"So do you think we can have a meeting with Velaku that doesn't contain mayhem?" I asked Dav on the drive over to the eyrie. We'd left after I called into Dr. Bakier's office and made an early afternoon appointment.
"I hope so. We've caught or killed everyone we knew was involved in the takeover attempt; what could happen?"
I laughed. "I don't think you should say that, seems like it's just inviting trouble."
Dav squeezed my thigh. "I'm pretty sure I can handle it."
“Mmhmm,” Ellis murmured. “Sure you can.”
We parked outside the eyrie and walked along the cliff path to Velaku's door. I wasn't exactly surprised to see a new guard had taken the place of the one that had tried to kill me. This time Natham answered the door instead of my twin.
"Hey Davis, Ellis, come on in. Can I get you guys some coffee or anything?"
"Sure." Dav was always ready for coffee.
"Can I just have a glass of water?" I was used to avoiding caffeine with my headaches, so I'd never really acquired the taste for coffee.
"Of course. You guys head down to the office; everyone else is already here, and I'll bring the drinks."
Dav led the way down to Velaku's office. I had a flashback of the first time I'd been in there; many of the same people were there for this meeting as well. I could feel my body stiffen a little and then Dav's hand tightened on mine. He began to rub his thumb along my knuckles.
He pulled me close to him and kissed my temple, flicking his tongue against my skin. "Relax," he said quietly, "it's going to be okay."
I took a deep breath and let it out. "I know." Things were different now; Dav's love flowed through the bond and I met it with an answering wave. I squeezed his hand and let go.
"Hey brother." Isiah stood up from his chair and wrapped me in his arms.
“That is so weird, seeing the two of them hugging,” Ahsran said.
“It is strange to see such a perfect copy of my mate.”
Isiah whispered in my ear, and I nodded. Isiah bared his fangs at Dav and I hissed at Ahsran. “Not such a perfect copies anymore, are we?”
Ahsran snorted. “Guess not.”
Isiah let me go. "I hear you caught the last of the bad guys. Should we give you a superhero sticker?"
I slugged him in the shoulder. "Shut up. Besides, I didn't really catch them; they caught me." Ahsran rumbled a little, but I was pretty sure he knew I wouldn't hurt my twin. Isiah rolled his eyes and plopped down in his mate's lap so I could have his chair.
"They were supposed to," Dav said.
"Even if it didn't go exactly to plan." Velaku spoke up. I gave him a polite nod; he was sitting behind the desk. His white wings were folded behind him and he looked more relaxed than I had ever seen him.
Dav shrugged as he turned to face him. "Things rarely do. The second Ellis realized he was being ambushed in my apartment instead of the safe room he called me and we were able to reposition. The rogue Carthera were caught, and the humans in the club didn't have a clue anything even happened. I count that as a job well done."
Natham came in the room with a tray of drinks. He set it down on Velaku's desk and everyone quietly picked up their drinks. I wasn't thirsty, but I found myself twisting the cap on my water bottle off and then putting it back on over and over again.
Velaku sipped his coffee as Natham leaned against the desk with his own cup. "I didn't hear the whole conversation, but I heard what Davis said," he paused, "and I agree with him. Ellis made sure the team had the information they needed to ensure the mercenaries were taken down. With those two out of the picture, the threat from Mishtar's supremacy group is pretty much gone."
It seemed a little anticlimactic. Just two shots and they were dead. After the big battle, it seemed like almost a casual event. It had been planned over the phone on the spur of the moment. It took me a second to realize that I was thinking of the deaths of two Carthera who planned to hurt me in order to lure my mate in and kill him as anticlimactic.
My life had sure changed.
I looked over at my twin and Ahsran and then at Benny, Jerret and his mate, Calix. "If there is no longer a threat to the clans, why did you call this meeting?"
"Brad still presents a problem. How he could work in your club, Davis, and be friends with your bouncers, and yet still believe the bullshit that we're trying to take over the human world by mutating them? Did he hide his bias from you somehow? Did you know and ignore the danger he represented?"
