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Anon Finds a Way [feathered raptor/romance/ongoing/hmofa]]

somethingaboutsharks Aug 2nd, 2019 (edited) 1,013 Never
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  1. [[This is now the canon version of Anon Finds a Way. Sorry to anyone that liked the isekai version of AFaW, but that's now unsupported. Link to the old version at the bottom of this.]]
  2. [[And do note, this is just the rewrite. Chapter 4 is mostly new and there were a lot of tweaks, so my recommendation is to treat this as a new story. About 22k more words and different stopping point planned out. Unfortunately, I can't say when I'll have the actual update ready for this or anything else. Sorry.]]
  3.  
  4.  
  5. -CHAPTER 1-  The Unforgiven
  6.  
  7. After a dull day at your warehouse job you trudge through the rain back to your apartment, heavy metal beating into your eardrums to deafen the patter of rain on your umbrella. Living only a mile from work you don't bother wasting the gas and just walk both ways, but today you regret that act of frugality. The puddles in your path only grow thanks to the mild September rain, and if you aren't careful your socks will get soaked. Thankfully, the thrash metal blaring into your skull keeps your mood from turning sour. In spite of the weather the walk back has an air of peace to it that lets you forget what your life has become.
  8.  
  9. That is until some asshole in a green muscle car hits a deep pool of water in the road, sending a wave of water right at you. The surge of water crashes over you, umbrella doing nothing to protect you or the old MP3 player clipped on your sleeve. Your miserly and outdated taste in audio technology costs you dearly, the device letting out a sputter of dying pops in your ears. Soaked to the bone and bereft of music to calm your mood, you glare at the sporty car making it's retreat.
  10.  
  11. Water dripping off your brow and the flood gates to your hate opened up, you sear the license plate of the retreating green car into your mind.
  12.  
  13. F34THRD
  14.  
  15. Probably a bird anthro. Or someone with an unhealthy interest in birds. Glaring at the sporty car until it vanishes around a corner, you breathe out slowly. You aren't going to start screaming in impotent rage in public. Or at home. You can contain the roiling mass in your chest.
  16.  
  17. Swallowing back unspoken curses, you glance at the road and the rippling water sloshing across one of the lanes. The driver could have easily avoided the puddle if they went to the other lane, the only other cars on the four lane road are going the other direction. Which means they probably hit it on purpose. It isn't hard to see you are human even with the rain, and some anthros have a sore spot about humans as the news keeps reminding you so often. Rise of interspecies relationships have angered more traditional minds than yours. It wouldn't surprise you if someone wanted to take out their frustrations on the first apt target in their mind, namely you.
  18.  
  19. Yeah, you are totally to blame for someone you've never met having no luck in their dating life. You, the nobody trying to get on with his life, must be at fault. Pulling your earbuds out you pocket the dead MP3 player, because what can your moist pockets do to it at this point? Gritting your teeth you storm toward your empty apartment with only the sound of your splashing steps and the rain to keep you company.
  20.  
  21. If it weren't for your umbrella the rain might strike you and turn into steam. A fury grips your mind and heart, images of keying a certain green car or slashing it's tires filling your mind with each squelching step you take in your now wet socks. Between the choice of falling into the black pit of depression and embracing pointless anger, you easily pick the latter. That will get you home. The two human pedestrians you pass on the sidewalk give you a wide berth, not daring to look you in the eye. Does your face look like your dad's disgust? Or is it your mother's hateful scowl? You bite your tongue and try to relax the muscles in your jaw, willing yourself to be nothing like those two. Your body knows the way back to your place so you trust in it, turning all your attention to calming down.
  22.  
  23. You achieve some success in stilling your anger. You get to your apartment's door, having ascended the open stairwell without realizing it, and fish your keys out of your pocket. The jaggedly cut piece of metal slips into the lock and the door opens, tension falling from limbs once you get in and lock up.
  24.  
  25. Your apartment, your sanctum, your solitude.
  26.  
  27. You fish out your dead MP3 player and toss it onto the table near the kitchen, then shuffle toward your bathroom. The bottoms of your shoes have to be drier than your socks right now, so you keep your work shoes on. Not like you have to worry about any roommates complaining, being the only person in the two bedroom apartment. Though with how much paying rent a cuts into your budget you wonder, not for the first time, if you should find a new roommate. Or move to a worse part of town.
  28.  
  29. Pushing all thoughts aside that aren't about getting out of soaked clothes, you go and treat yourself to a hot shower. That combined with a dry set of clothes and you start to feel human again. Or at least clean and calm, which makes it easier to put away what happened. Going to your kitchen, and not daring to look at your table, you get the oven preheating for a roast. Just because you're a miserable bachelor doesn't mean you have eat like a starving student or homeless man. Besides, a hearty serving of meat and vegetables should help uplift your mood.
  30.  
  31. You put the roast in the oven, set the timer, and head to your table. The dead MP3 player stares at you but instead of getting angry, you decide to put your failed education and experience repairing electronics to use. Neither of which you want to think much about, all that matters right now is a possibility you can fix this problem. That razor thin chance you can repair the unseen damage. But hope only goes so far, you have to see the damage with your own eyes before you let yourself feel anything like hope. You grab your screwdriver kit and magnifying glass then sit down at the only table in your apartment.
  32.  
  33. Laying your tools out you start working on the little device. Three tiny screws and a bit of delicate prying later, and the simple insides are yours to see. You fiddle with the small circuit board, careful not to damage the ribbon cable connecting it to the small LCD display, and frown. If anyone needed proof that water and printed circuits don't get along, the sad state of this burned out chip would be an ideal example. Amazing how a tiny short can ruin everything. Nothing you can do with your meager tools could fix it. Even if you had a proper workstation you know a lost cause when you see one. A flicker of anger toward that inconsiderate driver gathers in your chest. They could have dodged that puddle or run you over... No. You're not going to entertain rage or despair over something that should be so trivial. Not all hope is lost either, as the SD card and earbuds probably survived.
  34.  
  35. Going to your bedroom, your emerge with your laptop and it's charger. Flipping the computer open and powering it on you pop the memory card in a moment later. To your relief it's recognized. Testing your earbuds you discover they too work, bringing something like a smile onto your face for the first time today. Thank goodness for silver linings.
  36.  
  37. Leaning back you contemplate what to do about replacing your portable music options. You aren't about to upgrade your featureless flip-phone any time soon, smartphones caused you too much trouble in high school and college, but ordering online won't fix the problem fast enough. Your penny pinching attitude makes the idea of paying for the fastest shipping inconcievable. But music on the go is too important to your peace of mind. Mulling it over you lean forward in your chair and look up replacement options online anyway. The aluminum hipster trash is too expensive for it's lacking features despite being the first thing that appears in your search. A few clicks later and you find an acceptable alternative after filtering the search. More expensive than your now dead one but among the listed features, like expandable storage, is water resistance. And extreme claw friendly design, but that doesn't matter you. The supposed availability in a nearby store however, that is important.
  38.  
  39. You're off work tomorrow, might as well do a bit of shopping and stretch your legs. Browse wares, people watch, maybe visit the library to read something in print for a change.
  40.  
  41. The oven timer beeps to remind you of your impending meal. Rich aromas of spices and meat fill your apartment minutes later, the food warm and filling. Meat and potatoes are what you needed after that shitty walk home. A much better meal than the instant ramen, rice, and beans you mostly survived off of in college. Finishing your solitary dinner you clean up, put away the leftovers, and head to bed. Sleep mercifully takes you not long after you lay down.
  42.  
  43. ---
  44.  
  45. The buzz of an alarm knocks you out of an intense dream. No details cling to your mind, but you get the impression it wasn't a nightmare. You always remember the nightmares. You haven't had one in a few days yet the memories of those are starting to leak through, echoes of accusations and an overbearing helplessness starting to weigh you down. Shaking your head to dispel those thoughts, you go and get cleaned up for the day ahead.
  46.  
  47. A cold shower wakes you up the rest of the way, helping you focus on the day ahead instead of nightmares. Once you get dried off and dressed you check the forecast on your laptop, see that it's clear, and decide against taking your car. Being able to check the weather on a smartphone is one of the things you miss the most. That was handy. But you don't have anyone want to keep in touch with, only work, so keeping one around is pointless. That and you have a tendency to spend an unhealthy amount of time staring at a screen given the chance. Which you let yourself fall prey to since you have a few hours to waste before the store opens.
  48.  
  49. After checking the news you head to a website of ill repute that has been stupidly blamed for the decay of society before. Granted, you have seen some weird things thanks to that place. But it lets you feel like you have something resembling a social life when you get into pointless arguments about your tech interests with like minded individuals. The name calling is all in the name of good fun of course. Mostly, you don't take the tech world nearly as seriously as some people.
  50.  
  51. That is until the board you frequent gets hit with a raid and you fail to notice. Clicking a thumbnail you are immediately hit by a video of a poodle girl getting railed by a human, her tongue lolling about as she babbles. The subtitles have her extolling the virtue of human cock, and judging from her expression and amateur nature of the video you are inclined to believe she actually thinks that. It weirds you out on multiple levels though, in no small part because of your upbringing. You have no shame in admitting anthro chicks are hot despite your parent's views, but these videos make you uneasy after seeing all the crazy propaganda your parents started buying into. Who knows how far your parents have fallen since.
  52.  
  53. A bit disgusted with the world you close your browser and decide you've waited around long enough. But as soon as you stand up to go your stomach reminds you of basic needs. Right, food is a thing. One late breakfast of eggs and toast silences your stomach, allowing you to leave without further interruption.
  54.  
  55. Stepping out into the slightly humid air that always follows a solid rain, you lock your apartment up and wave at the friendly old mastiff that lives above you. Leaning on the railing and smoking a cigar he waves back, a lazy smile on his face. Obliged social interaction over with you head down the stairs and go on autopilot once you reach the sidewalk. The store you are heading to happens to be close by and the weather is clear and clean after the gloom of yesterday. And best of all there are no asshole drivers that send a tidal wave of water at you, letting you arrive unmolested to the big box electronics store after a pleasant walk.
  56.  
  57. On a whim you glance around parking lot for a green convertible. A splotch of color catches your eye but on closer inspection you see it's custom paint on a truck, complete with tribal markings that must have escaped some drunk frat boy's arm. Mentally chiding yourself for even checking you head into the store. A goat employee nods at you but doesn't say anything, as if he can sense you're in here for a purpose and his help isn't needed. That's mostly true, though you take the time to wander around the store for the hell of it.
  58.  
  59. The TVs and computers don't interest you, since your laptop fills both those roles nicely, but it's still nice to see in person how display technology has progressed. That curiosity is quickly satisfied and you wander away from the on-floor showcases, along with the people congregating near them. As you meander you notice this place still has music CDs. Interesting, you thought most big retailers quit carrying those. While you would neither confirm nor deny the legitimacy of your entire music library, you aren't against supporting artists. Before you go looking through for physical copies of your favorite bands you set out on a search for the supposed MP3 player they have in stock.
  60.  
  61. Naturally the device isn't near the CDs. Why would it be? That would make sense and mean people don't get to look at five hundred different ways to make your home 'smart'. Wifi controlled lightbulbs and door locks that can be activated with your phone, why not? It takes you five minutes of fruitless wandering and stubborn refusal to ask an employee for help until, at last, you find the 'vintage' music options near the TVs. Good thing you already gave up on making sense of the store layout.
  62.  
  63. Spotting what you want with no real effort, you snag the box and someone clears their throat behind you. The internet tech forum lurker in you half expects a lost hipster to be staring disdainfully at you for thinking differently, but that isn't the case. Your brain momentarily stops when you see the person. Paying little attention to their cart with an enormous TV box perilously sitting within, the feathered anthro has your full attention as your brain tries to process exactly what they are. Feathers, but no beak. A long muzzle. About the same height as you, maybe an inch or two shorter. They're not a bird but some kind of... dinosaur?
  64.  
  65. Huh, those anthros are rare. So much so you've never met one, though you have a short history being around anthros all things considered.
  66.  
  67. Taking in the rich browns of their feathers, the white stripe running down their throat, darkly scaled snout, and green eyes you are left confused as to what they are. Until you notice their digitigrade legs and feet, each big toe sporting a wicked toeclaw fit for killing. The fact that they're in a pair of plastic sandals, and have dark green nail polish on all their toeclaws, doesn't take away from the realization that you are face to face with a raptor anthro of some sort. By the sundress, not so subtle bust, and set of her hips you realize raptor gal might be the more appropriate term. Expectant eyes, pupils slit vertically and framed by green markings you think might not be eyeshadow, stare at you. Like she wants you to say something instead of try to process her existence.
  68.  
  69. Instead of defusing the awkward situation your brain unhelpfully wonders how she is wearing a dress with a tail like that. Is there a hole cut in the back for it or something? No, bad brain. Focus.
  70.  
  71. Maybe three seconds passed since the time you turn around to the point you can formulate a response to her attempt at getting your attention. "Uh, can I help you?"
  72.  
  73. She looks at you, then the rack behind you, eyes narrowing and face scrunching. "Hopefully," she begins, voice surprisingly sweet, "You look like you know about music players. I'm hoping you can help me?"
  74.  
  75. Her hand waves at the selection of MP3 and CD players, along with a lone cassette player made by some ambitious company attempting to revive that dead medium. None of the overpriced aluminum hipster worship boxes here. Those have their own special place in the store to quarantine anyone looking to be ripped off.
  76.  
  77. "I'm not an employee," you say, doubtful she mistook you for one.
  78.  
  79. "Actually I was hoping you weren't." You swear she sizes you up, some part of your instincts saying that might be bad. Shifting on her feet she gives you thin, hopeful smile. "I don't suppose you'd help me pick out an MP3 player? The ones the employees keep suggesting don't fit well with claws like mine."
  80.  
  81. The raptor holds up a hand and wiggles digits ending in inch long, gently curved claws. How did you not notice those earlier? You decide you'll blame the cute, green nail polish hiding them from you. And how the long, crest like feathers on her forearms catch your attention more easily with their white tips.
  82.  
  83. "Uh, well," you look away from her and scan the options on the shelves, "I'm sure there is something that will work for you."
  84.  
  85. "It's for my a relic of a dad actually. But yeah, if it works for me it'll work for him."
  86.  
  87. With that knowledge you grab the newer model of the one you had in working order until one day ago. 'EXTREME CLAW Friendly Design!' the back of the box proudly proclaims, showing a mole anthro tapping at the device. A quick skim of the rest of the product information tells you it's effectively identical to the one you recently had. So with some confidence you say, "This one has really good buttons. But it isn't waterproof. Learned that one the hard way."
  88.  
  89. You pass the box to her and she studies it, turning it around and over as if searching for answers. Until she has to ask, "Can it play audiobooks, podcasts, that sort of thing?"
  90.  
  91. "Never had a use for that myself, but yeah." You don't want to point that the back of the box will answer that question. If she is asking a stranger for tech product recommendation she clearly has no idea what to look for right now.
  92.  
  93. "I won't need anything else, will I?" she asks, looking up from the box and right at you.
  94.  
  95. Well at least she's asking someone that has answers. "It comes with a pretty small memory card, so you might want to get a bigger one. Though it is finicky on what size it will accept. If you want I can show what will work with it." You half expect her to say she can figure it out from here or ask an employee, after all you are a stranger that offered to help without thinking about it.
  96.  
  97. "I would really appreciate that, I'm horrible with tech stuff," she says with a grateful grin that shows a few of her pointed teeth.
  98.  
  99. Your first thought is that you should refuse despite offering in the first place, mostly because you can't believe she actually needs your help, but your mouth moves faster than your brain. "It's no problem. I found where memory cards and flash drives are before spotting what I came for." Well she is kind of cute and you did offer to help out, so you roll with your impulsive decision. Maybe it won't get you into trouble.
  100.  
  101. Leading her eight aisles down, near the CDs, making you wonder who in the world set up this store's layout, you stop at the freestanding rack display. And get struck full force by a moving shopping cart weighed down by an enormous TV that, thankfully, doesn't fall on you. You land on your side gracelessly, yet harmlessly, dazed by the sudden shift from vertical to horizontal. Blinking to get your bearings while two separate but equally rapid sounds hit your ears. Clopping of flip-flops and a panicked, "OhmgoshI'msosorryareyouokay?"
  102.  
  103. The raptor gal grabs the arm you raise to wave her off, her hands surprisingly lukewarm against your skin. The texture is gentler than you expected, nothing like rough scales and more like supple, well worn leather. Those thoughts get cut off when she hauls you onto your feet, not helping you up so much as returning you to a standing position in a display of wiry strength. Well then, she is much stronger than you thought at a glance.
  104.  
  105. Standing face to face, her hands still on your arm, she stares apologetically into your eyes. Guilt doesn't just cover her face, it permeates her entire being.
  106.  
  107. "I'm alright," you assure her before she can panic further.
  108.  
  109. "Are you sure? You might have hit your head or-"
  110.  
  111. "Trust me, I'm fine," you say with a grin you don't feel. "Learned how to take an unexpected fall when I was a kid playing with neighbors."
  112.  
  113. "Well, okay. I'm glad my crappy cart driving didn't hurt you," she says, letting go of your arm at least and dusting off your shoulder. You notice the feathers atop her head, what would be hair on a mammal, are ruffled up an inch or two. "I'm really sorry about that."
  114.  
  115. "Don't worry, I'm durable." Hoping to turn both your attention and hers away from the awkward situation, you step toward the display. "Now lets get you a memory card."
  116.  
  117. "Right, of course. Sorry, again, I must have zoned out and didn't see you stop." You can almost hear her fidget while you rummage through the display for what she needs.
  118.  
  119. "It's fine, really," you assure the apologetic raptor. To end anymore apologies you pick up two packages and hold them out for her to see. "Either of these will work"
  120.  
  121. She inspects what you picked out, the feathers on her head standing up a bit more when she leans in closer. Instinctively trying to make herself look bigger? Nerves? You have no idea what raptor anthro body language means, but you can tell she is frazzled. It takes her nearly a minute - a painful, awkward minute of her close enough you can make out every scale on her snout - to say anything, but her feathers mostly settle down in that time.
  122.  
  123. "What's the difference?" she meekly asks, looking up at you in hopeless confusion.
  124.  
  125. Clearly she was not lying about being bad with tech. She has the look of someone so far out of their depth they can't tell up from down anymore. "One holds more but costs twenty bucks, while the other has less but costs ten dollars."
  126.  
  127. "Oh. Then the bigger one then," she says, straightening up.
  128.  
  129. Of course she says that. Handing over the one she wants you place the other back where it belongs. If you really wanted you might have a chance landing a job on the salesfloor here, but the pay would no doubt be worse than driving a forklift. And being around all this technology on display would remind you everyday of your failure to get on the career path you wanted.
  130.  
  131. Standing up you are met by the raptor's smile, and while her teeth should worry you they don't. Instead the sincerity on her face makes you feel like you actually helped someone out, and seeing that chases away the souring mood you felt coming on. "Thanks a ton," she says, claws fidgeting with the memory card package you handed her.
  132.  
  133. That is nervous body language no matter the species.
  134.  
  135. "No problem, uh-" you realize you haven't gotten her name. Or you forgot it like a dolt.
  136.  
  137. She extends a clawed hand. "I'm Anya."
  138.  
  139. You accept the handshake, surprised by her tender grip and texture of her palm and fingers. Tough but gentle, though the sudden strength of her grip takes your mind off of that. She is a lot stronger than she looks, though she is still being careful. If she wanted to hurt you then any of her claws could do a number on you. The feathers on her head are down, so does that mean she is relaxed now?
  140.  
  141. "Anon," you say, trying to puzzle out raptor body language.
  142.  
  143. "Nice to meet you, Anon," she happily says, not letting go of your hand. "Hey, um, if you don't have plans later today, would you let me buy you lunch? I feel awful about ramming into you with a TV, and there is this great deli nearby."
  144.  
  145. You let go of her hand, surprised by the generous offer. If you didn't know better it almost sounds like she is asking you out, except you know better. The rise of her feathers and anxious expression on her face make you think she simply feels guilty about bumping into you. "You don't have to do that Anya, accidents happen."
  146.  
  147. The thought that you are passing up on possibly free food doesn't doesn't sit well with you. Or her, apparently. "That isn't a no," she says, claws tapping the package clutched in front of her.
  148.  
  149. "I walked today, so I should probably pass." You hold up the MP3 player box you grabbed for yourself. "I only came here to get this after all. Sorry."
  150.  
  151. "Don't apologize, I'm the one that offered." The feathers on her head aren't standing straight up but they are close to it. "But would you let me give you a ride home at the very least, as an apology and thanks?"
  152.  
  153. Her green eyes all but beg you to accept. That erodes your stubbornness more than you expected it to, until you relent mere seconds after being offered. "Yeah, if it'll make you feel better."
  154.  
  155. She goes to her cart, smiling at you. "It does. And thank you. Seriously, I'd still be staring at boxes without your help."
  156.  
  157. "It was no trouble. If that's all you need," you say, nodding to her basket while holding up the MP3 player you grabbed for yourself, "I've got what I need."
  158.  
  159. You'll come back and look through the CDs later, when there isn't a cute anthro dino offering you a ride home.
  160.  
  161. "It is. I'll, uh, lead the way this time," she nervously says, pushing her cart toward the checkout.
  162.  
  163. You follow her, keeping what you hope is respectful distance, and she makes small talk about the sporadic rain that has been happening. The nearby river and hour's distance from the shore makes the rain sporadic and unpredictable at times, but you've gotten used to it by now and say as much. That chatter dies down as quickly as it started when the two of you reach the checkout. Since you'll have to wait either way you let Anya go first. The human clerk rings up everything and mentions the price you die a little on the inside, while the raptor just fishes a credit card out of her handbag and happily pays.
  164.  
  165. Your mind reels from someone paying full price for something so expensive instead of waiting for a sale. You might comment on it but that feels impolite and she already paid, so you get your own purchase dealt with, barely feeling anything handing over the money for your new MP3 player. Fifty bucks has never felt so insignificant.
  166.  
  167. Your bag in hand, Anya waves off the offer of help loading her TV from the goat employee you first saw on entering the store. Leaving the building and following the raptor, you have to stop yourself from watching the mesmerizing sway of her tail and shift of her hips with each step. But you do get an earlier mental questions answered: there is a hole tastefully cut in the back of her dress to let her tail through. You never paid much attention to it, but anthro clothing has to be a pain to shop for.
  168.  
  169. A jingle of keys and beep of a car draw your attention to a black SUV. Anya pushes her cart up to it and opens the back, then goes for her TV without so much as a glance at you. "I had to borrow my dad's. My ride, while way, way cooler, kinda lack storage," she explains, maneuvering to lift the box on her own.
  170.  
  171. While you have no doubt of her strength, you feel compelled to help her out as both a southern born man and someone that's worked in a warehouse for two years. You quickly grab one end of it to help her out, earning a surprised look from Anya. There is no way she thinks you're going to try and snatch it, anyone dumb enough to steal from a raptor deserves to bleed out before the paramedics arrive. Her expression softens into a thankful grin a moment later and the lifting starts without anything said. It's not the weight so much as the size of the box that makes the loading a challenge, that and the nerve wracking terror of replacing her TV if you drop it. If that kind of damage falls outside of warranty then your savings are going to take a nasty hit. To your relief it gets in the car unharmed, although she has to position the box at an odd angle since it's too large to lay flat.
  172.  
  173. She shuts the trunk with scarcely any clearance between the door and diagonally resting box, then throws a happy grin your way. That look cuts through the relief you felt at not botching the lift and leaves in it a murmur of unease.
  174.  
  175. "Thank you Anon. Hop in," she says, nodding to the black vehicle, "It's unlocked."
  176.  
  177. Her kindness is too much. You doubt she has ill intentions of any sort but you don't want to impose, at all. "You really don't need to give me a ride, I can walk."
  178.  
  179. Stopping by the driver's door, she looks back at you. Despite her worried expression she manages to keep her voice mostly calm and asks, "You're not... I don't mean to sound rude but you're not one of those human separatist types, are you?"
  180.  
  181. "Would I have helped you load that monster TV or talked to you at all if I was?" No need to tell her your parents have those kind of insane opinions about anthros.
  182.  
  183. "Good point." She breaks out into a relieved grin. "Sorry. Well, since you are obviously a good person, why don't you let this kind deinonychus give you a ride?"
  184.  
  185. Ah hell, did she plan that to get you to accept? Or was she really worried you were one of those jackasses that think humans and anthros should stay apart? You realize it doesn't matter because there is no way you can turn down her sincere smile and disappoint her conviction that you're a good person. Dumb of you for sure, but it will be a quick ride back and you'll never see this kind stranger again. You go around to the passenger's side and open the door.
  186.  
  187. Only to be beset by a sudden urge to flee upon seeing the leather seats and expensive electronics built into the dash. The interior screams money, putting you on high alert. The universe must be about to play some kind of terrible joke on you. But before you can turn around and start walking home you catch sight of Anya in the driver's seat. She stares expectantly at you, happily waiting for you to get in so she can return a favor she doesn't owe you. Not wanting to make a jerk out of yourself after she called you a good person, you swallow your misgivings and get in. Shutting the door and buckling up you set your hands on your lap, afraid to touch anything else for fear of having to repair or replace it.
  188.  
  189. "So where am I taking you?" she cheerily asks.
  190.  
  191. You mechanically rattle off the directions to your apartment complex, and her head bobs in understanding. Good to know she can navigate without relying on her phone. That or she is being polite. She starts the engine, which is so quiet you don't even realize it's on until the vehicle starts moving. The absence of sound puts you on edge nearly as much as the realization she is going to be driving you into a poor part of town, when she must be used to the richer areas being in a car like this. That judgment will come when she sees you live only a few steps up from the town's equivalent of the projects, but until then you can make an attempt to be sociable.
  192.  
  193. "You lived in the area long?" you ask.
  194.  
  195. "Pretty much fresh out of college and new to town," she replies with a small, nervous grin. "Parents moved here a couple years ago and I followed to be around family again."
  196.  
  197. Before she can ask you anything personal in return you press on with another question. "Fresh out, huh? What did you major in?"
  198.  
  199. "Accounting. Not exciting, I know, and surprising since I'm bad with tech stuff. But it just made sense to me and I actually have a good head for numbers, so I thought why not? Work I found is a breeze too, so that's a plus." Anya glances at you through the mirror, as if you won't notice such an obvious motion. "What about you Anon?"
  200.  
  201. You suppress a wince. But at least it's open ended enough for you to ignore the implied question of where you're from. "I dabbled in electrical engineering, but no degree to speak of."
  202.  
  203. "College too stressful? I almost gave up a few time myself," she says, glancing sympathetically at you.
  204.  
  205. "I didn't exactly quit. Bureaucratic issues happened and I couldn't finish my degree."
  206.  
  207. "Oh. I'm sorry to hear that," she says, sounding so sincere you can't come up with a quick reply. "Are you from around here Anon? You have a bit of the local accent."
  208.  
  209. You wanted to avoid that question. But she is so affable you feel like a half-way honest answer is appropriate. "I moved here two years ago to try and make a fresh start, but I've lived in state my entire life."
  210.  
  211. "And your family?" she asks.
  212.  
  213. "I don't talk to them," you say, not comfortable with such a personal question. In part because of how your parted with your parents, and the roiling mess of unresolved feelings you still have about that situation. "Which is for the best," you add.
  214.  
  215. Her eyes flick to you in the rear view mirror. "Why's that?"
  216.  
  217. "They intentionally caused those bureaucratic issues just to get me kicked out of college," your mouth answers all too honestly.
  218.  
  219. Great, so much for not putting your foot in your mouth. No one needs to know about your past problems. The only upside, if you can even call it one, is that you didn't tell her why or how your parents got you kicked out. That's not a conversation you want to have with anyone.
  220.  
  221. "Oh." Anya takes her eyes off the road and looks at you with... is that pity in her eyes? Concern? You don't want to speculate. "What happened?"
  222.  
  223. "It's nothing to worry about," you say, afraid to tell her the real reason. And kicking yourself for daring to let something so personal come to the surface for a stranger to see.
  224.  
  225. At a stop sign she glances at you, but quickly looks away. "Sorry. It was stupid and rude of me to ask personal questions like that."
  226.  
  227. "It's fine. I shouldn't have said anything." That or given her a sugar coated lie, but it's been a while since you've really talked with anyone. Socializing hasn't gone well for you since college, and it looks like that trend will continue.
  228.  
  229. Anya stares at the road either uninterested in further conversation or giving you space. She hasn't kicked you out of her car yet so she isn't revolted by you, but you don't expect she has any interest in you beyond dropping you off. The drive continues in awkward silence of your making, the raptor gal focused entirely on traffic. If an award existed for making social situations terrible, you'd have at least ten of them. The drive is silent and your thoughts drift too close to a past you'd rather not remember.
  230.  
  231. Thankfully, Anya pulls up to your apartment complex before you get lost in melancholy. There is no reaction from her upon seeing the old and sad buildings, beater cars parked everywhere, or the group of suspicious canine youths playing basketball in a nearby decrepit lot. "You can let me out here," you say, reaching for the door handle.
  232.  
  233. Only it's locked. And you can't get it to unlock. Panic grips you, the hairs on your neck standing up and heart starting to beat faster when your realize you're trapped. What the hell did you just walk into?
  234.  
  235. "Shit, I'm so sorry." Her claws fumble with the driver's door controls. "Dammit dad, why do you have the child locks active," she hisses, locks popping.
  236.  
  237. You open the door step out, the pavement underneath your feet sucking the tension out of your limbs. It's nice knowing she's not some psycho looking to abduct a human like you for some nefarious purposes, like that news report you heard back in college. You hope they caught that crazy serial killer. Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be what was going to happen to you.
  238.  
  239. "Thanks for the ride Anya," you say, shutting the door and expecting her to drive off.
  240.  
  241. The window rolls down, sound rooting you to the spot. Anya leans over in her seat, practically in the passenger's side in a display of flexibility, and smiles cheerily at you. "Hey, uhm, if you don't have any plans for lunch would you like to join me in an hour? I'll come back and pick you up, I just need to drop this TV off so I don't keep my dad and little bro waiting too long."
  242.  
  243. Either she still feels guilty, which she shouldn't, or she pities you. Unless she is asking you on a date? No, that's is certainly not what this is about. This is simply a pity apology from someone with naively good intentions, which you can't fault her for. But how does she know you're actually a good person? All you are is a recluse that's failed at getting the life he once wanted. Yet, while you think she should be careful making offers to strangers you don't have anything else to do or a good reason to decline. Not while facing down with her hopeful smile and eager green eyes.
  244.  
  245. "Sure," you say, "Why not." What's the worst that happens, she ghosts you? That's nothing new in your life.
  246.  
  247. "Great!" she exclaims, sitting up and grabbing her phone. "Give me your number and I'll call when I come here to pick you up. In my car, of course, not this beast."
  248.  
  249. With a touch of reluctance you give a near stranger your number, her claws tapping against the glass face of her phone. Her grin is earnest when she puts the device down. "I'll see you soon Anon."
  250.  
  251. "I guess so, Anya," you say, stepping away from her car and waving. The raptor waves back and drives off, so you head toward your apartment. Climbing the outdoor steps, you wonder if she'll actually show up.
  252.  
  253.  
  254.  
  255. -CHAPTER 2-  The Unnamed Feeling
  256.  
  257. In the empty living space of your apartment you do a few calisthenics to get your mind off the cute deinonychus and her offer for lunch. While the part of you intrigued by her tries to entertain thoughts of what this outing could mean you know, deep down, that if it does happen it'll just be socialization. Something you sorely lack after that mess that was your final year of college. Your favorite online haunts don't compare to talking face to face, even if they're more accepting of weirdos like you. But you'll take what you can get. Even if it isn't good for your conversation skills, if that conversation with Anya is anything to go by.
  258.  
  259. After twenty minutes you get a bit of a sweat going, but your nerves aren't doing any better. You go to the bathroom and try to solve both those problems with a cold shower. The shudder brought on by chilly water against your bare skin does the trick for stilling your nerves.
  260.  
  261. The cold water isn't about saving money, but you can't argue about that bonus. No, you enjoy the feeling and focus brought on by the shock of the water. You scrub and wash yourself down once the jarring refreshment fades, your mind focusing only on the task at hand. Being only in the present requires no thought about the before or after. All that matters to you is solving what is in front of you. Clean up, turn the water off, stand and let the water drip off of you. For a small, blissful moment your mind is empty.
  262.  
  263. That all fades when you step out and start drying off, your phone ringing farther in the apartment. Just far enough away to be annoying. Towel thrown over your shoulders like a cape, you rush to grab your phone, half expecting to get a telemarketer instead of the deinonychus you're waiting to hear from.
  264.  
  265. You flip the phone open on the final ring, not bothering to look at caller ID. "Hello?"
  266.  
  267. "Is this Anon? It's me, Anya."
  268.  
  269. "Hey, yeah it's me."
  270.  
  271. "Heh, well I'm glad I got the number right. So, are you still up for me treating you to lunch?"
  272.  
  273. "If you want to, but you don't owe me anything Anya," you say, trying to give her an out in case she feels obligated.
  274.  
  275. "Well I'd like to after you helped me out and I kept messing things up. But if I'm interrupting anything or you don't want to..." she hesitates, a hint of nervousness in her words. Or maybe that's the call quality of your crappy phone. "I guess I could offer again, sometime?"
  276.  
  277. Better to let her assuage her guilt. "If you want to then now's as good a time as any for me."
  278.  
  279. "Great! I'll be there to pick you up in a few minutes."
  280.  
  281. "Different car this time?" you ask, remembering she was in her dad's when you met her.
  282.  
  283. "Yup! It's a surprise but don't worry, you'll know it's me."
  284.  
  285. Suspicion born from strings of terrible dates and failed outings with what you thought were friends gets your mouth moving before your brain. "Not trying to be rude, but this isn't a prank, right?"
  286.  
  287. "No, no, nothing like that!" she assures. "It's... just look forward to the wind in your feath- hair when I pick you up, alright? I'll be there in like five minutes, tops."
  288.  
  289. That sounds like a ride in a convertible or a dangerous trip on a motorcycle without a helmet. An inkling of another kind of doubt rises in your gut. Could she be the one... No. You stop yourself from going any farther with that thought. Paranoia over that incident won't do you any good, besides there is no way this raptor is the one responsible for soaking you on your walk home yesterday. You can't imagine her being that callous, but then again what do you really know about her? All you can really do is take the risk of going to lunch with her and see what happens..
  290.  
  291. "Sorry about being doubtful," you say after the couple second pause to think. "Would you send me a text when you get here?"
  292.  
  293. "Will do, and it's nothing to worry about. See you soon, Anon."
  294.  
  295. She hangs up first, so you toss your phone on the table and go get some clothes on. Plain t-shirt, comfortable jeans, and a new-ish pair of shoes make you look halfway presentable. Or so you hope, it's been a while since you needed to think about your appearance outside of work. Not since a those attempts at dating post college, back when you first moved into the area. Once you're sure you don't look like a stand in for a 90s grunge singer you gather the rest of your stuff. Wallet, phone, keys, and discreet can of mace all get placed in your pockets. You doubt the mace is necessary on a lunch with someone trying to apologize after you already forgave them, but having been mugged before you feel better having something defensive on you.
  296.  
  297. Before you can make it the front door, a buzz and chime on your phone snatch your attention.
  298.  
  299. "I'm here ^_~" Anya's text declares.
  300.  
  301. If she is then you have no need to reply, instead stuffing your phone back in your pocket leaving your apartment. A double check of the lock and you head down the stairs, a hint of haste in your steps. Maybe a quick text would have been good. Then again, there is no such thing as a quick text with your cheap flip-phone. You'd rather not fight a numberpad and get on with seeing if Anya came. If she did, then so long as you can keep your foot out of your mouth this outing should be a nice distraction from the monotony of your life.
  302.  
  303. You make it to the bottom of the stairs and turn around the building once, then twice, and hesitate. A green convertible sits in the same spot Anya dropped you off at. The sleek vehicle looks expensive and so out of place you'd worry about the occupant's safety, but two things stop that train of thought. The deinonychus sitting in the driver's seat waving at you, and a lump of anger brought on by recognizing the color. Pushing down a tangled mess of irritation and bottled up frustration, telling yourself that this is just some coincidence and you'll be wrong when you see the license plate, you wave back and make your way to the car.
  304.  
  305. "You like it?" she asks, standing up and leaning on the windshield while you walk around the front of the vehicle. You'd marvel at the aerodynamic lines and worry about the obvious money the vehicle speaks of if it weren't for a knot of worry in your gut. All you can do is nod back at her and circle toward the back.
  306.  
  307. You tell yourself to keep it together and not get mad at the person trying to be nice to you. When was the last time you went out with anyone, for any reason? A year and a half? You don't want to ruin this by getting angry. But that knot of worry and irritation gnaws at your nerves.
  308.  
  309. "It was a graduation gift from my parents," she happily says, oblivious to how detached from reality you feel. "Well, and a family friend who used to own it. It's a..."
  310.  
  311. You can't hear her talk about what kind of car it is. The words reach you but fall away like sand between your fingers. You stand at the back of the car and stare at the license plate. That fucking vanity plate.
  312.  
  313. F34THRD
  314.  
  315. You glare at it, face expressionless while inside you years of bottled up rage roil. Anya keeps talking and you start to understand the words again, the worst of your anger passing quick as it rose near the surface. She turned around to look at you at some point, leaning against the back of the driver's seat with eyes locked on you.
  316.  
  317. "The plate is kind of, well I couldn't resist I guess... um, are you okay Anon? You're being really quiet."
  318.  
  319. "You drive it a lot?" Does your voice sound dead? It feels dead, like your tongue is wood and your lips are iron.
  320.  
  321. "Yeah, whenever I can."
  322.  
  323. You can't think, but you stay in control. Anya hops out of the car, not bothering with the door, and comes close to you, concern in her eyes as you stare at her license plate. "Are you sure you're okay, Anon?"
  324.  
  325. She hovers just outside of your personal space, an arms length away, her fingers fiddling in front of her.
  326.  
  327. "You drive this yesterday when it was raining, hit a big puddle in the road?" Why did that come out? Your tone mercifully maintains a hollow tone instead of dripping with anger, but you feel the knot stirring in you again.
  328.  
  329. Confusion swirls in her eyes. "Yeah, actually. Why do you ask?"
  330.  
  331. "And splash a guy walking home in the rain?"
  332.  
  333. "There was someone walking with an umbrella, but I thought it missed him - wait." Her eyes widen, shoulders shrink, a hand nervously slips in front of her muzzle, and her headfeathers begin to rise. "W-was that you?"
  334.  
  335. "Yeah. Pretty hard to forget a car like this." You look away, unable to stand the agonized look spreading across her face.
  336.  
  337. Before anything mean comes out of your mouth and you make her feel worse, you start walking away. Part of you thinks yelling at her until she's in tears sounds good, but that evil bit is beaten down swiftly. You are many things, few of them happy, but you're not your parents. Anya didn't know. She is, by all rights, innocent. No malice drove her, so there is no reason to be mad. Monstrous and rude as it is to abandon this chance to socialize or reconcile, getting away from her is for the best. For her sake.
  338.  
  339. The clop of flip-flops follow you, Anya proving swift enough in plastic sandals and her sundress to catch up to you. She falls in step beside you, wringing her hands and trying to make eye contact, face contorted in guilt. You stop, and so does she, then turn your gaze at her. Those big toeclaws of hers click against the pavement and the feathers on her head poof up all the way.
  340.  
  341. "IamsosorryIdidn'tknow,"she rattles out, speaking so rapidly it's a miracle her words aren't jumbled out of order from the haste.
  342.  
  343. Your throat tightens and you can't speak yet.
  344.  
  345. "Please, you can be mad at me if it makes you feel better. I won't cry, I promise," she says, able to speak at a somewhat slower pace, yet her voice warbles on the edge of panic.
  346.  
  347. Being silent is just as cruel as yelling. You try to exhale calmly. It sort of works, only she flinches before visibly steeling herself for the tirade she must expect. That hint of her fear slips through the cracks in your stoic exterior and make you feel like a monster. How are you any better than your parents right now? You're not screaming at this raptor gal, but you are definitely making her feel awful. You're doing exactly what your parents would do, something you can't abide.
  348.  
  349. "You didn't do it on purpose, right?" Your voice is steelier than you'd prefer, but it doesn't waver.
  350.  
  351. She shakes her head anxiously, fluffing out the feathers on her head even more. "No, I promise! I would have stopped if knew I splashed you, or swerved to avoid the puddle, or- or anything but what happened!"
