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?”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Here we are, once again with Jamie and Sean. This episode is from Sean’s POV. I thought this was going to be the last one, but now….well, they definitely have one more in them. Check out the tags if you need to catch up, but otherwise, here’s episode 6. Enjoy!**

The door opened with a creak–I really needed to remember to oil the hinges–and then slammed shut. I set aside my tablet so I could give Jamie my full attention. The sound of his walk was comforting, but more than that, his scent filled my nose. It was never completely absent these days, but always so much stronger when he was with me. I liked it better that way, and from the way he immediately sought out my touch, I knew he felt the same.

Jamie flopped down on the couch next to me, but snuggled into my side, and let out a deep sigh when I pulled him in tight. For a minute or two, we just breathed each other in. it was always that way when we were apart. And I knew, for him, it was especially necessary after where he’d been. I wanted to ask how it went, but I’d learn quickly it was better to let him bring it up. Or at least, to let him settle in first. So I just held him, face pressed against his hair.

“People keep bringing me food,” he grumbled, lips against the skin of my neck.

I fought a laugh and wasn’t entirely successful. “They’re worried about you.”

“They just knock and leave!” He sounded so indignant. “They just keep dropping off dishes with instructions taped to the top. I’m drowning in casseroles!”

This time I let the chuckle out and ignored Jamie when he punched me playfully in the arm. 

“The pack wants to make sure you’re fed, sweetheart. But no one wants to make it weird. So they’re doing the best they can.”

“It’s still weird. I eat.” His grumbling was awfully cute, even though, at the same time, I hated to hear the frustration in his tone.

I gripped his hair gently and used my hold to tilt his face up.  He didn’t fight it, and when our gazes met, he gave me a smile. I couldn’t help but kiss him, just a light peck, but the way that last bit of tension he’d been holding on to disappeared pleased me to no end.

“We know,” I assured him. “I see the strides you’re making. Never doubt that.”

He nodded. “Rinda helps. I don’t know how you found her, but…” He took a deep breath, and then another, before he was able to speak again. “I’ve done the therapy, I told you that. And it’s been with were counselors too. But none of them have made a difference like she has.”

It had taken some doing, a lot of research and reaching out to different packs across the nation before I’d even broached the subject with Jamie. Because he had told me he’d done therapy before, and that it hadn’t provided him with a long term solution. He’d given up hope after the fourth one, resolved to dealing with the issue on his own for the rest of his life. But I wanted more for him, better. Whatever outcome was best for him was what I wanted, whatever that looked like. But he needed help, far more than I could give him, and that meant I searched until I found a counselor out of a pack in Colorado who honestly felt like she could make a difference in his life.

After a month of twice weekly zoom counseling sessions, it was good to hear Jamie think he was making progress. And I’d seen it too. He still didn’t eat with the pack, but he no longer hid in the corner, doing his best to blend in with the paint while the rest of us ate. He was there and present even if he had his own meal before everyone gathered.

While I wanted him to be able to eat whenever he wanted, including during pack dinners, that wasn’t my end goal. Nor was it his. Instead it was more important to get to the root of his issues and find healing.

Jamie had a good handle on why he couldn’t eat in front of people, but he hadn’t dealt with the feelings and hurts that had caused it. I thought once he did, he’d be able to enjoy food with others again. But I wasn’t an expert.

“I’m glad, Jamie. I really am.”

He huffed out a breath, then adjusted his position so he was no longer looking me in the eye. “Um. So here’s the thing.”

I waited, but after several minutes of silence, it was clear he wasn’t going to continue. I gave him a little squeeze.

“What’s the thing?”

“Rinda said…she asked if I thought I’d be able to share a meal with you if my life wasn’t on the line.”

My heart gave a painful thump as adrenaline coursed through me. Last month, when he’d be on death’s door from the shift and lack of calories had been eye opening for all of us. I didn’t like to think about it. Not only did I feel like a failure for not caring for a pack member, but it cut ten times worse that I hadn’t properly cared for my potential mate. Jamie didn’t see it that way at all, nor did the members of the pack I’d spoken with, but I did. It would take time–and maybe a few sessions with Rinda myself–before I could work through those feelings. 

But I pushed that aside for now and focused on Jamie. “And what did you say?”

