Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Okay, so it turns out I accidentally lied about Gareth and Owen’s story being over. Sorry about that. Hope you can forgive me. Check out the blog for the other chapters. Enjoy!**

Owen’s family were open, warm, and supportive the moment we set foot in their territory. It was honestly pretty overwhelming. I knew that there were families like that out in the world, but having never experienced it myself, it was jarring. And since Aeron had stayed behind to deal with my house—since I had to be gone within a time frame and he didn’t—I had to deal with it on my own.

I had Owen of course, but he didn’t know anything different than a physically affectionate and caring family. But we settled in fine, and by the time Aeron joined us a few weeks later, I was coming to accept it. It was cramped in Owen’s parents house though, with all of us and Remy, and both Aeron and I were ready for space.

The little house Owen found was smaller than my previous one, but infinitely more charming. It had a whole cabin in the woods vibe without any creep or horror factor. Wood burning fireplaces in every room except the bathroom, a small workroom I could use to work on my witchcraft, and butted up to a national forest so Owen could shift and run whenever he wanted. Best of all, it wasn’t far from pack territory, and Owen was still able to visit with them at the drop of a hat.

Aeron’s apartment was even smaller, but he and Remy were happy. I was too. I set about making the cottage a new home, and as I found places for all our things—Aeron had come in a U-Haul with both his and my things, and Owen had more pack members with pickup trucks than I could count. We’d been moved in within the span of a day. All in all, I didn’t regret a single thing.

But Owen was still on edge, never leaving me for longer than a few minutes unless someone he trusted was visiting. He was convinced that the whole ordeal with my family and my former coven wasn’t over, no matter how much I tried to assure him it was. I figured it would take time before he was settled.

Not that I minded the constant attention. It usually resulted in hugs, cuddles, and much more. Owen couldn’t keep his hands off me, which suited me fine, because I was the same.

We were having a quiet night in for a change, no visits or pack gatherings, and Aeron was off doing his own thing. The fire was crackling behind the grate, I had a cup of hibiscus tea—which Owen jokingly said looked like blood—and we were snuggled together under a handknitted throw Owen’s grandmother had made for us. I couldn’t stop running my fingers over the rich texture and soft yarn. It was gorgeous.

Owen gave me a kiss on the head and got up to go to the bathroom. I stretched out to soak up the warmth he left behind, and hoped he’d get ideas when he got back. But before I could really settle, I heard a car pull up the gravel drive. I stood and stretched, ready to receive whoever decided to show up now. I was halfway to the door in response to the knock when Owen came barreling into the room.

“Back up. I’ll get it.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure it’s not—”

“Please.” His voice was soft and I nodded. “I don’t recognize the scent.”

A moment later, he pulled open the door, keeping it and himself between me and whoever was on the other side.

“Gareth Evans?” The deep voice was unfamiliar.

Owen narrowed his eyes. “Who’s asking?”

“Agent Delaney Willis. This is my partner Agent Fiona Mathers. We’re with the MBI.”

My breath caught. Magical Bureau of Investigation? That was serious. They only got involved in the most egregious of cases. They were almost a legend within the preternatural community. The boogeyman. Heard of, stories told, but never seen.

Except they were here. Asking for me. And I couldn’t imagine why? Panic tripped through my veins, and Owen growled, ready to defend me and keep me safe. But it wasn’t like we could turn MBI agents away. If they had tracked me down here, they could track me anywhere.

“Let them in, honey,” I whispered. I’d tried for a stronger tone, but it hadn’t worked. I was nervous. Okay, I was more than nervous. But I had to keep it together or my familiar and mate would start a riot.

Owen did as I asked, but he wasn’t happy about it. Agent Willis was tall, broad, and clearly a magic user. His aura was so strong anyone would have recognized it. That was if the orange tabby at his feet hadn’t given it away. Agent Mathers was just as tall, but willowy, and almost certainly a shifter.

“Is it all right if my familiar, Oscar, enters as well?”

I appreciated that he asked, but he had to know I wouldn’t disagree. I nodded, putting a hand on Owen’s shoulder and gently guiding him back so the Agents could enter. Owen stepped back, almost knocking me over, but he was determined to keep his body between me and them. I almost wanted to protest, but I didn’t want to raise Owen’s hackles more than they were. And to be quite honest, I wanted to stay safe.

“Thank you.” The agents entered, and turned toward the dining area where we had a small table with a few chairs. Once we were all seated, Agent Willis offered me a smile. It changed his whole face, and made him seem far more approachable.

“May I introduce Oscar to your familiar?”

