Being the Bear
UrsusMajr and PapaWereBear
(Note to Reader: This is the sequel to Becoming the Bear. Although the two stories can stand alone, they are linked; some things in this story refer to events and characters in the earlier one. You may wish to read that one first. This is (obviously) a work of fiction, and no real persons or events are depicted. As in our other werebear stories, safe sex practices are not depicted; but in real life, get tested and always play safe.)
Vic woke to the wonderful smells of bacon, eggs and coffee coming from upstairs. He stretched luxuriously and gave his morning wood a couple of friendly strokes. He felt Larry's broad hairy back pressed up against him and accidentally prodded René's slumbering form, draped over his legs. Mitch and Walt were on the other side of him, curled together and pressed tight to each other and him. He stretched again and yawned and then worked his way upright and lumbered off to the small bathroom off the deck area to pee. Like the other bears, he had not bothered to change back to fully human form after the night's play, but he did so now. Some things were easier in human form, he thought, while aiming his cock at the bowl. He washed his hands and face and walked back to the hot tub area. The second bear-pile of Boris, Moose, Rusty and Robert seemed to have vanished, but the voices from above gave a clue as to their whereabouts. Vic climbed the stairs and went into the kitchen.
"Is any of that coffee ready yet?" he grumbled, still rubbing sleep out of his eyes.
"No, you old grouch. But if you want to lend a hand," Boris said, nodding towards the coffee maker while cracking eggs into a large bowl. Three dozen eggs sat in boxes, waiting to made into breakfast. Robert stood behind Boris grinning and waving a half full coffee carafe.
"Pay no attention to him," Robert said giving Boris a quick kiss on the back of his head, "he's a grumpy as you are when he gets up in the morning. I made a pot the first thing I got up. Here," he said, pouring a mug for Vic.
After the first mug had been drained and the second half emptied down his gullet, Vic began to feel more awake.
"Damn, but we had a good time last night! You need some help there?" Vic asked, watching the two bears deftly work around each other. A timer went off and Robert went to the oven to remove a tray of scones. He popped another in.
"No, we are doing fine. Moose and Rusty are doing the fetch and carry work. Why don't you go down and get those other horn dogs up. Oh and take a shower. You stink of sex!" Boris grinned while cracking more eggs.
"I can think of worse things to stink of." Vic said, stealing a hot scone and dodging Robert's attempted smack. He headed back down the stairs to wake the others.
Once awake and changed into human form, they all headed back upstairs to the large shower off of Boris's bedroom.
"I feel crusty, but in a good way," Larry said, fondling René's cock. The shower was not quite big enough for five, so Mitch and Walt showered first, then Vic, Larry and René. Hunger kept the wet bear play to a minimum as they helped dry each other off. The five padded naked down the hall and into the large kitchen.
"Sit," Boris growled. "There's ham and bacon and I've got the eggs ready. I'll scramble, or fry, your choice. Cereal and fruit are over on the sideboard. Oh and there's fresh baked scones, butter, jam and honey. I harvest my own here, I have some hives out beyond the shed. Oh and lest I forget, there are biscuits, grits and red eye gravy for our Texas friend here," he said waving a spatula towards Larry.
"Well, thankee kindly, y' ol' Rooskie. I KNEW I could teach you how to make a real breakfast!" René shuddered, eyeing the gravy boat askance. He muttered something about 'grits' and 'abomination' under his breath.
Larry reached for the gravy boat and ladle and said, "Ya know, we need to git you down to my place sometime so's I kin teach y'all about what real food is!" He grinned toothily at René.
René shuddered theatrically then said in an accent deliberately far thicker than he normally had, "I 'ave forgotten more about ze fine cuisine than you 'ave ever known. Good food... it is not simply about filling ze belly. Oui, perhaps I should make ze visit after all! You have much to learn about zis subject and I would be 'appy to instruct."
"Well, good eats sure as shit ain't about snails, nor salty fish eggs neither." Larry said knowing full well that in werebear form, they occasionally lived off the land, which meant grubs and insects.
"Paysan." René said sniffed in a superior way and continued with his meal as Larry smiled around a mouthful of biscuit. It was a long standing game between the two since their very first meeting and though they didn't play it at every meal, it happened at least once per gathering.
Boris rolled his eyes and pawed for the plate of ham.
