Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Here it is, the final episode of Lane and Walker. It’s been a long time coming, and I hope you enjoy!**

“To be honest, I didn’t expect you to take the job.”

I looked up from my new desk into the face of Agent Jasper O’Neil. His expression was impassive, his voice neutral, and I couldn’t read him at all. I didn’t know him well enough to guess. That would change though.

“To be honest, I didn’t know if I would.” I sat back and studied him just as hard as he was studying me. After a moment, he relaxed, his shoulders loosening, and he crossed the room to his desk. He sat, the swiveled his chair to face me, so I did the same.

“So why did you?” Again, his tone gave nothing away.

I took a moment to decide how I wanted to handle this. AIC Wright had partnered us together, but other than a few weeks ago when Archer had been missing, I’d never had much to do with him. O’Neil had been at the agency for half as long as I’d been, in the Special Victims Unit the whole time. I knew he had to be a solid agent or Sharon wouldn’t have kept him on. So I could either go on the defensive right off the bat or give him the benefit of the doubt.

I decided on the latter.

“Because I’m good at it. Because it’s important to me to help people, to see justice done.” I met his gaze head on. “Because my mate and my stepson supported me in doing it.’

O’Neil nodded. “Just so you know, there was talk about that. About you getting together with a victim.”

I squinted. “It wasn’t my case, first of all. Walker wasn’t the victim. And more than that, he’s my mate.”

Holding up his hands, O’Neil shook his head. “Not me, man. I just wanted you to know what some people are saying. I got your back.”

“Okay.” I didn’t trust him yet, but I wanted to.

“Look,” he took a breath, then slid forward in his chair, bringing us closer together. He lowered his voice in a conspiratorial way. “We do things differently here. Wright told me she wanted you here for years, but it didn’t work out. We like your brand of morals, and we’re not above bending the rules if needs must. So do the stupid training on protocol, but know that I’ve got your back. Wright and the rest of the team do too.”

I wasn’t a shifter so I couldn’t tell by scent if he was being sincere. But he seemed to be, and I decided to trust that. I did trust Sharon, so it wasn’t hard to extend that to O’Neil. Jasper.

I had a feeling he and I were going to work just fine together.

***

Walker was there to greet me at the door when I finally made it home that night. And it was home now, as of a few days ago. I’d given up my lease and officially moved in. Archer had grumbled about it, but that small smile he’d given me belied his true emotions. Sure, at least part of it was because of my cat. Oscar loved Archer almost as much as he loved me.

I set Oscar down and he immediately took off for Archer’s room. I didn’t expect anything else and didn’t worry about him as I turned my full attention to Walker. His sweet smile was the absolute highlight of my day, and stepping into his arms made contentment course through me. I still couldn’t explain it, whether it was that we were fated or just Walker himself, but it didn’t matter either way. Being in his presence, or even better in his arms, just made me feel better.

Walker kissed my neck, then my cheek, and finally my mouth. Taking, possessing, owning me until I was panting. Only then did he pull back, still cupping my face, and gave me a wink.

“How was your first day?” Walker’s cheeky grin made me roll my eyes.

“Funny.” I pecked his lips and then pulled out of his arms to loosen my tie. Because I was still watching Walker, I saw his eyes darken. I smirked, loving that he was so open in his desire. I never had to guess and that was better than almost anything. I still dodged his reaching hands. Now was not the time.

Walker laughed and turned back to the stove, stirring whatever was there. “No really, how did it go?”

“Good. I think.” I tossed the tie on an unused bit of counter. “Jasper’s a surprise?”

Walker cocked his head. “What do you mean?”

“I’m used to my partner being…a lot more of a stickler for rules and protocol.” I undid the top buttons of my shirt, then undid the sleeves and rolled them up. Walker was stared at me and licked his lips. I chuckled. “Now is not the time, babe. What are you cooking?”

Walker blinked twice before he gave himself a shake. “Spaghetti. Garlic bread is in the oven. And Archer baked a strawberry cake for dessert.”

I gave him a soft smile. Those were my favorites. “What are we celebrating?”

“You.” Walker glanced toward the door, probably making sure that Archer was nowhere in site. He set the spoon on the side of the stove, and crossed the room. I went easily when he pulled me in. “You’ve been through a lot, and your life has changed in a big way. Good ways, I think but it’s a lot. And, you know, now you’re doing what you love in a new way. That’s a awesome.”

My heart melted. It was something simple, making my favorite foods for dinner, but it showed me how much Walker cared for me. Wanted to celebrate me. In all my relationships, I’d never been with anyone who did something as simple and kind. I slid my hand up his back, and then into his hair, rubbing his scalp. If I hadn’t already fallen in love with him, that would have done it.

“I love you. Thank you.”

His face lit up, sheer joy in his expression. “I love you.”

I bent to kiss him, but before my lips made contact, Archer made a gagging noise from where he suddenly appeared.

“And I love you both, but can we eat now? I’m starving.”

I threw my head back and laughed, holding onto Walker so I didn’t fall over. Three months ago, I was sure my life was in shambles. Walker had changed all that. I never expected it, and I was still finding my way, but for the first time in a long time, I finally felt like my life was going in the right direction. I had a job I could believe in, a mate who loved me, and a stepson who made me laugh and who was an all around good kid.

It was a far cry from where I thought my life would be but honestly, I couldn’t be happier.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**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.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 20! I keep thinking it’s going to end, and it keeps not ending. But as it stands now, there’s probably about two episodes left. Enjoy!**

I didn’t make eye contact with anyone as I headed straight for the director’s office, but that didn’t mean I missed the looks others were shooting me. Some were sympathetic, as though they were sorry I was about to get in trouble. Some were what could only be described as gleeful for the same reason. Only a few were encouraging, and those were the ones I took real note of of.

Annika, Director Mitchell’s admin, glanced up when I entered the anteroom. She immediately returned her attention to the computer screen but said, “She’s expecting you.”

