Chapter 1: Part One
The world has always existed of different realms, divided by veils and boundaries which only opened on the solstices and equinoxes. Four times a year any soul could fall through the veil and end up on the Other Side. It had many names among the more popular were Faery, Otherworld, even Summerland, though it was not a place wholly of the dead. Certain people, called Realm Jumpers, could cross the divide at any time, having the ability to pierce the veil. There has always been an exchange between the two realms. Those who came to the Other Side were called Wanderers. Those who left to settle in the human world were known as Wayfarers. They could return to their homelands if needed but there was always a reason a Wanderer or Wayfarers’ soul called them to travel. Peace was usually found on the other side of the Divide.
The Archives of the Other Side are full of Wanderer tales, but few hold the history of the Wayfarers, how they settled and grew in their own communities, existing on the sidelines of humanity.
That was, until a Bard of the Sidhe capital Ville crossed over the divide and found himself settled among an unruly pack of Wayfarers.
It begins, like so many of a pilgrim’s tale, in a riverside tavern.
Four wolves, three wizards, two ghosts, and a fire demon with a self-esteem problem walked into a bar on the Cambridge side of the Charles River.
“Try not to break everything this time,” Mira hissed as they took their customary seats.
“We would’ve been fine if it wasn’t for fucking Ashur,” Duro growled.
Agron placed a hand on his brother’s arm to calm him down. As much as he agreed about everything being that fucking Trickster’s fault, now was not the time.
The Temple was the gathering place for all of their kind; those of a blood far from ordinary trying to make it in the mundane world. It wasn’t quite a safe house or a sanctuary, but there was enough blocking magic in the architecture to make it neutral ground. It was a space where they could all relax and actually enjoy a drink strong enough to be worth it.
Except for the ghosts of course, but that was part of the bullshit that came with being mostly non-corporeal.
Agron looked over their group. There were his fellow pack mates, Duro, Donar, and Saxa, all wolves like himself. The three wizards sat together, Spartacus, Naevia, and Mira with the two ghosts, Sura and Auctus bookending them. Crixus sat at the end, glaring at both Agron and the beings in between himself and Naevia. The fire demon really need to get the balls up and ask Naevia out before someone, probably Duro out of sheer stupidity, beat him to it.
It felt good to have his misfit family around him. They drew strength from each other as they passed their years in this modern city of technology and industry. As Wayfarers they were both blessed and cursed with long lifespans. It was a privilege to see the rapid change over the centuries as the human world evolved without magic. It was painful to watch friends and lovers die out. Having a group of Wayfarers helped ease the pain and pass the boredom. It kept them from the temptation of running back to the Other Side during a Veil Drop between the worlds.
They’d all left Capua together three centuries ago and they would stay together.
“I assume everyone wants the regular?” Pietros asked.
Pietros, a Sprite, ran the the tavern with his lover, Barca. No one knew just what group Barca came from, but a Giant and Autumn Sidhe ancestry was likely. Auctus probably knew, but he wasn’t one for volunteering information on his former lover, his former life, or anything really.
“You know us too well,” Naevia said, answering for them all.
Pietros smiled, even in the face of Auctus’ glare. “You are in for a treat tonight. We had a new arrival after Midsummer. He claims to be a simple minstrel, but Barca swears he is one of the Bards, perhaps even a Siren.”
“Oh joy, dinner and a show,” Auctus said. “A show which will possibly see the rest of you eviscerated if the entertainment is a Siren. This was almost worth dressing up for.”
Pietros' joy refused to falter, a strength of the Sprites to a point of infuriating their enemies, and he nodded at the ghost. “Anything which causes you to speak words instead of incoherent mumblings brings light to the tavern, Auctus. I hope you enjoy it.”
Even Crixus laughed when Pietros moved on. “I think that speck of a boy just won.”
Duro leaned over the table to mime patting Auctus on his incorporeal shoulder. “Even the church mice must win a battle or two, friend. Let Pietros have this one. We can’t afford to replace all the lamps.”
“Again,” Mira said.
Auctus inspected his hands without saying anything else. Sura looked disgusted with her companion but said nothing. Ghosts were interesting company to keep, especially when they bickered with each other; it was a guessing to game to see what would fly off the shelves first.
It didn’t take long for their meal and drinks to appear. Barca employed more than a few kitchen sprites who moved faster than plain sight. The wolves, ghosts, and Crixus could spot them, but it was always delightful to see the wizards continually amazed by the swiftness. Laughter and conversation filled the tavern, even bringing Auctus out of his sulk, until the lights flickered and a hush filled the space.
Barca strode to the stage at the exact center of the tavern. His height and beauty captivated many, long braids swaying in time with his stride. He effortlessly jumped on the platform, body working with a grace that even Agron, as a wolf, could admire.
“I hope you all take your meals well. And if not, I wish not to hear your complaints.” Barca smiled at the joyful shouts of his audience. “Welcome to all; Realm Jumpers, Wanderers returned, and Wayfarers on their first travels. This is your home now, our community, and we celebrate each and every one of you. Know that the door is always open to those with honor in their hearts and peace in their souls.”
There was a loud cheer through each corner. Even the kitchen sprites slowed to watch the spectacle.
Barca helped up his hands to quiet them. “Of all the travelers to come through the Veil, we are blessed with the talent of one particular guest.”
A cloaked figure appeared from the backroom. It was easy for Agron to watch the creature, even in the dark. All movements were to a subtle rhythm and innate grace that made his mouth run dry. From what he could see around the room, he was not the only one so captivated. Even Auctus and Sura leaned forward for a better look, and they were two whose sight pierced all veils.