Soon, all nine of the bears were seated and rapidly emptying their plates and refilling them. Werebears are legendary for their hefty appetites and last night's orgy had depleted the energy reserves of all at the table. Even Rusty, smallest of the bears, who had seen his appetite grow along with his size, was packing it away.
"What's the plan for the day?" Walt asked, moping up the last of the egg yolk with the last of his scone.
Boris gulped the last of his coffee. "Vic and I will head into town to get a few things I'm low on, and we'll need another tent. I think it best that we appear as a group of buddies on a camping vacation when we cross the border. Vic, if you don't mind, I think we'll use your two vehicles as well as mine. René's needs new tires and there isn't time for that."
Vic looked at Mitch and Moose, who nodded. "Fine with me. We'll need gas, though."
"Good. While we're gone, Robert will show them where to fill up. You might even get an oil change if you need one, the local station is pretty fast on that kind of stuff." Boris looked around the table. "Any other ideas?" Questions? No?..." Heads shook a negative around the table. "Good. Let's get moving."
Moose and Rusty started clearing the dishes while the others scattered to their tasks. Boris was the last to leave, but Moose stopped him. It was plain he had a question to ask, but it was Rusty who spoke.
"Boris, we know this is serious business. We'll understand if you don't feel comfortable with us sort of tagging along. Just say the word and we'll stay here if you want."
Boris looked appraisingly at the two newest werebears, one huge and one smaller, but both earnest in their looks. It didn't take a PhD in psychology to see that both of them were hoping to be taken along on the expedition.
"Moose, Rusty, I thank you for your willingness to follow my direction in this. You are right; it IS serious business, more so than you might understand, but you are family now. I know Vic is reluctant to leave you alone at this time of bonding and that is understandable. But I need him on this venture. So it appears that you must accompany us."
Both bears grinned, happy at the decision.
"Besides, I have a gut feeling about you two. I think you will come in very handy. I always listen to my gut," Boris said, smiling and patting his belly. "Now, once you're done here, get your things packed. Pack light, but take some warm clothing as well. Tell the others the same, will you?" The two nodded and Boris headed out to Vic who was waiting beside Boris's Suburban.
Boris looked appreciatively at the big blond bear. "God, if we weren't so pressed for time, I'd LOVE to pound that ass of yours." He put a meaty paw on Vic's butt. The heavy bulge in the front of his jeans showed his interest.
Vic wiggled his ass and grinned. "Well, I sure got enough of yours last night, so I guess it's only fair. Tell you what... if we can, somewhere on the road. If not, first thing we get back, OK?"
"You have a deal, my friend!" Boris said and gently patted Vic's package. Vic growled in appreciatively.
Vic circled around the Suburban and climbed in on the passenger side while Boris got into the driver's seat. Boris piloted the vehicle out onto the road and into town.
Meanwhile, the others set about their allotted tasks. Walt and Mitch each took a vehicle and got them gassed and topped off, while Rusty and Moose and the others got equipment and clothes packed and ready. By early afternoon, Vic and Boris had returned, a quick lunch was eaten, everything was stowed and the bears were on the road. René, Larry and Boris were in Boris's Suburban; Vic, Robert and Moose were in Moose's Avalanche; and Mitch, Walt and Rusty were in Mitch's truck. Boris's trio lead the pack. To all the world, it looked like a group of guys heading out on a camping vacation, exactly the effect they desired.
The plan was to travel east to Calgary, then south, crossing the boarder at Coutts, then head to Great Falls. "We may get lucky and still find them there," Robert said, "but I doubt it. Still, we have to start someplace."
"Well, when we get to Great Falls, you drive and we'll take the lead. You know where this place is, the others can follow us." Vic scanned the sky ahead as the shadows lengthened. "We need to make time. You OK with four hour driving shifts? Boris seems to be in a hurry." The others nodded. Vic pressed the accelerator and the Avalanche surged ahead, closing the distance between him and Boris's Suburban. Mitch, following, picked up the pace as well.
The bears drove on through the oncoming night, trading driving chores every few hours, driven by the urgent need to reach the rogues before any further damage was done. Each was conscious of the fact that more than just their own interests were at stake... discovery and potential disaster for all weres was a real possibility. There was not much talk after the first few hours. Drivers were changed, comfort stops taken and bears dozed lightly or listened to music as the miles unrolled. They dispensed with motel rooms the first night, driving straight through except for a meal stop in Donald Station. The second day was much the same except for changes in scenery. But by the end of the day, all were ready for long hot showers and soft beds. They pulled in at a Super 8 just outside Calgary.
