**Here we go! Another episode with Gareth and Owen. I have no idea when this will end. Enjoy!**
I paced, unable to sit. To settle. Owen’s gaze tracked me from the couch but he wisely kept his mouth shut. He, at least, got to go outside. Shifted into his fur and went for runs. I, on the other hand, hadn’t been allowed out of the house in days. Weeks? I wasn’t sure how long it was at this point.
Intellectually, I got it. Bianca was free and Owen, the pack, my brother, even Lane….they all believe it was possible she would come after me. I was worried about that myself, but not overly. I was more worried about Aeron, and I was glad he had pack members staying with him as well.
“Come cuddle with me.” Owen’s voice was low, cajoling, and even though I adored my mate and what he was trying to do. But I was too cranky. And a little paranoid.
“I need to check the wards,” I muttered, crossing back to the window and placing my hand against the jam. This house had really good anchor points, and I reached deep for the magic, pushing more into the wards I’d built with Aeron’s help. We’d done the same at his place. The magic flared up, bright for a second, then settled back down.
Before I could move to the next point, Owen was behind me, wrapping his arm around my waist and tugging me back against his chest. He kissed the back of my neck. When he spoke, he kept his lips against my skin. “You’ve check and rechecked. They’re the strongest than can be.”
“Have we heard from Lane?” I asked, not relaxing.
Owen, for his part, didn’t even sound frustrated when he answered, despite the fact that I’d asked that at least ten time just today. “Not since yesterday.”
“But they’re sure of where she is?”
“Yes, love. Lane said he’d let us know.”
“But he’s not supposed to.” I sighed and tried to let the tension go. “He’s going out on a limb and skirting the rules by keeping us in the loop.”
Owen made an affirmative noise and squeezed me tighter. After a long moment, I blew out a breath and let him take my weight. He held me up easily, and didn’t try to make me move or say anything else. We stood there for a long time, and I couldn’t resist drawing on our magic just to give the wards another boost. Owen sucked in a breath, and then let out a small chuckle when I was done.
“I like Lane.” Owen said, conversationally. I was a little surprised he didn’t comment on my obsessive need to check the wards.
As a reward for his incredibly patient behavior, I pulled away enough to grab his hand and tug him to the couch. Then I pushed him down, let him get comfortable, then flopped down on his lap. I didn’t quite fit but neither of us cared. He liked me close, and I liked it too. It had been awkward at first but we’d found a way to make it work.
I fiddled with his shirt, rubbing the fabric between my fingers. “I like Lane too. He’s good people. We should invite him over.”
Owen kissed my head. “When everything dies down we’ll see where it stands, yeah?”
“Yeah.” I sighed, closed my eyes, and thunked my head down on his shoulder. “Do you regret it?”
Owen went completely still. Then asked, very carefully, “Regret what?”
“Us. Being my familiar. Me calling you.” I exhaled hard. “It’s been crazy since the second we met, and you certainly didn’t sign up for a judgmental High Mage and a murderous, black magic wielding family.”
“Not for a second.” The conviction in his tone made me relax. It’d be a would lie if I said I hadn’t been nervous about his answer. And when he took hold of my chin and made me look at him, I saw it there in his face. “I love you. And I believe fate put us together for a reason.”
I kissed him, hard and thoroughly, because what else can I do. When we broke for air, I smiled. “I love you, too.”
“Yeah, I know.” He waggled his eyebrows, then kissed my cheek. “We’ll get through this, love.”
I nodded, tucking in close again. “Do you really think she’ll come after me?”
“I don’t know.” His voice was soft, contemplative. “I think Lane thinks it’s a possibility and he’s closer—”
Owen went still, then bodily lifted me and dropped me on the couch. “Stay there.”
I didn’t even have a chance to respond before Owen was at the door, and he pulled it open without hesitation. My heart leapt into my throat, taking in the taunt line of his shoulders, and the claws that tipped his fingers.
