Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Here is part five! We are clearly not done yet. Tell me what you think of Gareth and Owen’s continuing saga. Check out the blog for the previous parts. Enjoy!**

The summons came in the middle of the night by way of witch globe. I wasn’t surprised. I mean, I was startled because I was warm and cozy, sound asleep and wrapped around my mate. Or rather, he was wrapped around me. Since solidifying our bond, Owen hadn’t moved more than two feet away for me. And the way he clung in bed made me think he was an octopus shifter instead of a red wolf.

Not that I minded in the slightest. 

But the appearance of the witch globe in my—our—bedroom was shocking but not surprising. The witching hour was called that for a reason, as many who were magically inclined were at the height of their power. It woke me from a dead sleep, the pulse of magic thrumming through me and pulling on mine. I gasped as my eyes popped open, but Owen’s arms just tightened and he pushed his face against the back of my neck.

“Ignore it,” he mumbled into my skin.

“We can’t,” I whispered.

Owen growled, then grumbled, then kissed my nape in a way that made me shiver. “We could.”

“It’ll just get worse, until it’s physically painful and I have no choice but to comply. Get up, please. We need to go.”

The growl Owen let out was deep from his chest, and I didn’t need to look to know his fangs were out and his eyes had changed. I couldn’t dwell on that though, because if I did, I’d be tempted to drag him back down and…

Yeah. There was just something about him, all cranky and possessive, that just did it for me. It didn’t feel smothering or dangerous in any way. Instead it was clear he was being protective without wanting to own me. I was his but he didn’t control me. Not that I would mind a little control.

No. Couldn’t go there right now.

Owen inhaled deeply, shoving his nose right against where my shoulder joined my neck. “Gareth, you can’t expect me go anywhere with you smelling like that.”

I flipped over and Owen allowed, pulling me in the moment we were chest to chest. I kissed him quickly, even if it was full of heat, and pulled away when Owen wanted to take it further. We really didn’t have time for that.

“Get up and get dressed.” I nudged his nose with mine. 

Owen complied, at least with the getting out of bed part. “Call your brother.”

“Already on it.” Aeron and I had a link through our magic, something that had found us when we were young. Right before he really hit his power growth spurt, we’d been working a rudimentary tracking spell and something happened. We’d never really told anyone about it, because we’d never heard of anything like it. Aeron still researched it on and off, trying to find the reason why. I didn’t really care about the why right now, because it allowed me to send thoughts to him, even though he lived on the other side of town. I felt him wake, felt the acknowledgement, and his urgency. Aeron masked it after a second, trying to be reassuring, but I knew he was just as worried about this as I was.

Owen was dressed, shoes on, by the time I came back to myself. He was waiting patiently close by, and I knew by his stance he was on alert. Warmth suffused my stomach, just knowing he was watching out for me. it had been a long time since I’d had anyone to put me first. My brother had my back, and that was great, but I wasn’t his sole priority. I couldn’t be and I didn’t want to be.

Maybe it was our growing bond. Maybe it was his protectiveness. Maybe it was just who he was. But whatever it was, I felt as though I could take on the world and survive. Or the Witches Council, as the case may be.

I dressed in record time, and though I was nervous, I was scared. Not like I’d been a few days ago. I trusted Owen and Aeron. I trusted myself. If the worst came to worst, we’d be able to get out of there. Even if it meant leaving this place I’d called my own and hiding from the council for the rest of our lives.

“Hey.” Owen nuzzles his face against my jaw. “Stop it. I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but I don’t like the defeatist scent coming off you. We can handle this.”

I was so sure about that, but I tried for a smile anyway. Another kiss, quick and easy in a way that was becoming familiar very quickly, and then we were out the door. Aeron was just pulling up to the curb, having rushed over, and we climbed into his SUV. 

The closer we got to council headquarters, the more nervous I got. To the point that Owen reached out and laid a hand on the back of my neck. I tried to settle. I really did. But I couldn’t stop worrying. We were walking in to a situation where we would be faced with thirteen very powerful people who were used to being obeyed and getting their way. I had power, more now that Owen and I had bonded. Aeron’s power even exceeded my own. But those people inside that building? Half of them were ruthless, set in their ways, and older than dirt. The other half liked the control they had, even if there were, perhaps, more persuadable.

The witch globe had followed us, and stopped beside the car when Aeron parked. I got out, and Owen was instantly at my side. Which was a good thing because the surge of magic from the globe nearly made my knees buckle. Owen was right there to hold me up, though, and he growled uselessly at the magical globe.

“Ready?” Aeron’s voice was soft, tense, but firm.

“No.”

Aeron gave me half a grin that didn’t last. Owen nosed my temple in an affectionate gesture. I gripped his hand so tightly that if he hadn’t been a shifter, I might have broken bones. He didn’t seem to mind. As one, we entered the council hall and were met by the whole council, seated and glowering in full regalia. My parents and other members of my extended family were sitting in the observation area at the far end of the room. I ignored them completely.

“Gareth Evans, you have presented yourself to be judged for your misuse and abuse of magic.” The High Mage intoned, her voice a clarion bell. “Prepare for your magic to be stripped, your bond broken, and your exile.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**I know it’s a lot later than normal, but I can’t be blamed. Ninetendo updated Animal Crossing New Horizons and dropped a DLC and I can’t help it if that’s where all my attention has been. But better late than never. Here’s part 4 of Gareth and Owen’s story! Check out the blog for the past parts if you need to catch up. And we’re not done yet. Enjoy!**

“That’s a very bad idea.”

Aeron scoffed at my statement, waving the hand that wasn’t petting Remy. “Don’t be a baby. Pull up your grown up pants.”

Beside me, Owen growled, the sound not quite animal in his human chest. If I hadn’t know he was a werewolf, that sound would have clinched it. And just that quick, I slid my hand around the back of his neck and squeezed to soothe him. He leaned into me, though he never took his gaze off Aeron. When he spoke, his words were slightly distorted, as though his fangs were starting to shift.

“Watch. Your. Words.”

Aeron dismissed that as well, not intimidated in the least by my werewolf almost-mate. It had been two days, and we were getting to know each other. I’d quickly learned how much touch meant to him, and how it calmed him. To be fair, it worked wonders for me as well. As long as it was Owen doing the touching. 

Not that there had been that kind of touching yet. But I knew when we got there, that would be just as effective. Probably more so.

A nudge to my side had me startling back to the present. Owen’s smirk was weirdly sweet. “Focus, dear.”

I fought not to blush. “I’m focused. On the fact that I don’t want to die. And confronting the Witches Council will produce that result.”

