**Okay, so the day job is….kicking my butt. So much is going on. But I hate to leave y’all hanging with this story, and Lane and Walker have been through some things. I’m still going to try to get an episode every week, as I have in the past, but just be aware that sometimes it might be missing (as it was last week and a few weeks ago). In the meantime, here’s episode 10. Enjoy!**
Gareth, Aeron, and I had perched on the hood of my car. Well, Gareth and I were sitting, and Aeron was leaning his hip against the fender next to his brother. Oscar had stretched out—upside down and belly in the air—across my lap and fallen asleep. Remy, Aeron’s cockatoo familiar—was hopping back and forth between Aeron and Gareth’s shoulders, preening them both, and making random kissy noises. The handful of other humans were sitting in cars or on the ground, some conversing quietly. It was peaceful and quiet.
All the wolves had taken off about a half an hour before, running together through the woods. It wasn’t, apparently, to be a full run. More something just to help Archer settle. Gareth had explained when the wolves headed out that it wouldn’t be long. An hour or two at most. So we’d settled in to wait.
Walker asked me to stay, and so I was.
“So.” Aeron was attempting casual, but I could hear the smirk in his voice. When I turned my head, it was clear he was fighting to keep the expression off his face. I rolled my eyes.
“Nothing much.” There was definite amusement in his voice. “Just something Marco said to me before he shifted. Thought you might find it interesting.”
I didn’t acknowledge that statement. Even though my curiosity burned, I wasn’t going to feed into his ego. I didn’t know him well, but what I’d seen of Aeron was clear he derived pleasure from being a little shit.
“You’re being a jerk,” Gareth grumbled at his brother, and took Remy off Aeron’s shoulder. The bird cuddled in under Gareth’s chin when Gareth brought him to his chest, trilling out a purring sound.
“You’re no fun,” Aeron retorted, but he leaned more heavily against Gareth’s shoulder. Gareth elbowed him, but Aeron didn’t move, just let out a soft oof sound.
I did like their byplay, their interactions. I was an only child, and I’d always been envious of siblings with good relationships. These two clearly had one. I had a feeling Aeron’s demeanor was amplified by the fact that Gareth was there. Like he couldn’t help himself from poking fun, since his brother was part of the conversation.
“If you’d like to share with the class…” I gave him a meaningful look.
Aeron let that roll of his back. He shrugged. “It’s just that Marco said that Walker acts like he thinks you’re his mate.”
I snorted, shaking my head and turning my attention back to the forest. “Yeah, right.”
That didn’t even make any sense. I mean, sure, he’d seemed comfortable with me. But that was clearly because he’d been in distress, worried for his son. I was there to help him in his time of need, and even more than that, I’d actively called in favors to find Archer. I didn’t regret it and I would do it again. But it was obvious the only reason he’d attached himself to me was because I’d helped in his darkest moment.
The silence emanating from the Evans’ brother was so heavy, I did the slow pan over to them. Only to find them both blinking back at me, utter disbelief on their faces. Remy squawked and made more kissy noises, before hopping back over to Aeron and biting his ear. Aeron barely reacted, but it made him blink and focus.
“You did have training about shifters and shifter culture right? I mean, you’ve been an agent for a long time. Like a really long time. You have to have learned and dealt with shifters before. I mean, even if you don’t live it, you have to know.”
I slid off the hood, turned to face Aeron, and crossed my arms over my chest. I didn’t say a word, just stared him down. I was close to twenty years older than him, but that didn’t excuse his attitude. He might have been trying for funny, or even playful, but it was just rude, and I wasn’t going to allow it.
He quickly straightened, and genuine remorse crossed his face. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I forgot that I’ve been immersed in this culture since Owen came to Gareth. And I couldn’t resist poking at you, but that was uncalled for and mean. I apologize.”
I nodded. “Accepted. Thank you.”
“Wow, you’re actually growing as a person.” Gareth knocked his shoulder against Aeron’s, and then turned to me. “But Marco has a point. Owen thinks the same. You really need to talk to Walker.”
I didn’t want to dismiss that out of hand, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, bring anything up when Walker’s focus needed to be on his son. Especially when I was still convinced that’s all that was between us. Walker was grateful I’d helped locate Archer. Full stop.
“Your magic led you here,” Aeron said. He stepped forward and the earnestness was clear. “You showed up on Gareth’s door and you were there at the right time. Don’t discount that. I’m serious.”
“Listen to him Lane. At least think about it. Because you came to see us when we were barely friends, and you fit right in. You needed—” Gareth cut off his words as he jerked his head up. “They’re headed back.”
I don’t know why I whipped around, gaze intent on the dark trees, but anticipation filled my chest. Not even two minutes later, wolves began to emerge. I caught sight of Owen, running full out to get to Gareth, but that only had my attention for a moment. Then all I could see was Walker, his son at his side, as he beelined straight for me.
He shifted from one step to the next, stumbling as he transitioned to two legs, but not stopping. Before I realized it, I had an armful of warm, naked male. Walker tucked his face in my neck and squeezed me so tightly I could barely breathe. I didn’t even care. Having him safe in my arms made something settle in me I hadn’t even really been aware of. Now that he was right here, I realized there’d been a jittery feeling in my chest. Now that was soothed.
I pulled him in closer. Walker let out a breath and just gave me his weight. I took it easily.
“You stayed.” Walker’s voice was muffled in my skin but the relief in his tone was clear.
I had the urge to kiss his temple, and I didn’t fight it, Gareth’s words in the back of my bread. I didn’t resist it, pressing my lips against him. He let out the tiniest whimper and pushed even closer, even though it was impossible. I got the distinct impression he’d crawl inside me if he could.
“I need to…we need to…but my son…”
“Shh. It’s okay. Take care of Archer. I’m not going anywhere.”
The words were out of my mouth before I consciously thought them, but as soon as they were out of my mouth, I realized how much I meant them.