of her back. "C'mon, let's not have you be the only one getting a taste," he grinned, pulling her around so she was straddling his face as she worked on his shaft, his own rough tongue sliding along her slick lips.

He felt her groan around him and shift her hips so his tongue ran easily along the path she enjoyed the most and put the heavy scent of her arousal right against his nose.

He moaned himself, his shaft twitching lightly against her face as he spread the lips of her sex, suckling at her clit for a moment before putting his tongue back to work, lapping at dark pink flesh framed with glistening black fur, slowly working his way back to the fragrant source of the enticing scent that still drove him wild after years of dating and sleeping together.

It turned his mind to the fact that she still enjoyed tasting him, never once less than enthusiastic about sucking him off if she was in the mood for anything. Through his groans of pleasure and enjoyment of her fragrance, he was grateful of how simple both their tastes were.

Not at all like how Rock described Jake. No matter how much his cousin enjoyed it, he never really knew what his lover would be in the mood for on a given night.

Chance ... he always knew what his lover wanted, and he'd gotten as good at giving it to her as she was at pleasuring him. He licked from her clit to the tight entrance to her pussy, wrapping an arm around her leg and pressing a finger up into her as her mouth bobbed up and down his throbbing shaft, the stiff hairs of his tongue working her sensitive flesh as it began to quiver from the attention.

With a low, hungry moan she drew her head back and tightened her body around his finger.

"Want something more than that in there, lover," she rumbled and rubbed her face along his cock in emphasis.

He rolled her off of him, turning around and straddling her hips.

"I've got something in mind then," he grinned, kissing her heatedly and spreading her legs with his knee, sinking his shaft into her sex as the sea of cushions beneath them gave way, spreading around their entwined forms.

Shier Khan groaned as hot water began to rain down on him in the room-sized shower in his private quarters, far away from his wives, concubines and harem. His entire body ached from mating repeatedly with three wives who were fertile, and several others so they wouldn't feel too left out.

It was a stark reminder of the disadvantage of not living in the palace; it made the times he was home far more wearing. He simply didn't have too many choices in the matter though, not given his business concerns.

He heard the door to the rooms open, and would have ordered whoever it was out if he hadn't realized from the massive silhouette in the door that it was Ulysses.

"How are you doing?" Feral asked him softly as he walked into the shower room, still on the other side of the translucent curtain between them.

"Well enough," he stilled for a moment. "Care to join me? I have far too much female-scent on me for my taste right now."

"Since you asked," Feral chuckled slightly, undressing and slipping the curtain aside to join his lover, helping to work the water into his fur. "For what little it's worth, Recka says that she's learned quite a bit on this trip ... and the Tigress you brought to help her has said that he's left Tusandrin."

"Which means he is likely back in your city," Shier pressed into the welcome contact. "Any assistance Tusandrin can offer is yours."

"According to Recka, Jagrati's help would be most welcome, but we'll settle that later," Feral murmured, kissing Shier's neck. "How are you holding up?" He asked him, the nature of his attentions shifting from cleaning him to working tension and rage out of his tight muscles.

"Better than many in the palace," he turned his head for a long kiss. "There are times I truly wish that I was not expected to have so many wives that do not travel. It would be much easier to keep them company if they did not stay here all the time."

"You need to start looking for them around MegaKat City," Feral chuckled, purring softly into the kiss. "They're more prone to traveling ... not that I'm complaining about you usually being alone when you pay a visit to my city. You'll be staying here for a week or two, I imagine?"

"Anything less than eight days after the funeral is an insult to them," he nodded reluctantly, though he cracked a bit of a grin after a moment. "I don't suppose your brother's daughter is available?"

"She might be, but I don't think she'd be all that interested," Ulysses chuckled, turning Shier around in the shower, kissing him tenderly. "Besides, can you imagine the rumors that would end up creating?" He purred.

"Less of a scandal in many lands than the two of us without her," Shier chuckled before claiming a long, lingering kiss as he ran his hands down Feral's body, enjoying the solidly masculine nature of his hard form. "Far too few understand the appeal of another powerful warrior and equal in bed."

"Too true," Ulysses purred, pressing Khan back against the tiled wall, running his broad hands down that powerful body, feeling the rippling muscle beneath his wet fur. "Not a problem back home, fortunately, and I doubt any would object to anything you did here," he observed with a chuckle.

"None would dare," he grinned and nipped Ulysses' jaw playfully. "There are advantages to rank, on occasion. Now," he claimed a kiss that sent an electric shock through both their bodies. "What can I do for my heart?"

"Let me help you relax," Feral rumbled, reaching down to fondle Shier Khan's sheath, his own filling out as he returned the heated, passionate kiss. He was used to that particular term of endearment from the Tiger, but he still enjoyed hearing it, especially now that he knew the full extent of what was meant by it.

"Mmm, it would be my pleasure," he claimed another kiss, his hands gripping Ulysses' ass as they shifted to rub against each other. "Too many females lately," he murmured, his tired body electrified by the masculine arousal against his abs. "Not enough strength."

"You don't need to be in charge right now," Ulysses rumbled, reaching down to grip his ass, powerful fingers slipping up to tease the tight pucker under his tail. "If you're up for turning around, I can handle the rest of the work from there," he winked playfully when the moment of surprise passed from his lover.

One more kiss and Shier shifted to brace himself against the polished marble wall and lifted his tail.

Feral wasn't as familiar with the bathroom here as he was with Khan's mansion in MegaKat City; it took him a few moments to find the lube he was sure was hidden somewhere in the shower, but when he did he made quick work of starting to prep his lover, leaning close and kissing his neck tenderly.

"Just relax and let me take care of you for a little bit," he rumbled deeply, pressing a finger up into Shier's ass. The tight muscle gave way, contracting briefly before he relaxed with a low rumble of pleasure at the infrequent experience.

"Sometimes we don't do this often enough," Shier moaned, pressing back against his lover's hand.

"Maybe not, but it makes the times we do better, I think," Feral purred, working on stretching his lover out carefully. "Besides, I don't think either of us really complains about the other way either," he chuckled. "You just seem to need something a bit more thorough this morning."

Shier could only nod, his awareness given over to what his lover was doing and the stinging pleasure of his body being stretched more than usual. His breath remained slow and steady, but his cock, well-used as it was, responded to the attention, as did the arousal in his scent.

After a few more moments, Feral pulled his hand free, guiding his own rigid shaft to the tight orifice, pressing himself up into Khan's ass with a low groan before reaching around to stroke his member as he started to thrust.

There was something to be said for this intimacy, he couldn't help but notice once again, that less invasive pleasures couldn't match. Still, they both had to be in just the right mood to step outside both their cultural baggage and let the other inside.

There were days Ulysses cursed that background, knowing that so many others raised in MegaKat City didn't think that way, but it also made these days very special.

He tried to let it go, to focus on the pleasure of what they were doing. To push out the thoughts of what had happened the past few nights, and just enjoy the time along with his lover.

He could almost do it too. Khan wasn't often beneath another male, but he was good at it when he was willing, milking his lover with a powerful body keenly aware of the subtleties of every muscle in both their bodies. Ulysses nuzzled his neck tenderly as they mated, his barbed shaft sliding in and out of the Tiger's tight, hot body.

He just had to keep from thinking about what had happened.

"Ever ... thought ... of retiring?" Shier asked as his breath shifted to a moaning pant, his tail wrapped around Ulysses' body. "Of ruling with me."

"Thought of it," Ulysses groaned. "Less since I got a competent second," he half-chuckled, playing lightly with Khan's rubbery barbs. "What brought it up today?"

"Realizing you would leave, and how much I do not want you to."

"I have to, love," Feral murmured softly. "Now ... I can't leave now. One day though, we will be together."

"I know," Shier groaned, his body beginning to twitch outside his control. "I understand every time I think of leaving to join you and not returning. Perhaps," he shuddered in the mounting pleasure. "It is time to begin planning for the day you step down from your command."

"Perhaps," Feral agreed, groaning as his own balls started to twitch. "Retiring before my first century," he chuckled slightly, shivering in pleasure as he pressed against Khan's back. "Cost half the Enforcers... nnngh ... their paychecks for a month," he chuckled.

"And another half on who your successor is," Shier grinned and tightened his body around his lover and pressed back, enjoying the attentions far more than those of even his most skilled concubine. "Close -"

Feral was more than that; he thrust forward, his conical tip rubbing over Khan's prostate as he roared, pumping his thick seed up into his lover's ass, stroking his cock hard and fast to try and bring him off as well.

"Yes!" Shier roared as his back arched in, thrusting his hips forward hard into his lover's hand as his body drew Ulysses' cock in even deeper with each powerful thrust until they were both spent.

"I love you, Shier," Feral purred languidly, turning his head back to kiss him deeply.

"I love you, Ulysses," he rumbled into the kiss and ran his hands down his lover's flanks. "Can you stay until dawn?"

"Of course," Feral nodded, rumbling and hugging him lightly. "Actually get clean this time, then I think you could use some sleep for a few hours. With no nightmares this time, for either of us."

"Yes," Shier rumbled and turned for a long kiss as they drew their hips apart. "I will join you within two weeks, my heart. Until then, sechena Jagrati will join you to assist your hunt."

"Thank you ... and I'll be waiting for you, eagerly," Feral purred, picking up the shampoo again. "This is one case I want over with as quickly as possible. Hate the ones like this."

"The enemy you know and can not fight," he nodded and poured some shampoo into his own hand, lathering it before doing to work on Ulysses' chest as they kissed. "He will be destroyed, for you and my family."

"He will be destroyed for everybody he has hurt, Shier," Feral said softly, helping to clean the Tiger's fur as much as he could. "It's not just me... not just your family. If he isn't stopped soon, he'll spread panic through the city you wouldn't believe at this rate."

"You may be surprised what I would believe," he chuckled lightly and claimed another kiss. "But panic in MegaKat City is a frightening thing, even for me."

Feral reached over to turn on the blowers once they had finished cleaning up.

"It's the sort of thing I'd have to retire after, if it got bad enough," he said quietly. "Let's not worry about it... we'll stop him before it gets that far."

"Yes, we will," Shier promised him with a soft kiss and all the power of his country and corporation behind it.

"So have you been to one of these before?" Jake glanced up at Rock when the tabby pulled to a stop outside a relative small, non-descript warehouse in the shipping district near the docks, but not so close that it was high traffic for anything.

Despite going to a weekly service for the first time in years, he didn't feel as apprehensive as he used to be about it. He wasn't sure whether it was from his slowly growing acceptance of his place in the scheme of things or how different this place was in looks and feel, but it wasn't bad to look at the outside and the Panther in jeans, a muscle shirt and red sash in place of a belt guarding the door.

Of course, maybe it had to do with that Panther, who looked more like a bouncer at a club than anybody who'd be part of a temple.

"I was at one of their initiation rites, but not a regular service," Rock admitted as they walked up, a number of people filtering in wearing dark blue and brown sashes of their own. A handful of people without sashes went in, but only with people who were wearing them. A couple of toms that looked like they were out clubbing walked up to the Panther, but found themselves turned away with barely a word between them.

"Hello again, Rock," the Panther grinned at them. "Would this be the Jake I've heard about?"

"Yeah, this is him," Rock chuckled. "Don't know who you've been hearing from though," he added. "Jordan and Henrietta said they'd make arrangements for us today?"

"From those two, of course," Doruth chuckled. "And some of the club-going members of the congregation," he added with a wink. "Yes, they have, but we'll have to call up for them all the same," he explained, sticking his head in the door and sending word up. "Shouldn't be more than a couple minutes."

"A bit paranoid for a recognized deity," Jake cocked his head curiously.

"Part tradition going back some ways, part comforting anybody who comes here from abroad," he explained. "By the way, the name's Doruth. I'm not the only door guard, just the one Rock keeps running into," he chuckled. "At any rate, are you familiar with the reputation we have around most of the world? At least as Eshik and Marka," he added.

"Just here and Majeare," he admitted. "Though I can guess about a few of them."

"I'm sure you can," he nodded. "The Lord and Lady of Pain's Pleasure have always been viewed by most of the world as gods of sadism ... while that is true, and nobody here is about to argue the point, there's more to it than that, which brings many of us here. Unfortunately, that reputation has made for awkward relations in many places ... even today, in MegaKat City, while we are a recognized and legal church, some of our members prefer to keep their devotion to Them secret. You might recognize some co-workers here; they're among the ones who are most serious about keeping it quiet outside the temple walls."

"I know why too," Jake grumbled slightly. "It's not an easy thing to be into, even when your CO is too."

"So you can understand why we're careful about letting in outsiders who aren't with somebody we trust," Doruth nodded easily. "Even if we trust them, not everybody here knows you and Rock, and it could be upsetting for some of them to see you inside the temple area unaccompanied."

"It doesn't get more accompanied than being with two Temple leaders," Henrietta grinned at them from an open door. "Come in. We're glad you decided to come with how crazy it's been out there lately."

"No kidding," Jake groaned as they joined the two Wirehair Dachshunds. "I've been in the middle of most of it too."

"Well, we hope your luck with ghosts holds with the real thing," Jordan said seriously as they stepped inside, closing the door behind them. "How is Chance holding up?"

"Pretty well," Rock chuckled. "Unless you bring the subject up at least. He's pissed off about having to run away from his home on a very fundamental level, even if he knows it's for the best."

"It helps that it's Midnight that said they're staying elsewhere," Jake chuckled. "And that no one has suggested he not go to work."

"You do not cross that shekat when she's made up her mind about what's best for her kittens," Rock grinned in memory of Jake's recounting and additions from knowing her for so long. "It's like crossing Bastet about hers."

"She's an admirable woman, in a lot of ways," Henrietta smiled. "I haven't heard much about her, but I have to admire somebody willing to sacrifice so much for family. So, do you have any questions you want to ask before the service begins?" She asked, leading the way to the large double doors with a dark blue sash across the handles, sliding it aside without any concern and opening the doors for Rock and Jake.

"Has BKK caused you much grief?" Jake asked, his voice low out of respect for what could be a very bad subject for some. As he looked around, he realized he did recognize some of the people here. A few of them were co-workers, some were people he'd met out clubbing. He was more surprised to recognize some others; he was sure that he recognized Professor Right, his Aerodynamics professor from years before, sitting with a shekat and a tom who couldn't be half his age.

"In what respect?" Henrietta asked quietly, closing the doors behind them and finding their way to a seat. "Backlash, or attacks?"

"Backlash, I guess. Attacks I expect I'd have heard about, but I can see some folks taking what he does to his vics as the same as you stand for."

"Another reason for some secrecy ... fortunately, most people rightfully believe that rape, kitten rape in particular, is beyond the pale even for us," Jordan explained. "That would probably end up changing drastically if they saw some of the couples here, but we do not tolerate rape, in any form."

"It's the realm of Rapentap primarily, as I understand it," he nodded and settled down, leaning against Rock and purring softly at the arm around him as he people-watched and took in the feel of the place.

"How did you hear about Him?" Henrietta asked curiously, smiling a welcome at some of the others coming through. "He makes Eshik and Marka look positively flamboyant."

"A priest of His was Berten's primary contact for the last few months of his life," he explained. "Once we IDed who we were hunting, he became a person of interest."

"Ah... it wouldn't surprise me at all to find out there was something going on there," she murmured, her tail thumping lightly against the back of her seat. "Rapentap... I'm almost surprised they could find a priest of his in this city, though if there's anywhere they could...."

"There are those who would say the same about Eshik and Marka, Henry," Jordan pointed out quietly. "There's only so much we can judge without seeing what they actually stand for ourselves."

"I don't really care what they actually stand for when they say it's for destroying puppies and kittens," Henrietta said firmly, shaking her head. "Even if they don't mean physically, glorifying the destruction of innocence has incredibly few favorable interpretations you can give it."

"Even pure evil has its place in the scheme of things," Jake said without really moving, the echo of knowing far too much personally in his voice. "We may not like it, but we created Them, and everything we are has a voice among Them that They don't silence."

"I know," Henrietta nodded silently. "It doesn't mean that I like all aspects of it," she chuckled slightly, settling in a bit as the priests in their red sashes started to prepare the altar and pulpit for the service.

"No, it doesn't," Jake agreed with her solidly, his attention flicking between everything and everyone around him, including the ebb and flow of power he was getting better at understanding.

He noticed as Rock's attention was drawn to one of the last arrivals in the congregation, a powerfully built Rottweiler bitch who took a seat about half-way back, next to a family of five from the look of it, two adults, their teenaged daughter, and a pair of toms about Tamera's age who didn't have the same family resemblance the daughter did.

"Want to introduce you to her later," Rock told Jake quietly. "The Rottie, not the folks she's next to," he added.

"Okay," Jake glanced up at him a bit curiously as to why he'd want to introduce such an obvious gamma before looking around at what the priests were up to.

The priests who looked to be in charge were a pair of well-built Wolf males wearing nothing but red sashes with black stripes down the middle.

"Master Koron, Alpha of his pack, and his Beta, Rich," Jordan told Rock and Jake. "Two of the Priests who handle the regular services."

"Eshik and Marka welcome the faithful, and guests of the Temple," Master Koron said, his voice deep and well suited to speaking to the gathered congregation. "It is a pleasure to see the seats as full as they are."

Indeed, most of the seats were full, couples snuggled up against each other sometimes turning three seats into enough for four people, others seated more normally and listening intently.

"I'm sure you have all heard of the recent rash of attacks through the city. I have been asked by some of our members in the Enforcers to encourage anyone who knows anything about them, or about old victims of the BoogieKat Killer, to come forward. We are not under suspicion by any means, but word is being sent out. It seems that the killer is targeting the BKK's old victims, and the Enforcers hope to keep them safe.

"I would also ask that those of us who have particularly young mates and lovers to be patient with the Enforcers; they may be more overzealous than usual with watching for any signs of abuse or non-consensual relationships. They mean well, and do seem to feel that their suspect is outside of our congregation, but you know what happens when kittens are victims in this city. Anybody with concerns is invited to stay after the service, and speak with one of the priests about them; Richard and myself will be here, as well as the Lord and Lady, and we are once again honored to host the Lord and Lady of Sayden Bay if you wish to speak under the strictest confidence."

Jake glanced around without really moving, taking in those who nudged him in a nearly invisible reminder that he was not investigating anyone here, only trying to catch the vibe of the place and if he liked it.

A series of additional announcements followed, the usual sort of thing he'd come to expect. News about certain members of the congregation, announcements of upcoming weddings or expected births. Updates on projects the temple had been working on. Information about a rally that had been scheduled for during the next week, for anybody willing to go public with their interests in the safe anonymity of a crowd at least dozens strong. Requests for donations, for the Temple and to help support some members of the congregation who needed help.

"In particular, we'd like to remind everybody that we are still taking up a collection for Sergeant Lindsay Wachter, who was badly injured stopping an armed robbery last month. She's doing much better lately, we understand, but her family is still struggling to make ends meet with only her medical leave pay to cover things."

Rock felt his lover startle ever so slightly, then nod.

"We are too," Jake said quietly to Henrietta. "Good to know she has friends outside the Enforcers."

"She's been a member of the Temple since before she was in the Academy, as I understand," the Dachshund nodded slightly as Master Koron took a drink of water, one of the red-sashed priests playing a brief piece on a small organ while he reviewed his notes for the sermon itself. "We do our best to take care of our own."

"Between us, she should do fine," Jake murmured. "Eventually, at least."

"Agreed," she nodded as Koron started his sermon, taking advantage of the particulars of Lindsay's case, a Cheetah attacked by Lions, to tie current events into an ancient story of a blood feud that had been brought to an end by Eshik and Marka, then two nobles called on to mediate over the conflict between a pride of Lions and a family of Tigers, roles taken on by some of the lower-ranking priests to re-enact the situation in brief.

It was a fairly complicated tale that needed the help too, by the standards of a sermon. Each side had conflicting stories of the issues between them, and with Koron's skilled manipulation of the story, it led into smaller sermons.

The first one would have benefited, Jake thought, from a few more details about what had gone before. The Tigers claimed that the feud had started when one of their sons was raped and practically clawed to ribbons. The Lions, especially the one who was accused, protested that the Tiger had been perfectly willing, until his kin had caught the two of them. The case was resolved quickly; as 'Eshik' and 'Marka,' in the form of the two Wolves, explained, the Lions were telling the truth in this case. They themselves had been with both young men, and knew their tastes; a brief chiding from Master Koron as Eshik elicited an admission from the Tiger. This led into a sermon about what could happen if you let a desire to keep your tastes a secret go too far, and praising the tolerance of those who enjoyed pain, and the company of their own gender.

In the end though, all Jake could really do was sigh softly and shake his head in a sad acknowledgment that such feelings were still very much alive, even in this city that tolerated differences more than most.

The next story picked up with the Tiger family facing the Lions over the death of the young Lioness that had been given to them as hostage for the previous story. More of the red-sashed priests had joined in, the entire group that had set things up before, bulking out the two 'families.'

