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  1. Ethan and Aiden swam hand in hand, enjoying the tropical lagoon’s crystal clear water. Under the watchful eye of their snorkeling and scuba instructor, the pair marveled at the vast variety of life. Ethan felt perfectly at home; much more so than Aiden. Brightly colored fish would come out to investigate the couple only to vanish back into the coral as the two approached. When Ethan dove below the surface by himself, a single clown fish emerged from the safety of a sea anemone and swam to him. It waved its way through his fingers and briefly stopped in front of Ethan’s mask as if to say “Hello.” After another breath of air, he dove once more. Aquatic creatures in brilliant yellows and vibrant blues came out to join the single clown fish swimming with Ethan. As he reached his hand out near the coral, even more of the water’s inhabitants joined the young Elemental. Three seahorses approached and wrapped their tails around his fingers, only letting go when he had to return topside. Aiden and the instructor watched with fascination as they floated on the surface, awed by how nature responded to Ethan’s presence. ****** The flight had been very long and after eighteen hours in the air and one layover in Los Angeles, Aiden, Ethan, and their entourage stepped off the plane into a tropical paradise. The views ensured everyone it was worth it. A forty minutes boat ride to their final destination, and they could finally relax. The Australian/New Zealand Solaris and Lunaris Councils had graciously offered the use of a private island resort they jointly owned. It was off the western coast of Fiji’s main landmass. The trip made for a nice additional wedding present, so the young couple could have a truly relaxing and private honeymoon. The ten-acre atoll had five guest bungalows spread out across the best section of its white-sand beaches. The full-time staff took care of all the cooking and cleaning. A snorkeling or scuba instructor was on hand for the more adventurous who wanted to explore the delicate reefs surrounding them. Aiden and Ethan had the place for two weeks before they would travel to New Zealand and Australia, acting as ambassadors to build ties between the American Lycan Council and their South Pacific counterparts. ****** Stepping onto the deck of their bungalow overlooking the lagoon, Ethan and Aiden laid on a lounge chair after their relaxing swim in the warm water. Trevor, Casey, Darius, and Cody were still out in the water, snorkeling with the other instructor. The four were near one of the reefs. Cuddling against his mate, Ethan looked to the western horizon. Aiden smiled at his pup, seeing the happy and content look on his face, as he watched their friends splashing around. Ethan rested his head on Aiden’s chest, casually running his fingers through the dense fur. “Could it possibly get any better than this?” “If it can, I really don’t see how. A tropical beach, a gentle breeze, and the man I love with all my heart.” “I never thought it would be this much fun to swim in a lagoon or dive with the fish.” Ethan pressed himself even closer to his mate. “I didn’t think I’d ever see something like this in person.” “It’s amazing how everything responded to you. That clown fish really liked you, and those seahorses took to you very quickly.” “I could feel all the life around me and how it interacts with the water, but mostly I could feel you.” “With all the fish swimming around you, I could feel something more than I normally do. I’m not sure what it was, but there was something there. I definitely felt your happiness.” Ethan followed their friends’ activities while never lifting his head off Aiden’s chest. “I’m glad we brought them with us. It’s fun watching the guys out there. I know it’s our honeymoon, but it wouldn’t have felt right leaving them home.” “I know I could protect you from most anything and with your gifts you can easily defend yourself, but I don’t think we would have gotten far without them. They take their duties of protection very seriously, even if they try to make it look like they don’t. You’re right through. It wouldn’t have felt right leaving them at home. They’re a part of our family and a part of us. We just have to get them well trained for when the time comes that they become babysitters for our kids.” “I like the idea of having kids with you. I know your Dad and Marsha want to eventually become grandparents.” “We’ve got several options when we decide it’s time. We can adopt or use a surrogate. We have one offer, and I’m sure there would be others willing to help.” “If we asked one of the lunis she-wolves, would that increase the chances the pup would be a lunis? I kind of want at least one of each. “As far as I know, the odds are the same regardless what type the parent is. I think it would be cute having little lunis and lupus Elemental pups running around.” “I guess until we decide to use alternate methods of having kids, we’ll just have to keep trying the old fashioned way.” Aiden laughed at Ethan’s comment and enthusiasm. “Who would have ever thought that getting kicked out of the house would end up making all my dreams come true? Not only do I have you, but I have your world now.” “Seems like it was destined to always be your world from the start.” Aiden kissed the top of his pup’s head. “That horizon out there is our future. We may not know what is just beyond it, but it is going to be a wonderful journey getting there at each other’s side.” Ethan straddled his mate’s waist. “You’ve been my future since the day a black wolf found me.” He leaned in to passionately kiss the man he loved. “Thanks to you I found who I am, and I can hold my head high as we run with our pack.”
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  2. Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 56 Again, a lull occurred in the conversation. Kellar sat in quiet contemplation. He didn’t blame his grandfather for the contentious disconnect with his mother. According to Elinor, Miss Sybil, and now her own father, Gigi was a strong, independent, and maybe even willful individual. ‘As alpha as he was,’ Fendral had said about his daughter. Her determination had most assuredly been fueled by her own mother passing down the family prophecy, and the obligation that came with it. She’d had no choice but to follow her destiny, and his grandfather understood that now. As he’d confessed to Kellar and Tobyn, fear overrode everything else at what must have been a desolate time. Fendral had lost so much. Even to this day, without copper protection, it was an extremely dangerous world out there. Back then there was no hiding from hunters, and the paranoia surrounding departures from pack lands was warranted. He could see the rift from both sides, and in the end, they’d both been right. It was doubtful he would ever know what his mother had encountered after she left Morningstar. He could only hope she’d been happy in those years. There might be some more answers back in New Brunswick, but he didn’t feel driven to search for them. He was satisfied with the ones he already had. Would this feeling change? Maybe, but for now he would enjoy the peace he enjoyed in this moment. What his grandfather had just said, about being proud of who he was and where he came from, had gotten through to him. He was the product of a long line of heroes, from his mother all the way back to Cahlar. But his father, the healer, had played a big part too. He saw that clearly now. He was no reincarnation, but if some shifters chose to think otherwise, it didn’t make him any less Kellar. “Grandfather?” “Yes?” Fendral was looking weary, but Kellar would let him decide when he wanted to rest again. “Was it coincidence, or did something else bring you to my cabin?” “Yeah, I was wondering that too,” Tobyn said. “It was not a coincidence,” the older man said with conviction. “I didn’t have a clue where my wolf was headed, but there was a purpose to our journey south. I’m not sure how to explain it, but there was a period of time… years… where it seemed like we were waiting for something. We were being guided… I’m certain of it. I’d like to think it was Esther. She once told me I would have to hang on at some point in the future, at a time when I could find no reason to. She said I had to keep going every single day no matter what, and no matter how long it took, but when I asked what she meant, she had no answer… only that I would be needed for something in my wolf form. She didn’t know for what or why, she just knew it. Your grandmother made me promise. She made me swear on our bond and the earth mother, and I did. It was a promise I didn’t break. I know it sounds cryptic, but that’s how Esther was. Like I told you, she knew things. She never doubted her ability, and neither did I.” “What does that have to do with showing up at my cabin, sir?” “It’s the only explanation I have. With the feelings I had before and after, it fits. Do you know you smell like clover most of the time?” Kellar was thrown by the question, but Tobyn reacted right away. “He’s right, doc. You do. Sometimes it’s strong, like when my wolf runs through a clover field after a rain. Other times it’s like the sunbaked red-clover hay I used to help stack every summer. We all have our subtle differences, but I’ve never smelled anything like that from another shifter.” “I have,” Fendral said. “Your mother and grandmother both carried the same one, exactly as Tobyn describes. I never would have come within a mile of you if not for that clover smell. It was such a comfort to experience that scent mixed with wolf again after all those years. It’s what drew me to you, and I didn’t want to leave it. Remember the day our wolves played?” “Of course. It was a new thing for me, and I loved it. You left when I shifted back.” “That’s right. It was a strange thing for me. I didn’t understand why I would even want to interact with you. My wolf went more on instinct than thought. Now I get it, but at the time I couldn’t fathom a connection. If you had looked like Gisla, or anyone else in our family, it might have been different, and I might have put something together because of that familiar scent. Or maybe if I could have shifted back and had a clearer mind.” “So, my scent brought you there?” “No, certainly not. As I said, my wolf took us south for whatever reason, but your scent kept me around. Every time I tried to leave the area and head back to Morningstar, I would end up making my way back because it felt wrong, and it was a good job I did.” “Why do you say that?” “Because I came across two hunters headed towards your woods, and I led one of them away. My senses were great that day, and I heard them talking from far off. After what I heard, I showed myself, and the younger one ended up taking the bait. He followed me, but the other man went to catch the two-sided one. He said that pelt would be worth a fortune, and if it took days, he’d get that monster. I think he was referring to the size of your wolf,” Fendral said, taking a second to grin. “It’s funny how much clearer my human mind was that day. I knew he was talking about you and your coat, Grandson, so he must have already seen you at some time.” “You were there?” Tobyn asked, an incredulous look on his face. “We never scented you.” “I’m not surprised with all that elk stink. But no, I wasn’t there when you killed that hunter. I arrived after you left, and as soon as I saw your tracks leading away, I hightailed it out of there. I knew you were both fine. I think that’s when I suspected you were mates. Your scents had changed… combined. It was you who finished him, wasn’t it? I could smell you on the parts you tore off him,” he directed at Tobyn. Tobyn nodded, his eyes going to a dumbfounded Kellar. “So, if you hadn’t done that, Kellar would have been facing two.” “We would have been facing two, babe. So, you saved us… is that what you meant by Esther’s message? It was what you were meant to hold on for?” “At the time, I didn’t much think about the why. I’d never done anything like it before, but it just felt right to do it. Fear is a wolf’s friend, but I felt none the whole time I played with that killer. It was satisfying. I kept the bastard moving as far and as long as I could. It worked best when I traveled well off, and then came back from a different direction. I’d make a noise he could hear. He stopped a few times, but as soon as I moved away, he’d start following again, cursing the whole time. My hearing hasn’t been that good since,” he said with another grin. “He finally picked his spot, though, and set those damn traps, but by then he was a long way from your area. I kept moving in and out of range. It didn’t matter the direction of the wind… he always reacted when I closed the distance between us. I thought they could somehow smell us, but that’s where that pulse comes in, doesn’t it?” “Yes. It’s the silver they all wear that alerted him to your presence. It can work at a fair distance too.” “Great discovery, that. I’ve got to meet this brother of yours. If he’s your brother, that would make me his grandfather too, wouldn’t it?” “Yes, it would. He’d love that. Warren will like you, and you’ll like him.” “I’m sure I will… wee Adelin’s mate, eh? I’ve missed so much. Okay, so like I was saying, at that time I was surviving more on instinct than thought, but sitting here now, it all makes sense. It has to be the reason I finally stopped thinking about my promise to Esther. I was meant to find you, and I did.” “You were meant to save us.” “That’s another way of putting it.” Fendral acknowledged, but he hung his head. “I guess I should have given more credence to my mate back then. Losing her made me… less, and I let fear for Gisla override my mate’s wishes.” He visibly struggled for a few seconds and then mustered up a small smile. “Esther and I were so good together, but that woman was a challenge. She probably would have said the same about me.” “I think you did give her credence, Grandfather. You hung on for all these years because she asked you to… way longer than any other shifter ever heard of who chooses their wolf. The entire pack is astounded by your resilience, and that includes me. We don’t know how you managed, but Tobyn and I have learned the earth mother has her ways. My mom did what she had to do, and so did you. I’d love to hear more about my grandmother when you’re up to it.” “She was the perfect mate for an alpha. When I took on my responsibilities, she shared the load. I have a thousand stories for you.” Again, he looked wistful. Kellar glanced at his own mate, and they shared a look. His grandfather had just described Tobyn as well. “Should we tell him who those hunters were, doc?” “He should know. It might give him peace to hear the truth.” “I agree. It should come from you… I hate talking about them.” “I know you do, babe.” “Grandfather?” “Yes, Grandson?” The old man squeezed out a smile, fooling no one. He’d been lost in his memories of Esther. “That hunter you led away… and the other one….” “Yes?” “They were two of the three who murdered my parents.” “My Gisla? Are you sure?” “Yes, sir. They’re all dead now. Warren shot the one you led away that day. After we discovered the protection of copper, we hunted him down on pack lands, but he was a crafty son-of-a-bitch. My brother ended up saving my mate, but that’s a story that can wait till later. And you know Tobyn killed the other one, and saved me in the process. The third one, he was an older brother, the father of the young one. The one Tobyn rescued me from said shifters had murdered his older brother, so that’s the lot of them.” “How do you know they were the ones?” “Because of Miss Sybil’s vision. My father managed to slash the face of the one Tobyn later killed. It left a huge scar over his eye and on his cheek. Miss Sybil described some other details, and it had to be them. Their name was Reznick. If the bragging the older one did was accurate, they were responsible for the deaths of close to a thousand shifters over the years.” When Kellar finished speaking, Fendral looked away. He was about to ask the man if he was okay when he turned back to face him. “I saw that scar. I was close enough I could have got one of them.” “No, sir,” Tobyn said, shaking his head. “You couldn’t have. You would have been another notch on that old one’s walking stick if you’d tried. They’d have felt your presence, and would’ve been ready for anything. They were beyond dangerous.” “He’s right,” Kellar agreed. “As good as it might have felt to try, you would have died, and none of us would be here now, talking to each other. You did the best thing possible by splitting them up and leading one away. It allowed us to defeat old Reznick, and survive. And, it allowed us to eventually take out the younger one.” “I thought Warren did that.” “He did. You could say we were a one-two punch.” Kellar tried a little grin. “Please don’t regret anything. You didn’t know, and that was a good thing. It all turned out the way it was supposed to.” “Are you all right, sir? We thought you would want to know.” “Yes, Tobyn, I’m glad you guys told me, and I’m fine. If anything, I feel more satisfaction in the part my wolf played, and in knowing those shifter-killers no longer walk the earth.” A weak smile followed before he closed his eyes. “Grandfather?” Kellar asked after a minute had passed. Fendral came back from wherever his mind had gone. “Yes?” “Can I ask you one more thing? I know you’re tired.” “Ask me anything you want.” “Okay… I was just wondering. Now that your condition is improving, do you intend to take back your responsibilities one day?” “You mean as Alpha? God, no.” Fendral reaction was strong. “It was an honor I abused, and I would never try to reclaim it.” “Sir….” “I have no regrets, Kellar. I’ve changed. I lived and survived as a wolf, and I made it through my own darkness. I’m ready to move forward, not back. I may not want to be alone anymore, but being Alpha again holds no appeal for me.” “Well, that’s good, and I’m happy you no longer want to isolate yourself. We really want you in our lives. It’s just, once the pack members find out I’m your grandson….” “They’ll expect you to become Alpha. It is your birthright.” “He doesn’t want it,” Tobyn said, reaching over and giving Kellar’s hand a squeeze. He appreciated the show of solidarity from his mate. Fendral looked first at Tobyn, and then at his grandson. It was a piercing gaze he leveled. “Care to explain why not?” Kellar swallowed. “I get that it’s an honor, sir, but I’m a healer.” “Why can’t you be both?” “That’s what Miss Sybil said, that I could be both, and I know it’s true, but I… I don’t think alphas, ah… I think the leadership council is what Morningstar needs… not me. Tobyn and I plan on searching out as many packs as we can, and set up a network of communication. We’re doing well here, but shifters could still be dying out there.” “It sounds like you’re taking on a different responsibility. A bigger one.” “Exactly,” Tobyn interjected. “How much can we expect from one person? All Kellar does is give of himself, over and over again.” Fendral sighed. A deep long one. “I know I’m missing a lot of information about the pack and all that’s been going on. I’m tired, and I want to catch up, but before I go lay down, I want to say something. If you’re looking for support from me, you have it. I barely know you, but you’re my daughter’s son, so I’m in your corner no matter what.” “Thank you, Grandfather. So, you will understand if I decline the honor? You won’t be disappointed in me?” “Are you disappointed in me, after all the mistakes I’ve made?” “No, sir. I’m in awe of the man I’ve talked to today.” “Well, there’s your answer. I’m in awe of the men I’ve talked to today.” He smiled, and Kellar felt the warmth of it. “I’m sorry, but I can’t sit up any longer. My muscles are complaining so if I could use your bed again, I’d appreciate it.” “It’s your bed now, sir,” Tobyn said as Kellar assisted the man as he rose stiffly from the chair. “And I am thankful for that. You’re not going to stop calling me sir, are you?” Tobyn grinned. “Probably not.” Fendral chuckled. “Do you know if my home is still empty? It was a few years back when I approached it.” “Nothing’s been changed. It’s been maintained ever since you left it.” They all made their way down the hall, and Kellar and Tobyn exchanged looks over the elder man’s head. “I want him to stay with us, babe.” “So do I. He doesn’t need to be rambling around that big house of his. We’re his family now.” “You’re the best.” “I am, but you’re going to need to convince him.” “Grandfather,” Kellar said as they helped the man sit on the bed. “You don’t have to decide anything now, but we‘d really like it if you’d live here with us… with your family. We just want you to know that.” Fendral laid his upper body down, and Kellar helped him swing his legs up. It was easy to see he would be out like a light in minutes, possibly seconds. “Thank you, boys. I’ll give it some thought, and we’ll talk later.” He yawned before his eyes closed, and Kellar was proven right. His grandfather may have wanted to have their conversation, and take advantage of having a voice again, but it had taken its toll. Flickering, Kellar was reasonably pleased with what he saw. There was no need to be quiet leaving the room, but they were anyway. “I sure didn’t expect to hear all that,” Tobyn said once they returned to the kitchen. “Did it shake you up like it did me?” “Crap, Tobyn. I still don’t know where the man found the will to hang on all this time. He didn’t just lose his mate… hell, that’s enough to make a shifter wolf out all by itself. On top of that, he lost his three kids, and he carried all that guilt about how he handled their wanting to search out their mates. Fuck. I hope I have half his strength one day.” Tobyn looked up from clearing the table. ‘Sometimes you really are the dumb one.” “Why? What did I do?” “Nothing… it’s not what you did… it’s how you see yourself. Sometimes you piss me off.” “Really?” “No. Yes… sometimes, yes. I just wish you would give yourself the credit you deserve. You’ve gone through a lot too, with that shit childhood you had. You shifted, having no idea who you really were and what was going on, and you didn’t go bonkers. Fuck, the control you showed.” “Lots of kids lose their parents, Tobyn.” “See, there you go again. Yes, that’s true, but you’re a shifter… we’re pack animals. And you survived most of your life without one of your own.” “But….” “But, nothing. You built a life all by yourself, worked in the human world, developed your skills as a healer, and you didn’t suffer any depression. That takes strength… alpha strength.” “I only did what I had to.” Kellar didn’t like that Tobyn was so seriously annoyed. “God, you are so exasperating sometimes. You should see yourself when you’re healing. It’s like you’re giving every ounce of everything you have, and you wade in every time with no hesitation. You always do that, like you did with Vega. You accomplish miracle after miracle and act like it’s no big deal. I know how hard that was for you, to stand in front of the entire Vega pack and make that speech… that’s fucking strength.” Tobyn dropped their cutlery into the sink with a loud clatter. “Are you mad at me, babe?” “No. God, no… I just… I’m sorry. I love you so much and sometimes….” “Sometimes, what?” Kellar joined his mate at the sink. “Are you okay?” “Yeah. Can we forget what I said? I didn’t mean to come off angry. What we heard from Fendral this morning was so sad, and… there’s no way I could survive losing you. I could never be that strong. As strong as you and Fendral are. I guess it’s an alpha thing.” “Tobyn, please. Don’t think like that, because it’s not true. I see you as the strongest, most determined person I know, and I’m not just saying it. Don’t worry… I get where this is coming from. Come on.” He took Tobyn’s hand. “Let’s go sit in the sunshine. This has been quite a day already.” “That’s a great idea,” Tobyn said with a sheepish smile. “I got a little carried away… sorry.” “Nothing to be sorry for. You just said you loved me so much it drove you crazy.” “I didn’t say it drove me crazy, I said you did.” “Semantics, babe. It’s the same thing,” Kellar said smugly as they walked out into the backyard. “You drive me crazy too, and it’s the best feeling ever.” Kellar led his mate to the picnic table where they sat across from each other, hands still entwined. It was a gorgeous day: peaceful, sunny, and warm. “You know what’s weird?” Kellar asked after they sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the peace only nature could bestow. “What?” “I feel content.” “Actually, that is weird. I would have thought you’d be anything but.” “You said it yourself. I had a shit childhood, and never really felt connected to anyone or any place. That’s all changed. I have you, and in any world I ever envisioned, that would be enough, but I have so much more. I’m sitting in this beautiful place with you, my grandfather is sleeping inside our house, and my brother is only a five minute walk away. I have a home, a family, a pack of amazing friends, and I have a real memory of my mother. Even if Miss Sybil is wrong, and I never recall anything of my father, it’s enough. I know he fought for my mother and me. I don’t even mind being considered the savior, not that I’m ever going to acknowledge it,” he said with a self-deprecating grin. “Okay, that’s more like it. And we have a new location to search.” “Yeah, we do, but about that?” “Oh. I think I know what you’re going to say. You don’t want to leave Fendral. Am I right?” “I can’t. Not till I’m sure he’s thriving, and that could be a month or even months away.” “Okay. I agree. We can wait as long as you want. This way, we’d be here for Warren if he wants to get things started.” “I was thinking the same thing. You’re not disappointed?” “Not in the least. I love that man in there, and he comes first in my eyes too. We quite possibly wouldn’t be here without him. I was shocked to hear he deliberately led the young one away. Facing two Reznicks back then would have been difficult for us, if not impossible.” Tobyn shuddered. “That was our first experience with a hunter.” “I agree. We had enough trouble with one of them. It surprised the hell out of me too, to hear what he did, but with all the earth mother’s done for us, it makes sense he was part of her plan. We’re right aren’t we, to think it’s a plan, and not just a string of coincidences?” “With the journey we’ve had so far, and from what we’ve learned in the last few days, plus all the gifts she’s given us, how can you even ask that, doc?” “My mind still regresses sometimes. I guess it’s from not being raised in a pack. I remember when I actually believed there was no magic in the world.” He shook his head at the thought. It seemed a lifetime ago. “Speaking of the earth mother’s plan, there may have been another purpose for Fendral being around your cabin.” “Such as?” “The only reason I ran in your woods the day we met was because I picked up his scent.” “Oh, hell. That’s right. You told me about that… about scenting the old grey, after I healed your head. Holy crap. We met because of my grandfather. Wait till we tell him. We have so much to thank that man for.” “Him and the earth mother… and Esther.” “That’s right. My grandmother too.” Kellar, in that moment, realized his family may have been missing for most of his life, but they were all responsible for what he had now. It gave him a warm feeling. “You okay, doc?” “Huh? Yeah. Why?” “You went real quiet.” “Oh, yeah, I was just counting my blessings. Tobyn?” Kellar squeezed the hand under his, and stared into his mate's eyes. “Yeah? “I’ve been thinking.” “I know. I’ve been waiting.” “Oh, so you know what I’ve been thinking about then,” Kellar teased. “Yup. You’re thinking about your birthright, and what you should do.” “What… are you some kind of special seer now, like my grandmother was?” “No, doc. I just know you, so spit it out.” Kellar started tapping his fingers on the picnic table top, something he usually didn’t do. He had trouble saying what was on his mind, because once it was out there…. Tobyn reached his idle hand over and placed it on the nervous one. “Well?” Kellar sighed at his mate, and then began to let his tentatively-reached conclusions loose. “Being an alpha could come in handy when we start our search again. We have no idea what we might come up against, but other packs would surely take us seriously if an alpha was at their gate.” “Mm hmmm,” Tobyn agreed. “And our own members are going to expect it once they find out I’m Fendral’s grandson. If I don’t accept it, some, maybe all, are going to have a hard time understanding my reasons. I mean, think about your mom, Miss Sybil, and even Arthur’s reaction, when I said I didn’t want to be alpha. They thought I was nuts. I do want to respect pack traditions, I really do. Besides, my turning it down might put pressure on my grandfather, and while he’s doing all right for now, he’s far from a healthy man. He needs time.” “Right again.” “If I did it… accepted the… position… my heritage… whatever we call it, I wouldn’t want anything to change. I’d still want there to be our same leadership council, hopefully with the addition of Clarence.” “Makes sense.” “So, I would only act in an advisory role, if they needed me, like, if they were at a stalemate or something. I wouldn’t want any involvement in the day to day stuff… I’m a healer.” “Yes, you are.” “Well, how does all that sound to you? Do you think they’d all accept something like that, where I’m only partly involved now and again?” “Kellar, as Alpha, you wouldn’t be asking anyone to accept anything. You are Alpha until you say you’re not, so you’d be telling all of us the way it would work. But, if you’re asking me whether it’s a good solution, I’d say it’s about perfect.” “Yeah?” “Yeah.” “Cool. You know the only reason I can even consider it is because I have you at my side.” “I know.” Kellar grinned at Tobyn’s smug look. “Okay, maybe I’ll see what my grandfather thinks about it when he wakes up.” “Another great idea. I think you’ll make the man very happy. No matter what he says, I have no doubt he’d be proud if you continued to represent his and your family in this way.” “Oh, man. I feel better already. This has been weighing on me… a lot. So, do I really smell like clover?” “Uh huh. I thought you knew that.” “It was news to me.” “Hey, what do I smell like to you?” “Heaven… pure heaven.” Tobyn chuckled. “I definitely got me a romantic one.” “And I got me a bossy one… one who lets me think I’m in charge.” “And sometimes I actually let you be in charge. I was being serious, doc. Do I smell like anything to you?” “Oh yeah. You have your own unique blend, but the closest is a plant I use for ear infections.” “Eww… you’re kidding me, right?” Kellar laughed. “No, I’m not. It’s called Joe-Pye weed, and it was once used by natives who claimed it cured typhus fever.” “A weed.” Tobyn screwed his face up, making Kellar laugh harder. “It’s only called a weed because it grows wild. Its favorite place is along streams… I’ll show it to you someday, and you can smell it for yourself. It loses its aroma once I dry it. It’s also called Purple Boneset, and it smells kind of like vanilla, but better.” “Better than vanilla? I like that,” Tobyn said, finally smiling. “So, it’s purple then?” “Yup. Come to think of it, the color is identical to red clover blooms, right down to the two tones.” “Identical? See… we’re perfect for each other.” There was a seriousness behind the humor in those heart-stopping eyes, making Kellar’s breath catch. “Yes we are, babe, a match made by the earth mother. So… if I do happen to stand up in front of a crowd and make another one of those ‘alpha’ speeches, would it fire you up like last time?” Tobyn burst out laughing, eyes twinkling. “I’m not gonna lie, mountain man… there’s a good chance it would.” “I can’t ask for any more encouragement than that.” Losing himself in sunlit hazel, he leaned over the table and connected his lips to Tobyn’s. Kellar finally understood who he was, and that he was exactly where life had always meant him to be. He wasn’t some lone shifter. No, he and his mate had a destiny all their own. ~ The End of Book One? ~
    136 points
  3. The anxiety was so thick that Matt could hardly breathe. He had one eye on his brother, who was playing with colored blocks, and one eye on Seamus who, like a caged lion, was pacing the room nervously as he waited for a call. “We could take Aidan for a walk.” “It’s too cold outside.” “Movie?” Seamus shook his head. “What about going to get a bite to eat?” “I’m not hungry.” Matt sighed from a distance. “It’s possible they won’t call today.” “I know.” Matt moved until he was standing in front of Seamus. “You’re agitated.” “I’m angry.” “And?” “Anxious.” “Why?” “Because he could get away with it.” “He won’t get away with it.” “The lawyer said it could be a book and release situation. Sounds like he’s getting away with it.” “They’re charging him. But based on the charges, he might not serve time until after the hearing. That’s not the same thing as him getting away with it. He will get what’s coming to him. It’s just going to take time.” “What if we don’t get enough to prosecute?” Matt snaked his arms around his boyfriend's waist. “The evidence for payroll fraud is the reason for the arrest warrant and it’s more than enough for a conviction. I’m not saying he’s going to spend a lot of time in jail, he may not even serve six months, but he will be convicted. Probably on felony charges, and he’ll have to pay you restitution. But we’re not there yet. Focus on what’s in front of you and let everything else fall into place.” “You’re right.” Seamus kissed Matt’s cheek, then slapped his ass. “No need to waste time on that prick.” Matt’s butt stung as Seamus strutted across the house. He much preferred that over Seamus sulking around. Matt understood where he was coming from. Mike represented a part of Seamus’s life that wasn’t easy to deal with. The temptation to turn a blind eye was strong. Seamus could’ve easily continued down that path for years. Matt was proud that he was doing something about it instead of assuming it was too late to do anything at all. **** Seamus wanted Mike to get arrested as he deboarded the plane. He deserved it after what he did. That’s not how it happened. Maybe if Mike had embezzled from the government or something, but the charges weren’t big enough, yet, to warrant such extravagance. Mike was arrested the next morning at his home by two police officers. It was a quiet affair but surely the neighbors noticed. Seamus got a call when it was over. Matt was so busy watching Seamus talk on the phone, trying to hear what was being said, that he missed Aidan’s plate and dropped the pancake on the floor. Matt picked the pancake up, inspected it for dirt, and tossed it back on the plate. Aidan wouldn’t notice. Matt saw the things Aidan put in his mouth. The conversation seemed to take forever. Seamus asked a couple of questions but mostly, he listened. When he hung up, Matt was on him. Seamus sighed. “Well, he’s locked up for now.” “For now?” “He’ll probably get out on bail.” Matt frowned. He knew it was possible but it still sucked. “Did he admit to anything?” Seamus shook his head. “No. He didn’t deny it either. He immediately asked for a lawyer. That’s all we know.” “How long until we can get into court?” “I don’t know. Our case for payroll fraud is pretty clear cut. So that could move quicker. The actual embezzlement could take longer. Roger said we should consider waiting until the audit is finished. If we can build everything into one case, it will be stronger.” “How do you feel about that?” Matt asked. “I hate that he could be out in a matter of days, but I want do it right the first time. If we have to wait longer to see him in court, then we wait.” “Do you know how the official audit is going?” Seamus sat down next to Aidan and ripped the pancake into smaller pieces. They were already small, but Matt knew Seamus needed a distraction. “I won’t know anything until she’s finished and we get her full report. Which could take a while.” Matt drummed his fingers on the table. “I guess we have nothing to do but wait.” **** The next week was total chaos. If Matt hoped life would be calm or go back to normal, he was sorely mistaken. Seamus was up to his neck in work stuff. With Mike out of the picture, he had to find someone to keep things rolling. The thing about being your own boss is that you’re allowed a flexibility other people don’t have, but that flexibility comes at a cost. When things hit the fan, you’re the one working 24/7 to fix it. The first thirteen days of December were brutal. Since Seamus was going nonstop with his own crap, Matt found himself juggling school, work, and Aidan all on his own. Not great timing as he was knee deep in finals, but this was life and what he had asked for. He and Seamus talked every day but didn’t see each other but a moment here and there. As much as he missed Seamus to pieces, Matt couldn’t afford the distraction. He was up with Aidan every morning, toting him to daycare, off to class, then work, then home. Aidan was with him more than he wasn’t. Thank God for that third day of daycare that Seamus hadn’t talked him out of. So, no, he couldn’t be around Seamus. The second Aidan was asleep, Matt needed to focus on homework or risk poor marks. Seamus wasn’t offended. He was in the middle of a crash course of his own. Learning the basics of Mike’s job on the go. Matt’s professor not only hooked him up with someone who was doing what Matt had done, but better, he also referred someone to help Seamus through until he found a permanent replacement. The problem was, the job wasn’t something menial that could be filled on the fly. It would take time. Seamus spent a lot of their calls picking Matt’s brain about this and that. Matt still had so much to learn, but it was flattering nonetheless. As much as he wished their conversations could’ve been about a hundred other things, he loved being needed by Seamus and would answer any question Seamus threw at him. **** Exhaustion was part of Matt now—embedded deep into the fiber of his bones. Even as he walked out of his class, having completed his last final, he knew he wasn’t done. He picked up a giggling and ever happy Aidan from daycare and together they walked home. The weather was dreary. It wasn’t even five, yet it was dark with a light misting. Instead of heading to the apartment, they walked a few extra blocks to the loft. As they neared the building, Aidan was like a horse after a long ride. There was no stopping that kid when he wanted his Moose. The doorman smiled and pushed the door open just as Aidan slipped by. Matt smiled and thanked the man. Aidan didn’t even care that Seamus wasn’t home, he was just happy to be there and quickly made himself at home. The loft was a wreck. Seamus was usually a neat person, but he’d been busy and stressed because of work. Matt wanted to do something nice, so he changed Aidan and himself until they were wearing something more comfortable. Then they got to work. Aidan was happy to follow Matt around and he did a pretty good job of picking up dirty clothes and throwing them in the laundry basket—along with the remotes, magazines, toys, dirty plates. Matt laughed. Oh, to be eighteen months old. They stripped the beds and replaced the sheets, started laundry, cleaned the bathroom from top to bottom, straightened the living room, vacuumed the couch cushions. Matt loaded the dishwasher and wiped the counters down while Aidan used the new but unused toilet scrubber to clean the floors and cabinet doors. He even whacked the dining chairs and a few of the table legs for good measure. They were on their hands and knees. Matt was cleaning the baseboards while Aidan dusted the wall with his rag. They were both cleaning when Seamus came in. Aidan ran, rag in hand, to greet Seamus at the door. He stuck his rag out to show Seamus what a good job he was doing, then ran back to the wall and started cleaning again. Aidan kept looking to see if he was being watched. Seamus looked around the loft. “Did you clean my house, Aidan?” Aidan screeched with joy, then ran to the kitchen where his toilet scrubber had been long forgotten. He held the scrubber up in one hand and the rag in the other. Victorious. He ran to Seamus and handed him the cleaning tools. Still crouched on the floor in the back corner, Matt watched as Seamus knelt down, took Aidan’s offerings, kissed him, and praised him for being such a good helper. The best helper. Then Seamus looked at Matt, and the world stopped. Matt was sure of it. There was no way the world could continue like normal when Seamus looked at him like that. Seamus came at him like a man on a mission. He grabbed the back of Matt’s legs and lifted him until Matt was wrapped around his waist. “What are you doing? You have finals.” “Had finals,” Matt corrected. “I finished today.” “And then you came straight here and cleaned my place?” With Matt’s ankles locked in place, Seamus let go and cupped his face. “You’re amazing.” Matts smiled, kind of cocky like. “So I finished my last final, came straight here, and started cleaning so you could come home and relax. It’s not that big of a deal.” “It’s a huge deal.” “You need a break.” “So do you.” Matt kissed Seamus. “You stepped in and helped me with Aidan when I really needed it. This is the least we could do.” Seamus ran his fingers through Matt’s hair and looked at him like he was something special. Then he kissed him and Matt melted into the wall behind him as he softly wrestled Seamus’s tongue. Seamus broke the kiss and looked down, Aidan was pulling on his pant leg. Matt laughed. “Looks like someone is feeling left out.” With one arm anchoring Matt, Seamus carefully picked Aidan up with the other. It was a little awkward at first, but they maneuvered until Aidan and Matt were both comfortably being held up by Seamus. Seamus used the wall to brace Matt up and he used Matt to keep Aidan up. They watched Aidan as he smiled brightly. The little guy loved being the center of their attention, and it wasn’t every day you got to be perched in a fortress of your favorite people. “I love you,” Seamus told Aidan. He rubbed his beard on Aidan’s face, making him giggle. Next, he turned to Matt and kissed him gently. “And I love you.” Before Seamus could pull away, Matt caught the back of his head and hauled him back in for another kiss. “And I love you.” They stared at each other like idiots. Then Matt turned and kissed Aidan. “I love you, too.” Matt hadn’t planned on saying it. It just happened. He loved Seamus. If there was a time to say it, it was now. He needed to say it, and Seamus needed to hear it. They hung out like that for a minute longer until Aidan was tired of being loved on. He wiggled around until Seamus let him down. The tyke quickly wandered off to bigger and better things. Seamus shifted his weight until he had a better grip on Matt. With Aidan out of the way, Seamus stared at Matt. “Say it again.” “I love you.” Seamus rested his forehead on Matt’s for a moment as he soaked in the words. Then he kissed him, properly. They made out against the wall for a while. “I’m gross and sweaty,” Matt said when they finally broke apart. “And hot as hell.” Seamus mauled the side of Matt’s neck. He didn’t care that Matt was gross. “Do you know how hot you are when you’re cleaning?” “Not as hot as you,” Matt said, moaning, Seamus snaked a hand under Matt’s shirt and across his belly. It wasn’t toned but Seamus loved it all the same. “Careful, Aidan's right over there.” They both looked across the room where Aidan was playing with blocks and the toilet scrubber. Seamus’s face soured as he watched the toddler bang the scrubber on the ground. “Don’t worry,” Matt laughed. “It’s clean.” Satisfied, Seamus gripped Matt’s ass and carried him into the bathroom. Matt frowned and glanced out the door, not willing to leave his brother unattended. They never messed around when Aidan was awake. He was too young and taking your eye off a baby for even a second was dangerous. Seamus watched with a smirk as he undressed Matt. Matt’s brain ran a mile-a-minute trying to justify what was about to happen. Which wasn’t much. As much as Seamus wanted to ravage Matt for being sexy and professing his love, they couldn’t leave Aidan. But he could watch Matt shower. Knowing Seamus was watching. Matt played music on his phone and swayed a little as he cleaned himself. By the time he finished, he’d worked Seamus up. The door was cracked enough that Seamus could see into the living room but not enough for Aidan to be scandalized when Matt dropped to his knees and took Seamus in his mouth. Or five minutes later when Seamus came in his mouth. When Seamus tried to reciprocate, Matt declined. “I want to save that for tonight.” Seamus attacked him, shoving him against the wall and kissing him until he couldn’t tell up from down or left from right. Aidan walked in, all innocently curious as to where his people were. He didn’t care that Matt was naked or Seamus’s pants were bulging. He just wanted attention. Seamus begrudgingly let Matt go and picked Aidan up as Matt sauntered to the bedroom. “Your dad is so infuriating.” Matt laughed when he heard Aidan babble something that sounded like agreement. That kid would always side with Seamus. **** “I’ll clean more often if this happens.” It was nearing two in the morning and they’d been in bed since the moment Aidan’s door closed for the night. It wasn’t just sex, though there was plenty of that. It was emotional intimately. A month of stress and being busy had made those moments more fleeting than ever. Seamus nuzzled into Matt’s neck as he ran his hands over Matt’s body. “And I’ll let you clean more if this is what happens.” Matt chuckled and wrapped his arms around Seamus. He could feel his lover's breath against his skin and relished the feeling of fingers grazing his hip. “How did this start?” Matt asked. “How did what start?” “This. Us.” Seamus’s laugh vibrated. “As I recall, me checking out your ass wasn’t enough, so you went to Ironworks looking for more. If you remember, I rescued you, and the rest is history.” Matt laughed. “I guess I should be more specific.” He rolled Seamus on to his back and hovered over him. “Why on earth did you take this on?” Seamus studied Matt as he tried to figure out exactly what Matt was asking. “You did so much more than help me with Aidan. You went above and beyond in a way that borders insane. No person in their right mind would do what you did. So why did you?” Seamus spread his legs and let Matt settle between them. “I admit, I didn’t spend much time at the cafe, Denise does such a good job it wasn’t necessary. She emailed me and asked if I could stop by. It had been a while since we last met. That’s when you and I ran into each other, literally. I swear on all things holy I had never seen someone as hot as you. You had these intense blue eyes and the way you scowled at me made me weak in the knees. It would’ve stopped there, but when I came back to the cafe, you had Aidan. If you were hot before, well, fuck me, I was downright catatonic seeing a baby strapped to you. The more I watched you, the more I saw how amazing you were. You were more than some smoking hot guy. You were hard working and great with people. The way you made your friends laugh and how you smiled without trying made you captivating. When I saw you struggling with Aidan, I couldn’t help myself. I just wanted a tiny reason to be a part of your life. “Then I spent time with Aidan. He filled this whole other part of me. I always wanted to be a dad. It was something I always, always wanted. My parents made it clear it wasn’t a possibility since I was gay. When you have no money, things like adoption and surrogacy are not possible. So, in their head, it really wasn’t an option. Then I met Kelly. He had the means, but not the motivation. Technically, he wanted a family. He actually had things ready to go. He’d created embryos a year before we met. He wanted one kid; a boy, a namesake, an heir. Whatever you want to call it, it broke my heart. I’m glad it never panned out. That poor kid. “Don’t get me wrong, I never thought of Aidan as my mine or anything. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about my motivation. But I had given up on that dream and Aidan was a balm on that part of my soul. “Everything snowballed after that. The more time I spent with Aidan, the more I loved him. He was so easy and melded into my life. I wasn’t the only one enamored by him, there’s not a single employee that wouldn’t take a bullet for him. But then I’d come back from spending the day with him to find you being…you. Perfect in every way.” “Yeah right,” Matt scoffed at the compliment. “Hey, don’t be mean to my boyfriend.” “It’s hard. We have very different views of reality. You’re the perfect one.” “I’m glad you see it that way.” “I do.” Matt shifted, he was still between his legs but also laying on Seamus’s chest. “So, you were telling me you came back to find me being all perfect and shit. What happened after that?” Seamus laughed. “Nothing. As much as I liked you, and I was already pretty in love with you, I honestly thought nothing would happen between us. I was just happy that I had somehow manipulated you into letting me be your live-in nanny.” “Oh, I see. I’m on to your evil plan now.” “Yes, well, not so evil. I really just wanted you and Aidan to have whatever you needed and for you to be happy with or without me. Though, you would’ve had a hard time getting rid of me by that point. I wouldn’t have given either of you up without a fight. But it wasn’t until you sat on my lap at the bar that I thought—I wondered, what if things were mutual?” “They were.” “Ehh,” Seamus seesawed his hand. “I’ve always been a few steps ahead, but we’re getting there.” “Where are you now? What do you see for the future?” Matt asked, curious about what Seamus would say. There weren't a lot of steps left. Seamus smiled and shook his head. “No way. I already sound kind of psycho after sharing all that. No need to keep going.” Matt hovered again. “Tell me. Communication is key, remember?” Seamus took a breath. He was a sucker for Matt and couldn’t deny him. “Obviously, I love you and Aidan. You know I want you both back in the loft, permanently.” Matt playfully rolled his eyes. “You may have hinted.” When Seamus said nothing else, Matt pressed. “What else?” Seamus groaned. “You’re going to freak out.” “I’m not going to freak out,” he promised. Seamus fidgeted. “Marriage,” he admitted. “I plan things, in my head, about us being married.” “And?” Seamus groaned and looked away. Matt wouldn’t have that and quickly brought his gaze back. “Adopting Aidan.” Matt said nothing, he let Seamus squirm for a minute. Eventually, Seamus grew tired of the scrutiny and grew a pair of balls. Maybe he realized Matt didn’t think he was crazy. “I want everything with you, okay? I want to get married, I want Aidan, and I want another kid—maybe two, I don’t know,” he said with an exasperated sigh. “I want to work together. I want you to take over Mike’s job at some capacity. The role might look a little different, but I see you there. I haven’t said anything because you’re still in school and I don’t want to completely freak you out, but, yeah.” Seamus finally looked at Matt, then glanced down when he felt Matt hard against his leg. “Are you actually—” he shifted his hips and laughed. “You’re hard right now?” “Sue me for thinking it’s hot that the sexiest guy on the planet can’t get enough of me. It’s good for my ego.” “You’re not freaking out because I’m ten steps ahead of you?” “Nah. There will be times when one of us will need to lead the other. As long as you can be patient and hold my hand along the way, I’m here.” Seamus let out a long, relieved breath and kissed Matt. “I can do that.” **** Matt had to work the day before and the day after Christmas. He didn’t mind. He had gotten a week off for Christmas the previous year and had just taken two weeks off to help Seamus. The least he could do was pull his weight so others could enjoy their holiday. Matt’s dad surprised him by calling and asking if he could come stay a few days. Matt didn’t have an extra room but Seamus did. Which meant they were cleaning the guest room less than twenty-four-hours later. “You know you won the dad lottery, right?” Seamus asked as he whipped the sheet across the bed. “Do I ever.” “I’m serious. I don’t know many parents that do as much as your dad does. Most have to pull teeth to get their parents to babysit, let alone come to them for a holiday.” “My dad is chill like that. Always has been.” “Just as long as you know how lucky you are.” Matt knew exactly how lucky he was but he also knew how quick things could change. He was doing everything in his power to not take it for granted and to cherish the moments they had. When his dad showed up two days before Christmas, he was even more blessed to see the way Brad treated Seamus. Yes, they’d spent time together before, over the summer, but there’s something different about Christmas. It’s a family holiday and Brad treated Seamus the same way he treated Matt. Like a son. None of them were big on gifts, but they each got a little something. Brad bought Seamus and Matt a year’s worth of a monthly charcuterie and wine subscription. Matt thought it was cool but not nearly as cool as Seamus thought it was. Matt wasn’t sure if it was the gift itself or the thought behind it. Either way, Seamus’s reaction made it the best gift ever. Aidan got lots of gifts, none of which he cared too much about. He sure loved the wrapping paper, though. And he loved his grandpa. Aidan’s hardest decision was choosing between the three men who were all hopelessly lost on the little boy. He didn’t even have to make a decision, he just rotated through them to his heart's content before passing out on the sofa, at which point Grandpa carried him to bed. They could still hear Brad’s quiet footfalls when Seamus pushed Matt backward on the sofa and peppered his face with kisses. Matt coughed in surprise when his crotch was squeezed. He expected Seamus to scurry away when they heard Brad coming back from putting Aidan down but that wasn’t the case. Other than letting go of Matt’s dick, Seamus stayed on top of Matt. Matt was nervous as he caught his dad’s eye as he walked by. He had never been this blatantly physical with a boyfriend in front of him before and he wasn’t sure how he’d react. Brad just smiled. Everything Matt needed from his dad was in that smile. It was the smile of a happy dad, a proud dad, a dad that wanted nothing more than a happy son. Seamus tilted his head toward Brad and Brad’s gaze shifted. Matt couldn’t say for sure what passed between the two. Judging by the way Seamus relaxed on top of him, it was good. Brad walked past them. “I’m going to clean the dishes and head to bed. It’s been a long day.” “You’ve done enough, we’ll take care of the dishes,” Seamus said. Brad spun on his heel and went back the way he came, towards Matt’s old room. “I won’t argue with that.” When he was gone, Matt nudged Seamus. “What has gotten into you.” “What?” Seamus smiled, real coy like. “You’ve just been a lot more—” “More what?” Seamus slipped his hand down and squeezed Matt’s ass. Matt laughed. “That’s exactly what you’ve been more of.” “More ass grabbing? Are you complaining?” Seamus shifted again, covering Matt even more, if that was even possible, and making him laugh. “I’m not complaining, not at all. You’ve just been more—” “I’m happy, Matt. That’s all.” “Have you not been happy the whole time we’ve been together?” Seamus looked at Matt seriously. “I’ve been happy since day one, you know that.” “Not like this.” “I can’t remember a time when I was free to say what was on my mind or to do what I wanted to do without repercussion. My parents were never supportive. Not because I was gay. They were just shitty people. And Kelly, well, we clearly had a different view on relationships. Even when things were great between us, it was a thin veil. Telling Kelly the truth was always a recipe for disaster. Even between us. I wasn’t being open with you. I was afraid of saying too much or being too much.” “How would you be too much?” “Too affectionate, too physical, too invested.” Matt laughed loud enough to wake the house. “You definitely should’ve worried about being too physical. You damn near made my dick fall off from all the sex.” Seamus smiled proudly at that. “Well, sex is good with you. It was also the only outlet I had. Guys want sex, I could safely channel everything I felt through sex without raising suspicion.” “I like that you’ve been handsy and kind of insatiable the last few weeks. I know I’ve been shaky in the past, but I want you to feel you can say and do whatever you want.” “I’m still terrified that I’m going to push you too far.” Matt thought about it for a second. “Well, if you tell me the truth and I freak out, or vice versa, and it’s something we can’t work through, then we’re clearly not right for each other. But I don’t think that’s the case.” “Yeah, but I’m ahead of you in every way.” “Ehh, so you got a head start blowing up your party balloon. Doesn’t mean I won’t catch up. Mine is getting bigger by the day.” “Are you saying my party balloon is bigger than yours?” Matt laughed. He really loved the more playful Seamus. “Don’t turn my metaphor into something dirty.” “But I could help you blow your balloon up.” Matt was already hard from Seamus pressing him into the couch. The temptation of a blowjob was not needed. He looked down the hall, then at Seamus. Green light. They scrambled off the sofa. Going straight to bed would’ve been nice, but they had to lock up, and Seamus had to do the dishes, which irritated Matt. “I told your dad we’d do it. If it’s not done in the morning, he’ll suspect.” Matt threw his head back and laughed. “That would imply Dad has no idea what goes on behind closed doors, and that’s just not the case. Now let’s go.” Matt closed the dishwasher and pressed the start button. When they got to the room, Matt stripped, then crawled into bed and leaned against the headboard. He watched Seamus make a show of taking his socks off because, you know, heaven forbid he left them on. A few minutes of riding Matt with his mouth, and then his ass, Seamus grabbed the lube and condom. Matt took the former and made quick work of opening Seamus up. Holding himself with one hand, he guided Seamus’s hips with the other. Seamus jolted when he felt Matt nudging for entrance. Because, holy hell, Matt wasn’t wearing a condom. “Don’t look so shocked. I told you I was a few steps behind, but I’m catching up. I already told you I was in love with you. Now I’m ready for this.” Seamus fisted his nuts. “My balls are tingling and you’re not even inside me yet.” Leaning forward, Matt kissed Seamus then pushed himself inside his lover. “Is this what you want? Just you and me?” “Yeah,” Seamus moaned with his eyes closed. “Yes.” Matt set the pace until Seamus was good and stretched. Seamus took over, rolling his hips in a way that drove Matt crazy. Matt couldn’t do much but sit with his head lulled to the side and try to stop from cumming. Feeling nothing around him but Seamus was a sensation he was not prepared for. It was good. Too good. Then Seamus squeezed his thighs and flipped them over. Matt tried to take it slow—to make it last, but that wasn’t going to happen. Seamus stared at Matt. “You’re going to cum in me, right?” “Yes, god yes. I won’t hold back.” Seamus made Matt ride him hard. “Fuck, that’s good. I want to feel you in me.” That brought Matt closer, and with a few bucks of his hips, he started releasing inside Seamus. It was a forever orgasm, the kind that won’t stop. Seamus kept going, kept moving, drawing every ounce of life from Matt. When he finally finished, Seamus looked as wrecked as Matt felt. “I’ve never not used a condom before,” Seamus admitted. “I can’t say that. But this is the first time I’ve done it and knew it was right.” Seamus used one of their discarded shirts to do a quick cleanup. “Good enough for me.” Once they caught their breath, they found their underwear. They both felt weird with Brad just a few walls away. “You seemed a lot more comfortable around my dad.” A wave of affection rolled off his Seamus. He was positively radiating. Matt didn’t need to see his face to know he was smiling from ear to ear. “When I tell you you’re the whole package, I mean it. You and Aidan are amazing, but when you grow up with very conditional parents like mine, or even Kelly’s, experiencing a parent love you the way Brad does is incredible.” “He is awesome.” “No, awesome isn’t—it’s so much more. There’s no judgement when you and I hold hands or kiss. We don’t have to hide anything when he’s around.” “Is that why you’ve been mauling me in front of him all week?” Seamus laughed. “Kind of. I mean, I had a theory. I needed to test it.” “A theory, huh? What was your theory? That Dad is cool?” “No,” Seamus shook his head then stared at the ceiling. “Erm, it’s stupid.” Matt looked at Seamus. “Tell me.” Seamus slowly looked at Matt with apprehension. “I thought, maybe, that he might love me—the way he loves you.” Matt saw everything clearly. The realisation went straight to his bones, making his blood tingle and his eyes swell with emotion. Seamus was a boy who had never, not once, felt loved by parents. Matt looked up and found Seamus with the same watery eyes. It angered Matt that Seamus was twenty-nine and feeling the love of a parent for the first time. Matt swallowed the lump in his throat. “And does he?” “Yeah, I think he does.” He knew his dad wouldn’t disappoint. Brad would love Seamus to the moon and back. Matt had to admit, his party balloon was gaining momentum at an incredible rate.
    133 points
  4. Happily Ever After. Well, 'ever after' hasn't happened quite yet. It has been seven years since your last entry in that journal. We were given beautiful matching bound books as wedding gifts, and you've been writing in a series of those ever since. Mine have become sketchbooks. After seven years, we're still together and still very much in love. But 'ever' isn't here yet. We have a lot of life together left to live. As for happily? Yeah. Happy. Definitely happy. We've met plenty of people who are going through life unhappily for a lot of reasons. Some are victims of terrible misfortune, some suffer from their own bad decisions. Some choose unhappiness, over and over again. Marilyn O'Shea told us that we could choose happiness, and I think we did, seven years ago. This isn't to say every day since our wedding has been hearts and flowers. The world still has bigots and hopelessly small-minded fools. And, like any couple, we have had our trials and arguments from time to time. The summer between junior and senior year in high school turned out to be pretty stressful. You insisted that I go to an architecture program at the University of Miami. It was important for me to do it, and the experience was really helpful. I learned a lot. But I didn’t want to go, because I'd be leaving you behind. We'd be apart, and I didn't want that. When I got back, I would be going directly to swim camp – and we'd be apart for two more weeks. Those five weeks were brutal for both of us – we tried to use our cell phones to see each other every day, but you were working for Eustace again that summer, and cell service at the farm was pretty sketchy. It still is. You discovered that there were two places with a reliable signal: up at the pond, and up in the hayloft. Phone sex with you in the hay? Oh, boy. When swim camp was finally over, I expected mom or dad to pick me up, but you surprised me and came to do it yourself. You'd gotten your driver's license while I was away and never told me. I'll never forget how I jumped into your arms in front of everyone in the lobby when I found you waiting for me at the dorm. And then you helped me pull a prank worthy of Frank on a couple of the guys who'd actually been hitting on me while I'd been there. But that's another story. Best of all, Eustace decided that you were perfectly capable of watching the farm and handling the list of tasks that needed to be done for about a week. He figured it was time to take his grandkids on a fishing trip. He left us together at the farmhouse for a whole week. Yes, we worked very hard; you wanted everything to be perfect when Eustace came back. But we also played – and not just in bed, either. We wrestled in the hayloft getting the hay in, discovered an icy swimming hole deep in the woods, and threw weeds at each other in the garden. You took me up to the pond for a starlight skinny dip. I will never forget making love to you on the grass under the stars for as long as I live. We came back to the farm in the fall at Thanksgiving that year. Eustace invited us – all of us, mom, dad, you and me, along with Ambrose and his family, and Allan Walker and his family, and your grandmother Walker – to the farmhouse. The place was packed. Eustace put all the younger children in a fixed-up space in the far back of the house, while the adults got sorted out in all the various bedrooms; you and I got the hunting cabin. I get a blissful, warm feeling thinking about that, still. I'd forgotten that you'd never seen a Thanksgiving before; never lived through the smells, the excitement, the anticipation, the joy, and, of course the taste of such a holiday. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I can remember a meal like that one, either. To watch you experience those days was a gift to add to the huge pile of things we had to be thankful for that year. After the meal, we had to lean on each other for support as we staggered back to the cabin under skies so clear and cold that every star in heaven must have been visible. Living at home while being married and in high school was weird. Hell, the situation challenged almost everyone. Our friends seemed unsure of how to treat us until we made it clear we weren't any different than we had been. At home, mom and dad had to learn how to talk to us as people who weren't quite adults, but pretty close. Chores and coordinating life got to be much more cooperative and less dictated. On the other hand, I had to learn to keep my voice down during what mom discreetly chose to call "playtime." Now that was seriously embarrassing. Mom and dad kept their promise to help us learn how to be a married couple. Dad gave me instructions on how to "fight fair," instructions that sounded a lot like Father Brewer's counsel. Nonna Costanza came back up to teach you how to cook Italian. Their advice and example really helped when we applied to college, because we were both so tense and anxious that we wouldn't both get into the same university – me for architecture, you for agricultural engineering. You were absolutely adamant that if I got in and you didn’t, you weren't going to school. We got the best deal at State. I got a swimming scholarship, and you got a full ride from a little-known scholarship fund for victims of violent crime. At first, it was me all the coaches and admissions people were after; later, it was you. And it was you who supported me through some pretty dark times after my shoulder got injured in my junior year, and I lost my scholarship. You never wavered even when I wanted to quit and let myself go. You never, ever wavered, not then, and not when I had to take an internship year in San Francisco two years ago. More time apart. You went to work while I went off to study and apprentice for a year. I was miserable until you were able to come out and rescue me. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We had our fights, too. One big disagreement was over money. Specifically, the money your father's estate left to you, once all the legal dust had settled. With the sale of your old house and everything in it, the amount turned out to be pretty impressive. And it turned out there was a rather large, mysterious savings account your father had maintained – it had thousands of dollars in it. Your Uncle Ray cleared up that mystery for us, eventually. It was blackmail money. Your father had been setting it aside, month by month, to hand over to your uncle once he was released from prison. But your father, greedy, tight-fisted and cheap as he was, found excuse after excuse to put your uncle off once he got out. Of course, they fought over it, and your dad was murdered. But your uncle never found the account number, so he never touched the money. You wanted nothing to do with any part of it. You called it "filthy money," and refused every attempt by my dad to get you to deal with the cash at all. At one point, you wanted to give every penny away. I argued that you ought to keep it, use it to go to college with, or use it to do something that your father would surely have denied you as a way of posthumous spite. Eventually, you gave in, once I suggested a way for you to clean up the money from the estate by giving some away – you chose a charity for runaway kids – and letting my dad invest the rest for a while. In the end, we were both right. Because you kept the money, we could use it for something really important; because it didn't go to college payments, we have a home of our own now. And not just any home. When Eustace decided it was time to get out of farming completely, you worked out a way for us to buy the farm. It's ours, now, with no debt. We just finished moving yesterday, and we're unpacking all this week. I'll be able to travel on short trips for most of my work, and we're turning one of the rooms upstairs into my studio. My wedding present to you – that portrait of you I did when I first got you to pose for me the fall we met – that's going to hang in the living room. I had it framed right before our wedding, and it still suits you perfectly. We'll have a library downstairs, but these journals had to go on a shelf in the bedroom where I can see them every day. I don't think I'll ever want to leave. Everyone congratulated us on making this move to the farm – our parents, Kaz and Terry, Ambrose, all our friends and family. And I think there may be a little bit of envy there, too. But I watch your face whenever you receive a compliment from someone. You always reply that you've just been very lucky. In a way, that's true. You have. Good fortune let you survive eight years of brutal horror with your father. Luck brought you to Eustace; more luck brought you to me. But that's only part of the story. You’re the most courageous, persistent and energetic person I know. It took bravery to walk away from Carlsberg, courage to take to the road on your own. It took guts and persistence to stay on the road, day after day, in the rain, in the heat, hungry and weak and vulnerable. It took fantastic audacity to pretend – for a whole semester – to be a normal kid, while living a dual life as a homeless boy, hiding in the library closet. And it took courage to take me on as your husband, even though so many people didn't think it very wise. You have been the great constant in my life. Your love for me, and mine for you, only seems to get better and stronger. More than this place, more than this house, you are home for me. (Undated addition – written on the inside back cover) I smile whenever I read this. I sometimes sneak into the house while you're working, Zander, or when it's lunchtime and you're traveling, and I re-read your final note in this journal. You wrote it five years ago, and it still makes me happy. To anyone who reads this: I want everyone to know that Zander still makes me happy, even after twelve years. A lot has changed in the five years we've been here. The farm is expanding – the flock is bigger and healthier now than when we took over. I've made some great contacts that get me better prices for both wool and meat than Eustace got, which means there's money for improvements. I'm thinking about how we can branch out, try other things. I want to try fruit trees; Zander wants to build three or four rental cottages for vacationers. Architectural gems, by the look of their design sketches. They'll attract aficionados who might pay to stay in something stylish or offbeat. Maybe you're onto something, Z. We might have the money to buy some more acreage soon, so we'll see. Some things you forgot to include, Zander: how did you forget Terry and Kaz's wedding the summer after we graduated? Their kids – twins! – call us uncles, as if they don't have enough of relatives of their own. Or the time you just about got into a fistfight because some guy in college was flirting with me? I had to drag you away, but deep down, I felt thrilled at your protectiveness. Or what about our trip to Africa? You joked that the only scenery I looked at were the shepherds and their flocks. You left out a couple of trips south to see Delia Walker. Do I have to remind you how I felt about all those beach boys ogling my husband? Or remember how you got me out of my self-conscious funk and into the surf, where nobody cared what I looked like, and all I could do was take joy in your abundant happiness? Remember? Maybe you're right. Maybe I am too focused on how lucky I've been. Fine. Maybe I should say that I've been blessed. Is that better? Every day God sends is a blessing when I wake up next to you. Tonight, we've had another blessing which has me taking notes again. Right after the supper dishes were put away, someone came rapping on the kitchen door. There stood a thin, wiry boy, maybe fourteen. Tangled red hair, searching green eyes. I didn't need to ask his last name – it was obvious. He had cuts on his cheek, chin and forehead. Bruises were going to blossom elsewhere on his face, I could see. He stood there a moment. "My name's Reed. Reed Anderson, and I'm looking for work. Do you got any?" The teenage voice just about cracked. His lip trembled. I wanted to wrap the kid in a hug, but you were more sensible. "Nope, no work tonight," you said cheerfully, "but we've got some leftover supper, if you need, and a table to eat it on. Come on in." Food lit the boy's eyes right up. I put together some supper really fast, while you peppered the kid with questions. Turns out little Reed got caught sucking off one of his cousins in the tool shed. His daddy decided to 'beat that gay shit right out of him.' Didn't work; daddy's been beating on Reed for about a month now. There's a room upstairs for Reed. You're upstairs with him right now, helping him shower and getting his cuts cleaned. He's staying. I took some pictures, and I'm calling Ambrose in about fifteen minutes. We'll fix Reed's daddy if I have to take on the whole damn Anderson clan. And we're keeping his boy. See what happens? I spend a few minutes writing in the old journal, trying to calm down and think rationally, and I'm just getting angry again. But there isn't any backing down on this. Reed isn't going back to Andersonville. You're right, Zander: you are my love and my hope and faith; we're home for each other. And I think we're about to discover that there's room in our home for someone new. But that's going to be another story.
    132 points
  5. Chapter 1 It was astounding how beautiful he was. Kendall shifted in his seat, trying not to stare at the best friend he had in the whole world. Swallowing down the lump in his throat, he felt the dread crawl over him, and he steeled himself for what he was about to do. He'd entered Sticks and Suds by the side door, slipping into the booth unnoticed. The waitress, having seen his arrival, approached him with a welcoming smile. He waved her away with a, "Thanks, Cora, I'm good." As she nodded, turned, and retreated, Michael caught his eye, giving him one of those heart-stopping smiles he seemed to reserve just for Kendall. Gesturing, he indicated he was almost finished his pool game. Candy, the flavor of the last couple of months, chose that moment to plant a big kiss on Michael, reaching up and wrapping her arms around his muscular neck. Kendall smirked to himself at her obvious act of possession, knowing how Michael felt about his women when they got that way. That smirk turned to a frown as he wondered if Candy might be different. She'd already lasted a few weeks longer than most of them did. The feeling such a thought gave him was exactly the reason he had to follow through on why he asked Michael to meet him here. He watched Michael disengage himself from Candy's grip, powerful arms gently setting her aside as he turned away to prepare to take his next shot. Leaning over the table, the view he provided was impossible to look away from. His flaring back was on perfect display as his arm drew the cue back in preparation, and his was an ass Kendall had stared at and fantasized about for the entire six years he'd known him. From roommates the first year of Police College, to sitting in this booth today, Michael was never far from Kendall's thoughts... and that had to change. His resolve wasn't wavering, but his body was showing signs of the great stress he was under. Nausea threatened to overtake him and there was a noticeable tremble to his hands. He found himself wishing Michael would hurry up. As if he heard Kendall's thoughts, Michael replaced his cue in the rack and turned to look his way with a smile he recognized as victorious. Chalk up another win for the big Irish/Italian cop no one seemed to mind losing to. Careful not to drown in those intense blue eyes, Kendall glanced away as Michael started his short trek towards him. True to form, Michael stopped to say a few words to a couple sitting at the booth closest to the group of pool tables. His deep, rumbling laugh brought Kendall's eyes back to him. That natural charm and friendliness gave Kendall a chance to take in his incredible appeal for a few more seconds. Those muscular, jean-clad legs with that bulge that couldn't be hidden in any pants, up his amazing set of abdominal muscles, to the power packed chest stretching the navy blue t-shirt that had POLICE printed across it, Kendall got lost in the masculine perfection that was Michael. His gaze continued up to see a frown flicker across the face that haunted his days, and his nights, as Michael stared back at him. Quickly looking down, Kendall wondered what his face had shown. Normally he was careful about hiding how he felt, but knowing there was an expiration date on the option of admiring the person he loved most in this world, had, for a split second, caused those cautious walls to drop. A rueful smile appeared on his face at the mental acknowledgement he wasn't going to hide anymore, and it hit him again, the enormity of what his intention was going to cost him. Looking back up, he was startled to see Michael slide into the seat facing him, running a hand through that glossy black hair of his. There was a look of genuine worry on his face, and that caused a deep searing pain to run through what was either Kendall's heart or his soul. "Hey, buddy. What's going on? Are you okay?" His concern was so evident, Kendall's conviction wavered, and he found himself floundering in a pool of emotion, robbing him of his ability to speak. "Hey? Did something happen? Do you need something to drink? You don't look very good." His determination slowly exerted itself, and Kendall was soon able to give him a weak smile. "I'm okay...I just need to talk to you about something... something important." A couple of deep breaths calmed him slightly, and he continued to convince his friend he was all right. "I am not sick or anything, but what I have to talk about is really hard for me, so I need you to listen and let me get things out, okay?" Michael, looking perplexed, nodded. "Okay, so first you need to know something, and I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. You've been my best friend for so long and I was being totally unfair to you... I was being unfair to both of us." He looked away as his heart started to race, and he could feel a horrible kind of sweat breaking out on his entire upper body. God, this was so hard. "Just tell me, Deuce," Michael said softly. "Whatever it is, it can't be that bad. Best friends forever, right?" Hearing Michael's nickname for him got him back on track, barely, and he tried to give him a reassuring smile... one he didn't feel. "I hope so, Ace, I really do." Michael started to react, but Kendall's agonized plea to "Wait," stopped him cold. It was clear he didn't know what was going on here, but Kendall saw the realization dawn on his friend's face just how serious this was. He'd never seen Kendall like this before because he had never allowed him to. As hard as he tried to stay calm, a nervous hand was gripping and releasing the blond hair on the top of his head while he fought the terror of what he was doing and how it would all turn out. The uneasy expression on Michael's face as he watched him struggle not to lose it was making things worse, but he knew he had to do this. "I'm sorry, Ace... just bear with me please." Another plea to hold a now anxious Michael in check. "I should have told you this a long time ago. No excuses... I told myself I couldn't figure out how, but the fact is, I just didn't have the guts. I'm gay." Those two words came out softly, but the sob that followed had him swallowing fiercely. He watched as Michael's face went totally blank. Forcing himself to really look at the man, he found he couldn't read him. He could always tell what that familiar face was thinking, but this time, as he searched it, he couldn't decipher anything. When a sick fear started to overwhelm him, he saw Michael's eyes come back into focus. "How is that possible? You're kidding right? I know you've slept with a lot of women." He rubbed his face with large hands as if to wake himself up. "We've had sex with women in the same room. Remember Kelly? You had her climbing the walls. I know because I was there." The confused expression matched his words. "Yes, you were there. There haven't been a lot of women, though. As a matter of fact, I haven't had sex with a woman in a couple of years... not since Amanda. I just let you think I did because it was easier than this." Kendall stopped to take a few deep breaths, trying to regain some control. He was right on the edge of breaking down completely, but he knew he was only halfway done. "I realized what I was doing wasn't right, and I stopped. Dragging other people's feelings into my messed up life was wrong. All it did was make me feel worse. I'm gay. I'm not here to convince you of that. This isn't a joke. I wish it was, but it isn't." The sadness coming from Kendall hit Michael full force. He had a strong urge to take the big man in his arms and hold him. It hurt so bad to see him like this. "It's okay," he said softly. "I had no idea, none at all, but it's okay. I don't care. You are still my best friend and always will be. You didn't think that would change, did you?" He waited for his friend to finally meet his eyes. The look he saw there was one of utter despair. "The thing is, we can't be best friends, not for now, not like we have been...." That was Candy's cue to slide into the booth beside Michael. He hadn't seen or heard her approach. "Baby, you're ignoring me and I don't like it. You told me you were going to teach me to play pool." Michael shifted his stunned gaze over to Candy. "What the hell are you talking about? Not now, Candy. I told you Kendall needed to talk to me, so could you just piss off." It wasn't a question, and it came out as a hiss as he glared at her for a second before looking back at the man across from him. The tension was excruciating, and he wanted Candy gone. He turned and glared at her again, watching her pout go from hurt to indignant. He couldn't have cared less in that moment. Finally, she slid out of the booth and stalked away, throwing a comment over her shoulder as she left. "Fine. Stay here with your boyfriend then. I'll find someone else to teach me." "Bitch," Michael uttered as he focused on Kendall. "What the hell do you mean? I told you I was fine with it and you say we can't be best friends anymore?" He couldn't help it. His words were spit out with anger and hurt. This part was something Michael couldn't accept. He had never been closer to any other person, outside of his parents, in his whole life. He relied on Kendall and his almost daily presence. They did everything together. They had coffee every morning, they ate together most evenings, they went to the gym, movies, hockey games, camping, fishing... fuck, even shopping. They hardly ever went a day without seeing one another, and told each other everything. Okay, so apparently not everything, but that didn't matter right now. How could Kendall even think of ending their friendship? "You can't be serious? You've got to be fucking kidding me. Why in hell would you think we couldn't be best friends? Haven't I always been supportive of you? Fuck man... don't even go there. Seriously, you're freaking me out here. I don't give a rat's ass if you're gay." A long silence followed those words, and Kendall looked like he was dying inside. What the fuck? "Say something. Tell me you don't mean this. Please, Deuce, " Michael pleaded. Desperation combined with disbelief, but those feelings were giving way to a fear stronger than any Michael could remember experiencing. This could not be happening. Now they were at the part that had Kendall twisted up in knots. This was what'd prevented him from telling his best friend sooner... the reason why his life has been on hold for so long. "Ace... you need to understand everything. I need to have my own life. The last thing I want is to end our friendship, but I don't see any other way." He couldn't stop the tears from welling up... he didn't even try. He felt so fucking raw, and imagined cutting off a hand couldn't hurt any worse. "I need to find someone for me, and I can't do that when I see you every day. I'm sorry. I couldn't ask for a better friend. I lose here too." This time the tears spilled over with a vengeance and he could no longer meet the pained look in those dark blue eyes. "Hey, am I missing something here, because I don't get it? If I take up too much of your time then I'll just back off. I really am okay with... with the gay thing. Hell... I'll even help you if you want. I'll help you find someone, whatever it takes, man. Just please don't end our friendship. It doesn't make sense and there's no reason for it. And please don't cry. We can get through this. I just can't imagine us not being friends. Fuck, Deuce, I need you." "I love you, Ace," Kendall whispered. It came out so low he wondered if Michael heard him. Obviously, he had. "Hey, I love you too. You mean more to me than a brother ever could... you have to know that." "No." The word came out wreathed in the pain he felt. This was it... what he'd dreaded and avoided for so damn long. "You don't understand. Shit. I know you love me, but what I am talking about is something different. I am in love with you. I am in love with you and I have been since our first year of college. I don't have a life because I can't think of any other guy but you. I crave being around you and I'm lost when I'm not. I think about you all day and I dream about you at night. That's why I can't be around you anymore. It's not what I want... it's what I need. Do you get it now? I am in love with someone who can't return it. I look at you, and I feel all this love I have to hold back and try to bury, and it's fucking killing me." Kendall would not have thought it possible to feel so exposed, so brutally vulnerable, but he had done it and there was no going back. Michael was reeling. The anguish in Kendall's confession ripped him to the core, and the shock of his words hit him like bullets. He knew what he was hearing, but he couldn't react. One thing that got through loud and clear was that Kendall was in love with him and it was preventing him from moving forward. 'Someone who can't return it' was rebounding in his head. What should he say to that? He did love Kendall, and seeing him so unhappy, hearing such suffering in his voice... knowing he was the reason this six foot, three inch man was reduced to this painful mess, robbed him of the ability to fathom a solution or produce a reaction... so he just sat there feeling like the world had dropped away beneath him. He felt defeated. He hadn't expected this, nor was he prepared, and he felt embarrassed that he had been so dense, so oblivious, to his best friend's pain. Kendall waited for Michael to respond but nothing came. He understood. He was feeling shell-shocked, and he was the one who dropped the bomb. The time had come. "I'm going to go now. I am really, really sorry I dumped this on you. I hope you're going to be okay. You're probably pissed at me right now, and I don't blame you. Maybe someday we can be friends again... as hard as this is, I need you to respect what I have to do. I have to get over you... I've tried for years, but it hasn't worked. You know what they say about out of sight, out of mind." He tried a little smile, but it wasn't returned, not that he expected it to be. "Take care of yourself, Ace." There was nothing more to say, so he got up and slipped out the door behind him, taking one last glance at a man who looked like he had just lost his best friend. Pain punched him in the gut as he watched a tear drop from that chiseled jaw and land on the table top. Michael couldn't, for the life of him, figure out what he could have done or should have done. He had never felt so lost in his life. He'd tried to speak... to say something... anything... but nothing came out. And now it was too late. His best friend was gone. Kendall stumbled to his truck with that last image in his head. Seeing Michael's tears was something he hadn't been prepared for. He'd never seen his friend cry before and it devastated him that the first time it happened, he was the cause. He'd convinced himself he would feel better once he came clean... free, and ready to move on with his life. Maybe that would come someday, but for now, he had never felt lower. The door had just closed completely on the man he loved with his entire being. The last thing he wanted was to replace him with someone else. Kendall's mind rebelled at the thought, and reality hit him as he pulled out of the parking lot. Sobs that came from the depth of his soul began to make their way up and out. He knew nothing would ever be the same again, and he had only himself to blame. The very real thought occurred to him that Michael would probably never forgive him for walking away from their friendship. The sobs became hoarse, screeching howls that threatened to stop his heart with their intensity. Driving was no longer an option as he pulled over onto a weedy shoulder and tried to get himself back under control. Flinging open his door just in time, he spewed the contents of his stomach onto the pavement. Again and again, his body convulsed. So this was the start of his new life? All he could think of was that handsome face with the tears running down its cheeks...a testament to the pain he had caused. Over and over in his head, one question repeated itself, so he let it escape his lips and said to no one, "What have I done?"
    131 points
  6. “Have you been able to identify the cause yet?” Jean-Pierre reviewed the report his lieutenant handed him. “Did the prisoners start the fire trying to escape?” “There was no escape attempt as far as we can tell. We don’t know yet what caused the fire. The report is preliminary, and I still have people working to figure out what happened.” The newly appointed first lieutenant knew his boss hated incomplete information. “Security says the DVR was damaged by a power surge, so we don’t have a complete picture of what was going on. The tech team only recovered a few seconds of video so far. The cameras at both ends of the corridor caught a flash as the flames raced through the space and then nothing. Whatever it was appears to have blown through the hallway outside the cells, and killed any of the men there. We’re not even sure what the fuel source was, but it burned out almost as quick as it started. By the time more guards responded to the alarm, it was out. According to the computer logs, one of the men used the prisoner control system to shock one or more cells just prior to the fire.” The facilities maintenance chief spoke for the first time. “Our best guess is gas from a line in the adjacent service corridor was leaking, and something sparked it. We’ve checked the line several times since the fire, but can’t detect any evidence of a leak. So, like he said, we just don’t know.” He paused to scratch his head. “Possibly when they tried to stun one of the prisoners, that gave the spark to ignite whatever the fuel source was.” “When will you know if the facility is safe from additional fires?” Jean-Pierre was annoyed at the silence. “How many of our people were injured or killed? And how many of the prisoners?” “We lost ten. All our people down in there died. None of the prisoners were harmed.” The lieutenant passed his boss a list of the casualties. “This list is preliminary from a camera in a corridor leading to the cells. It’s all we have unless we manage to verify the men by their DNA. If any records for them exist.” “Why were there so many down there at that time of night if the cells were secured?” He looked over the list of names before returning his glare to the lieutenant. “Why do I have a feeling that fire saved me from killing them myself? Because I’m dealing with business my standing orders to leave the prisoners alone are ignored? None of those men were on the approved list of guards. Who had the duty watch last night?” “Johnston did, sir.” “So how much was he charging, and which cell did they actually go into?” “I’m not sure what was being charged. I did hear rumors, but not enough to act on. They went into cell ten.” “Six women? No honor amongst thieves. Which cell did they use the shock system on?” “Number three, sir. Deputy Jacobs’ cell.” “His condition?” “Unconscious on the floor when they found him, but otherwise unharmed.” “When you find Johnston, bring him to me. Preferably alive, but that’s not a requirement.” “I understand, sir.” “I wonder if it isn’t time for a few significant changes around here. Have Deputy Jacobs brought up. I missed talking to him while I was gone. Unlike most of you, he can actually hold a conversation. And make sure you apologize to him for what happened to him and his people while you were in charge” “Yes, sir.” ****** The community hall was full as families took their customary seats while friends chatted before the alpha began the weekly meeting. Everyone mourned those lost in the attack, and a single mass memorial for those killed was scheduled for the following day. Families of those kidnapped tried to remain hopeful they might see their loved ones again. Everyone knew Parker Valley would not pay a ransom to the rogues. If demands were made, negotiations could at least buy time for a rescue to be mounted. Once the general business portion of the meeting concluded, John invited two special guests to join in the remainder of the assembly. The alpha updated everyone on what was known about the attack and on the casualties from the other packs. The leaders from both Ember Moon and Morning Star expressed their deepest thanks for the sacrifice Parker Valley’s warriors made in helping defend its neighbors. John’s eyes settled on Ethan. He hated putting the young man on the spot, but it had become a necessity. He felt it was a risk sharing the information with the neighboring alphas, but decided it was in their mutual interests to do so. “Rumors have been circulating for some time now, especially after the recent change in one of our council members. Many of you have wondered about what brought on our shift in policy regarding ferals, and the apparent breakthrough in our ability to cure them so they can return to a normal life.” This caused the other two alphas present to really take notice as they had not heard anything of a cure. “From the look on the faces of our guests, I see they are unaware of this development. I hope they’ll understand why I chose a cautious approach with regards to this news. I still view this as a matter of security for us, which is why I haven’t directly spoken of this yet. It has reached the point where enough people know at least a portion of the truth, and it can no longer remain in the shadows. I would prefer it be brought into the open here before you all, instead of persistent rumors and half truths circulating. Whatever forces there are to assist with someone finding their destiny, they saw fit to bring Ethan Tucker to us. Prior to his turning, he was already the most powerful being this pack has ever encountered.” All eyes in the hall focused on the newest Tucker, before attention returned to the alpha. “This young man we originally believed was human has been gifted with a unique ability that has only shown itself a few times throughout history. This gift allows Ethan to control the very elements of nature. There are many names for those like him who have appeared over time. The more classical name seems to apply most directly to him. Our young brother is an Elemental. Among his gifts is the ability to heal far greater than anything a lycan can do on our own. He is able to correct whatever it is within a feral that prevents their human minds from returning to us.” There were notable gasps from around the hall, including the visiting alphas, as people processed what they heard. “When Jonas and Anthony found their way to us, their behavior appeared unprecedented for a feral. Not only did they show they could communicate, but willingly surrendering to our hunters. It was obvious to all who witnessed the event they were trying to reach Ethan. “The following day, this young man followed his instincts calling to him, telling him he needed to see the two wolves. He visited the medical center, and was able to heal them. We believe a feral can sense Ethan is able to help them, and they seek him out, or others who might lead them to him. At least it’s our theory for the dramatic increase in ferals coming here. Since then, every feral that’s entered our territory has been cured. Except for those killed in the fighting of the recent attack. “I share this knowledge with my counterparts in Ember Moon and Morning Star in the hopes the safe recovery of ferals can be extended into their packs as well. We will freely share what information we can on the techniques we’ve employed to herd the unpredictable wolves into a safe capture. The only thing I ask of you all is discretion be used regarding this information with all three packs. It is possible at some point, as news of this passes beyond our respective borders, someone will try to take Ethan from us in an attempt to pervert his gifts for their own gain. His life is in our hands, and I for one will protect him as I would all our pack to my last breath.” Every lunis in the hall stood and moved to stand behind Ethan. Their arms crossed and faces etched in resolute determination they would allow no harm to come to their friend. All the lupus he had healed followed suit as others looked on. One by one, people stood until everyone was on their feet. John’s eyes scanned the room, seeing his entire pack standing, showing their support and resolve to protect Ethan. “Every one of you, on every day of my life, makes me proud to be your alpha.” After John dismissed the meeting, he went to speak to his counterparts about the issue he had brought up. His father, Garratt, joined the conversation as an observer and advisor. “John, are you serious about what you said regarding that boy and a cure for ferals?” Dave Redmond of Ember Moon thought the claim was dubious at best. Maxx Collins from Morning Star was equally skeptical. “The best doctors in the Council have worked for years trying to find a way to cure them with no luck. I don’t care how many legends I read, the thought someone can control the elements in any form is ludicrous.” “Gentlemen, Ethan’s ability to help a feral has nothing to do with science. It’s just part of his nature, as it’s ours to shift into wolves. He can draw on the forces of nature as he needs. To us it appears fanciful, but to an open minded human, our abilities would as well. The lunis population we now have living with us, as well as several new lupus, are a result of that cure. I understand your doubt, and you can either take me at my word or not. Ethan is still struggling with his mate being one from our pack that was taken, so I don’t think it fair to ask him to perform parlor tricks as evidence of what he can do.” Garrett cleared his throat. “John, I understand you not wanting to put the boy on display, but it might help for those who haven’t seen what he can do first hand.” Dave nodded his agreement. “I respect he’s suffering with the separation from his mate, but if you’re going to lay this on us, there has to be some way of showing this isn’t just BS. You’re a good and trustworthy neighbor, and we have no reason to doubt you, but it all sounds a little farfetched. Come on, John, Elementals?” John nodded since he knew this was needed. He waved Rafe over. “Would you ask Ethan to join us please?” Moments later, Rafe returned with his hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “Alphas, I want to respectfully remind all this is my son, and he’s been through a lot lately.” “And he’s my grandson.” Weylin’s arms crossed as he joined the group. There was a general nod of understanding from all the alphas. “Perhaps we should go to the courtyard behind my office.” Everyone followed John the short distance to the garden designed around a central fountain. “Ethan, I’m sorry to ask this, but I’d like you to give our guests a little demonstration so they can better understand what I’m telling them is the truth. Whenever you’re ready, and only as much as you feel like doing.” “Why do I sometimes feel like I’m just a circus act? Have they paid admission to the freak show?” The Alpha placed his hand on the teen’s shoulder. “I know that’s how it must seem when I ask you to put on these demonstrations for people, but I hope you believe me when I say I only ask when it’s absolutely necessary.” Ethan nodded and really did understand, though he didn’t like performing for these other two alphas. At least with the pack council it was people he had seen regularly. “John, this has gone far enough. I’m not going to say bullshit to this, but those old legends are just bedtime stories and nothing more.” Maxx scoffed. Not happy with someone, especially another alpha implying his own leader was a liar, Ethan made sure no one was next to him. His eyes were slightly brighter than normal, but nowhere near the intensity of when he really put his gifts to work. Just loud enough to be heard, Ethan whispered, “Flame on.” In seconds, his body became enveloped by fire, yet he was unharmed by the flames. He watched the others, and raised his hands slightly. “Well? Good enough?” All the men stared in disbelief. Several took a step back to escape the heat. John had never seen him do anything like this before, and looked on in astonishment. Given the boy’s mood, he had to smile at the control the blond had gained. “Ethan, amusing, but not nice. Behave yourself.” The teen snapped his finger, and the flames disappeared as quickly as it started. “Someone was watching Fantastic Four with Ryan and Zach last night.” Weylin joked to ease the tension. Ethan knelt beside the fountain, and dipped his finger into the cool water. He let his mind wander to his missing mate, and this time his eyes glowed bright. As he had done many times before, a cloud of mist formed in front of him, coalescing into the shape of a wolf. As the lupus began to run, flames appeared to mix with the ghostly mist animal. No one paid attention to the water in the fountain freezing, until it broke and formed into particles the size of a grain of sand. Behind the ghostly wolf, the ice shards fashioned additional animals, making up the small pack of their friends, with wolves, a tiger, bear, lion, and coyote. The mist eventually dissipated, and the flame took over with the wolf morphing into Aiden’s human form, while the ice animals slowly melted away. Ethan held the image for a few moments before letting the flame burn out. A few tears ran down his cheeks as a light rain fell due to his sadness. Where the tears hit the ground, wild flowers popped up. A gentle breeze blew through the courtyard as his tears continued to flow. All those present looked on in amazement. Rafe placed his hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “Come on, Son. You’ve done enough. Let’s get you home.” Dave stopped them for a moment. “I’m sorry for what you’re going through, but thank you for helping us understand the truth about you.” Once Ethan left, Maxx spoke up. “You have my support. We’ll work with you as best we can on starting a capture program, or at least let them pass through to your territory. If any cured feral wants to settle in our territory, we’ll do what we can to assist them.” Dave nodded his agreement. “Same here, my pack will do what it can for any who wish to settle. I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it. You have our full support as well.” “I know neither of you have shown any prejudice in the past towards other species, and I know you don’t have any lunis in your territories like we didn’t. Will your packs have any issue accepting a lunis settling there? I mean nothing by that, but I’m looking out for all parties.” John watched his counterparts carefully. “I can’t speak for everyone in my pack, but we’ll do our best to make any lunis feel welcome.” Maxx assured. “If someone has a problem with it, they can keep the issue to themselves.” “Seeing the lunis who have come to your pack, you have my word we won’t turn away any wolf.” Dave promised. The three leaders and former alpha discussed several other issues. They started laying the ground work for eventually dealing with the rogues once the information Parker Valley had was confirmed. Maxx suggested they contact some of the packs in Quebec and New York who had suffered multiple attacks to build a regional coalition to deal with the problem. Once the strategic portion of their meeting was complete, John took the men on a tour of the housing under construction to help with the new lycan influx. The other alphas met with some of the former ferals, as well as the pack wolves who shared the new building. ****** Verifying the information provided by Gaelan was ongoing. John had teams pouring over reports of rogue groups that matched what the captive spy described. Even information from Ethan’s dreams of Aiden was considered, and evaluated for any possible intelligence that could be gained. The reported location of the gang was in the middle of a dark zone the Lycan Council recommended any wolf stay clear of. It was on the border of New York State and Quebec. Other species of lycan also stayed clear since most who ventured into the region never returned. For whatever reason, it was not an area the Lycan Council wanted to expend time and resources in cleaning up, and making safe for all shifters. Instead, the Council offered meager support to nearby packs in bolstering their defenses against potential raids as long as council dues were up to date. Ethan was chomping at the bit to head out, and find his mate. It took the combined efforts of his family and friends to keep him put. John promised him he would be part of the recovery effort. It was never stated, though everyone knew Ethan was their greatest asset and their most powerful weapon in the coming fight. The fact his mate was one of those being held made him and his abilities particularly dangerous. It took the better part of a week just to negotiate the proper agreements with the different packs needed for the upcoming assault. Working out temporary treaties with some for logistical support and with others for troops. Setting up communications between everyone involved was a day-long project on its own. Building a command structure, let alone deciding who would be in overall charge of the warriors involved almost derailed the entire coalition. While plans were made with the various packs, Ethan received a crash course in wolf combat. He had been in plenty of fights on the streets; a few against people with a knife or some other weapon, when he had nothing but his speed and agility. Now he had the wolf living in his mind with the added abilities of an alpha to guide him during the fight. His natural instincts made him a formidable foe in any sparring match in his lupus form. When he shifted to his hybrid, he was unbeatable even without using his gifts. Darius and Casey did their best, along with a few of the more advanced warriors. Garrett helped him understand and use his alpha abilities to enhance the lethality of his attacks. Ethan also spent time practicing with his gifts, to make use of them in a fight. He had to be careful not to direct them anywhere near his trainers. Ethan was set loose in the area used to train the pack warriors. He shifted into his hybrid at the start of the exercise, and went on the attack. Using his experience and his wolf instincts, he also called upon all the elements at his disposal to attack the dummy targets, and defend against those working with him. The results were devastating. He was able to effectively use fog, ice shards, fire, and extreme wind to throw around debris. He surprised everyone by calling on trees and other plants to grab or attack with roots and branches. He even managed to create lightning by combining multiple elements, though that was more by accident than anything. When the practice session was complete, the training course needed rebuilding. People rushed to put out the last of the fires while trying to not slip and fall on fields of ice. ****** A group of lycan numbering close to four hundred had gathered at staging locations in the countryside surrounding the rogue-controlled town. They patiently waited, many already in their wolf form, for orders to attack. There were warriors from seven packs in addition to Parker Valley. They would be mostly used for containment of the area to prevent escape of any fleeing rogues, and cleanup once the hostages had been rescued. Their ranks formed a wide circle around the town. No matter if in wolf or human body, everyone had a blue cloth wrapped around their left arm or front leg to identify them as a friend. Although Alpha Stockdale was against it, it was finally decided a small group led by Darius would attempt to recover the hostages. A single SUV drove into the rogue’s stronghold, and headed for a bar. The town looked like any other you might find in the northeast, except like Silver Pines, it was the exclusive home of shape shifters. A neon sign on the front of the building read Underworld in dark blue lettering with a curled lunis paw dripping blood over the last two letters. In front, two dozen motorcycles and several trucks were parked, indicating there was a fair number of customers inside. Ethan reached out with his senses, and could feel every molecule of water and each plant or tree for a good distance around them. He knew how many people were in the bar, as he felt the blood running through their bodies. He let his friends know just how badly outnumbered they were. When he finally got out of the truck, he scented the air for any trace of Aiden. Hoping his mate was somewhere nearby gave him hope they would soon be together again. Approaching the door with more determination than anyone in his situation would reasonably do, Ethan’s eyes took on their characteristic glow. His fists clinched tight a few seconds before a blast of tornado strength wind was unleashed. The doors ripped clear of their hinges as they blasted in, flattening anyone in their path. Debris flew through the bar injuring several more patrons. The small-framed boy casually entered to find the clientele diving for cover and grabbing any nearby weapon. Ethan scented the air again, but the combined smell from all the other shifters made it impossible for him to detect if his mate was near. He stood in the center of the bar with Casey and Trevor at his side in their wolf forms. They were flanked by Cody and Darius with their guns drawn. As he took in the faces of those in the bar, he did not see the man who appeared in so many of his dreams, the one who was always talking to Aiden. Ethan focused on the people nearest him. “Some of your friends recently gave me an invitation to come here for a visit. They even sent a driver to bring me here. Unfortunately for my driver, he didn’t survive. I thought it only polite I come here to say thank you for the invite.” There had been a somewhat playful tone to his voice. It suddenly dropped and the ominous overtones could not be missed. “Now that I’m here, I want to see Jean-Pierre. I also know my mate’s being held here, and I want him back now, or not one of you will leave here alive. I will kill every person in this town, and level every building if that’s what it takes.” The scene of this small, boyish lycan making demands would have been considered comical any other time. His eyes glowed an extremely bright and fierce shade of blue as he waited to see who would act first. One person raised the gun in his hand. The pop of Cody’s pistol firing was heard a fraction of a second before the man dropped to the floor, dead from a head shot. From the other side, two wolves charged them only to receive the same treatment from Darius. The glow in Ethan’s eyes grew more intense as he scanned the room, challenging anyone else to make a move. Fear set in; they had no clue what he was. Amber eyes were well-known to all lycan, though only a quick flash. Eyes glowing blue was something they had never seen or heard of before. “You have ten seconds for someone to speak up before I kill everyone here and move to the next building.” About half the people decided to rush the five. After all, the intruders were outnumbered six to one. No one got close as their bodies froze solid. Another bullet from Cody’s pistol shattered one of the bodies like a hammer to an ice cube. Ethan’s body morphed, his alpha hybrid standing tall as he scented the air, trying to pick up traces of Aiden’s trail. The remaining patrons of the bar huddled in a corner unable to escape whatever this creature was. On a stage at the far end of the bar were two cages, each holding someone. Ethan stalked to the end of the room near the cowering group, his eyes zeroed in on the occupant of one cage. His first thought was to kill the one lying in the confined space. A single word came out in the deep, gravelly voice of his wolf. “Michael.” Roots from a nearby tree crashed through the wall beside the cage, passing through the bars and wrapping themselves around his former pack mate, holding him tight. Growling to the rest in the room, his ears dropped and eyes narrowed as their color changed from blue to red as his anger built. His body erupted into flames that poured off his untouched fur. “You made a deal with the devil when you joined this gang, and harmed those I care about. I’m here to collect what’s mine, and your souls will make a nice trophy. Now, WHERE IS JEAN-PIERRE?” One of the she-wolves, a cocktail server in the bar, screamed out in terror at the white wolf’s demonic appearance. “Jean-Pierre isn’t here.” “WHERE IS HE?” Ethan’s booming voice growled as his eyes pulsed with power. The heat from the flames intensified; nearby tables and chairs ignited. “He had business to attend to in Canada. He left early this morning.” One of the men shouted out, trembling in fear. No one attempted to pick up a weapon, shift into their animal form, or even move; they had no idea what they were dealing with. The white wolf’s appearance was something out of their worst nightmares, and he stood before them in the fiery flesh. Ethan made quick work of dealing with them. He formed a wall of ice to trap the surviving rogues in the corner of the bar. Darius radioed their command staff. “Bar secured. Move unit two in to hold the bar. You can start moving troops into the town. Sweep each building. There are twelve rogues to take into custody behind an ice wall in the bar. White Wolf and group moving to phase two of search and rescue.” The red eyes returned to their natural blue as Ethan let the flames fade away while extinguishing the fires he started. A few minutes later, the second team arrived to take control while his group searched for the hostages. The Tucker brothers sniffed around to see if they could find the door leading underground that Gaelan had told them about. Cody shifted into his coyote while Darius transformed into his lion. The white wolf found the hidden door in a storeroom and smashed through it with ease. He picked up the faintest hint of Aiden’s scent as the air rose from below them. Down a flight of stairs, the small group made their way into a large room configured like a combination office and skybox. There was a desk at one end, a conference table, and theater chairs faced a window overlooking an arena. He saw the chair from his dreams. A chain attached to the floor hung from the chair rung. He knew it was the one that had been attached to the shackles. Aiden’s scent was strong on the chair. Ethan raised his massive, pawed foot, and smashed the chair that had held his mate. Casey followed his best friend’s scent to another locked door. The white wolf broke through it, leading them down to the arena. Several rows of stadium seating surrounded a caged pit. Through yet another set of doors, they entered a huge space with cages holding more ferals than Ethan could pick out by scent, or count. Both he and Casey held onto Aiden’s trail with Trevor, Darius, and Cody covering them from behind. ****** Aiden woke to a commotion outside his cell. It was difficult to hear exactly what was happening, but it sounded like people running around yelling. He thought there was the faint sound of an alarm. It was much the same as when the prisoners were attacked. Jean-Pierre had said he might not be able to hold it off indefinitely as the men were getting restless. If their leader could no longer control his men, they were all in great danger. The guards had no issue talking in front of Aiden as they led him around. Several had suggested some might remove their leader, and finally get a turn at the prisoners. They made sure he knew as Jean-Pierre’s favorite, he would bear the brunt of it. The louder things became outside his cell, the more he feared there had been an uprising among the rogue leadership. His patience ran out, and given what he heard, Aiden felt it was time to act no matter the consequences. For the second time since his captivity started, he shifted into his hybrid form and listened to his wolf guiding him. With all the strength he could manage, he smashed his paws into the door. It held, but the door and wall visibly shook. Again and again he hit the door, ignoring the burning from the traces of silver in it. On the sixth try, the door and a good portion of the concrete wall gave way. Stepping into the corridor, he swung his left arm, hitting a man running towards him. The body flew back in the direction it had come from. He felt a sharp pain as a knife stabbed his back. He spun around, dragging his claws deep through the midsection of his attacker. His eyes glowed red in rage as he ripped open the door of the nearest cell, freeing its occupants. The prisoners worked to open more cells as Aiden continued to fight. Additional guards entered the corridor, and concentrated their attack on the large wolf. When the prisoners could not open a cell, the black, alpha wolf would rip the door off its hinges. As their numbers grew, some shifted into their wolves to help Aiden in the fight, while others continued to free their fellow prisoners. Once all their people were free, Aiden pushed forward towards a group of guards. He had no clue if he was going in the right direction, but it was movement away from the cells. His huge alpha wolf filled the passageway protecting any who were behind him, and those at the rear protected their flanks. The more doors he broke through, the fiercer the fighting became. Rogues in both animal and human form fought with claws, firearms, and even axes, trying to stop their advance and escape. As the red glow of the black wolf’s eyes intensified, his body felt warmer. He continued to slash away and bite at his attackers, ignoring any pain he felt from the random bullet, silver, or other metal that hit him in the fray. The agony caused by the precious metal drove him to fight harder. Aiden swung his right claw at someone in front of him who moved out of reach at the last second. On the back swing, it was not his claws that severed the body, but a sword of fire extending from his paw. Flames covered his shoulders, chest, back, and head, forming armor to block what bullets did come towards him. His fiery appearance terrified all who saw him. A group of men at the far end of the corridor attempted to setup a barricade to shoot the prisoners as they approached. Throwing his left hand in front of him, the gang’s position burst into flames, incinerating both the rogues and their barricade. ****** Ethan and the others worked their way into the complex of passages beneath the town. They encountered increasing resistance the further they traveled. Although he had never fought as a wolf beyond his training, his animal instincts took over completely. He slashed out with his dagger-like claws at anyone within reach, taking on shifters in both human and animal shape. The few that got close suffered their fate at his teeth. He grabbed one man who unloaded an entire clip of silver bullets into him at close range. A primal bloodlust took hold, further pushing his human mind to the background. He bit down on the man’s neck, severing the body, which he threw to take out several more attackers. Blood dripped from his claws and maw giving a gruesome appearance to the once pristine white wolf. One enemy wolf managed to get close to Ethan, and latched onto his left forearm with its jaws. Trevor attacked the wolf, biting down as hard as he could, breaking its neck. On Ethan’s other side, Casey took on a bear and wolf that emerged from a side passage. He raked his claws across the wolf’s face while trying to avoid the bear doing the same to him. Cody ran under the bear and bit hard on its rear leg to distract if from his friend. Thanks to the nimble coyote, Casey was able to go for the bear’s throat while Cody turned his attack on the partially blinded wolf. Behind them, Darius fought just as ferociously. He would pounce on men or animal, dismembering them with teeth or claws. Others faced a hit from his massive paws. The power of his swings left anything he hit as a bloody mess against the wall. Casey and Trevor took position at the white wolf’s side as they moved forward. The pair took on as many attackers as they could. Ethan grabbed both wolves by the head and shoved them behind him. Seconds later, someone opened fire with a spray of bullets. As the weapon stopped firing, the man dropped it, and ran to escape the pain filled roar. Rage filled the white wolf from the sting of each hit. Ice formed across his chest, shoulders, upper legs, and arms, where some of the attacking wolves had aimed for. In his right hand, a sword of the bluest ice formed, and cut through his nearest enemy like the finest katana ever made. Bullets could be heard impacting the ice which simply reformed stronger each time. Those not in range of his claws or blade were frozen in place only to be cut down when Ethan reached them. Any who turned and ran, he ignored. Breaking through one final door into a cavernous space, there was a fevered battle taking place. Fighting a cluster of rogues was another group led by a black, alpha wolf in flaming armor. The white wolf let out a deafening roar at seeing his mate under attack. The faction fighting Aiden momentarily turned their attention to the second massive wolf. The sight of his ice armor and blood-dripping sword was just as terrifying. The black wolf called out, “Give up now, or die.” A few threw down their arms and laid face down while others quickly took aim at both wolves. The two alphas hit them at the same time with ice and fire. Those who surrendered were untouched, those who did not would have no need of a casket. With the fighting finished for the moment, Aiden ordered the rogues who surrendered to lead the way out. Ethan wanted to run and jump into his mate’s arms, but his wolf refused to relinquish control. “I want to be with our mate as much as you, but we must see to the others safety first.” There were sporadic clashes on the way out, but for the most part the remaining gang members they encountered had lost the will to fight under the onslaught of both alphas. Once back inside Underworld, Darius shifted to human, and radioed base camp. “All hostages accounted for, and secure in the bar. Request the vans to evacuate them as soon as possible.” The troops who had held the bar provided first aid to the wounded. The ice and flame armor of the two alphas began to dissipate with the battle over. The blood covered white wolf sniffed his mate’s wounds and could pick up the foul scent of silver burning flesh. He placed one paw on the black wolf’s chest and the other on his back. The wounds started to heal from the inside, and slowly pushed the offending metal out. One by one, the bullets embedded in Aiden’s body dropped to the floor as the wounds completely healed. Ethan concentrated on himself next as silver, brass, and lead was pushed from his own body. Aiden stalked over to Michael’s cage and ripped it open. Reaching in, the roots holding their captive let loose. He tossed the exile across the room to land at the feet of Darius. “Cuff him and keep him under guard. The other one in the cage is supposedly responsible for ordering the attack against us.” The vans arrived, and were quickly loaded to take all hostages to safety. Aiden and Ethan remained in their hybrid forms as everyone was evacuated. Although their human sides wanted nothing more than to hold each other, the wolf within put their feelings aside for the safety and defense of others. Only after the last pack member had climbed into a van, and it pulled away, did the pair shift. Darius and Casey rushed them out to the waiting SUV with Trevor and Cody providing additional cover. In the relative safety of the moving vehicle, Aiden pulled Ethan to him, holding him tight. Both their eyes were filled with tears. Aiden breathed in deep, taking in the scent of his pup. Even through the blood on both of them, their individual scent brought them peace. In each other’s arms, they were home at last.