The growl again, this time deep from Owen’s chest, and the way his eyes flashed, I knew the wolf was at the surface. He hauled me close, and I let him. Not only did I have no desire to fight him, but I knew that if I did, it wouldn’t go well for me. He was ten times stronger than I was, even with my magic.

“You will not die. I won’t allow it.” Owen’s voice was deep and broken.

“You won’t.” Aeron’s tone was earnest “It’s the best bet. We go in there as a united front. At least part of the council will respect you just for showing up. By their own laws, they have to let you plead your case. And with both of us bonded now, our powers combined would be enough to at least get us out of there if things go south.”

I shook my head, panic climbing in my chest. “They could put down a witch trap, or strength their wards, or station enforcers at the doors or—”

Owen pressed his forehead to my temple, cupping the opposite cheek with his hand. Instantly I relaxed. Not completely, but just having him right there helped me to calm. We breathed together, and I took in the scent of him. Usually, smell wasn’t as big a thing for me, and maybe it was part of the bonding process, but scent mattered right now to me more than it ever had. He smelled like my body wash, and my detergent, but underneath that, something earthy. Like the forest.

I pressed a kiss to his wrist, because it was right there, and he sucked in a deep breath. It caught in his chest, stuttering it out on the exhale. I breathed it in, suddenly needing him to give me the air. It was as though a switch flipped, and my entire being was tuned entirely into him. 

“Oh.” It was a gasp and a word, and Owen pressed against me.

Distantly, I heard Aeron clear his throat. We ignored him. He muttered something about leaving, but we ignored that too. It didn’t matter. Nothing did. Not my impending doom, or my brother, or even the outside world. Suddenly theonly thing that was important was Owen.

“Give me consent now, or tell me to stop, because things are—”

“Yes,” I murmured. Then stronger. “Yes, please.”

Owen kissed me, hard and fast, owning my mouth. Lips, teeth, tongue. Devouring heat and sensuality. He owned me in that kiss, and I let him have control, giving everything he asked for and moaning with it. I was only partially aware of pushing closer, of him pulling me into his lap, of his tight grip on my hips that was sure to leave bruises I would relish later.

I whimpered when he pulled his mouth away, and when he tucked my face against his neck, I panted wetly, just trying to breathe. Owen’s arms were a vice around me, squeezing almost painfully tight, but I needed it.

“I won’t let anything happen to you. Or our bond.”

“Me too.” I laughed, a little hysterically, even as I tried to rock closer. “I mean, I won’t let anything happen to either of us.”

A few beats of silence, then Owen said, “Is he right?”

I lifted my face to look deep into his eyes. “My brother? About confronting the council?” Owen nodded and I shrugged, continuing, “Probably. He’s had more dealings with them. And our parents.”

Owen cupped my face. “You trust him?”

“Completely.”

His gaze searched mine and then he nodded once. “Then I will too. But tomorrow.”

I quirked an eyebrow. “Why tomorrow?”

“Because tonight,” he said, voice low and full of heat. “I have a mate to bond with.” Then he hesitated, a hitch in his breath, and said, “If he’ll have me.”

The human part of my brain urged caution. Said it was way too fast. Said we needed to slow down and talk things out and take our time.

But the rest of me just wanted him. Wanted everything he was offering. Wanted him as a person and as a familiar. As a mate. My life had turned upside down in the past few days, but it didn’t matter. Because fate had given me Owen to walk through it with me. We’d have to deal with the council. And we’d have to figure out how to use our power and how to be mates. But that was a future worry. At least tomorrow. Tonight, it didn’t matter.

I smiled, slow and sweet. “He’ll have you.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**I swear I just set out to write a one shot. But y’all aren’t mad it’s a whole-ass thing now, are you? Here’s part three of Gareth and Owen. Part four will be up next week. I don’t have any idea how long it will go. Enjoy!**

Owen padded barefoot into the room, freshly showered with damp hair, and wearing my clothes. He was bigger than me—taller and broader—so they didn’t quite fit. The sweatpants were definitely too short, riding up his ankles. But I certainly didn’t mind the tight fit of the T-shirt across his chest and straining at his biceps. It made for a great picture. And I had a weird flutter of pleasure at seeing him dressed in my clothes.

Which was strange, because that hadn’t ever been something that particularly appealed to me before. But right now, looking at him, it absolutely appealed in every way possible.

Owen smirked, as if he knew where my thoughts had gone. And then it occurred to me that he probably did, considering he’d be able to discern a lot from my scent. Hormones and pheromones were absolutely a thing, even if human noses weren’t sensitive enough to detect them. Other shifters I’d known had said horniness and attraction was one of the easiest scents to pick up and recognize. Was Owen picking up on that from me now?

I cleared my throat, not letting my mind wander down that path. Yes, he was a beautiful man, but he was so much younger than I was. And my familiar. That gave me a certain amount of control over him, and the power imbalance inherent in that made anything sexual between us unconscionable.

Though he had used the term mate.

But maybe it didn’t mean what I thought it did. Even if I had never heard a shifter use it for anything except their partner. I had only known a few shifters in my life, and none of them were werewolves. Witches were a rather insular community—which was a shame and something I was trying to change—so I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to mingle with other supernatural beings. Maybe it was different for wolves? Maybe Owen and his family used the term to describe their relationship with their bonded witch?

It was something we needed to talk about.

“Where’d your mind just go?” Owen’s voice was soft, inquisitive and gentle. But I shook my head. We’d get to that in a minute.

“I, uh, made food. Not sure what you liked or what you wanted, but I figured protein and carbs.” I lifted my shoulder in an awkward half-shrug. “Couldn’t go wrong with that.”

Owen glanced at the table, but then focused back on me, a smiling playing on his lips. “It looks and smells great. I love meatball subs.”

“I mean, it was frozen and I just heated it up, but it should be all right and replenish calories. I can do better tomorrow for sure. Breakfast can be a whole affair. I’m good at breakfast. Anything you want. But I didn’t want you to go to sleep hungry, and I just figured—”

“Gareth, breathe.” Owen smiled softly and stepped closer. The moment he put his hand on my neck, I let out an explosive breath that made him chuckle quietly. “That’s better. There’s no need to be nervous. We’ll find our footing.”

I laughed but it sounded strained. “How are you so damn calm about this whole thing?”

Owen squeezed my neck and stepped around me to take a seat at the table. He pulled the plate closer to him. “I’ve known this was a possibility my whole life, and had an inkling of it a year ago. I’ve had time to adjust to the idea. I know it’s new for you. But don’t worry. We’ll get there.”

