Dr. Aine stood in the dim hallway, smoothing her navy blue suit skirt over her pale thighs and bent to pick up her soiled, tattered lab coat. She held it up to the fluorescent light, tsk-ing at the shreds down the front. She sighed, before balling it up and tossing it into the trash can on the opposite wall. She pulled her messy red hair back into a tight bun and placed her chic, safety goggles atop her head. She was thankful for the indestructible construction of them.
She rounded the corner, alarmed at the sound of crashing glass and noted the shrouded moon outside the tall window before her. She blinked and frowned at a low lying shadow that hovered beneath the window. When she hesitantly walked over to investigate, only moonlight remained. Her stomach growled in hunger. She silently slipped into the lab, grabbed a fresh lab coat off the door hook, and threw it over the arm of her wrinkled suit jacket. No one was supposed to here tonight.
He was standing in front of the metal lab table, his back towards her. She could see his gray slacks peeking out from the lab coat and imagined what type of ass her sensible, studious colleague was hiding. She grinned to herself and smoothed her features when he turned to her. His almond shaped brown eyes blinked in surprise, seeing her. Was it because she was not wearing her lab coat, for once? Or that the glasses she always wore, were pushed up on top of her head? Something was different about her, tonight.
She glanced down at the floor, noting the broken glass, and the small droplets of blood, before flicking her green gaze to his hand, which was bleeding pretty badly from a deep wound. She subtly licked her lips and took a few steps forward.
"Are you OK, Dr. Le?" She questioned him. He grabbed a few paper towels out of the dispenser and wrapped his hand in it.
"Dr. Aine. What are you still doing here?" He paused. "I thought I was alone." She stood before him, reaching her hand out. She loved the way her ancient name flowed off of his tongue. He exaggerated the "Aw" part of her name so it sounded like a song: Awwn-ya, rather than "Awn-ye."
"Never alone, friend, with so many mice around." She chuckled and he relaxed, as she nudged his hand away and removed the paper towel. She was a powerhouse in a tiny package. She had climbed her way up with her dissertations and research articles. Le had great respect for her and was slightly, he admitted to himself, intimidated by the woman. It was whispered around the lab that she was cold and calculating. But in the five years they had worked together, he had never seen that side of her. Of course, he had never taken a step further with getting to know her; always kept things professional and out of lab-coats, genial. He was an intelligent, brilliant, quiet, steadfast man; not one to approach a woman, not even a woman more on his level. It was what his conservative Vietnamese-American upbringing had required of him.
His fist was clenched. Her soft, hot hands eased his hand open. Her touch was gentle. She used her knee to shove a rolling stool over to him.
"Take a seat and I'll fix you up." She offered. He nodded and sat down. He was pale and his hand trembled in hers. "You aren't squeamish of your own blood now, are you?" She quirked an auburn eyebrow up. The blood rushed to his face.
"Only my own." He admitted. "Please don't spread that around." She patted his hand and nodded, as she took a needle and a pack of sutures off the cart behind him.
"Relax. I've had a lot of practice." She was about to enter the needle into his skin, when she remembered something: pain. "Are you going to need an anesthetic?"
"I'll be OK." He assured her. She wasn't convinced, but shrugged. Her chest rising with the motion.
"I won't tease you if you do. How about at least a topical solution?" He agreed. She went to work, removing the shards of glass and expertly sewing up the wound, after cleaning it thoroughly. He avoided looking at his hand and looked away. But the act of looking into the dimly lit lab caused a wave of dizziness to seize him, and he thought he saw a shadow wavering against the lab's autoclave sterilizer. He divided his attention between his coworker's face and her chest. Her pink tongue slipped out as she focused on the task. The swell of her breasts were pressing against the blouse she wore and Le began imagining. When she finished, she looked down at his black hair and ran a hand through the gray flecks, down to his chin. She brought his eyes up to meet hers. His eyes were glassy. She was staring at him. Her body was situated between his legs, to make the stitching up easier.
"Di-did you hear a howl outside, just before?" He wasn't sure what made him ask. Something flashed in her eyes, before she took a step away from him.
"No. Probably some dog though." He thought about that a moment. He knew there were no dogs in the neighborhood. But didn't remind her of that.
