You are hereby banished for the remainder of your life! The memory of his Pack Leader's howl still threatened to destroy his fragile composure.
Rody licked his wounds and swallowed a howl of anger. He could say with pride that all of his injuries were in his front, not his ass. He was no coward. He'd fought until the Pack Leader had decided Rody had "been punished enough," and banished Rody. Funny how the Pack Leader had been breathing heavily and bleeding just as badly as Rody.
"My wounds may hurt like hell, Kitar, but I'll bet you're hurting just as much." Rody crawled wearily under a bush and contemplated the moon rising over the mountains.
The Buffalo Valley Coyote Pack Leader had been so wrong. Rody hadn't been sniffing around the alpha bitch. He didn't even like the stinking, saggy skank. The Pack Leader's mate was so lazy she kept herself constantly pregnant so her mate would have to feed her.
Rody had been walking behind where she sprawled, his mind intent on a drink from the pond a few feet away. A couple of her pups from the last litter had been tussling and blundered into Rody, sending him ass over muzzle right on top of Alpha Bitch Lillet.
Lillet, naturally, had taken exception to being disturbed. Kitar had taken exception to Rody disturbing Lillet and had accused Rody of trying to cover his disgusting mate. Before Rody knew what was happening, he'd been banished from the Pack. The fact that everyone knew he was one of the rare males who did not ever cover a female but preferred other males never entered Kitar's mind.
The ground beneath the bush was cool and felt marvelous on his torn shoulder. Rody sighed with relief. He'd had a hard time making it outside the Pack territory, but he'd known at least one of the Pack shadowed his every move to make sure he did. Once he'd crossed the stream boundary, he'd heard one mournful bark of goodbye and good luck.
Most of the Pack grumbled about Kitar's devotion to Lillet despite her uselessness as a partner in patrolling, fighting, or hunting food. Squirting out litter after litter did not benefit the Pack and only increased their hunger. Kitar wouldn't even let the Pack shift and go into town as humans for a bite to eat. He'd shredded all their clothes and buried their money somewhere. Kitar didn't believe in "mixing with monkeys."
Rody himself hadn't been to town since adolescence, when Kitar had come to power. He'd practiced shifting to keep healthy, but other than learning to speak the human language and a few rudimentary skills, Rody was naked and without money. A wounded coyote had little chance alone, but maybe as a human, he'd have a chance this winter.
All he had to do was figure how he'd join the humans before summer ended.
Rody put his aching face in the soft dirt and wondered what he'd do next. He couldn't stay under the bush all night. Not only was it beside a buffalo trail leading to the stream which left him in serious danger of being trampled, but also he could hear the growl of thunder coming closer. Normally, he could care less about a summer storm, but it was one more discomfort he didn't need.
After a short nap to regain strength, Rody plodded on in hopes of better shelter. Maybe one of the ranger places. There was one not far from where he'd lain. They sometimes aided a wounded creature, but only certain kinds. Rody hoped he was one of those kinds.
Feeling better now that he had a goal, Rody trotted onward. He limped only a little from his wounds. His shoulder and nose were the worst of the damage. A good sleep and maybe a meal from the ranger would be all he needed. Asking for help in becoming human from the ranger was out of the question, of course. Humans did not need to know the national park was full of shifters who preferred the simpler ways of fur and fang.
The simple cabin beckoned Rody with a beacon of scent. Bacon! Oh, Rody hadn't tasted delicious bacon in years. If he'd had second thoughts about remaining in the woods, they evaporated as they were replaced with the heavenly smell. A beacon of bacon. Rody couldn't manage much more than a half-hearted run, but anything that got him closer to paradise was worth it.
The door was closed, but the window was wide open. Rody hopped up on the bench under the window and, with a bit of scrambling, made it inside. So what if he tumbled to the floor and saw stars when his shoulder hit the cabin floor? So what if it bled a little? He was going for the bacon in the dark, one-room cabin.
He had to concentrate to shift to human form. It had been months since he'd dared try. Kitar beat the crap out of anyone he caught "trying to be a monkey" despite the common knowledge that shifting was important for good health.
The last Pack Leader had insisted everyone shift at least once a moon. Still, Rody remembered the trick of it and flowed upwards until he was a short, light-haired man a few years younger than the prime of life, about thirty in human years. He even remembered to wash his hands at the sink before gobbling down the bacon left to cool on the plate.
He tried not to groan in delight and refused to let one drop of the deliciousness escape. Rody even considered eating the paper napkin he wiped his chin with while he stood over the plate on the counter, stuffing in every last bit. For the first time in his memory, he didn't have to share, and his stomach was full.
Rody licked his lips and his fingers in sheer pleasure. He wished he could stay with the ranger, but knew coyotes probably weren't the right kind of animal to be fed and kept. He'd be lucky--
A step on the porch boards. The ranger was coming.
Rody looked around frantically. Not like this! He wasn't ready. Damn! He flowed back into coyote form and dove under the neatly made bed.
The ranger stayed outside a moment. A hinge creaked and cloth rustled. There was a jingle of metal. Keys. That's right. Humans used keys to get in and out of things. The metal part of the door rattled, and then the door swung open.
Rody blinked for a moment, and his jaw dropped.
The human was naked. Gloriously, beautifully naked.