"You failed to protect her!" the dominant Lioness snarled at the head of the Tiger's family. Jake had to give the priests points for acting ability. The subtle confusion of the Tiger when he expected to deal with the Lion and not the Lioness showed. "How could it be that difficult to keep our rivals from cornering her at the party?"

"The cub was not cornered!" One of the Tigress' countered, stepping forward with her lips curled back in a snarl at the accusation leveled at she and her husband.

"Quiet!" 'Eshik' bellowed, silencing both sides for a moment. "We will have order in our house! Now, begin with your complaint; what happened to your cub?" He asked the Lioness with the most patient tone he could manage now that they were under control again.

"She died giving birth," she responded with the respect due a god, though her fury was not dimmed. "She had not had her first heat when she went with them," she motioned to the Tigers. "It had to have happened at their winter's end celebration."

"And do you know who the father was?" 'Marka' asked. "She may have been pregnant when she went to them."

"Then she would not have given birth when they said she did," the Lioness pointed out. "We do not carry for ten months. No race does."

"This is true," Marka nodded easily, turning towards the Tigers. "Do you have an explanation for this?"

"We do, Lord and Lady," the Tiger said seriously. "At the feast of winter's end, the Iron Fang pride was among our guests."

The raw fury among the Lions was palatable, but they held their silence out of respect for the two gods between them and the Tigers that had invited their ancient enemies to a party their cub had to attend as well.

"Knowing the animosity between the Iron Fang and your pride, I kept your cub at my side where I could personally see to her safety," he continued. "One of their own teenaged cubs was paying her close attention; my attention was distracted by a drunken argument, and when I looked back the two of them had disappeared. I hunted your daughter down and found the two of them making their way into the more private parts of our palace.

"I stopped them," he said, deadly serious as he told the part of the story that he hadn't before. "The Iron Fang's son had noticed the scent of her first heat starting; it is common during the time of the thaw in our lands. I sent him back to his kin before he could do more than steal a few kisses from your daughter, but she was as eager as he was to explore the new sensations she was feeling. She was a very pretty young woman... charming and intelligent, fresh with the first flush of her heat. I would have made her a part of my harem if she had lived and you consented, but when she died in childbirth and you accused us of letting the Iron Fang force themselves on her, I wasn't going to have you say that I had done so myself."

He received far less hate than he expected from the females he faced. Shock and confusion ruled the Lionesses as the brothers that were their males took a step forward to press an attack.

"No," a deadly female voice growled from behind them, but was ignored by the two brothers intent on killing the one who had seen their daughter die.

Eshik snapped a whip sharply at one of their feet, inches from actually striking him.

"Violence will not be tolerated in our house without our permission," the Wolf said firmly, waiting for them to back up before looking up at the Lioness. "Do you have anything you wish to ask?"

"How could a Tiger sire on a Lioness?" she looked more at Eshik than the Tiger. "We are not of the same blood."

"It is not impossible... you are not of the same blood, but I have heard of it before. Did any of your pride see the cub?"

"No," she said quietly.

"Can you describe the cub?" Eshik asked, turning back towards the Tigers.

"He looked more like a Tiger cub than a Lion," the older male explained. "His stripes were faint, but there ... no mane, tawny, reddish fur...."

"Still born?" Marka guessed.

"Yes," he nodded gravely. "Had he not been, they would have been told. We kept him to be buried with our kin, as my son."

"From what I have seen, he would have been unlikely to ever have cubs of his own, but that sounds like the child of a Lioness and a Tiger to me," Marka agreed.

"We have no more than his word of this fantasy," one of the male Lions growled.

"If you would rather, we could disturb the spirit of the girl, see if she confirms what he has said," Eshik said, watching for a reaction to the suggestion.

"What of the body of the cub?" a younger Lioness suggested as a middle ground before the Lion could escalate things to violence again. "It would prove its lineage at least."

"If you are willing to have him exhumed?" Eshik asked the Tiger, looking over at him.

"If it will settle this," he nodded.

"Then it is agreed," the lead Lioness nodded.

"They traveled to the ancestral home of the Parccha clan," Master Koron narrated, dropping out of character, "and they unburied the body of the young, half-blooded prince. The infant's body told the truth of the Tiger elder's words, and another dispute was settled...." He continued, laying out the moral of this story, to take pride in your relationships, no matter who they were with, and not to assume that somebody you considered a kitten was unwilling.

Jake had to give them credit for nerve; coming out in favor of that sort of relationship while Berten's crimes were taking an increasingly prominent place in the news was gutsy.

The story continued, this time describing a generation of dispute over a piece of land both sides claimed as theirs. Things came to a head when the Lions attacked the home of the Tigers, killing many of their guards and making off with one of their daughters, as well as a Lioness from their pride they claimed to be rescuing.

It came to Eshik and Marka's arbitration, once again, when each side accused the other of kidnapping one of the girls, and the Tigers claimed the Lions were refusing to send the Tigress they had captured home again.

"Enough!" Marka roared at both sides, the males all but ready to rip each other's throats out. "Mediation means there will be no violence."

"Then resolve this and get our daughter back, or we will take her back!" The aged Tiger they had dealt with in his prime a generation before demanded, furious at the loss of his youngest marriageable daughter.

"You be quiet for now," Marka glared at him until he glanced away in acknowledgement of the god's rank being above even his own.

"Where are the two at the center of this?" Eshik demanded that the two princesses be brought forward.

The Lions led both of them forward; to the credit of the production, such as it was, they were young, wearing the dark blue sash of a lower-ranked member of the church, the two girls acting the part of worried young women quite well.

"Tell us what happened," Marka said gently. "Don't worry; we will not judge you for it, and neither will anybody else," he said with a sharp look at both families. "We'll start with you," he said, looking at the Lioness.

"Yes sir," Lunsina nodded. "I've tried to explain it before, but nobody's believed me. Three months ago, I was with my kin, meeting with a group from the Parccha clan to try and settle our dispute over the Karten Valley. While our leaders debated and recalled history, I played with the other adolescents.

"Nalin was among them," she continued. "We grew close ... when our parents couldn't come to an agreement, we returned home, but I couldn't get Nalin out of my mind. One night, I made up my mind to do something about it, and I stole out of our home in the middle of the night, making my way into the Parccha's territory."

The Tiger's angry words were held silent at a look from Marka and Eshik, when then looked at Lunsina to continue.

"I only wanted to be with Nalin again," the Lioness said quietly. "I snuck in a few days later, when I reached the palace ... the guards weren't watching for one young Lioness, they were watching for an attack. I left my knife outside, so nobody would think I meant harm if they found me. Nalin was out of the quarters for the wives and cubs, and we bumped into each other somewhere near the kitchen ... I was hungry when I got there," she admitted, blushing a bit beneath her fur. "She helped me get a snack, and then we snuck back in with the rest of her kin."

"This is true?" Marka turned to look at a middle-aged wife.

"Yes, sir," she nodded.

"I sent a messenger when I was told after first meal, but the Lions still attacked us," the elder Tiger lord added.

"Did you expect us to wait for your demands before coming for my daughter?!?" The dominant Lion roared. "We set out at first light, and met no messenger along the way!"

"Did the Tigers treat you well while you were with them?" Eshik asked Lunsina directly, all but ignoring the adults until they settled down again.

"They treated me as a guest, though I was under guard all the time," Lunsina explained. "I was able to spend some time with Nalin, though...." She blushed again. "Not as much as I would have liked. When my family came, I tried to go out to tell them I wasn't a prisoner, but the guards wouldn't let me go out while there was fighting, even to stop it.

"It only ended when they killed the two guards watching over me and started to haul me away," she continued with a shame-faced murmur. "I never wanted anyone to get hurt. I just wanted to be with Nalin."

"And what happened after that?" Marka asked softly.

"Nalin... she tried to follow. Before -"

"She was captured, trying to keep your kin from dishonoring us by taking you by force!" The elder Tiger roared, disregarding the scowls that both Gods gave him.

"No!" Nalin shouted back, her fur on edge as she stood up to her father. "Father, I went with them because I wanted to, just as Lunsina came to us because she wanted to be with me!" She was scared, terrified of what her father might say, but she continued. "I want to be with her as well... I don't want to be...." She swallowed, losing her momentum, but it was clear what she'd meant. The two of them were in love, and didn't care what their families wanted in the face of that.

"You are betrothed," her father growled at her, a move that was more than enough to cow the Tigress into hiding behind Lunsina, who glared back at him in defiance.

"To someone she's never met," Lunsina snapped back. "You fell in love with one of us, years ago. She was even younger than we are. Have you forgotten what that is like?"

"You are a female!" He countered, outraged by the comparison. "You cannot give her cubs, you cannot keep her as a wife! She would throw away her future for you!"

"Not in our lands," Lunsina's mother stepped forward with a low rumble. "The lover of my daughter is my daughter. She would inherit my lands with those of my blood." The elder Lioness regarded him levelly for a tense moment before speaking again.

"You would have taken my sister as a wife, years ago. You did take her to her death bearing your cub," she reminded him with remarkable evenness before turning to Nalin's father. "Who did you promise her to, and for what price?"

"Lord Chandrak," he frowned, trying to follow the logic of the question. "In exchange for one of his daughters for my youngest son."

"An alliance, then," she nodded. "What of an alliance with us? Would that not be valuable to you?"

"What would you offer in exchange?" he focused on her, weighing the offense of changing what daughter Lord Chandrak would have over the gain of a blood alliance with the Lion pride at his border.

She thought, turned to her sisters in a silent exchange of flicking eats, tails and fingers before turning back to the Tigers. "We will relinquish our claim to Karten Valley to Nalin's cubs."

"Who would be of your family as well, unless you did something foolish to object," Eshik supplied, making it clear that any sort of retaliation for this would only end up hurting them as well. "I can think of little better way to end that particular dispute than by using it to help end this one."

"Very well," he grudgingly agreed. He had other daughters he could offer to Lord Chandrak; it seemed that only Nalin would satisfy this particular alliance. He would simply have to understand.

"Excellent," Eshik smiled, turning back to Nalin and Lunsina. "Congratulations to the both of you. I hope that this will end the bad blood between your families."

"We give you our blessings," Marka added. "Your line will be strong and proud, and the daughters born to you will have many of their own."

"Thank you," the two youths bowed to him deeply.

"In the next decade there were two more alliance marriages between the Sunrise pride and the Parccha family, leading to a lasting peace and the first lasting bloodline of Liger and Tigon," Master Koron dropped out of character again to shift from story to sermon. "Ever since, to those who know the tales, Ligers and Tigons with kits of their own have been the blessed of Eshik and Marka.

"The story of Lunsina and Nalin tells us the importance of keeping an open mind; both families gained far more than they lost, and had they not been willing to accept the alliance, it would have been far worse for all involved," he continued as the lower-ranked priests began to clear up the props in the area.

"More importantly, it teaches us to be willing to take chances for the things we care about. It is no less true today than it was then; the things that are truly worth having are rarely handed to us, and happiness is the rarest of all to be given without a fight. Had Nalin and Lunsina not taken the chances they did, what might they have lost? What might you lose if you give in the first time you encounter adversity? Sometimes you will have to fight for what is right for you, and few here will live a long and happy life without learning that lesson."

Rock felt Jake turn his head away, moving for the first time since the stories had begun. He glanced down, caught the tightly controlled body language that still betrayed the shame biting at him, and very slightly moved his hand to stroke his side, hoping it would pass soon. The last thing he wanted was for Jake to feel bad when he left.

"You don't have to be alone in your struggles though," Koron continued. "Your lovers and mates will support you, as will the Temple, and your friends in the congregation. We gain strength by having friends and allies, and we find more every day. For example, we have just discovered that Eshik and Marka are known by a different name in Majeare; there, they are Kyan and Kyale, the Challengers of the Ways, and in this guise they support good people who struggle against the weight of traditions that are sometimes enforced with the threat of death. We are trying to contact the leaders of the local faith, to see what we can do to help them, and hope for your support in this."

He continued for a few minutes more, but quickly wound down, the congregation starting to split up, either leaving or heading off to their rooms in the Temple. This time Jake wasn't paying them much attention, though he did pull himself together with reasonable ease.

"Would you like to stick around for a few minutes, talk about your impressions, or maybe go grab some lunch?" Jordan asked Rock and Jake. "We can buy this time," he added with a smile.

"I think sticking around might be good," Jake focused on who was talking to him, though it was clear much of his mind was still a million miles away. "It has a nice feel, and I'm not so hungry right now."

"That's fine. Would you like to come up to our quarters? We'd have some privacy if you want to think things over a bit."

"It's nice, quiet, with plenty of cushions," Rock murmured through a kiss to his hair, and got a chuckle in return as Jake lifted his face for a real, if chaste, kiss.

"All right," Jake managed a bemused smile and nuzzled Rock's neck affectionately. "I trust you."

"I certainly hope you do, by now," Rock chuckled, though he hugged Jake against his side as they stood. He was still glad to hear the compliment, especially here where the full extent of trust was understood better than most. They started out as the room cleared up, and then up the stairs to the second floor.

"So, what did you think?" Henrietta asked as they stepped into the comfortably furnished room.

"It's ... different," he admitted, still not all that sure what to make of the conflicting messages he got from this place. "They have quite a varied portfolio."

"It's expanded over the years... in life, Eshik and Marka were much as you saw them, but jaded nobles still have their duties, and their philosophy carried through into how they handled disputes," Henrietta explained. "They started out as patrons of pain and pleasure, but they've picked up other things as their followers have expanded. Forbidden loves, challenging hidebound tradition, tolerance, secrecy... all are aspects of what they were as mortals, and are as gods. It's just a question of what's emphasized more... admittedly, I think Master Koron cherry picked his sermon for today, knowing we had some people who weren't too familiar with the faith in the audience."

"They weren't always gods?" Jake cocked his head before he was willingly drawn into Rock's embrace on the soft couch.

"At least half the gods weren't," Jordan nodded easily, taking his own seat next to his sister on the cushions opposite Jake and Rock. "It hasn't happened for thousands of years, but mortals with sufficient power and followers can make the jump to immortals, and from there to gods. Eshik and Marka were among them. Of course, these days even if somebody had the power, they'd almost certainly fall short of having sufficiently fanatical followers."

"Or enough of them," Jake agreed, not liking the idea of anyone who did have fanatical followers in modern times making the leap. "We still have too many cults around."

"Agreed," the Dachshund nodded. "At least now that they've narrowed the definition down some. Not that long ago, we'd have been among the cultists," he chuckled.

"But you follow someone who is a god," Jake looked a bit confused.

"It's a matter of language, Jake," Henrietta explained. "These days, in MegaKat City, a cult follows somebody who isn't a god. In other parts of the world, it still includes people who follow unpopular gods, or weak ones ... even in common usage these days, sometimes. Consider Rapentap; most people would consider his faith a cult, if they knew about him. Whether because they didn't want to give that legitimacy to a faith that represents that, or simply because they don't want to believe that there's a god of pedophilic rapists," she chuckled slightly.

"It's mostly improved now, but particularly since Eshik and Marka were mortals at one point, some still like to think that their faithful are simply deluding themselves into thinking that after their cult-leaders died, they became gods," Jordan continued. "Any faith whose god was once mortal was a cult at one point in time... except for the rare cases when they made the jump more gradually, in the spirit world."

Jake nodded slightly, thinking over it all and understanding the point. "How much contention is there over the records of their mortal times?"

"Quite a bit, though not as much as there used to be these days. There are apocryphal stories, of course, and some that aren't accepted as being official... of course, at the same time, there are variants of the same story," Jordan said easily. "Take today, for example. The story that was told was, in its basic form, accurate... there's some debate over whether it happened after Eshik and Marka were gods or not, but there is little argument over the fact that the Karten Valley was settled by a lasting line of Tiger-Lion hybrids, or that it was part of their domain at one point in time or another. Whether or not the Sunrise pride and Parccha clan were the opposing factions isn't necessarily clear either, but the important parts are there."

"As for other versions of their time as mortals... well, nobles are rarely subject to the same truth most people are," Henrietta admitted. "Their own historians paint a far more favorable view of their past than those of their rivals, for example, and even though we can bring points of contention up to have them clarified, they're still subject to interpretation. The legend of Dulcet the Martyr is a prime example; according to our records, and to Eshik and Marka, he died and was resurrected in the course of having sex with the two of them, proof of their divine power. According to other historians of the time, he was murdered when he threatened to leave the cult and a look-alike took his place."

"I understand," Jake nodded. "What taboos do you still believe in holding to?"

"As a faith, very few as long as all involved are consenting," Jordan said easily. "Though there are some practical concerns. For example, Henrietta and I generally try to avoid having pups. We do believe that there is a certain minimum age of consent, but we put the bar lower, and more flexible, than most people do."

"Below the legal range?" Jake asked, not entirely sure he wanted to know but needing to ask all the same.

"In certain situations ... it's an awkward subject, Jake, and one that's controversial even among the faithful," Henrietta pointed out. "But yes, there are some couples we support who are technically breaking the law. It's one of the problems with legal systems rather than moral ones; the law must be blind to specific couples, morals must not be."

He nodded, his body language fairly neutral given what she had just admitted to and his sworn duty to uphold the law.

"How do you tell if it's willing?" he asked as a decidedly personal question.

"We don't just take the other person's word for it, or even the word of the kitten," Jordan said. "For the most part, we can usually get a feel for it speaking with them ... it's a lot like therapy, or an interrogation. However, if we're still not certain, or if somebody challenges our opinions, we do have magical means."

Jake nodded, clearly content with the answer as he snuggled in a bit more against Rock's solid body. "What are your weddings like?"

"It depends on who is involved, but they're usually a lot shorter than the version Bastet uses," Jordan explained. "Our wedding ceremonies involve the recreation of some of the weddings officiated over by Eshik and Marka. During the days when all it took was a noble's say-so, they were very popular for couples who couldn't get their families to agree, or who had powerful cultural taboos against the wedding for whatever reason. Are you asking out of curiosity, or for yourselves?" He asked, glancing between Jake and Rock.

"I think mostly curiosity, at the moment," Rock said easily, rubbing Jake's side.

"For now," Jake agreed with a small smile. "We're discussing options off and on."

"All right," Jordan smiled a bit. "We'll keep this hypothetical then. Two fully-ranked Priests, or the Master and Mistress of the temple, would normally officiate over the ceremony. Any guests would 'just happen' to be there - in reality, we do usually schedule them ahead of time, let people who are wanted there know, all the usual things, but it's not nearly as big a ceremony as most faith's. For two males, the typical wedding being re-enacted would be the wedding between two Tiger warriors who were being tracked by furious family members at the time. The ceremony is rushed by most standards, any necessary paperwork handled promptly, and usually within the space of a half-hour to an hour at most the wedding itself can be completed."

"The ceremonies, of course, were written when we still had to worry about the possibility of raids," Henrietta offered. "It can be rushed through in about five minutes and still be legal, in a pinch, but that tends to be for situations where we really are expecting a raid, or pissed off family members, to interfere."

"A Justice of the Peace ceremony, almost," Jake nodded.

"More or less," Henrietta agreed. "Of course, the Justice of the Peace doesn't usually offer an upstairs room in his house to consummate the marriage afterwards," she chuckled. "It is traditional to spend the first night in the Temple, but not required. Some choose to spend the entire honeymoon there, but again, that's a personal choice."

"No, they don't," Jake snickered. "I imagine that some find new toys to play with on their stay."

"Oh, let's just say that we have to be asked not to come and make suggestions once in a while," Jordan snickered, getting matching ones from Jake and Rock. "Especially when we know that the newlyweds share our tastes."

"You are so bad," Rock laughed deeply. "Even odds for ours, held here or not."

"Hey - the serious side of the faith doesn't interfere with the fun one, that's very clear in the training," Jordan grinned. "By the way, would anybody like a drink? We've got soda, milk, and liquor available," he said, nodding towards a small fridge in the corner. "Some finger food too, if you want."

"Mmm, a blue star?" Jake suggested, not sure if they had the selection Rock tended to keep around.

"I ... think we can do most of that," he mused, getting up and heading over to the fridge. "The 'blue' part of that might be the tricky part," he chuckled slightly, starting to look around.

"I'll stick to juice or water; I'm driving home today," Rock chuckled.

"Fair enough," Jordan laughed, pulling out the ingredients for Jake's drink, and what he already knew his sister would want. "So, Jake, mind if we ask you a few questions now?"

"Go ahead," he nodded, relaxed now that they weren't a surprise and he was snuggled in the protective presence of his lover.

"What do you think of Eshik and Marka, as you understand them?" He asked, starting to mix Jake's strangely colored drink.

"They seem to be good people; they stand for a lot of things I value," he mused, really thinking about it. "I wish this place felt more like a home to me. It would make it easier."

"Make what easier?" Jordan asked him curiously, handing him his drink and going back to work on Henrietta's Bloody Mary and his screwdriver.

"Coming here instead of Bastet's or Halikar's," he explained. "As much as I don't like Them, Their temples ... I can feel the energy of power ... I feel safe there, from everything."

"Does this have something to do with your reaction at the end of the sermon today?" Henrietta asked him gently. "I noticed it, but wasn't going to say anything."