    129 points
  7. Four Years Later - Mexico - Annual Bro Trip **** “Dad! Dad! Daaaaaaad!” Aidan shouted from the pool. All the waving and yelling would’ve sent the kid straight to the bottom if Kase wasn’t standing there, making sure he stayed on his back. Aidan wouldn’t stop hollering until Seamus acknowledged him, so Seamus paused his conversation with Will and Scott and waved. It doesn’t matter how many times a parent says ‘can’t you see I’m talking?’. Yes, they can see you. No, they don’t care. At some point it becomes easier to just give the kid what he wants. Seamus grinned at Aidan’s too tight goggles and hilariously adorable nose clip. Could the poor kiddo even breathe? Must have because he smiled just fine, waved enthusiastically, and went back to learning to swim like he hadn’t just made a scene just for a little attention. The proud dad couldn’t help but watch as Aidan mastered his swim skill. The kid was a natural. That wasn’t a statement made lightly or out of bias. Kase, who might have played football in college but he had been swimming competitively since he was eight, agreed. So much so, he was spending his entire vacation in the water with Aidan because he knew Aidan had a gift that needed nurturing. Aidan switched to the front stroke, and Seamus was all but forgotten. He made his way to the other side of the pool where Jay was lounging, waiting for him to return with his refill. “Thanks!” he said as he took his iced coffee and offered his knuckles for a bro tap. “Where’s Matt? I haven’t seen him for a while.” Seamus took a sip of his iced tea and settled into the lounge chair. It was hot. Really hot. Lucky for them it wasn’t too humid, making it the best time of year to vacation. “He’s napping. I imagine he’ll be up soon.” Jay grinned and made some weird grabbing motion with his hands. He looked like a gremlin plotting to steal something valuable. Seamus laughed. “What the fuck are you doing? You look like an idiot.” “I’m getting ready.” “He won’t want to be around you if you’re weird.” “Whatever,” the giant scoffed. “He loves me. I’m his favorite.” “Not in those shorts you’re not.” Jay looked at his neon floral shorts, then at Seamus, totally offended. “These are amazing.” “They’re terrible.” “Loren likes them,” he rationalized. “Loren gets paid to show the world he’s wearing them. Extra points if his famous boyfriend is matchy matchy.” Jay eyed Seamus, then smirked. “You’re jealous.” “Of what?” “Of how cute Loren and I are in our matchy matchy outfits. You want to be matchy matchy with Matt. Don’t deny it.” “Did you call me over here to annoy me? If so, I’ll go back to Will and Scott. They were being nice.” “Don’t be lame. I actually wanted to talk to you about something important.” Jay conveniently paused and took a drink of his iced coffee just to annoy Seamus. But Seamus didn’t give in, which annoyed Jay. “We’ve decided to move here,” he finally said. A bit bummed at that lack of want from his friend. Where was the joy in holding juicy information if the person would not beg? “What! Really?” Seamus couldn’t hold back his grin. “Don’t seem so surprised. With the business getting ready to launch, it was a no brainer. I need to be here. And more than that, I want to be here.” There was nothing but conviction in his voice. He had made up his mind and there was no changing it. “What about Loe? Is he onboard?” Jay’s eyes flashed over to his lover. “Yeah, he sees the advantages. It makes sense from a business perspective.” “And from a personal perspective. Did he turn you down again?” Jay shot him a look that said ‘stop’. Seamus couldn’t let it go. Jay was his best friend. “Is he really so against marriage?” “You’ve seen him turn me down more than once.” “It’s not like you were serious when you asked him.” Jay turned his head and looked at Seamus, one brow reaching the sky. “I’ve been dead serious since day one. You know it, he knows it, everyone knows it.” It was crazy to Seamus. Why would anyone be hesitant when it came to Jay? The guy was the platinum package. Seamus sometimes wondered if Loren was even good enough. Matt seemed to think so, but Seamus wasn’t convinced. “Loe and I talked a lot about the future and what that looks like. It doesn’t involve kids of our own and that was hard for me. It was also a willing sacrifice for the man I love. But I need to be an uncle. I want sleepovers and car rides and ice cream trips. So, as much as moving closer to you is for the business, it’s for me. It’s for us.” “And Loren’s okay with that?” he asked. “I know he was pretty set on staying.” Jay grinned. It was cocky, a little smug, like he had the most desirable secret. “He has a hard time admitting it, but Loren loves being an uncle. He loves being part of a family.” “Why would that be hard to admit?” “Because foster care can mess with a kid. He might not want a kid of his own, but you should see him every time you drop the boys off. He transforms. He wants what I want. He wants nephews to love on. So we’re both putting our houses on market in Washington and looking for something here.” Seamus reached over and squeezed Jay’s hand. His friend had always wanted the American dream with the spouse, the picket fence, and the two-and-a-half kids. Giving up a big part of that had to be devastating, but it was no surprise he’d do it for the man he loved. Truth be told, Seamus couldn’t be happier. He wanted his friend near. And since Matt and Loren had become close friends, the proximity could only enrich their lives. “Well, you won’t find me trying to talk you out of it. We’d love having babysitters that live right down the street.” “Speaking of—” Jay nodded toward the house with a larger-than-life grin. Matt was standing behind the wall-to-floor glass door, holding Carson. The pair had deep creased lines from the hard afternoon nap and were rocking the same not-quite-awake look. Matt caught his eye and smiled. It was lazy and sleepy and did all sorts of things to Seamus’s stomach. Matt pointed to Seamus and said something to Carson. He grabbed the one-year-old’s hand and made him wave at his dad. Having barely been awake for two minutes, Seamus’s little doppelganger couldn’t handle the attention and bashfully burrowed his face into Matt’s chest, making all three men smile. Seamus rubbed his chest. His heart was beating funny as Matt brought their newest addition over. Jay was doing that creepy-gremlin-hand-grabbing thing again. It looked less creepy now that Carson was in view. The way the retired football player looked at his nephew was akin to hero-worship. Strange how roles can change so easily. He couldn’t take his eyes off the tiniest redhead. “C’mere my sleepy tater tot,” he cooed. Like he couldn’t bear to look away, he kept watching the incoming duo as he spoke to Seamus. “I still can’t get over how much he looks like you. It’s freaky. Did you pay extra for a carbon copy?” Seamus laughed. “That’s not how it works, dumbass.” Carson grinned and leaned toward Jay with gusto. The move was so swift that Matt almost lost his grip. Jay lunged forward, just in case. Even though he was safe, Jay still took him. As happy as Carson was to be with his uncle, he had just woken up and was still sleepy and not ready to people. Carson was quick to lay across Jay’s chest and watched everyone. There was certainly plenty to watch. Vacation had transformed drastically over the years. It went from just the boys to a whole out-of-control situation. It started with the addition of Matt and Aidan, then Will's girlfriend. It tumbled downhill after that. They were at the point where they stopped keeping track of how many people were there, but Kase was in the pool with Aidan, Hilary was in the house prepping dinner, Brad was on his third round of volleyball, Jay’s closest friends/teammates were scattered with their kids, and Loren’s friends were milling around with theirs. “If you guys are set, I’m going to sneak off. I need a break,” Matt said. “I’m exhausted.” “You just woke up.” Oh Jay. Seamus leaned back with a grin and sipped his iced tea. He loved his front row tickets to the Jay and Matt show. “Don’t start. Last time you took the boys, you had bags under your eyes that rivaled the Kardashian’s luggage,” Matt deadpanned, trying to drop Jay with a look as well. “Carson was six-weeks old and Aidan had allergies. He was up all night snoring!” Matt made a face, mocking Jay for his line of excuses. Blah blah blah, kids are so hard, blah blah blah. When the two got together, they acted like twelve-year-olds. Seamus lived for it. Carson smiled. The banter was not new. He and Aidan found it funny. Mostly Aidan. He loved it when Matt and Jay battled it out. Since Jay was bickering with Matt, Seamus stole Carson and laid him across his chest. Matt was quick to notice the change and, without breaking from their back-and-forth, rolled the giant umbrella from Jay to Seamus. “Are you serious?” Jay whined. “There’s five other yardbrellas and you steal mine? Right there!” he pointed to an umbrella that sat less than ten feet away. “There’s one right there and you took mine?” “These two are redheads, they obviously need it more than you. Don’t be selfish, Jay. It’s not cute.” “Hello, I’m blonde. Blondes have fair skin. Just ask Shawn. Where’s Shawn?” He looked around for his uber smart teammate that had stats on literally everything. “He’ll back me up.” Matt adjusted the umbrella so Seamus and Carson were protected from the sun. “Sure, some blondes have fair skin but you don’t. Just a fair personality that needs protecting.” Seamus burst out laughing and Jay’s mouth dropped at the betrayal. “What? That was funny.” Jay grumbled his displeasure as he settled back in the chair. Matt kissed Seamus and Carson then left for his alone time. He didn’t go far, just the other side of the pool where Kase would end up when he finished with Aidan. Speaking of, Aidan looked up at that moment and spotted his dad and brother. He was quick to break away from Kase to the pool ladder. He climbed out quickly, water rushing off his shorts and onto the hot concrete. Seamus braced himself for impact. When Aidan came at him, he came hard. No consideration for things like his baby-maker. Heaven forbid they want a third or a fourth down the road. He shifted Carson out of the danger zone. Sure enough, Aidan flew onto Seamus’ lap, making him double over with a loud ‘ooofph’. Carson started whining. Not only had he been jostled from his rest, but his older brother was wet and cold. Not something he wants to deal with after a leisurely afternoon nap. “Hi Brother!” He said with a pinch too much enthusiasm. He wrapped one arm around his little brother and peppered his face with kisses. Aidan had been waiting hours for Carson to wake up. “You want to go swimming with me? I can teach you. I can back swim and hold my bwef!” Aidan kept talking to his brother and touching his face and his cheeks and his nose. Carson’s grumpies instantly disappeared and he smiled and giggled at the affection. Sometimes, Aidan lacked the Midas touch but Carson never seemed to mind, not even when Aidan wanted to carry him around like a sack of potatoes. Where Aidan was in the ninetieth percentile, Carson was in the tenth. The kid was tiny. Perfect life-size toy for Aidan. Will and Scott pulled their chairs over and joined in. They were both married but Seamus was the only one of the board members with kids. It was quiet for a few minutes as the boys settled into a cute snuggle ball as everyone watched with great fondness. Eventually, Will broke the calm silence. “Aren’t you glad you never gave up?” Seamus chuckled to himself as he looked at the mop of wet brown hair and the mop of messy red sleep-toussled hair. Was he glad he hadn’t given up? It wasn’t that he’d given up, he just knew the legal system wasn’t likely to favor him. Not when the Jacobson’s had so much money and clout. It was Matt who pushed the issue. It was Matt who had fought when Seamus wasn’t sure if it was worth it. When things kept dragging on and the first year passed and then the next, and things still were in turmoil, it was Matt who made Seamus want to fight. Was he glad he had Matt by his side? Was he glad he trusted Matt after being burned so hard? Was he glad that Matt knew how to push without making Seamus feel like a failure? “So glad,” he responded. “I still think Mike got off easy,” he said, then growled something that sounded like pansy ass under his breath. Scott shrugged. He wasn’t a lawyer but he worked at a law firm and had helped Matt and Seamus flesh out the options when it was time to discuss the dreaded plea deals. “Here’s the thing, as I’ve told you before, Mike could’ve gotten fifteen years but likely would’ve been out in half that. In the meantime, Seamus wouldn’t have seen much, if any, restitution. Once Mike got out and found a job, not making nearly what he was before because he’s a felon, he’d have his wages garnished and Seamus would get four to six hundred dollars a month if he was lucky. Basically, Seamus would never see the money that was stolen. Especially if Mike decided to file bankruptcy, which is likely. Does it suck that Mike is only serving seven? Yes. But in exchange for a reduced sentence, he had to liquidate literally everything within a year to pay Seamus back.” Will stood up. It was his turn. He carefully snatched Carson from Seamus’s chest then sat back down. Carson was more awake now, sitting up and smiling. “Yeah, but Mike stole over $1 million and Seamus only got back $750,000. That doesn’t seem fair.” “Would you rather Mike be in jail for fifteen but Seamus only gets back $6k a year with the possibility of nothing? Not only that, Mike would never fully be out of his life because the restitution would go on forever? At least Seamus got a bulk of the money back and he doesn’t have to think of Mike again because everything is done.” Jay held out his phone and smiled when Aidan was quick to ditch his dad. “I agree with Scott,” he said as Aidan settled on his lap and effortlessly opened the phone, quickly finding his favorite app. “A perfect situation is one where none of this happened. But it did. I think if you factor in all the outcomes, Seamus came out ahead.” “And if you go one step further,” Scott added. “The $1.1 million that he’s owed, includes what was stolen with the help of Gale and Richard. I think I speak on behalf of every law firm in the country when I say we were shocked when the judge made the Jacobson’s transfer their business and all related assets to Seamus.” “The business was started and funded directly from the money they stole from him. Therefore it should be his,” Will huffed, rather indignantly. Scott lifted his hands to calm his friend. Will had been, by far, the most emotional one during the whole ordeal. He was quick to react and slow to reason. “I don’t disagree. It was just a unique verdict. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a judge make a call like that. And I’m not complaining, it’s in Seamus’s favor. It’s an established business that will grow quickly now that he and Jay have a plan for it.” Gale and Richard used the stolen money to start a wholesale coffee business. The ironic part was, they managed to sell the product back to Seamus. The grounds he used at Coffee|Bar was their product. Only now it was Seamus’s. Well, Seamus, Matt, Jay, and Loren. They were converting the Coffee|Bar into the flagship of what would become a popular coffee house franchise. Loelife Cafe The grand opening was slated in three weeks time and was already generating an insane amount of publicity. It was going to be big. Epic. Seven more locations were already in the planning stages. Some further along than others. With Loren and Jay’s branding fame, Seamus’s business degree, and Matt’s eye for finances, they would be unstoppable. Gale and Richard were sentenced to four years but would probably serve two. Not only had they suffered a public trial where they had to give the business back to the ex-son-in-law that they loathed, but several businesses, including their coveted country club, cut ties with them. Turned out, very few of the elite wanted to rub elbows with sleazy felons. “It turned out the way it turned out,” Seamus finally said. It seemed everyone else had more opinions on the outcome than he did. “All I care about is building something so big that when they get out of jail, they lose sleep knowing that everything I have—everything I built—is a direct result of what they tried to take away.” **** Dinner was a grand affair. A surprise grand affair that had thrown Seamus off guard. He was pretty sure Matt was behind it, but really, it could’ve been anyone. They celebrated their victory over evil and rejoiced that everything was finished. After years, things were finally resolved and moving forward in a big way. Afterward, everyone migrated to the patio. It was late but not dark. Giant tiki torches were stationed around the patio and pool area. Loren set up a large table for drinks which he personally made while his friend filmed. Toffee nugget martini, a peach sour whiskey bomb, and a mexican coffee with a twist. Don’t ask Seamus what the twist was but people were loving it. Maybe it was coconut. That could be good. Aidan was carrying Carson the way a kid carries a cat—seconds from slipping out of his arms. Matt was milling around the group, talking to everyone, smiling. Oh god was he smiling. He had a killer smile that never got boring. Matt was clueless as Seamus watched him; his eyes tracking every move. Matt spotted Aidan holding Carson and quickly made his way over and rescued his youngest. Aidan pouted and followed his dad, stomping. He loved his brother so much it was a problem sometimes. One that had gotten Aidan into a lot of trouble, especially when Carson was much smaller and oh so fragile. Aidan fancied himself a strong and capable brother. Now that everyone had drinks and Loren could relax, Matt was quick to give Loren a gift in return. Carson. The once reluctant-to-hold-babies had really come into his role as an uncle. And thanks to him, the kids were semi famous. They even had their own hashtags #aidopotato and #littlecarsontot because he was their little tater tot. Aidan crossed his arms and hrmp’d when Carson got handed off. “Uncle Lowen! I want to be held too!” And so Loren picked him up. A kid on each hip was a move Seamus was very familiar with. Aiden was almost too big to be carried, but Seamus treasured every strained muscle. Kids grew up too fast. Seamus was happy. Things were good. Great. There was nothing he would change if he could. He had a great husband, two happy kids, a wonderful father-in-law, and the best group of friends anyone could ask for. If only he could freeze time and keep it right where it was. He watched his perfect life. His husband, his kids, his friends. He watched as Aidan ran and jumped into Jay’s arms while Matt bopped Carson’s nose. He and Loren talked for a minute before the pair took the kids and disappeared.Then Matt looked at Seamus and smiled. He crooked his finger, summoning Seamus. The look was one Seamus was familiar with, one he lived for, one that turned his bones to liquid. It absolutely did not matter that he was mid conversation with his friends. He’d been in Mexico for a week, sharing a room with their two kids. Sharing a room. With two kids. His friends would understand. In fact, they’d insist. They’d kick his ass towards his husband in a heartbeat. “What did you do?” Seamus asked as he neared his husband. Matt was grinning. Proud of his handy work. He pulled Seamus away from the group and toward their room. “We have until eight tomorrow morning.” He followed willingly. Eagerly. Excitedly. Hornily. “How’d you convince them?” “Jay needed very little convincing and Loren owes me.” “For what?” Matt looked back and smirked. “You’ll find out.” They might’ve had ten hours to themselves but they undressed like they had ten minutes. Matt whipped Seamus’s shirt off and then pushed his pants down like a man starving. The heat in his eyes set a fire in Seamus. To be needed, wanted, and desired by Matt was an all consuming experience. When he was focused, there was nothing you could do to stop it. Not that Seamus wanted to stop Matt when he was the aggressor. It was hot. Matt shoved him on the bed then quickly undressed. “I know I don’t need to tell you this but I want to give you a courtesy warning. I’m not going to last long. Maybe if you weren’t such a hot dad being all cute with the kids, but you were, and now I need to cum.” The years had definitely softened the fucks given. Not the actual fucking fucks, but the romance leading to the fucking. Matt dropped his clothes and walked to the duffle bag where he packed the lube. He dug through it, mumbling as he went. Seamus laughed. Good thing he didn’t need to be wined and dined...just sixty-nined. Matt stood, victoriously. “Found it!” He hustled back to the bed, tossing the lube and jumping on the bed sideways. Seamus flinched, then sighed, then moaned when Matt took him all the way down. He was good like that. Very generous. When Seamus tried to move Matt’s hips so he could have some of his own, Matt growled. “Don’t do that. I won’t last.” Too bad. Seamus wanted him in his mouth. They had nine hours and fifty-five minutes left. They could cum three times by then. Maybe four. Probaby four. Definitely four. The first round was over embarrassingly fast. But the second round was better. The third round happened at dawn and the last round was at seven thirty-five, leaving them no time to shower before rushing to breakfast. “Fuck, you made me late. I needed to be there five minutes ago. That was the deal. Loe’s gonna be pissed.” Seamus was hot on Matt’s tail, speed walking down the hall and sliding around the corners. “What do you need to do?” he asked. “It’s not like Loren’s not on breakfast duty today.” Seamus knew his husband heard him but was suspiciously quiet in reply. As they neared the dining room, Matt glanced back. It was an apology look. A sorry-not-sorry kind of look. Him and Loren were famous for those. “Go sit with Jay.” There was no point in arguing so he went and found a spot by Jay. He was about to ask Jay if he wanted coffee or something to drink but Loren beat him to it. “Do you want a red velvet latte?” Jay eyed Loren then Seamus. It wasn’t that Loren didn’t do special things for Jay, but the way he was doing it, so publicly, was a little out of character. It was hard to explain. “Do you want one or not?” he asked, not impatiently. Teasingly. There was a regular and ongoing joke between them that started the first day they met. Jay had essentially announced that Loren would marry him. It was just a matter of time. Loren had rolled his eyes, of course. But then Jay was being all sweet and, after bringing him a speciality drink, Loren had looked at Jay with a humorous expression and asked, “Are you proposing to me?” “Are you saying yes?” It was the answer that would become his standard, each and every time this scenario played out. Loren simply shook his head and laughed at the crazy guy he’d just met. And that’s how it went. Here and there, now and again, whenever Jay was especially sweet, Loren would tease him, asking Jay if he was proposing. Jay would ask if Loren was saying yes and Loren would laugh it off. But now the tables were turned and it was Loren who was being ridiculously attentive. To the point where everyone was taking notice. Jay smiled. “Sure, I’d love one.” Loren wasn’t gone for two minutes before he came back with the drink—for which Jay was the one and only recipient. Jay looked at Loe and smirked, enjoying the way their long running joke was now playing out. It was rare, afterall, that the tables turned. He took the drink and eyed it with intent, then at Loren. “Are you proposing to me?” Loren grinned. “Are you saying yes?”
    125 points
  8. Matt moved through the lobby of Seamus’s building with a little extra pep. The remix of early 2000 pop songs was a definite plus. Imagine Vanessa Carlton at a poetry reading where everyone’s on ecstasy. The lobby clerk laughed as Matt shuffled his way across. What could he say? It had been a good week. Scratch that, a good month. He didn’t care how geeky it made him look; he was having so much fun learning the ropes from Roberta. Matt was incredibly nervous the first day. The fear of sounding dumb had stopped him from giving input. Roberta noticed almost immediately and put a stop to it. She was encouraging and gracious and everything a mentor should be. She let Matt shine and allowed him room to prove just how intuitive he was. Matt set his stuff by the front door. Aidan was playing in the living room while Seamus sat at the table with his laptop. That wouldn’t do. “By all means,” Seamus smirked as Matt pushed the laptop out of reach and straddled his lap. Once Matt was comfortable, Seamus rested his hands on Matt’s hips and leaned back in the chair. “You’re happy.” “It was a good day.” “Class was good?” “Yeah.” “Work was good?” “Definitely.” Seamus grinned and his eyes gave away just how happy he was that Matt was enjoying the job. The two men enjoyed a private moment at the kitchen table, smiling and kissing. Matt wrapped his arms around his boyfriend’s neck and shifted his hip just, so Seamus knew exactly what would be happening later when Matt was hit in the back by a certain spiky, brown-haired baby raged toddler. “Ow!” Matt threw his hands up. “Oh, c’mon! You need to get over this.” To prove he was an adult and could do what he wanted, Matt kissed Seamus again. Matt’s little stunt didn’t go unpunished. Aidan grabbed a fist of Matt’s side flesh and squeezed. Those little fingers packed some serious PSI. It was the equivalent of a baby alligator bite. “No,” Matt gently slapped his hand away. “That’s owie.” The brothers stared at each other. When neither backed down, Seamus hefted Aidan with one arm until he was at eye level with the adults. “Do you want to go to Grandpa’s house tomorrow? For a long weekend?” The jealous, demon-possessed kid vanished, and the cute blue-eyed boy returned. He was all smiley and wiggly at the mention of his favorite grandpa. As much as Matt wanted to boot Aidan and his jealous ways to the curb, Seamus should’ve asked him first. What if his dad was busy? “I should call Dad before we get Aidan’s hopes up. Or my hopes for that matter,” He whispered. “I already talked to Brad. We’re dropping Potato-for-brains off on the way to the airport.” Aidan giggled when Seamus peppered his cheek with kisses. Matt leaned back and eyed Seamus. “Airport?” “For the playoff game. Brad said he would take Monday and Tuesday off so we could make a weekend out of it.” “What about school? Work?” “You don’t have class on Monday and we’ll make it back in time for your Tuesday class. Your boss is fine with you taking a few days off,” Seamus winked. He was his boss. “And Denise?” “She loves you. You were off the schedule before we finished talking.” Matt rolled with it. He hadn’t had a real getaway since he started at the university. A weekend away was the most exciting thing to happen in over a year. “What game is it anyway? What are they playing off for?” “Where is Jay when you need him?” Seamus looked around the room and laughed. “It’s the game that determines if the Seahawks make it to the Superbowl.” Even Matt knew what the Superbowl was, and he knew that was a big game. “I thought those tickets were hard to get?” “Not when your best friend is Jay Petermeyer.” Matt grabbed his phone and texted Kase right away. As he was texting, Seamus stole one more kiss, inciting an ugly sound from Aidan. “Hey there,” he soothed. “I give you kisses too, see?” Seamus kissed Aidan, then Matt, then Aidan, again. “We share kisses.” Matt had to admit that this was a far better tactic than provoking Aidan, so Matt joined in. He went back and forth a few times, kissing Seamus then Aidan until Aidan was nothing but smiles. “I can’t wait until this jealous phase is over,” Matt mumbled under his breath as he got off Seamus’s lap. **** Kase was good and jealous. Hilary, too. Pretty much everyone was green with envy. Kase was even a little upset. How could Matt, the one person who didn’t care about football, score tickets to a semi big game? Matt almost felt bad about it, but, nah. Jay was his friend by proxy and Matt wanted to support him. Or make fun of him. Both options worked. Matt had never met a famous person, but Jay broke every stereotype. He was hilarious, down to earth, and genuinely humble. Even when he pretended otherwise. When they dropped Aidan off at Brad’s, it was Matt who was feeling anxious about the separation. His anxiousness didn’t go unnoticed and Matt glared at Seamus when he caught him smirking. How rude. “What?” “You’re pouting. You never pout when we drop Aidan off.” “Well, you always pout when we drop him off so I guess we’re even.” “I didn’t say it was a bad thing. It’s cute.” “Why aren’t you freaking out more?” Matt asked. “You always get weird when you’re away from Aidan.” “He’s in good hands.” “He’s always in good hands.” “I know.” “So, what gives?” Seamus looked over at Matt and gave him a gentle smile. “The days aren’t numbered anymore.” “What does that mean?” “Just my own bullshit. I was always worried things might be temporary. That you and Aidan would leave.” “You’re not worried anymore?” Seamus looked at the road. “Nah. You and I are going to spend the weekend together, we’re going to have a great time, we’re going to grab Aidan on the way home, and life will pick up where we left off.” “And Aidan and I won’t disappear?” Seamus intertwined their fingers and shot Matt a look—it would be in their best interest if they didn’t disappear. “Fine.” Matt tried to pout but the corner of his lip curled, giving him away. “We’ll stick around.” His heart beat a little faster. **** Jay had offered to fly them private but the flight was only two hours and it seemed like a waste, so they flew commercial instead. It was Matt’s first time. He’d only ever driven. You’d think he’d be more excited or maybe nervous, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. Seamus helped him navigate airport, security, and the terminals. By the time they finished and called for a cab, Matt was ready to do it again. When they got to the small private motel conversion Jay had booked for everyone, Jay was waiting outside like an unsocialized puppy. He was quick to greet his friends with big, welcoming hugs. “Excited about making it to the Rose Bowl?” Matt asked. Jay glared at an overly innocent looking Seamus. “You coached him.” “What? Psff. No.” “I don’t think your boyfriend knows what the Rose Bowl is. I can’t help but think this is a coup against my ego.” Matt’s mouth opened. He was offended. “I happen to know lots about football games. There’s the Tangerine Bowl, Rayon Bowl, La Hacienda Bowl, Aspartame Bowl—” “Aspartame Bowl?” Jay groaned. “I know you’re pulling my leg now. Try Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, and Sugar. Those are college bowls, anyway. Good God, I need to get out of here.” As punishment for trying to knock Jay down a few pegs, the athlete grabbed one of their bags and tossed it out of reach as he stormed off. Seamus and Matt laughed then grabbed their bags and checked in. The room was nice. It was very California boho, if that was a thing. Either that or the designer was on some serious psychedelics during the remodel. Once they settled, they headed downstairs. Everyone in a large gathering room. There were fifteen people including them. Jay was quick with the introductions. There were the board members—Will, Scott, and Trevor. A few of Jay’s teammates—the famous “Sack Pack”, and the guys they met at a bar back in Seattle. Matt quickly gathered that the sole purpose of the ladder group’s attendance was in hopes to lure Jay’s crush. Matt was so far out of his league. There were caterers, for christ’s sake. This was so not Matt’s life. Social and economic statuses aside, he had to admit; it was pretty cool being part of the elite affair. He didn’t know any of the players so he was far from starstruck, but they seemed nice. A lot like Jay. The more Matt hung around Jay, the more he liked him. He was a seriously cool guy. Pretty funny, too. He had the entire room cracking up. But as dinner drew nearer, his easy demeanor changed slightly. Jay was watching the time more often and glancing at the door. His was still the life of the party but there was another, more subtle, look in his eyes. After dinner when Matt had Jay alone, he called him out. “What’s going on? Are you on drugs or something?” Jay was stunned. “What? No. Why would you ask that?” “You’re acting weird and fidgety.” The blonde tried to release tension by shaking his hands and rolling his neck. When he was good and calm, he pulled Matt to the side. “Loren is coming. I didn’t expect him to, but he did.” “And that’s the guy you like, right?” “Yeah, a lot.” “Have you talked to him yet? Does he know who you are?” “Yes. He knows who I am. In fact, he knows where I stand.” “So, what’s the problem?” “I don’t know where he stands.” “Have you asked him?” “Very directly.” “And?” Matt pressed. “I have no answers. He’s a very complex man.” Matt was about to respond when someone mentioned that Loren’s car had arrived. Corey was heading toward the door to greet his best friend. He never stood a chance against Jay, a guy who spent his life chasing men on a professional level. Everything happened in slow motion. Jay was off. His feelings were the football, Loe was the end field, and everyone in the room were his enemies. He darted left, faked right, then spun around some guy who had no clue what was happening, and sprinted to the door. Just as Corey was about to exit, Jay slipped in front of him, vicariously beating him out the door. Loren’s best friend stood frozen. He slowly turned and smirked at his friends, who were quick to laugh. Jay’s action hadn’t phased them. If anything, they’d been waiting for it. Matt made his way to Seamus as he watched Jay make his way across the room in a very over-the-top manner. “What just happened?” “I don’t know.” Seamus laughed. “I’ve never seen him act like that before. Don’t get me wrong, Jay’s outgoing and goes after what he wants, but not like that.” “You’ve never done anything like that to me,” Matt frowned playfully as Seamus rolled his eyes and wrapped his arms around Matt. “No, I can’t say I went Heisman on a room full of people but I did drop everything to be your nanny. I think that counts for something.” Matt bit his lip and smiled. Yeah, that counted for something. They were still wrapped up in each other when Loren walked in with Jay trailing behind, a bag in each hand. Matt’s jaw dropped. Jay hadn’t talked about Loren much but he’d left out one enormous piece of information. His crush was Loren Patrick. As in, livingtheloelife’s Loren Patrick. One of the few social media influencers that he actually followed. Good for Jay. He really knew how to pick ‘em. Loe was hot on social media. In fact, he had a couple of black and white photos that could boil blood. Between filters and preferable angles, real life never held up. Wasn’t that the point of social media? Making life seem better than it really was? Except in Loren’s case. He hotter in person, like, tenfold. He was also shorter. Matt had assumed he was at least six-foot when actually he was maybe five-seven. Regardless, the guy was a work of art. He was everything Matt expected and more. Matt shamelessly but discreetly snapped a photo and shot it off to his friends. They would never believe it. ‘Seriously? First Jay and now livingtheloelive? You undeserving prick.’ Kase responded. ‘That man is fine as hell. Send shirtless pic. Please and thank you’. ‘Nooooo, I see enough shirtless men online!’ Kase cried. ‘Get him to make you a drink or better yet, name a drink after you!’ ‘yasssssssssss’ Between those two, his phone was blowing up all night. Despite their nonstop messaging, Matt ignored them during dinner. Mostly because he got seated next to the mega manfluencer himself. He didn’t try. He sat down next to Seamus and bam, Loren sat down on his other side. Matt was nervous the whole time and struggled to come out of his shell. Everyone was older and had their life together. He was in a room of professional athletes, business owners, and influencers. It was hard not to compare. Food could cure all. He didn’t know what he was eating, but it was delicious. By the time his belly was full, he was talking and laughing with everyone like they were old friends. The whole evening Seamus kept one hand on Matt; his knee, his thigh, his back. It was incredibly comforting. Every time Matt looked at Seamus, he was greeted with the kindest, most admiring smile in return. It was the first time Matt had ever been to a party with a boyfriend and not felt insecure. Seamus made Matt feel so loved. You’d think being in a room with famous players and hunky men, Matt would’ve been distracted. He wasn’t. Seamus was far and beyond the hottest guy in the room, not to mention the humblest. Catching Seamus looking at him—the way he slyly smiled when no one was looking and how he pulled Matt away from Corey and his crew because he was tired of sharing—those little things made his chest swell. They stood in the bathroom, brushing their teeth. The night had been a total success and Matt could barely contain his smile. “Did you have fun?” Matt looked at Seamus through the reflection in the mirror. “I sat by Loren Patrick at dinner. Yeah, I had a great time.” “You know who else you sat by at dinner? Me. But I guess that’s not nearly as exciting.” Matt grabbed Seamus’s hand and pressed it to his crotch. “I find you plenty exciting.” “Prove it.” He did. Twice. **** As cute as the hotel was, the walls were thin. Matt and Seamus woke as the players got ready for the day. They had to leave early for practice or meeting or something. Sport routines were foreign to Matt. Who knew or cared what they did? Once they left, it was quiet again. It wasn’t until they headed for breakfast that they heard chatter. Seamus’s friends were sitting at a large round table, waiting patiently, whispering amongst themselves. Never in a million years would Matt’s friends back home have waited. They would’ve been on their second helping. Hell, they wouldn’t have waited for the Queen herself. The guys even stood when Matt and Seamus neared and greeted them as if they hadn’t spent the entire evening together. At best, Matt’s friends would’ve given a nod as they stuffed their face. It was a glaring contrast of community, respect, and maturity. It said a lot about closeness Seamus and his friends had and why they were so well respected. When you radiate respect, you earn respect. It’s an Alpha thing. It was hard not to be jealous about the endearingly wholesome connection. Matt would probably never have this with his friends back home. Maybe Kase and Hilary, but not with his friends from high school. “Fuck.” Will grabbed a plate for breakfast. “Did you guys sleep as good last night or what? Those mattresses are something else.” Seamus nodded. “Best night sleep in a while. Helps when you don’t have a toddler coming in at all hours.” “Isn’t that what cribs are for?” “Not when your kid is Houdini.” Everyone laughed and slapped his back with sympathy. Matt’s chest felt tightened as Seamus so effortlessly claimed Aidan as his own. Seamus loved that kid, no two ways about it. Matt knew it and so did everyone else. They finished loading their plates and made their way back to the table just as Loe and his friends came in and claimed the table next to theirs. Conversation stretched between the two groups. Every single one of them was out going, even Seamus was louder and more vocal than normal. Somewhere between conversations, Will looked at Matt and his face softened. “We never congratulated you for your badassary.” “For what?” “For being all Super Spy Accountant.” Matt blushed. “Well, it wasn’t that big of a deal.” The group scoffed. They’d known for a while that Seamus suspected something was going down. They’d pushed him to investigate time and time again and argued when Seamus continued to do nothing. They were also glad to see the issue coming to head and they praised Matt for his part. The other table joined in. In fact, Loe offered to make some celebratory drinks. There really wasn’t a way to play it cool but Matt thought he managed well enough. One of Loe’s friends filmed the whole thing. Matt was content. It was nuts. They made Matt stand there while Loren talked about the drink, a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie mocha. Matt was drooling. How could he have known it would be Matt’s favorite? They had to do a couple of takes because Matt wasn’t ‘camera friendly’. Which was code for awkward. They wanted him to interact more and stand like a statue less. After the fifth coaching run, Matt felt like he was getting the hang of it. He was nowhere near as comfortable in front of the camera as some of the others, but he wasn’t a scared rabbit anymore. Heck, maybe he had a future in the biz. Nah. He almost texted his friends but decided against it. Having them find out on their own would be far more satisfying. Having livingtheloelife make him a drink that would be shared with millions of followers wasn’t even the best part of the day. After breakfast they hung out by the pool until Jay and the other players got back. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the day, it was just, good. The best part, of course, was Seamus. The man totally shined with his friends. They brought out a different—and absolutely wonderful side that Matt wished he saw more of. Seamus was outgoing; singing, joking, dancing with his friends around the pool. Seamus even had his phone out and was taking pictures and videos then uploading it on his Instagram. Heck, he even willingly let himself get roped into doing some Tik Tok videos. Matt sat on the lawn chair and watched with tears rolling down his face as Seamus tried—and failed miserably—to follow the dance montage. Everyone teased him relentlessly but Seamus took it in stride. He just laughed and tried again. Well, the literal best part was when Matt got up from the lawn chair, casually strolled across the pool to where they were struggling with the dance routine, and nailed it on the first try. He left the group stunned. But seriously, watching Seamus in his element made Matt warm and mushy inside—and a little hard on the outside. As they went to bed that night, Seamus had a new energy. Matt promised himself that he’d do whatever it took to make sure his boyfriend had that energy, that spark, more often. A lot more often. **** The next day was the big game. Matt expected Jay and his friends to be gone before they got up. It seemed logical that they needed to be at the field before dawn to get ready. That wasn’t the case. Jay and the Sack Pack stayed at the hotel until an hour and a half before the game. They spent the morning together. Matt was getting to know everyone and genuinely enjoying their company. Loe made coffees for everyone. Once again filming. He had the players on camera this time. They did a better job than Matt did. They knew how to interact with Loe and make it a fun segment. They really hammed it up on camera, especially Jay—who flirted a little without being too obvious. Both were open about their sexuality and the speculation would probably drive-up viewership. How Loe felt about the flirting would forever be unknown. He showed no reaction whatsoever. The lack of interest didn’t go unnoticed. Jay walked it off the best he could, but he was a bit sullen the rest of the day. They lounged around and bullshited until the players left, then got ready themselves. It was Seahawk merch from head to toe. Matt wore whatever he was given, courtesy of Jay. Then they took a car service to the stadium, also courtesy of Jay. No tailgating for them, but who needed that when you were bunking with the players? The whole weekend was better than tailgating. Matt assumed. Walking through the halls of the stadium was like trying to claw your way out of a sardine can. It was packed. The energy was so alive the walls were vibrating. Matt never experienced anything like it. They had a block of seating. Matt started out sitting between Seamus and Will but that didn’t last long as people mingled around. After the halftime show, which left Matt smiling, Loe plopped down next to him. Neither of them was diehard sport fans, so they easily shared their common disinterest. “What’s the story with you and him,” Loe pointed at Seamus. “Who, by the way, is really fucking hot. Did I mention before how cute he was?” Matt smiled proudly. Loe wasn’t wrong, Seamus was damn hot. But at the game? Whoa. He was hotter than ever with his football jersey and backwards hat that covered his little-too-long hair that curled under the bottom—he was a walking jock wet dream if Matt ever had one. The only thing that looked better on the guy than the jock look was being happy. And damn was he happy. “When my mom and her boyfriend died unexpectedly, I ended up with my three-month-old brother. I was drowning trying to raise him, going to school full time, and working. Seamus kind of swooped in and saved the day. He was my super nanny.” “Where the hell did you find a nanny like that? Nanny.com? Because damn, he can nanny for me anytime.” Matt laughed. “God, no. He’s actually my boss. Well, my boss’s boss. He owns the cafe I work at. My friend, Kase, dubbed him Boss Nanny.” Matt looked at Seamus in the distance with pure affection. “I didn’t like him much when we first met, but I was desperate for help so I let it slide when he stole Aidan while I was working. Then he was just, there, all the time, watching Aidan so I could work and study and whatever else I needed to get done.” “How’d you get from that to dating?” Matt thought back. “It was all Seamus. I had a crush on him. I mean, duh. But he was so far out of my league that it never crossed my mind that he might be interested. Looking back, there were signs. I mean, he watched Aidan all the time and even asked us to move in. My rational brain couldn’t see it, though. Seamus got tired of beating around the bush and told me what was up.” Matt laughed as he recalled the memory. “He came to the club I was at and dragged me back to the loft.” Loe tossed his head back and laughed. “Oh man, I believe it. He’s got this super possessive way about him when he watches you. It’s not the crazy-psycho look some guys have, it’s sweeter, but terrifying nonetheless. He’s had me inching away from you more than once.” Matt’s jaw dropped as he looked at Loe like he was crazy. “Seamus? No way. I’ve seen him look at me. He’s definitely sweet on me but not possessive.” “That’s because when you look at him, he gets this dopey-melty look, like he’s staring at a winning lottery ticket.” Matt laughed again. Loe was being absurd. Completely ridiculous. Matt reached across the table and took the beer from his hand. “I think you’ve had enough. You’re seeing things that aren’t there.” Loe snatched his beer back. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’d kill for someone to look at me the way he looks at you, both possessively and like the winning lottery ticket.” Jay did nothing but look and act like Loe was his lottery ticket. He waited on the guy hand and foot and almost never took his eyes off him. Loe was a smart guy. There was no way Loe didn’t know. “Seriously?” The manfluencer sipped his beer. Behind his non-existent interest in the game, there was a sliver of longing. Barely noticeable, but there. He shrugged. “Maybe one day.” “What about Jay? Loe’s eyes flickered. “What about Jay?” “Oh,” Matt rolled his eyes. “Don’t play stupid. He likes you. He waits on you and looks at you like you’re the winning lottery ticket you so desperately want to be.” Loe glanced at the jumbotron just as Jay’s play was being highlighted in the replay. “He wants someone who can dedicate more time to him. I’m too busy. I can’t drop my life for him.” “He said he wants someone who is willing to dedicate all their time to him?” Matt was confused, this didn’t sound like Jay at all. “No, but someone of his magnitude needs someone like that and I’m not that person.” “By that logic, I wouldn’t be with Seamus. I get where you’re coming from, though. I felt that way about Seamus. I convinced myself I knew what he wanted or what was best for him. I have a list of reasons why it would never be. A word of advice? Don’t be me.” Loe smiled and sipped his beer but didn’t say anything else. The game passed in a blink of beers and cheers. They were still sitting there, talking about high school and how their similar experiences when they noticed everyone was packing up. Matt looked at Seamus, making the hot jock chuckle at his total cluelessness. “Hawks won,” Seamus teased. “Oh cool.” Scott and Will burst into laughter. “Please, please say it just like that to Jay. And make sure we’re there to watch it,” Scott mocked Matt’s unimpressed tone. “You won the playoff game and now you’re off to the Superbowl? Oh cool.” The teasing never relented. Not when they packed their stuff, or when they were shuffled like cattle out of the stadium, not even in the car. All the while, Matt sat in the back, smiling. **** The after party was at a local sports bar. It was a tight fit and Jay and his friends weren’t even there yet. When they arrived, it was the entrance of kings. The four guys came in with their hands in the air as the bar roared. The noise was deafening yet exhilarating. Matt loved it. They didn’t have the hometown advantage but they still got nothing but love. At the end of the day, it was about the sport and they were surrounded by good old fashion fans who were excited to be in the same place as the team heading for the Superbowl. As a non-sports fan, Matt’s only exposure to post game parties were the tabloid covers he saw near the check-out line. He expected the night to be a total circus but it turned out that famous people had parties that didn’t involve lines of paparazzi or fans throwing themselves at them. They were just normal people celebrating a job well done. Matt drank a little but not enough to make a foolery of himself. He watched with fascination as fans congratulated the players and got pictures. Some were even bold enough to stay for a drink. After Loe’s comment about wanting to be looked at the way Seamus looked at Matt, Matt paid extra close attention. Poor Jay. Discreet wasn’t in his nature. He was bold in his affections and wasn’t shy about making himself known. Still, Loren pretended not to notice. Matt watched the dejection build as the night wore on. Jay made sure Loren always had a drink, food, whatever he wanted. Still, nothing. As the night wore on, Jay gave Loe the space he seemed to want and sulked off. Matt knew differently and catching Loe as he watched Jay laugh with a couple of fans only confirmed it. After spending the entire weekend ignoring Jay, Loren was jealous. Matt slipped out from under Seamus’s arm and pointed at Mr. Brooding. “I’m just going to see what he’s up to. I’ll be back.” Loe was sitting at a pub table, alone. Matt slipped in and waited. Loe frowned. “What?” “What’s your deal?” “My deal?” “Jay.” Loe straightened and tried hard not to glance at said person. “What about Jay?” he asked innocently. Matt scoffed. “Let’s skip the bullshit and tell me why you’re still playing games. You spent all night ignoring him and now you look like a beaten puppy because he gave up.” They looked across the bar. Jay was with two guys, both sporting lime green and blue jerseys and were happy as hell to have Jay’s attention. There were definite vibes happening. The two guys were interested in more than just an autograph. “Looks like he moved on just fine.” It was a lie. The vibes were mostly from the two fans. But Matt played along. “Isn’t that what you wanted?” Loe said nothing, just sipped his beer and tried not to watch Jay. Matt sighed. When the dust settled, Loe was just a normal guy fighting the same demons as any other person. He was just as prone to making stupid, self-sabotaging choices. “You don’t get to sit here and pout. He won a big game tonight and was thirsty for a little acknowledgement. All you had to do was congratulate him and tell him he played well. Instead, those two cleat chasers are doing it.” Loe looked absently ahead as he slowly spun his glass around in his hand. “There will be cleat chasers at every single game.” Matt nodded. Yeah, there probably would be. “That doesn’t mean anything.” “I know what goes on behind the scenes. I’ve heard enough stories to know that being in a relationship doesn’t mean anything.” “Then they’re in the wrong relationships.” “Maybe…” Matt waited for more but it was clear Loe was done talking. After a while, he snapped out of his mood and was laughing freely. Matt leaned across the table, showing Loe the scar he’d gotten on his wrist when he was twelve. He’d twisted a rope around his wrist and propelled off the roof of the house. Loe turned Matt’s wrist over and looked at the damage. “That’s impressive. Besides a scar, how’d it end?” Matt rotated his wrists. “Good. I mean, the goal was to land on the ground, and that’s where I ended.” Loe laughed, then something caught his eye and his smile faded. He dropped Matt’s arm like a hot potato and leaned back in his chair. “I’m too young to die.” “What?” “Your boyfriend. You should move away, like, across the room.” Seamus was watching them. He didn’t look angry, if anything, his eyes were heated. Matt was getting lucky tonight. Loren threw his hands in the air. “Oh sure, the second you look at him he gets all gooey eyed. I swear he was just shooting daggers at me.” Matt held Seamus’s eye for a moment longer. He saw nothing but love. “I think you’re seeing things. He’s not like that.” Oh. He was like that. Loe decided to prove it by closing the distance once again. A minute later Seamus was there, pulling him away. They stopped in the middle of the crowded dance floor and Seamus pressed his chest to Matt’s. It wasn’t club music, just everyday stuff from the radio, but it was perfect. When Seamus looked at him with those deep brown eyes, it didn’t matter that they were in some random bar filled to the brim with people they didn’t know. Matt shifted his hips. “What are you doing?” “Dancing,” he teased. Seamus reacted by tightening his arm so Matt felt every inch of him. Matt stared at Seamus. “You’re kind of hot tonight. The jersey. The hat. You got this varsity jock thing happening.” “Yeah?” Matt pressed his hips against Seamus. “Hell yeah.” Matt ordered a car from his phone and they left without looking back. The hotel wasn’t far but it was completely empty. Seamus was a few paces ahead of Matt and sporting a new swagger. When the door shut behind them, Seamus stalked Matt like a predator does prey; slow and knowingly. Being hunted was kind of fun. Seamus stalked him like a jock in his jersey and backwards cap. When he had Matt backed against the bed, he ran the back of his fingers across his jaw and over his lips—parting his mouth. Seamus leaned in like he was going to kiss him but continued to his ear instead. “You’re going to suck my dick, aren’t you?” Hell yes he was, it was all Matt could think about. He dropped to his knees. Seamus towered over him as he unbuttoned his pants. His cock was hard. “Open those pretty lips.” Licking his lips, Matt did as was asked and Seamus guided his cock across Matt’s tongue. Precum exploded against his taste buds and made him want so much more. He let Seamus tease for a while, then he took over. This was his feast. The only thing that mattered, that existed in that moment, was rocking Seamus’s world. Seamus was close. It was in his taut muscles and the way his dick twitched. He could feel the cum boiling, ready to explode. Matt pulled off because he wanted more than a blow job. He didn’t bottom often; he had a feeling tonight would be different. It was. Seamus hauled him up and tossed him on the bed. Matt got flipped on his stomach and his pants ripped from his body. Fuck, Matt’s heart was beating out of his chest. Seamus was on him, breathing against his ear, lubed fingers pressed between his ass; telling him exactly what was to happen. “Do you want this?” Matt gripped the sheets. “Fuck. Yes.” Seamus sucked on his ear and breached him. First with one finger, then two, then who knows. Matt wasn’t counting. “I’m going to fuck you so hard.” “Yesss,” Matt moaned. Seamus shoved his pants down enough to free himself, then mounted Matt. He couldn’t wait another second. He slowly pressed forward, then backed out, then forward again. He barely gave Matt time to adjust before he slid all the way in. Matt was close to ripping a hole in the sheets, he was so horny. Seamus was lighting his fire. He couldn’t get enough. “Harder,” he begged. “I want it.” “Like this?” Seamus fucked him so hard he pushed him across the bed but hit all the right spots. Fuck Seamus. How dare he be greedy? Matt wanted to feel like this more. Seamus leaned down. “You need to touch yourself, now.” Matt braced himself on one elbow and used the other hand to touch himself. A few tugs and he felt the pulling of his balls. “I’m close,” he told Seamus. “Keep going just like that. Yeah, fuck.” Matt arched his back and let the simulation drive him over the edge. It came in an intense flood that made him scream like a dying man. Seamus collapsed on the bed, pressing Matt into the mattress, his dick still lodged in Matt’s ass. “Holy shit,” Matt said. “Intense.” Once their breathing slowed, Matt shoved Seamus off him. Matt looked at Seamus, who was still fully dressed, and laughed. Seamus’s smile was lazy and sated. “I got my dick out. That’s all that matters.” He reached out and ran his fingers over the hat. “This is hot. I love that you fucked me with your hat on.” Seamus grabbed Matt’s hand. “I love you.” Warmth bloomed in Matt’s chest but before he could return the sentiment. Then he felt it and bounced off the bed and ran to the bathroom. He hadn’t planned on taking Seamus, so there had been no prep. Matt let his body do its thing, then cleaned up and went back to bed. Seamus was naked and barely awake. “Better?” he asked. “A heads up would’ve been helpful. I could’ve saved myself a mess.” “Couldn’t have known,” Seamus mumbled. Matt watched Seamus fall out of consciousness. He never met no one like him. He definitely never dated anyone like him. No one could convince Matt that Seamus wasn’t out of his league. No way. Facts were facts. The cards were on the table. But if Seamus couldn’t see it, then who was Matt to argue? Matt held the ace of spades. **** He woke to a pair of soft brown eyes and those eyes definitely deserved a kiss. “Fuck,” he moaned as he tried to move. His ass was sore as hell. “How do you do this all the time?” Seamus chuckled. “It’s not that bad. You’re being dramatic.” He wasn’t. He’d been railed last night and there was no walking to breakfast without the entire room knowing. “I’m paralyzed.” Seamus laughed louder and gripped Matt’s morning wood. “Does that mean there’s no round two this morning?” “You’re delusional if you think you’re getting anywhere near my ass this morning.” Seamus rolled on top of Matt and straddled his hips. “What about the other way around? Or are you too sore for that?” Matt did a practice thrust and could feel every movement in his ass. “Maybe if you do all the work.” That wouldn’t be a problem. **** Matt still walked into breakfast like a cowboy after a long ride. Besides Jay and Loe, who gave him knowing looks, no one else noticed. Straight guys never picked up on these tells. Plus, most of the guys drank too much the night before and were trying to regain some semblance of life before flying out that evening. There were no videos, no dancing, no Tik Tok videos. Just lounging, light laughing, and storytelling. After lunch, Matt and Seamus packed their bags and left with little fanfare. Now that he knew everyone, he was bummed he wasn’t flying on a private plane with everyone else. Mostly, he wanted to get to Aidan. **** Aidan was at the windowsill with both hands against the glass. His smile went as big as Texas when he spotted them. Even from a distance you could tell he was bursting with joyish energy. Aidan climbed down from the window and was stomping around in excitement when they came through the door. Seamus was there first to swoop him up, but Matt was quick to steal him away. Aidan had a lot to say as they loaded him into the car. Seamus looked across the console and smiled. It was a this-is-better-than-any-vacation smile and Matt couldn’t help but agree.
    124 points
  9. The rain beat brutally against the windows as it fell in sheets from the dark and dreary morning sky. As much as Matt wanted to go back to sleep, curled against his warm and toasty boyfriend, he needed to get up. Seamus always beat him out of bed and Matt was determined to even the playing field. Sliding out of bed like melted butter, Matt carefully grabbed the monitor and left the room. Since they didn’t get everything cleaned before bed last night, he finished tidying the house while the coffee brewed. Social media wasn’t the end all be all. Matt had the usual platforms but wasn’t active. He was more of a creeper, occasionally jumping on when he was bored. The last time he posted was when he graduated high school. Kase and Hilary had turned him on to a few interesting pages and now he found himself online more often. One of those pages was livingtheloelife. Loe was this insanely hot guy who was capable of everything. He worked on his van, cooked gourmet meals, traveled, worked out, rock climbed, renovated his house, and so much more. He even had a weekly segment called homebody baristo where he made drinks at home. It was so popular that Kase and Hilary had talked Denise into incorporating it as their weekly special. Loelife’s Drink of the Week was always a hit at the cafe. Turns out that a smoking hot guy in his mid-twenties who did everything had a cult following in the 18-22 college age range. Who knew? Matt was watching Loe when Brad padded down the hall and straight to the kitchen. When he finished preparing his coffee in silence, he sat next to Matt and peered over his shoulder. “What is that?” “Dr. Pepper, coconut creamer, and a splash of lime juice over ice.” “That can’t be good.” “He knows what he’s doing.” Brad looked at Matt unbelievingly. Surely, there was no way that drink was good. Matt simply shrugged. To each their own. They sat in silence, enjoying the dark morning and darker coffee. “What time are you heading home?” Matt asked. “I’ll stick around for lunch and then take off.” Matt frowned. “I have to work at eleven.” “Oh, well then, I can leave whenever.” Remembering last night's conversation, Matt decided that lunch didn’t have to be a bust. “You should see if Seamus and Aidan want to have lunch. Maybe Seamus can take you to Cavalier’s.” Brad thought about it as he sipped his coffee. “I think I’d enjoy that.” “Yes, definitely,” Matt said with a little too much excitement. “You should definitely ask Seamus to lunch.” Brad looked at his son from the corner of his eye. “Okay...” “Good, good.” He wanted to tell his dad everything, that way Brad could act accordingly. If Brad knew all about Seamus’s shitty parents, his dad would definitely step up. But more than anything, Matt wanted their relationship to be organic. The thought of his dad and his boyfriend bonding had him smiling so wide he couldn’t drink his coffee. The sudden good mood didn’t escape Brad. He brought the coffee to his lips and smiled. He didn’t need to press. His son was happy and that was all he cared about. It wasn’t long before they saw the monitor light up as Aidan rustled around. Brad set his cup down to go get his grandson, but Matt put his hand out. “Wait until he’s ready.” They listened as Aidan became more and more active and vocal. Then there was grunting. What was Aidan up to? Turns out he was up to no good. There was a weird noise coming from Aidan’s room. It took a second for them to realize it was the door knob jiggling… “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Matt jumped up and went straight for Aidan’s room. Knowing there was a chance Aidan was standing behind the door, Matt opened it slowly. Sure enough, there stood a little crazy haired, sleepy face boy with a larger-than-life smile. Matt picked Aidan up. “What did you do?!” Making Brad laugh from the sofa. “This isn’t funny,” Matt shouted. “It’s a little funny.” “He just escaped from his crib!” Brad laughed again and tried to high-five Aidan but Matt twirled the little guy out of reach. Aidan thought it was funny and started giggling. Matt glared at his dad. “Don’t encourage him.” “Oh, calm down. You weren’t even a year when you crawled out of your crib for the first time. It’s a rite of passage.” Matt changed Aidan’s soggy diaper and lectured him on all the reasons he shouldn’t be getting out of his crib. Aidan didn’t pay him any mind, which made Grandpa laugh even more. Then Seamus came out of the bedroom, looking like needed another thirty minutes. Too bad, this was Matt’s chance. He needed an ally. “Aidan crawled out of his crib this morning. Dad thinks it’s funny but it’s not. Right? Tell them it’s not funny.” Seamus gave Matt a sleepy smile then stole Aidan on his way to the kitchen. After giving him a couple morning kisses, he started quizzing the little guy. “Did you get out of your crib this morning? (baby babble) Yeah? Why didn’t you ask for help? (baby babble) No, for sure, I get it. You’re right, you are a big boy.” Grrr. Matt sat at the table and drilled holes in the back of Seamus’s head. Aidan continued to talk back like it was the most serious conversation. All the while, Brad hid his smile behind his mug. Once he and Aidan were situated at the table, Seamus continued. “I don’t think your dad is thrilled about it but I’ll talk to him.” He looked sympathetically at Matt. “Aidan said he’ll try and wait for us in the mornings, but he can’t make any promises. He’s eighteen months now and feels he’s entitled to a little independence.” Matt stood up and pointed his finger at three generations of traitors. “I will not stand for this.” He snatched Aidan from the table and marched him back to his room, where he plopped him back in the crib. “You will sit here and think about what you’ve done.” Aidan smiled brightly and his eyes twinkled as Matt tried to punish him. Matt made sure to leave the door cracked. A minute later Aidan came walking out of the bedroom with a smile on his face and his hands in the air. Ta da! Brad and Seamus cheered him on while Matt threw his hands in the air. “I don’t have time for this kind of treason.” Matt tickled Aidan’s belly to let him know there were no hard feelings. Of course Matt loved him to the moon and back. It was just hard to accept that yesterday Aidan was a tiny baby who didn’t have a personality and now he was walking, kind of talking, showing off, laughing, and seeking reactions from the group. He was full of life in a way that took Matt by surprise. He loved it. He loved Aidan. When Matt returned from getting dressed and ready for work, Seamus and Brad were smirking at him. “I’m not talking to either of you.” Matt said as he gave them the cold shoulder. He heard some whispering, little footfalls, then a tug on his pants. Aidan wanted uppy. Matt could do nothing but caved to those blue eyes. He hefted him up and kissed his cheek. “Why are you growing up so fast?” Aidan looked at him with big blue eyes. “I know, I just wish you could stay small.” Aidan smiled and gave Matt a big, sloppy open mouth kiss. “You could at least humor me so I’m not so sad.” Aidan gibbered away, then leaned his head on Matt’s shoulder, making him melt right there. Brad and Seamus melted, too. Matt squeezed his lil brother in a big bear hug, then joined the others at the table. With Aidan’s big boy grievances forgiven, they drank coffee and talked until Matt had to go to work. Matt tried to catch his dad’s eye. He wanted to remind him about lunch with Seamus. As it was, the two were too busy chatting to notice Matt. Hell, Seamus barely looked up when Matt kissed his head before leaving for work. If he was going to be ignored, this was the best reason why. **** Kase and Hilary were at the cafe when he got there. He waved as he headed to the back to drop off his stuff. When he came back, Matt was still trying his apron when Kase handed him an iced drink. “This week's special.” Matt eyed the drink, slowly swirling it. The coconut cream slowly sank into the soda, mixing itself together. He took a sip and let the flavor sit on his tongue. It was surprisingly delicious. “Wow, that’s good. I wasn’t sure when I saw it this morning, but yeah, I’d drink this.” Hilary closed her eyes and inhaled as she enjoyed every drop of hers. “The man can’t mess up. He’s literal perfection.” Kase stared at her with one brow raised. “He’s also gay.” “So?” “So? What? Your perfect man is gay?” “I didn’t say he was my perfect man. I said he was the perfect man. Even you have a crush on him.” “It’s not a crush,” Kase denied, sticking his tongue out and glaring at his coworker. “Haven’t you seen him rock climb? He’s a beast.” “I’ve seen him rock climb, clean his house, work on his truck, go shopping, cook full on adulting meals, make cocktails, go swimming, workout—” Hilary listed. “My point exactly.” They spent a good portion of the morning discussing livingtheloelife, his trailer renovation, and a few other notable projects he’d done in the past. When they finished discussing Mr. Perfect, Matt asked what they were planning on doing after graduation. Kase and Hilary were both business majors. Hilary wanted to be a CEO and Kase was using it as a fall back to his architecture degree. “It’s really sneaking up on us now, are you guys nervous?” Kase shook his head. “Nah. I’m going to work with my dad. The plan was always for me to join after college and he has a good thing going.” It was Hilary’s turn. “They offered me a paid internship with Georgia-Pacific. I’m nervous about moving to Atlanta, but I think it will be a good starting point.” “Atlanta?” Matt asked with a frown. “That’s far away.” She agreed. “I know. I’ve never been that far from home and I’d have no friends, but hey, you gotta grow up, you know? At least you’ll have a reason to visit.” “What about you?” Kase asked Matt. “What are you going to do?” He shrugged as if this wasn’t a big deal and he hadn’t been thinking about it lately. “Seamus mentioned he might have a job for me. We haven’t talked about it much, but I’m not uninterested.” It took a second but then Kase’s eyes widened as something under the surface connected. “That’s who that was!” He rushed to the dining room and searched the tables, flipping through newspaper after newspaper. When he couldn’t find what he was looking for, he ran to the back. A few minutes later he came back holding the coveted newspaper above his head. “The police log?” Hilary asked as she tracked him across the cafe. “Who looks at those anymore?” “Are you kidding? The police log is gold. You’d be surprised who you see in there.” Matt watched as Kase searched the listing until he found what he was looking for. “Mike Forte, arrested at 7:43am on charges of payroll fraud.” “Mike Forte?” Hilary tapped her temple. “Why is that familiar?” “He’s the guy we email for paycheck stuff and whatever. He’s the HR guy.” Kase and Hilary stood shoulder to shoulder and stood up at the same time as they looked to Matt for answers. Matt took a step back. “Whoa. No, no, no, no.” “What is happening? Did he really steal money? Are you taking his job?” Matt’s heart raced as his friends stared him down. He didn’t want to lie but he wasn’t sure what he should say. He didn’t think Seamus would care. It was in the police log, which was public record. It wasn’t like they needed the gory details. Hilary put her hands on her hips. “Is this why you were off work for two weeks? What the hell is going on?” “Okay, yeah,” he said, hushing them. “Seamus suspected Mike was skimming. He asked me to take a look, so I did. There was definitely some shady stuff. They for sure have him on the payroll fraud, probably more. Seamus has a professional going through everything right now but it could take some time.” “Is Mike in jail?” Matt shook his head. “He was but now he’s out on bail. If he serves more time, it won’t be until we go to court.” “When will that be?” “No clue, but it could take a while.” “Enough time for him to move all the money he stole? How much are we talking?” “I’m sure once they can prove he had stolen money, they’ll be able to track where it went. I don’t know. As far as how much, I only went back a year and he easily stole over one-hundred thousand. In one year! We don’t know how long he’s been stealing. Maybe the whole time Kelly’s been gone? My stomach hurts thinking of the damage he might’ve caused.” “This is crazy,” Kase said with a little thrill in his voice. “Do you think you’ll take the job?” “I don’t know. Like I said, it was brought up in passing and we haven’t touched on it again. He has someone filling in for now and I have school until the end of May. He might not want to wait that long.” Kase and Hilary scoffed back and forth. Before they could put in their two cents as to why Seamus would wait a million years for Matt, a group of students came in. Then a few more. Before they knew it, they had a full on lunch rush that went nonstop for hours. When the dust settled and they caught up on cleaning and dishes, the conversation was all but forgotten. Matt was in the back working up a sweat as he sprayed the last of dishes. It wasn’t his favorite job but he didn’t hate it like the others did. “Hey.” Matt turned to see Seamus standing by the door, the correct door, smiling. “Your dad is out front.” Seamus looked damn good in jeans and a black winter jacket. His auburn hair was damp from the drizzle and his cheeks were flushed from the cold. Matt licked his lips, making his boyfriend laugh at his adolescent behavior. Seamus was amused and flattered, but shook his head as if Matt was an idiot and slipped out, leaving Matt alone with his dirty thoughts. With a tote of clean dishes in hand, Matt went to the front. Kase was making his dad and Seamus the new special. Brad was still skeptical but patiently waited while Kase added a squirt of lime juice. He swished the drink the same way Matt had. Kase glanced at Matt and laughed. Some of the similarities between Matt and his dad were uncanny. Just like Matt, Brad's face morphed from apprehension to pleasant surprise. “That is surprisingly good.” Seamus agreed, though he’d drink just about anything without complaint. Kase and Hilary threw their hands. How could everyone doubt their boi, livingtheloelife? Brad pulled out his phone. “Who is this guy? I want to follow him.” Now it was Matt who rolled his eyes. His dad did not have social media. Holy crap, his dad had social media. And not just Facebook like every other old person. If that weren’t enough to knock Matt flat, Seamus pulled out his phone. His dad and boyfriend were friending each other. Matt stared at Seamus. “You have Instagram?” “Yeah, I started following you last year, right around your birthday. You never followed back. Then again, your last post was a pair of Nike shoes you wore to your high school graduation.” Matt pulled out his phone and searched the app. He didn’t have a lot of followers, nor was he following many, but he would not let his friends, boyfriend, and dad be friends on social without him. “Bradthedad? Seriously, Dad? That's terrible.” “Oh, and makessy is better?” “Hey, it was my nickname in high school.” “What? How?” “Ma, Matt. Kessy, Kessler. MaKessy” “How is that any different? Am I not Brad who happens to be a dad? AKA Brad the dad?” Matt wanted to argue, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Once everyone cemented their relationships by being FBO (facebook official), Kase took it upon himself to make sure they were all following livingtheloelife. Kase also told Matt he had one week to post something new on his feed on or he’d do it for him. Matt took a second to glance at Seamus’s page. The entire feed over the last year was exclusively Aidan plus one gym selfie. Which baffled Matt to no end. When did he have time for the gym?! He loved that Seamus was sharing so many pictures of Aidan. It wasn’t that he dubbed Seamus’s feelings, he truly didn’t, but it was just another confirmation and it made Matt feel really good. They hung out for a minute longer, then Brad said something to Seamus and suddenly they were both getting ready to leave. “Are you taking off now?” Brad leaned in for a hug. “Yeah, I need to head home. Thank you for having me. I had a great Christmas. Best I’ve had in years.” Seamus got Aidan ready to go then said bye to Matt. As they left, Brad held the door open, then guided Seamus out with a hand between his shoulder blade. Matt smiled. There was a clear bond forming between the two. He always had a good relationship with his dad, but it was better than ever before. He felt a stronger bond and a deeper connection. After losing his mom and taking on Aidan, he felt a new appreciation for his dad and all he did. **** Matt stepped into the loft. Dinner was on the stove and Aidan was playing with toys. He hadn’t even taken his jacket off when Seamus appeared out of nowhere and attacked him. “Hello to you, too. What’s got you so happy?” Seamus was smiley and giddy as Matt hung his jacket by the door. When he finished, Seamus grabbed his hands and pulled him further into the loft. “Your dad and I went to lunch, then took Aidan to the park. After Brad left, Aidan and I went to work for a bit, then came home,” he said. “It’s been a good day.” “Well, it smells good.” “Pot roast. It’s done if you’re hungry.” Seamus sat on the couch and pulled Matt until he was straddling him. It was a long day and Matt was happy to relax on Seamus’ lap. “Tell me more about your day.” “It wasn’t anything special. Your dad and I hung out after you left, then he invited me to lunch. It was nice. We talked about nothing and everything.” “Did you talk to him about the whole Mike thing?” He nodded and ran his hands under Matt’s shirt and up his side. “He gave me a whole new perspective. I feel less stressed about it. Actually, I feel kind of great.” “What’d he say?” “He told me that stressing over it wasn’t going to change anything. The most important part is that Mike is out of my life. From here on out, the worst thing that can happen is that I don’t recover a penny from him and none of the charges stick.” Matt frowned. “Yeah, but that’s a shitty outcome.” “I agree, but I have you and Aidan. Your dad said to let it go, to move forward, focus on the good, and expect nothing from Mike.” Seamus’s eyes sparkled in a way Matt hadn’t noticed before. They’d always been so gorgeously dark eyes he got lost in them, but they were different now. Carefree, joyful. “Doesn’t mean I won’t do everything in my power to pin his ass to the wall. Brad just said there’s bigger fish to fry, and he’s right. I have a business to run and I need to focus on moving forward and building a team I can be proud of. One I trust. I’ve done what I can do regarding Mike. When the investigators finish, we’ll go from there. I have to trust that my lawyer and the justice system will have my back. Until then, I can look ahead.” “I swear I’ve said some of this to you before.” “Yeah, but your dad presents it better.” “Ouch,” he laughed. Seamus smiled with those damn twinkle eyes. “No offense.” “Absolute offense taken.” Seamus leaned up and kissed the wicked burn away. “After your dad went home, Aidan and I stopped by the office and talked to Roberta. She recommended some changes. She mentioned that Mike had an insane workload and the whole minus the stealing he was doing a great job considering the workload, but recommended having more than one person moving forward.” “From what I saw, I definitely agree there should be a team.” Seamus moved his hands to Matt’s thighs. “I was serious when I said I had a job for you. After you graduate, I’d like the three of us—me, you, and Roberta—to sit down and figure out a plan of action. I want you to be a part of that.” “Sometimes I worry you think too highly of me. I have no degree. What would I contribute to that pow-wow?” “You don’t think enough of yourself. You’re really fucking smart. I think you’d have a lot to contribute, and if you don’t, you’ll be there to learn. Whatever the case, I want you there at the inception of whatever changes are to be made. Only if you’re interested.” “I’m interested,” Matt rushed. “Nervous—but definitely interested. I have six months of school left. You don’t think that will negatively affect anything?” “I wouldn’t let it. But how would you feel about working part-time until then?” “I’m already working part-time at the cafe—” Matt leaned away. “Oh.” There were only a few months before Kase and Hilary moved away. If he quit now, he’d miss that time with them. “You don’t have to. It was just a thought. Even one or two half days would make a world of difference for the transition. And honestly, I’d feel so much better knowing you had eyes on everything.” “Even if I have no clue what I’m looking at?” “You know exactly what you’re looking at.” Matt closed his eyes and thought on it for a moment. He could work a little at the office and at the cafe. It was only six months. It wasn’t like he’d be working more. He’d be spreading it out differently. And working for Seamus was long-term thinking. He would like to be involved from the start so he could learn from Roberta. That would give him a leg up. He would need to think more on logistics but… Yeah. “I’m game.” “Yeah?” Matt leaned down and kissed Seamus. “Yeah.” Seamus smiled and quickly pulled Matt down for a proper kiss which quickly turned into an improper kiss. Before things got too far, a piercing scream cracked through the room. Matt startled so hard he almost fell to the floor. Something was wrong. Aidan stood next to them, red faced and angry. He reached out and hit Matt’s leg. He then hoisted himself onto the couch like a sealion and shoved Matt away from Seamus. Realizing it was just a case of jealousy, Matt laughed and kissed Seamus again. Aidan covered Matt’s mouth with both hands and shook his head. “No.” Seamus and Matt looked at each other, then burst into laughter. “Excuse me lil man, this is my boyfriend and I can kiss him all I want.” To prove his point, Matt leaned down and kissed said boyfriend. That only stirred the pot. Angry Aidan hit Matt and cried out in frustration. Matt kissed Seamus again. Kiss. Smack. Sass. Kiss. Smack. Sass. Matt shouldn’t have found so much joy in provoking his brother, but he did. Aidan had favored Seamus but not to the point where Matt couldn’t even touch him. The sudden problem with the affection was hilarious. Matt spent the rest of the evening kissing Seamus just to upset Aidan. Was it mean? Maybe. Did Matt care? Not at all. He might be Aidan’s guardian, but he was still a big brother at heart. **** Kase invited Matt out for New Years, but he declined. He was over feeling the need to ‘be twenty-one’. He didn’t like alcohol. Plus, their birthdays were coming up and he’d rather save himself for that. Seeing Kase and Hilary come in completely hungover only solidified Matt’s decision. Matt had slept great and had all the energy in the world. He could not say the same for his friends. “Yonks’ not so terrible, now is he?” Matt asked as he watched his friends struggle with work and, well, doing life in general. Kase re-wiped the counter since it was one of a few tasks that didn’t make him queasy. “We never said he was terrible. He just has that weird eye thing.” “Weird eye thing or not, he covered your butts this morning.” Matt continued to give his friends a hard time, luckily for them, it wasn’t a busy day. Most people were still out of town for the holidays. Matt was about to let Kase go home early when the door chimed. “Holy. Shit.” Hilary and Kase stared at the door, stunned. Jay, Seamus’ friend—not Kase’s teammate—stood at the door looking every bit the rich professional athlete he was. Designer jeans and jacket molded to his body perfectly, his hair was on point, and his useless-because-it’s-winter sunglasses looked hella expensive as he pushed them on top of his head. Jay looked around the cafe until he spotted Matt and then he smiled. “Matt! Long time no see.” Matt was a few beats behind on the bro-shake, but Jay didn’t seem to care. When they finished, Matt studied Jay like he couldn’t quite place his face. “James? Jerry? Jim?” Matt snapped his fingers in recognition. “Jackson, with the big contract. How could I forget!” Jay looked downright offended. “You wound me. You really wound me.” Matt smiled proudly. “I heard you had a game the other day. You guys won?” Matt asked, then cringed because he really had no clue what he was talking about. Jay laughed. “C’mon, don’t be like that. You can be nice to me, I won’t tell Seamus.” “My alliance remains.” Matt shrugged. There was nothing he could do. “I had your back at the bar and this is how you repay me?” Matt realized his friends were standing to the side, completely star-struck. “Hey Jay, these are my friends Kase and Hilary.” Jay reached a hand out. “And this is Jay—eh.” Jay glared at his best friend’s shameless boyfriend. “You don’t know my last name?!” “Petermeyer,” Kase said as he came out of his stupor and finally shook the athlete’s hand. “Jay Petermeyer. Holy shit. Matt, you know Jay Petermeyer?” “He’s a friend of Seamus.” “Best friend,” Jay corrected. “Well, I wouldn’t go that far.” Hilary took Jay’s hand. “Hilary. Matt’s best friend. Nice to meet you.” Kase glared, not liking that intro one bit. “Nice to meet you, Hilary. A friend of Matt’s is a questionable character in my eye.” “Well, we’re not best friends,” she backtracked. “Just regular friends. More like co-workers really. Kase though, Kase and Matt are super tight. Can hardly separate those two.” Kase mouthed some choice words to his dearest coworker. How dare she throw him under the bus. Matt too was about to tell her where she could shove their friendship when Jay continued. “Good to know.” He gave a kind smile for his new friend, Hilary, then turned back to Matt and ever so slightly turned his nose up. “I actually came here to invite you and Seamus to the playoff game but I’m feeling very under appreciated.” “Oh, in that case, can I get you a drink?” Matt smiled brightly, as if the threat meant something to him. Which it didn’t. But he enjoyed the banter. Jay crossed his arms and pouted. “I don’t know. What’s good?” Matt pointed to the sign on the counter that had the weekly special. “This is a big hit.” “Loelife’s Drink of the Week: Dr. Pepper, coconut cream, and lime juice?” he read, then cringed. “Pass. What else is there?” Matt shook his head and started making the drink anyway. When he finished, he handed it over. “What part of ‘pass’ did you not understand?” “Just trust me.” “I have no reason to trust you. You do not have my best interest at heart.” “Fair enough.” Matt pointed at Kase. “If you can’t trust me, then trust him. He probably knows all your stats or whatever information will make you feel cared for.” Kase’s eyes widened. Jay Petermeyer was looking at him, waiting for confirmation that he could drink what Matt was pushing on him. “Yeah, it’s really good. Definitely. You should drink it.” Jay studied Kase. “How many sacks have I had this season?” “Seven, so far. Though you just celebrated a career one-hundred.” “Touchdowns?” “Two.” Jay nodded approvingly, then took a sip of the drink. “Not bad, Kase. Not bad.” Matt threw his hands in the air. It had been he who made the drink. But the look of delight on Kase’s face was everything. Matt was about to ask what he was doing in town when the door chimed once more. Seamus did a double take. Apparently he didn’t know Jay was in town, let alone at the cafe. Jay gave his friend a hug, then stole Aidan. “What is up my man?” He tried to give the little guy a high five, but Aidan went shy and clammed up in Jay’s arms. Jay was undeterred by the lack of warm welcome. “Eh, it’s fine. He’ll love me in no time.” The only reaction they got from Aidan was when Seamus gave Matt a kiss. Aidan didn't like that. "You tell em kiddo!" Jay laughed. He clearly loved that Aidan was hating on Matt. Him and Seamus were laughing and about to sit at a table when Matt interrupted. “You still need to pay for your drink. It’s three-fifty.” Yes, he was Seamus’s friend, but that didn’t mean he got special treatment. Jay looked at Seamus. Is this for real? Seamus shrugged. The player took his wallet out and grabbed a tenner. Matt looked at the ten then back at Jay. “It’s really nice that you were going to tip us each twenty big ones, you know, for introducing you to that bomb drink.” Jay burst out laughing. “Twenty bones each? I’m not sure it was that good—” he pulled the bills from his wallet and slid them across the counter. “Thanks for blowing my mind,” he deadpanned. Seamus shot Matt a thumbs up, making Matt smile. His friends on the other hand stared at Matt like he was crazy cakes for sharking Jay Petermeyer the way he did. “What?” he asked as he folded the twenty and stuffed it in his wallet. Hilary laughed. “I can’t believe you just did that.” Kase looked at his twenty in wonder. “I’m going to frame this.” Jay held a still bashful Aidan as he told Seamus all about how Matt had burned him good when he arrived. It was a mixture of pouting and smiling. As hard as Jay tried, he couldn’t deny he’d enjoyed their interaction. Seamus looked at Matt and grinned. Nothing better than hearing that your best friend and boyfriend were getting along. Fuck, after the month they’d had, Matt would do anything to see Seamus smile like that.