The cloak fell to the ground as the figure took the stage and an audible gasp went through the room. Golden skin showed through rich green robes. Dark hair and eyes shimmered with some sort of magic. A small harp was clasped in elegant, jeweled hands.
“By the fucking gods,” Saxa said, “that is a true Bard.”
Among them Bard was not simply a title. It was a whole race of beings who kept the stories and songs of all peoples. Their skill was unmatched, save for the Sirens, whose power came from the water itself.
Barca bowed his head and left the stage to the much smaller man.
“I give welcome and thanks to all who are here this eve. It is always a blessing to be with those who have seen the Other Side,” the Bard said. His voice was smooth and steady, deeper than Agron expected for one so small of height.
“I have traveled many roads on both sides of the Divide and learned all sorts of secrets and histories.” A sly smile guaranteed a tale or two of sordid gossip. “Yet I think the best way to start all celebrations is with a song of reflection. Then we shall give way to dance and joy.”
He took the stool, fingers moving skillfully in the sound of a familiar anthem Agron had not heard for two centuries. It was a lament sung during the years of the Sidhe war, brought out for solemn ceremonies.
“You’re enchanted, brother,” Duro’s voice mocked in his ear.
“Aren’t we all,” Mira said. “Look around you. That Bard could order us to do anything right now and half this room would without hesitation.”
“Thank the gods Bards usually don’t abuse their power then,” Spartacus said, half-amused, half-calculating. “He would be a good ally.”
“Spell’s broken now,” Agron said. “Always like Spartacus to remind us that at any moment the world could go to shit.”
“It is his specialty,” Crixus agreed.
“Everyone just shut up and watch the performance,” Sura ordered.
They knew better than to argue with Sura; the ghost had a temper to rival Vengeance herself. Then again, it wasn’t like they were eager to keep their attention off the stage for long.
The crowd had thinned out once the Bard finished his set amid applause and promises of more performances. A few couples still danced to the music softly playing from Pietros’ own musical collection. The Temple never closed, it just wound down. Too many of them were used to a nocturnal existence.
Agron tracked the movements of their new guest. Something didn’t sit right with him; gut churning and instinct making his skin crawl. Duro tapped his arm in concern but he waved his brother off. Best not to cause alarm without reason.
The Bard walked around the tables of all still present, holding quick conversations and gathering more stories. Their group was the largest left and presumably the last stop. Agron sniffed the air again, taking in the scent of the creature before them. Whatever he was, a simple Bard was not all. Before them stood more than just that race of skilled singers and storytellers; it was a mixture of power so strong he could taste it.
“What are you?” he asked, when the Bard took a seat at their table.
A raised brow was the initial response. “Is it not obvious?”
“You do not smell of a Bard.”
His eyes narrowed before he attempted to throw them off with a laugh. “Perhaps I have asked a wizard to mask my scent.”
Duro shook his head. “We can smell you out, little singer.”
He looked over their group again. “Ah, how could I miss it. Wolves, of course. I did not know you to keep company outside of your packs.”
“Things are different here, by necessity,” Agron said.
Naevia nodded. “We find our own families.”
“And quite a family there is before me.” He held up his hands, palms out signaling peace. “I am called Nasir and my home is the byways. I make my living as a Bard, though I have lived and served among the Sidhe in the royal capital at Ville. I’m sure I stink of them and many others, since I often cross the divide during Veil Drops or with Realm Jumpers.”
“We welcome you to our table,” Spartacus said, easily taking the role as leader. “I am called Spartacus. This is my wife Sura, and fellow wizards Mira and Naevia. Auctus comes from the byways like yourself. Crixus is of the fire demons. I’ll leave Agron to introduce his pack.”
“So kind of you,” Agron said.
“I dare not step on the toes of an Alpha.”
Agron playfully growled. Spartacus was one of the few who could make such jests without worry of the pack attempting to rip his throat out.
He turned and met Nasir’s amused gaze. “I am Agron; this foul creature next to me is my litter-mate, Duro and our cousins Donar and Saxa. Our pack comes from Chauci, past Midwood and far into the Eastern Woods.”
Nasir titled his head. “I have heard of the place though never traveled so far inward. Do you all come from Chauci?”
“We came through Capua,” Mira said.
He looked surprised at that. “The Sidhe stronghold? Forgive me for insult, but none of you seem the type to willingly live among so many of the courtiers.”
“Which is why we are here,” Duro said. “Are you a Bard without sense?”
“Such things have been whispered about me.” Nasir nodded at them. “Gratitude for the introductions and the company. Pietros assures me we will meet often. I look forward to hearing your stories.”
“And if we wish not to share them?” Crixus asked.
Nasir’s smile did not falter at the accusatory tone. “Then I look forward to your companionship, if nothing more.” He stood. “If you will excuse me, it has been a longer night than I anticipated. Good eve.”
Agron noticed that even with his advanced hearing, Nasir made no sound as he moved.
“I do not trust one who smiles so often,” Crixus said.
“I find myself in agreement with the demon,” Agron said. “Something smells distinctly of shit.”
“That would be you, brother,” Duro muttered. “I like the Bard.”
“You are easily entertained,” Saxa accused.
“I simply do not suspect every person I meet of wanting to kill us.”
“I told you we should have sent him to Diona’s tribe,” Donar said.
Agron chuckled at the frightened look on his brother’s face. Diona was an elder of her own pack and had spent a lifetime taunting Duro. It was all in good jest, memories of Duro as a young pup attempting to court a female high above his station, but the embarrassment still stung.