I took that to mean I was cleared to go in. I knocked on the door and waited for permission to push it open. The director squinted at me as I entered, then shut the door behind me. I crossed the few feet to her desk, never breaking eye contact.

“Sit.” Mitchell said, gesturing to the chairs. I did, transferring Oscar to my lap, but I didn’t relax.

I watched her play with her pen as she stared at me. Flipping it between her fingers, then clicking it a few times before she set it down on the pristine surface of her desk. It was another moment or two before she spoke, and I waited that out, not willing to be the one who broke the silence.

I didn’t know what this was about, which way this conversation would go, and I wasn’t going to reveal my hand until I had to.

Eventually, she spoke. “What made you think of pallium ligatum?”

I didn’t know if I appreciated the lack of preamble or not. Outwardly, I remained calm, because I’d had a lot of practice. Inwardly, my stomach was a mess. I wanted answers about why I’d been called here and what was going on with the case. But I decided it was best to go with the direction of conversation.

“It wasn’t a new thought,” I admitted, glad my voice sounded even. I buried my fingers in Oscars fur. “During the initial investigation, it was something we explored. Along with servus ligatus,  anweledig, and falaichte.

Her expression didn’t change. “I read your initial report. My question is why?”

If she read the report, then she knew why. But if she wanted me to repeat it, I would. “It was clear that it was nearly impossible for Anderson to do what she did without help. But there was no evidence of an accomplice. So we looked at ways that could be accomplished.”

“But there was no evidence of that either.”

I fought my frustration. We’d been explicit in the report, and I knew for a fact Fiona had to have explained all this again. I didn’t understand her need to reiterate it again here. Was she just checking to make sure my story hadn’t changed? That didn’t make any sense either. So I took a breath so I could remain calm.

“Correct.”

Mitchell nodded, her hair swinging. She tapped at her keyboard for a few moments, then turned the monitor around. The mugshot of a haggard looking man was prominent on the screen. He was bruised and battered, and he had the sunken eyes and cheeks of someone who had been deprived.

“Who is that?”

“Frank Alcott.” Mitchell turned the screen back to her, studied it for a moment, then zeroed in on me. “Anderson’s apprentice, who was under a pallium ligatum that took our best mages a considerable amount of effort and time to break. They’re still recovering from the magical overload. He was Anderson’s apprentice. When we apprehended him, and broke the spell, we found Anderson’s body as well.”

The sense of vindication was swift but fleeting. I didn’t like the piercing gaze Mitchell fixed me with. Since she was a hawk shifter, it was quite intense. It was all I could do not to look away. Oscar felt my unease and scrambled up to perch on my shoulders, curling around my neck in a comforting way. Of course, it would be easy to draw power from him that way as well.

“So I was right.”

Mitchell pursed her lips. “You were. But I still want to know how. No one else even entertained the idea. We had some of our best agents on the case, and yet you were the only one that came to the right conclusion.”

I bristled, because the accusation was in her tone. I had a feeling the next words out of her mouth were going to be that I had to undergo a soul search to prove I wasn’t using black magic. Because that’s what she was implying. That the reason I figured it out was because I practiced it too.

“With all due respect, Director Mitchell,” I began, my cold tone unavoidable, “that’s my job. Or it was. To look at cases and explore every possible angle to get to the truth. You called me in, not the other way around. I’m an exceptionally good agent. I worked hard to become so. I close cases at a higher rate than ninety percent of the agency. But it’s because I’m good and can see things other agents don’t.”

She squinted at me. “You break protocol often.”

“I bend the rules when it’s necessary and right.” The conviction was strong in my tone.

Her eyes blazed. “You don’t get to make that decision.”

Technically, she was right. The protocols were in place for a reason, and I didn’t get to pick and choose which ones to follow. Except I did on a regular basis. And yes, it meant I solved cases. It meant that the bad guys ended up behind bars and victims got justice. But did that make it right? I used to think so.

“I don’t know what you want from me, Director.” I kept the sigh in and did my best to make my tone respectful. “We’ve had this conversation before. Or an iteration of it. Multiple times. You want me to solve cases, but when I do, you don’t like the way I did it. Even though I follow the letter of the law, if not the spirit. I respect that. But you can’t have it both ways. If you want my badge, just say so.”

“We have protocols in place for a reason,” she said, anger still present in her voice. I knew that, but didn’t acknowledge her statement. It took a minute, but the heat in her gaze died. She let out a sigh, a soft little sound that I thought she didn’t want me to hear. After a few beats of silence, she said, “A position has opened on AIC Wright’s team.”

“I…what?” I heard her words, of course, but they didn’t make sense. What did that have to do with anything?

“You’re wasted in archives.”

I had to agree. But she couldn’t mean what I thought she meant. It couldn’t be that easy. Suddenly, they wanted me back as an investigative agent, all because I’d managed to crack a case her best agents had trouble with. I didn’t know how to feel about that, because I’d been doing that before they shuffled me down. They’d wanted to teach me a lesson.

“Look, Wilis,” she paused and offered me a small smile before it disappeared. “Delaney. The MBI is a lot of things, but we don’t waste talent. The Special Victims Unit would be a better fit for you. It means a new partner, a new AIC, and a refresher class on protocol. What do you say?”

I stared at her. There had to be a catch. Yes, she’d said a refresher class, but it couldn’t be that easy. My gut said to take some time, even though my heart was screaming to say yes. My whole life, all I’d wanted was to be an MBI agent. I’d spent the past fifteen years becoming the best one I could be. But I didn’t want to regret my choices, and I couldn’t just jump at this.

“I appreciate the offer, Ma’am. I’ll think about it.”

There was that squint again. “Willis, this isn’t an unlimited time offer.”

I nodded. “I understand that. But I cannot make a decision like this without speaking first with AIC Wright and then my mate.”

A beat of silence, and then, “You have forty-eight hours.”

It wasn’t long enough, really, but I didn’t want to push for more. If I couldn’t come to a solid decision in two days, then it probably wasn’t the right choice anyway. I agreed with a nod.