Another long, pregnant beat of silence. When he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper. “I think, if it was just you, with no one else around, I could.”

And that caused my adrenaline to surge for an entirely different reason. “Yeah?”

Jamie nodded. “I think so. It feels like I can. Because I’ve already eaten for you and…and I know you don’t judge me in any way and just want what’s best for me, whatever that is.”

I hugged him hard, doing my best to put all my emotions into it so he would know just how much it meant to me that he understood that. 

“And really,” he continued, sounding a little breathless, causing me to ease up so he could move air through his lungs. “If you and I are going to have anything lasting, I need to work through that part of it, yeah? It’s not like I can eat separately from you for the rest of our lives.”

That sounded so fucking good, the forever part, that I kissed him, hard and with lots of tongue. Jamie melted into me, taking all I could give him, reveling in it, his body pliant and giving under my touch. I wanted to lay him down right there on the couch and do every last thing to him, but it wasn’t the time and we weren’t ready yet. We’d get there, but not yet.

When I finally pulled back, his lips were red and swollen, and his breath came in fast pants. His glazed eyes and dazed expression were enough to make me want to drag him to the bedroom. But I restrained myself.

“So,” I said, trying for casual and failing miserably. “How about dinner here tomorrow? I’ll cook. And we can try it.”

His breathing stuttered, and he averted his gaze. I didn’t let go of him but neither did I force an answer or put any pressure on him.

“Um, and what if I…what if…”

“If you try and aren’t ready, then we do something else. Simple as that.” I meant it with every fiber of my being. Jamie must have realized that because he relaxed.

“Okay. Let’s do that.” It was a whisper, and I wanted to praise him but I didn’t get a chance. Before I could even draw a breath, he was out of my arms and pulling off his clothes.

“I ate. Lots. Earlier. I promise. Can we shift?”

“Sure,” I agreed easily enough.

I barely got the word out before he was naked and down on all fours. A moment later, he was his wolf. He shook out his fur, settling in place, and I couldn’t help but reach out and rub his ear. 

“You’re so dang beautiful. Man or wolf. Seriously sweetheart.”

Jamie gave a soft yip, then trotted to the sliding glass doors. I opened it for him, then stripped, shifted, and joined him for a dusk filled run, our wolves one with each other.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**After the cliff of last week, here’s another episode that picks up right where it left off. This time from Sean’s POV again. Check out the tags to read the first four parts if you’ve missed it. This is the penultimate episode. We’ll wrap things up next week. But for now, enjoy!**

I lunged and caught Jamie before he hit the floor. Thank the gods for my enhanced reflexes. And superior strength, because even though he wasn’t that big, he was dead weight. The thought had panic coursing through me, but no, he wasn’t dead. Just unconscious. He was breathing, though shallowly, and his skin was so pale I could see the veins at his temples.

Before I could really panic though, his eyelids fluttered and he took a deeper breath. I scooped him up and carried him to the nearby couch. Instead of laying him on it though, I kept him in my arms, not wanting to let him go. He needed my body heat, I was sure. I wrapped one of the throws around us–faux fur that was particularly soft–then barked out an order for more water. The rest of the pack was hovering close, though out of sight, on my order. 

Kai brought the water, and more food, and set both on a nearby table before scurrying off again. It was just in time too, because Jamie finally cracked his eyes open. His confused expression would have been adorable in any other circumstance but since I was downright scared for him, I’d have to appreciate it later. 

“There you are,” I murmured as he blinked at me, working to keep my voice calm and neutral. 

“What?” he croaked. His lips moved more, but no sound came out, so I wasn’t sure what he was asking. It didn’t matter.

“You passed out there, sweetheart. Nearly gave me a heart attack.”

He just blinked, looked around, then focused on me. He looked like he couldn’t string his thoughts together, and it was no wonder. The brain needed fuel as much as the body did, and he had zero reserves at the moment. Anything he managed to take in as a wolf he’d burned through with shift. I needed to get him to eat, 

I knew that wouldn’t happen if I was in the room.

“Here.” I grabbed one of the bottles of water and handed it over. And though he took it, his hands were shaking, so I helped him drink. “Slowly.”

Jamie listened, taking small swallows until the bottle was gone. When I handed over the second one, he was able to hold it and drink it down. Hydration was just as important as calories, and would go a long way to helping him feel better. And already he looked better, not as sallow. But he needed food, and lots of it. 