“She would not have him,” Saxa said.
“Though not for lack of his own trying,” Agron said.
“Fuck you all.” Duro slid back in his chair. “I am ready to leave now.”
“Soon, brother,” he promised, patting his shoulder. “I must speak with Barca first.”
“Then I will order desert on your behalf,” Duro said.
“And my tab, I’m sure.”
He left the table and slid past the barrier line that protected Barca and Pietros' home from intruders. He caught movement to his side and saw Nasir in Barca’s office, taking off his robes to reveal a t-shirt and worn jeans underneath. It should have helped dispel the thriving aura around him, but it only seemed to make it worse.
“What are you,” he demanded.
Nasir did not jump, he did not raise his head to meet Agron’s eyes, he simply went about his task of taking off vestments and ornaments.
“I already grow weary of this questioning and we’ve only just met,” he said in a bored tone.
Agron leaned against the doorjamb, refusing to leave without answer.
“Why must you know. Can you not just satisfy yourself with knowing my occupation?”
“You could be a risk. As the leader of my pack, I must protect them.”
Nasir scoffed. “Do you honestly think Barca would let me under his roof if there was any chance of harming his beloved Pietros? He would rip my head from my shoulders before I even finished crossing the threshold.” He shook his head, the lowlight of the gas lamps shining in the dark locks. “You should not use the protection of your pack as excuse for your curiosity. Has no one ever cautioned you against courting disaster?”
“Often, but it takes me time to learn lessons. Stubborn creature and all that.”
Nasir raised his head and even though it was dark where Agron stood, he felt bare. Nasir could clearly track him, even in the shadows. That was an interesting trait and not one a Bard possessed.
“What do you want of me, Wolf? I fear I have no grandmother for you to snack upon.”
“Cute,” Agron said, moving into the light. “Perhaps I only wish for a bedtime story.”
Nasir's lips quirked but no smile was forthcoming. He walked a circle around Agron, openly studying him. There was nothing lewd in his eyes, no sense of desire, just simple curiosity.
“Sing to me, O Muse,” Nasir started.
“I have no taste for the tales of Homer, little bard.”
Nasir’s eyes narrowed at the taunt, but still held fast. “I sing of warfare and a man at war.”
“I always found the Romans to be arrogant fucking pricks.”
Nasir did smile at that one. He settled down on the edge of a desk, palms laid flat and legs extended. “Often the solitary one finds grace for himself.”
Agron couldn’t help the shiver that went down his spine at the opening words of The Wanderer. It was more than just a poem to people from their land. It started as a prayer and incantation for safe passage but over the generations of Realm Jumpers, Wayfarers, and Wanderers, it’d become nothing but another piece of ancient literature.
“Do I pass your test?” Nasir asked.
There was a twinkle in his eye much like any Goodfellow. He had the magical empathy of a Bard and yet his scent was neither.
“What are you?” Agron asked again. He didn’t sense danger or malice, but often evil came wrapped in pretty little packages.
“A storyteller. A singer of songs. A minstrel. A stranger. An intrigue. I am whatever my audience needs me to be.”
“That doesn’t lead to an identity crisis?”
Nasir laughed, the musical sound filling the room.
It made Argon’s blood roar. Possible Sidhe then, even if his eyes didn’t glow green or blue.
“I know who I am, Wolf. Perhaps you will discover it as well.” He stood and walked past Agron to the door. “If you’re worthy.”
Agron watched him go, gladly admitting defeat for this round.
Home was a small, old apartment building made of wood and stone down on the South Shore. It was close enough to the city to easily take mass transit, but far enough to let them breathe relatively fresh air. The pack took up the entirety of the first floor, each with their own small apartment. Duro and Agron had knocked down the wall between their own while Auctus shared his living quarters with Donar. Saxa threatened weekly to move upstairs to join Mira and Naevia, but she had yet to follow through on that threat. Spartacus and Sura commanded the third and final floor. The building had all the typical problems of one built pre-World War II, but it was their home for the past thirty years.
The sun was barely up when Agron dragged himself out of the apartment, canvas bags and lists from Naevia and Mira clutched in his hands. After each Veil Drop the shops in and around Salem, easily disguised behind all the touristy kitsch, would get resupplied. And each time Agron was elected as the one to take the train or boat up the coastline to shop. Something about how no one dared rip him off on any of the prices.
He decided to stop by Barca’s before switching transit lines for the commuter train. After Duro ate half the menu worth of desserts last night, he desperately needed to pay off some of their tab. His brother’s sweet tooth could rival any humans but it was one of his more endearing traits.
“Come to pay for your brother’s dietary sins?” Pietros asked as he walked into The Temple.
“Some of them at least,” he said. “I thought I’d knock off some in trade. Is Barca in the back?”
Pietros shook his head, light catching on a truly impressive earcuff. “He’s out on the patio doing his morning yoga.”
“And you’re not greeting the sun with him?”
“I’ve already completed my morning routine of worship,” he said without missing a beat.
It was good to see Pietros so comfortable in his own skin. He was a world changed from when he first stumbled into them a decade ago, beaten and hungry. Pietros, more than any of them save perhaps Agron himself, needed a family about him to shine and survive.
“I will see myself to the back,” he said, giving Pietros a reassuring smile as he passed.
He stopped on the threshold of the patio and watched Barca’s form. Ages ago, after Auctus and before Pietros, there was a brief flirtation. One born out of a mixture of frustration and lust but nothing so tender as what Barca now held. The initial stirrings were gone, but he still had his moments of admiration. Barca truly was a sight to behold.