"No," he shook his head, his eyes decidedly downcast. "It just made me remember a few things I'm not very proud of."

"Do you want to talk about them? We might not be able to change things, but we're good with advice ... or just listening, if that's what you need," she offered gently.

"Just the grief I've given Bastet over the years," he kind of shrugged, his eyes down, focused on his drink. "I'm starting to understand She's just trying to protect people, and I've done pretty much everything I can to hurt Her."

"Jake, the situation isn't exactly normal for you," Rock pointed out, tightening his embrace as Jordan sat his juice down where he could reach it.

"Do you think that you've done any harm to Her plans in doing so?" The Dachshund asked as he took his seat.

"No," he shook his head. "I've just been very childish. Rebellious teenager stuff. Lovers She doesn't approve of, interests She doesn't like, avoiding what She wants me to get done. It's not in me to turn away from protecting the city, no matter how angry I am."

"Are those lovers and interests truly something that you enjoy?" Henrietta asked him. "How much have you been fighting Her plans?"

Everybody could tell that Rock was holding back what he wanted to say about this right now, but he limited himself to a protective nuzzle to his lover's head.

"Some yes, some I just don't not like," he said after thinking a bit. "Her plans ... the only one I was really fighting was for kittens, and that ... it wasn't all about Her wishes."

"No, it wasn't," Rock agreed. "Or all about yours, in a lot of ways."

"Bad experience?" Jordan asked gently.

"A mother who was very aggressive about me having kittens when I first started showing interest in shekats," Jake explained. "She was very upset when Midnight wasn't pregnant that first heat."

"When he was twelve and she was thirteen," Rock added grumpily.

"Too young for most, including you I'm guessing," Jordan filled in the blanks. "I can see where that would create some issues for you. Is it something you want to work on, preferably without Bastet's priestesses involved?"

"They weren't any less aggressive about it," Jake shuddered. "What does your help involve?"

"It would depend on what you were comfortable with," Henrietta explained. "Ideally, we'd try to help you get more comfortable with fems ... that's going to be necessary however you want to have kittens. What are you comfortable with, at this point?"

"It's not so much a comfort level as an inability to perform at this point," Jake said quietly.

"What is it that shuts you down?" She asked him, rephrasing it, approaching the problem from a different angle. "Scent, sight, actually trying to penetrate a fem, something else? Does it make a difference if she's in heat or not, or whether or not she's a Kat?"

"Scent mostly," he thought back over all the passing encounters that had shut him down, and how he managed not to shut down around Midnight or Kyale. "Trust can work past most of it, but even when I can stay hard, I can't come."

"There might be ways to work around that," she mused. "Some of them might not be the most pleasant, but I know you enjoy pain, and electrical play, so you'll probably enjoy them more. Does it make a difference at all if you can't breed with the fem?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "The only two I've ever tried anything with have been shekats. Everyone else ... seeing it's a her has been enough to tell her I'm not interested."

"Understood," she nodded slightly. "I think that the first step would be finding out if you can have sex with fems who aren't Kats ... it might be a good way to help break your body back into the idea of letting itself breed. Did you notice the Rottie at the sermon?" She asked him.

"Rock pointed her out," he nodded.

"You might consider trying to get to know her better ... she's a very extreme sub and gamma, and might be fun to play with even without sex being a factor," Henrietta told him. "Which should make it easier to work sex in, when you're ready to try. Just don't get too frustrated, and be willing to let Rock help ... I have a feeling he can come up with a few ways to help you get off no matter who you're inside," she winked.

"I'm sure," Jake blushed and ducked his head a bit, though he found the idea appealing enough.

"If you'd like, she's probably around here somewhere; would you like us to introduce you?" Jordan offered easily. "Maybe invite her up here to meet you?"

"Sure," he nodded, turning his face up to nuzzle Rock.

"I think you'll like her," Rock purred, playing his fingers along Jake's side. "She has a taste for blood and pain that rivals yours."

"And he's not joking," Henrietta chuckled as Jordan got up and headed towards the door. "Might even exceed it, in ways ... one warning though, if anything happens. She's still learning that she can say no. Rock already knows about it, but she's nearly let herself be killed before. It's the gamma part of her," she explained, hoping she wouldn't scare Jake off in the process, "she's so submissive she'll do just about anything, so you won't want to rely on her to let you know if something's gone too far. On the other hand, if you've got kinks that most people don't want to do, she'll indulge you to your heart's content."

"I understand," Jake nodded seriously. "We're both good about limits."

"Good," Jordan grinned before he started down to find Barbara.

"So, why don't I work on getting you in the mood for a bit, hmm?" Rock purred, nuzzling Jake's neck, scritching his chest lightly.

"I'm certainly not going to object," Henrietta grinned. "Just so you know, we do have several healers here, so you can probably go a bit further than you normally would. Anybody with a white strip down the middle of their sash is a healer of some sort. And, of course, anything that happens inside the Temple remains inside it."

"Understood," Rock grinned at them before the door closed. He looked down at his lover with a wider grin. "Now, where were we?"

"I think you were warming me up," Jake grinned back before sliding his arms up around Rock's neck for a long, lingering kiss.

Rock returned the kiss, purring into Jake's mouth as his claws popped out, leaving tiny welts along Jake's fur as he scratched a bit harder, slowly working his hand down to the button of Jake's jeans, here he slipped his fingers down a bit further, teasing Jake through the layers of denim and cotton between them.

"Ohh, yes," Jake nearly cried into Rock's mouth, his body trembling in the sharp surge of need the touch brought on.

"I don't think you need to get him warmed up," Henrietta giggled, getting up and starting to pull out some of the toys they had in their quarters for later use. "Why don't you two get undressed the rest of the way?" she suggested.

"Sounds good to me," Rock purred, undoing Jake's jeans and working them off of him with his lover's full cooperation.

"I think you could use a little though," Jake winked as he got Rock's jeans off and settled between the buff tom's legs to nuzzle his groin.

"I'm not about to object," Rock rumbled hotly, reaching down to scratch Jake's ears as his balls were licked, then sucked into Jake's mouth for more attention.

"And I'm just glad you two don't mind being watched," Henrietta grinned as she settled back in, undressing the rest of the way except for her sash. There was something decidedly hot about watching two people who really loved each other express their passion.

"Enjoy it, even," Rock groaned at Jake's eager attentions. He rubbed Jake's ears, spreading his legs to let the lean tom at him better. "Not gonna take long, Jake," he warned him with a groan.

Jake chuckled softly and let his lover's balls fall from his mouth so he could take Rock's cock into his mouth all the way down to the sheath, working the length with his tongue and throat, eager for a taste of his seed.

They faintly heard the door open and close quietly, smelled the two new Kantin in the room.

"Mmm, nice show to come in on," Jordan grinned as he undressed and snuggled up with his sister, Barbara watching from the door as Jake worked, finally pushing Rock over the edge. The tabby roared, pumping his seed into Jake's mouth, filling it and dribbling out around his lips as he pushed Jake's nose down into his pubes without resistance.

"A big strong tabby," Barbara wagged her stub of a tail rapidly as she watched Jake slowly lick his lover clean and shifted up to snuggle on his lap for a long kiss.

"A very good dom too," Jake told her with a low purr.

"Come on, sit down with us," Rock purred. Barbara did so happily, already naked except for a dark blue sash around her waist.

"I understand that you are also, sometimes?" She asked Jake as Rock wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close to snuggle.

"Sometimes, yes," he nodded, looking her over. "I have a taste for inflicting what I take," he said into a nuzzle of his mate. "Have they shown you any of the tapes I sent Rock with a while back?"

"No, sir," she said, shaking her head. "I've heard a little, but I haven't seen any of them. I'm sure that I would enjoy anything you wanted though," she added. "My own tastes are very rough," she smiled shyly, a strange look on her rough face as she reached up, scratching his chest lightly when he didn't stop her.

"So we have been told," he smiled slightly at her and pressed into the touch a bit. It wasn't the electric contact another male would be like, but it wasn't unpleasant at all. "Something you need to understand about me," he reached out to caress her large, round breasts. "It's been a long time since I've been able to perform with a female. It's not about you."

"I understand," she nodded, rurring and pressing into his touch. "Will you want me to play a male for you?" She asked him easily. "I've done it before."

Jake cocked his head, taken off guard by the suggestion as he figured out what she meant. He smiled and traced a claw around her nipple just hard enough to make the skin tighten.

"No," he leaned over to kiss her uncertainly. "I want to recover from what happened. I want you to understand that you are not the problem if I can't yet. Do you have a safeword you prefer?"

"Whatever you use, Master," she rumbled, kissing him back, running her powerful hand down to stroke his full sheath. "So... would you like to receive what you've just given?" She asked with a playful grin, turning his earlier comment about what he liked around.

"Red for stop, yellow for slow down and green for everything's good," Jake supplied the terms he hadn't actually used yet. "And yes," he turned his head up for a searing kiss from his mate. "While Rock's fucking you."

"Oh, gladly Masters," she grinned broadly, showing sharp canines as she slipped to her knees between Jake's legs, nuzzling his crotch as Rock chuckled and got up, giving Jake a deep kiss.

"Since you're in charge for now, anything you want me to do to her? Besides the obvious?" Rock winked as he reached down and slipped his fingers between Barbara's legs, stroking her sex and making her moan against Jake's sheath.

"Give her what she likes," he grinned, watching over her back as Rock grabbed her hips and drove his hard cock into her sex in a single motion. His claws came out, drawing pinpricks of blood from her hips.

She moaned blissfully, her broad, velvety tongue coming out, washing over his sheath, up his barbed shaft as she reached up to cup his balls in her powerful hands. Rock sank his claws in more deeply, piercing the outer layer of her skin, blood flowing freely as he started thrusting into her tight, slick body, purring hotly as he leaned forward to kiss his lover and give Jake the distraction he badly needed.

He was more than a little pleased to see that Jake was still hard, purring in pleasure, though he was sure it wasn't going to be this easy.

"Hey, Jo, you have anything shocking for his ass?" Rock grinned over his shoulder.

"Of course," the Dachshund grinned. "Want me to use it now, or maybe for if you two trade places later?"

"Let's see how far he can get on his own," Rock rumbled, a deep moan escaping his chest when Barbara tightened her sex around him. "Neither fem he likes is much into pain."

"Okay, but no promises I won't be distracted later," Jordan rumbled, making out with Henrietta as Barbara took Jake's cock into her hot, wet mouth, reaching back and pushing a finger up into his ass, tentatively at first, then more easily once she was sure he wouldn't object.

"I will if you don't," Rock promised with a grin, then focused on working the Kantin under him hard without distracting her too much from making Jake feel good.

She bobbed her head up and down Jake's stiff member, working his barbs with her broad, skilled tongue and working her fingers in and out of his ass, searching for his prostate. She moaned deeply as Rock's shaft speared her sex, rubbing her g-spot, the vibrations shivering down Jake's nerves.

Like this, it was almost possible to forget that it was a fem beneath his legs, to trick himself into thinking that the female arousal was all Henrietta's as she and her brother got increasingly frisky in the corner.

Moments came and went, some where he didn't care that it was a female's mouth working him and everything worked right, then a breath and his body would start to shut down his arousal. A whiff of Rock or a solid kiss and his mind would be back to getting off.

He let out a low, frustrated whine as Rock's tongue ravished his mouth, the flip-flops his body was doing driving him crazy until Rock roared into his mouth, pumping his seed deep into Barbara's dripping sex.

"Hot stuff, Barbara," Rock rumbled as he pulled out and moved around to rake his claws up Jake's chest, making him moaned and his cock quiver. "Care to sit on my lap, or be strung up for my whip?"

"Strung up," Jake groaned, his claws needling tiny pinpricks in Barbara's scalp.

"Should I keep going, Masters?" Barbara asked as Rock helped Jake up and strapped him to the ceiling, shivering at the feel of the tabby's seed dribbling down her thighs, the warm blood dripping from the cuts Rock had left in her outer skin.

"If you want to join Jo and Henry for a bit, go ahead, otherwise just watch for a little," Rock rumbled. "Unless you want her to join in?" He grinned, nipping Jake's neck lightly.

"Want you," Jake shivered, his body hard and eager.

"You've got me," Rock grinned, biting down hard into Jake's shoulder and stabbing his slick cock up into his ass, his claws digging deep into Jake's hips to keep him from moving forward.

"Oh yeah," Jake's entire body electrified on him at the treatment, the knowledge of who was doing it and knowing just from this first assault that it was going to be long and bloody, even for them.

"Just how much can I get away with here?" Rock asked, glancing back at Jordan as he pulled Henrietta up into his lap.

"Don't sever or break anything, and don't bleed him dry," his friend groaned, watching as Rock's claws slid up through Jake's thighs, crimson blood weeping down his fur.

"Right," Rock purred, turning back to kiss Jake hotly as he started hammering himself against the lean tom's prostate while the Rottweiler watched them, her nose working hard and fast to take in their arousal, her fingers rubbing her clit.

Jake could only moan and shudder, his balls tightening up against his body as Rock's efforts took him over the edge and kept him hard. He lost awareness of what he was saying, only sure he was begging for more.

The tabby gave it to him with gusto, their hips slapping together, his claws sinking into different points of Jake's body as he came inside Jake's ass twice before finally winding down. The third time, he sank his claws into the tender skin of Jake's sheath, cutting the skin and putting Jake on the edge of a second orgasm.

"Please," Jake panted, not even sure what he was begging for other than whatever it took to push him over the edge again.

Rock kissed his neck and slammed his hips forward again. He closed his fist around Jake's balls, driving his claws deep into his mate's testicles.

Jake screamed, his shaft twitching and spraying pearly arcs of seed through the air, Barbara catching them in her mouth as Rock held his lover against him, nibbling his neck tenderly.

"Think you're ready for a break from me?" He purred with a grin.

"Never," Jake panted, his entire body trembling from the release and pain etched across every nerve. "Never be tired of you," he murmured with deep affection.

"Good," Rock rumbled deeply, kissing him soundly and groaning as he pulled out of his ass. "But after five rounds, even I need a break," he chuckled, undoing Jake's hands and catching him when Jake's legs gave out. "And I think Barbara's been neglected for a bit," he added with a wink and kiss when Jake steadied himself.

"I think I can help her out there," Jake half-stumbled to her and knelt between her legs. Without a word he ran his rough tongue up her sex and nipped at her clit.

She moaned, leaning back and spreading her legs for his access, reaching down to rub his ears.

"Mmm ... Master? Do you want to do something different today?" She asked him with a low rumble.

"What do you have in mind?" he looked up with interest in his bright amber eyes.

"Have you ever taken a lover between the skins?" She asked him, her large brown eyes meeting his.

"You do that?" Jordan asked, he and Henrietta stopping their own play as the Rottweiler got their attention.

"Do what?" Rock asked, sitting down on the couch and taking a drink of his neglected juice from before.

"It's something that's pretty rare, even with the Kantin who can do it," Barbara explained. "Some of us have a second skin ... Sharpei's, Pitbulls, Rottweilers, a couple others," she said, tugging on her own loose hide a bit. "We feel through it, but not as much ... it's there so when we're fighting, we can get clawed or bitten and not be hurt too badly. A few of us have learned that it can be intense to have a lover between the layers of skin ... I've got a particular trick that I don't get to do often, but enjoy when I have a partner who likes it," she blushed a bit, wagging her stub tail behind her.

"Would you mind if we filmed it, if you do it?" Jordan asked.

"I don't, but it's up to Master Jake," she said, deferring to the lean tom. "It's bloody, painful, but I think it's painful in a good way."

"I don't mind," Jake purred, seriously turned on by the idea even as he continued to lick and nip her tender sex. "It sounds intense."

"Oooh ... it is, Master," she moaned. "When you want to start, you'll have to cut me between my breasts," she explained to him. "I can handle the rest," she grinned down at him as Rock went over for the camera he knew Jordan and Henrietta had in the room.

"All right," he slid the fingers of one hand up to the opening of her sex, then pressed two inside. "Like being fisted dry?"

"Oooh ... if you want to do it, Master," she moaned, spreading her legs. "Do you need a healer soon?" She asked him with a concerned tone.

"It would be good," Rock answered for him.

"What would get you off hard and fast?" Jake asked, his teeth piercing her outer labia.

"Pierce my clit with your teeth?" She asked with a trembling whimper, her legs starting to shake slightly as she tightened her body around his hand. "Put something in the holes?"

"Three clit rings or bars?" Jake glanced at the Dachshunds.

"In here," Jordan said, pulling out a small drawer of them and passing it over to Jake.

Jake licked at her a few more times as a clit-bars were dipped in capsaicin oil. Without much warning, Jake angled his jaws carefully and bit down hard.

Barb cried out as he pierced her clit, blood practically pouring from the tiny wounds until he stopped them up with the tiny bars. She screamed when they were threaded through, the oil on them burning her body, her sex clenching down and spurting her warm juices onto Jake's chin.

Her whimpers and cries continued as he went to work licking her out, nipping, biting and soothing with his tongue until she jerked again, the pleasure-pain spiraling out of control right on top of the first.

She grabbed desperately at the couch to support herself, her legs going out from beneath her, her body shaking as she came and came a third time at his tongue's relentless attentions.

"Fuck," she whimpered softly.

Rock could only grin. "He'll keep that up until you beg him to stop," he winked at her.

"D-does h-he want me to?" She gasped, squeezing her thighs around his head. "So good!" She moaned, laying back more, making a shameless display of herself.

"Not as long as you're enjoying it that much," he rumbled, stepping into the picture with them. He ran his hands down to her full breasts, squeezing them. "Mind if I fuck you while he keeps up the tongue-work?"

"No, Master," she grinned up at him, moaning as he squeezed her breasts. "Just tell me to stop him before he needs a healer too badly," she giggled.

"I will," Rock nodded and helped her up so he could slide behind her on the couch. Jake broke from his efforts for a moment to help them settle with her ass opened wide by Rock's cock.

The big tom grabbed her wrists and Jake positioned her legs outside the tabby's, leaving her spread-eagled and impaled on a living bed that locked his jaws on her shoulder.

"Fuck yes!" She cried out, tightening her ass and sex around the cock, fingers, and tongue inside of her, pressing into Rock's bite, pain shooting through her shoulder and clit as she enjoyed the sound fucking she was getting from both toms.

"Jordan, do you have one of those shock dildos?" Jake asked between nips, thoroughly intoxicated by the scent in his nose.

"Answer hasn't changed since Rock asked for you," he chuckled. "You want a shock dildo, or a cattle prod?" He asked, raising an eyebrow slightly. "You'd be amazed what they do for Barb there," he chuckled.

"Cattle prod, then," he answered when he felt the shudder of anticipation for a device he wasn't allowed to play with normally.

"And would you snag a healer," Rock asked when the device was given to Jake. "He doesn't have to stop now, but soon."

"I am one, remember?" Jordan grinned. "Don't worry, I'll make sure things don't go too far," he winked as Barb howled with another orgasm from Jake's experimenting with the cattle prod on her tender bits.

"Which means I'll just have to stick to fingers and a camera for a while," Henrietta huffed good-naturedly.

"But what a vid you'll get for it," Rock grinned at her between grunts as his balls tightened, threatening his ability to hold off his own orgasm.

He lost it completely as Jake touched the prod down on either side of Barb's clit and she howled in orgasmic pain, her ass clenching down hard around the barbed shaft inside of her. Rock roared, coming hard, flooding her ass as Jake continued to torment her through several orgasms, the hardest of them coming when he put the prod up inside her sex.

Rock only barely managed to get his cock out of her before thousands of volts arced across her g-spot, and she screamed with a pain more intense than anything yet today.

"Please, stop!" She finally broke down and begged, though not using the safe-word yet. The prod was out of her almost instantly, and set aside without a trace of hesitation.

"You okay?" Jake asked, wanting to be sure he hadn't done too much damage.

She nodded, twitching a bit as she laid on top of Rock, recovering from the series of orgasms she'd been pushed through.

"Yes Master," she panted. "Just a little tired," she giggled, finally sitting up and hugging him. "I think it's your turn though," she murmured, licking his cheek.

"After Jo takes a look at him," Rock said firmly. "He could use a healer."

"Yes," Jake murmured, acknowledging the blood loss he was enduring was reaching a critical point. "I do need a healer."

"Let's get you taken care of then," Jordan said seriously looking Jake over, helping him to his feet. "Can you stand?" He asked, starting to work a minor healing spell to stop him from bleeding any worse than he already was.

It took definite effort, and some support, but he managed to find his balance, even if it was starting to be shaky.

"For reference, that raw stubbornness, not an actual ability to stand up," Rock said with a frown. "He's far too used to not being able to admit he can't stand."

"That's not a good thing," Jordan frowned himself, helping Jake into the couch and leaving him rest for a moment. "Goes for you too," he added with a glance at Barb. "Get him some juice, I'll work a spell to help him recover more quickly." The Rottie got up, following his order while Jordan quietly spoke the words to prayer in some language Jake didn't even know the root form of.