I was shocked when Owen ushered Lane in through the door, and opened my mouth to ask what was going on, but Lane’s wide eyes and ghost white face stopped me in my tracks. I stood fast, and Lane’s eyes shot to me.
Lane swallowed hard before he croaked, “She’s got Aeron.”
*And we’re back. The Gareth and Owen saga continues. Enjoy!*
I’d been increasingly clingy, but Owen didn’t seem to care. In fact, I was pretty sure he was enjoying the heck out of the fact that I wanted to be in his space one hundred percent of the time. He was always kissing my head or cheek or neck, and always wrapped me up in his arms when I pushed in close. We spent a good portion of time cuddled on the couch. Soon I’d have to find a job, and Owen would have to go back to work for his family’s construction business but for now, the pack was taking care of us.
If my parents hadn’t been arrested for black magic, and the past few weeks hadn’t been taken up by continual interviews with the MBI, we’d probably be expected to contribute sooner. But we had things going on, and though I felt guilty, I was glad I didn’t have to think about anything else at the moment. Owen insisted I didn’t have to feel guilt.
“This is what pack does, babe,” he said more than once and always with a fond smile.
I was working on it.
In the meantime, I was happy to curl up with Owen, under a warm afghan, and just soak in time with him. I was practically in his lap, half reading a book, with him watching TV, when a knock at the door had us both looking up. Owen wrinkled his nose, but didn’t say anything as he eased me to the side and stood.
“Who is it?” I asked quietly.
Owen pulled a face. “Willis.”
I groaned, not wanting to do this again. It had been so many conversations, day in and day out, and I was just so freaking tired of it. I sat up and put my book aside, but didn’t move off the couch. I wasn’t going to be hospitable. I just didn’t have the spoons.
“Agent Willis!” Owen said as he threw open the door, false cheer in his voice. “To what do we owe the pleasure? You just can’t get enough of us, huh? You miss us?”
Willis grimaced. “May I come in?”
Owen crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, I don’t know—”
“Let him in, sweetheart,” I said with a sigh. Owen could do this all day, and I just didn’t have the strength. Let the agent in so we could get this over with.
The way the couch was angled, I couldn’t see Owen’s face well, but his body language was that of a predator, and he pointed at Willis. “Behave. And if you upset my mate, I’m kicking you out.”
I let out a half-hearted laugh. “Owen.”
“It’s fine. Thank you.” Willis stepped in and to the side, so Owen could shut the door behind him. Oscar wound around Willis’s feet, and Willis scooped the cat up and perched him on his shoulder. He waited for Owen to lead the way, then followed Owen into the living room.
“No partner today?” I asked, curious. I wasn’t a huge fan of Mathers, since she always acted like we were inconveniencing her, but they always showed up together.
Willis shook his head. “No. I, uh, shouldn’t be here actually.”
Owen’s face went stony. “What does that mean?”
Willis sighed heavily and sat in the recliner when I gestured to it. Oscar immediately settled into his lap. Willis immediately put his hands on the cat, rubbing Oscar’s ears gently. Oscar squinted and started up a purr I could hear from across the room.
“Agent Willis?” My voice was tentative.
“I’m not here in my official capacity. Lane is good.” I nodded and Lane smiled. “Look, I’m not supposed to be here, and you’re going to hear this in an official capacity soon. You’ll be asked to come down to headquarters, I’m sure. But I thought you should hear it from me.”
Owen didn’t hesitate to put his arm around me. I was sure he felt the anxiety coming off me in waves. Just the resigned tone of his voice, the careful way he chose his words, had me on edge. I opened my mouth to ask, again, what was going on, but Lane spoke before I could.
“Your mother has struck a plea deal and won’t be going to trial. In exchange for testifying against your father, she’s getting a reduced sentence.”
My gut clenched. “How reduced?”
Lane’s face contorted. “Time served and three years’ probation.”
“What?” Owen and I said at the same time, but Owen’s was a shout and mine was a whisper. Fear clenched in my gut.
“How is that possible?” I managed to ask.
“She had compelling evidence and the Tribunal Prosecutor felt her testimony was more important than prosecuting her.”
