**Okay! Next episode. Gareth and Owen back for another week. Enjoy!*
Even though Owen took care of me—and very well, I might add—after I dozed for a couple of hours, I woke restless. I tried really hard to settle, to go back to sleep. Owen was breathing softly, deep and even, beside me. Okay, really he was half on me. Seriously, sometimes I really did wonder if he was an octopus shifter.
But I couldn’t find peace, even in my mate’s arms, so I slowly crept my way out of bed, then, as quietly as possible, padded into the living room. The throw blanket I loved was tossed over the back of the couch, and I didn’t hesitate to wrap up in it, settling into the corner of the couch.
I wanted to see my brother. Aeron had finished with his agents later than I had, and we’d spoken briefly on the phone. But it had been late, and I’d been half asleep already so we’d promised to get together tomorrow. Except I was worried about him. Aeron hadn’t had a great relationship with the parents, but it had been better than mine. If I was having a hard time wrapping my head around things, I couldn’t imagine how hard this was for him.
Owen appeared on silent feet, but I was used to him now so I didn’t startle the way I had in the beginning. Had it really only been a couple of months? It felt like so much longer. But in a good way. I tried for a smile, though it felt tremulous, and Owen’s eyes softened. He crossed the room and sat beside me, opening his arms, and giving me the choice on whether or not I wanted to cuddle. The whole time, he didn’t say a word, but I didn’t need him to. With a soft sigh, I changed positions so I was leaning into his embrace. Owen kissed the top of my head.
After a long while, he finally spoke, his lips near my ear and his voice soft. “Why don’t you call him?”
He tapped my temple with gentle fingers so he would know exactly what he meant. I had to laugh then, though it was a weak, short sound. The fact that he knew what was weighing on me at that moment was comforting in a way I couldn’t describe. And that he didn’t think it was weird that I could sort of, kind of communicate with Aeron telepathically was reassuring.
“I’m trying not to,” I whispered, and then shrugged one shoulder knowing full well what his next question would be. “He’s had a long day too. Probably even mor emotionally draining. He needs his rest. And he has Remy.”
Owen hummed, pressing his lips to my skin, but didn’t comment. I appreciated his restraint. If I were to guess, he was more concerned about my well being than that of my brother. Which wasn’t to say he didn’t care about Aeron, just that I was his top priority. Which was really nice.
It was probably only about thirty minutes longer before he lifted his head, gaze zeroing in on the door. My entire body went tense, readying for action. Who was it now? I couldn’t handle anything else. Not tonight. But when Owen didn’t move, and his body remained tension free, I started to relax. He wasn’t worried, so I didn’t need to be either.
I opened my mouth to ask what was going on, but then there was a small burst of magic and the lock clicked open. I sat up fast, because there was only one person who could get through the wards without setting them off. I was off the couch and running before the door fully swung open, and hugging my brother a second later.
“You okay?” I murmured, squeezing him as tightly as I could. Remy moved in so he could nuzzle against where mine and Aeron’s heads met. I gave the cockatoo a quick scritch.
Aeron’s exhale was long and gusty, but he pulled back and gave me a smile that was almost real. “Hell of a day, huh?”
I nodded, pulling him inside before locking the door and resetting the wards. Aeron just kind of stood there, and the haggard appearance told me all I needed to know.
He shrugged, and Remy bounced with the motion. “You can’t either.”
We sat down, with me resuming my place on the couch with Owen. Aeron stretched out in the big chair and a half situated on the side. Remy moved down to perch on his chest and put his head under Aeron’s chin. The silence stretched between us.
“Fuck,” Aeron said, low but full of feeling.
“Yeah. I don’t know how we didn’t see it.” I sighed and pushed in closer to Owen. “To be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t try to recruit you. They would have loved someone with your kind of power.”
When Aeron didn’t speak immediately, I sat up, staring at him. He wouldn’t look at me. I glanced at Owen, whose gaze was fixed on Aeron, and then back at my brother.
“I didn’t know what they were doing, but…” He sounded hurt and regretful. “I did, inadverntly, help them. Years ago.”
“What happened?” My heart was in my throat.
Aeron sighed. “I powered them up a couple of times. I didn’t know why they needed it. And I was stupid enough to trust them.”
“You aren’t stupid,” I ground out. “Of course you trusted them. Why wouldn’t you?”
“I should have known something was up. Because they were drained and they needed more and I—” He let out a frustrated growl.
Silence again for a few seconds before Owen tentatively asked, “What does that mean?”
“Magic is a finite but renewable source, right?” I jumped in to explain so my brother wouldn’t have to. Owen nodded and I continued. “So if a witch expends their power, instead of using the slower, more natural ways to power back up, they can get a boost from another witch channeling power into them.”
“Every time, I was in the next room. I had no idea what was going on, and I believed them when they said it was something I’d understand when I was older.” Aeron sounded bitter. “I just channeled power in their direction. Who the hell knows what they were doing in there!?”
“That’s not your fault,” I repeated calmly. I’d say it as many times as he needed to hear it. “You couldn’t have known.”
Aeron waved that away. “By the time I was ‘old enough’ I was already supporting you. Backing you up. Our relationship was strained. Me and them I mean. They had to know I wasn’t going to be down for whatever the fuck—” Another growl, though a very human one. Remy hopped up closer so he could press his beak against Aeron’s cheek.
“I have to meet with Agents again tomorrow.”
So we were changing the subject. All right then. I’d roll with it. “Me too.” I shot Owen a loving looking. “My mate was fiercely protective.”
Owen gave a playful growl, going with it. “Damn skippy. And right now, your mate thinks we all need some hot chocolate. Maybe with some Bailey’s?” Owen waggled his eyebrows which got a laugh out of me, and a genuine smile from Aeron.
“Sure. Thank you.”
Owen nodded, kissed my cheek and stood up. He held out an arm. “Hey Remy, wanna come with? We can have some familiar bonding time.”
Remy squawked, head butted Aeron, then flew the few feet to perch on Owen’s arm. Owen started talking to the bird as he carried him into the kitchen. I smiled after them, until they rounded the corner and turned my attention to my brother.
“You okay?” I asked again, this time with a little force behind it.
“No. But I will be. Eventually.”
Yeah, he would. I would too. I’d make sure of it.