Kai had heaped a plate with a little of everything we’d had at the pack dinner last night, with extra portions of protein and carbs. I eyed it, wondering if he’d let me help, then decided it was better he get the calories in rather than trigger his issues. So reluctantly, I eased him to the couch beside me, made sure he was still tucked under the blanket, and handed over the plate. 

“You need to eat.”

Jamie looked down at the plate in his lap, then back up at me. “Sean, I–”

“Later, sweetheart,” I said, not unkindly. My most pressing concern was that he didn’t pass out again. Everything else could wait. “I’ll leave you to it, and then come back and check on you in a while. Please eat as much as you can, okay? You’re safe here.”

I wasn’t sure why I added that last part but it seemed the right thing to say, because Jamie nodded, and took a deep breath, then picked up the fork that had been tucked under the roast beef. But even though he stabbed a bite, he didn’t lift it to his mouth. Instead, he peeked up at me through his lashes.

“I’m sorry, Sean.”

“I know,” I said softly, and leaned down to kiss his head. The soft sigh he let out clued me in that my touch was welcome. So I ran my fingers through his hair, rubbing his scalp gently for a minute, before I stepped back and turned toward the door. “I’ll be back in a little bit.”

Jamie nodded and took a bite.

***

I gave Jamie almost an hour, but then I couldn’t stand it anymore. Not that I hadn’t stayed close. After I’d gotten dressed, I hung out nearby so I could hear if he got into trouble. But everything sounded fine. I was the one who was antsy to get back in there. 

I sent the pack on their way, assuring them all I’d give them an update on Jamie. He wasn’t particularly close with any of the pack members, but they all cared about him. And they were nearly as worried as I was, now that they saw just how much help he needed. Jamie had been good at keeping everyone at arm’s length, making everyone think he was fine. They all fell for it. I had too, to a degree. 

But I didn’t want him to be overwhelmed, and I knew he’d feel more comfortable if they weren’t around for the time being, so I shuffled them off to their homes. While the pack house was a gathering place, and my home, no one else lived there full time. So it was easy to shoo them out the door.

When I went back to check on Jamie, I was pleased to see he’d nearly cleared his plate. The only thing left were the pile of peas and a small piece of chicken. I knew he had to have been starving, but I’d been concerned he couldn’t have managed it all. I was ridiculously proud that he had.

He’d gotten dressed too, which was a shame, but now was not the time to be thinking about his lithe, sweet body.

“Hey, how’re you feeling?” I asked as I padded barefoot back into the room.

He was startled, and I was surprised, because he was usually so aware of his surroundings. We all were. It was part of being a werewolf. But I supposed he had a lot on his mind, and he was, after all, safe here. 

Jamie tried for a smile, failed, and then sighed. I opened my mouth to tell him it was okay, that I was proud of him, but he surprised me and spoke first.

“I was raised in foster care, did you know that?”

It was my turn to blink in confusion. It seemed like a non-sequitur, but clearly he had a reason for bringing it up, so I just shook my head and sat at the other end of the couch. Jamie spared me a glance, but then returned to gazing at the far wall as he pulled the blanket tighter around him.

“A werewolf pup in human care. It was…” he pursed his lips. “Well, it could have been a lot worse, that’s for sure. I knew what I was, but I couldn’t tell anyone. But I was hungry all the time. So hungry. Because I just wasn’t getting enough. Even as a pup, before the first shift, werewolves need more calories.”

My heart broke for him, because with a sinking feeling, I thought I knew where this was headed. But I didn’t interrupt his story, and just acknowledged his statement. “I know.”

He nodded though he still didn’t look for me. “I was in one home where they fed me well. Even took me to the doctor to try to figure out what was wrong. Why I was eating so much but didn’t gain weight. But then the lady got sick and I got moved and…” He looked at me then, the pain in his eyes. “Will you hold me?”

I was across the couch in a flash, wrapping him up tight in my arms. He sighed and clunked his head down on my shoulder. For a few minutes, he just breathed and I wanted to tell him he didn’t have to continue, didn’t have to rip open this old wound, but he’d started this and maybe he needed to get it all out. So I sat quietly, holding him as tightly as I dared, and breathed with him.