Jerret growled and Calix put a hand on his shoulder to keep him from standing up.
Natham looked over at the tiger with a steady stare. Jerret pressed his lips together and looked away first. Natham’s ears flicked once. "We know he's your friend, but he was working with these guys. Did you have any idea of what he was up to?"
Benny stiffened and pushed away from the corner he’d been standing in. His eyes were narrowed as his claws flexed in and out as his hands fisted."Of course not! We would never allow anyone to hurt humans, much less the clans."
Velaku raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? Weren't you the one that attacked Ellis?"
"That was a big misunderstanding and you know it," Benny snarled. "I thought he was betraying Dav and was murdering people. Once we found out about Isiah I asked Ellis to forgive me."
He had, leaving me phone messages since I refused to see anyone after Dav tried to kill me. He’d asked for forgiveness in person once Dav and I made up.
"I hold no grudge against Ellis, and Dav is my friend. I'd never wish for him to lose his mate and go feral."
"And the human didn't say anything to you?" Natham asked Jerret.
Jerret's nostrils flared. "I would have told Benny or Dav immediately if he had. Brad is not a bad guy; he just believed the wrong people. Is the story those Carthera were spinning that much of a stretch to really believe? I mean," he waved a hand at me, "look at him."
All eyes turned to me. I clenched my hands on the water bottle and it crunched a little; I hated being stared at.
Jerret continued, "Brad met Ellis when he was a human, then he mated with Dav and suddenly he's not so human."
I frowned a little. "But I still look human. I've never understood that; Brad never saw my fangs or anything, and he never met Isiah. So how did he know I was changing?"
Velaku sat back in his chair. "That one is probably easy enough to understand if he saw Dav take you to the safe room after the battle with Mishtar. You looked really bad; we all did. If the mercenaries told him how you killed Mishtar and he saw all the blood on your clothes and face; he'd believe it. Your fangs were exposed too."
"Why don't we just ask him?"
I didn't exactly like the idea of coming face to face with the guy who held me at gunpoint the day before, but I knew the guards would keep a hold of him and he wouldn't have any weapons. Dav's tongue flicked in the air and then he sent me a wave of reassurance through our bond. "If he lies, I'll be able to taste it."
Velaku nodded and one of the guards by the door left. I turned to Dav. "I didn't know you could taste lies.”
"Emotions cause the body to emit different pheromones; I'm sensitive enough to pick up on most of them. When people lie they experience anxiety and their heart rate increases. I’ve learned to distinguish the scents that usually accompany lies. I don't know if you could do it; you're not really a Snake."
He put his cup down on the desk. "I should probably stop drinking this though, if you're bringing him in for questioning." He looked at Velaku. "I'm surprised you didn't already."
"Well, he was a little hysterical once we got him here. Dr. Pannar thought it best just to sedate him. He was your employee for a long time; I didn't want to interrogate him, but we do need answers."
I didn’t want to hear about questioning anyone; I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. I didn’t think they’d use violence, but Brad had tried to kill me. Dav wasn’t likely to feel very generous toward him. I turned to Isiah while we waited. My twin was snuggled up on Ahsran's lap and the big tiger was nuzzling his shoulder with his cheek. "So how much longer are you going to be in town?" I asked him.
"I'm not leaving."
My jaw dropped. "What? But aren't you still part of the military? Won't you get in trouble?"
He smirked at Ahsran. "I wasn't exactly military after the government pulled me for undercover work. Ahsran had more than a little bit of pull with my bosses and he refused to give me up after we called in that the assignment was complete." He grinned and flashed his thick fangs. "Besides, I'm not exactly inconspicuous anymore, and Ahsran wants to get to know his brother now. They didn’t argue for too long."
I leaned forward, my hands once again twisting my water bottle lid. "So you're staying? Here? In town?" I couldn't believe it.
"Well, not in town; we like a bit more space than what we'd find in an apartment. Natham found us a nice place not too far from here; it's a two bedroom house that borders some clan land. We can play in the woods and still be close to both of you."