"You'll recover the blood you've lost in a few minutes, but no getting yourself cut for the next hour," he said seriously.

"Yes, sir," he nodded without question or resistance to the order.

"At least he's obedient," Jordan half chuckled, half chided as he settled back down with Henrietta.

"He is an Enforcer," Rock grinned back. "Even the rebellious ones know how to take an order."

"Do you still want to play while you rest, Master?" Barb asked, giving him the juice. "This would be a good time for something that doesn't involve your pain," she offered.

"Given how much blood I lost, I doubt I could get hard enough for anything," he chuckled softly in apology to her.

"It's okay," she smiled, moving to snuggle up on one side of him, Rock on the other. "Maybe we'll have another time to try again?" She asked, wagging her stub tail hopefully.

"I'd like to," Jake nodded, snuggling up against Rock and sipping his juice.

"What is it, Jarrem?" Commander Ulysses Feral asked calmly when he greeted his cousin's call. It was early morning; far too early for him to be calling for anything but very bad news.

"Cody ... dear gods, Ulysses ... he's been murdered and worse," the shaky voice on the other end was all the confirmation he needed of the nature of the call. The actual words turned his stomach into a rock blocking his throat.

He forced it down, though his hand was shaking as he did it.

"I'll get the Ghosts over there as soon as I can," Ulysses told him, punching the button under his desk to send out a call for them to be ready to mobilize. These days they knew it meant another rape and murder by the type of creature they had been named after. "What happened, Jarrem? I need to know who to send."

"Raped, tortured to death, blood and semen are everywhere ... all in his bed while his folks are in the next room and didn't hear a thing," he gave the basics. "That room is still bitterly cold, and it's not the AC."

"I'm sending Sashari, Toama, and Sechena Jagrati along with the Ghosts," Feral told him. "I'll be over there myself as soon as I can get away. Do you want me to send Felina as well?" He asked.

"It would help calm down Felist," he admitted. "She's more than slightly hysterical right now. I'm calling Doc Hazlil as soon as I hang up for here."

"Jarrem, I'm surprised you're not," Feral pointed out. "I'll get people out there, you call Doctor Hazlil. I should be able to be on my way in...." He glanced at his schedule for the night.

"I'll be in my chopper in ten, at your place in another fifteen," he promised, taking note of who he'd have to tell to reschedule. None of them were the Mayor, so he could get away with it.

"You know we both don't break down until after the crisis is over," Jarrem Blackthorn nearly laughed. "I'm sure he'll have tranquilizers for me too. Thank Bastet those two aren't in the Academy anymore."

"No, now they're my problems," Feral half-chuckled grimly. "My problems, and getting a visit from yours themselves once in a while. I'll be there soon, Jarrem. Try to keep Felist from doing anything insane until we're there."

"Will do," he hung up with the sound of some kind of scuffle starting in the background.

Feral let out the snarl he'd wanted to voice since the call had started, stabbing the button for his speed-dial to the Ghosts training rooms and quarters.

"Get out to Jarrem Blackthorn's house, now," he ordered them. "It sounds like Berten's attacked again. I'll bring SI and Jagrati," he added, ending the call before waiting for their responses.

He knew they'd be there. Now he just had to get the detectives and psychics from Supernatural Investigations to do the same. At least Jagrati was already here, awake and with all her things for spirit calling and binding ready. He did not relish the idea of having to rouse the ancient Tigress.

Three phone calls later and he stalked out of his office, spat a terse explanation to his secretary, and headed up to the helicopter pad to join his Ghosts for the short flight.

He could hear SI, dozens of stories below, sirens running as they peeled out onto the streets.

"Let's go," he told Felina gruffly. She nodded silently, taking off as he sat down with his most loyal officers around him; they turned for his cousin's house and took off, Felina barking orders into the comm to clear any flight traffic that might be along their route. He thought he heard a pilot objecting, asking for information about where they were going, but some choice, if not entirely professional, words and there were no more objections.

She'd make a fine Commander if she lived long enough to take over. It was strange, realizing that somewhere along the line he'd come to think of her as his successor, and not another tom he'd assumed it would be. For possibly the first time he was also glad she'd never found much interest in becoming a mother. He wasn't sure he could take finding out her kits had been targeted.

It had been hard enough hearing about Cody ... and about Shier's kits.

He tried to distract himself from thinking about either attack too much just now. The Ghosts knew better than to talk to him right now, and Jagrati seemed to be silently preparing herself to deal with the dark spirit she was after, so he could at least try to do so.

Unfortunately, the only way he could really get his mind off of it was distracting himself for a few moments with the thought of what Felina would say about Shier's joke of a few nights before, or that he really was seriously considering retiring before he was forced to by injury or politics.

What would he do with himself?

He almost had to chuckle; the first answer that sprang to mind was to go to Tusandrin and do for Khan what he'd done for MegaKat City. Shier was certainly easier to work with than the Mayor.

Shier wanted him there too, had said it outright that he wanted a co-ruler. Power without the fetters of an inept mayor had its appeal too.

All MegaKat City really had to offer was his family, his heritage, his people. This was his land, damn it all.

"We're landing now, uncle," Felina's calming voice made him realize he'd probably growled out loud.

"Let's go then," he said, nodding sharply as they touched down, out the door right behind Recka, who jumped the short distance to the ground to get there first and make sure nobody was going to try anything when they touched down.

This was his land. And he'd be damned if he let a freak like Berten make him, or his family, leave it. He might not have the ability to fight him himself, but he had resources that could, and would.

Without a word he led the group inside, knowing from experience where the kitten's room was and where the adults would be.

He could hear Felist sobbing hysterically, and he motioned for the Recka, Jagrati, and the rest of the Ghosts to go on ahead while he and Felina went to try and help calm her down.

Looking into the room, he saw Jarrem, looking ashen and sincerely old for the first time in his life with his arms around his grieving son and daughter-in-law.

"That was a very long fifteen minutes," Jarrem murmured as he looked up at his cousins.

"We'd have been here sooner if we could," Feral apologized. "The Ghosts are securing the area, SI will be here soon. Is there anything we can do to help?" He added quietly, glancing back at Felina with a slight nod towards Felist. She nodded herself, confirming that they did have some tranquilizers in the chopper if they needed them.

"Catch whoever did that to my son!" Felist snarled, anger overtaking grief for a moment. "Kill him."

"Just as soon as we can," Feral promised her. "Tonight, if possible."

Only Jarrem blinked at that, looking at his cousin curiously at such a different take on the law and vigilantism.

"If we're right, the one who did this is already dead," Feral said softly. "Berten's ghost has been attacking all around the city."

"A ghost?" Felist blinked, trembling hard. "How do you kill a ghost?"

"That's what Jagrati is here to help us answer," he told her. "She's a Sechena from Tusandrin, she's been dealing with creatures like him longer than he was alive, let alone dead."

He watched his distant cousin regard him, judge him for his word as he had been raised to do as well.

Slowly she nodded. "Do what you need. Destroy him."

"We will," he repeated the promise. "I should go see to the investigation ... will you be all right while I see what's going on?"

"Yes," she promised, squeezing her husband's hand. "I'll hold together."

"Good," he nodded in relief. "I'll be back to tell you what we find out, and if we can draw Berten in tonight."

He turned to leave; grateful beyond words that his family bred strong wills as he walked to the kit's room. He swallowed hard when he glanced around. It wasn't the blood and semen splattered around. In an unsettling way he was almost used to that by now. It was the future so clearly written in the decor and Cody's own scribbling.

It was the room of a young Enforcer, another Feral with a badge, and one more dead before his time.

"Any luck?" he asked Recka.

"No, sir," she shook her head slightly. "She said he's protected by a powerful being she can not overcome."

"Is there any way you can weaken his hold?" He asked Toama, glancing over at the albino Cheetah.

"My Mistress might be able to demand to know who it is, but nothing more," she said, shaking her head.

"We were going to try and summon Cody's spirit," Recka explained, "to confirm that it was Berten, but if you'd rather... it's fairly clear, sir, we wouldn't have to do it. It would only be a matter of form."

"He may also have been told something useful before he died," Feral said. "Kits his age made the case against Berten the first time. We summon him."

Jagrati changed the spell slightly without the order being relayed. After a few minutes, the room chilled again, and a kitten's form faded into view, curled up in the corner, arms around his knees and rocking silently, tail curled tightly around his leg.

"Cody," Ulysses stepped forward and knelt, just a heartbeat away from touching before he held himself back.

"Uncle Commander," the kit looked up at him, trying hard to uncurl his nude body to face him as a proper inspiring officer.

He managed to get into a sitting position, looking up at him, legs still held together tightly, hands covering his bloody nethers.

"I ... w-was I dreaming it?" He asked hopefully.

"I'm afraid not," Ulysses shook his head. "What can you tell me about the one who did this?"

"It was the one from TV," Cody said. "He was... was...." He closed his eyes, a look of terror washing over his face.

"There's something happening," Recka said nervously, glancing at Jagrati, who was scowling darkly as something interfered with her spell. Cody's face contorted, twisted, Berten's fading into view over it.

"Come on, Uly, you know who did this!" Berten grinned viciously. "How do you like my work? Cody was so much more satisfying than that brat of Shier Khan's."

"Make him go away!" Cody begged, taking back control for a brief moment even as Ulysses' full attention was on Jagrati, silently asking what she could do now that they had Berten here.

"He is no longer just a ghost," the ancient Tigress told him. "I will do what I can."

"You'll do nothing to me, crone," Berten sneered over at her. "Not unless you relish the nightmares of all the children I've sacrificed. Oh! Uly, please thank Mr. Khan for holding the funerals so very promptly," he grinned. "My Master was quite irritated with the delay, but when their spirits were all released at once, he was most satisfied. I understand the little tom is a particular favorite of his!"

"Who is your master?" Ulysses demanded, doing his damnedest not to allow the taunting to get to him.

"You should remember, Uly - your people helped me find the priest who showed me His plans for me!" Berten grinned. "Rapentap, who's very much looking forward to this little morsel. And who's very eager to meet you," he added. "Another year, Uly... next time you won't be so lucky!"

"If we meet in another year, you won't be lucky enough to escape me," his ears flattened, a stark reminder to Berten that his first victim was not afraid of him anymore. "You won't see next month."

"How can you kill me, Uly - I'm already dead," Berten taunted. "By the way... would you like me to pay my regards to Janet?" He asked sweetly, grinning when a deep snarl of pure rage erupted from the other tom.

Recka and Felina both moved to grab him as he tried to lunge, holding him back as Cody whimpered and curled up again, terrified at being the vehicle Berten was using to taunt his Uncle like this.

"Don't let him get to you," Felina whispered firmly when she felt him struggle to control himself. "Don't let him win."

"You are dead, and I'll see you destroyed as well, Berten," Ulysses promised with the full determination that had seen him become the youngest Commander in history.

"If you wish to try and kill the Hand of a god, feel free Uly," Berten sneered. "It will make killing you all the sweeter when you've failed, and have the deaths of hundreds on your hands. Tomorrow? I'll kill one especially for you," he promised, beginning to fade away.

"If you can do anything to stop him, do it now!" Recka hissed at Jagrati.

"I ... cannot," she said with a frown. "I cannot hold him, not like this!"

"Contact every church and mage that is on speaking terms with us," Ulysses turned on Recka. "Make sure they understand who and what is hunting at night. We can't protect everyone, but we might be able to keep his choices to a minimum."

"My Mistress knows how to destroy him," Toama spoke softly, stilling the entire room instantly. "The risk is great, however, and few are strong enough to succeed."

"How?" Feral growled lowly.

"He is not truly a ghost anymore ... he is something between a ghost and a demon," Toama explained. "The spirit of a dead Kat, but one with the power of a God behind him. He must be trapped as both would, bound. Once he is bound, he may be destroyed by another spirit. This is what is dangerous about it. He must be fought, and destroyed, in the dream-world. Anywhere else, and you could harm the ghost, or the demon, but not both ... he is only whole in the dream world. But that is also where his power is greatest, from what we have found."

"What can be done to assist the one fighting him?" Ulysses asked, plans forming, odds calculated and timing worked out.

"Very little that doesn't have risks of their own ... if the one who fights him knows it is a dream, he or she can fight back much better, but Berten can use all his powers as well. The best way...." She closed her eyes in thought. "Prepare his dreams. Prepare the field of battle. Give him the advantage in the fight. His conscious mind will not be enough, his subconscious must fight as well."

"His next known target is well-equipped already," Ulysses mused darkly. "He's as likely to succeed as I am," he admitted in a rare moment of honest respect for the other pilot.

"Commander?" Recka glanced at him.

"Lt. Chance Furlong," he told her, the name enough for her to understand what he was thinking.

"He would be a good choice," she decided after a few moments. "He has potential ... it would be a Hell of a chance to ask him to take though."

"Either we give him the tools to fight well, or we bury him knowing we could have tried," he looked at her evenly. "No matter what we do, Berten will try and kill him in less than three weeks."

"True," she murmured. "Unless we can find another sooner, he's our best bet. We'll contact the Temple of Bastet as soon as we can, see if they can start to distribute wards and symbols to hold him off. We might...." She trailed off, frowning as she looked around.

"We might want to focus on Enforcer families, Ferals in particular," Recka admitted.

"I know," Ulysses nodded slightly, his eyes on the spirit of the kitten he was trying to save. "Find who you can. We may be able to protect those who are not suited to the fight."

"I don't want to go," Cody admitted with a scared whimper, knowing that he would have to soon. "He wants to take me to a bad place."

"What can you do for him?" Ulysses looked at Jagrati beseechingly.

"I could bind him to something ... the house, an object he cared for," the ancient Tigress said after a moment. "It wouldn't be pleasant, but it would be better than what is planned for him. He may be able to be released... eventually."

"Cody?" he turned to the kitten about to make a choice more important than most adults ever would. "What do you want?"

"Mommy's silver pendant," he looked up, then over at the Tigress white with age. "She keeps my picture in it."

"It will be a simple matter then," Jagrati nodded slightly, turning to the Commander. "I will need her permission, of course ... it would be best if she and her husband came in and had the chance to speak to him before I perform the binding."

"Very well," he nodded and turned to leave, Recka behind him, though she was on her way back to headquarters to see how many unknown victims she could dig up.

"Can you think of anything we've done that'd get us yelled at?" Chance asked Jake quietly as they rode the elevator up to Feral's office the next day. "I can't place anything, lately ... unless it's me leaving quarantine so fast, I guess."

"Nothing I want to hear about," Jake murmured glumly. "All that stuff that got us grounded in the first place."

"It can't be about that," Chance grumbled. "They already checked it again, and the case got bumped to SI, they're not looking at me anymore. Hey, maybe they want us on the case," he added, thinking about it. "Be weird as all Hell, but it'd explain why Feral's the one who's got to give the order."

"Maybe," Jake nodded as the doors opened and they entered the hallway. "It's better than anything I can think of."

"Well, let's not think about it until we know for sure then," Chance chuckled darkly as they walked back to the Commander's office. "You know, sometimes I wonder what goes on behind those doors," he mused, glancing at the closed doors to the offices that rumor had it were reserved for the Ghosts.

"It's probably less interesting than rumor," Jake cracked a grin. "Even if they are Ghosts."

"True," Chance grinned back, sobering up as they reached the Commander's office and knocked, waiting to be called in by his secretary.

"Ah, good timing," she nodded when they walked in. "Go in. He's ready."

Jake and Chance continued through the front office into Feral's quickly, standing at attention as they faced their Commander.

"Lieutenants Clawson and Furlong reporting, Sir," Chance said professionally, noting with a sinking stomach that he looked even more grim than usual.

"Sit," he motioned to a couple chairs that were not usually on the far side of his desk. "It has been decided that we need to bring you into the Berten case."

Chance controlled his reaction carefully as he took a seat.

"In what way, sir?" He asked. "We'll be glad to help, of course." The rest of it, that Chance at least would be eager to put an end to this once and for all, went without saying.

"We have learned how to destroy him," Feral continued after a small nod. "It is very dangerous, it may kill you, and not even your partner will be able to assist you when you kill him."

"What do I have to do?" Chance asked, leaning back in the seat and not looking to see just what Jake's reaction to the statement would be.

What else could he say? It was risky, yeah, but the alternative was letting Berten stay on the loose ... how many people would die before somebody else got the chance to do it?

How many kittens would be raped and murdered, and would Tamera end up being one of them?

No ... there wasn't really a choice about it.

Feral nodded. "When the anniversary of his attack on you happens, you will have to sleep that night, in an unprotected place, and you will have to find a way to trap and kill him in the dreamscape he works in. We have some magic and knowledge of how to prepare you for this, to level the field as much as possible, but it is where he is the strongest as well. It will be up to your strength of will to stop him."

Feral paused briefly. "The next victim we know of with a real chance of defeating him will not be attacked again for nearly a year."

Chance blinked. Did that mean what he thought it did? It made a lot of pieces fall into place ... the Ghosts, the execution, the chaos around this case.

"I'll do it, sir," he said softly. "Just let me tell Midnight, please ... I have a feeling she's going to freak."

"She will, and she'll understand," Jake spoke quietly with the certainty of someone who knew her far too well.

"Yes, you can tell her," Feral nodded. "I understand Berten has taken a liking to your oldest daughter."

"He has," Chance scowled. "She's the daughter of two of his victims, sir ... the sick bastard seems to enjoy that connection."

"She should not leave the protection of the temple she is in, not even in the day, until Berten is dealt with," Feral said. "While he has not attacked anyone in the daylight, he can appear during the day, and has killed someone in the physical world without touching their dreams. I expect that she is in great danger right now."

"Would somebody from the office be willing to talk to the school? They'd probably be a little more reluctant to take my word for it," Chance said.

"I will," Feral promised, leaving Chance with no doubt that he meant he would make the call personally. "Now, those you will be working with the most closely," he turned slightly to draw their attention to the three figures that had remained in the background until now.

"You know the Priestess of Izaris, Detective Toama," he motioned to the distinctive albino Cheetah in full SI uniform. "Lieutenant Commander Recka Thomas is one of my Ghosts, a minor psi with a talent for spirit work," he indicated the slender Panther. "She was second-in-command of Supernatural Investigations before her promotion.

"The Tigress is Jagrati, a sechena from Tusandrin," he indicated the ancient, hunched over female sitting and still leaning on a heavily carved walking stick. "She has a great deal of knowledge about spirits and how to control them."

"Do not piss her off," Jake murmured to his partner, quiet enough he hoped it wouldn't be heard by anyone else.

"I hadn't been planning on it," Chance responded quietly. "What's the plan?" He asked more loudly.

"You are a good choice," the ancient Tigress observed. "You have a strong heart, and good intent. As for the plan, you will have to fight him in your dreams ... which is beyond me," she admitted. "My part in this is to make sure he doesn't escape ... once it begins, it will have to end, one way or the other."

"A fight to the death, him or me," Chance nodded in understanding. "Is there a way you can trap him if I loose?"

"How much are you and your mate willing to risk to see him bound or destroyed?" Jagrati asked him seriously. "Most of the methods I have that I know would work would bind your own spirit, possibly destroy it, along with his. This Douglas Berten is not a normal ghost, so I must use more extreme measures than I normally would."

"So all I'm risking is oblivion," Chance said, strangely calm about it. "Midnight will hate it, but if it will stop him, it's worth the risk I won't exist anymore."

"Then I will bind all spirits to your body when he arrives," Jagrati explained. "Both of you will be trapped within your body if you die before I perform the unbinding, and when your body ceases to be, so will all the spirits within."

"We do it then," Chance nodded to her.

"Do you have all the paperwork done to ensure your family is taken care of when you die?" Recka took over to make sure he had no worries but the battle itself.

"Ma'am, I'm usually a combat pilot," Chance chuckled slightly. "It comes with the territory. At least if you're still willing, I don't think anything has to change," he said, turning to look at Jake.

"I am," he nodded seriously, decidedly unsettled but understanding as well as his partner that it had to be done this way.

"Good," she said. "If you think of something, I will make it happen."

"I'll let you know if something comes to mind," he nodded slightly. "But I'm not planning on needing the prep. This ritual you're doing; as long as I kill him, it won't do anything to me?" He asked Jagrati.

"Not as long as you survive long enough for me to undo it," she nodded.

"Then great; we won't have any problems," Chance said firmly, knowing that he needed to believe that as much as he wanted to.

"How strong would you judge your imagination?" she asked evenly.

"You're wondering how well I'll be able to force Berten to deal with what I want in dreams, instead of what he wants?" Chance guessed, thinking about it, trying to figure out just how he'd guess something like that.

"That is a factor of your will and awareness in the dream," she said gravely. "Your imagination will determine how difficult it will be for him to trap and kill you. The more unrealistic the dream, the more even the battle will be."

"Does anybody know how he operates in people's dreams?" Chance asked. "Tamera's told me a bit about hers ... from the sound of it, if I can keep it more realistic, it might help me out."

"What are you thinking of, Furlong?" Feral asked him, looking at him evenly.