Eventually, he started talking again. “That new house was…not great. And they had a bunch of us and it was hard. They constantly berated me because I wanted to eat all the time, until eventually, I stopped.” He blew out a breath and it gusted across my skin. “I only ate when no one was around and only enough so I could survive.”

“Oh, Jamie, sweetheart,” I began, but didn’t know what to say.

“I was fourteen when one of my teachers recognized what I was. He wasn’t a wolf, but his wife was, and he knew I was in foster care, so he was concerned. He told his wife, who told her alpha, who got me out. But by then it was a habit, and habits are hard to break, and every time–” He voice broke, and he swallowed hard. I could feel his heart pounding against me, and I rumbled out a soothing sound that helped him relax. Helped him continue with, “Every time I eat around people, I can’t help but think I’m being judged, even though I know I’m not.”

“You aren’t,” I said fiercely, squeezing him even tighter. “You aren’t, Jamie.”

He nodded, his forehead rubbing against my neck. “I know. I do. But It’s hard.”

“What can I do to help you?” I asked softly.

“I don’t know.” His voice was barely more than a whisper. “It’s been a long time and I’ve tried to talk to a therapist, but it only helps for so long. But it’s easier with you. I ate in front of you. I ate from your hand.”

I tucked a finger under his chin and raised his gaze to mine. And when I was sure I had his full attention, I loosened my hold and leaned down, giving him time to pull away if he wanted. But he pushed closer instead, lifting his chin a fraction more.

I kissed him, softly and gentle, even though I wanted to maul him. To wrap him up tight and keep him close and never let him go. But it wasn’t the time for that. And more importantly, he had to know I was there for him.

“We’ll figure it out,” I vowed as our lips parted. “I promise, Jamie. We’ll do whatever we can to help you.”

He nodded, closed his eyes, and pressed his face against my neck. He sucked in a deep breath and within seconds, he was asleep.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Let’s join the werewolves again for another episode! Here’s part four of Jamie and Sean. Check out the tags to find the previous episodes if you’ve missed any. And no, we aren’t done with them after this. Enjoy!**

I couldn’t shift. I was so weak, I couldn’t even move. I’d never been stuck as a wolf before, but I could barely think, let alone gather any strength to change forms. Everything hurt, my brain was fuzzy, and though I was being carried, each step jolted through me. Except I couldn’t even whimper out my pain.

I smelled Sean. All around me. Some part of me recognized he was the one carrying me, but my last clear memory had been running in the forest. Before that it had been a long day with the pack, fun and food and sunshine, as we waited for the day to fade into night and the moon to rise.

Sean set me down as gently as possible, and he lifted my lip before swearing.

“Gods, Jamie, you’re so pale,” he whispered. He raised his voice. “Bring me water. Now! And some chicken and rice.”

I laid there on the soft floor—a rug maybe?—and tried to keep breathing. I knew this was my fault, somehow, but I couldn’t get my brain to process. I pushed closer to Sean, and he buried his fingers in the scruff of my neck, squeezing tightly before he rubbed my ears.

His breath ghosted over my fur, the top of my head, and he used his strength to pull me even closer until I was half in his lap, my head pressed against his stomach. He smelled so good, the scent of him strong, but I couldn’t even appreciate it, and I managed another tiny whine.

“I thought you ate, sweetheart. You said you did, but I should have made sure. You can’t run if you don’t—” He made a rough noise which abruptly cut off. Sounds of footsteps, then Sean’s quite murmur of “Thanks.”

He readjusted my position and brought the water close to my muzzle. It took a minute to get everything working but eventually I was able to lap at the bowl. The fresh, clean taste burst over my tongue and I managed to get half the bowl gone before I had to take a break. At least now, I could keep my eyes open for longer than a second.

“Jamie, sweetheart, you need to eat, okay? I know, I know what I’m asking you is huge, but you need to eat this. You can’t shift back if you don’t. I don’t want to force a shift, because I don’t want to do that to you when you can’t consent. But more than that, I’m scared that if I pull you through it, you won’t survive. So, please, for me, just eat this so we can get you back into your human skin.” I heard the desperation and worry in his voice, and it was a testament to just how out of it was because when he held a cupped hand with chicken and rice to my mouth, I ate it.