“I never thought you one for yoga.”
“I’m succumbing to the effects of living in Cambridge,” Barca said. He took another moment to finish his last pose before joining Agron. “I assume you’re here to offer labor over money?”
“I’ve been ordered up to Salem. The least I could do is offer to pick up your orders.”
“And then have us knock off a quarter of what Duro ate last night? Are you sure the pup isn’t with cubs?”
Agron shuddered at the thought. Stranger things had happened when a wizard or healer got it into their mind to experiment. “Please don’t wish such a thing upon me. You know how Duro gets close to the full moon.”
“Nothing with sugar is safe,” Barca agreed. “I will gladly take this exchange if you do one favor for me.”
“For today at least. Take Nasir with you. It would do him well to get acquainted with the train schedule while he’s with us.”
“I thought Pietros prepared that packet for new Wayfarers, like the Wanderer’s Handbook?”
Barca rolled his eyes. “As much as I admire his attempts, nothing beats real experience. I trust you not to leave him alone in an ice cream shop.”
Agron scoffed. “That was one time, the place was getting crowded, and Pietros was taking far too long to decide on a flavor.”
“A word of caution then, I do not think Nasir’s temperament will be so sweet.”
“Of that I am fucking certain.” He motioned to the door. “Wake-up your Bard. I’ll be waiting outside.” He smiled wide. “Though I might have to hear how Pietros obtained such an earcuff.”
“A gift from Aindrea Haldane, nothing more.”
“Oh, nothing more, just a gift from the royal prince of Merrymec. How does Eideard feel about such things?”
“I am not fucking fool enough to tempt the wrath of a Siren. Eideard designed it. Since he has a whole room full of earcuffs after five hundred years of marriage, he’s desperate to pass the tradition on to someone else.”
“Such lofty company you find yourself among.”
“Just old promises fulfilled, you suspicious wolf.”
Nasir spoke little on their journey up the coastline. He’d only shown a brief bit of life when Agron explained how the Charlie Cards worked over paper tickets. He didn’t know how Nasir kept cool as they maneuvered through the old t-stations and lines to the commuter rail. Agron was sweating even in the early morning with a sleeveless shirt. Nasir wore a long-sleeved hooded sweatshirt and even refused a sip of offered water.
Maybe he was part dragon.
They were halfway to Salem’s city center when Agron had to break the silence or lose his mind.
“If I offended you last night, I suppose I should apologize.”
“I was not offended,” Nasir said. He shook his arms out. “It’s been some time since I took up the title of Wayfarer. I forgot what it was like to live with such polluted air and all the electricity surrounding us. I was kept up half the night by the smell and sounds.”
“We are now in the open air,” Agron said.
“Yet it’s still foul.” Nasir looked around. “And full of tourists.”
“Easy enough to hide among the population here. You should see it around Halloween.”
“From what I’ve heard, I’d rather not. I’ve seen enough Bacchanalias for five lifetimes.”
Agron laughed. Nasir was less collected this morning, full of spite and fire. He liked it more than the act from last night even if it did make him wonder just what the true Nasir was like.
It was early enough that the streets weren’t too crowded. The summer sun was still a bit too warm for Agron’s liking, but he was forever a wolf of the winter lands in Chauci. The breeze off the ocean was pleasant though.
He watched Nasir as they dodged small children with ice cream cones and teenagers on skateboards with ear buds dangling around their neck. He didn’t look completely shocked by all around him, not like brand new Wayfarers.
“This is not your first time across the divide this decade,” he said.
Nasir’s smile was faint. “No. Though I’ve not seen America since the 1950s. I spent many years traveling with the folk artists to learn the new songs of their history. I was in Europe most recently helping a friend setup her own sanctuary.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Not unless you know a Summer Sidhe named Chadara from Velia.”
“I do not associate much with the Sidhe,” he said, trying to reign in his temper. The Sidhe were no friends of his pack. They’d used the wolves too often to fight their wars with little thanks or compensation.
“With the glaring exception of Barca,” Nasir said.
“He is Sidhe then, he never said.”
“Partially. And it is obvious for any who know the lineage of his family. They are one of the warrior clans of the Autumn Sidhe. My own brother lived among them.”
As much as Agron wanted more of that history, Naevia had taught him sense over the years. He filed it away for a time when Nasir seemed more open. It was better now, to focus on Barca.
“Autumn Sidhe are different. They’re aligned with the Sirens and have far more fucking sense than other branches of the royal family. I cannot wait until they finally destroy each other.”
“If the gods are kind Haldane will emerge victor. I wish war on no one, but when Queen Catriona abdicates the only acceptable answer for peace is Haldane.”
Nasir spoke as if he held intimate knowledge of the royals and honestly, from the skill exhibited last night, Agron would be more surprised if he didn’t. He couldn’t decide if that was something that made him trust Nasir more or less. The Sidhe were no friend of his, but he’d have to think long and hard if he should condemn someone by association only.
He tsked. “The Sidhe could always put aside their fucking differences and rule in royalty as name only.”
“No, they cannot,” Nasir said. He almost sounded surprised.
“Why the fuck not?”
Nasir paused in his steps and gaped at Agron. “How can you not know?”
“Do they not have archives in Chauci?”
Agron tried not to be insulted by his tone, even so he felt his jaw clench. “Our history is passed down from keeper to keeper through song and story. A Bard should know that.”
“You already know I am not fully Bard, there is no need to be insulting.”