  352.  
  353. You close your eyes. You already replaced the murdered MP3 player. Being mad does nothing good right now. That makes it easier to say, and believe, "Alright. I forgive you Anya."
  354.  
  355. "Really?"
  356.  
  357. You open your eyes and nod at the deinonychus staring at you in disbelief. "Of course. I'm sorry about not being an adult and walking away, that was beyond rude of me. It was just water, after all."
  358.  
  359. She blinks, then turns into a blur of fast moving feathers without any warning. Surprisingly strong arms pull you into a hug, Anya's feathers enveloping you in unexpected warmth. Up to the wrists her arms are covered in soft feathers, the ones at her elbows brushing against your skin. Held in that soft warmth you're paralyzed, and it's made all the worse when she lays her head on your shoulder. "Thank you, I was so worried you hated me."
  360.  
  361. A small shake goes through the deinonychus holding you, and you wonder if she's holding back tears. Wondering if she's overly emotional on top of being naively kind, or if you just scared her that badly, you awkwardly return the hug. Feathers brush your arms, some downy and others firm to the touch. It feels nicer than you remember, this kind of close contact with another person that doesn't hate you. Last time you were hugged was right before... no, let that stay in the past. Not that the present is much better. You're hugging an anthro deinonychus you just met today, and it isn't because you're a good person.
  362.  
  363. Anya collects herself after several seconds of holding onto you, breaking the embrace she thrust upon you. From the way she blinks her eyes, you are all but certain she held back tears. But she's calming down, still risen headfeathers aside. You're mostly calm, and slightly embarrassed, but you kept in control of yourself. That has to count for something.
  364.  
  365. "So, um," her hands fidget in front of her and she can't quite look you in the eye, "W-would you still like to do lunch with me? I definitely owe you at least that after all the trouble I've caused you."
  366.  
  367. You struggle to find a kind way to turn her down. A dick thing to do after she came all this way, but being around you probably isn't good for her. Opening you mouth and trusting the first thing that'll come out is wise, you say, "Know what? Yeah, sure."
  368.  
  369. Why did you say that? Did you blow a circuit in your brain, that is the exact opposite of what you what you wanted to say. Right?
  370.  
  371. Feathers on her head still sticking up, her hands frozen in front of her, Anya looks like a deer caught in the headlights and not a feathered predator. Somehow she looks more startled than you feel.
  372.  
  373. "L-lets go, then," she says, going back to her convertible, her tail twitching jerkily as you follow.
  374.  
  375. Getting your mind in a better state, you try to appreciate her car. Except your lack of knowledge about automobiles leaves you with only the impressions that this thing can go way too fast and likely cost too much. And there is still an inkling of irritation when you look at the vehicle, but it's minor enough you can ignore it. Like you said, it was just water and she didn't mean to do it. Anya gets in and you follow suit, sitting in the leather seat with trepidation. She starts the engine with a smile, the roar quieter than you expected, and then she's off once your buckled in. You look at the dash, guess the music system is after market, and urge your nerves to settle. If any of your neighbors are watching they must think you're insane or up to no good.
  376.  
  377. While the wind through your hair is nice and the purr of the engine is almost hypnotic, the silence between you and the raptor is worrying. Anya keeps quiet and you don't feel like you should speak up unless she does. At this point you're along for the ride, keeping track of where you are in town and waiting to see what happens. You clearly come from a wildly different world than her, yet here you are going to lunch because she feels some measure of guilt. Or has other motivations, which you fear to even speculate on.
  378.  
  379. The passage of familiar sights leaves you wondering why you're letting your mind wander. If this lunch goes badly you need to keep an eye on where you are in case you have to walk home. The upside to that possibility is the nice weather.
  380.  
  381. Once Anya pulls up to a deli, a place with the gaudiest sign in the otherwise boring strip mall, she leaves the car idling and smiles anxiously at you. "I, uh, kind of went here on reflex instead, sorry. If there's somewhere else you want to go..."
  382.  
  383. "If this is the deli you got me curious about, I'm good with it," you say.
  384.  
  385. "Okay. Then let's go, I'm sure you'll enjoy it, they're really good," she replies, her smile trying to assure herself as much as you, before killing the engine and grabbing her purse.
  386.  
  387. You both get out and head for the entrance. Out of basic manners you get the door for the deinonychus gal, earning a less nervous smile and thanks from her. Following close, and avoiding her feathery tail, you go with her to the counter in the back of the well lit place. The decor leaves a lot to be desired, screaming of a new business venture with it's pristine furniture and garish abstract art on the walls, but the number of people sitting around the dining area build your confidence. And the menu is plainly visible behind the counter, so this place is at least aware of their purpose in serving food. Though you could do without the generic pop song playing in the background.
  388.  
  389. Anya orders for herself quickly and you pick something relatively cheap, not wanting to take advantage of her generosity. She digs in her purse to pay before you can get your wallet all the way out, the feline teenager behind the counter lacking interest in anything but the bill being paid. Anya may have invited you to lunch, but some things are habit for a man born in the south, so you slip your half-retrieved wallet back down into your pocket while she's distracted.
  390.  
  391. Getting drinks and sitting in a table with some space from the other patrons, you sit across from the raptor. She adjust the plastic table marker, nervously shifts in her seat, and says "Not the best choice of music huh, autotuned pop song number five thousand?"
  392.  
  393. "Well it's not like they'd be willing to play thrash metal in a place like this," you reply, and immediately regret mentioning your taste in music. She'll probably think you're a dork or weirdo.
  394.  
  395. Her eyes widen and a grin spreads across her muzzle. "I don't think they have the right decor for that, but it would be a massive improvement. Though now I've gotta ask, are you into metal much?"
  396.  
  397. One of your eyebrows tries to twitch up. This turn of events is not one you expected, but if you've got similar taste in music as here there is no way you'll miss this opportunity. "Probably more than I should be."
  398.  
  399. The raptor chuckles. "Well don't feel alone there. My dress might not say it, but I'm shamelessly hooked on metal."
  400.  
  401. "No judgment from me for having good taste."
  402.  
  403. "Don't be so sure I've got good taste, I actually like Metallica's St. Anger album."
  404.  
  405. "No way," you say, her grin turning nervous.
  406.  
  407. "Er, yeah, sorry. Probably just ruined any metal cred I might have had."
  408.  
  409. "Not with me," you say, cracking half a smile. "St. Anger was actually how I got introduced to the band."
  410.  
  411. "No kidding? I don't even remember what got me introduced to them. But what about - oops." She leans back, and you turn your head to see a human guy carrying two plates.
  412.  
  413. "Reuben?" the guy asks. You raise your hand off the table, and he sets sets a plate with a larger sandwich than you expect in front of you when you.
  414.  
  415. "And you had the Grandstander?" he asks, turning to look at Anya without batting so much as an eye on seeing her. Proof of his time in the service industry, no doubt.
  416.  
  417. "Yup," she says, smiling appreciatively when the plate is set before her. An absolute monster of a sandwich, stacked high enough with slices of meat to need long tooth picks jammed through the halves to keep it together, is crammed on the plate. There is a hint of cheese and sauce but you can't tell what kind with the amount of sliced meats piled in between the bread.
  418.  
  419. "You two need anything else?" the guy asks. Anya shakes her head, clearly focused on the food in front of her. You tell the guy everything's great, the employee leaving with the table marker in hand. With food before the you and Anya the conversation that just started stalls out, your stomach looking forward to have a meal you didn't prepare. The luxury of eating out is one you rarely indulge in, so you might as well try to enjoy it and dig in.
  420.  
  421. The reuben tastes good, though you think it could stand to have some more sauerkraut to balance how much corned beef they put on. But compared to the sandwich Anya is picking up with two hands, yours is reasonable. Focusing on your meal you can't help but notice how quickly the raptor across from you chomps through her meal, her toothy maw helping her wolf down her entire sandwich before you're halfway done with yours. While you are impressed, she seems to realize that she finished far before you, putting hand on her muzzle as her headfeathers stand partly up. You guess that if she could blush she'd be as red as a beet right now. A feathered beet.
  422.  
  423. You wipe your your mouth with a napkin, trying not to laugh at that mental image.
  424.  
  425. "Uhm, excuse me, I've got to visit the ladies room," she says, leaving you at the table alone.
  426.  
  427. The smile tugging at your lips fades as that doubtful part of you expects her to ditch you. Not that taking her purse with her is surprising, you'd be shocked if she didn't. Yet you can't shake the feeling that she's done with you, not that you blame her. It has happened to you before with friends and on a couple of dates, but at least this time the meal has been paid for. You eat the rest of your sandwich in solitude, growing more convinced by the moment that she's gone. Right when you were hoping to talk with her after learning you've got common interest in music.
  428.  
  429. Finished with your sandwich, you mull whether you should go or wait around. Until someone taps your shoulder. You glance behind yourself, see nothing, and turn back to see a slyly smiling deinonychus sitting down. She giggles when you jump in your sit at the surprise of seeing her back.
  430.  
  431. "Way to give a man a heart attack," you say, dramatically putting a hand over your heart and grinning at her.
  432.  
  433. "Sorry," she says, "You looked so focused I couldn't resist."
  434.  
  435. You shake your head and finish your drink, your heart hammering still. You wonder how she sneakily made her way back to the table in flip-flops, but thinking about it you don't remember hearing them when she left.
  436.  
  437. A small smile on her face, she asks, "So I was wondering, what other bands you are into?"
  438.  
  439. You're not going to turn down this opportunity to talk music taste. The conversation and time fly by, you and Anya comparing bands you're into and coming out of it with recommendations neither of you have heard of before. Your suggestions go into her phone with rapid taps of her claws on the screen, but you have to borrow a pen from her to write down band names on a napkin. Somehow the conversation turns to other hobbies, Anya asking, "What do you do for fun?"
  440.  
  441. "Other than listen to music? I read a lot about the tech industry to keep my knowledge up to date, or just read in general," you say, leaving out the website with a less than stellar reputation you haunt. "Other than trying my hand at cooking and watching the odd thing online I'm actually pretty dull." Smooth you are not, faltering and unsure of what else to say.
  442.  
  443. "Forearms like yours I didn't think you'd be on the nerdy side." One of her hands raises off the table. "Don't get me wrong though, that's cool. Most of my work is on a computer but tech's always been magic to me."
  444.  
  445. Your forearms? It's hard not to look at them, but there's nothing special about them that you remember. Letting that comment slide you shrug your shoulders. "I used to repair computers and phones in college for side money, but I dropped that when I moved into the area."
  446.  
  447. "So definitely on the nerdy side, huh?" she asks.
  448.  
  449. "Probably."
  450.  
  451. "Nothing wrong with it, my little bro's totally into the stuff. And a good friend of mine in college was a secret anime nerd, she even got me into a few shows so I'd be the last person to judge." Her head twitches slightly to the side. "Speaking of anime though, you watch any?"
  452.  
  453. "I've been exposed to some but it never hooked me," you say. "What about you, what do you for entertainment?"
  454.  
  455. "Oh, uhm guess it's only fair I share. Lets see," she says, fingers tapping rhythmically on the table. "Watch shows, play video games, and a lot of boring solo things. I was in an athletics club in college but about all I do for that now is hit the gym a few times a week." Her claws continue to tap on the tapletop, the pattern something vaguely familiar, and she adds a moment later, "Oh, and I guess playing guitar counts too, though I've been doing that so long I don't think about it much."
  456.  
  457. "You play guitar?"
  458.  
  459. "And a few other instruments, but only half-decently." Her fingers stop tapping, her smile self-conscious as she folds her hands on top of each other. "My little sis is a total band nerd and got way more talent than me, I just kind of dabble and keep up with it 'cause it's something I've done forever."
  460.  
  461. "I'm impressed, I never had a good sense of rhythm to learn one instrument. I was one of the kids that made everyone else suffer when they tried teaching us the recorder."
  462.  
  463. "Heh, well I wasn't much better when they tried that at my school," she says.
  464.  
  465. Her phone buzzes on the table, drawing her attention to it for a moment. Her claws tap on the screen, the message probably important. You glance around the dining area and realize none of the customers sitting around were hear when you came in. How long have the two of you been talking?
  466.  
  467. "Sorry about that, Anon, text from work." she says, your gaze returning to the green eyed deinonychus. "So, ready to go?"
  468.  
  469. "Yeah," you say, imagining she's either tired of talking or saw the time.
  470.  
  471. Getting up to go, and asking if you need to deal with the plates - she says no, there is someone that goes around for them - the two of you start walking out. You can't help but notice that an older anthro couple, a pair of wolves, practically glares at you in disapproval. Then their gazes jump to Anya and leaves you wondering if it's her they're judging. Averting your eyes you get the door for the raptor girl, who seems blissfully unaware of the distasteful stares. You don't give that couple the satisfaction of seeing you look back as you follow her to the green muscle car. The vehicle stands out like a sore thumb in the parking lot, serving to remind you how this raptor is a mystery you cannot begin to understand.
  472.  
  473. A full stomach and Anya's expectant look keep you from saying you'll walk back, so you get back in what in leather seats that feel too expensive for the likes of you. It only occurs to you that the older couple might have been glaring at you and Anya for being, in their eyes, a couple. That idea is so alien to you it nearly makes you laugh. As if a cute girl like Anya would want to go on a date with you.
  474.  
  475. "So what'd you think of the place, pretty good right?" she asks, key in the ignition but not starting the roaring purr of her car yet.
  476.  
  477. "I was pleasantly surprised." You'll have to come back, but maybe not at lunch so you can avoid potentially running into that wolf couple again. But you're definitely going back, that sauerkraut tasted homemade.
  478.  
  479. Her glad grin exposes curved, sharp looking teeth fit for tearing apart flesh or oversized sandwiches, but she's too cute and expressive you to find intimidating. "Same," she says.
  480.  
  481. You raise an eyebrow quizzically, and she hastily adds, "Well, it's rare to find a guy with such good musical taste."
  482.  
  483. Chalking her answer up to simple awkwardness, you say, "True taste is rare, judging from the junk they played in there."
  484.  
  485. "I know, right?" She starts the engine, her eyes drifting to the time displayed on the LCD panel on the dash, groaning at the digits. "Ah crud, I need to get back to my place soon, gotta make sure my dad hasn't borked the TV I just bought."
  486.  
  487. "Technologically impaired?"
  488.  
  489. "Worse than me and too proud to admit it," she sighs.
  490.  
  491. "Ouch."
  492.  
  493. "He tries, at least, but we all wish he'd bug us instead of hobbling along until something breaks. Never mind that, though. Want to listen to one of those bands I told you about?"
  494.  
  495. "So long as you tell me who they are first."
  496.  
  497. "Well then, allow me to introduce you to Scale Snatcher," she says with a grin, pressing a couple of buttons.
  498.  
  499. The cacophony of drums and guitars that ensues is broken by the growling hiss of a gator, the vocals deep and heavy enough to make you wonder how amazing this is at an appropriate volume. With the top down Anya reasonably keeps the volume low, so the rush of wind and sounds of the outside world as she starts driving does detract from the musical experience. Not that it's miserable, far from it. For a wonderful while you slip into the sheer presence of the moment, enjoying the music, wind, and silent company of this raptor gal faintly bobbing her head in time to the music.
  500.  
  501. But like all good things, the moment ends far too quickly. Anya pulls up in front of your apartment complex and pauses the music, bringing you back to the world.
  502.  
  503. "Thanks for letting me treat you to lunch, Anon."
  504.  
  505. "I'm the one that should be thanking you. For lunch and introducing me to some great music," you say, already planning to look up Scale Snatcher's discography.
  506.  
  507. "Hey you don't need to thank me. I'm the one that screwed up twice, yet you turned my apology lunch into a fun time. Seriously, thanks a bunch Anon, I'm glad to have met someone interesting with such excellent taste in music and..." she shakes her head, "Anyway, you know. It was a fun time."
  508.  
  509. "It was fun, Anya. That's why I'm thanking you for it," you say with a mild smile. You pop open the door and step out onto the pavement, wondering if you should ask if she wants to do something like this again. But you don't want to trod all over this kind girl, so you look back at her before shutting the door and add, "And don't be hard on yourself on anything you think you did to me, accidents happen. Alright?"
  510.  
  511. The grin she returns is betrayed by her headfeathers rising as well. "You're too kind Anon, and you're very welcome. I've gotta go though, make sure my dad isn't making a total ass out of himself in my apartment. But I'll see you later, maybe?"
  512.  
  513. You nod and shut the door to her car, not sure if you have enough hope to believe you will see her again.
  514.  
  515. She starts to drive off and you wave a good bye, to which she holds up the sign of the horns. An amused chuckled rolls out of your gut, but when she turns the corner and her vanity plate, F34THRD, vanishes an odd feeling stirs in your throat. Whatever that emotion is you bottle it up and head back up to your apartment, not wanting to deal with your emotions right now.
  516.  
  517.  
  518.  
  519. -CHAPTER 3-  My Friend of Misery
  520.  
  521. The solitude of your apartment presses down viciously as the evening drags on. Getting on your laptop to lose yourself in the mindlessness of anonymous internet conversation seems like a good idea, but once you start up your laptop you question the wisdom of going to your usual online haunts. You poke around boards you don't go to, wondering if you can find something new to distract yourself with, only to lose interest far too quickly.
  522.  
  523. That leaves music. You get your earbuds and start checking out bands Anya recommended, finding their sound is generally heavier than what you listen to. But most of it is still quite good, leading to you going to the spreadsheet you track bands on and adding a several to your list of 'to acquire'. Less than legally, but you'd never acknowledge to your practice of sailing the high seas of piracy. It's not like everything in your collection hasn't been legitimately acquired, and when you can you try to support the smaller bands. Some of which are probably going to be a nightmare to find files for and, checking a streaming service, you confirm a few are indeed niche enough to not be on the usual platforms. However, when you check out Scale Snatcher and their music videos you discover they're fairly popular. With their music blaring into your ears without contamination, you see why Anya likes them so much and how they earned their following.
  524.  
  525. The music video gives a look at the band's line up, a visually impressive collection of anthros. A gator vocalist, some sort of snake on the bass, a raven on drums, and some sort of monitor lizard on rhythm guitar. What really gets your attention is the lead guitarist, a black and white raptor shredding madly, his mop of flour white headfeathers sticking up and toeclaws raised as he moves with the music. Not that anyone else in the band is exactly still, the music is so high energy even your head is moving along with it and foot tapping as well.
  526.  
  527. You listen to a few more videos, growing a little curious about raptors. But checking the time you think going to bed earlier sounds better than falling into the trap of searching information online. Standing up your stomach rumbles, reminding you there is a roast in the fridge. Passing on dinner you get a glass of water to calm your stomach, deciding an early breakfast will be better than eating now.
  528.  
  529. Going to your bedroom you strip down to your boxers and fall in, getting comfortable under the covers. You've settled in when your phone, charging on the nightstand, lets off its annoying chime.
  530.  
  531. "Fuck," you mumble, reaching an arm out from under your blanket to grab the device. The cord is long enough you can leave it plugged in, but that minor positive does nothing for your mood. Your boss had better not be asking you to come to work tomorrow because someone failed a drug test again, even if you get paid decently you'd like to not spend what was supposed to be your days off driving a forklift and loading trucks.
  532.  
  533. Flipping your phone open you see that it isn't your boss's number. Which is strange because he's about the only person who would text you, let alone at 8PM. You don't recognize who it is right away, but seeing the messages and chat history clear up your confusion.
  534.  
  535. "Hey Anon, thanks again for today!" reads the first part of the message "If you want to hang out again, let me know :)"
  536.  
  537. Before replying you add Anya's number into your contacts, requiring more fiddling than you'd like given the nature of your crummy flip-phone. With your numberpad, you opt for a simple text back. "sure"
  538.  
  539. Her reply is lightning quick. "Want to do lunch tomorrow? Just throwing it out there if you're bored and free."
  540.  
  541. "sure"
  542.  
  543. "Great :) Wanna try this sushi place that just opened?"
  544.  
  545. "sure"
  546.  
  547. A moment passes before her reply. "Are you there Anon? Or is this like... a bot or something?"
  548.  
  549. "sorry dumbphone txts r slow"
  550.  
  551. "Oh, gotcha :o Want me to pick you up?"
  552.  
  553. "got legs"
  554.  
  555. "You don't have to walk everywhere."
  556.  
  557. True, but you kind of like the exercise. "it works"
  558.  
  559. "How about I just pick you up to save those legs of yours in case we want to hang out lunch? ^v^"
  560.  
  561. Tired, groggy, thumbs and eyes starting to hurt from texting on a flip-phone without a keyboard, you relent. "k, when?"
  562.  
  563. "11?"
  564.  
  565. "k, gonna pass out now"
  566.  
  567. "Nighty night Anon!"
  568.  
  569. "night"
  570.  
  571. You drop the phone on your nightstand and throw the covers back over yourself, turning to put your back to the device as you beg for sleep. Rest doesn't come like it should, too many thoughts running through your head as the day tries to replay itself. Far too many thoughts are about that smiling deinonychus and how enjoyable it was to talk with her.
  572.  
  573. After it's clear you aren't getting any sleep yet you get up, stomach reminding you that dinner has been skipped. Grumbling to yourself you get a shirt on and go to heat up that roast in the hopes that some food will knock you out.
  574.  
  575. ---
  576.  
  577. You wake up, cheek resting against your table and the quiet whirl of your laptop's fans reminding you how you spent the night. Groaning at your stupidity for staying up too long and eating all the leftover roast while watching nature documentaries to try and bore yourself to sleep, you stiffly get up from the awkward sleeping position. It would have been better if your chair rolled back and dumped you on the floor in the middle of the night, at least then you'd have been laying down. You check the time, see it's 9:40 in the morning, and relief washes over you. You didn't oversleep after all.
  578.  
  579. Skipping breakfast, since you ate more than enough last night, you go about morning routine before grabbing a quick shower. The cold water does nothing to quell your thoughts but it wakes you up that last bit, giving you enough pep to get dry and dressed. Unfortunately, you're left with thirty minutes before Anya said she'd pick you up and you'd rather not watch any more videos. You need to do something to keep yourself from going crazy waiting.
  580.  
  581. You get your phone, make sure you have no messages, and set it on your table. If you still had a roommate then you could probably pass the time chatting or actively avoiding them, but no point in moping. Doing a bit of cleaning passes the time well enough, and more importantly, gives you something to focus on that isn't the day ahead. Though there isn't much to do in your apartment, living alone and generally keeping your space tidy.
  582.  
  583. While you wipe the counters down your phone chimes, and you check the message.
  584.  
  585. "Still up for lunch?" Anya's message reads.
  586.  
  587. "Yup."
  588.  
  589. "Great! I'm waiting in the same spot as before."
  590.  
  591. You blink, surprised that she just now sent you a message to confirm. Whatever, you can worry about that after you wash your hands. "Be down soon."
  592.  
  593. Leaving your cleaning half finished you double check your pockets, make sure your hands don't smell like citrus scented cleaning spray and head out. Lock double checked you nod at the old mastiff hanging when he waves at you.
  594.  
  595. "Have fun with yer date?" the old man asks with a southern drawl.
  596.  
  597. Somehow you catch the railing and don't end up tumbling down the stairs from the surprise question. "Just a friendly outing," you say, collecting yourself.
  598.  
  599. He nods knowingly, and you swear he chuckles under his breath as he blows out a cloud of pungent cigar smoke. "Have fun today," your neighbor says.
  600.  
  601. You give him a thumbs up and go down the stairs, careful not to rush or trip again. At least your neighbor doesn't seem to give a shit that you were out with an anthro gal, not that you think he would care. Your upbringing and few odd looks aside, most people don't seem to care what adults do with each other. A good attitude.
  602.  
  603. Just as her message said, Anya is parked in the same spot as before. She's standing by her convertible, that naturally has it's top down, and waves at you. "Hi, Anon."
  604.  
  605. "Hey Anya," you say, waving back and adding, "You look great." The blue and white sundress she's in looks fantastic on her, and she looks pleased by the compliment if the practically radiant grin on her face is anything to go by.
  606.  
  607. "Thanks, you don't look so bad yourself. Hop in, I wanna beat the lunch rush."
  608.  
  609. You nod and head toward the passenger's side, and she completely ignores the door, hopping over the side and sliding into her seat as if she's done it hundreds of times. Leg strength like that explains how she so easily hauled you off the floor yesterday. You get in the normal way and buckle up, Anya asking if you want to listen to music. To which you say yes, and the sound of heavy metal blocks any further possibility of conversation.
  610.  
  611. The place she drives to is in a part of town you rarely go to, the sign and facade of the building looking vaguely Japanese to your untrained eye. Going inside, and making sure to get the door for her, you're relieved that it doesn't look that fancy.
  612.  
  613. A tiger waitress leads both of you to a table in the back, and you're pretty sure this won't be an authentic Japanese dining experience. Not that you care, food is food. Seated and left with menus while the waitress takes your drink orders, you glance at what's offered and the prices. You recognize almost nothing other than this place being far pricier than you anticipated. Not that you let your surprise show.
  614.  
  615. "Know what you're going to get?" Anya asks, long since done with her menu.
  616.  
  617. "I'm totally lost," you admit.
  618.  
  619. "I can make recommendations," she offers, opening her menu back up. "Anything you don't like?"
  620.  
  621. "Nothing spicy." You think for a second, and decide to take a risk. "If you want to order for us both, I'm that lost. My sushi experience is cheap buffets."
  622.  
  623. "Oh, yeah I guess this could be pretty overwhelming," the deinonychus says, looking back at the menu. Muzzle pointing at the menu, her eyes flick up to you. "Are you sure though?"
  624.  
  625. "I trust you won't break my wallet or tastebuds."
  626.  
  627. "Okay. I guess some nigiri would be a good place to start, and maybe a tempura roll for something more normal," she says, glancing back at you for approval.
  628.  
  629. You think nigiri is raw fish on rice, but you're certain to find out soon enough. "Sounds good to me."
  630.  
  631. When the waitress comes by with drinks and asks for your orders, Anya starts listing things off. By the time she's done, you can already feel the hit your wallet is going to take when the bill comes around. You got an example of Anya's large appetite yesterday, bu if you are keeping track of all of those weird names correctly then she's already listed off ten things. The waitress heads off with the menus while you are still trying to determine how much food is going to hit the table, leaving you and the deinonychus alone.
  632.  
  633. Anya fiddles with a straw still in its wrapper, nerves apparent. You shouldn't have put her on the spot like that with the order.
  634.  
  635. "Did you succeed in getting that huge TV set up?" you ask, grasping for something to talk about.
  636.  
  637. "Yup. My dad and little bro got it all in place when I got back. But my dad was stubbornly ignoring my tech geek little bro and trying to set up all the remotes and cables himself, so I had to run interference so things could get done." She shakes her head and smiles. "It all got working after my dad listened to reason, so all's well that ends well."
  638.  
  639. "That's a good way to look at it."
  640.  
  641. "True. Oh, and my dad already loves that little MP3," she says, and you resist correcting her on the correct terminology. "Thanks a ton for helping me pick that out. He said it's a lot easier than his phone, which we're all grateful for since he should stop asking how to play music after deleting or hiding the app."
  642.  
  643. Somehow you resist shuddering, probably because of the sympathy you feel for Anya and her family. That degree of tech illiteracy is astounding to hear about. "I'm glad it's working out. Just tell him to keep it away from water, learned that lesson the hard way."
  644.  
  645. She folds her arms on the table and stares at you, hesitation pursing her lips. "I wanted to ask you about that, actually. Did I damage anything when I splashed?"
  646.  
  647. "That's all water under the bridge, Anya," you say, waving a hand dismissively.
  648.  
  649. "I did, didn't I?" Regret tugs at the corners of her mouth and eyes. "I can pay you back-"
  650.  
  651. "Nope."
  652.  
  653. Your instant refusal leaves her speechless for several seconds, her mouth hanging slightly ajar and leaving her curved teeth visible. The feathers on the head aren't poofing up so you take that as a good sign.
  654.  
  655. "But-"
  656.  
  657. Rude as it might be, you cut her off again. "You didn't do it on purpose and you already treated me to lunch. A fun one at that. So forget paying me back for something that might have happened and let's just hang out like friends, okay?"
  658.  
  659. Her shoulders sagged as you spoke, but the moment you said 'friends' she perks back up. "Okay. But, are you sure? I..." her attention shifts from you to something past your head. "Hold that thought, the food is here."
  660.  
  661. The tiger waitress has to set out way too many plates, making you wish you kept track of what Anya ordered. Nine plates, ranging from simple fish on rice to rolls sliced into bite-sized pieces, are laid out between you and Anya. When the waitress asks if you have everything you need and hears a yes from both of you, she smiles and heads off. But not before telling you to let her know if you need anything at all.
  662.  
  663. Anya, instead of digging in as you expected, pokes at the food with her chopsticks, shifting pieces without actually picking them up. You refuse to eat until she does, which leads to an awkward silence. That mercifully breaks when her green eyes look up at you, worry written across her muzzle and in the fluff of her headfeathers.
  664.  
  665. "You aren't pulling my leg about the friend thing, right?" she asks, voice wavering momentarily. "I haven't really made any since moving here."
  666.  
  667. "I haven't had much luck either, but hanging out yesterday was fun. So if you want, friends?" you ask, holding your hand out.
  668.  
  669. She takes your hand and shakes it, the smile she directs your way lifting a weight you didn't know sat atop your heart. "I'd like that. Not every day I meet someone with the same great taste in music," she says, letting go of your hand. "Now c'mon, let's dig in."
  670.  
  671. You nod in agreement and pick up your chopsticks. There is so much food you don't know where to start or what Anya ordered on your behalf. Asking will make you feel like a dunce. But no matter how much you stare at the food you can't figure out what is who's. She notices your hesitation, her toothy mouth open to receive the bright slice of raw fish on rice pinched between her chopsticks. Mouth closing and lowering her bite back to the plate, she then points with her free hand to a few plates. Two with fish on rice and a third a sliced roll, with the tail of what looks like a fried shrimp sticking out each end. "The tuna and salmon nigiri, and shrimp tempura are what I ordered for you," she says, gesturing at three plates. "But if anything else looks interesting feel to try it, I don't mind sharing."
  672.  
  673. "Alright. Thanks, my experience with sushi is probably blasphemous," you say, not so deftly maneuvering your chopsticks to pick up the reddish-pink tuna. Not knowing what to expect you pop the piece into your mouth, the faint vinegary taste of the rice mixing nicely with an unmistakable fishy taste.
  674.  
  675. "Do you like it?" she asks.
  676.  
  677. You give her a thumbs up. Smiling, she goes for the piece she set down earlier, popping it in her toothy maw. Aside from Anya asking if you like what you try, which you do and say as much, there is little in the way of conversation. You notice that whenever you eat a piece she does as well, which seems a bit odd. Not thinking much of it you focus on enjoying the meal and pleasant company.
  678.  
  679. Finishing off the last piece of the tempura roll, your least favorite of the three you try but still good, you place your chopsticks down in surrender.
  680.  
  681. "Feel free to try to any of mine if you want," she offers.
  682.  
  683. "Thanks, but I'm stuffed," you say.
  684.  
  685. She hungrily eyes the remaining sushi. "Oh. Then do you mind if I finish everything off? I kinda skipped breakfast."
  686.  
  687. "Go ahead."
  688.  
  689. Her chopsticks move quickly and confidently, making short work of the three extra plates. You're astounded by her finesse, her chopsticks never seeming to scrap against her curved teeth as the sushi vanishes without a trace. Once the last piece of nigiri disappears she sets her wooden utensils down she sets a hand on the table, shifting in her seat as she tries to look anywhere but at you. A twinge of worry passes through you. Were you staring? Or have you upset her somehow?
  690.  
  691. She speaks up, looking at you as her headfeathers rise a touch. "Sorry to bring it back up, but are you sure I didn't mess anything of yours up when I splashed you?"
  692.  
  693. "Anya it's fine, really. That's in the past, you don't need to worry about what happened."
  694.  
  695. "I don't want to make something out of nothing or be pushy," she says, fingers nervously twisting and twirling, "But you were buying a new MP3 and said you learned the hard way that the one you picked out for me wasn't waterproof. I'm far from the brightest but that sure makes me think I might've been responsible."
  696.  
  697. There is no good way to answer. You can't even look for the tiger waitress and flag her down for the check without looking like a jerk. Which leaves you to face the possibility of ending this friendship, but you won't lie. "Don't put yourself down like that, you're pretty clever. Yeah, my old music player got messed up on that rainy day," you sigh, trying to think of a way to get out of this and return to a more pleasant topic.
  698.  
  699. "I'm so sorry. Look, would you let me pay you back?" she asks, reaching for her purse. "It was rude but I heard how much the new on you bought cost and-"
  700.  
  701. "Were you going for that puddle on purpose?"
  702.  
  703. "No," she says, head shaking and nervous feathers rising. "I didn't see it and I really thought it missed the person on the sidewalk."
  704.  
  705. "Then, and I mean this as a friend, no I won't let you pay me back. Accidents happen, and I've already forgiven you. So let's put that all behind us," you tell her, trying to be a better man than you have any right to be.
  706.  
  707. She stares at you, claws barely touching her purse, face frozen in disbelief. Fearing you broke or offended her, you scramble for something to say. And of course the waitress chooses that moment to bring the check, laying it on the table closer to you than Anya. You hear the waitress say something about paying when you're ready, to which you nod and say... something. Perhaps sensing she interrupted something the tiger waitress gives you both an apologetic grin before heading over to some other customers. Anya's eyes finally breaking contact with you to look at the check. She reaches for the ticket but you're faster, snatching it before the deinonychus can reach across the table.
  708.  
  709. "Hey, uhm, since I invited you out I'll pay," she says, setting her purse on the table. "How much is it?"
  710.  
  711. Your wallet hurts looking at the total. After denying her a chance to pay you back, letting her pay for the meal is certainly one way to mitigate the financial impact of this weekend. But you're feeling dangerously stubborn. Certain as you are that you'll regret it later, you still say, "I've got it."
  712.  
  713. She blinks twice as if to check you're not some figment of her imagination. "I can at least pay for myself, Anon."
  714.  
  715. "Nah," you reply, tugging your wallet out of your back pocket.
  716.  
  717. "Then how about half?" she offers, hands slinking into her purse.
  718.  
  719. "I've got it, Anya. You paid for lunch last time, so the least I can do is pay for it now." You're being an idiot. Curse your stubborn pride, but letting her pay now will haunt you all night. You pull the necessary bills out and give the deinonychus a half smile. "So don't worry about it."
  720.  
  721. "But that was... Then could you tell me how much it was so I can leave the tip?"
  722.  
  723. "I've got it," you assure her, holding the check over the money and managing to get the passing waitress's attention. You hand over the check and she does a quick count, probably surprised that a cheap looking chump like you put in that much of a tip.
  724.  
  725. "Thank you, sir. Let me get you the change."
  726.  
  727. "Keep it," you say.
  728.  
  729. "Oh, thank you, sir. You two have a wonderful day now."
  730.  
  731. Once the waitress is gone, moving on to deal with the restaurant filling up with people, you look back to Anya. She smiles at you and says, "I'm ready to go if you are."
  732.  
  733. "Yeah. After you," you say, letting her lead. No one pays the two of you, a human and an anthro, leaving together any attention. The half-packed dining area has nothing but people with concerned their own conversations and day. That or the clientele doesn't care, or perhaps you're needlessly self-conscious.
  734.  
  735. Getting the door for Anya, you follow her to that impressive convertible of hers. To your ignorant eyes, she has the most expensive looking vehicle in the lot. It is certainly the most notable, and once you're sitting in the car you can't help but notice she looks a bit down. Her posture is a touch slouched and a hint of a frown tugging at the edge of her mouth. Worrying you might be why there is no cute smile on your new raptor friend's face, you decide to speak your mind.
  736.  
  737. "Hey," you gently say, her eyes darting toward you for a moment. "Is it a problem that I paid? I didn't want to offend you or anything, and if I did I'm sorry."
  738.  
  739. "You didn't offend me. I just...." she grips the wheel tightly, feathers starting to rise until she breathes out slowly. Her voice is strained, but that definitely isn't anger. Only nervousness. "I just wanted to treat you to lunch. Especially now that we're, y'know, friends."
  740.  
  741. "Well, it's not like we won't have a chance to do this again."
  742.  
  743. Her grip relaxes, and a smile returns to her face. The uplifting sensation in your chest is surprising, and you're not sure if you should welcome it or not. Looking right at you she says, "It's a date. If, uh, shit that probably... you see..." Anya looks away while you try and process what she just said. She hits her forehead against the steering wheel, and thankfully the horn doesn't go off. You're not sure your heart would survive that much of a shock right now. "Let's, uh, let's just pretend I didn't open my stupid mouth."
  744.  
  745. Trusting your mouth to come up with something clever, because your brain is too busy hiding to have any response available for you, you say, "I'm fine with a date."
  746.  
  747. Green eyes snap to you and her headfeathers all poof out. She looks nearly as spooked as you feel. So much for your mouth being smarter than your brain, Anya looks ready to run away now. She sits ramrod straight and stares ahead, looking like nothing more than a feathery floof with a death grip on the wheel. If the parking brake wasn't engaged you might be worried about everyone's safety. Worrying with only that tiny sliver of your mind not currently berating yourself for saying something so dumb.
  748.  
  749. You can't let the silence stretch out. "Anya?"
  750.  
  751. Her head snaps to look at you.
  752.  
  753. "Are you okay?" you ask.
  754.  
  755. She nods a bit too rapidly for you to believe her. But she seems to collect herself a moment later, the feathers on her head starting to lower.
  756.  
  757. "I, uhm, I'll take you home now," she says, voice blank and free from any warmth.
  758.  
  759. Not trusting your mouth you nod. And here you thought the two of you were getting along nicely. Shows what you really know. Nothing is said on the drive back to your place, the rush of wind while her convertible is moving no better than crushing silence. It doesn't end soon enough for either of you, judging from her death grip on the steering wheel and the gnawing pit in your gut.
  760.  
  761. Anya drops you off in the same place she picked you up. You step out and wave her goodbye, not wanting to bother her with anything else you might say. You don't know if she waves back before her convertible rolls away. Music or solitude won't help chase away the hole opening in your soul. Nothing will. You trudge up the stairs and get to your door, the lock opening under an assault of shaking keys. The door flies open and you can barely keep yourself from slamming it shut.
  762.  
  763. "Shut the fuck up brain, I know I screwed that up," you hiss from between clenched teeth while leaning against your shut door. "She had a slip of the tongue and I chased off my one chance at a friend."
  764.  
  765. Of course, your mind ignores you and tries to think of some way you might have done better. Could have explained yourself before she left. You could have laughed off what you said about being open to a date, played it off as a joke. Or not said anything and dropped it altogether. Right when things had just started looking up after possibly offending her.
  766.  
  767. Two years of failing to have a social life. Getting stabbed in the back or left high and dry at every turn. Maybe it would have been the same with Anya, but now you'll never know after screwing up what looked like the best shot at making a friend. She's been nothing but nice to you and you just had to go and spook her by speaking without thinking. All you wanted was to have lunch and maybe hang out, talk about music or whatever topic conversation landed on. Instead, here you are, grinding your teeth and trying not to imagine how smug your parents would be at seeing your shell of a life right now.
  768.  
  769. Was what Anya said a slip of the tongue? It's an innocent enough phrase, 'It's a date,' but how everything went down you aren't so sure anymore. The only thing you do know is that you crossed a line. Either you offended her or outright frightened her.
  770.  
  771. No. Thinking about any of this won't help. Not one bit. But you know how to silence your spinning, tormenting mind. Stripping down to your boxers you start exercising. Crunches, squats, push ups, that pull-ups on that bar contraption you can put on a doorway, leg lifts, everything that can make your muscles scream at you. You go past your usual workout point and keep going. On and on you keep forcing your body to move and muscles flex against your weight, stopping only to hydrate and move to another workout position. You're driven on by a mad mantra: exhaust the body and the mind follows.
  772.  
  773. It takes an eternity for your body and mind to declare defeat, the light outside your one window dimming when your arms give out and you land chest first on the floor. Breathing heavy, body unwilling to let you push it any farther, you find yourself past the point of muscle ache. You lay there immobile on the floor, barely able to think let alone feel as your mind rests at the edge of oblivion. There is no peace. Only absence of awareness. It's acceptable.
  774.  
  775. Right up to the point a chill creeps in past your thoughtless exhaustion. Groaning you try to get up. Standing isn't possible yet. You can barely get your arms to move, but you have enough energy to drag yourself forward. You have to crawl to your shower like a wounded animal, which isn't far from what you truly are.