He made a pleased sound, murmured praise, and fed me another bite. And another. Handful by handful, I ate what he offered because he was my alpha and he was scared, and so was I. Then he urged me to drink more, and I did that too.

Because werewolf metabolism was so fast, it only took minutes for my brain and body to come back online. Even as a wolf, with those instincts riding me, I had my human mind too, and embarrassment, shame, and worry coursed through me. I wasn’t sure if I made a sound or if it was a change in my scent, but Sean quickly soothed me. A rumble in his chest and a shushing sound.

“No, no. You’re fine, it’s all fine. Don’t think about it, don’t worry about it. We’ll talk about it when you’re better but right now, do you need more to eat?”

I shook my head, let out a little whine, and tried to back away. Sean wouldn’t let me go, but he was gentle about it, making sure I had his whole attention.

“Jamie. Do you need more to eat?” That tone of voice, commanding but still understanding, had me relaxing just a fraction. Just enough that I could really assess my status.

I didn’t. Not at the moment. I couldn’t make myself eat even if I did, but I was good. I shook my head again, so he would know, and he stared at me for a very long, intense few minutes until he decided I was telling the truth. Finally he let me go, and I stepped back as he stood up.

Sean was naked, but that wasn’t a surprise, and usually I didn’t notice nudity at all. Because as wolves we were constantly getting undressed around each other to shift into our fur. He wasn’t body shy in the least and he definitely wasn’t going anywhere, judging by his firm stance.

It took longer and was much harder than it should be to find my human side, pull it forward, and work through the shift. It hurt until my pain receptors turned off, and felt like forever before I was crouched on all fours, body shivering and shaking, having burned through all the energy I’d just consumed in calories just get into my skin. Cold washed through me, and black spots danced at the corners of my vision.

“I’m so sorry,” I managed to whisper before I passed out.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**And here’s part three! Time for Sean’s POV, and a date. And don’t worry. We’re not done yet. Enjoy!

I was a problem solver, cool under pressure, but it turned out that planning a date that didn’t involve food was harder than I anticipated. It was easily the fall back, the way we’d all become accustomed to dating. But I was very conscious of the fact that Jamie had a problem with food, and even though I really wanted to know what that was all about, I wouldn’t push it. 

I wanted to. The fact that he was hurting in some way just about killed me. I’d been leading this pack for five years, and I was only peripherally aware he was having a problem. I should have pursued it sooner. Or, at the very least, kept an eye on him. I knew he was eating some, because he was in good body condition and seemed healthy enough. But clearly there was something more at work there. 

I wanted to take care of him. But it was more than just me being his alpha. I wanted to do it on a more personal level, to be the one that supported and cared for him as a partner. I should have made a move when I first recognized my attraction to him, even though I knew that was walking a fine line. I’d been honest and serious when I told him I was aware of the power imbalance. So many alphas in the past had abused their position, forcing their pack members to do what they wanted because they could. I refused to be that man. So I bided my time until I could be sure there was no coercion. 

When I picked Jamie up, he gave me a shy smile and for a moment, I couldn’t speak. He looked amazing in the dark jeans and light gray button up. When all I could do was stare, he fidgeted a little and dropped his gaze from mine.

“Am I dressed all right?” His voice was soft, uncertain, and shook me out of my daze.

“You look fantastic. Perfect.” I sounded like an idiot, but since I meant it, I didn’t care. I stepped into his space, loving the way he tilted his head to show throat. It was instinctive for him but it still sent a thrill through me. I didn’t hesitate to scent mark him with a touch to his throat, but then quickly took his hand and led him to the other side of my car.

We were quiet as we began  the ten minute drive to our destination. I could tell he was nervous by the way he fidgeted and bit his thumbnail. I reached out to capture his hand, and kept it tucked into my own.

“You all right?” I kept my voice soft, inquisitive, and hoped he would answer honestly.

He let out a shaky breath that was tinged with the hint of a laugh.

“Yeah. just…just nervous, is all. Been a while since I’ve been on a date and…”

When he didn’t finish the sentence, I gently prodded him. “And what?”

“I’ve wanted you,” he said, barely above a whisper. “I sort of can’t believe this is real.”

“It’s real.” I smiled, taking my gaze off the road for just a moment so I could flash him a smile. “And hopefully, this is just the first of many dates.”