    124 points
  10. Aiden watched his human, the boy named Ethan, as he carefully considered his options on what action he should take. It wasn’t simply a choice of what was in his heart or what his wolf told him. He still could not tell from Ethan’s scent if he had started the turning process and that confused him as it generally began almost instantaneously. The boy still smelled exactly the same as he did before getting bit, so he didn’t think anything had changed. He hoped Michael hadn’t turned the teen, forever marking his blond pup with the scent of his rival. His wolf was sickened by the very thought of that mongrel sinking its teeth into their human. If anyone was to turn this boy it should be us, his wolf told him. Studying the young pup, Aiden had no way of knowing how Ethan would react to what he was now considered doing, even though Ethan had just said he wished it was real Aiden had transformed into a human. He wished Ethan had gotten to know his human side before revealing himself. Allow themselves to get to know each other prior to springing the entire, ‘Oh, by the way, I change into a wolf sometimes,’ thing. His wolf practically demanded he shift and wanted him to claim what was theirs. He quashed that idea then and there; he told his wolf not to do anything to frighten the boy. He finally looked over to his to closest friends and advisors sharing a silent discussion for a few moments until they both nodded their heads in assent. Casey wondered off to grab their packs and quickly returned to where Trevor waited at the edge of the clearing. Aiden took a deep breath and let it out in a huff, then got up and took a few steps away from Ethan. Keeping his eyes on the pup, he began the shift into his human body. The fur began to recede, his bones reshaped and snapped into their reformed location, his face took on a more human look as the ears moved from the top of his head to the sides. The one thing that didn’t change was the dark grey penetrating eyes of the wolf. The process only took a matter of seconds, but for both Aiden and Ethan it seemed to take an eternity. Both kept their eyes locked on the other one’s. When the shift was complete, a very human and very naked Aiden knelt before the stunned and terrified Ethan. In a soft, calming voice Aiden said, “It’s okay, Ethan. You’re safe and nobody’s going to hurt you.” Ethan looked like he wanted to run away as fast as his legs would carry him. His face was covered in absolute terror even though moments before he was wishing this very thing could happen; the scent of fear and panic filled the air around them. He began to move away, scrambling back on his hands and feet until he found himself pinned against a tree. Aiden knew he needed to act quickly; he crawled over next to Ethan staying low and not threatening. Slowly taking his hand while still looking Ethan in the eyes. “It’s still me. Look into my eyes and you’ll see I’m the same as the wolf that you wanted as your friend. You don’t need to be afraid of me.” Ethan looked over Aiden’s face and timidly reached out, briefly pulling his hand back just before making contact. The pause was momentary before closing the distance again and running his fingers across Aiden’s cheek. Ethan’s fingers ghosted over the face of the man that knelt before him, not quite believing this was real. It was the face he thought he had seen before passing out; the face he’d seen so many times in his dreams since that night. He looked deep into the eyes before him, studying them; the color was that incredible dark grey with the same intensity they had when the wolf stared at him. Without a doubt, he knew those eyes were the same as the wolf; this handsome man was his wolf. Aiden finally asked, “Are you going to be okay? If you find me too frightening just tell me and I will go. No matter what, no harm will come to you.” Ethan was quiet for a long time as he studied this strange man. Aiden began to fear this was too much for the boy to handle and started to pull back. Like a rubber band that’s wound too tight, Ethan finally snapped out of his fear and with tears streamed down his face he wrapped his arms around Aiden and buried his face against Aiden’s neck. “Please don’t go.” As afraid of Aiden as he was, he was more afraid of being alone again. Aiden happily held on, pulling him into a tight hug until his pup finally looked up into his eyes again. He wiped the boy’s tears away and smiled down at him, “Hello Ethan, I’m Aiden.” The boy gave a little smile then looked puzzled. “H-how did you know my name?” It was quickly followed by, “Oh my god… you’re naked!” Aiden started laughing. “I know you have a lot of questions and we’ll take them one at a time. As for me being naked, it’s kind of difficult to wear clothes when I change shapes.” He added with a big wolfish smile, “And as I recall, you were naked when I first saw you.” Ethan immediately blushed remembering everything Aiden had seen. Aiden looked over at Casey and nodded. The auburn wolf picked up Aiden’s pack and brought it over to him. Ethan looked up and saw the other wolf moving closer and started to panic. Aiden held on to him and told him again, “It’s alright. He’s not going to hurt you. These are my two best friends. This is Casey,” who let out a bark, “and the other one is Trevor,” who also let out a bark. Casey set the pack down near Aiden and walked back over to Trevor. Aiden opened it, pulled out shorts, and quickly slipped them on. Ethan spoke before thinking. “I kinda liked the view.” As soon as he said it, he slapped a hand over his mouth and his whole body blushed bright red with embarrassment. Aiden couldn’t help but laugh. When Ethan recovered somewhat from his embarrassment, he looked up at Aiden. “So how did you know my name? Can you read minds or something?” “No, I can’t read minds, even though I know what your next question is most likely going to be. But as far as your name, Dr. Alexander told me. Your next question I’m guessing was going to be, what am I?” “Yeah,” Ethan replied. “I’m a lycan. Some people call us shape shifters, others call us skinwalkers. Specifically, I’m a lycan wolf or wolf shifter. So are Casey and Trevor.” Aiden waited a moment for that to sink in before continuing. “The wolves that attacked you are also shifters like me.” “Why did they attack me then? I didn’t do anything to them or any other wolf,” he asked with sadness in his voice laced with a hint of anger. “They attacked you because of me,” Aiden said with remorse in his voice. “They are from my pack and one of them figured out I was spending time with you. He and I aren’t exactly friends. They intended to only try and scare you and have some fun at your expense. But when I showed up to protect you, the one that was leading the group thought he had to attack me to save face instead of backing down to me. You were bit as a result. I’m truly sorry for that, but I’m not sorry I met you, became your friend, or tried to defend you.” “Am I going to turn into a werewolf because I got bit?” Ethan asked in fear. Aiden winced a little at the term werewolf, but had to admit it was a fair question. “We’re not actually werewolves like you find in the movies or books. Normally, a bite from one of us will turn a human into a lycan though. I should be able to smell the change in you giving how many days it’s been, but I don’t. I honestly don’t know what’s going on yet and if you will be turned or not. I don’t think you have been, but again, I’m not sure.” The two sat silently for a bit while Ethan tried to absorb what he had been told so far. His mind was in turmoil over wanting to run away from this person that wasn’t human and in awe of what was really before him. He honestly believed he was still asleep and this was nothing more than a dream. Ethan pulled back from Aiden a little bit and looked up into his eyes. “I need to tell you something and if you don’t want to be my friend after that I’ll understand.” He took a deep breath then looked down at the ground in front of him, “I’m gay and I won’t hide it, so if it’s a problem...” Aiden had to chuckle a little bit and gently put his finger under Ethan’s chin to make him look back into Aiden’s eyes. With a brilliant smile, Aiden quietly told him, “I already figured that out,” then leaned in and gave Ethan a light kiss on the tip of his nose. Ethan looked at the bigger man with shock, longing, and a host of other emotions he couldn’t even begin to name. This huge sexy man that was also a shape-shifting wolf had just kissed him. Now he knew for sure he was asleep, but oh what a wonderful dream this was. “Is all this real? I’m not still asleep and dreaming, am I? Did I just get kissed by the hottest guy I’ve ever seen? You are really a shape-shifting wolf? Has a white rabbit with a pocket watch and top hat gone running by yet?” Ethan took a breath after ratting off all those questions in rapid succession. “I haven’t seen a white rabbit, but I’m sure the three of us could hunt one up if needed, though I doubt it would have a pocket watch or hat. You’re not asleep. I am a shape shifter and yes, this is real.” Aiden grinned big for a moment. “So… hottest guy ever? Oh, and yes, I kissed you.” Aiden held the boy’s gaze for a long time before softly asking, “Why are you out here in the forest all by yourself? If you don’t want to tell me it’s okay. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.” Taking another deep breath, he gave Aiden a brief and very sugar coated rundown of his history and why he came to the mountains. Aiden’s heart nearly broke as he listened. He was amazed at the strength this boy had shown taking care of himself on the streets. There was no pity, just admiration. He pulled Ethan into him so Ethan’s head was resting on his chest saying, “If I have my way, you’ll never be alone again.” Ethan reached up and absentmindedly ran his fingers through the thick layer of fur on Aiden’s chest. His other arm wrapped around Aiden’s back holding him tight. He didn’t understand why, but he felt perfectly safe in the arms of this man that was his wolf. Aiden held Ethan, breathing deep, and taking in the wonderful scent that made him feel calm and at peace. To both of them, this felt right. ****** As they talked and got to know each other, Ethan extricated himself from Aiden’s hold, got up, and grabbed his fishing pole. “We should think about catching something for dinner before it gets too late.” Aiden smiled and gave a wolfish grin while looking at the fishing pole. “It’s not how I’m used to fishing, but it will be fun doing it with you again.” In the wide stream, the fish seemed hungry and liked the berries Ethan used as bait. It didn’t take long before the two had caught several nice-sized rainbow trout. Ethan cleaned them while Aiden got a fire going. Smelling the fish cooking, the other two wolves returned from whatever they had been doing. The auburn wolf was sniffing the air with his tongue hanging out from the scent of the fish. Looking at Aiden, Ethan said, “There’s plenty here if they want some. Would they prefer it raw or cooked?” Aiden called over to his two friends, “Why don’t you guys shift and come join us for dinner. Now is as good a time as any for him to meet you two mutts.” They both gave Aiden a playful growl at being called mutts, but shifted into human form and pulled on their shorts. Casey was the first to walk over after grabbing a mess kit out of his pack. He sat down licking his lips, “That smells pretty damn good.” Trevor followed his friend. “Hey, I’m Trevor.” He held out his hand to the much smaller boy. “When food’s around, this chowhound forgets his manners.” “Oh yeah, sorry about that. Hey, dude. I’m Casey” Ethan had to smile to himself. He was around three hugely built guys that could change into wolves; one of the guys was staying in almost constant contact with him and yet he felt perfectly safe. It didn’t make sense to him, but he knew they wouldn’t hurt him. “Hey, guys,” Ethan said looking at the two. After all the trout was cooked, the four dug in. Ethan was stuffed, the other three would need a little more food, but they could go for a quick hunt later. After everything was cleaned, Casey looked at Aiden. “Man, if he can cook this good out here in the forest I can only imagine what he can do in a real kitchen.” As he was walking away, he glanced back. “You got yourself quite a find there.” Aiden gave his friend a hard glare causing Casey to realize what he’d just said, although Aiden had the same thought himself. He just didn’t want to scare Ethan away. Ethan thought the comment was a little strange, but was happy with the compliment on his cooking. “What does he mean by 'you’ve got quite a find'?” Aiden thought hard about his next words, but decided he needed to be open and honest with Ethan even if Ethan rejected him. “From the first time I saw you, my wolf has been telling me that you are someone special and it’s been driving me to be close to you. After leaving you with the Doc, I could feel something pulling me to try and find you again. I know you’re not a wolf and I don’t want say too much yet and risk scaring you off. Basically, I want to get to know you a lot better.” Taking a chance, Aiden asked, “Have you ever had a boyfriend before?” “No, I haven’t,” Ethan replied. “What about you?” “I haven’t either, but hopefully someone will eventually change that,” he said leaning in and giving Ethan a light kiss on the tip of the nose again. “I know it’s too soon to even hope for that, but a guy can dream.” Tears filled Ethan’s eyes as he got up and ran into the forest. Aiden gave chase and quickly caught up with him. Pulling the smaller boy into his arms, he held him tight against his chest. “I’m sorry, Ethan. I didn’t mean to scare you. I know the whole shape shifter thing is a lot to take in. And having one say he likes you a lot right after finding out they exist, probably doesn’t help.” Ethan couldn’t bring himself to look up at Aiden. “Why would you want some worthless, homeless kid? My life’s a wreck and everyone I’ve met tosses me aside like yesterday’s garbage after they get what they want.” Aiden couldn’t help the growling that started deep in his chest. He held Ethan even tighter as the boy continued to cry. He pulled back a little so he was looking deep into Ethan’s eyes. “I know you have no reason to trust me and we both have a lot to learn about each other, but I’m only going to say this once. You are not worthless, Pup! Yes, your life may be a wreck and you may be homeless. I’ve caused a few train wrecks in my past. When I look at you, I see someone that is incredibly strong and brave. Far braver then a lot of people I know.” When he finished he pulled Ethan close and held on tight. Ethan didn’t know what to say so he remained quiet and let the bigger teen hold him. After a few minutes of silence, Aiden pulled back enough to be able to look into Ethan’s eyes. “I know at the very least you could probably use a friend. I’d very much like to be that friend. You don’t need to answer me now and I know we just met as humans. But I’d like you to think about in addition to me being your friend, maybe, someday, possibly being my boyfriend. If you tell me you’re not interested and want me to leave, I’ll abide by your decision. At the risk of scaring you off, my wolf is telling me you are the one I’m meant to be with.” Ethan didn’t understand the strong pull he felt towards Aiden. He hadn’t trusted anyone since he’d been on the streets, but he desperately wanted to believe in Aiden. “I don’t trust well. Since I’ve been on the streets, not trusting people is what kept me alive. It’s going to take me a little time. I do want to trust you and believe in you, but I’m scared to let myself believe in anyone. I trusted you as a wolf that you wouldn’t hurt me, I think I might be able to trust you as a person. Before I say yes or no, you need to know a few more things about my life and how I’ve gotten by for the last few years. If you can handle that, then we’ll take it one step at a time. If not, I understand and am used to it. Okay?” Aiden nodded and the two walked back to the camp. Trevor and Casey were tending the fire when the pair returned. Trevor looked up. “Everything cool?” Aiden give him a nod. Casey looked to his friends. “I’m hungry, can we go hunt?” Trevor playfully shoved him. “When aren’t you hungry?” Ethan lightly laughed at their antics while Aiden shook his head. Aiden looked down at Ethan, “Pup, are you gonna be okay if we go for a quick hunt?” Ethan barely managed a slight smile. “I’ll be okay. I’m feeling really tired anyways and was hoping we could have that talk tomorrow. I could also do with some time to think.” The three stripped and in a few seconds, their bodies transformed from big muscular men into massive wolves. Aiden nuzzled Ethan’s hand and gave it a quick lick before they ran off into the forest. Ethan put out the fire and crawled into his sleeping bag. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact this big handsome man he had just met actually said he wanted him as his boyfriend, let alone the fact he could turn himself into a wolf. He fell into a fitful sleep and woke sometime later feeling very warm and like something was pressing down on him. Raising his head a little, he could see his wolf laying against him with its head his chest. He quickly fell back into a very restful sleep for the remainder of the night.
    124 points
  11. Friday night, after Aidan was safe and sound with Grandpa, Seamus dragged Matt out of the apartment and took him to Coffee|Bar. Despite having worked the day shift a while now, he’d never been there after hours. The live music was a woman and her acoustic guitar, singing cover songs that were better than the originals. Patrons sat around the tables laughing, enjoying the low-lit atmosphere while waiters and waitresses served beer and wine. Matt wasn’t even sure this was the same place he’d worked just a few short hours ago. It was so different. Matt picked a small table while Seamus went to the bar that was partitioned off during the day. Matt smiled as he watched Seamus and the bartender, who was clearly nervous to serve his boss. Commotion caught Matt’s eye. Not far from where Seamus was waiting in line was a table with five women. With the encouragement from her friends, one woman shoved away from the group and approached Seamus at the bar. Matt didn’t need to hear the conversation to know what was said. She was interested, he was not. What did Seamus look like when he was interested in someone? He didn’t exactly have a bubbly, inviting personality. Matt had never seen him so much as flirt with anyone. Even when Jay was chatting him up, Seamus didn’t look all that interested even though Jay was a beautiful man. The woman pouted to her friends when Seamus excused himself. Once his drink was safely slid across the small tabletop, Matt smirked. “How do you do that?” “Do what?” “Look completely closed off and unapproachable yet still manage to get hit on.” Why Seamus felt he had to hide his smile, Matt didn’t know. “I must not look that unapproachable.” Matt laughed. “Trust me, you do.” “Yet you’re here.” “Yes. Despite the fact I murdered you in my thoughts the first few times I saw you, I’m still here.” “Why would you think about murdering me?” “Because you went through the wrong door, twice. And almost killed me, twice!” Matt shouted in good humor. He could hardly believe Seamus had forgotten. Seamus made a big show of rolling his eyes and throwing his hands in the air. “We’re still talking about this? You’re a dog with a bone about this door situation. That was half a year ago.” “You almost killed me.” Matt was about to take a drink when he remembered, “You almost killed Aidan.” Seamus paused. “Yeah, I do feel bad about that.” “Just Aidan? What am I? Chopped liver?” Seamus smiled and finished his drink while Matt finished his. Of course Seamus was approached when he went for a refill. A different girl this time. The line was longer now so she had more time to try and stake a claim. Seamus was kind and held genuine interest in whatever they were talking about but as soon as he got his drinks, he bid her farewell. When he got back to the table, Seamus’s face was all, don’t-you-dare-say-it. Matt smiled in victory. Thirty minutes later Seamus was back in line. Another approach. This time it was a guy around Matt’s age. The bar was close to the University after all, everyone was Matt’s age. Matt looked away. He might’ve wondered what an interested Seamus looked like but that didn’t mean he wanted to find out. “Hey.” A pretty brunette sat in Seamus’s chair. Shocked that someone had approached him, Matt glanced at Seamus who was looking between Matt and the girl. At first, he looked puzzled, then he smiled. The kind of smile that was practically a laugh. Matt wanted to flip him off. Instead, he turned to the girl. “Hi.” She looked between Matt and Seamus. “I was just curious about you two. Are you guys—” You know… “What? Us? Noooo. I mean—we’re not. No,” he said. Finally. Words were so hard sometimes. She laughed and glanced at Seamus who was on his way back to the table. “That’s good.” She smiled, got up, and left. Seamus sat down, a little amused and a lot smug. “Looks like I’m not getting all the attention.” “Actually, she was inquiring about you.” Matt looked toward the bar where the guy was still standing, watching Seamus in defeat. “And she wasn’t the only one.” Seamus ignored Matt’s comments. They talked and laughed. Matt was starting to feel the alcohol. He was feeling happy and outgoing, leaning a little towards honest and blunt. He didn’t care as long as he was nowhere near emotional. They started playing some version of twenty-one questions. “What was your first job?” Seamus asked. “Depends on how technical you want to get. Technically I mowed lawns when I was twelve but my first tax paying job was at a movie theatre when I was sixteen.” “I bet that was cool. Watching all the movies for free.” “Sure, if I was working at the six-plex on the other side of town that played all the good blockbusters,” Matt laughed. “The movie theatre I worked at was this small independently owned place that only played critically acclaimed movies or ones slated for Oscar noms. Those weren’t exactly the movies sixteen-year-old Matt wanted to watch. What about you?” “Fourteen. I was a busser at a family run restaurant. I was fired three days later.” “What?” Matt laughed. “How’d that happen?” Seamus made a sour face that was cuter than it should’ve been. “It was a busy morning and there was a large group with several kids. There was one kid, probably four or five, and he was not having a good day. There was an older lady a few tables away, she was not happy about the noise. She summoned me over, yelled at me, told me how unprofessional it was to have such rowdy children running around. She demanded I do something. I was fourteen and had no clue how to respond. The mean lady was glaring at me so I walked over and asked the parents if they could quiet their kid down. That was the wrong thing to do. My boss explained that it was a family restaurant and if someone had a problem with families, they could leave. They were nice about it but I was let go. I still think about that day. The look on the parents face,” he cringed. “All these years later and I still feel terrible. Probably more so now that I have Aidan. Kids don’t know how to process their emotions and they need grace. If someone said to me what I said to those parents, I’d punch ‘em.” “You’d punch a poor fourteen-year-old boy who was being bullied by a Karen?” “No,” Seamus smiled. “I suppose I’d ask the kid who was complaining and then I’d punch Karen for being a bitch.” Matt laughed then tapped his chin as he thought of his next question. They’d talked about so much already. “How many boyfriends have you had?” “Three,” he said quickly, then he hesitated. “Four. Three.” Okay, maybe he did need to think about it. “Three bonafide boyfriends and one that was more than a friend but less than a boyfriend.” Matt motioned for him to explain. “There was Sean and Jeremy in high school, then Kelly, and last was Teddy.” “Teddy was the more than a friend but less than a boyfriend?” “Yes.” “Okay,” Matt nodded. “So, Teddy was like, friends with benefits?” Seamus picked at his shirt sleeve. “Yeah, I guess that’s exactly what he was.” “How’d that come about?” Seamus looked at Matt like why-do-you-want-to-know? “Asking for a friend.” Seamus laughed. “It was a few years after Kelly died. I wasn’t ready to date but I hated random hookups. Teddy worked at the dealership. I think he understood what I could and couldn’t give him and he was okay with that.” “How long were you guys not together?” “Oh,” Seamus thought. “A year? Maybe longer.” “Wow, that’s a long time. Neither of you saw other people?” “I had no reason to but I don’t know about him. I wasn’t concerned if he was or wasn’t. We weren’t dating.” “Did you guys ever go out together? Or was it just sex?” “It was just sex but we still did stuff occasionally. Dinner here and there.” “Why’d it end?” Seamus shrugged. “It just died out. We stopped reaching out until one day it just wasn’t a thing anymore. Anyway, what about you? How many boyfriends have you had?” “Oh,” Matt scrunched his face and counted in his head. “Seven? Eight? Ten?” Seamus’s eyes bugged and he pressed his palm down on the table in shock. “Yeah,” Matt laughed at Seamus’ reaction. “Every gay kid dated every other gay kid in the district at some point. I only had one or two I would consider serious boyfriends.” “Does that mean your other boyfriends were glorified hookups?” “I’d like to give them more credit than just being a hook up but yeah, that's pretty much what they were.” “Any end on bad terms? Broken hearted that you didn’t want more?” “Bad terms? Yes. Broken hearted that I didn’t want more? I don’t think so.” The sleeves on Seamus’s navy shirt were pushed up and he aimlessly ran his fingers up and down his forearm as he listened to Matt talk. “What was your worst break up?” He asked. Matt groaned and laid his head in his arms. “I have to pick just one?” Seamus laughed at him. Insisting he had to pick one, then poked Matt all over until he got so annoyed, he sat up. “Fine,” Matt swatted Seamus away. “My worst break up was with Kevin Wright. We were the same grade but different schools. One of his friends threw a big party. Now, you may not know this about me but I can get really emotional when I drink.” Seamus covered his mouth in an attempt to hide his smile. When Matt glared at him, he raised his hands. “Go on.” “Anyway. We were drinking. He was barely paying attention to me, too busy being drunk with his friends to notice me. I hated it. I didn’t know a single person. Everyone there were his friends and classmates and I felt totally ditched. I started getting emotional over it. I think he genuinely felt bad that I was crying but it also embarrassed him. We probably could’ve survived except Ashton showed up.” “Ooh, sounds juicy.” “Yes, well, Ashton was a new kid...and gay. Kevin got Ashton a drink.” “Oh no, not a drink,” Seamus egged Matt on. Matt flipped him off. “It was a big deal to drunk, emotional Matt. I stormed up and stole poor Ashton’s drink and dumped it on Kevin’s head. Kevin and I started screaming at each other in front of everyone. It was very dramatic. Kevin didn’t want to fight in front of his friends so he grabbed my arm to pull me somewhere private. I punched him. Boom. Broke his nose. Then I saw the blood and realized what I did and started crying more. Pretty sure I begged him to forgive me. He didn’t. I never was invited to another Becker High party.” Matt leaned back and crossed his arms. “There you have it, not only my worst break up but also my biggest character flaw. You can thank my mom; I got my alcohol tolerance from her.” “I feel like I learned so much about you. I have so many questions. But first, I want to get you drunk again.” Seamus grabbed Matt’s empty and was about to get up when Matt stopped him. “You’ve fetched all the drinks so far. My shout.” Matt grabbed the glasses from Seamus and headed to the bar. He half expected someone to come hit on him while he waited in line for drinks. It happened to Seamus all three times he’d gone. Alas, no nervous bartender, no flirty patrons. Matt was plum out of luck. He grabbed the two full beers and turned. Their table was full. Seamus had been joined by four girls and two guys. Three of the occupants had already taken a shot at Seamus. So that was cool. Matt wanted to hurry back to the table but then Seamus looked at him with help me eyes and suddenly he didn’t mind watching him suffer. Knowing he wasn’t a welcome participant made Matt feel better. By the time he made it back, his chair was long gone and Seamus was shooting him daggers. That was fine, standing felt good. He gripped the back of Seamus’ chair and rested his hip against Seamus’ shoulder. “I didn’t order enough drinks.” “Sorry to intrude,” one of the girls said though Matt didn’t think she was all that sorry. She was cute with a trendy pixie cut. “It looked like you guys were having the most fun so we thought we’d join. Hope that’s okay?” Matt doubted they would leave anyway. That was fine. He was lacking the typical college experiences; the drinking, the partying, the making a complete stranger your best friend for the night. “No, this is cool,” he said. “Are any of you students?” They all perked up. The guy closest to them, the one that hadn’t hit on Seamus, smiled. “Yeah. I’m Mick,” he held out his hand. Then he pointed around the table. “This is Winnie, Anne, Amneet, Lizeth, and Rob.” They were all seniors. Winnie, Anne, and Rob had hit on Seamus. Lizeth and Amneet had not. Matt decided they were all cool. He kept looking at Winnie though, she looked familiar. She must’ve thought the same because she was trying to place him. “Intermediate Accounting with Schlemer,” she said. “You sit in the front!” “I do,” he laughed. “And I probably have a better grade than you.” “You definitely do. You always answer the questions.” “That’s a lie. I never answer the questions.” Well, rarely. “Yeah, but when you get called on, you’re always right.” She had him there. They ended up talking for a while. They had a lot in common. Well, the same major but sometimes that’s all it took. While Matt and Winnie chatted it up, the other’s held Seamus hostage. They were completely enamored with him. “A round on me?” The captivator of everyone's attention asked. As if he needed a reason to garner more. The second Seamus stood up, Matt stole his seat, earning a playful glare and a promise of certain death when he got back. “Is he straight? I can’t get a read on him and it’s driving me nuts,” Anne asked, still watching Seamus walk away. “Please tell me he’s straight.” “Sorry,” Matt gave her an apologetic smile. Spoiler: He wasn’t sorry. Anne’s eyes widened and then she grimaced. “Oh Jesus, I’m sorry. You two are dating, aren't you? I’m so obtuse.” She looked truly remorseful which Matt respected. Most people didn’t care who they offended. “Nah.” He hoped for it to come off like ‘we’re not dating but we’re not NOT dating either. Kinda leave them thinking something might be there. Just enough to deter any potential advancements but not enough to make him look psycho when they found out there was nothing between him and Seamus. It didn’t work. They took him at face value, which was the cold hard truth after all. Matt had just confirmed Seamus’ sexuality and despite Rob already trying, and failing, the group decided he would be Seamus’ new boyfriend. “No way. I’ve already been shot down once. Not sure I’m interested in him having a second go,” Rob said when he noticed the way his friends were looking at him. Winnie and Anne looked at him like he was being ridiculous. He was a total keeper. “Are you sure you guys aren’t dating? Rob never gets turned down.” “You know Jay from the football team?” Everyone nodded. “Seamus turned him down also. So, I wouldn’t take it personally.” “Seems like such a waste. I mean, look at that ass. Someone should be getting that ass.” Everyone looked at Seamus’ ass and nodded. Even Matt. “It’s not even his best pair of jeans,” Matt said, watching Seamus’s ass as it shifted while he waited for the drinks. “He has this pair of faded blue jeans that—hmmmm,” he half moaned and half whined because life wasn’t fair when you looked that good. The table agreed. “He is seriously hot,” Winnie said. “I literally had heart palpitations when I walked in. Like, I saw him and my heart got so overwhelmed it passed out. Now he’s buying us drinks. I’m not sure he could get any hotter.” “Oh, he could be hotter,” Matt smirked. The group waited for him to explain, so he did. He told them all about Seamus and what makes him amazing. How he was his boss’s boss and also Matt’s nanny and how good he was with Aidan; always taking him to work, giving him his undivided attention, feeding him, and changing his diaper. How they went shopping and Seamus banned Matt from picking out Aidan’s clothes. He even told them how he upgraded his car because it was better for Aidan. Seamus was amazing and Matt was just drunk enough to brag about the riches of their friendship. There was a collective sigh of adoration and longing. There was even sadness because it sucked to be so close to greatness, yet so far away. No one at the table had a chance. Something Matt felt in his soul. Seamus nudged Matt’s arm, letting him know it was time to get out of his seat. “What are you guys talking about?” Matt stood up and grabbed his drink. It was a gamble at this point. Sure, he was happy-bold drunk now but that could change in a blink. Oh well, happy-bold-Matt was willing to take the risk even if it meant emotional-Matt would be angry about it later. “We were talking about your ass and how good it looked and how someone should be hitting it,” Matt said with a wink. “Well, Anne said that part but I think everyone agreed. I told them they weren’t even your best pants.” Anne looked mortified but Seamus looked amused. “You don’t like my pants?” “They’re fine, just not my favorite.” Seamus was about to say something when Winnie cut him off. “He also said you're the owner?” “And you’re his nanny?” Mick asked. He clearly couldn’t picture it. Seamus, a successful business owner who also nannies for a college kid? Crazy. “Yes and Yes. In fact—” Seamus scrolled through his phone and held it out for everyone to see. It was a picture of Seamus and Aidan. It was cute as hell if you asked Matt. When everyone was done swooning, Seamus looked at it and smiled. “Let me get this straight. You’re a business owner and you nanny for a college kid who also works for you?” “Technically, I’m his live-in nanny.” Seamus loved the reactions. He lived for them. “And you guys have never hooked up?” Matt and Seamus looked at one another. “No.” “You know you guys have the story all wrong. It’s supposed to be the hot business owner who hires a poor college kid to be his nanny. Then they end up fucking and falling in love.” “Is that so?” Seamus looked at Matt. “Should we go home and fuck? Then fall in love?” Drunk with no plans of standing all night, Matt sat on Seamus’ lap, wrapped his arm around his shoulder, and fluttered his eyes. “How can I say no to that. You practically Shakespeared me into your bed and into your heart.” Seamus dipped him back, real romantic like, and gazed into his eyes. “Oh, I’m gonna spear you alright.” The table filled with laughter. Matt could barely breathe; he was laughing so hard. When they finally composed, he realized Seamus still had an arm around his waist. Matt tried to not make a big deal out of it but he was very aware of their position. It was the drinks he told himself. They were just having fun. Matt stayed in Seamus’ lap all night. Their movements in sync as conversation shifted throughout the group. Seamus kept one arm on Matt while the other held his beer. Matt was sure his face gave him away. There was no possible way he could sit on Seamus’s lap all evening without looking like he’d won the lottery. The bar was closing when they finally said goodbyes. Matt told the group to come back in the morning for the best hangover drink. “And that’s how you solicit business,” Matt told Seamus as he drunk-strutted down the sidewalk. He opened the cab door and stumbled when he tried to get in. Matt looked back, realizing Seamus had seen his faux pas and blushed. Yeah, he was drunk. “They’re not the only ones who will need the green drink.” “Don’t be an ass.” “I thought you liked my ass,” Seamus teased. “Well, not in these jeans apparently” “I said the jeans were fine,” Matt groaned. “But don't take my word for it, ask all the people who fell over themselves to get a piece of you tonight.” Seamus leaned in close, bumping Matt’s shoulder. “You sound jealous.” It was playful and...flirty? Was Seamus Ryan being flirty? “Jealous?” Matt scoffed but the way Seamus was looking at him made his nerve ends tingle. It was just the alcohol. Matt shrugged. “They didn’t need to be discussing your ass all night. It’s disrespectful.” Seamus moved closer. Matt could smell his faded cologne; it was mixed with his natural scent and the remnants of a night out. It smelled good, so good. Matt wasn’t sure he’d ever liked the way someone smelled as much as he liked the way Seamus did. “You were discussing my ass.” Seamus said, his voice low and husky. “That’s different,” Matt swallowed. “I wasn’t objectifying you like they were. I was simply stating facts.” “Facts?” “Yeah, facts. Fact: you have a nice ass. Fact: those pants aren’t the best at showing it off.” The cab pulled up to their building. They were both a little wobbly. “And what about someone needing to hit it?” “Hit what?” Matt asked. “My ass. You said someone should be hitting it.” “Well, yeah.” Matt tried not to laugh. “Fact: someone should be hitting dat ass.” Seamus laughed and pushed Matt towards the building. They were close to the loft door when Matt turned to find Seamus staring at his ass. He raised his brow, questioning, and slowly unlocked the door, never taking his eyes off Seamus, letting his friend know he’d been caught. “Oh, so everyone can objectify me but I can’t return the favor?” “You can. It just seems like a waste. You could have stared at Rob; he had a nice ass. Even Mick’s wasn’t bad for a straight guy.” “How many asses did you check out tonight?” Seamus asked, almost offended. “What? No. They were just there. They had okay asses but yours is better. Not that I’m objectifying. Just stating facts. Like, fact: mine’s not that great. I was just saying—” “What are you saying?” Seamus teased. “Ugh, you’re so frustrating,” Matt growled. Drunk conversations weren’t his strong suit and Seamus was being weird and kinda sexy all at once. “You have a great ass. Rob and Mick’s are okay. Mine is not up to par. If you’re gonna return the favor, don’t waste it on me. And this conversation is embarrassing. I’m going to bed.” Matt shut himself in his room and rubbed his face. He was half embarrassed and half amused by what had just happened. He changed then went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and empty his bladder. Just before reaching his room for the night, Seamus caught his attention. “Just so you know.” Seamus was standing at the other end of the hall. “It wasn’t a waste.” It took Matt a second to realize Seamus was talking about his ass which made him laugh. God, Seamus was too fucking cute to handle. “Night Seamus.” “Night Matt,” he sang in return. **** Yonk called in sick. They were short-handed. Work was slammed. Matt felt better than he did after his birthday but the smell of the coffee still made his stomach roll and the screaming of the steamer made his head ache. Seamus was right, Matt needed that green hangover drink. Hilary and Kase snickered and took joy in his misery, making him prep terrible smelling pastries and toasting the breakfast sandwiches. “You guys are being mean. Why are you being so mean?” he whined. “First, you didn’t invite us. Second, you didn’t invite us.” “There was nothing to invite. The adoption was finalized and Dad took Aidan for the weekend. Seamus decided we should go out for a drink.” “Looks like you had more than one drink.” “Yes, well, a few people joined our table.” “Random strangers?” Kase asked. “They just joined you?” “Yes,” he nodded. “It's the Seamus side effect.” They both stopped what they were doing and looked at Matt like he was crazy. “Side effect?” “Yes. Side effect from being so damn perfect that we can’t go anywhere without people throwing themselves at him.” “Ahh,” Hilary smiled. “Sounds like the only one suffering is you.” “I hardly suffered. It was actually pretty fun.” Matt told them all about the previous night and the crew they spent it with. He also told them about checking out Seamus’ ass and then Seamus checking out his. For no other reason than it made him feel good about himself. “Going out with Seamus is fun but it’s not good for my self-esteem,” he told them. “The one time I got approached was so they could get the scoop on him. “ “Yeah, but then he complimented you on your butt.” “Do drunk compliments count?” he asked. “I’ll take it, but not to heart.” “You get Aidan tomorrow, right?” Matt nodded. “We should go out tonight. The three of us. We could go to Iron Works.” That got Matt’s attention. “You’d go to Iron Works?” Iron Works was a popular gay club. People drove from all over the state to party there. Matt hadn’t been there yet but was definitely curious. “Not for just anyone, but for you I’d go.” “What about you?” He asked Hilary. She looked at him like the village idiot, of course she’d go. There was no question. The more Matt thought about it, the more excited he got. Hilary and Kase went out with their friends all the time while Matt stayed behind with Aidan. He wanted to go out and be twenty-one, have fun, make memories, and meet new people. “Let’s do it.” Kase fist-bumped the air. He was the reason Matt couldn’t judge people without knowing them. He was an All-American football player, Homecoming King, who would one day be a phenomenal architect. On paper, there were a lot of reasons Matt and Kase wouldn’t roll in the same circles but they’d hit it off right away. Kase never made Matt feel inferior because he was a popular athlete with half the school at his beck and call. And now he was offering to hit the biggest gay club in the state in a show of support. Matt had to admit that he was feeling better. Maybe awesome friends could cure-all. Speaking of friends, his new ones from the previous night came rolling in around noon looking rough but not totally put out. Mick put his hands on the counter and leaned forward. “I heard this place has the best hangover cure. We’re here to put it to the test.” “I didn’t think you guys would actually stop by.” “And miss the chance at finding the key to keeping our livers alive?” “That and we made a bet and wanted to see who won,” Winnie added. Matt looked at them, confused. “What bet?” “That the college student bagged himself a hot nanny last night.” Mick shook his head. “I say, no way. That’s not how the story goes.” “I hope you guys didn’t bet much. I didn’t bag anyone last night, especially the hot nanny.” Mick turned and gloated his victory. His friends shoved him around, telling him to fuck off. Kase slid the green smoothie drinks onto the counter then Matt introduced everyone. After a few minutes, Kase invited them out. They didn’t seem keen but Rob kept muttering how they owed him for all the times he went to straight clubs. No promises were made but Matt would have fun either way. **** Seamus wasn’t home when Matt got to the loft. He decided to take a nap before Kase and Hilary showed up. When he woke, he could hear Seamus in the apartment. He took a shower and threw on his good jeans and a basic shirt. He still had a few hours before he needed to get ready. “Feeling better?” Seamus asked when Matt walked into the kitchen. Seamus was wearing a pair of grubby jeans with rips and tears and an old threadbare shirt with the sleeves cut off. The sides were cut low and wide, revealing his abs any time he bent over, which was nonstop since he was unloading the dishwasher. Matt loved Seamus on his days off: half-naked, backward ballcap, sexy arms, peek-a-boo tummy, cleaning. Choreplay. Other weekends included looking after Aidan which was a whole other level of hotness. Oh, happy Saturday. Matt went straight for the fridge. “Yeah. Work kind of sucked but the nap felt good.” “Cool. I stopped at the store and picked up some steaks and veggies. Figured we could fire up the grill since it’s not terribly cold outside. There are some new movies out, both in theatre and Netflix, depending on what you’re feeling up to. For dessert, I grabbed a few of those chocolate crunch ice cream bars you like. That we could enjoy those without Aidan screaming at us.” Matt laughed because it was true. They’d given him a small taste once and had been feigning for more ever since. “What can I say, he has good taste.” “That he does.” Seamus finished putting the last of the plates away and closed the cabinet. “Have you talked to your dad? How’s Aidan doing? If he started crawling—” Seamus shook his head. So help me god. Matt chuckled. He was always laughing with Seamus. “Dad said he’s good. I doubt he’s crawling. He’d never deny you the pleasure. And I’m sure he misses you, too. He’ll probably reach for you the second he sees us tomorrow.” “I doubt that,” he said with his customary I-can’t-take-a-compliment eye roll. “You said work sucked?” “Yes. We were down a guy and it was crazy busy all day.” “Plus, you had a hangover.” “Plus I had a hangover,” Matt confirmed. “But Rob and the others came in.” “For the green drink?” “Yeah, but I think they were mostly hoping you were there.” “Instead, they got you,” he winked. “Lucky bastards.” “Yeah, I don’t think so,” he laughed. “They actually said they came in because they made a bet and needed to see who won.” Seamus leaned forward, his elbows on the table, listening. “They wanted to know if the college kid bagged the hot nanny.” His eyebrows went up, clearly surprised. “And?” “And—I told them the nanny’s ass is still not being hit. They were understandably upset. It was very sad news.” “Did you tell them you caught me checking your ass out last night?” Matt hated how gorgeous he looked when he was playing around so casually, like the flirting was no big deal. Those dark eyes; so damn teasing and sexy it drove him nuts. Life was so not fair. “Nah, I didn’t think encouraging them was a good idea. Anyway,” he said. “Are you going to cook those steaks? I’m leaving in two hours and we still have to eat that ice cream.” “Where are you going?” “Iron Works. Kase suggested it. I think I hurt their feelings by not inviting them last night. Whatever. It’s not often Aidan’s gone. I might as well live it up.” “Iron Works huh? Have you ever been there?” “You know I haven’t. I’m barely twenty-one and never without a baby.” Seamus frowned. “It gets fucking crazy there. Real intense. Everyone lookin’ to get their dick wet.” Seamus had a serious look about him. The same dark eyes that had been teasing and sexy moments ago were now scary cold. “Okay, well, I can’t blame them. I’m in a bit of a dry spell myself,” he laughed, trying to break the tension. It did not work. The chair screeched when Seamus pushed away from the table. “Don’t bring them back here. That’s what the bathrooms are for.” Seamus yanked the fridge open and pulled the meat and veggies out then stalked to the patio. Matt followed. He leaned against the door frame and watched Seamus stomp about. The man was so angry he could’ve started the grill with sheer rage. “For the record, I never said I was going there to hook up. I said I couldn’t blame them for wanting to get their dick wet. It’s not the same thing.” “You do you.” “You do you,” Matt repeated, a bit bitterly if he was honest. Matt left Seamus on the balcony to angry cook his heart out. When dinner was done, they sat at the table and ate. It was awkward as hell. Seamus had said he didn’t like random hookups and was clearly pissed at Matt’s hypothetical life choice. Matt felt guilty. Then angry that he felt guilty. He hadn’t done anything and he hadn’t planned on doing anything. “You really going to be mad at me for going out and having a little fun? And by fun, I mean dancing, drinking, and maybe getting a little attention if I’m lucky. Kind of like the attention you got so much of last night. I’m not opposed to feeling like a regular twenty-one-year-old.” “Attention huh? What kind of attention are you looking for?” Seamus was doing a shit job of reeling in his frustration. “The kind any twenty-one-year-old wants. Something that makes me feel good about myself? Wanted? I don’t know.” “I checked out your ass last night.” “Yes,” Matt tried not to laugh, he really did, but Seamus said it like it was the solution to all his problems. “And my cup overfloweth.” Seamus stared at Matt like he wanted to say something but took a bite of food instead. The rest of dinner was quiet. Matt cleared the dishes and went to his room to get ready. An hour later Kase and Hilary knocked on the door. Hilary was wearing the same dress she wore to Purple Canary. Kase, well he looked good enough to eat. “Wow,” Matt whistled. “You look amazing. Guys will be all over you. I might as well invite Seamus along. You two can steal the show.” He didn’t mean it as a dig and didn’t think it came off that way. He had two very attractive friends, inside and out, and he was proud of that. Kase’s eyes softened. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me, but don’t worry, I got your back.” He quickly took his jacket off. Underneath he wore a skin-tight black shirt with white print. I’m straight but ask me about my friend “It’s so tight.” “I know,” Kase stood up straight and smiled so very proudly. “I figured the hotter I am the more action you’ll get.” “Yeah,” Matt sarcastically agreed. “They’ll be so very not disappointed when they see me.” Kase looked him over. Matt thought he looked fine but was suddenly second-guessing himself. A quick trip to his bedroom and Kase had him in a new shirt that ‘promised results’. His hair was on the shorter side and fairly low maintenance so it wasn’t like he had a need for product. Kase disagreed. “Seamus, do you have something I can use for his hair? Gel or mousse or something?” One look and Matt knew Seamus had no intention of helping. Kase noticed, too. “Don’t worry about it,” Matt said to Kase. “My hair is fine. Let’s go.” As soon as the door shut behind them Hilary let out a breath. “Well, that was awkward. What crawled up his ass?” “Honestly, I don’t know. He was talking about grilling some steaks and that he bought icecream for dessert. I told him that you guys were coming and we were going out. Then, when he said the club was full of guys that only wanted to get their dick wet, I made a joke about not blaming them and how I was going through a dry spell myself. Now he thinks I’m slutty or something. He told me not to bring them back to the loft. He said, and I quote, ‘that’s what the bathrooms are for’.” “Oh,” Hilary sighed in relief. “It’s just jealousy. He’s mad because he planned a cute little baby-less date night and you made plans to get laid.” “What? No. That’s not—I never said I planned on getting laid. And it wasn’t a date. He always plans dinner.” “Okay,” Kase said, totally unconvinced. “Then there’s nothing to worry about.” He and Hilary shared a look. Was Seamus jealous? Was it a date he planned? Matt wasn’t sure. Could he afford to get his hopes up? No. It took thirty minutes to get to the club. Campus was on the outskirts and the club was clear on the other side of town. It was cold and there was already a line so they waited their turn to push into the club. It was nothing like Purple Canary. The music was loud, the lights were low, and the bar was crowded. “I didn’t know clothing was optional,” Hilary giggled as she looked around. Almost everyone was half-naked or might as well have been. Kase zipped his jacket all the way up. “I might keep my jacket on for a little while.” Seamus was right, the place was intense. They went to the bar and waited for drinks. Hilary knew what she was doing. She pushed her way forward and had the bartender’s attention in no time. Matt promised himself he wasn’t going to drink much. One or two. He needed his wits and he had to get Aidan tomorrow. They spent twenty minutes acclimating themselves to the club. Hilary made Kase take his jacket off. The bar had an almost free-for-all feel about it. It was both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Hell, he might need three drinks to get through the night. As they sipped their drinks, a handful of guys approached them. They were all aggressive with only had one thing on their mind. Kase put his jacket back on. “I’m not sure I want the attention anymore. I think advertising that I’m straight is more bait than repellant.” Matt laughed after sending the last guy packing. “This place is nuts.” Yes, he did want attention but maybe attention that wasn’t so crass and base. And Kase was right, his shirt was total bait, just the wrong kind. “This is what you both wanted,” Hilary smiled, not-so-innocently as she sipped her drink through a straw. “Kase, you just didn’t know that announcing how straight you are would trigger a challenge among the wolves.” Matt finally got asked to dance by a guy that seemed decent. Okay, half decent. Five minutes into the dancing and the stranger had slowly snaked his hand down the front of Matt’s pants. He was about to tell the guy to fuck off when Kase intervened. He was on a mission. If he saw the stranger’s hands down Matt’s pants, he didn’t let it show. He simply swatted him away and gestured for him to take a hike. The stranger looked irritated but the club was full of guys and Matt wasn’t worth the trouble. Kase looked at the people dancing around them then he zeroed in on one guy. He tapped the stranger’s shoulder. He snapped his finger and pointed at Matt. “Dance,” he demanded. The guy didn’t even argue, he shrugged like it was no biggie and saddled up in front of Matt. “What’s going on?” Matt hissed at his friend. “Just—” Kase looked around again. “Just don’t let this one stick his hand down your pants.” “It’s not his hand I’m worried about,” Matt pointed to the ass currently glued to his crotch. “But why do you even care?” “I don’t. But—” Kase froze like a mouse next to a wolf. “I’m out.” Kase was gone so fast Matt wasn’t sure what happened. Then the guy in front him was gone, too. There was Seamus. Standing in front of him there wearing the same clothes he’d been cleaning in earlier. He didn’t look angry but he wasn’t happy either. Resigned maybe? “What are you doing here?” Matt asked. Seamus’s dislike for the club, what happened there, and the close proximity of guys who partook in those activities was obvious. He took a deep breath and looked at Matt. “Probably overstepping—definitely overstepping,” he corrected. “You’re so frustrating, you know that? “I’m frustrating? What did I do?” “Yes, you’re frustrating,” he said. “I’ve been throwing myself at you.” “Throwing yourself at me?” “Yeah, dropping hints, flirting, that kind of stuff.” “Flirting?!” Matt racked his brain and couldn’t think of a single time Seamus had flirted before last night. “Yes, flirting. Almost every day for months. Months.” Matt ran his fingers through his hair then gripped it tightly to ground himself. “What are you saying?” “Seriously?” Seamus groaned and looked at the sky for help. Then, right there in the middle of a skeezy club, surrounded by half-naked men looking to get their dicks wet, Seamus gripped Matt’s shoulders and pulled him so close he had to listen to exactly what Seamus was about to say. “I like you,” he said slowly. “I don't like people hitting on me, I don’t like people hitting on you, and I don’t like you being here for attention. I don’t even like that you want attention from anyone who’s not me. Because I like you. I like you a lot. I’ve liked you since the first time I saw you and I’ve liked you every day since.” “Oh.” Matt stared at Seamus. The confession was completely unexpected. Seamus was still holding his shoulders, not letting him move one inch. His eyes looked vulnerable, nervous, and determined. “Was tonight a date? The dinner, movie, and ice cream. Was that a date?” “I wanted it to be,” he said. “I was hopeful.” Matt smiled so wide it hurt. “And you checking out my butt? That should’ve been all the attention I needed?” “If it’s not enough then I can give you more attention, all the attention, whatever attention you want.” Someone knocked into Matt, pushing him to the side. He grabbed for Seamus and Seamus wrapped his arms around Matt, keeping him safe. Seamus leaned forward. “Can we leave? I really hate this place.” Matt didn’t wait another moment. He grabbed Seamus’ hand and pulled him through the crowd. Kase and Hilary were nowhere to be seen, probably long gone when they saw Seamus was with Matt. There were people standing outside smoking and talking and cabs lined the curb, waiting. He looked around for Seamus’s car. It was in the parking lot two blocks down, hard to miss even in the dark. They walked hand in hand. Seamus’ grip was tight and unwavering. As they drew near, Seamus used the key fob to unlock the car but when he tried to let go of Matt’s hand, Matt yanked him closer, pulling the man to his chest. The kiss was soft and Seamus needed very little encouragement, he slid his hands down Matt’s back, stopping at the curve above his butt and pulled him flush. Matt melted. Everything about Seamus drew him in; his smells, the softness of his lips, the roughness of his trimmed beard. Everything. Matt ran his hands up Seamus’ chest, caressing the outline of his jaw, but ultimately his fingers found purchase in those thick, dark red locks he loved so much. It was slow, heated, and sexy as hell. Matt could barely breathe when they finally pulled apart. Neither man was willing to let go of the other, not after waiting so long. They kissed a few more times; light and chaste. Savoring. Matt ran his hand over his own chest. His heart was pounding heavily. He smiled. “We should probably head home.” Seamus agreed then pulled Matt in for one last, bruising kiss. Seamus turned the SUV onto the road then reached across the console and wove his fingers in Matt’s. “I’m glad I came after you.” “Me too.” “Good,” Seamus smiled at the road. “Now please shower when we get home. You stink like a hundred different types of Axes body spray and it’s bad for my mental health.” Matt laughed and brought Seamus’ hand to his lips then stared out the passenger window, watching the streetlights pass. Everything was damp from spring rain. He moved his fingers between Seamus’s, enjoying the feel of their hands mingled together. When it came to relationships, Matt didn’t have a solid track record. He was smart and had a solid head on his shoulders but he was an idiot when it came to guys. Every coupling had been driven by hormones and convenience. Neither of those were set ups for success. Seamus was the first guy that Matt had any sort of history with. They were friends, they knew each other’s habits, their likes and dislikes, and Seamus loved Aidan. It was also the first time Matt wanted something real. He wanted to do better this time. He would do better this time. He had something in front of him that was worth working for.
    122 points
  12. Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 55 “I think he fell out of his shift,” Kellar said in response to Tobyn’s question. “Is he all right?” Kellar flickered as Fendral, laying on his side in human form, curled up into an almost fetal position. “He’s dead to the world, and he’s by no means healthy yet, but his colors are in balance. His aura is quite pale,” he mused. “I have no doubt the man is suffering from the malaise. He’s been isolated a long time, so whatever residual benefits there were from years of having an earth mate are long gone.” “So that’s why he shifted? The malaise?” Tobyn asked from behind him, his warm breath floating along Kellar’s neck. The moon was directly above, full and bright. He leaned back into his mate and sighed. Weariness was letting itself be known. “Now that he has no excess burnt umber, his body’s not strong enough to hold a shift. Human form is back to being the dominant one, so yeah, the malaise is the reason.” “Cool. Right?” “Yeah, I think so. I hope he feels it’s a good thing, when he comes out of his sleep.” “Is he going to wake up like Connor did… all of a sudden?” “No. No way. He’s in a deep state, and he’s way too weak to do what Connor did. That still freaks me out. Fendral keeps sucking up our mate energy, though. I’m surprised we still have any.” “Why? I feel fine.” “Really? You’re not tired?” “Well, yeah. But not exhausted the way I’ve been in the past. So, what now?” “We carry him into the house. He can’t weigh more than a hundred and twenty pounds.” “There’s not much to him, is there? He used to be such a big guy.” “No, he doesn’t look like the man in his photos. But, we’ll get him back to the way he was.” “I knew you would do it. I could tell it was working because you were different when you began drawing energy from me again. It was smoother… steadier.” “I’m not surprised, because I was in a way better state of mind the second time. You were the reason it was successful. Not only did you calm me down, but your idea about getting the process started first, and then reversing it, was exactly right. It worked like a charm. I was about ready to give up.” “No you weren’t. You were frustrated, but you’d have figured it out. I’m your sounding board, doc, that’s all.” They both stood, staring down at the wizened old man. Kellar turned to face his mate, pulling him into a tight embrace. “You are so much more than a sounding board. Don’t ever say that again, okay?” “Okay.” “I’m being serious. I couldn’t face any of these healings without you.” “I know you’re being serious. I won’t say anything like that again. I promise.” “Good. Now let’s get my grandfather into a comfortable bed. I should be able to carry him by myself. Lead the way.” A hand on his arm stopped Kellar as he went to pick the frail man up. “I’ll do it. You’re exhausted.” “No, I can do this.” “Kellar, stop! I said I’ll carry him. You’re practically staggering. Let me do my part, all right? You’ve already done yours. You lead the way and open the door.” “Yes, dear.” “That’s more like it.” “Did he wake at all?” “No, just like you said, he stayed asleep.” “How long was I out for?” “Four hours. I napped a couple of times sitting up.” Tobyn proceeded to rub Kellar’s sock clad feet as he sat on the end of the couch. “Four hours? You were supposed to wake me after an hour.” “I didn’t see the point. You were worn out. How do you feel now?” “Fantastic. Damned hungry, though.” “Grilled cheese coming right up.” Tobyn stood. “You want coffee… or tea?” Kellar swung his feet onto the floor. “Sure. Tea would be good. I’ll help. Aren’t you tired?” “Nope. I told you I catnapped. I feel energized, and the sun will be up in a couple of hours.” “I’ll just check on my grandfather first.” Kellar went to the spare room, stopping at the doorway. The only light was from the hallway, but Kellar could see the still-sleeping man clearly. He looked small in his curled up position on the big bed. Flickering, he was satisfied with what he saw. His aura was about the same as those he’d seen at Morningstar upon his arrival. This man needed lots of mate energy, but physically, everything was back in order. How he’d be mentally, once he woke up, might be another story. Kellar was beginning to think Fendral had slept long enough. The sun had made its appearance, and he was getting antsy. His grandfather needed to eat and drink. As far as they knew, it’d been many years since he’d last been in human form, and the healer in him wanted to be assured all his systems were functioning. Should he go in there and…? Tobyn stirred, his head shifting in Kellar’s lap. His body went into a full-on stretch before his eyes opened. He smiled. “Hey, doc.” “Hey, yourself. Did I wake you?” “No, I don’t think so. I did feel your fingers in my hair, though, so maybe,” he answered, stretching once more. “I feel awesome. How is he?” “The same. I heard him move around once, but his breathing hasn’t changed. I’m itching to wake him up, to be honest. If he was in a hospital, he’d be on an IV to counteract his depletion.” “You know I love when you talk all doctory.” Tobyn sat up, leaning against the back of the couch. “I know you do" He gave Tobyn a sly grin before continuing. "Anyway, he needs fluids and some food... I’d feel better if I could talk to him.” “So, wake him then. The man’s been sleeping for ages. You started the healing in the afternoon.” “Yeah, but sleep is good too. All his vitals are strong. I’m just impatient because I want to find out what he thinks about stuff.” “Like falling out of his shift and being in human form again?” “That’s the biggie. What if he didn’t understand what was going to happen with the healing? What if he’s pissed off, and freaks out? Oh, I think he’s awake. Yup, he is.” Kellar practically flew to the spare room, and Tobyn was close behind. “Good morning… Grandfather.” Fendral was sitting up, his weight braced on his arms. His eyes traveled from his stretched out legs under the thin sheet to the two men now just inside the door. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Frowning, his hand went to his throat. “Are you having trouble speaking,” an anxious Kellar asked. Fendral dropped his hand and stared at it, as if the sight of it was something alien. He turned it over and back before looking toward Kellar. He slowly nodded. “I’ll get you some water, sir,” Tobyn said before rushing away. Kellar found himself shifting his weight from one foot to the other, and willed himself to stop. “I don’t know if you remember our conversation, but the healing went well. I told you I would fix you up, and I have. Your colors… ah… I’ll explain all that later… so, yeah, your colors are back in balance, which is why you could regain your human form. Okay, I guess I should give you the basics. Every living thing has a signature pattern made up of hundreds of colors, and they’re all different, except for mates. They have matching patterns. That means, because I never forget a pattern once I’ve seen it, I can visit a pack and find mates for our own members, and that’s what happened with Vega, and why we have so many fated pairs now. There’s more, but it can wait.” Fendral’s jaw opened and closed, but no words came out. “It’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Ah, you might not be able to find your wolf any time you want for a week or two, and you probably won’t be able to stay shifted for long periods just yet, but it’ll come, I promise. Each day you’ll get healthier because of mate energy. Okay, so that’s an energy earth mates produce when they’re near someone who needs it, and other shifters absorb it. I can see it as well. It’s like a mist made up of hundreds and hundreds of colors. It’s what cures our malaise and keeps us healthy.” Fendral gave no clue as to what he was thinking, but he was definitely listening. “I’m sorry. This is probably too much to get into right now.” What was going on in the old shifter’s mind right now? Tobyn appeared at Kellar’s back and handed him the water. He took it and walked slowly to the bed. “Do you want me to hold the glass while you drink?” Fendral nodded once more, his face still expressionless. When Kellar sat on the edge of the mattress, the elder man struggled to sit up straighter. Kellar was tempted to assist, but held off, raising the glass to his grandfather’s lips. He was thankful Tobyn had chosen a wide-rimmed, plastic one. The old man began choking right away, but when Kellar went to pull it away, he reached for it. Trembling hands grasped the glass, so Kellar let it go, and supported Fendral’s back with one hand. It was slow going, with water dribbling from his mouth onto the white sheet, but he managed to get more and more of the water down. Eventually he had his fill, and Kellar took the glass back from the heavily breathing man, pleased Fendral was now somewhat hydrated. He was also relieved there had been, as yet, no freak-out. He glanced up at his mate, who was standing next to him with eyebrows raised, concern quite evident. He gave him a reassuring smile he didn’t quite feel. “Would you like to sit back? I can pile the pillows up behind you?” Fendral’s breathing was calming down. He opened his mouth and this time a sound came out, but it was half-bark, half-croak. Swallowing a few times, his Adam’s apple bobbing, he tried again. “Piss,” turned out to be the first word he’d spoken in years, and Kellar’s little grin was met with a curl of his grandfather’s lip. It was a strange attempt at a smile, but Kellar knew what it meant. Mentally, his grandfather was doing just fine. There was no need to worry. “We’re over the hump, babe. There’ll be no episode like with Arthur’s wolf.” “That’s a relief.” Kellar fought the urge to laugh at the sigh Tobyn expelled. They both supported the old man as he rose and walked to the bathroom, but he was essentially moving under his own steam. Other than a weakness one might associate with an elderly person, he had no real trouble, despite his shuffling gait. As with all shifters, nakedness didn’t bother Fendral, but the sight of his leanness in motion did affect Kellar. This man needed nourishment, sustained and healthy nourishment. A feeling of protectiveness washed over him. He wanted so much for his grandfather to survive and thrive; he was family, and represented his strongest connection to his mother. Not for the first time since learning of Miss Sybil’s vision, he wondered how his father must have felt the moment he realized he couldn’t save his own family. Roland died knowing his son was hidden in a ditch, alone and vulnerable. Kellar pushed the unsettling thought away. Moving over to wash his hands, Fendral seemed momentarily intrigued by the process, bringing the soap bar up close to his nose. Clearing his throat. “Still can’t smell much,” came out in a painful-sounding rasp, but he was easily understood. “Were your senses diminishing?” Fendral stopped his movements. “Was getting tough to hunt… Kellar.” “Is that why you’re so thin? How did you manage to survive?” Tobyn asked “Mice”—he cleared his throat again—“mice were about all I could catch, and they weren’t staying down most of the time.” Fendral looked at him, and his real smile made its first appearance. “Still with the questions, eh, Tobyn?” Tobyn smiled too. “I guess I used to ask a lot of them. Your voice is sounding way better.” “Just needed some oil. Good working order now. It sounds damn weird to my ears, though.” Tobyn laughed and Fendral grinned before his eyes focused on the mirror in front of him. He held up the copper necklace, rolling it in his fingers. “That’s for protection against hunters. Kellar’s brother figured out that silver—pure silver—pulses when a shifter is in the vicinity of it. If a human is paying attention, they can feel it against their skin, but wearing copper keeps the signal from happening. It’s the reason hunters could always find us so easily. Knowing this changes everything, sir. We all wear them now, so make sure you always have it on. That one should be the right size to fit your wolf.” Fendral grabbed the edges of the sink, looking stunned. “Gigi had two sons?” His gaze met Kellar’s in the mirror. Apparently he had taken news of the copper in stride. “Oh, no.” Kellar responded. “Sorry. Warren is my foster brother. He’s human, and it turned out he is Adelin’s earth mate.” “I see,” came out with a note of disappointment. “Little Adelin?” Kellar nodded, handing his grandfather a towel. “There’s a lot more to tell you, but it can wait. You need some clothes next, and then we have to figure out what to feed you.” “Eggs,” he responded immediately. “I miss scrambled eggs.” Tobyn chuckled. “Coming right up. I’ll go get us some breakfasts from the lodge. What else can you eat, sir?” “Sausage. I’d love some greasy sausage, and you’re too old now to call me sir.” Kellar nodded when Tobyn gave him a questioning look regarding the sausage. He was just happy to see the man had an appetite. It was a great sign about his state of mind. “It will do him good, babe.” “You’re the boss.” “Since when?” Tobyn ignored the smirk Kellar gave him, and turned his attention back to Fendral. “It might be a hard habit to break, but I’ll try, sir.” He returned the man’s little smile before he headed down the hallway. Alone with his grandfather again, Kellar swallowed down some nervousness. “We’ll have to figure out something for you to wear, sir, something that will fit you.” “Now you’re doing it.” “Ah, sorry. Fen… ah, what should I call you?” “You’re my grandson, aren’t you?” “Yes… I am.” “Then call me grandfather. Never been called that before.” He peered at Kellar’s face. “You don’t look like my Gisla. You don’t look like any of my relatives.” Despite realizing it was ridiculous, Kellar felt a little defensive. “I know. I mean, I’ve been told, and I’ve seen pictures of your family.” “It’s your family too, boy. You must take after your father’s side.” “Miss Sybil says in the vision she had, I look exactly like my dad. Grandfather? Are you happy about being back in your human form?” “I forgot how cold it can get wearing skin. Find me a robe or something, and I’ll think about whether I am or not.” “Is all this good food going to come back up on me?” Fendral was sitting at the kitchen table in a too-big tee-shirt, and a pair of Tobyn’s oversized sweat shorts that only stayed up because of the string ties tightly cinched at the waist. At least the socks fit. His grandfather had rebelled at the idea of covering his feet at first, but gave in when Kellar insisted. “No, Grandfather. Those cysts you had in your intestines are gone. They, and the inflammation they caused, were the reason for the vomiting. You should eat slow and stop before you feel full, though.” The man sighed after he swallowed the first forkful of fluffy scrambled eggs. He wasn’t long in putting a second one into his mouth, and a third…. Tobyn and Kellar shared a pleased look as they dug into their own food. “Did anyone ask who the extra breakfast was for?” “Nope,” Tobyn answered after he swallowed a mouthful. “Nobody knows Fendral’s here, but they’ll scent he’s around, for sure.” “Not up to that, just yet. Let me get my bearings first.” Fendral’s eyes stayed on his plate and his fork kept moving. “We expected that would be the way you would want it,” Kellar said, nodding his agreement. “It won’t hurt for you to rest a few days.” “Suppose a lot of members aren’t too happy with me anyway.” “You couldn’t be anymore wrong, sir. All the members….” The elder man stopped eating and looked up, cutting Tobyn off. “Just leave it alone, son. I’m not proud of what I’ve done, no matter what others feel about me. I’ve faced that I let a lot of people down, including those closest to me. Besides, I need to wrap my head around not being stuck in my wolf form. It’s like riding a bike but it’s still strange.” He put down his fork. “It’s not easy for me to eat slowly either. I’ll answer that question now, grandson. I think I am… happy to be a man again. So, not that I’m in a hurry, but if I was to try to shift, I wouldn’t be able to?” “Not necessarily. But, you are suffering from the effects of the malaise, so that is sometimes one of the symptoms as you probably already know… not being able to shift anytime you want to, or not being able to hold it. The longer you’re in the presence of earth mates, like Tobyn and I, the sooner you’ll get better. Your senses will return to optimum, and shifting will become matter-of-fact again.” Tobyn smiled. “He’s talking all doctory now. You’ll get used to it. He gets like this at least once a day.” “Fine by me,” Fendral said, pushing away his plate. “My grandson is a smart one.” Kellar couldn’t help being pleased at the comment. “You’re finished eating?” “I’m hungry as hell, but my stomach feels full.” “I’m not surprised. Do you want to lay down for a while?” “Not really. I’d rather talk.” He squirmed in his seat and then settled. “It’s been a long time since I was able to, and I didn’t think I’d see much past today. Never expected I’d have a grandson either.” “You weren’t too far off in your assessment. Is that why you came back here… to say your goodbyes?” “Goodbyes? No, I couldn’t say any of those. I was looking for a place to curl up for the last time. Somewhere on these lands where I was born. My brain’s been getting foggy lately, but when I caught a hint of your scent, I thought I’d check on you boys first. Doesn’t feel foggy today, though. “And yes, Tobyn, in answer to your question yesterday, I suspected you two were mates with the way your scents are combined, so I wasn’t surprised when you confirmed it. I wasn't all that confident of my nose, though. I only planned on a quick look before I picked out my spot. I thought it was right that it be known what happened to me, and I knew my old carcass would be found eventually.” “So you were giving up,” Tobyn said softly. He put his fork down and pushed his breakfast away. “No, son. I wasn’t giving up… I was dying, and my wolf knew it. I guess you could say I gave up once, but I would never do it again. I had a promise to keep, and wolfing out made that more difficult. I had to fight every day.” Kellar wondered about the promise, but left it alone when his mate spoke. “Why did you give up, sir, the first time? Sorry, that wasn’t fair,” Tobyn muttered, looking slightly ashamed. “I understand why you chose your wolf.” “I’m sure everyone thinks they understand, but I’m not sure they do. They all thought I was depressed over losing my family, right?” Tobyn appeared startled… and unsure. “I… that’s what was said. Weren’t you?” “Hell, yes, I was. But I was angry too, so angry that it even eclipsed the sadness. My wolf felt rage most of the time, and instead of controlling it, I let it take me over… first the anger, and then my wolf. It was easier, because then I could escape from what I’d done, at least for some of the time. Mistake after mistake after mistake. I certainly didn’t deserve to be alpha anymore.” “Why not? What do you mean, Grandfather?” Fendral studied the pair before looking away. “It doesn’t matter now,” he said in a tone that caused Kellar some concern. “It was a long time ago. I finally stopped hating myself, but by then it was too late.” “Too late?” Fendral had lowered his head, so Kellar answered for him. “I think he means he lost his ability to return to this form.” There was no response from his grandfather. “Am I right?” The old man reengaged with a startling, unexpected smile, and it took Kellar a second to recognize the bitterness in it. “Exactly right. It was a fitting punishment for alienating all my children, one after the other. First, I couldn’t save their mother, and then I couldn’t save them... and the pack was dying. I tried… for years I tried, but I lost faith. Regret ate away at me. I was a damn fool.” “You had a lot of things happen to you,” Tobyn said with compassion. “I’ve never heard anyone call you a fool, sir.” “What would you call a man who didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his sons because he tried to control them? Because he tried to bully them. What would call an alpha who didn’t learn from that, and then did the same thing with the only child he had left?” “My mother?” Kellar hated seeing the man upset, but he was curious about what he meant. “That’s right. My little girl. My Gisla. I don’t blame her now… for leaving me, or for not forgiving me. She had no choice, and she was right to go. You’re the proof of that. I ignored what her mother asked of me, and deep down I knew how wrong I was. It’s why I fought to keep going… I couldn’t let my Esther down again.” He held up his hand when Tobyn started to speak. The man was fighting some inner battle. “Do you know what he’s talking about?” “I have no clue. Should we stop this, doc? What if he gets depressed again?” “I won’t tell you I’m not worried, but he wanted to talk. Maybe he needs to get this out.” “Okay. At least he trusts us.” “I look at him and feel my mom. Maybe he looks at me and feels the same.” It was as if Fendral had heard their silent conversation when he spoke again. “No one controlled your mother, Kellar. And the truth of it is, of my three children, she was the real alpha.” This time, the smile he gave held no bitterness. “She was a lot smarter than her father was.” “Why do you say that?” “Because she didn’t listen to me. She didn’t let me keep her from her destiny. Now, that makes me proud. So, tell me about Miss Sybil’s vision.” “Okay, but first can you answer something for me?” “If I can.” “Why didn’t my mother keep in contact with the pack? I mean, I was four and a half years old when she died, so she was gone a lot of years. She must have had opportunities to call in all that time. Did you ever talk to her after she left?” A pained expression took over Fendral’s face. “It’s my fault she didn’t keep in touch. She didn’t call because I disowned her.” “You what?” Tobyn blurted out the question, but Kellar had the same reaction. “Why would you do that, Grandfather?” He tried to keep the accusation from his voice, but he wasn’t sure he succeeded. “I already told you. I was a fool. I knew she wasn’t safe out there, away from the pack, a young girl I still saw as a child. It terrified me that she wanted to go out in the world all by herself… a world filled with hunters. I was angry and desperate, so I went on the offensive. Nothing could convince me she wasn’t going to die if she went on a search for her mate, but none of the arguments I made got through to her. Her brothers had disappeared doing the same thing she planned to do. She was the only family I had left, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. I ordered my daughter, as her alpha, to stay. I told her if she left, she would be turning her back on Morningstar, and we’d no longer be her pack. I insisted she obey me, and I actually thought it had worked, my forbidding her. I was a fool to think I’d won.” He suddenly seemed to age ten more years. “She left anyway,” Kellar said. “Of course she did. If you knew her—her pride and her stubbornness—I should have gone with her, but alphas don’t desert their packs.” The words were bitter. “Ironic, isn’t it, because I did it anyway in the end.” Kellar, flickering, became alarmed at the paleness of his aura. “We don’t have to talk about this now, Grandfather. If you’d rather, we can do it another time. You should rest now.” “No, you asked me a question, and you need to hear this.” Taking a deep breath, he rallied. “Gigi left without a word. She was just gone one morning. We hadn’t spoken in days. She left me a message, though, on the kitchen table. It was a note that said ‘I have to do this.’ That’s it… nothing else. She always left me notes, practically every day, and they all were addressed to ‘Dad’ and she’d draw little pictures on them, like hearts and flowers and stick figures. And she always signed them as ‘your favorite daughter, Gigi.’ She’d done it since she was a little girl, well, except she used to sign them with ‘Gisla’ back then. Not this time, though. Just that one damn line. She disowned me too.” He took another deep breath. “I can’t say I blame her. I thought of her as defiant and impulsive after she left, but the truth is, she was only being herself. I gained nothing with my threats… all I did was hurt us both. I would have given anything to be able to take back some of those words to your mother. Anything.” The remorse on his face echoed in his tone. “That’s when I started relying more on my wolf. I went through the motions after that… the pack needed their alpha. Each year that went by, my hope I would hear from her, or see her, got smaller, until I reached the point it disappeared altogether.” Fendral stalled for a few moments, and his hand rubbed at his eyes. “The malaise got worse, our pack numbers kept decreasing, and I held onto my anger. The anger wasn’t at Gisla, though. It was at myself.” “So, you wolfed out….” “Yes. I didn’t really intend to. I fought, but every day, it beckoned. The only way to control my guilt and my shame was to shift and run. My wolf didn’t feel the pain the way I did, and that became my only relief. It’s an unbearable thing to face every day, believing your last child had died hating you.” “My mother didn’t hate you.” “You don’t know that, Kellar. You said it yourself when you asked why she didn’t keep in touch. She was alive all those years and she never called.” “I do know that. She and my dad were bringing me to meet my Grandpa Fendral. That’s what she said to me just before she was killed.” “By hunters, right?” “Yes. Three of them. They rammed her car, and she hit her head. She died instantly, from what Miss Sybil saw, and then they torched the Jeep my parents were driving. My father… he tried to fight, but he was trapped. Look, Grandfather, I don’t know why she never contacted you. Maybe she was angry, or maybe she was in danger and didn’t want to worry you, or give you hope… I’m certainly no expert on families.” Kellar hesitated, trying to calm himself. “I know my father was a healer, and he had some connection to a prophecy about a savior. They named me after the guy… a variation of it anyway. So, maybe they were in hiding because of that connection. All I know is my mother wanted me to meet my grandfather. She wouldn’t want that if she hated you.” Kellar felt out of breath when he was done. Maybe talking about this stuff would send his grandfather into a tailspin, and that thought scared the hell out of him. Silence settled in around the table. “Does anyone want tea?” Tobyn asked. “Tea can be a diuretic, babe, if you haven’t had caffeine for a long time. Fendral needs to keep drinking water to combat any dehydration.” “More doctory talk. I told you,” Tobyn said with a grin, but it seemed to go unnoticed by the old man. “You’re wrong,” the old man uttered. It took a few seconds for Kellar to clue in to what he must be referring to. “I don’t think so,” he responded. “You let go of being angry at my mom a long, long time ago. Why wouldn’t you believe she’d do the same?” “I don’t mean about that. I already knew about her wanting us to meet from what you said yesterday. It’s what made me change my mind about leaving. I’m sitting here for her… and for me… because this is what she would have wanted. You were right, and I couldn’t let her down again. And maybe you’re right about her not hating me. No, Grandson, I’m talking about you thinking your father had a connection to Cahlar. You’re mistaken about that.” Kellar raised his eyebrows in both surprise and question. “I am? You know about Cahlar… the prophecy?” Fendral sighed. “I should. My mate was the many times great granddaughter of the man… the savior.” “Esther? Holy crap! Why didn’t Morningstar know about the prophecy?” Tobyn asked. Fendral sighed again. “I can only tell you what Esther told me. It was spoken of by some, here and there as a part of our folklore, but the identity of Cahlar’s line was kept a closely guarded secret. It was a family pact passed down from the savior’s first daughter, to each successive daughter. She didn’t even tell me until we started having children, and neither of our sons were aware of their mother’s lineage. Esther had some… abilities… she knew things. She wasn’t a seer because she didn’t have visions, but she had… something. She knew from their early ages that neither of our sons were the one. “According to her, every daughter had to have a daughter until the prophecy was fulfilled. Some revered seer from the old highlands had a vision, and traveled far to reveal it to Cahlar. He was told he must send his daughter to the new world, and from her maternal line, he would be reborn when shifters needed him once more. But, the vision never said why he would be needed, or when it would be… only that the existence of our race would depend on it. That was the beginning of the prophecy, and his line took it very seriously. “Esther said it was Cahlar’s biggest sacrifice, to send his only child away, because his duty was to stay in the old world. She insisted it was her duty to have a daughter like all the daughters before her. She wasn’t satisfied until Gisla was born. To be honest, I found it hard to put much faith in the whole prophecy idea, because things had been bad for a long time. Hunters were picking us off every time we left pack lands, the birth rate getting lower and lower, and the malaise was kicking our ass. But Esther believed, and I believed in Esther. I was never comfortable with her saying Gisla had to search out her mate, though. I wanted to do right by my mate’s memory, but after our sons disappeared, I couldn’t bear the thought of my daughter going anywhere.” The man groaned, and Kellar expected he might have had enough, but he continued after mere seconds. “If Esther had lived, I would have handled it better, but she didn’t, and every single shifter who left to search out their mate, including our own sons, never returned. I thought if the prophecy was true, Gigi’s mate could just as well show up here. I was wrong to expect her to stay here and wait. I know that now, but losing your mate changes you. It… it distorts your whole world. If I hadn’t had our kids, I never would have survived losing Esther. I needed them, but I’m glad now that Gigi never listened to me, and I hope Esther somehow knows it was her daughter who produced the new savior.” “Please don’t call me….” “Doc, don’t even go there. No one is saying you are him, but you are his descendant.” “Everything points to it, though, doesn’t it,” he said with some resignation. “And everyone believes I’m him. The prophecy says he would be reborn. My grandfather just said he heard it from Cahlar’s descendant, my grandmother, and in that painting our wolves were identical. You saw it same as I did, Tobyn. So has all of Vega, and now I'm sure most of Morningstar has heard about it.” “You are not a reincarnation, so what does it matter what others think? In human form you look exactly like your dad—we know that now—so don’t take reborn so literally.” “There’s a painting? I’ve never seen a painting.” “Yes, Delia has it. She’s Vega’s keeper, now ours, and Hutch’s earth mate. You’ll like her. Anyway, it belongs to her pack, and it was one of their members who painted it from memory after he arrived in the new world. It shows a huge wolf with Kellar’s coat colors watching over an exodus of shifters who were boarding ships. It’s how we learned about Cahlar. About shining a bright light….” “Into the darkness,” Fendral finished. “Yes.” “So, Cahlar had that same strange pelt?” “Identical,” Kellar repeated in a tone that drew his grandfather’s curious gaze. “That cannot be a coincidence. I don’t think Esther knew about the coat. She would have told me something like that. Does it bother you, Grandson, to be considered the savior?” “I don’t know… yes… I’m just me. I accept I’m part of the prophecy, but every time I hear the reborn part... well, it doesn’t sit so well. Shifters treat me differently, especially Vega members, and they even call me Cahlar. I can handle that for the most part, but I really wish it would stop. All I want is to be thought of as a healer.” “Like your father.” “Yes.” “What’s the difference?” “What do you mean?” “I mean, what’s the difference who you take after? Cahlar is your many times great-grandfather, and your mother sacrificed God knows how much to make sure you were born. I see now, the burden of responsibility she bore… how much all the daughters bore. I don’t know all you’ve done, but from what I gather, you are the culmination of all that responsibility carried by generations of your ancestors.” Fendral took a few gulps of water, and Kellar noticed a slight tremble in his hands as he set the glass down. “Would you like to rest for a little while? We could continue this later if you want?” “No. I am making a point I think you need to hear, if you don’t mind?” “No, sir. I love talking to my grandfather. I just don’t want you to tax yourself.” “Being able to speak again is a blessing. Allow me to enjoy it.” Fendral smiled, picking up another sausage and taking a bite. “I want to hear whatever you have to say,” Kellar reassured him, relieved the man no longer seemed in anguish. “Good.” He chewed the rest of the sausage and swallowed. “You are a healer like your father. Maybe even a better one, because I’ve been around a long time and I’ve never heard of one seeing colors before. Anyway, that’s not the point here. Being a descendant of Cahlar doesn’t take away from who you are. It only adds, and you should be as proud of that as your mate appears to be… as your grandfather is. “You have given this old man new purpose. I lost everything, but it wasn’t for nothing. You’ve cured the malaise, and figured out how to keep shifters healthy, and my daughter gave me a grandson who appears to have saved us all… one I want to get to know. I lost and I gained. We both did, don’t you think so?” “I… yes. We both lost and we both gained.” “And my daughter giving you your name tells me she knew who you were… who you would turn out to be. She would have died knowing she was right in her decision to leave Morningstar. I’m thankful for that.” Kellar nodded. He pictured his mother running away from him, disappearing in the tall grass. Yes, she knew who her son was, and she had protected him at the ultimate cost. “Here’s something else for you to think about. Did this Vega keeper, Delia, tell you Cahlar was a healer?” “No, sir, she didn’t. She told us his story, but she never mentioned that.” “And neither did Esther. Not to me, she didn’t. She referred to him as a leader and a warrior... not once did she say he was a healer. So, maybe you should stop being hung up on this reborn stuff, and see that you’re a combination of both your parents’ lines. Could you have accomplished all the things you have without being this new and improved healer?” “No.” His gaze went to his mate. “It’s been the key to all of this, doc." “I guess it has.” “Well, that about says it all then, doesn’t it?” “Yes, Grandfather, it does.”