  776.  
  777. Arms and legs shaking you get into your bathroom and manage to put your feet under you. Hitting the water you don't care about the temperature. The stream pouring down on you starts cold but turns hot, then nearly scalding as you soap and wash away the sweat of your madness. The all-consuming task of getting clean ends, and with that out of the way you cut the water off. One moment you're stepping out, the next you're getting something clean to wear, and before you can process moving through your apartment you collapse on your bed.
  778.  
  779. Laying flat on your back and too tired to cover up you mercifully don't have to wait long for sleep to free you from this weekend.
  780.  
  781.  
  782.  
  783. -CHAPTER 4-  Escape
  784.  
  785. The incessant beeping of your alarm and the ache of your body reminds you that you're alive. You move through the pain to check the time on your cheap alarmclock. You see you only overslept by a few minutes, and drag yourself out of bed. You could call in sick today but you know you'll feel better after a monotonous day of warehouse labor. That sounds better than wasting a day alone in your apartment and lamenting how badly you screwed up yesterday.
  786.  
  787. You pay little attention to your morning routine of a quick shower followed by lazy breakfast of eggs and toast waking you up. Gathering your keys and phone you head out for another daily grind at work. Walking down the stairs outside your apartment you feel an unusual chill in the air, nothing unpleasant but a sure sign of autumn's approach. The brisk air is sure to warm up as the day moves on, but between your tired legs and the recent questionable weather you decide driving to work is the smart move. Getting into your old, nothing to look at sedan you head off to work. Traffic is so minimal that you arrive at work early.
  788.  
  789. You wait in the car until it's close to clock in time, then head into the huge, but thankfully climate controlled, warehouse. You give only a cursory greeting to your coworkers as you clock in. Like always, if it isn't work related no one speaks to you and you return the courtesy. You keep your head down, drive your forklift, and move pallets where the system tells you to.
  790.  
  791. There are a lot of shipments to prepare for the day so you're kept busy until lunch. Free for half an hour you go raid your car's glove compartment for a few granola bars. No one bothers you in the breakroom, a few of the old timers chatting at a table while you keep your back to the wall and think about a future you have no plans for. You don't get long to ponder your options and how to avoid being stuck in a job bound to be replaced by a robot when your boss comes into the breakroom. The graying weasel, Mr. Crombe, looks around, spots you, and comes striding over.
  792.  
  793. "Anon, just the man I was looking for," he says, whiskers twitching.
  794.  
  795. "Can I help you, sir?" you ask, polite tone automatic.
  796.  
  797. "I'm hoping you can. We had a failed drug test last week and are down a pair of hands, but there's a replacement lined up. New kid, without much work experience, is starting next week. I'm hoping I can rely on you to mentor him for a weeks," your mentor says.
  798.  
  799. You keep from wincing, but don't outright accept. "Floor worker?"
  800.  
  801. "Yes. You're my first choice for this Anon, so you can say no."
  802.  
  803. Your boss's tone makes it clear that saying 'no' will disappoint him. You've made it a point to stay in the good graces of the people responsible for your hours and paychecks. And other than wanting to keep to yourself, you have no good reason to turn this down. "Do I need to go over any training material or anything?"
  804.  
  805. "No, he's already being trained on another shift. I want you on the floor watching out for him, making sure he adapts."
  806.  
  807. That sounds suspicious to you. "He on parole or something?"
  808.  
  809. "No," your boss says, tone hardening. "His father is a good friend of mine. You're the straightest shooter I've got Anon, and I'm hoping your punctual nature rubs off on him. That, and if anything happens I know you'll come to me first."
  810.  
  811. Fantastic. You're being asked to babysit a new guy hired thanks to nepotism, and the tone your boss is taking makes it clear that nothing he's said has been a request. Hopefully you won't be thrown under the bus if the new guy screws up royally. "Got it, sir."
  812.  
  813. "I knew I could rely on you, Anon. Come in early tomorrow and I'll fill you in on what to expect next week," your boss says, leaving to get some coffee without saying another word.
  814.  
  815. Great. Calling in sick this morning seems like it might've been the right choice. No point in lamenting what you just got stuck with, that can happen when you meet this new guy or find out you're boss is going to skimp your pay. You finish off your second granola bar then get some water before heading back to the warehouse floor.
  816.  
  817. The work of getting pallets up and down for people carries on for hours, until at last you're shift is over. You trade driving a forklift in a twisting maze through a warehouse for driving your car on the somewhat busy streets to your apartment. You pull into your usual spot and find the stairs up are empty of teenagers hanging out after school. Grateful for that you head up to your apartment, get inside, and change out of your work clothes. You'll need to make a laundry trip tomorrow, but for now you settle down at your laptop and try to distract yourself with videos online.
  818.  
  819. You get through half a documentary about coral reefs when your stomach rumbles. Ignoring your hunger until you finish the video, you reluctantly get up and make a sandwich. You don't taste the ham and cheese, your mind wandering to what you've tried to put off all day.
  820.  
  821. You shouldn't be so hard on yourself for screwing things up with Anya, but you let your guard down and got your hopes up for a moment there. Utterly stupid of you after knowing her for only a day. But you know from first hand experience that no man is a rock. Loneliness and a string of bad betrayals have yet to break you, though you worry it will one day. Finishing your sandwich and still feeling down in the dumps, you start up a new video in the hopes of distracting yourself from a spiral of misery.
  822.  
  823. The introduction of the old nature documentary doesn't get to finish when your phone buzzes on the table, jittering across the tabletop. You mute your video and snatch your phone, the scowl you feel relaxing against a bit of hope. A senseless, stupid hope that it's Anya and that you didn't completely botch making friends with her.
  824.  
  825. As quick as it came, the bright flash of hope fades. Anger fills the void left behind. The text is from your boss, telling you to check your updated schedule for next week. The courtesy is uncharacteristic and only serves to remind you of your failings to be where you want in life. But you can work through the roiling mass of frustration and despair to send a text back thanking, after checking your schedule of course. Next week is going to suck if the new guy isn't competent, or if he's a talkative bastard. If he's both you might lose or quit job. The worst part, that makes the text you send your boss nothing more than a lie, is that you're going to work six days. It's more money in your paycheck but all that extra day does is remind you further of how little you have.
  826.  
  827. But you'll be a model employee. Keep this stupid job and grow your savings. For what you don't know but a growing balance in the bank will give you more options in the future. Going back to college would mean starting from scratch after what your mother did, but since you decided against legal action long ago then trying for an education in a couple of years might not be a bad idea. If you can find somewhere that will accept you.
  828.  
  829. Breathing out you look down at your phone, ready to close the outdated flipphone shut, when you notice something. You have several unread texts. From Anya. The times lining up with when you were going insane exercising. Cursing at yourself for your habit of ignoring phone unless it vibrates, you check the texts.
  830.  
  831. And your heart drops.
  832.  
  833. The first reads, "Hey Anon. Sorry for freaking out and going quiet." A few seconds later, "I panicked a bit when you said you were good with a date and I'm sorry for that. I felt like a middle school girl around a cute guy." While you're trying not to read into that too much, you see the next text came almost an hour later. "I hope I didn't scare you off >_< If you don't hate me after that you can call or text me. I had fun talking with you and don't want to chase a friend away because I was a stupid doof that couldn't say anything."
  834.  
  835. For about five seconds you stare at that last message. Realizing she must have been beating herself up at the same time you were, you fight the numberpad on your phone to bring up Anya's number. Before you can chicken out you hit call and bring the phone to your ear.
  836.  
  837. You don't have to wait long until the ring is broken by a voice. "Anon? Um, hi," she says, sounding short of breath.
  838.  
  839. "Hey, Anya."
  840.  
  841. "So, uhm," she says, voice wavering, "I know I made things really awkward yesterday and I'm really sorry."
  842.  
  843. "It's alright, Anya. I'm sorry for not calling sooner, I didn't see your text until now."
  844.  
  845. "Oh. That's okay, but I'm glad you called. Good timing too, I just got off the treadmill."
  846.  
  847. That explains why her breathing is kind of heavy. While that reminds you that you need to start getting some better cardio in, that's not why you're calling. "So no hard feelings over yesterday?"
  848.  
  849. "Not on my end. I just got kinda, uh, surprised. Stupidly surprised" There is a rustle, and you can imagine she's might be rubbing her muzzle or sweeping a hand through her headfeathers. "Sorry, I really should've said something instead of clamming up back then."
  850.  
  851. "S'alright. I wasn't exactly helping things by not trying to talk."
  852.  
  853. There's a moment of silence before she speaks again. "Can I ask you something?"
  854.  
  855. "Yeah, go ahead."
  856.  
  857. "W-were you serious? When you said you were okay with a d-date?"
  858.  
  859. Put on the spot as you are, it's not like answering honestly will put you in a worse position than you thought you were in five minutes ago. What's the worst that can happen, this attempt at being friends falls apart like everything else in your social life these last two years? "Yeah, I was serious. I wasn't trying to tease you, but if it was over the line I'm sorry."
  860.  
  861. There's an awkward ten or twenty seconds where all you can hear is her faint breathing, but you give her time. As you think she might be about to hang up in a panic, suddenly she blurts out, "Would you like to do something this Saturday? If you're free and want to, that is."
  862.  
  863. You have to think about that. Doubts, some well earned by your string of bad luck in making friends and dating since your parents ruined your attempt at a college education, swirl in your gut. You refuse to let the doubts grab you and drag you into the believing the worst will happen, that's a road that won't lead you anywhere. You accept that what you're doing is a risk, but go with it anyway. "Sure, I'd like to hang out again," you reply, uncertain as to what you just agreed to or what's gotten into her.
  864.  
  865. "S-so, uhm, meet at three or so? See a movie and m-maybe have dinner?" she asks, nerves fraying apart in her voice with each word spoken.
  866.  
  867. Unfortunately, you need to clarify things so you won't do something stupid like get your hopes up. You've been burned before, some your fault and others nothing more than your awful luck, and want to try avoiding any mixed signals. "Sorry if I'm blunt, but what kind of dinner? Date dinner or friend dinner?"
  868.  
  869. From the faint sounds that come through the speaker you imagine she is fidgeting nervously right about now, not that you're doing much better. Your stomach is doing an entire acrobatic routine as it attempts to tie itself into a knot. "Friendly attempt at a d-date?" she asks, voice wavering. "O-or just as friends, if that's better."
  870.  
  871. It's a risk, quite possible a tremendous one, but you take it anyway. "Friendly attempt at a date sounds good to me," you say, stomach thoroughly tied up tight. You're beset by disbelief and keep talking only because of the conversational momentum. "Do you want to make plans on where to meet now or do that tomorrow?"
  872.  
  873. "How about I pick you up agai? I-if you're okay with that, of course."
  874.  
  875. "I'm good with that," you say, eyes flicking toward your laptop when the screensaver starts. The roaming clock reminds you that you need to wake up early tomorrow, but that hardly matters right now.
  876.  
  877. "That's good," she says. "So, uhm, sorry for hijacking the conversation. Was there something you wanted to talk about b-before I took over?"
  878.  
  879. "You already asked if we could hang out again and I've got to get to bed soon for an early day at work, so I think that's everything for now," you say reflexively.
  880.  
  881. "Oh. Well, thanks for calling. If you want to chat again call or text, a-alright? It's been fun talking to you."
  882.  
  883. "Tomorrow evening a good time to chat?"
  884.  
  885. "Y-yeah, of course," she says, sounding either excited or keenly nervous. It's hard to tell with your phone. "Any time after six thirty should be good for talking."
  886.  
  887. "I'm off work around then, so I'll talk to you then." You scratch the back of your head, at a loss for what to say. So your mouth unhelpfully says, "I should be getting to bed soon. Good night, Anya."
  888.  
  889. "Nighty night, Anon," she says, sounding so heart melting sweet and nervous, even through your phone's cheap speaker, that you're left struggling to figure out what just happened even after she hangs up.
  890.  
  891. You put your phone down and decide to go to be before you think too much about how you somehow have what is almost certainly a date with a cute raptor. Assuming nothing happens to burn that down. Knowing your luck, that might happen but who knows? You amble towards your bedroom, hoping that if you lay down your stomach will unwind itself some. If you get any sleep it might be proof that miracles exist.
  892.  
  893. ---
  894.  
  895. Waking up way too early, slightly sore, and still confused by talking with Anya yesterday you somehow get yourself ready for work regardless. The drive to your job passes in a blur, as does going into the warehouse and making your way to your boss's office. When you turn a corner and see him unlocking his office your haze is broken, the middle aged weasel looking up at you as his door swings inward.
  896.  
  897. "Anon, you're earlier than I expected," he says with an approving nod. "Have you clocked in yet?"
  898.  
  899. "Is it a problem if I did?" you ask, realizing your autopilot this morning did lead to the check in station.
  900.  
  901. "No, saves us both time. Come in, I'll get you brushed up on safety procedures."
  902.  
  903. "Yes sir," you answer automatically, stepping into the cramped office after him. There's enough space for a desk, office chair, filing cabinets, two cheap folding chairs, and little else. The bare walls and utilitarian desk show no signs of Mr. Crombe's personality, not that you've seen much of a personality out of him aside from his love of coffee and insistence that no one use his given name. The cramped space aside, his office eerily similar to your spartan apartment. Not the kind of reminder you want this early in the morning.
  904.  
  905. Your boss sits behind his desk and you get one of the folding chairs set up for yourself. By the time you down, he's set a stack of papers on his desk. "Do you remember the safety rules from when you were a floor worker?"
  906.  
  907. "I do, sir."
  908.  
  909. "Then you won't mind going over them with me again," he says, picking up the stack of papers and thumbing through them.
  910.  
  911. Keeping the sigh you feel to yourself, you nod. "Not at all, sir."
  912.  
  913. Over the next hour your boss grills you about random scenarios, the questions dry and mindless as far as you're concerned. It turns into a test of your patience instead of memory, Mr. Crombe going absurdly by the book. Thankfully he stops midway through his papers, his phone beeping softly behind the desk. Fishing his phone out of his pocket he taps on it for a several moments before looking back up at you. "I suppose I'm confident enough in your knowledge, Anon. I'll find you at lunch and give you some forms you'll need to fill out by the week's end, until then I think we're done."
  914.  
  915. "Then I'll go get to work," you say, standing up and moving toward the door.
  916.  
  917. "Aren't you forgetting something?" you boss says, flat tone hiding his irritation.
  918.  
  919. You turn your head and see he's pointing a finger at the chair you just stood up from. Mind taking a moment to catch on, you realize what he means. While it seems trivial to you, anyone that's been around him for any length of knows how obsessive Mr. Crombe gets about his things being proper order. Grabbing the chair and folding it back up, you give an apology you don't feel before trying duck out of the office. "Sorry, Mr. Crombe. Forgot my manners for a moment."
  920.  
  921. "Try not to forget them next week," he says before you get to the door, sounding just like your father.
  922.  
  923. You nod tersely and head for the door, not wanting to look at the graying weasel. Even though your boss is an anthro and your father is a human, the similarity in tone just now enough to drive you away from the room in a hurry. The only saving grace is your boss treats everyone like that so you can't get too upset over something so small, but what thoughts it stirs in you are the last thing you need this morning. You shut the door behind you and chew your tongue to distract you from the memories of your dysfunctional family.
  924.  
  925. To your relief, once you're on the warehouse floor you manage to fall into the routine of work. Not needing to think of anything but safety and going where you're supposed to helps the time pass. Lunch break arrives before you know it, and no one has done anything stupid around you. That makes it a good day, mostly. Someone in loading managed to drop something he wasn't supposed to and is getting chewed out when you pass by, but that's his problem. You don't even recognize his face, not that you expect you would. The turnover rate for grunts like yourself at this place is nutty. Then again, that isn't your problem either. You get paid to show up on time and do what you're supposed to, nothing else.
  926.  
  927. While it's tempting to duck out of work to pick up something to eat for a change, your boss finds you before you can act on your urge to eat a decent meal. To your relief the old weasel only hands you a few forms instead of a pile. "Hand those into me before Friday," he says, walking toward the coffee pot without even waiting for your answer.
  928.  
  929. Hoping you haven't angered him over that moment of forgetfulness in his office, and not wanting to check on the off chance he reminds you of your family again, you take the papers out to your car. You put the forms in your glove compartment and retrieve the last granola bar you stashed away in there. Deciding that it'll be a good idea to make trip to the store before going home once work is over, you take your sad excuse for a lunch and head back inside. Sitting down in the break room you finish your meal quickly, and with fifteen minutes left until you have to get back to being productive you pull out your MP3 player. Uninterested in making a decision you hit shuffle and lean against the back of the chair and let the pounding of drums and rage of guitars fill your head. The peace that the music brings is nice while it lasts, but you don't get so lost in in it that you forget the time. You keep an eye on the break room clock and when it's nearly time to get back to your job, you pull your earbuds out and throw away your measly trash.
  930.  
  931. Putting on your best worker face you return to the usual routine. No one jumps in front of your forklift, you drive safe as ever, and the time whittles away in a blur of pallets and boxes. When the shift change rolls around you gladly clock out and head to your car. Your two coworkers that head out with you to the parking lot say nothing, the weariness on their faces making it clear they don't want to talk.
  932.  
  933. Getting into your car you make a detour to the grocery store. You pick up more granola bars and some ingredients for a dinner, check out, and then head back to your apartment. Parking in your spot, you then swap the forms for work in your glove compartment out for your new reserve of lazy lunches.. You grab the rest of the bags and head up, your phone buzzing in your pocket with a text right when you get the key in the lock. Wondering if it's your boss or Anya, you reason either can wait until you've got the cold stuff put up and change. After your in comfortable pair of sweatpants and t-shirt you check your outdated little phone.
  934.  
  935. "Heya, Anon. If you want to chat about music or anything let me know, I'm free ^v^"
  936.  
  937. Such a simple message shouldn't make you smile, but you can feel the upturn of your mouth regardless.  You shoot her back a quick reply.
  938.  
  939. "definitely, gotta make dinner first"
  940.  
  941. "Alrighty~ Do you wanna talk over the phone or do you have a Pandamonium account? I just don't want to eat up your minutes if I can help it :s"
  942.  
  943. You don't, but you've heard of that chat service before before. Since you were already going to listen to music while cooking anyway you set your laptop up in the kitchen and do a quick search online for Pandamonium, and discover it can be run in a web browser.
  944.  
  945. "planning to talk a lot?" you ask in text back.
  946.  
  947. "I'm covering my bases >.> Plus we can swap music links this way, if we want to ^v^"
  948.  
  949. "smart, and sweet of you," you reply, deciding to sign up for the service since it only wants an email from you, that and you're already resigned to your data being harvested.
  950.  
  951. "Heh, well I've been listening to some of the bands you recommended so I thought we might end up lost in that kind of talk. Or at least I might >.>"
  952.  
  953. "sounds like fun to me, let's try Pandamonium then."
  954.  
  955. "M'kay. We can swap usernames after you get dinner :>"
  956.  
  957. "k"
  958.  
  959. After sending the one letter reply you set about getting signed up for this messenger service. You spend just a bit too much time reading the terms of service, but once you're confident they aren't reserving the right to scrap your files you go through with it. After that's all said and done you open a random album on your computer and go about getting your chicken stir fry dinner made. Soon the sounds of vegetables and meat on a hot pan mix with the guitar solos coming out of your laptop. Pleasant aromas of spices and oil fill your kitchen and whet your appetite, helping you find a small slice of forgetful peace.
  960.  
  961. Once the food is done and plated you make yourself sit and savor the meal instead of rush through it. Your foot taps out of rhythm with the music still playing, mind trying to wander to what you might talk about with Anya. You eat quicker than you should considering how well the meal came out, impatience starting to take hold of you. Once you've gotten the leftovers put away in the refrigerator you force yourself to clean up instead of giving into the lazy desire to leave it for the morning. The pan you used is cool enough to clean now so you start doing the dishes, an easy enough chore with how little you have to wash. You don't realize how often your eyes are darting toward your phone until you bump your knee against the cabinets. Cursing your impatience and inattention you manage to get everything clean and set out to dry without looking at your phone again. Once your hands are dry, however, you immediately go for the device. Anya hasn't sent you a message since your last reply, so you set about composing something that doesn't sound too awkward to you.
  962.  
  963. "done with dinner, still want to chat?" you send, remembering how much you've enjoyed talking to her so far.
  964.  
  965. While waiting for a reply, you get your laptop, stop the music, and take the computer your table under the assumption you'll be on it no matter what tonight. Settling in to either chat with the girl you just met this weekend or waste your evening watching videos and shitposting on tech forums, things are decided once your phone buzzes. Flipping it open you see Anya's reply. "Yeah! What's your username?"
  966.  
  967. You exchange names with her, navigate to the correct tab, and type in what she sent you on the find friend function. An errant thought about this backfiring crosses your mind, but is quickly laid to rest when you get a friend request before you can send one to her. The name matches up with what she sent and you add your first friend to a messenger service you doubt you'll see much use out of. You get a message a few seconds after you accept the request. "Hey there Anon :>"
  968.  
  969. "Hello Anya."
  970.  
  971. "Do you have a mic? Or do you want to stick to text chat?"
  972.  
  973. Glancing at the small notch where the built in microphone is in your laptop, you consider your choices. Actually talking with her would be nice but you know she might not even be able to hear you. "My mic isn't good but I have one."
  974.  
  975. "That's fine! If it doesn't work we can stick to text only ^v^" she replies.
  976.  
  977. "Alright," you type back, getting your earbuds plugged in to the computer before putting them in your ears. Your computer rings with an incoming request for a call, and after a bit of panicked fiddling to make sure your computer's mic is enabled, you accept.
  978.  
  979. "Can you hear me?" Anya asks, her voice coming through surprisingly clear.
  980.  
  981. "I can," you say, uncertain of how good the detection is on your mic. "Everything coming through on my end?"
  982.  
  983. "Yeah, I can hear you just fine." Before you can ask if it's really acceptable, she continues talking. "So, uh, do you mind if we do video too? It's okay if you don't want to, I just like talking face to face if I can on this."
  984.  
  985. "Sure, that's fine by me," you say, taking the bit of tape off your webcam. An acceptable avenue of paranoia, considering you've never had a use for the feature before.
  986.  
  987. "Okay, let me just..." Anya mutters, buttons clicking. A few seconds later you get a notification about a video chat that you click, the connection taking a moment to establish. Once it does and you can see more than black screen you're greeted by the sight of a smiling deinonychus in a thin headset, framed by a wall covered in posters you can't quite make out. Off in the corner you can see your own image, your face impassive and hard to read. Only for that stoic look to gain a thin smile when the raptor speaks. "There we are," she says, reaching out and adjusting either her laptop or the webcam. The entire camera moves and you realize she's probably the got her computer in her lap. "How did your day treat you?"
  988.  
  989. "Decently, I got through work without anything crazy happening. What about you?"
  990.  
  991. "I made it through the day," she chuckles, her grin quickly turning nervous with a rise of her headfeathers. "But, uhm, are you sure you don't mind talking like this? If it's too much trouble we don't have to."
  992.  
  993. "It's not any trouble. Besides, I kind of like this face to face."
  994.  
  995. Her smile relaxes along with her feathers. "It is pretty neat. So, you listen to anything I suggested?"
  996.  
  997. "I checked out Scale Snatcher. No idea how they slipped my radar until I met you."
  998.  
  999. "Hey, good taste. They're one of my favorites." Her arms shift, along with the camera, and you hear the faint tapping of claws on keys. "What are you liking by them so far?"
  1000.  
  1001. "I've listened to their first album and some of their most recent. Both are pretty good."
  1002.  
  1003. "Hm. Here," she says, claws clacking and link popping up in the chat window a moment later. "This is one of their best songs."
  1004.  
  1005. You open the link in a new window, and get treated to a thrum of bass guitar breaking way to the measured crashing of drums as the video plays. Lyrics join in seconds later, hard and heavy with a reptilian hiss pervading every syllable. Your head bobs with the music, and judging from the videochat window Anya is listening along on her computer, judging from how her head moves. You think she might even be mouthing along with the music but you aren't sure with the small window her videostream is in. The song ends with sharp, reverberating twang, Anya jerking her head a moment later, no doubt in time with her own listening.
  1006.  
  1007. "Well, guess I need to listen to the rest of their music now," you say.
  1008.  
  1009. "It's worth it, trust me."
  1010.  
  1011. "Now I'm curious, you listen to that tribute album I told you about?"
  1012.  
  1013. "Not yet, no," she replies, head shaking.
  1014.  
  1015. "This is probably cheating, but this cover is so good you'll want to hear everything else." Your fingers glide across your keyboard, and a few clicks later you've got the link pasted in the chat with her. "You'll like it."
  1016.  
  1017. "Master of Puppets, huh?" she mutters, head cocking the side. "You're a man of the classics, huh?"
  1018.  
  1019. "Something like that. It's pretty long, so don't feel like you've got to listen to all of it."
  1020.  
  1021. "As long as they don't butcher it I'm interested." Her claw taps against a button on her laptop. You hit play as well, but keep the volume low. You're more interested watching for her reactions instead of getting lost in the song. Her eyes widen when the guitars kick in, head bobbing and feathers bouncing as her energy grows with the song. Several seconds after the lyrics start a grin breaks out on her muzzle. The words of the song so familiar you can recite them by heart, you put your attention on the deinonychus while your foot softly taps against the floor.
  1022.  
  1023. When the song finally comes to an end she's practically glowing. "Please, please tell me the rest of the album is that good."
  1024.  
  1025. "I probably spoiled you by giving you that first," you say.
  1026.  
  1027. "I've gotta bookmark this for later." Buttons and claws click, and then her green eyes twitch toward you. Her headfeathers start rise a few inches. "So, I gotta ask. D-do you want to maybe sing along? I, uh, saw you were doing something like that and I'm liable to do it without thinking if I get too excited."
  1028.  
  1029. You cock an eyebrow. "I'm not really a good singer, and my laptop mic has to sound awful."
  1030.  
  1031. "It's not ear destroying, don't worry." Her hands move, along with her laptop, the image of the deinonychus bouncing around. "Sorry for asking something so awkward, I just haven't gotten to listen to music with a friend in a while so I'm getting carried away."
  1032.  
  1033. "I never said no," you tell her. "I mostly warning you it's not going to be great hearing me ruin a song."
  1034.  
  1035. "Heh, well if you don't want to hear me mess up the songs we can stop."
  1036.  
  1037. Glancing at where the mic is on your laptop, wondering if it gave out on you for a second, you look back up at the screen. "If you're okay with me making a fool out of myself, then I can handle the same from you."
  1038.  
  1039. "Really? I thought you said... Never mind, I guess your mic pickup isn't that great after all," she says, hand smoothing back her head feathers. "Sorry."
  1040.  
  1041. "No harm done. What song do you want to ruin together?"
  1042.  
  1043. "Well, if you're really okay with it," she brushes back her headfeathers, "Then how about a classic?"
  1044.  
  1045. "I'm good with it, don't have anyone in here that could be bothered. As for a classic to butcher, how's this sound?" you ask, copying a link and posting it in the chat.
  1046.  
  1047. Her claws clack against keys. She tilts her head, glancing between the screen and camera. "Black Sabbath? You aren't kidding about classics."
  1048.  
  1049. "You want to do something else?"
  1050.  
  1051. "No, no, I love Paranoid. I'm just astounded by your superb tastes. Plus it's not that long, so we might not die of embarrassment."
  1052.  
  1053. "Promise I won't die from it if you don't," you reply.
  1054.  
  1055. Grinning, she taps her claws on her laptop. "So, uh, start it up on the count of three?"
  1056.  
  1057. "Sure," you reply, hardly able to believe you're about to do this. Finger over the button you start the countdown, Anya watching with ruffled headfeathers. "One, two, three."
  1058.  
  1059. The sync between song starts isn't perfect, you know it can't be, but it must line up well enough because you both start nodding along to the iconic guitar riff. You feel an anxious knot try to climb up your throat when you realize it was never decided who would sing first. Anya quells that worry, her eyes closing and mouth opening a crack as the song builds toward the vocals. Her voice wavers at first, warbling against Ozzy's performance, but her nerves seem to ease up when you join in with her. Compared to you, she has the voice of an angel while you sound like Ozzy trying to talk. If that bothers her you don't get to see it revealed on her focused face. Mercifully, the song you picked is short and ends before you get a chance to properly choke.
  1060.  
  1061. Her green eyes open up, claw clicking a key on her laptop while she smooths back her frazzled headfeathers. "That wasn't so bad."
  1062.  
  1063. "My singing or us butchering a fifty year old song?"
  1064.  
  1065. "Both," she quickly replies, head bobbing. "I mean, past the anxiety it was kinda fun. Right?"
  1066.  
  1067. "Yeah, it was. Want to do another one?" you ask, mouth moving ahead of your brain.
  1068.  
  1069. She only stares at you blankly for a few seconds. "S-sure. How about I pick something this time?" she asks, and when you nod her claws type away.
  1070.  
  1071. Her suggestion is a song you, sadly, don't know the lyrics on. But her next is, and once again she closes her eyes when it comes to the singing. Her voice still wavers in the beginning but grows stronger, until by the time you're singing your fifth song together Anya's voice has no hesitation in it. She can hit notes you can't get near, but you're not too shabby at going lower than her. There's little talk of anything but music, but the way she's smiling and the stupid grin you feel plastering itself on your face let you know that's okay.
  1072.  
  1073. Singing along to early metal songs with a girl you met only a few days ago passes the time faster than you thought possible. Glancing at the time after the most recent song ends, easily the dozenth judging from the chain of links posted in the chat, you remember work in the morning. Anya's distracted by something off camera, her head twisting and mouth moving to unformed words. You wonder if she's alone in her room, but risk disturbing her.
  1074.  
  1075. "Hey," you say, her head snapping back to look at the camera, or your image on her screen. "Sorry to cut things short, but I need to get to bed soon. Gotta be at work early."
  1076.  
  1077. "Oh, yeah that's fine. Sorry if I kept you up."
  1078.  
  1079. "You didn't, my boss just wants me in early again so I'm trying to sleep earlier than usual. Don't want to be tired behind the wheel of a forklift."
  1080.  
  1081. "That could be bad," she says. "Definitely a good reason to call it a night. But, uh..." she smiles awkwardly, if not genuinely at you through the screen, "Before you go, thanks for hanging out with me digitally, Anon. It's been fun and if you want to chat again just hit me up here or in a text. Okay?"
  1082.  
  1083. "I should be thanking you, Anya. It was a lot of fun, I haven't let myself cut loose like that in a while."
  1084.  
  1085. "Well, if you want to do it you just need to ask." Her toothy grin can't hide the faint rise of the feathers on her head. "A-anyway, I'll let you go. Nighty-night, Anon."
  1086.  
  1087. Hearing her say that is far cuter than reading it in a text. Barely able to keep a dopey grin off of your face you hover your cursor over the disconnect button. "Night, Anya."
  1088.  
  1089. She disconnects before you do, the video feed going black and a gentle beep going through earbuds to let you know someone has left the call. But that's alright. You're not sure you had it in you to be the one to truly end this enjoyable night. As you shut down your laptop for the night you can't help but wonder if you'll ever have another conversation with her, or if this will be just another hopeful moment that fades like all the rest. Closing your eyes you try to push the thoughts away and let sleep take you.
  1090.  
  1091.  
  1092.  
  1093. -CHAPTER 5-  Shoot Me Again
  1094.  
  1095. The week passes strangely, your routine shifting unexpectedly when what you thought would be a one off chat with Anya turns into a nightly occurrence. Once work ends you have dinner, then open up Pandamonium to engage in a chat with the deinonychus. Which inevitably shifts into another video chat. Topics range from music, how the day has gone, what new weird video one of you has found, or anything that interests either of you. Rarely do things get past surface level personal, but it would be a lie if you said you didn't enjoy it. Seeing her smile and laugh in video gives you a not quite false sense of company, and is nice change of pace in your solitary life.
  1096.  
  1097. Throughout the week neither of you bring up objections to going out Saturday, but neither is anything said about it. So on Friday when your video chat ends without mention of it you assume she's either forgotten or has cold feet. Not that you aren't guilty of the latter since you can't bring yourself to text or call her to ask about the day.
  1098.  
  1099. As you prepare for bed, shutting off your laptop and getting the lights, your phone buzzes with a text. Grabbing it you check the number, your fear that it's your boss quickly replaced by a sharper worry when you see it's Anya.
  1100.  
  1101. "Still on for tomorrow, Anon?"
  1102.  
  1103. The senseless worry that she forgot about the date fades, but there are other things churning in your gut. Getting ghosted at the last moment is still a possibility. You type out a simple reply on the cramped number pad, "yeah."
  1104.  
  1105. "Great! I'll come get you at 3 tomorrow. Nighty night, Anon."
  1106.  
  1107. "night anya"
  1108.  
  1109. You head to bed, crawl in, and shuffle under the covers in a desperate attempt to get some sleep.
  1110.  
  1111. ---
  1112.  
  1113. In between the tossing and turning you must manage to get some sleep, since before you know it the light of day spills from between the slats of cheap blinds of your bedroom window. Laying an arm across your eyes you groan and wonder if you should get up or lay in bed and hope for sleep to take you for a while. When the latter doesn't happen you roll out of bed, check the time, and sigh in defeat. There's at least seven hours before Anya should come by.
  1114.  
  1115. Might as well get errands done so you don't go insane from the waiting. A quick shower and getting into some clean clothes later you gather up your dirty laundry, make sure you have your phone, and head out to your car. Your mastiff neighbor isn't out on the stairs smoking, nor are the local teenagers that are out making themselves a nuisance, so you have nothing but your bags of dirty clothes to slow your descent. You toss everything in the backseat of your car and head to the laundromat. You get your clothes for the upcoming week clean, then go fill up with gas, and finally head to the grocery store. A six day work week where you have to basically babysit a new employee means you need more than granola bars at lunch. Stocking up on more than essentials and browsing the sales, you still only manage to burn four and half hours by the time you get back to your apartment.
  1116.  
  1117. Doing calisthenics and taking a jog around the neighborhood, the can of mace in your pocket putting you at ease enough to venture through the sketchiest areas, gets you down to only an hour. Taking a shower and getting dressed in your nicest shirt and jeans, you try not to pace around your nearly empty apartment. You sit at your table and load up your usual internet haunts, you don't find any interest in the stories and shitposting.
  1118.  
  1119. Instead you end up constantly checking the time like a high school kid about to go on his first date. Since it's been at least four years since you were on anything like a successful date, so that's closer to the truth than you'd like. Getting ghosted isn't so bad, but getting left at a restaurant to foot the bill and walk back home is an experience you'd like to never repeat.
  1120.  
  1121. Your phone buzzes and you lunge for it, fingers fumbling when you flip it open. The device bounces against the carpet but the plastic shell is strong and design simple enough to avoid any damage. Cursing at yourself for being too anxious and high strung, you check the text Anya sent, while muttering a thanks under your breath that it wasn't a call.
  1122.  
  1123. "I'm on my way :> Be there in like ten minutes."
  1124.  
  1125. Gathering up your wallet, keys, and small can of mace you leave your apartment. You spot your mastiff neighbor leaning against the railing. He doesn't notice you right away, but once you've got the door shut and locked he waves. "Going out on more errands, Anon?"
  1126.  
  1127. "Social trip," you reply, not really sure what else to say since today is only a 'friendly attempt at a date'.
  1128.  
  1129. "Hm." He puffs on his cigar before puffing a smoke ring. "That dinosaur girl again?"
  1130.  
  1131. It shouldn't get to you that he guessed correctly, but it does. It really, really does. "Yeah."
  1132.  
  1133. "You two going steady yet?" he asks, puffing out a smoke ring.
  1134.  
  1135. "We haven't been dating," you reply, cheeks warming up. Is that what it looks like you've been doing? Not that Anya isn't cute and fun to talk to, but your two outings were hardly romantic. "Just hanging out."
  1136.  
  1137. "Mhm. Well don't let me keep you, I think that doozy of a car she has just pulled up," he says, jerking his head toward the parking lot on the other side of the building.
  1138.  
  1139. "Right. Thanks," you say, starting down the stairs and wondering if you should be envious of anthro hearing or not.
  1140.  
  1141. "You kids have fun," your neighbor rumbles when you're on the bottom step.
  1142.  
  1143. You give him a thumbs up then go around the building, the faded and cracked concrete at least free of weeds. Parked amidst the variety of used and beater cars is Anya's green convertible, with all it's sleek lines that scream speed making the cars around it invisible. She's leaning against the passenger door, waiting for you with a smile on her saurian face. Instead of a sundress she's in an old band shirt and jeans, her flip-flops and sunglasses muted colors. You're used to seeing her in sundresses that left room for the imagination, but those jeans offer no such leeway. Hips and legs like hers belong in a museum or on a statue, and even though you try not be obvious about it you can't help but give her a once over. Because of her sunglasses you can't tell if she does the same, but the way her smile does get toothier when you get closer it makes you think she might have. Compared to her, you're not sure what there is to look at with you.
  1144.  
  1145. "You look good, Anya."
  1146.  
  1147. "Well you look pretty good yourself," she says, seemingly at ease after talking with you so much throughout the week. Her head tilts toward her car, not even giving you a chance to get a word in. "Ready to go?"
  1148.  
  1149. "Yeah."
  1150.  
  1151. She puts a hand on the passenger's door, bends her digitigrade legs, and vaults into the car. Her feathered tail trails after her and she manages to land on the driver's side, needing to pause only to let her tail slide into the hollow of the seat before sitting down. You give a short applause and get in by the opening the door. "Show off," you say, amused by her display.
  1152.  
  1153. She grins toothily, starting the car once you're seated. "Lots of practice, I promise."
  1154.  
  1155. "No doubt," you reply, buckling in and trying to ignore the fear in your gut at being on what might officially be a date.
  1156.  
  1157. "So," she asks, pulling her phone out and fiddling with it before glancing at you, her green eyes half-hidden by the dark lenses of her sunglasses, "What do you want to listen to?"
  1158.  
  1159. "Something classic that we can make fools out of ourselves with?"
  1160.  
  1161. "Easy enough," she says, claws tapping on glass she sets her phone down, no song immediately playing.
  1162.  
  1163. Or so you think, but the whisper quiet ascension of sound and all too familiar opening brings a knowing smirk to your face. She's pulling out of the parking lot by the time the guitars and drums hit, her head lightly bobbing and the both of your shamelessly singing along to the master piece that is Dio's Holy Diver. Neither of you have the voice for it, her tone too clear and yours too rough, but that doesn't matter. It's fun and after a several nights of singing along together, even somewhat relaxing. The stares you get from other drivers and pedestrians is only natural, you are a human guy and deinonychus gal singing along in an eye catching convertible. But if Anya doesn't care about those looks then neither will you.
  1164.  
  1165. The song shifts to more Dio, her claws tapping on the steering in time with the guitar as you two continue to cast aside shame and have fun with the music. It's not so loud anyone with their windows up would be bothered, but once you're in the nicer side of town and the song is over an important thought strikes you. You have no idea what you're going to see. The music couldn't take away all of your worry, it seems.
  1166.  
  1167. Enjoyable as listening to music with her in person sounds, it doesn't strike you as a good date. So you have to ask, "We never picked a movie to see, did we?"
  1168.  
  1169. Anya lowers the music volume to be nothing more than a murmur. Her headfeathers stir against the wind, but don't rise far. "I'm a doof for forgetting," she says, claws tapping to a more chaotic, nervous rhythm. "I didn't even check the times."
  1170.  
  1171. "Hey, I forgot until just now too," you say. While you have no idea what a doof is, it's obvious she's feeling just as nervous as you. You're just better at hiding it, even as you trust your mouth to say the right thing. "No big deal, we'll see what's playing at the theater."
  1172.  
  1173. She nods enthusiastically. "You're right. It's just up ahead, so..." her voices trails off, mouth shutting tight.
  1174.  
  1175. You look away from the suddenly silent raptor, following her gaze to the parking lot of the theater. Cars fill every space and there's even a line of people outside the door, the mass of humans and anthros colorful as the framed posters on the walls. Which, looking at it, a lot of those posters seem to be the same.
  1176.  
  1177. "Oh fuck, I'm a complete doof," Anya says, hunching her shoulders. "It's opening weekend for the finale of those dumb superhero movies. I'm so sorry Anon, I've heard about it for weeks from my little brother and I still forgot."
  1178.  