He shook his head, letting out a little chuckle. “I don’t get it.”

“What?”

“What you see in me.” He sighed, and it sounded sad. “I’m probably going to end up sabotaging everything but I just don’t understand. Why me?”

“Besides the fact that I find you adorable, you mean?” This wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have in the car. I’d rather be able to see his face clearly, and for him to see mine. But it was more important to me that he knew I was sincere and earnest. I didn’t want there to be any doubts. 

“Besides that.”

“Well, I expect it’s for a lot of the same reasons you gave me.” I had to let go of his hand to make the sharp left turn off of the boulevard, but once it was done, I reached out again. I was gratified when he didn’t hesitate to reclaim my hand. “I see you, Jamie. I see your kindness and your selflessness. I see how you interact with the pack, and how you put everyone else first.”

Now that I thought about it, I wondered if that had something to do with his tendency to try and shrink into the background. He gave ground to everyone else in the pack. Was he that submissive a wolf? Or were there other self-esteem issues at play? I gave myself a mental kick. I thought I was such a good alpha–and I knew I was to a degree–but clearly I’d missed important things with Jamie. What else had I missed? 

“Uh, Sean?”

My name on his lips did funny things to my insides, sending a thrill through me. I wanted to hear it a lot more. And the fact that he hadn’t used my title made me that much more sure that he viewed us on even footing. Yes, I was his alpha. But right now, I was his date, and that was important. I was glad he could separate the two. I wasn’t sure I could. I was an alpha because I had a drive to care for the wolves under my protection. But with Jamie it was so much more.

“Sean?” he repeated, and I realized I hadn’t answered him. I pulled into a parking spot and turned off the engine so I could give him my full attention.

“Yes?”

From his wide-eyed stare at the building in front of us, I had a pretty good guess of what he was going to say and he didn’t disappoint.

“We’re at the aquarium.”

“Yep.”

He turned to me, and the hint of suspicion in his expression made me want to smirk. I held it in, but just barely.

“The aquarium which closed–” he glanced at the dashboard “–fifteen minutes ago.”

 “Ah. Well, ordinarily yes.” I drew out the silence for a moment, letting the anticipation build. “But once a month, they do limited after hours tours. I’m told it’s amazing, with the low lighting and the tanks lit up. It’s sold out months in advance.”

Jamie squinted at me, suspicion growing. I didn’t know what it said about me that I loved seeing it on his face. 

“Then how did you get tickets?” His face paled. “Were you planning on bringing someone else and–”

“No.” I cut that off really quick, not wanting him to think for one second that this had been meant for anyone but him. “I called Lorraine, and she made it happen. There are perks to being alpha. And one of them is sometimes, you can call the wife of one of your pack members and get special treatment.”

Jamie stared at me for a long moment, then turned his attention to the building. After another minute, he looked back at me.

“I don’t even know what to say to that,” he admitted, bewilderment clear in his tone.

Slowly, so he would have time to pull away if he wanted to, I reached toward his face. When he didn’t move, I cupped his cheek and let out a soft growl of contentment when he turned into the touch. He let out a long slow breath as I caressed his cheekbone with my thumb.

Needing to be fully transparent, I went for complete honesty. “I’m glad I thought of it, and was able to make it happen. I wanted to do something special for you, show you how serious I am, without it being a trigger for you.”

Jamie went tense but didn’t pull away. I was glad, because I would have wanted to pull him back. He swallowed hard, the click in his throat a telltale sign, but I stayed quiet, letting him figure out what, if anything, he wanted to say.

“You haven’t asked me about the food thing.” 

“And I won’t.” I made that a vow, and a reminder to myself. “When and if you’re ready, we’ll talk about it. Until then, we do what makes you comfortable.”

“How are you real?” he whispered. I wasn’t sure that was meant for me, but I answered it anyway.

“I assure you, I’m real. This is real. We’ll figure it out, you and me, together. All right, sweetheart?”

Jamie melted into my touch, the tension leaving his body, and he nodded against my palm. I wasn’t sure if it was my acceptance–which was easy because I knew, eventually, I’d find out what his issues were and if we could work on them–or the pet name–which was also easy, because he was a total sweetheart–but it didn’t matter. All that did matter that he was here, we were together, and we were going to see where things led. 