And that gave me the opening I needed. “About what you said in the car…”

He glance up, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. And when I didn’t continue, he asked playfully, “Which part?”

I rolled my eyes, because we both knew which part. But he was going to make me say it. “The mates part. Because I’ve only heard it used in one way with shifters but you can’t possibly mean—”

“I mean exactly that.”

I gaped like a fish, which made him chuckle. But instead of elaborating, he waggled his eyebrows and took a big bite of food. I had to laugh as well, some of the tension leaving me. He wasn’t worried or concerned, clearly, and I needed relax some as well.

He cocked his head as he chewed, and when he swallowed his bite, and asked, “Is that a problem?”

“No!” The hint of insecurity in his voice had me answering fast and too loud. I took a breath. “I mean, no. Of course not. I’m just…surprised. It’s unexpected.”

“Don’t worry, Gareth. I’m not going to jump your bones and mate with you tonight. We’ll get there. But it’s always been an equal exchange of—” His head snapped up, and he dropped his sandwich to his plate with a splat, some of the sauce leaking out the side. “Someone’s here.”

I waved a hand in dismissal. “It’s probably just Aeron.”

“It’s not. Though…” He inhaled deeply, stood and walked toward the door, then breathed in again. “Definitely someone familial, and there’s a bird. Not the cockatoo.”

My entire body went tense. “Can you tell if it’s an African Grey or a duck?”

Another quick intake of breath. “It’s not waterfowl.”

“Crap.”

Owen was at my side in a second, his speed on display. He touched me again, and I felt our bond surge. Aeron had described the bond to me too many times to count, so I knew that as it solidified over the coming weeks, we’d both feel things more strongly until it settled.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s my mother,” I said with a tired sigh. I patted his hand where it rested on my shoulder, then stood and crossed to the door. I barely acknowledged her as I opened it to admit her and her parrot, Jolene, perched on her shoulder.

“Mother, please let me introduce you to my familiar, Owen.” I made a sweeping gesture toward him, where he stood in a ready stance, his muscles coiled tightly. “Owen, this is my mother, Bianca.”

Mother ignored Owen entirely, which wasn’t a surprise but got my hackles up. She stared at me, her blue gaze piercing, and her nose turned up.

“Gareth, what is the meaning of this?” Her voice was ice cold. I wasn’t surprised by her anger or her outrage. She’d thought I was an abomination since the first time I’d failed to call a familiar. I opened my mouth to respond, but she didn’t give me the chance. “This is unacceptable. Your behavior is reprehensible. You will come with me now to the council headquarters and I will strip you of this bond—”

She gasped as Owen grabbed my arm and pulled me behind him. He took up a fighting stance, his fingernails lengthening into claws. Jolene gave a squawk as Mother brought up a shield. And just that fast, there was a stand off in my entryway.

Owen growled, long and low. I touched his back. He ignored me.

“You will not take him from me.” The distortion in Owen’s words was from more than just the rumble of his voice. It sounded like he had a mouth full of fangs.

Mother’s magic sparked, her eyes flaring with power. I had to de escalate this quickly. I wrapped an arm around Owen’s middle, and he backed up, forcing me farther away from my mother. I was more than happy to go.

“Owen.” I kept my voice soft, speaking in his hair. “My mother holds a seat on the council. She represents our coven and has considerable power—”

“I don’t give a bloody fuck if she’s the supreme ruler of the universe.” Owen was talking to me, but his gaze never left my mother. “She can get the fuck out of this house.”

The threshold ward flared and pulsed, and my mother gasped as it pushed her right out the front door. In seconds, she was on the porch, staring in, rage shining through her eyes. And I knew I should be worried about that, and I knew I would be when I could process it, but right that moment, I was stuck on the fact that the threshold ward had responded to Owen’s command. If I’d had any doubt about our growing bond—which I hadn’t—that right there would have sealed it.

“The council will come for you,” she spat out, and Jolene hurled her own bigoted insult my way. Mother rubbed Jolene’s chest feathers. “I will see to it you are stripped of your bond, of your power, and cast out.”

With that, Bianca turned on her heel and marched away. She threw a spell behind her, but it hit the wards and dissipated. I wasn’t worried about whatever she’d tried. Areon had helped me set the wards and they were the strongest anyone had seen. Our powers combined could protect a military forward operating base.

Owen breathed heavily, not letting go of his defensive pose, until the car pulled away with a squeal. Then he made an effort to shift the parts that had…shifted. Gods, I needed to learn the correct phrasing and terms. Otherwise, I’d sound like an idiot. The thought caused a slightly hysterical sounding laugh to escape my throat.

Owen whipped around and hauled me into his arms. He held me tightly and pushed his face against my neck. I hugged him back, needing the grounding. For a couple of moments, we just breathed. Then he pulled back just far enough to see my face.

“You okay?”

I nodded.

Owen blew out a breath and didn’t let me go. “How worried do we need to be right now?”

“On a scale of one to ten? About seventeen.” That near-hysterical laugh burst out of me again.

Lost in thought, Owen pulled me in again. He hummed, kissed the side of my head, then let me go. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do.” He glanced at me to make sure I was paying attention, then continued. “You’re gonna call your brother, because he’s on your side right?”

“Right,” I agreed, calming just a little.

“Good.” Then he waggled his brows. “And I’m gonna eat my sandwich.”

Another laugh escaped me, but this time, it sounded far more normal. Owen’s shoulders relaxed, and his endearing grin bloomed on his lips. He draped an arm around my waist and led me back into the kitchen.

“Hey, I have my priorities.”

I nodded, still chuckling a little. My adrenaline was crashing and I started to shake. Owen sat me in a chair, then took the one next to me, sliding as close as possible before he reached once again for his sandwich. He did need to eat, and not just because he was hungry. He had to replace calories if he was to be at full strength.

I sighed and slumped against him, liking the pleased sound he made. “Tonight has not turned out at all like I thought it would.”

Owen went still. “Do you regret it?”

I heard the hesitancy and insecurity in his tone. I turned my head to give him a grin. “Not even a little bit.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

***By request, here’s part two. Check out last week for the first part. Enjoy!**

Sitting next to a naked man on the tailgate of my SUV was not how I planned to spend the evening. Okay, so Owen was no longer naked, since he’d wrapped the plaid blanket I always kept back there around himself.

Owen. A werewolf. A red wolf sometimes, and sometimes a man. And my familiar.