"Thank you." He sat for a few more minutes, before standing up. He wavered and her arm was there for him to hold. "Again."
"My pleasure." She smiled sweetly. "By the way, I love your tie today." He looked down at his tie. He had worked with kids today and always wore Disney ties on those days to help ease his young patients' nerves. They were too busy looking at and talking about the tie and the characters to be upset, usually. Tonight he was wearing Beauty and the Beast. His tie was yellow. Beast wore his navy ballroom tuxedo, the scene he is about to dance with Belle to the title song. The red rose of Beast and Belle's destiny was glowing the background. Dr. Aine approved.
"I need to clean up this mess." He spoke up. She stepped away, leaving the space empty and cold, devoid of her presence.
"I'll help." They picked up the broken glass, wiped up the blood, and deposited everything into the hazardous materials wastebasket. He finished up and wiped down the lab table.
"Are you done for the night?" He questioned. She was over at her lab table, writing in a chart and tidying up. She turned to him, her safety glasses perched on her small nose.
"Just about. You go on ahead. I'll shut the lights off and lock up." She turned back to her chart. He flicked off the lights on his side and squinted in the dark lab. An indistinct shape seemed to drift across the linoleum floor. A chill tingled up his spine. He walked over to Aine.
"Let me walk you out. It's late and dark." She put her hands on hips and huffed at his suggestion.
"I am quite capable. Being on my own, late at night, is nothing new to me." She asserted.
"I know. But it will make me feel better." He stared at her expectantly.
"Or maybe you are the one needing protecting?" She winked at him, he thought, in a playful manner. His jaw dropped open as a gathering of darkness formed behind the petite woman, overshadowing her form. She gasped as she felt something slam into her body. She held herself rigid before advancing with a gleam in her eye. Gold sparks seemed to flash in the depths of green. He took a step back, suddenly feeling uneasy. She tugged the pony tail out of her hair and shook the red tresses. They cascaded down her back to rest at the bottom of her spine.. He never realized she had such long hair! She always kept it in a tight bun. She kept coming at him. He bumped against the counter, fumbling with beakers and test tubes behind him.
"Aine, what?" Her supple body was pressing into his and her fingers crawled up his silk tie, loosening it from around his throat. "I don't think." Her nimble fingers were unbuttoning his long sleeved white shirt.
"Stop thinking." She growled. He gulped and swallowed a mouthful of saliva. This part of the lab was dark. A sliver of moonlight shone through the high window, illuminating her face. Impatient with the tedium of the buttons, she gave up and ripped his shirt open. Her face was contorted and she seemed almost in pain to him.
"What's happen..." He was unable to finish his sentence. One moment her face was changing, her eyes glowing gold, her hair seeming a living flame, her skin stretching, and her body growing. And just like that, she looked herself. Only, she wasn't. He yelped, feeling a sharpness pierce the skin of his chest as she tore the shirt to shreds with claws. Claws? What the hell?!
"Oh God, oh God." He stammered. "Don't hurt me." He pleaded as her still normal hands moved down to his gray slacks. Fur brushed against him and his eyes widened in shock, seeing burnt sienna fur all up and down her arms. The softness of it startled him. He found himself touching it in wonder, and then her hands were stroking him through his pants and he found it hard to focus on his precarious predicament. A low growl emitted from deep in her chest. She swept her arm out, knocking him to ground, before leaping away from him and over to her lab table. He was sweating and trembling and bleeding a little. He sat frozen, his dark brown eyes watching her, in awe. A primal, anguished howl tore from her throat and she slammed her body into the table, knocking everything off of it, in a panic.
His senses began returning and he crawled towards her. She was curled on the ground, her body shaking. He reached out a tentative hand to her fevered brow. It was obvious she was in pain. He searched for something, anything to help her and found a syringe filled with neon green liquid sitting on top of her charts. Praying this was what she needed, he stabbed it through the thick skin of her thigh, which was now covered in downy fur. A high pitched whine came from her. The shadow scurried away from her. Her clothes lie in tatters on the floor beside her. He did the only thing he could think of; pulled her into his arms. He covered her with his lab coat and held her until the tremors wracking her body subsided. He stroked her hair away from her face and leaned his face down to kiss her cheek.