"I don't care what his imagination can do, he can't beat me in the air," Chance said seriously. "Hell, he probably can't come up with anything crazier to throw at me than things I've already fought and beat. From what Tamera said, he's scary in the air, but he's not a fighter pilot."

"No, he is not," Feral acknowledged thoughtfully. "The hazard is that you have less leeway if he gets a lucky shot."

"We have enough time for me to teach you how to fly my latest sketch," Jake offered uncertainly. "Nothing can take her."

"It'd be a start," Chance murmured. "Though it might let Berten do it instead. After all, if I can ground it in what's real, I can always step out of that when I have to, as long as I'm careful about how I do it." He thought for a few minutes, then cracked a grin that was followed with a laugh nobody'd been expecting.

"He'll be in my dreams, right? So whatever I'm dreaming about at the time is what he'll have to work with?"

"As we understand it, yes," Recka nodded, curious as to what he had in mind.

"So mine it. Make it so I've got a good idea what he'll have, and make it something that I can work with. If I spend the next couple weeks picking out what I watch carefully enough, I should be able to just about script the dreams I'll be having by then. Footage from the last Megawar, particularly dogfights ... some cartoons mixed in, give me a good framework for the insanity he'll be able to cause, and for what I'll be able to throw at him. If I choose the battlefield, it'll be one more thing working in my favor."

"Yes," Feral nodded. "Be careful with it. What you dream is what he starts with, but he can control a great deal once he has made himself known." He almost said more, then his eyes flicked to the others in the room and he thought better of it. "All he has to do is get you to open a door and the setting is his. Or in your case, a blinding flash. Anything in your memory, anything that hurt you, he'll bring up and make it much worse."

"Do we have anybody who knows something about the ins and outs of fighting in dreams?" Chance asked. "And how to make it stick on him? I seem to remember that critters in nightmares don't always die as obligingly as they're supposed to."

"There is one thing we know about him, as a ghost," Toama offered. "Which he might not know. If he dies the way he truly did, it has a better chance of actually destroying him."

"So if I can make those three shots again, I've won?" he focused on her. "Or does it need to include the hanging part too? And how do I know if I've really killed him, or if he's just playing dead?"

"It may not need to be those exact shots ... the hanging may suffice, it's hard to say," she admitted. "The safest method would be an exact recreation, but I suspect you'll have a hard time convincing him to create that in the dream. As for how to tell ... well, if what Jagrati said about the binding is true, she'll be able to tell you after you wake up."

"Yes, I can," the ancient nodded.

"Works for me," Chance nodded.

"Is there any way for someone to help him?" Jake asked uneasily. He was sure there was, but not how risky it would be.

"Yes ... but not you, Chosen of Bastet," Jagrati told him firmly. "I could not take that chance with your spirit. It might make the binding fail ... or it could destroy you as well."

Jake nodded, not happy but not at all surprised.

"It'll work out, buddy," Chance told him with half a grin. "I don't go down easily."

"I know," Jake sighed and settled back, trying to think of anything he could that might help.

"What about me?" Feral asked Jagrati evenly, ignoring the pleading look that Recka was giving him to not make that offer. "I helped to kill him the first time; it may make it easier to arrange the second, and he won't be expecting me in Chance's dreams."

"I ... yes, I could do it," the ancient Tigress nodded. "However, please speak with Master Khan first. If something goes wrong, I do not want to be the one he blames for the consequences."

"I will see that he does not blame you for my actions," Feral nodded a promise as solid as one offered by his lover.

"Then I can do it," she nodded. "You will have to be in the same place; I would recommend somewhere we can control the environment. Do you have ... barracks, I believe your word is?"

"Yes," he nodded. "We have access to Khan's mansion here, several of my family holdings as well and more isolated Enforcer holdings."

"Those would work as well," she nodded. "I will prepare what I need for the binding ceremony; the two of you had best prepare yourselves as well."

"We will," Feral promised. "This is one battle that will not be lost."

"Good," she inclined her head to him.

"Now," Feral turned to Jake and Chance. "I want you two back in the air, on every call, until this is over. I've signed the orders for extra shifts, and that you are to respond whether the call is in your sector or not."

"Yes sir," Chance nodded sharply, chuckling slightly after a moment. "Won't have any trouble getting to sleep when the time comes, I guess."

"No, I imagine you won't," Feral chuckled darkly. "Dismissed; let your mate know what's going on after your shift if you want, but for now, get yourselves suited up and in the air."

"Yes, sir," both toms responded quickly and stood, offering him a quick salute before taking off.

Tamera was sprawled out on the floor late one night, almost three weeks later, watching the small TV they'd moved in from home a couple weeks ago. Chance was on a small couch behind her, watching a late-night showing of Fraidy Kat that was on after a rerun of the documentary about the Blue Manx's last dogfight with the Red Lynx.

"Chance? How do you know we're going to be able to go home soon?" She asked, looking up at him.

"Because ..." he froze, caught off guard by the question he didn't want to say too much on. "Because we have a trap set for Berten tomorrow night. Once he's caught, we can go home. You'll be safe from him."

"What if he gets out?" She asked, looking back at him.

"There is no getting out of this trap," he said with certainty. "We have magic that will destroy his spirit once we have him."

"So how're you gonna get him in the trap? Somebody's gonna have to be bait, right?" She asked, twitching her tail nervously.

He hesitated, reluctant to make her worry, but it wasn't in him to lie to her. Not about this, at any rate.

"Yes, someone is bait," he murmured. "Someone we know he'll attack tomorrow night if they aren't well-protected. Not you," he hoped it was enough to reassure her.

"It's gonna be you, isn't it?" She asked after a few moments of thinking about it.

"Yeah," he nodded slightly. "He's taking out the survivors of his attacks when he was alive on the anniversary of the first attack. Mine's tomorrow night."

"So why don't you stay here?" She asked him, wrapping her tail around her leg. "You'll be safe if you stay here, right?"

"Yes, I would be," he nodded and drew her into a protective hug. "Sometimes there are more important things than personal safety, Tamera. If I face him, we can destroy him. If I don't, if I stay here and safe, then he'll keep attacking and killing people. I can't allow that."

"Will you have somebody else with you?" Tamera asked hopefully.

"Yes," he nodded, hugging her tightly. "Commander Feral will be there for the fighting, and others to help with the rest of the trap. It shouldn't be much more dangerous than what I do every day as a fighter pilot."

"Okay ... just be careful, please?" She said, hugging him back. "I don't wanna lose you too," she murmured.

"I have no intention of leaving you, sweetie," he kissed the top of her head. "I'll be careful, and I'll come back like I always do."

"Okay," she nodded, snuggling up against his side. "Could we talk about Mom a little bit?" She asked him. "About when you knew her?"

"Sure," he smiled softly. "We met at Berten's trial and again as he went through appeals. I was looking for a reason to keep going once they were all over, and she needed someone who understood what she'd been through and didn't just feel sorry for her. She helped me find a reason to live again. I like to think I helped her see herself as a valuable person again. It lasted ... a year ... I think," he murmured, distracted by the jumble of memories from the time. "We just drifted apart, really. Different parts of town, different expectations for the future ... she was lovely. I wish I'd known she was pregnant."

"If you had, would you have stayed with her?" Tamera asked him. "You wouldn't have met Midnight then, right?"

"Yes, I would have, and I don't know," he admitted. "Midnight walked up to me because I was Jake's partner. If I'd still become an Enforcer, I probably would have still met her. I'm not sure if we would have ever been more than friends, though. I didn't sleep around on your mother, but we never discussed what the rules would be if I had found someone else interesting."

"Did you love Mom, like you do Midnight?" Tamera asked him. "Enough you'd have been happy with her and me?"

"I loved her, yes, but not the same way," he admitted. "We were very young, Tamera. Younger than you when we first met, only a few years older when we were dating. I don't know how it would have turned out if we had stayed together. I just know I would have done everything I could to be a good father to you."

"Why didn't she ever give you the chance?" The kitten asked, looking up at him as he hugged her side. "She never told you about me ... and she never told me about you. She only told me that you'd gone away.".

"Maybe she needed her folks more than she needed me," he suggested uncertainly. "They never approved of us, not really. Maybe when she realized she was pregnant, she didn't think I'd want anything to do with it. Maybe she didn't want me involved. Maybe she had a boyfriend again. I don't know," he sighed. "I just don't know."

"Do you think she might have said in her diaries?" Tamera asked quietly.

"Quite possible," he nodded. "They'll be yours once they're released from evidence."

"Maybe we can read them some time? Together?" She suggested, looking up at him. "I mean... after you're home tomorrow night, this'll all be over, right? We'll... we'll have time, some time."

He could tell what was going through her head. She was trying to convince herself that she wasn't about to lose her father right after her mother. It would've been so much better if she hadn't found out what was going to happen.

"Yes, after tomorrow night it'll all be over, and we'll find time to read them together," he promised her, desperately hoping that he wasn't about to make some of the last words to his daughter be a lie. "I think it's time for us to go to bed, honey. Try not to worry too much. I'm tough to kill."

"Okay," she murmured as the credits rolled on the cartoon on TV, getting up to turn it off. "Good luck ... Dad," she smiled shyly back at him, before heading off to her room with the kittens and Lyth.

"Thanks," he smiled, watching her close the door before he turned to the room he shared with his wife. His nose twitched at the scent that went straight to his groin. Midnight's intense arousal, the low whimper of her pleasuring herself in the darkness of their bed.

"Your heat's starting already?" He purred lowly, hoping that if it was, she'd been too distracted to hear the conversation in the next room.

He'd told her about it, but he didn't particularly want to deal with her worrying about it tonight.

"Yes," she moaned, shifting in the bed to spread her legs for him and raised her hands over her head. "Want you so bad."

Chance made short work of stripping and climbing into bed with her, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her soundly as he let her scent do the job of getting him hard as a rock.

"Ever think you'd be trying to have kittens in the High Temple?" He rumbled, licking her lips and reaching between them to fondle her breasts.

"Dreamed of it," she arched her hips up to rub her swollen, slick sex against his cock. "Please, baby, fill me with your seed."

He rolled on top of her, pressing his throbbing, barbed shaft up into her sex with a low, hungry moan that she matched.

"Love you, baby," he groaned, starting to thrust into her eagerly.

Chance looked as exhausted as he felt when he reached Shier Khan's mansion the next day. Any other time he'd have taken the day off ... or have been reamed out for showing up at work in the condition he was.

Today, it was actually kind of expected.

"Remind me to make sure Feral signs off on the next couple of weeks off after today," he murmured to Jake as he parked near the house. "So, any idea how Feral managed to arrange this?"

"Probably the same way he arranged a living treasure from Tusandrin to assist us," he shrugged. "Rumor is that he and Khan dated at one point. Might have ended well."

"If they still are, I think I'll be glad that if this ends badly I won't be around to deal with the fallout," Chance murmured. "You sure you want to be here for this? You won't be able to do anything, unless they'll let you shake me and try to wake me up."

"You know it won't work even if they let me," Jake said quietly as they got out of the car. "I'm here ... I guess because it's not right for me not to be," he reached over to put a hand on Chance's shoulder. "You're my partner. Even if I can't do anything, I want to be at your side."

"And I'm glad you are, buddy," Chance said sincerely, taking Jake's hand and squeezing it lightly. "This'd be a Hell of a time to have to go solo," he chuckled slightly as they headed inside. "Hey, when we're done with this and moved back into the house, think you and Rock can take the kits over to Meg's? Midnight's going into heat, and I'm not sure she'll let me out of the house long enough to take them over," he chuckled.

"Sure thing," he chuckled, eyeing the petite golden tiger tabby shekat in a blue and golden sari that approached them. "You might want to just stay at the temple until it's over. I think she'd enjoy it too."

"Greetings, masters," the shekat bowed to them. "The room is prepared. Please follow me."

Jake and Chance did so, the tabby looking around the opulent mansion, but not saying a word as he was led into a large room where Jagrati was burning incense and preparing the binding spell she would use. Feral was there, as well as Recka and Shier Khan.

His first look at the royal Tiger nearly took Chance's breath away. If there was anyone he could believe was stronger than his Commander, it was this tom. He understood instantly why the rumors happened if they never were a couple, and he thought he could even understand the attraction if they were.

"Lay down," Jagrati instructed, motioning to the two single beds.

Chance brought his attention back to what had to happen here, and took the smaller of the two beds, laying down on it.

"So ... what is it I've got to do out here?" He asked, taking a deep breath and trying to calm himself down the way he did before going into a dogfight.

"Sleep, control your dreams, kill Berten when he appears," the ancient Tigress told him in rough Katian. "I will see to the rest."

"All right," he nodded, laying down on the bed, trying to relax enough to sleep as Jagrati smudged his forehead with some of the soot from the incense.

Fortunately, a night and day spent with a shekat in heat was a very good way to leave him tired enough to sleep through pretty much anything.

He was absently aware of Feral getting the same treatment, that Jake was right next to him, and Shier Khan was at Feral's side. He'd have to ask for the gossip Jake got out of this when he woke up. He was sure his partner would get a wealth of interesting things from the Tiger and Panther that had nothing to do but hang out, wait, pace and talk.

The real world dimmed, faded from his awareness. Scent exploded around him; the hot, sticky scent he had left so recently. Midnight, her fertility as potent as anything he could imagine.

She was in his arms, fur against fur, mouth hungry for his and her body crying for him to mate her.

He kissed her, hungrily, thrusting up into her sex. He knew, in the back of his head, that this wasn't right, it wasn't what he was supposed to be doing, but it was so damned hard to fight it too.

She was pregnant, he could feel it, but hungrier for him that she'd ever been even in heat ... it was like she was in heat and pregnant all at the same time, somehow, a mix that was totally intoxicating.

He wished it could last forever, the perfect way their bodies fit together and the incredible pleasure they gave each other. He grunted as another load was pumped from his balls deep into her body as she rode him, showing off her petite, rounded body and belly full of kittens.

He pulled out of her with a groan, taking a short rest to make out with her. She put his hand on her rounded belly, purring as they kissed ... then reached down, moaning into his mouth as she seemed to go into a much tamer sort of labor than he'd helped her through with the triplets.

"Baby?" he asked, catching the not-quite-realness full on as the piebald tom was born and held up to him dry and open-eyed. "What the?"

He only had time to recognize one thing. The kitten was Douglas Berten.

As that realization dawned on him, the kitten snarled, lunging at him, teeth and claws flashing and biting into his skin before he could throw the damned ... thing off of him. He bounced back ... but not at Chance. Instead, the tiny kitten launched himself at Midnight, and she cried out in a mix of agony and ecstasy as it clawed into her full belly and the other kittens inside, ripping them out and tearing them apart with unholy speed.

Chance snarled and lunged forward, fully in the reality that this was a dream as he tried to grab the little monster, wring its neck ... anything to stop it and stop it for good.

With each of its siblings it killed, the creature grew, until it finally ate out Midnight's heart and took off, leaving her corpse behind, Chance behind it, somehow knowing exactly where it was going. It led him out into the front room, doubling back and disappearing into the house as the door burst open, revealing Feral on the other side.

"Tamera's room!" Chance called to him without breaking his bolt for his oldest daughter's room.

Feral followed him, trying to figure out what the Hell was happening as they heard a strangled scream from the other room.

Chance burst through the door just in time to hear the window shatter, revealing his daughter's corpse, naked, viciously raped, and brutalized far beyond what Berten had actually had time to do.

"It's time we take this bastard out of his home-field," Chance muttered, focusing... and rushing out to the garage, where his jet was waiting for him, fully fueled and ready to take off.

"Take the gunner's seat, and don't ask where the ideas for the ammo came from!" He shouted to Feral, tossing him a helmet and climbing in, both of them in their flight suits now. Flight suits in Ghost colors.

He heard Feral mutter something about wishing the Enforcers could scramble this fast, and they were in the air, the world reduced to blue sky and a few fluffy white clouds.

"Bastard can fly, but he can't fly like we do," Chance growled furiously, knowing his target would appear at any moment.

"We have bogey incoming," Feral rumbled. "Something big and fast ... what in kat's name...." He trailed off, somewhere between frustrated and confused at the readings. "Bring us around, zero-two-niner. What were you fighting this week?"

"Dark Krud's spider-ship, Blackout and Mutilor," he replied quickly, turning and angling to come at the target from above. "Do you know what I know?"

"Not much," Feral admitted as they rounded on the spider-ship. "Berten's got good taste," he chuckled darkly, bringing up the list of the jet's payload. "I do know what these missiles are though. Not sure how, but I do."

"Good," Chance said, his mind shifting to focus on the battle. "I'll try to send you as much intel as I can," he offered as he darted in, trusting his gunner to pick the right weapons for the job.

Somehow, Feral did know what he was looking at too.

"Get behind that thing if you can; I've got something that should take out the force field," he said lowly, cycling through the menus with no luck until he just closed his eyes and started pushing buttons. When he opened them next, he had the missile he wanted, something that should overload its energy levels.

"Raven builds these things for you two, doesn't he?" He guessed as Chance brought them around and he got a lock.

"Yes," Chance nodded slightly as he maneuvered them around, easily avoiding the dreadnought's batteries of anti-aircraft guns. "Tries to keep the whole squad supplied."

"We've got a lock ... firing!" Feral snarled, loosing a volley of missiles. They hit the energy field around the dreadnought, quickly overloading it and leaving the ship vulnerable. He fired the jet's guns, trying to bring up something that would get through the armor before Berten's ship could react.

He closed his eyes, punched buttons again, and got what he needed. He could swear, even in the chaos of the battle, that his knowledge of the place he was in was expanding as fast as he could take it in without distraction.

The jet jerked, twisted, darting around almost too fast for a real Talon, except that Ulysses had seen this pilot do this with this jet.

"Krud!" Chance snarled as everything shut down.

Feral could see him trying frantically to restart the engines, and knew, the same way he knew about the missiles, that it wouldn't work.

"Eject, Furlong," he ordered Chance, reaching down and putting his hand around the ejection release ... only to have it melt out of his grasp.

"Berten won't let us," Chance said grimly. "But he can't stop this!" He nosed the jet into a dive, steely determination on his face as he took them into a suicidal maneuver. "Get ready to fire just as soon as I've got us live again!"

Feral could only nod mutely, understanding in mind and soul what was going on and rolling with it no matter where it took him.

The accelerating dive made the engines spin, speeding up as Chance fought to get them to reignite. At the last second, they did, and Chance pulled up into a sharp climb that pulled enough G's the jet rattled, and Feral felt the blood draining to his feet.

"Now!" Chance managed to get out, bringing the nose up so they were pointed straight at the spider's engines.

Without any real hesitation Feral fired, and kept firing. Whatever came up in the missile roster, he emptied into the giant ship, watching as it crashed and burned.

"There we got the bastard," Chance grinned viciously, bringing them back around towards Enforcer HQ. "With any luck, it took. Bringing us in for a landing."

"Cleared for runway two," Feral responded, letting his body settle down from the battle high.

"Looks like somebody's waiting for us," Chance grinned as they approached headquarters. "You know the girl? Not somebody I've ever seen before, let alone somebody I'd be dreaming about...."

He trailed off at the sharp gasp from behind him.

"Commander?" he glanced back to see all the color drained from Feral's face.

"Yes, I know her," Feral said, shaking badly as he realized that the gray tabby Felina's size was noticeably pregnant. "Janet Mercer. My first partner out of Academy."

Chance whistled as he saw her more closely and nosed down for the landing. "Damn ... I can see why you'd be dreaming about her," he chuckled.

"You didn't see her die," Feral said quietly. "The first time or last month."

"I didn't know, sir," Chance said, his manner more subdued as he touched down, the jet coming to a stop near Jake and Janet.

"You had no reason to. It happened before you were born," Feral kind of shrugged as the canopy opened, though he wasn't entirely sure how to respond to this fantasy made real in the mind of another.

"Uhm ... if I might make a suggestion sir, roll with it," Chance said quickly. "If she's been shaped by my dreams here, she'll probably be ... glad to see you," he admitted with a bit of a blush to admit how physical his dreams could get to his Commander. "That'd usually be Midnight there, when I dream about a fight."

"I understand," Feral nodded as they got out. He didn't get a chance to say anything more. Janet was in his arms, her own wrapped around his neck and demanding a kiss.

It was the first time Chance had ever thought about his Commander as passionate, but not even he could deny the fire and desire behind his response to the shekat thirty years dead was anything short of honestly incendiary.

"Looks like he's in good hands," Chance grinned, turning back towards Jake. "They confirm the kill?" He asked his partner, assuming that he was taking the part that Feral usually would have in this dream, meeting them and confirming it had all gone well.

"Yap," Jake grinned at him. "Come on, you need a shower."

"I'll bet I do," Chance chuckled, following Jake down to the showers. "Close one there for a bit ... but hey, the right guy went down, so it's all good in the end, right?"

In the back of his head, he knew he should wake up if Berten really was dead. But he was exhausted, and wanted to give himself time to be sure of it too.

Besides, this was a good dream so far.

"No kidding," Jake laughed easily. "Did you ever think you'd see Feral do something like that?" he motioned absently towards the flight deck where they had left him with a pregnant girlfriend younger than they were.