Agron could feel his eyes widened as his fists instinctual flexed. It took every ounce of his restraint to keep the growl buried down in his throat. The wolf was snapping at his soul, demanding blood for insult. He could just hear Spartacus now if he lost control and switched forms in the middle of Salem’s main tourist drag.
“I give what I get, friend. I’m sorry if my people aren’t as civilized as your Sidhe. We value honesty and openness over lies and false action. We may not know all of the Sidhe’s history but we well recall their forgotten promises. Our depleted pack numbers and generations robbed of cubs are better testimony than any pretty scroll in a fucking archive.”
Nasir placed a hand on his forearm. Agron was surprised to find it cold to the touch.
“We both seem to be choosing the wrong words this morning, or perhaps the wrong meaning. I assumed that the legends of the Sidhe’s throne rights were part of your own history. Their legendarium formed the basis of all the archives. Since the throne was taken and sworn by blood magic from an alliance by the Sidhe, Dragons, Sirens, and Reapers, the Sidhe must hold it to maintain balance of our world. They are the only group of the old magic close enough to every other race on to keep it stable. If the Sidhe fall, so goes the balance and all the Veils. The old magic will break bonds and consume all.”
“And you know this to be truth and not just a children’s tale?”
Nasir scoffed. “Even the dragons do not attempt an uprising. Is that not proof enough?”
“I do not think any should rule by default.”
“Which is why Sidhe rulers must abdicate after a millennia and why our court systems are run by Realm Jumpers and not full blood Sidhe royals.”
Agron shook his head. “A politician in a Bard’s robe. What else can I expect from you?”
Nasir widely smiled, the first open one of the day. “If you can hold your temper and tongue, maybe you’ll live long enough to see what’s next.” He gestured to the street before them. “Don’t you think it’s time we moved on? I assume you have a reason to be here other than to accost me in plain view.”
Agron couldn’t let the taunt go unanswered. He bent down, almost halfway, to meet Nasir’s ear and whispered softly, “Clearly we need to show you the true meaning of accost.” He palmed Nasir’s shoulder and straightened up. “Though you do have a point, we should not keep Melitta waiting.”
“You’re a jackass,” Nasir yelled after him.
He playfully gasped. “Such language from such a cultured tongue.”
Agron barely dodged the quick leg that shot out to trip him. Nasir was definitely more than he seemed. He would ask Oenomaus to do a reading for them. The wizard’s skill at soul gazing was better than any he’d ever met. Though something told him that at the end of their visit, Nasir would usurp him in Oenomaus’ affections, probably Melitta's too. There was something about his presence that reminded him of the couple; a certain world-weariness and knowledge gained beyond years lived.
Two weeks passed with Agron making little headway in terms of discovering just what and who Nasir was. He stopped talking to everyone about it, save Duro, who out of a sense of solidarity only mocked him half the time in front of their friends.
Personally, he felt like he was taking all the teasing pretty damn well especially since every time Mira saw him she started quoting choice selections from Bambi. Even Melitta was filling his voicemail with taunts. His friends were truly evil and worthless and if it wasn’t for the fact he owned his damn apartment building, he’d leave them all behind. The only one with any sense was Auctus and since hanging out with a ghost who only liked to bond with pigeons left little to do, he was going stir-crazy. Even the gym was a no-go since Gannicus of the Mocking Laugh decided to take it over; a task he was positive Oenomaus put him up to.
Naevia, thank the fucking gods, was kind enough to take pity on him. She’d demanded he come over for dinner and it was a mostly relaxing affair, minus the corner of glaring fire demon that was Crixus. He could take the muttered insults though, if it gave him more time with Naevia’s insanely delicious lemon cake. He had yet to prove it, but he was damn sure she’d baked an enchantment into it.
“When was the last time you left the pack for more than a night?” Naevia asked.
He used his finger to pick up the crumbs left on the plate as he thought. It’d been at least five years, perhaps longer. “I don’t recall; probably when Aurelia was visiting and decided I should court Dagan.”
Naevia hissed at the memory of that specular fuck-up. All of it could be blamed on fucking Ashur. Agron got out relatively unscathed, but Dagan lost an eye. It worked out for the best in the end; Dagan enjoyed restoring the works at Byway Books, but for a while there it felt like all alliances were gone to shit.
“You need to leave and clear your fucking head,” Crixus said. “I’ll even offer my protection this once.”
Agron pouted at his empty plate. “I’m more worried about protecting you from Saxa,” he admitted. He had to remind himself that he was in human form and it would not be good manners to lick the plate in front of his host.
“She’s not in a mating cycle again, is she?” Naevia asked, her voice suddenly gone tight.
Agron lifted his gaze and looked between his two friends. There were really fucking obvious but completely oblivious to each other. Something needed to be done. Maybe he could convince Spartacus to slap them both with a clarity spell.
“I don’t think Saxa’s ever off her cycle, honestly, but hell, one of us should be enjoying all life here has to offer.”
“I thought she had an arrangement with Nemetes,” Crixus said.
Agron shook his head. “Not wolf enough for her, so to speak. Saxa values truth and honor above all. Every last wolf in Sedullus’ pack carries the tang of bullshit. Nemetes the least among them granted, but it’s still potent.”
“What of Varro then? He’s flirted with you wolves often enough.”
Agron almost laughed. “Aurelia would skin Saxa alive.”
“She has made no claim,” Naevia argued.
“Not in so many words, but he is marked with her scent. Any fuck stupid enough to mess with Varro deserves whatever Aurelia gives them.”