I sat back in my chair with a big smile. "That's great. But what are you going to do for work?"
"For now, neither of us needs to work; we got some wicked hazard pay bonuses. When we do go back, Ahsran works for a coalition of the clans investigating Carthera problems and they’re willing to use me as well. We might have to travel from time to time, but in the meantime, we'll be here."
I knew I couldn't change Isiah any more than I could change Dav. They were not men made to sit on the sidelines when there was trouble brewing; they had to be there to stop it. I didn't like to think of Isiah in danger and I knew I would worry about him just as much as I would for Dav, but I also knew Ahsran would be there to watch his back.
"So does this mean that you're finally going to get your piano out of my apartment?"
Isiah laughed. "Sure, bro. The house has a nice big living room and I already have a space planned for it.
"Perfect. Just so you know, I'm making you take it out of there. Do you have any idea of how difficult it was to get the damn thing into my apartment in the first place? It weighs a ton!"
“Drama queen! It doesn’t weigh a ton; maybe half that.” He laughed again. "Don't worry, though," he smacked Ahsran on the chest, "I'll get my brawny mate and his brother to help me."
Natham's head swiveled from his own conversation with Velaku and Dav. "Did I just hear you say you're going to make me help move a piano that probably weighs a thousand pounds just because your mate is my brother?"
Ahsran's grin showed off his fangs. "Isn't it great to have family?"
It was my turn to laugh. It was good to have family. Things kept changing so fast but I had my twin back and his mate had found peace with his own brother. I had my mate, a man who loved me more than anything and who deserved the best that I could offer him. It seemed like everything was falling into place, but we still had my doctor appointment that afternoon. I couldn't erase that niggling fear that somehow the venom that seemed to make me better was no longer working and I'd face blindness and death again. Having been there once, that made up the bulk of my nightmares lately.
Plus I'd long since learned that when it seemed like things were turning out good to watch out for the other shoe that would inevitably drop kick my ass.
The door opening brought me out of my thoughts. Two guards walked in, half carrying, half guiding Brad as he stumbled into the room. His eyes went wide as he saw everyone staring at him. I saw his stare bounce from my twin to me a few times before he settled on looking at his best friend.
Jerret growled. "Save it man." He looked away, his arms crossed over his chest.
Brad's lips were trembling and he was taking shallow breaths as he was pulled to a stop by the desk where we could all see him. He was just about two feet from Dav and I could see how nervous that made him. My mate was eyeing him and his fangs were clearly exposed through his partly open mouth.
Velaku's wings rustled and Brad's eyes jerked to him.
"We have some questions for you, and I suggest that you answer them honestly."
He swallowed hard but he nodded. I took a breath in through my mouth and almost gagged. I could immediately understand what Dav meant about tasting the pheromones in the air from emotions; fear was a noxious one. I looked at Velaku, and I had to concede that Brad had plenty of reasons to be afraid. Natham had moved to stand directly behind Velaku's chair and his dark eyes glittered. The Falcon was small, as were all his kind, but he had wicked looking talons that he was using to tap on the desk and his large white wings took up a lot of space even folded behind him, making him look much bigger than he was. Natham wasn't much better; the lynx's ears were back and his fangs exposed as he stared.
"We know what you told Ellis when you held him at gunpoint." Brad flinched and his eyes shot to me and then away, "but we don't know why you believed it. Ellis is Dav's mate, but why would you believe that we were using him as an experiment. Why did you think we would want to change humans into Carthera?”
Brad couldn't talk fast enough. "My dad was anti-Carthera and he used to say that he wished the good old days would come back when no one cared when your kind were hunted down like animals. I grew up with that, and even though I didn’t agree with him, I knew exactly how most humans thought about Carthera and treated you for so long.
