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Your Neighbors in Apartment 27 B, Transitional Zone 12

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It's the twelve-day moon. Ray watches it out the window at the landing, his favorite part of the new apartment he and Bob share in the transitional zone. He smells something that he thinks could be a citrus fruit distantly, wafting down the hall, and he wonders if the neighbors in the apartment next door are having breakfast.

Ray knows he can’t live alone, not while he is a new wolf. The Clan Non-Voluntary Transition Program told him it was traditional for werewolves to have a change-partner, and Bob recommended, because of the way that Ray was turned, and because it happened during the Fairy blockade when everyone's magic was out of balance, that he ought to have someone with him through more than just the full moon to make it easier. Bob insisted that he could move in to Bob's place. Ray insisted right back that there was a reason transitional zones existed, and it was so Ray could slowly leave behind his Daylighter life, without being forced to give up things like electricity and daytime hours at the grocery stores.

The apartment is nice, if a little too large for the two of them. Ray can tell this is a gesture on Bob's part, because he wants to give Ray space while still being there for him. Bob doesn't talk a lot about how he was turned, and how difficult his transition was, but Ray can tell there wasn't any transition zone then, or a new species partner to guide him through it.

Ray could look at the moon forever. He especially likes it when it's in quarters. When he says things like that, Bob just nods, and Ray doesn't know what that means. Ray knows that the werewolves have words for each of the days, each day of the moon cycle has its own meaning and significance. Bob's teaching him, but he's taking it slow, and so for the days Ray doesn’t know yet, he counts. Twelve days away from the new moon, twelve days closer to the full.

Bob's taking everything slow. And when Ray says everything, he means everything. Never once did Ray think that he'd have a boyfriend - that he'd live with a boyfriend - and not see them with their pants off at least once, and he's not counting the time he accidentally walked in on Bob changing.

They even have their own rooms, for Christ's sake.

This isn't the way Ray thought things were going to go the first time Bob came over to have coffee, or when they danced at the ball. He'd imagined there would be a whole lot more dancing and less dancing around each other, but, now each time they touch, each time they kiss, Bob backs off. It still seems like he's interested, just that he's waiting. He keeps telling Ray that there's no rush.

Ray's in a rush, though. He wants to know how Bob feels under his hands, wants to do messy, ridiculous things like rut up against him on the couch until they both come in their pants, instead of just having to sit there and take the way Bob strokes his neck as Bob reads him books about werewolf political history.

Ray knows Bob's not wrong, though, about some of it, because as much as Ray feels in control, some of the time, more often than he'd like, he feels the new part of him, the strong tug of the shadow that’s the wolf. The part of him that's a Midnighter. The part of him that understands why different nights and different moons mean things. The part of him that's rash, that's quick to explode, to over-react, that's restless and wants to dig and run and.....well, to howl. It's still so new, and so Ray listens to Bob when he tells him to take it slow, to take it easy, to ease into everything. Ray can be patient.

He hears a creak on the stairs behind him. "You ok?" Bob's rough, sleepy voice says.

"Yeah, just - " Ray says, and there's no point in lying, "Got distracted looking."

"Twelve day moon," Bob says, "The water under the wheelbarrow."

"The water under the wheelbarrow," Ray repeats, and Bob smiles at him. "You slept late," Ray says.

"Order contract last morning," Bob says. "Want some coffee?"

"Yeah," Ray says, and follows Bob back downstairs.

Bob doesn't talk a lot about his Order work, which is... well, it's not like Ray really wants to hear about the kind of contracts Bob takes, but he thinks it's less about Bob not wanting to scare Ray and more about the way Bob handles his work. It's a task and it's done and there's no need to talk about it, not once it's become a contact. Not once the path to exacting justice is clear.

"We have a new session coming up," Bob says, scooping coffee into the electric coffee maker. "You could come to the meeting if you want."

"I don't want to be part of the Blind Order," Ray says. It's not the first time Bob's mentioned it, but it's still not something Ray would even consider.

"You'd be good at it," Bob says. "Not everything's about contracts. There area lot of cases that need investigating, and with your Daylighter background - "

"I just don't think it's for me," Ray says.

"You could have your case heard, if you wanted," Bob says, and Ray can tell this is the real reason Bob’s brought it up this time. "You could see what status the Order might afford you."

"I don't need to exact justice, either," Ray says.

"Fair enough," Bob says, "Just want to give you the opportunity."

"Anyway, I think someone already did it for me."

Bob's eyes flick up to Ray's face. "I read the Clan Code, Bob," Ray says. "I read about vendettas. I know why you needed a lock of my hair." Ray still remembers the sharp shock of their first kiss, of the way Bob just leaned in and the way he'd tasted, heat and determination, before he'd gone out and dismantled the entire rogue faction.

Bob's stock still. The coffee finishes brewing and switches itself off. "I didn't mean to take that opportunity away from you," Bob says.

