**Hope everyone who celebrated the holiday had a wonderful time. Since this story is ongoing, no Thanksgiving flash from me this year. Instead, here’s the penultimate episode! Enjoy!
Walker was waiting for me on the porch, arms crossed and gaze intense, when I pulled into the drive. I shut off the car and pushed open the door, offering him a smile. He tried to give me one back. I opened my mouth, but before I could get a word out, Archer burst through the door and onto the porch. The moment his gaze landed on me, his shoulders relaxed and he blew out a breath.
It was nice to know the kid had been worried about me.
Oscar jumped off my shoulders and landed with grace, before taking off and beelining straight for Archer. My familiar wasn’t worried about me any more now that I was in the presence of my mate. He could go get the snuggles he so adored from Archer. I followed him quickly, taking the steps two at a time and straight into Walker’s arms.
The scenting commenced. Walker with his face, rubbing his cheeks against my neck and Archer with a quick squeeze and swipe on the other side. I stood there, letting them, knowing they needed it and appreciating it for the care it was. I might still be learning all the ins and outs of shifter culture, but I was learning.
“You okay?” Walker murmured, as though he needed auditory confirmation as much as the rest. I was happy to give it to him.
“Yes. I’m fine.” I squeezed him tightly and then pulled back. Not completely out of his embrace, but far enough that I could see his face. And Archer’s too, who was still hovering nearby even though he was trying to pretend his entire focus was on Oscar. “I promise, I’m fine. But there are things we need to talk about.”
Archer went tense, for just a split second, and if I hadn’t been watching him, I would have missed it. But it was there and gone, and then he hiked Oscar up so that the cat could put his front legs around Archer’s neck.
“I’ll let you talk. I’ll just, uh—”
“You too, Archer.” I kept my voice soft but firm. “This isn’t just about me, or just me and your dad. You’re part of this too, and you get to weigh in.”
He blinked at me. Then blinked again. “Uh, yeah. Sure.”
I herded them both inside and toward the living room. They went willingly enough, Archer heading for the overstuffed chair in the corner that he preferred. He flopped down hard enough to bounce slightly, and cuddled Oscar into his chest. Oscar for his part, turned around so he could keep his gaze fixed on me.
Walker and I took the couch, and Walker didn’t hesitate to make sure I was solidly in his space. I might be taller, but he was always the one pulling me into arms when we cuddled like that. It was just how he was wired. I hadn’t really had that before him, but another thing I was learning was how much I enjoyed it. He made me feel safe and protected, and I loved it.
“So what happened?” Archer was the one to break the silence, and his tone was impatient, but I knew it was just curiosity and the fact that my announcement had put him on edge. I let the tone slide easily.
“I got offered a job.”
That stunned both of them into silence. Archer stared at me, eyes wide, and I turned my head to see a nearly identical expression on Walker’s face. It was all I could do not to laugh, because in that moment, they both looked more like fish than the wolves they were. I did smile though, which jostled Walker out of his shock.
“I thought you already had a job,” Walker said carefully.
“I do. I did. I…” I blew out a breath and snuggled a little more against Walker. I always tried to keep it PG with Archer around. Not only because it was the polite thing to do but because this was his father, and I was sure he didn’t want to see it. But he was a shifter, and physical affection was part of their make-up, so I didn’t have to eschew it entirely.
I took another second to get my thoughts in order, and then told them all about my conversation with the Director. I had to censor some of it, because even though I trusted them both implicitly—and even though I was clearly unafraid to bend the rules—they were civilians and they didn’t need to know everything. But I gave them the meat and potatoes. Told them all about the offer.
“Are you going to take it?” Archer asked when I was done.
I gave him a steady look. “Well that depends on you and your dad.”
More of that wide-eyed blinking. “I get Dad but…why me?”
“Because this effects all of us. You’re my stepson, aren’t you?” I gave him a smile and let the complicated cascade of emotions wash through him. “Or we’re getting there anyway. Your dad and I, we’re mates and we’re building a life together. And I’m so happy about that. But it includes you and I would never cut you out of decisions that impact this whole family.”
I was prepared for the extra tight squeeze, knowing Walker well enough by now to know how touched he would be by the words. Even more so by the fact that I meant them. So many times over the past couple of months, I thought about how I hadn’t expected any of this. And it was true. But this was my reality and one I was all too happy to embrace. I was falling in love with Walker, and I adored his kid. We were creating a family and I couldn’t be more pleased.