Owen growled, low and deep in his chest, causing Oscar to hiss and jump up onto Lane’s shoulder. Owen didn’t care. “What in the fucking hell could be good enough for that?”
“I can’t say.” Lane’s voice was calm, and he held up a hand when Owen made an indignant noise. “I really can’t. I shouldn’t even been telling you at all, but I didn’t want you to be blindsided. I want you to be able to put protections in place.”
I stared at Lane. He’d been kind from the first moment he’d shown up, and he’d done his best to make it as painless as possible. Even though it had, in fact, been pretty painful. He’s reined in his partner when she had gotten too aggressive, and gave me as much time as I needed to answer questions. He’d come here, against protocol or whatever, to break the news that Bianca would be release into the world despite her crimes.
“Hey, Lane? You hungry?”
Owen’s jerked his gaze to me at the same time Lane’s head sprung up. They both stared and all I could do was smile. Pushing to my feet, I held out a hand to Owen who took it immediately.
“Gareth.” Owen pulled me close, then tilted my chin up to look me in the eye. “There is a distinct possibility she’d come after you. Or Aeron.”
I glanced at Lane. “Is she out yet?”
Lane shook his head. “But it shouldn’t be too long. A day or two at most.”
“Okay then, let’s eat. We appreciate you coming to tell us, and we’ll be able to prepare.” I patted Owen’s chest. “I’m gonna call Aeron, okay? We’ll figure it out. After we eat.”
I pulled out of Owen’s embrace and headed out to the kitchen. Nerves roiled in my gut and just the thought of Bianca being free, and wanting retribution on either me or Aeron, was scary. But I had to try not to worry about it. There were things we could do to protect ourselves and we would. Plus, we had the pack now.
“Is he okay?” Lane’s voice drifted in from the other room.
Owen responded a second later. “No, but he will be.”
**Okay! Next episode. Gareth and Owen back for another week. Enjoy!*
Even though Owen took care of me—and very well, I might add—after I dozed for a couple of hours, I woke restless. I tried really hard to settle, to go back to sleep. Owen was breathing softly, deep and even, beside me. Okay, really he was half on me. Seriously, sometimes I really did wonder if he was an octopus shifter.
But I couldn’t find peace, even in my mate’s arms, so I slowly crept my way out of bed, then, as quietly as possible, padded into the living room. The throw blanket I loved was tossed over the back of the couch, and I didn’t hesitate to wrap up in it, settling into the corner of the couch.
I wanted to see my brother. Aeron had finished with his agents later than I had, and we’d spoken briefly on the phone. But it had been late, and I’d been half asleep already so we’d promised to get together tomorrow. Except I was worried about him. Aeron hadn’t had a great relationship with the parents, but it had been better than mine. If I was having a hard time wrapping my head around things, I couldn’t imagine how hard this was for him.
Owen appeared on silent feet, but I was used to him now so I didn’t startle the way I had in the beginning. Had it really only been a couple of months? It felt like so much longer. But in a good way. I tried for a smile, though it felt tremulous, and Owen’s eyes softened. He crossed the room and sat beside me, opening his arms, and giving me the choice on whether or not I wanted to cuddle. The whole time, he didn’t say a word, but I didn’t need him to. With a soft sigh, I changed positions so I was leaning into his embrace. Owen kissed the top of my head.
After a long while, he finally spoke, his lips near my ear and his voice soft. “Why don’t you call him?”
He tapped my temple with gentle fingers so he would know exactly what he meant. I had to laugh then, though it was a weak, short sound. The fact that he knew what was weighing on me at that moment was comforting in a way I couldn’t describe. And that he didn’t think it was weird that I could sort of, kind of communicate with Aeron telepathically was reassuring.
“I’m trying not to,” I whispered, and then shrugged one shoulder knowing full well what his next question would be. “He’s had a long day too. Probably even mor emotionally draining. He needs his rest. And he has Remy.”