I already felt the bond growing between us, since that first glimpse of it when I’d called for my familiar and he finally appeared. It had thrown everyone into a tizzy. Aeron, with Remy, of course, were still here, though he stood some feet away and kept shooting us looks. The High Mage was having a conniption and communing with the rest of the Witches Council high coven. The other witches and their new familiars had been dismissed. I was trying not to freak out, and failing. Having this kind of bond with a human was unthinkable. Okay, technically he wasn’t human, he was a were, but still. Human sometimes.

The only one not freaking out in any way was Owen. He was swinging his feet and looking for all the world like no big thing was happening.

“Hey Gareth,” Owen finally said, his voice soft and a little tentative. We’d exchanged names before being banished to my SUV while the High Mage did her thing. “You wouldn’t happen to have any water, would you? Or a snack?”

Before I could answer, Aeron spoke up. “I have some stuff. I’ll be right back.”

I didn’t have food, but I did have several bottles of water, because I always had them in the car. Sometimes working magic made me thirsty. I retrieved one and handed it over. No doubt Aeron would bring back some as well, but I didn’t want Owen to have to wait when I could provide him with at least that. I nodded at his soft thanks.

“I’m sorry I’m not better prepared. I know you need to replenish calories after a shift but, well, I really didn’t expect this.”

Owen gave me that lopsided grin again. That quickly, and I already found that little quirk endearing as all get out.

“I gathered.” He drank some water, wiped off his chin, then turned to look at me fully. “But it’s the kind of thing that happens to some wolves in my family.”

I couldn’t help the gasp or the wide eyes. “Really?”

Owen cocked his head, looking like a puppy. “Really. I have several extended family members bonded to witches. Is it…not common here?”

I shook my head, and would have commented on that, but seriously, he looked like a confused puppy and I just had to know. Carefully, as tactfully as I could, I asked, “Owen, exactly how old are you?”

He laughed, the sound free, and his eyes twinkled with merriment. “Twenty-one. Almost twenty-two. I know I look younger.” He chortled again, and shook his head. Then his expression turned more serious. “I thought I felt something last year, and I definitely had the drive to shift and head this way. But I wasn’t of age yet, so…” He shrugged.

So young, but as he said, definitely of age. But then his words sunk in and my heart started to pound. I couldn’t quite catch my breath.

Owen’s gentle touch to my arm soothed me more quickly than anything ever had before. I breathed deeply and Owen started petting. I had the fleeting thought that I should tell him to stop. But I didn’t want to.

“You okay?” His voice was such a sweet sound, light and airy, but still with some depth of tone. “What just happened?”

“I’ve been, uh…” I cleared my throat. “I’ve been trying to call a familiar for several years now, but no animal came. This was my last chance. If it didn’t work this time, the Witches Council was going to strip me of my magic. Everyone thought I was broken.”

Aeron cleared his throat, shot me a meaningful look, and handed Owen a little packet of nuts, cheese and pretzels.

“Everyone but my brother,” I amended. And then, because of the squawk, added, “And Remy, of course.”

“Better.” Aeron shot Owen a smile. “Sorry it’s not much, but that should tide you over until you can get out of here and Gareth can feed you.”

“Thanks.” Owen offered up a grin, and then turned to me. “And obviously you weren’t broken. You couldn’t get your familiar until I was old enough to join you.”

“Which is highly unusual and circumspect.” The High Mage was a stately woman with formidable power, and we hadn’t heard her walk over. At least Aeron and I hadn’t, judging by the way we both jolted. Owen must have though, because he started eating his snack and gave her his full attention. Though his eyes had lost the warmth of a moment ago. The High Mage couldn’t care less.

“I’m not sure what you’re implying by that—”

“I’m not implying anything,” she interrupted. “I’m stating fully. Bonding to a human is forbidden, even someone who is only partially human, as it impinges on their agency. If this bond even, in fact, does exist.”

The outrage I felt wasn’t all mine. “Excuse me?”

“You will both present yourselves before the Witches Council for a thorough mental and magical evaluation. Until such time, Gareth and Owen, you will have no contact with each other and—”

“No.” 

Owen’s voice was firm, though polite, even though his eyes blazed with anger.

The high mage narrowed her eyes. “You don’t have a choice.”

“That’s the beautiful thing about agency, your high mageness.” The derision that dripped off Owen’s tone was impressive. “I can do whatever I want. And I will not have you, or anyone else, judge my bond with my witch. We’ve only just met, and it will take time for it to fully solidify. I will not let anyone muck around with that.”

The High Mage opened her mouth, but she never got the chance to speak. Owen beat her to it. “Gareth, get up, please. Let’s go. I need to eat, and probably find some clothes. And get your address so my family knows where to send my things.”

I hastened to do what he said, ignoring the High Mage and her ferret familiar who’d deigned to poke his head out of her robes and stare scornfully at us. He chittered to her, but she didn’t react. I had half a worry that she would cast a spell to keep us there, even though magic used in such a way would go against the Acadia Accords.

Besides, Aeron had my back. Like always.

I slammed the lift gate closed, and by the time I made it to the drivers seat, Owen was already settled in the passenger side. As soon as I shut the door, Owen breathed a sigh of relief and put his hands on me. It was just a soft touch to the neck, and then he leaned in to scent me there, before relaxing back against the seat.

“I’m sorry about that.” He shook his head. “Kinda. But you should know, wolves are possessive. I’m possessive. And you’re mine. They can’t take you from me.”

I nodded. “I don’t want that either. But they are powerful, and you’ve just opened a can of worms.”

Owen waved that off and gave me that lopsided grin I was coming to adore. “And we’ll face it when it comes. Until then, I need food and clothes, and time with my mate.”

I nodded again and put the SUV in gear. A moment later, I saw headlights behind me, which I recognized as Aeron’s car.

It was only three miles later, and five miles from home, when I finally realized what Owen had said.

Mate?

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

*It’s been a bit but here we go. Another flash for you! What do you think? Should there be a part 2? Enjoy!*

“You got this, Gareth. No stress.”

I nodded, thankful for the support, even if I didn’t believe my brother in the slightest. At least, if the ravenous horde of butterflies beating under my ribs was any indication. This was a big deal. A huge deal. And my last chance.

I was the oldest person in the summoning circle, and I’d had four failed attempts already. Most witches were able to summon their animal familiar by the time they turned twenty-one. My brother, Aeron, who was arguably more powerful than I was, had accidentally summoned his cockatoo at sixteen. I was thirty. I hadn’t reached my full power until I was twenty-five, which was also later than normal.

I was definitely a disappointment. My entire family was made up of witches, on both sides, and all had managed to summon a familiar to steady their powers by the time they reached their early twenties. Most of the animal familiars were birds too. The only person who hadn’t written me off was Aeron, convinced there was a reason for the delay. Most of my extended family barely talked to me, and my parents only did because, well, they were my parents.