Crixus nodded his head in a rare moment of agreement. He knew well the she-wolf’s wrath. “Either way, you should leave, Agron. You’re almost turning serious.”
“Godsfuckingforbid we have that.”
Naevia reached over and patted his arm, a pulse of warmth filling his body. “Leaving should lead to clarity. It’s what Melitta advises. One night away. Take Duro with you if it would ease your conscience. Go into the woods, leave the city; we will take care of the others.”
Naevia was so earnest, her words so full of promise and hope that he couldn’t deny her. He had been more stressed than usual lately. Being around Nasir made his skin itch and he found a myriad of inane reasons to find himself at The Temple every day since his arrival. It would be good, at the very least, to force himself away for a night. Remove the temptation and clear his senses of all traces of Nasir. Maybe then he could get on with life.
“You offer good advice, Naevia.”
“Of course she does,” Crixus said.
“I’ll take Duro with me. Just make sure to keep an elemental sentry at our door. I leave it unlocked incase Auctus is too tired to use his will to open it.”
Naevia smiled. “I am certain Crixus can spare a fire messenger.”
“Just as long as it doesn’t burn down my apartment and stays away from Duro’s videogames. I’m not replacing that collection again.”
Naevia nodded and patted Crixus’ arm. “We will see it done.”
A night away stretched into a week. They didn’t go to the woods as originally planned but to Maine. Duro had an overt fondness for lighthouses, L.L. Bean, Stephen King, and lobster and Agron could never, ever deny his brother. It felt like the worst in stereotypes for a visit, but Duro got even more insane when they went to Canada, so all things considered, the trip was low-key.
Agron had taken advantage of their time to peruse one of the local Wayfarer libraries. He was still determined to find out what Nasir’s background could be but the most helpful thing he’d come across was a diagram describing the human watchers of the Chimera. They would be back in Boston tomorrow and Agron was a liar if he said his pulse didn’t race at the thought.
The only sound in their hotel room was the whirring of the air conditioner. Duro was laid out on his bed, fingers scratching through his hair while he hummed Spiders by System of a Down.
Agron placed a hand over his eyes as he tried to work out all the information in his head. What he knew of Nasir and what he’d pieced together from all of his research made fuck all sense. He needed to find a proper academic. He walked over to his brother and curled into the space next to him, a form of comfort since they were pups. He smiled as Duro’s hands found their way to his head, his brother’s fingers easily carding through Agron’s much shorter hair.
“Do you think it’s worth it?” Duro asked.
Agron had already spent his day pouring over texts and lore. He was hardly in the mood for his brother’s non-sequiturs.
“Duro, despite the fact we were born in the same litter I am not, nor will I ever be, able to read your mind.”
“Sorry, brother.” Duro swatted at him. “I meant Spartacus and Sura; do you think it’s worth it for them? Only able to touch four times a year during the Veil Drop.”
“Better four days than nothing more, I suppose. They still live for each other, even with Sura’s condition.”
Duro hummed in agreement but Agron could tell there was more. He waited patiently for Duro to ask his true question. It didn’t take long. There was a stuttered breath and Agron almost knew what was coming.
“Why do you think Auctus stays? He could work with the Reapers back home.”
Agron never acted as confessor for Auctus; he could hardly guess at the ghost’s motivation for doing anything. He cared for Naevia, but it was only love for a sister figure. All of Auctus’ unfinished business lay on the Other Side. He had his suspicions of course, but he knew nothing about the heart of a ghost.
“He has his reasons, Duro,” he said.
“It cannot be easy to see his lover with Pietros.” Duro’s words with twisted with disgust and confusion. It was hard for him, as a wolf, to understand the lack of a true bonding. Duro understood promiscuity and scratching an itch, but wolves, on either side of the divide, did not take love lightly.
“Their relationships are not like ours, Duro, you know that. Barca has found his happiness with Pietros. Auctus know his own mind. Neither of these things should be your concern, brother, unless you’re considering the ghost for your mate.” It wasn’t just a jest. Agron worried for where his brother’s eyes were starting to turn.
Duro scoffed. “I may be a fool but you cannot think me that stupid, brother.”
“You have your moments,” he muttered.
The kick to his legs was expected and anticipated. “Did you find out if Nasir is really a Bard?”
“Yes and no. Nasir is something, possibly Bard and Sidhe.”
“Like Haldane, the leader in Merrymec?”
Agron shook his head. “I don’t know.”
That caught Duro’s attention. “You’ve spent half a day for the past two weeks in his company and you couldn’t sniff out his species at all? Not even a hint? Are you ill?”
“His scent is not known to me.”
“Are you certain he is not like Ashur? He could be a Goodfellow.”
“Neither or perhaps both.” Agron flopped on to his back “He is a tease. There’s a danger about him.”
“Is that so, brother?”
Agron flicked his wrist and sent a force of power to smack Duro on the back of his head. “None of that from you, pup,” he ordered.
“Saxa will be delighted. She’s begun to fear for you.”
“Go to sleep, Duro.”
“Should I wish you sweet dreams of your minstrel?”
“Sleep. Duro. Now.”
He closed his eyes to the sound of Duro’s laughter filling their room.
Chapter 2: Part Two
Agron was sorting through the racks at Newbury Comics, a stack of cds already in his hands and a list from Auctus for vinyl selections clutched between his teeth. He once had to go to every fucking branch of the store in the Greater Boston area to appease their resident ghost, so now he made his trips with a list of acceptable alternatives that didn’t see him train hopping all day.