"Nope," Chance grinned. "But hey, I think it's good for him," he winked. He just hoped that Feral enjoyed the little interlude after they were awake too. "Come on, let's get cleaned up ... I want to go home to my wife and kits."

"No bets on whether she'll be more glad to see you, or that I won't have to try filling in for you," Jake managed to make light of the grim thought as they walked down to the showers, stripping down in the locker room on the way.

"Eh, she likes you," Chance chuckled, heading into the shower room, turning on the water nice and hot. "But I think she'd end up missing the next three or four litters of kits," he joked.

"Just be careful about your promotions," Jake gave him a wink while he stepped under the hot rain of water next to Chance with a deep groan. "She'd have kittens every heat if you and nature let her."

"I know it," Chance chuckled. "One of the two'll give out in a while though," he said. "Finances if nothing else. But we're good for a year or two yet... and with Tamera to help take care of 'em, it'll be easier now."

"How is she settling in?" Jake took to the new topic.

"Pretty well... wants to go over some of her Mom's stuff with me when it's out of evidence. Try and figure out why she never knew about me, or vice-versa."

"Yeah, I bet," he nodded, grabbing the shampoo. "She's strong, she'll make it, but it's got to be weird to find out the guy your mom said had deserted you wants to raise you so much."

"Yeah ... and even if she said that I didn't know she was pregnant, that's the sort of thing that's hard to get when you're 10," Chance agreed with a sigh. "Me, I'm inclined to blame her folks ... they were real pieces of work."

"More than mine?" Jake raised an eyebrow at the idea. "Scrub your back?"

"No, probably not worse than them ... definitely not the same ways," Chance said, thinking about it a bit and turning to let Jake at his back. "Just convinced their little girl should be marrying up in the world, not dating down."

"No matter if he was good for her or not," Jake nodded with a sigh and worked sudsy fingers into Chance's thick fur at his shoulders. "Or would have done his best for their grandkit."

"Yep," Chance groaned, stretching up as Jake worked out his shoulders a bit. He heard a familiar sound above him, and looked up, startled to find his wrists cuffed around the showerhead.

"What the fuck?" He blinked, tugging at them and found them secure. In the same moment he felt a shift in how Jake's touch felt. "Jake?"

"Did you think my desires are so easily quelled?" the cinnamon tom's voice turn low and dark. "You know I've wanted you since the day we met."

"Jake?" Chance stilled, tightening his hands into fists.

It wasn't Jake. Not even a dream-Jake. Not really.

"Get off me," he growled lowly as possessive hands ran down his sides.

"Make me," Jake's voice was positively vicious as his hand closed around Chance's sheath and balls. "Until then, you are mine."

Chance fought as well as he could, trying to twist out of Jake's grip, kicking back at him. He was in a lousy position though, facing away from him, his hands restrained, and near a wall to keep him from getting any decent leverage.

He felt incredible pain as his ass was forced wide for the cock that sank into him, but held back the scream. Unlike the last time, he knew there was worse than this, and had experienced some of it.

He gritted his teeth, flattened his ears and used his attacker's distraction to his advantage. A quick twist after shifting a foot back and he managed to hook his leg around Jake's and threw him off balance.

He grunted as Jake's cock tore out of his ass, ignoring the pain and wrenching the showerhead off the pipe to free the cuffs, turning and running for the entrance.

The wind was knocked out of him when he was tackled, overpowered by the smaller tom in a way that shouldn't be possible, and felt his ass forced open again.

"I like it when you fight," the voice didn't even sound much like Jake's anymore.

It didn't change the fact a tom was on top of him, slamming his into the uneven tiles of the shower room floor with each thrust in an effort to get himself off against Chance's will.

"I've killed you twice already, Berten," he snarled, trying to twist up, pinned down by the unusual strength on top of him. "How many times do you think you can take?" He roared as 'Jake' slammed into his ass harder than before, grinding his cock against the tiles and pumping a load of seed into his ass.

"When will you get the fact that you can't kill what's already dead," was growled down at him as the thrusting continued.

"Unless you're ... nnngh ... gonna kill yourself along with me, we'll have plenty of time to find out," Chance growled. "I'm not waking up until you're dead for good, and if I die ... you go with me!" He snarled, clawing his way forward and twisting around, catching a glimpse of Berten's face on Jake's body for a split second as he kicked him in the groin. He pounced on top of him as Jake's face formed up again, grabbing his shoulders and slamming his head back against the tile.

The crack was sickening, but he blanked it out as he kept pounding away until the tiles were thick with clotted blood and brain.

It left him weak, shaken and hurting under his tail and between his legs, but he managed to haul himself to his feet and rinse it from his hands before hurrying out top get dressed again.

"Uly!" Janet cried out in excited relief as she ran towards him even as he got out of the jet with Furlong. "You made it!" she greeted him with a small leap up to wrap her arms around him and firmly planted her mouth on his.

His first love. The one he had never managed to tell or touch, yet had been closer to him than anyone else. He relished in the feel and scent of her, her body so full of life and desire for him.

Had his fantasies ever been this good? This alive?

He moaned into her mouth as she slid a leg around his and rubbed against his groin shamelessly.

He kissed her passionately, remembering what Chance had told him; just roll with it. He didn't know why she was here, what was happening ... but he wasn't going to complain, even knowing it wasn't real.

She hooked a leg around his and pulled, knocking him to the floor and climbed on top of him. Her full belly pressed against him as he pulled her into a hot kiss and started to work her uniform off of her.

"I missed you," she whispered hungrily as he fondled her swollen breasts and she worked to get his flight suit off. "Missed how you feel inside me."

"I've missed you too," he rumbled back, kissing her hungrily as he shrugged his suit off, moaning as her hands found his swelling sheath and shaft. He reached down, caressing her swollen belly, a twinge of regret in the back of his mind for the things that could have been.

"Never thought I'd welcome kittens," she smiled down at him, eagerly caressing him to hardness with the skill of a long-time lover. "But it feels good."

"And they're ours," he purred, pulling her into a kiss before she slid down to take his throbbing shaft into her tight, slick sex.

"Of course they are," she moaned, leaning up, shamelessly making a display of herself to the Enforcers gathering to watch the show.

He'd have to talk with Furlong about his apparent taste for exhibitionism later ... for now, he was happy to lose himself in the dream, instead of reminding himself that that was all it was.

She felt incredible, her body tight around him, wet, warm and eager to share their pleasure. They'd have such lovely kittens. As big as most Ferals, the same dark gray fur and black hair and with her fine black tiger-stripes.

He groaned, his balls pulling up, ready to pump his seed into her body. Within a couple breaths he roared, flooding her sex with his seed as she rowled loudly, her pussy clenching down around his throbbing, spurting cock.

"Oh, more, baby," Janet moaned as she leaned forward a bit to lift her hips before she lowered them to drive his cock as deep into her body as they could manage.

"What about me?" a sultry voice cooed behind him.

"Sash?" Feral blinked, stopping as he looked up at the naked steel-gray Saluki who'd been dead for a decade now. "Oooh...." He groaned as Janet licked at his nipples, riding his cock skillfully. "What are you doing here?" He asked.

"For you," she knelt and kissed him, her small breasts brushing his ears. "I've missed your body."

He returned the kiss, reaching up and taking her hips, pulling her forward until his lips and tongue found her sex. He wasn't going to worry about it... it wasn't worth it. Maybe it didn't make sense, but at the same time, maybe it did. The only one missing right now was Shier.

"Ohhh, yes!" Sash howled and spread her legs widely, his head between her knees. "Great Zephyr, what your tongue does to me, Ulysses."

He gripped her rump, pulling her down as his rough tongue washed over her hot, dripping sex. He spread her lips with his tongue, then slipped it up into her body, purring hotly as Sash turned back and started making out with Janet above him.

This was beyond anything in his wildest dreams. He'd have to give Furlong credit on his youthful fantasies and libido ... it was beyond anything he'd ever conceived of in his efforts to make rank and reputation.

As the Enforcers watching started whooping and cheering him on, that reputation sprung to mind. But a quick reminder that it wasn't real let him ignore it, focusing on the two fems who were quickly working him towards another orgasm, doing his best to get them off along with him.

He knew he could get Sash. Ten years as lovers had done wonders for his knowledge of her body and how to work her. Janet ... she seemed to be happy to do most of the finesse work as long as he kept thrusting at a steady rhythm that was working for him nearly as well as Sash's fertile scent.

"Oh ... oh Uly," Sash moaned, her thighs trembling in his hands, her fingers curling against his chest as both females forgot each other as his efforts to please them came to a head with a howl, roar and cry of ecstasy.

He sprayed his seed up into Janet again, and she pulled off of him while he was still spurting, his own come splattering down on his chest before he pulled Sash down and rolled on top of her, sinking his cock to the root in her dripping, pulsing pussy.

"Oh Uly," Sash moaned and wrapped her legs around him, rocking her hips up in time with his thrusts, drawing his orgasm out into a third peak right on the heels of the second and bringing her to a second.

He felt powerful hands on his ass and hips and managed to glance back through the haze of pleasure to see the naked form of his current lover preparing to sink into his ass.

He raised his tail, bracing himself for a fucking as thorough as the one he was giving the Saluki bitch beneath him, kissing Janet hotly as the Enforcers watching came closer, undoing their pants, the toms starting to stroke themselves, the fems shamelessly flashing themselves at him as they made out with their co-workers and his lovers.

It wasn't hard for him to ignore the officers, even faces and voices he knew well. It was a dream, a strange one, but just a dream.

Feral moaned deeply in the pleasure of being buried inside one lover while another was deep inside him. He could smell the seed of others, feel it landing on him, but the pleasure ... he couldn't turn away from how good it felt to have all three of his loves with him at once.

Shier roared, spraying his seed against Feral's prostate as he shot another load into Sash's hungry sex, her muzzle buried between Janet's legs.

"Sweet Bastet you look good like that," Janet rumbled, then moaned and leaned forward to grab his head to claim a kiss as she came. "So hot, giving and taking at once."

Sash's sex clenched down around him, Janet's arousal flooding down her muzzle before she looked up.

"Mmm ... he sure does," she grinned. "But I think it's high time he learns what it's like for us, don't you?" She winked, pulling off of him as Khan pulled out of his ass with a low groan, walking around in front of Feral and pulling him up for a kiss.

"I certainly like the idea," he rumbled, taking Ulysses' head and pushing it down, feeding him his cock as two pairs of smaller, rougher hands gripped his ass.

With Shier's scent so heavy in his nose, he all but ignored the other hands as he knelt and very willingly swallowed him, working the hard shaft with all his skill.

"Mmm ... you do suck cock so very nicely," Berten grinned above him, causing him to try and pull away from Shier's cock to face his demon, but the strong hands on his head refused to let him do more that twitch before he was pushed back down against the Tiger's pubes.

Berten grinned, then groaned as he rammed his cock into Feral's dripping ass. He reached down to caress his captive's balls and cock as Feral struggled against Shier Khan's grip on his head and Berten's on his hips.

"I love the way you fight and still let me do all this," Berten laughed. He popped out his claws, sinking them into the sensitive flesh, carving Ferals' cock and balls from his body, leaving a gaping, dripping, feminine sex where his male one had been as Ulysses screamed around the thick cock in his mouth.

Khan and Berten both roared as he screamed, pumping thick, hot seed into his throat and ass, Khan's come dribbling out of his mouth and bubbling in the back of his throat as another tom slid under him. Berten pulled out of his ass, and Feral felt a pair of strong jaws nip at his neck.

"Never thought I'd get to fuck you like this, sir... or should I say 'ma'am'?" Steele grinned, he and Berten both slamming their cocks up into Feral's tight, virgin female sex, his body screaming painfully.

Feral tried to fight only to find his claws digging into flesh that didn't care and his jaws unwilling to close around the thick length inside it.

Where was Furlong? What was happening to him?

As he tried to think about it, the attack that Furlong was enduring in the showers hit his mind, hard, adding to the growing sense of shame he was feeling as Berten, Steele, and Khan all raped his newly female body.

"Tie his hands back," somebody called, and Janet and Sash both moved to watch, taking places where he could watch them seeing him so soundly abused.

More than that was done, though, as he was flipped to his back on the runway. His feet were forced well apart and secured, and a wire noose secured across his throat to keep him from lifting his body up.

A Wolf, his fur black and cock glistening red and jutting out from his groin in all it's masculine glory, got first crack at him as a her and bound for all to see and use.

Khan backed off as Steele moved up, taking two ample breasts that had emerged from his Commander's chest and starting to fuck them as the Wolf slid his own member into Feral's sex, his tapered, throbbing shaft starting to send the first ripples of pleasure through Feral's body. Janet fitted a ring-gag into his mouth, and Berten was the first to use it, moaning hotly as he took the Commander's face with abandon.

Ulysses snarled, fighting with what little mobility he had as he struggled to ignore pleasure building in his mutated body at the whole new set of abuses heaped on him.

"That's my pretty little girl," Berten grinned down at him when he couldn't hold the groan back, his female body twitching and pulsing with an orgasm that refused to be ignored.

"Incredible, isn't it?" Sash rumbled, straddling his chest and kissing Steele deeply. "Mmm ... come all over her, handsome," she rumbled.

The scrawny tom grinned, then grunted, squirting sticky seed onto Feral's chin before Sash pulled him up for a fiery kiss.

"Now give me a little loving from a real tom," she demanded.

"If you insist," Steele grinned, turning her around to kiss Berten and standing her up, thrusting his cock into her pussy right above Feral's face as the Wolf grunted and tied with him. It was all Feral could do to stop himself from screaming in pleasure, and crying at the humiliation that made Berten's first go at him so long ago seem like pittance.

Ulysses felt his body jerk sharply, the pleasure spiking as the Wolf tied to his female body began to rub the hard, glistening clit just above his knot.

"I'm going to enjoy your kittens, Uly," Berten moaned, coming in Feral's gagged mouth, keeping his cock in Feral's mouth until he had to swallow or choke to death on the sticky stuff. The Wolf howled as he pumped his thick, hot load into Feral's pussy again, grinding his pelvis against 'her' clit as both their bodies climaxed a second time.

"Leave him be!" an enraged male voice crashed through the crowd, punching and throwing Enforcers out of the way until an Enforcer in full Special Ops battle armor was visible through the dissipating crowd.

His blaster was out, and he snapped off three shots in rapid succession, each aimed dead on at Berten. The tom collapsed, blood and brains burning in his skull as the figure grabbed hold of the Wolf and threw him off Feral, then Steele and threw him clean off the edge of the landing strip, a sheer drop of dozens of stories waiting for him.

"Gotta admit, I've been looking forward to doing that," the armored figure grumbled before turning back to try and untie Feral, flipping his visor up. "Let's get you up," Chance said, though his face showed a certain urgency that Feral hadn't been expecting. "Get dressed," he mumbled, his voice more shaky with every breath he took.

"Furlong?" Feral looked at him as the gag was removed. He could see how torn the tom was by something, and that something was him, but it didn't make sense.

"Commander, get dressed," Chance said before closing his mouth, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to look anywhere but at the three naked fems around him as he used his claws to shred the ropes on Feral's wrists. "Please," he added, almost desperately.

Feral nodded and started to stand, only to have Janet grab his arms and pull him down again as Sash pushed Furlong against him, pulling the tabby's nose right against Feral's well-used feminine crotch.

Chance let out something like a sob, turning to try and fight against Sash, but she ignored his claws as Feral felt something warm and wet wash over his dripping female sex. Blood… Furlong's blood.

"Get away from me!" Chance warned him as Sash started tearing his armored suit off and it became obvious just how serious the tabby was.

"Run, sir," he nearly begged, his ability to resist the scent waning as his arousal response to the female fertility hit levels impossible in the real world.

Chance was on hands and knees, blood streaming from his lower lip, Sash pushing him towards the source of that scent overwhelming him while Janet held Feral immobile. The tabby was fighting, but not her. He was fighting himself.

In a moment of panic, Feral sought to understand, and found himself awash in a short lifetime of memories. Of a vulnerability to this on a level he'd only heard about and scoffed at as an excuse of toms trying to get away with rape. Here it was though; the breeding instinct at it's most potent, most primitive, and it was a private hell for the tom who lived with it and had never crossed the consent line.

And it was directed at him.

Feral tried to get away, but Janet was holding him in place. He couldn't bring himself to hurt her to get away, not even to keep Furlong from doing what he was about to.

Chance didn't have that sort of compunction. Given the choice between fighting, even killing, and raping somebody....

The tabby twisted, turning on Sash with claws and teeth bared, the testosterone and adrenaline surging through his system giving him the edge he needed to break free. His teeth bit into her flesh, and she screamed in surprise as Chance fought her back and then released her bloody body, breathing shakily as her limp form fell to the airstrip.

"Berten's still in here," he said certainly, his entire body shaking. "You are a tom!" he snarled at Feral, turning that fierce will to undoing what was going on in his dreamscape.

The runway faltered, flickered, and the world vanished except for the three actual people standing in their natural forms on a gray plane. Both Enforcers were in their uniforms, Berten's fallen body in prison stripes, and Chance was trembling from the effort.

"And I'd had such entertaining things planned for us yet," Berten growled, getting to his feet. "Well, I guess we'll just have to change the venue, won't we?"

"Think about the prison, the way you want it to be," Chance told Feral quietly, knowing what Berten had in mind, even as he worked on forcing the dreamscape to bend to his vision and not his opponent's.

Dark bricks, steel beams and security systems built up around them, forming the prison all three knew on different levels.

Lights flickered, making the place look like a dilapidated Hell dedicated to holding the worst the city had to offer. Chance didn't know which parts of the place belonged to who ... but he did know that Berten had no idea what he'd gotten himself in to.

"Stay close to me," Chance warned Feral quietly. "This could get interesting."

"It already is, Chance," Berten grinned, backing up and disappearing through a wall. "It can't help but be! After all ... it's not every day the Commander of the Enforcers is present when all hell breaks loose around here!"

As his voice echoed through the walls, Chance and Feral both gradually became aware of shouting down the halls.

"Shit, I think that little asshole dropped us in the middle of a riot," Chance hissed, taking off down one of the corridors. "We've got to get to death row!"

"What?" Feral followed, every instinct he had demanding he trust the junior officer even as he took an inventory of his uniform. Boot knife, blaster at hip, 9mil pistol in the breast holster. At least Chance had left him well armed.

"We've got to kill Berten the same way we did the first time, right?" Chance explained. "Well I drilled him in the head the same damn way I did the first time, and he's still going. I figure we've got to try and hang him first, before it'll work."

He nodded and flexed his large hands, ready to face the inevitable battle that would be between them and the execution chamber. He was ready to punch in an access code when the door simply opened for them.

"It's my head," Chance pointed out with a low chuckle. "I have all the codes."

"But I have the corridors, Chance," Berten called out tauntingly, the route ahead of them spiraling down and around, a nightmare of perspective and twisted stairs leading to doors. "Feeling lucky?"

"Oh, I'm feeling plenty lucky," Chance grinned viciously. "Come on, Commander ... if I tell you to duck, don't ask why."

"Right," he half-growled, hating it passionately when he was this out of control, and even more when he wasn't helping things.

"You are," Chance spoke softly.

"Hu?" Feral blinked at him as they moved at speed through the chaos.

"A help," the tabby explained. "I wouldn't have this much control on my own in here. Let me know if you see anything coming." As he spoke, Chance pulled on the unusual gauntlet weapon that Feral remembered he and Jake using in the Academy. It looked different though, more cartoonish and unreal.

"Another of Clawson's creations?" Feral asked, starting to wonder if he might be best served giving the small tom a workshop and no duties other than to hang out and create things to be reverse engineered.

"Kind of," Chance chuckled slightly. "He made the Glovatrix, I've tweaked it a bit to work in here ... you ever watch Scaredy Kat, Commander?"

"No," he sounded as bewildered as he looked, even more so when his mind came back with a massive rolodex of information on it when he thought about it. "Though it seems I know it all anyway."

"Well, let's hope that Berten didn't either," Chance smirked slightly, taking hold of a doorknob. "Duck," he added, throwing the door open and going for the ground. Feral did the same, practically spread-eagling himself to get beneath the massive, spring-loaded boxing glove that shot out of the cell and caught Berten squarely in the face, making the startled tom stagger back.

"You like playing with kits, Doug?" Chance asked, standing up and raising his gauntleted hand. "Let's see you play their games." He tightened his fist, firing a gout of flame at Berten and reducing him to a pile of ashes.

"Come on, Commander," he said, darting past the smoldering pile of what Berten had been. "That wouldn't hold him long even if he wasn't a ghost."

"I am so glad this doesn't have to go into a report anywhere," Feral muttered as he followed Chance, easily keeping pace with the shorter tom.

"Trust me, it's only going to get weirder," Chance chuckled as they continued. He tried another door, and jumped back with a start as a huge, fanged monster leaped out of him.

With a snarl of pent of frustration finally given an outlet, Feral barreled forward and body-slammed the monster, pounding into it with powerful fists in a rare encounter where he didn't have to hold back on any level.