  1179. If she didn't have to navigate her car through the congested parking lot, her vehicle earning a few stares, you get the feeling she might throw her head back in frustration. That or bash her head against the wheel in guilt.
  1180.  
  1181. "I can't believe I fucked this up," she hisses under her breath, but not so quietly that you can't hear.
  1182.  
  1183. "Hey we both forgot to check, so don't be so hard on yourself. Besides, as long as we're hanging out I don't really care what we do together," your mouth says without any input from your brain, speaking without any sort of filter.
  1184.  
  1185. While you keep a blank face against the cringe you feel, you look at Anya half-expecting to see her headfeathers sticking straight up. To you're surprise they're only slightly ruffled, though her claws are tapping a strange pattern against the wheel. She glances toward you, eyes hidden by her sunglasses.
  1186.  
  1187. "If your cool with just hanging out then we could, uhm..." the deinonychus falters, her headfeathers rising more. "W-we could just chill at my place. Watch something on my new TV, play some games, or, uh, something like listen to music."
  1188.  
  1189. Judging from the way she's floofed up, she's as nervous as you are stunned. Her place? Mouth and brain at a loss for words, you try to work through a possible response. Something you can give her quickly before she panics. "Yeah, sure. If you want to, I mean."
  1190.  
  1191. Hearing yourself makes you cringe internally, and has you wondering if you're as much of a loser as your parents said. Your not sure of that when Anya nods nervously, stiff feathers following the motion with a tiny delay. Her mouth opens a crack, claws tapping anxiously, and a stream of barely comprehensible nervous babble floods out of her. "Ifit'saproblemwedon'thavetoImeanmyplaceisn'tamessbutifit'sweirdwedon'thavetobutjustbeingaroundeachotherisgoodenoughwithmebutifyoudon't-"
  1192.  
  1193. And you thought you felt awkward and nervous. The honor of feeling the most nervous and awkward on this friendly attempt at a date clearly belongs to her. So, oddly cute as she is flustered like this, you're too worried about her to let it continue. Especially when she is behind the wheel. "Anya," you say gently, trying to get her attention while keeping a calm expression on your face.
  1194.  
  1195. Her jaw snaps shut, head turning toward you a bit. Despite her panic she's still driving safely through the parking lot, so there is that.
  1196.  
  1197. "You're adorable," you say, already wanting to disown you mouth for not having a filter. You're in too deep to stop now, and continue on with what you wanted to say. "I'll stop being a nervous wreck if you will, deal?"
  1198.  
  1199. "Wait, you're nervous too? I thought I was the only that..." you can't see her eyes, but with the way her words trail off you're pretty sure those greens of hers are widening as what slipped out of your mouth sinks in. "I'm adorable?"
  1200.  
  1201. "Yeah." Your mouth is on thin ice, just like you.
  1202.  
  1203. The tapping of claws on steering wheel returns, the rhythm absolute chaos. "W-well y-you're pretty cute too, y'know." Her headfeathers rising as far as they can go. Despite her apparent anxiety she glances at you. "Are you s-sure you're okay with just hanging out at my place?" she asks, stalling an awkward response you were trying to muster in face of her compliment.
  1204.  
  1205. Going to her place seems like a hell of a step on a first date, let alone a friendly attempt at a date, but you can't think of a good reason not to say yes. If by some horrible twist of fate this occasionally bumbling raptor turns out to be a serial killer or something, you do have that can of mace in your pocket. Not that you think you'll ever need it. Though it makes you realize, with claws and teeth like hers there is no way she can be worried about you trying anything you shouldn't. That sudden revelation leaves the rest of your doubts without much of a bite, so you nod along. "If you're comfortable with it, yeah."
  1206.  
  1207. Anya's head bobs affirmatively. "Yeah, of course."
  1208.  
  1209. She gets out of the parking lot, too focused on traffic and pedestrians to talk. After that, on the road itself when you can talk to each other, a strange silence falls over the two of you instead. The wind from driving with the convertible's top down sweeps back Anya's headfeathers and her strange, curving sunglasses hide her green eyes, making it impossible for you to gauge her mood. Yet you can tell she sneaks a few glances at you, her head twisting toward you when she thinks you aren't watching. With what she said about you being cute it turns your stomach into a pit of butterflies warring with spiny doubts. If it's the same for her you aren't quite sure, but you suspect it might be.
  1210.  
  1211. As more and more of the nicer buildings in town start to pass by fills you with a bit of dread. How expensive her car looks has worried you before that she's some kind of socialite or far beyond your economic strata, but the apartment complex she pulls into eases that some of your tension. Five indentical buildings with well taken care of landscaping, good parking, and no beater cars parked anywhere. But no security gates or guards in sight, only manicured shrubs and newer model cars. Just a well taken care of housing complex that's any middle class renters dream, and not so above your means that you feel out of place.
  1212.  
  1213. "Pretty nice place, much nicer than where I live," you say when Anya parks her car, realizing far too late how stupid that comment is.
  1214.  
  1215. The deinonychus shrugs and unbuckles instead of getting flustered or disappointed like you feared. "My neighbor makes up for the pleasant looks," she says, rolling the windows up from the console on her door. "She'll corner you and talk about her honor roll grandkids for two hours if you don't move quickly."
  1216.  
  1217. You bite your tongue and mentally tell yourself to calm down, and that if Anya had a problem with where you lived she wouldn't be around you. At least, you can only hope she wouldn't. Disentangling yourself from the seat belt you get out of her car, while she takes off her sunglasses before getting the top back up on her convertible. Using the door on her car this time, she gets out and leads the way toward one of the buildings. There's a hurry in her step that makes you think she's either embarrassed to be seen with you, a human, or that she's serious about her chatty neighbor.
  1218.  
  1219. She stops at a ground floor door, jams a key in the lock, and opens the way. She steps into the tiled entry way and welcomes you into her place with a smile caught between genuine and nervous. "Come on in, Anon."
  1220.  
  1221. Past the clean kitchen, which might be just under twice the size of your apartment's, is a living room proudly displaying that huge TV on a wall. The rest of the wall space is covered in posters, stuck up or framed, with hardly an empty spot. But the furniture is normal from what you can tell. A couple of chairs around a table dividing the kitchen from the living room, a comfy looking sofa sitting across from the TV and media center, and a coffee table with several game controllers and remotes scattered on it's surface. You glance at the wall behind the sofa and realize yes, this is the same room she's been in while video chatting with you. For some reason, knowing she wasn't in her bedroom eases a tension in between your shoulders.
  1222.  
  1223. She shuts the door once you're inside, leaves her sandals by the door, and places her handbag on the kitchen counter before motioning toward her living room. "Take a seat wherever, and take your shoes off if you want. I'll be there in a moment," she says, heading into her kitchen.
  1224.  
  1225. Not sure where this is going or what you're doing, you leave your shoes by the door and go to the living room. Being in someone's home has you on edge, and while you touch the pocket where you've got that can of mace you still doubt you'll need it.  Anya seems a lot less nervous now, but that could just be the confidence of being in a familiar place, that or she's better at faking it in her own home. Neither are a good reason for you to get worried, so you push away your doubts and sit down on the plush cushion of the sofa.
  1226.  
  1227. Looking around and taking in the various posters and their artwork, you notice two things. Some of those posters and advertisements are as old or older than you, but more interestingly you guess that about half of them are for the same band. Scale Snatcher. Most of the Scale Snatcher posters, all with variations of their logo, a jaggedly toothed skull with fanged serpents coming out of the eye sockets, hang on the lone wall with a window. She's dedicated to her musical tastes, that's for sure.
  1228.  
  1229. Turning your eyes from the walls you look at the TV and jumble of wires going down to the discrete cabinet. The poor cable management is nearly enough to make you do something about it, the various HDMI cords and who knows what else hanging far too loosely and haphazardly for your liking. You have no idea how Anya hasn't caught her tail in one of those cables. For all you know she does, or just avoid going near the mild mess of cords if she can.
  1230.  
  1231. Your thoughts are interrupted when a feathery dino drops onto the sofa beside you, Anya bending forward to place two soda bottles on the coffee table. She straightens up to look at you with those enchanting green eyes of hers. "So, movie? Or play a game maybe?"
  1232.  
  1233. "We did say we'd watch a movie," you say, not wanting to admit you barely play games.
  1234.  
  1235. Your deinonychus date picks up a remote, but doesn't turn anything on yet. "Sounds good to me. Any preference?"
  1236.  
  1237. "Anything that isn't horror is good with me, I'm a total bitch with jump scares and the frightening stuff."
  1238.  
  1239. She stares you, tilting her head as if expecting to hear you're just joking.
  1240.  
  1241. "I'm serious, I don't do well with horror. Total pansy with it," you admit without a shred of shame.
  1242.  
  1243. Nodding, she snatches two controllers off the table and hands one to you. "How about we play a game then? Save the movie for later."
  1244.  
  1245. It's nice to hear that she's thinking of a later, or at least humoring you with that thought. It's a nice consolation as you have to admit something that does hold a bit of shame for you as someone into tech. "I'm not much of a gamer."
  1246.  
  1247. She shifts around to get comfortable with her tail, ending up in a position that nearly leans into you as she drapes the long, feathery appendage off the sofa's arm. There is scarcely any distance between you and the undeniably attractive deinonychus gal. "Then we'll play something co-op so you don't have worry about me beating you," she says, grinning at you.
  1248.  
  1249. Before things get awkward the TV thankfully comes on and she busily gets everything ready, turning things on and navigating through menus while you try to figure out how to hold the controller comfortably. The sounds of distorted, synthetic beats drags your attention from the button layout to the game menu Anya brought up. In dark, metallic letters the words HELLDOG BRIGADE sit at the top of a menu she darts through. "Want a tutorial?" she asks.
  1250.  
  1251. "I'll figure it out after some spectacular failures."
  1252.  
  1253. "You've already got the right attitude," she says, starting up the game.
  1254.  
  1255. It starts with explosions, a sick guitar track in the background, and a top down view of a war torn battlefield. Nearly as soon as you and Anya have control, her character starts zipping around while her controller clacks. You follow her lead, thumbs twisting the sticks as you try to familiarize yourself with the controls. Nothing too complicated, and as you test a few buttons you make the connection to the empty slots on the screen by your character's health. Anya explains what everything does and you hope you'll remember it, because she leads you right into the first group of enemies. She starts zipping around, dodging enemy shots and cutting their numbers down significantly with concentrated fire. Meanwhile, you take several shots to the face and barely manage to put down a handful of the deranged, cyborg enemies before your Helldog explodes into a mist of gore. Your virtual death seems to spur Anya on, her movements chaotic but calculated as she tears through the remaining enemies with brutal efficiency. After the battle ends she goes to the burning skull that took the place of your character when it dies. Standing there for several seconds she magically revives your character.
  1256.  
  1257. "Thanks," you say, glad that this is co-op because she would kick your ass in anything competitive. "I'll try to suck less."
  1258.  
  1259. "It's no worry, everyone's new at some point."
  1260.  
  1261. You carry on following her character through the battlefield, only to explode again near the end of the next skirmish when a horde of crawling spider things overwhelm your Helldog. The virtual death you go through takes out the enemies closest to your character, that explosion of gore not for show apparently. That seems like a mechanic you might need to abuse. Anya revives you again after demolishing the enemies, glancing over at you when she does. "You'll get the hang of it, Anon," she says with such conviction you're inclined to believe her.
  1262.  
  1263. Unfortunately, the next few battles all end the same. You either take one too many bullets to the face, catch a missile with your body, or drown in a swarm of those spider monsters. Not all hope is lost, as you manage to finally survive a skirmish with a sliver of health. You're surprised as can be that the enemies are dead and you aren't, but the smile on Anya's face as she lightly slaps your back make it worthwhile. Naturally you explode quickly in the next firefight, but Anya is there to resurrect you after raining explosive death on her unfortunate enemies. You've been letting her take all the grenades for exactly this reason, not that you think she really needs them to obliterate the enemies that can't even touch her character.
  1264.  
  1265. "See? You are getting the hang of it," she says when the next level ends with you alive and more health than the first time.
  1266.  
  1267. "Because I've got a fantastic partner in our quest to slaughter our enemies."
  1268.  
  1269. "Hehe, just don't go thinking you aren't helping. Every enemy you take out is one less that can shoot me in the back."
  1270.  
  1271. The levels start to fly by, but you're distracted by the progress when Anya suddenly leans against you. Your so distracted by the unexpected contact that your poor little Helldog catches an exceptionally slow missile with his face. Anya is quick to dispatch the last several foes and revive you once more. "I've got you," she says, looking at you with a grin you somehow manage to return.
  1272.  
  1273. She scoots closer to you, more of her feathery arm pressing against you. A knot in your stomach says this is moving too quickly, that you barely know her. That worry is at odds with how nice it is to be this close to someone after so many months of quiet, solitary evenings at home. You decide to postpone puzzling out the meaning behind her sudden closeness and try to focus on playing the game with her, because awful as you are it's pretty fun. If she is enjoying it like you think, last thing you want to do is make her have an awful time because you're on edge from being burned socially before.
  1274.  
  1275. The two Helldogs on screen wander into a crater filled stretch of land. No enemies jump out of the ground or drop from the sky, telling you that something is horribly wrong with the situation. That's proven further when Anya suddenly pulls away from how she's been leaning into you. She hunches forward, eyes intently focused on the TV. You see what the change in her behavior is about when a huge health bar fills the top of the screen. A techno voice announces the arrival of LIEUTENANT PAINFIST, a hulking beast with drills for hands emerging from the scorched earth in roar of maddened fury.
  1276.  
  1277. "Oh, he's going down!" Anya shouts, feathers ruffling and toeclaws tapping menacingly.
  1278.  
  1279. You're reminded that with all her claws and teeth she is essentially a feathered killing machine. An adorable killing machine who is directing whatever aggression she has at a virtual b-movie villain reject. It dawns on you, as the boss battle starts up, that you feel no fear sitting next to her, even with her display of aggression. Something in your head has to be broken for you to be comfortable sitting next to a riled up deinonychus, but you're not going to complain. Her focus and determination is downright adorable.
  1280.  
  1281. While you are distracted, LIEUTENANT PAINFIST rushes your Helldog and punches him across the arena. To your amazement you survive the surprise attack, but the health you have left is little better than a blip of red life. A slight sneeze could end your contribution to the fight, but thankfully Anya's Helldog is a flurry of movement and never ending bullets aimed at the boss's face. While the big enemy is distracted by her virtual violence, you start clearing out the waves minions that start flooding into the arena. Every enemy down is one less that can hit her, that's the logic you run under. You aren't sure why she is worried about getting hit, but you'll do whatever you can to make sure she isn't.
  1282.  
  1283. To your amazement, even with your slim amount of health, an enraged boss that starts flinging chainsaw boomerangs, and hordes of minions you somehow don't explode into a gory splatter. That's apparently the duty of LIEUTENANT PAINFIST, bits of his flesh blasting off in the most brutally insane manner the creators of this game could think of as Anya strafes him. Soon he's nothing but a robotic skeleton and organs, until a final grenade from Anya explodes on the cybernetic monster and leaves only his stumbling legs. The remaining enemies all explode at once, the screen a mist of red as a post level scoreboard shows up on the screen. None of the numbers mean anything to you, or Anya from the looks of it. She sits still as a stone, watching the TV with absolute fixation. Some sort of notification pops up for Anya's account. Controller dropping to the sofa she throws her arms up in victory.
  1284.  
  1285. "Yes, yes! Untouchable, finally! You rock Anon, I've been trying to get that achievement for weeks," she says, turning and wrapping you in a hug.
  1286.  
  1287. She squeezes you happily, the feathers of her neck soft and inviting when they brush against your throat. Caught off guard, you can only sit and admire the situation while your mind struggles to catch up. When your brain does register what is going she releases you, grabs two sodas off the table, and flops next to you.
  1288.  
  1289. "Wanna keep playing?" she asks, handing you one of the sodas before cracking open hers.
  1290.  
  1291. You marvel at the skill it must take to drink from a bottle with a muzzle like that, while also wondering if this self-confident raptor is her true self behind all the nerves. "Definitely, I'm having fun. Hell, I might even avoid a few more rockets to my face this time," you say with a dry chuckle, opening your drink and taking a swig of the fizzy cola.
  1292.  
  1293. Anya leans back against you, capping her drink and picking up her controller. "You're getting the hang of it," she grins before diving back into the game.
  1294.  
  1295. The levels get harder and enemies more numerous but you notice, despite the chaos on screen, a few things. There is a pattern to how Anya is dodging all the shots and that you can sort of copy it. But this discovery doesn't help when you're impaired by how much closer she is getting to you. Every stage she scoots even closer to you, going from leaning beside you to her hip about to bump into yours. How cute and fun she is to talk to, and now be around, makes it next to impossible for you to pay the necessary attention to the game. You find yourself caught between an urge to slow things down, maybe even run away, and try to hug her when the next level ends. Though you've known each for a week, somehow here you are in her apartment and hanging out with her. On a supposed date, even.
  1296.  
  1297. Mouth going dry and mind distracted by quivering worry in your gut, you don't notice the flashing light of a mine on screen until it's too late. Your Helldog steps on the trap and gets vaporized by the growing explosion. Anya, unfortunately, can't outrun the encroaching fireball. Her Helldog gets caught in the screeching obliteration that takes up half the screen, leaving behind only a charred skeleton that crumbles to ash. You wince, knowing that she must've been going for another no-death or damage run, and you messed that up.
  1298.  
  1299. "Sorry," you manage to say, knowing an apology won't recover her time investment.
  1300.  
  1301. Her shoulder shrugs against yours. "It's alright, I'll get the next Unbreakable achievement some other day."
  1302.  
  1303. While you are stuck trying to formulate a response, not trusting your mouth at this moment, Anya tilts her head inquisitively. As if she only now realizes how close the two of you sit together, but the feathers on her head stay where they. Nice as it is to see she isn't embarrassed, you're still on edge from the situation.
  1304.  
  1305. "Ah, sorry if you're uncomfortable Anon. I got so into playing I must've not realized how close I was getting. I mean, it's not the most traditional date, but I'm enjoying it a lot. And I'm really glad I have you here in person this evening, because you're just as comfy as I thought." Her headfeathers rise. "I can't believe I just said that out loud," she mutters.
  1306.  
  1307. Despite her words and embarrassment at the slip, she doesn't move away from you. That leaves your mouth frozen and your brain with nothing to say. What can she possibly see in someone like you? You can hardly believe this happening. It's been so long since you've gotten close to someone, physically or emotionally, that you feel a tide of panic and despair rising in your chest. You're a nobody, just like your parents said, yet here you are next to somebody that's interested in you. You glance down at you feet, unable to make your mouth move or vocal cords work.
  1308.  
  1309. "I'm not making you uncomfortable, am I?" Anya asks, pulling away a fraction of an inch until only the faintest pressure of her presence is against you. "If anything's wrong you can tell me, today's supposed to be fun for us both."
  1310.  
  1311. "No, no, today's been great. The best date I've ever been on," you admit, making yourself look into her green eyes.
  1312.  
  1313. Cold sweat tinges the back of your neck but you risk putting an arm across her shoulders, feeling like you're leaping off a cliff when you do. This has to be game, right? There's no way she's actually interested in you. If you do this you'll see her wince or flinch away, and know for sure that this day is going to fall apart like so many others.
  1314.  
  1315. Anya scoots closer to you and puts a feathered arm against your back. Her leg bumps into yours, along with her hip, and the look in her predatory eyes is tempered by her gentle smile. "You don't need to try flattering me, Anon."
  1316.  
  1317. You shake your head and glance at your feet, eyes burning as years of bottled emotions try to break out.  "I'm serious," you say, sounding far away to yourself. "Today's been nice. Way too nice for a nobody like me."
  1318.  
  1319. You clench your jaw shut before anything else slips out. You're supposed to be having a good time, not teetering on the edge of tears because of personal demons no one needs to hear about. It's unfair to Anya, after how kind she's been, that you're struggling to keep a straight face. All because she seems to be genuinely interested in you and is making it known in her own way, and you can't completely trust her. Not after these last two years.
  1320.  
  1321. "Anon, are you okay?" she asks, concern plain in her voice and scattering your thoughts for a moment. "You're looking pretty red."
  1322.  
  1323. Hell, why can't you control yourself? "I'll be fine," you manage to say between tight teeth.
  1324.  
  1325. Her head tilts, trying to catch sight of your eyes. "You sure I'm not making you uncomfortable? I don't want to make things weird, i-if that's what I'm doing."
  1326.  
  1327. "That's not it." Dammit, she shouldn't be feeling awful. You shouldn't be making her feel awful. But what can you do? Honesty? What's the worst that happens, she chases you out? "It's been a couple of years since I even hugged someone, Anya. And the last time it was right before I found out my mother had..." you shut your mouth before it digs the hole you're in any deeper.
  1328.  
  1329. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asks, sounding far too understanding.
  1330.  
  1331. Your control slips, for just a moment. "No," you croak, the wetness in your eyes trying to break free as your face burns in shame. "I'm sorry. I'll get a grip on myself in a moment and stop being a pathetic fuck."
  1332.  
  1333. Crying on the first date, just what you need to screw your life up even more. You bury your face in your free hand, too afraid that if you move your other arm from her this last week will have all been a twisted dream. You meeting someone that wants to hang out with you, let alone go on a date? Your parents would laugh at the thought, and scorn you just like they did when your mother burned your life plans down around your head. Or if this week has been real, maybe your parents would be delighted your worthlessness is ruining things with Anya, all without their malicious involvement. You suck in a breath, trying to wrest control from the leaking dam of bottled emotions trying to overcome you.
  1334.  
  1335. Anya shifts beside you, and with surprising strength pulls you into a hug. She presses your face into her feathery neck, or maybe you do that yourself when you wrap your arms around her. Out of desperation you do more than returning the embrace. You cling to her for dear life, fighting back tears and everything you keep buried in your soul the entire time.
  1336.  
  1337. "It's okay to cry, Anon, you're not pathetic at all," she soothes, stroking your back. "And you don't have to talk about what's hurting you, but if you want to I'm here."
  1338.  
  1339. You choke on words you can't let yourself say, scrunching your eyes shut and trying to ignore the fresh scent of her feathers. If you open your mouth again you will break out into tears, no doubt at it. You're already trembling from the fight to regain control of yourself, even if that effort feels futile. The shame that burns your cheeks from holding on to her like this is a wall you can't surmount right now. You just need to ride out the self-hate you feel, along with every other agonizing emotion and memory trying to stir up in you. You don't know the last time you cried, but you want to do anything but that right now.
  1340.  
  1341. "It's okay," she assures you, voice soft and sweet. "I've got you. And I won't let go until your okay or tell me to, alright?"
  1342.  
  1343. Those words frighten you, but she's seems to be sticking by them. You breath in through your nose, her feathers tickling your nostrils, and you try to muster enough trust to not tear away this kind deinonychus. The feeling of her feathers on your skin as she holds you, the beat of her heart, and the closeness of her breath take the edge away from from the torrent of emotions trying to sweep you away. She hasn't turned you away, told you to fuck off and die, or said you need to man up. You can't fathom why. But she's here, and holding you as she said she would. That has to mean something, right? Exactly what you don't know. You grit your teeth and fight against two years of agony trying to break free.
  1344.  
  1345. Somehow you end up laying on the sofa, Anya half on top of you like a feather mass of blankets. It's warm, comfortable, and disturbingly safe to be this close to someone. A hand runs through your hair, claws gently gliding across your scalp, as she tries to soothe you. That caring touch crumbles your already crumbling emotional walls, a few weak sobs making it past your lips before you can regain control. Your jaw aches, but you refuse to let out another pathetic sound. Staining her perfect feathers with your wretched tears terrifies you more than the raging mixture of painful emotions and memories swirling in you.
  1346.  
  1347. "It's alright, Anon," she whispers, stroking your head. "Just breathe and everything will be okay, I promise."
  1348.  
  1349. Your fingers move across her back, searching for a firmer hold on her reassuring warmth and weight. She shouldn't give a fuck about you, but as her hands move behind your back and she nuzzles her head on top of yours, you have to face a terrifying reality. She's not going anywhere. She's not telling you to get out, to man up, or accusing you of ruining everything. Because, for whatever reason, she doesn't think you're a wretch.
  1350.  
  1351. The trembling of your limbs begins to fade as you bury your strained face in the downy feathers of her neck. Time has no meaning when you lose a grip on yourself like this, but eventually you can breathe without tears threatening to break free. Soon after, you think you can pull away from Anya without lapsing back into an episode of pathetic wretchedness. Yet you wait a bit longer, not wanting to move from underneath this consoling raptor. But you have to leave this unexpected comfort soon. She's too goodhearted for an emotional wreck like you, the last thing you could stand right now is take advantage of her kindness.
  1352.  
  1353. "I'm okay," you weakly mutter, shifting your face from her throat and toward the cool air and light of her apartment. "Sorry for fucking today up. Give me a few minutes and I'll be out of here."
  1354.  
  1355. As you try to extract yourself from under her she crosses a leg over yours. "You haven't ruined anything," she says, gently squeezing you with a hug, "Not one bit. You don't have to go, so stay, please."
  1356.  
  1357. The tinge of sadness in her voice stops you long enough for your weary heart to make a decision a decision for you. You don't know what will happen, but you put a hand on her shoulder and turn your face back to her feathery throat, a trilling noise rumbling through her. The dark warmth is almost enough for you to pretend your life hadn't gone flying off the rails two years ago. A faint fear smolders in you that she might betray like so many others have recently, but if that comes to pass you'll have to deal with the fallout then. For now you try to enjoy the feeling of being so close to someone that has yet to shove you away, even if you can't understand why.
  1358.  
  1359. In her arms, you try to ignore a new question, no matter how brightly it burns in your mind. What can she even see in someone like you?
  1360.  
  1361.  
  1362.  
  1363. -CHAPTER 6-  Through The Never
  1364.  
  1365. You wake from a deep slumber, slipping into consciousness gradually. Slowly you become aware of the fact you're beneath a warm, feathery weight. The gentle breathing of the equally warm, feathery neck your face is pressed into makes you wonder if you're in a dream. You wiggle your toes and soberly realize that yes, this is real.
  1366.  
  1367. Falling asleep in the arms of an anthro deinonychus and then waking up to her still holding you is not how you thought things would go last night. Getting chased out would make more sense, but here you are. Even though she is still fast asleep, she's holding you firmly against the downy softness of her neck, lulling you into a near forgotten sense of safety and relaxation. This must be that elusive comfy sensation people talk about online.
  1368.  
  1369. A twinge of worry crosses your mind, but it's muted by the proof of Anya's actions. She kept her word and held you, even after you fell asleep. All for what, to try and make you feel better? That twinge of worry is stronger this time, but peaceful as you feel that's something you can ignore for now.
  1370.  
  1371. You sigh underneath the sleeping raptor. Putting away too many questions as you wonder if you should go back to sleep or try to get up. As you ponder the dilemma you shift your hands, which have been resting on top of the comforting weight laying on top you, and realize there's denim underneath your fingers. You start shifting your hands, until one of them brushes against feathers firmer than those you're face first in. It all clicks when your other hand brushes against a belt loop. Those aren't your pants at all, and you come to the sobering realization that you're about an inch from feeling up her tail. In fact, you're only a bit of downward pressure from feeling up her ass.
  1372.  
  1373. Moving your hands off the potential land mine of raptor tail and butt, before the beast in your pants stirs against your wishes, you rest your palms on the middle of her back. Even though you're quick about backing off, a primal and foolish part of you wants to grope that deinonychus booty until she wakes, all to see where things might go. That instinct is far outweighed not by the potential danger to your health, but how impossible it would be to face her if she liked it. The revelations last night about her clear interest in you were enough excitement for the weekend.
  1374.  
  1375. You twist your neck, face gliding through the faintly tickling feathers of her throat, to get a peek at the room. The lights are still on but it's way too bright for an artificially lit room. You glance toward the window, but can't quite turn your head enough. However, you still see choppy sunlight filtering into the room from that general direction. You are certain it was dark, or getting dark, when you ended up underneath Anya. You want to pretend it's still dark and hide away from the light and day. But a pang of hunger is all that keeps you from burying your face back into the intoxicating comfiness of the cuddle raptor on top of you, forcing you to face reality.
  1376.  
  1377. You need to get up, and as you think about it more reasons to do so pile up. The reason you don't is the sleeping deinonychus laying on top of you. Anya doesn't completely cover you, but the way she's holding you makes think you're like a full body pillow she's thoroughly clinging to. That cute mental image stalls you further, muddles your already confused thoughts, but your stomach reminds you that you never ate dinner.
  1378.  
  1379. The rumble of your empty stomach tips the proverbial scale. You pat her back and softly say, "Anya, c'mon, wake up."
  1380.  
  1381. The only response you get is her snuggling further against you and a musical chirruping sound whispering past her lips. She's completely out of it.
  1382.  
  1383. You try to wake her again, this time rubbing and patting her back. "Anya, it's daylight, c'mon."
  1384.  
  1385. She hugs you tightly against herself, one of her legs hooking behind your own, and she nuzzles the bottom of her jaw against your scalp. All while making a mixture of happy chirruping sounds and meaningless mumbles. It would be adorable if you weren't starting to feel hopeless trapped. You try shaking her shoulder but that doesn't get a reaction out of her, not even one of her reflexive chirrups. Squirming underneath her, not yet panicking but getting close to serious worry, you resort to raising your voice a touch. "Anya, c'mon. Cuddle raptor crushing me into her sofa, please wake up."
  1386.  
  1387. "Hrm? Wha- ugh, damn dreams," she grumbles, head rising up for a moment, only for her to squeeze you and lay her feathery neck back across your face.
  1388.  
  1389. You can breathe just fine so there is no cause to panic. She's just a hard sleeper, you tell yourself. You would actually bet at this point that she normally sleeps with a body pillow, seeing how she isn't reacting to holding you, and you're not a betting man. Nor are you someone that thought he'd ever need to blow on someone's neck to wake them up, but that seems to be one of your few options at this point. Thankfully, before you manage to prepare yourself for the instinctive mauling you might receive, she stirs again.
  1390.  
  1391. "Wait," she grumbles, "This isn't my bed."
  1392.  
  1393. Her head rises, freeing your face once more from a feathery prison, and she looks around in a daze, before finally craning her neck back to look down at you. The tip of her muzzle scarcely an inch from your mouth, her warm breath mixing with your own, you get to watch as the sleep instantly vanishes from her eyes.
  1394.  
  1395. "Oh, uh, hi there Anon," she says, headfeathers fluffing.
  1396.  
  1397. "G'morning Anya," you say, trying not to think about how red your cheeks are starting to feel.
  1398.  
  1399. She stares down at you, her green gaze slowly roaming your face. "You okay after last night?" she asks, sounding genuinely concerned.
  1400.  
  1401. You're not sure if you will be, having forgotten most of miserable parts you nonethelessknow they'll be back in dreams or the moments before you sleep, but for now you are in control of yourself. Mostly, as your mouth starts running. "Yeah, my pathetic display should be over. Sor-"
  1402.  
  1403. Anya cuts you off by softly bonking the tip of her muzzle against your nose. It doesn't hurt, but it sure works in shutting you up. "You're not pathetic," she says, seriousness and concern plain in her voice. "Not to me. It looked like you let someone get close and it scared the hell out of you."
  1404.  
  1405. So pathetic. Though you suppose that's a matter of perspective. You mull that over and bite back an urge to counter that you were, but in taking your sweet time the surge of confidence in Anya seems to falter.
  1406.  
  1407. "I didn't go too far last night or, uh, now, did I?" she nervously asks.
  1408.  
  1409. Seeing her the sudden doubt in herself makes you realize you are pathetic, but for different reasons. You shouldn't be making her worrying like this, or about you. "You didn't go to far," you assure her, such light sounding words somehow heavy on your tongue.
  1410.  
  1411. "That's a relief," she says, smiling awkwardly. "So, uhm, I don't want to pick at anything bothering you, but if you want to talk about it to someone just let me know, okay? About anything, alright?"
  1412.  
  1413. "That's way too kind of you," you say, resisting an urge to glance away. "But thank you, Anya."
  1414.  
  1415. "Everyone has things that eat at them. It's okay to talk about them, y'know?"
  1416.  
  1417. Your gaze falters, shifting from her honest eyes to the dark scales of her snout. "Sometimes they're not worth talking about."
  1418.  
  1419. "Well if you decide they are, you know how to get in touch with me," she says, smile small but sweet.
  1420.  
  1421. If she's not going to press you about last night, you aren't going to talk about it. "You don't need to worry, Anya. I'm fine, but I'll keep that bit about talking in mind."
  1422.  
  1423. "Alright, just know I'm serious, okay? Now," she says, trying to reassure you with a smile, "C'mon, lets get up and face the day!"
  1424.  
  1425. Anya rolls over, with her arms still behind your back and her leg intertwined with yours. A surprised chirp leaves her mouth when she hits the empty space off the sofa and starts descending. You're dragged off the sofa with the cuddle raptor, tumbling toward the floor while caught in her clutches. The both of you land with a winded, "Oof." Anya gets the worst of it by being the feathery cushion breaking your fall. On the bright side, it was a short drop and you both managed to avoid bashing your heads on the coffee table.
  1426.  
  1427. "Ugh, and I just said this wasn't my bed," she groans.
  1428.  
  1429. "Dunno about you, but I'm definitely awake now," you say once you're certain your heart won't leap out of your throat.
  1430.  
  1431. That fall scared the ever loving fuck out of you. Being out from under the cuddly raptor isn't doing any favor for your nerves, especially this new your position. Even with clothes on, this and how your hips are pressed against hers is downright scandalous. The intimate hold she has on your back doesn't help, only the shock of the short fall keeping your thoughts in line.
  1432.  
  1433. "Think I'll stick with caffeine," she grunts, finally letting go of your back.
  1434.  
  1435. Before the situation gets too awkward or your thoughts stray, you struggle upward, working against uncooperative legs but grateful for how sturdy the coffee table you have a hand on is. Without too much flailing you finally manage to make it onto your feet. Anya lays on the carpet, staring up at the ceiling and clearly lost in her thoughts. That or she is still stunned from you falling on her. Feeling guilty about that you bend over and offer her a hand up, which she takes after a few more silent seconds of stillness.
  1436.  
  1437. "Sorry about the landing," you say.
  1438.  
  1439. "It's alright, it was my dumb fault anyway. But thanks, Anon, you're a real gentleman," she says, getting back on her feet with your help. Once she's standing upright she shakes her head, as if trying to shake away a thought, while her toeclaws nervously tapping. So she's back to nervous raptor, though after last night you can't blame her. A nervous knot is doing it's best to fill your empty stomach right now. "So, uh, sleeping here didn't, y'know, mess up any of your plans, did it?" she asks.
  1440.  
  1441. "Nope," you say, not needing to check the time since you had no plans beside the date this weekend.
  1442.  
  1443. "Good, good." She brushes back her headfeathers. "So, uhm, if you want I can drive you back home now. But, uh, would you maybe want to have breakfast together first?" She asks, her headfeathers sticking back up right after her hands pass over them.
  1444.  
  1445. "Actually, if you don't have any plans do you want hang out some more? Or try for a second date?" you ask, feeling like your mouth just threw you off a cliff, even if it's attempt to be around her more is a sentiment you share.
  1446.  
  1447. Green eyes staring right at you, Anya says nothing, making you fear she's stunned or broken. Then a smile spreads across her sleek mouth, showing off her predatory teeth, but the gleeful gleam in her eyes distract you from how deadly she could be. The unbridled joy she shows keeps you from hitting the metaphorical rocks at the bottom of that metaphorical cliff your mouth tossed you off.
  1448.  
  1449. "Continuing our date sounds great," she says, closing the distance between you lighting quick. "I didn't think I had the nerve to ask you until you after breakfast."
  1450.  
  1451. She gets closer, and closer, making it clear her words are honest. Her muzzle hovers just short of your nose, letting you look right into her gorgeous eyes. Peering into those intelligent, predatory seas of green split by slivers of black leaves you speechless. You aren't a poetic man by any stretch, but you understand why the eyes are said to be the windows of the soul. You want to believe in that gentle eagerness you see swimming in her eyes. Whatever Anya sees in your eyes isn't enough make her look away, or for her gaze to steel over. She just looks right at you, scaled muzzle close enough you can feel her breathe.
  1452.  
  1453. You wonder, your heart thumping hard, if you should try kissing her. Would that be right, even after last night? Or is that what she's hoping for, for you to take this next step? You're not sure you can, and your mouth's usual earnest and honest responses are nowhere to be found.
  1454.  
  1455. Gentle, clawed hands touch your arms, and she quietly says, "How about-"
  1456.  
  1457. A muffled, mechanized ringing smashes through the moment and silences her. The intruding noise repeats after a pause, the synthesized chimes repeating in a simple and attention commanding pattern. That can't be your phone, you turned it off when she picked you up yesterday. Her head swivels so she can glare in the direction of her kitchen, the source of the noise, before snapping back to give you an inquisitive and apologetic look.
  1458.  
  1459. "If you need to answer it go ahead, I'm not going anywhere," you say, heart racing in a mix of anxiety and curious excitement.
  1460.  
  1461. With a nod and frustrated sigh she lets go of your arms and stalks to the kitchen, the bushy feathers at the last foot and a half of her tail brushing against your leg as she passes. You try not to watch how her hips shift with each step, but your eyes are drawn to the movement and stay there. At the end, or in this case beginning, of the day you are just a man and she's an alluring woman. Who is interested enough in you to let you in her home and snuggle up to you last night, and even get excited at the idea of spending more time together. That's nearly enough to make you forget what you do remember about how last night ended.
  1462.  
  1463. She reaches the kitchen, grabs her handbag, and digs inside for the source of the incessant ringing. When she extracts it she glares down at the case protected smarthphone even after the ringing ends. She taps at the screen with a claw, silently mouthing something.
  1464.  
  1465. "Grah... Sorry, Anon, I gotta return this call. If you wanna grab a shower in the mean time, it's the first door on the right," she says, pointing to the hall leading to the rest of her apartment.
  1466.  
  1467. "Alright," you say, paranoia about body odor swirling in the back of your head even though you know this is probably an attempt by Anya to get some privacy.
  1468.  
  1469. Whatever the reason for her saying that, a cold shower does sound like a good idea right now so that's where you head. Too many complicated thoughts swirl in your head as you go deeper into her apartment, so you try to dispel them by looking around. The hall you enter is quite empty, no decorations or posters hanging up and only a few closed doors lining the plain, painted walls. Ignoring any dangerous curiosity that might make you snoop in her home, you open the first door on the right and step into a surprisingly large bathroom.
  1470.  
  1471. The room is bigger than you'd expect in an apartment, but most of the extra space is taken up by some sleek, white, futuristic looking installation next to the shower. Staring at it for a moment you belatedly realize you know what it is: a walk in fur drier, or a feather drier for the deinonychus that owns it. While interesting to see one in person you don't care much right now, and shut the door behind.
  1472.  
  1473. Once you finish up a few morning needs, you start looking for a bar of soap before you get the water running. Unfortunately, even after you break down and check all the drawers and cabinets, the closest thing to soap you come up with is some kind of body wash. The sticker on the clear plastic bottle claims to be good for fur or feathers, even though the color honestly reminds you of dish cleaner soap. Specifically, that non-toxic stuff they used to clean penguins after oil spills, at least that's where the label makes your mind go. It smells better than dish cleaner, the faintly foresty odor explaining Anya's scent. One unimportant mystery solved, you are unfortunately not feeling adventurous enough to try out the body wash for yourself. There is no telling what it smells like to anthros, or if it's some expensive product.
  1474.  
  1475. Low on acceptable options, you take a cold and soapless shower. The water wakes you up quick as always and helps focus your scattered thoughts, while also letting you lament your lack of razor. You shaved yesterday but your jaw is already a bit rough with stubble. There is no way Anya has a razor, or that you'd even ask her for one, you think, looking out into in the bathroom. Your thoughts about stubble are cut short. Standing underneath the cold water you realize that there are no towels in the bathroom, aside from a tiny hand towel by the sink. Standing beneath the concentrated rain of the showerhead you weigh your options while water courses down your skin. You can use that fur drier or stick your head out and ask Anya if there any towels, but that really only boils down to one option. The stand-in drier.
  1476.  
  1477. You stare at the device, sleek and expensive looking, while trying to puzzle it out. There's enough space for an anthro of Anya's size, including her tail, to maneuver around and even stretch their arms out. But as you look at the device a stupid question invades your mind. How poofy does Anya get coming out of it? She's got to go from soaking wet to a toasty, feathery floof in mere minutes. A nude floof with hips and thighs a man could die in, and a butt-
  1478.  