I slowly pulled away, hiding my smile when Jamie whimpered at the loss. Instead, I got out of the car and, quick as a flash, ran around to open his door. He blinked up at me with his big brown eyes, and when I held out a hand, he took it with a grin.

“Let’s go see the fish, yeah?”

His grin grew impossibly wider, and he squeezed my fingers. “Yeah.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

** Let’s check in with Jamie, as he has that conversation with his alpha. You can read part 1 here. And in all honesty, there will probably be a part 3. Enjoy!**

The pack run had been exhilarating in a way I didn’t normally experience. But Sean had specifically asked me to run with him, though he made it clear it was entirely my choice. The bright full moon led our way as we ran through the forest, howled to the pack, cavorted and hunted. Well, I didn’t hunt, but I did manage a scrap of rabbit Sean caught and offered to me. It was his way of providing for me, and I knew that. But even in my fur, I had trouble with food. And Sean didn’t seem to judge me for that, even though wolf instincts were at the forefront. Just offered me a small chunk and made a pleased little growl when I gulped it down.

We could shift into our werewolf form whenever we wanted, but there was no doubt the moon had it’s pull. It didn’t make us shift, but it called to us, and it was hard to resist. Sean had structured monthly pack dinners, then runs, to coincide with the moon cycle as a way to encourage pack bonding. It had worked. Our pack was stronger than ever. 

As the sky lightened, Sean lifted his head and let out a long, ululating howl, calling the rest of the pack in. The answering yips and howls were music to my ears and I couldn’t help but join in. Sean rubbed his muzzle on mine, then nudged me toward the pack house. I went, trying to keep pace. But I was tired, and low on reserves. That was one of the reasons the dinners beforehand were so important. It took a lot of energy to run on four paws. 

Shame washed through me, knowing I was slowly my alpha down as Sean adjusted his pace to match mine. With each mile I lagged even further. I didn’t usually run this far out, or for as long, because I knew my limitations. But being at Sean’s side had given me a burst of adrenaline that was now faded and making it difficult. But Sean didn’t seem upset or frustrated. Perhaps a little worried. But he never pushed, just kept my pace until we finally broke through the treeline and into the clearing behind the pack house.

We were the last ones back.

Sean shifted immediately. The rest of the pack was human too, and in varying states of dress, all happy and chatting and full of energy from the night spent in fur with the moon. Some of them called to Sean, wanting the alpha’s attention. But he ignored them for a moment to crouch down beside me and bury his fingers in the scruff of my neck.

“Take your time, and come inside when you’re done, all right?”

I acknowledge that with a tiny yip, pressing my nose against his bare chest for just a moment. I wanted to roll around in his scent. Comfort and caring radiated from him, as well as something sharper and deeper underneath. But my wolf brain couldn’t parse the meaning and I didn’t worry about it. My alpha had said to take my time, and so I did.

It took a while, and when I finally got going, calling up my human skin, the change was slower than normal. Though I wasn’t overly quick with the change, it usually didn’t take this long. After the initial few seconds of pain, my synapses shut off, blocking it out, so all I felt was the pull and twist of muscles shifting, of bones breaking and realigning. When I was finally done, my chest heaved as I fought for breath, and I was still on all fours, the dew causing the grass stick to my skin and making me shiver. I just wanted to flop over and curl up instead of moving.

Sean’s scent assailed me an instant before he wrapped his arms around me, holding me close. I shivered, the contrast of the heat from his body and the chill in the air too much for my body to process. He coaxed me up, first to sitting on my heels, then gently to my feet. I had to lean heavily on him but we made our way across the grass, up the six steps, and onto the deck. Instead of going inside, Sean gently lowered me into one of the chairs, and then wrapped me in a couple of warm flannel blankets. 

With a soft touch to my hair, he disappeared, but he was back a moment later with a glass of juice, a small portion of scrambled eggs sprinkled with cheese, and a half piece of toast smeared with a thick layer of peanut butter. Protein, fat, and sugar. All the things I’d need to get back on my feet. 

“Eat as much as you can, sweetheart.” Sean’s voice was low and kind. And even better, he left again so I could eat without an audience. The little voice in the back of my head said he was probably just on the other side of the glass sliding door, watching me, but I purposefully didn’t turn around. If I didn’t see him, he wasn’t there.