"It won't last." Her voice whispered, as she turned her face to look up at him. She sat up and hugged her knees to her chest, the lab coat slipping down her body. She didn't seem to notice, but his eyes traveled her body. All but her eyes had returned to their normal state. She was paler than normal. Her energy was zapped and she sagged against him.
"How?" He asked, pulling the lab coat up to her chin.
"I can't speak of it. I just, it's been awhile."
"Years. I have been working on an antidote for years. I'm missing something though. It doesn't last. The next morning, I wake up with the metallic taste of blood and meat in my mouth and I hate myself. I scan the police blotter for any unusual vicious animal attacks." She turned from him, her eyes to the floor. He reached his hand out and took hers in his. She looked down at their hands then back up at his face.
"I'm a monster." She intimated and tried to yank away. But his grip was firm. Firmer than he had any right to be.
"We'll run tests. We'll do research." His voice determined.
"I have. I can show you the research and results I have done. It is no use." She stared down at his hand holding hers. She remembered how her claws bit into his skin.
"We can work on it together." He tipped her face up to his and saw tears swimming on the surface of green. He leaned his head forward and touched her lips with his. She closed her lips into a tight line.
"Did I hurt you?" Her fingers soothed the scratches on his chest.
"No more than the glass did to my hand." She sighed. His fingers stroked through her soft hair.
"May I kiss you?" His eyes were hopeful.
"I don't think it's a good idea." She looked down at her watch. "I haven't a lot of time. I need to head into the woods, get away from civilization." She felt a twinge in the pit of her stomach as his fingers touched her.
"Have there been attacks?" He asked quietly.
"Not on humans, thus far. Small relief." She laughed bitterly.
"What is the problem then?" It was an innocent question and yet, she bristled.
"You don't understand. I'm a vegetarian." She groaned, thinking of the poor animals that she'd be eating tonight. Each and every lab rat or mouse she experimented on or watched die in agony, she said a small prayer for it's tiny soul. Her colleagues would think her mad if they knew the truth. He blinked at her, thinking for a half minute, that she was joking. He wanted to laugh, but she looked so miserable, he just dipped his head down and caught her lips with his. Now or never, he figured. She responded by softening her lips and making a small whimper sound as she felt his tongue coax her lips apart. She would only take a sampling, she promised herself, as she deepened the kiss. She murmured as her lips moved against his.
"I have always wanted to do that." Le confessed, as he traced his finger along her collarbone.
"Then, why haven't you?" Aine questioned, captivated by his eyes. She leaned forward and gave his broad nose a playful bump with hers.
"I respect you." He mumbled.
"And I you. Nothing wrong with a kiss, though. You have lips meant for kissing." She whispered.
"But we work together." He reminded.
"Hm, you have a point." She pushed the lab coat down her body and took his injured hand in hers, placing a kiss on the wound, and then placed it on her left breast. With her hand over his, she began massaging it. His face flushed. With her encouragement, his thumb moved against the peaked flesh. She pressed her naked breasts against his bare chest, encircling his shoulders with her arms.
"I have to go." She stood up and before he could protest, fled the lab, naked. He stumbled a bit and ran after her, standing in the doorway. His eyes widened as a dark shadow stalked her and pounced. She was knocked down, writhing on the ground. Her head shot up and she stared straight at him with amber eyes, soft red-brown fur covered her body. She let loose a mournful howl.
Dr. Le wanted to go to her, but some inkling of intuition warned him to let her be. So he turned around, after casting one last glance over his shoulder, and walked back into the lab. He looked over to where she had been crouched. She was gone. He fired up the lab's laptop and typed the word "Shapeshifting," into his favorite search engine. He was flabbergasted at all the websites and articles that came up. He clicked on the first one: it seemed promising, with the website's main image being a man's face overlapped by that of a wolf's.
He browsed through article after article, even finding obscure scientific research, which intrigued and pleased him. But nothing seemed to stand out that could help his friend. He scrolled through page after page of: lycanthropy, werewolves, were-cats, were-bears, were-rabbits, skin walking, lupins, kitsune, coyote, trickster, raven, selkies, even the medical condition hirsutism (excessive hairiness). Still nothing that resembled what had happened to Aine. Le had a sneaky suspicion, but he needed his hypothesis grounded in facts, before he presented it to her. He bookmarked and transferred the web links to his flash drive and then shut down the laptop, the lights, and locked up.