    122 points
  13. During the past week, Ethan was increasingly on edge. His mood shifted from happy one minute to sad the next. At times, there were angry outbursts for no apparent reason. He was snappy with everyone; yelling he needed space, and telling them to stop crowding him. Only to turn around needing to be held by his mate. His body ached and itched, and nothing he did would alleviate the discomfort. Everyone, including the former ferals, was thankful there had been no new arrivals entering the territory. They didn’t think their friend was in any shape to help anyone. His focus at work slipped. Joe approached him once to see if he could help his new brother with what he was working on or simply talk to him. The oldest Tucker boy decided it might be safer to give Ethan a lot of room after a hammer became imbedded in a tree about ten yards away. Ethan went on one of his rants about being fine and wanting to be left alone. Right after throwing the tool, he was apologetic, and said he didn’t know what was wrong. Everyone kept explaining the changes his body was going through at a rapid pace were wreaking havoc on his system. A few times when his mood became intensely sad, small clouds formed overhead, most often mere feet above his head. If it began to rain, it was usually directly over Ethan. It was difficult for others not to laugh at his expression, as he glared at the clouds he had caused, annoyed at getting soaked when he was already feeling depressed. During one of the weather episodes, he felt exceptionally cold; a localized blizzard hit while it was still eighty-five degrees outside. The two feet of snow melted once his mood changed again. No one took it personally if his temper exploded in their direction, but they did pay attention when a pond nearby began to boil. Whenever his mood was calm enough, Aiden held him, and did his best to reassure his pup everything would soon be okay. ****** It felt as if the lunar month took its sweet time to pass, but it finally reached its peak. It was the first full moon since Aiden bit Ethan. Waking early, Ethan laid watching Aiden, knowing when the moon rose that night he would at last become a wolf. He would get to run with his mate the way he had dreamed of doing since the first time the beautiful black wolf turned into a man before his eyes. To him, it felt almost like waking on Christmas morning as a little kid. The feeling of being unable to sleep, knowing there were presents waiting under the tree. Only in this case the present was still hours away, and was the culmination of the fantasy sparked by reading his first book about lycan. With Ethan’s recent extreme moodiness and emotional swings, Aiden was surprised his pup appeared totally at peace. The sullenness, sweating, chills, and all the other symptoms of the last week had vanished. The day seemed to drag on, and all though Ethan felt calm—he was distracted by the anticipation of what was to come. He could feel something at the very edge of his mind, stalking through the shadows, just out of reach. He was unable to understand what it was. The pull of the moon brought brief moments of focus, before chaos would cloud his thoughts again. Throughout the day, Aiden kept a watchful eye on his mate. When he felt the need, he would do something to distract Ethan from thinking about the upcoming night’s events. He thought it was adorable when his pup began scratching behind his ear, using his hand in the same fashion a wolf would use his paw. Only a few times during the day did Ethan’s unusual serenity break. Aiden worked hard to focus his mate’s attention when he started to hyperventilate for no apparent reason. As evening approached, Aiden drove them out of town to the same meadow where Ryan had his first shift. Ethan had heard it referred to as the sacred meadow, and many families went there to celebrate the first shift of a family member. This was the first time in the known history of the pack the meadow was being used to celebrate the turning of a human. Or as was known to very few, someone who was neither a born lycan nor a human. Entering the meadow from the trail, Ethan could see the people who had become his family and friends in the few short months he had been with the pack. The alpha and Jackie watched over the gathering, always the caring leaders who looked out for everyone. Ian MacRae, the talented doctor with his kind bedside manner, mingled amongst the crowd, showing his more social side for a change. Tyler, Connor, and Kevin were former foes who had turned into strong allies, and became important friends. Anthony, and Jonas, the once lost souls who helped teach Ethan about his true nature by arriving in need of his help. All new friends who brought humor and joy to his life among the many present. His eyes traveled to Trevor and Casey, who he felt especially close to not only due to their friendship with Aiden, but from how they had helped him since they first met in the woods. He looked to Mary and Rafe. The pair had become the parents he so desperately wished for while growing up. Uncharacteristically for those about to undergo their first shift, he maintained an almost serene calmness. Going person to person, he thanked them for coming to share in the big night, as well as giving hugs to all. Alex, Nathan, and Cody were also there at Ethan’s insistence. Three non-wolves he very much wanted to be part of his first run. Darius was there as well, though Ethan knew since he could not shift, he would stay with Zack. The sun dropped below the horizon and darkness creeped in. Rafe lit two bonfires before he addressed the assembled family and friends. “Oh behalf of Mary, myself, and the entire Tucker clan, I would like to thank you all for coming out to share in this special night of our son Ethan’s first shift. We are honored to have a bear, tiger, coyote, and human join us for the first time, bringing our community closer. and including all friends.” As Ethan went to thank everyone again for being there for him, the effects of the lunar pull increased. Feeling unsteady on his feet, he leaned heavily into his mate for support, as Aiden addressed the gathering. “My mate and I are both humbled by the love of our friends and family who are here this night. It’s not just his first full moon, but the holy night of a Blood Moon that welcomes Ethan into his animal form. While I didn’t plan his turning to coincide with the Blood Moon, I can’t think of a better gift for my mate than for his wolf to join us on this special lunar event.” People stripped and shifted into their animal form as the glow from the moon could be seen behind the trees. “Pup, it’ll begin soon. When the rays of the moon wash over you, you’ll start your shift.” The glowing orb began its slow rise above the tree line, with the first rays of moonlight hitting the plains of the meadow. The shadows from the bonfire were chased away as the bluish grey light washed across the landscape. A subtle spark of light took hold in Ethan’s eyes as his body started to tingle. Aiden hugged him tight, and gave him one last kiss. “Remember to stay focused on my voice. You can do this. You’re going to be fine. We’re going to finally go on that run we’ve both been dreaming of.” The moon had risen enough its rays finally touched Ethan’s skin. With a scream, he fell to the ground in agony, rolling around in more pain than he had ever experienced. His skin felt like it was crawling, and anywhere illuminated by the lunar light burned. “Hurts bad…,” was all he managed to get out before letting out another scream. The spark in his eyes slowly built as tears streaked his face from the intense pain. Aiden had seen many wolves go through their initial shift, but never a human. This appeared so much more painful than anything he had to face his first time. Mary, Rafe, and Casey all came over to try and comfort Ethan. Aiden was on his knees beside his mate who cried in agony once again. “I know it hurts, but listen to my voice, try to stay focused on my voice and nothing else. Your wolf is in you, and he’s ready to come out. He knows the way to the surface. I know it’s difficult, but you need to relax and let him out. Try not to fight him. I love you so much, Pup.” “You try to fucking relax while hurting this much.” He got out through clenched teeth. Ethan rolled around wracked by yet another burst of excruciating pain, his breathing became labored. His screams drew looks of concern from all those present, and Doctor MacRae rushed to his side to help if needed. This was by no means a regular first shift. Aiden could only watch as the light in his pup’s eyes appeared to fade. Moisture from the ground and air coalesced into a light mist surrounding the young couple. Above the mist, snowflakes formed, and hung midair. A gentle breeze picked up within the meadow, but didn’t affect the mist or snow swirling around Ethan. Radiating from where his body contacted the ground, wild flowers spontaneously sprouted, and instantly grew to their natural height before blooming. They encircled those present in a sea of color lit by the bluish grey moonlight. It looked as if the trees surrounding the meadow were bowing in recognition to something special happening. Streamers of flame jumped from one bonfire to the other, similar to streams of water in dancing fountains. To the onlookers, it appeared as if all four major elements were making themselves known. Aiden ran his hand lovingly over his mate’s face. “Don’t fight him. I can feel him nearing the surface. You’re almost there, Pup. You can do this.” With one final scream, the light in Ethan’s eyes amplified a thousand fold, and radiated from him in brilliant pulses. There was no chance anyone in the meadow could have missed the blue glow emanating from his eyes as it caused the mist surrounding him to glow even brighter than the light of the moon. Fur erupted all over Ethan’s body, spreading rapidly from his head, down to his toes, and growing thicker by the second. Loud snaps were heard as his bones reformed, and his body increased in size. His hands transformed into enormous paws, with razor sharp claws growing from the tips. A large bushy tail sprouted from his hind-quarters, quickly growing in length while his legs and feet took on their new shape. His face elongated into the muzzle of a wolf, his mouth filling with long sharp teeth. His ears grew tall and pointy, shifting to the top of his head. After several minutes, the shroud of mist began to dissipate while his eyes returned to a more moderate glow. A very large and extremely muscular wolf, with near perfectly white fur rested on the ground before all those gathered. A very large two-legged wolf. The once short blond would now have been over seven feet tall if he stood. The only coloring anywhere on his fur were marks on the face and both upper arms. An intensely intricate silver one with sapphire blue flecks mixed in ran up his snout in what resembled a fierce blaze. It started as a point just behind his nose with fingers of silver flame-like mark rolling off the sides of his muzzle. It curled under the eyes, and moved up his face, going between them with a spur of the flame-like markings circling over each eye. It ended at the top of his head in three points. It gave the appearance of a highly detailed tattoo in the fur. On each shoulder were two triangles separated by a circle. Unlike the markings on his face, these were not the same vibrant silver, but a very light shade, you could easily miss. Each of the four triangles made up the symbols of the various elements of water, earth, air, and fire, with the circle representing spirit. As the pain receded, Ethan raised his head off the ground, turning towards Aiden with a confused expression. Before even thinking about his speech ability, he spoke in a deep, gravelly human like voice. “Why didn’t I change into a wolf like yours?” Tears steamed from his eyes, causing what could only be described as a bluish ghost flame to emanate from the corners as each tear vaporized, and was lit by the glow. Ethan feared he would never be a lupus like his mate. He tried to sit up, beginning to feel somewhat stable in his new form, even if it was not the wolf he was hoping for. “You look incredible.” Aiden ran his hand along the large snout, rubbing the side of Ethan’s face as he leaned in to kiss his mates forehead. “My beautiful pup.” The moon continued its rise in the night sky. Ethan managed to stand, and took a few tentative steps as he learned how his new feet worked. He quickly realized he needed to use his tail for balance. After five or so minutes in an apparent lunis form, Ethan grabbed his midsection as he doubled over. His body once again in agony. He fell to the ground, landing on his side. He felt like he was on fire. Aiden rushed to his side, speaking into his mate’s ear. Ethan looked between, Rafe and the alpha, not knowing what was happening. His scream came out more like a pained howl as it boomed throughout the meadow. Aiden’s face was etched in worry as panic for his pup’s safety set in. Again Ethan’s body tingled, and the bones once more reshaped themselves. After another painful few minutes of a second transformation, he laid whimpering and exhausted. A white canis lupus laid on its side. His fur as pure in color as before and as bright as fresh snow. He was a little smaller in size than Aiden’s wolf, but still larger than the non-lycan variety. The same silver markings as before were present on the muzzle and head. Ethan rested on the soft ground of the meadow panting, and emitting small cries as the pain subsided. His wolf glowed as the moonlight reflected off his fur. Aiden knelt beside his mate, running his fingers through the soft fur. “Are you okay, Pup?” Concern filled his voice as he watched Ethan’s breathing smooth out. “You’re just as beautiful as I knew you’d be, in both your wolves. I’m so proud of you, Pup. As soon as you’re able to stand, I’ll shift. It’ll take a little practice again to walk around.” He continued to stroke the side of his mate’s face. “When you’re ready, we’ll go on our run. Stay at my side, and listen to your wolf, he’ll guide you. Your human mind will want to fight him for control. Try to relax and enjoy the ride. I love you so much.” Ethan raised his head and nuzzled Aiden’s hand, licking it before trying to get up. By the third attempt, he was able to stand. Aiden crouched on all fours and effortlessly shifted into his black wolf. The contrast between the two was striking, polar opposites and yet perfectly matched. Ethan managed to take his first unsteady steps on four paws. As he took a few more tentative ones, he noticed the difference in how the ground felt. It had the same cool feel as being barefoot, though it was comfortable. The way the soil compressed under the pads, the blades of grass against his fur, it all had an incredible feel to him. The black wolf approached and nuzzled his pup. While the night and Ethan’s first shift was shared with all present, his first touch with his mate was like they were the only two present. Walking around the white wolf, Aiden rubbed himself up one side and down the other, covering each in the other’s scent before nuzzling again. Lowering his muzzle, Aiden pressed his forehead to Ethan’s, staring deep into his soulmate’s eyes. When Ethan seemed steady on his feet, he threw his head back and bayed at the moon. The night quickly filled with howls from the rest of those present, along with roars from Nathan’s bear, Alex’s tiger, and the cry of Cody’s coyote. Off in the distance, radiating out to all corners of the territory, like the rings from a stone dropped in a pond, other lycan of all types having their own Blood Moon celebrations, howled or roared their happy response to the newest wolf’s first shift. There was no telling how far the reply to Ethan’s howl extended. The white wolf looked over to where Zach and Darius had been, only to see Zach taking pictures as he stood with the sheriff. His attention was drawn back to the Earth’s faithful companion, as the Blood Moon eclipse entered its next phase. Watching as the color slowly changed, he felt the need to howl again. Those gathered followed suit. The newest wolf was surprised to hear a new roar join the chorus. A massive lion paced in front of him before it walked over to join his other non-wolf friends. Aiden gently nudged Ethan to follow him over to John and Jackie. Though she rarely used the title, she was every bit the pack’s luna tonight. The black and white wolves stood before their leaders; Aiden lowered his head with Ethan following his lead. The alpha pair each licked the top of the younger couple’s heads before taking a step back. Casey took up his position to Ethan’s right, and Trevor moved to Aiden’s left. The alpha and Rafe took positions behind the group of four with Jackie and Mary at their mate’s sides. The rest of the group fell in at the rear of the eight lead wolves. Formed up at the very back of the group were the other types of animals. They were unsure what to do in the group, unfamiliar with being in a wolf pack, until others nudged them into the center. The group wanted them to know they were welcome and accepted. Finally, Aiden gave a howl, and the pack took off on their run. Ethan quickly adjusted to the sensation of a second consciousness in his mind as his wolf led him. He now understood what others told him about it being like looking through a window, or playing a video game. The exhilaration of running beside his mate as a wolf was far beyond anything he had dreamed possible. Ethan thought he knew what he would feel, but even his most vivid dream paled in comparison to the actual act. The two mates moved with a fluidity that belied the fact it was the white wolf’s first run. Every action they took was in perfect harmony. The new wolf loved the exhilaration of running through the forest at his mate’s side. The joy of leaping over logs and dodging branches. He marveled at the crunch of pine needles under his paws, or the softness of moss growing on the ground. His wolf was at the forefront of his mind, enjoying the thrill of the run while his human mind had moved to the back and enjoyed the ride. The wolf spoke to him as they ran, telling him not to fear, and he would protect him. He made sure the human mind understood what they were doing. Looking to the sky, all could see the Blood Moon nearing its zenith. They had run for an hour before the group picked the scent of a nearby elk herd; the pack was now on the hunt. Ethan could smell it, and became excited at the prospect of bringing down his first prey. The predator in him was set free, and his instincts to hunt came to bear. Receiving a nod from their leader, Aiden and his smaller pack moved off under the watchful eye of the alpha and luna. Ethan’s wolf worked perfectly with his mate and their two friends, as the four singled out one animal from the herd. Casey and Trevor moved in from behind to guide it to where they wanted, while Aiden and Ethan moved in for the kill. At precisely the same time, the two mates made a leap for the elk’s neck, clamping down with their powerful jaws, and using their momentum to sever the spine. It was an instant kill. The mates threw their heads up, and howled for joy at the succesful hunt. The black wolf nudged his pup to the fallen animal, letting him know he would get first portion on this kill. Looking to the alpha for confirmation and receiving a nod, Ethan ripped into the tender flesh; his wolf rejoiced at the taste of fresh meat and blood. Due to the large number in their group, he only took two bites before stepping back for Aiden to have his turn. They were followed by the alpha pair and his parents, before the rest of the group all took a turn, sharing in the prize of the kill. Aiden tenderly licked the blood from the side of Ethan’s muzzle, restoring the white fur to its pristine color before they found a stream to drink from. An hour later, the pack headed back to the meadow. Alex and Nathan padded over to the newest wolf. Nathan’s huge bear rubbed his nose first against Ethan’s, and then did the same with Aiden. Alex’s tiger was an incredible sight to see, far larger than any found in the wild. In cat-like fashion, he gently cuffed the side of Ethan’s head with his huge paw, before rubbing his face against the young wolf. He repeated this with Aiden before returning to his mate, letting his tail run over Nathan as they stood side by side. Darius slowly approached, moving first to the alpha and luna. The massive lion knelt, bowing to the pack’s leaders. Walking over to the young couple, he did the same. Jonas had been staying back from most of the group, mainly due to his sheer size, until several of the wolves moved to sit by him. In his full lunar form, he looked to be well over seven-feet-tall. Even with his size and strength, Jonas would not have been a match for the power of an alpha’s hybrid wolf. Darius moved to Casey, who had watched him intently as he paid his respects to the young couple. The lion stood before the auburn wolf. In an attempt to show dominance and rank over the large cat, Casey lowered his head, growled, and bared his teeth. Darius raised his massive paw, and gently cuffed the wolf’s head. A small smile spread across the feline’s face as he pushed Casey over, and laid down on him, rubbing his scent all over the young enforcer. Everyone watched with amusement as Casey worked himself out from under the lion. The two played and chased each other around the meadow for a few minutes before bowing to each other in respect. The cat laid down, and pulled the younger wolf into his strong paws, wrapping them around the canis in an embrace. The wolf struggled until the lion’s tongue licked him with feline tenderness. Casey rested his head on Darius’ leg, enjoying the attention. With a final combination of howls and roars, most of the group changed back to their human forms. Jonas would have to remain wolf until the moon finally set. A few wolves stayed in their fur, and laid at his side to keep him company. In the shade of a tree, Ethan was able to change before the moon dipped below the horizon, yet he still felt its strong pull. The change to human was very painful, but nowhere near as bad as his shift into the wolf. “If you move into the moonlight before it drops below the horizon, it’ll cause you to shift again, so you might want to stay in the shade for a while.” Aiden warned. “I’m not sure if you can handle another two shifts tonight.” Once dressed and able to stand on human legs, questions popped into Ethan’s mind. “Why did I shift the way I did? I thought I’d become a lunis.” Aiden ran his hand across his pup’s face, Casey shook his head, and the alpha gave a knowing laugh before he explained. “You just did an alpha shift on your first one before going into a full lupus. It’s really quite remarkable and possibly a first for any turning. The Blood Moon may have accelerated your alpha abilities, or it’s just you being you.” “So, I’ll be able to take either form?” “Correct. It would seem you and your mate are matched in virtually every way from what we’ve seen so far, wolf wise at least.” Ethan directed an accusatory glare at Darius. “I thought you said you couldn’t change during a full moon, and didn’t want to let people know what you are.” “Being a Blood Moon, the solar and lunar forces are joined as one. It’s the only full moon where a solaris can shift. Given your invitation to include someone who’s a stranger to your community in something so intimate, and your desire to have as many other lycan here as possible, I thought I’d surprise you as well as take your advice the people here would be accepting. It was an honor to be a part of the first shift of one as special as you. If I were to live a thousand years, I doubt I would ever encounter one of your kind again.” There were some questions about Ethan’s unusual shift, and the special side effects he caused. The alpha and Rafe did their best to handle it, and asked for people’s silence on the subject for now. They impressed the delicate nature of the knowledge as well as wanting to keep the new white wolf safe. Ethan relaxed and enjoyed the night. Even though he was tired and hurting from the pain of the shifts, he was happier than he could ever remember. He had been able to finally run with his mate after shifting to a wolf, two if he counted his surprise hybrid alpha form. Ethan had at last lived out one of his deepest and longest held dreams, to not only be around wolves, but to turn into one. He and Aiden walked around their friends and family as the celebration took on a party atmosphere. Approaching Jonas, Ethan grabbed the lunis’ arm, and pulled himself up some before Jonas helped lift him off the ground. Ethan threw his arms around his friend’s neck, giving the hybrid a long hug. “I’m glad you came to our pack and became my friend. It was awesome having your wolf running with the rest of us. I hope it happens often.” Jonas returned the hug, making sure to be gentle enough not to hurt his friend, this special person who had saved him. “The honor was mine, young alpha.” “This means I get to run with you sometimes in the same kind of wolf as you.” Ethan’s excitement grew at the possibility of spending time with his lunis friends in their special shape. Exhaustion finally took hold; Ethan could no longer fend off sleep. The party continued, and lasted until the early hours of the morning before people started heading home.
    121 points
  14. Seamus took a deep breath as Matt came to him. His closeness was welcoming but did little to calm the anxiousness coursing through his veins. Matt cupped his face, then ran his hands down until they were on his chest. The touch was infinitely better than the close proximity. Matt waited until Seamus looked at him before he spoke. “What’s not good?” “Mike is suing me.” “Suing you? What the fuck for?” Seamus pulled out a chair and dropped into it. “Honestly, I don’t fucking know. Defamations?” “Defamation? It’s not like you’ve plastered it on a billboard, you’ve only talked about it with a few people close to you.” Matt defended. “He stole from you.” “Well, that is to be determined, I guess.” Matt pulled out the chair next to Seamus. He positioned himself so Seamus was between his legs. The gesture was oddly comforting. “Any other update?” “They finished the investigation. We can move forward with charges.” Seamus looked as dejected as he felt, and his tone only highlighted that. “That’s the news we’ve been waiting for, so why don’t you seem thrilled about it?” “Because he’s smart. Is the fact he’s suing me first going to have a negative impact on the charges we want to file against him? I can’t help but worry that things are about to crash and burn.” “Things have already crashed and burned. Now we have to clean up. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but we have to try.” Seamus rubbed his face. He knew Matt was right, but Mike’s lawsuit had thrown him for a loop. There might not be substance to the lawsuit, but that didn’t soften the blow. “Thank you.” He leaned forward and kissed Matt. Sweet Matt. “I’m going to say goodnight to Aidan.” Aidan was sleeping peacefully on his back, with his arms out to the side. He had a handful of moose surrounding him, making Seamus smile. He fixed a few of the stuffies, then gently ran his fingers through Aidan’s hair. Seamus hadn’t lied when he told Matt that he would give everything up if it meant keeping Matt and Aidan. At the same time, he wanted to make sure that both of these men had everything they could ever want. He wanted to provide a future for them. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he whispered to the sweet sleeping boy. “But I will never let you down.” **** For weeks, the manilla envelope floated from the table to the counter. Seamus hadn’t opened it but he damn well knew what was in it. The findings from the investigation and the charges filed against him, courtesy of Mike. The lawyer had briefed him. It was in her hands, and he trusted her completely. She had it under control. It was driving Matt crazy. His boyfriend eyed it almost every day. The accountant in him wanted to lay the paperwork out and comb through it page by page. He also was desperate to compare their findings to his own. “Can we please go through it tonight? I know Sharon told you what’s happening, but don’t you want to know the details? Wouldn’t that make you feel better?” Matt was sitting on the couch with his back to Seamus. Seamus snaked his arm around Matt’s neck and pulled him in. Matt’s impatience was hilarious and Seamus couldn’t help but laugh. “I have no desire to read through that garbage. I know what I need to know. But I already told you, you’re welcome to it as long as I’m not around.” “I just don’t get why you’re so against reading it,” he pouted. “Because it could be months or a year before anything happens. In the end, it’s quite possible it won’t be in my favor. It’s going to play out if I know the details or not, so I’d rather not. It’s too depressing.” Matt looked over his shoulder at Seamus. He didn’t understand how Seamus was handling the situation. For some reason it disappointed and annoyed him. “You’re really just going to roll over?” “I’m not rolling over. I’m waiting it out. Like I said before, if you want to know what’s there, go for it. I just don’t feel a pressing need to know right now.” Matt pursed his lips while he figured out what he wanted to say. In the end, he turned around. Seamus leaned his cheek against Matt’s head and ran his thumb against Matt’s arm. No matter how annoyed Matt was, Seamus was going to focus on keeping things as normal as possible. Whatever was going on with Mike didn’t define his life. Matt and Aidan defined his life. So that’s what he was going to put his effort into. **** Seamus ripped open the package and laughed. It was so stupid and trivial, but it made him happy anyway. He held the toddler sweatshirt up and showed Aidan. “How do you feel about playing hooky today? Good. Because you definitely have to come to work now. You have to show everyone who the real boss is.” Aidan didn’t really care, but he prodded his way to Seamus and humored him by being Seamus’s dress up doll. It’s what they did. Seamus bought the clothes. Aidan wore the clothes. He stood diligently while Seamus pulled the sweatshirt over his head until he was all straightened out. When he was done, he smiled. It was a simple grey hoodie with the word BOSS across the front. It described Aidan so well. Dressed for the day, the two men ditched daycare and ran errands instead. Seamus didn’t need to stop by Dough Guppies, Cavaliers, the dealerships, or Coffee|Bar but he did. It was easy to make an excuse to show Aidan off and it never hurt to meet with the managers face-to-face. He wanted them to feel supported. He also wanted them to know he was paying attention. He couldn’t handle a repeat performance of what happened with Mike. Aidan got a lot of attention, which he and Seamus ate up. Boss Man and ‘Lil Boss Man. While at the cafe, Kase let Aidan help a customer. After ordering, the couple handed lil boss the cash. Oh, he’s so cute. Instead of putting it in the till, Aidan ran off with the twenty in his hand. Half the cafe was chasing after him like they were on a football field, which only made it more fun…for everyone. Seamus caught it on video and sent it to his friends. Jay was the first to reply. Yesss. That’s my lil man!! Kase made two loelife’s drink-of-the-week. It was a Gingerbread latte. Right up Matt’s alley. Seamus tried not to stop by the office too often. He didn’t want to distract Matt or make him feel pressured. When Seamus wasn’t there, Matt was confident and quick to make decisions, good decisions, smart decisions. When Seamus was there, Matt got flustered and second guessed himself. It was late afternoon. Matt was at the desk with his fingers in his hair. A sure sign he was overwhelmed. He had a month left of school and then the rest of the team was joining him. There was much to do between now and then. Matt looked up. Seamus’s breath caught. It always did. Earnest blue eyes. Always shocked that Seamus was there, yet undeniably happy to see him. Then Matt smirked. Trying and failing not to laugh. “Boss huh? You’re creating a monster.” “Whatever, he’s cute as hell and you know it.” “Sure,” Matt nodded jokingly. “Until he starts acting like he’s the boss.” Aidan was well past that point. They both knew it. The little guy wiggled out of Seamus’s arms and went to Matt. His boyfriend was not fooled. Aidan still very much favored Seamus. No, Aidan wanted something else. He crawled up on Matt’s lap and instantly started pounding away on the keyboard. Like father, like son Seamus thought with a slow smile. He watched as Matt panicked, quickly locking the keyboard so Potato Fingers couldn’t cause any damage. Watching Aidan was like watching a really tiny hacker at work. His hands were so fast and his focus was so intense. For about a minute. Then he crawled off Matt’s lap and went on his merry way. Seamus took a seat across from Matt. “How’s work today?” “Good, I’ve just been—” Matt chewed his lip as he messed with the computer, making sure Aidan hadn’t done anything too damaging. Then he exited out of the program and looked at Seamus. “I’ve been cleaning up accounts and getting things ready for the team to start.” “Are you excited?” “Yeah, it will definitely be a good change, but I’ll miss Roberta. She’s so smart and amazing at this. She can do the work of five people.” “But isn’t the point that one person isn’t doing the work of five people?” “Totally, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that she’s smart and efficient. I can’t hold a candle to that workhorse.” Seamus didn’t argue, not because he didn’t want to but because it was pointless. Matt could be a little self-depreciating at times. He had a hard time seeing how truly smart and amazing he was. Matt didn’t mean to do it. He wasn’t looking for compliments or anything. It was just a terrible habit. “I was thinking that after graduation you and I could go on a little break. Nothing crazy. Maybe fly to Seattle and stay on Orcas Island?” Matt melted into his chair. “God, a break would be amazing. I’d have to see if Dad would take off work to watch Aidan, but I’m down.” “Actually,” Seamus grinned nervously. He wasn’t sure how the next sentence would be received. If not well, then they’d definitely call Brad, but… “I talked to Jay. He was actually thinking maybe he could take Aidan for a week? He lives in Seattle, and it would be your first time away from Aidan for more than a weekend. It might be nice to have him close by.” Matt didn’t look totally appalled, but he didn’t look eager, either. “That seems like a long time to be with someone you’re not familiar with.” “Kids are resilient and, who knows, it might be good for Aidan. Lord knows he could stand to have his immediate circle stretched. If you 're uncomfortable, that’s fine, but you’ll have to break the news to Jay. He knows it’s not official or anything but he wants it to happen so bad.” “Are you kidding me! You want me to say no to that giant puppy dog? It was hard enough watching him pout around when Loren wasn’t paying attention to him. How do you expect me to tell him he can’t watch Aidan?” Matt flopped back dramatically, making Seamus laugh. “Fine. Jay can watch him. Aidan loves him anyway.” **** The next month went by quickly. There were no updates from his lawyer so Seamus continued like normal. He did what he could to help Matt while he finished his classes, got ready to graduate, and worked for Seamus. It wasn’t a hardship. Seamus loved watching Matt grow and flourish, and he really loved spending time with Aidan. Brad came down for graduation. Seamus forgot how long and boring those ceremonies were. When it was finally over, they found Matt. He was excited but exhausted. “Had I known what bullshit the ceremony would be, I would have skipped it completely. That took forever!” They took a hundred photos of Matt in his gown before heading off. They had a small party at Cavaliers. Matt’s friends back home couldn’t make it. Seamus saw the look of disappointment on Matt’s face and it broke his heart. However, the board members surprised them by showing up unannounced. This is why Seamus loved them. They might live in different areas, but they were always there for each other. Jay even brought a surprise guest. Loren Patrick. After the championship game where Matt and Loren had hung out a bit, Matt wasn’t quite as star-struck. That didn’t mean he wasn’t relishing the attention of bring Loe to the Coffee|Bar and showing him the drink of the week. Loren was impressed and flattered. “When I started doing drinks, I never thought this would be a thing,” he said as he ran his finger over the sign. “And the blueberry latte? That’s an impressive feat since you have to—” “Use fresh blueberries, boil them down, extract the flavor?” Hilary cut in. She was the one who had done several large batches in order to have enough blueberries to cover the orders. “It wasn’t easy.” Everyone stayed in town for two days before going their separate ways. Before leaving, Jay picked up Aidan and tickled him. “See you in two days!” Matt was standing next to Loren, who was watching Jay and Aidan with feared affection. “You have my permission to use Aidan as content.” Loren jerked his head at Matt. “Wha—” “I’m just saying,” Matt smirked. “You might not be able to help yourself. He’s pretty cute.” Even Seamus wasn’t sure who he was referring to; Jay or Aidan. Maybe both. Together they could be potent. **** The week away was great. Seamus rented a house that overlooked the ocean. The weather was what you’d expect for June on the Pacific NW. Windy and not super warm. No temptation to do anything but relax on the deck, eat, and have sex. All things they did in spades. They also toured the island and talked a lot about things they wanted to do. Including adding to the family. Which had Seamus in cold sweats. It was a topic he thought about all the time, one he’d brought up. Matt knew where he stood, but they still hadn’t had a proper conversation about it. They watched the waves crash. The water was choppy and dangerous looking. They definitely weren’t in an area that would be good for swimming. Seamus brought the beer to his lips and took a long pull. He was anxious, but he had to do it. “Aidan will be two in less than two weeks.” “Don’t remind me,” Matt groaned. “Now I get why Mom was always saying sappy stuff. As much as I want Aidan to be a little more independent, I’m sad to see him growing up.” Seamus picked at the label of his bottle casually. He was so casual. You could not get more casual. “I think it’s a good time to start the conversation of growing our family. Depending on the route we take, it could take a while. We don’t want Aidan to be too old.” He quickly…but super casually, took another drink. His mouth was dry from the insanely casual conversation. Which got worse when Matt didn’t answer. After an eternity of watching the ocean and trying not to freak out as he waited for Matt, Seamus finally looked up. Matt was smirking. “How bad are you sweating right now?” “Not at all,” he lied. He definitely had fresh anxiety inducing pit stains. “You’re totally freaking out right now, don’t lie.” Seamus shook his head but couldn’t look at Matt. “You want a baby,” Matt teased. Seamus rolled his eyes. “Of course I want a baby. You know this. But we haven’t talked about it.” Matt got up and walked to Seamus. As Matt set to straddle Seamus’s hips, Seamus stretched out to accommodate his sexy-as-hell boyfriend. Sitting comfortably, Matt patted Seamus’s chest and smiled deviously. “Seeing how you haven’t managed to knock me up yet, how do you want to do it? Adoption? Surrogacy? Ugh— alien pod clone incubators?” Matt paused, unsure if there were other ways. Seamus smiled, happy that Matt wasn’t running away from the idea. “I’m not opposed to adoption, but I’d like to pursue surrogacy first.” “A little Seamus baby?” “Or a little Matt baby,” he countered. Matt made a face, a very depreciating face. “We have Aidan. That’s kind of a little Matt. If we do surrogacy, I want a little Seamus. If we go another round later on down the road, I can do the dirty work.” Seamus breathed out. He really expected this conversation to be met with more resistance. “I can work with that.” “When are you thinking you want to start?” “Is this a trap?” Seamus asked with a laugh. “Because we can cut this vacation short and leave now. Seattle has a great reproductive clinic.” Matt laughed, then leaned forward and gently kissed Seamus. It was a I really love you kind of kiss. “I’m not in that big of a hurry. Isn’t it kind of expensive?” Seamus nodded. He’d done a lot of research and had a pretty good idea of how much it would cost. “It is, but we can afford it—” “You can afford it,” Matt corrected. “We. We can afford it. But it could take a while. We have to pick an egg donor, do contracts, wait for her to cycle, complete the egg retrieval, then create embryos. We also have to find the right surrogate, do more contracts, and then wait while she does IVF. There’s a good chance it won’t happen in the first round. It could be two years before we’re pregnant. Maybe more.” “Two years?!” Matt about fell off Seamus’s lap. “Why didn’t you tell me it could take so long? We should leave now!” Matt tried to get up, jokingly but Seamus was still quick to pull him back. His reaction made Seamus feel better. Calmer. There was no hesitation or fear. His reaction made Seamus feel like it was the natural next step. Besides marriage. Honestly, Seamus was a little more worried about that. But if they were going to move forward with a baby, then why wouldn’t they be married? “Are you going to love little Seamus more than Aidan? Because Aidan won’t like that.” Seamus cupped Matt’s face and made sure he was watching as Seamus shook his head. “Absolutely not.” **** Coming back, Aidan was a whole new kid, kind of. Spending eight days away from Matt and Seamus, even though he’d been spoiled rotten in ways that neither of them could fully comprehend, had given the little guy a whole new outlook on life. He learned to appreciate the finer things in life. AKA Matt. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that profound, but Aidan was marginally less clingy to Seamus afterward. And that alone was a pretty big deal. The new team started working. Seamus made it a point to stay away from the office so Matt could establish his role as finance manager. A title that disappointed Seamus, but he also understood that Matt wanted to earn a higher title the right way. Matt came home happy. That was all that mattered to Seamus. Then things changed. Mike added several more lawsuits. He claimed he was dehumanized, that he was forced to do more work than had been negotiated and without proper compensation, and that he was unable to take breaks or lunches as required by law. If that wasn’t enough, Gale and Robert Jacobson joined in. Years after the fact, they were contesting the will. They also had a lawsuit claiming they were entitled to the businesses because it was their money that funded the start up. It was all overwhelming. Even if the cases weren’t strong, Seamus had heard of cases winning with less. Seamus was on the brink of losing everything. Matt and Kase drove Hilary to Atlanta. They were gone for five days. When they got back, Matt started working late. He had an entire team now. There was no reason that he’d need to work late. In fact, he could get off early if he wanted. But there he was, working late. Some nights he didn’t get home until after Aidan was down for the night. It wasn’t a big deal. Except it made little sense. He never stayed late before when it was just him and Roberta. Now there are three additional full-time employees and Matt was pulling ten-hour days? Seamus wasn’t about to question him, but it was itching something fierce just under his skin. With all the craziness, he needed to trust Matt. **** “I think Matt’s cheating on me.” Seamus checked his phone. The line was silent but showed it was still connected. Then the laughing started. “Bro, you need to calm down. I know Kelly was a double douche bag but Matt is a different breed. He’s good.” The don't be an idiot was implied, but Jay was too nice to say it. “He’s been working late. When I ask him about it, he says he has a lot to do. But he’s weird about it. He’s definitely hiding something.” “Have you told him how you feel?” “No, because I don’t want to offend him.” “Then show up at work when he’s there late. Preface it by bringing him coffee or dinner. If he’s working, then you’ll know he’s been telling the truth. If he’s not…then—” “Okay,” he sighed. “Might as well rip the Band-Aid off.” He gave Matt another week before he finally decided to ‘swing by’. Seamus was desperate for things to be good, but he had to know the truth. It was Thursday. Matt texted he was working extra late. Seamus didn’t want to bring Aidan along in case the outcome was no good, so he found a sitter. The mom of a girl in Aidan’s daycare. He needed to socialize anyway; Seamus reasoned. He grabbed Sonic on the way. Then sat in the parking lot while the food got cold. Five minutes later, he started the SUV to go back home. The whole thing was ridiculous. But—he was already there, right? Why not pop in? Seamus snatched the bag from the passenger’s seat and got out of the car before he could change his mind again. His heart was racing as he marched to the office. Please be working, please be working, please be working; he pleaded. He had his key out and ready to go, though he was torn between opening the door slowly and giving Matt a heads up and unlocking it quickly so there was no chance to hide. The key slid in and turned the lock. Even if he wanted to go slow, it all happened so fast. Then it halted to a stop. Matt was at his desk with another man. A man who wasn’t an employee. They were sitting close. Really, really close. Matt looked up when Seamus shut the door, surprised written on his face. “What are you doing here?” Seamus held up the bag of food as he stared at the guy sitting next to Matt. Who was he and why was here so late? Seamus stood frozen. He couldn’t move. He was trying not to jump to conclusions, but he couldn’t think of a valid reason Matt would be at the office this late with someone who didn’t work for him. Finally, he found his voice. “I thought you might be hungry.” “Umm.” Matt scratched his face awkwardly. “Thank you.” It was so uncomfortable that Seamus couldn’t bring himself to take the food to Matt’s desk. He just stood on the other side of the room like an outsider as Matt spoke quickly and quietly to his invited guest. The guy nodded, said something in return, then shuffled some papers into an envelope, and stood up. He grabbed his jacket and passed Seamus with a nod before disappearing. “I wasn’t expecting you to stop by,” Matt said as he turned his focus to Seamus. “You should’ve called.” “I thought I’d surprise you. Surprise,” he deadpanned. It was hard to joke when he was living his worst nightmare. Seamus took a few steps towards Matt and tossed the food, watching as it landed and slid across the desk. Matt’s face pinched in confusion. “What’s going on? You’re upset.” “Who was that?” he pointed toward the door where the guy had just left. “Christopher.” “Who is he?” he asked slowly. There was a beat of silence before Matt slumped his shoulders and leaned back in the chair. He closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s not what you think.” “What do I think?” “That Chris and I—” Seamus crossed his arms. “And you’re not?” “Sit down, Seamus. We need to talk.” He waited for Seamus to sit down across from him, then leaned forward with his elbows on the desk. “Since I started working here, I’ve been digging through everything. I didn’t know what I could find that no one else had, but I couldn’t help myself. You were the one who said it was okay to go through the findings from the investigation. Well, I did, and something about it made me want to look deeper. The thing is, we were all looking in the past. I started looking at the present. Actually, I was working on accounts payable when I noticed it. There were several invoices from different companies, all going to the same post office box. I pulled all the records and noticed several things that rubbed me the wrong way. I went to the managers and inquired about the services. The car dealership doesn’t receive 300 boxes of car detailing kits every month from this brand, Dough Guppies own their cars outright courtesy of the dealership, so why are they making car payments? The answer: They’re not. Each business has one vendor that doesn’t make sense, and all those payments are going to the same place. I needed more info so I talked to one of my classmates. His brother works for the local post office and was able to check out the owner of the PO box. I didn’t recognize the name but I added it to the file. The guy from the post office gave me Ed’s name. He works at the courthouse and was able to investigate a little deeper into the businesses. There’s so much I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the vendors are siphoning money from you. And by vendors, I mean Kelly’s parents.” “Kelly’s parents?” Seamus asked, completely shocked. “How?” “Mike, I suppose.” “This just keeps getting worse.” “It does,” Matt agreed. “But honestly, I think this could be good. I don’t think they tried hard to cover their tracks because Mike was behind it. Ed gave me the name of Christopher, who was the guy here tonight. He’s FBI.” “FBI?” Seamus perked up. This was big. “Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t I know any of this?” “You didn’t even want to open the manilla envelope, Seamus. And honestly, until tonight I wasn’t sure where any of this would go.” “Until tonight? What does that mean? Where’s it going now?” “Christopher can’t tell me much but I’m pretty sure there’s already an open investigation into Kelly’s parents.” “What does this mean?” Seamus was too afraid to assume anything. Not with the way things were going. Not with the number of lawsuits against him. He couldn’t afford to be hopeful. Matt smiled. “It means the FBI is taking over.” Hope suddenly became a reality.
    118 points
  15. Waking up early on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, Robert looked around the room he had chosen and wondered where he was. It took a couple minutes for his brain to kick in, and he sighed when realization dawned on him that this was his new home. Robert was only in foster care for a little over a month, but in that time he had been in three different houses, including a group home, and was physically assaulted twice by other teens for being gay. He looked out the window into the backyard and across to the other island. That’s a view to wake up to. I think that’s the Tampa Yacht Club, across from us over on Davis Islands. And that up there is the Hospital. Not a lot of fancy houses on that side of the channel from what I can see, but Dad says it’s one of the wealthiest places in Tampa. I wonder if my grandparents live over there. Are they as rich as Dad? I don’t know if I have any other uncles, cousins, or other family here in the city. Davis Islands, across the channel, was indeed one of the wealthiest areas of the City of Tampa, filled with old money families, and it held several restaurants down its central strip. It also held Tampa General Hospital at its northern point and a small private plane airport at its southern tip. Robert realized he had started to feel like he was safe, and home, in what was less than a day. That realization scared him. Shit. Can this all be real? What if DCF here says Adam can’t keep me. What if they send me back to foster care? I don’t think I can handle that, especially if they are like the group home in Boston. He shivered and pulled his blanket tighter around himself. Something smells good. Dad must be cooking, but he said he couldn’t cook. He rolled out of bed and stretched, letting out a big yawn. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he walked into the bathroom to relieve himself. In short order, he was out of his bedroom suite and walking through the short hallway that opened up into the family room and open kitchen. He was wearing just his loose boxers, which he slept in. His smooth athletic body was on display, which also featured a tribal style phoenix tattoo on his right shoulder and chest. There were also some healing bruises on his torso and biceps. The right side of the house consisted of an ample open space that made up the gaming room, family room, and a large open kitchen. Two islands dominated the kitchen, one with bar seating, and the other a central island used for prep and storage. A short hallway led off the family room to three bedroom suites, and another hallway off the kitchen led to the last bedroom suite, the wine closet, and wet bar. Further down were the laundry room and garage access. “Who are you?” Robert asked as he looked at the man who stood in the kitchen. The aroma of pancakes, bacon, and eggs filled the air, and stirred in was the scent of freshly-ground and brewed coffee. The man was tall and slender with sea-green eyes and a mop of curly black hair, and appeared to be the same age as his father. He too was in his underwear and a plain t-shirt. “I’m Duncan. You must be Robert,” he said with a smile. “I’d shake your hand, but I’m cooking. There’ll be enough for all three of us.” He stepped over to the coffee pot and looked at Robert. “Have a seat. Do you drink coffee? What do you take in it?” Robert sat at the island and nodded. “Yeah, thanks. Cream and sugar please.” Duncan poured and passed him his cup of coffee, with cream and sugar as requested, and went back to the stove to finish making the breakfast. “I came in late last night, and you two were already in bed. Your dad gave me the week off, but I was closer to here than to my brother’s place. So, I decided to crash here.” “I don’t think Dad will mind. He seems like a very caring person.” “He is. Adam and I go back a long time. We went to high school together, and he offered me the job being his steward after he found out I was getting a divorce.” He continued to fix the food and looked over his shoulder at Robert. “How do you like your eggs?” “Scrambled, or fried hard. But I’ll take them scrambled today.” Duncan laughed a bit and fixed up a plate of the hot food for Robert. He sat it on the counter in front of him, and quickly slid silverware, butter, and syrup over to him as well. “Just like your dad.” “What about me?” Adam asked as he walked into the kitchen. He was wearing track shorts and sat down at the island next to his son. “Good morning, both of you. I wasn’t expecting you back so soon, Duncan.” “As I said to Robert, I was closer here than to my brother’s place, so I decided to crash in my bed. I didn’t think you would mind.” He slid a plate of food, utensils, and a cup of coffee over to Adam. “The part about you was your son likes his eggs the same way.” He chuckled and grabbed his plate and coffee, and headed for the last bar-stool at the island. Adam nodded and swallowed his bite of pancake. “This is good. Thanks for cooking.” “Yeah, thanks, Duncan. It is good.” “You’re welcome. I woke up hungry and thought I would make some for all of us. I’m assuming you guys have a full day planned, and it’s the least I can do.” The conversation went silent as the three men ate their food and sipped their coffee. Robert was the first to finish and went to clean up his dishes. He rinsed off the white ceramic plate and silverware before putting them in the dishwasher. He then started cleaning the skillets that Duncan used. “You don’t have to do that. I was about to grab it all when I was done.” “It’s cool man. I’m used to cleaning the kitchen back at home. It was how Mom and I worked things out. She cooked, and I cleaned up.” Adam watched his son and nodded his approval of his initiative of cleaning up the kitchen. He noted the tattoo, bruises, and a nasty looking scar he had on his left shoulder blade. “I see you got ink! And that is a wicked looking scar on your back, and what’s up with the bruises?” “Mom paid for the tat when I turned sixteen last November. The scar was from a car accident we were in when I was twelve. A piece of rebar shot through the roof and caught my back. I was pinned to the seat until the fire rescue got me out.” Robert’s tone was subdued, but he worked with diligence. He finished up the dishes and walked over to the island. “So, Duncan said you guys went to school together?” Adam noted the abrupt subject change and made a mental note to look into the accident, and how he got the bruises. “Yeah, Duncan and I went to Jefferson High School, and we were in the Scouts together.” He looked over at Duncan, and just shook his head. “Oh, the stories we could tell,” Duncan said, sitting back and sipping his coffee. “Were you two a couple?” Duncan shook his head no. “Nah, just good friends. I knew he was gay before he officially came out, and I didn’t care if he was or not. Always thought Adam was a good guy.” “It wasn’t for lack of trying,” Adam said with a laugh. “I had misread Duncan, and one night on a campout when we were alone, I offered to give him a blowjob. While he turned me down, we spent the night talking about what guys in the troop I liked, and he steered me towards Marvin, who was gay. Still not sure how you knew and I didn’t.” “Because he made a pass at me,” Duncan laughed heartily. “It seems I give off false positives on the gaydar. I still do, but I’m cool with it. I consider it a compliment.” He smiled and finished off his coffee. He stood up, grabbed his and Adam’s dishes, and put them in the dishwasher. “So… Dad offered you a job working as a steward for him. Do you like this sort of work?” Duncan nodded, “I do. It was also the family business. Cleaning that is. My family owns a local cleaning company that does both houses and businesses. Even your dad worked for us, for a couple of summers during high school.” Robert looked over at his dad and caught Adam smiling and nodding in agreement. “Word of advice son…If the guy you plan on marrying refuses to clean a toilet, then he’s not the one for you.” “Where did you learn to cook?” “Partly from my mom, and I took a culinary course for two years at Hillsborough Community College.” Duncan finished up wiping down the counters and started the dishwasher. He topped off all three cups of coffee and sat back down next to Adam at the island. “I found out that while I love to cook, staying in a kitchen all day is not in me. Plus my soon to be ex-wife is a lot better chef than I am. She refused to let me cook.” Adam shook his head, “Her loss.” He looked over at Robert and smiled. “We’ll head out about 9:30 am, and hit the Verizon store first to get your phone setup, and then we’ll go shopping. We’ll get the electronics I mentioned, and we need to discuss school options later. I don’t want to bombard you all at once with stuff. Also, my mother wants to know when she can meet you. There’s a hockey game tonight, Lightning vs. the Panthers, at Amalie. I figured we’d stay home and watch it unless you want to go to the arena.” Robert looked a little stunned but nodded. “Sounds…,” he coughed and cleared his throat. “Sounds good, Dad. We can stay in tonight if you want.” He smiled and walked off towards his room. “He seems like a good kid, but he has some fear in him,” Duncan said when Robert was out of earshot. “If you want some unsolicited advice, I’d suggest counseling. For both of you.” “I noticed, and Sylvia suggested the same thing. I’m planning on scheduling a family session for next week,” Adam said. His face showed the worry he had been hiding from Robert. “Thanks for cooking breakfast, my friend. You didn’t have too.” “Least I could do. I think I’ll add it to my workload.” “Are you sure? You don’t have too.” Adam said while he laid a hand on Duncan’s shoulder giving him a quick squeeze. “Yeah, I’m sure. You have a lot to worry about with your son now. Not to mention with your new business venture, you won’t have the time.” Adam sighed some, “I know. Thanks, Duncan. You’re heading out?” “Leaving with my brother this afternoon, and won’t be back ‘till Saturday. We’re headed down to Key West. Going to do some fishing over in Bahia Honda, and some drinking along Duval St. I wanted to take Jeremy with us, but Debbie said no, he has to stay for school.” “I hope you and Ian enjoy yourselves, and be careful.” Adam gave him a little grin. “Jeremy is a nice kid. You’ve got a good nephew there.” They talked a little more before going their separate ways. ~.~ “Where would you like to go shopping for clothes?” Adam asked as he shut the door to his Acura RDX. The SUV was perfect for his needs and stylish enough to fit in his neighborhood. While Adam didn’t care about appearances, there was a certain level he needed to maintain to live on the island. They had finished up at Verizon Wireless, where they got Robert a new Galaxy S9+ phone, transferred the data from his old phone, and Adam bought him a Galaxy Book as well. The two-in-one tablet/laptop would help in Robert’s schooling, and it was tied to the mobile account. “Um… Mom bought my stuff from Target or Walmart, so that’s fine with me.” Adam nodded and pulled out of the parking spot. “If that’s what you want, that’s fine. But, you can go anywhere you want. Is there any place you wanted to go?” “Seriously, Dad?” Robert looked astonished. “You’ve dropped close to two-thousand dollars on me, just here.” “Robert. First off, you’re my son and only child. I see myself spending money on you, a lot. Second, you had two small suitcases, and neither was that heavy. So, I’m assuming you didn’t bring much clothing. And what you did might be too warm for Florida. You did come out of a Nor’easter down to what would be summer to you.” He paused as he looked at Robert, and got them on the road. “I was left some money when my grandfather, your great-grandfather, died. I invested it and used it to go to M.I.T. when I was accepted there. I worked hard after graduation, and sold off the patents I had, and made more than enough to retire at age thirty-seven. I’m not trying to brag about this. Let me spoil you a little before I have to be a stingier father. Okay?” Robert sat stunned in the passenger seat and looked at his dad, and then back out onto the road. He wasn’t sure when they started, but tears began to flow freely down his cheeks. He was too overcome with emotion to talk and just turned away from Adam to look out the window. Noticing his son’s change in demeanor, Adam pulled into the parking lot of a small strip mall . He unbuckled his and Robert’s seat belts and held onto his son the best he could in the car. “It’ll be fine son. It will all work out.” “I… I… don’t know Dad… it feels right, but I feel so bad… I feel like I’m betraying Mom…,” Robert said as he sobbed. Adam comforted his son and held him for a few minutes. “You’re not betraying your mom. Don’t feel that way. Sylvia suggested that we go to family counseling, and I was going to schedule it for next week. Would you rather we do it sooner if I can get us in?” “If you can, please.” “Alright… Now, let’s finish what we need to do today, okay?” “Okay.” “So, let’s head to International Plaza, go look at the stores and get lunch, and if you see something you want, we’ll get it there. If not, we can hit a Target or Walmart on the way home. Sound like a plan to you?” Adam smiled at Robert, while he took a spare napkin from the center console and wiped the tears from his son’s face. “Sounds good, Dad.” ~.~ Shopping at the mall went better than Adam had expected. After Robert got over his inhibitions, they ended up at several stores buying different fashionable clothes suited for life in Florida, and a new desktop PC for Robert’s room from the Microsoft Store. A late lunch at the Cheesecake Factory rounded out the father and son shopping trip, and they were soon home. Adam assisted Robert in putting his clothes away and setting up the desktop, letting Robert lead the way in it all. It was still early in the afternoon when Adam’s mom called. He excused himself to take the call in his bedroom. “Heya, Mom. How are you doing?” Adam asked as he walked over to the sitting area he had set up in his master retreat bedroom. The master retreat was large, almost as big as the family room and game room on the other side of the house combined, and he had decorated it as two different zones. The king-sized bed sat on the south wall, near the center of the room. On each side of the bed sat a square bedside table made of yew, with two drawers apiece. They matched the headboard and footboard of the bed. Across from the bed was the fireplace, a forty-inch flat screen 4K Ultra High Def TV was mounted above it. Two armchairs and a small table made up the sitting area, along with a small computer desk with chair and a desktop PC on the western wall, overlooking Davis Islands. Other furniture dotted the room, along with more artwork on the walls. The retreat was designed with a ‘safe room,’ located in the massive walk-in closet, but Adam had turned it into a server room, which ran the whole house smart system. “I’m doing fine. How’s my grandson?” She asked. “He’s doing fine. We spent the day shopping for clothes and getting him some electronics for school, but I’m wondering what happened to him back in Boston. He said he feels like he’s betraying his mom.” Adam let out a long sigh. “This morning, Duncan fixed breakfast for us, and we were all mostly still in our night clothes. Robert was wearing boxers, and that’s when I saw he has a tattoo on his right shoulder and chest, and a scar on his left shoulder blade. He’s also covered in bruises... deep bruises that are healing on his chest, back, and arms. He refused to talk about any of them.” “Oh, honey. It’s been barely a month since his mother died, so I can see where he feels like that. It sounds to me like he’s scared to talk about what happened in foster care. That’s the only place where the bruises could have come from. If it happened prior, they would have healed by now. How’s he handling the rest?” “He seems to like it here. We’ve not had any fights at all, and no drama, aside from him tearing up a couple of times. Either he’s hiding it very well, or he’s being completely genuine and has one of the most level heads I’ve ever seen.” Adam exhaled. “Mom, I don’t think I could have gone through what he has in the past two months, and be as composed. I… I’m going to talk to Sylvia to see what happened when he was in Massachusetts DCF’s custody.” “You’ll need to. If he was assaulted, there could be some issues there. That needs to be addressed pretty damn quickly.” They spoke a little bit more and hung up after making plans. Adam used the desktop PC to look up his medical plan’s mental health providers. He called a few of them to find one accepting new patients and to schedule an appointment for that week. Adam left his room to find Robert in the exercise and gaming room. When Adam was decorating the house, he wanted this room to be partly for exercise and partly for gaming. A PS4 and an Xbox One were both connected to another flat screen 4K Ultra High Def TV mounted over the fireplace that both separated and was shared with the family room. A small sitting area, consisting of a couch and coffee table, was right in front of it. Behind the sitting area were a weight machine, an exercise bike, a treadmill, and some free weights. Robert had stripped down to athletic shorts and was on the treadmill running. He was barely breathing hard as he ran at a leisurely pace. He nodded to his dad and focused back on his form. “Don’t stop running, but I made some plans for us later. We’ll stay home, eat some pizza, and if you want we can watch the game together. Also, my mom and dad will be coming over for the game. They want to meet you.” Robert nodded again, “Sounds good. I like everything but anchovies on my pizza.” He kept running and started to show some sweat on his brow. Adam chuckled. “I don’t think I know anyone who likes anchovies on their pizza.” He paused to watch his son a bit and nodded at the discipline he showed in working on his running form. “Let me know if you use the free weights, and I’ll spot you.” Robert nodded and kept running. ~.~ “I’m nervous,” Robert said. He sat at the island bar eating pizza while the Lightning Live! Pregame Show played in the background in the family room. He was munching on a Meat Lover’s pizza, and Adam had let him have one of the Bud Lights that he had in the wet bar. “They’re going to love you. Trust me.” “Will… will they care if I’m gay?” “No, they won’t, and they already know,” Adam smiled, and then chuckled shaking his head. “Here’s a funny story for you. I came out to my parents when I was your age, and I was scared to death. Well, that Christmas, Dad bought me my first dildo. Oh, it was more of a gag, it was a Great American Dildo. But Mom… well, she bought me a selection of lubes, some ‘how to’ videos from the gay bookstore Tomes and Treasures, and ordered me a variety pack of a thousand condoms from Adammale.” Robert couldn’t help but laugh at the story. “They did that? And what’s a Great American?” “A Great American Dildo is a gag gift, but I’ve heard of people using them. They’re as thick as your calf, and about as long as your arm.” Adam cringed as he thought about it. “No, way. I’m not a size queen.” “So, are you a top or a bottom, Dad?” “Versatile, but I prefer to bottom,” Adam said honestly. It wasn’t lost on him he was talking to his teenage son about sex. “What about you? Have you had sex yet?” Robert nodded. “I have. I’m versatile as well, but I topped mainly with the guys I’ve been with.” He paused a moment and blushed as he realized whom he was talking to. “I'm not used to talking about this with anyone in the family.” “I’m an open book, Rob. I’m happy to talk about it with you, even buy you stuff if you need it. Just keep it in your bedroom, and I’ll keep my partners and me in mine.” They ate more of the pizza in silence while watching the pregame show. The doorbell rang. Adam, got up and answered it, and greeted his parents. They walked in and went to the kitchen. Robert stood up when they walked in and hugged his grandmother and grandfather. “Rob, this is my mom Samantha Smith, and my dad Derrick Smith. Mom, Dad… this is my son, Robert Turner. Don’t call him Bob or Bobby.” “A pleasure to meet you, Robert,” Samantha said and hugged her grandson. “Likewise,” Derrick said and shook his hand. He squeezed his shoulder with a smile. “A fine looking young man. Adam, you’re gonna have to knock the boys off with a stick when he starts school.” That brought a round of laughter from everyone. “Thanks, and it’s nice to meet you both,” Robert managed to get out. “So, your dad hasn’t told me when your birthday is. When is it? I have a lot of catching up to do!” Samantha said. She went to the family room and sat on a couch dragging Robert with her. Derrick sat on the other side of Robert, sandwiching him in place. Adam fetched drinks from the wet bar for his parents and handed the two beers to them before sitting on the other couch. He gave Robert a small apologetic smile and nodded to the seat next to him, for Robert to move to when he got a chance. “I was born on November 25th.” “A Christmas season baby,” Samantha pondered. “Well, don’t worry. We’re not the type to buy one present and say it’s both Christmas and your birthday.” “Thanks…” Robert said in a puzzled voice. He started to get a 'deer in the headlights' look. “Rob, come on over and sit here. And give them some room. The game is about to start.” Adam interjected. While Robert was changing seats, Adam stood up and grabbed their drinks from earlier. “Mom, Dad, there’s pizza on the counter if you want some.” He handed Robert his Bud Light and sat back down. Robert sat stunned waiting for one of his grandparents to say something about the beer, but when they didn’t, he took a drink of it. “Have you decided on a school yet?” Derrick asked. “Not yet, Dad. I was going to talk about it in the morning with Rob, and give him the options.” Adam smiled at his son. “Though we already have supplies depending on where he wants to go. His caseworker Sylvia said to wait a week so that she could get the records from Boston for us.” Talk turned towards hockey, as the game started with the Lightning vs. the Panthers. Robert was amazed that for two people who never left Florida, his paternal grandparents sure knew a lot about the game. He was surprised to learn that his dad made the team for M.I.T. when he was there, as a fourth-line right-winger for one season. As the game wound down, Robert found himself tired from the day’s events. “Good night, Grandma and Granddad. I’ll see you all around.” “Come over here and give me a hug,” Samantha said and stood up. Robert walked over to her, and they hugged quickly. “Good night, Rob. Sleep well, and welcome to the family,” Derrick said. He quickly hugged his grandson. Adam smiled at his son and hugged Robert as well. It lingered a bit longer than with the grandparents, and Adam placed a kiss on the top of his head. “Good night. I love you, Robert.” “I love you, too,” Robert said and quickly went to his room. He didn’t want anyone to see the fresh batch of tears that were threatening to flow. Adam put the empty bottles and boxes into the trash and recycling, as the three adults talked about family issues in the kitchen. “That was nice. Robert seems like a good boy. You said you are going to counseling?” Samantha said as she leaned on the central island. “Yes, I called today, after our talk. They are supposed to call back tomorrow. It’s going to be tough, but they may have time on Friday.” Derrick listened to the two for a bit and nodded along. “You’ll do well son. I’ve got faith the two of you will pull through this.” “Thanks. I’ll be honest… I’m scared shitless over this. I go from single gay man, looking for a new boyfriend, and getting a start-up going, to instant father of a sixteen-year-old son I didn’t know I had. Hell, today he questioned the amount I was spending on him, and the only thing I could think of was I was trying to spoil him some.” “Did you mean what you said to him? That you love him?” Samantha said, in a neutral tone. “Of course,” Adam said. He exhaled a long breath. “When Sylvia told me about him, I felt a little weird and worried if I could love him. Especially seeing what Michelle did to me. However, once I saw him yesterday,” he paused and shook his head. “There is no doubt I love him, and I would die for him.” He laughed a little. “I know that sounds cheesy.” “Nonsense... It’s what every true parent would do for their child.” After talk had wound down, Adam escorted his parents out and went back into the house. After making his way to the library, he sat at the desk with his laptop open. Adam looked over at the family picture sitting in the corner of the desk. It was an older photo, taken at the photo studio on a trip to Walt Disney World. Adam was 14 at the time and hadn’t come out of the closet yet. His parents were in the background, with a fake park scene on the screen behind them. Adam stood in front of his mom, while another person, a couple of years younger than him, stood in front of his dad. The person was Tibot, Adam’s estranged brother. For the last fifteen years, they had been in contact only via email. Adam opened the bottom drawer of his desk and took out the bottle of whiskey he kept there. Opening his laptop and letting it boot up, he thought about what he was going to tell his brother. Adam took a swig from the bottle as the email program fired up, and with liquor-fueled courage, he typed up and sent the email. He didn’t expect a response - he rarely got a reply back. He went to work looking at real estate properties his business partner had sent him. Twenty minutes into looking at Google Street View, Google Earth, and the properties his partner wanted him to see, Adam was engrossed in his work. The return notification surprised him, and he sent the remaining mouthful of whiskey sloshing up the sides of the glass bottle. Adam stopped and watched the liquor run down the sides. Then after a deep breath, he picked up the container, swallowed the contents, and clicked open the reply. His eyes widened as he read, "Call me."
    115 points
  16. Ethan Scott tires of life in the city after several years of living on the streets and decides a trip to the mountains is the change he needs. Little does he know what direction that change will take.
    115 points
  17. The drive south on the Trans Canadian Highway had an almost hypnotic effect on the passengers in the SUV. Even Darius had to concentrate to stay alert as an endless row of trees lined the blacktop and concrete path. Snow banks encroached on each side of the highway making the two-lane road feel a little narrower. The three young pups’ eyes closed as they slumbered. Whether it was the excitement wearing off from being picked up by this new group of people or the calming sound of the road under the tires, they were down for the count. Aiden called John to update him on their situation. “Alpha, we’re on our way home.” “That was fast. Did you find what you were looking for?” “We did. We’re returning with four guests. Three are small pups. We expect to make the border in about seven hours.” “You’re still planning to enter through Buffalo?” “Yes, Alpha.” “I’ll call my counterpart there and make sure he’s got some of his people on duty with Customs. Give me a call when you’re an hour from the crossing, so I can update them.” After discussing a few more details, the call ended. Aiden whispered to Darius. “He said there should be friendly lycan on duty at the border when we arrive.” He turned in his seat to speak with Marie. “Our alpha will have accommodations ready for you and the pups by the time we get there.” “Thank you. You are not what I expect from one of my mate’s associates, especially since you travel with a solaris.” “I’m not exactly one of Jean-Pierre’s associates. As to my friend, I trust him with my life, like I do all those I came with.” “I meant no disrespect with my comment. It’s just my husband has had bad dealings with solaris in the past and developed a bad attitude towards them and those who associate with them.” She sighed heavily. “Perhaps I should stop talking before I get myself in trouble.” “Ma’am, I take no offense. Some of my kind still hold bitter feelings towards wolves because of the ancient stories of wars between our people. I’ve been lucky enough to encounter wolves who prefer to know the person instead of the history.” Darius glanced at the woman in the rearview mirror. “I realize you’ve been thrust into a group you’re unfamiliar with after being sequestered in a remote location for your safety. But know this, Aiden gave his word to protect you all, and his word carries to me as well. Although we doubt there will be any problems, if any do arise, I will fight to my dying breath to protect you and your pups.” “I think I am beginning to understand why my husband trusts you, Aiden. It may take me some time to trust you myself. I have the young ones to think of, but I am grateful you came for us and we are out of that isolation. As for you, Mister Lion, you sound like you live up to the reputation of the Leos. The only thing worse than battling a protective one is fighting a protective mother.” In the silence of the ride, Aiden appraised their travel companions more than he was able to do at the house. It was difficult to judge Marie’s age, but he guessed it was somewhere around the same as Jean-Pierre, whatever that might be. She had pulled her long black hair into a ponytail and held her daughter close to her. Her scent was not threatening and had a moderate amount of fear. Given her situation, fear was understandable. He knew as with any mother wolf, regardless of size, she was not to be messed with where her pups were concerned. He was curious as to her level of involvement with the rogue gang. She was mated to a man who had engaged in serious crimes against other lycan and possibly humans. He did not trust Marie. Given who her mate was, he had no reason to do so. Ultimately, he figured these questions could wait until they were home. Especially if the information he was supposedly carrying was as valuable as claimed. He had made a deal to protect her and the children in exchange for the information, and he would live up to it. Glancing back again, the rearmost seat of the SUV held Casey, Cody, and the oldest boy of about ten who favored his father’s looks. The center seat held Ethan, Marie, the middle boy who appeared to be around seven, and the youngest was a girl of four or five who resembled her mother with long black hair. The three children slept soundly which made the drive much more pleasant. So many people made for a cramped ride, especially for Casey in the back, but they made do. ****** When the group arrived at the international border between the United States and Canada, it was busy. Cars and trucks awaited inspection before entry. Two men approached the vehicle, one with a German Shepherd he walked around the SUV. The other went to the driver’s window. “You must be Aiden Jacobs.” “Yes, sir.” “I need the passports for everyone in the vehicle. Do you have anything to declare?” Aiden handed over the identifications for his passengers. “Nothing to declare. We didn’t have time to go shopping.” “The reason for such a short trip? Just a routine question I have to ask.” “Picking up my cousin and her kids to stay with the family for a month.” The Custom’s agent made notes on his tablet as he scanned the U.S. passport cards and stamped the Canadian ones. “Could you open the back just so we can have the drug dog finish his check? That’s really all we have left to make this look official.” Aiden got out and did as asked. The agent with the dog finished his duties as the other handed back everyone’s documents. “I hope you all have a pleasant day.” He extended his hand to Aiden and held it slightly longer than a normal handshake. “Hope I’m not out of line here, but it’s nice having a sexy wolf like you come through here.” “Not out of line, and thank you. My mate says the same thing to me almost every night.” Aiden tipped his head towards Ethan and flashed the agent a brilliant smile. “If we didn’t have the other passengers, I’m betting he would have suggested strip searching each other.” He grinned at the scent of the man’s arousal before climbing back into the SUV. ****** By the time they reached Silver Pines, it was well after midnight and everyone was tired of being cramped and ready to get out. They went straight to the pack office where the alpha’s assistant, Heather, greeted them. “Welcome back. Go right in. We’ve been waiting up for you.” “Thanks, Heather.” Knocking on the door before opening it, Aiden held it for John’s aide. “Good to have you all back safe.” John extended his hand. “That went much faster than expected.” “Thank you, Alpha. I would like to present Marie and her three children. Marie, this is Alpha Stockdale.” Aiden stepped to the side. “Marie, welcome to our territory. We will do all we can to make your stay here as pleasant as possible. For however long you need to be with us.” “Thank you, Alpha Stockdale. We are honored to be guests in your territory. Your pack mates have already been exceptionally gracious to us.” “We’ve got housing set up for the four of you. I know it’s late and after that drive I’m sure you’d like to rest up and take some time to relax.” John tried to put the woman at ease. “There’s a park with a playground the pups might enjoy in the morning, even with the cold weather. We will have people assigned to stay nearby, as a precaution and in case you need anything.” “Heather, would you please introduce Marie to the security detail and then show her to the guest quarters? Make sure she and the pups have everything they need.” “Yes, Alpha. Ma’am, this way if you please.” Once Marie and the children were gone, Aiden pulled one of the hard drives out of his pack. “We have twenty of these, and twenty flash drives that mate to each other. When he told her to go with us, he told me he would give us the decryption key when he knew she was safely here.” “Did he indicate what was on these?” “Everything, Alpha. Everything he’s done since he took over the gang. Every transaction he did with anyone, including members of and packs within the Council, and information on other rogue groups. It’s their entire operation. These are all terabyte drives. He told me not to connect any of this to a computer until he gives us the access code.” “It would seem in your short time with him, you made quite an impression for him to not only entrust with his family, but also these. I was impressed by him returning your badge to you. If this is legit, it’s the mother lode.” “I’ve got my suspicions as to why, Alpha. But whatever it is, this might be what you and the others have been looking for to put a stop to what’s been going on in the Council. When we’ve had some time to rest up from the drive, I’ll ask her to contact him and get the code so we can start unlocking all this.” “Go home and get some sleep, all of you. You’ve earned it.” “Thank you, Alpha.” ****** Once Marie was in her room, and the pups were safely sleeping, she pulled out her satellite phone and inserted the battery. The many years she had been with her mate taught her to distrust those she did not know, those who were not her pack. And yet, her mate said it was safe to go with Aiden. Still, she wondered what would become of her and the children once they had what they wanted. Dialing Jean-Pierre, she waited. “Are you and the pups safe?” “Yes, they have been very kind to us so far. Their alpha granted his protection for as long as needed. Are you sure they can be trusted?” “You wouldn’t be with them now if I wasn’t. Aiden was not going to be enticed to join me. He cannot be bought by anyone and believes in duty to others above self-interest. Unless he was able to completely fool me, and no one’s been able to do that in years. You and our pups are safe with them, and I will see you again.” “I got that impression of him from talking on the drive here. I wasn’t sure if I should be concerned he keeps company with a solaris, but the lion seems to be as loyal to duty as Aiden.” “Somehow, I’m not surprised. Young Deputy Jacobs appears to be everything the alpha’s son described and more.” “With all you told me about the son, why should we not think the father is just as bad?” “That worthless, rabid mutt described his father and Aiden as being very much alike. Both are committed to their duty to others. They will not place people at risk without need, but they will protect their people, and I suspect you and our pups to the death.” “I miss you, my love. And the pups miss their father.” “I miss you all as well. Arrange a meeting with Aiden and his alpha for ten tomorrow morning. He kept his end of the bargain, and I know he will continue to see to your safety. I may be a thief who shows little honor as a wolf, but I must uphold my end of this deal. Give the pups a kiss for me.” “You are a good mate and wonderful father, regardless of the things you have done. If you speak to the others, tell them I miss them as well. Je t’aime, mon mari.” “Bonne nuit, mon amour” After hearing him say good night, my love, Marie turned off the phone. When she opened the door she found a guard standing watch. “Can I get you something, Ma’am?” “Would you inform your alpha I need to speak with him and Aiden at ten in the morning?” “Yes, Ma’am.” “Thank you, and goodnight.” ****** A little before ten, Marie was escorted to a tech lab in the Hunter Corps offices. Her pups were taken to meet with a private instructor to evaluate their educational needs for their stay. In addition to Aiden and the alpha, three tech guys from the sheriff’s department and a few from the Corps were present. They had been working to crack Jean-Pierre’s laptop for the last several weeks. At precisely ten o’clock, Marie’s sat phone rang. “Hello?” “Good morning, my love. Would you put me on speaker for everyone to hear?” After she pressed the speaker button he asked with a hint of enjoyment in his voice, “Pegasus Actual?” “Go ahead, Galactica Actual, this is Pegasus. Fleet Command and our tech guys are present.” Marie rolled her eyes, threw her hands in the air, and walked away mumbling a few choice expletives in French. The tech guys nearly had a geekgasm, and John gave a bemused smile. Aiden laughed. ”I’ll explain later.” “Aiden, always a pleasure. Alpha Stockdale, I wish to convey my gratitude for sheltering my mate and pups. As well as commend you on your exceptional pack members. I would also like to apologize for the unfortunate events which have led to this point. At the risk of offending, I do want to offer my condolences on those lost by you.” “You’re family will be given safe harbor for as long as needed. If this information proves to be what you say, we might just be able to forget about that little incident in November.” “I understand, and we can discuss that at a future time. I assume you have my former laptop, and I am guessing you have not gotten into it yet.” “That’s correct. We have it here.” This code will unlocks it: NeBula_7242_CoNstellation_HuSker. The wording is spelled out with caps on the first and third letter, underscore between words, and no spaces between numbers. Some of my most recent information is on there including an audio file of the warning I received in advance of your assault on the town. I would be surprised if you didn’t recognize the voice on the call.” “Confirm that. The tech guys just gave me a thumbs up. The laptop is unlocked.” “For the next part, you will find there are twenty large volume hard drives and twenty flash drives. Each one is numbered, and the numbers correspond to each other. Connect the wrong flash drive to a computer the hard drive is plugged into, and it will destroy the information. You tech guys use extreme caution and listen closely. The hard drive is to be connected first. It will give you a prompt for the flash drive. When you insert the flash drive, it will ask for a password. The code to enter is: AdM.NaGala_BSGAtlantia_PiConfleet1. Same rules as with the other one, and BSG is all caps.” “The code is confirmed. The first hard drive is unlocked.” John was astonished by the number of data files on the screen. “Are all these drives full?” "Yes, most all of them are full or nearly full. On drive twenty, as well as on my laptop, you should find names and pack information for the people recovered from the cells in the chamber beyond the feral pens. And yes, I do have information on most of what happened when the town was taken. I think you will also find their packs no longer exist, and the Lycan Council has not investigated why. Or notified anyone. While I had nothing to do with the destruction, I am guilty of transporting and arranging new homes for those unwilling shifters. And for many other lycan that will be listed in various documents you now have.” “I understand. It will take some time to go through all this information and make sense of it. Let alone begin to put it into any format for proper use. With luck, we can come up with enough to use within the next two months before the Congress of Alphas.” “I would suggest focusing on the higher number drives first. They have the most recent information pertaining to the current Lycan Council. You’ll also find packs that have done business with me and information on other rogue groups.” “I find it somewhat ironic that the Lycan Council always talked about how rogues were trying to destroy our government, and it might turn out a rogue is delivering the information to cause the Council to destroy itself.” “Perhaps not destroy it, but allow it to clean house and rebuild. As a young wolf recently showed me, not all of the Council is inherently bad. With people like him and those who raised him there is hope for a fresh start. One additional word of warning, I doubt you will like the information you find, so you must decide if you wish to proceed and discover things about those in power you didn’t know. Unless your tech staff has additional questions, that should be all the information you need to access what Aiden has delivered to you.’ “The tech staff seems quite happy at the moment. If questions come up, we will ask your mate to arrange a time we can contact you.” “Alpha Stockdale, please take care of my family and good hunting to you. Aiden, a pleasure as always and my thanks. My mate, I will talk to you soon.” After Marie said goodbye, Jean-Pierre disconnected. ****** “I want you to create at least four backups of this before you start working on it. It isn’t that I think you’ll screw something up, but I don’t want to take any chances with this information. Also, and yes I realize you already know this, don’t connect it to anything on our network. If you need to build an isolated network to deal with all this, do it. Just buy what’s needed. I don’t care about the cost.” “Yes, Alpha. We’re all working from a safety and backup checklist we wrote up as soon as we found out what we had. Each step has to be checked off by two people on each drive, or we don’t move to the next one.” “I’d also like you to prep one complete set of backups for shipment to a different location. Use heavy encryption on it. If you can, duplicate the security program on the flash drives. We’ll ship those separately. Once you assess the first hard drive and the laptop, let me know what people or resources you need for going through all this.” “Alpha, we found the audio file with the pre-attack warning he mentioned.” “Play it.” “Todd, to what do I owe the pleasure of a call from you this late at night?” “Jean, you are about to be overrun by a coalition of packs who intend to bring down your organization.” “You weren’t able to prevent this from happening?” “They didn’t come to the Council before deciding to take this action. You shouldn’t have hit a pack the size and strength of Parker Valley. They want retribution as well as the return of their people.” “Mister Preston already made his point about the attack with his usual bluster. What’s the point of being head of Council Security if you don’t even get good intelligence before it’s too late? Forget I asked that. It’s probably the same question the packs ask you after I’ve conducted a raid.” “We can discuss that later. For now, it’s recommended you destroy any sensitive information and make a hasty exit. We may not be able to stop this from happening, but our people will take control of the situation as quickly as possible and preserve the bunker and the merchandise vaults. We’ll contact you through the backup channels as soon as it is clear.” “How much time?” “If intelligence is correct, they’ll attack in approximately six hours.” “Doesn’t leave much time. I’ll get started now on destroying data and will tell my people I need to go into Montreal on business again. Thank you for the warning.” “That’s all of it, Alpha.” “And the first domino falls.” John turned and walked out of the room. ****** “Alpha, Sheriff, he had the information broken down by type in the most recent hard drive. That made our job a little easier. There are calls, meetings, and a whole lot more. All total, it’s just shy of one terabyte on this drive alone.” “I’ve got someone in mind to go through the financial reports. Sometimes it’s good to have a pack big enough you need an accounting staff. It’s going to be a pain listening to the audio files, but we’ll get someone for that and for reviewing the emails.” John crossed his arms as he looked at the information projected on the wall. “There are names on a lot of the phone calls and most are already in folders. Each one appears specific to one person.” The tech opened the call files, displaying dozens of subfolders with individuals’ names on them. “We’ll flag any that stand out for priority review if you like.” “If the name is a senior member of the administration, it’s a priority.” John ran his hand through his hair. “Dan, give me a list of people you’d recommend bringing in on this, and we can compare it with the ones I’m thinking of. I’m going to need to brief the other alphas soon.” “John, a lot of the lunis would very much like to get to work for the pack in some way.” Dan scribbled several names down and handed it to his friend. “They’ve been helping with the construction of the new apartments or waiting on other jobs in the territory. I’m sure they would all be happy to help out.” “I was thinking the same thing. It might help with the healing of being held by this group to bring down those behind it.” “Alpha.” One of the tech guys got his leader’s attention. “There are quite a few calls in a folder labeled TP, and another folder marked TM. There are several in the days before we took the town listed as Tom Preston.” “Well, gentlemen, it seems we need to find corroborating evidence that implicates the Vice President of the Lycan Council as well as the security director. Get phone calls loaded onto one computer, meeting files on another, emails on one, and so forth. I need the financial reports copied to give to the accounting staff. We’ll start from there and see where we can get with the last six months before we go back further.” “Yes, Alpha. Give us a few hours, and we’ll have things copied. We’ll set up in the training room for when you bring in the extra help.” The alpha and sheriff stepped outside to chat. “God almighty, John. It was always suspected there were high-ups at the Council who were involved in this stuff, but two of the top officials?” “So far all we have is a name on a file. I’ve talked to the Security Director enough to know his voice and can confirm he made the call alerting the gang to our attack. As far as the other name, there’s nothing definite yet. I want more than a phone call. There needs to be indisputable evidence when this comes out.” “Understood. Do you want me to talk to the lunis or would you like to do it?” “I’ll take care of it. I’ve wanted to check out the progress on the new housing. There is one other item I wanted to discuss. What are your thoughts on me elevating Aiden’s rank in the pack?” “I would say he’s definitely earned it, and it wouldn’t hurt to try and get things into place just in case.” “My thoughts exactly. I’ll check in with you in a little while. Do me a favor and check to see if any of our close allies have any forensic investigators in the FBI or other agencies who can help with all this data. Also, notify any of our pack members who are living away from the territory and are working in investigative services. Let them know they’re needed here if they can come home. We’re going to need additional people with the skills to go beyond just reviewing with the people we have here.” “Yes, Alpha.” ****** John sat in the passenger seat of his truck as his escort remained silent, knowing his alpha had a lot on his mind. The drive out to the new apartments gave John time to think about what had already been found. Just like the rules governing his pack, the rules that governed the Lycan Council were something he had always believed in. There was suspicion of corruption throughout the organization and that some might be doing business with criminal gangs. Confirmation many of the highest-ranking officials were the ones he and others had been trying to expose was almost too much to fathom. By the time he arrived at the apartment site, he had decided to contact his most trusted friends and share the revelation of the call from the Security Director. Even though he could have listened to the audio files for the others, he wanted to find additional information before making further accusations. His thoughts also went to this mysterious Jean-Pierre. Was this person trying to save his own fur by cooperating at this point? Or was there something else behind it? If the people he was now protecting were the mate and pups of the man who attacked his pack, it was an absolutely huge show of faith by the now former gang leader. Deciding it was time to file these thoughts away, John got out of his truck and headed for Rafe’s office trailer. “Alpha, I didn’t realize you were going to stop by.” Rafe stepped out from behind a desk piled with blueprints, inspection reports, and invoices. He was surprised by the look on his friend’s face. “That bad a day so far?” “More like unexpected information. Anyways, I hadn’t stopped by here for a while, and I wanted to see the progress. I also need to speak with a few of the residents.” “I’ll give you the tour. Building one’s finished, and the common building’s nearly complete. Building two’s about sixty percent, and three’s about forty percent done.” “Lead the way. This is your baby.” Rafe took John through the original structure they had converted into loft-style apartments. A few of the units had not been occupied yet. The alpha was impressed with the work to take advantage of several features of the industrial site. While the apartments were roomy and welcoming, they retained the feel of the old factory. “These turned out great. I think you’ve outdone yourself on this project.” “Thanks, John. The lunis have been a big help by putting in a lot of sweat equity into it. We did the common space about the same as the original apartments with a dining hall, lounge, game room, and laundry facilities.” They walked toward number two and toured it. It had the same style apartments. But since it was completely new construction it did not have the old, reclaimed feel of first one. When they got to the third, it was still in the rough-framed state. Lacking the high ceilings of the loft units, they resembled more traditional modern ones. Unlike the original apartments in town, there were a few with two bedroom units to accommodate wolves with families who wanted to stay in the tight community atmosphere of the complex. “I can’t get over how far you’ve come in such a short period of time. And given there was an attack, bad weather, and a few other issues along the way. Very good job, my friend.” “After getting all the new arrivals, we knew there was a rush to get it done so we could get everyone housed.” “Thank you for the tour. I’ll get out of your hair. I need to talk to the former ferals. We’ll need to pull some of them off this project to help with research on the recovered hard drives.” “That’s not a problem, especially with how far along we are. Most of the heavy construction’s done, and it’s finishing work for number two. As long as you leave me a small crew, we can finish the heavy stuff for number three with no issue.” Rafe regarded his friend for a moment. “I had a feeling you found something on those drives. Your mood seemed a bit off.” Rafe called to his oldest son. “Joe, would you get the new crew together in front of the office? The alpha needs to talk to them in ten minutes.” “Sure, Dad.” “When do you think you’ll be finished?” John pulled out his phone and glanced at his calendar. “Or more to the point, when would you like to have a grand opening celebration here?” “We could probably do it anytime between two weeks and a month out. All depends on your schedule. Maybe have the pack meeting here one week as part of the party for it. I know the crew will enjoy having you officially open the complex.” “I’m glad we have the resources to be able to do this to help out the former ferals.” “John, I mean no disrespect, but you need to stop that right now.” “Stop what?” He was surprised by the tone and abruptness of his friend. “Referring to them as former ferals. Or should we start calling this complex our leper colony?” “You’re right. I do. I’ve been trying to train myself to come up with a different term, but I catch myself referring to them like that. And it isn’t fair. They may not officially be members of this pack, and it may be an accurate description, but it isn’t fair to them. I do apologize. Please call me out anytime you hear me use that term.” Joe returned with the crew. “Alpha, Dad, the Tucker Construction crew is present as requested.” “Ladies and gentlemen, Rafe gave me a tour of the site and I have to say you have all done an outstanding job.” He took a moment before continuing. “I requested you here so I might ask for volunteers on a sensitive research project that needs to be completed before the Congress of Alphas in April. There’s a lot information we captured from the rogue gang. I need people who feel they can go through reports and listen to audio files while taking notes. Our goal’s to figure out who was involved and how we can use the information. Anyone interested, step forward. Starting tomorrow, we’ll have you working with other pack members and the sheriff’s team on this.” Out of forty new arrivals present, thirty-three stepped forward. Most looked to Rafe who confirmed he could spare them. “I thank you for volunteering. Everyone will work in teams of two so there’s back-up on everything. Given the nature of what you’ll be reviewing, we need to make absolutely sure of what we find. I also need to impress upon you all that everything you see or hear must be kept confidential. When you’re outside the research rooms, none of this can be discussed. If the information leaks out, it could put a massive target on this pack or allow guilty parties to escape justice.” ****** John listened to the audio file of the call warning of the impending assault several times and reviewed emails identified as belonging to the security director. He finally dialed the number for his friend and counterpart in the Columbia River Pack in Oregon. “John, what can I do for you today?” “Morning, Mark. It seems I have in my possession not just the first smoking gun but the smoking armory. What I’ve seen so far points to someone we both know from your neighbor’s pack.” “Are you sure? I mean, has it been verified?” “I recognize the voice on a phone call’s recording. The emails we’ve identified we are still trying to verify, but they look authentic. I would like to send you an audio file and get your thoughts on it.” “Go ahead. I’m in front of my computer now.” John pressed the send button and moments later heard the chime on the other end of the phone indicating his friend had received the file. In the background, he could hear it playing followed by silence. “I recognize the voice since I’ve talked to him quite often about various matters. As I’m sure you have. You are certain that the other person on the call is actually the rogue leader?” “We pulled the file off his confiscated laptop.” “This definitely complicates things having him involved.” “Yes, it does. Although, it ultimately doesn’t change anything.” John took a breath. “Now that you’ve identified the voice on your own, I’m sending you some additional information to review. Just a heads up on others possibly involved, there are a number of phone calls and emails listed under TP. In one case, the full name’s spelled out.” “This TP wouldn’t also happen to have the title of VP before his name at the present time, would he?” “You’re a quick man, Mark. I would like to have your people independently verify anything we find. If you’re willing.” “Like you have to ask. We’ve both been trying to find anything we can to finally put a stop to all the back stabbing that’s been going on.” “I’ve got teams going through the first of twenty hard drives. As soon as we have enough on any one person, I’ll send it to you for your own analysis. I’m also going to send it to several of the others for them to do the same. If we make accusations, I want us to all be sure.” “I’ll have my top investigators begin working on whatever you sent me.” “If you have the people for it, I’ll send you a duplicate of all the hard drives. That way you can run your own independent investigation on their contents.” “That sounds like a good idea. It lessens the possibility someone will say it was doctored by one pack.” “Expect a FedEx package in the morning. There’ll be a separate shipment of flash drives. You’ll need them and a code I’ll share when you get them to access the information. As soon as we have enough to move forward, I want to call a meeting of the regional packs I’ve been working with and some of our more trusted allies like you.” “With luck, we can do this before the alphas meet. Perhaps get new people in to administer the Council and muzzle some of their authority.” “Give me a call, if you would, when you receive the drives.” “Sure thing. I’ll talk to you in the morning, my friend.” ****** Everyone filed into the room and sat. There were thirty-two of the new arrivals and another thirty-six were pack members. The alpha and sheriff entered, followed by the sheriff’s second in command, Deputy Bob Montgomery, three detectives, and four members of the tech staff. “If I could have everyone’s attention?” The room fell silent when John spoke. “I want to thank you all for coming in to help on this project. This is of great importance to not only this pack but others across North America. I realize not all of you are experts at working with computers, but we will do the best we can. The information you’ll have access to is read-only, so there’s no chance of hitting the wrong button and deleting something. Deputy Montgomery will have your work assignments.” The deputy stepped to the podium at the head of the training room. “To keep this simple, just call me Bob if you have any questions. I know a good portion of you. Some of our newer arrivals I haven’t had the chance to meet yet. At each work station, we’ll place two of you to work side by side. It was felt two sets of eyes or ears to look over and listen to everything would be best, as well as cutting down on errors. Our tech guys will help you with any computer related problems you might have. If something you read or hear seems to stand out as highly important, flip the switch for the light on your station, and one of the three detectives or I will come and look at it. Finally, when you open a new file to review, you’ll see the file name appear on the other computer screen.” He demonstrated on the projection monitor at the front of the room. “Fill in the field for any names mentioned. When you finish, save what you entered, and we’ll be able to cross reference that file with people we can properly identify. Are there any questions so far?” “So you want us to scan through all this to find what needs additional review?” “That’s correct. We don’t know what’s in all of these. It’s about the same as processing documents for a major trial. In this case, a massive amount of information was dumped on us, and we need to find the needle in the haystack that is of actual use and importance.” Bob waited a moment for any additional questions, hearing none he proceeded. “I discussed this with the alpha and I’m going to pair one lifer with one new arrival. Now, before anyone thinks it’s because we trust one group less, you can forget about that. I’m doing this with the thought it’ll help integrate both groups. Also, we know the computer training the people who’ve grown up here received in school. If anyone thinks this idea’s unfair to either group, I’d like to hear it now.” One of the new arrivals stood. “I can only speak for myself, but your reasoning sounds good. I for one am grateful since I can hopefully learn from whoever you pair me up with.” A born member stood. “It shouldn’t be an issue to anyone, Bob. It makes new and old work together, not that either group needs to be made to do anything together since we’re all one pack.” The alpha addressed the group one last time before they got to work. “In a way, it’s difficult for even myself to come up with a proper way of referring to the groups, be it those who’ve recently joined us, or those who’ve been here all their lives. I know some of the newer wolves here may eventually return to packs that were your homes before, if they still exist. Others may choose to officially join us, but whatever happens in the future, each and every one of you in this room is Parker Valley Pack today.” Bob Montgomery called out the assignments and got people seated where they needed to be. It would be slow, painstaking work, but it was finally underway. After an hour, several of the workers flipped on the light at their station, alerting the detectives something needed to be checked. One of the teams who called a detective to check what they were looking at sat reading over the document again. As the detective stepped up behind them to find out what caught their attention, one of the working pair pointed at the screen. “Are we seeing what I think we are? Does that really mean what it looks like?” The detective stood and waved Bob over. “You need to call the alpha. He’s going to want to see this right away.”