There were only so many times a sane person could ride the branches of the Green Line without wanting to rip someone’s throat out. Throw a wolf into a mix and it was one bad temper tantrum away from making the five o’clock news.
“And I thought you disappeared.”
Agron jumped and dropped the cds. He turned to stare at Nasir who only smiled, hands held up and using his will to keep everything from crashing to the floor.
“Neat trick,” he mumbled around the list.
“It has its uses.” He plucked the list from Agron’s lips with one hand while nonchalantly motioning for the cds to settle carefully on top of the rack with the other. “They invented baskets for a reason, you know.”
He snatched the paper back and stuffed it in his pocket. “As they did collars with bells.”
Agron wanted to hate the teasing smirk that came over Nasir’s lips, but it was hopeless. Donar was right. He was completely fucked.
“I did not think I could startle a wolf.”
“Why do I think you’re lying to me?”
“Because you know better.” Nasir dropped his gaze to the racks, fiddling with a miniature R2-D2 figure. There was a stiffness in his shoulders that wasn’t there before. “Your absence was noted at Barca’s.”
“Is that a fancy way of saying you missed me?” He tried for smooth as he leaned against the display, but the cracking of plastic ruined the image.
“More that your brother’s appetite was missed,” he said, kind enough not to comment on Agron’s clumsiness. “Where does he put all that food?”
“Duro’s the energetic type. He may appear lazy but if he’s not jogging or swimming, he’s running around the building in his wolf form. Don’t listen to what Donar tells you, Duro doesn’t spend all his time on his back. It’s actually impossible for him to stay still unless it’s hot as balls outside.”
Nasir nodded and finally put the figure down. He started to rearrange a set of Yellow Submarine shot glasses.
“You’re fidgeting,” he said
“And you disappeared on me for a week after sharing my company every single day since I arrived. I’m confused. Did I miss some new standard of protocol between people? Is this a common thing, to vanish without a single hint of notice?” He moved on to tilting a rude garden gnome on its side. “After the second day Pietros gave me the address to your apartment. Imagine my surprise to find you’d taken your brother and left for an unspecified amount of time.”
Agron didn’t like being scolded. Especially not by the person who had caused so many sleepless nights and headaches.
“I didn’t realize I needed your approval.”
Nasir straightened up and dropped his hands to his side. For a second he looked disappointed before he raised his head. The defiance was back in his gaze but lacking the teasing smile that was such a standard of their interactions.
“You don’t,” he said. He took a deep breath. “I’ll leave you to your shopping. So sorry to have bothered you, Agron.”
The way he said his name hurt. Nasir had always followed the respectful protocol, addressing him by his animal title. He quickly reached out, only half stumbling over a dvd display, to catch Nasir before he could scamper off.
“Apologies, Nasir. Naevia always tells me not to take my frustration out on others. I’m not the best student, but I’m learning. You come here in friendship and I bite at your hand.”
Nasir smiled. “I suppose it’s the only thing to be expected of a wolf.”
Agron playfully bared his teeth. “Don’t tempt me; I’ve yet to eat lunch and no matter how rancid that pizza downstairs smells, it’s better than nothing. Come, let us eat.”
“Finish your shopping. I won’t have Saxa even more upset with me if you don’t bring home her,” Nasir picked up one of the albums, “Adele.”
“Oh, that’s Donar’s. Saxa prefers screamo.”
Nasir winced at the name. “I think I’ll stick to my own songs.”
“A wise decision.” He pointed to a small set of shelves near the back. “The world music and classical section is over there if you want to grab something. My treat. I never did get you a welcome present.”
Nasir held out his arms, covered in the oversized zipped-up sweatshirt Agron bought him when they decided to take the ferry back from Salem.
“That doesn’t count; it’s practical.”
Nasir’s eyes dropped to the hemline at his knees. “That could be debatable.”
“You refused to let me pay for one in your size. It’s not my fault I could only convince you to permanently borrow one in my own.”
“A stranger offering to buy me clothes after less than a day caused hesitation.”
“You are a fellow Wayfarer and not an average stranger. Now, go, browse that hopelessly neglected musical section while I find records to appease the pigeon-loving ghost.”
“I would not tease Auctus. I fear he may teach those pigeons to attack.”
Agron nodded and turned back to his list. His breath caught as Nasir walked past, their bodies sliding against one another in the cramped aisle. All his senses were filled with Nasir’s unique scent. From the soft laugh he heard, the tiny bastard knew damn well what he just did.
“There’s a special place in hell for men like you.”
“It’s a good thing we both don’t believe in it.”
It was another twenty minutes before they finished. Their lunch plans were definitively put on hold by Nasir’s overt gagging when they reached the street level of the complex.
“I don’t care what you claim, nothing that smells like that can be edible. I’m still adjusting to the cuisine here and I’d rather not meet my untimely death thanks to a restaurant in a former parking garage.”
“A man of discerning tastes, I can respect that.”
Agron did have to double-back to the North End go pick-up Duro’s order of cannoli from Bova. He’d loved to show Nasir the area, but he knew well there was a performance tonight.
“Do you have the time and energy for a small side trip before your next show?”
“A fair few hours and an always restless soul.”
“Then let us get a decent meal in you.”
It felt like a blessing, to spend this time with Nasir who seemed to open up more each day. There was still a lack of trust there, a suspicion on both of their sides. Agron would see trust built between them. A good meal was a heck of a place to start.
It was a rainy Wednesday afternoon when Agron next stumbled into Nasir.