But Aeron, and his cockatoo Remy, were by my side. Both in the everyday and here, tonight, the night of the Harvest Moon, they stood outside the circle to support me. waiting for the moment when they high mage began the ceremony and the witches gathered worked the spell that would hopefully bring them an animal familiar.

Going through the ceremony a time or two without calling a familiar wasn’t so unusual. Only witches who have reached the right threshold power were even allowed to attempt the ritual. But I was the anomaly. No one in written or oral history had done it as many times as I had and still failed.

The Witches Council had ruled that this was my last chance. I thought that was unfair, but there was nothing I could do about it. The decision was final. And if I didn’t manage it this time, my innate power would be taken from me. For my own safety and that of others. Without a familiar, with the level of magic I had, and no familiar to anchor me, I would end up going mad. And possibly hurt others.

It had happened before. 

So this was it. My final chance. And as I stared at the clear sky, the stars and moon shining down and lighting the clearing and the summoning circle, panic and fear began to build. When Remy flew over and landed on my shoulder, rubbing his beak on my cheek, I knew it had to be bleeding into my aura. Aeron was Remy’s favorite thing in the world, and even though the bird enjoyed me a great deal, he never left my brother’s shoulder when Aeron was around.

I tried to calm down. I was unsuccessful.

The High Mage stepped into the center of the circle and raised her hands to the sky, calling to Gaia, as hush fell over the crowd. Remy preened my hair for a second, then flew off. Aeron squeezed the back of my neck and then nudged me forward, as he stepped farther back.

The High Mage completed her rite, and now it was the gathered witches turn. I waited, doing my best to keep the panic under control, trying to focus as witch after witch stepped to the center, completed their rite, and familiars came flocking to their witch. Mostly cats and dogs, a few birds, even a squirrel or two. One by one, every witch successfully completed the spell and welcomed their familiar.

And then it was my turn.

The silence grew oppressive, but I did my best to ignore it. I tried to focus on the fact that whatever happened, happened, and it was out of my control. I stepped to the middle at the High Mage’s beckoning, and closed my eyes. Three deep breaths, focusing on the exhale and letting my worry and panic go with each exhale. I knew I had the power, the ability. The only thing left up to question was if it would work this time.

Centered now, I opened my eyes and lifted them to the sky. Another slow, deep even breath, and I was ready. I made sure my voice was clear and strong as I said, “Dewch ataf, o ffrind. I fod yn gefnogaeth ac yn angor I mi. Tyngaf i’r dduwies y byddaf yn eich anrhydeddu am bopeth yr ydych.”

For a fraught second, nothing happened. And then I felt it, faint at first but growing. A tether, the beginning of a bond, a glowing thread that connected to my soul to something else. Someone else. 

Out of the dark, between the trees, a canine trotted forward. It had a wide head with a broad muzzle, tall pointed ears, and long slender legs with large feet. The coat was a startling red with white and grey patches underneath the chin and on the belly. 

A red wolf. Beautiful and breathtaking. The closer it—he—got the tighter in my soul. I had to control my breathing because I feared I would hyperventilate. It worked! Finally, after all this time, it had finally worked. And the wolf was majestic and amazing. I already could feel it.

The wolf stopped a foot or so away, and I couldn’t help falling to my knees and reaching out. The wolf froze, staring at me with piercing amber eyes. He sat on his haunches, stared for a moment longer, and then, with a sigh, began to shift.

It took less than a moment, though it felt longer because I couldn’t draw a breath. But then a man knelt before me. His hair was the same sort of red of his fur, his eyes now brown. He was slender but leanly muscled, also echoing his wolf form. He looked to be in his early twenties, probably, but the lopsided grin made me wonder if he was younger.

“Well,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Didn’t expect that. So, you’re my witch, huh?”

Flash Fic Friday

Flash Fic Friday

**This one is inspired by a song, shared with me on Twitter from DuncanDaHusky. Running With The Wolves by Aurora from the movie Wolfwalkers. It’s a beautiful song, and this is what popped into my head when I heard it. You can check it out here ! Enjoy**

Panic ran through my veins, but I did everything I could to keep it at bay. I knew they could hear my pounding heart, smell the fear and sweat, see my shaking limbs. But I tried to keep it contained.

This wasn’t my old pack. There was no abuse and terror here. There was only kindness and affection. Caretaking and joy. This was what a pack was supposed to be. A community. Lifting each other up and looking out for everyone’s needs. Not what I’d spent my childhood in, where fear, pain, and ridicule ruled my every day. Ruled everyone’s lives except those at the very top.

“Breathe, sweetheart.”

Conall’s voice broke though the haze that was threatening to descend, and I sucked in a harsh breath simply because he’d told me to. I startled when he touched me, but didn’t pull away, and he knew enough by now that if he moved slowly and carefully, I relaxed into his touch within seconds. It took a few longer than normal, because my anxiety was high, but within a half a minute, I was curling into his arms.

He immediately hugged me tightly. And I didn’t even panic at the fact that he was holding me as a lover. In my old pack, two men together would have been killed. But not here. Here the alpha cared for each wolf as they were, as the goddess made them. 

I was still getting used to it, even all these months later.

“Tory,” the alpha said, stepping up to us. When he reached for me, I went and Conall only growled a little. Conall still didn’t like anyone touching me—our mating was too new—but he wouldn’t disobey his alpha. And he knew that sometimes, I needed the alpha’s comfort as well. 

Alpha Roan touched my throat, my head, and then squeezed the back of my neck. I relaxed into the hold, finally able to breathe easily. Having my mate and my alpha, both the best of men, right there helped me.

I’d come a long way from the scared, hurt, and bloody shifter I’d been when Conall found me. It had taken months of work with the pack therapist, and talking to my mate to get to where I was. I’d known, even while I was living it, that the way my old pack was run wasn’t right. But there hadn’t been anything I could do. Until Conall found me, got me out, and then, with the help of his alpha, brought down the wrath of the council on that pack. Those who could be rehabilitated and healed were sent to other packs. Those who couldn’t, or who reveled in the abuse, were put to death.

It helped, to know that they couldn’t hurt me or anyone else, ever again.

But in all the time I’d been with Conall and his pack, falling in love with the sweet man who had been so patient to work around my triggers and help me heal, I’d never shifted and run with the pack as a whole. With my mate, yes. For the alpha, I had. But I hadn’t been ready to run with all the wolves.