"No," Ray says. "That's not what I mean. It wasn't because of a contract or about vengeance. It was - it was because I mattered to you."

"You do," Bob says, and then he's stepping into Ray's space, nuzzling Ray's jaw. Ray whimpers, he can't help it, the contact feels so amazing. "I did it because I couldn't stand the thought that someone had hurt you," Bob says, brushing his nose down Ray's neck, across his hair. Ray's whole body is thrumming. "And anyone who had hurt you had to pay." Bob brushes back Ray's hair back from his neck and then presses his lips there, a soft, dry touch against his skin that makes Ray gasp.

"Thank you," Ray says, stupidly, except that he means it, too. He doesn't have words for what Bob's done, for the terrifying wrath of Bob Bryar, or how to reconcile it with the gentle way Bob's lips are moving down Ray's throat.

"You're welcome," Bob says back, and then he brushes his lips over Ray's, too briefly, and steps back, and starts pouring the coffee.

Ray takes in deep, shuddering breathes, trying to pull himself together. Bob isn't looking at him, but the back of Bob's neck is red. Ray wants to ask why Bob stopped, why he keeps stopping, when it's clear what they both want.

"You want something to eat?" Bob asks, opening the refrigerator.

"Eggs," Ray says immediately, and Bob finally looks at him, that same small smile when Ray said the name of today's moon. Ray thinks it's because he's getting better at identifying what foods he wants, and what his body is telling him what it needs.

"Eggs it is," Bob says, and he starts taking eggs and milk and butter out of the fridge.

The food stuff is weird. Ray had thought he'd want meat all the time, but that was a common Daylighter misconception about werewolves. Ray doesn't just want meat - he wants everything. It is overwhelming the information his senses are sending him about food, about his environment, threats and comforts, alerts and needs. He still has to walk slowly into new places because his senses are assaulted, new spectrums of light he could never see before, new shades of darkness. New smells, new tastes in the air. Even touch is weird, like he's feeling everything at some microscopic level.

And everything has a smell, and some things have layers of scents built on top of each other. The New Werewolf's Guide tells him to think of scents in term of food, since Daylighters often have a larger frame of reference for the subtleties of how food, at least moreso than, say, the specific odor of metals, or carpets, or the stars. It's frustrating to catalog everything, but Ray knows that the more he can tell what a certain smell makes him want to do - besides just eat - the more he'll have access to his werewolf senses, rather than having them dominate him.

"So I was going to go to the station today," Ray says, as Bob's whisking eggs in a bowl.

"You want me to come with you?" Bob asks evenly. Ray can tell he doesn't really want to give Ray a choice. He knows he should never have told Bob about the way that Private Holloway ran away from him in the bullpen, calling him a monster. Most of the other investigators handled it well, since they worked with the Midnighter community enough to know what it means to transition, to understand that Ray isn't a different person now.

Still, retiring from the force had been the best decision. He wanted to start a new life and not try to make this new thing he was fit back into who he used to be.

"It's fine," Ray says. "They need a consult on the Fifth District case."

"Ok," Bob says. Bob puts eggs on his plate, refills his coffee, and then pulls up a chair and they eat. A few minutes ago Bob just his mouth on Ray's neck and -

"Good?" Bob says.

"Yeah," Ray says, "But it's like I want – oranges." He can still smell the citrus smell from the landing, but it’s clearer now. He realizes it’s not the first time he’s smelled it, and it makes his mouth water.

"I'll get you some oranges," Bob says.

"No, but it's - it's not oranges," Ray says. "It's just almost oranges. And.....sage."

"Sage," Bob says.

"It's just - " Ray says. "It's like this thing I've been craving for ages. But I had an orange two days ago and that's not it."

"You'll figure it out," Bob says, but Ray's already frustrated.

"Sure," Ray says. "I'll figure it out."

Bob claps his hand over Ray's for just a minute. "Ok?" Bob says.

"Ok," Ray says.

 

Just before Ray's about to leave for the station, thinking he'll catch the middle of the graveyard shift, a messenger rings their doorbell and holds out an envelope for Ray when he answers. For a moment, all Ray can smell is hairspray.

"You sure this is for me?" Ray asks, because it's usually Bob who gets things by messenger.

"It says 'Inspector Toro'," the messenger says. Ray can finally tell the kid's a vampire now that he's sorted through the hair product scent, and a young one at that. "If you want to reject delivery, I can bring it back to Pencey."

"No," Ray says, "It's ok." And then he asks, "But how did you know who I was?"

The kid laughs at him. "That's funny. Have a good night."

"Someone at the door?" Bob asks, like he doesn't know, like he wasn't on high alert from the moment the doorbell rang.

"It's a letter from the Governor's office," Ray says, opening it. "The Governor wants to meet with me," Ray reads, "for the standard review of former Daylighter police force members who have become Midnighters or taken up residence in Midnighter quarters."

"You're not a security risk," Bob says grumpily.