Owen hummed, pressing his lips to my skin, but didn’t comment. I appreciated his restraint. If I were to guess, he was more concerned about my well being than that of my brother. Which wasn’t to say he didn’t care about Aeron, just that I was his top priority. Which was really nice.
It was probably only about thirty minutes longer before he lifted his head, gaze zeroing in on the door. My entire body went tense, readying for action. Who was it now? I couldn’t handle anything else. Not tonight. But when Owen didn’t move, and his body remained tension free, I started to relax. He wasn’t worried, so I didn’t need to be either.
I opened my mouth to ask what was going on, but then there was a small burst of magic and the lock clicked open. I sat up fast, because there was only one person who could get through the wards without setting them off. I was off the couch and running before the door fully swung open, and hugging my brother a second later.
“You okay?” I murmured, squeezing him as tightly as I could. Remy moved in so he could nuzzle against where mine and Aeron’s heads met. I gave the cockatoo a quick scritch.
Aeron’s exhale was long and gusty, but he pulled back and gave me a smile that was almost real. “Hell of a day, huh?”
I nodded, pulling him inside before locking the door and resetting the wards. Aeron just kind of stood there, and the haggard appearance told me all I needed to know.
He shrugged, and Remy bounced with the motion. “You can’t either.”
We sat down, with me resuming my place on the couch with Owen. Aeron stretched out in the big chair and a half situated on the side. Remy moved down to perch on his chest and put his head under Aeron’s chin. The silence stretched between us.
“Fuck,” Aeron said, low but full of feeling.
“Yeah. I don’t know how we didn’t see it.” I sighed and pushed in closer to Owen. “To be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t try to recruit you. They would have loved someone with your kind of power.”
When Aeron didn’t speak immediately, I sat up, staring at him. He wouldn’t look at me. I glanced at Owen, whose gaze was fixed on Aeron, and then back at my brother.
“I didn’t know what they were doing, but…” He sounded hurt and regretful. “I did, inadverntly, help them. Years ago.”
“What happened?” My heart was in my throat.
Aeron sighed. “I powered them up a couple of times. I didn’t know why they needed it. And I was stupid enough to trust them.”
“You aren’t stupid,” I ground out. “Of course you trusted them. Why wouldn’t you?”
“I should have known something was up. Because they were drained and they needed more and I—” He let out a frustrated growl.
Silence again for a few seconds before Owen tentatively asked, “What does that mean?”
“Magic is a finite but renewable source, right?” I jumped in to explain so my brother wouldn’t have to. Owen nodded and I continued. “So if a witch expends their power, instead of using the slower, more natural ways to power back up, they can get a boost from another witch channeling power into them.”
“Every time, I was in the next room. I had no idea what was going on, and I believed them when they said it was something I’d understand when I was older.” Aeron sounded bitter. “I just channeled power in their direction. Who the hell knows what they were doing in there!?”
“That’s not your fault,” I repeated calmly. I’d say it as many times as he needed to hear it. “You couldn’t have known.”
Aeron waved that away. “By the time I was ‘old enough’ I was already supporting you. Backing you up. Our relationship was strained. Me and them I mean. They had to know I wasn’t going to be down for whatever the fuck—” Another growl, though a very human one. Remy hopped up closer so he could press his beak against Aeron’s cheek.
“I have to meet with Agents again tomorrow.”
So we were changing the subject. All right then. I’d roll with it. “Me too.” I shot Owen a loving looking. “My mate was fiercely protective.”
Owen gave a playful growl, going with it. “Damn skippy. And right now, your mate thinks we all need some hot chocolate. Maybe with some Bailey’s?” Owen waggled his eyebrows which got a laugh out of me, and a genuine smile from Aeron.
“Sure. Thank you.”
Owen nodded, kissed my cheek and stood up. He held out an arm. “Hey Remy, wanna come with? We can have some familiar bonding time.”
Remy squawked, head butted Aeron, then flew the few feet to perch on Owen’s arm. Owen started talking to the bird as he carried him into the kitchen. I smiled after them, until they rounded the corner and turned my attention to my brother.