I was now. Or I thought I was. Until it came down to it. The moon was full, and though it called to us, it didn’t make us shift like in the contemporary tales. But we all felt her call and wanted to run under her light. There was a part of me that wanted to run with the wolves who’d shown me nothing but kindness and patience.

“I can make you, if that’s what you want.” Alpha Roan’s voice held no censure, no judgement. He was just stating a fact, giving me a choice. And for a split second, I considered it. It would be terrifying when it was happening—and would bring up very bad memories—but once it was done, I’d be free to run.

Conall’s snarl stopped that thought in it’s tracks, and the gentle push from the alpha had me wrapping my arms around my mate again. Conall immediately relaxed, though just before I tucked my head against his chest, I saw the side-eye he gave the alpha. Alpha just laughed.

And that, right there, seemed to release something inside me. What was holding me back, that fear and worry, dissipated. If the alpha could laugh at the slight disrespect my mate gave him, it was all going to be fine. I’d seen it countless times, Alpha Roan never taking anything to seriously, joking, laughing, and teasing his pack in a happy, joyful way. There was no discipline for the smallest infraction, imagined or real. I’d known it. But the reminder was exactly what I needed to see.

I sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. I did it again. After a third time, I was ready. I stepped back and smiled.

“I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

Conall studied me for a long second, then glanced at the alpha. Alpha Roan was staring at me too. But it didn’t take them long to suss out I meant what I said. I was ready.

Alpha shifted in a second, his big gray wolf shaking out his fur to settle it. He lifted his head and howled. The wolves who’d already run out responded and I shivered as their howls ululated through the night.

My skin itched to join them. My heart pounded. But all in good ways. I needed to be with them. I was safe with them. With my mate and the good-hearted alpha and the pack who cared for me simply because of who I was to Conall and then, later, because I was me. 

I tore off my clothes, as fast as I could, then dropped to all fours, letting the shift overtake me. skin rippled, muscles bunched and reformed, bones snapped and changed shape. It took seconds, longer than someone as powerful as the alpha, but still not long. And then the scents and sounds and sights became shaper and monochrome. The night came alive in a way my human sense, even though they were enhanced, couldn’t appreciate.

I yipped. Conall shifted when I had, and he was next to me, his wolf bigger than mine. He licked my muzzle, rubbed his face against mine, and I stood still and let him because he needed to make sure I was okay.

I was better than okay.

In the distance, the alpha howled again and this time I lifted my face to the sky and responded. Beside me, Conall’s deep howl joined the chorus. And then we were off, four feet pounding on the hard earth, the scents of crushed grass and pine and leaves wafted up with each sprinting step.

All around me, the other wolves ran with me. Some close, some farther away, but I could feel them. Hear them. I wasn’t alone. And with my mate right beside me, I had no fears to run with them.

Flash Fic Friday

Flash Fic Friday

**Another flash for you! This one comes from the Admiral and a prompt. Enjoy!*

I knew the instant I set foot in my home that something was wrong. Off. Amiss. I stilled, waiting, but nothing immediately pinged. So instead, I sent a burst of magic through my wards, testing and feeling. The magic rebounded back, just as it should letting me know all was as it should be.

Except it wasn’t. 

I moved slowly, hanging up my keys on the designated hook by the door and toeing off my flip flops. The refrigerator kicked on and the low hum filtered through the space. I scanned the room but nothing was out of the ordinary. Nothing stood out. Except I knew it wasn’t business as usually. Something was going on.

And then I saw it, out of the corner of my eye. Just the hint of movement and I reacted fast, snapping out with a hand and throwing a witch trap. I was fast and had pinpoint accuracy, so my quarry was caught easily. It took a fair amount of magic to keep them contained, pull them toward me and see who or what it was.

“Dammit Jarret!” 

There was no mistaking the mouse, with his shock of white over his forehead and his exceptionally long tale. Suspended in the witch trap, the faint blue of the energy swirling, the mouse was caught. There would be no escaping. But his panicked cries made me feel bad even though he wasn’t being hurt in any way.

“All right,” I said, exasperated. “I’m going to put you down and let go of the magic. You will not run. Do you understand me?”

The squeaking got louder for a few seconds, and then died down. The mouse twitched, and his sides heaved for breath. I kept an eye on him as I lowered the trap to the ground and slowly pulled back the magic, letting him free. I was ready for him to scurry off, but true to my command, he stayed put.

“What are you doing?”

The mouse shimmered and twisted, and then began to shift. It only took a few seconds before a full grown, and very naked, adult male stood in front of me. I grabbed the throw from the back of the nearby couch and tossed it to him. Jarrett gave me a half grin as he draped it over himself like a toga.

“I’m a mouse shifter, Cyrus. It only makes sense that I’m sometimes in my mouse shape.”

I was not fooled by the flippant answer. “That doesn’t explain why you were in my house in your mouse shape, in the middle of the day, when I was not here.” I squinted at him, putting the pieces together. Mad it had taken longer than normal, but I chalked that up to having been startled and unsettled when I’d gotten home. I pointed an accusatory finger at him. “You were snooping!”

Jarret gasped and placed a hand over his chest. He made his eyes as wide as possible, and even stuck out his bottom lip. “I would never.”

“Oh you so would. You shifted so you could squeeze in without setting off the wards, and you were snooping. I can’t believe you.” I threw up my hands and stomped off toward the kitchen.

“Cy! I just need to know.”

“No, you don’t. You’re just being nosy so you can ruin your surprise.” I sighed, trying to rein in my temper. And my disappointment. I worked so hard to actually surprise him, to make this good for him, and he was trying to ruin it. It’s not as though surprises gave him anxiety. If that were the case, I’d never have done it this way. But he actually loved them. It just killed him to know that I was keeping something from him. Even when it was a good thing.

“I’m sorry.” Jarret’s voice was a lot closer than I anticipated, but I managed to keep from jumping. Probably because he’d spoken so softly. “I’m sorry, Cy. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

I turned and looked at him, really looked, to see how he truly felt. If he was just saying the words without meaning…but no. It was clear he was contrite. The emotion was all over his face. I let out a breath and tried to let all my negative emotion go with it.

“It’s only two more days until your birthday. Can you please wait that long? For me?”

“Of course, baby. Of course. I’m sorry for being a jerk. It’s eating at me, but I know it’ll be a good surprise.” He took a step closer. “You always make it good.”

I ignored the innuendo. “You’re forgiven. This time.”

“I love you.” He leaned forward and kissed me. I couldn’t help but kiss him back. Never could. Not from the first moment I met him.

“I love you too,” I said back, my mouth against his. 