“Is that all, ma’am?”

She sighed like I was the most exasperating thing she’d dealt with today. Maybe I was. But this was my life, my mate’s life, and I wasn’t going to just make decisions without the proper discussion. I wouldn’t do that to Walker.

“Fine, yes. But do me a favor and talk to Wright before you leave today, will you?”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

And then without waiting for a proper dismissal, I stood and left the room. Once again, I made sure not to make eye contact with anyone. I didn’t want to see their faces. But as I headed up to AIC Wright’s office, I shot a quick text to Walker, letting him know everything was all right but that we had things to talk about.

This day had not turned out at all like I thought it would.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 19! We’re nearly done. It won’t be much longer now, but I hate to give a definitive amount and then break my word. Just know that it’s soon coming to an end. For now, enjoy!!**

“Why you so antsy?”

I snorted a laugh at Archer’s abysmal grammar and shot him a look. He didn’t appear to be paying any attention to me, absorbed in his game as he was. His Switch was propped up on the arm of the chair, and he had a controller in each hand. Though his posture was relaxed, he didn’t take his gaze off the console.

“I’m not antsy.”

Archer scoffed. “You can’t sit still, dude. It’s annoying. I’m busy over here.”

I scoffed. “All you’re doing is decorating your island.”

“It’s a complex theme that requires…never mind.” He shot me a glance, just a fleeting look, then back to the game. For a few seconds there was nothing but the sound of the game soundtrack. Then Archer said softly, “If you’re that anxious about what’s going on, you could always call her to get an update.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” It was clearly a lie and we both knew it.

Archer gave me a droll look.

I pointedly ignored him. Lots of things about this relationship had been a surprise, but none more so than a far too observant teen who had gotten comfortable enough to speak his mind. Honestly, I loved it. Archer had been steadily working through his feelings about everything, but Fiona’s visit the other day had seemed to tip him over the edge. He wasn’t holding himself back anymore.

“Dad!”

Archer’s shout startled me enough that Oscar dug in to keep from getting knocked off my shoulder. He gave an angry yowl. I petted his head to help settle him down as Walker came tearing in from the other room, eyes wide and scanning for trouble.

“What? What happened? What’s wrong?”

Archer just rolled his eyes and jerked his chin in my direction. “Your mate needs cuddles or something. Lane is all wound up over the case and he won’t admit it because apparently pretending we don’t feel things is what we’re doing now.”

“Arch!” Walker started, shocked at his son but I couldn’t help the belly laugh that escape. Archer had delivered his speech in such a dry tone, never taking his eyes off what he was doing, that made it all the funnier. When I finally got myself somewhat under control, I saw the little smirk on his lips.

“You heard the kid,” I said, holding out a hand. “I need cuddles or something.”

Walker smiled and dropped down next to me on the couch, pulling me into his arms. I was taller, so it took some maneuvering, but we managed to get it sorted out quickly. We were getting good at that, and the thought had me smiling and letting him take more of my weight. Even Oscar found himself a new spot on my hip, kneading my thigh before settling. Walker kissed my forehead and then pressed his nose against my hair. He liked it when all he could smell was me. I liked that something so simple could bring him joy.

“What’s going on, babe?”

“He’s got ants in his pants. Like you used to tell me when I was little. Except I usually had to go to the bathroom, and I don’t think that’s Lane’s problem right now.”

I laughed again, even more tension releasing. Did this kid know what he was doing? “Thanks, Arch. I got it from here.” I snuggled tighter against Walker, pushing my face down against his chest and just listening to his heartbeat for a long few moments as I got my thoughts in order. “I expected to hear from Fiona by now. It’s been two days.”

“And you aren’t calling her because…?”

I sighed, not wanting to say it out loud. It sounded petty and I liked to think I was better than that. Even though part of my motivation for the whole thing had, in fact, been rooted in pettiness. But if I couldn’t say it to my mate, then who could I say it to?

“Because I don’t want them to know that I’m invested. I walked out to prove a point, but damn if I don’t want to know what’s going on, where they are on the case, and if any of the leads panned out.”

Walker chuckled, the vibrations against the top of my head made me shiver. He squeezed me tightly.

“Honey, they know you’re invested. Fiona knows what kind of man you are. As, I’m sure, do the rest of them. They’d be stupid to think you weren’t invested. And if that’s the case, then they’re more idiotic than I thought.”

“Yeah.” I let out a gusty breath, mulling that over. “So either they don’t have anything to tell me, they don’t want to tell me, or they’re playing their own game, wanting me to be the one to call in.”

“Or all three,” Archer chimed in, still appearing to only be focused on his game.

“Or that,” I agreed. I adjusted my position so I could nuzzle into Walker’s neck because he enjoyed that. The neck was an important zone for wolves, and I’d learned quickly that I could rile Walker up just as easily as comfort him simply by scenting his neck. The thing was, in the process of learning that, I’d come to experience the same emotions. I got just as much out of it as he did. I wasn’t going for excitement right now though.

I’d save that for later.

Walker slid his fingers into my hair, rubbing my scalp, which further helped to settle me. After a long few moments, I felt better. He didn’t have magic, not like I did, but I sometimes I had to wonder. Because right now, just snuggled against him, my previous anxiety had melted away. I was ready for a nap even.

“So, are you going to call?” Walker asked, voice smooth like velvet.

“Yeah. In a bit. When I feel like moving again.” I kissed the juncture where Walker’s neck met his shoulder. Oscar took the opportunity to stand, stretch, and then paw at my pocket. A second later, my cell phone rang. “Then again, maybe I won’t have to.”

I pushed against Walker’s chest—coping a quick feel—so that I could sit up enough to answer the phone. But to my surprise, it wasn’t Fiona’s name on the screen.

“What?” Walker asked, no doubt reading my sudden tension.

“It’s the director.” I stood quickly, swiping across the screen. I couldn’t imagine why Director Mitchell would want to talk to me. “Agent Willis.”