Then I saw Ellis’ fangs that night and it freaked me out. I didn’t think it was possible that a human and a Carthera could be mates naturally. It doesn't make much sense since we couldn't change like your kind do, you know? But then I saw him and kinda freaked out; I was out behind the club trying to figure out what the hell was going on and calm down when those two Carthera found me. They said he had been going to these doctors and stuff. They showed me pictures of him going in the offices and then they told me about what he did to Mishtar. How he," he swallowed hard, "how he bit him and poisoned him because he found out. That's some freaky shit, and I didn't want to be next!"
Velaku's eyes narrowed. "Did they tell you that Mishtar had just killed my mother during an attack on one of Dav's safe houses? That he had my father tortured to death and had my mate and me taken and tortured with plans to have me killed in an attempt to take over my territory?"
Brad's mouth dropped open. "No!"
"He did. Ellis was protecting his mate and himself when he bit him. Mishtar took him as a hostage and would have killed him without a second thought."
Brad shook. "I-I . . . didn't know." Dav gave Velaku a slight nod. "It just . . . it seemed so believable, and I was so scared. They told me that you could have already started changing me since I was around so many Carthera, and that you'd let anyone claim me as a mate, but I’d be like a slave."
I couldn’t believe how they’d twisted the truth. Hearing Brad’s story made me understand how he could believe it though. "I work for Dr. Pannar in the clinic," I said, "and I've been seeing my doctor for years for migraines. They're not experimenting on me at all. Mating isn't like that either. Dav didn't pick me and I didn't pick him, but we love each other." His hand tightened and I squeezed him. "We're meant to be together, two parts to a whole. I didn't really know what it was until we bonded, but I knew that I wanted him more than any man I'd ever met. Once we bonded . . . well, I can't describe it. Besides, unless they had a true bond with you, no Carthera would mate you. If they did, they'd never get to change into their fully mated forms. They certainly wouldn’t want to enslave you or any other human.”
Brad turned to me. "I'm sorry, I really am." His eyes swung to Jerret and Benny, then over to Dav. "I was just so scared and the things they said were so convincing at the time. I didn't know what else to do."
Jerret's voice was harsh when he spoke up. "You should have come to me! We were friends. I wouldn't have ever hurt you, or let someone else hurt you either. You should have known that!"
Brad's shoulders slumped. "I know."
Velaku's talons tapped on the desk as he stared at Brad. "Davis?"
My mate spoke, "He's telling the truth, and he really is sorry."
His wings rustled as Velaku sat forward to stare at the human being held between the two Falcon guards. "If I let you go, what will you do?"
Brad gasped. "Nothing, I swear!"
Dav nodded again. "Truth. I won't have him around my mate, though, and I won’t ever trust him again." He looked at Brad. "You know you're fired. I can't guarantee that I wouldn't take you down if you ever came near my mate again. I can’t help but see you as a threat."
Brad's lips trembled but he took a deep breath and nodded. "I don't blame you. I . . . I can move. My sister has been begging me to come live back home. I'll do that; I'll go away and not come back. I swear."
I looked away from Brad. I didn't want him killed, or held by the Carthera either. I nodded.
Velaku looked up at his mate who nodded as well. "Okay then. We're in agreement. I don't have the power in the human world to enforce this but I think it is pretty clear that coming back here will mean serious consequences. You have five days to be out of my territory."
Brad's legs buckled until the guards were the only things keeping him up. "Thank you. Thank you for not killing me."
His abject thankfulness for his life made my stomach clench a little. This world I’d become a part of was harsher than I’d realized, but I wouldn’t regret mating Dav for any reason. The office was quiet after the guards took Brad out of the room. Velaku sighed and leaned his head back against Natham's stomach.
"Hopefully now we can all get some peace and enjoy our matings as we get on with life."
I had turned to check the clock on the wall and saw Benny's flinch when Velaku spoke. I couldn't help but feel sorry for him and what little I knew about his mate. I sucked in a breath of air when I saw the pain in his eyes and winced at the bitter taste on my tongue. I rubbed my tongue against the roof of my mouth. Benny was in so much pain at the mention of mates; I couldn’t help but feel an echo of it in my chest. If I lost Dav in the way he’d lost his mate I’d be devastated; I prayed that whatever the doctors said that I’d be okay so that my mate would never be forced to feel that pain either.