    115 points
  18. As the sun rose into the morning sky signaling the start of a new day, Ethan yawned and stretched, working the kinks out of his muscles from the night’s sleep. He glanced at the clock deciding it was time to get out of bed. He wished he had woken up next to Aiden. They had decided between work and taking it slow, it would be better for each to be in their own beds, at least for now. Like always when they were apart, it wasn’t the most restful sleep, yet he managed. His dreams were filled with images of running through the forest at the side of his large black wolf. Getting his shower out of the way, he dressed and headed down for breakfast. Across town, Aiden awoke about the same time. He ran his hand over where his mate should have slept. His pup’s scent was still strong on the sheets from the last time he had been there. Forcing himself to get up, he showered and readied himself to head off to the academy. He was happy to be down to the final two weeks before graduation. If he passed, starting his job with the Sheriff’s Department would follow. ****** At 8:00 a.m. two guards walked into the cellblock, each carried a tray with breakfast for their prisoners. “Rise and shine. You’ve got thirty minutes to eat and get ready to go.” Exactly half an hour later, one of the guards escorted Chris to his family’s home, while the other took Michael to his parent’s house. Chris’s parents anxiously waited for him. They lovingly hugged him as they walked inside under the watchful eye of the guard. “Mom, Dad, I’m sorry for all the trouble I caused you.” Chris cried as he held them. “I fucked up big time. I think it took this for me to see what I’d become. I let the idea of power go to my head. I’m gonna be fine, and I’ll make the best of the new pack. I’ll try my hardest to turn things around.” “No matter what, we love you,” both his parents told him. “I love you too.” They got his car packed with clothes and a few personal items they could fit in. He set a few other things aside to be shipped once he had an apartment. At the Stockdale house, John and Jackie were equally anxious. They expected this last meeting to go poorly. Outside, an SUV with two hunters waited to escort the boys from the pack’s territory. Michael finally showed up with his guard, who knocked and waited for the door to open. As soon as it did, the man bowed his head respectfully. “Alpha, Ma’am.” Michael pushed past them and went to his room without a word. He packed his things while the guard watched from just inside the door. Jackie walked into the room. Before she could say anything, Michael rounded on her with a steely glare. “What do you want?” “I came to see if you needed anything. I wanted to spend what little time we have with you before you leave.” He returned to his packing. “If you were so interested in spending time with me, you shouldn’t have let him exile me. You let him take my birthright from me. This pack was supposed to be mine like every other generation of our family since its founding.” “I suppose it doesn’t matter how difficult this decision was for either of us?” “Nope, it doesn’t. All that matters is you both chose another wolf and his supposed human mate over your own son.” He coldly turned away as he carried the first load down to his SUV. Jackie walked out to the garden and sat with her head in her hands crying. John followed her and sat, holding his mate while both cried. While Michael packed his SUV, Chris showed up still shadowed by his guard. Michael soon had everything he wanted to take with him loaded. He quietly talked with Chris while one of the guards went to find his leader. “Alpha. It’s time.” Walking back out front, he approached Chris. “I need you to roll up your left pant leg.” He attached a GPS monitor to the teen’s ankle. After making sure it was active and working, he went to Michael and repeated the process. He explained the device to both teens. “There are fiber optic wires in the cuff that are designed to break if you try to remove or tamper with it. Anything you do to trip the alarm will send an alert to the nearest lycan law enforcement. You will need to charge the monitor once a day. It can plug into any USB outlet for that. If you let the power get too low, it trips the alarm, and you get a visit from someone with a badge. You should be able to shift with it on, but you’ll have to be careful how you do so the fiber optics don’t break.” Joining the guards in the driveway, the alpha approached Michael and Chris. “The hunters and a deputy will escort you out of the territory. All of the packs between here and Columbia River know you’ll be passing through, and you might stop for the night in their area. You are to check in with the packs if you stop. I hope this change will get you both back on track to becoming the honorable young wolves I know you could be. If it does, perhaps at some point your exile will be lifted. Ultimately it’s going to be your choice if you go to the new pack or not. If you don’t, you’ll be listed as a rogue with the Lycan Council and they’ll hunt you until you’re found. Have a safe journey.” He nodded to the hunters who had their orders if either of the boys deviated from their route out of the territory. About two hours later, John got a call from one of the hunters. “They’ve left the territory, Alpha.” ****** Ethan was sweeping inside the house they were working on as it neared completion. He’d heard Rafe’s reputation for always producing impressive work, but the man had gone all out on this project. They had created a modern version of an old Craftsman-style house giving it the look and feel of an original from the early nineteen hundreds. He left out nothing when it came to the detail work inside and out. The large front porch was welcoming with its stone and wood columns. On the inside, a stained glass window waited to be hung in the staircase opening. Pocket doors led into a living room that looked like it had been pulled out of time— built-in cabinets flanked the large fireplace. Out back, there was a huge patio beyond the deck. Both had large covered areas to make them enjoyable during any type of weather. The outdoor kitchen area made it perfect for entertaining. Off to one side of the yard was a one-bedroom guesthouse, while on the other side stood a detached, oversized three-car garage and workshop with a fully equipped loft apartment above. Best of all, the house had modern comforts where needed, like air conditioning and an up-to-date kitchen. He gave himself a moment to think what it would be like to share a house like this with Aiden. Rafe and Joe were installing hardwood floors in an upstairs bedroom. Casey was in the basement helping a plumber making final connections. Putting down his broom, he headed upstairs to check on how many boxes of flooring they had left. Seeing it was getting low, he asked how many more they needed before dashing back downstairs to replenish their supplies. Rafe received a call letting him know Michael and Chris had left the territory. He told Ethan after he put down the last box of flooring. “Hopefully that means I won’t get little surprise visits from wolves that don’t like me.” There was a sadness to his voice. Rafe brushed some sawdust off his shirt. “Between the punishments that have been handed down and the alpha’s warning he would kill any wolf that defies him on this. It should stop any more problems. There’s always a chance one of their friends might do something stupid and try to take some kind of revenge, but I think it’s minimal at best. Most of them seem happy Michael’s leaving. We’ve been getting the occasional feral showing up so I’d be grateful if you had Aiden or Casey with you, just in case.” “Yes, Dad.” Ethan rolled his eyes at needing protection. A moment later his shoulders slumped and the carefree smile disappeared as he realized what he had said. Casey happened to walk past on his way to the truck. “It’s about time he started calling you Dad, can’t have my bro showing me up by calling you sir all the time.” Rafe put a hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “I know you haven’t had a family in a while, but I’m just as proud of you as I am all my other sons. You’ve become family to all of us. Mary and I see you as one of our boys. You may have meant that as a joke, but you can call me Dad anytime you feel like it. I consider it a gift. To me, you are my son.” The big man gave Ethan a hug before they all returned to work. ****** One of the hunters patrolling near the border picked up a new scent. He knew right away it was a feral entering the territory. He quickly sent a text to the alpha, sheriff, and hunter command. <Feral scented NE zone moving towards Silver Pine> Slinging his rifle over his shoulder, he followed the scent, making sure to keep downwind from the intruder. After about fifteen minutes of chasing it on foot, he spotted it while looking through the scope on his rifle. He sent out another text. <Lunis approx one hour from SP at current speed> He continued tracking the beast, thankful it wasn’t a full moon so the beast wasn’t at its full strength and size. The alpha and sheriff were organizing hunters to assist, and notifying people around the areas that could be affected, when they received a message from a hunter in the southern part of the territory. <Foreign lupus sighted SW. No response to challenge. Feral scent. Moving NE. In pursuit> “Sounds like it’s going to be a busy day, Dan.” The alpha rubbed his head. “You coordinate on the lupus, and I’ll take the lunis.” Grabbing his phone, he called one of his timber mills and let them know to be on alert and armed. The lunis was making good time heading towards Silver Pine. Running on two legs, the six-and-a-half-foot-tall beast seemed to move with a purpose. It was not taking time to hunt or forage for food like most ferals did. The hunter kept up with it, but never had a clear sight long enough to take a shot. He hoped additional hunters would be able to head it off before it reached any human populations like Parker. The other hunter had trouble keeping up with the lupus as it ran across the territory on its four strong legs. He activated his GPS beacon so the pack could easily see where he was; not wanting to risk losing it, he didn’t stop to call in or send additional texts. The sheriff saw the beacon pop up on a display map of the territory. At the speed it was moving, he estimated they would be in town in less than forty-five minutes. He moved additional hunters into position along the line it was heading. While he worked on that, the beacon for the hunter chasing the lunis popped up on the display as well. “John, they’ve both turned on their GPS beacon.” “Good. Highlight those two on the map. I’m sending a message to all hunters to turn on their beacon. Send out a pack wide alert, and use the Sheriff Department system to notify any humans in the affected area of a loose rabid dog. Instruct them to stay indoors.” “Yes, Alpha.” Tyler, Connor, and Kevin were hanging out together when they received a text alert about the ferals. They had been talking about the trouble they had gotten in from their treatment of the human, and how each had screwed up. Tyler told the other two about spending time with and getting to know Ethan, and suggested they do the same. He also mentioned again about being let off the hook for his and Chris’s actions on the forest track. They all agreed there needed to be changes in their lives. Connor’s brother was a pack hunter, so he called him and found out the area the lupus was expected to reach town if it made it that far. Disregarding thoughts of safety by staying indoors, he grabbed his rifle and asked the other two if they wanted to come along. Readily agreeing, the three headed out. The trailing hunters were getting uncomfortably close to more populated areas. Their path remained a straight line, which would make it easier to head off the trespassers. Additional hunters were staggered along the route with orders to eliminate the threat. It appeared both intruders were heading towards the same spot. “What’s in that area they’re headed too?” The sheriff looked over his map. “Most of it’s open space and a few homes. I can’t imagine why they’d head there. If they’re feral, they’re usually searching for food.” The alpha joined his beta at the territorial map. From the movements of the GPS beacons they could see the hunters deployed in the path of the intruders were getting passed. They fell in behind and followed. ****** Connor led his two friends down the street, his rifle prepared should it be needed. Off to their right a ways ahead, they could see the house the Tucker crew was building. A wolf stepped out of the trees on the left side of the street. It stopped as if watching something. As they neared, they saw Ethan walk out of the house to pull something out of the truck. His human senses left him complete unaware of the danger nearby. The wolf moved slowly towards the unsuspecting human. Further up the road, the large two-legged beast that was the lunis emerged from the forest’s cover as well, and stalked towards its prey. Tyler and Kevin quickly shed their clothes, shifted into their wolf, and made a mad dash to get in between Ethan and the combined threats. Connor raised his rifle towards the nearest feral. Not knowing if any hunters were nearby to stop the two threats, he fired off a warning shot that struck the ground mere feet from the lupus, showering it with a spray of dirt. He rapidly chambered another round and took aim at the lupus’ head. Ethan turned towards the sound of the gunshot and saw two wolves running fast towards him. “RAFE!” At the rifle’s report, both ferals stopped momentarily which gave Tyler and Kevin time to reach Ethan and take up a defensive posture. The lupus shook the soil from its face and fur while the lunis scented the air. The two intruders resumed their approach, though with more caution. Casey came running out of the house in mid shift, launched himself into the air from the top step of the porch, and landed on the ground in his wolf form next to Ethan. His teeth bared and ready to fight. Having heard the shot and picking up the scent of all the different wolves nearby, he was already heading outside before hearing the call for help. At first, he was unsure who the aggressor was. Regardless, he would not allow anyone near his brother. Rafe and Joe quickly followed, running out of the house in their human form with crowbar and hammer at the ready. Joe pulled off his shirt while running, prepared to shift if needed. Ethan stood frozen with his back pressed against the truck. He knew Casey’s wolf was beside him and took comfort in that. Tyler and Kevin faced away in an attack stance with their heads lowered. He finally saw the two other wolves as men with rifles rushed out of the tree line. One was a good size four-legged wolf, though smaller than the three near him; its tan fur mixed with gray and black. The other was one of those two-legged beasts like the one from the lake. It was very tall, with silver fur flecked with white and a little black. Casey stood ready to fight anything that endangered his charge. His growl low and threatening, a warning he would kill anything that approached. “Ethan. Do not move!” Rafe called out as he assessed the situation. The hunters blocked off any escape, and had their rifles trained on both intruders. They held their fire since there were so many people in the area. The lupus and lunis ceased their advance in the face of overwhelming opposition. Rafe moved in front of Tyler and Kevin. “Move and you forfeit your lives.” Much to everyone’s surprise, the lunis knelt onto one knee and lowered its head while crossing its arms behind its back, at the same time the lupus laid flat on the ground. Their actions indicated they actually understood the enforcer’s threat. There was no aggressive behavior from them, and they didn’t act like typical ferals. Aside from the agitation shown by the way the lunis’ tail swished, they remained docile. The alpha and sheriff arrived and surveyed the situation. They took note of Ethan’s proximity to the intruders. Seeing Rafe had taken charge of the situation, they remained at a distance to not aggravate things. Without turning his head from the intruders, Rafe issued instructions to his son. “Casey, translate everything I say the way I say it.” Hearing his son bark an acknowledgement, he continued. “Your scent is not known here. You have both trespassed into our territory.” Rafe’s voice was deep and powerful. “If you remain nonaggressive you will not be killed. If you understand and agree to stay passive, then howl your acknowledgement.” After a few moments, both wolves gave a short howl. “What the hell, John? A feral never responds like that. Even the ones I’ve seen captured were more wild animal then anything. They don’t even respond to commands in wolf.” John shrugged his shoulders. “You’ve got me. I’ve never seen anything like this either. They have the scent of a feral though. It might be their proximity to Ethan.” “If you can, shift to your human form.” Rafe commanded. “Either way you will be taken into custody and provided with food and shelter. Do you understand?” Once Casey finished translating, the lupus nodded and gave out a series of whimpers and cries to say it understood. The lunis responded in a deep, gravelly voice. “Understand I.” Neither shifted, though all the surrounding lycan could tell they made an effort. “No shift can. Been too long wolf. No find way back.” It sat fully on the ground, shifting its attention from Rafe to Ethan. The lupus whimpered and barked, “No remember shift.” The alpha walked over to his enforcer and spoke quietly with him while appraising the intruders. The lunis stared up at him with curiosity while scenting the air. Picking up the difference about the man, it prostrated itself in submission. “Alpha. Please no hurt. Forgive please. Promise no harm. Needs help.” John turned to the other in full wolf form. “You promise no harm as well?” Peering up to the alpha, it nodded before rolling onto its back to show its full submission to the powerful leader. “Very well. I will have our doctor check you both out to see if he can help you. Go with these men. They will keep you safe. As long as you don’t fight, no harm will come to either of you. If you fight, you will die. I need you each to get in one of the vans. They will take you to our medical clinic.” Again, both nodded their agreement, and moved to a van as instructed by their guard. Once the doors were closed, Casey stood down from his defensive posture. He moved ’til his head brushed Ethan’s hand, causing the boy to finally blink and focus on the auburn wolf. Tyler and Kevin went over to Connor who had their clothes waiting and shifted back to human form. The sheriff sent out an all clear text to the pack and general community. Casey used his nose to nudge a very visibly shaken Ethan. The wolf had to gently grab the teen’s sleeve with his teeth and tug to get him to move towards the house. He gave a small bark to get his older brother’s attention to help. “Come on little bro. Let’s get you inside so you can sit down.” Joe placed his hand on Ethan's shoulder to guide him. Casey glanced over the pile of shredded fabric that used to be his clothes. Staring at his brother before turning his head, Joe followed what the wolf was looking at, and noticed the rags as well. “Yeah, yeah. I think we’ve got some spares in the truck. I’ll go get’em.” Joe ran to the truck, grabbed what they had, and was back inside in a moment. Casey stepped behind Ethan and shifted back to human, making sure his friend’s mate was always in sight and reach. Quickly dressing, he knelt next to him. “Are you okay?” Ethan sat with a blank stare on his face, not realizing Casey was speaking to him. “Joe, could you get some water for him?” Joe came back with a bottle and knelt in front of his new brother. “I know that probably scared the hell out of you. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare me, but I don’t think you were ever in any real danger. You had a lot of wolves protecting you.” Rafe stuck his head in to make sure everyone was alright. “Why don’t you boys lock up the site and get him home. Take the rest of the day off.” Outside, the alpha and sheriff were talking to Connor, Tyler, and Kevin about why there were in the area. Connor admitted to finding out from his brother, but as a warning to stay inside. Kevin mentioned his friend taking a shot when he saw one of the wolves moving towards Ethan, giving them enough time to reach him. “Dan, perhaps Connor would be a good candidate for hunter training.” “Thank you, Alpha.” Connor was honored at it even being suggested. The young lycan bared his neck in respect to his leader. Casey got Ethan seated in his truck and left him in Joe’s care for a moment as he ran over to his father. “Alpha, Dad, I know you already saw, but these two put themselves between Ethan and the ferals before I managed to get out the door. If they hadn’t been here and Connor hadn’t fired off that shot, we might not have known there was a threat in time.” He gave a nod to his three former adversaries and ran back over to his truck to drive his brother home. Rafe nodded. “By the time Joe and I got out the door, they were out front ready to fight, with Casey making sure nothing got to Ethan.” John’s eyebrow rose, he crossed his arms, and waited for an explanation from the young men. Tyler cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “Alpha, all three of us were pretty shitty in the way we treated him. We all attacked him when he hadn’t done anything to us. When we saw him come out of the house without knowing there was danger nearby, we knew we owed it to him.” “I kept my rifle trained on the lupus and was ready to take a shot at both of them if they got near my friends or Ethan.” “I’m proud of you three. It was damn stupid with two ferals, but I’m proud of you.” The alpha surprised them by shaking their hands. With all the excitement over with, he sent people home and the hunters back to their patrols. ****** Two vans pulled up to the pack medical center. One at a time, the wolf in back was escorted under guard to separate secure rooms. Doctor MacRae spoke with the guards who assured him they would remain on site in case there was a problem. Entering the first exam room with two of the guards, he stood for a moment staring at the large lunis, while they stayed by the door, guns drawn but down at their side. “I’m the pack doctor. They told me you’re able to understand.” Glancing over his shoulder at the guards for a moment. “They’re just here for safety and won’t harm you. I need to draw blood and run a few test. Is that okay with you?” The lunis nodded and held out an arm. He took the sample and did a few basic tests. “Thank you. Would you like some food and water?” In its deep raspy voice, it responded. “Needs water is hungry.” “I’ll have both brought to you. We might be able to force you to return to human form with a Wolfsbane injection but there’s no guarantee. The injection would make you weak at least for a while and it will hurt, so I won’t do it without your permission. Eat and we can discuss it after.” The lunis cocked its head unsure of everything the man said, but understood a few words. The doctor left the room and told one of the staff to prepare food for both guests. He dropped off the first batch of blood at the lab. Heading to the room with the lupus, he repeated the process, asking permission to do the tests and draw blood, to which the large wolf nodded. As he finished, there was a knock on the door to bring in food and water. He returned to the lab as the technician processed the blood work, finding the lunis was in general good health. It exhibited all the blood markers of a feral. He was puzzled that this one was able to talk and understand. A few hours later, John showed up at the clinic for an update. Not much was known at the point. It was decided to attempt the Wolfsbane injection on the lupus first and he accompanied the doctor into its room. Doctor MacRae showed the syringe to the wolf. “This is a very low dose of Wolfsbane. We’ve used it before to sedate wolves and help them return to human when they’ve become trapped. We don’t fully know what will happen with you. The choice is yours.” The wolf scented the object the doctor held. Raising its eyes to the alpha, it nodded. The doctor administered the injection and the wolf howled in pain before falling to the floor unconscious. The fur receded slightly as it relaxed a little, but otherwise remained unchanged. Outside the room, the doctor’s concern showed. “Alpha, I would rather not give the lunis the injection. It had almost no effect on the lupus, and I would guess it will be the same.” “It’s your call Doctor. You’re running this show. I have zero experience in matters like this.” ****** Aiden rushed to the Tucker house as soon as he was able. He found Ethan sitting in the family room watching Jack, Ryan, and Zach play video games. Mary and Casey kept a watchful eye on him from the kitchen. Mary stopped Aiden for a moment. “He seems fine, just a little shaken up. That poor boy keeps finding himself surrounded by wolves he shouldn’t.” He nodded at Mary and turned to Casey. “What happened today?” He filled Aiden in on everything, including how the three who had once attached his mate came to his defense. He also mentioned how it seemed like each wolf had been trying to reach Ethan. When he said how the feral lunis spoke, it surprised Aiden as much as it had everyone else. Sitting beside his mate, he pulled the smaller body onto his lap, encircling the blond with his arms. “I know you’re getting tired of people asking you this, but you doing okay, Pup?” “Yeah. I think so. I just wish stuff like this would stop happening.” Ethan laid his head against the muscular chest. “You and me both. It was driving me crazy I couldn’t get to you.” “I knew Casey was next to me. I could feel his fur and knew I was safe, but I don’t remember most of what happened. It was weird hearing that werewolfy one talking. I forgot they said those kind could actually talk like people.” “Yeah, with a lunis it is still able to speak no matter if it’s in human or hybrid form. That deep voice, kind of like someone with a really dry throat. There aren’t many around in the state that we know of and none live in the territory, so we don’t see them much.” “Not many around? I’ve now seen two. At least I didn’t kill this one or the full wolf, the lupus.” “I’m just glad you’re okay, Pup.” ****** The following morning, the doctor checked in on the lab work and found it completed. It indicated both wolves had a chemical imbalance in their system the doctor thought might be why they couldn’t return to human. Little was known about feral wolves, so most of it was guesswork. It was believed lycan wolves on their own for too long, or suffering from extreme grief, would lose themselves to their inner wolf, and become stuck in their animal form. Over time, the human part of their mind would fade away completely and leave only the wild instincts of the wolf. Ferals gave off a scent different from other lycan and their non-lycan cousins. The scent allowed for identification by any shifter that encountered one. To avoid exposure and unwanted attention, they were hunted, and terminated with extreme prejudice. The repercussions from a feral of either type attacking the human population, or worse, a lunis being seen by a human was unthinkable. There were no previously reported encounters with a feral where the beast understood commands, let alone responded. It was a mystery why these two responded as they did. The doctor updated the alpha on their guests’ condition and good behavior. They were working to find better housing, so they weren’t cooped up in a small room. Treating them like caged animals while needing to keep them captive could cause problems. By mid-afternoon, the doctor was surprised to see Aiden, Ethan and Casey walk into the clinic. “Hey guys. Is everything alright?” “We’re all fine.” Aiden glanced down at his mate for a moment. “Ethan says he needs to see the ferals.” The older lycan frowned. “This isn’t a petting zoo. They may not be acting it now, but they’re still dangerous.” “I don’t know why, but I just keep getting this feeling like I need to see them.” “What is it you’re feeling?” The doctor pressed. “Is this leftover anxiety from what happened yesterday? I know this is the second time you’ve been near a feral.” Ethan shrugged. “I don’t know how to explain it other than I know I need to see them.” Casey decided to chime in. “I don’t know if it matters or not, Doc, but it looked like they were trying to reach him yesterday when they were captured.” “I think you boys should head home. I’ve got a lot of work to do.” Aiden refused to back down. His arms crossed as he glared at the doctor. “I wouldn’t have brought my mate in here if I didn’t believe this was important.” Unaware of his actions, Ian dipped his head in respect, and bared his neck to the powerful younger lycan. He was still frustrated with the demands of this young group. “I’m calling the alpha.” “Good. We’ll wait.” Aiden turned, taking his mate’s hand and sat in the waiting room. Doctor MacRae walked into his office to place the call. He explained how the three showed up, and Ethan’s odd statement he felt he needed to see the ferals. “I’ll be there in a few minutes,” John told him, before the phone line disconnected. The doctor returned to the reception area and told the three the alpha was on his way. He figured the pack leader was going to reprimand the teens and send them on their way. When he showed up, John knelt before Ethan. “You’re not sure why you need to see them? Only that you do?” “Yes, sir. I can’t even explain it to myself. I woke up this morning feeling like this. I’ve been trying to push it out of my mind all day, but know I have to do this.” “I don’t like it. If they so much as scratch him, I’ll tear them to pieces. Him telling me he needs to do this, it’s good enough for me, Alpha.” Aiden stood with his arms crossed. John had a quiet conference with the doctor before returning to the young men. “Follow me and if I tell you to leave the room you go quickly and without question. Understood?” “Yes, Alpha,” all three said in unison. Talking them to the first room, the alpha spoke to the guard outside the door and took his side arm. He nodded to have the door unlocked. The lunis was lying on the floor, and sat up when the others entered. It took in the scent of the newcomers and lowered its head, baring its neck. Its gaze settled on Ethan. Aiden eyed the unusual wolf as he pulled his mate a little behind him to better protect his pup. The large hybrid cautiously moved to a more wolf like crouch with its head bowed low. It picked up the scent of Ethan’s apprehension. “No fear me. Will no hurt small one I seek.” “I’ll be damned. I know you told me he spoke, but…” Aiden still kept his mate behind him. Ethan stepped out from behind Aiden and studied the lunis for a few moments. He was about to take a step towards the animal when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to his mate, meeting his eyes. “It’s okay. Trust me.” Aiden nodded and stayed at his side. The lunis bowed even lower as Ethan approached. With shaking hands, he reached out and touched the wolf. He gently stroked the fur on the beast’s head. When his hand fell still, he reached out with his other one, and placed it on the lunis’ chest. Aiden watched the glow build in Ethan’s eyes, from a mere spark to a brilliant radiance. Minutes passed as he stayed in contact with the feral wolf while the others could only stand and watch. After thirty minutes, the lunis fell to the floor, its silver fur receded as it reverted to a human male form.
    115 points
  19. Doctor MacRae paced in his office as he reviewed the test results for Ethan Scott. Over the past several days he had run every analysis he could think of. Everything indicated his patient was nothing more than your average healthy human. He managed to get Aiden Jacobs to come in to have blood drawn so he could run a few unconventional tests. Subjecting Ethan’s blood to samples from various lycan including his own, none of the samples caused the blood effects common in the turning process; none that is, except one. Each time he ran the test with Aiden’s blood, the lycanthropy virus would immediately take hold and spread. While that was extremely puzzling on its own, it at least got the doctor off the hook of going to the alpha and asking to run tests to see if there was something wrong with the man’s son. Just the request would have been viewed as a major insult on the alpha and his family. With one question answered about the pair’s ability to complete the mating when Ethan chooses to, it opened up several others as to why Ethan was immune to every other lycan. The doctor considered logging into the Lycan Council’s medical database to see if anything even remotely similar to this had been reported in the past. He knew if he did, the council would know there was some type of anomaly at the pack. He didn’t want to do it without consulting the alpha first because it could cause the council to start poking around as they would want to investigate. Calling over to the pack office, he was told he could come right over to meet with the alpha. Gathering up his notes, he headed out. A short time later he was knocking on the door to John Stockdale’s office and waited till he heard the command to enter. “Doctor, it’s good to see you. What can I do for you today?” The physician dipped his head in respect to his leader before his eyes dropped to the papers in his hand. Clearing his throat as he returned his focus to his leader, the doctor began. “Hello, Alpha. I have something unusual here regarding the human I examined, Ethan Scott. I wanted to discuss it with you before I tried to do any research in the Lycan Council medical system.” This puzzled John. “What seems to be the problem?” “Running all the regular tests on him, he definitely was not infected by the lycan virus when he was bit. As we’ve suspected, it didn’t cause the turning process to start and there is no evidence of the normal changes in his blood.” He paused hoping the powerful man wouldn’t get upset. Seeing the alpha was waiting, he continued. “I didn’t want to run any tests on the wolf who bit him unless I had more reason to. Instead, I did a few unconventional tests subjecting Ethan’s blood to the blood of random lycan including myself. There was only one among the test subjects able to cause the process to begin in the samples and that was the young Mister Jacobs. I guess that would prove beyond any doubt they are true mates. “While immunity to us is extremely rare, it is possible. The Lycanthropy virus does have a very slight genetic difference in each of us that will pass some of our traits onto someone we bite. It is unheard of for a human to have such a selective immunity to it where potentially only one lycan in the world could turn him. None of the other doctors I discretely spoken with have heard of something like this. I also ran several additional tests just to make absolutely sure that he is human. One of the doctors I contacted works in a genetics lab and fast tracked Ethan’s sample for me. There is nothing in his DNA to suggest he’s anything other than a healthy, late teens human. So our young friend is a bit of a mystery.” “Thank you for finding a way to do the tests without involving my son. Just the appearance that he is anything less than a fully capable wolf could cause a problem for not only him in the future, but also for me.” The alpha paused as he considered his options. “I know it cuts you off from some research data, but if you would, I’d like you to keep the council out of this for as long as possible. If they get wind of it, they might try to either take Ethan to study. Or eliminate him fearing his immunity is a threat to our kind. They’ve done it in the past when an immunity to Lycanthropy has been encountered. To be honest, I don’t feel like dealing with that obnoxious group of bureaucrats just now.” “I understand, Alpha. There’s also an issue with the two that so far has only affected their sleep if they are away from each other. Time will tell if it remains that way.” “What do you mean by sleep issues?” The doctor went on to detail the problem Ethan and Aiden had described. “Like the immunity issue, I’ve never heard of a lycan and human developing a pre mating bond that caused something like this.” Ian paused to let the alpha consider what he had said. The alpha felt he knew the answer but needed to ask anyways. “One anomaly I could probably just write off, but with several do you think Ethan posses any risk to the pack?” Ian considered that question before he shook his head. “No, Alpha, I don’t. Although everything at this point is conjecture and I can’t really be sure of anything. Based on the blood and genetic tests saying that he’s a normal human, I can’t see him presenting a problem or risk. If you add Aiden definitely being Ethan’s mate and the only one that can turn him, it seems the boy was meant to be with us or at least with the Jacobs boy.” “For now, try to continue your research off the radar of the council. You are sure these other doctors you have spoken with won’t go running to them?” “They will keep this secret and only one is a wolf. He has no love for the council’s medical board. Another is a tiger and two are bears, including Caleb Alexander.” “Thank you, Doctor. Keep me informed if you happen to find anything new.” The alpha shook Ian’s hand before walking him out of the office. Sitting back in his chair, John lost himself in his thoughts. “What are you Ethan Scott?” ****** After a week on the job, Ethan was turning into a great help to Rafe, Joe, and Casey. He learned quickly what they would need before they had to ask for it. It felt good to be working hard and earning his pay without resorting to other means. When the crew returned home, Zach and Ryan would come running and try to drag him into doing something with them. Even though he was twice the age of the youngest, it was fun having someone treat him like a brother. Even Jack got involved from time to time, though at fifteen he tried to act above it all sometimes. He too liked having Ethan around. After talking to his parents and Aiden, Casey moved back into his apartment at the pack house across the hall from his friend. They all knew that Ethan was safe and getting comfortably settled in at his parent’s home. He could be there for Ethan, without having his parents back to knowing every time he went out on a date. Since Jack Tucker was old enough to shift, he was training in wolf combat and tracking. Many times, he would shift into his wolf after dinner to see what he could track near the house. He might not have been able to do much in the face of a real threat, but he liked to think he was doing something to look after his new human brother. If he found Ethan sitting in the yard after Aiden had visited, he’d run up to his new brother in his sandy colored wolf and get him to scratch his ears. Once or twice he even brought a ball for Ethan to throw, but only when he knew no one would see. Aiden came over for at least a little while each night to spend time with his pup. He really wanted to move Ethan in with him, but he didn’t want to push things faster than his mate could handle. He knew it would take some time after being rejected by his family and all the time alone to be fully comfortable and safe with him. As much as Aiden hated being apart, he knew being with the Tucker family was the best way to help heal Ethan in a way he couldn’t. Aiden settled for being there as much as possible and making as much of a family for Ethan as he could. A restless night’s sleep was well worth seeing his pup happy with his new family. With the weekend ahead, neither of them would have work for the next two days. Aiden arrived on Friday night at the Tucker’s to find Ethan playing video games with Jack, Ryan and Zach. He watched from the doorway for a moment before Ethan looked up with that beautiful smile directed at him. Zach jumped up from the floor and ran over yelling, “AIDEN,” giving him a fist bump. Aiden ruffled the youngest Tucker’s hair. “Heya, squirt. How you doing today?” Ethan handed the controller to Ryan and walked over to his boyfriend to hug him. “Hey there, handsome.” He got on his toes to give Aiden a light kiss. “How would you feel about going out for dinner and a movie?” “Sounds great. Is there a theater in town I haven’t noticed? Or that one we walked past in Parker?” “The one over in Parker. I have no clue what’s playing, but it sounds like a fun date night.” Aiden had a Cheshire cat smile. Leaning in for one more kiss earned them a chorus of “Ewww’s” from the three boys. “Let me go get changed and we can head out.” After he had, the couple walked into the kitchen to let Rafe and Mary know they were heading out. Getting nothing more than smiles and nods from the two, Ethan joked. “What? No be home by midnight? No asking Aiden what his intentions are? No showing him a collection of shotguns or silver bullets?” “If it was Casey coming over to pick you up I might do all those things, but I think Aiden’s mostly harmless.” Rafe’s teasing earned him a playful growl from Aiden. “Besides, I know full well what his intentions are and no amount of shotguns, rifles, or silver bullets would ever come between him and you.” Walking out to the Jeep, they got in and headed to Parker. Aiden decided to take his pup to a nicer place and steered towards the Italian restaurant in town instead of the diner like Ethan expected. The food was very good; the company was much better. At the movie, neither one paid it much attention and sat in the back cuddling and occasionally making out. The movie finished around 11:30 p.m. and before heading back to the Jeepster, they stopped at an ice cream shop—one of the few businesses still open. Each getting a cone, they strolled over to a bench, and stared at the stars. The night ended with Aiden walking his mate to the door and leaning in for a goodnight kiss. ****** The next morning, Aiden showed up wearing gym shorts and a tank top. They were both a little tired since sleep was troublesome for them still. Aiden was happy to be greeted with a hello kiss. “Morning, Pup. How would you feel about going for a run with me?” “Usually the only running I did was to try and get away from someone, but I guess we could.” Ethan’s tone expressing he was a little unsure this was going to be fun. “I need to log some time running for the academy. I think you’ll have more fun than you think and you get to be with me.” Aiden confidently joked. “As wolves, we enjoy running through the forest. Even though you can’t shift yet, I can share some of that joy by running as a human with you.” Ethan quickly changed into shorts and a t-shirt before Aiden drove over to his apartment and parked. Grabbing a backpack from the rear seat, they walked a short distance past the pack meeting hall. About fifty yards from the building was a park like area with a few benches, a covered area with picnic tables, and a path that led into the woods. Aiden dropped the pack on a bench as he showed Ethan how to properly stretch. “So, why would a bunch of wolves need a running path?” “Sometimes people want to go running in their human form so the pack built a cross country track that loops through the forest. It comes out of the woods down there by those far benches and loops back to here. It also helps for the wolves that are on the high school cross country team. They don’t have to go into Parker to use the track at the school for training.” “Cool. How long of a path is it?” “It’s two and a half miles. Most people do two or three loops.” He put on his backpack and smiled down to Ethan. “You ready?” They started out at a nice easy pace, running side by side. Well into the forest and beginning to head back towards town, Aiden told his mate to try and pour on more speed. Ethan ran faster, like he used to when he was trying to get away from danger in Richmond. He could hear Aiden behind him but he didn’t dare look back. Aiden teased some. “You can’t get away from me, Pup. I’m right behind you and not letting you ever get away from me.” Ethan poured on the speed. He was pulling away, but still couldn’t get too far from Aiden. They were both laughing as they came out of the forest and slowed down 'til they neared the bench they started. Sitting down, Aiden pulled out a couple bottles of water. “You’re a good runner, Pup. You’re fast.” Ethan sat panting a little. “I always had to be fast when I was running before. That was fun, especially you chasing me at the end. I bet that would be great running with you in your wolf or with me as a wolf too.” “I won’t lie. I can’t wait to run with you as wolves. That will hopefully happen in time if you decide that is what you want. If you think you are up for one more lap, I’ll shift into my wolf if you want.” Smiling, Ethan nodded. “Yeah. I think I can handle one more lap.” “This time, run at my side. Don’t run from me or my wolf will give chase. He won’t ever hurt you, but his instincts will be to chase.” Aiden stood up and stripped, handing Ethan his clothes to put into the backpack. Once naked, he got down on all fours and let the shift take him. Ethan watched in fascination as the long soft fur began to cover Aiden’s body. The fear he felt the first time he’d seen the transformation was replaced with awe at watching his boyfriend’s body reform itself from a human to a wolf. He couldn’t resist running his fingers through the wolf’s dense fur. Leaning into his mate’s hand, he guided it to his ears which Ethan happily scratched. “I kinda wish there was a collar and leash in your backpack. I never had a pet before and would be fun to take you for a walk like this.” Ethan was giggling as he teased. Aiden playfully growled and acted like he was going to hike his leg over Ethan’s shoes. He wrapped his arms around the wolf’s neck and hugged him tight to apologize for the leash comment. The two took off running side by side again, Ethan’s hand often brushing Aiden’s body. As they neared the point where the trail was at its deepest in the woods, Aiden moved in front of Ethan and brought him to a stop. Raising his nose, the wolf picked up a scent on the breeze and began a low growl staring into the brush. Ethan, not knowing what was going on, stayed as close to his boyfriend as possible. Two grey wolves walked onto the trail. They were not nearly as large as Aiden’s black wolf, but this was two against one. One seemed to be more aggressive; the other wolf’s tail was down and its ears were flat against the sides of its head. Both bared their teeth. Aiden’s growls grew louder. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and his ears rose up, forward and straight. He held a slight crouch with his tail straight out behind him. He looked ready to pounce. The grey wolves tried to move to each side of Aiden so he could not easily defend against them both. They both showed their teeth and kept their heads low. Ethan was scared, not knowing if these were lycan or real wolves, but suspected the former. He looked around for anything he could use as a weapon and saw a branch nearby about the size of a baseball bat. Ethan grabbed the branch and raised it ready to swing. The two wolves lunged at almost the same time, coming at the couple. Ethan swung the branch with as much force as he could aiming for the nearest grey wolf. The branch crashed down on its head momentarily stunning it, giving Aiden a chance to take on the second wolf without issue. Not wanting the wolf he’d hit to get back into the fight he took another swing when it tried to get up to make sure it stayed down. This time though it caught the branch in its mouth. Before the wolf could do anything, Ethan kicked hard with his foot as he pulled the branch away, again hitting the wolf on the head. It stumbled back as he hit it one more time, causing it to fall to the ground, dazed. He readied for another swing if it moved again. While Ethan was dealing with one wolf, Aiden took hold of the front leg of the wolf he was fighting and bit down hard, twisting it. With a loud snap, the bone could be heard breaking. The wolf howled in pain. Aiden turned his head towards Ethan to make sure he was alright. Finding he’d dealt with the second wolf, he saw his pup taking a swing at the wolf he had just injured. There was a blue glow in his eyes, similar to the amber that lycan eyes flash, but this glow was steady. The sun was occasionally hitting Ethan’s face through the trees, so perhaps it was just those brilliant eyes reflecting the light. The two greys took advantage of Aiden checking on his mate and decided it would be a good time to run off with their tails literally tucked between their legs; one limping on three legs and the other stumbling in a daze. Once it was safe, Ethan’s eyes returned to their normal brilliant blue without the glow Aiden thought he saw. The wolf guided his human out of the forest; his ears continually moving as he listened for additional danger. As Ethan sat on the first available bench, Aiden jumped up with paws planted on both sides of his mate sniffing him all over to check for injuries. Once satisfied, he shifted back to human and quickly dressed. “Are you okay?” Concern filled his face before it turned to pride. “Here I thought I was protecting you and you end up taking out one of the wolves all by yourself.” Aiden beamed proudly at his pup. Since he wasn’t sure he had seen it, he decided not to say anything about the blue glow Ethan’s eyes had following the fight. It had to have been a trick of the light, but he would watch to see if it happened again. “I’m fine. I was just scared not knowing what was happening and if they were both going to go for you at once. I didn’t really think about what I was doing.” Ethan paused to catch his breath. “Were those wild wolves or…?” He didn’t want to finish the question after the first attack on him. “They were lycan. I know both of them. They’re friends of Michael. I’m guessing they’re mad that asshole’s still in jail. I can’t believe they ignored that you’re under the alpha’s protection.” ****** Back at the apartment, they took turns showering. Aiden changed into everyday clothes; Ethan just had what he wore to run in. He was about put them back on when Aiden reached into a drawer. “I think I’ve got something that will fit you unless you want to go back to the Tucker’s and change before the pack meeting.” “Umm… We’re not even close to the same size, but I guess I could try. I wish one of your used jockstraps would fit me.” He batted his eyes innocently. Aiden pulled out a pair of shorts he’d worn when he was younger and never got around to getting rid of. They seemed a little long on Ethan and he needed a belt to keep them up. He also gave Ethan a T-shirt he grabbed off the floor, it definitely seemed a little large. Ethan gave it a quick glance before sniffing it. “Is this clean?” Smelling the shirt again, he decided he didn’t care if it was clean or not. “It smells like you. I like it.” He held the shirt to his nose and inhaled deeply before pulling it over his head. Aiden sat on the edge of the bed and patted the spot next to him indicating he wanted Ethan to sit with him. “Just so you know, wolves tend to like having their scent on their mate. It is kind of a marker that you’re taken.” He gazed into the smaller boys eyes. “So you like the way I smell?” He couldn’t contain the big grin that spread across his face. “Mhmm. I told you that before. I kinda wish I could have gotten to your armpits before you showered. I bet they would have smelled good and tasted even better.” He turned bright red in embarrassment. “Next time, we’ll find out before I shower and you can do what you want with them.” Not being able to hold himself back, Aiden leaned in for a fierce kiss, only pulling back when they both needed oxygen. “Wow.” “Sorry, Pup. I kind of lost control for a moment.” Aiden was surprised when Ethan moved to straddle his legs and pushed him back onto the bed, placing hands on both sides of his head. His pup lowered himself and kissed him with equal passion. Always being the more dominant one, Aiden was not used to being on the receiving end of something like this but for some reason, he didn’t want to question it and decided to enjoy it. Once Ethan broke the kiss, Aiden gazed up into his pup’s blue eyes and saw that faint glow again. Nothing like he saw in the forest, but it was definitely there. Stretching up for one last kiss. “We had better be careful or we’re going to start something I won’t be able to stop.” “Part of me doesn’t want you to stop, but I know I’m not ready for it either.” Ethan collapsed on top of Aiden who wrapped his arms around him. He liked how his pup’s nose inched over till it was at the crook of his arm. They relaxed that way for a little while with Ethan listening to the sound of Aiden’s heart. The alarm on his cell phone went off alerting Aiden it was time to head to the weekly pack meeting. ****** Walking hand in hand they made their way over to the meeting hall. Aiden approached his two friends upon seeing them. Happily bumping fists and saying ”Hi” all around, Aiden suddenly took on a darker appearance. Trevor eyed his friend. “Okay, what’s wrong.” “We went for a run this morning on the forest loop. Midway through the second lap, we ended up with some unwanted company.” Casey, figuring he knew the answer asked anyways. “Was this company the four legged variety and was it less then friendly?” “On fours and definitely not friendly. It was Michael’s bitch boy Chris along with Tyler. Chris left the fight limping on only three legs, and thanks to my mate, I’m sure Tyler still has a hell of a headache from the beating Ethan gave him.” Aiden explained while beaming proudly at his pup. “Ethan took Tyler out of the fight all on his own when they both tried to come at us at once.” “He took out someone in their wolf form? By himself?” Trevor stared at Ethan in awe. “I wonder if Michael put them up to it or if they decided to do it on their own, not that Chris is smart enough to act on his own.” Trevor thought out loud. “Kind of surprised at Tyler since he’s not that stupid, even if he does follow Michael.” “I’m not sure if I was the target or Ethan, or if it was just a scare tactic.” He turned to reassure his mate. “If I wasn’t, they knew they had to get through me to get to you. After what you did, they might think twice before trying anything else.” About that time, Michael surprised the group by walking in followed by Chris, Tyler, and a few others that were close friends with him. “I thought he was still in jail.” Trevor nodded his head towards their common foe. Shortly after the alpha started the meeting. Aiden locked eyes on Chris with a hard glare. After a few seconds, Chris backed down and averted his eyes as he tilted his head ever so slightly in submission. Once the meeting was over, Aiden left Ethan standing with the Tucker family and walked over to Chris and Tyler flanked by Trevor and Casey. Putting himself nose to nose with Chris he growled. “You ever pull a stunt like that again and you won’t be walking out of the forest. You want to fight, you challenge me. You and your friends ever try to attack my mate and I will put you in the ground. Do I make myself clear?” Instead of the normal quick amber flash, Aiden’s eyes had taken on a solid amber glow pulsing with anger. He stared down Chris who looked to the ground, tilted his head, and bared his neck. Aiden turned his glare to the others who saw the steady intense glow and immediately bared their necks in submission as well. Walking back to Ethan, his eyes returned to normal as he wrapped his arm around his pup. “Dude, I’ve never seen your eyes or anyone else’s do more than a quick flash. They were glowing the entire time you were staring them down.” Casey spoke quietly with a hint of amusement. “I think Chris might have pissed himself from the way you looked.” The alpha, talking to Rafe and Mary, could easily pick up the anger rolling off Aiden. He waited until he was finished speaking with the older lycan before turning his attention to the younger one. “Everything alright, Aiden?” “Yes, Alpha, I think it is now.” “Care to fill me in on what just happened? I don’t think there is enough Febreze in the territory to cover the scent of your anger.” He waved his hand exaggeratedly as if clearing a bad smell. “And just so we’re clear, when I worded that as a question, it’s really just my polite way of saying I want an answer. Whether you care to fill me in or not.” The alpha stood with his arms crossed and waited. Aiden respectfully tipped his head. “Ethan and I went for a run on the track this morning. We ran into two from that group at the midpoint in the forest. It wasn’t a friendly meeting. I don’t know if I was the target or not, but I suspect it was my mate. Fortunately, Ethan wasn’t harmed. He managed to take out one of them with a branch right as they tried to attack us. I just let them know if they wanted to challenge me to do it to my face and if they tried attacking my mate again, they might not leave the forest next time.” “I know your mating and protection instincts are running very high, but don’t take pack law into your own claws. Which two attacked?” “Chris and Tyler.” “Rafe, I want to see Chris and Tyler in my office now.” The alpha commanded his enforcer. ****** A few minutes later, Rafe knocked on the door and waited. “Enter,” was called from inside. Opening the door and clearing his throat while looking at the two younger wolves, he nodded for them to go inside the office. Following them in, he closed the door and stood near it with his arms folded across his chest. Chris moved to one of the chairs in front of the alpha’s desk, preparing to sit down. Tyler stood trying to not draw attention to himself. “I don’t remember giving you permission to sit.” The alpha growled. “What’s this I hear about a fight in the woods?” Chris quietly spoke under his breath. “Damn faggot went and told on us.” The alpha’s voice dropped low into a threatening tone. “I will not ask a second time and you will NOT refer to anyone in this pack like that.” Tyler shook in fear at the alpha getting angry and answered first. “It was supposed to be a joke, just to mess with Aiden, but his human picked up a branch and began swinging at us. Things got a little out of hand after that and we were just trying to defend ourselves.” “That’s right, Alpha. The human started the fight.” Chris’s voice thick with contempt for the human. Glancing over at Rafe, the alpha nodded. Rafe walked out of the room and returned a few minutes later with the couple. Before going back into the alpha’s office, he told Aiden to have a seat outside. “Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to him.” Aiden wasn’t happy about it, but nodded. Once back inside, Rafe resumed his guard stance near the door. Ethan looked around the alpha’s office in wonderment. The space was quite large like you’d imagine for some corporate CEO in a penthouse office. To say it was masculine would be an understatement. Dark cherry wood shelves lined two walls. Books, awards, and pictures of people and wolves filled them. The carpet was also dark and felt plush to stand on. One corner on the wall with the entrance had a leather sofa with chairs and a table, while the other corner of that wall had a small conference table. The desk, imposing as it was, sat centered on the back wall. Four paintings of men that resembled the alpha hung on the wall behind it with windows flanking them. “Ethan, I need you to help clear something up if possible.” “Yes, sir, if I can. I mean yes, Alpha.” “Would you tell me exactly what you remember happening in the woods?” “Aiden and I were running on the track with him in his wolf shape. He stopped me and was sniffing the air and then started growling. Two grey wolves walked out of the brush on each side of us about ten feet or so away. They had their heads down, teeth showing, and growling. I saw a branch next to me and picked it up in case I needed it. They both charged us at the same time. I swung the branch, hitting one of them when it got close enough at the same time the other was fighting with Aiden. I swung a second time to keep the wolf out of the fight and it bit the branch so I kicked as hard as I could into its head while pulling the branch back towards me. I know I hit it one more time to keep it out of the fight. I think Aiden broke the leg of the other wolf. When Aiden turned to check on me, the two wolves ran off.” “Thank you, Ethan. Would you please wait outside?” “Yes, Alpha.” He exited the office, took a seat next to Aiden, and explained what happened in the office. The alpha glared at Chris and Tyler. “You’re still claiming that he started the fight?” “Yes, Alpha.” Chris’s voice was slimy in his attempt to lie while Tyler stood shaking, looking less sure of things. The alpha could smell fear rolling off Tyler. He could also tell from Ethan’s voice and scent he was telling the truth. Any fear he had was from getting called into the office with the two attackers let alone the alpha. “We seem to have a problem then since he is giving no indication whatsoever that he’s lying. You two, however, are giving off more signs than I care to point out.” Chris sounded defiant. “Alpha, you’re going to take the word of a human over us?” “Yes, Chris. That is exactly what I am going to do. Since Ethan is a guest here and since he was actually able to keep one of you two out of a fight with his mate, I’m going to let him decide your punishment.” The alpha had a smug look on his face. Rafe opened the door and motioned for the pair to enter the office. “How’s the arm, Chris.” Aiden sneered. Chris glared back and rubbed the arm that still hurt, but was at least no longer broken. “Ethan, I don’t mean to put you on the spot here, but since the attack in the forest was against you and your mate—as well as the fact that you effectively won a fight against a wolf—I am going to allow you to choose their punishment. Normally in a case like this, it would be anything up to twenty lashes from a strap in front of the pack to time in jail.” “Sir, I can’t do that. If it’s my choice, can we just let it drop at this point?” “Are you sure you want the matter dropped?” “Yes, Alpha.” Aiden was a little unhappy his pup was offering to let them off the hook, but also proud. Knowing they had both gotten a good beating also helped. The alpha glared at Chris and Tyler. “You should feel lucky. Personally I wouldn’t have let you off.” His voice dropped once again and almost had a growl to it. “You and your friends might want to keep in mind that Ethan is MY personal guest here. Anything you or your friends, including Michael, do against him is a direct challenge to me. Do I make my meaning clear?” “Yes, Alpha.” “Get out.” As they turned to leave, Ethan stopped the one Aiden hadn’t spoken to. “Are you the one I hit?” “Yeah.” “I’m sorry I hit you and only did what I thought I had to do. I really hope your head is okay.” “It still hurts like hell, but I deserved it. Thanks for being cool about it.” He tipped his head slightly before making his way out of the office. Once the two were gone, the alpha turned towards Ethan. “I’m sorry for doing that to you, but I had a feeling that would be your response. By our laws, even if Aiden was the target of the attack, a human was involved and would require stiff punishment. You being generous like that might help things out in the future no matter if you stay human or become a wolf. They defied my orders about respecting you, so they will get assigned some type of community service. They’re not getting off free from this.” The alpha’s tone softened a little. “You two can head out now and thank you.” Just as they were almost through the door, Ethan turned around and walked over to the alpha and wrapped his arms around the big man. “Thank you, sir for allowing me to be here and also for the generous gift of the clothes.” The alpha just patted his back while looking at a smiling Aiden. “You’re very welcome.” ****** Michael questioned his friends about what happened in his dad’s office. They told him everything including Ethan letting the matter drop without any punishment for the two. “Maybe he isn’t so bad.” Tyler glanced between Michael and Chris. Michael looked at his friend like he had grown a second head. “He’s a fuckin human and Aiden’s little pet. He needs to be taught a lesson for coming here.” Some of Michael’s friends nodded in agreement, but they would have agreed with most anything Michael said since he was the alpha’s son and they were more afraid of him then they were his father. “When he isn’t expecting it, he’ll get a lesson he will never forget. And so will Aiden for bringing him here. See if he ever tries to embarrass me again after I’m done.” Michael’s eyes took on a dark look as his friends wondered what he was planning.
    115 points
  20. At Jed’s side, Buzz followed their alpha. They darted through the trees, following the river line. His heart raced, his senses on high alert. Since Shell’s kidnapping, they had stepped up their training and exercise routines. With the threat of the hunters on them, it was more important than ever that they be at one with their alpha. Especially with the little ones they now had in the pack. Buzz looked up into the sky, letting the moon’s rays wash over him. He turned to his mate. Even though Jed was in his wolf shape, Buzz could have sworn he had a smile on his face. Buzz understood. There was nothing better than running with your pack at night under the light of the moon. With his new brothers and sisters, he was no longer afraid to be himself. They embraced him as one of their own. Even Jed’s parents had taken him in, insisting he call them “Mama” and “Dad.” He felt strange doing so at first, but the love they showed him even from the start made it easy. He was free, mated to Jed Stone. He would never be scared, never be alone. Not with Jed and his pack-mates at his side. They were his family. They would die for him, and Buzz would do the same. Not just because of duty, but because of respect. Because of love. Buzz now knew the difference. Colton came to a stop and Buzz stopped with him. He stared at Colton, watching his body language, waiting for an instruction. The alpha wolf’s dark eyes sought out each of his pack-mates before he turned and ran, ramping up to full speed in mere seconds. Buzz gave chase, his eyes never straying from Colton. All of his other senses were on high alert, searching for anything that might be out of place around him. Jed was at his side, but Parker was there too, and Trey on the other side of the alpha-mate. The wolf pack burst from the forest, skidding to a halt in the clearing of Camp Timber: Colton, Parker, Trey, Jed, then Buzz. The rest of the pack stood around the bonfire, waiting to greet them. Buzz looked around the camp and took it all in. He was home. End of Book II
    115 points
  21. It was Monday, February 5, 2018, when Adam Smith opened the door and let the woman in. He had spoken with her earlier that morning and had been on an emotional roller coaster since. “Please come in. Would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea, water?” “No thank you, but I appreciate the offer,” Sylvia Cramer said. She smiled as he shut the door behind them. She looked around the house, taking in the sights. It was her job as a social worker for the Florida Department of Children and Families. “The living room is located to the left. It’s a five-bedroom, six-bath house, and I’m still settling in,” Adam said as he led her into the living room. The house had a Tuscan feel on the exterior that continued inside. A stone façade and cobblestone driveway led to the front entryway in the front center, and a three-car garage to the right. Immediately one stepped into living space, with the front room on the left and dining room to the right. Two-story ceilings with wood beams gave the place an open and massive feeling. Off the living room were a powder room, the door to the master retreat, and a library. The rest of the house was off of to the right past the dining room. The warm cream color on the walls was carried on throughout the house. Adam sat down in a comfortable chair, while Sylvia made herself comfortable on the couch. Adam took his mug from the coffee table. He'd made coffee just before Sylvia's arrival. He noticed his hands were shaking. In addition to the couch, two armchairs, and coffee table, all facing a fireplace, paintings hung on the walls. They were tasteful art in an impressionist style. “It’s a nice place you have here. Is it new construction?” “Yes, it is. They just finished building it about two weeks ago, and I’m slowly adding my personal touches. I’ve got lots of things to buy to furnish the place fully.” Adam replaced the mug. He drew in a deep controlled breath and let it out slowly. Calm down and slow down. He smiled and spoke to Sylvia. “Sorry, I’ve been a nervous wreck since you called earlier. It’s not every day you learn you’re a father.” “No worries. I can understand the situation,” Sylvia said, giving him a reassuring smile. “Now, I’m doing the formal home inspection. There are some questions I need to ask as well.” “Go ahead. I’m an open book.” Sylvia smiled and took out a voice recorder and a file folder from her bag. “Do you mind if I record this?” “I’m fine with that.” She clicked the recorder on, and began with the questions, “So, can I get your full name and age, for the record?” “Adam Smith, and I just turned thirty-eight years old a week ago.” “What do you do for a living?” “I’m retired. I went to M.I.T. and into business shortly after. I patented a new medical device I designed. I did quite well when I sold it to a pharmaceutical company. I’m now looking into starting a new business here in town. It’s going to be a microbrewery and restaurant.” She nodded and jotted down the answer. “I’m not going to ask for your finances, but the judge may want tax records before everything is finalized. You said earlier you were single. Are you seeing anyone?” Adam shook his head. “No, I’m not seeing anyone currently. My last boyfriend didn’t want to move when I decided it was time to come back home.” “So, you’re gay?” Sylvia said in a neutral tone. “I am. Is that going to be a problem?” Adam asked, getting a bit defensive. “No… not at all. However, I do need to let you know your son, Robert Turner, is gay too.” Adam was speechless. That morning he had received the call from Sylvia Cramer, informing him that he was the father of a sixteen-year-old boy who was placed into foster care after the death of his mother. The child’s mother turned out to be a college friend named Michelle Turner. Adam and Michelle were inseparable during those first years at M.I.T. when Adam was coming out of the closet and sowing his oats. Michelle stood by him the whole time. They had a falling out when, for his twenty-first birthday, his friends took him out drinking at a local bar. He and Michelle ended up in bed together and had sex. Adam regretted it the next morning. Regret turned to hatred when he learned the truth. Michelle had planned it. She had fallen in love with Adam, and hoped by sleeping with him he would accept her. It had the opposite effect. He pushed her away and lost track of her when she left M.I.T. a few weeks later. “That… that’s not going to be a problem is it?” Adam stammered. “I mean with the Judge or Michelle’s family? I know not everyone would be thrilled about a single gay man raising a teenage gay son.” He took another deep breath, and let it out in a long sigh. “Damn, I can hear the accusations now. Some perverted incest is going on in this house.” Sylvia shook her head and gave him a small smile. “You have nothing to worry about. There is case law that protects you, and the Family Court Judge, in this case, is very fair. She will handle this with a sensitive hand, and she usually takes the cases dealing with GLBT youth. Normally cases are assigned first come, first served, but they do trade offs. As for his maternal family… no need to worry about them. They signed away custody once they found out he was gay. I think that hurt the boy a lot.” “Those bastards,” Adam said while shaking his head. “Oh, sorry…” He blushed realizing what he had said. “No worries. I’ve said the same a few times, both during and after talking with them.” She put the file away and turned off the recorder. “Let me check the rest of the house, and then we can call the visit done.” Adam showed her the rest of the house, starting with the library and master bedroom; then the other side where the kitchen, a family room, gaming room, and the four bedrooms were. Adam said that the one immediately off the kitchen would be for a live-in butler he was hiring, while the remaining three would be guest rooms. Of course, his son would get one. All were spartanly decorated, as he was still in the process of furnishing the rooms. “Well, that will do it. I’ll file my report, and make my recommendation that your son be given to you,” Sylvia said with a grin. They stood at the front door and talked a bit. “Off the record, let me give you two pieces of advice.” “Please do,” Adam said while hoping he didn't sound apprehensive. “I don’t trust his maternal family, so I would get a lawyer, for the very reason you said earlier. A gay man, with a gay teen… I’ve seen it before. They are going to go ballistic. Also, you may want to put locks on the wine closet, and the wet bar.” Adam nodded listening to her. “I’ll retain a lawyer tomorrow. When… when should I expect Robert?” “After the paperwork is submitted and he’s transferred from Boston, Massachusetts to Tampa, Florida. I feel it shouldn’t be more than two or three days.” “Thank you, Sylvia.” “You’re welcome, Adam,” she said. She turned and headed to her car while Adam shut the door. ~.~ Over the next three days, Adam was in a whirlwind of activity. He retained a lawyer the following day, a cousin of his who worked with Family Law. After that, he contacted the contractor who had built his house and paid for a rush job to add locks to the wine closet and the cabinets for the wet bar. They were able to schedule for the next day. He spent the remainder of the three days interviewing potential butlers and shopping to finish furnishing the bedrooms. He decided to hold off on getting anything else for Robert until he arrived and they could take stock of what he still had. Sylvia called the third day after the home visit to say there was an issue. The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families had placed a hold on the case pending review, and a paternity test. Adam agreed to one and contacted his cousin for legal help. Working with Sylvia and his cousin they got all the necessary paperwork done, blood work, and Adam even paid for the airfare to have Robert transferred. He purchased first-class seats for both him and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families chaperon. Finally, the end was in sight, after a month of legal filings. Robert’s plane was set to arrive at noon, at Tampa International Airport. Sylvia, per protocol, was picking him up. The Florida Department of Children and Families would need to do their intake, which meant Robert wouldn’t be arriving at the house until later in the afternoon. ~.~ Robert Turner sat in the passenger seat of the car, staring out the window at the buildings in Downtown Tampa. Sylvia was driving; she had music playing low, and was chatting about life in Tampa in general. Robert wondered if one of the high-rise condos would be his father’s place. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, on Monday, March 5, 2018, with barely a cloud in the sky. The temperature outside was in the high 80s, and the sun shone in all its brilliance. Robert felt like he could get used to Florida. Well, perhaps not the heat, but he was determined to fit in. Over the past month, Robert finally had accepted the fact his life had changed. He wasn’t sure if it was for the better, or for the worse. He was surprised by the first-class accommodations on the flight to Tampa, and to learn that it was his father who had paid for it. His mother had told him his father had died in a car accident when he was two-years-old, and had even given him a false name when he was older and wanted to look for grandparents. He was starting to resent her for that. He loved her, however, and missed her so much it pained him to think of her poorly. He was hurt deeply when his grandparents and aunt rejected him for being gay. That was when the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families got involved, and he had to come out of the closet. He never thought his family would be bigots, with their Democratic values. As they took a detour and passed by Amalie Arena along Channelside, he looked at the bridge crossing over to an island in the bay. They were driving over it when he asked, “My dad lives on an island?” “Yes. This is called Harbour Island. It used to have a retail mall, but now it’s some businesses, some condos, and a gated upscale housing community,” Sylvia said in a pleasant tone. “So, not only an island but he, well… I mean, we also live in a gated community?” Robert asked a bit stunned. “What does he do for a living?” “Didn’t the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families go over this with you?” “No, they didn’t. They only told the foster care facility things, and I was left in the dark. The only thing I know for sure is that Adam Smith is my biological dad.” Sylvia let out a long sigh but didn’t respond immediately. They had pulled up to the gate’s guard post, and she was dealing with that to get on the island. The guard had just opened the gate for them to pass when she responded. “I’m sorry you went through that Robert. I can tell you the basics, but it's best you learn from your father. He was just as much in the dark about you as you were about him. “I will say this about Adam. After he found out about you, he’s done everything in his power to get you here with him. If Massachusetts hadn’t denied him visitation over the past month, I dare say he would have been in Boston, seeing you every day. He wants this to work out between you two.” Robert nodded but remained silent; he didn’t know what to expect from moving down to live with a stranger who had proven to be his biological father. They approached a house that overlooked the water, and towards Davis Islands and Seddon Channel. It was a massive two-story Tuscan design that Robert couldn’t help but be in awe over. They pulled into the cobblestone driveway and stopped facing the front door. Sylvia turned off the car and was stepping out when the front door opened. Adam stepped out and waved to her. “That’s Adam, your father,” she said through the open door. “Go on up to him, and I’ll get your suitcases out of the trunk.” Adam stood near the front door and waited for Sylvia and Robert to move. He’d been waiting in his library working when he saw the car pull up. Adam was very nervous, and his palms were sweating. He brushed them off on his pants and took a few calming breaths. When the passenger door opened and Robert stepped out of the car, he knew this was his son, and in his heart he felt the first stirrings of love a father has for his child. He couldn’t help but smile looking at Robert, and started to walk to him. Robert nodded to Sylvia as she shut the door and went to the trunk. He was also nervous; he was shaking and couldn’t open the door at first. He then realized it was locked, and quickly unlocked it before getting out. He grabbed his backpack that was in the floorboard and shut the door, looking towards Adam. There was an instant connection. He could sense it was true that Adam was his father, and he was home. He shivered as Adam moved towards him, standing frozen in his spot. He wanted to go to him, but he couldn’t make his legs move. He was overcome with emotion. When Adam stepped up to Robert, he stuck his hand out to shake. “Robert… it’s good to meet you, Son, finally.” Robert looked at the offered hand and finally reached up with a trembling hand. After a moment, he dropped his backpack to the ground and embraced his father in a bear hug. He didn’t know how it started, but the tears began to flow down his face as he began to sob into his father’s chest. Sylvia stood at the back of the car and watched the scene unfold in front of her. She looked at both men, and you couldn’t deny they were father and son. Adam stood six-foot-two-inches and was built like a lumberjack. Powerful chest and arms, and well-defined legs, brown curly hair, and sea green eyes. Robert was his spitting image - same hair and similar build, but a little shorter at five-foot-ten-inches. He had his mother’s eyes of crystal blue though. She watched as the two embraced. Adam rubbed Robert’s back comforting him, as he cried into his father’s chest. ~.~ The emotional meeting lasted a few minutes. After Robert got control of himself, Adam took him inside and left him in the living room, and told him he could look around if he wanted. He returned outside to talk to Sylvia and invited her inside. She politely declined so that the family could have some bonding time. After finishing up all the paperwork DCF needed, she excused herself while Adam took Robert’s bags in. A follow-up meeting was scheduled for Friday that week. Adam sat the two suitcases by the door and looked over at Robert who was looking at the paintings in the living room. He smiled watching his son. “They are by a local artist. I found them at the street market in Ybor City over one weekend.” “They're nice,” Robert said, looking back at his father. “You have a nice place.” “We have a nice place. It’s now your house as well. Come, let me give you the tour, and I’ll let you choose which bedroom you want.” They left the bags, and the pair of them walked the house off. They talked briefly about things concerning the house while they looked around. Robert chose the back bedroom overlooking the small backyard and the water. He liked the furniture Adam had already placed in there. They wound up in the kitchen, where Robert sat at the island bar, and Adam went to fix himself a coffee. “Would you like something? We have coffee, and I got different K-Cups you can have. We have some ice tea in the fridge, some OJ or milk, and I didn’t know if you drink soda, but there’s a 12-pack of Pepsi, Coke, and Mountain Dew in the pantry.” Robert smiled, “I’ll take some ice tea. Is it sweet?” “Of course,” Adam said with a laugh. He fetched a glass of ice tea for Robert and passed it to him, then fixed his coffee. He stood across leaning on the center island, looking at Robert. The silence stretched between them, as they sipped their drinks and looked at each other. Robert cleared his throat, “Um, what time is dinner? I haven’t eaten since before we left Boston this morning.” “Oh shit… Sorry, I hadn’t thought about that. I was planning on going out. There’s a place over in Hyde Park, called the 'Goody Goody,' and they have some of the best burgers in the bay area. You eat meat, right?” Robert laughed. “I do eat meat, err… Adam… Dad… Father… Sorry, I’m not sure what to call you?” “Dad is cool, Adam if you don’t feel like it yet. I was going to ask you the same thing. What do you want me to call you?” “Anything but Bob or Bobby, I hate being called that. My friends and mom…” he got quiet a moment, then continued, “called me Rob. My boyfriend, Martin, used to call me Stark, because I looked like Rob Stark from Game of Thrones.” He paused a moment and went white as a sheet. He realized he’d just outed himself absentmindedly. Adam smiled and moved to stand next to Robert. He laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, as Robert jumped from the touch at first. He was still shaken when Adam spoke. “You have nothing to worry about. Sylvia told me you were gay the first day she told me I had a son. Now… My ex and I used to go to Halloween Parties, wearing nothing but whitey-tighties with fake cardboard leaves glued to the front and back. As a couple, we were Adam and Steve.” “You’re gay too?” “Yup… I guess it runs in the family. There is the gay gene, they’ve discovered. I don’t know all the research behind it.” Robert was speechless, shaking his head with the revelation. “Wow… This is getting weird like I’m in a dream.” “It’ll be fine, son. I’m here for you. Just let me know if you need anything or are having any issues. Speaking of which…” He walked over to a counter drawer and grabbed some paper and pen. He passed them to Robert. “Here you go, Rob. Make out a list for me of what you use, like deodorant, shampoo, that sort of stuff, and anything else you need. After we snag dinner, we can hit a store, and get your toiletries at least.” Robert nodded and started writing out his list. Adam went and fetched his bags from the living room and took them to his bedroom for him. “If you want a shower before we head out, I have some spare stuff in the linen closet in my bedroom you’re welcome to have.” “Thanks, Dad. I have a small travel case of stuff in my bags that’ll do me for now. Give me twenty minutes?” Robert finished his list, and slid it over to Adam, then headed to his bedroom. “Sounds good,” Adam said to the departing Robert. “I’ll be in the library when you’re ready.” Robert walked into his new bedroom and over to his suitcases. He retrieved his toilet kit and a change of clothes, and walked into the bathroom, snagging a towel from the linen closet. He turned the water on in the shower, letting it get hot while he stripped off, and stepped into the water. Lord, I needed this, Robert thought to himself. Dad seems like an okay guy, and damn, he’s gay too. Finally, someone that understands me. He soaped himself, cleaned the day’s travel dust off of his body, and rinsed. Adam stepped into his room and grabbed a fresh outfit. He went into his bathroom and quickly showered off. Well, Rob seems like a good kid. So much we need to talk about, and he needs to meet the family. Also, I need to tell him about our steward Duncan. I’m glad I gave him a couple of days off. I hope I’m doing this right. Adam stepped out of the shower drying off, and put the new outfit on: a pair of black jeans, some tennis shoes, and Brayden Point’s Tampa Bay Lightning Home Jersey. The Goody Goody diner had a special on Mondays for those wearing Lightning gear, even in the off-season. Adam left his room and went to the library to wait for Robert. He was shutting his laptop down when his son walked in. Adam looked his son over, and couldn’t help but to chuckle. Robert stood at the door, wearing black jeans, tennis shoes, and a hockey jersey as well… for the Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron. “Like Father, like son…” Adam said, shaking his head. Robert laughed as well, seeing his dad in the Lightning gear. “Well I have to admit, Brayden Point is doing a great job for the Lightning, and your team is killing it this year.” “Yeah, they are. I would be surprised if they don’t make the finals.” “Same here.” “Please tell me you’re not a fan of Rat-boy?” “Who?” Robert asked before he got the reference. “Nah. I’m not a fan of Marchand.” Adam grabbed his wallet and keys from the desk, and the two headed out for dinner. ~.~ Dinner and shopping at Walgreens went well for Adam and Robert. They did idle chit-chat while they were out, bonding more over their shared love of Hockey. Adam, being a season ticket holder for the Tampa Bay Lightning, called and added another season ticket for Robert to his package. More common interests were found in similar tastes in music, and they both loved outdoor sports. Adam let Robert know about their live-in Steward, Duncan Isen. The trip home from Walgreens was peaceful. They arrived home in short order, and after Robert put his stuff away, they sat in the family room, each with a soft drink, and talked for a while. “Okay. So, I think we need to cover the rules of the house, and I welcome your input on them. Alright?” Adam asked, his tone was pleasant and authoritative. “That’s fine with me Dad.” “The first rule is no raiding the liquor cabinet. I’m also not stupid, and I know you may drink when you’re out with friends and such. So, I propose this. I will allow the occasional glass of wine, or even a beer, here at home. No hard liquor. Keep it on the weekends, and if you ever come home drunk, you’ll lose this privilege. If you are too drunk to drive or with someone who is, call. I will come to get you, no questions asked, but we will talk about it in the morning.” “That’s more than fair. Yeah, I’ve had a beer before with some friends, but I’ve never been drunk.” Robert said with a grin. He’s gonna let me drink, here! Damn, Mom never allowed that. “Well, this would get me in a world of shit if DCF found out. I would appreciate you keeping it on the down low until this custody case is done.” “I understand.” Adam took a drink of his ice tea and smiled some. “Second rule, no drugs. I have zero tolerance for the hard stuff, and weed isn’t legal in Florida, yet. If and when it does become legal, we’ll discuss it.” “I don’t do drugs. I’ve tried weed before, but didn’t like it,” Robert said, his voice sincere. “Cool. That leads to cigarettes. I don’t know if you smoke. I don’t because I have asthma, but if you do, take it outside. Seeing you can’t legally buy them, if you do smoke, write your brand down, and Duncan or I will make sure you get it.” “Wow. Are you serious?” “Yes. I did smoke when I was in high school. Lots of stress, and other stuff, and I got hooked on the nicotine. But, after far too many asthma attacks, it took me about eight months on patches, right before I went to M.I.T., to get off them,” he smiled at Robert and sipped his drink again. “So I can understand needing them.” “Well, I don’t smoke anymore, but I do vape. I’ll need stuff for that.” “That’s doable. In that case, as long as it not stinking up the place, I’m cool with it in the house. But, I would encourage you to give it up.” Robert nodded to him. “Thirdly…,” Adam paused and took a long drink. He let out a short sigh, “Thirdly. I’m gay. You’re gay. Duncan is straight. I’m normally running around the house in just boxers, or running shorts, especially in the mornings, and will toss a t-shirt on if I’m in the kitchen and cooking. I’ll get more dressed up if I’m heading out, or we have people coming over. I’m telling you this so you’re not surprised. You can wear whatever you want around the house. I only ask that you don’t go stark naked unless you’re in your room.” “I can agree with that. I used to run around the house like that too. Mom didn’t care.” “My family is fairly open-minded, and nudity is not something to be ashamed of. As a kid, I used to run around the house most of the day in just underwear. Well, until mom yelled at me to get some clothes on. But with this custody case, Sylvia said we might have an issue with Michelle’s family. Just be mindful. I don’t want to give anyone a cause for concern, ya know?” Robert sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I know.” “Alright, last couple of rules. Dinner, Monday through Friday, is at 7:00 pm; be home for dinner unless we have something else already planned. Duncan only cooks dinner during the week and may fix breakfast or lunch if you ask him. It’s not his main priority, so if you want him to prepare for you, you’ve got to let him know in advance. Weekends, it’s fend for yourself. I’m a horrible cook, so I tend to eat leftovers or go out. If I order out, I’ll get you something. We’ll decide what to get at that time. “Duncan only works Monday through Friday, but he lives here. I gave him the week off so we can get to know each other. His job is to keep the house clean, stocked, and make dinner during the week. You are responsible for keeping your room and your private bathroom clean. I’m cool with clutter, but this isn’t an ‘80s comedy frat house. Don’t make his life hell. If it’s in the fridge more than 24 hours, it’s free game. If it’s special, let everyone know, and we’ll respect it. The whole house is wired as a smart house, and I have an app that keeps track of home supplies. If you get low on something or want to change up, put it on the list. Does that sound good to you? Do you have anything to add?” “It sounds good to me, Dad,” Robert said, and then shook his head no. “I’ve got nothing to add.” “Okay,” Adam smiled as he nodded to Robert. “Well, you’re welcome to watch TV out here, or you can use my tablet for tonight unless you got one in your bags. Tomorrow, be up before 9:00 am, and we’ll head out for breakfast and more shopping. I’m gonna set you up with a phone, and get you a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop for gaming and schoolwork. If you need anything else, let me know, and we’ll get it.” “Sounds good, Dad,” Robert said, and they both stood to go their separate ways. “Dad?” Robert stopped and turned towards Adam. “Yes, son?” “Thank you, for taking me in.” Rob stepped over to Adam and gave him a long lingering hug. Adam held his son and rubbed his back. “If I had known, I would have been in your life before this.” “I can tell, Dad. I can tell,” Robert said in a shaky voice. They stepped away from each other to go their separate ways. After one or two steps they both stopped and turned. As they caught each other's eyes, they smiled and were comforted knowing they were together; they were family.
    114 points
  22. The transport vans rushed the hostages to the main staging area for evaluation. Several were injured in the rescue. Some who had been shot began suffering from early stage silver poisoning. A few others had broken bones, or serious bite and claw wounds; those could be healed by shifting, as long as they had not been shot with the hated metal. Everyone was thankful no one had been killed. Ethan remained on his mate’s lap for the entire drive to the staging area. Aiden held him close, breathing in his pup’s scent, and trying to ignore the stench of blood. Neither was about to let go for fear he might wake up, and realize it was all a dream. Once the SUV stopped, Trevor hopped out, and opened the door for Aiden; Casey and Cody climbed out the back. Darius came around the truck, feeling relieved they had all made it back safe. “Come on guys. Let’s get you showered, checked out by medical, and issued some clothes. Then you can have a little private time before we need to get back to work.” Aiden eyes roamed over his friends, searching for injuries. “Thank you, guys. Thanks for coming to get me, and for fighting alongside my mate.” Trevor placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Someone had to come bail your ass out of trouble. Besides, seeing you two fight was worth missing a few days of school.” No one made any further comment about the alpha wolves, or the elemental armor each possessed in the fight. That would be a conversation for another time. Right now, the basics were the priority before the reunited couple was called in for a debriefing. The medical exam went quick. The fact Ethan had taken care of the silver bullets, and healed the damage, meant there was little else to do. Blood was drawn just to make sure there was no silver poisoning. A medic asked, “How many bullet hits did you take?” Aiden shrugged. “I’m not really sure. I could feel myself getting hit, but I wasn’t thinking about it.” The medic looked over his body from head to toe, and counted forty-seven marks left by the bullets. They were nothing more than small red circles normally found a month or so after being shot. “I’m not sure how you healed so quickly, but you’re doing a lot better than the others who were shot.” “I don’t think I heard the final count before we left on how many got hit.” Aiden pulled on the shirt he was given. “Twenty-three received gunshot wounds, and eleven of those were from silver bullets. They’re going through surgery as quick as we can to remove the poison. The regular bullets are easy.” Aiden did not need to see the look he received from his mate. “Where are the patients with the silver wounds?” “Surgical tent, two down. Why?” The smaller teen turned towards the entrance to the tent. “I need someone to take me there. I’ll take care of the ones with the silver. You guys can deal with the regular bullets.” The medic was from a different pack, and did not know what Ethan was talking about. He was about to question it when a doctor behind them spoke. “If he’s feeling up to it, get him over there now. Once he’s seen everyone with silver poisoning, make sure he and his mate get some undisturbed rest.” “Yes, Doctor. If you guys will follow me, I’ll take you myself.” In the surgical tent, the medic flagged down the nearest doctor. “Sir, I was told to bring these two over by Doctor MacRae so they could see the ones shot with silver.” The doctor looked at the couple. “You must be Aiden Jacobs and Ethan Tucker. Ian told me you’d probably be headed this way to help as soon as you found out. We have two in surgery already, and the rest waiting.” Ethan, never letting go of Aiden’s hand, walked over to the first cot holding someone waiting to be taken into surgery. It was a she-wolf in obvious pain. She had fought fiercely alongside Aiden and the others, protecting as many as she could. The sizzling sound of the silver in her body could be heard, along with the sickening scent of burning flash. Inspecting where the wounds were, Ethan issued directions to the doctor. “I need her on her side, sir.” Once they had moved the woman to her side, Ethan placed a hand on her back, the other on her abdomen, and began pressing hard as his power flowed into the woman. Within two minutes, the bullets were pushed out as the wounds healed from the inside; they dropped onto the cot, and were quickly collected. Her fever began dropping immediately with the offending metal no longer inside her. When Ethan finished, he looked to the doctor. “Who’s next?” By the time he was done, all the patient were recovering. Doctor MacRae came in to check on Ethan. “Josh, is everyone taken care of?” “He just finished the last one, Ian. That’s definitely a lot faster than we could have done it. We’ll monitor them for any residual poisoning effects.” Doctor MacRae turned his attention to the young couple. “Now that you’re done, go get some food, and try to get a couple hours of sleep. You’re to remain human, don’t exert yourself, and no healing anyone else. Go cuddle or something. I understand they’ll want you to go through debriefing in a couple hours. The medic, Tom, will take you to your tent.” Ian pointed his finger at Darius, Cody, Casey, and Trevor. “Make sure they rest, and get some rest yourselves.” The medic guided them to their assigned tent before returning to his duties. Inside, everyone grabbed a spot to relax on. Aiden and Ethan laid on a pad on the floor since a cot was not big enough to hold them both. The others tried to give the couple what little privacy they could under the circumstances. Aiden pulled his pup as close as possible, making as much contact between their bodies as he was physically able. Eventually, as exhaustion set in from a combination of adrenalin, prolonged use of their alpha forms, and Ethan’s healings, the two drifted off into their first peaceful sleep in some time. ****** Pack forces began their final push to secure the rogue’s stronghold once they had word the last hostage had cleared the town’s perimeter. They swept the area for any stragglers in hiding. The search went building to building and house to house, making sure everything was investigated. With the surface structures finished, the hunt soon extended into the rooms and tunnels beneath the town. Many of the buildings had passages leading to the underground complex. The subterranean facility was massive, and extended deep under the US and Canadian border. It appeared to have originated as a salt mine before it was converted into the large bunker complex. Besides the arena three levels below the bar and the feral holding pens beyond that, the searchers found multiple tunnels, and elevators leading down. The complex was equipped with living quarters capable of housing several hundred people. Storage vaults were found scattered throughout the facility full of a wide range of items from food and water to a large cache labeled as drugs. From the markings on the vaults, some were intended for human use; a separate vault had extensive warnings to prevent exposure to lycan. Searchers found a rail system with electric mining-type trains while inspecting one storage area. There was a connecting central hub with elevators leading deeper into the earth to more vaults marked with the same warnings to lycan. The tracks ran in both directions, ending at buildings far from the international border. During the search and rescue, about seventy rogue fighters were taken into custody. The bodies of another sixty or so killed in the fighting were also located. A good number perished as a result of their encounter with Ethan and Aiden. Wounded prisoners were allowed, under heavy guard, to shift into their animal form just long enough to heal before getting checked out by a medic. A few volunteered to guide the search teams to clear and map the facility, hoping their lives would be spared. Sixty-four ferals had been counted in the holding pens. For the moment, it was the safest place for them. Three packs expecting to send people in to exterminate them were told to hold off. For now, they did not pose any threat, and people were needed to guard the captured rogue fighters, or search the facility. Processing prisoners was the priority. No one was even sure if they could get any kind of statements. ****** Aiden and his group managed to get a few hours of sleep. While no one felt really refreshed, it was enough to finish what needed to be done. To start with, the group needed to go through their individual debriefing. This was no issue for the first four; however, Aiden and Ethan were not about to let anyone separate them. When it was suggested they speak independently with investigators, the proposal was met with growls to the point everyone backed down. Aiden sat before a group of four men from different packs while Ethan remained on his lap. The lead investigator turned on his recording device. “Deputy Jacobs. Thank you for meeting with us. We apologize for trying to separate you two even for a short amount of time. We’ll try to get through this quickly so you and your mate can get the rest you’ve earned.” The group asked questions about his time in captivity, and he answered to the best of his ability. “Some hostages mentioned you checked on them daily. Is that correct? How did that come about?” There was genuine curiosity in the man’s voice. “For some reason, their leader picked me to oversee our people. I was escorted around to all the cells once or twice a day to make sure they were safe. I tried to reassure them we would eventually get out. If I saw a problem, I’d ask the guard what could be done, or take it up with the leader. Most times they corrected what I asked for as if I were giving orders.” Another interrogator tapped his pen on a stack of folders in a bored fashion. “What do you know about the gang leader?” “He’s a sci-fi fan who in many respects acted like what you’d expect from any alpha. I was taken to his office most days for about an hour-long conversation. The topics varied from the Lycan Council to the difference between his pack and ours. I would say he tried to recruit me several times.” Aiden went in depth on everything he could remember about their different conversations. One man leaned back in his chair. “At the bar, you mentioned one of the two men held in cages was responsible for the attack which started all this. Would you care to elaborate?” “In one of my early discussions with the gang leader, he said his former beta had given the attack order while he was away on business.” “How can you know if that’s true or not?” “I don’t know if it’s true, or if he’s placing blame on someone else. He did say he fully intended to attack if the odds were favorable. Regardless if someone else gave the order, the leader’s still responsible for the actions of those under him.” “On the day we attacked the town, how were you able to get free?” He ran his hand along his chin, arching an eyebrow. “I could hear something was wrong, and feared for the safety of the other hostages. My wolf was able to finally break through the door, and go on the offensive. I opened the first cell I could, and protected them while they worked to free everyone else.” “Why didn’t you take that action sooner?” There was an accusatory tone to the question as his brows furrowed. “If you were able to break out of your cell the way you did, why didn’t you make an effort to try and escape before the final day?” Aiden’s voice dropped in pitch, becoming cold and flat as the room filled with the scent of his building anger. “I had fifty-two people to look out for. Each time I was taken from my cell, the hood that was over my head masked the scent of others, but I could hear there were many guards around. I had to weigh the odds of being able to protect everyone, versus how many might be killed in an escape. As long as I felt it was safer for them to stay put, I simply looked for opportunities that presented themselves. I wasn’t going to needlessly put any of their lives at risk.” After two hours, he felt he covered everything he had seen and heard. The only thing Aiden left out was any discussion of Michael. That was something he would only bring up with his alpha. The lead investigator extended his hand to Aiden. “Thank you, Deputy Jacobs. I’m sorry if any of our questions sounded offensive. If any additional details come to mind, please contact us.” A representative from Ember Moon also extended his hand. “You have our pack’s thanks for looking after our people, and bringing them all home safe.” The group took a short break before they began to ask Ethan questions. He was only able to give partial accounts of what he saw from the point of entering the bar until they finally pulled out. To Ethan, it was more like watching a movie, instead of something he was actually doing himself. His wolf moved to the forefront during the fighting since it had the needed instincts his human mind barely registered. He did his best to describe what he remembered, but there were gaps in what he could recall. The interviewers reassured him it was normal during a fight, especially with an inexperienced wolf. Once they had both finished, there was nothing to do but wait. They had been told Ethan would not be allowed to work with the ferals until the bunker was considered secure. ****** The packs’ combined forces had the town under control. There was no resistance found in the underground facility, but their search continued for some time to ensure it was safe. With the bunker complex size, checking each level, tunnel, and room took time. Sixteen levels were identified and mapped out. Several of the deepest looked like they had not been used in years. As troops continued the process of securing the facility, teams began going through the upper levels searching for any useful information on the rogues’ activities. Everything from the gang leader’s office was boxed up to ship back to Parker Valley for processing. The coalition of packs had agreed to share anything found. As the different search teams worked, security patrols monitored the area. The morning after the assault took place, several SUVs approached the perimeter set up around the town. Both armed and animal forces moved to meet the group of ten vehicles. A lycan wolf in a black suit exited the lead one, and waited under the watchful eye of the multi-pack forces. It took a few minutes for the senior official placed in overall operational command to arrive. He brought his second in command who oversaw security leading to the town. The man in the suit pulled out his identification as he looked over the two men with disdain. “I’m with Lycan Council Security. These are my orders from the Council’s vice president to take over the investigation of the rogue gang, and assume control of the town. You are ordered to turn over any prisoners and any information you’ve collected so far. You can begin moving your troops out. I’ll need someone to show our people to the feral holding pens so they can begin the eradication of the vermin.” The pack commander crossed his arms, thoroughly unimpressed with the man before him. “Nice of you to make the trip all the way out here. However, this is a regional issue. My orders say nothing about turning over anything to anyone from the Council.” “Feel free to call the Council to verify the orders. Regardless, you people need to leave.” The commander dropped the papers from the agent and dug his boot into the ground on top of them. “I guess you guys didn’t get the memo from our packs. We’re annexing this area for a joint venture project. Since no other pack’s claimed it, we consider it ours now.” “This territory is outside the jurisdiction of any pack.” He waved his hand in the air. “So I will have to insist you pull back. This is a Council matter.” When several SUV doors opened, the pack forces raised their weapons while the troops in animal form lowered their heads, baring their teeth at the intruders. “I would suggest you take this up with the eight alphas who have troops here, along with the other regional alphas who are providing logistical and territorial support. You could try to force the issue now, and granted my math may be rusty, but it appears to me our personnel outnumbers yours. Seems my hand is kings high to your pair of deuces. I believe I win this round. Please have a safe drive on your return to whichever rock you guys crawled out from under.” The black suited shifter turned back to his SUV while glaring at the smiling commander. He pulled out his phone, and stood next to the vehicle while talking to someone. Something the council agent said tripped a mental red flag, and the commander signaled to his men to take all the security agents into custody. “What the fuck are you doing?” The lead agent growled as his phone was confiscated. “There’s going to be hell to pay for doing this to members of Council Security.” “It’s possible this will provoke some type of response, but that would probably lead to you or someone else having to answer questions about how you knew there were feral holding pens underground. That isn’t information we’ve put out. Come to think of it, we haven’t put any information out. So it would seem you have insider knowledge of this facility, let alone the fact we’re even operating here.” He nodded to his second. “Find someplace to keep them locked up. If needed, level sixteen has only one entrance. The air’s a little thin down there, but these guys don’t need to breathe much. Remove any cell phones, and search them for anything else to communicate with. Strip search them if they give you any problems. It’s your call if you do a cavity search. On second thought, just strip search them anyways. And have someone check their trucks.” “Yes, sir.” As soon as the council agents had been marched off, the commander pulled out his own phone to call John Stockdale. “Alpha, they didn’t waste any time in getting here. Seems they knew exactly what was going on, and when the cleanup was starting. After the one in charge mentioned the underground feral pens, I had our people detain them, and remove their phones.” “Make sure any computers or documents remain under heavy guard. Once you have everything you feel there is, we’ll send in the helicopter to pick up the most important items so they never fall into Council hands.” “Understood, Alpha. We should have the complex cleared by morning. We’ll request the assault team return, and deal with the ferals at that time.” “Good. We don’t want to take chances with them. The medical center is preparing for the influx of patients when they can be transported.” “We’ll take good care of them, Alpha. By the time we pack up, there won’t be so much as a paperclip for the Council to find.” The commander returned to his duties, and shared what had transpired with the other packs’ lead representatives. ****** It was two days before Ethan’s group was allowed to return. It had taken that long to fully search and secure the site. They were checked at three different points to make sure who was in the SUV. Guards from two separate packs escorted them in. They received orders to take Ethan and his personal guards to the feral pens. Surveying the area, it was like an oversized dog kennel with around two hundred cages. Each feral was in its own, and there were prison-type gangways connecting to other passages, likely towards the arena. The floors were all concrete. A lot of time, money, and work had gone into creating this space. One guard said he heard a rumor the site had once been some type of old abandon military bomb shelter, while others said it had been a mine. Still more men had even more elaborate theories of what the mass of tunnels and chambers had been “You guys said there are sixty-four?” Ethan took in the chamber’s vast size. “Yes, sir,” the guard responded. “Sir? I’m what, at least ten years younger than you, and you’re calling me sir?” “Sorry. Maybe too many years in the military. Plus, people keep saying you’re in charge. Or the fact they said you would be the one dealing with the ferals without killing them. Sir seems appropriate.” “Do me a favor and cut out the sir bit, it’s Ethan.” He offered his hand to the guard. He continued to look around at the area before kneeling and placing his hand on the floor. “I’m not sure I can do it the same as the last big group back home. If I do this one at a time, and do a full healing for each one, it’s going to most of the day. And that’s if I can go non-stop.” He looked around once more. “I need to get inside the caged area.” “Are you sure about that?” The guard appeared worried. Ethan nodded, and the guard radioed to have the nearest door opened. Entering the walkway fronting the first row of cages, he knelt, and placed both hands on the concrete floor. As the power in his eyes built, he tried sending out a wave of energy like at the pit. After a few minutes of nothing happening, he leaned back on the balls of his feet. The nearest ferals watched him with interest, yet showed no signs of any change. “Do you have access to open the cages one at a time?” “I believe so, sir, I mean Ethan.” The guard called off a number to someone in a nearby control room, and the door slid open. That was followed by the cell’s floor giving the feral enough of a shock it began trying to move out as it had been trained. The shock it received also caused it to become agitated. Ethan felt the electrical charge, though not as much as the feral did. “Does the floor always do that when the cage is opened?” “I’m not sure. We hadn’t opened any cages before.” Aiden had felt it too. “That’s similar to what they had for the cells they kept us in. They hit me with a heavy shock when I shifted into my wolf once.” “This isn’t going to work well if we piss them off every time a cage is opened for me to try and help. We need a better plan.” Ethan sat on the ground as the feral approached him. The guard began to raise his rifle, thinking the teen was insane, and wondered why his friends were not doing anything to help or protect him. Darius reached out, placed his hand on the rifle’s barrel, pushed it down, and shook his head. The power in Ethan’s eyes built again as the feral crouched, scenting him as if checking prey. When it was close enough, Ethan reached out, letting it sniff his hand before placing both on top of the beast’s head. Since it was just the one, Ethan did a full healing which lasted close to fifteen minutes. As the hair began to recede, Casey and Trevor moved in to carry the human-formed shifter away from the cages. The guard looked on in disbelief, his mouth agape. Aiden smiled. “He get’s that reaction a lot.” Ethan returned to the group outside the caged area. “We need a better way of doing this. I don’t want them shocked every time a cage opens. One of them is likely to get really pissed off. And if the floor I’m standing on does the same thing, I’ll get pissed off more than I already am.” Darius lead them over to the control room to talk with the technician trying to figure out the system. After explaining Ethan’s concerns, the tech searched the computer system again. The man reviewed what commands he could decipher. “It looks like it’s designed to keep the feral moving in a desired direction with a minimal amount of personnel. The cage opens, it shocks the feral to leave, and you can control the direction it goes by shocks it receives from the walkway’s floor. We didn’t tell the system to direct the feral anywhere, so when the gate opened, inside the cage was the only area that received a shock. I don’t see any override for that yet.” Aiden thought about his deputy training, and discussions about jails. “Does the system show a schematic of the holding area?” When the tech found it in the computer, it displayed the cells’ layout. It also showed more on two level below them, plus another twenty in an adjoining cavern they had not seen yet. The computer indicated each of the twenty was occupied. They headed back, and found a catwalk running along the top. Following it, they came to a security door. The guard radioed the number to the tech in the control room, and after a couple minutes it opened. There were two rows of ten cages on each side of the room, and each one held a shifter with the oldest being no more than twenty-five or so. They were all in their human forms, but none were responsive. “I’m not sure how we missed this area, but if you hadn’t asked about the schematic, these people might have remained here forever.” The guard patted Aiden on the back. “They’re in human form, so it’s something for the doctors to deal with.” Aiden could see Ethan trying to figure out what to do for these people. “Your priority is the ferals.” When they returned to the control room, Cody thought about the ferals used in the attack on the packs. “What about on the surface? They used quite a few when they attacked us. How do they get them topside?” They followed the non-secure side of one walkway leading away from the arena. After a series of ramps and stairs, they reached the surface. It looked like a cattle loading area. A semi truck with a heavily reinforced trailer was connected to where the pathway exited the underground passages. The entire area was concrete. There were several more trucks and vans in the parking lot. Off to the sides, large trees provided shade. Ethan walked over to the nearest one, and placed his hand on it. A few moments later, he returned to the group nodding his head. Darius figured out what Ethan was thinking, and began issuing orders. “I want all these trucks out of this area. If there’s any heavy equipment in town like a bulldozer, grader, or even a snowplow, have it brought over here.” The guard began relaying the orders through his radio. While they waited for additional people to help with the plan, Darius voiced his concerns. “You’ll never be able to contain them in this area. They’ll hit the surface and take off running in all directions.” “Trust me. The trees will hold them here.” Ethan declared. “Once the trucks are out of the way, I’ll make it easy for whatever they can come up with to push the concrete debris out of the way” “What concrete debris?” The guard cocked his head, glancing cautiously at the teen. While they waited, Ethan explained to Aiden how he had helped a large group at once at home. It took about forty minutes to get all the trucks out of the way. A medium size backhoe was found, and brought over. Once that was done, Ethan smiled as he surveyed the area, and moved over to the trees. “You might not want to be standing on or near the concrete. Come to think of it, it might be better to stay behind me.” Ethan placed his hands on two trees he stood between. At first, it seemed like nothing was happening. Then branches began to rustle, although there was no breeze. A rumbling in the ground could be felt by those present. The concrete began to crack, making loud popping noises. Roots pushed through the ground tearing apart the parking lot. When the debris was a size the backhoe could push out of the way, the roots receded into the ground. The guard and other onlookers stood slack jawed, including Aiden. Despite what his friends had experienced, it never got old, and was never routine to see these displays of his power. Rubbing his hand on the tree’s bark, Ethan whispered. “Thank you, and pass my thanks to your friends. I’ll need some more of your help in a little while.” He turned his attention to the guard. “Could you guys let me know when the debris is cleared? I just need it pushed to the side or something so there’s a large dirt area. And where can I get something to eat? I’m kinda hungry now.” The guard nodded before pointing off in the direction of their command post. He finally went over to tell the guy on the backhoe what needed to be done. Aiden grabbed his pup’s hand as they headed off in search of food. ****** It was mid-afternoon when Ethan and his group returned to the loading area. A good portion of the concrete had been pushed off to one side, leaving the dry earth exposed. It did not look like it would be able to grow anything for quite some time, and there was no telling how long it had been covered in concrete. Kneeling, Ethan placed his hands on the ground. He picked up a few clumps of soil, crushing them in his hand as it sifted through his fingers. Brushing the dirt off, he stepped back, and looked towards the sky. Clouds formed over their location, and a light rain fell only in the area he wanted. As soon as no more could soak in, the rain stopped, and the clouds broke up. Aiden grinned. “Couldn’t just find a garden hose, could you?” Ethan laid his head against his mate’s chest, an amused smile crossing his face. “Not as much fun, and the only hose I’m interested in is yours marking me with your scent again.” He moved over to one of the large trees, and placed his hand on it. Within minutes, new saplings began sprouting and rapidly growing, filling in the gaps between the old ones. When it was finished, a nearly impenetrable wall surrounded the parking area. He turned his attention to the guard escorting them. “Have the trucks taking the people away after I get them back into their human bodies brought over.” The guard nodded before issuing the orders over his radio. When all the trucks were in place, Ethan issued his next command. “Would you have them send about fifteen of the ferals up here? If they haven’t figured out how to prevent them from getting shocked, you better hope they aren’t pissed off when they arrive.” Again, the guard relayed the orders and they waited. A few minutes later, the loading door opened, and the first feral emerged into the light of day, followed by several more. Ethan sat on the ground, placing one hand onto the soil. The blue sapphires of his eyes shone bright. When all fifteen feral were on the surface, they searched for an escape route. That is until they picked up Ethan’s scent. A few licked their chops at the tasty morsel waiting to be devoured. Others were more cautious, expecting a trap from their captors. They moved towards him in a group. A single flower rose out of the ground, followed by another and another until the area the ferals stood on filled with the colorful flora. All the beasts ceased their movement towards the teen, and sat, acting unusually calm to the onlookers. Once the last feral was on the ground, Ethan placed his other hand on the soil. The light in his eyes grew ever brighter as he worked on the group. When his eyes returned to normal, all the ferals collapsed, and reverted to human form. The flowers rapidly went to seed before dying off. A light breeze blew any remaining pollen and scent from the flowers away so no one else would be affected. Ethan was a little dizzy from the effort. “You can send your people in now to get them to the trucks.” The stunned guard nodded as he passed on the orders. Aiden sat beside his pup. “Are you okay? That looked like it took a lot out of you.” “I’m fine. It’s harder to do it this way, but with as many as there are, it beats one at a time. I’ll have to go back and work with each one later, but the process is started.” “You couldn’t do that inside because of the concrete floor?” “I think so. I wasn’t in contact with earth. It might have been whatever was in the floor to give them a shock, but the healing energy wouldn’t go to them.” “The flowers?” “They’re a sedative I use to keep them calm, and get them to sit so they have more contact with the ground. While they’re blooming, I wouldn’t get too close to the flowers or you’ll feel their effect. I figured it out when I helped the ferals caught in the attack.” Ethan gazed into Aiden’s eyes. “I really am okay, but I could do with a little rest and something to eat before I deal with the next group.” Aiden nodded towards his friends. “Casey, Darius, he needs some food and rest.” “We know, boss. Already have it lined up and a cot for him to lie down on for a while. Follow us.” Casey laughed. After his rest, Ethan took care of the four remaining groups of ferals before the end of the day. All told, it took nearly as much time between preparation and doing the group healing as it would have to do a full healing one on one. With the large number to deal with and the shock floors, it felt safer on the surface. ****** As each group went through the beginnings of the healing process, they were loaded into waiting transports to take them to Parker Valley’s territory. It had been worked out with the other alphas before the operation began since they had the expertise in dealing with their treatment. There, they could undergo whatever additional healing they would need. It would be a long process, and several of the participating packs promised their support in the efforts. With the last of those treated safely on their way, Darius guided their group back to the SUV. Trevor took the driver’s seat to begin the four hundred mile drive home. There was no need for them to remain as the different search and forensic teams scoured the town and bunker for anything of use. Ethan stayed cuddled against Aiden, and it was not long before he dozed off. The exhaustion of the mass healing, plus the effect of the last two weeks had taken a toll. He was completely worn out. Casey and Cody sat in the third row of seats. The bigger wolf wrapped an arm around the slightly older coyote as they settled in for the ride. After one stop about half way through their drive, Trevor and Darius switched out as drivers. The SUV turned off the main highway, and they soon arrived at Silver Pines. They would finally be able to relax, and work on getting back to a normal life. The SUV pulled up in front of the Tucker house; the entire family flooded out the front door. Mary and Kate held back the two youngest who wanted to rush out, and see the guys. Joe and Jack waited patiently, wanting to give the guys a chance to get out of the truck and breathe a little, but were likewise anxious to welcome their brothers home. Rafe and Weylin looked on with anticipation to see the boys, and make sure they were not hurt. Craig Jacobs stood anxiously beside Mary and Rafe, wanting to get his first look at his son after his release from captivity. As the six exited the vehicle, the family could not hold back anymore, and swarmed them with hugs and kisses. ****** A van equipped with two cages, formerly used by the rogue gang for transporting ferals or captive shifters, made its way down the highway. After several hours, it pulled into the jail complex in Silver Pines where it was met by the sheriff, the alpha, and Jackie Stockdale. The first prisoner was taken out, and escorted into the facility. Once he was inside, the second was removed from his cage. Wearing heavy wrist and ankle irons, as well as a thick collar, the prisoner moved with difficulty under the weight and discomfort of the silver laced restrains. Jackie tried to keep her emotions neutral, however, the anger and rage in her eyes was evident to anyone brave enough to look. Michael was home.