“You okay?” I asked again, this time with a little force behind it.
**More Gareth and Owen. At this point, it’s its own novella but I can’t stop. At this point, I’ll just keep going until it’s good and done. Check the past posts to catch up if you need to. Enjoy!**
I heard all the words that the MBI agents were saying, but I was having trouble processing them. Because it didn’t make sense. Witches and mages in general were just…not that evil. To learn that my parents had been actively practicing such insidious magic was unfathomable. Purposefully stripping people of life force and magic to use it for their own gain, raising the dead for goddess knew what, storing and amassing power
“Gareth, babe, look at me.”
Owen’s voice broke through the haze, and I blinked slowly before turning my gaze to him. It wasn’t until that second that I realized I’d disassociated, staring without seeing, totally checking out. His touch to my cheek was nice, but I didn’t like the concern in his eyes.
He snorted out a mirthless sound but the corners of his lips quirked up. “Liar.” His voice was soft and affectionate.
I touched my forehead to his for just a moment, took a deep breath, then turned my attention back to the agents. Willis gave me a small smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
“Are you okay to continue?”
I nodded, even though I wasn’t really. But I needed to be. Owen must have been reading my scent or my body language, because h moved even closer so he could wrap his arm around me and tuck me against his side. I went willingly. So fast, this connection to him. But I didn’t care. I was grateful for it all the time, but especially now.
“As I was saying, the Lacuna location was found to harbor quite a few artifacts and sacrificial altars. When was the last time you were there?”
I thought back, trying to remember. In my youth, the vacation house on the lake had been a frequent journey. I’d loved it there. But the older I got, the less we went. Then after I failed to call a familiar after my first attempt, the invites had stopped completely.
“Five or so years ago now.” I pursed my lips, still trying to think. “Yes, it had to be that summer. The summer before…” I stopped, unable to continue. “Yes, five years ago.”
Mathers made a note in the pad she had set before her. The next question was hers. “Why so long?”
“My parents no longer wanted me there.” My tone was bitter, and I tried to let that go. I’d made peace with their separation from me long ago. Or at least I thought I had. Mostly. But sometimes it still snuck up on me. Parents were supposed to love you no matter what, and mine certainly hadn’t. realization dawned, and I let out a small gasp. “Oh.”
“You thought of something.” Willis’s deep voice didn’t hold a question.
“So much makes sense now,” I murmured, still working it out.
“What?” Mathers urged, her voice sharp.
“Give him a minute,” Owen snapped back.
I soothed my familiar with a hand on his thigh. “It’s just…I’m putting the pieces together now. I thought they didn’t want to have anything to do with me because of my magic but…” I had to think another minute. But then the picture became clear and I sat straighter. Not losing contact with Owen, but no longer leaning on him.
“Take your time,” Willis said, tone easy as he shot his partner a look.
“They,” I began, unwilling to use the word parents anymore. I cleared my throat. “They started cutting me out when my magic took longer to mature than was normal. I thought that was the reason. I speculate now it was because I wouldn’t be any help to them.”
Mathers nodded. “That’s probably accurate.”
“But then why was your mother an awful bitch to you after I came into the picture?” Owen’s brows were drawn together. “Just having me in your life increases your power. Stabilizes it. We’re still working things out, but you’ll be at least as powerful as Aeron. And he has a butt load of power.”
I had to smile at Owen’s choice of terms. “True. Probably even more so. But it’s just like the council. Bianca was scared of what me having that power would do to her, them…” I waved a hand. “What they were doing.”
Owen frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“I think what Mr. Evans is saying,” Willis cut in. “Is that once he reached his full potential, amplified by having a shifter familiar, he’d see the taint in their souls from the magic they perform.”
I pointed at Willis. “That.”
Owen squinted. “You can do that?”
I shrugged. “I’ll be able to. Aeron can, but he has to do it purposefully. Most witches with his power level can. Once our bond is completely stable, and my power increases, I’ll have to purposefully turn it off.”
“That tracks with our investigation,” Willis confirmed. “We have a few more questions.”
