**Here’s the second episode for Rowan and Luca. Better late than never. And there’s more to come. Hope you enjoy!**
Luca held me tight as he led me to the back porch. It was enclosed, but as soon as he sat me on the rattan couch, he opened the windows, muttered something about fresh air, and turned around and walked out. I stared after him for a long moment, confused. He’d been so intent on taking care of me and then just left? Well, it was fine. Being by myself would work too.
But before I could even really complete the thought, he was back. He had a bottle of water in one hand and a clearly wet cloth in the other. Gingerly, he sat beside me, handed over the water, then lifted the cloth and ever so gently wiped the sweat from my face. I was too stunned to speak, let alone react, so I just allowed him to, staring at him with wide eyes.
He gave me a gentle smile and my breath caught, because I’d never seen that expression on his face. The smile became a tiny smirk, and he gestured to the bottle.
“You should drink.”
My motions were automatic, no thought involved, as I cracked open the top and took a few swallows. The cool water soothed my throat, and I realized how thirsty I was. I tipped the bottle more, ready to down the whole thing, when Luca closed his big hand over mine.
“Take it easy. You don’t want to get sick.” Luca’s voice was low, and the timber sent a shiver through me. I managed to check it.
I cleared my throat. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
Luca quirked an eyebrow. “You want me to be mean?”
I almost laughed, because I liked his playful tone and the banter was helping me to feel more settled. Usually I liked to be by myself after a panic attack, but having Luca here was helping.
“No, of course not. But just…” I blew out a breath and fiddled with the label on the water bottle, not able to look Luca right in the eye. “I’ve been here for three years, right? And we’ve never had a real conversation.”
Luca tipped his head, studying me. “Yeah, I guess so. I mean, we’ve talked.”
“In passing, sure.” I twisted the cap off, then back on. Did it again. After the third time, Luca covered both my hands with one of his. Then he ducked his head to catch my eye. “I’m okay.”
A nod. “You will be. It didn’t last as long as the last one.”
I startled at that, pulled away and Luca let me. I scooted back into the corner of the couch, staring, and Luca’s expression went blank. For a long few minutes, we both just breathed. Then I found my voice.
“I wasn’t aware that, uh, you paid, um, that close attention to me.”
With a small, quiet sigh, Luca closed his eyes. A moment later, he opened them then slid off the couch and onto one knee. He did his best to appear small, but it was absolutely impossible. He was just a big guy, broad and tall, and even crouched down, it didn’t dimmish that. But I appreciated the effort.
“Does that make you uncomfortable?”
I let the question hang there for a moment while I contemplated that. My first reaction was to immediately deny it, to soothe and placate. But that was my old conditioning, and I’d learned better now.
“Uh, maybe a little. I mean, we’re a pack. We all look out for each other.”
The sound that escaped Luca’s throat sounded a little pained. I didn’t now what caused it, how my statement hurt him, and I was trying to decide how to ask, or even if I should, when Luca spoke instead, his voice so soft I might not have heard it if I hadn’t had enhanced hearing.
“That’s not why.”
Luca shook his head. “Do you want to talk to me about what happened? What triggered you?”
My stomach knotted. I really didn’t. It was stupid, to begin with. There was no reason for it. It had just been a motion, caught out of the corner of my eye, and it sent me into a spiral. I knew I was safe and protected in Tom’s pack. I should be fine. But as my therapist reminded me, trauma response was not logical.
Luca took my silence as an answer, and he didn’t force me to talk. Instead he laid a hand on my knee and squeezed gently. “Will shifting help? I know it always helps me feel more settled.”
The change of subject was abrupt, and for just a split second, I almost asked him to explain. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, so I went with it instead.
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, it would be good to but in fur for a while.”
Luca stood so quickly it startled a gasp out of me, but Luca ignored that. He shot me a grin and it transformed his whole face. He always had an intimidating air about him, but with that huge smile, I could see something else. Something softer he didn’t usually let us see.
“You shift. I’ll leave the door open. I’ll meet you out there in fur and we’ll go for a run.”
“Luca—” but he was gone, out the door and jumping the three steps to the back lawn. I lifted up enough to watch him as he began to strip—it was always easier to shift while naked—and his back was an expanse of smooth skin and rippling muscle. I dropped back down quickly, needing to take a second to collect myself.
Luca had turned my perception of him on it’s head. And I wasn’t sure if it was because I was still shaken or for some other reason, and I didn’t have the mental capacity to figure it out right now. And I hadn’t been lying when I said shifting helped. Being able to run in fur, to let the animal side of me have control and let the human thoughts recede went a long way to helping me feel whole.
So I stripped off my clothes, dropped to all fours, and let the shift overtake me. a few seconds of pain, then my pain receptors turned off, and it was nothing more than the tug and pull of muscle and bone, tendons and sinew, as I changed shape.
Once it was done, I shook my fur to settle it into place, lifted my nose to catch Luca’s scent, and bounded out the door after him. Everything else could wait.