I managed most of it, with only a few bites of the egg and a quarter of the juice left, before I just couldn’t make myself eat any more. I sat back, pulling the blanket a little tighter around me, and heard the door slide open.

Yup. He’d definitely been spying.

Sean took a seat next to me, his pleased smile after he glanced at the plate showing me he was proud of me. That warmed my insides and a tiny smile bloomed across my lips.

“So, you and I need to have a conversation.” Sean’s voice was light, easy, but my stomach clenched. I knew he was going to ask me about my eating problems, and I just didn’t want to talk about it. He could make me—a command from him would have me spilling my guts—and even though I didn’t think he would do that, it still made me nervous.

“Okay. Yes.” I made myself say the words even though I didn’t feel them.

He nodded, pleased, and leaned forward to rest his forearms on the edge of the table. “As I said, I’m very aware of the power imbalance between us, and I want to state up front that you have the control here. This is all about your consent, and I promise you right now I will never violate that.”

I blinked, my slow brain taking a second to catch up to what he was saying. Oh. Oh! This was about our mutual attraction. Relief flooded through me and I grinned. This was so much easier to talk about than the food, because I knew he returned the feelings. Homophobia was prevalent in werewolf culture, but things were changing. And Sean had worked hard to oust any intolerance in the pack. I freed a hand, because I wanted to touch, and laid it over his where it rested on the table. He flipped his hand and gripped my fingers.

“You have my consent, Sean,” I assured him, deliberately using his name and not his title, so he would know we were on even ground. “I’ve wanted you since I met you, but I couldn’t imagine you’d want me back. So I kept to myself.”

Sean’s smile turned a little wicked, just the edge of it, but it was enough to quicken my pulse. His thumb caressed the back of my hand, and it felt so good, I would have purred if I’d been a cat. Instead, I let out a little, happy sigh.

“I noticed you right away, Jamie. Make no mistake. But I had to focus on the pack, of making it better and stronger. Of getting rid of the bigots and the racists. And not just because I’m bi and wanted acceptance in my own pack, but also because I don’t tolerate that kind of behavior. It’s unacceptable and I won’t have it.” His voice was threaded with a hint of steel.

I squeezed his hand. “I know. You showed us all right from the start that you were fair and kind, and that you only wanted the best for all of us.” Heat crept up my cheeks but I forced it back with a deep breath. “I was physically attracted to you right from the start, but I wouldn’t have started crushing on you if you hadn’t been a good person.”

His expression morphed into a leer, but there was a twinkle in his eye that softened it. “A crush, huh?”

I laughed, partly from embarrassment. “Yes, well.” 

“Yes, well,” he repeated, but playfully. “Then how about we go on a date? Just the two of us, away from the pack. We’ll see if the spark we feel can grow into a flame.”

“Yes, please.” My voice came out breathy but I didn’t care. 

“Good.” Sean leaned in, closing the distance between us, and kissed my cheek. He lingered there for a moment, nosing along my jaw, inhaling deeply before murmuring, “You smell so good.”

I swallowed hard, unable to make my voice work as my blood sang through my veins.

“Tonight?” He asked as he pulled back, though he kept hold of my hand.

“Yes.” It came out whispered, and I cleared my throat to try again. “Yes. That works.”

“Good,” he said again. “I’ll plan the whole thing. I’ll text you later about times, once I get things worked out. And Jamie? Make sure you eat beforehand, yeah?”

Damn. The food thing. I peeked up at him, opened my mouth to say something, but he shook his head, a kind smile gracing his lips.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll talk if and when you’re ready. But I want you to know you’re taken care of, and since I can’t do that for you, I’m trusting you do it yourself.” He made sure I was looking him in the eye before he continued. “I won’t push. I will never do that. But I will gently check up. Are you okay with that?”

My voice failed me, touched that he cared enough but even more so that he wasn’t going to push and demand. It meant so much to me, and more importantly, made things easier on me. I nodded.

Sean smiled, stood, and then scent marked me by dragging his wrist along my throat. “Stay as long as you want. Get dressed and go only when you’re ready.” He cupped my chin in exceedingly gentle fingers, tilting up until our gazes locked. “Look for my text and I’ll see you tonight.”

Excitement raced through my veins and I grinned so hard my cheeks hurt.

“Tonight,” I agreed