  1479. You shake those invading thoughts and mental images out of your brain. That's too awkward a place to go when she's only a dozen or so feet away and there's still a lot unsaid between the both of you. It's bad enough that your mouth betrays you, the last thing you need is for your dick to do the same.
  1480.  
  1481. Once you're clean as you're going to get, and you're certain no parts of your anatomy are going to stand at attention thanks to untoward thoughts, you shut the water off and step out. Going toward the stand-in drier you look it over and discover a simple set of instructions on a control panel hidden on the side. You punch in the settings for 'short and gentle' on the assumption you'll dry off quicker than a furred or feathered anthro. That and the less time you're in it the less chance you have of accidentally breaking it. These things don't exactly come standard in apartments and have got to be costly. You really don't want to demolish your savings by needing to replace hers because you somehow short circuited it.
  1482.  
  1483. The drier comes alive in a torrent of warm air once you step in, your timing either good or a sensor detecting you. Being inside of what amounts to a giant hair drier is quieter than you expected. At worst it's as loud as riding at a bit of speed in Anya's convertible, though that could just be the setting you chose. Or no. The machine suddenly increases in volume and power until you feel like you're in a vortex of hand and hair driers. It goes off after only a few more moments and you step out, mostly glad you didn't break anything and that you're dry enough to dress.
  1484.  
  1485. An interesting experience, for sure, but you think you'll stick with towels when you have the chance. You do enough damage to your ears with your taste in music.
  1486.  
  1487. Dressing in the same clothes you wore the day before makes you feel like the miserable bachelor you are. Which is an odd thought, you realize, since you're in the bathroom of a girl whose arms you slept in last night. Thinking about her, hopefully she doesn't mind if your clothes aren't exactly fresh.
  1488.  
  1489. Leaving the bathroom as you found it, you head through the unfamiliar hall and back into the open space of her apartment. Anya paces in the kitchen, one hand covering her eyes while the other holds the smartphone to her head. Impatient clicking comes from her big toeclaws as she sighs into her phone. "Dad, you never told me about any of this." Her voice doesn't hide her frustration, but she's far from angry. "Well, I'll apologize to mom later, if she's even upset. Besides, dad, I've already made plans so I can't come along anyway."
  1490.  
  1491. She pauses, the tapping of her toeclaws increasing in complexity. The rhythm she clicks out on the tiles sounds a lot like the intro of one the Scale Snatchers songs she sent you. It's rather impressive that she can hit so many notes, and makes you wonder how someone with her musical talent ended up as an accountant of all things.
  1492.  
  1493. Anya's frustrated groan snaps you out of your thoughts. "Dad," she huffs into the phone, irritation rising. "Argh, if you must know it's because I've got a date. Yes, dad, with a guy. NO DAD." You wonder if you should go back into the bathroom, she seems pretty frustrated and this is awfully personal. But she hasn't told you to leave, and you weren't exactly being quiet when you came out. "I said no, dad. Look, I love you but I'm not going. No is no. Look, I really do love you and I'll talk to you soon, but I'm hanging up."
  1494.  
  1495. True to her word she takes the phone in both hands and taps the screen with a sense of finality, her toeclaws stopping as she lets out a tired sigh. She shakes her head and then looks up, jerking when she spots you leaning against the sofa.
  1496.  
  1497. "Woah, uh, hi, Anon. How long have you been there?" she asks, stuffing her phone back into her handbag and desperately trying not to look like she nearly jumped out of her stiffening feathers.
  1498.  
  1499. "Sorry, thought you heard my racket. Something come up with your family?" you ask, feeling bad about eavesdropping while also not wanting to keep her from anything.
  1500.  
  1501. Anya shakes her head. "It's alright. And it's nothing important. Just my dad trying to guilt me into a surprise family outing."
  1502.  
  1503. "If you need to put a hold on today's date that's fine by me," you assure her.
  1504.  
  1505. "Like hell I will. He does this every couple of months, it's nothing special or even planned," she says, heading toward the back of the apartment. "Anyway, I need a shower after that. I'll be like thirty minutes, max, so if you want to watch TV or play something go ahead, just please don't mess up any of my saves."
  1506.  
  1507. "Or," you interject, "How about you let me at your kitchen and I'll get us breakfast ready?"
  1508.  
  1509. Stopping in a doorway, she looks back at you curiously. "Uh... sure. Go ahead, just don't touch the steaks in the fridge."
  1510.  
  1511. You nod and she slips away, but not before giving you an interesting look. You head into the kitchen, trying to push thoughts about Anya naked and floofed out from your mind. Doing something, anything, will make that easier to do so you start rummaging through cupboards and her refrigerator. Once you've taken stock of what you have to work with, you decide quantity is the best approach right now. Neither of you had dinner, the reason why something you refuse to think about, and in your two experiences so far Anya's appetite is nothing to sneeze at.
  1512.  
  1513. You get pans out and heating, plans for the simple meal already swirling in your head. Unfamiliar as the kitchen is you still fall into the rhythm of cooking, glad to be doing something to keep your mind from wandering. In what seems like no time at all the sizzling sounds of greasy breakfast food fill the apartment.
  1514.  
  1515. By the time the raptor, who is occupying all your non-cooking related thoughts, wanders back into the kitchen you gladly tear your eyes away from the stove. She's in a faded band shirt, baggier jeans than yesterday, and her feathers seem only a bit floofier. Nothing like your imagination kept trying to conjure, but you're fine with the real version. It's a lot less awkward this way, especially since she's clothed.
  1516.  
  1517. As she approaches you notice that the green highlight around her eyes is still there, exactly as you remember. Is that natural coloration? That or she's quicker at applying makeup than any other girl you've known.
  1518.  
  1519. "It's almost ready," you say, looking back to the food before you do something idiotic like let the bacon burn.
  1520.  
  1521. "Well it smells great," she hungrily says, creeping to look over your shoulder at the bacon and fried eggs nearing perfection.
  1522.  
  1523. "Would you grab plates?" you ask. "I didn't see them."
  1524.  
  1525. "Yeah," she says, tearing her attention away from the food and opening one of the upper cabinets.
  1526.  
  1527. With her assistance, you get everything portioned out and the table set in time at all. She fills two cups with water and sits across from you, hunger winning out over conversation. Anya doesn't hold back and clears her plate lightning fast, while somehow managing to keep up her manners while downing the eggs, bacon, and toast. Her example keeps you from acting like a savage, and even though it's quite you can't complain about having breakfast with someone else for a change.
  1528.  
  1529. Once your plate is clear, Anya reaches over and grabs it. "I've got the dishes," she says, standing up and stacking the dirty eating utensils on her burden.
  1530.  
  1531. "I can help," you offer, starting to get up.
  1532.  
  1533. "Just sit there and relax," she says, shaking her head. "You cooked for me so I'll clean up."
  1534.  
  1535. "I still feel responsible for the mess in your kitchen," you reply, twisting your head to watch her but not going against her request yet.
  1536.  
  1537. She sets the plates in the sink and looks around the kitchen, hands on her hips. Two pans sit cooling on the stove and the spatula you were using is already in the sink and wiped off. Trash is all squared away in the trashcan and you even wiped down before sitting at the table. The look she directs your way speaks for itself. That doesn't stop her from saying anything, however. "Does this look like a mess to you?"
  1538.  
  1539. She's got you there. "No," you say, admitting defeat.
  1540.  
  1541. "Then just relax, I'll be done in a jiff."
  1542.  
  1543. When she turns the water on you accept that there is absolutely no room for argument, it is her apartment after all. Feeling defeated, in an unfamiliar but nice way, you look around at the posters decorating the walls of her living room. The Scale Snatcher ones, with their bombastic art, really catch your eye. She must be a pretty devout fan to have this much of a poster collection. The sound of water cuts off, replaced by a dishwasher opening and being loaded, stealing your attention.
  1544.  
  1545. "Scale Snatcher still do tours?" you ask in attempt to strike up conversation.
  1546.  
  1547. "They've cut back in the last few years, but yeah," she answers. "They've even got a short one lined up early next year, and they're going to kick it off near hear actually."
  1548.  
  1549. "You really like them, huh?"
  1550.  
  1551. "I blame childhood exposure," she chuckles.
  1552.  
  1553. The dishwasher closes, then starts up a few seconds later. Right about the same time that Anya sits back down across from you, her eyes drifting toward Scale Snatcher poster you'd been looking at. Not the best tour poster you've seen, but far from the worst. It's all dark colors and vicious lines, fitting for the kind of music they play. Anya's claws drum on the table, drawing your attention so she can catch your eye and grin at you.
  1554.  
  1555. "Y'know," she says, "If you're interested, I could get tickets for the start of the Scale Snatcher tour."
  1556.  
  1557. That seems incredibly ambitious talk on the second date, but you rationalize it away as one metalhead talking to another. And as a metalhead, you're interested. "I might be, if it's not too pricey. I kind of live on a budget."
  1558.  
  1559. "Oh, don't worry about cost. With my dad's work connections he always manages to score freebies, more than he can use in fact."
  1560.  
  1561. So her dad works in the music world? Whatever he does, from what Anya said about him it can't be tech related. But that's a topic you'll file away for later, if there is a later of course. "I'm interested," you say say, trying to focus on what's important. "I've never actually been to a concert."
  1562.  
  1563. "I'll see what I can dig up on it then," she says, smiling as her toeclaws tap underneath the table. "So, what should we do today? I-if you still want to do anything, that is."
  1564.  
  1565. Put on the spot like that you can only shrug. Trying to buy some time, you say, "Sounded like you had an idea before the phone interrupted."
  1566.  
  1567. "Oh. O-oh, right. I feel embarrassed just thinking about it, but, uh..." she covers part of her muzzle with a hand and scrunches her eyes, feathers rising in embarrassment. She wasn't kidding. When you think she's clammed up for good, she suddenly blurts out, "IwantedtoaskifwecouldcuddlesomemorebeforeandIjustnowrealizedhowlamethatmustsound."
  1568.  
  1569. Her mouth snaps shut and she bonks her head against the table. There is a certain charm to her spontaneous nervousness, but seeing this shift back makes you wonder where the confident side of her that snuggled up to you last night went. "Anya?"
  1570.  
  1571. Nervously she opens one eyes to look at you, probably afraid you're going to ask her to slowly repeat herself. Fortunately, you understood her. Keeping your tone gentle so as not to spook her, you say, "What's lame about that? Aside from me nearly coming apart at seams, I enjoyed yesterday. And being perfectly honest it was really nice just hanging out and snuggling up to each other. Even if you're way too kind for someone like me."
  1572.  
  1573. Of course your moth gave out more information than you wanted, surprising and saddening you at the same time with the honesty that crossed your lips.
  1574.  
  1575. Anya, on the other hand, bolts up ramrod straight, hands flat on the table and staring at you with saucer sized eyes. The feathers on her head have risen into a mohawk-like crest that, you have to admit even in your suddenly somber mood, looks pretty fucking metal. The surprised deinonychus across from you fidgets, her toeclaws tapping beneath the table, and her gaze goes from shocked to something you can't place. But it's intense and she is focused solely on you.
  1576.  
  1577. "Does a movie marathon and cuddling on my sofa sound good?" she asks with scarcely a hint of trepidation, though her voice wavers a tiny bit at the end.
  1578.  
  1579. There's that confident raptor from last night, perhaps in her entirety this time. All you had to do to bring her back was put your foot in your mouth. "It does to me," you reply, sluggishly getting up and heading toward the sofa in question, not sure of what else to do in the face of her initiative and suggestion.
  1580.  
  1581. Anya stays seated, watching you in an oddly birdlike manner as her head swivels to track you, until she suddenly hops up. Her chair nearly flips, but she steadies it and darts your way. You hardly have time to sit down before she plops right next you on the sofa. Leaning forward to grab a remote off the coffee table, she holds it up and turns on her ridiculously sized TV, which is of the 'smart' variety judging from the application she starts up. Swapping which hand she's holding the remote with, she lays a feathered arm across your shoulder, the long feathers of her forearm folding back once she's touching you. It's awkward as hell but you mirror her action, and she snuggles right up against you in response.
  1582.  
  1583. This is what you both want, right? To be close and see what happens? You silently fight back your fear and try to enjoy being close to someone while it lasts.
  1584.  
  1585. She glances at you. "No horror, right?"
  1586.  
  1587. "I would be a very happy man if there was none of that," you admit shamelessly.
  1588.  
  1589. "How about a classic then," she says, navigating through menus and bringing up a title you never got around to seeing.
  1590.  
  1591. "Mad Max? Isn't that the one with the crazy, desert setting and loud cars?"
  1592.  
  1593. "Something like that," she says, grinning. "You'll love the most recent one, trust me, but you need to at least watch the first two."
  1594.  
  1595. What are you getting yourself into, you wonder as the raptor presses a claw against the remote and the movie starts up. You can't help but notice the way she grins as she bumps her hip against you. "First one is a bit slow, but that just gives us time to get settled in."
  1596.  
  1597. You're not sure what to say, but the movie starts and her attention locks on to the TV. You decide to try and enjoy the intimacy, even if some 'slow' might have been good between the two of you before things got to this point. Not that it matters a lot after waking up in her arms. Trying to put unnecessary thoughts out of your mind, you adjust your arm so it rests more comfortable across her shoulders and try to at least pay some attention to the movie starting up.
  1598.  
  1599. The film passes with barely any questions from you, because even though Anya says it's slow you would disagree. It seems to go by quickly, but that might simply be the company you're sharing. Once the first movie is finished she queues up the next, after taking her arm off your shoulder and asking if you're okay with another. You nearly expected her to talk about the movie, but you decide to go along with this idea of a movie marathon and give your agreement to the second Mad Max movie.
  1600.  
  1601. Anya is enraptured by the movie, and you find the plot of the second to honestly be more interesting than the strange tale of revenge that the first was about. Characters are ridiculous but you expect no less from the era this movie came from. But despite both of you paying attention to the screen, she does not pull back from cuddling. In fact, she seems intent on pinning you against the sofa as she practically lays against you. You can't exactly complain about that and adjust to hold her, your skin brushing against the feathers on of her neck as she leans into you. She rest her head against your shoulder, and you enjoy the soft warmth of her presence. It's such a simple, intimate bliss that it's hard not to cherish the simple act of being this close to someone who likes you. And who you, quite honestly, definitely like back. Even if you don't deserve this, and it's probably going way too fast, you can't push her away if she's happy.
  1602.  
  1603. During a lull in the action and plot, Anya's hand reaches across your lap and finds it way into your hand. The dance is delicate, because of her claws, and makes your heart pound, but your fingers intertwine with hers. The supple scales, soft and smooth, on her palm contrast against the delicate touch of her pointed claws against the back of your hand. Action picks up in the movie, her hand squeezing yours excitedly whenever the madness picks back up.
  1604.  
  1605. You're hardly paying attention to the movie anymore. All that matters to you right now is the feathery soft and cuddly warm deinonychus you still can't believe you're spending the day with. Shifting to stroke the back of her head gets a small, pleased chirrup sound out of her. She drags her head along your shoulder until you can feel feathers pressing against your neck. Thinking she's not watching the movie anymore you glance at her, only to find her attention is still locked on the TV. She's utterly enthralled by the events on screen. Not wanting to ruin her enjoyment you move your hand away from her head, only for her green eyes to snap toward you. Softly squeezing you, a warbling noise somewhere between a growl and whine comes out of her.
  1606.  
  1607. Message received, you drop your hand back onto her feathery head, earning a deep sound of satisfaction from her as she flicks her attention back to the screen. A smile spreads across her face when you work your fingers through and around the feathers on her head, until you're touching her scalp. You brush against against the surprisingly warm, skin like flesh underneath. When you move your touch near a spot you realize is her recessed ear you earn several small, chirruping sounds of approval from her.
  1608.  
  1609. A bit maliciously, you try to focus on rubbing and exploring those spots that make her so noisy whenever there is action on screen. It doesn't disturb her, from what you can tell. Instead it seems to put her on cloud nine, Anya practically melting into your side. When the credits finally roll she lets out a happy sigh, wiggling her neck and encouraging your hand toward the back of her head. To your surprise, she reaches behind you to run her clawed fingers through your hair.
  1610.  
  1611. Her touch is delicate and deliberate, claws moving lightly across your skin to avoid hurting you as she explores you in kind. At first you tense up, but as she keeps at it goose bumps roll down your neck and to your arms. No wonder she started melting against you.
  1612.  
  1613. "I've been wondering, Anon, about something that's kinda, maybe important," she says, shifting so you're eye to eye but still intimately linked, and her hand continuing to gently hold the back of your head.
  1614.  
  1615. Staring into the green seas that are her eyes, you find a few words that might keep her talking. "What's up?"
  1616.  
  1617. "Are we..." she hesitates, as if searching confidence you know she's got in her. Finally, she finds it, and asks, "Is it right to think we're a couple?"
  1618.  
  1619. Reality harshly snaps back to you. Your fingers stop running the feathers on the back of her neck. Anya tenses under your frozen touch, but she isn't panicking yet. Which is more than you can say for yourself right now. You don't know how to answer. You barely know her and she scarcely knows you. Has this all gone too far, too fast? What good is someone like you to her? Your heart doesn't beat hard, but you can feel the blood in your veins pulse with anxious uncertainty. "Maybe?" you bluster out, too afraid of a definitive answer. "Or maybe close friends?"
  1620.  
  1621. You fear she'll freeze or panic, or worse get upset. Instead she leans toward you, her muzzle brushing your mouth until your lips meet hers. Sitting there, stunned, you realize she's gently kissing you to the best of her ability. You can't think, which suits your mouth just fine since it decides this is exactly what you want and tries awkwardly kissing her back. The hint of her taste grows stronger, until you yearn for more and agree with your mouth entirely. The hand you have on the back of her head tries guiding her closer. The hand she's using the cradle the back of your neck holds you still as she eagerly dives into the kiss. Her lips, faintly bumpy from the smooth scales, part and you get a taste of her tongue as it whispers past your willing lips.
  1622.  
  1623. But a taste of her tongue is all you get. Anya pulls back before the kiss goes any farther, putting only the scant distance between your mouths that she needs to speak. "What about now?" she breathes, enchanting eyes locking with yours.
  1624.  
  1625. A lump of fear and trepidation is caught in your throat, left there by the kiss and your desire to return to  it. "Anya, I like you, I really do," you say, heart heavy in your chest, "But this- this is probably a bad idea. We barely know each other."
  1626.  
  1627. "We can work on getting to know each other. Because I'm interested, and you sure seem to be interested, so why not go with it?" she asks, one of her claws tracing your earlobe.
  1628.  
  1629. Electric as her touch is, it doesn't cut through the conflicted feelings warring inside your heart. On the one hand you want to lean forward and pretend the kiss never ended, and on the other you know that is probably just going to end in flames. She might be interested in you but that doesn't mean the pattern of failure that's followed you these last two years is just going to magically end. The heartbreak if this gets serious, you can handle that. What you doubt you can survive is disappointing her or getting stabbed in the back again. It will be be better to speak honestly and try to scare her off now rather than set up failure for both of you.
  1630.  
  1631. "Anya," you manage to say through the lump in your throat, "I was witch hunted out of college by my own fucking parents. I work a dead end job with a dead end life. I'm nobody, and a sweet person like you can do way better than a nobody like me."
  1632.  
  1633. "You just said we barely know each other, so don't be so sure that you're nobody," she says, the defiance in her voice gentle as her breath is on your lips. Both of her hands drift to the back of your neck, unabashed desire swimming in her eyes. "So stop worrying and just kiss the deinonychus that wants to be your girlfriend."
  1634.  
  1635. There's a voice in your head screaming to get away from her before this all goes wrong. Yet, if things are meant to go wrong in your life then there is no good reason to run from them, is there? Against your better judgment, you lean forward into her lips and try to forget the doubts gripping your heart.
  1636.  
  1637. She lets out a happy, purr like chirp before returning to the kiss like it was never interrupted. Her tongue runs over your teeth before dancing into your mouth. The weight of her body presses against you as she ferociously starts making out with you, her earnest desire breaking down your hesitation. She wants this, and so does that primal part of you. You tentatively try to explore her mouth, but it's halted by her sharp teeth and her tongue trying to wrestle your own appendage into submission. Claws delicately dance over your skin, while her feathers and skin shiver pleasantly underneath the exploring touch of your fingers. A few gentle strokes around her ear let you finally get into her mouth, a happy moan from Anya reverberating in your jaw. Time becomes meaningless, all that exists is a raw need to explore each other and tease out small reactions with a flick of the tongue or stroke of the hand.
  1638.  
  1639. If only you and Anya could keep this moment going forever, but eventually the need to breathe overwhelms the consuming need locking your lips. Parting, the both of you are left winded by the sudden passion. You have no idea what you're doing, but it's not worth stopping. Especially not when Anya, mostly in your lap now and breathing heavily, grabs your shoulders and looks down at you, her eyes glimmering happily.
  1640.  
  1641. "Still have doubts?" she teasingly asks.
  1642.  
  1643. "Some," you answer honestly. "And I know I'll have a lot more if this goes any farther right now."
  1644.  
  1645. To your surprise, some of the feathers on her head start to rise in embarrassment. "That's fine," she says, anxiously gripping your shoulders. "I'm, uh, a bit rustier with this stuff than you might think. I haven't kissed anyone like that in a couple of years, and even then I'm not sure it was as, uh, exciting. But, uh..." Her words trail off and she grimaces, unable to finish her thought.
  1646.  
  1647. "Are you saying you're a virgin?" you ask, wishing to kick yourself the second the words are out of your mouth.
  1648.  
  1649. To your relief she doesn't freak out, or slap you, though she looks even more embarrassed than before with how much her headfeathers poof out. "What? N-no! I've done stuff, j-just not w-with... ARGH," she grumbles, letting go of your shoulders and burying her face in her hands. But it isn't enough to keep you from hearing her mumble, "Just not with a human. Or a human guy. O-or even with a guy in general."
  1650.  
  1651. Is she saying she normally swings for the other team? You're left even more confused about why she's into you, not that you ever understood. What you do know is that there was raw, unfiltered passion in that kiss. From both of you. This new layer about her previous experiences, and the memories of your short lived relationships, is something that can be peeled back later. You hope she thinks the same once she pulls her face out of her palms.
  1652.  
  1653. "Look, can we take a raincheck on this conversation?" she asks, shifting uncomfortably. "We can talk about it later, during a webchat or something this week. But right now, I just wanna go back to our nice, lazy date of a movie and cuddling."
  1654.  
  1655. "Alright," you say, dreading the upcoming week for a different reason other than that potential chat with Anya. You're quite happy she's wanting to put a hold on that potentially nasty conversation. "I might not be up for anything serious if we webchat this week, though. I've got a monster of a task at work ahead of me, got stuck training a replacement."
  1656.  
  1657. "Ugh, sounds like we're both in for it at work," she groans, shifting out of your lap so she can lean against your side again. "We just got a huge client who has a disaster of a records system. I'll be seeing mismanaged spreadsheets and documents in my dreams before the week is over."
  1658.  
  1659. "Hearing that makes me glad for my crappy warehouse job," you say as she stretches to grab the remote.
  1660.  
  1661. "All that is for later. Let's just enjoy the here and now while it's still the weekend," she declares, picking a movie from the list she brings up on the TV.
  1662.  
  1663. You miss the title, but it didn't look like another Mad Max film. So long as she skipped the horror genre you don't care what plays. The weekend has been too confusing and tiring for you to pay much attention to a movie, but when she snuggles up under your arm you suppose there's no need for that kind of entertainment. There is a relaxing cuddle raptor next to you, Anya's company soothing you. Or should you say your girlfriend's company?
  1664.  
  1665. This definitely went too fast for a 'friendly attempt at a date.' But like she said, you can worry about that later. Focusing on the now seems like the wise thing to do, you decide right before the deinonychus reaches up to steal a quick kiss.
  1666.  
  1667. On second thought, you'll worry about the speed of things once you're back at your apartment.
  1668.  
  1669.  
  1670.  
  1671. -CHAPTER 7-  No Leaf Clover
  1672.  
  1673. Aside from the odd break to stretch stiff legs or use the bathroom, you and Anya idle the day away in cuddly comfort on her couch. Around noon she orders Chinese, resulting in full stomachs and an excessive amount of take out boxes on her kitchen counter. You think it's part of a wordless attempt at keeping you in her downy embrace longer. So that's where you stay, though as the day moves on the more you feel like an intruder in her space. Preposterous when she's been crystal clear in her affection, constantly stealing kisses from you and quite clearly content with the light, mutual petting going on. Even with that and her obvious interest in you two being a 'couple', the nagging feeling of staying too long keeps building.
  1674.  
  1675. She's left you a lot to think about once you go back to your place. Which should be soon, you note looking out the window by the front door, the blinds dimly lit by a streetlamp outside. The sun must've set during the last movie, some sappy romance you got far too invested in.
  1676.  
  1677. Begrudgingly, you fish your phone out, momentarily disrupting your happy cuddle partner and, hard as the thought is to accept, likely girlfriend. While you turn the flip phone on, Anya lays her head back on your shoulder. One of her hands fiddles with the TV's remote while her other arm is wedged behind your back, acting as an anchor binding her to your side. The dispassionate, generic time that flashes on your tiny phone screen makes your mouth draw into a tight line. If not for her cuddly comfort, seeing how late it is would get more than a hint of a sigh out of you. However, she's so calming you can scarcely manage a weak huff of regret.
  1678.  
  1679. "I should get going," you say, flipping your phone shut and rubbing her back apologetically.
  1680.  
  1681. That's got to be why your doing it, to apologize, not because it soothes your weary soul to be in physical contact with someone.
  1682.  
  1683. Claws stop tapping the remote. Happenstance left a cheesy romantic comedy with a crow and human pairing on screen, but you don't care about the TV right now. Not with Anya by your side. She lifts her head off your shoulder and blinks. "Huh? Why's that?"
  1684.  
  1685. "I need to be at work early tomorrow."
  1686.  
  1687. "Oh." She blinks, looking toward the window at the back of her apartment. "Oh hell, when did it get so dark?"
  1688.  
  1689. The way she leans more of her weight against you guarantees you can't get up without tossing her. "I need to go or else I might pass out on your couch again," you say, patting her shoulder.
  1690.  
  1691. She scoots away reluctantly and shuffles across the couch, but you don't rush to your feet just yet. She sits on her knees, tail hanging off the couch, and stares at you. Something is obviously on her mind so you wait for Anya to speak. "Y'know," she warbles, looking away for a moment, "I wouldn't mind it if you need to crash here again."
  1692.  
  1693. Your heart thrums for the wrong reasons. She's kind, gentle, and serious in her intentions. Ah hell, this was supposed to be a simple date. Instead you had to hide a couple of boners during an all day cuddle session. Now she's, what, trying to offer you a place to stay? You think she should be more careful extending such kindness.
  1694.  
  1695. Planting a kiss on her nose leaves her wide eyed, even if it leaves you weary. "Anya, thank you for the kind offer, but I've got my own place." With a heavy heart you stand. "I hope we can do something like this again soon.”
  1696.  
  1697. "I..." she stops, then nods her head. "Yeah, let's do this again soon."
  1698.  
  1699. "Good night Anya," you say, going for the front door.
  1700.  
  1701. Before you're even a full two steps from the couch Anya scrambles after you, remote clattering on the table and couch springs creaking. Her upper body bobs and she weaves around you, blocking the way to the door.
  1702.  
  1703. "You're not about to walk back, are you?" she asks, slit pupils wide.
  1704.  
  1705. "More like jog," you admit, remembering most of the route, "But yeah."
  1706.  
  1707. Her feathers ruffle as she dashes toward the kitchen. "I can drive you, it's no problem, just let me get my keys."
  1708.  
  1709. You consider objecting but don't, she's probably just got your safety in mind. That and being around her just a bit longer sounds nice, even if it's only for a ride back to your apartment. Putting on a cooperative face, you wait. She shouldn't be worried about you, but she is and there is nothing you can do about it. Nothing that you will do, you correct yourself, since whatever is building between the two of you is something you aren't keen on risking. "Alright."
  1710.  
  1711. While you get your shoes back on, keeping a relaxed face but brooding on the inside, the feathered raptor is a flurry of movement. She gathers her keys and handbag off the kitchen counter before vanishing into the back rooms, only to emerge moments later in mismatched flipflops, one orange and the other blue. You say nothing about the pair of flipflops she left by the door yesterday and follow her outside.
  1712.  
  1713. You get in her car and she puts on music, her nervousness apparent in every move. Not wanting to distract her while she drives you keep quiet, watching the lights and buildings as they pass outside the car. It must be an eternity of silence before she reaches the apartment complex you call home, one of her clawed hands turning down the music when she pulls into the usual spot. You begin unbuckling but stop when her hand rests on your shoulder. "Anon, before you go, could I ask you a favor?"
  1714.  
  1715. "Of course," you say, not sure what this about.
  1716.  
  1717. Is that a twinge of embarrassment making her headfeathers rise, or is that shadows playing tricks? "C-could you show me your place?" she asks, unable to maintain eye contact.
  1718.  
  1719. Alarm bells and a parade of red flags invade your mind. Not unreasonable given your past attempts at dating and making friends, but you want to think Anya is different. She didn't ditch you on the first or second outing, and has been the one making all the moves so far. But that doesn't mean something isn't off about how quickly she's been doing things, which you can't say if that's because of her nerves or dark secrets. You cling to the hope it's just her nerves.
  1720.  
  1721. "Sure," you say, that one word feeling like a death sentence upon your blossoming relationship with the feathered cuddle raptor.
  1722.  
  1723. "I understand, it's probably way too soon for me to be asking something like that-" She realizes what you said and snaps her mouth shut. "Oh. Oh, then, uh, where should I park?"
  1724.  
  1725. Erring on the side of caution, and a bit relieved by her anxious response, you direct Anya to a spot closer to the building you inhabit, directly beneath a streetlight and in view of the stairs. Hopefully that will be enough to dissuade anyone from getting dumb ideas about her unattended convertible. Clever car thieves would be inclined to pass up on something conspicuous as a green convertible, but you don't trust the dumb teenagers in the area.
  1726.  
  1727. Stepping out of her car you go around the back and wait while she opens the door and rummages in her handbag. Her head bobs in satisfaction once she locates whatever it is she was looking for, though it stays in her bag. She stands up, hits the locks, and closes the door with her orange flipflop protected foot.
  1728.  
  1729. "Sorry about that, thought I forgot my phone," she explains.
  1730.  
  1731. "Find it?"
  1732.  
  1733. "Yup. Turns out I didn't have time to lose it, snuggling you all day," she says, getting close enough that you can feel the long, extended feathers on her forearm brush against you.
  1734.  
  1735. Trepidation nearly stops you from taking her hand in yours. But the growing familiarity of her touch is too intoxicating to pass up. Anya's fingers intertwine with yours, her palms softer than they have any right to be while her scaled knuckles have a pleasingly smooth, firm feel. The happy, headfeather fluffed grin she directs does wonders for dispelling your nervous fears of overstepping.
  1736.  
  1737. You shouldn't be so damn worried just holding her hand, but habits from constant rejection mixing with two years of minimal social interaction have ruined your nerves. It feels like you're an awkward teenager all over again, and you've already kissed this girl.
  1738.  
  1739. "This way," you say, trying to ignore the creeping dread rising in your gut.
  1740.  
  1741. No, awkward teenager is wrong. Anya had it right when she said you were scared of letting somebody get close, what you feel right now is terror at its mightiest. Stupid as it makes you feel, her touch keeps you from shaking apart or otherwise making a shameful scene.
  1742.  
  1743. Caught between comfort and dread, you lead her up the stairs, hand in hand the entire way. Just like a couple you realize, but those thoughts aren't helpful right now. It's a mixed blessing that none of your neighbors are out, freeing you from any awkward stares or comments they might have. But that also means you reach your apartment that much sooner. Fishing your keys out with your left hand, you end up fighting the lock for far too long and leaving yourself looking and feeling like a simpleton. It shouldn't be so difficult to put a stupid key in an equally stupid lock. Anya, too kind to make any sort of snide comment, delicately squeezes your hand once you get the door open.
  1744.  
  1745. The moment of truth is upon you at last. You step in and flip the light switch, illuminating your clean and mostly empty apartment. The pristine carpet, off white walls, and hint of lavender air freshener would make you think 'empty showroom apartment' if it weren't for the signs of your habitation.
  1746.  
  1747. A rolling office chair sits by a card table just outside the kitchen, a cluster of colorful sticky note reminders on a wall an arms length from the table, and laptop charging on the table the only obvious signs anyone lives here. You've kept your generous living room, generous only considering the cheap rent, empty and only use it to work out in. The two small bedbrooms hidden in the back aren't much better, with one sitting empty and the other containing only your bed and dresser, but those doors are shut. Unlike the door to your bathroom which sits ajar, the portable hamper inside mercifully empty thanks to your errands on Friday. Your kitchen sits neat and organized with all the dishes put away, the counters spotless, and the slightly disorganized spice rack the only hint of use.
  1748.  
  1749. The emptiness of it all hits you hard. On occasions, when the loneliness starts getting to you, you've thought about looking for a roommate. Isolated as you've become you always liked living with other people, but with your recent track record of disastrous attempts at socialization that idea seems dangerous. Though you might not have much of a choice once rent goes up at the end of the year.
  1750.  
  1751. Waving at your depressingly empty apartment you say, "It's not much, but I'm not on the streets or anything."
  1752.  
  1753. Looking over at Anya, expecting her to have something choice to say about your dismal excuse for a living space, you see no hint of disappointment on her face. Not one raised feather or twitch of the eye as she surveys the place. Abruptly she releases your hand to walk around your apartment, going to the living room before circling back to the kitchen.
  1754.  
  1755. "Not on the streets is good," she says, completing a circuit. "I know it's stupid, but I had this dumb thought in the back of my head you didn't actually have a place. Probably my doof brain wanting an excuse to sleep with you again tonight."
  1756.  
  1757. Eyes going wide, realizing she just said that out loud, Anya turns into a poofy, embarrassed mess of raptor cring. Compared to her rising panic you take her verbal slip in stride by standing there in stunned silence.
  1758.  
  1759. "Shit," Anya frets, "Oh hell, we can just forget I said that. What I meant to say is I wouldn't mind us sleeping together, I mean at my place, in separate rooms if you really want - shit that, I, I've just been worried about you and the last, only, relationship I was in was weird and I don't want to repeat it and I barely know what I'm doing and I'mnottryingtobepushyandIknowIcangetaheadofmyself-"
  1760.  
  1761. She keeps going, all of her anxieties and fears spilling out in a torrent of uncontrollable babble. You are too stunned to keep up, but that's fine. You don't need to hear anymore. Your mouth, normally your most clever body part, is silent. That's fine as well. Words won't help right now. Not when she is so close. Her anxious babble grows worse as you draw near, but that comes to a sudden stop when you scoop her into a hug. Your heart only beats once before familiar, feathered arms wrap around you and her claws catch on your shirt. Instead of burying your face in her downy neck, you hold her close and wait for the worst of her jitters to end.
  1762.  
  1763. "Thanks for giving a damn Anya," you say, trying not to choke up and just enjoy the woodsy scent of her soap that brings back fresh memories of your face buried in her downy neck.
  1764.  
  1765. She shivers one last time, but to a different tune. "So, uh, about the hole I just dug myself into by bringing up my last relationship," she murmurs weakly.
  1766.  
  1767. She's still fidgeting nervously but the grip on your shirt tells you she isn't ready to let go. That's fine, you aren't ready for that either.
  1768.  
  1769. "Raincheck on that as well?" you ask.
  1770.  
  1771. “Took the words right out of my mouth,” she swallows. "So, uh, I'm not being too weird am I?"
  1772.  
  1773. You pull back without breaking the embrace. You want - need - to see her eyes and what's behind them. Your nose is barely an inch from her muzzle, bringing those gorgeous greens of hers into perfect view. Perhaps you're easy to please and that is why you are starting to lose yourself in her eyes; maybe eyes really are windows to the soul and the kind essence radiating from behind her eyes soothes you; maybe it's as simple as you like her more and more the longer you're around her. Or, most likely, you've been alone so long and there's this strange, but charming girl that likes being around you.
  1774.  
  1775. "Nah, you aren't. Not unless I'm weird for thinking you have beautiful eyes," you say, your mouth deciding to make up for it's earlier silence.
  1776.  
  1777. Hands on her back, you feel a soft shiver go down her spine and tension melt. Gingerly she rubs the tip of her muzzle against your nose. "If you're being romantic to calm me down, it's working. But you might want to be careful," she breathes against your lips, her confidence flaring brightly.
  1778.  
  1779. You scrunch your brows, wondering if you should forgive your mouth's slip. Or if there is more to her request to see your place. "Careful of what?"
  1780.  
  1781. She kisses you on the nose. As you learned throughout the day, raptor kisses are deceptively delicate. To an observer it probably looks like she's trying to bite your nose clean off, but you feel no fear as her teeth brush against your skin and breath washes over your face. Instead a thrill races down your spine, that nearly brushes aside all your worries about how quickly this is moving.
  1782.  
  1783. "Looking at me like a woman instead of a scary, feathered killing machine," she breathes, mouth hovering close to your own. "Because if you keep that up I make no guarantees we'll make it to work tomorrow."
  1784.  
  1785. For at least a minute, maybe longer, you silently stare into her tender, alluring gaze. Her claws tense on your back, her sickle shaped big toe claws tap excitedly, and her head shifts subtly closer. Desire's flame burns bright in the deinonychus's eyes. The mystery of 'why' is irrelevant when you're so close to the cusp of a wonderfully bad decision. But before she can pounce or you strike first, you look away. She's taken away most of your worry, but enough remains to remind you of responsibilities.
  1786.  
  1787. "I'm free Sunday," you say, staring at the tip of her muzzle. That's her nose, right? "How about I pick you up this time?"
  1788.  
  1789. Anya tilts her head, self-restraint warring with desire behind her narrow pupils. "What time?" she asks, the victor in her mental battle obvious since you're both still standing and not locked in an embrace of raw desire.
  1790.  
  1791. "10 AM?"
  1792.  
  1793. "I'll be free. What do you have in mind?" she asks, head cocking to the side ever so slightly.
  1794.  
  1795. "Dress for something vaguely outdoorsy but calm. I'll let everything else be a pleasant surprise," you tell her, plan already falling into place in your head.
  1796.  
  1797. "Really? You willing to make that..." Anya leans closer, breath warm on your lips, green gaze demanding your attention once more, "... a promise?"
  1798.  
  1799. The thrill racing down your spine is downright electric. Yet scraps of hesitation make you falter, but not for long. She soon gets what she wants, what you both want, your lips meeting her faintly scaled mouth. Tongues become thoroughly acquainted when hers bumps against your teeth, but she has enough self control to inch back after only a few seconds. Her toeclaws tap happily and the feathers on her head are halfway to a short, mystifying mohawk that is most certainly not caused by embarrassment.
  1800.  
  1801. "I'm already looking forward to Sunday," you breathe.
  1802.  
  1803. "Mhm, so am I," she hums, delicately kissing your nose again. "Walk me to my car, or should I say nighty night now?"
  1804.  
  1805. You take her hand in yours and turn to get the door, the elated hammer of your heart quite uplifting as she follows you.  Hand in hand, you take her down the stairs and to her vehicle. She pulls out her keys and hits the locks but, somehow, you manage to get the door before she does.
  1806.  
  1807. "Thank you Anon, you're quite the gentleman," she says, pecking you on the nose with a kiss before getting in. Sitting down, hand on the door to keep it open, she looks up at you with a wide grin. "And thanks a bunch for the fun dates."
  1808.  
  1809. "I'm the one that should be thanking you for them," you reply. "Guess I'll have Sunday to do that properly."
  1810.  
  1811. She chuckles happily. "You're getting me even more excited. Hit me up on Pandamonium or call whenever. Until then, nighty night, Anon," she says, shutting the door.
  1812.  
  1813. "Goodnight, Anya," you say, before waving to her as she drives off.
  1814.  
  1815. This time you see her stick an arm out the window and waves, the long feathers on her forearm stretched out and reminding you of a wing as she passes under the streetlights.
  1816.  
  1817. ---
  1818.  
  1819. The buzz of your alarm breaks you free from a nightmare about your people you'll never see again, not if you have any luck left. You push yourself out of bed, shut off the alarm, and go about your morning ritual mechanically. Thirty minutes later, you leave the bathroom in a better mood than you went in with, a shower and shave exactly what you needed to forget a fitful night's sleep.