"It says it's standard procedure," Ray says. "The Governor is even keeping Midnighter hours tonight, so I should go. I can stop by the station tomorrow."

"Ok," Bob says, "You gonna walk or you want me to call a carriage?"

"It's not far." Ray manages not to say that he'd run there if he could, that every day this week he's wanted to tear through the neighborhood just to feel the wind. Bob seems to understand, and doesn't say anything either.

 

Ray rings the bell at the Governor's mansion and a series of official-looking staff examine his credentials through a series of check-points, and Ray can't help but be impressed with the increased security. He knows Jamia must have had a hand in this, because even with the scare with the werewolf called Bert, the Governor has been resistant to the new protocols the Governor's security force tried to implement.

Finally, a staffer brings him into a hallway where he knows Jamia's office is. She comes out a moment later, smiling. "And how are you today, Inspector Toro?"

"I'm not an inspector anymore, Ms. Nestor," Ray says. She shakes her head at him.

"If you say so," she says. "How's Zone 12? I looked at the first building they set up – nice high ceilings."

"It's a very nice neighborhood, you should consider it," Ray says.

"And make it easier for Frank to visit me? I don't think so," she says.

Ray likes that Jamia doesn't ask how he feels about being a werewolf. He wonders if it's because of Frank, because she's been through this kind of transition before.

"How's the Mindless Act revision going?"

"Don't even say that word," Jamia says. "I get a headache as soon as I see someone coming at me with a stack of paper. Next weekend, we're having a summit where various representatives from the Midnighter community come and read over parts of the act that concern their community. Do you have any idea how hard it is to coordinate meals for a dozen different Midnighter species? Let me tell you, the only thing everyone can eat in common is rice. It's all rice, all the time, breakfast, midnight lunch and pre-dawn dinner."

The Governor opens her door. "Is she complaining about the rice again?" The Governor asks Ray.

"No, ma'am," Ray says, standing.

"Oh, she is, you don't have to cover for her, Inspector," the Governor says, "I've heard enough of it on my own."

"There's no other grain!" Jamia says. "And we came so close with rice pudding," and then the Governor is beckoning Ray into her office as Jamia throws up her hands and disappears back inside her own.

"How are you, Inspector?" The Governor asks, offering him a seat.

"Ma'am, I'm not - "

"Don't, Ray," she says. "You retired with honor, and it is your right to retain the title of Inspector."

Ray's quiet. He can feel the Governor looking at him. He can feel the sun that soaked into her walls and her carpet earlier in the day. He wonders if he can actually smell rice or if he's just thinking about it because of Jamia.

"I wasn't sure if you needed any paperwork or a report for the standard review."

"It's not standard, Inspector," the Governor says, and when Ray looks up at her, he understands. "Honestly, it doesn't happen often enough for me to have made a policy for how to handle it."

"Then why did the letter you sent say...."

"Because I knew you wouldn't come otherwise," the Governor interrupts, "Unless I implied it was part of your duty to reassure me that you weren't a security risk."

Ray can't help but gape at her. "That's...."

"True, isn't it?" the Governor says.

She's right, it is true.

"So you don't think I'm a security risk," Ray says after a moment, just to be clear.

The Governor shakes her head. "That would be pretty prejudiced of me, wouldn't it?" she says, with a quirk of a smile. "I know you’ve been consulting, and I know they can’t possibly have enough to keep you busy. I have three jobs for you to choose from," she says, and hands Ray three folders. "It would be extremely rude of you not to accept at least one of them.”

He wants to tell her that he doesn't need a job, that consulting is fine and he isn’t bored, but there's no way to say it that doesn't sound both rude and like a completely and total lie. Ray doesn't know what else to do, so he opens the folders. "Governor," he starts to say, but she interrupts him.

"If you're not an Inspector, then I am technically no longer your Governor, and you could call me Lindsey, you know," she sighs. "And I'm not offering you a job out of pity, don't insult me by implying that. Did you see how stressed out Jamia is? We're understaffed, and we're most definitely short of people with the kind of insight into the Midnighter community that will prevent us from needing to rewrite the entire Mindless Act every few months."

"I'll consider them," Ray says after a long moment of silence.

"I hope you mean that," the Governor says.

"Do you like green lentils?" Jamia asks, poking her head into the Governor’s office.

"No," Ray says, still slow with shock from the Governor's offer. "Sorry, I don't think so."

"Figures," Jamia says.

"No one likes green lentils," Lindsey says. "I still think there's a chance with the black-eyed peas."

"Say hi to Bob," Jamia says, and Ray lets himself be escorted back out by security.

 

Bob opens the door for him before he's even all the way up the walkway, and Ray would find it annoyingly protective if Bob hadn't already been doing it the entire time they'd known each other, as if Bob just couldn't stand to wait for people to get to the door once he knew they were on their way.

"How was the review?" Bob asks. He's been reading; Ray can smell paper, or maybe newsprint on his hands.