“Willis,” she said, her tone as abrupt and no-nonsense as usual. “In my office. Thirty minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She hung up without another word, which was wholly like her but still irritating. What was even more surprising was that she made the call herself instead of delegating it to her admin. Louise, at least, would have been more polite.

“What’s going on?” Walker stood, worry lines on his face.

“I don’t know. Guess I better go find out.”

Walker grabbed me and kissed me soundly, making sure I felt it all the way down to my toes. When he pulled away, he kept a light grip on my face. “You’re mine, Delaney Willis.”

“Yes.”

Walker’s lip curled in a not-quite smile. “Come back to me.”

“I will.”

“Be safe, Lane.” Archer had laid aside his game, crossing the room quickly to touch my neck with fleeting fingers. He was marking me too.

I glanced back and forth between them and my heart swelled. If someone had told me I’d find myself with a mate and a teenage stepson, I would have thought they were crazy. But now, here I was. And I was happy with it. Glad, even, for this family we were creating.

I marked them both, even though I could scent it like they could, but somehow needing my scent on them, just as theirs was on me. Then I kissed Walker one more time, promised to be safe, scooped up Oscar, and headed out the door.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 18 comin’ atcha. Won’t be much longer now. But enjoy!!**

I stared at the smart board hanging on the wall in the conference room where the team had set up. Every piece of evidence was on display, including the timeline, but all told, it wasn’t much. Fiona was the only one not treating me like a pariah, but I ignored everyone. I didn’t care what they thought about me. I was here to work the case, not make friends.

I clicked on the desktop interface to change the view, bringing the surveillance pictures back up. I went through them for probably the fifth time since I’d arrived that morning. There was something about them that was bugging me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Across the room, Agent Toddington let out a snort, something he was very good at as a bull shifter. Just as I had every time before, I pretended I didn’t hear it.

After a very long moment, I leaned back, not taking my gaze from the screen. “Anderson’s body was kept in the morgue, under protective sigils, until three days ago. The sigils were removed, and the body was prepared for cremation, since it was no longer needed and was unclaimed.”

“Right.” Fiona’s voice held a hint of exasperation. I ignored that too.

I started clicking through the photos again, stopping at the one that was bothering me the most. I could see why now, but it didn’t make sense. So I continued with my summation. “The morgue was unattended for a grand total of an hour and fifteen minutes, but the guard never left her post down the hall. But somehow in that time period, the body vanished. No magic was detected. No other person was detected by scent, even though the best noses in the agency were asked to sniff around.”

Toddington let out a near growl sound, Fiona’s sighed heavily, and the two other agents—who I’d been introduced to as Meeks and Combs—made sounds of disgust. One of them, I wasn’t sure who because I didn’t look, muttered under their breath. It sounded suspiciously like “We’ve been through this.”

Once again, I ignored all of that. 

“What about non-magical means?” It was the one thing that hadn’t been brought up yet.

“There’s no way,” Toddington bellowed. I turned to look at him and raised an eyebrow.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not possible,” he said, as though I was the stupidest person on earth. “Every inch of this building is warded completely. There is literally no way for someone to get in, snatch a body, and get out again without being detected.”

“And yet, we clearly have a missing body.” I didn’t even try to hide the patronizing tone. “It didn’t just disappear. That is actually impossible. And between the chemicals, the decomp, and the amounts of people going through the morgue, it’s hard to detect scents that shouldn’t be there. Even for the best.”

“This is pointless,” Meeks growled, his hulking frame towering over me as he leaned in. I was sure he was trying to intimidate me, but that wouldn’t work. “If you don’t have anything of value—”

“What are you seeing, Willis?” Fiona interrupted sharply. 

“This right here.” I gave her my full attention since she seemed to be the only one who was willing to listen. I clicked through the photos again until I found the one I was looking for. Right at the edge of the frame, there was just the hint of a shadow that shouldn’t be there. I used the mouse to point it out. 

The other agents surged forward, almost blocking my view, as they inspected the photo. Truly, it wasn’t much to go on. And it could mean nothing at all. But it couldn’t be dismissed. To the other agents’ credit, no one did that. But they also clearly didn’t think it was worth much either.

“It could be just an artifact,” Combs said thoughtfully.

“Maybe, but…hang on.” I pulled up the video and ran it at two-times speed until I reach the right part. It was a blip, a blink and you miss it kind of thing. Just a weird sort of split-second stutter in the video. Which could be nothing at all and just a simple malfunction. But that combined with the tiniest hint of shadow that was also there and gone led me to believe it was something more.

“If the feed was hacked through strictly human means, which you haven’t checked for because the magic is supposed to prevent that….if someone was cloaked with a pallium ligatum spell….then the few moments of opening the door and getting the body would go unnoticed.”

“That’s impossible!” Toddington was back to shouting.

“Improbable,” I countered. “Highly improbable, even. But not impossible. And if you’ve eliminated the impossible, then whatever is left, is the truth.”

I mangled the quote, but that wasn’t important. My brain was still trying to put all the pieces together, and I wasn’t worried about correctly quoting the fictional detective.

“That’s a hell of a reach,” Combs mused.

Fiona stepped into my field of vision and I blinked to focus on her. She’s pursed her lips in her “thinking” face and studied me for a long moment. Then she pressed her thumb to the middle of her forehead and closed her eyes. “Walk me through it.”

I nodded. “We always suspected that Anderson had an accomplice, but we never found any evidence of it. To be fair, though, since we couldn’t prosecute her for the crimes we found, her investigation was secondary to Leighton’s, right?” I waited for Fiona’s nod before I continued. “It got punted to other agents, and they never turned up anything either. But I’ve been trying to figure out who would want her body. And the only thing I can come up with is someone who has magic tied to hers. When a mage dies, most of the magic dissipates, but not all. Some is tied into the very core of the mage’s being.”

“As long as the body is intact, the magic remains,” Fiona said, picking up my thread. “If the body is destroyed, by cremation for example, that last bit of latent magic goes with it.”

“Right. And there are only a few spells that can hang on that way. Pallium ligatum being one of them.”

