**Saturday Edition! I had an all day thing yesterday and it was boring and I would have rather spent some time on this, but alas, that was not to be. Instead, you get a Saturday version. We’re closing in on the end. I think there’s only 3 or 4 episodes left. (But don’t hold me to it). Also, be sure to check out the poll at the end of the post! In the mean time, here’s episode 15. Enjoy!!**
Walker was caught up at work, and since my schedule was a lot more flexible these days, he’d asked if I’d be willing to take Archer to his therapy appointment. I didn’t have a problem with it, so we ran it by Archer. For a long moment, the kid didn’t say anything, then he just turned and walked away. I was still shellshocked and feeling bad when Archer stuck his head back in the room.
“I gotta think about it.” Then he was gone again.
I appreciated the open communication, and also the fact that he was giving it serious thought instead of dismissing it immediately, or saying yes when he was actually uncomfortable with it. I was also glad he didn’t try to skip the appointment or insist on going by himself. He knew he needed to go if he was going to work through his trauma. And no one was comfortable with Archer venturing out on his own right now, even though it had been a couple of weeks since the abduction. Not even Archer.
We were all working on it.
Eventually, Archer came back and said he was okay with me taking him. He still wasn’t completely onboard with me dating his father, but he was getting better about that. Logically, he knew Walker and I were mates, and that was a good thing. But he’d had his father to himself for a long time, and it was understandable that it would take time for Archer to be okay with the change.
So I dropped Archer off with Anna, and then sat in the car waiting for him to be done. When he emerged a little over an hour later, his eyes were red-rimmed, but his shoulders weren’t as hunched. I didn’t push or pry. If and when Archer wanted to share or talk, I would absolutely listen. I’d made that clear. But just because Archer was a teenager didn’t give me the right to insist he share with me. He was his own person and entitled to work through things in his own way.
Oscar didn’t have any such boundaries, and he curled up in Archer’s lap immediately, purring loudly. It got a half-smile out of Archer.
“I think Oscar likes you more than he likes me,” I said, feigning the grumpiness. Oscar and I were bonded heart and soul, and nothing could replace that. I was glad he’d taken such a liking to Archer and Walker.
“Can we get ice cream before we go home?”
For all that Archer was fifteen, he was still a kid. And sometimes kids needed comfort foods to feel better. Hell, sometimes adults did too. I smiled, though I kept my eyes on the road. “Sure.”
After ice cream—where I had to admonish Archer to not share his cone with Oscar, unless the kid wanted to be the one to clean the litter box—we headed back home. Even thinking the word brought me up short. When had I started thinking of Walker’s little house as home? We’d only been together few a few weeks, and I definitely spent more time there than at my condo. Some of my things, and a whole bunch of Oscar’s, had migrated over there. Walker had even built Oscar a window shelf in the living room, where the sun came through the big picture window for a good portion of the day. It was cozy and comfortable. More than that, it was where Walker was, and that was where I wanted to be.
I filed that thought away, but not too far. I’d bring it up with Walker later, when the timing felt right. I didn’t just want to invite myself to move in, but I hated being away from him. And Archer too, for that matter. I was pretty sure Walker wouldn’t have a problem with it. He’d crawl inside me if he could. Simply because of his nature, the bond was stronger on his side. I still had human hang-ups I was trying to reconcile.
It certainly seemed as though I was making progress in that area if I was ready to uproot my life for him. For them.
“You’re being weird,” Archer said as I shut off the engine. He gathered up Oscar, clearly not ready to let the cat go, and pushed open his door.
“You got all quiet and, um, what’s the word. Introspective? Am I using that right?” Archer cocked his head, reminding me much more of his wolf side than his human one.
I cleared my throat. “Yeah. Uh, yeah, you’re using it right. But how is that weird? And how did you know?”
He tapped his nose, giving me a smirk. But then it fell away and he shrugged. “I dunno. You’re just—” He snapped his head up, going on instant alert. With speed I didn’t know he possessed, he was around the car and pushing me up against it, keeping his body between me and the world. If he’d been in wolf shape, I was sure his hackles would have been up. He hissed, “Someone’s here. Shifter.”
I lightly touched his back, letting him know I was right there. Oscar scrambled over Archer’s shoulder and leapt onto mine. I called magic to my fingertips, an undefined spell just keep it at the ready. I was prepared to surround us in a shield charm at the very least and use deadly force if I must.
Nothing was getting through me to Archer again.
Then a tall figure ambled around the side of the house, and though I didn’t release my magic, I did breathe more easily. Not that I was glad to see Fiona, but at least I knew my former partner was trustworthy. Why she was here, though, was another matter entirely. She appeared to be by herself, and a quick seeking spell didn’t turn up anyone else in the vicinity. But I couldn’t fathom why she was here.
But I had a scared and traumatized teenager to look out for, so I made my voice easy and light, even as my body thrummed with tension. “Archer, meet Agent Fiona Mathers. Fiona, this is Arch.” I purposefully used the nickname Walker sometimes used, wanting to convey more familiarity. I wanted her to know he was important to me.
Archer, though he tensed a little, leaned back into me. He was practically crushing me against the car—for all that he was a lot smaller, he was a shifter and had more strength then his frame belied—but I didn’t protest. He needed me, I was there.
“Nice to meet you,” Fiona said, not sounding like she meant it. Her gaze was fixed on me. “Stand down, Delaney.”
On the rare occasions Fiona used my first name, it was always the full version and never the shortened on my friends used. It spoke volumes about our relationship.
I let the magic go, but not far. It was no longer actively sparking at my fingertips, but it was just under the surface. Oscar didn’t relax either. He’d never liked Fiona all that much. Come to that, neither had I. She was an outstanding agent and we’d always worked well together, but personality-wise, we’d never meshed.
“Why don’t you tell me why you’re here,” I said, working to keep my tone conversational.
Fiona squinted. “Can we go inside instead of having the conversation out in the open?”
Archer went rigid, pushing against me even more. I suddenly found it hard to breathe, so I put my hand on his shoulder. But that made it very clear he did not want Fiona in the house, and of course I would abide that.
“No. Tell me what’s going on.”
She sighed like I was the most exasperating thing she’d ever dealt with. Maybe I was. I found I didn’t care. She could deal with this right here or another time and place. Or not at all. It didn’t matter that much to me. Archer was my top priority right now.
“Willis, I really think…” Another sigh and then she shook her head. “Fine. Whatever. I need your help.”
I blinked. Then blinked again. That was surprising. I took a breath, and then another, before I finally spoke. “With?”
Her scowl was epic. “A case. It’s stumped us all, we’re out of leads, and you’re the only one I can think of who can tackle this from another angle.”
For just a second, I was ready to leap in. If I was needed, then of course I’d help. But before the words made it out of my mouth, I paused.
“I’m not an investigative agent anymore.” If there was bitterness in my tone, it couldn’t be helped. “I work in archives now, remember?”
The snort Fiona let out was inelegant at best. “Bullshit. You’re one of the best we’ve got, and that doesn’t change just because you were shuffled down.” She took a few steps closer, and Archer gripped my pants leg. I moved my hand from his shoulder to his neck in an effort to soothe him.
“While I appreciate the compliment, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m not longer an investigator.”
Fiona’s voice was low when she responded. “But that can change if you help on this case. Do you want your old job back?”