"The Governor offered me a job," Ray says. He's still in shock about it. "A few of them, actually, and asked me to choose."

"That's very interesting," Bob says in a horrible imitation of nonchalance.

"You knew," Ray says, because he should have suspected Bob's influence earlier.

Bob shrugs but he doesn't say no. "I'd heard a rumor."

"A rumor," Ray says.

"You're going to say yes to one of them, aren’t you?" Bob says. "You're worth more than just consulting for your old police unit."

"I'm considering," he says, though he probably will say yes to one of them. Security maybe, as he's already thinking of suggestions for Jamia's all-rice summit. "Are you going on a contract tonight?" Ray asks.

"Not until tomorrow," Bob says.

"You want to watch a movie or something?" Ray's sure he's going to say no. He doesn't even think Bob likes movies.

"Ok," Bob says, and let's Ray put whatever he wants on as they settle on the couch.

Halfway through the movie, Ray realizes how close they are, how warm Bob's side is next to him, and he leans in and Bob doesn't pull away.

Ray wonders how much Bob actually ever sits still, because his breathing has gone even and steady and when Ray leans forward a little to peek at Bob's face, it's clear he's fallen asleep. Ray shifts his arm, which is holding most of Bob's weight and wraps it around his shoulder – Bob slides sleepy-slow and heavy against Ray's chest, and the warm intimacy of it makes Ray dizzy. He's close enough to press his nose to the top of Bob's head and ruffle Bob's hair but he doesn't, just lets the heavy weight of Bob next to him drive him slowly crazy.

Bob wakes a half hour later, when the movie goes to credits, and Ray can feel him pulling back before he actually moves, can feel the all too familiar way Bob comes up against a boundary.

"Sorry," he says, gruffly, still a hint of sleep in his voice.

"S'ok," Ray says, "It was a boring ending anyway. You have to get up early?"

"Yeah, noon," Bob says. "I should – " he says, and he stands and Ray wants to grab him and yank him back down on the couch, pull their bodies close together.

"Ok, see you when you get back, then," Ray says weakly.

It takes him forever to fall asleep, because he's thinking about the Governor, and Bob against his chest, and the fact that he used to think working on Midnighter cases for the Daylighter police made his life complicated, or how working on the Wentz case with Gerard Way, and trying to track down the elusive Bob Bryar was the strangest thing that would ever happen to him. It turned out that Bob is just as elusive when they are sharing an apartment.

 

Bob's contract is completed by dusk and he practically starts quizzing Ray on transformation physiology from the moment he steps back into the apartment the next day. Ray's stumbling over the names of all the bones in his feet when the doorbell rings. Ray gets up to answer, grateful for the interruption. It's clearly been a while since Bob had anyone unexpectedly call on him, because he's gone abruptly tense.

"Announcing Mr. Way and Mr. Iero," the zombie valet at the door declares. Ray is sure he remembers his name, though it escapes him, but Ray's immediately able to tell he's a zombie in a way he never could when he was a Daylighter.

"Get out of the way, man," Frank says, because the zombie is still in the door. "You don't need to announce us when we've just rung the doorbell, it's one or the other."

"But there are two of you, so you should have rung the doorbell twice," the zombie says.

"Once is inclusive of all parties," Gerard says helpfully behind Frank and the zombie.

"Dewees, man, you had a doorbell, I know you did. We even had one on my old place."

"It stopped working," Dewees says.

"But that doesn't mean you should have forgotten how to use one," Frank says.

"Come in," Ray says.

"Thank you, Ray," Gerard says, barely stifling a laugh.

"Not you," Frank says to Dewees. "We should have left you in the carriage in the first place."

"He's welcome, if he wants," Ray says.

"He doesn't want," Frank says, "Outside, in the carriage. You remember how to open the door, right?"

Dewees just rolls his eyes at Frank, and says, "Good-day Mr. Toro, Mr. Bryar," and closes the door as Frank and Gerard step in.

"He's looking good," Bob says, and Ray can feel him slowly relaxing now that he knows who's calling.

"Indeed, he's almost made a full recovery from his disobeyment," Gerard says.

"Full recovery back to what, no one's sure," Frank says, though it's fond.

"It's mostly due to Greta and her necromantic rehabilitation," Gerard says.

Like most times when Gerard and Bob and Frank start talking, Ray has a hard time following. Their conversations are full of Midnighter language and concepts Ray's still having a hard time bending his head around. So he goes and starts coffee, starts taking out mugs as they discuss zombie purification rituals and necromantic chants.

Ray missed most of what happened with Gerard's return from the dead, since he was still recovering from his injuries, still in a fog of new senses and new sensations, still messed up with Fairy out of balance and weird magic in the air. Not even the first change, which had been a horrific blur of pain and confusion, really convinced him; it had seemed like a fever dream, and Bob had said it wouldn't make a lot of sense, his body and his mind still out of sync. What he remembered most was how weird it had felt, how lonely, while Bob was gone. He knew the very moment Gerard put Fairy back into balance, and that was maybe the first time he really understood that he wasn't a Daylighter anymore.