“But it’s still a hell of leap.” Meeks didn’t hide his derision. “That spell is never used, it’s too damaging to all parties involved.”

“Anderson was a dark mage in the extreme,” I snapped, finally out of patience. “If it served her purpose, she would use it. And I can think of a hell of a lot of reasons a mage of her caliber and ilk would want to have a permanently invisible person bound to her.”

“You can’t just jump—”

“I’m putting together the pieces!” I took a breath and modulated my voice. “There is something going on with the video, and I’m not adept enough to know what it is, but it’s likely been tampered with in some way. If this person could slip in undetected, because that’s the whole point of the pallium ligatum, once they had hands on Anderson’s body, it would be undetectable too. They could carry Anderson’s body right out the door and never be seen.”

I had to breathe again, and I lifted my gaze to Fiona, staring her right in the eye. “Yes, it’s improbable. But you all have gone at this every other way. You asked me here to look at it with fresh eyes, and I’m telling you what I’m seeing.”

“Get Jones on trying to trace a non-magical hack,” Fiona ordered, and when no one immediately responded, she pointed at Combs. “Make the call. Get the FBI involved if we have to, as they have more capabilities in this area. I’m going to call the director and have her initiate an in depth sweep and core level magical probe. There should be slight traces of that kind of spell passing through our wards. We just have to look for it.”

Everyone moved then, a flurry of activity. Fiona reached for her cell, unclipping it from her belt, but paused when I stood and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?”

I squinted at her. “Home. You can call me back in if this doesn’t pan out and you need more help.”

She tilted her head, staring at me. “You’re that sure of your assessment?”

I was, but I didn’t respond. It might not shake out exactly like I suspected, but I was certain this would be the lead they need to crack the case open. At any rate, they didn’t need me anymore.

“You know, the Willis I knew wouldn’t just walk away before the case was solved.” Her tone was neutral, but there was something in her eyes I couldn’t define.

“The Willis you knew was an investigative agent. This one is just consulting, who has a mate at home who’s worried,” I said in the same tone.

Fiona stared at me for a long time, then let out a tiny breath. “Go home to your mate. I’ll let you know what happens.”

With a nod of thanks, I turned and strode out the door.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 17! Did I expect this one to go on for so long? No, I did not. But it’s nearing the end, though I hesitate to say how many episodes are left. Because I’m not so sure. This is what pantsing will get you. This post is ever so slightly NSFW so be aware. Enjoy!**

Walker shifted the moment we were inside and the door was firmly shut. I kept my gaze fixed on Archer, not because I didn’t want to watch my mate shift—though it sounded painful even though every shifter I’d ever known said it wasn’t—but because he seemed to need the reassurance. He was staring at me with an intensity I wasn’t accustomed to. But it was he look in his eye that had me smiling reassuringly. He’d been scared.

“Thanks again for looking out for me, Archer. I really appreciate it.”

He nodded slowly and snuggled Oscar in a little closer to his neck. “She didn’t seem like she was going to…” He shook his head. “It just seemed better if Dad was here.”

“I know. It’s okay. Of course you called him when you were unsure. And like I said, I appreciate the care you showed me.” I walked across the room and clasped his shoulder. When Archer leaned into me, just a bit, I couldn’t help the pride that surged through me. Despite everything, was coming to terms with me being a permanent fixture in his life and I liked that more than I expected to.

“Okay.” He blew out a breath and stepped back, out of my reach. “I’m taking Oscar for snuggles.”

Without waiting for my approval, Archer turned on his heel and headed down the hall. I watched him go with a chuckle before turning my attention to Walker.

A very naked Walker.

“Well, hello there,” I said, trying for salacious and almost succeeding. I waggled my eyebrows as I walked closer.

“You’re cute,” Walker said in a tone that implied I was anything but. “Don’t try to distract me.”

“Oh, but you’re very distracting.” My voice went low, husky, without my permission. “All that lovely skin on display. Come here so I can touch you.”

Walker’s pupils dilated, and he sucked in a breath. He even swayed toward me. Before he caught himself and gave me a veery stern look. “I want to know what’s going on.”

“But—”

“I will put on clothes,” he threatened.

“Noooo.” I whined, and Walker finally broke with a laugh. When I opened my arms, he surged into them, and we held each other tightly. For a long moment, we stood there just like that. Holding each other and breathing each other in. Walker was all but vibrating with tension, but eventually relaxed enough that I thought we were both settled.

“How much do you know?” I took his hand and led him to the couch. Part of me wanted to get naked too, so we could have this conversation skin to skin. But that wasn’t fair to the gravity of the situation, nor was it fair to Archer. Firstly because he didn’t need to see me without clothes—though as a shifter he didn’t see nudity as a bad thing. But more than that, naked time with Walker always led to other things and no one at all needed to see that, let alone his fifteen year old son.

“Not much,” he admitted as he cuddled in against me. He shivered at the friction of my sweater on his bare skin, but otherwise didn’t react. He pushed his face against my neck for a deep inhale that settled him further. When he continued, he spoke against my skin. “Arch called. Said your old partner was here, and that it was intense and he thought I should come. It was the tension in his voice, that little wobble, that let me know he was worried at best. Scared at worst. I know you can handle yourself, but I shifted and came anyway.”

“I always want you here.” The words were out of my mouth before my brain really processed them. But as I heard myself say them, something settled deep in my soul. Things with Walker had been a whirlwind from the start, but from the moment I’d laid eyes on him, I wanted nothing more than to hold him close and take care of him. I never expected any of this, but it seemed the old adage was right; everything happened for a reason.

The contented sigh Walker let out filled my soul. His voice was low when he murmured, “Good. And we’ll talk about that later. After this.”

Sounded good to me. “You heard what Fiona said?”

“Only about some missing body. Which, man, your job…” He shook his head. “And I inferred they want your help?”