  1820.  
  1821. Then again not having a jaw that feels like medium grit sandpaper always lightens your mood. And who needs coffee when you can stand naked under a cold faucet for twenty minutes?
  1822.  
  1823. You throw together a couple of sandwiches and grab a bottle of unsweetened tea from the refrigerator, stuffing it all in your cheap lunchbox. You don't know if it's better for the environment to avoid using paper bags, but a simple lunchbox has already saved you money on bags. No one at work has stolen it yet either, so that's a plus. Then again, the running theory you have is that no one wants to piss off one of the guys driving a forklift in a busy warehouse.
  1824.  
  1825. Before you head out the door you check the time, remembering you swore to take your car this week, only to immediately curse yourself for not changing your alarm from it's usual time. You'll get there way too early if you leave now. With forty minutes to burn, you grab your laptop and do horrible things to your browser history.
  1826.  
  1827. With how intense things were getting between you and Anya, it seems prudent that you look up raptor anatomy. Entirely for research reasons, despite that mental image of her naked and floofed out that keeps entering your mind, because you want to know if there are any quirks to watch out for. Just in case the passion heats up and your dumb, primal brain wins over your reluctance to let things move too quickly.
  1828.  
  1829. Knowledge is power, you muse after twenty minutes of searching, but boy does it corrupt. You've never been opposed to anthro women, as your browser history before today can attest, but armed with knowledge about raptor anatomy makes you wonder about last night. Especially what would have happened if you kissed her instead of looking away. Your imagination has much more fuel, and is busily turning a cute and naked floof into something far more distracting.
  1830.  
  1831. With no time for another cold shower and blood pumping awkwardly you close the unhelpful tabs, then go get dressed for work. Unfortunately, as you get your work uniform on your imagination is still going wild trying to picture exactly how far down the white feathers on Anya's throat go. Which leads to you wondering why you didn't go for it last night, aside from your general worry about things going to fast. You were in bodily contact with her practically all day yesterday and had to hide more than one boner, cuddling up to a cute girl like her.
  1832.  
  1833. That train of thoughts leaves your mind in an even worse place for this time of the morning. If your coworkers weren't mostly canines you'd rub one out before work, but you're out of time once you get into your uniform. Frustrated in every sense of the word you make sure you're dressed right, leave your apartment, get in your car, and head off for another day of drudgery.
  1834.  
  1835. You arrive at work early, put your lunch in the break room, and clock in. The second you turn around your boss is there, startling you fiercely. The aging weasel Mr. Crombe silently commands you to follow with a wave of his hand, and you comply.
  1836.  
  1837. He leads you to his office, no doubt to meet the new hire you're stuck babysitting for the foreseeable future. The door opens and reveals a lanky, gray furred canine sitting straight as a board in one of the folding chairs. Seeing the both of you he rises to his feet, proving to be taller than you expected, easily able to look down at you.
  1838.  
  1839. “Craig,” your boss says to the canine, “This is Anon. He's reliable as they come so keep your trap shut and listen to what he tells you, and you'll do fine.”
  1840.  
  1841. “Yes, sir,” Craig says to your boss, before turning and offering you handshake. His grip is solid and his smile is filled with the excitement of youth. “Nice to meet you, Anon.”
  1842.  
  1843. “Likewise,” you say, not feeling the sentiment in the least.
  1844.  
  1845. “We're starting Craig out in loading,” your boss explains. “They're expecting both of you.”
  1846.  
  1847. “Yes, sir,” you say, the tone your boss used making it clear you're dismissed.
  1848.  
  1849. You motion for Craig to follow, but don't leave before putting the folding chair he was using away. Once that's squared away, and you're both safe from the boss man's frustration, you set about your work day, Craig following along dutifully.
  1850.  
  1851. Slightly worried as you've been that this new hire is going to be an idiot or unfocused, Craig doesn't ask you anything that isn't work related during the first part of your shift. He even put on his hardhat correctly, to your relief. The two of you are tasked with loading pallets destined for delivery. Work that can be quite literally back breaking if not done properly, but you only have to correct Craig's posture once. Even then you aren't going to complain, it's been a few months since you were in loading so you are a bit rusty yourself. Yet the rhythm comes back to you soon enough. Before you know it, lunch rolls around and you're urged out of the area by the supervisor.
  1852.  
  1853. Craig follows you to the break room, but he gets distracted by a pair of coworkers talking cars and joins in with them. You zone out and grab your lunch, sit down, and are glad to see that you still have everything you brought. Eating slowly, your thoughts wander toward your parting with a certain deinonychus last night and where things will stand when you meet again. For someone that seems so interested in taking the lead, she sure is nervous. Or maybe she's nervous except for taking the lead? You get the feeling you'll find out come Sunday.
  1854.  
  1855. "Hey Anon, my dude, s'cool if I sit with you?" a heavy, male voice asks, breaking you from your wandering thoughts.
  1856.  
  1857. You look over and up at Craig, looming over the table as only a lanky youth can. He's got a paper lunchbag in one hand, and while you are tempted to tell him you do mind, that seems needlessly rude. You're stuck training him, might as well be nice. "Go ahead."
  1858.  
  1859. "Thanks man, thanks," he says, pulling out a chair and taking a seat. He takes off his hardhat, his furry ears flicking once they're free, and dumps the content of his bag out on the table. Three plastic wrapped sandwiches of some sort, but you don't really care beyond that. You try not to pay any more attention to him, but Craig, unfortunately for you, has other ideas. "So how long you been working here man?"
  1860.  
  1861. "Two years," you reply, rounding the number a bit.
  1862.  
  1863. "Really? Damn, dude, seems like you been here longer with the way boss man talked about you."
  1864.  
  1865. You keep a frown off your face, not glad to know your boss has talked about you. More important than that is the mistake that Craig just made. It seems like important workplace information to share, so you might as well warn Craig before makes the mistake again. "You'll want to call him Mr. Crombe any time he's around, or could be around," you say.
  1866.  
  1867. "Ah, really? Why's that?" he asks, peeling the plastic off his food.
  1868.  
  1869. You stare at the door, wanting to make sure your boss isn't about to walk in. "Because he's very particular and is..." you can't call your boss an asshole while on the job. That's too damn risky. "He's very unhappy if you don't."
  1870.  
  1871. "Gotcha," the canine says, biting into his lunch. He has the decency to chew and swallow before asking, "Anything else I should know to stay on his good side?"
  1872.  
  1873. "It's best to use a 'yes, sir' or Mr. Crombe around him, leave his office the same way you found it if he invites you back there, and if you drink coffee to make sure there is always enough left in the pot for him," you say, considering this vital workplace information and worth stalling your lunch over.
  1874.  
  1875. "S'good to know my dude, thanks. And thanks for showing me the ropes man, boss- er, Mr. Crombe said you're super reliable and you sure seem like it to me," he says, proceeding to take a few bites out of his sandwich.
  1876.  
  1877. "I just want to make sure I keep my job."
  1878.  
  1879. "I dig, I dig," he says, head bobbing. "So when's lunch end?"
  1880.  
  1881. Your eyes dart toward the wall clock. "Another fifteen minutes."
  1882.  
  1883. He looks where you're gaze has gone, then back at you. "Back to boxes after that, huh?"
  1884.  
  1885. "Yeah," you say, starting in on your second sandwich in the hopes he'll stop talking to you.
  1886.  
  1887. "Gotcha. And hey, before then, my dude I know this is weird, but can you believe those guys over there didn't realize I'm a wolf," he says, not so subtly nodding toward the table with your coworkers, but at least having the presence of mind to keep his voice down.
  1888.  
  1889. You don't even need to look at Craig again to agree with your coworkers' apparent assessment. Craig looks sort of wolf-like, but after the morning around him you don't believe it for a moment. His fur isn't fluffy enough, you're pretty sure he dyed himself to be that uniformly gray, and most of all his snout doesn't have the predatory sharpness you expect from a wolf. But who are you to judge? He could actually be a wolf or have a wolf parent. Maybe grandparent. You noncommittally shrug.
  1890.  
  1891. "Ah dude, they're cool and have great taste in rides, but it gets tiring, y'know? Though I gotta say, if there telling the truth about seeing a '66 Mustang in town I gotta find out who..."
  1892.  
  1893. You realize, from experience, that you aren't being talked to so much as talked at. You simply nod along whenever Craig looks expectantly at you, only needing to say a few monosyllable words as he goes on and on about cars. It makes your mind drift toward Anya, making you wonder exactly what her convertible. First, unfortunate encounter aside, you've always paid more attention to the raptor driving it than any details on her vehicle. At least beyond the vanity plate, F34THRD, which you still have no real answer for.
  1894.  
  1895. Despite the distraction of a one-sided conversation and drifting thoughts, you somehow finish up lunch before the break ends. Craig is going on about something to do with a car you're pretty sure he's never driven, when you have to finally speak up. "We need to get back to work soon."
  1896.  
  1897. "Oh, yeah, I almost forgot," he says, turning to look at the clock. "Guess I'll tell about the rest of it on our next break."
  1898.  
  1899. You hope he doesn't.
  1900.  
  1901. ---
  1902.  
  1903. Once work finishes up and you clock out, you rudely make an attempt to ditch Craig and head to your car. Last thing you want right now is to get caught by his motormouth. He kept true to his word, and talked cars to you during both small breaks before the shift's end. While he did switch it up and ask you about what you drove during the last time, your small answer only kept him going like you feared. So if you hurry, maybe you can escape him and his chatter.
  1904.  
  1905. No such luck, as he follows after you quite easily thanks to his gangly legs. "Yo, Manon-"
  1906.  
  1907. "Craig," you say with enough venom to shut him up, turning on the ball of your foot. You come to a full stop and face the face the canine anthro. Insist as he might, you just can't see how anyone that looks at him for longer than five minutes would think he's a wolf. "Never call me that again."
  1908.  
  1909. His ears droop, fearful of the acidity with which you speak. "Sorry, just trying to make friends, M-" Your glare makes him rethink what he was about to say. "My dude."
  1910.  
  1911. He's got at least six inches on you yet his tail is curling toward his legs and his face is dejected. It's pathetic enough that you feel like you just kicked a puppy. All too aware you have to work with him from now on, you breathe out and try to ease up a little. Making him terrified of you isn't a good way to get through the rest of the week, let alone the rest of your time at this company.
  1912.  
  1913. "Then don't try to give me nicknames," you say, reigning in your irritation.
  1914.  
  1915. "Right, right. I dig, you're a dude that don't like that."
  1916.  
  1917. His tail isn't trying to tuck between his legs now, and he's already bouncing back into being overly friendly. Crisis averted you look toward you car, then back at your new coworker. "Did you need something from me Craig?"
  1918.  
  1919. "No, I just saw you-"
  1920.  
  1921. "Then I'll see you tomorrow."
  1922.  
  1923. "Oh, alright. Later," he catches himself quickly this time, not even forming the syllable, "Anon. Right, catch you tomorrow."
  1924.  
  1925. To your annoyance, he does.
  1926.  
  1927. Five days in a row Craig follows you out to your car before you can think of a way to shake him off without making him, and therefore your work life, miserable. While he continues to impress by not screwing up during work hours, you have your fill of his company by the time you step outside. Especially since talks at you during every break and lunch. Friday, his last day for the week, is the most troublesome because you only have tomorrow to finish planning your date with Anya, who seems to be having a hard week from the messages you've exchanged with her. Thankfully she seems excited about the upcoming date, having sent you a cute text about looking forward to Sunday.
  1928.  
  1929. Unfortunately, Craig decided out of the blue that bar hopping should be part of your agenda this weekend.
  1930.  
  1931. "C'mon Anon," the canine says, trailing after you, "It's just a couple of places today, then we cut loose tomorrow."
  1932.  
  1933. "I've already got plans," you try to tell him for the third time since lunch.
  1934.  
  1935. The wannabe wolf won't have it. "To do what? C'mon man, I said I'd buy. Gotta thank you for showing me the ropes somehow."
  1936.  
  1937. You want to rub your eyes, but resist the urge. "What part of I have private plans do you not get?" you ask, sounding more tired than frustrated.
  1938.  
  1939. "Look my dude, if you got a date or something with a lady, just say so and your bud Craig will lone wolf it. Otherwise you and I are going on the prowl!"
  1940.  
  1941. "You're on your own," you tell him, giving up on being polite and going for your car.
  1942.  
  1943. If he's this talkative sober you desperately want to be anywhere but around him when he's drunk. Or while he is chasing women. Especially if he's drunk and chasing women. Worse, you realize with a shudder, he might try to be friendly and act as a wingman if you go with him. You don't think Craig is malicious, you doubt there's a mean bone in his body, but you don't exactly trust the overly friendly canine. He might just be a young idiot but that doesn't endear him to you at all.
  1944.  
  1945. "C'mon Anon, you need to loosen up," he says, catching up to you and slapping your back. "Come with me tonight, I promise I won't keep you long, and cut you off so work isn't hell for you tomorrow."
  1946.  
  1947. You smack his arm away and, in your frustration, turn to lay into the startled canine. "I'll loosen up when I can get five fucking minutes away from you," you snap, anger frothing over and into your voice.
  1948.  
  1949. Craig recoils, his ears drooping and tail taking a downward turn. He reminds you of a kicked puppy with how his face sags, further convincing you he isn't a wolf like he claims. "Woah, okay, my bad man. Don't gotta bite a guy's head for trying to be friendly."
  1950.  
  1951. Deep breath in, count to five, breathe out. Get a grip on yourself, Anon.
  1952.  
  1953. It isn't Craig's fault, not exactly. He doesn't know about your plans or poor history with trusting coworkers on social outings. Taking your frustrations out on him, even if you think he partially deserves it for not knowing when to be quiet, is counterproductive to your desire to not be a raging asshole like your parents. That and you still have to deal with Craig come Monday.
  1954.  
  1955. "Sorry, Craig," you apologize, trying to mean it. "I'm burned out from work already, I'm not done until tomorrow, and have a bunch of stuff to get ready by Sunday. So unless you have questions about work I really do need to go."
  1956.  
  1957. He looks so dejected you're fairly certain you hurt his feelings. "Oh, uh, I guess I don't. See you Monday, Anon," he listlessly says.
  1958.  
  1959. Oh yeah, you definitely hurt his feelings. That is going to be a problem later, but the only solutions you can think of might make you kill him. Coming to an internal compromise you say, "Don't get so drunk you forget to tell me how the lone wolf act goes."
  1960.  
  1961. "Y'know it," he says, some life returning to his ears as he looks back at you.
  1962.  
  1963. You have no doubt that come lunch break on Monday you will know every detail of Craig's weekend, even if you continue trying to ignore his constant talking. There is the issue of future you despising the you of now, but that is a problem for later. One more day of work and then you're free, if for but a single day.
  1964.  
  1965. A day you plan to spend around a certain raptor you've barely exchanged words with since last weekend, but not without good reason. From the few dozen texts you've exchanged, it seems she's been swamped with work and some sort of intermittent family drama, but the date is still on. Despite your assurances to her that it can be moved to another time, she's been adamant. Which makes finishing the preparations for Sunday's date all the more important.
  1966.  
  1967. Hopefully Anya likes picnics. Otherwise you'll have to improvise a lot tomorrow.
  1968.  
  1969.  
  1970.  
  1971. -CHAPTER 8-  Fade To Black
  1972.  
  1973. Heavy clouds roll in from the west. Foreboding, rolling gray devours the pristine blue sky as you drive toward Anya's place. You keep pleading under your breath for the weather to mellow out. Heedless of your wishes the sun is completely obscured by the encroaching clouds when you're only five minutes away from her apartment. A pit opens in your gut as the traffic thins and the sky succumbs to the gray of impending rain.
  1974.  
  1975. You pull into the apartment complex right as a fat droplet of rain smacks into the windshield. A second drop joins the first, while the third is indistinguishable from the torrent that begins to pound against your car. Heavy and hard is the curtain of rain ruining the day.
  1976.  
  1977. So much for that 20% chance of rain you the weather said there'd be last night. Seems like the river to the west had other ideas, like ruining your brilliant plan to take Anya to the park for a picnic date.
  1978.  
  1979. Parking near her convertible, you lean back in your seat and stare at the rain battering against the windshield. The downpour wavers between a roaring torrent and a relaxing drizzle, giving you a moment to reflect. Would Anya even like to go on a picnic with you? Why did you leave your plan for this date as a surprise? Has she been okay this last week? Will things stay at a reasonable speed between the two of you? The tapping of rain on glass and metal gives you no answers.
  1980.  
  1981. You dig your phone out of your pocket and call the gal you've been missing too much.
  1982.  
  1983. She picks up on the first ring. "Hello?"
  1984.  
  1985. "Hey Anya, it's Anon. Sorry, but the rain just killed my plan to take you on a picnic and stroll around the park."
  1986.  
  1987. "Picnic?" she asks, the call quality such garbage you can't tell if she's disappointed or ecstatic.
  1988.  
  1989. "Yeah. Sorry,” you say, rubbing your forehead and trying to think of a way to still see her. “We can do something else or reschedule if you-"
  1990.  
  1991. “Anon.” Her saying that shuts you up. "Is that you outside,” she asks, “In the white sedan parked across from my car?"
  1992.  
  1993. "Yeah," you say, drawing the word out as you crane your neck to see if you can spot the Anya in that narrow window by her door. The blinds are down, and the rain is starting to pick back up, but you swear the blind slats just rustled. "Why?"
  1994.  
  1995. "Do you have an umbrella?" she asks through shuffling sounds and something brushing against her phone.
  1996.  
  1997. "No," you say.
  1998.  
  1999. She hangs up on you.
  2000.  
  2001. You spend the next few seconds listening to the endless tone of a dead call, unable to collect your thoughts. A distant, wrenching pain starts up in your gut. Is she upset with you even after things went so well last weekend? Did her phone die? What did you do to screw this up?
  2002.  
  2003. You don't know how to feel about the questions rolling around in your head when the door to Anya's apartment suddenly flings open. The deinonychus you came to see dashes out into the rain, struggling to open an umbrella as her cute green sundress and rich brown feathers get soaked by the downpour. Long, bounding strides deliver her to your car before she even opens the umbrella, that speed proving she's not as idle as last weekend suggested. You open your car door and she beside you in an instant, her umbrella opening in a FWOOMP of taut nylon fabric. The way she holds it over your door leaves much of her tail exposed, the feathers along its length slicked down from the rain, while the bushy fan of feathers at the last foot and a half of her tail is a sad, drooping sponge of white and brown.
  2004.  
  2005. You step out of your car and beneath the protection of Anya's umbrella, her sunny smile wiping away that knot of fear in your gut. While water drips off her scaled muzzle, her dress is probably ruined for the day, and she needs a few towels, she is positively radiant.
  2006.  
  2007. “I'll take that as a 'no' on the reschedule,” you say, greeting her with a one-armed hug, not wanting to overexcite the girl holding the umbrella.
  2008.  
  2009. She eagerly returns the hug and kisses your cheek, tickling your skin with her curved teeth. “I'm not letting a little bit of rain steal a picnic from me. How about we relocate this date to my living room, for now at least?”
  2010.  
  2011. “Would that still count as a picnic?” you ask.
  2012.  
  2013. Her head bobs. “Yup, so long as you brought a picnic basket we're having a picnic.”
  2014.  
  2015. “Well, it's a good thing I came fully prepared,” you say, pulling away from the one-armed hug with a knowing smile.
  2016.  
  2017. You shut the driver side door with your foot and head to the trunk, Anya sticking close to keep you under her umbrella. That or she wants to be beside you, which is a sentiment you can share. Popping open the trunk of your old but decently maintained sedan, you reach in and grab the handles of a large woven basket. It took you three days of searching after work to find the right one, and the excited look in Anya's eye and the way she's giddily fidgeting with her umbrella upon seeing it eases a bit of tension out of your back. Her reaction tells you right away you did good, but you wonder how excited she'd be if the rain hadn't ruined the rest of your plan. You maneuver the basket to the safety beneath her umbrella, not wanting to spoil an ounce of Anya's excitement.
  2018.  
  2019. “I've been looking forward to this surprise of yours all week, and I'm certainly not disappointed,” she says while you shut the trunk.
  2020.  
  2021. “Then we'd better get inside before the rain ruins it any more,” you chuckle.
  2022.  
  2023. Anya takes your free hand in her own and all but pulls you to her apartment's open door. You go inside first, at her insistence, while she stands in the doorway and fights to close her umbrella. Her tail, dripping water all over the tiled entry, twitches when she finally shuts the umbrella, sending water droplets flying from the stiff feathers. She steps inside and sets the umbrella in a ceramic holder by the door, her eyes going wide when she notices how much water followed her in. She looks from the puddles, to her rain streaked dress, then her soggy tail, before her eyes finally stop on you. Only a few spatters of water got you, and most of that came from when you hugged her.
  2024.  
  2025. "I might have gotten too excited," she says, trying to hide her embarrassment with a shaky grin and headfeathers fighting to stick up despite the water weighing them down.
  2026.  
  2027. “It's understandable, sounds like you had a rough week," you say, setting the picnic basket on her kitchen counter.
  2028.  
  2029. “Kind of an understatement. My little brother and sister turned high school drama into a family crisis,” Anya explains while running her hands through her feathered tail to try and work the water out of her feathers. When it doesn't work, she sighs and looks up at you. “Would you grab me some paper towels?” she asks, pointing to the half used roll beside the sink.
  2030.  
  2031. You opt for grabbing the entire role and tearing her off several sheets. “What happened?”
  2032.  
  2033. “It's complicated,” she grumbles, patting and wiping her tail dry.
  2034.  
  2035. “I'm always willing to listen,” you offer, along with a few more paper towels.
  2036.  
  2037. “You..." she stops herself from finishing that thought and changes course. "It started when my sister, Emily, had her first breakup when she went back to school for the week. Turned out the jerk tiger she was dating only went out with her on a bet, which meant Adam, my brother, just HAD to confront the guy that upset his little sister. Which led to a fight and Adam getting knocked out, but he and the jerk kept their claws and teeth out of it so no one got too hurt. But it was on school grounds and they have a zero tolerance policy about fighting. Which means they both got suspended,” Anya says, and as she verbally unloads she hands you wet paper towels that you chuck into a nearby wastebasket before handing her dry ones.
  2038.  
  2039. “It's the first time Adam's been in trouble at school so he panicked,” Anya continues, gently squeezing water out of end of feathery tail and increasing the size of the puddle on her floor. “And Emily locked herself in her room until I showed up after work. I've been over at my parent's all week, having heart to hearts and taking care of two moody teenagers while my parents juggle work and a crusade against the school. Apparently there was a camera that caught the entire thing, and they've talked about taking legal action against the school, I think? I dunno exactly what's going on, I've tried to stay out of the school side as much as possible.”
  2040.  
  2041. “Everything and everyone going to be okay?” you ask, handing over the last paper towel.
  2042.  
  2043. Anya's tail is far from dry but it's getting there. The feathers aren't stuck down anymore, but she could probably use a run through that walk in drier of hers.
  2044.  
  2045. “Probably. Worst case they pull them out and start homeschooling, mom already knows all about that thanks to my last two years of highschool,” she sighs, walking to the wastebasket and leaving a few wet footprints in the carpet. Chucking another soggy paper towel into the pile, she looks at you apologetically. “Ah, sorry. I shouldn't talk your ear off.”
  2046.  
  2047. “It's no trouble. And if you ever need or want to talk my ear off you've got my number.” You toss the cardboard core into the trash before putting a hand on her damp shoulder. “Is there anything I can do to help you relax?”
  2048.  
  2049. “You've already started,” she says, eyeing the basket on kitchen counter. “A picnic with my boyfriend sounds like a great way to forget all this crummy stuff.”
  2050.  
  2051. Hearing that 'b' word makes your stomach do a few flips, but it also makes the decision to lean forward and kiss her on the nose easier. If she is serious about being a couple, then you'll ignore your worries about going to quick and give it a shot as well. You can always pump the brakes if it starts going too far, too fast. “Then my adorable girlfriend should go dry off while I clean up and get everything set up.”
  2052.  
  2053. Her slit pupils widen and the feathers on her head stir, but don't rise that much thanks to the water. “R-right. I'll show you where the towels are.”
  2054.  
  2055. Towels? She has towels and you didn't hear about this fact last weekend?
  2056.  
  2057. Keeping thoughts about the surprise existence of towels to yourself, you take off your shoes and follow her father into her apartment. She opens a double door closet, revealing a nook with a washer, dryer, an empty hamper, and stocked shelves. Sundry cleaning and laundry supplies fill most of the shelving, but it's impossible to miss the stack of white, fluffy towels on the right. While you silently wish you knew about the contents of this closet a week ago, Anya grabs half the stack of towels. She stuffs one into your hands and tucks the rest under her arm.
  2058.  
  2059. “If you need more towels don't hesitate to grab them. Oh, and just toss 'em in the hamper when you're done, I'll deal with it later,” she says.
  2060.  
  2061. You nod and head back to the front of the apartment while the soggy raptor scurries into the bathroom.
  2062.  
  2063. Fresh towel in hand you get to drying up the small puddles in the entryway, but half way through that the sound of a running shower catches your attention. Good idea on her part, that should give you ample time to clean and get everything set up. With no reason to rush, you get sure the tiled entryway dry as possible before going to work on setting up this indoor picnic.
  2064.  
  2065. Moving the basket to coffee table in front of her couch, you lift the lid and wrestle out the blanket. Between the choice of spreading it out on the couch or the table, the couch wins out; there is a good chance this picnic will end in snuggling so you'd rather be prepared. Seating dealt with you get the food arranged on the paper plates you brought. You fuss with having everything arranged just right until you hear the shower shut off and Anya's walk in drier turn on. At that you sit down and declare the everything good enough.
  2066.  
  2067. Except for the tangle of cords under her TV, maybe you should offer to fix that for her. Or deal with it now.
  2068.  
  2069. Doors open and shut in quick succession, prompting you to ignore the cords and give the layout of the indoor picnic a final once over. Several sandwiches, sliced in half and heavy on the meat for Anya's sake, laid out in what you hope is an artistic manner, along with a potato salad and a pair of apples you expect your deinonychus date to ignore. A thermos of sweet tea and two cups sit by the empty basket you left on the table, since it's not a picnic without the basket. Is this enough? Too much? You'll know soon enough, you suppose.
  2070.  
  2071. A door opens, shuts, and a moment later you notice movement at the edge of your vision. You glance over and see Anya, in a modest dress a shade darker than her eyes, walking barefoot toward the couch. She sits beside you, hip bumping against yours and the folded back wing-like feathers on her arm brushing the exposed skin of your arm. You marvel at how fluffy and soft her feathers are fresh out of the drier, while catching a faintly floral scent from her. A light, pleasantly lavender scent that makes you wonder if she is using different shampoo or if she put on some perfume.
  2072.  
  2073. “I'm not sure where to start,” Anya hums, eyeing the food.
  2074.  
  2075. You wave at the spread. “Anywhere you want. It's our picnic after all.”
  2076.  
  2077. Her head turns toward you, locking you in her green gaze. Something other than hunger lurks in her gorgeous eyes. Her toeclaws tap against the carpet and she coyly looks away. Headfeathers stirring, Anya asks, “Why don't you pick something?”
  2078.  
  2079. Not one to argue with a lady you grab two half sandwiches, keeping one for yourself and handing her the other. You take a hearty bite, enjoying the honey baked ham and cheddar, while she daintily nibbles at of hers. Thinking she's just tasting it you wait for her to dig in. Except she keeps on nibbling at her food, leaving you concerned about your ability to make a simple sandwich.
  2080.  
  2081. “Not to your liking?” you ask, worried you misjudged her tastes. Should you have gone for chicken instead?
  2082.  
  2083. “Hm?” She blinks and looks over at you. “Oh, no, it's good. I just want to take my time.”
  2084.  
  2085. “You don't need to hold back because of me,” you tell her.
  2086.  
  2087. “I'm not,” she assures you, before delicately nibbling at the untouched corner of her sandwich.
  2088.  
  2089. Not believing her one bit, you eat a bit faster than normal in the hope she follows suit. By the time you start on your second sandwich she is only half way through her first. You suspect she's hungry from the way she keeps eyes the picnic spread on her coffee table, but something seems to be keeping her from digging in like you expected. You don't say anything yet, but keep an eye on her. You finish your second sandwich and move the potato salad, Anya turning it down when you offer her some.
  2090.  
  2091. “Anya,” you say after a few bites, barely remembering to swallow and avoid speaking with a full mouth, “If you aren't enjoying the food you don't have to push through for my sake.”
  2092.  
  2093. “No, no, no, it's wonderful! I just don't want to seem ungrateful and eat everything and...” She slumps forward and grabs her muzzle with her unoccupied hand. “And that's why you brought so much food. I'm nothing but an idiot today.”
  2094.  
  2095. “You're not an idiot,” you say, setting your food down and rubbing her tense back with one hand.
  2096.  
  2097. “Then I'm a doof,” she grumbles.
  2098.  
  2099. Since you still don't have and idea of what a doof is you are helpless to disagree. Instead, you try a different tactic, one that borders on cheating: a hug. That gets a small chirrup of surprise, but she must approve judging from the way she snuggles into your arms. With her feathers so close to your nose you pick up the woodsy scent of her shampoo beneath the pleasantly floral smell. So she did put on perfume.
  2100.  
  2101. “I've been looking forward to seeing you and sharing a picnic all week, so don't feel stressed out because of it,” you tell her, resisting an urge to bury your face in the back of her downy neck; she'd probably enjoy that, but you don't want to make things move that fast.
  2102.  
  2103. “I've been looking forward to seeing you again, too,” Anya mutters, shoulders starting to relax. She nuzzles against your chest, shifting to put her arms around you and complete the embrace. “Give me moment and I'll quit being stupid and clingy,” she says into your chest.
  2104.  
  2105. “You're neither of those things, Anya,” you say, gently trying to work some of the tightness out of her shoulders, and follow her excellent example last weekend.
  2106.  
  2107. “I wanted today to be about both of us, not about my stupid neediness,” she mumbles, carefully bunching your shirt in her claws.
  2108.  
  2109. Screw restraint and taking things slow, at least for this one moment. You lay your face in the feathery fluff on top of her head, the feathers stiffer than on her neck but still soft enough to lose yourself in. You breathe in the scent of her shampoo. Fresh rain, you think that's what they call this smell. How appropriate, you think as rain patters against the windows and the wonderful deinonychus in your arms chirrups involuntarily.
  2110.  
  2111. “When did I ever say I don't enjoy holding you? Plus I'm getting to return the favor for how relaxing last weekend was,” you whisper into her ear, still rubbing her shoulders.
  2112.  
  2113. Time has no hold on either of you. Hours, minutes, seconds – none of that matters. The only thing of importance is this feathered gal that is beside you. The rest of world can go get stuffed. The way Anya worms closer to you and the happy, throaty little chirping noises she makes as she inches into closer contact with you lead you to think she feels the same.
  2114.  
  2115. Practically in your lap now, Anya lifts her head and brings a sense of time back to the world. “Thank you for putting up with me,” she says, rubbing her muzzle across your face before kissing you on the nose. “I'm feeling a lot better now.”
  2116.  
  2117. "I'm glad you're feeling better."
  2118.  
  2119. She shifts out of your lap but takes hold of your hands. Sitting across from you, transfixing you with her gorgeous greens, she smiles.
  2120.  
  2121. “Thanks Anon, this...” she snaps her mouth shut and looks at your entwined hands. “I really...” shaking her head and sending embarrassed headfeathers into a fluffy mess, she takes a moment to calm before trying to meet your eyes. Even though you get the impression she is mostly staring at your nose, you wait patiently for her to find the right words. “I don't think I can eat anything else with all these butterflies in my stomach,” she says, squeezing your hands. “C-could we just cuddle some more?”
  2122.  
  2123. Hearing that gets a few flutters going in your own abdomen. And while you wonder where her mind is at, you can only oblige. “Of course. Help me put away the leftovers first?”
  2124.  
  2125. “Oh, yeah, sure,” she says, glancing at the table while absently rubbing her thumb over the back of your hands while not getting up. "Can't let our picnic go bad."
  2126.  
  2127. You give her a moment to realize she needs to let go of your hands. Once it does occur to her, she sheepishly smiles and releases you, then stands up with you. She hurries to the kitchen, returning with plastic wrap for the remaining sandwiches. She fumbles with tearing off pieces of plastic but thrusts it into your hands instead of getting upset, taking on the task of wrapping each triangle of remaining sandwich. She proves to be quite good at that task, and is much neater with it than you could ever hope to be. Four hands make for quick work, and soon Anya is hurriedly taking the leftovers to her fridge while you're deal with trash. You are just about to start folding up the blanket when she steps into the small hall separating her living room from the other half of her apartment.
  2128.  
  2129. “Would you like to go somewhere more comfortable?” she asks, her fingers nervously tapping together in front of her.
  2130.  
  2131. You tuck the blanket under an arm go to her. “Where do you have in mind?” you ask, not wanting to make assumptions and trying to trust her lead.
  2132.  
  2133. Her hand twitches toward you, stops, then finally reaches out to take your fingers in hers. “I was thinking my room,” she says, feathers rising.
  2134.  
  2135. To the credit of your constitution, your heart doesn't stop. Though some of those butterflies Anya said were in her stomach seem to have found their way into your gut. And they feel like they're trying to re-enact the madness of one of the Mad Max car chases in there. She's the one asking, so she must have a plan in mind. If it's too much you can gently stop her, right?
  2136.  
  2137. “Lead the way,” you say, putting on your best poker face to hide the uncertainty and fear lurking within you.
  2138.  
  2139. Guiding you to the last door in the hall, Anya's free hand trembles before touching the door handle. She eases the lever down and pushes inward, the door softly squealing open. You look into her room and are surprised by the bare, white walls. There is not a single band poster, concert promo, or piece of album art in sight. The only musical thing in the room is an acoustic guitar resting in a stand by the door, otherwise it's a normal, if kind of plain, bedroom. A queen sized bed, complete with a plain white body pillow (you called it) laying across white blankets, sits in the center of the room. A matching green vanity, dresser, nightstand, and padded stool make for a rather normal room, while also confirming to you that her favorite color is in fact green.
  2140.  
  2141. She leads you in, her eyes catching yours as one of her clawed feet nudges the door shut. It quietly clicks shut with a finality that rattles in your gut and bounces against your ribs.
  2142.  
  2143. “Welcome to my room, I guess,” Anya says, struggling to look at you and not her bed.
  2144.  
  2145. Her head is a fluffed mess of anxious feathers, making it clear her nerves are just as shot as yours. Only she can't hide her heart behind a staunch poker face like you can in times of duress.
  2146.  
  2147. “It looks cozy,” you say, mouth running on autopilot, “But I'm surprised by the lack of posters.”
  2148.  
  2149. “I couldn't sleep if I had all of that looking down at me,” she explains. Her eyes widen and she looks down, feathery head somehow fluffing up more. What thought just crossed her mind? “Let's sit down,” she says, collecting herself quicker than you expected.
  2150.  
  2151. Leading you by the hand, her fingers squeezing yours like she's worried you'll float away if she lets go, Anya finally releases your hand when she sits on the edge of her bed.
  2152.  
  2153. “I guess your blanket makes it a picnic,” you say, setting down the one you brought and sitting beside her.
  2154.  
  2155. The covers are soft and fluffy, the mattress beneath you supple and yielding. Is this one of those memory foam mattresses? Those things are a tad pricey, if you're remembering correctly. That shouldn't surprise you at this point, but it does.
  2156.  
  2157. Anya scoots closer and your drifting thoughts are reigned in by her approach. Her tail swishes across covers and bumps into the body pillow as she wraps her arms around you. “C-could we just pick up where we left off?” she asks, looking desperately at you.
  2158.  
  2159. “Only if we get more comfortable,” you say, getting urged up the bed the moment the words leave your lips, Anya clearly knowing what she wants.
  2160.  
  2161. It takes some careful maneuvering because of her claws and tail, but in under a minute you have your head resting against a pillow and a hug-starved raptor resting her head across your chest. Once you start rubbing her shoulders again she lets out a happy thrum and her anxious feathers finally begin to lower.
  2162.  
  2163. “So much comfier than my couch,” she sighs.
  2164.  
  2165. You smile and try not to pay any attention to how her breasts press against your side. She's wearing a dress, and a bra underneath you note, but you're a man and she is an adorable, touchy gal using you as a pillow. A cute gal that you're in something like the beginnings of a relationship with. You'd have been fine with just friends. But knowing she wants to shoot for more than that stirs uncomfortable thoughts in you, while also threatening to rouse something in your pants that doesn't care one wit about things going slow.
  2166.  
  2167. She's only snuggling up to you, however, so it's not like things are going fast. But she said she's never been with a human, or a guy. So the question that burns in your mind is why you? A gorgeous, kind gal like her can do far better than someone like you. Yet here she is, clinging to you and randomly making cute noises while you ease tension out of her tight shoulders. That's enough to make you go along with the moment, even if it leaves you speechless.
  2168.  
  2169. Anya doesn't have that problem. “Keep this up and I might survive this next week,” she murmurs.
  2170.  
  2171. “Work or family got you worried?” you ask, finding your voice and a knot between her shoulder blades that you begin taming with your thumbs.
  2172.  
  2173. “Both. But I don't wanna think about either of 'em. Not when I can lay here and melt in your arms,” she hums.
  2174.  
  2175. Seeing the relaxing effect you're having on her eases a tightness in your own shoulders. “I think you mean melting under my hands,” you tease, trying to keep your mood lighthearted.
  2176.  
  2177. “Mhh. Good enough.”
  2178.  
  2179. She adjusts where her head rests on your chest so she can look you in the eye. She strokes your side with a lazy smile on her face. The tension in her shoulders and upper back is nearly defeated despite the awkward massage angle. The dopey grin on her face tells you this is exactly what she wants, and you're happy to oblige. You have to take your time to avoid hurting the feathers beneath her dress, but the caution is worth it to feel her relax. Once you've soothed every part of available raptor back you let your tired hands flop down, one on the bed and the other on her shoulder.
  2180.  
  2181. Anya doesn't remain a limp raptor puddle for long. She shifts against you, dragging herself up higher and throwing a leg across your own. She drapes a feathered arm across your chest and kisses your cheek before settling against your side, her head laying by yours on the body pillow. You try not think too much about the soft, touchy girl pressing her breasts against your ribs.
  2182.  
  2183. “I guess we aren't on a picnic anymore,” she whispers, mouth right beside your ear.
  2184.  
  2185. “Then what are we doing now?” you ask, absentmindedly stroking her feathery forearm to distract yourself from the completely involuntary and growing strain in your pants.
  2186.  
  2187. If her leg moves another couple of inches things are going to get exceedingly complicated. More than laying in the bed of someone you met only a few weeks ago. It's a miracle she can't feel how hard your heart is beating right now.
  2188.  
  2189. “Just being a couple? That - that's what we are, right?” she asks, a twinge of doubt in her soft voice.
  2190.  
  2191. “Yeah, as of last week I guess we are,” you assure her, twisting your neck to kiss the tip of her nose. That affirmation might mean more to you than her. “Though I can barely believe a sweet girl like you is interested in someone like me.”
  2192.  
  2193. Her headfeathers shift, but it isn't in embarrassment. That mystifying mohawk of stiffening feathers is gradually returning. “I'm thinking the same thing, mostly. But thanks, Anon, I needed to hear that,” she says, eyes darting toward a wall.
  2194.  
  2195. This might be a good time to apply a bit of brake pressure, reason. Try to steer things into serious territory. “Anya, if something's bugging you, don't be afraid to tell me.”
  2196.  
  2197. She scrunches her eyes shut and breathes deeply. In and out, in and out. Eyes opening she reaches for the hand stroking her forearm, lacing her fingers between yours once she finds her mark. Her claws softly rub your knuckles while you search her green gaze for what's eating her. You'll feel better about any answer she gives if she's looking you in the eye.
  2198.  
  2199. “It's, uh, kind of embarrassing. For both of us, probably, but, uh,” she squeezes your hands, “I should just get it over with and say it, shouldn't I?”
  2200.  
  2201. “Take your time,” you say with a smile brought on in no small part by those eyes of hers.
  2202.  
  2203. “I - I, oh hell,” Anya lifts her hips and pushes up with one arm and lays herself on top of you. She gently grinds herself against your crotch before stopping herself. “I haven't had any alone time in over a week. And I... we're a couple and you keep looking at me like that and I can't stop thinking about...”