It was a strange blend of satisfying and frustrating all at once. On the one hand, as he pounded his fist into the thing's face and body, it reacted in an overly dramatic fashion that gave the impression Feral was getting something done.

On the other hand, no matter how much he pounded, he never got anything more than that, and soon dust was obscuring the singularly one-sided fight to the point where he couldn't even see that much.

When it cleared, the Monster was laying on the ground, shaky and mangled. Chance walked up, took hold of the thing's head, and promptly pulled it off, revealing Berten behind a mask.

"Come on, we can't be that much farther away from the place," he said, starting back down the halls.

"What just happened?" Feral demanded as they ran, trying to understand even as the information he was seeking popped into his mind.

Cartoon physics, and cheap, cheap shows from decades before. Worlds where violence, even reducing a man to ashes, was a temporary inconvenience at best. Others where monsters, no matter how obviously supernatural, were always somebody in a cheap rubber suit.

Just what had Furlong been doing leading up to this attack?

"If the only thing you have to worry about is getting killed, loading a place with cartoons is a good way to keep it from happening," Chance pointed out as they hurried down the corridor. "I'm just not sure how long I can keep the insanity up with him fighting it."

"Understood," Feral nodded as they continued to move, their senses alert for trouble that was sure to come, but with no clue what form it could take.

Careful of any traps that might be waiting for them now, they checked each door, trying to find a way out of the nightmare corridor and back into the prison setting proper. As Chance opened one of the last two doors, Berten popped out, swinging at him with a giant mallet and smashing him flat.

"Yes!" Berten grinned viciously, pulling the mallet back to go after Feral as the big tom lunged to one side to avoid the blow.

"You know, if you kill him, you kill yourself," Feral grinned viciously. "You're trapped in his body."

"And if you're telling the truth, then if I don't kill him I'm still trapped," Berten pointed out with a shrug, swinging at Feral, who barely ducked the blow.

"Hey, maybe that's true, but at least you're in one piece yet," Chance pointed out, standing up behind Berten, who turned around to look at him in frustrated disbelief.

"Why won't you just die!" He snarled.

"Hey, no hard feelings," Chance smirked, taking Berten's hand and shaking it firmly. The BoogieKat Killer snarled and pulled his hand back, pulling Chance's arm out of the sleeve ... or at least his Glovatrix, on the end of a rather large stick of dynamite.

"Oh no," he whimpered through a resigned sigh before it exploded, leaving a mark of scorched ground behind where he'd been standing.

"This last door has to lead to the execution chambers," Chance said with certainty, heading across the hall. "Try imagining Berten in a noose on the other side, it'll save us time," he suggested, turning the handle.

Feral nodded and focused, hoping beyond hope that it would be there and over with soon.

Chance opened the door, revealing a room full of convicts and pissed off inmates who looked back at them with baleful eyes.

"Oh crap," Chance murmured. "Well ... we've gotta get through 'em. Just be careful, I think the world's back to normal in there."

"Same goes for you," Feral nodded, focusing himself on his less than perfect combat skills. "You die, we all do."

"Right," Chance nodded. "Trust me ... it's on my mind," he chuckled weakly before they both rushed into the room, trying to make it across before the inmates could respond and surround them.

It wasn't a surprise when a big bruiser of a Kantin mutt took a swing at Feral. He didn't last long; it was the kind of fight the Commander was good at. One swing and the Kantin went down, his jaw shattered in a bloody spray and teeth.

That was all it took to tell the rest of the inmates it was party time. With a collective howl for blood, they were up and surging towards the two Enforcers.

"Get 'em!" Berten shouted, a shiv in hand as he squared off against Chance, the other inmates moving to separate Furlong from the Commander.

"It's you and me, huh?" Chance growled lowly.

"If I just have to kill you to kill him, why waste my time with two of you?" Berten grinned viciously.

The tabby squared off against him, crouched down a bit and very grateful for all those hours he had spent working with and just watching Jake fight. A shiv was nothing against the skills he'd built up, or his early street fighting. He'd fought against better than Berten, armed with better than a sharpened shoehorn at that, and won. The only question was if Berten would pull some sort of dream-manipulating shit on him that would turn the tables.

"Come and get me, bastard," Chance growled lowly.

Berten obliged him, rushing him with the makeshift knife that seemed to gleam and shift to metal as he moved. Chance twisted out of the way, but the now-metallic blade twisted along with him, scoring a shallow cut on his arm.

"You might have some skills in here, Chance, but I'm the BoogieKat now," Berten grinned wildly at him. "The real one - Lord of Nightmares, and nothing you can do will stop me!"

"You're wrong there," Chance flattened his ears as he calculated the effective skill of his opponent, and how Feral was holding up. He just had to keep Berten coming at him to stay in control of the situation, and that was something his opponent was well suited to giving him. "I'm not so easily broken."

"Chance, I already broke you," Berten smirked. "Years ago. You've been broken ever since, you just haven't realized it yet!" He came at him again, slashing with his blade at the unarmed tabby.

He frowned when his claim didn't seem to faze his target as his wrist was grabbed and twisted, throwing to him to the ground with a thud even as Chance twisted away again to break the neck of an inmate about to get behind Feral.

"You've already killed me three times in here, Furlong, more than that!" Berten spat angrily, getting back up and popping the claws of his off-hand out. "You're stuck here as well as I am, so why don't you just die and get this over with!"

He lunged at Chance, raking him with his claws when he twisted out of the way, blood seeping from the ragged wounds.

It all triggered something deep inside the tabby, a memory long ignored but a central feature in his development.

Berten moved forward again and stabbed, catching Chance in the side. Rich blood flowed, making the blade gleam a ruby red as it was pulled out.

Then Chance had his arm and slammed down on it, tearing bone from socket until the shiv was on the floor. He let go and cracked a fist squarely into Berten's face so he had a moment to grab the bloody weapon.

Berten howled in pain, and the other convicts started to fade as his focus was distracted. Feral turned, seeing Chance dive into the fat tom, stabbing him over and over, ripping into him with fang, claw, and blade until all that was left of him was a broken, bleeding body. Chance shifted the shiv in his grip, the blade turning to metal again as he drove the point through Berten's sternum and into his barely beating heart.

"Get the gallows ready," he panted, eyes hard as he looked down at Berten's body. "Quick," he added, the cafeteria shifting into the execution chamber, the gallows and hangkat waiting for a tom who was already dead.

Feral nodded, privately shocked at a violence he had been insulated from for a long time by his rank and career path. He didn't let it shake him for more than a moment though, and he quickly pulled Berten's body up the platform and strung him up in the most bizarre deja vu replay of the event yet.

"Do it right," Chance told Feral, backing off and joining the guards as the rest of the scene fell into place. Victims watching, many of them mere spirits. He looked over, and saw Connie, as he knew her last, glowing in the audience. He bit his lip; it wasn't really her. Just a dream. But somehow, it was still right that she was here.

"The rope's not too short this time," he said certainly.

Feral nodded, watching until the hangkat had done his job, then pulled the lever. This time his gut twisted, not because of the failure to kill cleanly, but at the realization that if it was really over, he'd wake up to a city with someone he didn't understand that had been inside the darkest corners of his mind.

And who'd be in the same place ... he'd seen parts of Furlong in here that he'd never imagined existed.

No ... he'd seen parts of Chance in here that he'd never imagined. Furlong was still the same, but the name attached to it ... the image he had of that tom had changed, irrevocably.

Would Chance think about it the same way? Be able to tell the Commander apart from the scars he'd seen?

Before he could decide on an answer, the rope drew taught, and there was a sharp crack of Berten's neck breaking.

Everything began to fade. The hangkat. The walls. The audience. The entire prison disappeared, leaving Chance, Feral, and the dead Boogiekat alone in the black, empty void that was left.

It was over.

"Waking up is going to hurt like Hell, isn't it?" Chance asked, gripping the oozing, bloody wound in his side with a wince, his dreamscape starting to slowly reassert itself now that Berten was gone. It was remarkably peaceful ... and simple. The scents were the first thing to come in, and Feral was sure he recognized, of all things, a turkey dinner being cooked somewhere.

"Yes," he nodded slowly. "We'll both be on medical leave for some time after this."

"Heh ... figures," Chance chuckled weakly. "Hey ... while you're a captive audience, when I'm cleared for flight duty again, could I get you to sign off on me taking Tamera up? In case I have some trouble before I work my way up to you." As he talked, more came in. The sounds of family laughing, a house starting to fade into view.

"Of course," he promised with a small nod, taking in the home he'd seen under much less pleasant conditions earlier. He hesitated briefly when the front door faded into view, but the draw to it was enough to convince him it was time to go, and he could finally get back to himself.

"See you in a few, Commander," Chance said as he opened the door and stepped out into blinding light.

Ulysses Feral could smell Shier Khan standing next to him before anything else filtered into his awareness. Pain joined the party when he tried to open his eyes.

He was restrained ... or maybe his body was refusing to move after the abuse heaped on it from the dream world. He knew he should be grateful to still be alive, given how hard he'd been beaten in the riot.

"Shu," Shier voice was low but strong. "Relax, let the doctors and medication do their work."

He looked over to see Chance looking around wildly, trying to find his partner as the doctors stopped the bleeding in his side. He only stopped struggling when Clawson's hand was on his shoulder and he was sure he was really awake.

Jagrati and Recka were working in the middle of the room, comparing their impressions and notes.

"Berten has been destroyed," Recka told them both after a few moments.

"Good," Chance murmured and finally stopped fighting the painkillers being loaded into his body by IV. "Feral?" he asked.

"He'll recover," Recka smiled slightly at the tabby. "Likely before you do."

"Rest, buddy," Jake distracted any further conversation. "I'll make sure Midnight is there when you wake up, and your kits are cared for until you've recovered."

"Thanks," Chance murmured. "Jake... make sure they're okay, and keep yourself safe too, okay?"

"I will," he smiled slightly. "Berten's gone. No one is hunting them right now. You rest. I'll worry about our family."

"Good," Chance murmured, closing his eyes and laying down again. "Don't suppose I can actually get some sleep now?" He asked the doctors hopefully.

"Yes," the blonde Leopard smiled at him as she took another round of vitals. "Real sleep is the best thing for you right now. You should be at Serenity Thorn when you wake up."

"He's not in real danger, is he?" Jake asked even as his partner slowly surrendered to the sedatives and painkillers.

"I'm listing him as in stable conditions," she said reassuringly. "He'll need heavy medication and IVs for some time yet, but he is not in any real danger."

"Good," Jake sighed in relief. "I'll go let Midnight know... I'll probably be bringing her over to Serenity Thorn as soon as the kits are at their grandmother's."

"Is she still in heat?" the doctor asked gently, startling him a bit.

"I'm not sure. If she is?" he asked, following the logic with a wince for them all.

"It would be best if she did not come until he is in better condition, or her cycle has ended," she said apologetically.

"I understand," Jake nodded as he stroked Chance's arm one last time and headed out, trusting his partner to the doctors.

Dark Kat purred lowly, thoroughly satisfied with himself as he watched a small female kitten playing with a doll that bore a striking resemblance to Berten. He looked up as he felt a disturbance in his base, the Creeplings starting to chirrup and chatter excitedly. He motioned for one of them to come, and grabbed it by the scruff of its pink, furless neck before approaching the kitten, who looked to be almost two.

"Would you like a new toy?" He asked her, offering her the Creepling. The gray tabby squealed and took it, the hapless little creature struggling for a few moments before catching its Master's eye and acquiescing to its fate. Dark Kat picked up the discarded doll, and left to meet his guest.

"Welcome, Herald," he said with a respectful bow to the dark, spindly creature he met in his summoning chamber. "I assume that our Master is satisfied?" He asked, handing over the doll, its expression now frightened rather than neutral.

"By your part, yes," the creature rumbled and accepted the offering. "It is pleased at the progress of your current plan as well," it absently needled the Berten doll with a clawtip as it spoke.

"Good," Dark Kat rumbled. "It is a pity that we couldn't destroy the Commander and Furlong this time, but otherwise things are proceeding as scheduled. Would you like an update before returning with Its price?"

"Yes," Herald nodded, its voice crackling with energy. "She is doing well?"

"Quite," Dark Kat smiled, turning to lead Herald further into his fortress. "I will need some help ... whoever has Janet Mercer's soul, I will need enough fragments of it to make Feral suspect that she is more than just a clone. For now, however, I'm still teaching her the core of what she will need to know." He reached the kitten's room, opening the door and stepping in. The Creepling she was playing with was still and limp now, still serving as an amusing toy despite the unnatural angle of its head.

"Good girl, Janet," Dark Kat purred, kneeling to stroke her hair as she played with the dead creature. "You like your toys, don't you?" She looked up at him and nodded, nuzzling his hand affectionately.

"We will find out," Herald nodded. "She likely belongs to either Bastet or Halikar. If we are fortunate, she will have been reborn and more easily harvested."

"That would be ideal," Dark Kat agreed. "We might even be able to let you do the harvesting," he grinned, giving his little Janet a nuzzle of his own before standing. "The great work is proceeding as well, albeit slowly ... I need more Omegas to really speed things along, especially since I have to dip into the power we're building for the Master in order to create my own. The others will have to start finding more suitable candidates."

"We will press them to do so," Herald nodded. "They need to add to the energy, not cause it to diminish. How long until she is ready?"

"It should be about three years ... I'm accelerating her growth, she'll be suitable by then unless something goes awry. Of course, it means that she'll need to be taught how to act rather quickly as well." He chuckled as she went back to playing with the dead Creepling. "She's doing rather well though."

"Master will be pleased," Herald nodded and leaned down to rub the base of an ear with the back of one spindly, crystalline finger before they left her. "I will return when I have discovered where her soul is."

"Please do ... and let me know if he would be willing to accept the Champion of Pain rather than the Champion of Bastet, so long as Clawson doesn't stand in his way, will you?" Dark Kat purred as they started out of the room.

"I will ask," Herald agreed before he faded from view, the doll containing Berten's soul in his claws.

Dark Kat smiled darkly, leaning down to stroke Janet's silky black hair lightly.

"So, what did you think of your visitor?" He asked her curiously. "You may talk," he added, knowing she wouldn't without explicit permission. She'd learned that much already, even with only a few weeks to do it in.

"Strong," came the first reply, than a pause as her limited language struggled to express her reaction. "Skinny. I want it."

"You know what you have to do to get what you want," he told her seriously. "You have to make it yours. Like you did with your new doll," he pointed out, nodding towards the Creepling.

Janet licked her lips and grinned, looking decidedly demonic for a moment as she patted its head. "Skinny much bigger," she said, most of her developing mind on just how to take such a large and powerful creature.

"Yes, much bigger," he agreed. "You can't just take his power from him. You'll have to be sneakier. Get close to him, so he won't have his defenses up. And I'll show you how, once you're older," he promised her.

That promise got a deeply eager purr from the kitten, her tail twitching in excitement, but she kept silent, not demanding what she could not take.

"That's right. Just be a good girl until -" Dark Kat stopped as he patted her head, feeling a wave of nausea and fatigue rush through him. He pulled his hand back sharply, standing and looking down at her.

"Maybe I shouldn't be giving you advice about being sneaky," he rumbled. Janet had the good grace to look sheepish about the attempt, but he knew he couldn't let that be enough to save her. "Get up, Janet," he told her, his voice firm.

She did as she was told, letting the dead creepling slide to the ground as she faced the punishment she knew was coming.

"You're a very good girl, Janet," he rumbled, picking her up and putting her on the bed so she didn't have to crane her neck to look into his eyes. "But using your powers against me is a very bad thing," he added, punctuating his explanation with a sharp slap to her face, the tips of his claws out to cut her cheek.

"Do you understand me?" He asked her as blood oozed down her dark gray fur, inwardly pleased that she didn't cry and barely flinched away from the pain.

"Yes, sir," she nodded somberly.

"Good girl," he said, kissing her forehead lightly. "Now, who is strongest here?" He asked her, starting the little ritual he had begun shortly after she'd had the capacity to act on her own.

"Dark Kat," she answered, already determined that she would one day make him eat the words, perhaps literally.

"Who is it that made you?"

"Dark Kat," she repeated again.

"And who is it that can unmake you?"

"Dark Kat," she said sullenly.

"That's right. Remember, Janet. I am working very hard to make you stronger. But I will not be betrayed in exchange for my efforts."

"Yes, sir," she nodded, though her eyes were still hungry for the power that was his.

"Return to playing," he told her, sure that he would have to repeat this lesson several more times before it sank in. It was her nature though, and he needed her that hungry for her to do her work when she was grown. It would be worth it though, when she brought Feral down.

Jake hummed softly to himself as he prepared dinner for three. The past week had been informative to say the least. Even though Tamera was a very forgiving subject to see how he handled kittens in the condo, he was very grateful they expected Chance to be released within the week.

"So you do like my music," the subject of his musing giggled.

"I never said I didn't," he glanced over at her from where he was tending their steaks.

"But you were humming 'Summer Cathedral'," she giggled again.

"Well, you play it often enough," Jake chuckled. "Besides, it's not that bad."

"No, it's just not really Enforcer music either," she grinned, apparently greatly amused by it.

"Just don't tell your Dad," Jake smirked. "Or Rock, I'd never live it down."

"I won't," she promised. "Jake?"

"Yes?" he glanced at her, giving her as much attention as he could without risking dinner.

"Why did you and Rock offer to put me up here until Chance is out of the hospital?" She asked him. "I think Meg would have done it."

"Oh, she would have been happy to," he nodded. "A few things. I was an only kit too; I know how intimidating that big a family can be to someone who's not used to it."

"Heck, just finding out I've got a brother and two sisters was pretty intimidating," Tamera admitted. "But I know what you mean. What are the other things?" She asked him curiously.

"Rock and I have been considering having kits of our own," he said with a bashful smile. "It seemed like a good way to see how we'd handle it."

"How do two toms have kits?" She asked, cocking her head curiously, trying to figure it out. She wasn't that up on sex, but she knew that it usually required at least one person of each gender.

"With a shekat and a legal arrangement that they aren't hers once they are weaned," he explained on the simple level. "Rock and I would raise them."

"But who would be the mother?" She frowned, trying to sort it out in her head.

"They wouldn't have a mother," he explained gently. "Just two fathers."

"That's... weird," she decided. "But then, I just had one Mom, so...." She shrugged a bit. "So, did I scare you off the idea yet?" She asked with a giggle.

"No," he shook his head and took the moment away from cooking to hug her. "You haven't at all."

"Well, before you jump into it, just remember that I'm past the diapers, so it gets worse," she giggled, hugging him back.

"I've been pointing that out to him a time or two in the last week," Rock said dryly as he came in the front door. "Dinner smells good," he offered.

"So we take the babies for Midnight's next heat," Jake flashed a wicked grin at his mate and stood to claim a welcome-home hug and long kiss.

"Are you sure you're not the sadistic one?" Rock asked dryly when their lips parted, rubbing Jake's back as the lean tom purred in pleasure to have him home. "Chance is doing pretty well, from what I heard when I called earlier."

"Enough that maybe I can stay a while?" Tamera asked hopefully. "They gave back mom's journals. We were going to read them together."

"I think that'd be okay; you want to go over after dinner?" Rock asked her.

"Yes," she nearly squealed in delight and ran up to hug him. "Did they say when he could come home? How's Mom Midnight?"

"Midnight's just fine!" Rock chuckled, giving her a gentle hug back. "A little frustrated about the timing of all this, but she'll be fine. She's glad those herbs Kyale gave us worked too," he added, glancing to Jake to let him know. "And they didn't say when, or at least they haven't told him yet. I think it's because they know that if they tell him, he'll be out a day early just to prove them wrong."

"That sounds like Chance," Jake laughed as he pulled their steaks and started to plate dinner. "So probably in a few days, if everybody is lucky."

"I think so," Rock nodded, taking the plates and passing them to Tamera so she could help get things onto the table that had already been set up. "He seemed to think he'd be home that soon, at any rate, but ... well, it's Chance," he chuckled.

"Just ask the nurses if he's hitting on them yet," Jake winked at his lover as they sat down. "Or Midnight how frisky he is."

"We'll ask her when we go over later," Rock snickered. "He doesn't hit on the nurses all that much, especially not with her there."

"His survival instincts are still intact then," Jake said with a snicker as they sat down. "How'd work go?"

"Except for the jealous Hyena who thought I was taking liberties with her girlfriend, just fine," Rock chuckled. "Didn't help that she came in while we were in the shower, and I was helping her scrub down. How about yours?"

"Pretty good," Jake thought back for any good tidbits. "I spend most of it in the library at the main temple of Halikar and the rest in the legal library looking up information on divine champions; expectations, rights, special rules. The afternoon was helping Tamera get all her homework done."

"Cool; still sailing ahead of everybody in math?" Rock asked the kit as they started eating.

"Of course," Tamera grinned, the three settling in to talk about their respective days.

Chance snuggled up against Midnight as he worked through one of Connie's journals at Serenity Thorn, reading ahead a bit so that he would know when he should try and get Tamera to skip through anything that she shouldn't be reading just yet.

