Age of Consent



 The pangs occupied her thoughts—consumed her, even. With the air turning chilly, people had begun to wear higher collars against the autumn breezes. Still, she could see pulses thrumming beneath knit sweaters and zippered jackets. Zippers. They were only a year younger than she. Dawdling across the street from a raging bonfire, she searched the crowd with half-shut eyes, letting her senses do most of the work.

 A laugh. A child, dressed as a princess, Hazel couldn’t name, screeched at her mother, dragging the tired-looking woman across the street, wanting to be closer to the blaze. Hazel nose twitched—children were a burden she happily sidestepped.

 Men, muscular and wearing the uniform of the fire department, milled on the edges. Their vehicle was decked in cobwebs and laughing jack-o-lanterns. Clearly, they saw the flames as suitably controlled. The perimeter of the fire stretched quite far out, and they allowed the revelers no closer. Hazel couldn’t accurately calculate the distance from where she stood but estimated it near 20 feet. Safe. Secure. Controlled for the enjoyment of a costumed crowd.

 She began to walk, heels of her short boots clicking on concrete in a rhythmic staccato only she could hear. This metronome drove her in a circle around the event. Thankfully, no one said, “Nice makeup!” this year. Long, dark sleeves covered bone-white arms, and dark denim hid her legs. A hood threw her face into dark shadows. There was no officer of the law to stop her this time—she could have been any parent searching for a child in this crowd, someone looking for her friends.

 Hazel’s pace increased, liking this charade. She performed a few zig-zags around knots of people, swiveling her head around as if searching. People moved from her way and copied her anxious head-turning. Stupid humans, they...


 She stopped dead in her tracks. Had there been any color in her face, it would be gone at the sight of a familiar back.

 Forgetting where she was and what she did, she yelled, “Ralph!” And ran toward the figure, legs pumping. The pace shocked a few nearby humans, and she soon remembered to slow to a jog. She would give him a piece of her mind—abandonment didn’t suit anyone, even if she had been sick of looking at his face. “Hey!” She shouted again.

 The moon began to rise high overhead, its edges were red, the face huge, orange, and ominous.

Nox didn’t even know why he was here. Some friends convinced him to come out, only for him to tell them he had a scheduled date later. Sometime they joked that he was always away for the full moon, and Nox laughed it off, making a reference to the fact that he jut had a busy night life unlike them. With paid dates, personal training sessions after people got off work and the fact that he was a freelance digital artist, his schedule was packed.

So after the sun went down and the moon rose high in the sky, Nox excused himself, "I’ll hit you guys up later!" he called with a wave before setting off to find his van. He’d drive from his changing site from there, predicting that it would only take about fifteen to twenty minutes before he could feel the drying fall ground, fresh with fallen leaves and branches, beneath his padded paws.

His leopard was already itching to get out, the excitement of the night testing his control. Still, control was had and he was mighty proud of himself for keeping it. He even made sure he stuck to one beer, having nursed it for the past couple of hours until it was warm. Belly was full from hot dogs, burgers, roasted marshmallows and monster cookies. He knew he’d still be hungry after the change ravaged his body. It never failed.

Noise was all around him, so he didn’t notice the woman that was calling after him as if she knew him. Well, perhaps someone that looked like him. Nox was no Ralph. He continued on, making his way through the bustling crowd, ready to get behind the wheel and drive until his tires hit gravel and the leopard was too impatient to wait any longer.

 He continued to walk away from her! The gall of him. The pig. Hazel wouldn’t let him get away this time. Their parting back in ‘47 left her even more unsettled than her resurrection. After nearly a century of loathing him, his absence left her feeling empty. Clinging to anger gave her more life than she wanted to admit.

 She continued to jog as calmly as she could manage, feeling her temper rise higher within. Setting her jaw, she finally caught up to him. The throngs of people were still thick, but they were some distance from the party. Groups instinctively navigated around the pair of them. Hazel moved quickly to overtake him, blocking his path. Her eyes could not make out his features, lit from behind as he was.

 “What are you doing here?” She demanded, sure it was him. “You left me in St. Louis. Have you returned to claim your prize?” Moving closer, the sense of a nearby rapid pulse increased, but she ignored it, blaming the crowd.

Hands found his pockets as he strolled casually through the crowd, not wanting to rush. He could feel the leopard within start to grow restless, but the quicker his heart beat, the worse the feeling became. So he focused on calm movements and happy thoughts.