I couldn’t contain the smirk as I pointed to Owen. It took the agents a couple of seconds to catch on, but when they did, Mathers’s eyes went to her hairline and Willis coughed. Owen preened and I couldn’t help the affectionate smile that graced my lips.

“That’s…unexpected.” Willis did his best to hide his surprise, but wasn’t entirely successful.

“What can we do for you?” Owen’s tone bordered on rude, and I slid my hand onto his thigh to try and soothe him. I was worried too, but there was no point in antagonizing them.

This time, Mathers spoke up. “Mr. Evans, we’re here to speak with you about Bianca and Lawson Evans.”

This time, it was my eyebrows that shot up. I knew the surprise was evident on my face. “My parents? What about them?”

Willis and Mathers exchanged a look. Mathers said, “What can you tell us about them?”

“Uh.” An uncomfortable feeling swirled in my gut, though whether it was because I couldn’t tell them anything or because I didn’t know what was going on, I wasn’t sure. “Not much. I’ll be frank, Agents, my parents haven’t had much to do with me for the past several years. You’d be better off speaking with my brother.”

“Agents are currently speaking with Aeron Evans as well,” Willis confirmed.

And that was the point that Owen’s patience broke. “I don’t mean to be rude, except I really want to know what the hellfire is going on?”

The agents ignored his outburst, but did answer his question. “Mr. Evans, your parents are currently being detained by the MBI for investigation pertaining to their use of black magic.”

I heard the words. But they didn’t make sense. My parents were assholes, but had always prided themselves on being upstanding magical citizens. “I’m sorry, what?”

Mathers narrowed her eyes. “Are you saying you had no idea your parents were involved in blood magic and necromancy?”

I just stared, my mouth open, not being able to process the words.

Beside me, Owen snorted. “Shit, babe, your parents are even worse than I thought.”

I shook my head. “I…I don’t understand.”

Willis sat back in his chair, and his cat jumped up into his lap. “Mr. Evans, we have a lot to discuss.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**This picks up exactly where the last episode left off. And we finally have a conclusion. If you’ve missed any of the other episodes, make sure you check them out first. Enjoy!**

Chaos erupted. Where a moment before Owen stood beside me, there was now a wolf in a t-shirt and kicking out of jeans. A translucent shield, faintly blue, erupted between us and the rest of the council, and I knew it was Aeron’s doing. I was peripherally aware of shouting, subconsciously registered my mother’s voice, but the words didn’t register. Mage globes flared around the room.

But I was strangely calm.

Before walking into this room, I’d been nervous and worried. But now that the High Mage had made her proclamation and the tension was so high it was about to snap, I felt nothing but peace. When I thought back on this later, I would probably realize I was going into shock. If I survived, that was.

“Carla, sit down.”

The whip-crack of a voice cut through everything and an uneasy silence settled in. The High Mage whipped her head sideways, staring at a wizened old man with cotton candy wisps of hair gracing his very wrinkled scalp. Out of everyone on the council, he was the only one sitting calmly like the room hadn’t exploded around him. His gnarled fingers, knobbly with arthritis, were folded before him, and his sharp gray eyes were focused on the High Mage.

“Elder Elwyn,” she began, her voice barely restrained rage. But he held up one of those hands, and her mouth snapped shut. I wasn’t entirely sure it was of her own volition.

“As you recall, the vote must be unanimous. This is by our own tightly held rules.” Elwyn’s voice was soft and slightly shaky, but he seemed wholly unconcerned. “And while there were twelve votes in favor of your ludicrous declaration, I have yet to vote.”

He tilted his head in my direction, and it might have been the reflection off Aeron’s shield, but I could swear he winked at me. some of the feeling came back into my limbs, and it was only then that I realized I’d gone numb. With increasing increments, I came back to myself. Owen’s snarls reached my ears, though it was low, and I glanced down to see the his protective stance. I curled my fingers in his scruff, and he pushed closer to me, but still kept himself between me and everyone else.

“Gareth Evans, state your case,” Elwyn said in that same tone.

A thousand thoughts ran through my head and I couldn’t sort through them. But in the end, it didn’t matter. I knew I was either walking out of here with my mate, or I wasn’t, and there was nothing I could say to defend myself. Because I didn’t need a defense.

“I’m not sure what you want me to say.” My voice didn’t shake and I was strangely proud of that. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t deserve the charges the High Mage—” And if there was venom in the words I couldn’t be blamed, “—has leveled against me. I have tried to call a familiar for years, and it finally happened. Because the magic needed to wait until my familiar and mate was of age to join me. I’m not sure what the problem is.”

“The problem,” Elder Elwyn said, as though we were having a normal conversation. “Is that it takes agency from another being.”