"Dav? My appointment is in an hour; we should probably get going."
My mate nodded.
"Appointment?" Isiah asked. “What appointment?”
“My doctor called and wanted to see me.”
Isiah sat up. “I thought that you were better now."
"Dr. Bakier called and told me they had more results back from my blood tests. They are also wondering why I've changed so much; Dr. Pannar was supposed to have talked to you."
"He did, but I didn't want to go in while things were still so unsettled." Isiah searched my eyes. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
"I don’t know; they haven’t been able to do much more than guess.”
He didn’t look any happier with that than I was. “You could come with us," I suggested.
Isiah looked at his mate. Ahsran's voice was deep and rumbled in his chest when he spoke. "If they will understand better what is going on with the changes you two are going through, then it is worth the time."
"Okay, we'll go."
We all stood up. Benny pushed away from the wall. Jerret and Calix had disappeared right after Brad had been taken away by the guards.
"Thank you for coming," Velaku said as he stood up and shook hands with all of us as we got ready to leave. "I hope you know how much I appreciate everything you have all done for the clans."
Once they got out to the cars, Benny split off from the group. His back was rigid and he answered Dav’s goodbye with a wave.
Dav looked over at Isiah and Ahsran. "Do you want to ride with us?"
Ahsran shook his head. "I had my truck driven down here. We will follow you so we can head back to our hotel once we are done."
We were quiet on the ride to the hospital, but Dav held my hand the whole time. He pulled into the parking space and shut off the car and then turned to me.
"You know we'll be okay no matter what they say, right?"
I gave him a small smile. "I know."
We were all sitting in the waiting room looking at old magazines when Dr. Pannar swept into the room. "Ahh, there you are. Good to see you, Ellis."
He turned to Isiah. "I'm glad you could come today too. You should know what we found out too."
Isiah and I exchanged glances and I bit my lip.
"Ready?" Dr. Pannar asked me.
"Not really," I said, "but I need to know once and for all what has happened to me."
Dr. Bakier shook hands with everyone and then told Ahsran and Isiah to pull up the spare chairs that had been against the wall. Dr. Pannar stood; his wings didn’t really fit for sitting in human chairs.
"Okay," Dr. Bakier tapped a thumb on the desk. "I'm not sure exactly what you do and don't know about how Carthera seem to change when they mate."
Ahsran answered in his deep rumble, "When two Carthera mate and create a blood bond, the magic changes them into their mated forms."
Dr. Pannar nodded. "That is partly true; there is a magic involved that can't completely be explained by science but we think we've found something important."
I tensed; my back was rigid and not even Dav's touch could help me relax. "Enough with the Q and A about mating. Just tell me, are my migraines coming back?"
"Oh no! No, that's something else. We've tested and checked your scans; there is no sign that you have ever suffered any migraines. I think Davis' venom may have cured that. We asked you to come here to discuss your physical changes."
I couldn’t just let that go without an explanation. “Just like that? My migraines are cured?”
Dr. Pannar nodded. “As far as we can tell, though we cannot say for certain what corrected the damage.”
"What about that strange healing ceremony? Could that have gotten rid of my migraines?"
Dr. Bakier shifted in his chair and frowned. "Well, I have no way to test that phenomenon to know for certain. What I do know is that there have been some studies made about the effects of venom on certain conditions. It has not been proven to be extremely beneficial for ordinary people with animal venom, but it is entirely possible that Davis' venom cured you."
Dr. Pannar spoke, "We might never know for certain what actually fixed the damage, though, and I won't discount the whale magic. There is much in our world that defies modern explanation."
I suddenly sank back into my seat, my relief so strong that I couldn't speak for a minute. I wouldn't go blind again; I wouldn't die. I had been living with the knowledge, and the fear, of when that could happen to me for so long that it felt like I could finally take a deep breath for the first time in years. I blinked back tears. Dav leaned over and pulled me into his arms and held me for a few minutes. I was grateful that everyone gave me some time to gather myself.