“Yeah.” I debated what to say for a few seconds, because as much as I didn’t want to keep anything from him, I also couldn’t share too many details. “One of our old cases, that Fiona and I worked, has resurfaced. Or parts of it. You heard about the missing body and that they don’t have leads. They want me to take a look with fresh eyes.”

Walker nodded, and I could practically hear his mind work as he digested that. “And you want to?”

“Part of me does, yes. Part of me wants to jump in and work this. Find a lead they haven’t chased yet.”

“Prove to them they made a mistake in reassigning you?” Walker’s voice was soft and kind.

“Not going to lie, yeah, that’s part of it.” I blew out a breath. “But that’s also the same part that doesn’t want to help, because they did this to themselves, kicking me down. They made their bed. They can lie in it.”

“You won’t do that.” Walker kept his voice quiet, but I heard the conviction. He kissed my neck and pressed his forehead against my jaw. “You might think that, because you’re hurt. And that’s understandable. But you wouldn’t do that because you always do the right thing.”

I sat with that for a second. “You think I should do it.”

Walker hummed. “Yes, I do. You’ll regret it if you don’t. One of the things I adore about you is that you have such a strong moral compass. You have a strong ethic code, and maybe it doesn’t match up with the MBI all the time, but you never have to worry that you’re compromising yourself, your morals, or your innate goodness.”

I couldn’t help it. I had to squeeze him tightly to me and just hold him. I loved the way he snuggled in. I kissed his hair, and when he lifted his face to mine, I kissed his mouth. Long and hard and with all the feeling I had. We were both panting when we broke apart.

“I am amazed at how well you get me, even after such a short time. Thank you.”

Walker blushed slightly, but his gaze heated at the same time. “You’re mine, Delaney Willis. I will always understand you and support you. You hear me?”

“I do. And I feel the same. Walker, I wasn’t expecting any of this, but I can’t help but be grateful Fate put us on the same path.”

“Good.” Walker’s gaze glinted with fierceness before it softened. “So hold me a little longer, and tell me what you can about working a case, and then call your ex-partner and go save the day.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 16! Lane finds himself in a predicament for sure. And Archer is on edge. Enjoy!**

It took a lot of convincing, but I finally managed to get Archer to go inside. He didn’t need to be part of the conversation, and just the fact that Fiona was in his territory made him uneasy. I wanted him safe and in the house. Not that I thought Fiona would do anything to him. But it was just safer all around for all of us if I kept them separated.

Archer staunchly refused to leave me alone with my former partner until I promised to put up a personal shield. Fiona snorted and rolled her eyes at the suggestion, which made Archer growl. I agreed and performed the spell the moment the teen crossed the threshold. He wanted me safe just as much as I wanted him safe, and it was an easy enough compromise. I left it in place even after he shut the door, knowing full well he’d be watching out the window.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Fiona said, sounding annoyed.

“Didn’t think you were.” Though my voice was easy, conversational even, I didn’t drop the shield. I wouldn’t break my promise to him.  “Tell me what you can.”

She stared me down for a long second. I let her, not sure what she was looking for. It didn’t matter. She’d come to me for help, which meant the order had come from higher up. Agent Mathers would never have shown up if it hadn’t been approved. That wasn’t her way. The questions was had it been her idea? Had she offered to come speak with me? Or had she been ordered to?

In the end, the answer to those questions didn’t matter. She was here and the leadership approved it. That much I knew for certain. This was the situation at hand and what I needed to deal with.

“Do you remember the Leighton case?”

Fiona’s voice startled me out of my thoughts, though I didn’t physically react. Did I remember? Of course I did. It had taken us six months to track down the man responsible for draining supernatural beings of their magic and life force. He’d been crafty, sneaky, and one step ahead of us the entire time. And that was after eighteen months of us finding evidence of the heinous crimes without a single lead. It had been one of the biggest cases the MBI handled in the past three decades. And Fiona and I had been at the forefront, and though we weren’t alone, we’d made the collar.

“Of course.”

Fiona nodded. “The fifth victim we linked to the case, Anita Anderson. She was different than the others.”

That was putting it mildly. She’d been a dark mage to begin with, and the reason we hadn’t immediately linked it to the first four was because the location and MO didn’t match. Her death had actually come earlier than the two most recent victims, but we hadn’t known that until we’d pieced together all the evidence.

She’d also, by all accounts, deserved her fate for the type of magic she’d been working. Unlike the reset of the victims, who’d been innocent.

“Are you saying her death wasn’t related?”

“No.” Fiona drew the word out, as though she wasn’t sure. “She was definitely killed by Leighton.”

“Okay, then.” I squinted at her. “What does that have to do with—”

A blur of fur distracted me and it only took me a moment to realize that Walker was barreling into the yard, full tilt and panting. He skidded to a stop in front of me, pushing me back several steps. His hackles were up, making him look even larger than he was. And though he wasn’t growling, his fangs were bared and he was radiating tension.

I enclosed him in my protection shield, not because I was worried Fiona would hurt him, but because I needed to touch, and I couldn’t do that through the magic without disrupting it. I sank my fingers into his ruff, trying to soothe.

“Hey, babe.” I couldn’t keep the affection out of my voice and I didn’t care if Fiona heard it. “What’re you doing here?”

“I called him!” Archer had cracked the front door open so that I could see an eye and half his face. He left the screen door closed. I didn’t miss the glare he shot Fiona’s way.

“Thank you for looking out for me, Archer.” I was touched down to my soul. This kid had been through so much, and he was still getting used to the fact that his dad and I were mates. But he still had my best interest at heart. He was worried about the situation, and he knew he couldn’t do much to protect me. Archer had done the only logical thing in his mind.

He’d called his dad.

I threw Archer a smile, then crouched next to my mate. With an arm around his neck, Walker calmed somewhat. But his attention never left Fiona.

“Tell me what Anderson has to do with your current case,” I directed.

For a few seconds, I thought Fiona would refuse to answer. Walker wasn’t an agent, and therefor technically not privy to the information she was about to impart. As a shifter herself, she knew full well Walker could understand everything she said. As could Archer who was blatantly eavesdropping at the door. She’d been careful about her words before now and I could practically see the gears working as she figured out how to keep talking, give me what I needed, without saying too much in front of civilians.