Then his life had become a highly scheduled series of Clan Transition Classes, and one day when he had come out of a lesson about the history of werewolf and fairy politics, Bob had handed him a set of keys and taken him to their new apartment in Zone 12.

Bob keeps saying things like how he doesn't want to impose on Ray's space but how he didn't think it was a good idea for Ray to be alone, and how he can help with the transition. It's very kind, and it makes sense, but what Ray really wants is for Bob to push him up against a wall in their new apartment and kiss him senseless.

Frank and Gerard are sitting on the couch when Ray comes back with tea. Gerard doesn't look any different, doesn't look like someone who was dead for months - or maybe he wasn't really dead, Ray isn't sure. But then he doesn't look like a werewolf, and neither does Bob, and Frank just looks like Frank, the crazy small wild ball of energy, even though Ray can smell 'vampire' around him, too, and see it, like a lit-up sign, the same way he could Dewees was a zombie. Ray thinks about how Frank looked after the bar fight, so beat up and sad. He seems much happier now, and when Gerard tells Bob about the expansion he's considering on the greenhouse, Frank just watches Gerard with this quiet, pleased look on his face.

"How are you feeling, Ray?" Gerard asks, as Ray sets down the tea and takes a seat across from Bob on the rocking chair that he thinks of as Bob's, how Bob sits rocking in it when he's reading Order paperwork, quiet and concentrating. "You're almost at your sixth moon, aren't you?"

"Sixth moon?" Ray says, looking at Bob, who nods and then quickly looks away. "Yeah, I guess so," he says, to Gerard, "Is there something special about the sixth moon?"

Gerard and Frank are both looking at Bob, clearly waiting for Bob to answer, though Bob looks reluctant to say anything.

"It used to be when new wolves were considered able choose their own packs," Bob says after a considerable pause, "Back when more wolves followed the pack system. But now it's just celebrated more like a birthday."

"Is there cake?" Ray asks, trying to joke to ease Bob's sudden discomfort.

"We can throw you a party," Frank says, gleefully. "I had one for my first vampire anniversary, it was pretty sweet. I mean, if you want," Frank says when he sees Ray's hesitance.

"No, that would be great," Ray says, though he's really not sure how great it would be. Bob is busy looking out the window. Frank grins hugely. "Can we have it at the mansion?" Frank asks Gerard. "In the courtyard?"

"Yes, Frank," Gerard says, laughter in his voice. "You'll have to ask Brian first."

"Schechter," Frank says, rolling his eyes. "He's been so cranky, I'm not asking him anything."

"He's on deadline to finish the second part of his written reflection. I think Grant's probably also exerting some pressure," Gerard says. Frank snickers.

"Deadline - " Ray starts.

"For his archmagister candidacy," Gerard says, though Ray doesn't really feel like that clarifies anything. "He'll come back around once the pressure's off," Gerard says.

"Oh, yeah, he'll be his regular cheery self," Frank says.

"Are you consulting on the Fifth District case?" Gerard asks, ignoring Frank. "I know the investigators had asked for you specifically," Gerard says.

Ray feels much more at home in this conversation, and he tells Gerard about the evidence against the accused landlord, how the judge insists on holding an exclusively night court sessions for the entire case, since all of the tenants will all be fully Midnighters by the time they'll go to trial.

"Oh, and I have some plants I wanted you to take a look at," Gerard says, handing three glass vials to Bob, who immediately uncorks the first one. "I can't figure out any of their origins."

Ray must be showing his confusion plainly on his face, because Gerard explains, “Sometimes the only way you can differentiate a plant’s identity from its twin is the scent, and once I’ve tried everything else, and once Frank has tried - ”

“They all smell like plants to me,” Frank interjects.

“Werewolves have a much more powerful sense of smell,” Gerard says.

"This is Midnighter and Daylighter pine hybrid," Bob says.

"Oh, of course it is," Gerard says, "That would explain the blue pitch."

"That was all over your pants," Frank says, "Which wouldn't have happened if you hadn't rolled down the hill with it."

"I didn't know it had detachable roots," Gerard says.

"Here, smell this one," Bob says, opening the second tube and giving it to Ray. Ray smells it and is overwhelmed, he can't smell anything. "Try again," Bob says, like he knows exactly what Ray's thinking, exactly what happened.

"Clay," Ray says hesitantly. "And seaweed."

"Good," Bob says, and he's looking so pleased that Ray has to look away.

"Aquatic claybed rose," Bob says. Gerard throws his hands up in surprise.

"I wanted one of these for ages," Gerard says, "It came in as evidence in a case and it was covered in a spatter of - well, anyway," Gerard says, "That's wonderful."

"You want to do the last one?" Bob says, handing it to Ray.

"I don't know if I can - " Ray says, looking apologetically between Bob and Gerard.