The desk clerk was somewhat flustered at finding accommodation for nine obviously large men, but finally four rooms were found with king beds. It was obvious that the clerk wanted to say something, perhaps even something disapproving, but the sheer intimidating size of the customers silenced him. Keys were handed over and the bears trooped off to their showers and beds.
Moose and Rusty were closest to the pool; Vic, Walt and Mitch were closest to the parking lot. Boris and Robert, René and Larry had rooms in between. The all-night and all-day driving had made each of them stiff and road-weary. The showers were long and ho,t and in spite of road weariness (at least in Rusty and Moose's case), punctuated with more than a little friskiness.
"Fuck me, you beast!" Rusty growled as Moose bit into his neck and eased his meat into the wet soapy ass of his lover. The thick tube of flesh slid in deep and Rusty could feel the tip swell and flare deep in his chute. He grunted each time the ridge compressed his prostate as the rigid pole moved in and out. Rusty braced himself as the hot water drenched them both, pounding his hand on the shower walls. "Harder, dammit! Breed me, you fucker!" It was fortunate that their room adjoined a vacant unit on the side the shower touched.
"God, I can't get enough of you!" Moose gasped as he hammered Rusty's butt. The water running down them both clumped their fur into long wet strands that revealed the pink skin underneath. Moose growled deeply and shook as he came in his lover's ass and Rusty moaned as he felt the hot seed of his big bear coat the inside of his chute. Moose continued to move in Rusty, loving the silky hot feeling of his cock swimming through his own seed. He circled his great arms around Rusty's thickening midsection and hugged him tight, still slowly pumping his meat in and out of Rusty's stretched hole. "I love you," he said in to Rusty's ear. Then he threw back his head and shouted above the hiss of the shower head, "I LOVE this bear!"
Meanwhile, Vic knocked on Boris' door. The big salt and pepper grizzly answered, and Vic stepped in. “I got a couple extra road maps in the lobby. I'll put one in the truck, I don't think the one Mitch has there is up to date. You want one?”
“No, my friend, I have new ones, but ask René, he might be glad of one.”
“Mind if I wash my paws here before supper?” Vic asked, heading towards the sink.
“Not at all, help yourself.”
Vic turned on the hot water, tempered it with cold, and lathered up his hairy paws. Boris moved behind him, pressing his crotch to Vic's rounded ass and growled with desire. Vic closed his eyes and put his head back, a deep rumble forming in his chest.
“It's yours, if you're not too tired, buddy.”
Boris's smile split his beard. “For you, never too tired! But the others will expect us for dinner soon. Do we have time?”
“Hey, I like quickies!” Vic dropped the hand towel, then dropped his jeans. Boris did likewise, and the two hugged, Boris's heavy meat already at full attention, Vic's nearly so. After some tongue wrestling, Vic turned and leaned over the sink, bracing himself on his forearms, pressing his blond-furred ass towards Boris's rigid cock.
Boris reached for the little bottle of hand lotion the management thoughtfully provided for other purposes, and coated his pole, then fed the greased monster to Vic's waiting ass. Sliding in home, Boris grunted in tune with Vic.
“Go for it, buddy. Don't wait, and don't worry about me. I know those balls of yours are full, empty' em in me!” Vic braced on the faux marble surround of the the sink.
Boris gave a basso growl and went to work on Vic's ass. Energized by the heat of his chute and the wonderful sight of Vic's broad shirt-clad back and naked furry butt, Boris's cock swelled to its full thickness and length. He pounded Vic, giving no quarter. Vic wanted none, anyway. The two of them watched themselves in the mirror over the sink, thick hairy beasts breeding.
Vic was more than happy to satisfy his buddy's urgent need, and when Boris gripped his shoulders tightly in preparation for his final thrusts, Vic pushed back and tightened his butt muscles to give his friend the best ride possible. Boris surged forward, Vic pressed back, and volley after volley of scalding hot bear seed flooded Vic's tunnel. Boris's roar of triumph rattled the window and caused the family playing in the pool outside the room to look up.