I cocked my head. “But doesn’t the familiar bond do that no matter what? All familiars are sentient creatures, even if they aren’t humans. At least in my case, I can have a conversation with mine in the same language and we can discuss everything. If anything, my bond is more equal than any of yours.”

A murmured went up through the crowd, and I vaguely heard some grumbling agreement. The High Mage, however, would have killed me with nothing but her gaze if she could. I would have been incinerated judging by the fire in her eyes.

“The inherent power in your bond—”

“Oh.” Sudden clarity had me interrupting the High Mage, something I would have never done. Her fingers twitched, her mage glob flaring, and her ferret twittered angrily at me for the intrusion. But I didn’t care. “Oh, I get it now.”

Owen shifted. It only took two blinks, and he was suddenly a man. His shirt barely covered his ass, and though he kept his back to me, I was sure his parts were hanging out for the world to see. I grumbled at that—no one should see him but me—but Owen didn’t seem to care. 

“Gareth?”

I put my hand on his lower back. “They’re scared I’ll try to take their power or some such nonsense.”

His head tilted and he shot me a quick, confused glance over his shoulder. “But you don’t care about that shit.”

I didn’t bother to remind him to watch his language in this hall. At this point, I didn’t care either. “No, I don’t. I don’t care about their politics at all.” I hummed as I thought. “You have several family members who are bonded to witches. Let’s move there. We don’t need this.”

Owen nodded. “I’m down with that. If you’re sure. We’ll discuss it.”

“What about me?” Aeron asked from my right.

“You can come too,” both Owen and I said at the same time.

Aeron’s grin was blinding. “Well, all right then.”

“Mr. Evans.” Elwyn’s voice cut through our conversation, and the three of us turned to give the old man our attention.

“Yes, sir?”

“Am I to understand you’re willing to leave the area?”

I nodded. “Sure. I don’t need…this.” I waved my hand to encompass all that was happening.

He studied me for a long moment. “Well, then this is moot isn’t it?”

The High Mage’s nostrils flared and I was pretty sure she was about to combust. Instead, she breathed deeply and drew down her magic. I could still see it sparking at her fingertips, but she was no longer on the verge of annihilating me.

“The exile stand. You have 48 hours to remove yourself from the district. Should you remain, or return, your magic will be stripped and your bond broken. You will be imprisioned.”

I opened my mouth to argue, or point out the idiocy and hypocrisy of it, but then realized I didn’t want to. Nothing was keeping me here. I loved my house, sure, but I could love another one. My family didn’t care about me, except for my brother, and I had no close friends. All I needed was my mate and my brother to be happy. I could make a new life somewhere else if I had them. My mate, of course, I knew wouldn’t leave my side. So I glanced at Aeron.

“You’re coming, right?”

“Of course.” He nodded, just once, and his expression was determined.

“Great.” I turned my back on the council, knowing that Aeron and Owen would keep us safe as we left. It took no time to get outside and only when we were back at the SUV did I start to shake. Owen pulled me close and then got us both into the backseat where he could hold me.

I blew out a stuttering breath and tried for a laugh. “Well. That was anticlimactic.”

Owen growled as he nuzzled my neck. “Only in that I expected a fight. You were amazing. So calm and collected.”

“Shock,” I muttered, burrowing closer. I needed his warmth. Owen had no problem obliging me, practically pulling me into his lap. If we weren’t in a moving car, I would have climbed him like a tree. But as it was, I was happy to just be wrapped up in his arms. This fast, and he was already my rock. I’d be scared about that except for our bond.

Aeron turned on the engine and put the car in drive. It wasn’t until we were at least a few miles away before he let out a chuckle.

“What?” I finally lifted my head but pressed into Owen when he placed a kiss on my head. I loved that he couldn’t stop touching me.

“Guess we’re starting a new adventure, huh?” He took the opportunity of a red light to turn around and give me an eyebrow waggle. Remy, who’d been silent up till now, let out a happy squawk and bobbed his head.

I couldn’t help the grin that bloomed my lips. I turned to see an answering smile gracing Owen’s. I kissed him, slow and sweet, but filled with the promise of what was to come.

“Yeah,” I said, a foreign but welcome contentment suffusing me. “Yeah. We are.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

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

“That’s a very bad idea.”

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

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

“Watch. Your. Words.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owen cupped my face. “You trust him?”

“Completely.”

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

I quirked an eyebrow. “Why tomorrow?”

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

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

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

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

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

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

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

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

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

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

Though he had used the term mate.

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

It was something we needed to talk about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I mean exactly that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Crap.”

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

“What’s wrong?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay?”

I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, I have my priorities.”

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

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

Owen went still. “Do you regret it?”

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

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**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