She let out a huff of breath. “The body is gone. The circumstances are…suspect. We’re running out of time and have no leads.”

My interest was immediately piqued. A thousand questions raced through my brain, and it was on the tip of my tongue to agree to jump on this. To follow her back to HQ and find out exactly what was going on and how I could help crack the case.

Walker leaned more heavily against me and Archer pulled the door a little wider, and the words died in my throat. It wasn’t just me and Oscar anymore. I had other people to take into consideration. And I had to think about how this would effect them. About what this would do to me and my mental state, and therefore my ability to be there for Walker and Archer.

I stood and kept my fingers clenched in Walker’s fur. “Send me as much of the brief as you can. I have to talk to Walker about this, and then I’ll let you know.”

Fiona’s frown was intense and immediate. “Delaney—”

I shook my head, a quick, sharp motion. “You came to me. You need my help. This is on my terms.”

She wanted to argue. I saw it all over her face. But after a few seconds, she gave a single nod and left. I watched until she was gone. Once she was clear of the property, Archer opened the door all the way, his dark eyes staring at me.

I rubbed Walker’s ears. “Come on, honey. Let’s go inside and talk about this.”

Oscar led the way, his tail high, and jumped right into Archer’s arms. I had to smile as we followed him in.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**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.

“What?”

“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?”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Tomorrow, Crystal Clear releases. And if you read the post earlier in the week, you know there’s an Easter egg for serial readers. I thought I would do the reverse here. So catch up with Lane and Walker today, and Justin and Cole tomorrow. But for now, episode 14! Enjoy!**

I stared at my phone until the screen went dark, then woke it up again. The message hadn’t changed. And really, my coworker was taking a chance on sending it to me in the first place. Technically, the case wasn’t mine anymore and technically, I wasn’t privy to information in regards to it. She’d used code words to keep it sounding innocent, but it was clear what she meant. And though I kept my face neutral from long practice, I couldn’t help the emotions that roiled through me.

“What’s wrong?” Walker sat up. He’d been leaning against me, snuggled into my side, which had become his preferred position over the past week. I didn’t mind. At all. I loved having him there, warm and pliant against me.

“What?” I offered him a smile. “Nothing. Why?”

The face he made coaxed a chuckle out of me and went I reached for him, he came willingly. But he didn’t resume his previous snuggle position, though he did push in close.

“I smelled it. The…upset? Yeah, you smell upset. And your leg went tense. What’s wrong?” Walker’s eyes went wide. “I mean, if you want to tell me. I’m being nosy.”

This time, my smile was a lot more genuine. I cupped his cheek. “You aren’t being nosy. And I love that you care enough to ask, and that you can tell. I’m far too used to keeping emotions under wraps and keeping a professional demeanor at all times.”

Walker took that all in, his mind working. I could practically see the gears turning. After a long moment, he nodded. “So will you tell me?”

I let out a sigh. “I can’t give you all the details. But…” I took a moment to get my thoughts in order, figuring out exactly what I could say. “Part of my job is investigating complaints of misconduct. Was, I mean. It was my job. Before I was moved.”

Walker pushed into my arms, holding me tightly. For a split second, I thought about pulling away and insisting I was fine and that it was no big deal. But that was a lie. I wasn’t okay. I was still pissed about the way things had been handled. Angry that I’d been demoted. Sad that I couldn’t do the work I loved. So I just let Walker hold me and took comfort in the touch, the physical support he was giving me.

After a few minutes, I took a breath and pulled away. Not far, but just enough so that I could see his face. It was such a good face. Strong and angular, with the softest, most beautiful dark eyes I’d ever seen. It took me another minute to get my brain back on track. I could seriously get lost just staring at him.

“Anyway, one of the cases I was involved in that got reassigned…” I had to take another breath, so the bitterness didn’t come out in my voice. “The case came to ahead and has resolved. Fortunately, it was as satisfactory as can be. But the fact that I didn’t get to see it through…it rankles.”

Walker stroked my hair, and it took me a minute to realize he was petting me. I wasn’t complaining. It felt really nice.

“You don’t seem happy with your job. And maybe it’s not my place to say it yet. We’re barely us.” Walker pressed his forehead against my temple. “But I don’t like seeing you unhappy.”

Everything moved faster with Walker. It had from the moment I laid eyes on him. Even though I was still figuring out how to navigate my own feelings, I felt the sincerity pouring off him. And I was solid in the knowledge that for Walker, as a shifter, this level of attachment this quickly was absolutely normal. I knew I could trust that completely.

“I was happy.” My voice was soft and I closed my eyes. “I really liked my job and I was good at it. And maybe I bent the rules sometimes. But I did what was right and moral and—.”

Walker climbed into my lap, and he didn’t exactly fit, but neither of us cared. It was so good to just hold him. So that’s what I did. Let the emotions wash through me, the disappointment about my work situation, and took strength from his presence.

“Lane? Uh, are you okay?” Archer’s tentative voice came from out of nowhere. I turned in the direction to see him hovering in the hallway. I loosened my hold on Walker in case he wanted to pull away, but he didn’t move.

“Yeah. I’m okay. Thanks for checking.” I gave the teen a smile. And then, because Archer knew a little about how things had gone down for me with the MBI, I added. “I’m just going through some stuff in regards to my job. And how I’m not happy with things as they are.”

Archer chewed his lip as he nodded. After a few seconds, he asked, “What are you going to do about it?”

And that, right there, was a very good question.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**I’m calling this episode 13, because last one was 12, but I think at some point I messed up the numbering. It’s not that important, I don’t think. But at some point I’ll probably go back and fix things. 😊. At any rate, here’s the next episode of Lane and Walker! At little break from most of the drama, though the drama isn’t done yet. We are creeping up on the end, only a few more episodes left. But for now, enjoy!**

I was standing at the stove, frying ham, sausage, bacon, and eggs, when the barest hint of sound behind me had me turning. Archer slunk into the kitchen, his hair in disarray, looking better than he had yesterday. I was glad to see it.