  2204.  
  2205. Her confidence flounders and eyes widen when she feels what lurks in your pants fully stiffen. You start to turn red. Her head is turning into a puff-ball of feathers, and neither of you can say a thing as the situation sinks in. Since she is laying on your chest, you can feel the beat of her heart and, if you look down, you might even see some raptor cleavage. But neither you nor Anya can break the eye contact trapping you both in the awkward moment of mutual revelations.
  2206.  
  2207. Somewhere beyond the closed bedroom door a phone rings, the distant ring tone slicing into the moment but unable to break the intense gaze locking you together. That isn't your phone; it's on silent and sitting in your back pocket. Hers then? If it is you don't think she heard it.
  2208.  
  2209. “Shouldn't you check who's calling, in case it's your family?” you ask on the second ring, trying to pump the proverbial brakes on the situation.
  2210.  
  2211. Anya ponderously shakes her head side to side. “If it's an emergency they'll call right back.”
  2212.  
  2213. The ringing stops. Minutes pass, your manhood kept alert thanks to the small shifts Anya makes on top of you, and there is no other sound but the beating of your heart and hers. She breaks the stalemate, nervously swallowing and opening her mouth half an inch.
  2214.  
  2215. “Forget the phone. Is this,” she says, shifting her hips and earning the full attention of you and what's contained in your pants, “Because of me?”
  2216.  
  2217. “Entirely,” you admit, cheeks burning red despite your tightly controlled face.
  2218.  
  2219. Anya's tail thumps down to the bed, limply landing between your feet. “D-do you want to do something about it?”
  2220.  
  2221. “Anya, this is too...”
  2222.  
  2223. You can't complete that thought when you realize your hands are on the middle of her back and inching lower. Your body knows what it wants even if the rest of you is trying to find a reason that is a bad idea, or that things are going to fast.
  2224.  
  2225. “Too what? I want us to enjoy ourselves, Anon, not make either of us uncomfortable.” She presses her nose against yours and gazes deeply into your eyes. Anyone else getting this close to you would normally be deeply uncomfortable, but she's different. Maybe that's just you being stupid or desperate for intimacy, or both. Probably both. "I know I can get kinda, uh, pushy, so if I'm making you uncomfortable tell me and I'll stop."
  2226.  
  2227. It takes you an eternity to find the right words, a forever you spend in the grace of her green eyes while assessing your own wants. “Anya, is this really a good idea?” you manage at last.
  2228.  
  2229. “If we want it to be, yeah,” she answers. Her hips grind in slow circles against the raging erection in your pants. “And I want it to be,” she whispers, “Do you?”
  2230.  
  2231. “Of course I want this to be a good idea," you admit, doubts withering under her lustful gaze. "But I don't want this to make things weird between us by going too fast.”
  2232.  
  2233. “It won't make things weird,” she says, running her tongue and teeth across your cheek until her muzzle is next to your ear, “I promise.”
  2234.  
  2235. Oh fuck. This is actually happening you realize, your body betraying all of your doubts. Your hands are already on her hips, and you aren't stopping her slow grind. In fact you're encouraging her while getting a feel of raptor ass through her dress. The poker face you can normally bring out in times of duress is AWOL, leaving your expression at the mercy of the emotions racing through you. You've got to look unbearably stupid right now, but Anya doesn't seem bothered by what she sees, or your hands cupping her butt. She just peppers your jaw and ear with kisses, teeth and tongue dancing across your skin. Her breath tingles across your face as she switches sides, but a soft warble of a chirp accompanies her head snapping back when your hand runs along the underside of her tail. She stares down at you, the look in her eye that of bold glee instead of reproach.
  2236.  
  2237. “If that's a yes, why don't I get us more comfortable?” she asks, mouth opening and tongue running against dangerously curved teeth.
  2238.  
  2239. The brain in your pants is mightier than all of the reservations you've felt up until now. Good bye responsible decisions, farewell basic survival instinct, hello sexy creature named Anya. “Go right ahead,” you reply, going off an emotional cliff thanks to the betrayal of your mouth and primal desires.
  2240.  
  2241. That mental image of her nude and fluffed out that has haunted you all week surely isn't helping. Or maybe it is, considering the look on her face and how easily her obvious desire melts away your hesitations.
  2242.  
  2243. “Then wait right there,” she says, putting a finger on your lips and languidly sitting up.
  2244.  
  2245. Straddling your lap and confident you are going to keep quiet, she pulls her hand away and begins tugging at the hem of her dress. Pulling on it up and shifting her weight from leg to leg, her groin inches from yours, until the green cloth trapped beneath her knees is finally freed. She lifts it higher and higher, revealing the rich brown feathers of her thighs. Up goes the green dress, past her black panties and the white stripe of feathers that runs up from beneath the tight black material hugging her hips. The white stripe continues all the way up her stomach, your eyes following that line as the dress ascends past her cream-colored bra. A trace of white feathers lead up between her restrained breasts and toward her neck, leading you at last to the pair of hungry green eyes watching you. Anya tosses the dress somewhere to the side. You don't care where that thing has gone when she's so close and eager.
  2246.  
  2247. Despite her bold actions and obvious lust, you can tell she's nervous. Her tail twitches between your feet, and the feathers on her head are stuck somewhere between a mohawk and a fluffed mess. “Sh-shit," she murmurs, burning passion buffeted by a wind of doubt. "Uh, you know us raptors are a bit different downstairs, right? It's not too different, but, uh, I should've warned you before... If it's a problem I can-”
  2248.  
  2249. You lean forward, propping yourself up with one arm, and kiss her nose to calm her down. “I'm very adaptable,” you smile, stroking your other hand down her feathery back.
  2250.  
  2251. She shivers as you start trailing a line of kisses across her scaled muzzle, and you angle toward her neck. A careful task, avoiding feathers getting stuck in your mouth, but the effect it has on you both is worth it. She chirps appreciatively, but the hand she puts on your chest stops you from giving any more affection or straying lower to help her undress.
  2252.  
  2253. “You're also very, very convincing,” Anya says, her confidence returning with each word she speaks, “So save the kissing, be quiet, and let me have my fun. I promise it will be worth it for us both.”
  2254.  
  2255. Even if your heart is beating like a drum, you want to make this easy as possible for the both of you. So you go along with her lead, trying not to get in her way. Green eyes practically glowing, her clawed hands work swiftly to remove your shirt with only minimal assistance from you. She flings the garment off the bed and lightly shoves you back to the bed, her claws already fiddling with your belt when your back hits the covers. She scoots off you and deftly undoes the button and zipper before tugging your jeans off.
  2256.  
  2257. Once you're down to boxers, your erection tenting the fabric, Anya looks you over with your jeans in her hands. You are no Adonis, but calisthenics every day and mostly watching your diet has kept you in decent shape. It would help if you spent more time on your core, then you might have that six-pack you went crazy attaining in college, but the anticipation in Anya's eyes and way her tongue licks her lips tell you most of what she thinks. Her tossing your jeans off the bed before she twists her arms behind her back and unhooks her bra says the rest.
  2258.  
  2259. Another piece of clothing flies off the bed, her bosom freed. You marvel at her freed breasts, each handful of raptor tit capped with a pert, black nipple and covered in the same soft white down as the stripe leading up from her panties. Panties her thumbs hook into and start easing down, giving you a look at exactly where that white line ends on her. But only for a moment. She shifts her legs, curling them back and away from your sight but giving you wonderful view of her bare breasts in exchange, and slips her panties down until they're hanging on by only the tip of sickle-shaped toeclaw.
  2260.  
  2261. Headfeathers an unreadable, fluffed mess she twitches her big toe, sending the last piece her clothing twirling off the bed to parts unknown. Claws trembling she reaches for the waistband of your boxers, fingers hooking under the elastic waistband. You lift your hips off the bed a bit to help her with her fun, and in the freeing of the beast raging within your underwear. She tugs the garment down until your manhood springs free. Her eyes go wide as plates and she freezes for a moment, then hurriedly yanks your boxers off and flings them over her shoulder. Who knows where they went, you can't look away from this feathered beauty.
  2262.  
  2263. “Do I still need to stay put?” you ask, trying to quell a desperate need to run your hands through her feathers and over her curves.
  2264.  
  2265. She doesn't look away from the erect part of you, which is staying warm under the heat of her gaze alone. “Only a little bit longer,” she begins, inching up the bed on her hands and knees, her eyes tinged with lustful hunger, “I haven't -quite- got you where I wanted yet.”
  2266.  
  2267. A distant, primal part of you says this is going somewhere dangerous for your health and the safety of your male organs. Unfortunately for that part of you concerned with bodily survival, Anya crawls up to where your head is and leans in for a kiss. Her hands are all over you, oh so careful of her claws on your bare flesh, while she does her best to find a way to never need breath again. Silky feathers slip between your fingers as you match her attempts to escape the limitations of breathing while starting to explore her curves. Tongues dance and hearts race, hands explore and passion burns. She makes the happiest sounds, moaning and chirruping into your mouth when you find the right spots. You might make a few of your own, you don't know. You're too lost in her taste and every movement beneath your roaming hands.
  2268.  
  2269. But the thrill of the kiss doesn't last forever. Anya pulls back with a chirping moan, her breasts in your hands. Down like the clouds of heaven part between your fingers, her hands twitching on your chest when your thumbs tease her pert nipples. Seems you're not the only one excited by this.
  2270.  
  2271. “Call me greedy, but right now I want dessert more than another massage,” she says, reluctantly pulling her chest away from your eager hands. "So just lay there, and we'll get right to that."
  2272.  
  2273. You start to ask what she wants, but she's already shifting around. On her hands and knees, she twists and turns, swinging her legs dangerously close to your head before casting you in the shade of her tail. She's considerate enough not to sit on your face, but now you know why she's been so ready for dessert. Her triangular, fleshy slit, not exactly a cloaca from what you read but close enough in appearance, is glistening with need. That stretch leading toward her tail doesn't matter, your target is the wet, half-open part near the white feathers of her front. The heady scent of her desire intertwines with hints her shampoo and perfume, and call you a freak, but seeing how wet and excited she is swiftly burns away what remains of your apprehension.
  2274.  
  2275. She shifts, easing herself closer and giving you better access. “So, uh, if you don't knoOOO-OH!”
  2276.  
  2277. Hands on her hips you kiss the entrance to her sex, up near the hint of her pelvic boot, and use a bit of tongue to get a taste. She's not a sweet dessert, but the faint, musky saltiness of her need is wonderful all the same.
  2278.  
  2279. “Oh hell,” Anya moans, “Warn me before you just jump in like that. N-not that I'm complaining, oh god.”
  2280.  
  2281. Her warm, hitching breath washes over your almost painfully erect member, letting you know exactly why she, and you, need a warning next time. Even thoughts of her teeth so close to your raging member can't stop you from teasing the juicy raptor sex in front of you, your tongue discover her shape and taste.
  2282.  
  2283. “I can't believe this is really happening,” she mutters, echoing a sentiment you've felt since coming back to her room, but your acting almost entirely on primal instinct at this point.
  2284.  
  2285. Her warm palms encasing your member. Her fingers lace together, protecting you entirely from her claws, your length happily twitching as it's cocooned in her grasp. Her warm breath washes over your exposed head. But she doesn't do anything else, leading you to think she might be the one that needs some instruction.
  2286.  
  2287. Yet as soon as you get your tongue back in your mouth, she slowly draws her hands up your length. Languidly she strokes down, hands bumping into your crotch and something touching the head of your member, only to snap away as quickly as it appeared.
  2288.  
  2289. “If it's too unfamiliar-”
  2290.  
  2291. “I,” she cuts you off, “Know what I'm doing. I've seen videos and, uh... messed around with toys.”
  2292.  
  2293. You aren't wholly convinced, but that changes once her tongue starts slathering around your tip and she slowly pumps her hands. The stimulation makes you twitch and squeeze her butt, while something like a happy groan hisses through your teeth. She must have heard you because she pumps her hands more vigorously, her tongue happily teasing the head of your throbbing manhood. It might be your imagination, but it feels like she's actually the head of your manhood wrapped up in her tongue, and is teasing and playing with that most sensitive of locations.
  2294.  
  2295. Your toes curl but somehow you will yourself to relax and let her do her thing, or at least relax enough for you to plunge mouth first back into her unfamiliar sex. You plant a few kisses, then dive right in with the tongue work. The shape of her lovely parts is unfamiliar, and lacking in anything like a clit to tease, but she seems sensitive nonetheless. Tracing the alphabet was never your forte, but numbers are another story. Anya's tail twitches above your head and brushes against your hair when you find a few interesting combinations. 3's, 6's, and 8's get the best reactions. Your mathematical prowess gets rewarded by a few drops of raptor juices sliding down your chin, and heavy panting on your groin. While you diligently tend to her need, her own ministrations are having quite the effect on you, despite her obvious inexperience. What she lacks in skill she makes up for in enthusiasm, what must be an exceptionally long tongue, and happy moans. Her hands squelch across your length and it's all you can do to not buck into her grip and return the enthusiasm.
  2296.  
  2297. “Anon,” she huffs breathlessly, strokes speeding up to make up for the sudden disappearance of her tongue, “Oh hell, that's good. L-lets swi-”
  2298.  
  2299. Ka-clickclick.
  2300.  
  2301. She goes silent and her hands stop. Hinges squeal, but they're somewhere distant and farther in the apartment. Your tongue comes to a belated halt. Mind whirling you try to think through the lust burning in your mind and realize that sound was the front door opening.
  2302.  
  2303. “Anya,” a confident man's voice calls out, the front door shutting loudly, “You okay? You didn't answer your phone.”
  2304.  
  2305. Your brain struggles to shift gears, but your partner in this horizontal dance has no such trouble.
  2306.  
  2307. She lets go of your member and adjusts her weight, pulling her soaked sex away from your face and bracing her feet on the bed. “Shit-shit-shit, why the fuck is he here,” Anya panics.
  2308.  
  2309. “Anya, what's going on? Who is that?” you croak, trying your damnedest to not assume the worst as you struggle to figure out what's happening.
  2310.  
  2311. But a black, evil shadow of doubt rolls into your thoughts. She knows this man. He has a key to her place. And he knows her well enough to open her apartment without knocking. The only places your mind can go are bad. Thoughts that you don't this raptor all that well and everything could be lies roil in your heart, the plunge from wild to passion to teetering on the edge of despair casting a haze over your mind.
  2312.  
  2313. She scoots forward and twists her head to look back at you, mouth struggling to answer.
  2314.  
  2315. “Anya?” the unfamiliar voice calls out, moving through the apartment, “Are you here?”
  2316.  
  2317. “Clothes, we gotta get clothes,” she whispers in panic, scrambling off of you and the bed in a flurry of feathery agility.
  2318.  
  2319. Everything but her tail vanishes as she scrabbles around the floor. Her tail flails about, swishing through the air as she scurries after the discarded clothing, but you can barely force yourself to follow her progress.
  2320.  
  2321. This can't be what you fear it is, right? You're not just some toy she found, a play thing that gives her comfort while her real lover is gone? But that would be your luck, wouldn't it? You let yourself trust the girl that's into you, and she turns out be a liar only interested in sex and intimacy. That would be a knife right into the weakest part of your soul, and prove your parents all too right. Fear of betrayal grasps your heart, but you haven't given up hope yet. You want to trust the deinonychus scrabbling around the floor and tossing clothes on the bed, you need to believe that she hasn't been playing you for a fool.
  2322.  
  2323. “Yoo-hoo, Anya,” the man says, his voice getting closer to the bedroom, “Are you listening to music?”
  2324.  
  2325. Knocking precedes a nearby door being opened and then shut only a moment later.
  2326.  
  2327. “Anya,” you rasp, grasping for a way to find answers to the questions crushing you.
  2328.  
  2329. “Anya? Dear, are you okay?” the man asks, voice outside the bedroom door now.
  2330.  
  2331. She looks up, staring at the door instead of you. Death of hope isn't so bad, but the swell of dark thoughts that take place of your belief in Anya, those might destroy you. A tired, beaten down part of you is tempted to just shout out she is in the room with you. What's the worst that happens, the weary part of you says, this boyfriend of hers kills you? Anya kills you for ruining whatever is going? That sort of end might be better than another betrayal, another false accusation, even if the reality will inevitable be less drastic.
  2332.  
  2333. The door handle starts to turn, your fate sealing. This is how your life pans out huh, in some sick game played by the girl you thought was worth trusting. So be it, let the world have one last laugh at you before chewing you up again. Whatever happens no one out there will miss you, in fact if the worst comes to pass your parents might be gleeful to find out you got killed in a domestic spat with an anthro.  That would make them oh so happy, and let them parade your memory around for their vile beliefs.
  2334.  
  2335. The hinges creak as the door opens a sliver, but Anya springs at it in an airborne tackle. She slams against the door, knocking it shut and startling the man on the other side. You don't even blink. Of course she doesn't want to get caught, you think uncharitably. Anya slumps against the door, holding her head and sliding down until her butt is on the floor.
  2336.  
  2337. “WHAT THE HELL!” she screams. “DAD, WHY IN THE FUCK ARE YOU HERE? AND WHY CAN'T YOU LEARN TO KNOCK?!”
  2338.  
  2339.  
  2340.  
  2341. -CHAPTER 9-  Straight Through The Heart
  2342.  
  2343. Sitting naked on Anya's bed you're astounded that your heart still beats within your chest. That's more than a minor miracle considering the hard emotional shock of the last few minutes.
  2344.  
  2345. "Anya, can we not talk through a door?" asks the man outside the bedroom door.
  2346.  
  2347. "No dad!" the naked raptor gal shouts, eyes closed and head snapping back the bang against the door. "What are you doing here? And why the hell did you think it was okay to just barge into my bedroom?"
  2348.  
  2349. "Baby girl, dear, I'm sorry. You didn't say anything and I thought you might have been hurt or-"
  2350.  
  2351. "Well I'm fine," she snaps, volume lowering while her voice wavers from barely constrained frustration. "So don't 'baby girl' or 'dear' me and just tell me why the fuck you're here."
  2352.  
  2353. She's quieted down enough that her neighbors probably won't be able to hear her anymore, which you suppose is a positive. The last thing you need is a domestic disturbance call added to make this situation, even if you were expecting that sort of outcome only moments ago. Where you're yanked next, only time will tell.
  2354.  
  2355. "Well," the voice behind the door begins, "I was in the area and happened to have those concert passes you wanted, so I thought I'd drop them off. Maybe talk you into some guitar practice with your old man."
  2356.  
  2357. "Dad," Anya strenuously draws the word out, making you think it might break before it's past her teeth. "I told you I had a date today."
  2358.  
  2359. "What? Your date isn't until tomorrow, on Sunday. Right?" he asks from outside the room.
  2360.  
  2361. Anya lets out an exasperated sigh. You hear the faint ticking noises, that you suspect claws tapping on a phone. The tapping abruptly ends. A few seconds later her dad speaks up. "Ah hell. Anya, I am so sorry, I must have mixed my days up somehow. Is this a bad time, or...?"
  2362.  
  2363. Anya opens her eyes and looks at you, green gaze wide and miserably apologetic. A thousand apologies of your own burn in your throat, most for doubting her in the darkness of a confusing moment. But more than a few are for not doing anything to avoid this situation. You should have called the picnic off and taken her out on a date instead. Or used the interruption of the missed phone call to cool things between the two of you before clothes started coming off. You came here with the intention to put the brakes on anything that went too fast or too far, only to let your dick do your thinking. Try as you might to make it cooperate, your mouth won't dig you out of this situation, leaving you to stare helplessly back at her green eyes.
  2364.  
  2365. She looks away shamefully, drawing her knees together while her headfeathers stand nearly straight up. "Yeah. Real shit timing dad," she says, staring up at the ceiling.
  2366.  
  2367. "I'm sorry, bab- Anya," he quickly corrects himself, "I should have knocked or called a second time. But your mother and I have been worried about you."
  2368.  
  2369. There's a tense minute of silent, where Anya only silently stares at the ceiling. The voice behind the door speaks up again. "Anya, your mother and I know when you're putting on a happy face for your siblings. I just wanted to do something nice for you, but if I botched that I'm sorry."
  2370.  
  2371. Her toeclaws dig against the carpet to the point you fear for the integrity of the floor. "Dad?"
  2372.  
  2373. "Yeah?"
  2374.  
  2375. "Could you just go away?" she pleads.
  2376.  
  2377. "I'd like to at least see you and know you're okay before getting out of your feathers," he says, concern plain in his voice.
  2378.  
  2379. "Well I'm fine," she assures rigidly, toeclaws releasing the carpet to tap irritably.
  2380.  
  2381. "You don't sound like it," he says.
  2382.  
  2383. Every word that has come through the door has built a tension in Anya until, at last, she looks ready to crack. "I was okay until you interrupted quality time with my boyfriend!" she snaps, jaw dropping the moment the 'b' word leaves her mouth.
  2384.  
  2385. The world goes silent. Anya's face is frozen in dumbstruck panic, her pupils wide and watching you fearfully, her headfeathers finding a little more length to stand up. While you try to figure out if you should say something or keep quiet, her father sighs from the other side of the bedroom door.
  2386.  
  2387. "I almost walked in on you again, didn't I?" he wearily sighs.
  2388.  
  2389. "DAD!" Anya shouts, somewhere between panic and anger.
  2390.  
  2391. "Sorry, sorry..." he sighs again, his hopelessness palpable even through the door. "Aw hell, I'll just leave before I make this worse."
  2392.  
  2393. Anya clutches her darkly scaled muzzle while you do your best not have a stroke from this emotional roller coaster. You gave up keeping track of the twists and turns, surrendering yourself entirely to the inevitable forces that kick your life around like an empty can. But holy hell, you did not expect to end up back at the start in one piece. Not this time.
  2394.  
  2395. "I should have answered my phone," Anya mutters to herself.
  2396.  
  2397. "I left the concert passes on the counter," her dad shouts from far in the apartment. "You two be safe, alright? And treat my baby girl right, whoever you are."
  2398.  
  2399. The front door opens and shuts swiftly, her father wisely fleeing after that decidedly dad-like comment.
  2400.  
  2401. You sit paralyzed and mute on the bed, caught between peace and abject horror. Anya has no such conflict, scrunching her eyes holding her snout shut. Her clawed hands and tight lips mostly suppress a scream of frustration that shakes her shoulders and slaps her tail against the floor. When the muffled sound dies off she curls into a tight ball, her digitigrade legs tucking in close to her nude body and face pressing against her knees. Her tail sweeps up from under her to try and cover her head. She whimpers something you can't quite make out, but you're pretty sure it is swearing.
  2402.  
  2403. After entertaining such horrible, overblown thoughts about what was happening, seeing her like this makes it feel like shattered glass pumps through your veins in the place of blood. You were so certain she was playing you for a fool that you nearly allowed your darkest doubts to lead you past a point of no return. But that is gone now, replaced by an oppressive, intangible weight on your shoulders. Folding in on yourself like Anya sounds like a fine plan, but you can't do that here. You'll save that for the dark of night when you're alone and can accept such weakness from yourself.
  2404.  
  2405. With weak arms, you grab at the pile of the clothes Anya tossed onto the bed and notice they are all yours. Swallowing the bitter taste in your throat, that has nothing to do with the raptor you were face first in only moments ago, you push away your crippling self-disgust. You grab your boxers from the pile of clothes and hobble into them one leg at a time. The rest of the clothes you leave where they landed, but you do grab the blanket that fell on the floor. The small one you brought when this day was still just a 'picnic' and not so complicated. Too bad it got complicated, and you're entirely to blame for that.
  2406.  
  2407. Blanket in hand you go to Anya and sit beside her on the rough carpet. Nothing you can say would be sufficient for this situation, so you put a hand on her back. She flinches away from your touch, making you pull back with a heavy heart.
  2408.  
  2409. Only for it lift a moment later when a clawed hand leaves her knee and starts weakly, blindly searching in your direction. Slow enough for you to avoid with the barest of efforts, like she is afraid of hitting you with those inch long claws on her fingers.
  2410.  
  2411. "Please don't go. Not yet," she pleads from the depths of her feathery, fetal ball.
  2412.  
  2413. Her hand freezes when you touch her palm with your fingertips. You slide your fingers up her slightly slick skin, the cause of that something you're trying not to think about, and intertwine your digits with hers. "I won't," you promise, not wanting to mention that you couldn't if you wanted to, since she's blocking the only door out.
  2414.  
  2415. Loosely she closes her hand and you join her in locking your palms together. Her claws softly rest on the back of your hand while your thumb rubs over the smooth scales of her knuckle, a phantom weight on your back easing. Not gone, but the crushing force of guilt lightens enough for you to bear it more easily.
  2416.  
  2417. Scooting closer to her, stopping just short of her downy feathers, you unfold the blanket you brought and clumsily toss it over her exposed back. Her free hand gropes for the corner, eventually snatching hold of the synthetic plush and pulling it close. Feathered tail limply flopping against the floor, Anya shifts her legs and rests her chin on her knees, revealing her summer green gaze. Her attention bounces from her clothes strewn about the floor to you for half a second, then toward her bed and it's mussed covers, then the ceiling for half a minute, until finally her focus comes to rest on you. Tenderly she squeezes your hand and tries to put on a smile, but you don't buy it for a second.
  2418.  
  2419. "So, are you okay after that Anon?" she asks.
  2420.  
  2421. "I'll be fine," you say, nodding through the tightness in your throat and omitting that you'll need a crazy workout and a long, hot shower to get any sleep after where your thoughts went.
  2422.  
  2423. "That scared the hell out of you, didn't it?" she asks, squeezing your hand.
  2424.  
  2425. "I didn't panic tackle a door," you point out.
  2426.  
  2427. "T-true. But, what I mean is, uh..." Anya's two sickle-shaped toeclaws clutch the carpet dangerously and she struggles to keep eye contact. "I think I hurt you, and I can sorta guess how, but please know I'm really, really sorry. And that if you want to call 'us' off because of, well, anything then I totally understand. I'm a big girl, I can handle it."
  2428.  
  2429. The tremble that courses through her body and wisps of moisture at the corner of her eyes is at odds with the strength in her words and conviction within her gaze.
  2430.  
  2431. She's worried about you in a situation like this. This hairpin turn emotional ride just keeps going on and on, with no end in sight.
  2432.  
  2433. The only answer that makes sense to you is removing the two inches that separate you from her. You shuffle to close that gap until your bare skin is flush with her feathery flank. Her feet clench, sickle shaped claws pulling perilously at the carpet, but the tension swiftly fades and the carpet is safe once more. The tenseness only leaves in her feet, the rest of her strung tightly from what you can tell. So you rest your nose against the end of her muzzle, her shallow breaths warm on your face. Your voice barely wavers when you say, "Want me to be honest?"
  2434.  
  2435. "Yes, please," she mumbles, words barely above a worried whisper.
  2436.  
  2437. So many things want to cross your tongue. 'I've really enjoyed this last week.' 'I want to hold you.' 'Please hold me.' 'Let's forget everything and act like irresponsible, horny teenagers on your bed again.' 'What do you even see in me?' 'I want to drown in your eyes.'
  2438.  
  2439. But what comes out of your mouth is, "That really was your dad, right?"
  2440.  
  2441. She nods, a cloud of confusion forming in her eyes, but there are no drops falling from the corner of her eyes yet. Mouth opening, then shutting, a wind of clarity sweeps her visage clear before it sinks her chin back on her knees. But she doesn't let go of your hand, holding onto you like you're raft in an open ocean. Or maybe you are the one clinging on to her to keep your own head above the water.
  2442.  
  2443. "Yeah," she says, "I wanted to tell you. But I panicked and, well, then you got to see me in bitch mode. Sorry."
  2444.  
  2445. Rubbing the scales on the back of her hands leaves a pleasant tingle in your fingertips, a sensation at odds with the precarious falling sensation in your stomach. "Then I need to apologize for jumping to conclusions," you say.
  2446.  
  2447. "Huh?" She tilts her head, not quite looking at you but coming oh so close. "But you didn't do anything wrong Anon."
  2448.  
  2449. Shaking your head, and bracing yourself for the fallout, you say, "Yeah I did. I thought you were just using me for a side lay for a few moments there, and nothing else."
  2450.  
  2451. Head lifting a few inches off her knees she blinks at you. The comprehension dawns slowly in her eyes, her mouth going slack then snapping shut. She pulls her hand away and you let her go, her claws passing by your skin without touching you. Hugging her knees she looks at the floor with a shadow of despair, making you wish she'd slapped you. Even if she sliced your face open it couldn't hurt as bad as seeing her absorb your words with such a regretful look on her face.
  2452.  
  2453. "I can see why you'd think that, yeah" she says.
  2454.  
  2455. "I'm sorry Anya."
  2456.  
  2457. "Don't be." Hands clutching together she leans forward, the blanket pulling back and revealing her downy shoulders. "I was too busy being a panicked idiot to have the decency to say 'oh shit my dad just walked in' after pushing you into sex. You should be furious with me, not apologizing."
  2458.  
  2459. "I'm apologizing because I doubted a friend, and if I were in your shoes I'd probably react about the same way you did. I can't be mad at you for any of that."
  2460.  
  2461. "I deserve it," she huffs.
  2462.  
  2463. "No, you don't. Would you be mad at me if the situation was reversed?"
  2464.  
  2465. A sigh rumbles out of the curled up deinonychus. "No, but I'm sure I would have done something unforgivably dumb. Like steal your blanket and hide in the bathroom for five hours."
  2466.  
  2467. You're at a loss of what to say. But honest, fumbling words fall out of your mouth anyway. "Well if doing that will make you feel better right now, go ahead. It won't hurt my feelings."
  2468.  
  2469. "It won't help," she says, shaking her head and turning an eye to look at you. "Knowing you aren't mad does. But," she steals a stronger glance at you, "Are you sure you're alright?"
  2470.  
  2471. "Mhm." You'll still need that long workout and shower to sleep, but there isn't gnashing guilt trying to eat it's way out of your stomach anymore. It's perched on your shoulder now, waiting for its chance to eat you in your sleep. "I'm fine."
  2472.  
  2473. Her eyes brighten but she still doesn't look at you. Instead, she clears her throat and says, "Then, uh, would you mind giving me a hand up? My tail fell asleep and I'd rather not flop like a dead fish trying to stand up."
  2474.  
  2475. "Of course."
  2476.  
  2477. Rising from underneath the blanket, knees popping, you offer her a hand, only she opts for hooking her arm with yours. She braces her feet and tugs on you, ascending with a sway of her white feathered breasts. The blanket drops onto her tail before tumbling down when the feathery appendage thumps against the door. Anya grabs your shoulder to steady herself and you struggle not to leer at her breasts. Your lower half is already planning a revolt that you don't need or want right now.
  2478.  
  2479. "Thanks," she says, pulling you into a hug and resting her head on your shoulder.
  2480.  
  2481. While she seems oblivious to her nakedness you sure aren't. It's hard to miss that when you're enveloped in feathery warmth and her soft breasts squish against your chest. It would be enough to fuel the insurrection in your pants to success were it not for sniffle she starts making and a cool drops of moisture on your shoulders. That stops your rising blood pressure in its tracks, your heart sinking with what shreds of your libido remain.
  2482.  
  2483. "Anya?" You gingerly place your hands on her shoulders, her palms sliding to across your back to let her cling tighter. "Anya, are YOU okay after all that?"
  2484.  
  2485. "Mostly," she says, choking down a sniffle.
  2486.  
  2487. Your fingers stroke between the feathers of her shoulders, work there way into contact with the warm flesh below. Anyone that thinks raptors are coldblooded has never been this close to one, physically or emotionally. You can feel her heartbeat rapidly and chest struggle to breathe at a normal pace instead of cry.
  2488.  
  2489. "Can I do anything to make it better?" you ask, focusing on the girl clinging to you and putting aside everything else.
  2490.  
  2491. "Hearing you say that helps," she shakily replies.
  2492.  
  2493. She clenches her hands, her claws tracing over your skin hard enough to make you flinch. Her hands jerk away and her entire body tenses. Her breath quickens and you worry she's about to bolt, but all she does is shift her head to look at you, tears dripping down the scales of her face.
  2494.  
  2495. "Are you hurt?" she asks, panic rising in her voice and fluffing headfeathers. "I'm so sorry, I-Ididn'tmeantoohgodareyoubleeding-"
  2496.  
  2497. You glide a hand up to her head and cradle the back of her head, bumping your nose against the end of her snout, locking your eyes with hers. "Anya it's okay, I promise. It was just a tickle, nothing else."
  2498.  
  2499. "I-I keep f-fucking everything up," she chokes, fresh tears streaming from green eyes.
  2500.  
  2501. "No, you don't," you assure.
  2502.  
  2503. "Yes, I do. And I s-still am, crying when we're supposed to be having a fun day together," she whimpers, eye scrunching shut as a half quelled sob wracks her body.
  2504.  
  2505. "If you need to cry I've got a perfectly good set of shoulders," you offer, at a loss on what else you can say or do.
  2506.  
  2507. Seeing her past a point you wavered at last weekend is agonizing. The sudden, slicing pain of a fresh wound on an emotional scars is enough to make your teeth grit in an effort to contain a wave of your own misery. Little more than a week ago you were on the verge of breaking down like this, but she stopped you. And you could have done the same for her, but you didn't even see she was teetering on an edge until she'd already fallen off. What can you do now? Other than not leave her alone, if that's what she wants.
  2508.  
  2509. "This isn't how today was supposed to go," she murmurs, trying to sniff back tears as her clenched hands slip off your back and hang by her sides.
  2510.  
  2511. There's nothing you can do, is there? She's not pulling out of your attempt at a soothing embrace, but Anya is clearly somewhere else right now. Even if she's in your arms her thoughts, so distant to begin with, are beyond your faintest hopes of reaching. You should let go of her and give her the space to work through this misery. That's what you'd say in her position. But could you live with yourself if you just walked away from someone you agreed to call your girlfriend?
  2512.  
  2513. You know so little about her. And what does she even know about you for that matter? You're little better than strangers that get along and shared enough mutual interest to let your libidos call the shots. But are you seeing things correctly now? Are you just drowning in your own guilt for no good reason?
  2514.  
  2515. Like always, you don't have answers. All you can do is stroke the back of her neck and try to comfort her. And somewhere in you, a sole desire burns in defiance of your doubts: you want to dry the tears of this hurting soul.
  2516.  
  2517. Taking a hand off the back of her head and feeling a sag in the shoulder you still hold, you wipe at one of her teary eyes with the back of your hand. She flinches and her tail bats against the floor, a tiny hiccup of a gasp shaking her body. Her eyes open and look at you as you wipe at the tears on the other side and attempt to show her a smile.
  2518.  
  2519. "Why don't we sit down?" you softly ask, not putting any thought to the words that come out of your mouth.
  2520.  
  2521. She nods, almost imperceptibly, and moves with you to the end of the bed. Leading a naked gal to bed and your lower half is somehow on its best behavior. Easily as it acted up, you're glad to see it's in agreement with your heart right now.
  2522.  
  2523. Anya sits without any encouragement, leaning on her knees and trying to make herself as small as possible. But she isn't going into the fetal position and only sobbing weakly instead of shaking, so there is that. Yet you fear it might not hold as you go and grab the discarded blanket by the door. You are too worried about her to find much humor in seeing her panties hanging off the guitar in its stand by the wall. Seeing that does, however, bring a hint of warmth to your cheeks. An emotion that isn't helped when you step over her bra on your way back to the bed. Draping your blanket across her back you ease yourself on the bed beside her, and barely touch her with the tips of your fingers to let her know you're there.
  2524.  
  2525. She steals a glance at you before wrapping herself in the blanket, wearing it like a hood and hiding as much her feathery self as possible. Only then does her hand peek out from the blanket cloaking her, fingers tucked in to hide her claws, and she bumps it against your hand.
  2526.  
  2527. "I'm sorry," she whispers, voice wavering. "I can't even put on a brave face for my boyfriend."
  2528.  
  2529. "You don't have to put on a brave face for me. Besides, sometimes it helps to let it out," you say, knowing that the truth of that statement makes you hypocrite.
  2530.  
  2531. You put your hand on hers, letting you feel her scales against your palm and faint warmth beneath. Knowing she is there keeps that yawning chasm of emptiness in your chest from swallowing you right now. Today has been a hell of a trip, and it's only been about three hours since you showed up at her place.
  2532.  
  2533. "I shouldn't be so fucked up about this when I was the one yelling this time," Anya mutters, wiping at her eyes and looking miserable underneath the shell of the blanket.
  2534.  
  2535. "If there is anything you need to talk about anything I'm here," you offer.
  2536.  
  2537. "There might be something," she says halfheartedly, curling into the blanket and staring at the floor.
  2538.  
  2539. You hope she finds answers in the patterns of the carpet because you've got none to give. Only patience and a sad understanding of what she might be feeling. You give her time, afraid that asking questions will make it worse. She can explain what she means now or wait for a better time. Goodness knows you haven't exactly been forthcoming about your past so far. A fact that will have to change if you are serious about this dating thing. But you might keep things about your parents hush-hush, if things with Anya even survive this day that is.
  2540.  
  2541. "I... I guess I should tell you why I'm being a baby about this," she says, hand slipping out from under yours. "But I need to get some clothes on. And if it's... if you don't mind, could you, maybe..." she mumbles, voice getting quieter with each word and you straining to hear the last part.
  2542.  
  2543. It sounded like, "Hold me like last weekend?" but you aren't certain.
  2544.  
  2545. After a quiet half minute you ask, "Did you say you want me to hold you?"
  2546.  
  2547. She stands up, blanket wrapped around her upper half protectively, and shakes her head. All you pay attention to is her muzzle going side to side nervously. "Sorry. I'm being dumb and-"
  2548.  
  2549. "If you want me to hold you I'd be glad to, bed or your couch. Or wherever you want," you say, ignoring your fears of making things worse and pushing forward with what you think you heard. "If that's what you want, of course."
  2550.  
  2551. She's quiet for what must be a minute, and you can imagine the internal war she is having right now. Saying yes, saying no, try put on a brave face, or curl up on the floor and give up. But that is only your guess of what goes through her head. You'll never know what goes on behind those green eyes of hers.
  2552.  
  2553. "Couch," she weakly mutters.
  2554.  
  2555. You get up and grab your pile of clothes at the end of the bed. You've been sitting on your jeans the entire time, and only now do notice how uncomfortable that has been. "I'll let you get dressed," you say, heading for the door.
  2556.  
  2557. Her hand reaches out for you as you pass, then flinches back. Her claws, you realize when she curls her hand up, she is still afraid of touching you because of her claws. That tiny little scrape, which hasn't even bled, is nothing compared to what you've done to yourself tripping on carpet. You don't believe there is a malicious bone in her body, not even a single feather of it anywhere on her. She shouldn't be so worried about hurting you.
  2558.  
  2559. "You can turn your back if you need to but we, uh, already showed everything and... and I really don't want to be alone," she blurts out with the most energy you've heard from since her father was outside the bedroom door, ut saying that drains her, her shoulders sagging and bushy, feathery tail drooping.
  2560.  
  2561. "I can wait, no problem," you say.
  2562.  
  2563. "Thank you," she mumbles, shuffling to her dresser.
  2564.  
  2565. Worried as you are about her, it feels wrong to stare. You turn your back to her, giving the lady some space as you get back into the rest of your clothes. Wooden drawers slide open and shut. Once you're dressed you wait by the door, doing your best to stare at the door handle and not the pair of panties hanging off the guitar.
  2566.  
  2567. Goddamn, that shot shouldn't impress you so much when the girl who tossed them is in such rough emotional shape. And it still hasn't sunk in that she is, or was, into you enough to be the one to start that attempt at a horizontal adventure. Okay, more than an attempt. But if you stare at those discarded undergarments and the faint, moist stain at the crotch then things might sink in. Can't have that happen right now. Nope. Thoughts for another time, when you aren't trying to make things right.
  2568.  
  2569. It's a good thing Anya shuffles up to you when she does, because a nervous sweat is starting to form on the back of your neck. Pushing away the reality of this situation is easier when you can focus on trying to lift her mood.
  2570.  
  2571. She's wearing baggy, gray sweatpants that are so large they bunch up against her large, sickle-shaped toeclaws, a faded blue t-shirt two sizes too big, and the blanket over her shoulders. Anya hesitantly reaches for the door handle. She opens the door slowly, leading the way out with you in tow. Unsure if you should shut the door or follow her, you opt for following her. She said she didn't want to be alone after all.
  2572.  