“You see, that's why we tell you to turn the TV down when you're watching Animal Planet,” the mother said to her two children. “It just gets so loud.” The father continued to look at the room where the noises had come from for several minutes after the rest of his family went back to their play.
A bit later, as the bears were walking across the street to the restaurant, Mitch nudged Walt. "You'd better drive next. I swear that cock of yours got twice as big as usual in my ass. I'll walk funny for days." Walt had a big shit-eating grin on his face and from the look on Vic and Boris's faces it was obvious Boris had made good on his promise from back at his house two days earlier as well.
Seated at dinner, the discussion centered on the next day's plans. "If we keep to the same driving arrangements, we should be across the border before nightfall," Boris said.
"You know, if we pull another all nighter..." Vic's comment was met with good-natured groans. "If we pull another all nighter," he growled, "we could be in Grand Falls in the morning, instead of the afternoon. I'm just sayin'."
"Yes. The sooner, the better." Larry's tone left no doubt as to his feelings.
The talk continued between plates of food. To an outsider, it looked like a happy, well-fed group of bearded men; relatives perhaps, or maybe a men's sports team of some sort, eagerly planning a trip together. Possibly a camping or hunting trip, or maybe a vacation get-away 'for the guys'. Nothing of the scene would have suggested it's deadly serious aspects.
The next morning, rested, fed and filled with each other's cum, they set off on the last leg of their journey to confront the rogues. I was indeed fortunate that they all had vehicles that were relatively new and very powerful. The big machines were very dusty and were beginning to look on the outside as if they had been driven hard and put away wet. Road grime covered them and a couple of rain showers on the way had turned the dust to mud. Windshield wiper arcs cleared a fan-shaped area of the mud spatters from the front and rear of each. Outside Grand Falls, they took a pee break.
"OK, Robert, you drive now," Vic said, tucking his cock in and zipping up. Getting back in they changed seats and Robert acted as pilot, guiding the convoy through town and toward the farm house where he'd last seen the rogues. "Mind you," he said, "that was several days ago. We don't know if they are still there or not."
Vic nodded. "It's the best we've got right now."
Robert's eyes were intent on the road ahead, scanning for remembered landmarks. He slowed several times, then shook his head and sped up again. One county highway crossing looked very much like another. The vehicles behind kept pace with him. Finally, about ten miles outside of town, he slowed and turned off the highway onto a paved county road. The three vehicles drove slowly between fences and fields, past one signposted dirt road and then another. At the third, Robert slowed to a stop, with the others right behind. He got out.
The others gathered around him. "This road leads to the farm house. There's a slight drop off here, you can't see the place from where we are and anyone there can't see us unless we drive a ways down the road. There's a gully over there," he said, pointing to the right. "It brings us up by the barn. There an open yard between the barn and the back of the house. If they're in the house and we're careful, they won't see us." He wiped his brow. "They might see us if they're in the barn."
Robert wet a finger and stuck it up in the air. "Good, we're upwind and it seems fairly steady, they won't catch our scent. So, let's move but go slow and be careful. No noises we can help." Boris handed out guns to each from the back of his Suburban, along with ammo.
He looked at Rusty, who seemed unsure. "Have you fired a gun before, my friend?"
"Yes. Norman taught me; but a handgun, not a rifle. I'm not sure I could handle this," eyeing the rifle Boris was handing him.
"Not a problem, I have a couple handguns in the back." He reached in and handed Rusty a Glock.
"Regular little traveling arsenal you got there." Rusty said, taking the gun and test sighting along the barrel. No one laughed.
Boris looked Rusty in the eye. "More than you bargained for, isn't it?" Rusty nodded. "Well, you can stay here if you wish. I think there are enough of us..."
"Not a chance!" Rusty said, grimly. “I'm not letting my Norman go without me.”
One by one, the nine stepped over the fence stile and began to carefully work their way down the gully, moving slowly and quietly.
The silence was almost eerie. An occasional harsh squawk of a black crow broke the quiet. The breeze sighed through the tall grasses and somewhere in the distance the clang of a chain on metal was heard at irregular intervals.
One by one, the bears dropped off, taking up observation posts along the gully. By the time Boris was stationed at the furthest reach of the gully, the barn, house and outbuildings were under observation around not quite half of a rough circle. This gave the bears several points of view of the house and yard as well as the back and side of the barn. Nothing moved.