    114 points
  23. It was always busy in the mornings at Coffee|Bar but Matt felt more pressure than usual as he busied himself between taking orders and making orders. He'd only been working there a few months and was feeling bad about requesting the weekend off to go see his mom. The least he could do was prove to Denise that she hadn't made a mistake hiring him. Hilary elbowed him after he fumbled and then saved a stack of cups. “Dude, calm down. What’s got you wound so tight? This isn’t like you.” “I think Denise is irritated that I asked for the weekend off. What if she fires me?” He paused and blew out a deep breath. “Maybe Mom could find someone to babysit.” “You think Denise really gives a fuck?” she asked. “The deal with having a business that relies on college students to stay afloat is having a million time off requests at any given moment. Weekend requests are the easiest to fill because no one has classes. There’s a dozen people wanting those hours, Matt. You’re fine.” “I know,” he groaned. “I just don’t want to lose my shifts. I have good shifts, great shifts even.” He had managed to have a great schedule that gave him premium hours, a little time off, and no conflict with his classes. It was a college wet dream. “You have great shifts because you slay the job. Now finish your damn shift without wrecking the place and go watch your cute-as-a-button late-in-life...I mean, lil brother,” she winked. Matt rolled his eyes but laughed anyway. The acronym was damn funny because it was true. Where Matt had been the product of high school lust on steroids, his lil brother couldn’t say the same. Matt couldn’t say what Aidan was the product of. His mom was nearing forty and dating a guy ten years her junior. Matt had done the math and they’d only been “dating” a week before she got pregnant. That was a generous calculation by the way. He wasn’t entirely convinced they’d done anything that was classified as a date unless they’d bypassed the classic dating rules and jumped straight to the post third date activities. He guessed that meant Aidan was a product of post third date activities. Poor kid. Hilary’s assurance helped Matt finish his shift without the nagging guilt on his shoulders. Still, he handed Denise a thank you card with a gift card to the movie theatre. Yeah, it was lame but he was still a broke college student and she’d mentioned how annoyed she was with the price of movie tickets these days. He really thought she’d appreciate the gesture. He walked home, showered, and grabbed the backpack he’d packed the previous night. The bus ride was just under four hours. Going home was always bittersweet. He felt bad because there was no reason he should dread it. He didn’t have a terrible childhood by any means. His parents hadn’t made their lusty high school affair work in the long term. Shocking. They’d split custody the best way they knew how, which wasn’t easy since his dad lived an hour west. If he’d been going home to his dad’s, things might’ve been different. Having a kid so young had calmed him down and made him mature real quick. His dad was a rock and they got along great. But it was his mom who’d been a majority shareholder when it came to parenting time and being a teen mom hadn’t induced the same growth rate in her as it has in his dad. No doubt a contributing factor as to why he had a kid brother twenty years his junior whose father was only nine years Matt’s senior. When the bus arrived, his mom was waiting. She smiled and waved when he stepped off the bus, clearly happy to see her firstborn. Matt smiled, then saw Aidan and really smiled. At three months old Aidan was too small to give a fuck about his older brother but that didn’t stop Matt from raising his voice and saying stupid things that no respectable man would say to another man but were socially acceptable when it involved the cutest sack of potatoes you ever saw. He carefully plucked Aidan from his mother’s arms and cooed into the most uninterested blue eyes. The fact he hung lifelessly in Matt’s hands didn’t stop him from making a fool of himself. Just when it looked like Aidan was having enough of the assault, Matt cradled him on his shoulder and swayed him back and forth. “Hi Mom,” he said, leaning in and kissing her on the cheek while giving the kind of awkward half-hug that can only be achieved when you’re holding an infant. “Hey you,” she squeezed him then quickly let go. “Thank you for coming. Todd and I needed a night out and Aidan missed his brother.” Matt looked down and smiled. “I’m sure he did. I bet he’s been begging for days to see me. I’m the only friend he’s got in this world.” “Yeah, he doesn’t get out much. Kinda keeps to himself.” “The introvert to my extrovert,” Matt joked as he laid his brother in the car seat and buckled him in. When he got in the front seat he turned to his mom, “Where are you guys going tonight? Any place nice?” “Digly’s.” Matt whistled. “Wow, what’s the occasion?” His mom sat up straighter and got a proud look on her face. “Well, I got promoted to head nurse.” “H-B-I-C,” Matt said, impressed. His mom might make questionable decisions in her personal life but she was a great nurse. “H-B-what?” “H-B-I-C. Head bitch in charge.” His mom started laughing but was clearly pleased with the reference. “Can I get that on a plaque? It’s perfect. H-B-I-C,” she chuckled to herself. “That’s awesome.” “Seriously, Mom, congratulations. You deserve it.” “I do don’t I? I’ve worked hard for this. I’m excited. And Todd is getting a promotion, too.” “Look at you two getting shit done. Good thing I already filled out my FAFSA or your ballin’ status would really screw me over.” His mom swatted his knee but preened at the compliment. She’d always had a good job but she’d never been great at managing her means. Matt had a feeling she and Todd were already experiencing the lifestyle creep even though they hadn’t gotten paid yet. Matt knew the reality wouldn’t be as much as they were expecting but that was their bed, not his. They got to the house and Matt went to his childhood room and settled in. It was already late and his mom and Todd were quick to get going. He stood at the door and waved as they left to celebrate their big money status. When they pulled away Matt picked Aidan up from the vibrating saucer bed and took him to the couch. They watched a movie, ate, burped, and settled into PJ’s. Matt loved his brother. It made him excited to have a kid of his own some day. He’d always been good with kids and Aidan confirmed what a kick ass dad he’d be. Even at twenty, it was quite easy to spend time with the little nugget. He fell asleep on the couch with Aidan on his chest. Matt didn’t see a reason to put him down since they’d be up in a few hours to eat again. When he woke again it wasn’t because of Aidan, it was a knock on the door. He slowly got up, assuming it was just his mom and Todd wanting in. Probably too drunk to worry about their house keys. Aidan didn’t rouse even when Matt opened the front door, letting a breeze of frigid early morning air into the house. On the porch stood a police officer. This wasn’t Matt’s first rodeo. “How can I help you, officer?” He asked, pulling the blanket a little tighter to shield him from the cold. “Hi, I’m Officer Whistler. What’s your relation to Brenda Andrews?” “She’s my mother.” “And what’s your name?” “Matt, Matthew Kessler.” Officer Whistler jotted the notes in his book then looked Matt in the eyes. It was that moment Matt knew it was more than just a minor infraction or a DUI like his mom had had in the past. “Your mom and Todd Getler have been in an accident.” Matt wasn’t thinking of worst case scenarios, yet. “Were they drinking?” “That’s undetermined at this time.” “What happened?” “It looks like they were on their way home on Highway 72 when a boulder fell on the road.” Matt’s gut coiled. He’d always hated that road. The whole side of the mountain was held together with a metal blanket of chain link to keep rocks from falling. There were signs every mile or so letting drivers know of the pending danger. To his knowledge, no one had ever been killed. “Holy shit,” he breathed. His body began shaking so he started swaying Aidan, more for his benefit than his brother’s. “How bad is it? Are they— The officer shook his head. Oh shit. **** Matt was on autopilot after that, doing things he thought were fifty-plus years in his future. He had to process and sort out the vast misfortune that was his mother’s life all while caring for Aidan. If it hadn’t been for his naturally organized nature and future as an accountant or business equivalent, he would have drowned trying to navigate the mess she left. Todd’s only family was an aunt in poor health. Lucky for her because as far as Matt could tell, Todd had nothing to his name except whatever was in his bank, which he could only assume wasn’t much. It wasn’t as if his mom had a lot to liquidate. She’d never gotten to a place where she was able to buy a house but she did have retirement and a small life insurance policy through her job at the hospital. Matt had to go through her house and decide what to keep and what to sell. The sell pile was a lot bigger than the keep. He never got emotionally attached to things the way his mom did. He had no problem discarding most of her stuff which made him feel incredibly guilty. But he lived in an apartment. What was he supposed to do? Pay for storage until x amount of time passed and then toss it? Nah, he’d rather get it over with. It wasn’t until Aidan’s stuff was cluttering his one-bedroom apartment that the weight of it all hit him. He went from a college junior studying numbers to a single parent in the literal blink of an eye. He was hardly the first young, single parent getting a college degree but it was all so new to him. Regardless, he wasn’t gonna let it get him down. He was his father’s son, and if his dad could do it and cross the other side like a boss, then so could Matt. **** “I’m torn between being glad and feeling bad that you’re back to work already. Are you sure it’s not too soon?” Hilary asked as she and Matt quickly prepped the incoming drink orders. Matt pumped chocolate into the cup and shrugged. “Well, I’m torn between not wanting to work but knowing that money is the root of all evil and I must have it if I want to finish school and not kill a small helpless child.” “Well,” she laughed. “When you put it like that, welcome back. Where is Aidan anyway? When are you gonna bring him in? I want to hold a baby so bad.” Hilary and Matt moved around each other as they worked the line, her reaching in the minifridge below Matt and him grabbing the flavoring from her side of the bar. “He’s with a woman named Victoria who lives over on 117th. I found her on Craigslist and, before you judge me, know that I’m totally freaking out about it. But I didn’t think about getting him in daycare until it was too late and they don’t have drop-off services. I’m just trying to figure it out. On top of that, daycare is so damn expensive,” he stepped back so Hilary could cross him, when she moved back, he resumed crafting the perfect mocha breve. “Like seriously, how do people afford to raise kids?” Hilary looked at Matt with sympathy. “I don’t know but they do. I think the college offers some daycare assistance during classes and the state offers daycare assistance based on income.” Matt put the finished drinks on the counter then called out the names for pick up. “I know and, I’m not trying to sound finicky, but the state-assisted daycares are terrifying.” “I’m not sure I can do much but you have my number. If it works around my schedule, I’ll do what I can.” “I appreciate it. Even if it doesn’t work out, the offer means so much. It’s all the small things that are overwhelming me. There are so many things I’m not aware of, you know? I don’t know what I don’t know. I just wish I knew what to plan for. I feel like I’m in a stranger’s house, trying to find my way to the bathroom in the dark.” “You’ll find the light switch soon enough my friend.” Matt was thankful for Hilary, if for no other reason than being a compassionate sounding board. Just talking about it made him feel better. By the time he clocked out, he had more confidence than he’d woken up with. When he picked Aidan up from his first day of daycare and there hadn’t been any issues, he was relieved. He never thought he’d be so anxious about leaving a child but Aidan was tiny and helpless and was relying on Matt to keep him safe. It was enough pressure to make him second guess his every move. **** If Matt thought daycare was his biggest issue then he considered himself royally punked. The college had a daycare and was able to take Aidan during his class hours and Victoria was pretty flexible when it came to his shifts at Coffee|Bar. The bigger issue was trying to get anything done with a three-month-old. Laundry? No longer a quick trip to the laundry room. Now he had to figure out how to take Aidan plus his laundry and he couldn’t take separate trips as leaving a baby unattended was frowned upon. Grocery shopping was no longer a quick in/out situation. He either had to strap the kid to his chest or sacrifice the majority of the shopping cart to house him. And for such a small human, he made everyday chores almost impossible. Aidan was an easy baby but it seemed like Matt couldn’t get more than ten minutes into something before Aidan needed something. Feeding, diaper, attention. Matt wondered if there was any chance he could pass his classes without studying. Lord knew Aidan wasn’t going to give him the chance. Despite the hardships, things were moving forward. Two weeks with Aidan and it was starting to feel smoother. Just like every Thursday, Matt carried Aidan to campus, dropped him off at the daycare, went to class, picked Aidan up, took the bus to Victoria’s and dropped Aidan off again, then walked to work. He was dead on his feet when he entered the back door and put his stuff in his cubby before putting on his apron. He checked the schedule like he did every day, just in case something changed, then went to the front of the house. It was busy, of course. It was a popular and trendy coffee house close to campus. It was always teeming with people needing a caffeine fix or a place to take selfies just to prove they studied. Hilary wasn’t working but he hadn’t met a coworker he didn’t like. Example; Kase. He was on the football team and he and Matt got along pretty well. Kase saw him and raised his chin, his hand busy prepping food. “Matt,” Denise said as she came up from behind. “How are things settling? How’s that chunky monkey?” “Good, he’s doing real good. We’re both doing good.” And that was the truth. Denise had been a godsend from the beginning, letting Matt know she had his back and if he needed anything, all he had to do was ask. “I’m glad to hear it. Mind taking tubs today? Dishes are way backed up.” “Absolutely,” he responded. Most of the crew groaned about doing dishes but Matt was happy to contribute wherever he was needed. He grabbed a tub from the floor and headed toward the back. “Holy shit,” he muttered to himself. Denise wasn’t joking when she said dishes were backed up. The entire stainless-steel counter was stacked full. It was so full he wasn’t even sure where to start. He threw on the full length, thick plastic apron and got to work. Besides how hot and muggy it got from the commercial spray hose and giant sanitation machine, dishes weren’t that bad. As each load came out of the washer, he quickly put them away and started the next. Rinse and repeat. Literally. Matt had a stack of dishes and was heading to the front to put them away when someone came through the wrong door, running face-first into Matt and making him drop the dishes on the floor, shattering everything. “Holy shit,” Matt swore as the sound of ceramic shattering echoed in the kitchen. No doubt the entire place heard the damage. “I’m sorry,” the guy said. Matt could only assume he was a new hire. “I didn’t see you coming.” He bent over and started putting broken pieces in the tub. “For future reference, that door is marked exit only and the other one is to enter...to prevent this from happening.” Matt tried to keep his voice calm even though he was irritated to no end by such reckless behavior. The guy stilled and looked at Matt, then at the door, then at Matt again. He looked like he wanted to feel guilty but mostly found Matt annoying for pointing out his wrongdoing. “Fair enough.” Denise busted through the door—the correct door—and looked around the kitchen. “Whoa. What happened here?” Matt didn’t volunteer anything, opting to wait for the other guy to sing. “We got our wires crossed, no big deal.” He looked at Matt. “Go ahead to the front. I’ll clean this up.” Matt stared at him for a moment. He’d never seen this guy a day in his life and suddenly he was dismissing Matt? Matt wasn’t one who thought he was above anyone else and always respected authority but he couldn’t help wonder who the fool was. Instead of leaving, he looked to Denise for instructions. She nodded toward the front, confirming his dismissal, then bent down to help clean the mess up. Matt removed the washing apron and left without a word. “What the hell happened back there? Sounded like a sonic boom or something,” Kase asked as Matt jumped in to help on the line. “Some dumbass came barging in the wrong door as I was trying to bring a stack of plates to the front of the house.” “Some dumbass, huh?” Kase laughed. Matt gestured to the door with a pretty little sign. “The doors are clearly marked, so you tell me.” “Is said dumbass about yay-high,” Kase’s hand stopped just short of his own height, just under six foot or so. “A dark red headed Irishman, late twenties, possibly could choke you out with his mind power?” Matt rolled his eyes. “Yes on the height and hair, no clue on the ethnicity, probable theory on the telekinesis.” Kase thought the whole exchange was funny as shit because he was laughing pretty loudly as he put the two paninis in the press. “Dude, this is awesome. That dumbass is Seamus Ryan.” “And he’s, what? A friend of yours from the football team?” Kase clapped his hands and laughed. “No, more like the guy who signs our paychecks, man. As in, Seamus Ryan, the owner.” Fuck me Matt laughed to himself. What are the odds? “It changes nothing except my anxiety level. He still should’ve used the correct door, it’s not that hard. I’m not getting written up for his error.” “Fight the power, man,” Kase fisted the air. “Fight the power.” Denise and Seamus came up front together. Neither of them acknowledged Matt, who kept his head down and worked, prepping food for Kase on the line. When it looked like the dish bins were getting full, he excused himself and took the tub to the back to get caught up on the washing. Denise and Seamus came and went throughout the day. Spending a little while out front before disappearing to the back again. Matt didn’t really care what Seamus thought, but Denise, she’d been so kind and accommodating since his mom died. He wasn’t confident he could find another job with a boss like her and wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize it. Luckily, Seamus left before his shift was over and he was able to talk to Denise in private. “I just wanted to apologize for earlier. The guy startled me when he came the wrong way through the door and everything happened so fast. I’ll be more careful in the future.” Denise squeezed his shoulder and smiled. “Oh Matt, I hope you haven’t been gnawing on this all day. Seamus knew better. He’s always in a damn hurry.” “Okay,” he relaxed. “I just really appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I don’t want to be more of a headache than necessary.” “You’re hardly a headache. If anything, you make my life easier. You’re the only person who doesn’t complain when I ask them for something, like the dishes. You’re a big picture person. You see what needs to be done no matter how big or small and then you do it. I appreciate you and the least I can do is help where I can. You’re too valuable to lose. Never be afraid to ask for anything.” “Does that mean Aidan can hang out for fifteen minutes or so on Thursday?” he asked, hopeful. She winked and gave him a thumbs up. Matt tossed a silent thanks to the god above then changed out of his work stuff and left to pick up Aidan. **** “Okay Aido-Potato, what do you want for dinner? Similac sensitive or...Similac sensitive?” He watched as his brother wiggled on his back, cooing and smiling as Matt held a bottle in one hand and formula in the other. “Similac sensitive it is. You’re a tough negotiator lil brother.” Matt watched Aidan from the corner of his eye as he prepped the bottle then sat on the couch and fed him. It was weird, Matt looked just like his dad yet Aidan looked a lot like Matt. Having light brown hair and blue eyes wasn’t exactly a scientific anomaly. Heck, who knew, maybe they’d look nothing alike as Aidan got older. After a bath, where Matt tried not to gag as he cleaned the sour milk from Aidan’s fat rolls, the ones on his neck being the most pungent thanks to formula drip, Matt did homework. Like every night, it was slow going. Normally he could get so lost that hours would pass in the blink of an eye, now it seemed like he couldn’t get ten minutes in before Aidan distracted him. Matt rolled his eyes when Aidan squawked for the tenth time, demanding attention, and flopped back on the couch. He used his foot to jiggle the small human that was laying on the floor. “Are you sleepy yet? I could read you my textbook? Do you think tax law will put you to sleep? It does for most people.” He got Aidan ready for bed then turned down the lights and snuggled into the couch. It took fifteen minutes of reading before Aidan was passed out. Matt carefully carried him to the crib that sat beside his bed in the small room they shared. “Being a single parent at twenty wasn’t supposed to be in the cards. Not being a dad by accident is literally the one thing a gay man can count on,” he whispered in the darkened room as he leaned against the crib. “I miss Mom. Probably for the wrong reasons,” he laughed. “But I miss her. And I can’t even be mad at her. Sometimes I wish she’d been reckless so I could blame her for all this, but she wasn’t. Neither of them had much alcohol. Now it’s just you and me. I can’t say I’d pick this outcome if I had a choice but here I am, terrified. I have no clue what I’m doing. What if I can’t juggle it all? It’s not like I have Mom to help me out. I do have Dad, he’s awesome and knows exactly what I’m going through, but how weird would it be for him to help raise his dead ex-wife’s child that she had with another man. That’s some prime daytime television shit right there.” Matt rubbed Aidan’s belly and left the door cracked as he left. Matt stayed up and did homework until Aidan woke again, then they both went to sleep. Aidan was getting better at sleeping and that made the next day easier. A good thing because everything was taking longer. He couldn’t jump out of bed and rush to class anymore. Ten minutes for Matt to get ready and twenty-five minutes for Aidan. Victoria was a good sitter but he wished he could find something closer. There was a daycare that would be perfect but they had a waiting list and he wasn’t sure how many kids were before them. He had a feeling he wouldn’t get that call until next semester if he was lucky. It meant having Aidan at work more frequently than he wanted. It was only for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time but he still felt guilty. No one seemed to mind, they loved it even and took turns holding him. Today, however, wouldn't be fifteen minutes. Victoria was sick. He’d already taken Aidan to class earlier, which he slept through most of it. Matt knew he could call into work but decided to stop by anyway. If it was busy then he’d hang out for a few minutes. If it wasn’t, he’d take Aidan and go home. **** Two people had called out so, not only was it busy, they were short-handed. He found Denise in the back, grabbing supplies. “Hey, my sitter is sick. I was going to see about going home but I can totally stay, I just have a little issue—” Matt lifted the car seat and the obvious hiccup strapped inside. Denise drummed her long fingers on her lips as she figured a way to handle the situation. “You’re allowed to call out,” she finally said. The statement was out of obligation because even he could tell she needed the extra help. “If you don’t have a problem with him being here then I don’t have a problem staying, I swear.” “Are you sure? It’s just—I have an appointment in an hour that I already rescheduled twice. If I don’t show up they’ll drop me.” “It’s not a problem for me. I promise.” Denise looked relieved and thankful. Since Aidan was sleeping, Matt kept him in the car seat and put him in the corner where he could keep an eye on him while working. When he woke, everyone took turns making sure Aidan, and the customers, were taken care of. It was actually fun. Aidan put everyone in a good mood. Having a baby brought something different to the monotony of work. Not that Matt thought work was boring. “Dude, it’s my turn.” Kase held his hands out, greedily. Hilary rolled her eyes but relinquished the child. Kase smiled in victory before heading to the floor to wipe off tables. “This is a bad idea,” she said, though she was smiling as she watched her friend soak up attention from the female patrons. “A football player who's good with babies? He’ll have enough numbers to last him all year.” “I should be disgusted that he’d use my baby brother—” “Lil brother,” Hilary corrected. “Lil brother, but I’m just thankful to be working. Plus, he is dreamy looking with a baby. I’m tempted to give him my number,” he faux swooned. Matt wasn’t attracted to Kase but yeah, a cute guy with a baby was really sexy. Hilary laughed but the way she watched Kase said she didn’t disagree. “It’s really not so bad. I don’t think Denise cares. Plus, that is one cute, chubby baby. I just want to bite his legs all day long.” “They are meal worthy,” he agreed. Eventually, it was Matt’s turn again. He strapped Aidan to his chest in one of those harness things that was single-handedly making super brotherhood manageable and started putting dishes away. He was carrying his brother and a tub of cups to the front when someone came in as Matt was going out. Matt let go of the tub in order to protect Aidan, sending the dishes crashing to the ground, again. Aidan started screaming. Matt was upset that he’d once again dropped a tub of dishes, more upset his brother was crying, and downright pissed that Seamus hadn't learned his lesson the last time. “This door is going out of the kitchen. Out,” he said as he bent down. He used one hand to keep his brother's head from dangling and the other to fill the tub with broken shards of glass. “Sorry, I didn’t realize there was anyone back here.” “It’s impossible to tell if there’s someone back here, that’s why the doors are labeled. For everyone’s safety.” The other door opened and a few coworkers popped in. Aidan’s screaming hadn’t gone unnoticed by the front of the house. “Is he okay?” Hilary rushed in. She semi-relaxed when he realized Aidan was okay. “Want me to take him?” Matt shook his head, stood up and stepped away from the mess while the two other employees took over. He held Aidan tight and began to sway. Aidan still screamed. “Are you sure he’s okay?” Hilary asked again. “Yeah, he just got scared. Plus, he’s hungry and tired. I’m gonna take my fifteen and see if I can get him to sleep.” Matt had never seen Aidan so upset and the nonstop screaming was stressing him out. He couldn’t get the bottle ready fast enough. Like kids do, ten minutes later he was fast asleep in his arms. Matt carefully put him on his chest and patted his back then laid him in the car seat. “I can sit in here with him while he sleeps.” Matt craned his neck. Seamus was standing at the door looking a little guilty. “It’s fine. He can hang with me out front.” “I’ve got work to do on the computer anyway so it’s not a big deal.” “Denise said it was okay for him to be here.” Matt felt the need to clarify that bit of information. The last thing he wanted was for the owner, who never really came around, to get upset because he brought a baby to work. Knowing Denise had approved would probably lesson the fallout. “I don’t—I’m not worried about that. But I can watch him.” Matt thought about it for a minute then reached for the car seat. “Yeah, okay. I’ll just—” he tucked Aidan into the car seat. Seamus sat at the desk and Matt paused at the door, “Thanks. Just, eh, let me know if he wakes up.” Matt was a total ball of nerves for the next two hours. He had to stop himself from checking on Aidan because he didn’t want to inconvenience the owner or have him think less of him. He also worried that Seamus did care that he brought his brother to work and that he’d have a conversation with Denise about it later. He hoped Denise wouldn’t get in trouble too. Everyone else seemed to share Matt’s nervousness. Theirs had more to do with the owner being there than the Aidan situation but Matt felt better knowing he wasn’t alone. When Seamus came through the door with a wide-awake Aidan in his arms, Matt rushed them. “Here, I can take him.” Seamus pulled Aidan out of Matt’s reach. “It’s fine. He’s been awake for a while. I just came up to get a drink. Would you mind getting me a grande Americano with two sugars and a splash of cream?” Matt hesitated before fixing said drink. When he came back a minute later Seamus was smiling at a talkative Aidan. Matt nervously bit his lip. “I can take him.” Seamus shook his head. “Nah, we’re good. He’s been telling me all about his week. I apologized for scaring him earlier by changing the big deuce he dropped after he woke up.” “You don’t have to change him, I can do that,” he said, feeling terrible that his boss changed Aidan’s diaper, something that was hardly a pleasant experience for anyone but Aidan. “I’m sure you can but so can I. Anyway, we have to go back to work,” Seamus walked toward the back, then stopped. “How much does he usually eat? In case he gets hungry.” “Eh, six-ounces?” Seamus nodded then left. Matt looked at his coworkers like what the fuck? “That was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” Hilary dreamily watched the door as if she’d just fallen in love. “Excuses me, I didn’t see you gushing over me when I was holding the baby,” Kase pouted. “Yeah, well you’re not a rich, built Irishman who slightly terrifies me every time he pops up.” “Exactly how often does he pop up?” Matt asked, wondering if it was safe to bring Aidan back in or if he needed to change things up. “I don’t know. He used to be here all the time but I haven’t seen him much in the last year. He has a few other businesses. I think he spends his time there. It’s a shame if you ask me.” “God, keep it in your pants,” Kase rolled his eyes at Hilary’s lusty behavior. “I’m taller than him and a football player. He doesn’t even have an Irish accent. We don’t even know if he’s from Ireland!” You’d think Kase was interested in Hilary but really he just hated sharing the attention. “Seamus Ryan is a total Irish name and he’s got that gorgeous deep red hair. Even if he wasn’t born there, he’s got Irish blood, that much is obvious.” Matt left them to bicker themselves to death. He had two hours left on shift and he wanted them to pass quickly. Then he needed to go home and study. An hour later he was cleaning the flavored syrup bottles when he heard Aidan crying. He stood still and listened. “What is it?” Hilary asked as she watched his strange behavior. “Do you hear that?” He asked. Hilary focused on trying to hear whatever Matt was hearing but it was hard with all the normal cafe noise. “I think Aidan’s crying.” Hilary half-rolled her eyes. “Yeah, babies do that.” “Maybe I should see if he needs help.” “I think he can manage. He’s been doing a pretty good job today. If you want, I can go back and check.” Matt narrowed his eyes at her, on to her little game. “What?” she asked. “Sorry I find a man who’s good daddy material a turn on.” “What am I? Chopped liver.” “You’re gay, so yeah, kinda like chopped liver.” Matt let Aidan cry for a few more minutes. Just when he was about to go back, the crying stopped. Matt didn’t hear another peep until his shift was over. Seamus was sitting at the desk with Aidan in his lap, one arm securing the child to his broad chest while he worked on the computer. He looked at Matt. “We’re fine. You don’t have to check on us.” “I’m not. I’m off so—” he pointed to Aidan as he walked across the office. Seamus stood up and handed the baby over. Most people treated Aidan like breakable glass but Seamus handled him like someone who’d been around babies, gentle but not afraid to manhandle him a bit. “You have a kid?” Matt asked. “Nah, just nieces and nephews.” Matt nodded. Seamus put everything in the backpack while Matt secured Aidan in the car seat. Seamus handed him the backpack then sat down at the desk. “Thanks,” Matt said as he paused by the door. Seamus gave a slight nod then resumed working on the computer, so Matt left. He had no idea how to handle the situation. He was thankful for the help, yet riddled with anxiety over his boss’s boss watching Aidan. He tried to take it at face value and appreciate it for what it was; a helping hand. He needed to focus on making things more reliable so he could eliminate the unneeded stress.
    113 points
  24. The sweep of events had carried CJ aloft to heights uncommon for someone his age. His ethos helped propel him into the limelight more than once. A reluctant public figure at first, in time he settled into a grudging acceptance of his soaring popularity. CJ was the highest-ranking, elected member of the Georgetown University Student Association in the 2020 Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service graduating class. Invited to sit on the dais during commencement exercises, he declined. Wanting to be with his classmates, not above them, was the explanation he offered campus newspaper reporters. He did not bother to share his other reason when he confirmed he would be speaking to the assembled graduates nonetheless. That other reason was the cause for the applause and cheering aimed at him, as he climbed the raised platform’s steps after his introduction. Wearing noise-canceling earmuffs, Liebe clung to his gown, snug inside a papoose against his chest. “Yeah, see? I knew this would happen. Y’all are just paying attention to Liebe and no matter what I say, you’re not gonna care.” Laughter rippled through the audience. “Although today is a momentous occasion, the most important day in my life was about a month ago when my daughter was born. I’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Liston Abelló. Georgetown University class of 2042.” While most of the crowd applauded, and some cheered, he walked to the edge of the riser and handed the baby to Owen. CJ watched him walk away for a moment before returning to the podium and extracting a sheaf of papers from his blazer. “By the way, the good-looking, blond dude I just handed the most important person in my life to is her other father.” He paused for a fraction of a second to allow his comment to sink in. “He happens to be the second most important person in my life. My husband, Owen Liston.” The reaction from the audience was a tad more sedate than when he introduced his daughter. If nothing else, he had everyone’s attention. He had them hooked; it was time to reel them in. “The tapestry of my life is about the size of one of my daughter’s diapers right now.” Laughter was his goal, and the audience delivered. “As I grow older, that fabric will expand. But I am certain my family, my friends, my classmates—heck, even the Jesuits—will always be bright threads woven throughout.” The Jesuits reference earned him a few chuckles from the religious order members sitting behind him. “A huge component of the charmed life I’ve led to date has been my experience at Georgetown University. Coming to the Hilltop was a difficult decision. I’m not a believer and attending a Catholic university was the furthest thing from my mind. You just met one of the reasons I decided to attend college one block away from home. I didn’t want to endure all that time away from Owen. “Growing up so close to the school, I spent plenty of time on this campus during my high school years. Tossing Frisbees on Healy Lawn or lifting weights at Yates Field House fostered interactions with students not many kids get an opportunity to enjoy. Those men and women I met convinced me if I attended, interesting, bright individuals would surround me. And let’s face it, it’s not like I would be at a second rate institution. “So, here I am, some four-plus years after making one of the smartest decisions I’ll ever make.” The pause was a chance to catch his breath and allow the audience to ruminate his comments. “I have enjoyed my time at GU more than I could have ever imagined. I have met fascinating people. I’ve argued with some, and I’ve agreed with others. I’ve laughed with friends, and I’ve cursed professors a few times too.” They were still paying attention; the chuckles confirmed people were listening. “I felt a school that gave us President Bill Clinton and the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia had to be a place where differing outlooks and opinions would be welcome. I was right.” CJ paused again while shifting speech pages. “Those two men at opposite ends of the political spectrum shared a desire to serve their country and did so to the best of their ability following their graduation. I have come to realize their dedication was in part molded by their time here. By being Jesuit educated. “I do not know who said it, but I read a quote that expresses the concept best: ‘Being Jesuit educated means setting the Earth on fire. It means going out of your way, taking that extra step each and every day to help others. Even if it’s just holding a door for a stranger. In addition, one major part of being Jesuit educated is giving back. We all live in the same world, and we owe it to ourselves and others to make it a better place.’ “Call me a cockeyed optimist as a friend of mine has done more than once. However, like President Barack Obama, I believe in the promise of America. I also believe we, the best and the brightest, have a responsibility to our fellow citizens. I’m not talking about American citizens but about the global citizens we share Planet Earth with. Regardless of nationality, or any other trait that may differentiate us. Whether you are an American or not, the responsibility is the same. “I just referenced someone from the left side of the political spectrum I alluded to earlier. Allow me to cross the aisle and paraphrase the late Senator John McCain: Do not despair during setbacks. Believe in yourselves and in the promise of our country. Of our world. “At a time when technology permeates our lives. When advances in communication have shrunk said world and brought us contact with others all over the planet. When some have sought to divide us by building walls instead of bridges. I’m here to tell you they will not succeed. “I believe human interaction will help us challenge and conquer this brave new world. I believe we should celebrate our differences, and we should embrace humanity. I believe we can make Georgetown, America, and Mother Earth a better place by extending a hand to our neighbors. I believe there is nothing wrong with accumulating wealth and enjoying its benefits. However, I also believe—as my parents taught me—that we have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than us. “As we venture out on our own, let us not forget what we learned here. Service to our communities should be part of our life-plan. Volunteer, give money, participate, speak up. Be the last to accept the world we inherit can’t be improved. It’s up to us to make things better. Live and let live… But also, live and help live. Because believe me, it does get better. “Finally, I encourage all of you to not be afraid to fail when you attempt something new. Instead, be afraid not to try. You may be surprised at what you can accomplish when you set your mind to it. “It’s been a wonderful four years. A time of learning and growth. That period of my life is over but the future beckons. I plan to carry on Georgetown’s tradition of public service. Look me up at the State Department if you’re in the hood. “Hoya Saxa!” Owen beat the rest of them to his feet by a fraction of a second. The rousing, standing ovation enveloped them as he hugged Liebe a little closer to his heart. CJ’s vociferous cheering section tossed decorum aside as they stomped and shouted. He saw Owen give him a smile and a wink. Next to him, Ritchie’s enthusiasm was unparalleled. Owen took a step away from the high school senior when Ritchie kept jumping and pumping his fist in the air. As CJ reclaimed his seat on the lawn, he could still hear his brother cheering. “It took your dad a lot longer to become famous, Liebe. I think you’re going to be all over social media today.” The baby slept against Owen’s chest, but he spoke to her as if she was listening. Those walking near them down Thirty-Seventh Avenue chuckled. Once the ceremony was over, countless of CJ’s classmates—some he knew well, others were casual acquaintances, and a few were complete strangers—clamored to have their picture taken with their fellow graduate and his daughter. It was a familiar crowd surrounding them now. Owen’s mother flew to the United States after the birth with plans to spend a month with her first grandchild. His father would visit the following month, making a stopover in Washington during a business trip to France. Sebastián and Rosario Abelló did the same; they traveled to Washington after their great-granddaughter’s birth with plans to stay for CJ’s graduation. The upcoming completion of work at the Capitol Hill house was further enticement for Randy, Tyler, and Silas to visit DC. They arrived in time for the commencement and planned on furniture shopping with CJ and Owen the following week. Because CJ was a local, he had more guests at the ceremony than others. The Squad and the Elite were all invited, and most now strolled toward the Prospect Street townhouse. It was a chance to grab a drink, use the bathroom, and for Liebe to get a fresh diaper. “I never imagined my daughter would end up wearing it.” CJ removed the gold and jade grape-bunch brooch affixed to Liebe’s Georgetown University onesie. He had bought the trinket as a present in Hong Kong during his layover between Tel Aviv and Sydney, on his way to visit Owen’s ill sister. Liz did not survive, but she provided the greatest gift CJ would ever receive. “Mom told me about it but asked me not to say anything. She wanted to surprise you.” Owen wrinkled his nose when CJ handed him the soiled diaper. “Damn, this is as bad as your farts!” “Bullshit! My farts smell like roses.” “Rotting, dead roses, maybe.” “Asshole!” Back upstairs, the dads served mimosas and bloody marys before they all moved to their next destination. César and Brett had reserved the entire restaurant for a banquet to celebrate their oldest son’s achievement. It would be the first time Abuela’s was not open to the public for Saturday lunch. While Owen headed toward his mother so she could hold Liebe, CJ gravitated toward his grandfather and cousins. “Somebody give me a drink. I’m off daddy duty for the next twenty-four hours.” The mischievous tone suggested CJ was ready to play. Randy looked somewhat confused as he poured from the pitcher. “What are you talking about off duty? Dads don’t take the day off.” “Yummm!” CJ wiped his tomato juice-coated lips with the back of his hand. “Owen and I don’t have a choice, cuz. What with three grandparents and three great-grandparents around, the clamoring for Liebe-time has been deafening,” “Plus, the dads insist CJ go out partying tonight. We have a couple of get-togethers.” Owen had wrapped his arms around CJ when he joined the group. “Can I get one of those bloodys? What were you guys talking about?” Rod replied from across the counter where he sat next to Sebastián. “We wanted to ask Abuelo what he was getting CJ as a graduation present. He’s given fountain pens to all of us when we graduated from high school. Dad, César, Randy, and I got cars or the money to buy one when we finished college. But you guys have the Tesla, and you don’t use it all that much—” “It’s being used a heck of a lot since Liebe was born. CJ and I think that will continue when we move to our house this summer.” “Yeah, but you guys use the motorcycles and public transit much more.” Rod shifted his attention to their grandfather. “So, Abuelo, what did you get CJ?” CJ did not trust his grandfather’s grin. “Hey! I said no presents. And I said if you felt compelled to get me something, a donation to Heroes Haven would suffice.” “Compelled? Suffice? What? You think now you’ve graduated you get to toss quarter words around all the time?” Brett’s butt slap jolted CJ; he shook his head while smiling—college graduate or not, Brett was still going to give him crap. “Day’s not over, boys.” Sebastián’s grin grew. “You’ll have to wait. Maybe we got him a present… maybe we didn’t.” The Uber and Lyft caravan stopped in front of the restaurant and disgorged passengers. When CJ and Owen arrived in the last vehicle, they found their family and friends milling outside. While everyone had gathered in a loose circle around something, Harley faced the street and raised an arm in greeting. “Bruh! About time you guys got here. I’ve been waiting like for hours.” “Oh, shut up, Harley. I just saw you at the graduation. How come you didn’t stop by the house like everyone else?” “I had to go get your present. The one from your grandfather.” The man bubbled with excitement, even more so than usual. “Come on, come on. You’re gonna love it!” “What the hell? I told him no presents. If he bought me a car—FUCK!” The group parted when they heard CJ’s voice to reveal a motorcycle parked on the restaurant’s plaza. “Do you like it? It’s the new electric one! I couldn’t believe it when Cap called me and said your grandfather wanted my help with something.” Harley sounded proud of himself. “If you wanna get rid of Hunter, I’ll buy it off you. Wait ’til you get on this one. It sounds like a jet engine. Maybe you can leave the baby with your grandmother one day, and we can go for a ride? I know you been talking about getting a big one, but I think this is better. You can always borrow Cap’s or Mr. A’s when we go on a long trip. Or you can rent like you did when you went to Key West. I think—” “HARLEY!” CJ knew everyone expected him to tell his friend to shut up. Instead, he spread his arms out. “Bring it in, brother. Thank you! As for Hunter, I’m not sure what I want to do. I need to discuss it with Ozzie, but I don’t think we need three motorcycles. At least not until Liebe can ride on her own.” “Three is one too many.” Owen followed his husband as they walked around the 2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire. “We’re definitely keeping this one. An electric motorcycle is an excellent match for an electric car. And Hunter’s going nowhere. Sorry, Harley. But if you want, you can have Rosebud.” “You’re gonna get rid of yours?” Harley sounded surprised. “Sure, why not? When we move, a Metro station will be a couple of blocks from home and another one a few from the office. If I ever need a vehicle, I’ll take one of the electric ones.” CJ was in a playful mood. “Hold your horses, son. Who said you could ride my motorcycle?” “Our motorcycle. DC’s not a community property state. So, I’ll be changing the registration on this one to make it joint ownership. If you ever divorce me, I’ll make sure it hurts.” Owen’s grin had a malevolent twist. “Asshole!” CJ turned 360 degrees to scan the faces of the crowd surrounding him. “Thank you, Abuelo. I know I said no presents, but I think I’ll keep this one. Let’s get inside, people. I need a cocktail, and I want food.” Chipper skipped his own graduation from the University of Miami due to his involvement in a project in Los Angeles. He decided to fly into Washington for CJ’s and to meet Liebe. His sister, Cristina, traveled from New York with her daughter, Carolina, for the same reasons. Brother and sister stood with Thiago, watching his son, Fabricio and the little girl play. CJ elbowed his husband. “Check it out, Oz. Those two will be friends with Liebe in no time. Come on, let’s borrow our daughter and join them.” “Give.” Chipper’s one word was accompanied by outstretched arms. “Remember, no baby talk.” CJ handed Liebe over. “That crap rots brains.” “I got, I got it. You and Cristina must have read the same book.” The man shook the bangs off his forehead and cuddled the infant closer. “Don’t you worry, Liebe, Uncle Chipper will take good care of you. Have you met Fabricio and Carolina? I have a feeling the three of you are gonna be hanging out a lot.” Thiago picked up his son and allowed him to grasp Liebe’s foot. “This is your new girlfriend, Lollipop.” “Oh, yeah? What if she turns out to be a lesbian?” CJ earned himself an elbow from his husband. “Don’t start, homie. The Elite and the Squad may be all men, but I can see the Juniors are definitely gonna be co-ed.” Chipper’s eyes swept over his friend before returning his attention to the girl in his arms. “You know something, Liebe? There’s this singer named Adam Levine your dads and I like a lot. He put out this music video with a bunch of women in it. ‘Girls Like You’ is a tribute to female-empowerment. I look at you and Carolina, and I’m convinced you’ll both grow up strong.” Chipper took liberties with the lyrics when he sang. “Spent 24 hours I need more hours with you You spent the weekend Burpin’ poopin’, ooh ooh We spent the late nights Changing diapers, cleaning booties But now it's all good baby Roll that booty baby And stay real close ’Cause girls like you Run around with guys like me ’Til sundown, when I come through I need a girl like you, yeah yeah” Moments later, Owen reclaimed his daughter. He and CJ stepped away, intent on returning her to her grandparents. “I reckon the three of them and Chatri’s two will be close. Too bad he and Helen are out of town today. Pretty cool seeing the upcoming generation. I wonder who’ll be the next one to have a kid.” “Not, Ritchie. I think he’s so scared he’ll be keeping the condom companies in business for the foreseeable future.” “Poor kid. I feel bad for him. Have you noticed the way he sometimes looks lost? It’s good to see him happy today.” “The real happy one’s Brad.” The man had asked that someone pick him up at Heroes Haven in Delaware so he could attend the graduation; Ritchie volunteered, saying he was going to miss driving once he entered the Air Force Academy. “I thought the smile was gonna break his face when he found out Cristina was in Washington.” “So, what are you naming the new bike?” CJ looked his husband up and down, smiling. “Wow! You’re asking? With Sparky, you didn’t even bother.” “Yeah, but that was a present for both of us. Technically, this one’s for you.” “Technically, eh? Lightning! How about that? Kinda fits with it being electric.” “Mint! I like it, mate. I like it. Lightning it is.” Owen leaned into CJ and whispered. “Be discreet when you look, but check out Lincoln. He sat next to Silas during the ceremony and hasn’t left his side since.” “Well, those two won’t be the next ones getting pregnant for sure.” “Asshole!” The gathering brought to mind the wedding reception; CJ again spent most of the time floating between tables, visiting with each of the guests. When dessert was served, he sat next to Owen while holding Liebe in his arms. The clinking of a utensil against glass captured his attention as Brett stood up. “It’s usually my husband or my son who give the speeches at events like this. Today, it’s my turn.” Brett sipped his mojito while the crowd quieted. “Life isn’t worth living if you don’t have passion. I’m easily distracted, so I’ve had a few different ones drive me in my years.” Self-deprecation was a sure way to capture the group’s attention. “Growing up, it was surfing. I was happiest on the beaches of California or Hawaii during frequent trips to the islands with my parents. “When they died, and I went to live with my grandfather, he turned me on to motorcycles. Straddling a big hunk of American steel gave me an adrenaline rush similar to what a big wave did, but I was able to enjoy the high even when there was no beach around. “My parents were travelers, and I caught the bug from them. Deployed overseas, I was able to visit countries I might never have otherwise. Back in the US after taking a couple of bullets, I met César. Yeah, the good looks drew me in—so sue me for having a thing for tall, dark, and handsome—the personality and brains hooked me. The shared love of exploring and riding was but icing on the cake. “Then CJ stuck his nose in my life.” “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?” With Liebe in his arms, CJ tried not to shout. “It means the last thing I expected was to become a father at the tender age of twenty-nine.” “We beat you, Captain.” Owen fisted CJ, making sure not to jostle the sleeping baby. “CJ and I are both younger.” “So am I, Cap.” Thiago lifted one of Fabricio’s arms and wiggled the kid’s hand. “Okay, enough from the peanut gallery. As I was saying, CJ showed up and turned my world upside down. Gave me a new passion. I wanted to be the best possible parent, and I can’t thank the gods enough for his arrival. “CJ turned out to be an extraordinary man trying to lead an ordinary life.” Brett’s grin grew as he scanned the room. “He’s utterly failed.” While he looked proud of his comment, CJ shook his head, and the guests laughed. “I’m proud of both my sons for choosing careers in the public sector. Ritchie’s about to graduate from high school, so I’ll talk more about him then. One day, he’ll be doing his part to keep America safe as an Air Force officer. I always thought CJ was the wilder one, but instead of jets, or ships, or tanks, he chose to join the State Department. He’ll help protect us as a member of the Diplomatic Corps. For now. I have a feeling there’ll be much more from him in the future.” Brett paused while signaling a waiter for another cocktail. Several others echoed his request and there was a momentary lull. Once fresh drinks were delivered, he carried on. “Humor, often inappropriate, has been a coping mechanism most of my life. I’m trying to be serious here. CJ impacted my life more than I would have ever expected. And it’s not just him but also the people he surrounded himself with. Primarily the Squad. The way these young men have stood by one another in good and bad times is an inspiration. “Recent years have been leavened with a multitude of fascinating individuals he’s met and charmed. César and I have benefitted from our son’s outgoing personality. We’ve enjoyed meeting politicians, singers, actors and actresses, and countless ordinary yet intriguing men and women. I expect more of the same in the future. “We encouraged CJ to travel every chance he got. To experience new things and meet new people. Traveling and mingling with locals has a way of expanding your mind to acknowledge and accept differences. We’ve seen the effect those trips have had. CJ’s matured into a loving man who cares for others.” Brett’s solemnity was a sharp divergence from his typical demeanor. “I’ve seen an angry teen beat the crap out of a burly biker who bullied someone for being gay and in the process earn the respect of complete strangers. I’ve heard a fouled-mouth young man eloquently speak in front of thousands—millions if you count the TV audience—and earn the respect of politicians and reporters decades older than him. “I’ve been lucky to have had a front row seat as CJ grew from a scared boy into a confident man. A thoughtful student, a loving husband, and now a doting father. But all that doesn’t mean his farts don’t smell. Contrary to what I heard him say a little while ago.” Chuckles, giggles, and snickers served as background to the loud groan escaping César and CJ. “He’s a royal pain-in-the-butt at times. His other dad and I have clashed and locked horns with him more than once. “My son’s almost as astute as I am.” Brett ignored the derisive catcalls. "At some point, he figured out obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it." He paused, allowing the words to simmer. “For those of you who don’t recognize the phrase, I stole it from Michael Jordan. “Let me quote someone else. My grandfather used to ask ‘What have you done today to make the world a better place?’ I’m sorry he never got to meet CJ. He would have been proud his great-grandson answered the question with a litany of gestures destined to accomplish just that.” Brett paused and sipped his cocktail again. “A few months back, the two of us took a bike ride by ourselves. It’s something we’ve been doing since he moved to DC. First, he rode behind me as a passenger. These days, I’m the one in back as he leads on his beloved Hunter. It’s a monthly ritual with us, even if sometimes it ends up being a nighttime ride for ice cream because we’re too busy for much more. “During last month’s ride, I finally realized he was man enough to teach me. As he licked melting chocolate from the sides of his sugar cone, he said something I’ll always remember. I may have his words turned into a poster or something. He told me, ‘You have to realize where you come from is gone and focus on where you’re going.’ “Those words, that belief, the vehemence with which he spoke convinced me he was ready to take his place in the world. His place as a leader. The State Department’s lucky to get him. The CIA tried to and failed. The wealthiest man in the world wanted to snatch him and failed. Hell, César and I suggested he join the family business, and we failed too. “The winner’s our country. At a time when our leaders have lost their way. When they quarrel and ignore the needs of our nation. I have faith my son will be a shining star amongst those serving our country.” The momentary pause this time was to wipe away a stray tear. He turned to CJ, smiled, and raised his glass. “So, what all my rambling leads me to is pride. Pride in my son and in the great things I know he’ll accomplish. “Please join me.” Brett waved a hand, inviting everyone to stand. “Raise your glasses with me and toast my son. To his future and ours. “To CJ!” The End
    113 points
  25. Kyle stepped carefully out of the rain and into the local coffee shop near the courthouse, re-adjusting his tie out habit. This place was one of the more enjoyable parts of living in Harrisburg over the last five years. The atmosphere was very warm despite the hard floors and the dark wood of the walls with lighter shades mixed in. The tables were metal and the chairs were surprisingly comfortable. All together, it had a mismatched appearance that made it endearing. The service was top notch with most of the employees working through school in the area which meant they tended to stay for a couple years at a time. Somehow, management had pulled together a group of young men and women who were outgoing and friendly all while managing to remember most of the names of the regular customers like Kyle. He gave the room a cursory glance before walking up to the coffee bar. He smiled when he saw the familiar brunette smiling at him as he walked up. “Natalie, how’s it going today?” She broke into a wide grin and responded, “not too bad today, Kyle. You want your usual?” “If you could. I’m meeting someone here.” He looked around the room, searching the crowded shop. “Sure thing. Will just be a couple minutes.” He handed her some cash and made his way around the room, knowing she would bring the coffee to him when it was done. He stepped away from the bar and began to slowly wander around. His dress shoes clicked on the painted concrete floor with each step. It only took half a minute to find what he was looking for. He suppressed the urge to frown as he made his way over to the older man sitting quietly, sipping his coffee as he stared out the window at the rain. Without asking, Kyle sat down across from Adam Gordon’s attorney. Lathrum’s eyebrows raised slightly as one side of his mouth tilted up in a smirk. “I got your message,” the older man said as he sat back in his chair. “You’ve been a busy boy the last few weeks.” “No reason for you to be complaining,” he said with only a hint of irritation. “Your client is free and clear. In about two hours, we’ll have our press conference and it will be done. Charges have been dropped and he can return back to his life.” “What’s left of it,” Lathrum remarked caustically. “He’s back on the force but will be a pariah for years no matter what happens.” “Mr. Lathrum,” Kyle began. “Jack,” the older man insisted. “We’re not standing on formalities here.” They paused as Kyle’s coffee arrived at the table. “Fine. Jack,” he said when they were alone again, “part of why I’m agreeing to this press conference is to try and give him some of that back. He’s lost enough as it is.” “She’s going to take a plea bargain,” Lathrum asked. He nodded. “After a couple hours of grilling her, the police finally got her to confess. Honestly, her lawyer saw the writing on the wall. We had the video of her in the hospital the evening of the murder slipping into the nurses break area and back out. We found the pharmacy she had been working at had suspected she had taken some controlled substances when their inventory list was short a few doses. She confessed to purposefully sickening her husband and then dosing Theresa’s drink so by the time she went home not feeling well, she would be completely unconscious.” “Well, good work then, counselor,” he said with an oily grin on his face. “Only took you five months to figure it out.” “Well, that’s part of why I asked you here this morning,” Kyle said in a lowered voice. “What do you mean?” His face became serious and unreadable. Kyle leaned his head in, looking right into Lathrum’s eyes, “I wanted to know exactly when you knew she was the real killer.” “Mr. Howard,” Lathrum began. “In about four hours,” Kyle broke in, “I’m not going to be an assistant district attorney anymore so, let’s cut the bullshit and tell me the truth.” The older man regarded him silently for a moment before he gave Kyle a sardonic grin. “Alright. It wasn’t long after I talked to the two of them together and then talked to Amanda privately that I had my suspicions. He seemed too truthful and beside himself with loss over Mayfield’s death to have actually killed her and Amanda lacked anything close to a poker face. She could lie with the best of them as I’m sure you figured out when you went to see her a couple weeks ago. I did some asking around and I had suspicions. I didn’t have proof like you found. Not enough to seal it, but I knew I had enough I could get an acquittal.” Kyle studied him before saying, “you were going to hold her back until the very end. Then get her on the stand and expose her as the real killer right there in court in front of everyone.” “I have a way with words,” Lathrum nodded. “And you weren’t going to tell the DA’s office,” he said bluntly. “Nope.” “Why?” Lathrum’s smile disappeared as he said coldly. “I’m sure someday you’ll figure it out.” “Oh,” Kyle shrugged his shoulders slightly. “I already know. You gave it away when we were in conference. You wanted to humiliate the DA’s office for their inept investigation and their rush to judgement on a police officer. I was just curious to see if you’d actually tell me or not.” “If that’s what you think, feel free to believe it.” His voice may have shown no hint of emotion but Kyle could see the cold fire in the older man’s eyes. “Sorry if I ruined your chances running for Attorney General or whatever you were aiming for,” he said with a tone that let Lathrum know he wasn’t sorry at all. “I don’t care really why you did it. It could be seen as unethical and you could get in some serious trouble if you have any documentation that you didn’t share with me during discovery. I know you’ll be at the press conference standing right behind me. I just wanted to let you know if you think you’re going to trash the DA’s office when you get any questions from the reporters or later on years from now if you do decide to run for office, I’ll be there, ready to set the record straight.” “I’ll keep that in mind,” he replied. They were silent for a while, drinking their coffees before he asked, “I do have to say, you have a good instinct, Kyle. What’s your plans after you’re married? Gonna start your own practice?” Kyle smirked a little to himself. “Not right away. My main goal is to get myself moved out and back home by the end of the week. I’ve been without my fiance and my son for three weeks now and all I want is to see them. For the next few years I only plan to be a husband, father and son. I’m gonna learn how to run an apple orchard and then, maybe when I feel ready or when it’s time, then I’ll look into practicing law again.” Lathrum shook his head and chuckled. “Despite what you may have assumed, I thought you did a great job as a lawyer. I’d heard about you before I met you. You did some outstanding work in the last few years. And you sure have a talent for it. If you ever do want to get back in the game and work on my side of the fence for awhile, let me know and I’ll be happy to recommend you to anyone.” Kyle was a little surprised by his admission. “Well… thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.” He checked the time on his watch and finished his coffee. “I need to get going. I have an office to clean out and goodbye’s to make before the press. I’ll see you at noon.” Lathrum just nodded and watched him walk out. His brow furrowed slightly as he noticed the younger man seemed to be walking differently. More relaxed than the other times he’d met him. After Kyle was out of sight, the older man shrugged, chuckled to himself and went about his way. ***** Kyle stood in the doorway of what used to be his office, clutching a box that contained his personal effects. He was giving the room one last look, telling himself it was to double check to see if he had missed anything. The truth he kept denying was that a part of him wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this. The selfish, stubborn, need to stay and do the job he had set out to do years ago. Other than his son, this job had defined his life for the last six years. Now, it was over. This life had ended and a new one was waiting for him. He took one last look around as he headed to the elevator. He was stopped by Jeff as he stood there waiting for the car. “Kyle,” he called out to him. Kyle turned with curious amusement, wondering what he could possibly want. “I’m off the clock, Jeff.” He older man with his wispy white hair stopped, giving him a kind smile. “I hope you don’t mind we dropped her attempted murder charge for her taking the double murder and life without parole.” Kyle rolled his eyes and shrugged. “I’m fine with it, Jeff. Best if it doesn’t come out anyway. I didn’t tell my dad or Jacob about it and it’s best that they never know. If I ever become a prosecutor again it’ll give them reason to worry about me all the time.” “Well, it was gonna be a hard sell anyway. There was enough GHB in there to probably really screw you up but not enough to kill you. Had you been driving while it kicked in then it might’ve been hard to pinpoint.” Jeff’s smile returned a little as he shook his head regretfully. “You did a great job here, Kyle. I hate to lose you.” “Thanks, Jeff,” he replied. “I’m gonna miss this place.” “Whatever you end up doing, I’m sure you’ll do a great job. And you got a letter of recommendation for when you’re ready to return to practice.” “Just do me a favor,” he asked, “make sure Steph doesn’t overwork herself. She’s got a baby on the way and the last thing I need is for her to push herself and have my fiance worried sick. You got your invitation to the wedding?” He nodded. “And sent back the RSVP. I’m encouraging everyone at the office to attend.” “Ok,” the elevator door opened. Kyle stepped inside and turned back to his now former boss. “Thanks for all the opportunities you gave me.” “You’re welcome.” The elevator door closed and made its way down to the lobby. Kyle carried the box out to the parking lot, his thoughts turning inward as he started feeling the loss of a life he once had. He didn’t feel any guilt about his decisions and was looking forward to being together with Jacob again. Just regret that it was over and he had gone through most of it not appreciating the people around him. That was the realization that had been bothering him all day; all these years working in this office with the same people day in and day out and he had barely known most of them. He had been so divorced from them because of a mistake that had created a barrier between him and the rest of the world. Most of them probably wouldn’t remember him being there by next week. With a sigh he placed the carton into his backseat. Just as he reached for the front door a voice just behind his startled him out of his inner thoughts. “You don’t mind if I ride with you, do you?” He turned around in shock at the man standing behind him. “Goddamn! Troy?! You nearly scared the shit out of me.” Troy broke out into a quiet laugh. “Sorry. Couldn’t help it.” Before he could say anything else, Kyle embraced him in a tight hold. Troy’s laughter died off and he hugged his friend. “You looked like you’d lost your best friend there a minute ago.” “I already did that once,” he said with a hint of a smile, “I don’t plan on doing it again. So, what the hell are you doing here?” He didn’t want to talk about what he had been thinking right before he was interrupted. And seeing Troy again after months brightened his mood anyway. “I would think it would be obvious,” he said, a soft smile warming his eyes, “I’m here to take you home.” Kyle shook his head. “There’s no way I’m ready to move. I’ve been here all day, I need to rent a truck and load up all the stuff. It would take hours. By that time, it would be too late and I’m already kind of tired as it is. I told my landlord I would be out by the end of the week.” Troy seemed to contemplate what he was just told and grudgingly nodded his head. Having made a decision, he went around Kyle’s car to the passenger side. “All good points. Let’s head to your place and we’ll talk. The least I can do is stay with you until you get a truck, get the stuff loaded up and I can drive your car back.” Kyle was too mentally tired to argue too much as he got into the car. “What about your wife and kids? Aren’t they going to wonder where you are for two days?” “They know where I am,” he replied as he put on his seatbelt. “Maybe we can get something to eat later too.” Kyle started the car and made his way out of the lot. “What got it into your head that I could just take off for home this afternoon?” “Wishful thinking, I guess,” he replied with a shrug. “We all miss you.” “Wait,” he said, suddenly thinking, “how the hell did you get here? And how long have you been here?” “I got here… hm. Well, let’s just say that I managed to find a way. Elizabeth needed the van after all.” Before Kyle could press further he added, “and I’ve been here long enough to watch your press conference from a live perspective. Gotta tell you, dude, I was impressed by how you handled yourself. Makes me wish I’d had the chance to see you in a courtroom.” “There’s always a chance you’ll get to at some point,” he shrugged. “I’m just taking a couple years off, that’s all.” Troy seemed satisfied with his answer and said nothing else. They rode in silence for a few minutes which was all it took before Kyle made the final turn onto his street. It took him about two seconds to notice the moving truck parked near his townhouse and another two seconds to realize that his front door was open. “What the fuck!?” He parked his car in a hurry and turned his head to look at Troy. Troy shrugged with a knowing smile as he released his seatbelt. “How should I know? Sure looks like a moving truck to me.” Before Kyle could admonish him Troy was out of the car and heading up to the open door with Kyle in pursuit. He stopped to look into the back of the moving truck and remarked, “you may wanna double check but it looks like you’re already packed.” “The hell?!” Kyle rushed over and looked inside to find all of his furniture, his television and a number of large plastic totes were all sitting inside the truck. He looked over at Troy accusingly. “How did you do this?” “I didn’t do it,” he said casually as he turned to the open front door. Just as Kyle took a step towards the house, two figures each carrying another plastic tote emerged from the house. “Yeah, he didn’t do shit. We did it all,” Andy proclaimed as he headed up to the truck to deposit it with the others. Once he and Brian got them both inside, he turned towards Kyle with a shit-eating grin. Kyle stared at the three of them as they moved to stand together in front of him. Each of them sporting one manner or another of self-satisfied grins. When he managed to find words, he found his voice oddly heavy with emotion. “I… I don’t understand.” “I told you,” Troy said as if explaining it to a child. “We miss you. We want you to come home.” A sudden, powerful wave of emotion swept over Kyle. Seeing the expectant looks on their faces, it suddenly occurred to him that in the time since he went home to see his dad, he had never offered an apology to any of them. That after all their years growing up together with everything they had done as a team and as best friends, when they were growing up he had taken the three of them for granted. The memories of his childhood was incomplete without these three and when things had turned bad, instead of relying on them he ran away. After all that, years apart where he had forsaken friendships that he suddenly felt he didn’t deserve, here were three of the best friends God could have ever given him who only wanted to see him come home. It was a testament to that same friendship when they saw the tears making his eyes shimmer in the afternoon sun the three of them converged on him with no other thought than to comfort him. “Kyle,” Andy asked, “what’s the matter, bro?” “Guys, I’m so sorry,” he said in a voice choked with remorse. “I’m sorry I didn’t trust in you enough to tell you about what happened with Jacob and Dad. I’m sorry I doubted that you would care or want to help me.” “None of that matters anymore, dork,” Brian said with a smile and an arm around his shoulder. “What matters is that we’re friends. We know you never stopped caring about us. We never stopped caring about you.” “We’ve been friends forever, Kyle,” Troy added. “I couldn’t have asked for a better brother in the ways that matter. We started out as friends but we’re a family now. There’s nothing for you to be sorry about. And there’s nothing that needs forgiving.” Kyle stood there recovering from the unexpected tears in the comfort of their friendship and love. He made a promise to himself that he would never take any of them for granted ever again. When he felt the tears and the emotion pass, he wiped his face and asked, “where’s Jacob?” “Oh, he’s at home. Hard at work,” Brian quipped with a playful smile. “It’s a shame he couldn’t come,” he said a little disappointed. Troy’s face broke into another faux innocent look as he said haltingly, “well… it’s possible that we may not have… actually told him what we were doing.” Kyle rolled his eyes and managed a small laugh. “Another surprise?” “Yeah, but this time it’s planned,” Brian said flashing Troy a meaningful look. Troy could only laugh before asking, “okay you two, did you manage to get everything out of the house?” “Yes, sir,” Andy said. “Looked in every closet, cabinet and drawer. Everything that wasn’t nailed down is in the truck and ready to go. Kyle, if you want you can look it over yourself. We got a change of clothes for you to before we leave.” “No,” he said, “I trust you.” “Anything else then,” Troy asked. Kyle looked around and stepped over to the doorway to his townhouse, looking inside. The front room and everywhere he looked was bare as the day he first moved in. The walls would never remember he had ever been here. No proof that this part of his life ever happened. He got an odd kind of relief knowing that. Maybe, ten or fifteen years from now, he’ll have forgotten about it as well. He closed and locked the door before returning to his friends and said, “let’s go home.” **** Jacob had spent most of the day working in his shop trying to get ahead of deadlines for orders that had been placed the last few months. When he had posted the pictures of the door with it’s glowing lines in the wood, the demand for his work increased more than he had anticipated. The fortunate part was that he could set his prices a little higher since he was one of only a few carpenters in the area to be able to do such work. He also enjoyed the increased artistic challenges that it posed to him. Since he had come back from Harrisburg, he had spent hours nearly every night drawing new designs for people interested in his work. David had begun to refer to him as a “master carpenter,” but Jacob was quick to deny such a title. He knew he wasn’t quite up to that level yet, though eventually he felt he could reach that goal. As the days started to grow warmer through March, his attention had to be split three ways between his orders, starting work on the new edition to the house and caring for Matt. It had been something of a sore spot between him and Kyle towards the end of his stay. Jacob had wanted to take Matt back home with him when he left, reasoning it would give Kyle more free time to finish up what he was working on and Matt would have plenty of care and attention between Jacob and his grandfather. Kyle wasn’t used to being away from Matt and vice versa so he initially balked. After a couple days debating the issue, Kyle had to admit that Matt would have more one on one time with Jacob and his grandfather than he would staying with him while he was working frantically to finish his last case. It never became an argument but it was a touchy subject up until the final day. In the end, Kyle got Matt’s opinion and that’s how the debate ultimately ended. Jacob made sure Kyle never felt left out even if he was hundreds of miles away. They were on the phone every day and sometimes video chat online between the three of them for a few moments. It was tough but they made it work. The time together with Matt this time felt different than before. It was easy to give a child love and attention and shower them with gifts and play time. It was another thing entirely to see a young boy look up at you and know that you were now one of the examples he was going to emulate as he got older. He felt the need to be more careful about what was discussed around him and what words were used. Jacob hadn’t thought of himself as the kind of person known for a lot of cursing but he suddenly found himself censoring his words. Bedtimes had started to become his responsibility completely. David got the best fun of his life on one of their first nights together when Matt had balked at the idea of going to bed, opting to stay up with grandpa. His playful half smirk to Jacob let him know that he was in no way going to intercede on his behalf and he would have to tackle the challenge on his own. The only comment he made to Jacob was later on when he joined him in the living room after their conflict was resolved and Matt was in bed where he was supposed to be. “It was hard loving Kyle when he was four too, just so you know.” Jacob gave his dad a side glance and muttered a curse under his breath to David’s utter amusement. As the month dragged on and the cold rains started to set in, work in the shop and caring for Matt had both become full time jobs. He felt fortunate that at least he had David there to watch and play with Matt through most of the day while he could work without interruptions. Working out every other day started to become twice a week due to all of his other tasks that were piling up. David finally had enough of seeing his future son-in-law becoming overly stressed that he finally took him aside and insisted he find someone to help him. After talking to Troy over an hour, he decided to go ahead and hire an assistant for the easier jobs. Tyler jumped at the idea. He had been getting a little uncomfortable being outed at Troy’s construction company when someone saw him with his new boyfriend. He felt safer with Jacob and they could work well together while they talk. Jacob realized in the future, he would have to either expand the workshop out or find a new building altogether. Jacob indulged in a moment of silence as he stood in the shower, cleaning the sweat and dust off of him from the day’s work. He’d been so busy all day he’d only had a few minutes for Matt earlier in the morning before he had been seemingly everywhere. He ached from the careful work he had performed on some new front doors for a new couple in town. He knew he should get out and tend to Matt but his body wanted to stay under the warm water for as long as he could get away with it. Maybe the worst part was no matter what he did or how busy he kept himself, nothing could make him stop thinking about Kyle. He had become so accustomed to sliding into bed with him over the winter in Harrisburg that it felt so foreign now to be expected to sleep alone again. Not only that, the deep affection and friendship they had together was something he couldn’t replace with Brian or Andy or even Troy. They were his closest friends and have been through a lot together. If Kyle was the best thing that ever happened to his life since high school, the others were a very close second. He couldn’t imagine a life without them. In their own way, they’d made the lonely years without Kyle bearable, even if they couldn’t erase all the pain Kyle’s absence left inside him. If not for them, he may have left here years ago and he wouldn’t be looking forward to the day he and Kyle were finally married as they always dreamed about. Finally forcing himself out of the shower, he dried himself off carefully before reaching for his phone and turning on Spotify for some tunes while he shaved. After applying shaving cream he got to work, keeping the blade hot. After the first song ended, the music changed on his phone and he paused as he heard Garth Brooks’ “To Make you Feel my Love” playing. He paused as he listened, staring at himself in the mirror. Despite the loneliness he felt, the words put a smile on his face. Their time apart would be over soon, he knew. They’d both proven to the other that they were ready to be together for the rest of their lives. It wouldn’t be long now. The razor blade removed the last of the stubble on his face and he did a quick look before washing and wiping off his face. It had been awhile since he last shaved everything completely off but he felt the need tonight to look clean and fresh. Looking himself over in the mirror one last time, he gave some thought about maybe cutting his hair short. He grabbed his phone and wrapped his towel around his waist before leaving the bathroom and heading into their bedroom to put some clothes on before dinner. Just before he finished, his phone rang. A quick look told him it was Stephanie. He dropped the shirt in is hand onto the bed and quickly responded. “Stephanie. Hey, how are you doing?” “I’m doing just fine, future-baby-daddy,” she said casually, “and how are you and Matt doing in paradise?” He laughed lightly. “Oh, I dunno about paradise. Been sweating up a storm trying to get orders done. Me and the guys are supposed to start on the new edition to the house next week. How’s Kyle doing?” There was a slightly pause before she replied, “that’s why I was calling you, actually. I figured he might be there. I called him a little earlier but didn’t get an answer. When I stopped by his place, it looked empty. You haven’t heard from him?” A chill started to creep into his chest. “No. Hold on.” He hurried out of the bedroom and down the stairs. “Dad?” he got a response from the living room and he stepped in. “Have you heard from Kyle today? Stephanie’s on the phone and she said she hasn’t seen or heard from him most of the day.” David shrugged and picked up his phone. “Let me see if I can get a hold of him. Text the boys and see if any of them heard from him.” “One second, Steph, Dad is calling Kyle and I’m gonna text Troy and the others.” A few minutes passed before both of them came up empty. They stared at each other with suspicious look before he got back on the phone with her. “Steph, let me call you back in a little bit, okay?” “Sure,” she said cautiously. “Something up?” “I’m thinking there is,” he replied. “Did you see him at all today?” “Earlier before his press conference,” she said, “after that, I lost track of him. My boss saw him at the elevator and that’s the last reported sighting.” “Uh, huh, okay. I’ll call or text you before the night is over but I have a feeling one of us is going to see him before too long.” He ended the call with her and looked over at David. “Just a coincidence that we can’t get a hold of any of them, huh?” “Bullshit,” David chuckled. He picked up his phone again and tried another number. “I think I got an inside tip though…” He sat there looking at Jacob as he got an answer. His smile widened as his voice dripped with sarcasm. “Why, Elizabeth. How nice of you to take my call. You wouldn’t happen to know where I could find your husband, would you?” David was quiet as he listened to the other end of the conversation. He nodded and made a few affirmative grunts. “Alright. Thank you, sweetheart. Just pretend I didn’t call, okay? Alright. Kiss the boys for me. Bye.” He hung up and stood up grinning. “The boys didn’t think about warning Stephanie, I guess. They’re on their way home now.” Jacob blinked and his face lit up in a surprised smile. “When?” “Any minute now, according to Liz,” he replied. “Do your best to act surprised. Oh, and be ready to move some furniture. In fact, you may wanna just go ahead and open up the barn and make room.” Jacob ran back upstairs and threw on his shirt before running back downstairs. The chill of fear was long forgotten with the knowledge that his dreams were about to come alive tonight. And then, forever. He skidded to a halt to grab his shoes. Matt got caught up in Jacob’s excitement and ran up to him. “What’s going on?” “It’s a surprise,” he grinned to the little boy as he mussed up his hair. “You’ll see soon. Stay with grandpa. I gotta do some work in the barn.” “I wanna come with you,” the boy said plaintively with a noticeable pout. Jacob figured it was easier to let him come than try to explain why he couldn’t come. He hurried the two of them outside and into the chilly evening air. The sun was almost completely set so he used the lights in the barn to help move the heavier items towards the back. He had Matt help by moving the smaller things out the way, making sure to keep an eye on him at all times. He only had moments to spare when he heard the sound of a truck coming up the drive. He steeled himself, wondering if it was all really just some dream or one of Andy or Brian’s practical jokes. He motioned Matt to come close and stood just outside of the barn. The first thing he saw was Kyle’s car, parking in it’s usual spot. Curiously, Troy was the one getting out of the driver’s side. Before he could come closer to ask, he saw Kyle step out of the other side. As their eyes met, Jacob knew that the wait was over between them. There life together was starting now. No more long partings. No more sleeping alone. No more fears or uncertainty. Jacob ran faster than he ever had in his life, grabbing Kyle around the waist and lifted him off his feet before he could bring himself to a stop. He could hear someone giggling but he didn’t care. The reality of the moment overwhelmed him when he tried to speak. He managed to get out the only two words that were in his heart as he buried his face in Kyle’s neck. “My love.” Time seemed to stop for them as they held each other. Their friends stood nearby as they watched their reunion. Kyle sniffled and smiled as he whispered, “I’m home now. And I’m never leaving you again.” **** David sat in the small waiting room watching his son in his black tuxedo, adjusting his bow tie in the mirror for the fifth time in ten minutes before looking over a copy of the introduction being handed out at the door to all the guests. As time passes our bonds grow ever stronger, It is through those bonds of love and friendship that we measure our lives As Kyle and Jacob celebrate this joyous day, They celebrate the love of their friends Who have been with them through joys and sorrows And stand together with love and pride. We welcome you to celebrate our joys, our love and our lives As we all begin a new life together. One family. One team. He ran his hand through his trimmed beard which was now more grey than dark brown. He had no qualms about that. He accepted it as a part of life. He stood up and joined his son in front of the mirror, looking at both of them dressed similarly. “Son, you’re gonna rip it off if you keep fidgeting with it.” “Sorry,” Kyle said with a sigh. “I just want to get started.” He’d been nervous all morning since he woke up. The day was warm and bright outside. Everything was set to go. The invited guests had been filing in for the last half hour now. Brian had been running back and forth between Kyle’s room and Jacob’s, awaiting the final moments. David chuckled and leaned in to kiss his son’s golden brown hair. “You’re ready for this. You both are.” Kyle smirked at his dad’s reflection and said, “does that mean you’re not gonna complain about the song again?” David grumbled. “I wasn’t complaining. Just saying it’s silly that you two are getting married to the tune of a song from a video game.” “Blame Brian,” he said simply. “He’s the one who had us listen to it. And it fits. Jacob and I decided that this wasn’t just our wedding. This was our celebration of all our lives. What better song to use than ‘Stand by Me?’” “You could’ve stuck to the original,” he remarked in a cantankerous tone. “The original doesn’t have a full string orchestra and doesn’t really set the right mood in a church. By the way, we need to thank Harry for agreeing to do this for us.” Kyle was getting good at diverting the topic away from his anxiety to keep himself calm. His father nodded. “He’s doing it for free. Probably to make things up with Brian but I’ll take it. He gave me a taste of his sermon too. It should be good and go with your theme.” Kyle finally turned to look at his father and smiled. “If all goes right, I’m hoping everyone gets a ceremony none of them will forget.” David grinned. “I’m sure of it. Just about everyone you invited is coming. By the way, be nice to your mom when you see her today. She was ecstatic to get an invitation and bent heaven and earth to get here.” Kyle nodded. “I’m glad she’s here, actually. It means a lot to me. If you weren’t part of the ceremony, I’d insist you sit with her.” Even if he hadn’t seen her since he was Matt’s age, it was a kind gesture to invite her and was surprised at how glad he was that she responded. They stood there looking at each other before he finally asked his dad in an expectant tone, “So…? Any words of advice before I head into a life altering moment?” “Are you nervous,” he asked. “Yes,” he said bluntly. “I can feel my anxiety starting to build up in me but I have it under control. Took my meds today like the doctor told me to from now on. I just want it done. I’m not good with crowds and the openly declaring I’m gay and in love with my best friend from high school.” “Son,” he said with a little irritation, “what everyone else thinks doesn’t matter today. All that matters is you’re marrying the person you’ve loved nearly half your life now. You two are still madly in love with each other and if anyone says otherwise, I will gladly set them straight.” Kyle giggled. A sure sign to David that his son was nervous. “Dad,” he said after his giggles passed and he looked more somber, “I want to thank you for everything you did. Taking care of him. Taking care of me. You’ve done so much I can’t even put it all in a list. You’ve been everything to me. I’m sorry I doubted you when I should’ve have.” David shook his head. “You can’t keep beating yourself up over the past. It happened. It’s fixed now. Move on.” “As odd as it sounds,” he remarked, “the person I feel sorry for is you. You should have had a day like this with Travis. He should be here with you.” David blinked and looked at his son quizzically. “He’s here.” He reached under his collar and pulled out a chain from under his shirt until a set of dog tags were revealed before he pushed them back in under his tuxedo shirt and patted his chest. “Right where he’s always been, son. Travis and I weren’t as strong as you and Jacob have been. This is your day and no one else’s. Stop thinking about everyone else. Focus on just you and Jacob today.” Kyle hugged his father tight. “I love you so much, Dad. Thank you for everything.” “You’re welcome, baby boy,” he said softly. “Just remember, I’ll be right there next to you the whole time.” There was a knock at the door and an usher’s head poked in to inform them that they were ready to start. Kyle looked from his father to the usher and nodded. The door closed again and the two men stood there looking at each other, waiting in silence. Kyle started thinking about the first day he met Jacob. Their first hug. Their first dance. The first moment he knew in his heart he loved Jacob Michael Eaton more than anyone else in the world. His eyes misted over, remembering how innocently it had all started. He never would’ve guessed that bully in the hallway was in another room nearby, waiting just as he was now to stand in front of over three hundred people and declare their undying love to each other. The sound of a harp playing ascending notes followed by soft violins filled the room from the overhead speakers. In his mind, he could see the large projection screen over the front of the chapel beginning to show a slow montage of pictures of him, Jacob and their friends from over the years. Starting as children and slowly working up through the years. They had spent an entire night at the house together going over all the old photos David and their other parents had taken of them, choosing what should be added for the wedding. Reliving old memories and laughing at some remembered moment that a camera had captured. What should have only taken an hour or more turned into an entire night of dinner, music, laughter and sweet memories that they shared with each other and their children. The music was soft and carried a serenity with it. As the first verse began Kyle’s his lips quivered. The words having never meant more to him than on this day. When the night has come And the land is dark And the moon Is the only light we’ll see He looked to his father who stood there with a patient, kind, loving smile. It helped him remain calm as the first chorus began and in his mind he could see little Carter walking down the center aisle wearing a white tuxedo and holding the small white pillow the the two wedding bands were resting on. He’d been so proud and excited when he had been asked to do, “the most important job.” The boys looked adorable when they were trying them on the night before and they were all looking forward to them participating. Matthew and Blake entered next, arm in arm. Matt in black like his father with Blake in a white tuxedos. As the song progressed, he could chart Chase and Tanner’s course down the aisle and then into the second chorus when Andy and Brian were to be going down the aisle arm in arm. That was their cue to leave the room. David took his son’s hand and lead him out of the room and down the short hall to the closed doors to the chapel. David stood there next to his son, head up and looking at the closed door in front of him. There was so much he wanted to say but he knew there wasn’t enough time. For now, it was enough that he take his son, arm in arm and wait for their moment together. He watched Kyle brush his tears away and gave into the temptation to give him one final hug. This was going to be a day none of them would ever forget. The music had softened into a light interlude and Kyle could just imagine those final pictures everyone in the chapel could see. Brian, Andy, Tanner and Blake on the sofa together at Thanksgiving. Then Troy, Liz holding baby Emily next to Carter and Chase. And finally Kyle and Jacob with Stephanie and Matt. Three families, forever linked together. The doors to the chapel opened and the chorus returned with the words as powerful as they felt in his heart and the music playing to match as Kyle and his father, arm in arm, walked down the aisle between hundreds of onlookers who stood watching them. Kyle only had enough sense to notice a few of the people there. Some he didn’t recognize, maybe people Jacob knew or some of his more endearing clients over the years. What he saw were happy smiles and a few wiped eyes as he and his father passed. Kyle saw Stephanie’s bright happy smile with a tear running down her cheek as she watched him pass. Her stomach had grown over the last few months and had debated not coming. Kyle and Jacob were adamant that she attend. Other faces he saw were more of a blur to him as he focused on taking his time and remembering to breathe. As they stepped up to the altar, Andy, Brian and the boys were waiting, gathered around expectantly. It was all happening so fast it seemed to overwhelm him. Andy and Brian were embracing him before Matthew moved to stand next to him. Kyle smiled down at his son and hugged him for a brief moment before he turned to the door. There was a roll of drums and the doors to the chapel opened again. The music reaching an emotional crescendo as he watched Troy and Jacob enter, arm in arm in their white tuxedos. It was that moment that he would never forget for the rest of his life. A tear ran down his cheek and he felt an overwhelming outpouring of his love that threatened to turn into sobs. Then he felt his father’s reassuring hand on his shoulder and the moment passed. His eyes never left Jacob’s as he got closer and closer. They were halfway down the aisle when Kyle’s eyes widened slightly and he broke into a bright grin. Jacob’s hair was cut short and made him look as beautiful as that fateful prom night they shared so long ago. The music, the moment and this man he loved more than his own life came together as Jacob stepped up to him. They looked at each other with love and wonder in their eyes. The future was uncertain. Anything could happen to either one of them. But in this moment, on this day, none of it mattered. They loved each other with a depth that years apart could never hope to defeat. They had learned to trust not just each other but themselves. Whatever the future held for them, it would be a wondrous journey and one they would embark on together. Jacob extended his hand in offering to Kyle, his clear blue eyes were bright and the small smile on his lips was inviting him one more time to come with him. As they joined hands, they knew it was a gesture that would mark their lives forever. As one, Kyle and Jacob turned to Pastor Whitman. The music faded into the background and, with hands held and their friends gathered nearby, they embarked on their new life together.