"There are definitely some of these I don't want her looking through until she's older ... maybe not even then," he murmured, flipping through a fairly detailed fantasy Connie'd had about him while she was pregnant.

"There are some things you never want to know about your parents, or kits," she agreed. "Though she writes well."

"And some things you never want your kits to know about you," Chance agreed. "Yeah, she ... did," he smiled a little sadly. "Tamera's got me wondering how things would've turned out if we hadn't broken up," he admitted. "The rough part is, I'm not honestly sure. It wasn't just because of Connie's folks that we did, after all."

"I never doubted that," she nuzzled him. "You aren't the kind that gives up on what you want."

"Not really," he agreed, returning the nuzzle. "And she wasn't either, though from what I've read from later that changed a bit when she was counting on them to help her raise Tamera. Anyways... I don't think it would've lasted, even if we'd tried to make a go of it. I just don't know how to tell Tamera that, if she asks about it again, or even if I should."

"I wouldn't volunteer the information, but maybe when she's old enough to understand what happened to the two of you, she might be ready to understand how it happened."

"Probably right," he mused, flipping towards the end of the diary. He knew he didn't have too much time to look yet, before Rock and Jake would be over with Tamera. "Not to put you on the spot or anything, but what do you think you'd have done in her place?"

"If I was sure I wouldn't stay with the tom?" she had to think for a bit. "Probably what she did. As much as you'd have liked to be a father for her, it's not really how most girls are raised. The kittens are ours, of our family and lineage. Having a father around is nice, but not really needed."

"So much for male ego," Chance chuckled slightly. "Wouldn't even have let him know? I mean... maybe it's a little selfish, but I know there's parents who might not be a couple, but they both get a chance to be part of the kit's life. It's...." He sighed, closing the journal, trying to find a way. "I don't like that I didn't get the chance until Connie was dead. It keeps coming back to that, I guess."

"If it hadn't ended badly, I probably would have told him," she said thoughtfully, snuggling close to him. "But I've wanted to be a mother, I was a mother for all practical purposes, since I was old enough to walk with Jake. I wouldn't have taken a surprise pregnancy, even at that age, as anything but wonderful."

"Yeah... from the sound of it, she thought a lot differently," Chance murmured, snuggling back up against her. "She'd even thought about adoption... and a few other options. Glad she didn't go for that, in the end." He heaved a sigh, shaking his head. "Even reading the journals, it's hard to figure out what she was thinking sometimes. You girls just don't make any sense," he teased, turning to kiss Midnight tenderly.

"And you guys do?" she chuckled, running her hand down his chest. "I can't wait until you feel well enough to go home," she purred softly. "Those herbal salves may have taken the scent away, but not my desire."

"I know, hon," he said apologetically, reaching over to wrap an arm around her and pull her close for a kiss. "Trust me, if I had my way, you wouldn't be dealing with this ... you sure you don't just want to spend the rest of your heat with Jake or a girlfriend until I'm out? I'd understand."

"Honestly? Not really," she snuggled close. "It's pretty much over."

"M'kay," he murmured. "Sorry about this... be a small litter if you do have any kits this time."

"It'll be fine, love," she kissed his cheek. "There will be other heats for us to enjoy together."

"I'm sure there will," he purred. "And they'd better not count this against my vacation time," he added with a chuckle, turning to kiss her more deeply, pulling back as he heard the door start to open.

"If your pulse rate goes up any more, I'm going to have to slide those two beds apart," the calico nurse observed dryly. "You've got a couple visitors."

"Yes, ma'am," Midnight giggled and shifted away from him.

"I bet that means you'll be out of here soon," Jake grinned widely as he walked up to his partner and squeezed his shoulder. "If you're feeling good enough to be interested, you must be feeling good enough to head home."

"Don't encourage him," the nurse scolded before heading out.

"If it was up to me I'd be home already," Chance agreed with Jake. "Unfortunately, it's not, around here. Tamera's with you?"

"Of course," she piped up from behind Rock. "Glad you're feeling better, Chance," she ran up to hug him.

"Oof!" He grunted as she climbed up to give him a hug, returning it gladly. "Glad to see you too, kiddo. You been driving Jake and Rock up the wall?" He asked teasingly.

"Not too badly, but we'll be glad to have the couch to ourselves again," Rock winked at him.

"I bet you will be," Chance smirked back. "So, think you're up for going over some of your Mom's old journals tonight?" He asked her.

"Of course," Tamera grinned as Midnight got up.

"Then I'll be back in a couple hours," Midnight kissed her forehead. "Enjoy your reading."

"We will," Tamera smiled a bit. "Just don't be too surprised if I'm a little upset later," she admitted as Chance pulled out the journal he'd been looking at earlier.

"Why don't we start with this one?" He suggested as he was left along with his daughter. "Date on the cover says she started it a few months before she had you."

"Maybe she explains in it," she said, half hopefully and half afraid.

"That's what I'm hoping," he nodded, handing it to her to open and start reading through. He just hoped that Tamera'd want to stop before getting to the point where Connie had been considering the alternatives to having her.

He should have known he wouldn't be so lucky. The girl could devour text. He felt it as soon as she comprehended what she was reading.

"Your Mom was scared, Tamera," he said softly, hugging her against his side. "And she didn't go through with it," he added, hoping that reminder would keep her from freaking out too badly.

"But ... she really didn't want a kit," she murmured, shocked to the core about it. "Why would she have me if she didn't want me?"

"Keep reading, hon ... she must have changed her mind. As young as she was, she didn't know what she wanted." Tamera turned a page or two, still a little shocked at what she was reading as she worked through Connie's thoughts on it, the ink on some of the pages still a little smeared from where it had run because of her tears.

"Grandma really didn't like you, did she?" she barely whispered, still reading and trying to understand her mother's thoughts.

"No," Chance admitted. "She thought I wasn't good enough for your Mom, and what happened probably didn't change her mind any. Kinda think they didn't want to believe that you were my daughter... did you know her at all?"

"Yes," she nodded. "They died in a car crash two years ago. We lived with them until then. She never said anything about my father either."

"Maybe if we look for that one, we'll see why she didn't tell me then ... you starting to understand why she didn't at first a bit better now?" He asked her softly.

"Maybe," she shivered and pressed close to him. "I don't want to read about grandma dieing."

"That'd be in one of the later ones... I'll take a look ahead and make sure you don't have to," he promised her, giving her a light kiss on the forehead. "Tamera, whatever it says in these," he said, tapping the book lightly, "you know your Mom and grandparents loved you, right?"

Tamera nodded, though it was questionable whether she really believed right at the moment.

Chance grunted a bit as he shifted, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her close to his side, nuzzling her head lightly.

"And whatever else we end up finding in here, I love you," he told her softly, hugging her tight.

Shier Khan hid a private smile as Ulysses snarled at the servants helping him dress and bringing in breakfast, chasing them out of the room before his lover entered. A full week since helping Furlong take out Berten once and for all, he was finally in shape to truly resent the help he was still getting with simple things.

Fortunately, that hadn't gotten to the point where he would turn Shier away yet.

"Would you like some company for breakfast?" He asked Ulysses gently as he dressed.

"As long as it's yours," he actually smiled at the Tiger, an almost-hungry look in his eyes that his body wasn't ready to go through with it yet.

"I wouldn't be asking for anyone else," Khan chuckled deeply, walking in as Feral lay back down gingerly on the couch and lifted the breakfast tray. "Would you like me to call down for anything else?" He asked as he took his place next to his convalescing lover.

"No," he shook his head and downed the pills he was to take before he began to eat. "I just want to be healthy enough to run the obstacle course again."

"It won't be too long, I'm sure," Khan reassured him, rubbing his back lightly as he ate. "You'll be back soon ... and it does make a good excuse for us to get some more time together, before I have to leave again."

"True, even if it's hard to enjoy it much," he paused in eating to leaned against his lover with a soft sigh. "Things ... happened in there. I can't forget them."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Khan asked him, wrapping his arms around Feral's waist. "Or just talk it through while I listen?"

"How much did your background give you on Janet Mercer and Sash Taliin?" Ulysses stilled and sort of relaxed in the embrace. He didn't want to talk, but he desperately needed to, and they both knew it, no matter how much it was going to hurt.

"Janet ... she was your first partner, wasn't she?" Khan asked, trying to place the names. "Died in the line of duty ... and Sash was a lover of yours who died in a plane crash...." His ears flattened as he filled in some of the blanks. "He used them against you, didn't he?"

"And you," he nodded slightly. "Janet ... I had started to fall in love with her when she died. Only she hadn't in one part, and was pregnant," he choked on anything else he might have said.

Shier held him close, sure he'd continue when he could, kissing his neck gently. It wasn't hard to guess as to the likely content, and any way it went, it wasn't good.

"I'm sorry," he murmured softly, knowing it wasn't much to offer.

Ulysses nodded against him all the same, grateful for the offered comfort that was perhaps too rare in his world.

"He found a new way to torment me too, in there," he went for a slightly less painful section of that moment. "Turned me female, in heat. At the center of an orgy with my Enforcers watching, and using me," he shivered. "I'm not sure I'll be able to look at some of them again. Not fairly."

"If you have to ... you know my offer," Khan concluded, not saying what he was sure they both had in mind. "But I'm sure you'll be able to do what's best, love. You're stronger than he is, and you know it wasn't what the officers really did ... or want to do."

"I know," he nodded, though he sounded much less sure than his lover. A sigh, closed eyes, and weary lean against the powerful Tiger supporting him was all he could muster for a long, painful moment.

"Shier ... I can't let him take that away, even if I should," Ulysses said in soft agony, knowing he was placing himself before his city for the first time. He hated himself for it. Hated that his pride won the battle. "Felina has years before she's ready," he murmured a weak justification, even if it was the truth.

"It ... it is not just what he did to me, Shier," Ulysses continued, half rambling, half just needing to say it out loud to make sense of it. "When I was in Furlong's head ... I really was there. I probably know more about him than his brothers do," his voice trailed off.

"Which gave him a similar insight into you," Shier followed the logic. "Do you think he might use it against you?"

"No," he murmured, more sure of that than nearly anything right now. "No, he wouldn't. For his own benefit, possibly. For the city or those he cares about, yes. But not against me. He's from a very different world than either of us."

"Would it work better if he wasn't working under you the way he is now?" The Tiger asked him. "And what sort of benefit do you think it would take for him to use it?"

"I'd rather have him close," Ulysses actually chuckled. "Keep myself visible as a person to him, and be able to see if he starts to shift his opinion of me. The benefit ... I'm not entirely sure," he admitted. "He's driven, but he's not very ambitious in the normal sense. He's not the kind I have much experience with."

"That might be a good thing, in the long run," Khan mused. "For what it's worth, I think he respects you, and not just as his Commander. With people like him, that's worth quite a lot."

"So I've gathered," he nodded slightly. "Recka has made noises about trying them out for Ghosts. After this, it might just be the safest place for me to have him."

"Keep your enemies closer?" Khan asked, raising an eyebrow. "If they'd fit in with the Ghosts, it would probably be a good choice, but I don't know if they would... they give a different impression than most of your Ghosts."

"Something like that," Feral nodded. "They don't, but they wouldn't come by it the usual way. Chance is very loyal to the city. Especially now, I can't question that he'd do the right thing at any cost. Clawson ... he's Bastet and Halikar's champion. A wildcard from hell to be sure, but I do think I understand him enough. He might not be well-suited to most Ghost duties, but he has a job that fits the description better than any.

"Besides," he added with a murmur. "There is precious little that goes on in the tower that he doesn't have access to, if he chooses to access it."

"I suppose that means it's just as well you give him access before he decides he wants it anyways," Khan chuckled slightly. "It would probably be better than the idea that I was considering, at any rate," he mused. "This probably wouldn't be the best time to start a privatized version of your Supernatural Investigations ... though if you have any officers considering a private line of work, I would like to know. After the attack ... we need more of a line of defense against that sort of assault than we currently have."

Ulysses looked up at him, his attention squarely on an asset to his city. "What were you thinking? I'm not sure about civilian, but there are already rumblings about shifting some of that away from the Enforcers and into it's own branch."

"I'd have to have my staff develop a full plan," Khan pointed out, shaking his head. "Ideally though, you might think of it as a dedicated anti-Omega unit. Combat, investigative, more unusual disciplines ... everything they would need in one place, rather than scattered across numerous departments. Trained to deal with threats like that werewolf or Berten without having to go to outside consultants to find them. People who could hunt down Dark Kat, instead of waiting for him to show his face again."

Ulysses nodded, understanding the advantage on a gut level even though he despised the idea of giving up that much of his resource bargaining power with the mayor.

"Useful, but it would have to be done very carefully," he warned quietly, his energy waning already. "Those attacks are my main argument to get the little funding I have."

"I understand," Khan nodded. "It's something to consider though. Now, why don't you finish breakfast, we can talk more about this later if you're not up to it right now."

Ulysses nodded and picked up a slice of pink grapefruit, leaning against his lover to soak in his strength. "Have you ever been that close to someone, where you could tell the other's thoughts?"

"No," Shier admitted, wrapping his arms around Ulysses. "I've studied it, but never actually done it ... not many people I'd be willing to do it with," he murmured, kissing the large tom's neck.

"Mmm, maybe sometime," he shivered at the touch and silent offer. "It's strange, to have that intimate experience with a near-stranger."

"I can't imagine what it would be like," Khan admitted. "Do you think he might want to be less of a stranger after this, just to try and make it less bizarre for the both of you?"

"That ... is part of the draw in making him a Ghost," Ulysses admitted and turned for a soft kiss. "Some things ... his mind is a very sexual place; a very, very het place. I'm not sure how much I'll manage to say out loud, but ... Shier, it's going to take some time to sort out what's me and what's leftover from being part of him."

"It's a bad time to make any lasting decisions," Shier nodded, returning the kiss. "I'm always willing to listen," he promised, kissing Ulysses again, lingering a bit more as he plotted how to take advantage of the openness, his improved condition, and to get him fed.

Jake sighed, content, relaxed and grateful beyond all words that he still had the same Commander, the same partner, and his best friend hadn't lost her mate protecting the world.

He couldn't lie, it ate at him that he couldn't do anything to help. He was supposed to be the trouble-magnet, not Chance. Chance hadn't done anything to deserve this kind of hell, much less to have had his top CO know so many details about his past, fears and weaknesses.

It really wasn't fair.

Rock rubbed his side gently as they relaxed in their condo, a movie playing but largely ignored and leaned down to nuzzle his head.

"Chance doesn't blame you for any of it, y'know," he murmured, giving Jake a gentle kiss.

"I know," he shivered slightly. "Even the stuff he refuses to tell me about. I hate being that helpless to be there for him."

"It's not about you, Jake," Rock told him, snuggling up against him. "It's just ... well, it's Chance. It took him years to really talk about it the first time he dealt with Berten. He'll probably do better this time, but it'll still be on his terms."

"Just about everything is," Jake actually chuckled, though it was weak. "He's strong, but he's not much on opening up. I just hope it doesn't hurt Midnight much. She's kind of used to how easy it is to get a straight answer out of me."

"I think Chance would be able to figure out if it did ... you know how long he took to tell you about Berten at all, Jake. This is a lot of the same, just with a better ending ... he'll probably tell you about the good parts before the bad, but that's just how he is. Besides ... what happens in a guy's head is pretty private for anybody," Rock tried to chuckle a bit. "Probably going to have more trouble with the fact that Feral does know so much of it now ... and the other way. I just hope it doesn't end up screwing up his career anywhere."

Jake nodded with a sigh. "If it does, we already worked out how to let him still show off in the air. We'll just have to see how it goes down once they're both on active duty again," he murmured as he snuggled close. "It's hard to remember that this would have happened no matter what field we were in."

"And that it has nothing to do with being around you," Rock added with a nuzzle and tolerant smile. "You aren't the source of all misfortune around you."

"No, just destined to be at the epicenter of the most important battle in twelve generations," he murmured.

Rock sighed inwardly, kissing Jake's neck lightly ... and running his hand up to a particularly ticklish spot, lighting into him mercilessly until he gasped for mercy through the tears and laughter.

"Got it, got it," Jake gasped as Rock pushed him down on the couch and kissed him. "Cut out the self-recrimination."

"Good," Rock purred, kissing him again. "Now, how about a better topic? I seem to remember we've got a wedding to plan," he winked playfully.

"Mm, yes," he purred, nearly melting under the muscular weight of his lover. "Does that mean you have thoughts for it?"

"Mmm ... more wondering if you do want to go ahead and hold it at the Temple. If you do, it might be nice to have Jo and Henry handle it, if you don't mind."

"I can't think that I'd mind," he murmured into a long kiss. "We might be pressured into a couple others, but that's for later."

"I think they'd be okay with it ... know they'd be glad to do it," Rock purred, nuzzling Jake's neck. "Who would you want there?"

Jake was silent for a long time, his fingers playing in the fur of Rock's chest as he thought. "The squad, Midnight ... who I really want to come ... they'll show if they want to."

"Yeah... they will," Rock agreed, realizing that he was talking about Bastet and Halikar. "Mind if I asked my folks to come down? Been ages since I've really talked to 'em, but they deserve a chance to be there for this."

"You can invite anyone you want to," Jake smiled warmly and kissed him. "You know I'm not shy once I get turned on," he kissed him again. "I want a very different ceremony than I'm used to."

"Oh really?" Rock grinned, pulling him into a longer kiss, pressing his tongue into Jake's mouth to duel with his for a few moments. "So, gonna keep me in suspense?" He teased.

"Mmm, well, for one, I want to keep it to just us. No family histories. No list of reasons we should be good enough for the other's family," he tipped his muzzle down to look Rock in the eyes. "Just you, me, any why we are standing there."

"I think we can strip out anything we want to," Rock purred, licking Jake's nose. "Besides, I already know you're good enough for me, and I'll whip anybody who tries to argue the other way," he winked.

"Thank you," he murmured with a long, tender kiss that ended in a nuzzle as he ran his hands along Rock's sides and rocked his hips up against his lover. "What ... do you think of ... well ... I've been thinking that I should grow up about what I am. I've fought being a champion most of my life. Maybe ... maybe I should accept it?"

"Well... it doesn't seem like fighting it is helping you any," Rock admitted gently, groaning a bit as Jake rocked their hips together. "At least find out what it is they'll want you to do, what the rules are," he murmured. "Find out how much you can't stand, maybe?"

Jake nodded, claiming a lingering kiss as his hands continued to explore Rock's half-dressed body.

"Come with me?" Jake whispered, slipping his fingers under Rock's belt as they rubbed each other to hardness. "Listen with me to they have to say."

"If you want me to," Rock murmured as Jake undid his belt, reaching between them to do the same. "If they'll let me in," he added with a slight chuckle.

"They will," Jake pulled him into a deep kiss. "They want me there too badly too care who sees."

"All right," Rock murmured into the kiss. "Tomorrow though ... for tonight, I think I want you right where you are," he purred, undoing his lover's pants and going over what to do before they had to rest.

Dawn came early, but Jake and Rock were both ready and standing before the grand main temple to Bastet in MegaKat City. Just as Jake was ready to take the first of the wide stairs, Rock slid his arms down Jake's chest and turned him around for a long kiss.

"No matter what they say, I love you," Rock said seriously, tipping Jake's face up to look him in the eyes.

"Thank you," Jake went up on his toes for a second kiss. "I love you. I trust you. Now let's get this over with."

Rock could only smile at that to stop himself from beaming. "Deal," he said as they walked inside. It took barely a few words to get them shown to the private receiving room of the high priestess of the city.

Rock watched silently as Jake quietly stripped down and folded his clothing neatly in a corner, being as supportive as he could. He hoped this worked out well ... desperately. So much of Jake's life had been miserable because of what he'd been born as. If he could accept it ... maybe things would be a little bit better.

And maybe it would help prepare him for the possibility of joining Jake as one of the Champions.

Jake kissed him gently, squeezed his hand, and knelt in the middle of the room to wait the few more moments before High Priestess Fela Bast-Daughter walked in. He dropped his eyes, submissive in an honest manner that only Rock had seen up to this point. "I am ready to understand my fate."

Power Games 5: The BoogieKat Killer

NC-17 for M/M, M/F sex
Het Level is HighHet Smut Level is Medium
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

717 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written November 5, 2007 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: SWAT Kats

Primary Races: Kantin, Kat

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Alternate Universe, Bestiality, Child Abuse (Sexual), Fantasy, Rape (M on M), Rape (M on M), Sex (BDSM), Sex (BDSM), Supernatural, Violence

Pairings: Chance Furlong/Midnight Raven, Jake Clawson/Rock Furlong, Ulysses Feral/Shier Khan, others

Notes: While the actual pedophilia is kept off screen, it is a central feature to this story and not a minor warning. If you made it to this far, you obviously have a strong stomach for violence, but this pushed even our comfort zone.

Blurb: When Chance and Ulysses' kittenhood nightmare finally faces death for his crimes, it is the beginning of the horrors, not the end, for MegaKat City and its defenders.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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