Time passed and the sun sank lower in the western sky, casting long shadows from the barn across the yard towards the house. Still, nothing moved. Birds flew overhead but did not land. A barn cat squeezed out between the double doors, slightly ajar and slunk off into the grass. The weres focused their hyper alert senses, but could catch no sound, no movement, no trace of habitation. The farmstead appeared to be abandoned.
Robert reached for a rock and lofted it up and over the edge of the gully, taking a chance on provoking some sort of reaction from anyone in the house or barn. Still no movement. Robert chanced another rock, this one landing on the steps leading to the back door of the house. Nothing.
Robert inched his way along the gully to Vic. "I don't think anyone's here. I'm going to take a chance and approach. Cover me." Vic nodded. Robert handed Vic his gun and rose up and climbed over the lip of the gully, walking towards the house, with both hands visible, attempting to look as harmless and non-threatening as possible.
"Anyone home?" he called. The wind rustled the grass, but otherwise there was nothing but the buzzing of flies and bees in the scraggly flowers along one side of the house. "Anyone?" Silence.
Robert mounted the steps and carefully peered in the window by the screen door. The porch ran the width of the back of the farm house. He moved quietly to the next window and looked in. Reaching the end of the porch, he moved back and tried the screen door. It was unlatched. The wood door to the kitchen opened with a slight protesting noise from the hinges. Robert froze. In the gully, eight pairs of eyes watched intently and eight weapons were trained on the house. Still there was no sound or movement from either the house or the barn. Robert stepped into the house.
After what seemed like a very long time to the anxious bears, Robert appeared back at the door and silently motioned for the others to come up to the house. One by one they did so, this time prominently displaying their weapons. As each entered the kitchen, they were overcome with a wave of nausea. Rusty , Moose and Mitch gripped their stomachs and looked at each other and the other bears.
"God! I feel like I'm gonna puke," Moose said.
"What is that smell? What happened here? It stinks of bleach, but there's something else." Mitch said, gasping.
"It's our blood. I mean, werebear blood." Boris stood stock still, sniffing the air, his eyes narrow. "Something very bad has happened here."
Robert took Larry and they went quietly upstairs to check the rooms up there. The others stood in the kitchen, while Vic and René went down into the cellar to check there.
When they returned, each reported the same. "Nothing. Clothes, furniture, knick-knacks, all just nice as pie," Larry said. "Someone obviously lives... or lived here. Maybe one of our kind? But there's no one here now." Vic said.
"I don't think it was a shifter living here," Robert said. "I think Sebastian and his gang holed up here and probably killed whoever was living here. All the beds upstairs have been slept in and it's obvious the tub upstairs has been used, there's hair everywhere. He must have killed one of his own troop. Used a lot of bleach and 409 trying to clean the mess up and then cleared out." He turned to Rusty, Mitch and Moose. "That's what you smelled when you came in... what made you so sick. You were reacting to the smell of our blood." Walt reached out and hugged Mitch, who still looked a little wobbly.
"We all smelled it, of course," Boris said. "An ursanthrope might have lived here, the gang could have killed him and moved in, but I think I agree with Robert. Sebastian more than likely murdered one of his own here." He walked to the parlor and then back through the dining room to the kitchen. "I think he did it here. In this room. I catch some blood smell in the front room, but it is not were and there isn't much. We can hope that whoever lived here died a quick death at their hands, but here..." Boris said with a growl, "here is where he seems to have butchered one of our kind." Boris paced the room, then went out onto the porch, but in a moment returned inside.
"The rest of you check around outside and in the barn, but I think some care was taken after the murder. It does look as if something was dragged across the yard. Perhaps they bagged the remains and moved them."
A half hour of fruitless searching brought the bears back the porch as twilight fell. “Nada. Zip.” Larry shook his head.
“Nothing in the barn, either, or out back that we can see,” Mitch added. “You think they've been gone long?”
"That bleach smell was really strong when I first came in," Robert said. "I'll bet they only cleared out a little bit ago. A day at most."
Walt went to the corner of the porch and looked out in the darkness to the faint glow of headlights on the highway in the distance. He was silent a while, then said, "I don't think they would go back towards town. Too dangerous and they couldn't stay here; whoever lived here was probably known in town and would be missed eventually." He paused and looked out at the highway again. "I think they went north again." He turned to Boris. "What do you think?"