    113 points
  26. Ethan awoke with his head on a bed of dense, curly, dark fur covering hard and chiseled pecs and abs. His hand gently grasped the hair as the last vestiges of sleep drifted away. An extreme sense of peace filled him and he would have happily stayed where he was forever if he could, listening to the heart beating below him and breathing in the spicy scent of his boyfriend. He didn’t move as he felt a strong hand gently stroke his hair. Aiden smiled unable to believe how happy he felt gazing down at the blond head of hair resting on his torso, with a small hand embedded in his chest hair. He could tell by the breathing his pup was awake, yet neither wanted this moment to end. Finally, after inhaling deeply to fill himself with his boyfriend’s scent, it was Ethan who moved so he could peer up into Aiden’s eyes. “Morning, Pup.” “Morning.” Ethan yawned as he stretched to work out the kinks in his body. “Can we just stay like this forever?” Grinning at the thought, he pulled Ethan up so he could give him a good morning kiss. “I would love that, but I think we’d need to get food at some point as well as take care of other needs.” At which point, Aiden rolled out of bed and walked into the bathroom. Once they showered and pulled on their underwear, Aiden went into the kitchen and began sorting out things for breakfast. Anytime Ethan tried to offer help, he was told to go sit at the counter. When Aiden finished, he set plates filled with omelets, home fried potatoes, pancakes, and of course bacon before them. Ethan couldn’t stifle the giggle that erupted. “This looks and smells great, but you do realize this food weighs more than I do?” They dug in and ate quietly, while occasionally stealing glances of the other. Ethan couldn’t finish all the food he was given and wasn’t surprised when Aiden did, and then ate his leftovers. “That was great.” Ethan smiled as he stood up on his toes while pulling Aiden down to him for a kiss. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome, Pup.” Ethan went about cleaning everything from breakfast. Like Aiden had done while cooking, Ethan told him to sit which he did. In a short time, all the dishes were done and put away. “We have the pack meeting at noon. Anything you want to do for the next couple hours?” Ethan silently though: “Make out and cuddle;” instead, he reached out for his boyfriend’s hand. “Want to go for a walk? I know you’ll be going for a run with the guys after the meeting.” “Are you okay with me going on a run with them? I hate leaving your side and I don’t want to make you feel like you aren’t included.” “I’ve got Casey’s family to talk to and I know you need your furry time. You also need to hang out with Trevor and Casey. Just because we’re dating doesn’t mean you have to give up your friends. I’m getting more comfortable around the pack too.” Aiden once again searched Ethan’s eyes and knew his pup was honestly okay. He also knew he was falling hopelessly in love with Ethan Scott. The two walked around hand in hand with no particular destination in mind. All that mattered was being together. ****** The weekly meeting wasn’t held at the pack hall this time, but instead at the home of the alpha. Riding up the long driveway, the house finally came into view as the trees parted. Standing in the center of a massive meadow was an old style brick colonial mansion complete with four white columns across the front. “Wow. The alpha lives here?” “Yeah. His family’s been here for generations and has had time to build up several companies to make them very wealthy. They have about twenty-five acres. It goes well beyond the tree line over there into the forest. Pretty much everything around here was built to border the forest in some way. The pack owns a lot of the wooded areas between properties so it will always stay a green zone.” “I guess since I’d only seen him around his office and the community hall I was just thinking of him like a mayor and a regular guy.” Aiden had to laugh at the thought of his alpha being a regular guy. “I guess for the most part he is a regular guy, who just happens to be the leader of a wolf pack. He doesn’t flaunt his wealth or power and tries to use it to help the community, both lycan and human.” As they walked towards a group that had already arrived, several people greeted them. Ethan’s natural instincts were to still shy away from strangers, but he did his best to be friendly and return the greetings. Mary Tucker was standing with her boys while Rafe was at the front of the gathering with the alpha and his beta. When she saw the two boys walking up, she gave them a motherly ‘Mhmm’ look before breaking into a knowing smile. Aiden and Casey bumped fists, followed by him doing the same to Ethan. This had to be repeated with each of the younger Tucker boys. Trevor walked over about that time and the process started all over again. Across the field stood Michael with a group of his friends. He locked eyes with the human teen in what would have been seen as a challenge to any lycan. Ethan held the stare and glared back, never blinking, never breaking eye contact, and never backing down. Casey and Trevor caught the unusual expression on their friend’s face and followed his glare to its source. Glancing between the two, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Aiden, finally noticing what was going on, was getting angry his mate was being so obviously challenged, but also proud he was not backing down. It was Michael who finally averted his eyes from Ethan’s glare and moved so one of his friends was between him and the line of sight of the latest person to best him. Because of the sunlight, no one noticed the faint blue glow nearly hidden in Ethan’s already brilliant blue eyes, nor did anyone notice the cooler filled with water a few feet behind him had frozen into a solid block of ice. The meeting lasted about an hour. It broke up with different groups going out to either run or hunt and some of the younger pack members taking advantage of the alpha’s swimming pool. Aiden watched Ethan, still uncertain about going for a run with his pack mates. Smiling and giggling, Ethan told him flat out: “Go!” Glancing at Casey and Trevor, he added, “You guys have a great run.” Trevor gave a laugh while turning towards Aiden. “You heard your mate. Let’s go.” Once they were gone, John Stockdale came over. “Ethan, it’s good to see you. I have some people I’d like you to meet if you’re up for it.” Not wanting to offend the man, he nodded and followed the pack’s leader. Mary gave Jack, Ryan, and Zach a nod to go with him. The alpha led them over to a group of older lycan; most looked like they were getting on in years though still seemed vibrant and strong. “Ethan, these are some of the pack elders. A few served on the council when my father was in charge. They help preserve our history and teach the younger generations what they know.” The man spoke with a reverence Ethan hadn’t seen before. “I wanted you to meet them so they could talk to you and help teach you about pack life and being lycan. Gentlemen, this is Ethan Scott, mate of Aiden Jacobs.” The group of men shook his hand and motioned for him to take a seat. The Tucker kids sat down around Ethan so he could see them from either side. Other kids from the pack wandered over knowing it was essentially story time with the elders. Ryan and Zach bumped fists with their friends while Jack tried to act like the normal teenager who was above kid stuff. “Ethan, it’s a pleasure to meet you finally. My name is James. These others are Patrick, Dylan, Richard, and the redheaded mutt over there is Seamus.” Each one nodded when their name was mentioned. “I’m not sure what Aiden has told you so far, so let’s just start with Lycanthropy 101 and go from there.” “That sounds great, sir. I really want to learn about this stuff.” “All throughout time there have been legends of shape shifters. Many of them go back to ancient Egyptian times and the various gods and goddesses that were said to have taken on forms other than human. One of the many Egyptian gods was Wepwawet, believed to be son of Set. He was a god of war and hunting and almost always depicted as a wolf. He is thought to have given the gift of shape shifting to the guards of his temples, which allowed them to turn into wolves. This is where our lycan origins are believed to come from.” James was an animated storyteller, talking with his hands as much as his mouth and clearly enjoying the subject. “Sekhmet, the daughter of Ra, was a goddess of war in the same region of Egypt and usually depicted as a lioness. To protect her temples from Wepwawet’s guards and warriors, she turned her own guards to lions. Likewise, Horus created falcon and hawks with his, and Bastet turned hers into cats. Anubis, who is thought to be the brother of Wepwawet and another son to Set, turned some of his temple guards into jackals or as they are called here, coyotes. This gave rise to the many shape shifters or were creatures.“ The older lycan paid attention to all his listeners but concentrated on Ethan. “Depending on each god’s ties to celestial bodies, their various shifters would be bound to the lunar or solar cycle, only turning with the power of the moon or sun. As such, those the gods turned were referred to as Solaris or Lunaris. The first guards that were given this gift were eventually given the ability to pass it on through a bite when in their animal form. Thus allowing them to create more soldiers when needed if conflicts arose. It’s also believed the gods included an allergy to silver and sometimes gold in the gift to keep the guards from developing sticky fingers around the temples treasures. That allergy still persists in us and burns like hell. “As one group would attack another and drive them from its territory, the gift in their blood would expand to different parts of the world.” James was having a ball as he danced around in a mock battle with an unseen opponent. “Our stories tell us the gods in other parts of the world saw what was happening—the spread of what they thought of as the Egyptian curse—and began creating their own were creature forces, including tigers and even dragons. The dragon clans rarely left Asia or Europe though. Some would pass the gift to others with a bite, willingly or unwillingly infecting those people with the lycanthropy virus. Others took mates and began having offspring with the lycanthropy gene passed on between generations.” Aiden had returned from his run and sat next to Ethan to listen. Wrapping his arm around his mate, he kissed the side of his head much to the happiness of some elders and the annoyance of others. James nodded in approval at the couple’s display of affection. He continued his lesson into lycan Egyptology with gleeful delight. “So, with Sekhmet and Wepwawet, solaris lions are her followers, lunaris wolves are his. The war between the followers of the two gods eventually forced the lions to flee Egypt and go into hiding all over the world as Wepwawet’s forces were far greater than Sekhmet’s. “There was one other faction of lycan that came out of Egypt in this great odyssey. The followers of Anubis, the Jackal God, knew of the plot against Sekhmet and her solaris lions, but could do nothing to stop it as he was neutral in the fight. He was however drawn into the conflict, being a god of the dead. Sekhmet appealed to her fellow god and Anubis relented; he tried to broker peace. “Anubis attempted to convince Wepwawet to end his war with Sekhmet. When he refused, Anubis broke his neutrality and sided with her over his brother because he was unable to guide the large number of souls to the underworld. Too many were dying because of this war. Most of them humans caught up in the fighting between opposing armies. “Those of his order were known to be guides. It was the jackals who guided followers of Sekhmet north to the Mediterranean and across the great sea to what is now Crete and beyond into Greece. To increase their odds of survival, they split with one group going into Greece seeking refuge in the Kingdom of Arcadia. Sanctuary was granted even knowing the Egyptian curse that was Sekhmet’s lions and the wolves of Wepwawet who hunted them.” Ethan’s chin rested on his knees; he listened in awe to the tale spun by the elder. The younger lycan, who had heard these stories before, sprawled out on the grass with varying degrees of interest. Richard took over at this point. “In Greece, the followers of the goddess Artemis, known as the Nymphs of Artemis, had all taken a vow to remain virgins. One of her most faithful followers was Callisto. Wanting to have sex with her, Zeus—being the horn dog and master of disguise he was—came to her disguised as Artemis and impregnated her. Artemis was outraged by this, and as she was unable to do anything against her father Zeus, she transformed Callisto into a bear as a form of punishment before Callisto gave birth to Zeus’ son named Arcas. Callisto was also given the power to turn others into bears creating many soldiers in the name of her goddess. “When the wolf warriors of Wepwawet came, they attempted to storm the Temples of Artemis where the lions were hidden. Artemis was enraged by this affront. She commanded Callisto and her bear soldiers to defend the temples and protect the lions from the wolves. Callisto and her troops held off the wolves long enough for the lions to escape with a contingent of bear guards and their jackal guides. “Their travels took them north, across the continent, replenishing their forces along the way, always trying to stay one step ahead of the relentless wolf hunters and spreading the lycan gift across the lands in the process. They traversed what is now Russia and then back south through Mongolia to the Chinese coast where they were cut off by the sea, allowing several wolf packs to finally catch up to them.” Richard pretended to be one of the wolf hunters stalking towards the younger pups, readying for battle. The youngsters’ reactions varied from laughter to indifference with a dash of fear in some. “The few remaining bears, lions, and jackals fought a fierce battle against the many wolf packs that had finally trapped the group. The local people seeing the fight called to their gods for help. As the wolves were the only shifters in the fight using the area’s population to increase their numbers. The gods of the region sent several clans of lycan dragons, snow and clouded leopards, and pandas into the battle to assist in eradicating the attacking wolves. In the end, only a handful of the lions were believed to have endured along with one of the bears, before the wolves were finally defeated. The dragon, leopards, and panda clans took in the survivors, allowing them to finally live in peace after so long on the run.” Suspecting what the reaction would be, he raised a hand in a preemptive move. “Before any of you ask, no, I haven’t seen a werepanda. I don’t know if they’re real and I know a panda isn’t a predator. Best I can suggest is imagine Kung-Fu Panda.” His theatrics for a martial arts kick nearly landed him on the ground causing giggles from the pups. “Remember when I said the jackal’s leading the lions split up with one group heading to Greece? The other contingent traveled into the territory of King Lyncus of the Scythians.” “King Lyncus? Is this the story of Demeter and how she turned the king into a lynx for killing her emissary?” One of the young pups asked. “Very good. That’s correct, but is not entirely accurate.” Richard was pleased at least one of the pups had paid attention to prior lessons. “The Greek mythological figure, Triptolemus had come to the Scythians from the great city of Athens, though no one knew by what method he traveled. When asked, he said, ’Neither by boat or air, horse or foot, a great rift opened before me which I stepped through to be here.’ He told the king he brought the gifts of Demeter, goddess of the harvest, for the king’s people. Adding: ‘If you scatter them through the wide fields, they will give you back fruitful harvests, and ripening crops.’ The king wanted the knowledge for himself and welcomed Triptolemus as a guest. The Scythian ruler attacked the visitor with a sword while he slept. As he was about to plunge the sword into Triptolemus’s chest, Demeter turned the king into a lynx. When the people found out about the king’s treachery and selfishness, he was forced to flee. He joined up with the lions and jackals, making his escape.” Seamus spoke for the first time with a thick Irish accent. “At some point, the lunar and solar gods reached an accord to end their wars. They decided there had been enough fighting and death between the factions. For the first time, there was peace among the various breeds of shifters. Up until then, either side could transform only during their given cycle, when the moon or sun were up. As a reward to their followers, the ability to transform most anytime was granted to them. The gods also saw how many of their creations had flourished after the wars. Lycan were passing their ability to transform through mating, more so than by turning a human. This was a new phase of existence for our kind.” Ethan and the others listening were riveted to the history lesson. The Irish lycan stood and paced before the pups. “Since we were no longer turning humans in great numbers, the gods began to create a specific mate for each of their children. A pairing that would complete each other and make them whole. While a lycan could mate with anyone and imprint on that individual, their destined mate was the other part of their soul. In most cases, this mate is the same species, but not always as is obvious with Aiden and Ethan. They don’t make it easy for mates to find each other, but like with their wars, it is a game to be played out for their entertainment. When mates find each other it is a wondrous thing that should be protected and celebrated.” Whether to catch his breath or to allow his words to sink in, Seamus paused for a moment. “A lycan finding a destined or true mate in a human is a rare thing and the wisdom of Mother Nature or whatever gods might still exist should not be questioned.” Seamus stood with his arms crossed before a pair of elders that weren’t part of the history teachers. “With many animals, a mating pair is for just what it sounds like, to mate and produce young. Nature knows what the earth can handle, so she knows when and who to pair someone with to produce or not produce offspring. When it is a mixed species mating, only one animal will be the dominant trait in each offspring. So mixed parents may end up with one of each or all of one type depending how many kids they have. Children of those matings never receive the ability to take both their parents’ animals. “In your case, Ethan, if you do go ahead with the mating and accept the lycan gift from Aiden, you will turn the first full moon after you receive your bite. As well as each subsequent one for several cycles. You won’t be able to resist your lunar change for a while. But you will be able to transform anytime you want after that first shift. There will always be a pull from the moon, but eventually it will not force you to shift.” Ethan shuddered as the reality of what he faced sank in. Aiden pulled him a bit tighter against his body which calmed the human boy immediately. “You will develop an allergy to silver even before your change. Old scars on your body will disappear. If you’re wounded, the injury will heal much faster, especially if you shift. That is unless they are from silver and that leaves a scar that never goes away. There will be enhancements to sight and hearing as well as strength and stamina.” Ethan gasped, it all sounded like superpowers a comic book hero would have. That he would be the one with those powers was incredible. “Most important though, your first change will hurt like a son of a bitch. And there is always a chance that first change could kill you. That said, there is always a chance the sun could explode or the moon could come crashing into the earth. You would have your mate at your side to help guide you through the change and you would be getting turned by a very strong wolf. When your heart is ready, you will decide what is right for you.” Dylan picked up where Seamus left off. “Going back to the history lesson, some species of lycan are believed to have died out over time. Depending who you speak with, they’ll tell you the solaris are a myth, few in numbers or extinct. Based on their experience with our kind, it is reasonable to assume they keep their distance out of fear some will try and complete the old wars. The ancient stories tell of large dragons flying over Europe, laying waste to the lands. They’re too prevalent not to have some basis in fact. If the dragons still survive, they’ve remained hidden to prevent their own extermination by humans. There are still rumors of dragons in Asia. The loss of any breed is a loss to us. As is the case with all creatures of nature, the strongest will survive while the weaker breeds pass into history.” Finally, it was Patrick’s turn to speak. “With the lycan wolf, which is what most people seem to think of, there are two different types. All of us here are what is called Canis Lupus Lunaris. We are bound to the pull of the moon and take on the shape of a full wolf. Only larger in most cases and definitely stronger than a natural one which is also called Canis Lupus. When in our animal form, the wolf’s mind is at the forefront and the human portion of our mind takes a backseat. That’s not to say we lose our human thought or control. I’d describe it like watching or playing a video game when I shift. I can see and hear it all and I can exert my own will over the wolf to take some of the actions I want. But like a game, I’m bound by some rules I can’t alter. It can sometimes be a battle between the human and lycan sides of the mind. With the latter’s instincts wanting to have control. The elder began stalking around, back slightly hunched, his arms up and hands opened like they should have claws. He was walking around on the balls of his feet and growling at the pups. One of the Zack Tucker’s friends called out, “Lunis.” “That’s right. The other wolf is Canis Lunis Lunaris that appears as a bipedal creature. It’s a hybrid between a wolf and human and where most of the werewolf legends come from. They are similar to an alpha’s hybrid shift and look almost identical. Though an alpha is considerably stronger and more powerful. A lunis will appear in a smaller form when they shift outside of a full moon, but unlike us, the lunis must always shift to their wolf form at those times. It’s what they call their lunar form and it tends to be much larger than their non-lunar one. They still have their full human mind with the instincts of a wolf when they shift. And they can still speak as a human in their animal form which is a trait us lupus don’t have. While their wolf is still present in their mind, it is a case of more instinct than the shifting of minds when they turn. Some packs consider the lunis a lower form of shifter, though they are no different than us. A lupus might give birth to a lunis sometimes and a lunis pair might give birth to a lupus. It is believed to be a variation in the lycan gene. Most species of shifters are believed to have a lunis variant. Patrick swept his arm, pointing to the group sitting before him and off to where adults had gathered after they returned from their run. “All wolves are social creatures. There are packs all over the world. Ours is one of the larger in the northeastern part of the country. We are also territorial creatures that will fight for what is ours. Wolves, as well as other shifters, don’t enter a pack territory without permission. Just driving down a freeway someplace doesn’t count as entering a territory normally since it wouldn’t be right to prevent travel on major highways. “I know you’ve met our top three leaders. In addition to them, there are also warriors, trackers, and hunters.” Patrick’s tone took on a level of respect for the groups he mentioned. “The hunters usually patrol the territory and deal with small issues that come up. Some of the hunters are human or other types of lycan and some are wolf, but all of them have some tracking ability. The trackers are just that, their nose is highly trained to pick up the slightest trace of someone or something’s scent. They will track any threat and help guide the hunters when needed. In our pack, all trackers are wolves since we have the best nose to pick up a scent. Our warriors defend the territory and it’s people in the event of a large scale attack, much like an army. It’s very rare, but sometimes a pack or rogue wolves might attack another. And that concludes out history lesson for today.” All five of the elders that spoke stood to take a theatrical bow before the pups and young men. The pups clapped as they stood and wandered off to find their parents. James kept an eye on Ethan while the other elders spoke. It was as though he was trying to read the boy. He could see Ethan trying to absorb all he was told about lycan history, sitting in awe of the lesson. He wasn’t sure if it was real, but thought he noticed a faint blue glow in the human’s bright eyes. The only beings that possessed a blue glow like that were something out of legend, yet the teen before him was human. He thought it must be a trick of the light. Ethan sat in information overload. All of the others had heard the stories many times so were not as overwhelmed. Everyone thanked the elders and Ethan finally stood and went up to each of them. “Thank you for helping me better understand this world I’m in now.” He turned his attention to Aiden. “Man. I never imagined there was so much mythology behind it. Even with the few species I’ve met, I’d love to see them all in their animal form. It would be so cool to see a dragon or even a panda if they do still exist.” He giggled a bit. “Werepanda sounds cute, but werebear sound better since it rhymes. I’m surprised they didn’t call it a weredragon or wereleopard in the story.” He lowered his voice to a whisper as he remembered what Aiden had told him before. “If werewolf is offensive why do they use the terms werebear and werepanda?” Aiden shrugged, not knowing the answer. “Probably because it’s someone else and not us.” The alpha walked up behind them and placed a hand on each of their shoulders. “Well, I see these guys didn’t bore you to death.” “It was really cool listening to the stories. I don’t know what to believe as myth versus fact, but since so many types of lycan exist, there has to be some truth to the legends.” Ethan felt excited over his newfound knowledge. ****** Across the field, a group of wolves returned from the forest and began shifting back to human. Watching the alpha and elders talking to Ethan rubbed Michael’s fur the wrong way. “First Aiden brings his pet here, then my father accepts it over his own son, his enforcer takes it in, and now the elders fawn over it. What the hell is with that human? It doesn’t belong here. This is a wolf pack, not a stray shelter.” His lips curled up at one corner. “Guess we could be like some shelters and put the stray down after ten days. We need to get rid of it to protect the pack and teach Aiden a lesson.” One of his friends stood shaking his head. “Dude. There are humans living around here and a few working for the pack already. My girlfriend’s human. You saying I should dump her even if I’m in love with her? How many did you fuck in high school or since we graduated?” “What’s so different about this one? Remember, he’s under the alpha’s protection.” Another of his friends queried. “What can you hope to do that won’t earn you more punishment from your dad? Are you sure you’re not just jealous of him for some reason? Or perhaps of Aiden?” There was a slight sneer to the last part that Michael didn’t notice. “Fuck off, assholes. Hell will freeze over before I’ll be jealous of Aiden or some pathetic little human bitch. Protection or not, that human has to go. Just remember, I’m gonna be your next alpha.” Several of Michael’s friends weren’t entirely sure if that was a good or bad thing. ****** Once everyone except the elders had left his home, John sat with the group of older lycan. “So, what do you think of Ethan?” Seamus was first to speak up. “From his scent, he is most definitely Aiden’s mate. It’s so unusual for a lycan to find a mate that’s human. I know it happens, but truly rare as I suspect that boy is. Humans instinctually know to be fearful in our presence. Even if they don’t know why. Surprisingly, he shows no fear being surrounded by so many lycan. But he does have a strong mate.” “He seemed genuinely interested in what we were telling him about our history and pack basics,” Richard said. “You just like anyone who listens to you without falling asleep,” the alpha joked. “Seriously though, when you guys start covering Egyptian and Greek mythology the way you do, I have to admit I still want to sit down with the group and listen.” “Some of us have to keep the younger generation’s attention. They must learn our history in order to pass it on. Hopefully, one of those pups will be up here someday telling our stories to a new generation. We try to make it enjoyable, like I felt I did for the students in my high school and university history classes. As I recall, a certain young scholar who’s since become an alpha always got high marks on my exams. If you pay attention to those boys, you can practically watch the two of them falling more in love with each other. That young human wants to learn about us because he knows this is going to be his life and it’s important to his mate.” James chimed in. As the group of elders gave their thanks for the hospitality and said their goodbyes, James lagged behind. “John, I’m not sure if I saw what I think I saw today. I’m going to say this anyways because the old legends were a favorite of yours when you were my student. When the boy was letting his mind wander during history lesson, I swear I saw a faint blue glow in his eyes. Especially when Aiden sat with him and held his hand.” The alpha’s expression remained neutral trying to not give away anything to his old friend. “Were you already thinking there might be more to this human then meets the eye?” James studied his alpha’s face. “Yes, you do think there’s more to him.” The alpha considered his words carefully. “I’ve only heard of one type of being having eyes which will glow blue. It was referenced in a couple of legends even older than the ones you were telling those kids. I’m sure it’s the same being you’re thinking of now. You were the one who taught me all those old legends after class. To the best of my knowledge, no one alive has ever met someone with that ability to confirm it’s more than a legend. As for him being Aiden’s mate, I’ll let you in on a secret that does not go beyond this moment.” Once James nodded, John continued. “Aiden appears to be the only lycan who can turn Ethan. Tests on his blood when he arrived say he is nothing more than a human, but absolutely no one other than Aiden can turn him.” James stared at his friend and former student in total disbelief. “I’ve heard of very rare cases of immunity to the lycan gift but not like that. If, and that is a very big if, what I’m thinking is possible, those boys need to be protected at all costs. This could also place a huge target on this pack, even from the Lycan Council itself if this gets out. Are you planning to tell the boy or Aiden anything?” “I don’t want to say anything to either of them ’til there’s something to tell them. Knowing a little of Ethan’s history, which I was able to verify, I’d protect him no matter what anyways. So nothing’s changed for me. He’s had a hard life for someone so young and I see him building a family which I don’t think he believed was possible for him. Thanks for keeping this quiet, James.”
    113 points
  27. As the first light of dawn began to chase away the inky black darkness of night, Ethan slowly awakened from a fitful night’s slumber. It had not been the peaceful rest he had gotten the last several nights with Aiden wrapped around him. Even though they had only slept together a few nights, he already missed having the muscular, furry body next to him regardless of what form Aiden was in. At some point during the night, Ethan ended up on the floor. The bed just did not feel right after so long not being in one. About a mile away, Aiden was not doing much better than his pup. He tossed and turned most of the night missing the closeness of his mate. Though he was not awake enough to realize it, sleeping alone was no longer enjoyable. There was something missing that would not let him or his wolf find the rest they sought. Around five in the morning, Ethan finally gave up on trying to doze any longer. Quietly washing up and getting dressed, he made his way downstairs and out to the back porch. It was a cool morning, but very pleasant outside. He sat alone, lost in his thoughts until the door opened and Rafe walked out. “Trouble sleeping or just an early riser?” “A little of both I guess.” “Being away from your mate can cause that, though usually only in fully mated couples”. “Not sure if it’s that or being indoors. It’s been awhile.” Rafe nodded. “You hungry? Mary should be starting breakfast soon.” “I’m not really hungry.” His stomach picked that moment to growl. “Get in there and get some food or I’ll sic Mother Mary on you.” Rafe grinned and lightly laughed. “You know she’ll hound you about eating ’til she thinks you’ve had as much as you can eat.” Giving in, Ethan got up and walked inside with Rafe. Mary was already in the kitchen making breakfast. Rafe stepped up behind his wife to give her a kiss along with a light pat on the backside. “Good morning to you too. I’d watch that hand while I’m cooking unless you want coffee to accidentally be spilled someplace you won’t enjoy it.” Mary playfully acted displeased with her mate. She noticed how tired the boy looked. “Good morning, Ethan. Did you sleep alright?” Before Ethan’s mind could formulate an answer, Rafe spoke. “He had a rough night.” The big man teased a little. “Found him on the back porch staring off in Aiden’s direction. Also claims he isn’t hungry this morning, so I threatened to let you loose on him.” “Morning.” Ethan spoke quietly, not used to people being this perky or playful so early. “You let him alone. If he’s missing his mate don’t go teasing him about it.” Mary admonished. “You know you don’t get much sleep at all if I have to be away. Heaven help you if I’m not here to cook for you, though you’d just turn wolf and go hunting.” She set a large plate of steak and eggs on the table for Rafe and a more modest plate of eggs, bacon, and toast in front of Ethan. “Thank you.” About that time, Casey walked in and sat down. Mary soon had more steak and eggs in front of her son who dug in without saying anything. The older lycan regarded Ethan as they quietly ate. “How would you feel about helping me out on the construction job I’m doing?” “I’ll do anything I can to help out. I don’t know anything about construction, but I learn quickly and follow directions good.” He was excited to be of use to his hosts. Rafe understood Ethan didn’t want handouts and wanted to contribute for his staying with them. “Maybe we’ll start you out as a runner. You’ll be getting things for us and we’ll teach you what you need to know in the process.” “That would be great! Thank you!” Ethan beamed for the first time that morning. “He can work with me if you want, Dad. I’ll show him what needs to be done as a runner.” It was the first time Casey spoke since walking in. “Right then. Eat up so you have plenty of energy for working today.” Rafe smiled, knowing the boy wouldn’t shy away from food now and Mary gave her mate a kiss on the cheek as she moved to her chair. After breakfast, Ethan helped clean up the dishes before heading outside with the guys. Joe, the oldest of the Tucker boys, had just arrived and was walking towards the garage to start loading up for the day. Joe and Casey high fived each other and when he saw Ethan walking over with the two others, he held up his hand to high five him as well. Ethan kind of felt like a dork doing that, but was happy to be included. “We got a new helper today?” Joe nodded towards Ethan as he picked up a box of tools. “Yep. He says he doesn’t know anything about construction, so I guess I’ll put him in charge of you two since he’s gotta know more than both of you combined,” Rafe joked with his boys. “Just as long as he isn’t a slave driver like you, it’s all good.” Joe fired back. After about thirty minutes, the truck was loaded and the four headed to the construction site they were working at. ****** Aiden raised himself off his pillow enough to glare at the alarm clock and immediately growled at it. When that didn’t stop the offending noise, he reached over and turned it off, resisting the urge to smash it with his fist. He felt like he had just gone to bed and did not want to get up. After his shower he felt more awake, but still not his normal self. A little coffee and a quick breakfast was all he had time for before he had to leave. He arrived at the sheriff’s training center with about ten minutes to spare. Grabbing his gear, he went inside. One of the other trainees teased him as they both entered the locker room to change. “Looks like someone had a late night.” Aiden replied with a growl. When he came out, he was feeling a little more focused and as ready as he was going to be for the day. ****** Rafe was pleasantly surprised Ethan followed every instruction he was given quickly. Within a couple of hours, the teen was even able to guess what some requests were before the others asked. To say he was giving the job his all would have been an understatement. A few times, one of the guys asked him if he needed to take a break; he always turned them down and tried to push himself to work harder. By the time they broke for lunch he was exhausted, but refused to let it show. “You know, you don’t have to prove yourself to us and you don’t have to work yourself to death. I do have to say you’re doing a great job,” Rafe told him. Joe nodded his agreement. “You work harder and faster than any human we’ve ever had on the crew. You may not be a wolf, but you’ve definitely got a wolf’s spirit. It’s good to have you around.” Casey watched Ethan trying to assess how he was really doing. “You’re probably going to be a little sore tonight. If you overdo it here, Aiden’s probably gonna come looking for me.” “I’m doing okay. I just want to make sure I do what you need me to do and put in an honest day’s work.” ****** Training took Aiden’s mind off Ethan. In high school, he always enjoyed wrestling; he was very agile for his size and could easily pin any opponent he went up against. There wasn’t anyone in his weight class that presented a challenge, including other shifters. Now he was putting what he knew to good use along with his experience from football and other sports. Anyone he faced, trainee or instructor, ended up getting taken down and secured. Like his time in high school, everything physical he did in training was always to his best. “When you finish here you’re going to make an impressive deputy on the force, Aiden.” The instructor made notes on the tests just handed in. “Thank you, sir. I’m looking forward to when I graduate and actually start.” “Don’t forget you’re scheduled for the shooting range later. I know you prefer other ways of taking someone down, but it is required.” The instructor had a knowing smile, aware Aiden preferred to chase and tackle someone as opposed to using a weapon. He had seen Aiden’s wolf hunt prey all on his own. Aiden grinned while trying to sound innocent. “It’s no fun using a gun against someone. That just spoils it.” ****** Casey helped Ethan clean things up around the construction site; making sure all tools were picked up and loaded on the truck. There was really no risk of anything getting taken, but Rafe liked leaving things clean and in order at the end of the day. Ethan finished sweeping up any remaining sawdust and debris. Joe was talking to his father when the other two walked over to the truck. The older man handed Ethan one hundred and twenty dollars. “Here’s your pay for all you did today. I’m really proud of how hard you worked.” Casey and Joe both high fived him agreeing with their dad. “This can’t be right, Mr. Tucker. You’re paying me too much.” “It’s actually the same I would’ve paid any beginning helper, though I’m giving it to you directly for the moment instead of taking out tax and the other BS.” He rested his hand on the teen’s shoulder. “You earned every dollar there.” “Thank you. I guess that means I can pay for rent and food now.” That earned a sharp laugh from the gentle giant. “You’ll have to take that subject up with Mary. Good luck with that.” The four piled into the truck for the short drive back to the house. ****** Aiden arrived at the shooting range for his last class of the day. By the time he finished, he had a near perfect score. Rushing to the locker room, he showered and changed. A couple of the other trainees asked if he wanted to go out for a beer and food, but he said he already had plans and made a hasty exit. Driving back to Silver Pine, he headed straight to the Tuckers’ and arrived shortly after Rafe and his crew. Walking right up to his mate, Aiden picked him up in his arms hugging him tight and kissing him. “I missed you today, Pup.” Ethan joyfully laughed at his boyfriend’s exuberance and melted into the strong arms that held him. “I missed you too.” Aiden carried Ethan to the swing in the yard; holding him in his lap as they told each other about their respective day. He listened intently as his pup talked about learning to work construction and Ethan was fascinated as his muscle-bound boyfriend told him about his day of training. Ethan felt so content against the warm body he dozed off mid-sentence. As much as he wanted to spend time talking with his pup, he really enjoyed having him sleeping in his arms. Casey walked out into the yard and even though Aiden could hear and smell his approach, his friend cleared his throat and waited for permission before getting close. “Mom wanted me to let you know dinner would be ready soon.” He watched the sleeping bundle in Aiden’s arms. “Maybe I should ask her to keep a plate warm for you two. Dad was really impressed with how hard he worked today. We all were for that matter. I’m surprised he made it this long without falling asleep.” “He sleeps so peacefully. I wish I did last night.” Casey felt happy for his closest friend. “I don’t think he slept that well last night. Dad mentioned he had a rough one. Thought it was from being away from you.” Aiden nuzzled the top of Ethan’s head and breathed in deeply, filling his senses with what he could only describe as his pup. Even after a very hard day’s work, the mixture of sweat, sawdust, and the remnant of soap was the most wonderful thing he smelled. Not wanting to wake Ethan, but knowing it was needed, he whispered and brushed a finger over his mate’s face until the body he held began to stir. “Hey, Pup. Dinner’s almost ready and after today you really need to eat something. You probably want to clean up first, though I like you just how you are.” Wiping a little drool from the corner of his mouth, he stretched as he got his bearings. “I fell asleep on you again, didn’t I?” “Yeah, but you already know I like you sleeping in my arms.” Ethan got up and half expected Aiden to try and carry him indoors. He excused himself and took a quick shower before changing into clean clothes. He found several new outfits along with work boots and other necessities laid out on the bed. It was more clothes than he’d had in years. Walking downstairs, he was about to ask about them when Mary informed everyone dinner was ready. The family sat at the large table in the dining room and dug into the meal. Once everything was finished and cleared away, Ethan approached Mary. “Thank you for the new clothes. Since Rafe paid me today I wanted to talk to you about how much I’ll be paying for rent, food, and the clothes.” Mary had expected this so wasn’t insulted. “Well, the clothes are a gift from the alpha, so if you want to pay for those you’ll have to speak with him, though I personally advise against it. As far as rent, I believe my son and Trevor both discussed you renting for a dollar. Since I’m the landlord, as far as I’m concerned food is included with the rent.” She crossed her arms and gave him a look of “don’t argue with me about it.” He didn’t like it, but decided not to press the issue. He was surprised when she pulled him into a hug. “We’ve been lucky in life. It’s only fair we share that with someone who hasn’t been as lucky. You need to be shown there are better people than the ones you’ve met in the past and we want to show you what a real family is like.” Unlike when Aiden hugged him, this one felt foreign coming from someone motherly. Ethan finally wrapped his arms around her and hugged back as a tear rolled down his cheek. Aiden watched from a distance and couldn’t be more proud to be friends with this family. As well as being considered a part of it. He knew even by request of an alpha, most wolf families would not like taking in a human. No matter if it was the mate of a pack member or not. The Tuckers saw someone who needed a family and happily accepted him. The couple walked up to the bedroom and put away the new clothes after Aiden had his pup model a few. Ethan got ready for bed, leaning against Aiden as they talked quietly. He rose up for a kiss and the scruffy faced teen was more than happy to give his pup one, followed by a second, and third. Noticing his pup had dozed off in his arms again, he gently laid Ethan down and pulled the blanket onto him. He left the bedroom and joined the rest of the family downstairs, chatting briefly before saying his goodnights to everyone. He was about to walk out of the house, but decided he wanted one last look at his mate for the night. Opening the bedroom door, Ethan wasn’t on the bed like he had been. Instead, he was curled up in a ball on the floor looking restless, the blanket becoming more knotted around him by the minute. As Aiden stepped closer to make sure his mate was all right, Ethan became instantly calm. Thinking a dream might have caused what he’d noticed, he silently moved back to the door to leave. Aiden watched and once again his pup became agitated. Puzzled by this, he walked downstairs to speak with Casey’s father. “Can I talk to you for a minute, Rafe?” “Sure, let’s step outside.” The older lycan led him out to the back porch. “So what’s on your mind, son?” “It’s Ethan. I went to check on him and get one last look for the night. Instead of sleeping in the bed, he was on the floor. What really surprised me was he seemed really restless until I walked close and then he calmed down. When I went back to the door, he got restless again. Have you ever heard of that in a couple that isn’t fully mated?” Aiden wished he had paid more attention to pack members teaching the young wolves about the mating process and bonds. Rafe appeared to be deep in thought for some time. “To be honest, that type of connection is even rare in fully mated couples so I’m not sure. If Mary is away for the night, I don’t sleep that well. Not sure if it’s our bond or just used to feeling her next to me. Maybe he can tell when you are near even when asleep and it helps him. Each bond is different. Sorry I’m not much help on this.” Aiden nodded thinking it sounded plausible. “I guess that makes some sense. I know I didn’t sleep all that well last night being away from him. Before we met I slept fine, but since we got back, my nerves are a little on edge when we are apart.” “Part of that is your natural protectiveness over your mate. If you’re not nearby to protect, you worry something will happen. Why don’t you stay here tonight. I know you’re sleeping apart so your wolf doesn’t get the best of you and let something happen before you’re both ready. I sure as hell know you won’t be doing anything under my roof.” Rafe playfully glared. “Especially since Mary has basically adopted him already as an additional son.” “If you’re sure it’s alright, then thank you.” “I know the alpha wanted to have him checked by the doctor. I’ll see if Mary can get him in tomorrow.” Rafe placed his hand on the younger lycan’s shoulder before they walked back indoors. Saying his goodnights to everyone and letting Rafe explain things to Mary, he walked back upstairs. His mate was still tossing and turning until he got close. Picking up his pup like there was no weight at all, he gently placed the small body on the bed again. Aiden watched Ethan curl up into a tight ball while settling into a peaceful sleep. He stripped down to his boxers and slid beneath the covers beside his mate. Wrapping an arm around him, Ethan uncurled and pressed back against his furry chest. His pup’s breathing became smooth and steady. “What am I going to do with you? I don’t want to push things too fast. You already have so much to learn about us, but you seem to need me here with you. You know what though, Pup? I need you too.” It didn’t take Aiden long to fall into a deep sleep. ****** Ethan woke feeling rested and alert. He was surprised to find himself with Aiden’s arm and leg draped over him. He thought back to the previous night and the last thing he remembered was moving to the floor with a pillow shortly after his boyfriend left. Deciding it wasn’t worth trying to figure things out, he snuggled in Aiden’s arms and laid there happy and content. Glancing at the clock on the nightstand, he realized it was time to get up so he could go to work. Trying to extricate himself from the tangle of arms and legs was enough to wake Aiden who pulled him on top of his muscular chest and showered him with morning kisses. “Mmmmm. Good Morning to you too.” Ethan grinned at his handsome boyfriend. “Morning, Pup. You sleep okay?” “I must have. I thought you were going home last night. What happened?” “I decided I wanted one last look at you before I left and found you on the floor fighting your blanket. When I got near, you calmed down until I stepped away again. It seemed like any time I wasn’t close, you had problems, so I stayed.” “The bed just didn’t feel right. It’s been so long since I slept in one. With your arms around me it does feel good.” He rested his head on Aiden’s chest. “I know I didn’t sleep so good the night before when you weren’t here. Is that part of the mating bond thing you were talking about?” “It could be. I asked Rafe about it before I decided to stay and he hadn’t heard of it. It might just be that a lot of things are changing for you now, but whatever it is, we’ll figure it out.” Aiden decided he wanted one more kiss. “Guess we should head down to breakfast.” The two got out of bed, took turns cleaning up, and dressed. Downstairs, Rafe and Casey were sitting at the table and Mary was busy cooking. “Morning, boys. Take a seat. I’ve got breakfast almost ready. Coffee’s on the table.” Rafe turned towards Ethan. “Would you have any objection if Mary takes you to the pack doctor sometime today?” Ethan, not liking doctors much, sipped his coffee and nervously glanced at Aiden for reassurance. “I guess that’s okay.” Aiden reached over and took his hand. “It’s nothing to worry about. He’s a cool guy for a doctor. You’ll like him.” “Mary can get everything set up and pick you up from the jobsite. You can get some work time in with me.” “I’d say eat up before it gets cold, but around this crowd food rarely has time to cool down any.” Mary joked. “So eat up before they take it all.” After breakfast, Rafe and the crew returned to the work site while Aiden headed back to his training. When Mary was able, she called the pack doctor to make an appointment for Ethan. They told her they were already expecting the call since the alpha had spoken to them. She would pick him up as they broke for lunch. ****** Mary arrived at the job site a little after eleven thirty. Ethan realized he could not get out of this and made his way over to her van. They drove in relative silence to the doctor’s office. When they arrived, Ethan’s eyes shifted from Mary to the building as he gave a little sigh before resigning himself to his fate. Getting out of the van, he walked like a condemned man beside Mary who checked him in with the receptionist. Trying to distract himself, he picked up a magazine from the table and started laughing hysterically. Mary was amused by his laughter and turned to see what he was reading. He held up the cover. “Better Dens and Gardens? Seriously?” “They have some good decorating ideas the human magazine wouldn’t. I think that one has the article on man lairs. Rafe saw it and has been wanting to convert the basement.” About that time, Ethan’s name was called. “Do you want me to go in with you?” “I think I’ll be okay. Hopefully.” Inside the exam room, the nurse did all the basic tests: temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. She left him in the room for a few minutes before a tall, muscular man with a well-trimmed beard walked in. “Good afternoon, Ethan. I’m Doctor MacRae. How are you doing?” “I’m good, thanks.” “Right, first thing let’s get some basic information on you. How about we start with age and birth date?” Ethan answered all the doctor’s questions as well as he could while the man typed away at the computer. “I know you were bit by a wolf and treated by Doctor Alexander. From his notes the bite did break the skin, is that right?” Ethan nodded in response. “Did the wound heal completely?” Again, Ethan nodded. “Why don’t you strip down to your underwear now?” Doctor MacRae gave Ethan a full physical. Poking and prodding, he checked ears and throat, listened to his heart and lungs, and even checked his reflexes at the knee and elbows with a small hammer tool. The bitten leg was inspected. The hernia check was the most uncomfortable part for Ethan, but strangers regularly had hands in his underwear handling his equipment when he was in Richmond. “Everything seems good so far. We’re going to need to take blood samples. You do know that in most every case a bite from a lycan will turn you? We just want to figure out why the process never started.” He went about his tasks and before Ethan realized it, he had a needle in his arm, drawing several vials of blood. When the doctor finished, he buzzed the nurse who picked up the vials to take into the office’s lab for testing. “Wow. That didn’t even hurt.” “I find patients like me a whole lot better when I don’t hurt them.” He gave a friendly grin as he wrapped gauze over the puncture. “Now I want to talk to you about something a little more personal and I don’t mean to embarrass you. I know you and Aiden Jacobs are mates. I know he hasn’t bitten you so you two haven’t completed the process yet. Have the two of you had any type of sexual contact yet?” The doctor appeared to be studying Ethan while he waited for an answer. “I know it can be tough talking to a total stranger about stuff like this, but if I’m going to be your doctor I need you to be totally honest with me. No matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable something is, you can always talk to me.” Ethan blushed a deep red. “No. We haven’t done anything. Just kissing.” He took a deep breath to gather his courage. “Umm, Doctor MacRae, when I was living in Richmond, I had to do stuff to make money…” Ethan dropped his gaze to the floor, not wanting to finish the statement and unable to face the doctor. “Could you umm… run some tests to make sure I… I never caught anything?” “I had a feeling that might have been the case, so I drew enough blood for those tests as well.” He placed his hand on Ethan’s shoulder causing the boy to flinch. “Okay, so even though you two are mates you haven’t done anything to become a mated couple.” He stated more to himself then as a question. “I understand you’ve had some sleep issues lately, is that right? Can you describe it for me?” Ethan explained what he knew and what Aiden had told him about the previous night. The doctor appeared surprised and Ethan noticed. “That isn’t normal is it, doctor?” “Each mating is a little different, especially with true mates. You’re human so that brings in another unknown factor. To be honest, I am not used to that strong a bond forming in a couple that hasn’t completed the mating process.” “I’m curious about this mating stuff. I’ve talked to Aiden a little. I overheard him talking about it and saying how it was dangerous turning a human.” The doctor did not want to scare Ethan, but felt he needed to be honest with his patient. “I won’t lie to you. There is a risk anytime a human is turned which is why it’s rarely allowed. The bite will introduce a virus called Lycanthropy to your system that your body will try to fight. As it takes hold, it rewrites small parts of your genetic code turning you into one of us. Since you weren’t born with this already a part of you, your body has to go through major changes in a short amount of time between when you’re bit and your first shift. That doesn’t even count what it goes through during your transformation. Depending on when you’re bit during the moon phase, if it’s too close to a full moon, those changes can overwhelm the body and be fatal. The first full moon after the bite will force your body to shift. “There can be complications at the first shift from human to wolf and sometimes it can lead to death. Though cases like that are usually when the human is older or not healthy to start with. If you’re alone at the first shift, you can end up fighting against the wolf and get lost as he tries to free himself. That tends to lead to death. It can sometimes happen with a born lycan on their first shift too if they’re not prepared or are alone. You being young and in good health would have a better chance of surviving. And I know Aiden would be there with you to guide you through your shift. I know it isn’t the answer you were looking for, but unfortunately it’s the best answer I can give you for now.” There was a knock on the door and the nurse walked in and handed the doctor the first results of the blood work before leaving. Reviewing the paperwork, he glanced over at an expectant Ethan. “You most definitely have not been turned. You’re in very good health and could benefit from taking a multi-vitamin for a while. Mary’s cooking will be good for you as well. You’re negative for all human STDs. As to the sleeping issues, we’ll have to wait for some of the more in depth results to come in. Unless you have any additional questions, it was a pleasure to meet you, Ethan. Welcome to the pack.” “Thank you, Doctor MacRae.” Ethan walked out of the exam room feeling somewhat better after talking with the doctor, even if the discussion about the risks of getting bit did scare him. ****** Ian walked into his office and reviewed the test results one more time before placing a call to an old friend, “Caleb, it’s Ian MacRae. How are you? “I’m good. How’s things with the pack?” “Pack life’s good as always. I’ll cut to the chase here. I’m actually calling about the human you treated recently that was bit by one of our wolves. He was located and brought back here to the pack. Do you have some time to discuss him?” “Of course. I hope no complications have popped up. When I released him he seemed healthy.” “No complications, although there are a few oddities I have never run across before. He was bit, it broke the skin according to the notes you sent in, and there had to have been saliva that entered the wound. He should have been turned, but he wasn’t. It turns out he is the true mate to the wolf who originally found him and that’s been confirmed by my alpha. It also appears he is already developing a type of link or bond to his mate even though they haven’t begun their mating. It so far is only manifesting when they are asleep. Apparently, both have trouble sleeping apart from the other. They do sleep, but it isn’t restful at all for either of them apart. In your years of research, have you run across that before?” “I’ve never run across anything like that involving a human lycan pair. I don’t remember finding anything like those sleep issues with lycan mates that haven’t completed their mating, but it’s rare for them to wait long to mate. I’ll have to go through my old notes and maybe contact a couple other doctors I know.” “I appreciate your help on this. I still need to wait for the rest of the blood work to come back that will hopefully fill in some of the missing pieces here. Knowing the boy is the true mate to a wolf, my concern is if he is somehow immune to the lycan virus yet they are forming a bond. What will happen to them if the bond can’t be completed by mating? It’s all speculation at this point though.” “Have you run any tests on the wolf that bit the boy to see if maybe there is a problem with him?” “I did think about that before calling you but there’s a complication. The one who bit the boy is the son of a prominent pack member.” “No shit, it doesn’t get much more prominent than your alpha. You better tread carefully on that one though.” “You’re not kidding. I know you’ve been friends with the alpha longer then I’ve been a member of this pack. Do you think I’d be digging myself into a huge hole if I suggested having tests run on his son?” “I’m not sure what to tell you. John is a good and fair man, but with any lycan, questioning family genetics can be risky to one’s life. I’ll get onto my old research here and make a few calls. Maybe if you run some test on the boy’s blood with other lycan, that might answer the turning question and keep John’s son out of it for now. I’ll be in touch.” “Thank you, Caleb. It’s always good talking to you. Hope you decide to come off that mountain sometime and visit the pack soon.” Doctor MacRae sat at his desk looking over the test results he had so far and could not come to any conclusion about what was going on. In post medical school lycan specialties, he heard of one or two rare cases where a human was immune to the bite of a lycan, but those humans had unique blood markers. So far, the blood work said Ethan was just an average and ordinary human.
    113 points
  28. People started filing into the pack’s meeting hall knowing today wasn’t going to be just the usual update on pack affairs. Rumors and gossip had spread quickly about the incident on the camping trip and a human getting bit. There was the typical small talk and idle chat you’d find at every meeting, but the underlying expectation of what was to come was similar to the time before the lions were released on the floor of the Roman Coliseum. Alpha Stockdale took his place at the head of the room and called the meeting to order. After giving his update on various items, he had each member of the pack council give their respective reports. He finally opened the floor up to anyone in the pack that wanted to speak or ask questions of the leadership. After all the boring business was done, the Alpha announced, “Now onto the unpleasant business of the afternoon. The accused will now step forward.” He gave a moment for the ten teens to move and stand before him. “We heard testimony yesterday on the events that occurred at the pack campgrounds. This has always been a trip for a group of our young adults to bond with as well as lead some of our pups without the constant direct supervision of the seasoned pack members. Until this trip, it has always gone well and provided valuable leadership experience to those that are becoming responsible adults. I am disappointed in the actions of all those involved. I also find it troubling that with the exception of one who, acting as a true leader in this situation, tried to take full responsibility for the actions of all the wolves he was overseeing, no one wanted to willingly talk about what happened. “Taunting, hunting, attacking, or in any way terrorizing a human while in your wolf form is a very serious offense and reflects very poorly on our pack as a whole. Do it in your human form and I will punish you just as severely. It also brings the risk of humans hunting wolves if reports of attacks get out. Since a human was bit in the attack, I am obligated to notify the Lycan Council. They may wish to investigate this matter further. “One wolf came to the defense of the boy that was being attacked. One wolf stood against the rest to stop what he knew to be wrong. One wolf saw a stray human boy that was alone in the forest and attempted to befriend and comfort him. He may not have focused on his pack, like what was intended for the trip, but he did focus on a problem that he and his wolf felt needed his attention. Unfortunately, since he was the most responsibly acting of the leaders on this trip and he felt that his actions of spending time around the human led to this, I am obligated to punish him as well. I hope that all the pups that were on this trip take note of the difference between following someone that leads you to bully others and following someone that leads you to protect. “Each of the accused will receive twenty lashes. Michael, you will receive an additional ten for leading the unprovoked assault, and in addition to that you will be confined to a cell at the jail for twenty days for the attack as well as being the one who bit the human. All the accused, with the exception of Aiden Jacobs, will be restricted to stay within one mile of the town limits for the next thirty days and provide community service during that time. I would also suggest that the parents of all those on the trip have a serious talk with your pup about what happened.” Taking a deep breath and looking directly at his son, the Alpha continued, “Make no mistake, actions like this will not be tolerated within this pack. If you any of you EVER attack a human again, you will be lucky if you just find yourself exiled from the pack, because if I need to, I will put you down myself as a public danger.” Each of the accused was brought forward and ordered to remove their shirt. The pack enforcer pulled out what looked like a long strip of leather. He had each boy grab a set of handles before them and administered the required lashes. Not that anyone watching could tell, but the lashes administered to Aiden were far less forceful than those received by the rest and Aiden did his best to make it look good. Despite what some in the pack thought, the Alpha’s enforcer hated to dispense punishment like this. When it was Michael’s turn, the Alpha took the strap from his enforcer and proceeded to administer the thirty lashings, not going at all lightly. The Alpha adjourned the meeting and people started moving towards the food while others began striping down to go for a run or hunt in the woods behind the meeting hall. Looking around until he found who he was looking for, Alpha Stockdale walked up to Aiden and quietly said, “Aiden, a moment please. I have a special request of you.” Aiden looked at the man, “Yes, Alpha, anything you need.” “First, I want you to understand that your punishment was just a formality from you having spent so much time around the boy instead of with the pack pups, and I think I understand why you did. It can be difficult seeing someone all alone. You found a stray pup and wanted to help. You are not guilty or responsible for the actions of Michael or the rest.” Aiden nodded. “Second, I need you to return to Caleb’s cabin and track the boy,” Alpha said. “When you find him, I want you to observe him. We need to know if he’s been turned. Caleb couldn’t pick up the scent of a change, so either nothing happened or that old bear’s nose isn’t as good as it used to be.” “Understood, Alpha. Is there anything else?” asked Aiden. “If he has been turned, he must be brought before me to decide what to do with him,” the Alpha stated with an ominous tone. “Yes, Alpha,” Aiden replied. After taking a deep breath, Aiden continued, “Alpha, there is something about that boy I can’t explain or figure out, but I’m drawn to him like no other. My wolf feels a need to be near him. If I didn’t know better I’d think… But that’s not possible since he’s male and a human.” Alpha Stockdale was a little astonished at the open admission by Aiden, but had already started to guess from when he told of meeting the boy. “Go for a run, clear your mind, and have a good hunt. Head out tomorrow morning and good luck with the boy,” Alpha said before walking off to join the pack council members. Before getting too far, he turned back one last time, “If you are not sure if he has been turned or if there are any other considerations that need to be taken into account, you will need to make the decision on if to bring him back here or not. I will trust the judgment of you and your wolf on what needs to be done. Listen to your wolf and he will guide you well.” The Alpha rejoined the other council members while wondering about Aiden and this human boy. ****** Aiden walked towards the edge of the field behind the meeting hall and met up with some of his friends. He bumped fists with the two he was really tight with and started to pull his clothes off. When his shirt was off, the red marks from the lashing he received looked painfully evident to all present. Aiden looked at the two when they’d all stripped and said, “Let’s run”. They dropped to all fours as their bodies shifted from human to wolf. The three wolves took off into the woods with one on each side and just behind Aiden. They ran for a good distance burning off the stress and frustration of the past few days. There was no trail they followed, just a run through the brush; jumping over fallen trees and dodging low branches as they made their way through the forest. The aroma of the woods was calming. They picked up the scent of a nearby buck and Aiden guided them to their prey. Woofing out his commands, the trio broke apart with the two wolves driving the buck directly towards Aiden. Launching himself into the air, Aiden brought down the medium size deer quickly; effortlessly killing the animal by breaking its neck with his powerful jaws. They ate their fill of the tasty meat and left the remains for the other animals of the forest; nothing would go to waste. The three found water to drink from and leisurely took their time in making their way back. After enjoying the run and hunt, the three returned and shifted into their human form. Aiden’s mind and thoughts seemed to be a million miles away and his friends noticed. Trevor Carlson, the 6’3” tall, lean, and dark haired former captain of the high school football and basketball team, and Casey Tucker, the 6’4” tall, auburn-haired mountain of a young man gave their friend a few moments. Trevor finally asked, “Where you at today?” Aiden looked up at him from tying his boots, “Huh? What do you mean?” Casey chimed in, “Dude, your body's here but your mind’s nowhere to be found. Come to think of it, I guess all’s normal here.” That promptly got a playful slap upside the head from Aiden, “Still thinking about the camping trip I guess. I wish you guys could have been there to help me keep Michael in line. I’m glad I was chosen, but did it have to be on the same trip as that asshole? I came so close to biting down when I had his throat in my jaws. My wolf wanted to finish him off.” Trevor gave his friend a hard look, “You of all people don’t need help with that. You’ve been knocking him into line for years. You’re still thinking about that boy, aren’t you?” Aiden gave him a non-committal look and shrugged his shoulder, “Is it that obvious? Yeah, I guess I am. There’s something about him and how lonely he was when I first saw him. I just wanted to be around him and my wolf kept taking me back to him.” Casey happily pumped his fist in the air a few times and said, “Yes… Finally! Another one for my team. Good to see you’re chasing after guys now.” He looked at his friend smiling and laughing. Aiden had to laugh at his buddy who was the only openly gay member of the pack and as well as at the high school they had attended; although it was rumored he’d had plenty of ‘companionship’ from others at school. “Alpha instructed me to head back to the Doc’s cabin and track the boy. To find out if that asshole Michael turned him,” Aiden said, “I need to head out in the morning.” Casey asked even though he pretty much knew the answer, “If Michael’s the one that bit this boy, why is he sending you to check up on him?” Aiden’s eyes filled with anger and a deep rage towards the Alpha’s son. “Because he knows just like I do that Michael would be just as likely kill the boy. And then he would report back that all was fine rather than risk the punishment for forcibly turning a human.” Both his friends gave each other a nod for confirmation. “You know we got your back, man. You want us to come with you?” Aiden only said one word, but it spoke volumes, “Thanks.” Casey said he’d pick up the other two in the morning and they could take his truck out to the trailhead in the mountains to start tracking the mystery boy. ****** The trio headed out bright and early to make the 250 mile trek to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The drive to the trailhead didn’t seem to take that long to Aiden, but his mind was on other things. Knowing they had some distance to cover to get to Doc’s cabin, they stripped and put their clothes in special packs that matched their fur color, then dropped to all fours as their bodies shifted into three huge wolves. With practiced skill, they worked their way into the packs and took off running into the forest. Had there been any humans around to see them, it would have looked strange to see three wolves wearing backpacks. After a good hour of running, they made it to the cabin. Sniffing the air to make sure there was no one unexpected around, they helped each other remove the packs so they could shift back to their human form. Back on two legs, they dressed and walked up to the door and knocked. A few minutes later, Caleb answered. Seeing the three young wolf shifters, the older bear crossed his arms and glared. “I didn’t expect to see any of you boys back this way so soon.” Aiden spoke up quickly, “Hello, Dr. Alexander. Alpha Stockdale instructed me to track down the boy I brought in and check to see if anything from his bite took.” Caleb thought about giving the boy a hard time, but decided against it. “Well, you’re a couple days behind him, but that shouldn’t be much trouble for you three.” With a hard look, he continued. “As I told your alpha, if there are any more problems I’ll make sure this entire forest is off limits to your pack. You wolves could have killed that boy and you damn near scared him to death.” Aiden, who rarely backed down from anyone sadly looked to the ground. “I’m sorry for what happened. I didn’t want any harm to come to him.” Aiden never verbally placed blame on the others he was with, nor did he hint there was anything more to his involvement. With a knowing look, Caleb smiled, “You’re the wolf that befriended that boy. The one that came to his rescue and protected him from the rest of the pack, aren’t you?” “Yes, Sir,” Aiden replied. Caleb’s mood softened immediately, “You boys come in. I was just about to have lunch. Grab a plate and eat something and then you can head out and hopefully find that boy.” They all chatted away while eating. “When I let him leave, I couldn’t detect any changes from the bite. It was healing quickly, but it might not have been enough to turn him. I’m not sure how though since it was a pretty good bite and did break the skin.” “A part of me hopes he hasn’t been turned, at least not by the one that bit him,” Aiden said. “No one should be turned by him.” Caleb’s face tried to keep his expression neutral before. “Are you saying there’s a part of you that is hoping that he gets turned? Perhaps if it happened to be from someone else’s bite?” Trevor and Casey sat back and quietly smiled. “I’m not exactly sure what I’m thinking Doc. I know there’s something about him. I don’t like the idea of him being turned by a bite from the one that bit him. Especially that one.” Aiden thought for a moment. “No, I definitely hope he hasn’t been turned. He should have a choice in something like that and choose the one to turn him.” Caleb sat quietly in thought for a few minutes finishing his meal. The three boys also remained quiet. When they were all finished, the boys took care of cleaning up the dishes and thanked Caleb for his hospitality. Caleb went into another room for a moment before returning with a shirt and handing it to Aiden. “The boy had this with him, not that I think you’ll need it,” he said with a slight smile, “You can use it to help find his trail. By the way, his name’s Ethan. He’s had a rough time the last couple years so if any harm comes to him... Do you understand what I’m saying?” The last part Caleb said with a slight glare. “Yes, Doc, I do. Thank you for everything, both today and last time,” Aiden replied. “Off with you then and good hunting,” Caleb said as the three shifted into their wolf form. He helped them with their packs, not that they needed it but a set of human hands did make the process go faster. The trio of wolves ran off in the direction Ethan had gone. His scent was weak, but all three of their sharp noses could pick up the faint trail. To Aiden, it smelled heavenly. His wolf knew for sure now but was going to try and let Aiden come to the realization for himself. ****** Ethan was sitting on top of a rocky outcrop overlooking a small valley. He could see a river in the distance and what he thought was probably an eagle flying high over the valley. He really loved it here in the mountains. Even though he’d like to at this point, he knew he couldn’t stay here forever. He’d eventually have to head back to a city and return to life on the streets. He really wanted to find a job of some type, but had no references and little experience in anything, very few people showed any interest in hiring him for legitimate work. Before he gave up on the city and came to the mountains, most jobs he applied for in Richmond people politely let him know they weren’t hiring as soon as they found out he was homeless. He figured it would be the same in any city he went to. As he looked out over the valley, he was feeling lonely, not that it was a new feeling; even in the crowded city he was lonely. Most times, he felt like a ghost among the living, something that could barely be seen and usually chosen to be ignored. Ethan had tried to make friends with people he’d see at one of the malls he’d occasionally go to, but since he didn’t have the right clothes or the right haircut, they’d just make fun of him. If they talked to him long enough to figure out he was homeless, the taunting would really start. On more than one occasion, Ethan had to defend himself from other kids his age and managed to vanish into the crowds before mall security showed up to clean up the pieces. He wasn’t good at accepting help and even worse about asking for it. He hoped someday something would come of his life, but right now in this place, he knew even being lonely he could find happiness. Looking out over the wilderness gave him strength to keep going on. Ethan found a spot in the shade and pulled out one of the stories he had managed to print from online. The pages were starting to show how much they’d been used and he knew the text almost line for line, but it still gave him something to get lost in. The love a young boy found in another boy that turned out to be a dragon when he took his true form, living peacefully among other shape shifters. For the time Ethan was reading, in the back of his mind he wondered what it would be like to fall in love with someone that could turn into a wolf. He could just barely remember the face and eyes he thought he’d seen before passing out and if it wasn’t just his mind, he hoped he’d get to really see that face someday. ****** The three wolves made good time. Casey figured they were maybe a day to day and a half behind Ethan. They decided to stop for the night. They worked out of their packs and found a spot to get a drink of water. As the evening wore on, they decided to hunt for their dinner and in a short time found a smaller buck. Trevor and Casey blocked its escape while Aiden went in for the kill, snapping its neck in his powerful jaws, making for a quick and clean kill. After feasting on the deer, Aiden threw his head back and howled triumphantly over the kill. His pack mates quickly followed with their own howl. Off in the distance, Ethan sat up having heard the howl. It was a distinctly different sound than the coyotes made and it was the first time since he was attacked he’d heard the wolves. He really didn’t think he’d get attacked again, but the sound of the howling animals did send a chill up his spine. He tried to get back to sleep, but that night, every sound the forest made had him jumping. By morning, he was almost as tired as when he’d gone to sleep. Aiden, Casey, and Trevor woke up and did their morning routines before working their way into the backpacks again. They all sniffed the air picking up the scent of everything in the area including Ethan’s trail. The three headed off in the direction his scent was leading. Aiden was moving a lot faster, and while the other two weren’t letting him get too far away, they were taking a more leisurely run. By late afternoon, Ethan’s trail became very strong. The boy had passed by only a short time ago. With a burst of speed, Aiden ran ahead, his nose leading the way. He guessed the boy was within a mile of them. He couldn’t explain it to himself, but he was getting excited at the prospect of seeing Ethan again. He poured on the speed and his pack mates had a hard time keeping up with the large wolf. When Aiden got as close as he thought he dared, he stopped and waited for his two friends to catch up. By the time they did, he had dropped his pack and made it clear he’d try to approach the boy on his own. He didn’t want Ethan scared thinking a pack of wolves was going to attack him again. Aiden feared Ethan might be frightened by seeing just him, but he had to see the boy. He slowly approached as the scent got stronger and stronger. Aiden knew at any moment he would be seeing Ethan again. Following a game trail around a group of rocks, he came to a clearing near one of the many streams in the area. Lying out in the sun was the object he so desired. Ethan appeared to be asleep. Aiden stood and watched him for a few moments. With a seemly impossible grace, the huge wolf slowly walked over to the boy without making a sound. He was just as lovely as Aiden remembered. The wolf lay down at the boy’s side and closed his eyes. He desperately wanted to touch Ethan, but knew that would wake the boy up and he was already fearful of how the boy would react to the wolf being next to him again. If Ethan got up and ran, the wolf in Aiden would chase him down. That was something Aiden wouldn’t be able to prevent. His wolf would never harm Ethan, but it would still terrify the boy to be chased by the large beast. After what was probably an hour of waiting for Ethan to wake up, Aiden’s wolf was becoming impatient. He slowly raised his head up off his paws and gently lowered it onto Ethan’s stomach. This served two purposes, first it would most likely wake Ethan and second, Ethan wouldn’t be able to move with the wolf laying on him. Most of all, it put Aiden’s nose right on the boy’s belly so he could truly breath in the boy’s scent. Feeling something press down on him, Ethan did wake with a start and screamed as he saw the huge mound of black fur next to him and on him. As Aiden had planned, Ethan was unable to jump up or run away. Aiden just sat there motionless hoping the boy would calm down. After a few minutes, he felt Ethan stop struggling to get free. At that point, he lifted his head and looked at the frightened boy. Knowing he had to act quick, he took the risk of further frightening Ethan and stretched his head toward Ethan’s face and licked the side of it before lying his head back down on Ethan’s stomach. Ethan thought the wolf was going to bite his face off when that huge mouth moved towards him, but it just licked his face and lay back down. His mind settled enough to realize this was the wolf that had visited him before. Ethan timidly moved his hand to the wolf’s head scratching its ear before saying, “I’ve missed you.” Aiden was ecstatic. Ethan missed him! Aiden again raised his head and licked the side of Ethan’s face. Ethan proceeded to wipe his face where the rough tongue had left a trail of slobber, “Eww. Stop that,” he said giggling Aiden gave out a huff and sniffed the boy all over. The scent would be forever burned into Aiden’s memory. He’d be able to find this boy anywhere. Ethan looked around and got nervous again, “The others aren’t going to come back again are they?” Aiden sat up and looked into Ethan’s eyes and tried to let him know he was safe. He gently put a paw on Ethan’s abs indicating he didn’t want Ethan to move. He looked towards the woods and gave a couple quick barks. Shortly two more wolves appeared at the tree line. One was silvery gray with black mixed in and the other was auburn with darker red and gray mixed in. Both wolves were stunningly beautiful to see and almost as big as the black one. Ethan froze with fear again. The two new wolves didn’t approach any closer, but he now had three wolves around him and the fight the last time he saw the wolves was right at the front of his memory. Ethan took a long look into Aiden’s eyes and knew he was safe. He also saw something in those eyes that said there was much more to this wolf then a wild animal. “Okay, I trust you and know you won’t hurt me so that means I’ve got to trust them too since you called them here,” Ethan said softly. Ethan knew the wolf couldn’t understand a word he said, but figured maybe the tone he said it in would carry some meaning. He wrapped his arms around the wolf and whispered, “I really have missed you. I’m glad you found me again.” The normally somewhat serious and controlled Aiden was feeling like a spring pup he was so happy. He couldn’t explain it to himself and at the moment he didn’t want to try. This boy that had somehow captivated his heart wanted him near. Aiden gave out a happy yip and licked Ethan’s face once again. Ethan noticed the other two wolves were lying so that they were not facing him and his wolf. If he had to guess, he’d almost say they were guarding them so they could have their moment to get reacquainted. He had never imagined wolves acting like this. He again wrapped his arms around the head of the large wolf, “Thank you for saving me that night from the others.” Ethan sat quietly for a few minutes holding the wolf before continuing, “If it hadn’t been for you I think I would have been a goner.” Aiden nuzzled his snout and face against the side of Ethan face; breathing in the wonderful scent of the boy, of his boy. Aiden wanted this teen as his pup. He knew now why he was so attracted to this human. He should have known it the first moment he saw him and caught his scent. Like every light bulb in New York’s Time Square turning on at once, he knew without a doubt this human was his mate. Ethan took a deep breath, filling himself with the scent of the wolf. It was a deep, clean, woodsy smell that Ethan loved. He pulled back from the wolf a little, but not letting go, “That night after I got bit, I thought I saw you turn into a person just before I passed out. I know it wasn’t real, but I wish it was.” Casey and Trevor both jumped up on hearing what Ethan had said. They looked to Aiden to see what he would do. It was almost as big a crime in lycan society to let a human see you shift as it is to turn one. Secrecy is the biggest protection all lycan have from the humans. What the humans don’t know, won’t hurt the lycan. Aiden looked over to his two friends. In his heart he knew what he wanted to do and what he needed to do. He just didn’t know what the outcome of his decision would be.
    113 points
  29. Ethan Scott leisurely made his way along an old game trail as he hiked through the Blue Ridge Mountains. He had recently left Richmond for the first time since arriving three years earlier. Life on the streets had been hard and he figured he needed time away from the city; time to think, time to decide what he wanted to do next, and even time to find himself. Maybe he’d be lucky and this little trip might turn into something as close to an adventure as someone like him could have; just being away from the city already felt like he was on a journey into the unknown. Life in the city had been lonely even though there were always people around. Now that he was away from everyone, Ethan thought there might finally be one advantage to living on his own, with no real friends and no family to be tied too if he decided to up and go, there was nothing to stop him and nobody to miss him. That thought saddened him though because he knew no one would care if he wasn’t around or if he never returned to Richmond. Maybe a couple of people would notice he’d gone, but they’d quickly find a replacement for Ethan. When he finally made the decision to leave town, he packed up the few things he had into his backpack and started walking. Once he was near the interstate, he decided to try hitchhiking towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. He had wanted to go there ever since he saw pictures of the mountains in a magazine he’d found in a dumpster while scrounging for food. Hitchhiking was a risky option, but it was better than trying to hike the entire way. He’d gotten rides from a few people; some willing to take him some distance and others just picking him up in hopes of quick sex before dumping him on the side of the road as quickly as possible. Once he got close enough that he couldn’t find any more rides, he started out on foot, hiking towards Shenandoah National Park. He had to admit it was beautiful, more so than pictures could show. It was a different kind of beauty from the mountains and forests he remembered from when he lived in Seattle, but it sure was a nice change from the concrete jungle of the city. In a way, Ethan wished he’d made the decision to come to the mountains sooner. He really didn’t know why he stayed in Richmond as long as he did. He guessed it was partly because he was afraid to leave and partly because he’d learned how to survive on his own there. Ethan had been living on the streets since he was fifteen when his father kicked him out upon finding out about Ethan being gay. Home life had never been particularly great, but it was a roof over his head and meals to eat regardless of his father’s indifference to his existence. In the three years that had passed, he felt like he was doing okay and had managed to take pretty good care of himself most of the time. He knew where he could usually find something to eat or a place to sleep for the night. He had to do things he didn’t like for money, but selling himself at times also meant he could eat. He never really thought he would make it to his eighteenth birthday and now that he had, he still couldn’t see a future for himself beyond life on the street. A small part of him hoped it would be a major thorn in the side of the old sperm donor if he knew Ethan was still alive. He had hiked past several campgrounds after arriving in Shenandoah and was able to scavenge quite a few things campers had thrown out. He felt lucky when he ran across an old frying pan that just looked like it needed a good washing; a small pot and a fold-up campfire rack were a lucky find as well. It was all easily tied onto his backpack. He was surprised by all the things people threw out that to him still looked to work fine. The cheap fishing rod and box of hooks was a real find as far as he was concerned; the only thing wrong with the rod was it needed the fishing line untangled. Not wanting to stay around where people were or get caught as a non-registered camper at any of the national park campgrounds, he moved deeper into the mountains thinking if he needed to scavenge more he could always return. ****** Spring in the mountains seemed to truly be a bountiful time he thought. There always appeared to be plenty to eat and he was getting better at fishing as well as catching small animals like rabbits and squirrels for a little meat every now and then. It’s a good thing he actually paid attention on those scout survival campouts he used to get sent on. He had worried about being able to find things to eat, but he had managed to rarely go hungry. He knew there were bigger animals around, animals that could hunt him for their next meal. Fortunately they had left him alone, so he made sure he left them alone as well. Regardless of any danger some creatures of the forest might be, to Ethan, the best part of all in being here was he hadn’t seen any other people in quite a while. Every once in a while, when the winds would shift, he’d smell smoke on the breeze from a campfire off in the distance though. He spent most of his days hiking, exploring and collecting what the forest provided that he could eat for a day or two; never taking more than he could use and not letting things go to waste. He’d been trying to only spend a day or two in one spot before he moved on, not wanting to leave too much of a mark on the land to show he’d ever been there. If he got tired of hiking, he’d find a nice spot and pull out one of the few books he had with him and read about dragons, a young vampire prince or other such nonsense as his old man used to call it. Even though he knew it was all fiction, at times he wanted to believe maybe there was something more out there than what we see in our day to day lives. He was finding another benefit to being out here all alone in the forest when the weather was so nice, was there really wasn’t a need for much in the way of clothes. One day, after washing up in a stream and laying out to dry, the feeling of the sun on his skin was so nice, he figured since no one was around why mess up a set of clothes that he was going to have to wash later. It didn’t take long to get comfortable walking around in just his boots, always keeping a pair of shorts handy just in case he met someone. He gave a small laugh as he thought maybe he liked it because it went against everything he’d been taught was acceptable. Or maybe it was just a rebellious exhibitionist streak within himself coming to light for the first time. Besides, people had told him he had a decent body. He may only be 5’6” and weigh in around 135 pounds, with blond hair and deep blue eyes, but it was all trim and tight from years of swimming, sports, martial arts, and lots of walking. As long as he was not running into other people, he was definitely liking this. The nights here were peaceful beyond description. That’s not to say it was completely quiet. Not by a long shot. The sounds of the crickets and other animals made it easy to fall asleep. It was such a nice change from the noise of a busy city. He loved the sound of the wolves and coyotes the most. For the first time in years, Ethan felt at peace with himself. ****** He realized at some point he was good and lost, but surprisingly, it didn’t really bother him. He had come here to more or less get lost and maybe find himself in the process if he was lucky. By watching the sun, it was easy to tell what direction was what and he had been traveling northeast away from the national park. He was just trying to enjoy himself for a while. There was no need to deal with city people that were usually just looking to take whatever they could from you. No creepy guys trying to offer him cash to have sex. Fortunately, he left all that behind in the city. Out here, it was just him and nature. He found a clearing with a wide stream running past that had fish in it. The sun was nice and warm, the sound of the water was so relaxing, and there were berries and other things close by for food. After washing up in the stream, Ethan laid out on the grassy bank to let the sun dry him. He could feel the smile forming on his face as he laid there with his eyes closed and realized it was the first time in a long time he had truly smiled. Being a teenager lying naked in the sun, it was pretty much a guarantee he was going to easily get hard. Since there was no one around and he didn’t see any reason to not take care of it then and there, he took matters into hand and laid back to enjoy a slow leisurely strokes as images of sexy men came to his mind. After keeping himself on edge far too long, he finished and promptly dozed off. When he finally woke up, he rinsed off in the cool water of the stream and went to pick berries. A couple of times he thought he heard animals fairly close, but whenever he looked to where the sound came from he never saw anything. He went hiking a little ways from the clearing and found a cool spot on top of some rocks a large boulder that gave a beautiful view of the area. He could see further down the stream and it looked like a couple of coyotes getting a drink. It made him wish he had a camera. The more he watched, he realized they weren’t coyotes. They must be wolves, he thought as these were bigger and their color was different, plus he didn’t think coyotes went in groups or packs. If there were wolves nearby, he hoped they’d leave him alone. As evening wore on, he could pick up the faint scent of smoke from a camp fire. With the light breeze there was no telling how far away it was. He managed to catch a fish from the stream, made his own fire, and cooked it up for dinner. Full and happy, he laid back and listened to the sounds of the forest. The moon was shining bright and looked like it would soon be full. After making sure the fire was out and cold, he crawled into his sleeping bag and went to sleep. He woke to the sound of a snapping twig close by. It wasn’t the first time some animal had ventured close during the night. He figured it was a deer or something like that, so he laid there trying not to scare it or draw its attention to himself. After a short time, he heard it move off and he went back to sleep. He knew he probably wasn’t the smartest person when it came to camping out in the forest, but figured if something is going to happen, it would happen. ****** The following day was more of the same. Wash up, find a handful of wild berries close by to snack on, do some hiking, work on an all over tan, and see what he could catch for dinner. He thought he caught sight of the wolves he’d heard at night off in the distance from one of the higher spots he found, but it was so quick he couldn’t be sure if he saw them or not. He headed back towards his campsite and along the way started getting hard, so he did what any teenager would do and stopped to take care of it. He thought he saw movement in the trees a couple times, but it in no way distracted him from the task at hand. Once he reached camp, he did a quick wash up and lay out to dry. In a way he felt like he was being really lazy, but he told himself this was his reward for the hell he’d been living through for the last couple of years. He quickly let those thoughts go and just enjoyed himself. He heard movement a ways back in the trees and slowly sat up to look around. He couldn’t really see much since he was in the sun, but he was sure he saw something more than a shadow. He moved into the shade of a tree and took another look around. As his eyes adjusted, he was definitely sure something was there. He sat back against the tree and would occasionally look in the direction he thought the animal was. Whatever it was, it seemed to be lying there watching him. Feeling like a bit of an exhibitionist just sitting there naked while something was watching him, he started to get a semi. Then thinking about it a little and laughing at himself that all it takes is a breeze blowing over him, Ethan went from semi to full-blown hard. He started putting on a little show for whatever it was back in the brush. It didn’t take him long to hit the point of no return and he thoroughly enjoyed the finish. When he was done, the animal quickly got up and ran off. He would have sworn it was a wolf he’d just seen. He had to laugh as he thought, “I just jacked off for a fucking wolf.” This seemed to go on for another couple days. On the third day, he had been out hiking again and came back to camp feeling like he was being followed. He tried his best to ignore it and kept walking. When he got there, he went over to the stream, got a drink, and did a quick wash up. After he finished and moved over to a spot to sit down, he could see a very large pure black wolf standing at the edge of the clearing just inside the tree line. A wave of panic washed over Ethan thinking it was going to attack him and he could hear little else but the sound of his pounding heart. It took him a while to realize it could have attacked him at any time if it really wanted to and he started to calm down just a little hoping it would leave him alone. They both stayed there for who knows how long, quietly watching each other. He couldn’t help thinking how beautiful the animal was. He’d loved wolves for as long as he could remember and now he was getting to see one that wasn’t captive in a zoo and wasn’t far off in the distance. It watched him and stood there not acting at all aggressive. Ethan wasn’t going to press his luck by doing anything and knew better than to try and run from it. After a little while, it laid down but continued to watch him. It would occasionally lift its nose and sniff around then look back at him. It finally got up and started to slowly walk towards Ethan; moving like it was stalking its prey. Ethan stayed as still as he could, just watching the wolf and wishing his knife or something else he could use to defend himself was within reach. He was sure it could smell the fear coming off him. As it got closer, Ethan could tell it was a he. He walked right up to Ethan, started sniffing him, and gave a few huffs. Ethan was shaking in fear thinking he was about to become a wolf snack. It stood right at Ethan’s side and he had to look up at the wolf as it looked down at him. As if he was trying to put the boy at ease or deciding if Ethan would make a tasty morsel, the beast licked the side of his face and proceeded to lie down and nuzzle his snout against the boy’s arm and hand. This was a dream come true for Ethan, getting to be this close to his favorite non-mythical creature. He was still too afraid to move, so the wolf took the lead and worked his nose under Ethan’s hand, lifting it until he slid his head under it. He laid his head back on his enormous front paws seemingly happy with the boy’s hand on him. Ethan’s fingers slowly started to work again and he gently rubbed the wolf’s head and scratched around his ears. It was kind of fun seeing his ears twitch. The fur on his head was soft, much softer then he would have ever thought. As Ethan scratched his head, he quietly talked to the wolf telling him how beautiful he was, like it could really understand anything he said. After spending a while letting Ethan scratch his ears and head, the wolf got up, sniffed the air while looking around, and ran off into the woods. Ethan sat there trying to figure out if it had all really happened. Had a wolf really come up to him? Not just a wolf, but an enormous wild one. The whole event ran through his mind over and over. Ethan still couldn’t believe it happened, but he could still smell the creature’s scent on his hand; it had truly been a dream come true. After the adrenalin rush started to wear off, Ethan got very tired and laid down to take a nap. It was just coming on dusk when he woke up. He was a little mad at himself for having slept away the afternoon. He hadn’t tried to catch anything for dinner so it was going to be a meal of berries. As he started to get up he noticed a rabbit at his feet. When he looked closer and saw it wasn’t moving, he realized the wolf had caught dinner for him. He looked around, but didn’t see or hear the wolf anywhere. Ethan picked up the rabbit and proceeded to clean it and cook it. As night came, he could hear the wolves howling in the distance and the sound brought a happy feeling to him. He said a silent thank you to the wolf for dinner and went to sleep dreaming of his new friend. ****** Ethan hadn’t planned on staying at the same spot this long but the food around the area seemed to be plentiful and the recent company was nice. He saw the wolf from time to time while hiking as if he was making sure Ethan was okay. If he sat somewhere, the wolf would walk up to him, lick his face, and lay down next to him. The wolf rested his head in the boy’s lap and Ethan became uncomfortable when the wolf’s hot breath made him hard. Ethan finally got up and started walking back towards camp, talking to the wolf the entire time. When they got there, Ethan got his fishing pole and sat along the stream with the wolf at his side. He kept up his one sided conversation and the wolf seemed like he was listening to everything that was said. He caught two nice rainbow trout, cleaned them, and cooked one for himself. He sat down to eat his and gave the other to the wolf. The wolf happily ate his fish and watched Ethan while he ate his. As if something had shocked him, the wolf quickly jumped to his feet and started sniffing the air. He let out a very low growl while looking around. He looked at Ethan briefly who was again shaking with fear, gave him a quick lick to the side of the face, and ran off into the trees at full speed. Ethan was feeling tired and couldn’t concentrate when trying to read so he decided to turn in early. He put out the fire and dowsed it with water to make sure it was cold. Just after dark, he could see the moon rising. Tonight looked like it was going to be a bright full moon. In the distance, he could hear the wolves. It seemed like each time he’d hear them, they would be a little closer or maybe a little louder. The sound made him happy because every time he heard the howls he’d think of his wolf. He felt like it was the first real friend he’d had in a long time even if the wolf didn’t know it. Ethan went to sleep feeling very happy. ****** Something woke him up during the night. He could see the bright full moon overhead and as he looked around he could see the moon reflecting off several pair of eyes. Ethan’s blood ran cold with fear as he heard several deep growls. The glowing eyes slowly started stalking towards him and the lead stepped out of the shadows into the moonlight followed by several other wolves. One wolf was ahead of the rest and he couldn’t tell if his wolf was in the group, but it didn’t matter one way or the other because as they got closer, he could see them baring their teeth. Ethan curled up in the fetal position hoping to protect himself what little he could as best he could, knowing he was about to be attacked. It had been a warm night, so he was on top of his sleeping bag, not that it would have provided any additional protection to him. He heard the growling getting louder and closer. He couldn’t bring himself to look up as he didn’t want to see his end coming. He suddenly felt fur brush over his side as one of the wolves jumped over him from the opposite side. It seemed to place itself between him and the rest of the pack with its tail touching Ethan. The growling grew louder as the fur moved away and was no longer touching him. He opened his eyes and looked to see his wolf and the lead wolf from the pack fighting. His wolf was trying to protect him from the others. It forced the other wolf to back away from Ethan. The others seemed to be moving away from the clash, no longer growling or snarling at Ethan. It was as if they were just watching the battle and didn’t know what to do at the moment. As the fight moved back towards Ethan’s side, he hid his face and pulled himself into an even tighter ball. He felt the teeth sink into his leg and screamed out from the intense pain from being bit. He heard a yelp and the one that bit him quickly let go. When he looked up, he saw his wolf had its jaw wrapped around the neck of the attacking wolf. With the battle was over, the black beast dragged the wolf that bit him away. As Ethan’s wolf released the other, it rolled onto its back with paws in the air and appeared to go limp in submission. He thought he saw the wolves start to shift and turn into people as his body was racked with convulsions. Others were pulling their defeated leader back while the one that had been his wolf was looking down at him with a sorrowful look on his face. This human version of his wolf knelt down and gently held Ethan, telling him, “I’m so sorry. It will be okay.” Soon after, everything went black as he passed out.