I bit back the groan that wanted to escape. We’d been at this for hours, and I’d lost count how often one of them had said that exact phrase. I knew it was important. I knew talking to them and telling them everything I knew would help build their case, and while I was still conflicted about everything, I very much wanted to see justice done. And done correctly. Bianca and Lawson Evans were not the people I thought they were, maybe hadn’t ever been. I wanted to do my part.
But I was so done.
“You can come back tomorrow.” Owen’s voice was firm and did not invite argument.
Mathers’s eyebrows shot to her hair line, then her mouth set and I knew were in for an argument anyway. Before she could speak, Owen shot her a glare and talked over whatever she would say.
“We aren’t going anywhere. We’ll be here, in this house, when you show up in the morning. After nine, please, as it would be rude to come earlier. Gareth will answer your questions then.”
Mathers’s scowl was epic, but Willis nodded. “Sounds fair. We’ll be back in the morning.”
“Can I see my brother? Is that allowed?” I blurted out.
Willis glanced at Mathers, and she sighed heavily, standing and removing her phone from her pocket. “Let me make a call.” She left the room.
Willis transferred Oscar to his shoulders, then leaned forward. “We appreciate your cooperation, Mr. Evans. I know this isn’t easy.”
That was the understatement of the century. But I just nodded. What else could I do? I couldn’t believe anyone would be so malevolent as to perform the kind of magic Bianca and Lawson did. I mean, I knew it happened, of course. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the reason for it. It was heinous and evil. And to think the people who brought me and my brother into this world were capable of it was still hard to accept.
They’d never been great people, but that they would go this far? It did not compute. Still. Even after hearing the facts and evidence I’d been provided. Which I knew wasn’t even all of it.
Mathers returned and nodded at Willis. He stood, and the smile he offered was a little more genuine. “We’ll leave you now. You’re, of course, allowed to speak with your brother once he’s done with his interview. We’ll see you in the morning.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even move. Owen jumped to his feet and showed the agents out, and even in my state of shock, I was aware of the lock clicking shut and the flair of magic as Owen reset the threshold wards. I’d given him that ability the moment we moved in, carving the sigil into the doorframe that would respond to his touch and intent.
He was back a second later and didn’t hesitate to take me into his arms. I clung, needing his warmth and strength more than ever. He held me tightly, murmuring in my ear. It took me a moment to recognize the words.
“What can I do? What do you need?”
“Take me to bed.” My tone was a little frantic, and Owen pulled back far enough to look at me. “Hold me and fuck me and love on me. That’s what I need.”
Owen scooped me up, and I wrapped my legs around his waist. In this moment, shifter strength was definitely to my advantage. I wasn’t sure I could get my legs to work.
“I need you to ground me,” I said into the skin of his neck.
**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.
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.
“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.”
**Here is part five! We are clearly not done yet. Tell me what you think of Gareth and Owen’s continuing saga. Check out the blog for the previous parts. Enjoy!**
The summons came in the middle of the night by way of witch globe. I wasn’t surprised. I mean, I was startled because I was warm and cozy, sound asleep and wrapped around my mate. Or rather, he was wrapped around me. Since solidifying our bond, Owen hadn’t moved more than two feet away for me. And the way he clung in bed made me think he was an octopus shifter instead of a red wolf.
Not that I minded in the slightest.
But the appearance of the witch globe in my—our—bedroom was shocking but not surprising. The witching hour was called that for a reason, as many who were magically inclined were at the height of their power. It woke me from a dead sleep, the pulse of magic thrumming through me and pulling on mine. I gasped as my eyes popped open, but Owen’s arms just tightened and he pushed his face against the back of my neck.
“Ignore it,” he mumbled into my skin.
“We can’t,” I whispered.
Owen growled, then grumbled, then kissed my nape in a way that made me shiver. “We could.”
“It’ll just get worse, until it’s physically painful and I have no choice but to comply. Get up, please. We need to go.”