Boris nodded his head. "They are running. Which direction, I am not sure. But I agree, they would not go back towards town and that only leaves north on the highway for a while at least. Until they get to the next large town, that is." He looked at the other bears. "None of us would sleep well here tonight. We could use the barn, but I don't think we can afford to let these murderers, these kin slayers, get any further ahead of us. So if no one objects, I say we go north. Now." Without waiting for a response from the others, Boris jumped down form the porch and strode off towards the road and their vehicles. After a moment, the others followed.
The next morning found them in Big Sandy, not far from Havre. There, a choice would have to be made. The highway they had been following, State Highway 87, crossed State Highway 2, running east-west, at Havre. Pulling off into a large parking lot outside a Piggly Wiggly, the three dusty vehicles were parked next to each other. All nine bears got out and stretched sore muscles.
"I say we split up, see if we can get any word of these guys." Larry said. Boris and Vic nodded and the group split, heading up and down the main street to check in bars, coffee shops and motels. Rusty headed into the grocery store.
“Either the rogues haven't passed through or have been very quiet about it -- or maybe the locals just don't like talking to big, bearded strangers stalking their streets," Walt said, as they gathered back at the parking lot. The group stood, discussing their respective failures. Rusty came trotting up, a smile on his face and a large brown grocery bag in his arms. "Well, gentlemen, I think I know where our rogues are... or at least where they have been."
"What?!" Vic and Boris said together. All conversation stopped and all heads turned to the strawberry blond bear. Rusty basked in the attention for a moment, then hastily began.
"Well, while you guys were checking out the bars, I went to a grocery store, to get some snacks for Norman." Here, he handed the bag to Moose. "There was this guy at the counter, checking out and talking with the clerk while he rang up the groceries. He was talking about how his kid had snuck off and stayed out late last night and taken his older brother's pellet gun with him to boot. He was telling the guy about his kid's wild imagination and the fantastic excuse he'd given for being out late. 'Get this,' he says to the clerk. 'He tells me he sees these big guys on motorcycles and they all pull up and two of them turn into, and you're not going to believe this, he says they turned into bears fer Chrissakes!'” Rusty paused and caught his breath.
“Anyway, he goes on and on about it how the kid says he's afraid to move and how he was pinned down and couldn't leave without the bears seeing him. I tell you, my ears really pricked up." The others stared at Rusty blankly. "Don't you see? It has to be our guys."
"But how can we be certain? This is a child, he could be making up a story to avoid the punishment as children do and..." René said, but Rusty interrupted him.
"I don't think so, the coincidence would be too great. Big bearded men on motorcycles? Men who just happen to turn into bears? It's simply has to be our rogues." Rusty was sure in his own mind and didn't like being doubted.
"But still, how does this help us?" Boris asked. "We don't know where this child was when he saw what he says he saw or even when this was."
"Oh, but we do! I was standing not ten feet from the father, doing some intense 'label comparison reading' to cover my eavesdropping. The clerk asked this guy where it happened and he said it was at the old abandoned rest stop out on the highway going north. Then the clerk was going on and on about how the highway department should do something about it, the picnic shelters were all falling down and the cinder block restroom building was all covered with graffiti and how dangerous is all was for kids to be playing around there. We know it was last night just after sunset, because the kid's father said he'd told his wife if the son wasn't back by then he was 'gonna get his hide tanned good'. Apparently, he was just heading out to look for him when the kid showed."
The others mulled this over and Boris and Vic talked together urgently.
"Rusty, I think you're right," Vic said. "but what if there's more than one of these abandoned rest stops?" Boris nodded in agreement.
"More than likely there are, but we know it must be close, the kid walked home, don't forget. It can't be too far away from this area and the father said 'on highway going north'. There's only one highway heading north out of this charming little hamlet." Rusty's hands were on his hips and his face was red with excitement. "The kid said he had to 'wait until the bears went to sleep'. If the rogues slept even for only a few hours, they won't have much more than half a day's lead over us, maybe less." He pointed to the road behind the group. "That's the highway north. Let's go!"
The rest of the group looked at each other. René shrugged, the others nodded and Moose hugged Rusty with one arm while holding the snack laden bag with the other. They piled back in the vehicles. The small convoy swung out onto the highway, heading north.