  2573. The trip to her couch is slow only because of her pace, but once she is there she drops to the cushions with all the speed gravity can provide. You take a spot beside her, an arm around her shoulders since she asked you to hold her. Or you assume she did. That is what she asked, right? You didn't put words in her mouth and make assumptions- no, you must have heard her correctly.
  2574.  
  2575. Anya leans into you, practically falling against your side. And immediately starts readjusting, encouraging you to move and reminding you of last weekend but with the events sped up. Soon you find yourself underneath her and a blanket, the deinonychus holding onto you like you're a pillow, except her hands are defiantly balled instead of open. Hopefully, she relaxes soon. Your arms around her back, you note that the only thing different this time is she isn't burying your face in the feathers on her neck. She just lays her head near yours and closes her eyes. But you don't think she can sleep right now.
  2576.  
  2577. "So, uh," she begins, quite voice much easier to hear when her head is next to yours, "Is it taboo to talk about previous relationships? Or in my, uh, case relationship?"
  2578.  
  2579. "Not to me," you say, ignoring the tiny wave of fear going through and mental warning flags raising. You're about to be in for a doozy of a time, one way or another. But it's still better than talking about your past. "If you want to talk about it, or anything, go ahead."
  2580.  
  2581. "That makes this easier," she mumbles. Anya opens her eyes a crack but doesn't seem to look at you or anything else. "But not that easy."
  2582.  
  2583. You pat her back. "I've got time and patience."
  2584.  
  2585. "Thank you," she says, closing her eyes. "Start with why I freaked out, I guess?"
  2586.  
  2587. "Other than your dad walking in unannounced?" you risk asking.
  2588.  
  2589. Her head bobs. "This is the second time he's done that. The first time was in a hotel, he got the rooms mixed up thanks to dyslexia and walked in on me and my ex-girlfriend. That ended with a lot of shouting, me at my dad and then my ex at me. And a... total meltdown of a two-year relationship."
  2590.  
  2591. That gives you an answer to something you suspected about her past experiences, but what it means you don't know right now. You stroke her feathered back through the t-shirt and wait for her to say more of what is on her mind.
  2592.  
  2593. "I shouldn't have yelled at my dad," Anya says, continuing unabated. "It was an honest mistake, he's always had trouble with mixing up numbers. But my ex and I were in a really compromising position, and she was so deep in the closet you needed a flashlight to find her. And I might have... announced to everyone on the hotel floor that she was my girlfriend when yelling at my dad."
  2594.  
  2595. "He didn't know?"
  2596.  
  2597. The raptor breathes deeply. "Everyone but mom thought we were just close friends and roommates, which we were until my ex..." Anya shifts nervously. "S-sorry. That's not what I want to talk about right now."
  2598.  
  2599. "Then don't," you softly say.
  2600.  
  2601. Narrow slits of green and black peek at you. "I should but, if you're not mad at me, can I raincheck the rest of that story for some other time? Like when we're drunk and I don't have to go to work in the morning?"
  2602.  
  2603. "Sounds like a plan to me," you say.
  2604.  
  2605. "Tentatively," she mumbles, looking down at your chin.
  2606.  
  2607. "That isn't the only thing bugging you, is it?" you ask.
  2608.  
  2609. Her head shakes, mussing her feathers against the plush couch cushion. "No, but it's why I didn't say anything when we were, uh, interrupted. I got horribly panicked. I'm sorry about that, I didn't want to make you worry about who it was in the apartment and I fucked that up."
  2610.  
  2611. "It's alright, but if you need to hear that I forgive you, then I do. Hell, I'm sorry I didn't take you out for a date so this couldn't happen in the first place," you say, cautiously squeezing her with a hug. She does the same a moment later, her hands still in fists against you back.
  2612.  
  2613. "You're too nice," she mumbles, lidded eyes downcast. A moment later she asks, "Would I totally blow our date if I told you what's really eating at me?"
  2614.  
  2615. There is an obvious joke to be made with what she said, but that kind of humor might only make her feel worse right now. Instead, you say, "Not at all. Not if it makes you feel better at the end of the day."
  2616.  
  2617. An attempt at a smile turns up the corners of her mouth, but her eyes remain dull and listless. The thin smile fades all too quickly, ground away by what is in her heart right now. "I'll end up crying if I talk about, I just know it. I don't want to do that right now."
  2618.  
  2619. "That's what my shoulders are for right now," you point out.
  2620.  
  2621. "I don't want to do that to you," she whimpers, scrunching her eyes shut. "Not when we can just cuddle and salvage today from my stupidity."
  2622.  
  2623. "Anya, I didn't say much last weekend, but you helped me through a rough emotional spot. Really bad, the kind where I was a hairsbreadth from tears," you say, rubbing her back. "I can't thank you enough for just being there, let alone holding me through it. But I can at least return the favor. If not now then whenever you need it."
  2624.  
  2625. "It hurt my heart to see you like that, but I was being selfish back then too. Like I am right now, asking you to hold me," she says, quiet as a pin drop.
  2626.  
  2627. "If that's what selfish is then that is what both are," you tell her.
  2628.  
  2629. "I..." she stares at you like she expected you to chastise her. "I guess if you're okay with it."
  2630.  
  2631. You stroke her back and smile at her predatory snout, hoping to ease her concerns. "I am."
  2632.  
  2633. "Then it's alright if I tell you what's been bothering me? Even if I cry? Because I really should talk to someone," she says, not entirely convinced of her own request.
  2634.  
  2635. Your hands rub her shoulders, only a thin shirt between your skin and her feathered, downy back. "Of course you can tell me."
  2636.  
  2637. "Then... I've been having nightmares all week," she admits shamefully, tears budding at the corner of her eyes already. "That sounds stupid, but they're really bad ones. The kind that feels so real it's like you're there and when you wake up you can't tell if that just happened or not. Sometimes it's like being awake is the dream and you're going to just wake up and be back in the hell of your nightmare."
  2638.  
  2639. No matter how close to your chest you hold her or the way you stroke her back the streams start rolling down her soft, scaled, tortured face. You know nightmares yourself, but only once has it been bad enough you've woken up uncertain if it was real or not.
  2640.  
  2641. "It's always the same one, every night, for what feels like forever. But it's only been a week," she mumbles through the tears, sniffing feebly before she can continue. "My brother and sister need me to be strong, but every fucking night I'm right back in high school all over again. Only my ex is there, for some damn reason, and she's with the groups calling me an unlovable feathered freak, or I'm covered in paint again and in the storage closet, or they've cornered me again and are telling me to... that I should just - just kill myself and I-I..."
  2642.  
  2643. She chokes on a sob, each breath a gasp for air and control. Her mouth twists and tries to speak more, but nothing beside an agonized whines can come out. You pet and pat her, but she is still reduced to a gasping, huffing mess as her personal demons are brought to the front of her mind. If you could grab those invisible, intangible devils of memories and strangle them you would. But you can't. All you can do is what she asked and hold her close, and try not to tear up yourself as the deinonychus cries. Just like she said she would.
  2644.  
  2645.  
  2646.  
  2647. -CHAPTER 10-  Rainbow In The Dark
  2648.  
  2649. Your eyes sting and heart aches as you pull the miserable, crying deinonychus closer. Anya can't speak anymore. Hell, you shouldn't be able to speak, but somehow you say something. Words that are meant to make her not alone. That she is safe now. Sentences you can't recall the second they leave your lips.
  2650.  
  2651. It might help, you hope it does, but you can't tell. She buries her face against your shirt, curling up to hide against you. She's almost your height, but right now she feels so small. You keep whispering comforting words while she soaks your shirt, the blanket, and her couch with snot and tears.
  2652.  
  2653. Your heart withstands the agony until she stops sobbing and is nothing more than a teary, hiccuping mess clinging to you. Her hands are balled into fists, gripping wads of your shirt. You don't care if she put holes in the garment, but you suspect she will freak out if she realizes what her hands are doing. You'll have to point out that she didn't hurt you and only tore up an easily replaceable t-shirt. Later, of course, after you get her to stop spasming with hiccups and making heartwrenching gasps of anguish. You've shed a lone few tears of your own in sympathy for her, but they're lost in the feathers atop her head or in the cushions of her sofa now.
  2654.  
  2655. The rain picks up for a few scattered minutes, pouring so loudly against the building that the droning noise fills her living room. Anya isn't crying anymore but you don't think she is ready to uncurl herself. And you won't make her. All day or all night, you'll wait here with her as long as she needs. The list of things that could make you move her right now is minuscule and all involve threats to health and safety.
  2656.  
  2657. The torrent outside fades to a quiet patter. Anya's claws relax, not quite releasing your shirt but no longer pulling it taught. Head pulling back, she sees the mess she made of the front of your shirt and looks ready to burst into tears again, but manages to keep her newfound composure together. Mostly.
  2658.  
  2659. "Sorry," she croaks.
  2660.  
  2661. "It's alright," you assure her, using a dry corner of the blanket to wipe her nose. "Feel any better?"
  2662.  
  2663. "Maybe," she mumbles, closing then opening her eyes.
  2664.  
  2665. There is a bit of light in her gorgeous green gaze once more, sparking hope in you that she's not lost to the demons of her past.
  2666.  
  2667. "Would getting you cleaned up and some food in you help?" you ask.
  2668.  
  2669. "Probably," she says, pulling away from you and tossing the blanket out of the way.
  2670.  
  2671. With a touch of caution on your part, the two of you wiggle your way into sitting up. She's close enough that if you reach your arm out you'll touch her, but the distance might as well be an impassable chasm separating you from her. Anya guiltily stares at your shirt. The patchy draft on your warm back tells you there are in fact holes in it, but you know all she can see right now is the moist, snot and tear covered front sticking to your skin.
  2672.  
  2673. "Sorry. I- I might have a shirt you can borrow," she mumbles, slowly standing up.
  2674.  
  2675. On her feet she looks at the low table in front of the couch. Or she's staring at the empty picnic basket resting exactly as you left it, hinged lid still flipped up and dangerously close to the edge of the table. All it would take is one wrong step and that thing is going to fall.
  2676.  
  2677. "And thank you for today Anon," she says, glancing at you with some light returning to her gorgeous green gaze. A thin, but genuine, smile graces her muzzle. "I'm sorr-"
  2678.  
  2679. "You've got nothing to apologize for," you say, booping her on the nose with yours, stunning her into silence. "And today's not over unless you want it to be, okay?"
  2680.  
  2681. When you follow that up with a kiss to the same spot you bumped, you're left worried her heart might have stopped. She stands there doing an excellent impression of a deer staring down high beams, but her hands are starting to fidget together so you stop worrying about potentially needing to perform CPR on her.
  2682.  
  2683. Anya's wide eyes look down at her twiddling hands, and she manages to mumble, "I'll go find that shirt."
  2684.  
  2685. She heads for her bedroom, tail still sagging and head downcast. You let her get a few paces ahead before following her.
  2686.  
  2687. "Mind if I use your washer?" you ask, her gait faltering and head whipping around to look at you.
  2688.  
  2689. "S-sure," she says, looking forward and hunching her shoulders anxiously. She opens the laundry nook up when she passes by it, then continues to her room.
  2690.  
  2691. You expect her to shut the door behind, only she leaves it open, the bushy end of her tail vanishing around the corner. Hoping you didn't spook her or upset her again, you get the blanket tossed in the wash and take off your shirt. Turning it around you see the small holes in the back where Anya's claws dug through; honestly, the damage isn't as bad as you feared. Only a few holes in the gray fabric, not long gashes or ragged rips. But if she sees the damage right now there is no telling how dark her mood will turn. You're tempted to run to your car and toss it in, hide the evidence from her, but she might think you're abandoning her. If she finds out what she did you'll just have to assure her that it didn't scare or upset you. Shirts are replaceable. Whatever is building between you and Anya, that isn't something you can go into a store and buy a pack of for ten bucks.
  2692.  
  2693. You'll have to omit that this was your nicest shirt, though.
  2694.  
  2695. Into the wash your damaged shirt goes, and after you dry your chest off with a small towel you toss that in with the rest of the load. You shut the lid on the washer and a door noisily closes nearby. Looking toward the sound you see Anya shuffling forward, eyes looking away as she thrusts a bundled up t-shirt at you. "H-here."
  2696.  
  2697. "Thanks, Anya," you say, taking the clean shirt from her.
  2698.  
  2699. You let it unfold and see it's a band shirt. Or a parody of one, you quickly realize. The artwork from one of Dio's albums, but made into a pun with the name 'Dino.' You don't say anything, thinking now isn't the time for it, even though it's pretty amusing to know she owns a shirt like this. You pull the garment on, the fit snug but acceptable since you can still breathe.
  2700.  
  2701. "No problem," she nods, eyes darting to you as her feet shuffle. "I'm, uh, not trying to imply anything but, uh, would you wash your face? I-its really distracting."
  2702.  
  2703. You reach up and rub your jaws and cheeks, wondering what got on them.
  2704.  
  2705. "No, you're okay- it's just, you kind of," her feathers rise anxiously and she fiddles with her fingers, "Still smell like me."
  2706.  
  2707. Well, you were holding her through - oh, right. She's talking about what was going on before the interruption and things got heavy. Your cheeks feel warm and the awkwardness is thick enough to need power tools to get through.
  2708.  
  2709. "I'll get on that," you say.
  2710.  
  2711. "There's mouthwash under the sink," Anya says, headfeathers fluffed up as she slips out of the hall.
  2712.  
  2713. You scurry to the bathroom while she goes off to the kitchen, presumable. You discover that there is a bar of handsoap at the sink, one you didn't see last week. Taking advantage of this carefully wash your face off, using warm water, a hand towel, and stubborn patience. Once you think any hints of imperceptible, to your weak human nose, scent are gone you look in the cabinets under the sink. Like she said, there is a blue bottle of mouthwash down there. You feel weird about using Anya's mouthwash until you remind yourself how often the two of you have tried to eat others faces, then you buckle up and swish the minty swill. Spitting it out after a long, torturous mental count you check your reflection.
  2714.  
  2715. The man in the mirror doesn't look as worn down as you expected. Not that you look for long, but you can't stop thinking about the determined glint in your eyes. It seems to a be a newer addition to your reflection, or maybe it's something you never noticed about yourself before. You don't give it much more thought once you make it to Anya's kitchen.
  2716.  
  2717. The deinonychus leans on a counter, munching on a leftover sandwich. The moment she spots you guilt spreads across her face. "I was going to wait, but they were too tempting," she says, reaching behind herself and sliding a plate across the counter top.
  2718.  
  2719. You don't remember how many triangles of bread, ham, and cheese were left, but you can tell she's already eaten a quite few. The wadded up cellophane on the counter tells you that much.
  2720.  
  2721. You could stand to eat, but the fresh, wintry state of your tongue would only make it a miserable experience. "Have at 'em, I'm not hungry," you say, leaning against the counter a few feet from her.
  2722.  
  2723. "Thanks," she says, looking down at the sandwich. "For everything, not just the sandwiches. I'm already feeling better."
  2724.  
  2725. "That's good to hear." You smile, feeling it this time. "If or when you want to talk about any of that, or anything else bothering you, let me know."
  2726.  
  2727. She takes a bite out of the sandwich, half of it vanishing into her toothy maw, while her sickle toeclaws tapping on the floor without a discernible pattern. "I appreciate that," she says, swallowing. She transfixes you with her gorgeous greens, entrapping you with a caring smile. "And know my shoulder is open if you ever need it, same with my ear, alright?"
  2728.  
  2729. "I'll keep that in mind," you say.
  2730.  
  2731. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the smile on your face and the knot your stomach has tied itself into. You like Anya, but you would never needlessly trouble her with your doubts and fears. Not when she has her own demons to deal with.
  2732.  
  2733. "Please do," she says, reaching a hand nervously across the counter, fingers curled up to keep her claws away from you. "We're, uh, friends after all."
  2734.  
  2735. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me we're going for a bit more than friends," you say, putting a hand over her loose fist.
  2736.  
  2737. "You're still okay with that?" she asks, eyeing you with her heart exposed.
  2738.  
  2739. "Of course I am. Would I have gone along with your plan to get me on your bed if I wasn't?" you ask, thumb running over her smooth scales.
  2740.  
  2741. "Th-that was... If I didn't need to... Oh hell, if you're disappointed w-we can t-t-t-try again in a b-bit," she stammers, toeclaws falling silent and fingers twisting the sandwich to-and-fro, headfeathers sticking straight up and the hand under yours beset by a quick tremor.
  2742.  
  2743. Your poker face can't hide your rosy cheeks, and she might even feel how your heart starts pounding like a drum. "If you want to, but really I'm good with just hanging out with some more and trying to relax."
  2744.  
  2745. Curved claws clack against the tile floor. "Then c-could we just hang out? For now?"
  2746.  
  2747. "Of course." Seeing her in person is a lot better than through video calls, even if you haven't had either since last week.
  2748.  
  2749. "And would you like to stay the night?" she asks out of left field. She shakes her head anxiously, floofed up feathers jostling. "No, no, no. Ignore me when I say something stupid like that," she pleads. "I've got work in the morning and you probably do too, and I shouldn't ask something so selfish in the first place and you've been trying to hint that things should maybe slow down-"
  2750.  
  2751. "If we wake up early it should be fine," your mouth says in a moment of total disconnect from your thoughts.
  2752.  
  2753. Punching yourself seems like a stupid thing to do but the temptation is strong enough you grip the edge of the counter with your free hand. Just in case, of course. Last thing want right now is to worry Anya even more. Though, knowing that she's caught onto you trying to slow things down relieves you a bit. She's cleverer than she gives herself credit for.
  2754.  
  2755. "Besides you don't have your toothbrush or a change of clothes. And I don't even know when you need to get to work," she babbles on, oblivious to what you said as her eyes turn toward her toes.
  2756.  
  2757. Should you let her know that you impulsively accepted? Maybe not, but getting her to calm down would a good idea. Today has been as much, if not more, of an emotional roller coaster for her as it has been for you.
  2758.  
  2759. "Anya," you say, trying to catch her attention.
  2760.  
  2761. "And it's not like-" she stops mid-sentence, eyes slowly focusing on you. "Huh? W-wait. Did you say earlier that it should be fine?"
  2762.  
  2763. Oh hell, she did hear. Staring into her inquisitive eyes, you make what might be a really bad decision. "Yeah. If I head back to my place by seven in the morning I should have enough time to get ready for work."
  2764.  
  2765. Her mouth makes a fragile, "Oh."
  2766.  
  2767. "It's just a thought," you tell her, "In case you were serious."
  2768.  
  2769. "I-I was, but you don't need to do that," she says, feathers starting to lower.
  2770.  
  2771. You shrug. "We've still got some time before it's dark though, so that's not something that has to be decided right now."
  2772.  
  2773. "You're right." She turns her attention to the plate of sandwiches, hunger in her eyes. "I... do you mind if I eat? I sorta skipped breakfast. And most of lunch."
  2774.  
  2775. Your stomach is too anxious for you to even think about eating right now. "Have at it," you say, letting go of her hand.
  2776.  
  2777. She chomps away the quarter of a sandwich left in her other hand, then descends upon those remaining on the plate. They stand no chance under the assault of a hungry raptor, the plastic wrap pile on the counter building as she devours the food. You're pleased to see she doesn't holding back her enthusiasm, a good sign that she is starting to feel better. She eats quickly, but even then she isn't that messy of an eater, only getting a few crumbs on her baggy shirt. To keep from staring and making her self-conscious, you glance around the clean kitchen. Everything from the white cabinets, to the empty sink, all the way down to the tiles is neat and tidy. You're a touch envious of her large dishwasher, not that you'd ever need on that big. You twist your head and spot her purse tucked in a corner, only for something else sitting on the counter to catch your attention.
  2778.  
  2779. Two large tickets sit a foot from your elbow, the blocky, printed text intriguing you. You quickly sort out the details. For the band Scale Snatcher, date in late January and thus several months away, no price that you can see, VIP, a bunch of numbers that mean nothing to you, and it is in an expo you don't recognize in a nearby city. Tickets from her dad, just like she said she would try and get.
  2780.  
  2781. Wait, did that say VIP? Leaning in you confirm that you didn't misread that. Your curiosity gets the better of you and you shift the top ticket aside to look at the one underneath. It's a twin of the one on top, the differences only a few digits here and there.
  2782.  
  2783. A feathery arm slips past you, but only puts a few clawed fingers on tickets when you shift aside. "I forgot about those," Anya mumbles through a full mouth, sliding the tickets toward herself, looking at you in a mix of apology and guilt as she swallows.
  2784.  
  2785. "What're your plans for 'em?" you ask, treading carefully around how the tickets got here.
  2786.  
  2787. "Well," she drawls nervously, "If you're interested I'd like to, uh, take you to the concert." She shrinks in on herself, shoulders hunching and leaning a hip against the counter. "But it's months from now and I don't want to push you into this, especially since you'll end up meeting my family if you come along."
  2788.  
  2789. "I'd like to go with you anyway," you say, trying to affect an optimistic smile. That you don't entirely feel, but that's beside the point. "It's very sweet of you to offer, especially after getting me into Scale Snatcher's music."
  2790.  
  2791. "So it's not too ambitious to plan something like this far out?" she asks, delicately holding the tickets in her claws, and unaware of your internal pessimism.
  2792.  
  2793. "Not in my opinion, but then again I'm being asked by my girlfriend to go see her favorite band. And by a fellow metalhead. So I'm pretty biased," you say, or rather your mouth does with little to no input from your brain.
  2794.  
  2795. Her grin makes you forgive your chatty mouth. Weariness is still plain on her face and in the droop of her tail, but the spark in her eyes is stronger. "I guess I am too, since I get to take my boyfriend to his first concert."
  2796.  
  2797. "I'll have to make sure you get a real picnic before then," you tell her, grabbing the wadded up cellophane off the counter and tossing it in the wastebasket.
  2798.  
  2799. "Is that a promise?" she inquires hopefully, eagerness more than a hint in her voice.
  2800.  
  2801. "Of course."
  2802.  
  2803. "Then, what'll we do now that this picnic is over and I'm feeling like a person again?" she asks, rotating the tickets slowly in her fingers.
  2804.  
  2805. "I can think of a few things, but if you've got any ideas I'm probably down for it."
  2806.  
  2807. She keeps spinning the tickets, her tail sweeping around to curl around her leg. "E-even if I want to be lame and just cuddle, maybe listen to music or play a game together?"
  2808.  
  2809. "Those were going to be most of my suggestions," you admit.
  2810.  
  2811. "O-oh." Her eyes wander to something past you, probably the couch, then snap back to captivate you with her gorgeous greens. "Then I'll just go put these tickets somewhere safe, maybe get a blanket," she says, headfeathers raised a smidgen as she moves past.
  2812.  
  2813. The end of her tail brushes your leg, but you can't tell if it was an accident or intentional. She did have it wrapped around her leg before she jolted into moving, after all.
  2814.  
  2815. "Suppose I'll warm up the couch," you say, Anya looking over her shoulder and nods before continuing on her way.
  2816.  
  2817. Tearing your eyes away from the sway of her hips, which her sweatpants do nothing to diminish the appeal of in your opinion, you go get yourself seated. After moving the picnic basket off of the low coffee table, of course. And checking that the couch is dry, which you are pleased to find it is. No telling how many tears either of your shed. To distract yourself from any errant thoughts, you focus on the mess of cords underneath and around the oversized TV, tracing them with your eyes to figure out what connects where while plotting a way to fix it.
  2818.  
  2819. You don't make much progress on determining what is a game system and what is some doodad she may or may not need. TVs were never your area of interest, even if the technology involving the screens has been advancing fairly interestingly. Before you've got a complete plan on how to fix the mess of cords attached to the TV, Anya returns. Plush blanket in her arms she plops down beside you, but doesn't scoot right in when you put an arm on the back of the couch.
  2820.  
  2821. She spreads the blanket across both your laps, keeping the back of her hands toward you the entire time, before quizzically looking at you. "Play something or rest for a bit?"
  2822.  
  2823. "Resting sounds nice," you say, glancing at the darkening window by the front door.
  2824.  
  2825. "It does," Anya says, scooting toward you.
  2826.  
  2827. She bumps her hip against yours and lets out an appreciative chirrup when your arm shifts to her shoulder. Her breath rolls across your skin before and after she plants a kiss on your cheek, the flutter of your heart happy that she isn't afraid of touching you with her teeth. "Had to pay you back for the one you sprung on me," she whispers before laying her head on your shoulder.
  2828.  
  2829. You're relieved to see she is indeed in better spirits.
  2830.  
  2831. Tempting as trying and escalate the situation into a cycle of payback kisses sounds, you're stopped by a desire to keep things simple and a yawn creeping up on you. No doubt brought about by the warmth, fuzzy blanket and the feathery woman snuggling against you. Anya yawns, in turn, a mouth filled with teeth built for shredding flesh opening right beside your head. Her tongue stretches, proving to be far longer than you thought possible. It cutely curls while her eyes water, a keening noise in her throat deepening to a hum as her deadly maw closes inches from your nonplussed face.
  2832.  
  2833. You doubt she would ever intentionally hurt you, or anyone for that matter.
  2834.  
  2835. The comfort of her closeness and the trust she extends your way is adding extra weight to your weary eyelids. She's so reckless to be trusting you this easily; not that you could live with yourself if you took advantage of her kindness and interest in you. Learning that she has clawing pain deep in her as well makes you want to hold her all the closer, and shield her if you can. Not that you think she needs much of latter, not if that confident side of her can come out more.
  2836.  
  2837. "Hrm. Maybe we should do something so I don't pass out on you again," she says, without any hint that she's willing to get up.
  2838.  
  2839. "Or set an alarm in case we both pass out," you reply, hand gently rubbing her shoulder instead of releasing her.
  2840.  
  2841. Her head tilts, locking your gaze in place with stunning green eyes struck down the center by her black slash of pupils. "Anon, if you're worried about me I'm doing a lot better, which is all thanks to you. I don't want to make you late for work, so forget what I selfishly asked about staying. It was just a dumb request made in one of my doof-ish moments."
  2842.  
  2843. Tongue pressing against the roof of your mouth you throttle whatever your mouth was going to say on its own. You need to answer as honestly as possible, if not for her than for yourself. Thankfully your heart, mind, and mouth reach a swift agreement.
  2844.  
  2845. "It didn't sound like a dumb request to me," you say in spite of the tightness in your chest that comes from being so honest. "And I really don't mind staying if you want."
  2846.  
  2847. "If you're saying that because you're worried about anything I said during my, uh, episode, I promise I really am okay," she assures, caressing your cheek with the tip of her muzzle. "You don't need to, promise."
  2848.  
  2849. "Maybe not, but you asking made me want to be selfish and be around you more. I'd like to stay, if the offer is still up," you say, a waterfall of guilt and your own put off mood crashing down on top of you as you speak those words.
  2850.  
  2851. You withstand the oppressive feeling and watch her, trying to be stoic as possible so the only one left with any worry is you. She stares back at you for a handful of shared heartbeats. Then her black pupils widen. Off in the distance, the washer shuts off, it's remote rumbling finally at an end, but that is a passing note that doesn't capture your attention or hers. Her headfeathers stand up, starting as that mohawk before fluffing into a mess of nerves. The blanket shuffles and she moves close, Anya putting a hand on your knee, fingers splayed out stiffly over the cover. "I-is it selfish if that's what we both want?"
  2852.  
  2853. "Maybe," you say, your free hand sneaking out from the covers and laying on hers. She twitches but doesn't back away when you rub her shoulder and fingers. "But I don't think it matters if we agree."
  2854.  
  2855. "It's really not going to mess anything up?"
  2856.  
  2857. "Not for me."
  2858.  
  2859. She stares you, mouth working silently for a few seconds. Finally, she manages to say, "Then d-do you want to move to my bed?"
  2860.  
  2861. "Will we get any rest there?" you ask, trying not to sound too serious and spook her, but you are genuinely concerned there won't be any of the rest that you desperately need right now.
  2862.  
  2863. "I'm barely awake right now," she mutters, kissing your nose. At least she isn't afraid of touching you with her teeth. "At most I'll just fall asleep on top of you again."
  2864.  
  2865. "So long as we set an alarm," you say, starting the slow extraction from underneath the covers.
  2866.  
  2867. If you stay in this spot much longer you'll be passed out her couch again. And if Anya's sluggish movements are any indication she is not exaggerating about her tiredness.
  2868.  
  2869. She nods and swings her legs off the couch. "I'll get on that."
  2870.  
  2871. "And I'll switch my laundry," you say before stifling a yawn.
  2872.  
  2873.  
  2874.  
  2875. -Behind Her Green Eyes-
  2876.  
  2877. Anon slips into the back of your apartment while you get your phone. The reminder you missed a call from dad nearly sets your nerves alight but you swipe it away so you can focus on the now. While setting an alarm for early in the morning your fingers slip. You fumble the device, the case bouncing against the counter top. In a scramble of claws you manage to snatch it before it takes a screen shattering drop onto the kitchen tiles below. Breathing a sigh of relief that you were able to keep that from being a royal fuck up, you clutch the device in your claws and go see how Anon is doing.
  2878.  
  2879. Anon.
  2880.  
  2881. Your boyfriend.
  2882.  
  2883. That you still have despite the disasters you inflicted on this date. It's enough to make a shiver race down your spine, all the way to the tip of your tail. But then you think about what happened today, namely what you might have said in between bawling into his chest, and it is enough to put a hitch in your stride. Somehow you manage keep going and swallow most your fear.
  2884.  
  2885. If Anon was mad or disappointed with you then would he have asked to stay? You hope not. He's been nothing but a good person to you so far, even when he's had every reason not to be.
  2886.  
  2887. Rounding the corner you hear the drier start up and see Anon straighten up, the blanket you brought to the couch in his arms. Your toeclaws twitch against the carpet when he grins at you. Those butterflies start stirring in your stomach as you return his smile. The sensation only gets worse once you're close enough to reach out and touch him. You want to feel his smooth hands in yours, to pull him into a hug, tell him how much holding you through all that meant, and drag him to your bed for more cuddling. Maybe something else, the lizard part of your brain says. But all you can bring yourself to do is walk closer, phone gripped tightly in your clawed hands, and try not to fall apart under his kind gaze. Or worse, shatter into a thousand pieces from the anxious tension in your stomach.
  2888.  
  2889. "You know, I don't mind sleeping on the couch," he suddenly says, startling you.
  2890.  
  2891. "I-is something wrong with my bed?" you stammer, fear swirling in your chest already.
  2892.  
  2893. You never asked him if he wanted to sleep with you, in either sense. Is he staying over because he's worried about you? He said that wasn't the reason but now you aren't so sure. Oh hell, all you've been doing is getting ahead of yourself around him.
  2894.  
  2895. "Nothing's wrong with it, I just don't want you feeling uncomfortable because of me," he says, a soft, honest look crossing his normally stoic face.
  2896.  
  2897. The loosening of his jaw leading you to think he's letting you close to his guarded heart. "I'm not," you assure him.
  2898.  
  2899. How could he make you uncomfortable when you were the one that invited him into your bed? A moment later your mental gears stutter and skip but somehow you make the connection in time. Weight crashes down on you but you manage to keep upright. "But if you're not comfortable with me, Anon, or my claws then-"
  2900.  
  2901. "Of course I'm comfortable with you and your cute claws," he says, moving in closer and touching one of your hands.
  2902.  
  2903. He rubs his thumb over the scales on your fingers before starting to stroke a single claw. It is only the faint pressure of his gentle grip, but that is enough to make those butterflies dancing in your gut start a deathmatch with the anxiety squeezing your chest. He's looking right at you again, gaze not flinching away as you search his eyes for any hint of deceit. But all you see is him.
  2904.  
  2905. "If you just want to stay over you can take the couch. B-but I'd rather you sleep with me," you say, feeling your headfeathers going wild. "I mean in my bed, sleeping. Since we're tired. Not that I don't want to jump your bones, but it's been a long day and... oh hell I need to stop talking."
  2906.  
  2907. You'd clamp your muzzle shut so you can't spill any more stupidity out, but with your hands occupied by a phone and Anon, neither of which you dare disturb, you stand there and burn with embarrassment. Anon's cheeks have a rosy tinge, but you'd say the disaster that must be your headfeathers make you the clear winner in embarrassment. Keep it together girl, you tell yourself, you already tried to jump his bones. Or bone. Oh hell thinking about this isn't helping one bit. Your feathers must be standing straight up by now, on the verge of quivering no doubt. The swirling panic in your stomach is almost unbearable.
  2908.  
  2909. "Let's talk about that other stuff when we're not dead on our feet and just go to bed," Anon says, trying to scoop your hand into his.
  2910.  
  2911. Your hand stiffens from the fear of scratching his unprotected skin again, and doing real damage this time, but the smile on his face relaxes your legs enough that you can follow him into your room.
  2912.  
  2913. That your clothes are still strewn about the room is embarrassing to the extreme, but the pair of panties hanging off your guitar makes you want to curl up under a table and die. Anon lets go of your hand to shut the door, courteously waiting for your tail to clear the frame, and with him distracted you swat the hanging garment off to a corner. He didn't see that right? You shouldn't be so easily embarrassed after you got him well acquainted with your soaked pseudo-slip, or how eagerly he went along with your burning desire. But dammit, you don't need the reminder right now or when you wake up. It's hard enough to keep your eyes focused, you don't need to be tired, stressed, and horny right now.
  2914.  
  2915. Anon turns around none the wiser to what you just did, and his eyes meet yours. Your toeclaws tap the carpet, threatening your security deposit, but what can you do? When he looks at you like this it makes the butterflies in your stomach go mad. But in a good way that fights back most of your anxiety, leaving only a scrap of trepidation you can deal with.
  2916.  
  2917. "I'll take that," you say, grabbing the blanket out of his arms and going to your nightstand.
  2918.  
  2919. Your mind is filled with pleasant memories of him working on your tight shoulders the entire time. You set your phone down, throw back the covers on the bed, and turn on the small lamp you have. Looking up at the ceiling light, then Anon, he gets the idea and cuts it off without you having to say anything. The blue-tinged white glow of the lamp casts your room in strange shadows, ones you haven't seen in a week and miss dearly.
  2920.  
  2921. But you don't think of why you've been away from your apartment as Anon approaches the foot of the bed. Your eyes lower to his jeans and your mind groans at the idea of denim in bed with you. What is less terrifying, asking him to sleep in his boxers or offering a pair of your sweatpants? Boxers, hands down. Your habit of going commando in your sweats makes it way too embarrassing to offer him those, even if you wash them every time.
  2922.  
  2923. Belatedly your realize how much of a disaster your sweats would be since he doesn't have a tail. That seals it. "Do you want to ditch your jeans?" you meekly ask. "I d-don't mind."
  2924.  
  2925. You can see him start to find a reason to refuse but he stops himself. "That probably would be more comfortable," he admits, his cheeks flushing as he turns to the side.
  2926.  
  2927. While he starts fiddling with his belt and your heart beats to an energetic tempo, you toss the extra blanket on the bed and drop onto your butt. The memory foam starts conforming your shape but you shift farther up the bed before it can fully envelop you. Laying on your side you scoot blankets and pillows to make Anon a spot. He's down to the borrowed shirt and boxers, that are lacking a tent like the last time - no. Don't think about that. Just let him get in bed so you can snuggle him and get some sleep already.
  2928.  
  2929. Instead of dropping in, which you are braced for, he walks around to the other side and crawls in. He quickly eases your mind by scooting right to the spot you cleared for him. Now that he's in bed with you the fear in your chest starts simmering down, and the fluttering wings in your stomach aren't so nerve-wracking. Which means your selfish desires, free from most of your anxiety, bubble up to the surface as Anon props himself up on an elbow.
  2930.  
  2931. Looking into your eyes and surely guessing what is lurking in your thoughts, he asks, "Covers first?"
  2932.  
  2933. Your body wants to pounce him, to close that distance lightning quick and take him in your arms, but between how tired you are and how tempting the blankets sound you resist your predatory cuddle urges. Just long enough to get the blankets and settled over your legs and for Anon to inch all the closer. You want to feel him, someone that actually likes you, in your arms so badly your tail is starting to twitch, but you keep yourself restrained. Before you hit the lights, because there will be no holding back then, you ask, "It's not weird if I'm the big spoon, right?"
  2934.  
  2935. "Not at all," he says, hint of a laugh in his voice.
  2936.  
  2937. There is a smile on his lips as he turns over, your hand darting for the lamp before you know it. The room is cast in darkness with a click.
  2938.  
  2939. Your other senses snap into sharp focus, Anon's scent and the soft rustle of sheets letting you know his precise location. You wrap him up from behind, throwing a leg over his and breathing in the smell of his hair and cheap shampoo. It feels so right to tuck his head in the crook between your neck and muzzle that you can't stop yourself from doing it. Content chirrups eke out of your throat that you can't hope to stop, but he hasn't complained about the shamefully relaxed noises you make yet.
  2940.  
  2941. His hands find your balled up fists resting on him. Those fingers of his show more of their snuggle time magic by easing open your palms in their search to find a way in. You're still terrified of slipping up and seriously hurting him with the daggers on your fingers, but in the dark world of only your body pressed against his, you can't resist his insistent digits.
  2942.  
  2943. "You know deinonychus means terrible claw right?" you ask, worried it'll break the mood but neeeding to say something.
  2944.  
  2945. Anon's not dumb and you're far from subtle, but saying why you're afraid of touching him out loud is too difficult. Even if he knows, it's simply too terrifying.
  2946.  
  2947. "Then you're not a deinonychus, you're a cuddle raptor," he says.
  2948.  
  2949. He starts worming his fingers ever farther into your palm. He's not forceful in the least, but the way his thumbs rub over your scales starts turning your resistance to jelly. You tell yourself it is only because you're so tired, but you can barely believe that lie.
  2950.  
  2951. "Says the stoic pillow with magic fingers," you mumble, dancing around your anxiety. His fingers are so close to his goal now that your tail quivers for a second.
  2952.  
  2953. "Being my cuddly raptor girl's pillow is pretty nice. But it's a lot better when I can hold her hand."
  2954.  
  2955. The quiver through your tail nearly makes it up your spine this time. "I thought we were supposed to get some sleep."
  2956.  
  2957. "Isn't that's why we skipped a goodnight kiss?" he asks as your defenses finally crumble.
  2958.  
  2959. You let your claws relax as his strong hands glide over the skin of your sensitive palms. It's just hand holding but his forwardness is making even baser instincts than cuddling threaten to flare up. It's a good thing you aren't face to face right now. There would be zero sleep right now if that were the case, one of the thing you were looking forward to this weekend still unfulfilled.
  2960.  
  2961. "Then we'll have to have a good morning kiss," you say, closing your eyes and trying to focus on Anon's breathing to calm yourself.
  2962.  
  2963. He shifts, his hair moving through the feathers on your throat. "Now I've got two things to look forward to in the morning."
  2964.  
  2965. "What's the first?" you whisper, adoring this side of him as much as the first time he showed it.
  2966.  
  2967. He softly squeezes your hands. "Seeing my cuddle raptor girlfriend of course."
  2968.  
  2969. Even if it's cheesy, your heart still flutters. Where did you find him and will he stay? He actually called you his girlfriend. That has to mean something. "Then we should go ahead and get to sleep," you suggest, not sure you'll be able to fall asleep for a while.
  2970.  
  2971. "Sounds like a plan," he mutters. "G'night Anya."
  2972.  
  2973. "Nighty night, Anon," you whisper.
  2974.  
  2975. Snuggled up to his back and holding him close you feel safe. He's not as soft as a teddy bear or your body pillow, but it feels so right. The rise and fall of his chest as he breathes, his warmth, the softness of his skin. His sheer snuggliness is enough to overshadow the horny, lizard part of your brain.  
  2976.  
  2977. Knowing that if you wake up again with your heart racing and tears at the edge of eyes from a nightmare, he'll be here. To whisper encouraging words to you until it is, in fact, all better. If you're lucky that won't happen and you'll just sleep like a brick until the alarm goes off. But if you need it, you want to believe he'll be here to do just that.
  2978.  
  2979. His breathing is steady and slow now, events of the day catching up to him at last. Holding his sleeping form and knowing that rest is still a ways off for you, you whisper to him one last time. "Nighty night, Anon. Thank you for staying," you breathe, hoping this isn't all just a dream before the nightmares start.
  2980.  
  2981. [to be continued]
  2982.  
  2983.  
  2984. [[Art links: https://pastebin.com/85spgan5]]
  2985. [[Old, half greentext version of AFaW that isn't canon anymore but I'm keeping around for posterity: https://pastebin.com/ykdMxJHG]]
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