I pulled back out of Dav’s arms once I was sure I wouldn’t break down in tears. My mate rubbed his hand down my arm and then held my hand. I was glad; I didn't really want to let him go right now either.
My doctor shook his head. "It is understandable, son. I don't usually get to give my patients a lot of good news; I'm just glad you're better."
"So, what was with the questions about mating then?"
Dr. Pannar's wings rustled as he shuffled some papers in a folder on the desk. "It is very rare for humans to mate with Carthera, as you know. Typically a human mate would get some sort of symbol of their mates but they don't go through physical changes like you two appear to have done."
"Like my fangs," Isiah said. "My eyes have changed too; I can see in the dark much better and lately I've noticed the shape of my pupil appears to be changing."
Dr. Pannar stepped forward. "Really?" He pulled a slim flashlight out of his pocket. "Do you mind?"
Isiah looked a little startled, but he shook his head. "Go ahead."
We all watched as Dr. Pannar shined the light in Isiah's eyes, asking him to look this way and that. "And now you," Dr. Pannar gestured at Ahsran who leaned forward and was treated to the same light test. "Fascinating," he murmured.
"I think Isiah is going through the same process Ellis did," Dr. Pannar said as he looked at Dr. Bakier, “but we will have to run more tests to be certain."
"Would someone please tell me what process you're talking about?" I felt my leg begin to bounce up and down as I fidgeted.
"Sorry, Ellis, this is just so amazing. Dr. Bakier, would you like to explain? You are the one who came up with the theory."
"Of course. He leaned his arms on his desk and looked at me. "As a nurse, I know you learned about cells in school. I'll try to explain this so everyone can understand it though.”
He cleared his throat. "Basically it is very simple. When life begins, human or Carthera, it is as a single cell that begins to divide after insemination. The important thing about this first cell is that it something what we call a totipotent cell. It has the ability to divide and change into many different types of cells, which then become the different parts of the body. However, once that division occurs past a certain point the cells specialized and no longer considered totipotent cells. That happens very early in embryo development. By studying the basic cellular make up of our two species, we found was that Carthera and humans are almost identical. Almost. Carthera do have a certain type of cell that humans don't have.
"These specialized cells form in the areas of the body where the Carthera will change when they mate, but as with most cells, once they have divided to a certain point they become senescent. That means they can't divide any longer. That is why Carthera still look human before mating; the cells are not able to change and become the physical attributes that make up the different clans. However, we believe that a certain enzyme, called telomerase, is transferred between mates during the blood bond and then reactivates those cells, causing them to divide and change at an extremely rapid rate to create the changes you see during a mating."
I nodded. "Okay, though I’ve never seen cellular reproduction move so quickly; the changes some Carthera go through are almost instant. My changes haven’t been."
Dr. Pannar cleared his throat. “That is part of the bonding that has never been really understood scientifically, either, but we know it happens, if not how.”
Dr. Bakier looked at Dav, Isiah and Ahsran. "Are you guys getting this so far?"
They all nodded, so he continued.
"Okay, well as far as we can tell, humans don't have those cells. Ellis didn't either, at least at first. What I did find in your original blood samples were a quantity of totipotent cells, something I'd never seen in an adult before. These cells seem to have activated after you bonded with your mate and then began to change into the same type of senescent cells he has that create the physical changes a Carthera goes through. The extra step of the cells changing seems to be taking longer than a usual mating change would between two Carthera."
I frowned. "That makes sense . . . but how is that possible?"
Dr. Bakier shook his head. "We don't know. I've never seen it before, and it's never been proposed as a theory in any journal, study, or test that I could find."
"These cells . . . they could be very important, couldn't they?" I said slowly.
Dr. Pannar nodded. "We don't know if more people have them or not. Yours have been changing; you have far less totipotent cells in your blood samples now than you did when you first mated. I'm guessing that in the end, all your totipotent cells will become specialized cells and you will physically match your mate."