I offered him a smile. “Hey, morning. How are you feeling?’

“Okay,” he muttered, and then inhaled deeply. I hid my face as my smile turned to a smirk, turning my attention back to the cooktop.

“You scenting me or the breakfast?”

I didn’t miss his snort, though I didn’t know him well enough yet to interpret it. “Both.”

“Fair.” I watched out of the corner of my eye as he shuffled to the fridge and pulled out the orange juice. He twisted off the top and drank straight from the bottle. When I quirked a brow and gave him full attention, he held my gaze, defiance in his eyes.

Archer swallowed loudly, then make a satisfied “ah” sound when he was done. “This one’s mine. Dad doesn’t drink it.”

“Okay.” I flipped the bacon, then stirred the scrambled eggs before shutting off the heat underneath them and pulling them off the stove. I’d already looked through the cupboards, pulling out plates and flatware, and I had serving dishes sitting ready on the counter.

“Did you sleep with my dad last night?”

It was a good thing I was used to schooling my expressions and reactions from years of needing to show witnesses and suspects alike a neutral façade. But internally, my stomach dropped. I finished spooning the eggs into the bowl before I set the pan in the sink, needing to take those few seconds to get my thoughts in order.

Archer’s question hadn’t been filled with judgement or disgust. More curiosity than anything else. He was fifteen after all, and I understood a little bit where he was coming from. All he had was his dad. The pack too, of course, but his mother had left when he was barely a toddler—Walker and I’d had that conversation last night, how she had left to pursue her dreams—and Walker had been the only constant in his life. He was also old enough to understand the dynamics of relationships. So I had to think how to answer.

I turned and the leaned my hip against the edge of the counter and decided he should have the truth. “I slept on the couch last night. But that’s for now. Your dad and I are figuring things out.”

Oscar chose that moment to wander into the kitchen. The last I’d seen him, he’d been napping in a sunbeam on the windowsill in the living room. He caught both my and Archer’s attention as he sauntered over, stood on his hind legs to sink his claws into my knee, and stretch. He yowled.

“Yes, I’ll get your breakfast in a minute. Have some patience.”

Oscar sneezed, turned his back on me, and wound his way through Archer’s ankles, rubbing his cheeks against Archer’s skin. Archer stared at him for a moment, then set the OJ on the counter.

“Can I pick him up?”

“It’s up to him, but I’m thinking yes.”

Archer bent and Oscar started purring the moment the kid had his hands on him. He snuggled right in against Archer’s chest, and didn’t hesitate to give me the squinty eye. I scoffed and turned back to the stove so the various meats didn’t burn. I flipped the ones that needed it, and pulled the sausage off as it was done.

“Are you mates?” Archer took a quick breath. “Because my dad is equal opportunity, and he’s dated, but I’ve never seen him act like he does with you.”

Way to cut to the chase, kid.

I was saved from answering when Walker strode into the kitchen, freshly showered and looking like a snack. I hummed appreciatively as he beelined right for me. He didn’t hesitate to snuggle against my side, and when I tilted my head to give him a smile, he pushed up on his toes and kissed my cheek. 

Having greeted me, Walker turned to his son. “Yeah, Arch. Lane is my mate. I’m his. We’re figuring things out.”

Archer stared at his dad for a long moment before he nodded just once. “Lane said. I…I don’t know how I feel about that, Dad.”

Walker stepped back as I turned off burners, but not before he swiped his wrist against my neck. I shot him a wink and put the meat on a platter as Walker moved toward his son. He placed a hand on Archer’s shoulder.

“I love you, Archer,” Walker said, his voice even. “And I want you to be good with this. But I understand if it’s going to take time. Me casually dating is different than me building a life with someone. We’ll work through it. And if you need to talk about it with Anna along with everything else, I’m sure she’ll be happy to help.”

Archer let out a little whine that had Walker chuckling. “Dad, I maybe don’t—”

“No, kiddo. You’re talking to the counselor for however long she thinks is necessary. I know shifting helped. A lot. But trauma—”

It was Archer’s turn to interrupt his father. “Yeah, I know. Fine.” He sighed. “It’s not…I mean, I know Lane is a good guy. Lane, I know you’re a good guy, it’s not that.”

“I know.” I smiled, letting him know I understood where he was coming from. “Take your juice to the table, all right? Breakfast is served.”

“Thanks for cooking, Lane.” Walker nudged his son toward the table, and then gave me another kiss to the cheek before he took the platter out of my hands and followed Archer. I grabbed the eggs and sent them down, then laid a hand on the back of Walker’s neck. “I need to run out to the car and get Oscar’s emergency food. I’ll be right back, okay?”

Walker didn’t answer with words, just a nod, and Oscar let out a loud yowl that I took to mean “hurry up.” He’d settled on Archer’s lap when the teen sat down, and I laughed as I headed outside.

I always kept food and disposable litter trays in the trunk because we never knew when we might be stuck somewhere. I’d been ecstatic when I found boxes that contained litter and folded out to be its own tray. The convenience of it had made our lives easier. 

I took a few seconds to steady myself. This was going to be a big adjustment and would take a lot of communication and understanding on all our parts. And I had to remember that it wasn’t just me and Walker involved in this. Archer was too, though to a different degree. And his opinion wouldn’t stop us, but we needed to take his thoughts and feelings into consideration.

I braced my hands on the trunk and just breathed. I’d never dated a man with a child before, so that was a new experience for me. But Archer, fortunately, was old enough to at least try and explain his thoughts. That wouldn’t necessarily make it easier, but at least it would help us all through the process.

It hit me like a punch to the chest. I was all in. I’d been committed already, since Walker confessed we were mates. But feeling it down to my very soul? That was the surprise. I took a breath, steadied myself, grabbed Oscar’s things, and headed back into the house with a newfound purpose.