The growl Owen let out was deep from his chest, and I didn’t need to look to know his fangs were out and his eyes had changed. I couldn’t dwell on that though, because if I did, I’d be tempted to drag him back down and…
Yeah. There was just something about him, all cranky and possessive, that just did it for me. It didn’t feel smothering or dangerous in any way. Instead it was clear he was being protective without wanting to own me. I was his but he didn’t control me. Not that I would mind a little control.
No. Couldn’t go there right now.
Owen inhaled deeply, shoving his nose right against where my shoulder joined my neck. “Gareth, you can’t expect me go anywhere with you smelling like that.”
I flipped over and Owen allowed, pulling me in the moment we were chest to chest. I kissed him quickly, even if it was full of heat, and pulled away when Owen wanted to take it further. We really didn’t have time for that.
“Get up and get dressed.” I nudged his nose with mine.
Owen complied, at least with the getting out of bed part. “Call your brother.”
“Already on it.” Aeron and I had a link through our magic, something that had found us when we were young. Right before he really hit his power growth spurt, we’d been working a rudimentary tracking spell and something happened. We’d never really told anyone about it, because we’d never heard of anything like it. Aeron still researched it on and off, trying to find the reason why. I didn’t really care about the why right now, because it allowed me to send thoughts to him, even though he lived on the other side of town. I felt him wake, felt the acknowledgement, and his urgency. Aeron masked it after a second, trying to be reassuring, but I knew he was just as worried about this as I was.
Owen was dressed, shoes on, by the time I came back to myself. He was waiting patiently close by, and I knew by his stance he was on alert. Warmth suffused my stomach, just knowing he was watching out for me. it had been a long time since I’d had anyone to put me first. My brother had my back, and that was great, but I wasn’t his sole priority. I couldn’t be and I didn’t want to be.
Maybe it was our growing bond. Maybe it was his protectiveness. Maybe it was just who he was. But whatever it was, I felt as though I could take on the world and survive. Or the Witches Council, as the case may be.
I dressed in record time, and though I was nervous, I was scared. Not like I’d been a few days ago. I trusted Owen and Aeron. I trusted myself. If the worst came to worst, we’d be able to get out of there. Even if it meant leaving this place I’d called my own and hiding from the council for the rest of our lives.
“Hey.” Owen nuzzles his face against my jaw. “Stop it. I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but I don’t like the defeatist scent coming off you. We can handle this.”
I was so sure about that, but I tried for a smile anyway. Another kiss, quick and easy in a way that was becoming familiar very quickly, and then we were out the door. Aeron was just pulling up to the curb, having rushed over, and we climbed into his SUV.
The closer we got to council headquarters, the more nervous I got. To the point that Owen reached out and laid a hand on the back of my neck. I tried to settle. I really did. But I couldn’t stop worrying. We were walking in to a situation where we would be faced with thirteen very powerful people who were used to being obeyed and getting their way. I had power, more now that Owen and I had bonded. Aeron’s power even exceeded my own. But those people inside that building? Half of them were ruthless, set in their ways, and older than dirt. The other half liked the control they had, even if there were, perhaps, more persuadable.
The witch globe had followed us, and stopped beside the car when Aeron parked. I got out, and Owen was instantly at my side. Which was a good thing because the surge of magic from the globe nearly made my knees buckle. Owen was right there to hold me up, though, and he growled uselessly at the magical globe.
“Ready?” Aeron’s voice was soft, tense, but firm.
Aeron gave me half a grin that didn’t last. Owen nosed my temple in an affectionate gesture. I gripped his hand so tightly that if he hadn’t been a shifter, I might have broken bones. He didn’t seem to mind. As one, we entered the council hall and were met by the whole council, seated and glowering in full regalia. My parents and other members of my extended family were sitting in the observation area at the far end of the room. I ignored them completely.
“Gareth Evans, you have presented yourself to be judged for your misuse and abuse of magic.” The High Mage intoned, her voice a clarion bell. “Prepare for your magic to be stripped, your bond broken, and your exile.”
**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?”
**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.
**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.
**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.