Suddenly he pulled back and his lips stretched in a wide grin. Then that grin morphed into a very wicked and mischievous grin. “You know, thought. You should probably do something to distract me.”

I shook my head, trying to keep the laugh in and failing. Jarret waggled his eyebrows at me, and I snatched his blanket-toga from him then smacked his ass. Jarret let out a peal of laughter and took off toward the stairs. I was right behind him.

He might be a pain who did his best to ruin surprises, but he was mine.

Flash Fic Friday

Flash Fic Friday

**Here’s a standalone flash for you. Enjoy!**

Fresh linen. Artificial, but not sickly or overwhelming. Citrus, but softer, not quite as tart. Bergamot? Probably. And something else, something woodsy. Sandalwood? No, not right. Cedar? Yes, that was it.

It smelled amazing. Enticing. Pulling me forward. I wanted to shift, to search it out. I needed to find it. Find them. My focus narrowed down to just that. The scent. I needed to find out who.

It was crowded, because apparently at the lunch rush at a café was the time for me to find someone who smelled so good that every cell in my body reacted. My wolf howled in my mind, demanding I track down whomever smelled so enticing.

It took me a few minutes to sort out the other scents, the bread and coffee and hundreds of other foods and people. And also to figure out how to not look like a creep or a jerk while discreetly scenting it out. But I was driven to do it, to search, and after what seemed like forever—but was probably only five minutes—I finally located it. Sitting there at the table, a sandwich in front of him.

Him.

Huh. That was unexpected. I’d never dated a man. But the person in front of me was clearly male. And Owning it. Clearly comfortable in his skin, and casually beautiful. Dark hair, dark eyes, and a chiseled jaw.

And then he looked up. Confusion crossed his features. Probably because I was staring at him like an idiot. After a long moment, he grinned. Looked right at me and smiled widely.

In that moment, the rest of the world ceased to exist. Like literally disappeared. It was only him and me. Our gazes locked. My heart pounded, blood rushing through my veins, butterflies in my stomach. Everything zeroed in on this man, my wolf scratching at my brain, whining and ready to roll over and show our belly.

He stood up, with such grace my mouth went dry. He took a step forward. I stumbled in his direction. And finally I was close enough to catch his scent under the linen and citrus and cedar, I caught the scent of shifter.

Everything in me relaxed. I breathed out. He stepped closer. Touched my neck. My breath stuttered in my lungs. His smile turned soft. My smile was tremulous, but there.

“Hi,” he said. 

“Hello.”

The world started spinning again.

Flash Fic Friday

Flash Fic Friday

**Here’s a new flash fic, but still PNR, because I can’t seem to stop. It’s all my muse wants to write. Enjoy!**

The wolf in my backyard was not one I recognized, which was saying something because I’d been around the local pack since I was a child. That narrowed it down, though. Either the wolf was one of the relatively new and recent members to join, or he was from a rival pack. Since he was just sitting there, staring at me, with absolutely no aggression, I was guessing the former.

I cocked my head. The big gray wolf mirrored the motion. I smiled and gestured behind me. “You coming in?”

The wolf didn’t move, but I swear I saw his amber eyes narrow. It made me laugh. Because I wasn’t worried about protecting myself if it came to that, and clearly he was there for a reason. Which is exactly what I told him. This time he definitely squinted, and I could practically feel the judgement rolling off him. I didn’t know what that was about but I wasn’t going to play games.

“Look, come in or don’t, it’s up to you.” And with that, I turned on my heel and headed up the steps to the back porch. I hadn’t even made it to the creaky screen door before I heard that familiar sound of paws on wood. I kept my face averted so he wouldn’t see my smirk, and held open the door so he could walk in.

I shut the door behind me, turning to make sure it latched properly, and by the time I turned around, I had a naked man crouched on my kitchen floor. It took me a second, because I’d only met him twice, but my brain finally supplied Gage’s name. I crossed my arms and leaned against the counter, staring him down.

“You want clothes?” I asked casually. Some shifters did, but most didn’t. And since I’d been raised around shifters, I viewed nudity as they did. It was just a state of being, and certainly not always a sexual thing.

“Only if you want,” Gage croaked, his voice still not quite ready to work. It happened sometimes with the shift. I’d seen it often enough.

I gestured with my chin toward the table as I turned to rummage in the fridge. I didn’t have much in the way of protein—some cold cuts and the rest of a block of cheddar—but I grabbed that and the sweet tea off the shelf. The sugar would do him good. I dropped my wares on the table, then retrieved some dinner rolls I had and added that, because carbs would help too. Adding a plate and a glass to my collection rounded everything off, and Gage had a veritable feast to replenish his used calories.

“Thanks, Seth,” he whispered, taking the plate and serving himself, such as it was.

And if I hadn’t been paying attention, I would have missed it. But I had been, because I was confused why this man who I’d only met a few times and who had only joined the pack six months ago was stalking me in wolf form. But the way he said my name? I couldn’t put it into words, exactly, the way it made me feel. There was longing there, affection maybe, and almost a reverence. All of that and more I couldn’t even name. And that gave me the biggest clue, even though it seemed impossible.

I let him eat for a few, unabashedly watching him, and Gage didn’t seem to care. At least he met my gaze on occasion and didn’t look embarrassed. His fast metabolism meant that it wouldn’t take him long to gain his strength back. The food disappeared fast, and so did several glasses of tea, before Gage sat back. 

“So want to tell me why you were in the backyard?”

Gage shrugged one shoulder. “I can’t help it. I have to be.”

I nodded, knowing where this was going, and not sure how I felt about it. “Were you going to tell me?”

“Probably.” Gage gave me a half smile that died quickly. “Maybe.”

I sighed. I might not be a wolf, but I understood them better than most other humans. I’d been immersed in their culture since I was four. I knew what was happening here.

“Well, perhaps we should get to know each other before we mate, you think?”

That got a small laugh out of Gage, and he shrugged that one shoulder again. I couldn’t decide if the gesture was annoying or endearing, and thought I’d reserve judgement on that.

Gage’s expression turned earnest as he leaned forward. “Whatever you want. You’re mine. I want to make you happy.”

I didn’t comment on that. We’d work on his need to please, because I wasn’t the type to need my partner to cater to every whim. More than that, I wanted him to be happy and fulfilled as well. So we’d deal with that as we got to know one another.

“At least a couple of dates, first. I get that you feel the pull, but it’s not exactly the same for me yeah?” I checked, and he nodded. “But, you know, attraction is definitely there. So we’ll get to know each other and see how we fit.”