“Oh,” Walker said, hardly more than a breath of word. He tucked his face against my neck and inhaled deeply. “The way you smell right now…oh, Lane. That’s contentment and happiness.”
His voice was soft, but they were shifters, so Archer heard him just fine. He looked pleased for a long second before he masked his emotions and gagged, though I could tell he didn’t mean it.
I laughed, feeling better than I had in a while. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been happy since Walker came into my life, because I had. But there had been a weight I hadn’t realized had been that heavy until it was lifted. Whatever choice we made, together, would be he right one for us. And however that effected me personally, I would have my mate, and his son, to support me.
“So if I said I didn’t want you to take the job, you wouldn’t?” The way Archer was squinting at me made me think this was a test of some sort. It wasn’t upset by that. He was trying to figure out where the boundaries were.
“I would ask you why you didn’t want me to. We would talk about it.” I shot him a wink. “You might be still a kid, Arch. But you aren’t a little kid who doesn’t know his own mind or have his own opinions. We would talk about it.”
Archer dropped his gaze to Oscar, apparently incredibly interested in rubbing the cats ears. “I don’t want you to get hurt. That would kill my dad.”
“I don’t want to get hurt either,” I assured him.
“Being a field agent is dangerous.” Archer’s voice was so soft, I could barely hear him. But I did, and I was touched by his concern. I threaded my fingers through Walker’s and held on tight, silently asking him to let me handle this. I knew Walker would want to jump in. But it was important for me to have a relationship with Archer too.
“It is,” I agreed. “And it isn’t. I’ve only been in real danger a handful of times in the past fifteen years. And then there were always backup and plans in place to mitigate that. To get me and others out safely.”
Archer nodded, showing me he was listening. After a moment or two, he took a deep breath, and even though he didn’t look up at me, his voice was clearer. “I don’t like them. They screwed you over.”
“He’s not wrong,” Walker agreed, grumble in his tone.
“It was more like they tried to teach me a lesson, but yeah. I get your meaning.”
Archer’s eyes blazed. “And you still want to work for them?”
Oh to have all the righteous indignation of a fifteen year old. But even still, I understood where he was coming from. Even agreed with him, to a degree.
“The MBI does a lot of good too. Investigating crimes is not easy, but it brings justice. Saves people. It’s important work.”
Archer flinched and I realized my words. Before I could apologize, he sat up. “Yeah. I know. I know!”
“Archer,” Walker began, but I held up my hand. Then I stood and crossed the room. I leaned a hip against the arm of the chair, still giving Archer space but needing to be close.
“I’m sorry.” When I reached out a hand, Archer leaned a little closer, and that was all the permission I needed to grip the back of his neck. He relaxed in my hold. “My words were thoughtless.”
“No, they weren’t.” Archer took a breath, then another, before continuing. Showing maturity beyond his age, he spoke quietly. “You’re right, and I’m glad that you, and they, were there for me and the others. That they rescued us.”
“Good.” I squeezed, and swiped my hand along his neck as I pulled away. But I didn’t leave my perch. Figuring it was better to address this head on, I asked, “Do you not want me to work for them anymore?”
“Kind of,” he said, after a moment. “I mean, I want you safe for my dad. And me too.” That was added in a soft tone, and he shook his head. After a few long seconds, he looked up to meet my gaze. “But I know you’re the guy that catches the bad guys and fixes the world, so it wouldn’t be fair to ask you not to.”
“And if I promised to do everything in my power to stay as safe as possible and do everything imaginable to come home to you and your dad?”
“I would trust that.” Archer’s voice was quiet and sincere. He stood quickly, hugging Oscar so tightly, the cat let out a meep. But Oscar didn’t try to get away, so I figured he was where he wanted to be. “You and Dad talk about this and let me know, I guess. I’m going to my room to listen to music. Loudly.”
Without another word, the teen walked away. I watched him go, then grinned, turning my attention back to Walker. Walker was shaking his head, like he couldn’t believe his kid. After a minute, he stood up, and held out his hand.
“We should probably discuss this in bed, don’t you think?”
I laughed, taking his hand. Whatever decision we came to, I knew it would be the right one. And we’d have a hell of a good time coming to a consensus.