"Try," Bob says, and even though Ray has zero skill at plant recognition, when Bob says things like that, it makes Ray want to try.

He presses the leaf between his fingers like Bob had, feeling the catch of a hundred tiny plant hairs at the pad of his thumb, and he smells it.

"Smells like...sunflower seeds," Ray says.

"I thought so!" Gerard says, even though Ray's not sure what he's said. "It's has a red flower that spins like a sundial shadow and - " and Ray loses the rest of what Gerard says, because Bob's smiling at him, and brushing his hand, warm and encouraging, over Ray's knee.

Frank and Gerard take their leave in a flurry of party planning promises, and Ray hears Frank shouting for their zombie valet to open his eyes next time before he tries to open the door, and Ray's about to ask Bob more about the sixth moon and packs when the smell hits him again. The damn oranges.

"It's just this smell, it's driving me crazy," Ray says.

"For how long?" Bob asks, concerned.

"I can't figure it out," Ray says. "It's just like, it's this thing I want and I can't tell what it is."

Ray sighs heavily and Bob sits next to him on the couch, draping his arm across the back, so Ray is just out of his reach. Ray's so frustrated he's about to say something about that, too, but then he bites his tongue, tries to remember how much of the impatience is his own and how much is the shadow of the wolf, fighting for his attention.

"Describe the smell," Bob says. "And we'll figure it out."

Bob is so calm, so practical and he just wants Bob to lose it a little bit, to let go. Ray takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and thinks.

"Ok," Ray says. "It's like I said. Oranges. But not oranges. It's fresh, like oranges," Ray says.

"Ok," Bob says, and Ray waits, as if hoping Bob will start listing off things it could be, things a wolf would think smell like oranges.

"And sage," Ray says. "But like, fresh sage, not dried. I don't know why I know the difference."

Bob laughs quietly. "Ok," Bob says. "What else?"

Ray concentrates. "Like, coffee after it's been brewed, as it cools down. And like that soap in the downstairs shower, the one with the herb extract from the Midnighter plant whose name I can never remember."

"Pedestal leaves," Bob supplies.

"Yeah, and like - salt," Ray says. "Something that's not salt, but that smells like salt."

"Yeah," Bob says, and the tone in his voice makes Ray look at him. Bob's expression is shuttered, and he's shifted on the couch so he's turned toward Ray but facing away somehow even more, and Ray doesn't need to know the intricacies of werewolf body language to know he's upset Bob.

"I'm sorry, what was it I said?" Ray says.

"It's nothing, Ray," Bob says, but Bob's expression is the same as when he's going to tell Ray something unpleasant about the change.

"You know what it is," Ray says. "What I'm smelling."

"Yeah, I do," Bob says.

"So?" Ray says.

Bob takes a deep breath and he looks at his hands when he says, "It's me. That's what I smell like."

"What?" Ray says. "No, I know what you smell like, you're all over the apartment, but - "

Bob's suddenly right next to Ray, leaning over, opening his neck for Ray to lean in and sniff him. Ray feels ridiculous, but he does, comes centimeters away from touching Bob’s skin, so close he wants to kiss the soft expanse of neck, and then he realizes - he sits back, startled.

"Oh," he says. That's what Bob smells like when he's turned on.

It's so intimate, so frighteningly invasive, Ray wants to melt into the couch, to disappear into the room.

"So that's what - " Bob starts to say, "Of course it was something you would eventually have picked up on but - " but then something occurs to Ray and he interrupts Bob.

"No, wait," Ray says. "If you're upset because I'd invaded your privacy or something - "

"You shouldn't have had to - "

"I want what I'm smelling," Ray says, louder than he means too, and they both go still. "That's what I'm trying to tell you, the smell, it's been driving me crazy because I want it, I want it so badly, it turns me inside out, it's like the worst kind of craving that I can't ever satisfy and - " he's panting a little, his fists clenched. Bob looks at him, and his expression is hard to read. Bob reaches out and opens his hand, prying the fingers away from where they're clenched tight in his palm.

"Ray," Bob says, and then Bob leans in and kisses him. It goes straight toward completely undoing Ray like it has every other time, the sensation of Bob's lips against his, the wet swipe of his tongue, the rough scratch of his beard against Ray's chin. Ray groans and for the first time, Bob does too, and instead of pulling away, Bob deepens the kiss, leaning into Ray until Ray's halfway to on his back and Bob's holding himself up. Ray runs his hands up over Bob's back, urging him down, and Ray's just as surprised when Bob lets go, lets his chest press against Ray's. Ray breaks the kiss to groan and then he brings his mouth to Bob's neck like he wanted to earlier, like he's wanted to since the first time he met Bob.

"I didn't want you to feel like you had to," Bob says, and stutters when Ray scrapes his teeth along Bob's throat, "This is a vulnerable position, you're a new wolf and you can form an instinctive attachment just because I'm showing you the things you need to know. I didn't want you to feel like - "

"You're an idiot," Ray says, against Bob's ear and he's happy to feel Bob's jolt, the way his hands tighten on Ray's arms. "I wanted you so much I went to the fucking werewolf ball with you!"