Gage’s grin went wide. Mischievous even. “What are you doing tonight?

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**A week late, but finally, here’s the conclusion of Jamie and Sean’s story! Thanks so much for following along. If you’ve missed any of the installments, you can check out the tags to catch up. There will be something new next week, but for now, enjoy!**

Were the candles too much? Probably. I didn’t want to put any undue pressure on Jamie—this was a big deal for him, that he was even trying, and he would feel worse if he was unable to go through with it—but I also wanted it to be special. Because he was trying, and he deserved all the pomp and circumstance that went with it.

I’d made his favorite hoping that would make things easier. Spaghetti with homemade meat sauce. Garlic bread. A side Cesar salad. The Pinot Noir was also one of his favorites, and it worked well with the sauce. Everything was set to perfection, to show him how much I cared, how much I wanted this to work. Both the dinner and our relationship.

I just hoped Jamie saw it that way.

I was more nervous about this date than I’d been for any other date before. Which seemed silly considering I knew how solid Jamie and I were. Or at least, how solid we were becoming. We were so much more than this. But I worried about how this would affect Jamie. If he wasn’t able to share a meal with me, would it set him back? Make him feel bad? I was pretty sure I knew the answer.

And I wasn’t certain how to help him if that happened.

I tried to remind myself not to borrow trouble. He’d said he was ready to try, his therapist thought he was as well, and so did I. Going into this with a positive mindset would help, right? Jamie wouldn’t be taking this step if he didn’t think he’d succeed.

But Jamie was mine. My wolf, yes, and under my protection. But my boyfriend too, which added a whole other layer. It was up to me to make sure he was taken care of, and I couldn’t slack for even a moment. I didn’t want to. It was a privilege and an honor to see that Jamie’s needs were met. But meant it was doubly important I made sure that Jamie came through the night unscathed.

Maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself too.

No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I heard his car pull into the drive. Another glance at the table to make sure everything looked great, and I sprinted to the door to make sure I was there to open it the second he hit the porch. Jamie’s radiant smile was worth the trouble, and when I pulled him into my arms, he came willingly, melting against me with a soft sigh.

The easiness between us was a balm to my soul. I took a breath, let it out slowly, and reveled in the feel of him pressed against me. When Jamie lifted his face, a gleam in his eye, I kissed him, slow and sweet, doing my best to let him know exactly what I was feeling.

When I broke the kiss, Jamie sighed out his contentment. “Sean.”

“Hey babe. How you doing?” I kept my voice low, not wanting to break the mood that had enveloped us.

“Fine. Good.” He glanced at me, a sheepish smile gracing his lips. “Nervous.”

“No reason to be,” I assured him, leading him inside. I kept hold of his hand even as he kicked his shoes off. “It’s all good. We can do this.”

He nodded. “I smell garlic.”

I chuckled and gave him a little tug. “Come see.”

It didn’t take more than a few steps out of the entryway before the table came into view. The pack house was one large open space, rooms that were traditionally separated by walls, seamlessly flowing into one another. The design element had been deliberate, even though open concept floor plans had been all the rage for the past decade or so. This house was much older than that, but wolves were a communal species and we didn’t like to be separated. The house reflected that.

Jamie grinned, and though there was a quick skip in the beat of his heart, it settled quickly. He squeezed my fingers and stepped in closer so our shoulders were touching.

“This looks amazing, Sean. You pulled out all the stops.” The words were teasing, and the tone definitely held a hint of amusement, but his scent was happy and pleased, and I relaxed, knowing I’d made the right choice with the table setting. He liked what he saw and he appreciated the effort I’d made.

“Only the best for you,” I said, meaning every word. Then I didn’t give him a chance to respond, simply led him to the table and pulled out his chair. “Sit, sit. Let me serve you.”

I tried really hard not to make a big deal of it as I poured his wine, filled the small plate with a healthy serving of salad, then heaped spaghetti on the bigger plate. I finished it with a flourish, placing a piece of the warm, buttery garlic bread on the edge of the plate. Once I was done, I served myself and sat next to him.

I’d thought about sitting opposite him, but decided against it when I set the table. I would have loved to watch him, see his face as we conversed, but thought better of it at the last moment. Not only did I not want him to think I was staring at him, and perhaps judging him, but I wanted to be able to touch him.I was a werewolf so I had a thing for touch, but more than that, I as a man had a thing for touching him.

For a second, awkwardness hummed between us. I toyed with the idea of saying something, but in the end, I just dug in and pretended I wasn’t watching him out of the corner of my eye. Between bites, I made silly conversation, relating the story of one of our older packmembers and the trouble he’d found himself in that morning. Jamie laughed at all the right places, and played with his food. Twirling up a bite of spaghetti before letting it go, tearing his bread into smaller pieces and pushing one through the sauce, sipping the wine in the tiniest of motions.

I kept talking and eating, all the while wishing fervently he would take a bite. I was certain that once he did, and the world didn’t crash down around him, he’d be able to take another and another. And then, as I leaned to refill our glasses—though his was only half empty—Jamie did the impossible and take a bite.

I wanted to shout for joy. Tell him how proud I was of him and hug him so tightly he wouldn’t be able to breathe. But something in my stopped me from doing any of that. It was better, I thought, to just go on like it wasn’t a big deal.

At least until the meal was over.

I ate twice as much as Jamie, but it didn’t matter. Because as we talked, he ate. Tiny bites that he he chewed for a long time, but he ate. In front of me. Without having any sort of mental break down.

When I’d cleared a second helping of everything and sat back, Jamie did the same, even though there was still a few bites left of his first helping. He wiped his mouth, and he looked a little green around the gills, but he was smiling too. Tremulous, yes, but a smile nonetheless. His hand shook as he set the napkin down.

When he threw himself into my arms I caught him easily.

He pressed his face down against the skin of my neck, breathing a little fast, so I held him tightly until he calmed somewhat. When he pulled back, his smile was radiant.

“So,” he said with a shaky laugh. “We shared a meal.”

“We sure did.” I couldn’t quite contain the pride in my voice but I figured it didn’t matter. And besides, I wanted him to know how proud I was of him. I cupped his cheek. “The first of many, I hope.”

“Yeah.” His voice was hardly more than a whisper. “Yeah, I think so.”

It was a huge step forward, and we both knew that. It wouldn’t be all smooth sailing, and we’d have setbacks, I was sure. But this was the first meal together, and before long, I had every confidence Jamie would be eating it the pack, able to put the worst of his trauma behind him.

Jamie kissed my neck, then pulled back and gave me an eyebrow waggle. “The important questions is, what’s for dessert?”