Until a woman stopped in his tracks, clearing accusing him of leavings her somewhere he’d never been before. No stopped just a few feet from her, his head tilting in such a feline motion he was shocked if his eyes didn’t glint in the shift of light.

"Um... Are you talking to me? I have no idea what you’re talking about lady. I’ve never been to St. Louis in my life," he said, a small smile tilting a corner of his lips upward, keeping his voice level.

 The bastard changed his voice, but he couldn’t fool her. They’d been together too long. She heard the familiar lilt within it. Hazel resisted the urge to sneer at him, but it was a near thing. Fear and anger mixed. The dance felt comforting—familiar like a smell that sparked a particular memory. There was no way he was going to glide out of this one. Not like the last time.

 “Of course I’m talking to you,” Hazel said, moving closer. Her brain refused to process growing heat. For a second, she felt alive again. The warmth wasn’t jarring, closer to a desert evening. But she wasn’t thinking clearly. She wanted answers, and then for him to leave her to whatever future remained. “But you lie. I learned to tell when you lie, you know. Fifty years together will do that.” She finally stopped a yard from him.

She started to walk toward him, causing the shifter to put both hands up as if to calm her down. His eyes flashing, lingering between blue and a pale yellow as the leopard grew impatient. Fifty years? Is she a....


He couldn’t hear the distinct lack of a beating heart, but her words and the anger mixed with a feeling he knew all too well was blazing in her eyes. His leopard now stood at defense, tail swishing irritable behind it, ears pulled back and a warning his sounding.

"I’m flattered, really, that I resemble this person you have some sort of grudge against. But I’m not him," he said, hoping that would be enough to convince the crazy camp to leave him alone. He even started to move around her, each passing second his skin felt tighter. He didn’t need some sort of threat to make his leopard cause a scene.

 Hazel moved when he did, stepping to block his path. There was a familiar green glint in his eyes as he attempted to absolve himself, hands in the air. Her brain refused to process the differences between the lines in his hands—too much distance lay between the sun line and the fate line. But her practice of palmistry was only ever a con to amuse backwood youth. She couldn’t even hear him now. Words were empty. He taught her that. Did he not remember?

 “Stay, please.” Gripping her rage, she gave it a strengthening blow, feeling its heat beneath her ribcage. “I have business with you.” She pointed to the concrete between them. “You will stay, and I will hear the truth if you please.” Bade to come forth, her fangs extended, thin lips parting to let their tips show. “Or I shall take it from your flesh instead.”

His eyes were full yellow, leopard peering out at her as she insisted that he stay. Her fangs descended and he could feel his grip slip. Again, Nox patted the air in front of him as he side stepped around her.

He would have been able to get out of there had she not threaten him, the beast taking it as a personal blow. "Look here, lady. You’re going to cause a scene and I’m not fit to be frolicking around on a full moon night," he said softly, his voice a near growl.

Again, he turned to leave, knowing that any moment his control would fully disappear and then he, and all these poor people, would be screwed. This bitch was crazy and he needed to get away as quick as possible.

 The green in his eyes gave way to a brighter shade, and she faltered for a moment, the taught thread of purpose slackened. To her sight, his features morphed, making her sick, and she briefly wondered if their kind could hallucinate. What had the snake done this time? What could be administered from a small distance that would force her mind to bend to his will? He would not get the better of her again. He would not.

 Resolution returned to her in a flash; the world regained solidity. The moon continued to rise higher in the sky; its orange fill fading away. It shone a steady light down on the event below, throwing barely-naked branches into higher relief. The nearest streetlights were out.

 He once again turned to go. Hazel’s patience abruptly expired. She lunged for him, spindly arm reaching out, claw-like fingers closing around a too-hot bicep.

 Too hot.

 Far too hot.


She grabbed him, her fangs too close for comfort, her skin too good against his. Like ice. Like a corpse. Her fingers tightened and his control slipped all too fast. The leopard roared within, causing his spin to distort, breaking as the change came swift and painful.

A string of thought still caused the human to push back, to fight the change that ravaged his body. He lunged toward the vampire, breaking her hold and pushing her away. He didn’t want anything to do with her.


Even as his body doubled over, nails elongating into claws and his teeth growing sharp, he tried to run toward the nearest cover of trees. Survival. That was what he strived for. People were starting to stare, to gasp and move away from them. His shirt was strained against the contortion of his human form.

successful push!


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