"But that was - "

"You spend all this time telling me that I'm the same person. " Ray says, sitting back so he can look Bob in the eyes, "I wanted you before. I want you now. So stop fucking fighting me about it," Ray says.

Bob breaks into a grin, and he lowers his head in a gesture of surrender.

"Ok," Ray says, when Bob looks up again. "So are you gonna kiss me again or what?"

They're both smiling when Bob leans in again, and kissing quickly gets serious, now that neither of them is holding back. Ray's so fucking hard, he's shaky and his heart is racing and Bob sits up and Ray thinks he's finally going to stop and it'll be like all those other times, leaving him feeling empty and unfulfilled, but then Bob reaches for the hem of his shirt and tugs it over his head.

"This ok?" Bob says, because Ray's just staring at the shockingly scarred expanse of Bob's chest.

"Yeah," Ray says, swallowing hard. "Yeah," he says, and reaches out and traces his fingers over Bob's chest, down across his stomach. Bob sucks in a breath and then Ray flips them so their positions are reversed and Bob's underneath him. He's still surprised by his own strength and he's about to apologize, to say it's exactly what Bob had warned him about, doing something he doesn't quite mean to do, but then he sees the expression on Bob's face, sees the desire written so plainly across it that he can't help but lean down and kiss him, feeling the way Bob arches up underneath him when he kisses down Bob's neck, across his collarbone, down the middle of his chest. The way Bob feels against his mouth, the taste of skin, the smell of Bob and their shared space, all of it wrapping together to be this, this thing that's happening right now, the closeness he craves so much it's undoing him.

He's unbuttoning Bob's belt before he realizes he should probably ask how far this is going, but Bob says, "Yes, yes," and reaches up to tug at the hem of Ray's shirt, and oh, right, he has clothes he could take off, too. He tugs his shirt over his head and, then Bob's hands are on him and they end up thrusting against each other, rolling and rocking, hands tight on each other's backs, chests pressed together as they're gasping.

Bob's making the most beautiful sounds, arching up against Ray each time he rocks forward, and Ray gets a knee between Bob's legs, and Bob's whole body shakes and Bob bucks up so hard they end up tumbling off the couch, onto the floor, falling on their sides and knocking the table out of the way, Ray falling on his back and Bob kind of spread out of his stomach.

"Sorry," Bob says, laughing, "Sorry," but it quickly turns into a gasp when Ray slides his hands over Bob's ass. "Yeah," Bob says, voice going steady and calm. "Yeah," he says again, and Ray squeezes, slides his thumbs under the creases at Bob's thighs, is already thinking about spreading him open. "But not on the floor. If you're gonna fuck me, I want it to be in my bed."

"Yeah," Ray says, and then they're both stumbling to their feet. There's a tense moment when they look at each other and the haze fades a little and Ray wonders if they're actually going to stop, but Bob just looks at him a moment longer and goes to his bedroom. He holds the door open for Ray, and Ray follows, hands on Bob's stomach, pulling him close, pressing against Bob's back, mouth on his neck, hands sliding all over Bob's chest and stomach, through the soft hair, thumbs brushing over his nipples.

"Fuck, Toro," Bob breathes out, and he unbuttons his pants, sliding them down and stepping out of them, and then Ray has his hands on Bob's hips, his thumbs under the elastic of his boxers. "You're gonna fucking kill me," Bob says.

"Oh, really," Ray says, sliding his thumb just inside the elastic, licking the shell of Bob's ear, and then pulling Bob close so his cock is lined up against the crease of Bob's ass. He knows the moment Bob feels it, feels it in the way his heart goes wild. "All those times you kissed me and then stopped right before it got good?" Ray says. "All those casual touches? The time you fell asleep on the couch and you were breathing against my neck for half the movie."

"I wasn't asleep," Bob says, and Ray laughs, pulls Bob tight against him.

"Unbelievable," Ray says, and then they somehow make it to the bed.

Everything's so intense, the soft sheets even softer, the rough good feeling of an old blanket even sharper, and oh, fuck, it smells so good, it smells like Bob and when he opens his eyes, he realizes Bob is watching him. He thinks he's about to get a scolding, but Bob just says, his voice low, "Feels good, doesn't it?" because he understands. Ray just nods and then they're kissing and Bob's undoing Ray's pants and he's shaking out of them and then - then they're tugging each other's boxers down and they're skin to skin everywhere.

"Bob, Bob," Ray gasps. "If you want me to fuck you, we'd better - I'm really - "

"Right," Bob says, he pulls lube out of the drawer on his bedside table and Ray waits for Bob to hand it to him but Bob opens it and spreads it on his own fingers and reaches behind his back and starts to finger himself open.

"Oh, god," Ray says, watching as Bob's hand works, as the muscles in his arms flex, as his hips move up and down as his fingers slide inside.