    113 points
  30. It took longer than usual to navigate the door lock. Seamus could barely keep the key steady as he tried to get the damn door open. Looked like Matt wasn’t the only one sprinting on nerves and adrenaline. Was any of this a good idea? Matt had no clue. Was it a terrible idea? Hell no. Finally, Seamus pushed the door open. Matt smirked as he walked by. Took you long enough to which Seamus blushed. Seamus never blushed. But he composed himself quickly and took Matt’s hand, pulling him along, rather hastily. If Matt was a weaker man his shoulder might have been dislocated. “This is my apartment,” Seamus said. “Kitchen, living room, bathroom,” he pointed. “My roommates are there and there,” he pointed to Matt and Aidan’s rooms. Matt laughed as they continued through the apartment. When they got to Seamus’s room, he turned and pressed his back against his door, blocking them from going in. “And this is my room.” Matt tried to peek over his shoulder, playing along, secretly anxious to be on the other side. “It’s a real nice door. Goes well with the rest of the house.” He reached past Seamus and knocked on the wood. “Sturdy. Is that solid wood?” Seamus twisted to look behind him. “Yes, maple I think.” “Maple is a hardwood. That’s good. You got a solid door here made of hardwood.” “Yep. Maple is one of the hardest woods.” Neither one of them could hold a straight face. Hardwood. Matt pressed forward, pressing his hips against Seamus. “What other hardwoods are there?” “Oh. Cherry, walnut, hickory, oak—” he listed, though his voice was far less confident now that Matt was pressed against him. Seamus was always a bit stoic so it was fun to watch the man stumble a bit. It evened the playing field. Matt needed the leg up. Seamus was hotter, more successful, and overall a better person. No way he had enough clout to sit parallel to someone of Seamus’ caliber. So, yeah, watching Seamus behave like a normal person—tongue tied and awkward—was a boost to Matt’s self-esteem. With that extra confidence, he leaned in, initiating another kiss then he fumbled for the handle. They stumbled backward, managing to stay connected without ever breaking the kiss or their grip on each other. “You feel so fucking good,” Seamus said, pulling Matt’s shirt up so he could touch more skin. Matt moaned and tried to undress the hottie in front of him. His fingers were burning with anticipation. He unzipped Seamus’ pants and stuck his hand inside, straight for the gold. Seamus shuddered and stilled as Matt fumbled with his cock. He pushed his pants lower so Matt had full access. Seamus was solid. Matt could easily appreciate what he was packing. Having dated almost every gay person in a one-hour radius back home, Matt had a lot to compare against. They undressed down to their boxers. Quite the feat considering their unwillingness to stop groping or kissing. Seamus hit the bed first, pulling Matt on top of him. Matt took a second to admire all the perfection that was Seamus Ryan. Nice chest, toned tummy, chestnut chest hair trimmed short, nice legs—muscled, hairy, sexy as hell. Matt paused. “Do you still have your socks on?” he asked. “Please tell me you don’t have your socks on.” Seamus took his socks off, throwing them on the floor. “There,” he said, breathlessly. “No socks.” Matt bit his lip then swooped down and kissed Seamus because not kissing him wasn’t an option. He could feel Seamus melt under him and it only drove him crazier. Matt could already feel the pressure building in his belly. “Here.” Seamus shoved Matt’s boxers down until he was fully exposed. “Holy shit.” Seamus stared at Matt’s cock. “You’re huge.” He returned the favor and shoved Seamus’s boxers down then took them both in his hand. Matt was thicker but Seamus was a little longer. He moved his hand, making them both lose control. Breathing, panting, moaning. Everything became frantic as they thrust against each other, and with each other, until it became too much and they both came. Matt closed his eyes and tried to steady his breathing. It had been a while for him. He almost forgot how physical it was. He moved off Seamus and laid like a dead fish on the bed. Seamus shifted next to him, groaning as he pushed his boxers all the way off. When he was done, he made a noise, a cute sleepy laugh. “I think that was better than the ice cream.” “What?” he laughed. “I think you’re delirious.” “After the inspection when I gave you the icecream bar?” Matt flushed. “I can’t believe you’re bringing that up. I embarrassed myself.” When he tried to bury his head in the pillow, Seamus pulled him close. “Notice how I’m always bringing you ice cream bars? Yeah, I’ve been chasing that high ever since. I’m just glad I could bring you to the same ecstasy as those little chocolate crunch bars.” Matt bit his lip. He was so happy. Happier than any ice cream bar ever made him. He snuggled in deeper. The moment was calming. The orgasm, the smell of Seamus everywhere, his soft breathing. If it wasn’t for the fact the lights were on and the door had possibly been left unlocked, he would have fallen asleep right there. “I’m gonna make sure everything’s locked up for the night,” Matt whispered. He slowly pulled away. Seamus made a weak attempt to keep him but he was half way to sleepy la la land. He made his rounds, locked the door, turned off the lights, and then decided to shower. Seamus was right, he stunk from the club. If he never went back it would be too soon. When he was done, he walked toward Seamus and paused. He was positive Seamus wanted him in his bed tonight. He was fairly certain. The man had been clear about what he wanted and what he wanted was Matt. But the more he thought about it the more he doubted himself. Matt rubbed his face in frustration and turned for his room. Better safe than sorry. How embarrassing would it be if they were on different wavelengths? Not that they were, but what if... **** The door squeaked. One of the hinges needed to be replaced really bad. No matter how carefully you closed it, it always squeaked at the very last moment. Matt didn’t think anything of it until the blanket moved and the bed shifted. It was technically morning but far too dark to be considered a reasonable time of day. Then Seamus nestled between Matt’s thighs and his whole body became woke. Strong hands tilted his face and then soft lips gently kissed the sensitive line of his neck and jaw. “Why did I wake up alone?” God his voice was everything. Deep and husky from sleep. “I wasn’t sure—” if I should go back in or not. “You weren’t sure?” Seamus asked, still kissing Matt’s neck and just generally driving him all sorts of crazy. “I hunted you down at that filthy club, told you I like you, that I wanted you, and brought you back home. Tell me what wasn’t clear?” Matt didn’t answer. How could he when Seamus was short circuiting his system with those kisses and, well, his body and his overall presence. Then Seamus pressed his erection against Matt’s thigh and suddenly everything was worse and better all at once. “Is this clear?” “Yeah,” Matt breathed. “That’s pretty clear.” Seamus sat back, fucking naked, and pulled Matt’s boxers off. It was kind of awkward as Matt’s legs flailed but Seamus was oddly proficient. Then he surprised Matt in the best possible way by bending over and taking as much as he could in one swallow. Matt’s eyes bulged and his back came off the bed. The sound he made was unnatural and could’ve terrified a lesser man but Seamus was on a mission and his mouth was the MVP. There was nothing gentle or teasing, it was all high intensity and demanding as fuck. Matt gripped the chestnut hair; not sure if he wanted to pull him off or push him down. He settled with watching him bounce up and down on his cock. “Feels so good.” Who knew a blow job could double in intensity but that’s exactly what happened. Seamus’s fingers dug into Matt’s hips as he sucked and slurped Matt into oblivion. His brains were being sucked out of his dick and he was losing control of his limbs. Every muscle seized as an orgasm racked through his body. The sucking slowed as he came while maintaining enough pressure to pull him through to the other side without becoming uncomfortable. Seamus kneeled over Matt and began working his own cock. Three strokes and Seamus added his cum to Matt’s. “Are you punishing me?” Matt asked. He was heaving, his chest thumping a mile an hour. “Trying to kill me over a misunderstanding?” Seamus hovered over Matt. His arms on either side of Matt’s head, his own head hanging limp in exhaustion, his dick dangling semi-softly as he tried to catch his own breath. “Just trying to prove my point.” “That you can blow a guy into another dimension? Point proven.” “That I can make you moan more than a chocolate crunch ice cream bar.” Seamus’s eyes crinkled. He lowered himself to his elbows and hovered his lips above Matt’s. They were both damp with perspiration. Despite looking completely wrecked, Seamus’s eyes were sad. “Why’d you sleep in here?” “I didn’t know what to do,” Matt explained. “I started going back to your room but then I froze. I don’t want to mess up.” Seamus pressed his body against Matt’s. He was warm, bordering hot. A little clammy. A lot sexy. “Always come back to my room.” Matt leaned up and kissed him which led to them making out, slower than the night before. No rushing, no end goal in mind. Just some good ol’ fashion lazy, finally-with-the-person-you’re-crazy-about kissing. And boy was Seamus a great kisser. They moved in sync. Neither of them more eager or aggressive than the other. Everything about them was perfect together. “What time do we need to head out?” Seamus asked after kissing for a half hour. “No rush,” Matt said, kinda missing Seamus’ lips. “In time for an early dinner.” Seamus ran his fingers along Matt’s jaw, down his neck, and over his collarbone. “We could go early and hang with your dad.” “AKA you miss Aidan.” “And you don’t?” “I do,” he said. “But I subtly suggested we stay in bed all day and you countered with leaving early and hanging out with my dad.” “I miss Aidan,” Seamus admitted with a laugh because he knew he was caught. “What if he started walking?” “He’s not even crawling yet.” “Some kids never crawl. They go straight to walking.” “He’s barely standing,” Matt laughed. It was still dark but dawn was filtering through and the early morning light only made Seamus look sexier. Seamus rolled off Matt, adjusted the blanket that had been pulled to the side and snuggled in close. Matt smiled. “We’ll leave late morning. This is the longest Aidan’s been away from us, we probably shouldn’t push our luck.” “Wouldn’t want to traumatize him,” Seamus yawned. “Yes, heaven forbid Aidan is traumatized by a little separation.” Seamus pinched Matt’s side in retaliation. “Ouch. That hurt.” “Oh, I hope I didn’t traumatize you.” Matt grumbled but pulled the blankets the rest of the way up and snuggled in. There was no more hanky panky when they slowly acclimated to the day. Once it reached a reasonable hour, Matt called his dad and then they were on the road by ten-thirty. Seamus reached over the console and threaded his fingers with Matt’s. Matt’s stomach whooped and he smiled at the road. There were things he needed to figure out. Seamus was technically his boss and nanny and they were roommates. Those were things that needed to be taken into consideration sooner than later. He wasn’t going to overthink it or anything but he knew all the cards needed to be on the table if this was going to work. They talked about plans for Aidan’s first birthday. Matt thought it would be nice to have his dad come over. They could have a small celebration at the loft. Pizza, cake, and a few unnecessary gifts. Seamus had other plans. Bigger plans. Pizza party at Dough Guppies with everyone they could think of. It was over the top but Matt couldn’t find it in himself to deny Seamus. Not after he’d done so much for Matt and Aidan. **** Brad lived in a nice, modest home in a comfortable neighborhood. Matt had nothing but fond memories growing up. Most of the neighbors had lived there for as long as he could remember. The Seegers always over paid him for mowing their yard. Matt had thought it was normal so when he mowed the Halversons, he’d been a bit disappointed. Turns out that even they had overpaid him. He always had friends to play with. A few times every summer they’d set up a lemonade stand. They made a killing. The tip jar always brought in more than the actual sales. Plus, with generous investors they had no overhead cost. As he drove through his neighborhood, he hoped Aidan would have those same experiences. Seamus was out of the SUV as soon as Matt put it in park and in the house before Matt could catch up. By the time he entered, Aidan was chattering excitedly in Seamus’ arms while his nanny peppered his chubby face with kisses. It was unclear who was more excited to be reunited. “Two peas in a pod,” Brad said from the kitchen doorway. He was watching his grandson with so much love despite having just spent an entire weekend with him. Matt smiled fondly and tried to hide the hearts in his eyes. “They have a special relationship.” Seamus lifted Aidan’s hand and waved. “Hi Maaa-tt,” Seamus sounded out the name so Aidan could learn it. Aidan’s face lit up when he saw Matt. He started bouncing in Seamus’s arms and leaning toward his brother. Matt quickly scooped him up and said hello. He smelled like baby shampoo and sleep. Something in him relaxed. It felt good to hold his brother, to see him smiling and chatting nonsense. Its possible Matt missed Aidan more than he realized. They sat in the living room for a while. Aidan couldn’t decide who he wanted so he kept going back and forth. He had no intentions of letting Matt or Seamus out of his sight. Seamus used the rest of the evening trying to get Aidan to say his name. “He’s half mastered yours,” he complained. “Shay-mus,” he said, over exaggerating the sound. Aidan smiled and made a noise. Seamus looked at Matt with wide eyes. “Did you hear that? He said my name.” He hadn’t, not really. It was a distant relative—a fourth cousin twice removed situation. But no one was going to rain on his parade. Anything to keep Boss Nanny happy. And what made him happy was hearing Aidan attempt his name. **** Matt was worried that Seamus might do something like hold his hand or really anything that might grab his dad’s attention. But Matt and Seamus acted the way Matt and Seamus always acted, save a few shared looks that were anything but subtle. How could they not? Things had changed. Feelings were shared. They’d gotten off together, twice. Sharing heated looks and sly smiles were par for course and exciting as hell. He should’ve been more concerned that he’d give them away. Matt could hardly look at Seamus without flushing all over. Seamus wasn’t the blushing noob he’d been the night before. Nope, he was far more composed. Still, Matt was able to coax one or two from him. Matt liked that. He liked both sides of Seamus, the one he could make stutter and blush and the one who seemed unfazed and unapproachable. If Brad noticed any of it, he didn’t let on. Or maybe he just didn’t care. He was cool like that. Never fancied himself to meddle in people’s business and always allowed Matt to find his own way. Matt wondered if he’d be concerned about the age difference? Eight years was a lot when you’re twenty-one. If that wasn’t a big deal to him, maybe it would be the relationship and how it might jeopardize the dynamic they shared. Matt had the most to lose if things went south. Job, housing, help with Aidan. That should make Dad skeptical. “I was thinking we could make this a regular thing,” Brad told Matt while Seamus was outside loading Aidan into the car. “I wouldn’t mind making this a monthly thing with Aidan. I remember how grateful I was when my parents took you for the weekends. It was good for me but also good for you and the relationship with grandparents.” Matt could hardly hold in his excitement. He loved Aidan but having the weekend to himself had been good for his mental health. Plus, he loved seeing the way his dad loved Aidan. “Please, yes.” His dad laughed. The age lines around his eyes and mouth accentuating just how good his life had been. “Good, good. We’ll connect and find another weekend that works. You still coming home for the summer?” “Yeah,” Matt smiled. He was ready to come home for the summer and spend some quality time with his dad. He was also excited to give Seamus a break. The poor guy was with Aidan all the time. “My last day with the Coffee|Bar is June first but I’m gonna stay in town until Aidan’s birthday party.” “Let me know if you need any help,” Brad offered as Matt walked toward the car. From the door, Brad made kissy faces at his grandson then waved at Seamus. “I like Brad,” Seamus said as they pulled out of the driveway. “He’s chill.” “Chill would be the perfect word to describe him. Though there were some pretty unchill moments growing up.” “I should hope so. I can’t imagine you were all that easy.” “Hey,” Matt complained, shooting Seamus an evil eye from behind the wheel. “I’ll have you know I was as close to perfect as it gets. I didn’t have any siblings to fight with and I hated getting in trouble.” Seamus hummed unbelieving then smiled. “You’re a lot like your dad. You share the same mannerisms. I felt like a creep for watching him but it was crazy. Kinda like looking into the future.” “Yeah, I get that all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I heard ‘oh, you must be Brad's kid’. They even called me BJ for short. Lucky for me that didn’t stick.” Seamus laughed and Matt told him not to get any ideas. “Did your parents split custody? I get the impression you spent more time with your dad.” “Technically. I spent more time with my mom until I was older, then I chose to be with Dad.” “Did it bother her? That you preferred your dad?” Matt thought about it. “I don’t know. I’m sure it did at times. Mostly I think she was content doing her own thing at her own convenience and that included being a mom.” Matt glanced over and saw Seamus frowning. “What’s that look?” “It’s crazy to me,” Seamus said. “How differently people take to having kids.” “What about your family?” Matt asked. “Must be a reason you don’t go home much and don’t tell me it’s work,” he warned. “It’s not,” he said honestly. He pulled out his phone and started scrolling through. When he found what he was looking for, he held his phone up. It was a photo of a dozen or so people, either a decent candid or a terribly posed photo taken in what looked like a rundown mobile home from the seventies. Faux wood paneling on the walls, smoke-stained ceiling and curtains, mismatched furniture, a recliner with hand towels draped over each arm to protect the fabric. An older man was wearing a stained white shirt with suspenders and a trucker hat, the woman was grossly thin with big hair and a leopard jacket. Everyone else looked like they’d come straight from the pages of White Trash Weekly. Matt wasn’t sure if it was a current photo or an old photo, either way, it was cringy. He could smell the stale air and cigarette smoke from the photo. “That’s my family.” Matt must’ve made a face because Seamus laughed and put his phone away. “I’d like to think I’m the black sheep. My family is the epitome of trailer trash; happy to live off the government. They think it’s owed to them. I was the only one who couldn’t wait to leave. I graduated early just to get out of dodge. They didn’t care. They hated that I thought there was something better out there and they were happy to see me leave. I didn’t hear from them until they heard I was dating someone with money. Then, after Kelly died, they tried to play nice.” “For the money?” “I had no illusions. Most young kids idolize their families when they’re little, no matter how fucked up they are. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t repulsed by mine. I saw through them at a young age.” “You still see them, though. I think I remember you saying?” “Eeh. I talk to them once a year, maybe…but I see them less. It’s been a few years at this point. Not long enough if you ask me. Denying them money only to be put back on their do-not-call list only solidified my feelings and my decision. I grew up with too much of their toxicity. I don’t want it anymore.” Seamus was incredible. How hard it must’ve been to grow up with that kind of family. It was a miracle that he was so unlike them. Matt didn’t particularly like his mom but his family failed in comparison. Matt grabbed Seamus’ hand and pulled it to his lips. “Love shouldn’t feel like that.” Seamus looked at Matt, all dark eyes and hero worship. Like Matt was something special and incredible. Once again Matt was taken aback by how responsive Seamus was when no one was around. They talked more, about life and their childhoods. Seamus told him about college and a little about Kelly. Matt wanted to know so much more, but asking about someone’s dead husband was something that needed to be done with tact and grace. They moved on to trivial things like pets. Matt had three dogs during his life and they were all named Mowgli. “From the Jungle Book?” “Best Disney movie ever.” “Three dogs eh?” Seamus asked, totally disbelieving. “You couldn’t have switched it up. Named one Bagheera or Baloo?” “Bagheera were my cats' names.” “Cats.” “Yes, both of them.” Seamus smiled then leaned across the console and kissed Matt’s cheek. “I don’t date,” Seamus blurted. He was still leaning against the console, watching Matt drive. “I have nothing against it, it’s just not something I’ve felt inclined to do. But I want to date you.?” Matt glanced at Seamus and smiled. “Okay?” “Is that something you want?” “Oh, I want.” Seamus let out a loud breath then pressed his fingers to Matt’s chin and tilted his head. He kissed the corner of his lips, his cheek, along his jaw, and down his neck. The kisses were soft and really fucking distracting. Seamus paused and looked toward Aidan making Matt instinctively glance in the mirror. He was zonked, head leaning to the side and slightly forward. A hand slipped into Matt’s lap and gripped his thigh. It was low enough to be disappointing but high enough to be distracting. He continued to tease Matt, kissing and nuzzling his neck from across the console. Matt had teased and been teased by a lot of guys. It was a fun game to play, an easy way to build things up. A power trip. One that Matt loved. Seamus wasn’t intentionally driving Matt crazy, he wasn’t sitting there, kissing Matt and touching his leg in an effort to make Matt beg or assert his dominance. He wasn’t trying to get Matt hard and hornier than shit. He was though. He totally, totally was. Matt adjusted himself because he was all of those things plus mildly uncomfortable in his tight jeans. “Laugh away,” Matt warned. “I’m gonna fuck you up later.” Drive him crazy, make him beg, bring Seamus to his knees. Seamus sucked in a breath and rebounded a second later. He was all over Matt, dangerously so. Good thing they were only a few blocks from home. He was kneading Matt’s crotch and sucking Matt’s neck. Matt covered Seamus' hand and held it firmly against his bulge. The second Matt put the truck in park he grabbed Seamus’ face and kissed him back. Fuck Seamus for driving Matt crazy. He reached between Seamus legs and grabbed a fist full of denim erection. Seamus leaned into Matt and moaned. They were practically crawling across the console. Then Aidan whined and the two sprung apart like bad mattress coils. He was half asleep but slowly coming-to. Seamus adjusted himself. “I’ll grab Aidan if you grab his stuff.” They emptied the SUV and made their way to the loft. As far as fire retardants went, Aidan was primo. He was clingy and needy after spending a weekend away from his two-favorite people. When bedtime came around, he refused. The kid was scared they might disappear. Matt tried to put him to bed a few but Aidan kept stirring. The last thing he wanted to do was wake the beast. It wasn’t until mid-night when he finally fell asleep on Matt’s chest. “Seamus,” Matt half yelled, making sure to keep his voice quieter than the TV. Heaven forbid Aidan wake. “Get me a blanket and I’ll sleep on the couch with the sleepy potato.” A minute later Seamus came out, holding a blanket open as he walked to the couch. Matt looked up when Seamus finished tucking the blanket around them. Matt realized Seamus was naked. Lean muscles and naked. White, firm tushy and naked. Curved shoulders, biceps, and naked. Tight waist with dimples above his butt and naked. Stroking his hardon and naked. “On second thought,” Matt held Aidan to his chest and rocked up. “I bet I can get Aidan to sleep in his own crib.” Seamus laughed as double checked the door lock while still stroking himself. “You do you. I’m going to bed. I guess I’ll see you when I see you.” With that, Seamus disappeared behind his very nice hardwood door. Aidan stirred, not much but enough to throw Matt into a quick counter bounce dance. Once he was settled again, Matt quickly tiptoed to Aidan’s room. He was determined. Fucking hell if Seamus was going to sleep alone tonight, not if Matt had anything to do with it. He quickly but very carefully swaddled Aidan, just enough to fool him into thinking he was being held. He held his breath as Aidan wiggled around but, in the end, he settled down. Matt left, slowly shutting the door behind him. Once the coast was clear, he ran to the bathroom, quickly brushed his teeth then hightailed it to the other end of the apartment, leaving his clothes like bread crumbs along the way. Seamus was kneeling with one knee on the bed as if he was just getting ready to crawl in for the night. His back was arched, his ass popping just so. He looked over his shoulder so fucking casually. Matt didn’t miss the fact Seamus was still touching himself and he was pretty sure the pose was no accident. Maybe Seamus enjoyed the games after all. “Aidan’s asleep?” He asked. Matt nodded. “You gonna fuck me up tonight?” He walked up to Seamus who was still bent over and presenting and pressed himself against his hot body. He nuzzled his cock between Seamus ass cheeks, making Seamus moan. He pushed back. “C’mon,” he begged. Matt dug his fingers into the soft flesh, feeling the meat of his lover’s thighs, ass, and the curve of his waist. Every inch was inviting. “What’s your preference?” Matt asked, nipping the back of Seamus’ neck and slowly pressing him into the mattress. Seamus kept his back arched, forcing Matt’s cock to press in just right. “As long as you follow through on your promise, you can have me however you want.” I’m gonna fuck you up. That’s what Matt had promised and obviously what Seamus wanted. Matt continued to kiss his shoulder then reached down and ran his finger along Seamus’ entrance. “Condom? Lube?” Seamus motioned toward the dresser. Everything they needed was laid on top, waiting. Matt grabbed the lube and started working Seamus open. He must’ve been relaxed and needy because he opened right up and never faltered as Matt stretched him out. When Matt put the condom on, Seamus looked back with smoldering brown eyes. “Do it in one push. I like it that way.” He wanted to argue, tell him it would hurt. By Seamus’ own confession it had been a while since he last had sex and Matt wasn’t small. He didn’t want to argue though. He didn’t want Seamus to change his mind. He rolled the condom on, applied more lube and, for safe measure, spent another minute prepping Seamus. When he was ready, he put one hand on Seamus’ lower back and used the other to aim his cock. “One push,” Seamus reminded him. Matt did as he was told. It felt good. So damn good. Seamus made noises, not all of them sounded like ecstasy but they weren’t the sounds of a pig at slaughter either. When Matt bottomed out, Seamus was gripping the sheets and breathing hard. There were beads of perspiration around his hairline and his head rested on his forearm. Matt ran his hands up Seamus’ back, exploring the sexy lines and tense muscles. He felt Seamus relax. The tight grip around his fat cock eased a little, enough for him to pull out a few inches, then back in. Seamus felt amazing. Better than anyone had ever felt. He found a steady pace, seesawing Seamus into a frenzy. Every time Matt flexed forward, going deeper, Seamus responded with a sound that was pure need. And when his fingers dug deep or he held Seamus down, the man got even wilder. Seamus really wanted Matt to fuck him up. Matt’s whole body was on fire. Watching Seamus claw the bed and shift relentlessly as he chased his own pleasure did something to Matt. He wouldn’t consider himself a jealous man or a controlling man, but he liked what was happening, he liked how Seamus needed him. It made Matt want to claim him. Seamus couldn’t get enough, egging him, encouraging him on until Matt couldn’t stop if he wanted to. He squeezed Seamus as he pounded him from behind. “You’re going to make me cum,” Matt husked. “Can you come with me?” Seamus had one hand braced against the headboard and the other hand under him. His whole body was flex tighter than a guitar string. Matt pressed him down with all his weight, grinding as deep as the orgasm swept through him. He felt Seamus’ ass flex around him. Heat flooded his body like a tidal wave and he cried out, spilling into the condom. He lost his head at the end. When he came to, Seamus was sprawled out under him, panting heavily. His hips, thighs, and shoulders were littered with red blotches where Matt had torn him apart. By some miracle, Matt was still half hard and nestled in Seamus ass. He hovered over the redhead like a blanket. He finally pulled out, pinching the condom off and tossing it aside. Seamus still hadn’t said anything, he hadn’t even moved—not even when Matt pulled out. He looked dead. His face was buried in the mattress and Matt wondered how well he was able to breathe. Matt propped himself on an elbow, one leg still over the back of Seamus’ thighs and ran his hand softly down his spine. “Hey,” he whispered. “Are you okay?” Seamus made a noise and moved, barely. Matt didn’t know what the grunt meant. Was he okay? No? Had he been too rough? Was he happy? He took a moment to soak in the man—his hairline, his freckles, how his ass was a perfect, squishable mound, the way his back tapered, and the muscled lines on his arms. When he was done studying that, he forced Seamus to roll over. His face pinched like a child being woken up. His chest hair was trimmed and there was cum drying on his belly. Matt pushed him over until he was flat on his back, then pulled the blanket over until they were cocooned with Matt on top. Seamus finally opened his eyes. He was scowling. “Hey,” Matt said, smiling. “Everything okay? Do I need to apologize?” Seamus gripped Matt’s ass, hauled him as close as he could and kissed him. “I really fucking like you.” Matt bit his lip. “I really fucking like you, too.” “It’s been a while for me.” “Yeah? Was it okay?” “No,” Seamus said, closing his eyes. “Okay doesn’t do you justice. Shit, Matt. You almost killed me.” “Sorry.” He wasn’t. Seamus squeezed him. “I feel very good and thoroughly fucked. When can we do it again?” “Probably not for a few days. I think you took a beating. I was a little rough.” “I’ll survive.” “Maybe, but I won’t chance it. You said it yourself, it’s been a while.” “I bet I can convince you otherwise.” “Sure,” Matt smiled. “Maybe in a few days.” **** Seamus convinced him otherwise. It didn’t take much. Matt was easily persuadable where a naked Seamus was involved. Matt got early so Seamus could sleep in. He spent the morning with Aidan, playing and eating. Seamus was still sleeping when Matt had to leave for class, so he laid a napping Aidan in bed with him on his way out. There was a bounce in his step as he made his way to school. Happiness had always come easy to Matt but he’d just reached a whole new level. What a weekend. Aidan was officially his and now, so was Seamus. He laughed as he crossed campus. He’d been so stupid. Blind and stupid. There were so many signs staring him in the face yet he thought he was going crazy. He was so sure there was no way Seamus wanted him, no way. Seamus was a generous person. He would’ve watched anyone’s kid. Ha. Matt needed to trust himself. If he would have sooner, he might have enjoyed these spoils a little earlier. But then again, the wait made it taste all that better.
    112 points
  31. Sunshine streamed through the windows, throwing sparkles of light around the room. Ethan inhaled his mate’s rich scent as he fought the urge to open his eyes. He wanted to put off the world for a few more minutes. The warmth and protection of the arms wrapped around him felt good. His head rested on the furry chest; his ears caught his husband’s rhythmic heartbeat. Taking another deep breath, he let the scent wash over him. There was no place in the world he would rather be. It was not long before he felt Aiden beginning to stir beneath him. “Five more minutes, Big Bad. Please?” “I’d love that, Pup, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a busy day.” Ethan snuggled tighter against the larger body. “How about I blow you if I get my five minutes?” “We both know you’ll do it with or without the extra time. Just like I’ll do you.” Aiden pulled his mate up so he could give him a good morning kiss. “Besides, I really need to piss.” Ethan sniffed himself. “Fine. I want a shower anyways.” After a bit of playtime in the shower, they headed downstairs. There was a note from Craig on the kitchen table saying they had gone to the alpha’s for breakfast with cousin Denise and her family. Cody stuck his head in the door to find the pair pulling things out of the pantry. “Wow, morning after the big wedding and you’re already up and decent.” “We weren’t sure if you guys would be dragging us off again on another honeymoon.” Ethan joked. “I still say you all just wanted to act as witnesses to verify we consummated the marriage.” Aiden laughed so hard he nearly spit out his coffee. “Nope. Nothing like that planned for today. And it was Casey who wanted to be the witness. Suggested it should be videoed for verification purposes.” Cody could tell his friends didn’t believe him. “Okay, Dari and I didn’t disagree with him at all, and it would have been hot as fuck to watch.” The scent of his arousal caused him to blush as he adjusted himself. “Mary called and said they’d be over a little before lunch time to deliver the wedding presents. Mentioned she’d bring over some stuff to barbeque. Casey’s been drooling more than usual ever since.” Cody returned to his mates to give Aiden and Ethan a little private time. “I guess we’ve got a few hours to relax, Pup.” “I kind of hated it the first few times you called me that even though it also sounded cute. But I love that nickname now.” Aiden leaned in to kiss him as they made breakfast together. ****** Shortly after 11:00 a.m., Rafe pulled up towing his big grill trailer. Joe and Jack jumped out and unhooked it so they could roll it into the yard. The back of the truck was packed with several ice chests and a large stack of chairs. Ethan went to help his brothers unload the stuff. “Dad, what’s with all this? Are you planning on feeding an army today? We do have our own barbeque. And what’s with all the chairs?” “An army pretty much describes it. I didn’t think yours would be large enough. Your mom should be here soon, and she’ll explain.” Trevor arrived a few minutes later. “Good morning to the re-newlyweds.” He bumped fists with Aiden before turning to Ethan and doing the same. “I still can’t believe it’s been a year since we found you along that stream in the mountains. I’ve missed a lot being away at school. And I’ve missed you as much as I have these guys.” “Thanks, Trevor. For everything you’ve done since the day I met you. I’ve missed you too. These guys are fun, but it always feels like something’s missing when you’re away.” Ethan stepped over to give their friend a hug. Trevor glanced at Aiden for approval, before placing his hand on Ethan’s back to return the hug. Out front, cars and SUVs began arriving at a quick pace. Mary pulled her van into the driveway followed by a second one driven by the alpha’s assistant, Heather. Both were filled with gifts. Two more vans soon arrived also packed with presents. As people unloaded the vehicles, Ethan and Aiden looked on in awe. They had seen the piles of wrapped packages at the reception, but with everything else going on, it never quite registered just how many there were or how large some appeared to be. The extra vans left only to be replaced by two more, delivering the last of the gifts. Mary went out to the front yard and returned a few minutes later followed by Kate, Weylin, and lots of people Ethan did not recognize. Craig arrived about the same time with Marsha, her parents, plus two guys Aiden didn’t know. Denise and her family walked up the driveway and stopped at the open garage. She excitedly pointed at what sat inside. “You still have Uncle Wes’s Jeep.” She turned to her kids. “Craig’s father bought that new and refused to ever sell it. He took us everywhere in that and drove it up until the day he died.” Her sons both walked over to inspect it while she returned her attention to Aiden. “I knew you guys rebuilt it, but didn’t realize you still had it.” “I love that thing. It’s not going anywhere as long as I’m alive.” Aiden’s pride in the old Jeep showed. “Besides, I don’t think Ethan would let me get rid of it.” Spencer stepped up beside Aiden and eyed the older vehicle. “I’d sell Matthew for organ harvesting to get a Jeepster Commando in that condition. Please tell me it still has the Dauntless V6.” The punch to his arm barely fazed him. “I love you too, Spence.” Matthew glared at his mate before actually glancing around. “Beautiful house guys.” “Yeah, yeah. I love you, but I’ve got a Jeep to check out.” Spencer walked into the garage. Carl and Edward were doing miserably at hiding their amusement over their friends banter. Aiden turned as more people walked up the driveway. “Alpha, Jackie. We’re happy to have you here.” “Uncle Alex! Uncle Nathan!” Ethan excitedly ran over to the men. “Anthony, Tyler. Good to see you.” “Hey, Ethan.” Tyler fist bumped his friend. “Connor and Kevin are parking the truck. Seems your street has a lot of cars on it today. We should have gone wolf and just run over.” “We still on for the full moon run? Or are you guys going to be away on another honeymoon?” Connor’s voice caused Ethan to turn. “As far as we know, we’ll be here. Can’t miss going on a run with you guys. It’s become tradition.” Aiden extended his hand to his friends only to pull them into a hug. He led his pup over to the group with Craig. “The woman who was so excited to see the Jeep is Dad’s cousin, Denise. The tall guy beside her is her mate Roger. Those two are their sons, Tom and Chance.” “It’s great to meet you again, Ethan. There were so many people yesterday we barely got to say hi.” Denise grinned ear-to-ear at the small blond before pulling him into her arms. “We’ve heard a lot about you.” “Nice to meet you too.” Ethan happily greeted his mate’s family. “I remember seeing you, but didn’t know you were family.” Adam continued the introductions. “Aiden, since you’re the alpha designates here in addition to being my step-grandson, I thought you should meet my other grandsons. This one is Josh, and that’s his older brother and my alpha designate, Curtis.” Josh shook their hands before Curtis reached out. “Congratulations on your wedding. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here for the smaller one in December. I look forward to working with you, cousin to cousin and alpha to alpha. Our packs are family.” “I look forward to that too.” Mary waved Ethan over to the mass of people surrounding her. “We thought it was about time you met the rest of your family. Being a Tucker means you have lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins now. They live in different packs, but we manage to get together about once every other year as a group. We were going to introduce you to everyone yesterday at the reception. But you know you boys were busy meeting world leaders and such.” “These people are all my family?” His eyes traveled around the faces before him. “How come no one bothered to mention this family has more people than some countries?” He turned to his mother. “Hey, the world leader thing wasn’t our fault. No one told us that was going to happen.” “With so many guests, we realized yesterday wasn’t the day to introduce you.” She wrapped her arm around the blond, brushing a finger through his shaggy hair. “We didn’t want to scare you off. You had enough to go through just settling in with us.” She waved her hand towards the mass of people. “Everyone figured it was safer to wait until we had our claws into you before springing all of them on you.” “I never had aunts, uncles, or cousins in my old life.” Ethan’s mood briefly saddened as his voice grew quiet. “At least none who had anything to do with us.” “These three on the right are my brothers with their wives and kids. The group to the left is your Dad’s two brothers and his sister with all their families.” Aiden ran his hand up and down his pup’s back, watching a finger move around counting the number of family members. “Wow, twenty eight cousins? Is this everyone or are there some who couldn’t make it? Oh, and please tell me there isn’t going to be a test on names after you all tell me who you are.” “This is everyone. I’m Dave and this is my mate, Zoey. We’ve all been dying to meet you since Mary told us you joined the family. We live in North Carolina. Danny and his wife, Abby are in the neighboring pack to ours. Last are Lee and his mate, Malory. They’re just across the state line from us in South Carolina. We’ll introduce you to all our pups as the day goes on.” “Dad, I’m twenty-two. Not all of us are pups still.” He extended his hand to Ethan. “I’m Marty, by the way.” “You’ll always be a pup to me, even if you are a young man.” Dave laughed at the glare he received. Weylin took over introductions. “Now for the Tucker side of the family. This is my oldest child and beautiful daughter, Claudia Jean, her mate, Ritch, and their six kids.” Leaning in and talking in a not so hushed whisper, Rafe pointed to his sister. “She’s the only one that has grandkids so far, but her oldest is thirty now. Dad’s not kidding when he says she’s old.” Claudia swatted at Rafe’s arm. “Yes, I’m a grandmother, and I’m damn proud of it. You just wait ‘til one of yours makes you a Grandpa.” Weylin waved his hand towards two more from the family. “These are your Dad’s younger brothers Peter and Chase and their wives Ellie and Susan. When they all met their mates, they moved out of the territory to where they felt they were most needed. Parker Valley’s home to the Tucker family, but wolves sometimes need to strengthen other packs.” Ethan went to shake hands and ended up getting pulled into a hug by each family member. “I’d finally gotten used to feeling so small around the family here. Now I really feel small.” “From what I hear and from the guests at your wedding, you may be small in size, but you have a big heart and a large presence.” Claudia held him the longest. “Don’t worry as far as names go. We’re all planning on wearing name tags today to make it easier for you.” Rafe pulled Alex and Nathan over to the family. “If you didn’t have a chance to meet them yesterday, these guys are two more of the newest members of the Tucker clan, Alex and Nathan.” John jokingly called out to his enforcer. “Rafe, if I didn’t know you better or didn’t already know most of these people, I’d say you were trying to stage an invasion or pack takeover.” “Invasion maybe, but never a takeover. Especially since I serve the best alpha I could.” “Kiss ass.” Jackie tipped her beer to her friend and bodyguard. Aiden got everyone’s attention. “These are our friends Trevor, and Anthony, Tyler, Kevin and Connor from this pack. Spencer, Matthew, Carl, and Edward are friends visiting from other packs.” Casey proudly wrapped an arm around each of his men. “These two are my mates, Darius and Cody, the last of the new family members.” “Casey Weylin Tucker, why didn’t you tell me you’d mated?” Claudia glared with her hands on her hips. “And no fair you get two men. I was told I could only have one.” “I sure as hell could use a second in dealing with her sometimes.” Her mate ducked to avoid the hand aimed at his head. A smug grin crossed Casey’s face. “I learned from you, Aunt C.J. Do something and then ask permission. Besides, there’s no way I could have picked only one of them. Mom and Dad had a bet on when I’d ask them to bite me.” Kissing Darius on the cheek, Mary giggled. “I won. Rafe thought he’d take an extra few months before figuring his feelings out. We’re happy to have them both in the clan. Between Alex and Darius, it’s nice having felines in the family. And we’re not forgetting about your beautiful bear, Nathan. Or my handsome coyote son-in-law.” Claudia raised an eyebrow as she appraised Darius. “No, you couldn’t be.” She subtly scented the air again. “Are you?” Focusing his attention on Darius, one of the smaller pups called out. “Is he a tiger?” “Bet he’s a lynx or bobcat,” another one suggested. One innocently replied to her brother. “He can’t be a bobcat. His name isn’t Bob, silly.” A ten-year old offered his guess. “He’s probably a mountain lion.” Darius crouched, his hands held up like clawed paws as he playfully growled. “I’m a big ol’ lion.” His humanized roar had all the pups giggling, and the adults were momentarily stunned at the realization a solaris stood before them. ****** Joe approached the group. “Dad, the barbecue’s ready. Who wants what?” “We’re going nice and simple today, plus there are lots of leftovers from yesterday, so burgers and hotdogs.” Mary pointed to all the wrapped packages. “We thought if you didn’t mind, after lunch you could start opening those.” Ethan scanned the mountains of gifts. “How are we going to keep track for sending out thank you cards?” The alpha’s assistant, Heather, stepped beside the blond. “I’m going to keep a log of everything to help you out. I got it started yesterday with the diplomatic guests.” While Joe and Rafe cooked, Ethan became acquainted with his family. Claudia placed two of her newest grandsons into Aiden’s arms and a third into Ethan’s. “Here, make yourselves useful. All newlyweds need practice at this.” Casey watched his friends and chuckled as he chased some of his younger cousins around. Cody and Darius were amused seeing him like this with his family. Ethan’s eyes opened wide. “Triplets?” Claudia’s oldest son, Will proudly grinned. “Yeah, we were planning on staggering the kids out a little and having three or four. The first set was twins and the second were these little guys. They’re just coming up on four months old.” “And as soon as the last set was born I sent Will in to be neutered. Five kids is more than enough. We don’t need any oopsies.” Will’s mate smiled at how red her husband turned. “I’ve never held a baby before. I don’t want to risk dropping him or hurt him.” There was genuine concern in Ethan’s voice. “Just sit back and relax. If he gets fussy, we’ll pass him off to his grandmother.” He stared down at the not so small bundle in his arms and grinned at Aiden’s two armfuls of kids. “This does feel kind of good. You look like a natural.” Craig walked over with his camera and took a few shots. “Now you’re going to get them thinking about turning me into a grandfather. Thanks a lot.” Aiden watched each of the boys in his arms as they stared at him. He made faces and stuck his tongue out causing the little pups to giggle. “Yeah, you’re going to make a good dad someday.” Ethan enjoyed the sight of his mate like this. After about five minutes, his nose twitched as something unpleasant hit him. “Umm…. I think this one might need his mom or dad. I’m pretty sure he needs changing. I’ll hold him, but I’m not ready to go that far yet.” The boy’s mother picked him up. “Yep, he definitely needs changing. Be right back.” “This seems so surreal, looking around the yard at all these people and being told I’m related to them.” “It took a lot of restraint on all our parts not to rush here to meet you.” Claudia moved to sit next to him. “Rafe and Mary explained you needed time to adjust, but they kept us up to date on how you were doing. You’ll find we’re a fairly tight family even though we’ve spread out to different packs. Our family get-togethers usually last a week and we have a great time at them.” She faced Alex and Nathan. “You two will be expected to come to the family reunions as well, though we’ll make allowances because of your business.” “You could always have the reunions at our place.” Alex countered. Mary came over and picked up one of the pups from Aiden’s arms. “You had a lot of adjustment to just get used to us, Ethan. We knew in time you’d be ready to meet the entire family. What better time than a wedding?” ****** After everyone had eaten, they settled down to watch Aiden and Ethan open their presents. Several of the younger kids rested while others played games and entertained themselves under the watchful eyes of the adults. Heather took a seat beside Ethan with her laptop. “When you open something, hand me the card and I’ll log it for you. I’ll also take a picture to make it easier to associate the gift with the thank you cards. There’s also a stack of envelopes that most likely have something in them, and I’ll do the same for whenever you get to those.” “Thanks, Heather. You really are making this easier for us.” Aiden was grateful to the woman. “That’s why I’m here, and it is a joy to do this for you both.” The kids picked what present was going to be opened and brought it over to the couple. There were the usual household goods, dishes, and other items for the kitchen. There was also a lot of art. Many of the newer pack members Ethan had cured sent framed pictures of themselves in their animal form with a message written on it to the couple they adored. John and Jackie sat back watching what their pack members had given the guys and smiled. The more personal the tribute to the young men, the more it touched their hearts. An older couple, who had been against the idea of such a powerful wolf as Aiden mating a male, gave them a pair of very detailed handmade quilts. A box from Alex and Nathan had a framed picture of the Palomino Aiden and Ethan always rode together along with a note. “Thank you for becoming my new dads.” Ethan ran over to the men, throwing his arms around their necks. Alex ruffled his hair as Nathan joyfully accepted the attention. “He likes it best when you two ride him together. And we figure this will give you more reason to come visit us. Not that you don’t have space here for him.” The gift from Spencer and Matthew had a box set of the Twilight movies that had the adults laughing. The DVDs sat atop the real gift, a pitcher and eight glasses. Ethan held up the DVDs while Aiden held up the pitcher. It was made of clear glass with spots of color in it. Spencer explained the gifts. “We’ve been waiting for the right occasion to re-gift those movies to a new home, so tag, you’re it. I think you’re the fourth, maybe fifth recipient of them and yet they still remain unopened which accounts for them not even being Blu-ray. One of our pack members’ trying to keep the art of glass blowing alive and made those especially for you. It’s great to watch him work at making things like that. He gives classes to teach a younger generation of artists his trade. Each piece started clear and rolled the molten glass in colored beads before blowing them into the shapes he wanted.” “Until we can visit you guys and tell him in person, please let him know how beautiful we think they are.” Aiden carefully returned it to the box. One of the pups picked a large, but fairly flat crate to open next. Aiden read the card aloud before handing it to Heather. “From your friends in beautiful Greenland. Congratulations on your wedding. May you have a long and joy filled life.” Ethan turned to John. “Alpha, I don’t remember meeting anyone from Greenland yesterday. Did we miss someone?” “No one from there requested to come. That could have been one of the gifts that was shipped to us.” Darius and Casey lifted the framed item out of the crate. It was a painting of a glacier meeting the ocean. There were several lupus gathered around two figures in their hybrid form. One black and one white with bright sapphire blue eyes and his arms slightly raised. At the edge of the glacier, large chunks of ice fell to the water below, revealing a white wolf seemingly carved on the side of the glacier. “Wow, it looks like they did a painting of us with you working your magic.” Aiden pulled his mate close. Heather took a picture of the two with the painting and logged the information. “So, some people just sent presents to us?” Ethan appeared deep in thought over his question. “Yes, packs around the world who didn’t or couldn’t send a representative sent gifts or cards.” John was amazed by the amount of items that had been received. “I would say news of you reached just about everywhere in our world after your coming out show at the Congress. Since not everyone was able to send someone, they felt this was the next best thing.” Ethan was stunned, as was Aiden. Having all the global leaders who came was overwhelming enough. But the thought of packs, clans, and all other manner of shifters who had heard of them and wanted to send them something was almost too much. A single tear ran down Ethan’s face as Aiden kissed the top of his head. “Are you okay?” “Yeah… It’s just a lot to take in I guess. I mean the people that sort of raised me didn’t want me and all these people who haven’t met us want to do something for us. For our wedding. On top of it, I’ve got this huge family now.” Ethan paused to wipe his face. “All I really wanted from the start was to be a part of the Tucker family and to be with you. I got both my wishes.” Claudia leaned forward while holding one of the triplets. “Speaking as the oldest of Mom and Dad’s kids and as your aunt, you’re definitely part of the Tucker family. We’re happy to have you as one of us.” “It may take me some time to learn everyone’s name, but eventually I’ll know all of you by name and scent.” After an hour or so, the gift opening was placed on hold for a little while as everyone needed a break. It would take several days to open everything and begin the process of writing out thank you cards. ****** Ethan took time to play with the younger members of the family. He was soon joined by a few of the cousins around his age. Several of the younger ones called out they wanted to see his wolf. They knew all the other wolves in the family by both sight and scent, but they wanted to see their newest cousin. It took some prodding from the adults and Aiden encouraging him to do it. Ethan walked behind the garage for a little privacy as he stripped and dropped to all fours. Soon the large white wolf trotted into view. Even the adults were impressed with what they saw. “Ethan, you’re beautiful! Those facial markings are incredible.” Claudia brushed her hand over his head as the youngest kids surround him, all waiting their turn to pet his soft fur. Mary’s brothers all knelt down as Ethan came to each and scented them. Lee glanced over to his sister. “I know you said he was an impressive wolf, but that doesn’t come close.” In response, his hand was licked. “You’re very welcome, Ethan.” Peter and Chase sat on the ground beside the white wolf. “Okay, chalk it up to family pride, but he’s the most beautiful lupus I’ve ever seen.” Chase ducked as his wife slapped his arm playfully. “You know what I mean.” Even Adam’s grandsons, Josh and Curtis, had to come over to see Ethan up close. “Wow, I don’t know what to say beyond that.” Curtis shook his head. Aiden ran his fingers through the fur just behind Ethan’s left ear as he leaned in and whispered into it. He stepped back with pride covering his face. “Give him a little room for a moment.” Once it was clear around him, Ethan shifted, but not back to his human form. His body increased in size as it reshaped, while bones snapped into their new position. In seconds, his hybrid towered over even the tallest member of his family. Curtis—his grandfather’s alpha designate—was first to comment. “My wolf’s strong, but I can’t even do that.” Adam patted his grandson’s shoulder. “You haven’t really come into your own as an alpha or found your mate yet, so we don’t know if you’ll have that ability or not.” A few of the smaller kids became scared of the unusual type of wolf. One they had never seen before. A four legged lupus was one thing, but a massive two legged hybrid was all new to them. Ethan quickly sat and reached out for one of the crying pups. He wanted to show them there was nothing to be afraid of. He feared he’d made the wrong decision when the boy of five began to scream. He tried cradling the boy in his arms to calm him. As the boy screamed for his mom, Ethan sat him on the ground. His deep gravely voice was tinged with sadness. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have switched to this form.” “It’s okay, Ethan.” Lee tried to console his nephew. “I don’t think any of them have ever seen a lunis before and definitely not a hybrid. This is their first time seeing something other than a lupus.” The screaming boy’s six year old sister came over and stared at him. There was a wonder in her eyes at the beast sitting before her. “I didn’t know wolves could take more than one shape or could talk.” Claudia moved beside the massive wolf. “Some can. Usually the very special ones. And your cousin’s one of the most special there is.” “I should go change back to human. I don’t want to scare them any more than I have.” “I’m not scared of you.” The six year old reached out and touched the fur on his arm. She squealed with excitement. “Your fur is still soft. It’s just like it was before you changed.” Hearing his sister, the boy who had been screaming squirmed out if his mother’s arms. “I wanna feel.” His mom held him back briefly. “Are you sure? I thought you were scared of him.” The boy tried to sound brave. “I wasn’t scared.” After his mother set him down, he tentatively went to Ethan who sat still as a stone while the boy ran his hand on the furry arm. “You are still soft.” Getting braver, he held onto the beast’s arm and pulled a little but could not get it to move. When Ethan lifted his arm, the boy giggled happily as he was raised a few inches off the ground. Several more of the kids who seemed scared at first came close. Within a few minutes, Ethan had become a furry jungle gym for them to climb on. He sat the first boy on his shoulders as he lifted up three and four at a time on his arms while their parents took pictures of the spectacle. Ethan went from feeling bad about scaring his cousins to having a ball as they climbed on him. After an hour of playing he’d worn most of the young ones out. Ethan was about to return to human when Aiden sat in his lap. Reaching an arm up, he pulled his pup’s muzzle down next to his ear so he could run his face along the furry snout. It was an unusual turnaround for the two with Aiden now being the smaller one. Grabbing his mate’s massive paws, he wrapped them around his chest so Ethan was holding him. Everyone with a camera snapped pictures at their simple display of love for each other. After Ethan finally returned to human, Claudia pulled him aside. “Thank you for doing that. I know you felt bad about some of them getting scared, but it’s the first time they’ve seen that type of wolf. You really are good with kids. I must say, both your wolves are beautiful. Dad and Rafe were right on how they described you.” “I never knew having a big family could be so much fun. Getting to be my hybrid around them was great. I loved having them climb all over me.” She hugged him as Mary came over and gave him one as well. His mother smiled and brushed some hair out of Ethan’s face. “A year ago you didn’t know what you were getting into by coming here with Aiden, Trevor, and Casey. You didn’t trust anyone even though you put on a good show of it. Now you’re surrounded by love. You have a wonderful husband and more family than you could ever want. Thank you for becoming our son.” “I love you, Mom.” Aiden watched as Mary held his mate. He’d not only given his pup all the love he could, but also a family who adored him.
    112 points
  32. The knowledge Michael and the others would remain locked up provided Ethan with a sense of relief. He was happy his primary attacker was not going to be on the streets looking for him again, at least not for a while. He hoped some kind of peace could be reached in whatever the issue was between them. Aiden kept telling him it wasn’t that simple; he didn’t think it was anything that could really be settled like with Tyler, Connor, or Kevin. He explained how Michael had thought for years he was above everyone and everything. If the alpha or his wife were around, their son acted like the perfect young pup; as soon as they were out of sight and ear shot, he reverted to an arrogant ass. Tormenting those he could, going after weaker wolves and humans alike to make himself feel stronger. The illusion of duty to the pack he let his father see was what got him placed on the leadership campout with Aiden. ****** The courses Aiden was taking had gone to half day during the summer. It was a little more in depth than the police academy classes the occasional human received; lycan cadets also had to learn about pack and Lycan Council law. With the heat of the season, Rafe had his crew work less as well. Mainly so the human sub-contractors that worked for him didn’t have problems from the heat. Ethan enjoyed working and it kept his mind off things, but he also enjoyed getting to spend more time with his boyfriend. Aiden came by after work on Monday. “Hey, Pup.” He hugged Ethan and gave him a kiss. “Let’s go for a drive.” “Where we going?” “Someplace.” A mischievous smile crossed the rugged face. Ethan shrugged and happily followed his boyfriend. Aiden had the top and doors off his beloved Jeepster Commando, surprising his pup. They both enjoyed the feel of the wind in their hair as they drove over to Parker. They headed to the far side of town where Aiden pulled up to a mini-golf course and parked. His pup looked skeptically at him, but followed the larger teen into the park. They paid for two rounds, picked up their clubs, and headed to the first tee. “I’ve never done this before.” Aiden grinned ear to ear. “Despite what the pros think, the only real golf is mini-golf. If you’re not trying to put the ball through a windmill or castle, it’s just putting a ball in a hole.” Ethan went way over par the first couple of holes. Aiden helped by showing him how to line up; standing behind his pup, and assisting him with putting. They were having a blast and Aiden got to be in close contact with his mate. “Give it a shot, Pup.” “Okay.” Ethan smiled devilishly. “I’m gonna smoke your ass on this hole.” “I can think of a lot of things I wouldn’t mind you doing with my ass. Smoking it isn’t one of them.” Ethan’s mouth gaped, unable to form words. “If you keep holding your mouth open like that I might have to find something to fill it.” Aiden reached for his zipper. Ethan dropped the ball at the tee, but kept glancing at the larger teen. Aiden smiled innocently, until his mate regained his composure. His pup managed to catch up in the par count, and was only a few strokes behind Aiden. On the last hole, he set aside his usual competitiveness, and went way over par allowing his blond mate to pull ahead and win. “So do I get to kiss the winner?” “You let me win, but you can still kiss the winner.” Ethan stood on his toes to receive his kiss. There was also an arcade at the park, so they went inside to check it out. It was filled with all kinds of games including several multi-player racing and shooting games. Buying a handful of tokens, Aiden steered them towards a shooting one. Standing next to each other, they dropped in the required amount of tokens and waited for the game to start. Aiden hit every target without any trouble. When Ethan’s turn began, he missed most of the shots, but he had little experience. “Well, no chance of you trailing me in a game like this. So, do I get to kiss the winner now?” “You know how much I love chasing your cute little ass.” Aiden hungrily licked his lips. “Yep, I think the winner deserves a kiss.” “What’s with you today?” Ethan giggled. “You do realize I was the one chasing your hot ass most of the game, as well as during golf.” “I’m feeling frisky for some reason, I guess.” “Feeling frisky? If you get any more frisky I’m going to have to either hose you down. Or put a collar and leash on you to get you under control.” “As long as I get belly rubs and ear scratches, we can discuss a collar. I’m always ready for you to hose me down.” Aiden waggled his eyebrows. Ethan’s mouth gaped once more; feeling the effects from what his boyfriend was saying, and being unsure how to respond. “I warned you once about leaving your mouth open like that. I think I have just the thing to fill it up nicely.” His hand gripped the growing bulge in his shorts. Feeling flush, Ethan took a few deep breaths to calm his increasing horniness. “Let’s try some of the other games.” “Not the game I was hoping for, Pup. But it’ll do for now.” Feeding in the last of their tokens for a final multi-player, street-race game, they waited for it to start. They both concentrated on what they were doing. In the end, Ethan managed to pull out a fair and honest victory. With their tokens spent, they decided to check out the stores at a nearby strip mall. “So, what did you think?” Aiden ran his hand through the back of his pup’s hair. “It was fun. Though I think the way you were talking could be considered cheating. Definitely distracting.” “All’s fair in mini-golf and video games.” Aiden smiled with his best innocent look. “Tell you what, since you lost the last game, when we get someplace private you can get your consolation prize. I promise to swallow every drop.” Now it was Aiden’s turn to flush as he grabbed his pup’s hand. “To hell with private. I think there’s a bathroom nearby we can use for that.” At the strip mall, they walked around, going into a few of the stores before going into a frozen yogurt shop. Tyler was behind the counter reading a book. “Hey, guys. How are you doing today?” “Hey, Tyler.” The response was simultaneous. “We’re good. I didn’t realize you worked here.” Aiden was suddenly aware he didn’t know much about this person he grew up around. “I’ve been doing this since graduation. The hours are good, and it helps cover my classes at the community college.” They made small talk while the couple had their snack. Finishing, they said their goodbyes to Tyler. After walking around a little more, they went back to Aiden’s for some private cuddle time. ****** The next few days seemed to pass by quickly. After work, the couple would hang out, and either walk around town or go hiking. They even went riding at Alex and Nathan’s farm. Towards the end of the week, they went off-roading with Casey. It made Ethan happy to include the big guy as much as possible, since he’d been pushed to the sidelines now that Aiden had a boyfriend. With Trevor away at college, there were times Casey looked lonely. Ethan knew his new brother and boyfriend were best friends and didn’t want to come between them. Plus, he liked hanging out with Casey. Ethan thought Casey was driving like a madman on the dirt roads, but the big guy proved he knew every turn, dip, and bump. They had a blast, and came out of the forest on the far side of Parker Lake. Aiden hadn’t brought Ethan here yet. Casey mentioned there was a large park area on the other side, and some vacation homes scattered around the rest of the shore. “This place is cool.” Standing at the water’s edge, Ethan took in the beauty of his surroundings. “Thanks for bringing us out here, Big Guy.” “No problem, Little Man.” Casey skipped a rock out over the water “You didn’t mind his crazy driving to get here?” Aiden prostrated himself, pretending he was kissing the ground. “Naw, it was kinda like being on a roller coaster. Maybe a little scary, but a good kind of scary.” Ethan tried mimicking what Casey did only getting two or three skips from his rock before it sank. “I wish Trevor was around to come along.” “He’s been busy with summer classes, Pup. But he should be finished soon, and have a couple weeks break before fall semester start.” Casey tossed another rock that skipped seven times. They took turns to see how far they could get and how many skips. Even against Aiden’s competitive nature, Casey was definitely the best at it. At about the same time, Aiden and Casey dropped the rock they held and scanned their surroundings. They sniffed the air, picking up the scent of something on the breeze. Casey was the first to speak. “Trouble and the truck isn’t safe enough.” He moved closer to the couple, taking up a protective stance, while kicking off his shoes and yanking off his shirt. “Ethan, get in the water now and get as deep as you can over behind those rocks.” “Why? What’s going on?” Fear filling him as he watched Casey shift into his wolf even before removing the rest of his clothes. “No time to explain. Please, Pup. Just do it. And stay as still and quiet as you can over there. Whatever you do, try not to make a sound.” Aiden dropped into his shift having only gotten his shoes and shirt off, shredding the pants in the transition. Ethan did as told, and hid behind a group of rocks about thirty feet from shore. Almost completely submerged in the water, he peered around the rock he was behind, watching as Aiden and Casey lowered their ears and heads. The fur on their backs stood up, and they bared long, sharp teeth. He saw movement at the tree line. A large beast emerged from the forest’s cover about a hundred yards from the duo. Even though it had a wolf-like head, it didn’t look anything like Aiden or Casey. The body was huge and covered in thick, dark-grey fur. It rose up to stand on its hind legs pacing back and forth, lifting its head scenting the air. Instead of front legs, his limbs appeared more like arms, and the paws resembled hands with razor sharp claws. Taking a few steps closer, it locked its eyes on Aiden and Casey, before its gaze seemed to focus between the two wolves at a point in the water. It was looking directly at Ethan’s location. Ethan was terrified for his boyfriend and their friend. He wished it was possible to become invisible. As his fear grew, so did the blue glow in his eyes. A thin layer of fog began to form on the surface of the lake, surrounding him and spreading in all directions. The beast threw its head back, and let out a howl. It resumed stalking back and forth, while watching the two wolves. They had moved apart, with Aiden placing himself between the beast and Casey, leaving his friend as Ethan’s last line of defense. The creature seemed to become more agitated, as though it wanted to move forward but was blocked by the two wolves before it. Ethan was so focused on it, he never noticed the gentle lapping of the lake against the rocks stop as the surface of the water froze. The fog extending out from Ethan continued to build and thicken, hiding him under its thick veil. The monster gave one last howl and dropped onto all fours, charging at the two wolves. Ethan’s mind was in absolute panic for his two protectors. He knew they were strong wolves, but didn’t know if they were strong enough to take this huge thing resembling a movie werewolf. The glow of his eyes grew ever brighter as the dense fog moved onto the shore, blocking out much of the sun’s light. The heavy vapor first obscured the beast’s view of the two wolves and quickly enveloped the thing itself in an impenetrable cloud, making it impossible for it to see. The creature, blinded by the murkiness, stumbled over a rock and crashed to the ground before it could reach its target. No matter how thick the fog became, Ethan could still see all three wolves with ease. With a loud crashing sound, the ice on the lake shattered. Unlike at the bridge where it fashioned small pieces meant to drive off the attackers, this time it produced large, dagger-like chards as sharp as any bladed weapon. With extreme speed, they hurled towards the fog-shrouded beast, flying around the two wolves who felt and heard something passing by their bodies. There was a deafening howl from the beast, before all became still and quiet. As the mist dissipated, it became evident the beast was dead. The body was riddled with ice daggers; some had passed completely through it, with one especially large piece entering at its throat and lodging in the skull. The force of the ice hitting it had thrown the heavy wolf-like creature back several yards. Aiden peered towards the water and saw his mate floating face up on the surface. His powerful wolf ran towards the shore, shifted back to human mid run, and swam to reach Ethan. Casey also shifted and dove in trying to help. They pulled him close enough so Aiden could pick him up and carry him back to the truck. The two checked him over as best they could. Ethan was breathing fine; he just seemed to be out cold. After a few minutes, his eyes opened. “He’s coming around.” Casey held his friend’s shoulder. Ethan felt a little dizzy, but otherwise okay. “What happened? What was that thing?” His voice sounded groggy. “That was a feral lunis wolf, and if I’m not mistaken, you just saved our asses from it.” Aiden held his mate tight. “Those are the lycan wolves that sparked the werewolf stories.” “Holy shit. Whatever just happened, that’s all I have to say.” Casey rose and went to grab his phone out of the truck. “Dad. We’re out at Lynnwood Cove. We ran into a feral lunis. Before you ask, everyone’s fine except for the lunis. You’ll need the coroner for it.” “I’m on my way, and I’m calling the alpha and sheriff.” “Dad’s on his way and he’s going to notify everyone he needs to.” Casey informed his friends. “How are you feeling?” Concern for his mate was obvious in Aiden’s voice. Ethan reached up to touch his boyfriend’s cheek. “I’m okay, I think. I feel a little dizzy but other than that…” “Well, I guess we know what caused those water drops around us last weekend.” Casey’s eyes panned between the two. “What are you talking about? What did you mean about him saving us? Has this happened before?” The accusation evident that his friends might have been keeping something from him. “Not this exactly. Though it might be how he fended off five wolves on the bridge. Without getting so much as a scratch on himself.” Aiden brushed a few stray hairs out of his mate’s eyes. “We were making out last weekend next to a stream, and it looked like hundreds of water drops were dancing in the air around us. It was like we were surrounded by diamonds when the sun hit them. That is, until I distracted him. Then we got soaked from them falling on us.” “That fog was cool the way it surrounded us. I’m guessing it couldn’t see us since we couldn’t see it. It must have been the ice I felt flying past me. There’s no way any of that just naturally happened. If he did that, it seems pretty evident that he can control water in some way. It’s freaky as hell, but so damned cool. We woulda both taken some damage if it reached us. When you say your mate’s special you don’t joke around.” Casey tried joking to lighten the mood, and not think of the implications of what happened. “What do you mean if I did that? It couldn’t have been me, there has to be some other explanation. You were there both times something happened, maybe it’s you.” Ethan was quiet for a moment as his mind went into overdrive, trying to understand what they were saying. “Yes, I was there two times, but I wasn’t there at the bridge when you fought off five wolves without getting hurt.” “How could it be me if I don’t know I’m doing something? If I did do this, how do I control it?” His mind seemed to shut down at the thought of what Aiden and Casey were saying about him. It was too much to handle. He couldn’t process it, and began crying over and over. “It couldn’t have been me, I’m just a human. The doctor said so.” Aiden peered into Ethan’s eyes with concern. He didn’t know how to help his pup with this, and was in shock his mate might not be so human after all. He briefly wondered if this was how Ethan felt when he’d first shifted from wolf to human in front of him. “He’s special alright. All that matters is he’s my mate and he’s safe. By the way, thank you for protecting him and sending him into the water so quick.” “No problem, just doing my job as his bodyguard. I think I’ve got some spare clothes in the truck. I don’t think anything we had on below the waist will be salvageable. Not that I mind being naked around a couple good looking guys.” His attempt at humor fell flat, as his longtime friend didn’t even notice. Casey grabbed shorts out of the truck, tossed one to his friend, and the two dressed while they waited for Rafe and the others. Aiden gently rocked his pup in his arms as Ethan sobbed, and Casey looked on helplessly. ****** It took nearly an hour for Rafe and the others to arrive at the cove. He jumped out of the sheriff’s truck before it fully stopped and ran to the boys. “Are you sure you’re all okay?” “Yeah, Dad. We’re fine.” Aiden nodded, and then glanced at Ethan whose eyes were glazed over, empty, and emotionless. The alpha and sheriff walked over to inspect the feral. They both noted the heavy damage to the body and could tell it didn’t come from wolves fighting. The huge hole passing through its chest was proof enough of that. All the ice had melted, but the body was still wet. Dan kept his voice down so only the alpha would hear him. “Okay, John. I know this wasn’t caused by those two wolves and I don’t see any sign of weapons around.” His eyes grew wide as he thought about the bridge incident and came to the only possible conclusion. “Ethan?” “I was hoping to not have this conversation yet, but it seems like now is the time. Wait until after your team’s left.” A few minutes later, the retrieval crew arrived with a tracker. The sheriff issued simple orders. “Bag it, tag it, and get it over to the clinic. I want you to follow its trail and make sure it was alone. Call in hunters if needed.” John and Dan joined the others. “So, everyone’s okay here?” John looked them over, noticing Ethan’s hollow expression. “Yes, Alpha.“ Aiden replied for the three of them. “We’re all physically fine at least. Casey protected my mate, and got him to safety.” Rafe beamed with fatherly pride for his son. “I just told him to get in the water to cover his scent. Aiden’s the one that took point to defend us, though he wouldn’t have been fighting it alone.” John waited until the tracker was well out of earshot, and the other team had departed with the body. “I guess we need to discuss what happened. Both here and at the bridge.” “What do you mean, Alpha?” Aiden tried to act like nothing unusual had happened, a little scared to let anyone know how special he thought Ethan really was. “Look. No one is in trouble for anything here. I know a wolf didn’t do that kind of damage. I’m pretty sure we have Ethan to thank for taking care of that feral.” Rafe stared at his friend like he was crazy. “Alpha, you can’t be serious. You think Ethan killed that lunis?” John nodded indicating that was exactly what he thought. “If my suspicions are correct, and there seems to be reasonable evidence now to back it up my theory. It appears highly likely our young friend here might be more special than anyone realizes. I think Ethan is what some in ancient times called an Elemental. Possibly something akin to an Undine or a Being of Water. I think there are a couple other names like Druid or Shaman that could apply as well. I think Elemental is a good enough description for now at least. Ultimately, it is impossible for us to know for sure. This is guess work based on what we’ve seen happen so far, and from old writings.” He took in the stunned expressions all around him. “Elementals are something out of legend and myth that are said to be able to manipulate or control the elements. In his case, it would appear to be water. I don’t know if he has or will have the ability to call on other elements as well. I know his eyes give off a blue glow at times, which was mentioned in at least one ancient text talking about Elementals. Two of us saw his eyes glowing when the elders shared the stories of lycan history. “Given the feral was rather wet, unless it went into the water and you boys dragged it that far from the shore, I’m guessing Ethan formed ice and used it as a weapon to kill the feral. I’m also guessing that’s what happened on the bridge from the description of something like glass flying up and driving the five wolves off.” Ethan had been quiet this entire time, and finally seemed to snap out of his haze as his mind focused on what was being said. “This is crazy. I’m just a human. Doctor MacRae said so himself.” His voice ended in a whisper. It was then what the alpha said hit him like a brick wall, causing his stomach to churn. “Wait a minute. They never said… So I… It’s dead? I killed it?” It was one thing to have Aiden and Casey talk about saving them, but no one specifically said the beast was dead. It was overwhelming to have the alpha talking about what happened, and giving it a name. Hearing him say he’d killed something that big was too much. He forced his way out of Aiden’s arms and took off running, his mind telling him to flee. Aiden followed and quickly caught up with him as his pup dropped to his knees near the tree line, vomiting. Ethan was in tears, whispering over and over. “I’m just a human. I couldn’t have killed it. You’re the special one. I don’t want to be a monster that kills things.” “Ethan, I don’t care about anything other than you being my mate, my pup, and the one who makes me whole. In those things, you’re the most special person on the planet to me. Anything else you might be beyond that doesn’t matter. It still doesn’t change the fact the alpha is probably right. You did save me and Casey today. And you somehow defended yourself on the bridge. There’s no other explanation. It had to be you since you’re the only one who was at all three places something happened. If you hadn’t killed it, Casey and me would have had to fight it. That thing could have seriously hurt or killed any of us.” Rafe and Dan were asking the alpha questions about his thoughts on Ethan’s nature when Casey finally spoke up. “If you’d seen what happened you wouldn’t have any doubts. A thick fog moved off the lake when the feral charged us from the tree line. It must have surrounded it too. We heard it stumble and fall over that big rock. There was a loud bang behind us, and I heard and felt something flying past me. It had to have been the ice heading for the beast. When the fog cleared, it was lying there dead with big chunks of ice stuck in it.” “I still find it hard to believe that someone could control something like water. It sounds like magic.” Dan ran his fingers through his hair. “Says the man that can turn from human into a wolf at will.” The alpha countered. “There are a lot of things in our legends that are as magical as us or more so. The fact we’ve never seen them doesn’t change the fact they could be real. Regardless of what he is or might be, until I say otherwise, this is not to be spoken of to anyone. Not even to family members.” “Yes, Alpha,” they all responded. Aiden guided his pup to the water’s edge and helped him wash up before returning to the group. John watched Ethan with concern, and Aiden shook his head not knowing if his mate was going to be okay or not. Ethan’s eyes were bloodshot from tears, and his nose was running. “Do you really think I’m one of those Elemental things you said? Or one of those other things?” “Well, I’ve never heard of an Elemental actually existing beyond some of the old legends. From the genetic tests the doctor had done on you when you first came here, we know your ancestral background is Celtic, which would make Druids a possibility. Legends of the Druids say they were able to call on the forces of nature, while a Shaman can call on the forces of the elements. It’s kind of the same description for two different things. For lack of a better definition of your apparent abilities at this point, it seems likely.” John paused to let that sink in a little. “I know this is going to be confusing for you, and I wish there was something we could do to help you with it. This is going to be kept quiet at least for now. We have no way to train you, accurately identify what you are, or help you learn what you might need to know. Knowledge of your abilities could put you, and possibly the pack at risk. Even though you seem able to instinctually protect yourself, and those you care about.” The thought of a security issue was something the sheriff needed to address. “John, I know we talked about this already, and you said he is no threat to the pack. What risk are you talking about? Also, what if he were to lose control of whatever it is he does? I’m sorry Ethan, as beta I have to ask this. It’s nothing personal.” “You’re using my given name in front of someone other than Rafe? This must have really rattled you, Dan.” John teased his longtime friend. “No. He’s no threat at all to the pack. Or to anyone else for that matter. Unless those people became a threat to him.” The alpha stared intently at Ethan. “The risk is if outsiders find out, and try to take him for their own use. Ethan, you need to remember, this is your home now. This pack is your family, and will always stand with you.” “It scares me to be told I might not be what I thought I was. I just want to be human with a lycan boyfriend for now. You guys are the special ones that can change into something else.” Ethan frowned as he suddenly became worried and turned towards his boyfriend. “Will I still be able to become Aiden’s mate? Is that why I wasn’t turned when I got bit before? Does this mean I can’t be turned?” “You’re already my mate.” Aiden’s voice was forceful as he pulled Ethan against his chest. “We just haven’t made it official by completing the mating.” “Relax, Aiden.” The alpha shifted his attention to Ethan, and made sure the teen was looking him directly in the eyes. “The tests the doctor ran on you after my son bit you showed you’re immune to the bite of a lycan.” Ethan got a panicked look on his face, fearing he couldn’t be with Aiden now. “With the exception being only Aiden could ever turn you. So to answer your question, there should not be any issue. It proves that much more you and Aiden were born to be together.” John placed a hand on both their shoulders. “Casey, why don’t you two take him home?” Rafe suggested. ****** In the truck, Aiden sat in the back with Ethan. “Are you going to be okay, Pup?” “I don’t know. I’m just kind of feeling numb about it all. This morning I was just a human. Now I’m some mythical creature. I don’t know what to believe or even think. It’s hard to think that I killed that wolf. Even before I met you, wolves were my favorite animal. Special to me for some reason. And I just killed one.” He began to cry again. Casey glanced in the mirror at his two friends. “I hate to break it to you, Little Dude, but if you ever get around to letting him bite you, you’ll still end up a mythical creature. Only difference now is you can do some really cool stuff. If you actually figure out how to do it. Pretty safe to say as the alpha pointed out about you being destined for Aiden’s mate. That’s probably why you loved wolves so much, and also why you never show fear around us.” ****** “Rafe, you’ve been awfully quiet through all this.” John placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “It doesn’t really matter to me one way or the other. He’s family now. I see him as my son just as much as if it was by blood. And even though it’s not official yet, he’s pack. Everyone came through a feral encounter untouched without the aid of a hunter. Considering it was a lunis, it’s pretty remarkable.” “Your thoughts, Dan?” “John, do you really think it’s possible he is an honest to goodness Elemental, Druid, or Shaman?” Dan paused a moment. “I know I’ve heard of them in mythology, but never believed they could possibly be real. Before you even say it, yeah, I know there are a lot of people who wouldn’t believe we’re real either.” “Yes, I do believe he is. Do I know this for a fact? No, I don’t. Do I know if he’s one of those three, two of them, or a combination of all? No, not in the slightest. What I know of the old legends, it seems the most reasonable explanation given what’s happened. He is something from those myths. I think as he comes into his own, his understanding of what he is and how it works will come to him. That’s my hope at least. But it seems to be true so far with his ability to defend himself. You asked about him losing control and hurting others. On the bridge, his defense was very measured. Designed to only drive them off, without actually doing serious harm. I’m curious if it would have been the same knowing what they planned to do to him. Today the danger appeared more serious to him, and the response matched the threat to him and his friends.” Dan asked one final question no one knew the answer to. “Is there any chance the increased feral activity lately could be in some way related to Ethan? This is the third feral we’ve had since the bridge incident and this one managed to get fairly deep into the territory without being detected.” “I highly doubt it. But just to be safe, I want to increase the number of hunters out patrolling. This one definitely got too deep into the territory for comfort.” ****** When they got home, Mary was anxiously waiting for them. “Are you boys alright?” “Yes, Mom. We’re all fine. Not even a scratch.” Casey assured her. “Go wash up. Dinner will be ready as soon as your father gets home.” Upstairs, they took turns cleaning up. Casey found an extra shirt for Aiden to wear. Ethan sat on his bed, leaning against his boyfriend. Strong arms wrapped around him, protecting him from the emotions swirling through his mind.
    112 points
  33. The wolf had gone out on his own, needing time away from the rest of the pack for a run through the forest. It wasn’t that he didn’t like being around the others; he did, and many of the younger wolves looked up to him. One or two of the older wolves in their group on the other hand he could definitely use time away from. He would attend to his duties with his pack, but for now, he just needed time to himself, time to relax and fully enjoy these mountains. He followed various game trails with no direction or destination in mind, letting different scents on the breeze guide him. He was running for the sheer pleasure of the run. He caught the scent of a human nearby. It was obviously a younger male, but there was something different about this one and he couldn’t figure what it was. The scent filled his senses with a longing and a need to follow him. He cautiously tracked this person and eventually caught sight of him. He tried to stay out of sight as he didn’t want to scare the human. The wolf was surprised to find it looked to be so young; at first guess, he figured maybe fifteen or sixteen. He appeared to be in good shape and had a shaggy head of blond hair, though the wolf thought he seemed a little thin. He followed the human pup from a good distance back to where it was camping. It didn’t take long to realize the boy was out here all alone. There was a look of loneliness in his eyes as he picked up some tattered papers and seemed to be reading something. Occasionally, the teen would look up at the sky as though he were wishing to see something. After observing him for a while, the wolf quietly ran off to rejoin his pack mates. He couldn’t get the scent of the human off his mind though. He knew he would be going back to see this young pup again. Once back with his pack mates, the wolf returned to his human form and dressed before enjoying a relaxing evening around the campfire. Over the next several days, the wolf would go between spending time with his pack mates and tracking the young human he had seen. He could not quite figure out why his inner wolf kept seeking out this stranger. His wolf kept telling him he should know, but was almost enjoying not giving the more human portion of his mind all the information to put the puzzle together. Somewhat frustrated, he set out to see what the boy was up to. It did not take him long to find where the teen was hiking. He was surprised to find him doing so in the nude. Briefly thinking about it, he could not blame the human as it was a nice day and was a great way to work on a full tan. He had to laugh when the blond stopped to pleasure himself while thinking he was all alone. After it had finished and licked away the results, he followed the boy from a distance back to the human pup’s campsite. He watched from the brush as the boy washed up in the stream before lying out in the sun to dry. With his attention on the human, the normally stealthy wolf accidentally stepped on a twig causing the teen to look in his direction. Even though he could not be seen, it appeared the blond was looking into the brush for him. The boy moved into the shade and sat with his back against a large tree. The large wolf watched as the human pup become aroused and almost as if he were putting a show on for someone, began to again take care of his hardness by hand. Once finished, the wolf tried to make his escape but the boy saw just enough to figure it was a wolf that had watched him. As he was running off, he was able to hear the boy exclaim, “I just jacked off for a fucking wolf.” The scent the teen gave off during his arousal, as well as his semen, filled the wolf's nose and was forever imprinted in his mind. By about the third day the wolf wanted to get a little closer to this young human he found so intriguing. After following the boy again back to his campsite, he sat near the edge of the clearing the teen was using. The wolf watched as the boy washed up and got a drink from the nearby stream, then sat down in the shade of a large tree. Although he didn’t want to scare him, the human pup’s eyes got big when he noticed the large black wolf sitting nearby. He could smell the fear coming from the boy and also see him starting to shake. Trying to set the teen at ease, he laid down and watched the young eyes staring back at him. He would occasionally rest his head on his paws acting as if the boy were not even there and closed his eyes to the point the human would think he was sleeping. He eventually got up, slowly and carefully walking towards the frightened man pup. When he reached the boy’s side, he sniffed him a few times, truly loving the scent. The young human started shaking even more as the scent of fear filled the air so the wolf leaned in slowly, licking the teen’s cheek before laying down at his side, nuzzling his arm, and working his huge head under the trembling hand. His inner wolf was ecstatic having the human pup touching him. The wolf portion of his mind told him this was their pup to look after and care for. He eventually felt the boy’s fingers start to move, scratching the top of his head, feeling so good just behind his ears. The teen was telling him how beautiful his wolf was. Glancing up, he could see the loneliness he had seen in those blue eyes, at least for the moment, was gone. Sheer awe replaced it as they looked at the wolf he continued to pet. The wolf picked up the scent of his pack mates on the breeze and ran off quickly so perhaps they wouldn’t find his human friend. He went back later to check on the boy and found him sleeping, most likely exhausted as a result of his encounter with the big wolf. Thinking the teen might not manage to find himself anything for dinner, he took off and easily caught a rabbit, which he brought back to the pup and left near his feet. He returned to visit the boy several times over the next couple of days, following him as the teen went hiking, or sitting next to him as he fished. His pup would start speaking to him like you would to any friend; rattling on about nothing in particular, just talking to fill the time. He loved when the boy would reach over on his own to scratch his ears or rub his belly as he’d lie next to him. He sat with the boy as he fished and watched him catch two nice trout. The teen carefully cleaned them both, prepared one for himself, and fed him the other one. His human friend was feeding him, which made him all kinds of happy he couldn’t understand. The wolf truly enjoyed spending time with this young human. After a nice afternoon with the boy, the wolf picked up a scent on a shifting breeze and jumped to his feet looking around while scenting the air. He knew right away who it was that was nearby and it pissed him off knowing he had been followed. Out of all the wolves he was camping with, this was the one he actually disliked. Zeroing in on the intruding wolf, he glared and let loose a low but threatening growl warning the other wolf, “Stay clear of this human.” Looking back to the boy, he again saw fear in its eyes. Giving his pup a quick lick on the cheek, he ran off into the woods. Running almost full out he could still smell the other wolf a ways ahead of him. Reaching their own campsite he shifted back into human while looking around for the one that intruded on his time with his human. When he agreed to go on the trip, he didn’t realize Michael would be there as well. They were both the same age, had played the same sports in school but had never become friends, and seemed to rarely be friendly. Aiden believed in doing what was best for the pack and his pack mates while Michael was developing and attitude of entitlement thinking he was better than everyone. Michael expected he would one day become the next Alpha of the pack. The two had fought on more than one occasion always with Aiden coming out the winner. Aiden looked around for Michael and after finding him chatting with one of the others in their group, walked over, grabbing him by the shirt and dragging him away while saying he wanted to talk to Michael… “Now!” The two exchanged words with Michael thinking it was all a joke, “It’s just a human, what do you care? We’ll be gone in another day and never see it again.” Acting like he was trying to make peace with Aiden, Michael went and grabbed two beers from the cold stream, after opening them, he walked back and handed one to Aiden. Aiden accepted the offering in the hopes this issue would be settled peacefully. After drinking about half he knew something wasn’t right. The alcohol would have no effect on him, but his vision was getting blurry and he was having a hard time standing up. About the time he collapsed, he realized Michael had drugged the beer, most likely with Wolfsbane extract. A few moments later, Aiden blacked out. When he came around, it was dark out and he realized he had been bound. He could hear some of the others talking about how someone had found a lone human and thought it would be fun to make him the prey for the full moon hunt. He heard someone asking if they’d seen him and the response was that Aiden was making sure the human didn’t wander off. While Aiden tried to get himself free, the others shifted into their wolf form, and took off into the night. As the effects of the Wolfsbane wore off his strength returned and he was able to break his bonds, finally freeing himself. He shifted into his wolf form and ran as fast as he could to the boy’s campsite. When he arrived he found the others approaching his pup who had rolled into the fetal position on top of his sleeping bag. Michael was in front of the group, growling with teeth bared and moving in on the human. Running and jumping over the top of the boy from the opposite direction, Aiden’s fur brushed the young pup’s body as he stood at the side of what was his. He made sure his tail stayed in contact with the boy, hopefully reassuring him a friend was there to protect him. He took an attack stance between the teen and the rest of the wolves; the group stopped moving as they looked amongst themselves unsure why one of them was putting a stop to their fun. All the wolves except for Michael backed away from the human. Growling louder and baring his teeth, Aiden tried to force Michael’s wolf to back down. After briefly cowering to Aiden in front of the others, and apparently trying to save face; Michael attacked. The two wolves fought viciously for several minutes. Rolling around, they ended up beside the boy; Michael changed his attack towards the human and sank his teeth into the its leg causing the pup to scream in pain. In a fit of rage, Aiden knocked Michael away from his pup and pinned him to the ground on his back with Aiden’s powerful jaws wrapped around Michael’s throat, ready to snap it if he made the wrong move. It took every ounce of control Aiden’s human side had to prevent his wolf from killing Michael. Michael stopped struggling and assumed the position most wolves consider the most humiliating form of submission, on his back with his legs up going limp. Aiden released his grip on Michael’s throat and looked over as his young human friend started going into convulsions. Everyone had started shifting back to human form including Aiden who jumped over to the teen’s side. Aiden Held the small body as it went limp, telling him, “I’m so sorry. It will be okay,” just before the boy fell unconscious. ****** When Ethan woke, he shot up in a panic and screamed. He quickly realized he was inside a building of some type. He took a little time to look at his surroundings and try to figure out how he had gotten there. It looked to be a log cabin and he was lying on a bed. Light filled the room from an open window on one of the walls, letting a nice breeze fill the room with fresh air, and giving him an escape route if one was needed. He started to move and immediately felt a sharp pain in his leg. When he pulled back the blanket, there was a bandage wrapped around it. He also noticed he was wearing a pair of his shorts. For the life of him, he couldn’t think of how he got there, wherever there was, or remember what happened to his leg. He knew he must have gotten hurt and someone had found him. He suddenly felt embarrassed wondering if he had been found naked or not. Shortly after he woke up, a huge man walked through the door and saw Ethan was sitting up. He was the quintessential mountain man right down to the heavy beard, plaid shirt, and suspenders. He saw the fear and panic on Ethan’s face, so he held up his hands to try and show he wasn’t a threat. “You’re safe here. My name is Caleb Alexander, and I’m pretty much the doctor around here. I’ve been looking after you since you were brought in.” He seemed to give Ethan a minute to let that sink in while taking a seat near the bed. “Can you remember what happened?” Ethan kept staring at him nervously and shook his head. “Can you tell me your name? Would be nice to have something to call you now that you’re awake.” He just barely got out; “Ethan,” before his voice cracked and he realized his mouth and throat were dry. Caleb got up and poured him a glass of water. After Ethan had taken a couple small sips, Caleb asked, “Well Ethan, do you mind if I take a look at your leg?” Ethan nodded his approval; Caleb removed the bandage and inspected the wound. When he was done, he wrapped a new bandage on the injured leg. “It’s looking much better today. After we get a little food in you, we should get you up and walk around a little,” he said with a smile that somehow didn’t look right on his scruffy face. There were so many questions Ethan wanted to ask, but wasn’t sure where to start so he went with the obvious one, “How did I get here?” “Some hikers brought you here after they found you,” he said. “I guess all my stuff is lost now since I don’t really know where I was before,” Ethan said with a sad voice. Caleb smiled again, “All your things are over in the corner as far as I know. I think they packed up your belongings before bringing you here to me.” Ethan kept trying to figure what questions he should ask next and blurted out, “What happened to my leg?” “What do you remember or what is the last thing you remember,” he asked. “I don’t know. Growling I think. A lot of growling,” Ethan answered. He saw the recognition on Ethan’s face as he remembered, “I got bit by a wolf. They were about to attack me and one tried to protect me.” “Judging by the wound on your leg, you definitely got bit,” he paused for a moment before continuing, “As to the rest, only you know. It’s rare to have a wolf try to protect the prey from the pack so you’re very lucky.” Ethan told Caleb about ‘his wolf’ and how he’d follow him while he was hiking and laid next to him at his campsite. He even mentioned the rabbit the wolf brought him to eat. “Well, it sounds like you’ve got quite the friend out there,” he said smiling. Ethan got a nervous look on his face when he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to pay for you talking care of me. I don’t have any money.” He got up to leave the room while telling Ethan, “The hikers that brought you in took care of that already and the forest service gives me supplies in exchange for service to people like you.” A short time later, Caleb came in, suggested Ethan get up, and they could walk out to the main room to have lunch. He didn’t realize until then just how hungry he was. Caleb helped him stand up and he slowly put weight on the leg with the bite. It hurt, but not as much as when he first woke, so it wasn’t enough he couldn’t walk on it with a little help. It really wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. After they had eaten, Caleb asked, “So, how you feeling? Want to try walking around some and see how that leg feels?” “Yeah. That sounds good and I’m actually feeling better. The leg hurts, but it’s not that bad,” Ethan replied trying to act brave. They walked out to the front porch of the cabin and Ethan looked out over the valley before them. It was a breathtaking view. He didn’t notice at first, but realized there didn’t seem to be any electric lights out on the porch or anywhere else around. Everything looked to be old oil or gas lamps. The more he looked around, the more he saw how rustic this log cabin was. Caleb could see the question forming in Ethan’s mind and answered before he could ask it, “Nope, there’s no electricity here other than a small solar and battery unit.” After some of the usual small talk about how Ethan ended up in the mountains and how long Caleb had been living here, Ethan asked, “How long will I need to stay?” “Depending how you feel, I’d say you should be able to go tomorrow or the day after. The bite is healing pretty quickly and doesn’t really look that bad,” he said. “It seems to be clean with no infection setting in.” They had a really good venison stew for dinner. Caleb was a good cook considering he was using a wood stove. When he noticed Ethan starting to doze off, he suggested the boy head off to bed. After a while, he finally fell into a fitful sleep having dreams of being attacked by the wolf pack. Almost at the edge of the dream were images of the wolves turning to people after they’d attacked him, and ‘his wolf’ looking down at him with those sorrowful, yet beautiful eyes. ****** The next day, Ethan woke up bright and early. He helped Caleb make breakfast. After, Caleb checked the leg again. “It doesn’t look like it needs to be bandaged anymore.” Caleb had him walk around for a while to exercise the leg and they walked a short distance into the woods before returning to the cabin. After another good dinner, Ethan turned in early so he’d be rested to leave the next day. In the morning after breakfast, Ethan gathered up his things and got ready to head out, “Thank you for everything you did for me, Caleb. I still feel like I owe you something for all this.” He smiled, “Think nothing of it. Just take it easy on that leg and if it starts to hurt or you feel tired, sit down and rest.” Ethan assured him he would and left the cabin with Caleb watching from the front porch. When Ethan was out of sight, Caleb picked up a satellite phone and placed a call to an old friend of his. After getting the usual pleasantries out of the way he became rather serious, “He seems like he’s fine considering he was viciously attacked by group of your wolves. If he remembers anything other than being attacked and bitten, he isn’t saying and didn’t give me any reason to think he does.” He listened to the other person before continuing, “There was no reason to keep him here any longer since he appears to be fine now, so I had to let him go. His scent didn’t show any signs of being turned and I couldn’t find any other indications of the change starting in him, but if there is, it is your responsibility! We’ve been friends for a long time, but if you can’t keep those damned pups under control and teach them respect for others, they won’t be welcome around here anymore, territory or not!! From the scent of the bite, your son is the one that attacked him. At least one of the boys came to the defense of this kid and tried to protect him from the others.” Caleb also related what Ethan had told him about one wolf befriending him in the days leading up the attack. Again, Caleb listened to what the other person on the call had to say then voiced his final opinion on the subject, “It disgusts me that those pups would pick on and attack a defenseless boy like they did, human or not. I know you do a good job teaching your pups respect and never to bite a human. This one received a bite in an attack and it did break the skin on his leg. I just hope that somehow he hasn’t been turned and left on his own to find out at the next full moon. We both know the mortality rate for someone’s first shift like that. I’m guessing that by the next moon there is going to be a lonely young new wolf or a dead human. “I understand why you do these trips for the pups and the one that befriended the boy sounded like he took those lessons to heart; care for and protect others, show leadership and all that. Thankfully, he stopped this from getting much worse. Unfortunately, your son hasn’t learned that same lesson, nor have the others that followed your son to attack the boy. I also understand that the adults that come along camp a ways from the pups and keep an eye on things. Obviously, this time, someone wasn’t watching enough or those boys are good at hiding what they’re getting up to. Because it’s your pack, I won’t send a complaint to that Lycan Council of yours.” Caleb was quiet while listening to his old friend promise to get to the bottom of what happened and punish those involved. “Goodbye, my friend”. After turning off the phone, he walked out onto the porch and sniffed the air. Not smelling anything, he undressed and shifted into a good size black bear and took off into the woods for a much needed and relaxing run.
    112 points
  34. “I know, I’m sad too,” Matt said as he carried Aidan to the apartment. The kid had been quiet on the ride home. He was usually pretty noisy, having something to say about everything. As Matt carried him, Aidan laid his head on his shoulder and stared into nothing. Matt recognized the pathetic look on Aidan’s face. It mirrored his own. “You have to remember that Moose was having a bad day. You weren’t there when Mike surprise attacked him at the office like a little bitch. I’ll spare you the details. But it didn’t end there. Then he got a call that you were being rushed to the ER,” Matt explained to his brother as he let them into the apartment and dumped the diaper bag by the door. He sat on the couch and snuggled his Pouty Potato. “Not everyone can be strong all the time. The least we can do is give him a day to breathe. If he doesn’t call us by the end of the weekend, we’ll go check on him. Okay?” Aidan watched Matt with the biggest, saddest blue eyes and quivering lip. There was even a lone tear that clung to his bottom lash. His still bruised eyes added to the utterly devastated look. Matt’s heart squeezed. Aidan might not have understood what was said, but he understood what was happening. “I know he said some hurtful things but we’re going to let that stuff go, okay? Love is about grace and forgiveness.” The rest of the day was kind of a bust. The brothers laid on the couch and watched a movie, ate food, and otherwise moped pathetically. Aidan kept looking at Matt, wondering if it was time to go get Moose. Nope, it wasn’t time yet. He wasn’t sure how long it would take Seamus to call but he hoped it would be soon. That evening, Matt gave Aidan a bath. He loved a fresh Aidan and smiled brightly as he combed that wild brown hair into a neat little geeky do. “Look,” Matt pointed to Aidan’s reflection in the mirror. “It’s a Geeky Potato.” Aidan smiled at himself. They finished getting ready for bed. Aidan didn’t want to sleep in his crib. As long as he had two black eyes, Matt couldn’t say no. Geeky Potato got one more dose of medicine before snuggling into Matt’s bed for the night. Matt silenced his phone but he kept it close by…just in case. **** “What are you doing?” Matt groaned. He turned his head to try and get away from the bothersome fingers. Aidan was poking Matt in the face. He put his arm around Aidan and pinned the toddler under him. Aidan started wiggling and whining, so Matt attacked the soft belly flesh until Aidan was laughing uncontrollably. He stopped the attack and smiled at his crazy haired brother. “Are you going to let me sleep now?” Aidan smirked. “Sweep.” The trap was clear. The kid couldn’t hide shit. But Matt closed his eyes and waited anyway. Sure enough, the mattress dipped and Aidan was on top of him, trying to tickle him. Matt thrashed like a dying fish, taking Aidan on the ride of his life. They wrestled around until Matt was exhausted. Aidan probably could’ve kept going but Matt slipped off the bed and ran away. Leaving a laughing Aidan to cheer in victory. It was a great morning, which actually hurt. Seamus should’ve been there. Aidan should’ve been attacking both of them, or maybe Seamus would’ve sided with Aidan and combined powers. However divided the teams, there should’ve been three of them. Aidan went to daycare, Matt went to class, his phone didn’t ring. Matt went to work, picked up Aidan from day care, his phone didn’t ring. They went home, cooked dinner, and, you guessed it, his phone didn’t ring. Okay, Matt had planned to wait Seamus out since Seamus was the one who’d lashed out, yet Matt was calling Seamus’s number before Aidan’s door clicked closed for the night. He’d given Seamus twenty-four hours to come to his senses. Matt wasn’t waiting any longer. Voicemail. Maybe Seamus was calling him at that exact moment? He looked at his phone and waited for an incoming call as he walked to the couch. Nothing. He tried calling again. Voicemail. He called more times than he wanted to admit. Two dozen? Three? Nothing but voicemail. Every call was just one more time. Voicemail. The next morning. Voicemail. Matt didn’t see him at the office nor at the café when he stopped by. It felt sucky but Matt wasn’t giving up yet. He pulled Aidan from the car seat and set him on his hip. “After what happened the other day, I think I’ll carry you.” He thought Aidan would protest because the kid still thought he was the fastest person in the world, but he let Matt carry him anyway. The doorman frowned sympathetically at Aidan’s battle wounds. “Oh boy, you took a beating.” He pulled a little Dum Dum from just jacket pocket and handed it over. Aidan took it, then hid his face bashfully in his brother’s neck. Matt smiled at the tiny peach sucker. “Thank y