"However," my doctor said when Dr. Pannar paused, "for now, we don't know if this is more than a theory. We need to test Isiah for these totipotent cells, and then we'd like permission to contact your families and see if they would be willing to give blood as well."
"You think it might be hereditary?" Isiah asked.
"Well, you did grow fangs as well," Dr. Pannar's wings rustled as he gestured toward Isiah's eyes, "and it appears that you are developing eyes similar to a cat Carthera. It appears that your pupils are being controlled by two ciliary muscles on either side much like a tiger's, rather than a single circular one like human's have."
"What we don't know is if this change both of you went through is solely because you are identical twins and carry a unique genetic anomaly individual to you two, or if others in your family carry the same trait. If they do, we need to start some studies and see if this is something that is happening in the human population in general or not."
I could feel my mind racing as I came to the realization they had already come to. "If this is happening to more people, then that means we're some sort of new adaptation, some sort of specialized type of human. We're not Carthera, but we have the potential to become them, if we find a mate."
My mate stared at me with his eyes wide. His face suddenly fell blank, and I felt him pull away from out bond. I felt a burst of shock as he closed himself off from our bond again. Why was he doing that; did he think I was a freak? I didn’t have a chance to demand he tell me what was going on before Dr. Bakier spoke again.
"Basically, that's exactly right. This could be huge in changing how humans and Carthera view each other. I've always thought that our two species had more in common than we had different; originally we had to come from the same ancestor. A link between the two evolutionary branches, when one didn't die out, was inevitable. You could be that link. We really need to start testing Isiah's blood and contact your family."
Isiah and I exchanged looks. "You might not find much luck there."
"Oh?" Dr. Bakier's eyebrows went up. "Why do you say that? You don't want us to test you Isiah?"
"No, I don't mind," he said, "but our family sort of disowned us. They're not exactly what you would call the most open minded of people. Calling them a link between people and those they think are animals is something that will gall our parents; they will not agree to any testing."
Dr. Bakier's face fell and Dr. Pannar's wings drooped. "Xenophobes, are they?"
"Extremely," I said in a dry voice.
"Maybe . . ." Isiah tapped his chin. I looked over at him. "Remember that one time Dad got that phone call and he exploded? He said not to call back because he didn't have a sister anymore." I nodded; I remembered that Christmas. We'd been young, but not so young that the memory hadn't stuck with us.
Dr. Pannar stood up straight. "You think you might have some other blood family out there?"
Isiah shrugged. "We might; I can try some of my government contacts and see if I can dig anything up."
Dr. Bakier's expression brightened and he began to rub his hands together. "Good, good."
Just then my stomach rumbled; the sound was loud in the quiet office. Dr. Pannar laughed and looked at the clock. "I think someone is hungry."
"We skipped lunch for a meeting with Velaku before Ellis' appointment," Dav said.
Dr. Bakier looked at Isiah. "Did you skip the meal as well?"
Isiah shook his head. "We were already there; Velaku made a great pasta casserole so we ate with them before the meeting."
"You don't need us anymore, right?" I asked. I hoped the answer would be no; Dav had been acting weird since Dr. Bakier said that I was becoming like him. I was worried about what was going on in his mind and since he shut down our bond, I couldn’t feel his emotions either.
We had to talk; I wouldn’t allow him to shut himself off from me.
"No, but I would like you back every week for a follow up blood sample and cell test until we stop seeing changes."
I nodded. "I can do that, as long as Dr. Pannar doesn't mind me taking a morning off next week."
Dr. Pannar waved a hand in the air. "Please, my boy, the clinic is fine. You just mated and things have been very stressful of late; I think it is better if you take a few weeks off, with pay of course, to make sure these changes are safe for you. You’re letting us study you; it’s the least I can do. I can use temporary nurses from the service I used before I hired you."
I hugged Isiah and Ahsran before we left and we made plans to meet soon at my apartment so Isiah could get his piano. My mate was quiet as we walked through the halls and down to the parking lot. Once we started driving, I expected Dav to relax, but he didn't.