Bob's eyes are closed, his mouth open, throat working hard as he swallows. He makes a deep needy sound and then Bob's getting up on his hands and knees. "Like this," Bob says. "Can we do it like this?"

"Yes," Ray says, feeling his breath gone. "God, you're so hot," Ray says and then immediately feels stupid, but Bob smiles at him, that small, intimate smile that Ray knows means he really means it.

Bob's rocking forward on his hands, clearly eager, and so Ray gets up on his knees too and positions himself. He's going to go slow, with his hand on the small of Bob's back, but Bob bears down and then Ray's pushing all the way inside. Bob feels so hot and tight and Ray’s groaning and then they're both quiet as Ray pulls back, pushes back in. It's so good; it's so overwhelming, the way everything feels turned up, the heat of Bob's skin, the way their knees slip on the sheets, the way Bob tastes when Ray leans down and presses his open mouth to the middle of his shoulders.

Their breathing falls in synch without Ray meaning it to and he wonders if that's something new, too, and he feels it when the angle is just right, focuses to keep it there, to keep Bob making these high, needy noises, and then he gets his hand around Bob's cock and the feel of it, warm and heavy and wet at the tip in his hand is almost too much for him to process, and the way Bob moans, thrusts into Ray's hand, thrusts back against Ray's cock. Ray's so close, he's already ready with an apology for coming so fast when Bob makes a choked sound and says Ray's name, soft like a surprised gasp, then he's spurting into Ray's hand, his whole body shuddering. Ray can't stop after that, the feel of Bob's body tight around him, the smell of Bob's come, hot in his hand, and he's coming too, face sweaty against the middle of Bob's back, whole body tight and then shouting with release.

Bob shifts underneath him and Ray pulls out and then Bob is pulling him close, kissing him soft and slow.

"Wow," Ray breathes against Bob's mouth and Bob laughs.

"Yeah," Bob says, and then they're kissing again, so slow and gentle that Ray thinks he's never going to be able to move.

 

Ray doesn't remember falling asleep, but when he wakes up, he's still in Bob's bed, still tangled up in the sheets. Bob is asleep beside him, but he stirs almost as soon as Ray looks at him. "Is this," Ray says, feeling suddenly uncertain, "Do you want me to - " he says and is halfway to sitting up when Bob stills him with a hand on his face, rough fingers across his cheek.

"Ray," he says, and Ray lies back down in Bob's arms.

"Fourteen day moon," Ray says, looking out the window through the parted curtain.

"The stars in the cup," Bob says.

"The stars in the cup," Ray repeats.

"The level seven vendetta," Bob says after a moment, their breathing synchronized again, and Ray is thinking he needs to ask Bob about that, and so it takes him a minutes to realize what Bob's said. "What you read in the Clan Code -that's not all of it. The Clan Code can't publish all of the Order rules."

"Because you're a secret organization."

"Because we're a secret organization," Bob says. "Sometimes."

Ray laughs. "So the vendetta was a Blind Order thing?"

"A level seven vendetta isn't something you can ask a member of the Blind Order to do for you," Bob says. "It's not contractable like other vendettas."

"Ok," Ray says, not sure he understands where this is going.

Bob takes a deep breath before he says, very softly, "It's love bound.” Ray doesn't know what to say, his mind gone blank. "It's a vendetta taken on by someone on behalf of the person they - " Bob trails off. "It's an honorable vendetta," Bob says, trying again, "the success of which is fulfillment enough. The punishment of the guilty party...It's why I didn't want you to feel like - It was supposed to be enough."

Bob turns his head away, but then Ray reaches up and kisses his chin and Bob turns back. "That's ridiculous," Ray says, and Bob stiffens. "No, listen," Ray says, "You're some ridiculous old-fashioned romantic. Of course I want you. I've always wanted you, before I even realized. I think I wanted you back when I was chasing you during the Wentz case."

Bob's still quiet, and so Ray says, "Bob Bryar, seriously. Did we fuck last night? Was it spectacular?"

Bob laughs, reluctantly. "Yeah, it was."

"So maybe the vendetta was just the beginning," Ray says, "That's a pretty old-fashioned romantic beginning to a relationship, if you think about it, you kill the people who hurt me like the scary motherfucking assassin for justice that you are, and then you make me eggs and coffee just the way I like it and teach me how to be a werewolf until I fall for you completely. That makes sense."

Bob starts to shake with laughter beside him, and Ray can't help but laugh with him, until they're both wiping tears from their eyes, and then Bob's sliding on top of him, kissing his neck, the scratch of Bob's beard, the feel of his tongue thrumming against his throat making Ray’s whole body flush with heat.

"I wouldn't commit a level seven vendetta for anyone else," Bob says, against Ray's neck.

"I love you, too," Ray says, and he closes his eyes. He can still feel the moon, quietly tugging at him, but he thinks that will only get easier once he knows all of her names.