He climbed into his car and gunned the engine, speeding down the road towards the local book store. He had 15 minutes to browse before it closed. He stepped foot into the book store and looked up at the subject signs hovering above the aisles of books. He headed for the metaphysical section. There had to be someone out there who wrote a book about what he had just witnessed. He recalled the non-distinct black shape that hovered around and eventually attacked Dr. Aine. He shivered in response to the image, yet again. He was determined to help her overcome the adversity which had overtaken her life, or fight the anomaly, should that be the case. Either way, she was clearly vexed by her situation, as was he. He saw a woman standing in front of the shelf marked "paranormal" and took a deep breath before venturing, "Excuse me, ma'am." He tapped the woman's shoulder. She turned her head, retying her colorful silk scarf around her neck and pinned him with a frosty look.
"You shouldn't sneak up on a person." Her gravelly voice said.
"I apologize. It is just that there are only a few minutes left until closing and I need to get to the section you are in." He explained, calmly. She looked him up and down.
"What subject matter?" She queried. He blinked at her. Could he really tell her what he was seeking? Would she be able to help him? She'd probably laugh at him.
"Shapeshifting." He said under his breath. Her gray eyes sparkled and a lovely smile broke across her face. She lifted her glasses from the chain around her neck and put them on, as she honed in on the section.
"Shapeshifting you say. Are you wanting to try to shapeshift yourself? It can be a dangerous business. Only those who are prepared should be trying." She tutted.
"No, no." He hurried in. "It is for my friend."
"And? Is this friend interested in learning the art?" She pressed. He groaned inwardly. The scientist in him wondered, did people really think a book could teach them that; without scientific proof?
"It is for research." He amended. She nodded her head.
"That's fine then. Are you looking at the history? The culture? The types?"
"There are different types?" He gave her a hopeful look. She patted his hand, congenially.
"I have the perfect book for you then. Books and movies often delve into physical shifting mostly. But, there are more ethereal kinds of shapeshifting. This book.." She pushed a book into his hands entitled The Magic of Shapeshifting, by: Rosalyn Greene. The front cover's illustration was of a full moon, with a wolf/human face, surrounded by various animals. "...all you could ever want to know about the history, the culture, the characteristics, the types, and the magic of shapeshifting." She gave him a considering look, before continuing on.
"Because I think that you are serious about the research aspect," she thumbed through the titles and tugged out a thicker book, entitled The Art of Shapeshifting, by: Ted Andrews, "this book goes into a more practice/ritual-oriented look at the art of it. The author has since died, but his books are a definitive guide to the animal world and other metaphysical areas. Otherwise, I would have suggested you get in touch with him. I highly recommend him."
Le nodded his head and thanked the woman. "You've been most helpful." He stated. She acknowledged him with a smile, before she turned in a swirl of skirts and disappeared around a corner. He held the two books and headed for the front counter, intent on making the unusual (for him) purchase. A hand shot out and grabbed his arm, dragging him into the stacks.
"I would have your friend study the chapter on mental shifting and guides." The same woman hissed at him, enigmatically, then released his arm. "Gain control." One moment she was there, the next she was gone. He shook himself and clutched the books to his chest protectively.
When Dr. Le entered the lab in the morning, he half expected Dr. Aine to be a no-show after the draining night she undoubtedly had. He was half-tempted to call out sick today himself; a thing he rarely, if ever, did. But he was too anxious to see her and share with her what he'd learned. Today she wore a peach sweater that complimented her green eyes and the light sprinkling of freckles over the bridge of her nose. Her lab coat hid her legs, so he wasn't sure what pants or manner of skirt she was wearing. Her heels were a tan color. Her cheeks were paler than usual, not the typical rosy cheeks he had become fond of seeing. He became concerned, as there were also dark smudges under her eyes. He was about to walk over to question her, when he remembered that they weren't typically overly friendly with each other, like some of their cohorts.