"Chinese sound good? I have the number on my cell; we could pick up a take-out order and then eat back at my place."
"Fine," Dav said. He kept his eyes on the road, never looking over at me and both hands stayed on the wheel.
I sighed but let it go so I could call in our order. The silence was not comfortable during the drive, but I hesitated to break it until we were somewhere private. He would tell me why he shut himself away from the bond, though. I led the way into my apartment, carrying the bag with our white take out boxes. I set them down on the table in the kitchen and then turned around.
My stomach was a bundle of knots but I thought he might be hungry too. I was suppressing my need to ask him what the hell was going on; he looked so tense. Even with everything going on, I couldn’t help but admire the long, lean length of him of him.
"Do you want forks?" Dav was so graceful and elegant; watching him eat with chopsticks was arousing for me. Thankfully, I really liked Chinese food because I would be tempted to order it just to watch him eat even if I didn't.
"I'm not really hungry." Dav stood across the room from me, leaning against the breakfast bar. I sighed and put down the plates I'd grabbed so that I could walk over to him. I grabbed him by the hand and then pulled him over to the couch. He resisted but finally sat down next to me when I refused to stop tugging on his arm.
"Talk to me."
Dav's eyes roved around the room. I waited as he avoided looking at me, waited for him to speak. When the silence went unbroken I decided to play dirty.
"Are you disgusted by me now? Do you think I'm some sort of freak? Is that is why you pulled away from our bond and won't look at me?"
Dav's eyes snapped to my face. "What? No! Of course I don't think that."
I took a deep breath. "Then what is wrong? Talk to me. You promised that we would be okay, no matter what. Was that all a lie?” I refused to pull any punches; I would do whatever it took to keep Dav from trying to put distance between us.
I was just about to snap when he finally spoke. "You heard the doctor. I bit you; I made you my mate, and because of that you will become what I am."
I narrowed my eyes. That was why he rejected our bond and closed himself off from me? "What you are is fucking perfect to me!" I said. "Is this more of the whole, Snakes are dangerous and not to be trusted, issue?"
Dav pulled away from me and stood up, pacing back and forth across the living room floor angrily. His hand came down hard on the piano and the discordant notes made me wince.
"Of course it is! You don't know what it is like; how people treat you. I don't want that for you; I never would want you to face that sort of hatred. Being a Snake means being alone and cut off from everyone. It is dangerous."
I stood up and went to him. I reached up and put my hands on his face, making him look at me. "But you're my mate; I'm not alone, I never will be."
He shook his head.
"I know your life growing up was bad, but don't you see that you aren't alone anymore? It's not just me; you have Benny and Jerret too. Don't forget that Velaku trusts you, and didn't those Jaguars offer for you to come visit and see that baby you rescued? Not everyone judges you because you are a Snake and treats you as if you're a dangerous criminal. You have friends, Davis, and people who love you.”
I stroked his smooth cheeks with my thumbs. "I love you and I refuse to let you push me away. You're my mate, and I'm not ever going to let you go."
His eyes were shining but he wasn't crying, not really. Dav's lips trembled, and I waited. My mate was stubborn, but I was even more so. Then a single tear fell from his eye and trickled down his cheek.
"Don't. Don't ever let me go."
I gasped when our bond suddenly flared wide open and his lips came crashing down on mine. I could feel my fangs drop when his forked tongue slid into my mouth and split as it caressed the roof of my mouth.
I moaned and melted against his body. His hands wrapped around my back, one sliding up to cradle my head and the other pulling me closer to him. I moaned and returned the kiss, following his tongue’s retreat and tasting his mouth, enjoying the bitter bite of venom I could barely taste along with the spicy flavor that was my mate.
We were both gasping when we finally had to stop kissing to breathe. Dav rested his forehead against mine.
"I love you too. I always will."
I hope you enjoyed Hypnotic, as well as the other Carthera Tales that made up this trilogy. I don't plan to completely leave this world behind; keep an eye out for a short story featuring Benny!