Nasir caught him with a laugh. “I thought wolves were supposed to have inherent grace. Does that not extend to your human forms?”
“I’d like to see a wolf dance over cobblestones. Whoever thought this was better than plain old dirt can suck my cock.”
“Be careful who you make that offer to, someone might just take you up on it. In a city such as this, with all their old ghosts, that may not work out in your favor.”
“If any ghost molests me it will be Auctus and he will only do so before castrating me.”
He looked down at the street with a sneer. He understood the need for maintain a façade in a city based off historical tourism but at the very least they could beat down some of the stones.
“How does a ghost wind up with a wolf pack?” Nasir asked, retreating back under his umbrella.
Agron tried not to laugh at him. They were too near the river and the winds too fierce for an umbrella to last long without inverting. Nasir would learn, in time, to leave the umbrella behind and embrace the glory that was a baseball cap and a hoodie.
He was proven correct in less than two minutes. Almost a record, that one. He couldn’t take the twist of displeasure on Nasir’s lips and stripped off his light jacket, quickly putting it over Nasir before he could bitch about it.
“You will soak.”
“I’m used to it,” he assured. “Besides, Barca would kill me if you got a cold, especially in summer. I don’t mind the rain and this isn’t really bad.”
Nasir rolled his eyes. “I won’t argue that point.” He zipped the jacket up before tugging Agron forward. “Let us get back to the tavern and you can tell me how you met Auctus.”
“Demanding are we?”
“Always,” Nasir quickly answered. He pushed and pulled until Agron was mostly under the storefront awnings. “Why are you even out in this mess?”
Agron wrapped an arm around Nasir’s waist and pulled him close, keeping them bother under the shelter.
“I was on my way to bother Gannicus of the Leather Chaps. What’s your excuse?”
Nasir wrapped his hands up in the long sleeves of Agron’s jacket. It was almost adorable, how much he despised being cold.
He was not expecting the treacherous elbow in his side.
“You’ve made me addicted to those deli sandwiches. I was enjoying the walk back before the rain started and I witnessed your truly inspired performance of A Tall Man on A Wet Street. I should’ve taped it.”
“Pietros introduced you to YouTube, didn’t he?”
“Your brother, actually. He was there last night absent you.”
“Apologies for a missed performance. Naevia, Sura, and I have a creatures' night in on Tuesday. You should join us.”
“From the way Duro spoke of it last night, I’d fear for my survival.”
Agron waved off Nasir’s concern. “We only feel Duro’s in need of a haircut. He cleans up remarkably well. Even Saxa’s admitted to missing his old curls.”
“Head full of ‘em,” he confirmed as they finally walked through the door of The Temple.
Pietros greeted them with a laugh. “I suggest you both go change before Barca finds you dripping on the floor.” He nudged Agron with his hip. “I’m sure you remember where he keeps his spare sweats.”
Nasir looked between the two of them. “It seems there are many tales to hear tonight.”
“More like ancient history,” Agron said.
“According to Gannicus it was the fling of the decade. Is it true you managed to incite an orgy one time?”
“Pietros,” Barca called, “don’t give Agron a heart attack. I still need him to help set the stages next weekend.” He pointed to Nasir and Agron. “Get in the back and get changed before you permanently damage my floor.”
“It’s not even a Nor’easter out there.”
“After your brother managed to bring half a foot of snow inside this past winter, I worry about any wolf-related water damage. Now, go.”
Nasir’s face was full of curiosity as they walked back, but something held his tongue. Agron knew he’d have to revisit his past again tonight.
“I promise to tell you after we’re both dry and have a drink or two in our systems.”
“That bad?” Nasir asked as he hung Agron’s jacket over the back of a chair.
“It was a pretty dark time for all concerned.”
He nodded in understanding. “Yet you and Barca still remain friendly.”
“It was never love,” he said. He struggled to strip his wet shirt off in the hallway. There would be words if he dripped over Barca’s kitchen floor. “We were both in need of comfort at the time and had no one else who understood.”
He did not crow triumphantly when he won against the shirt, but only just.
“You two both share a distaste for common decency,” Nasir said. He was still soaked and standing on the threshold of his room.
Agron laughed. “Life around a wolf pack is a very clothing optional one. We’ve gotten better at is as Wayfarers, but we’ll always feel most natural with little on our skin. It reminds us of our true form.”
“Ah,” Nasir said with a mocking tilt of his head before disappearing behind the door.
Agron felt the smile on his lips as he continued to struggle out of his jeans. He’d have to borrow a pair of shoes too. He padded over to the cabinet closest to the backdoor where Barca kept all emergency supplies. There was no telling just who or what could stumble through after the Veil Drops and Barca kept clothing that could fit Giant, Dragon, and Sprite.
“You’re playing with fire, Wolf.”
Agron turned to find Gannicus leaning against a counter. The Sidhe was completely silent in movement, as per usual.
“Gannicus, I meant to speak with you today.”
“I would hope with more clothing. I’m flattered but find myself more drawn to your she-wolf. How is the fierce Saxa?”
Agron slipped on a pair of sweats before he answered. He debated between donning the Patriots or the Red Sox shirt, a fan of neither team really and not eager to start a sport’s debate with any mundane who walked into the bar. He grabbed the Celtics one instead.
“Prepare yourself for all the Teenwolf jokes if your wear that one.”
He nodded in agreement. “Still better than trying to stumble through a conversation about sports history I don’t understand.” He hopped up next to Gannicus. “As for Saxa, she could use a visit from you.”
“I still bear the scratches from last time,” he said, though Gannicus’ smile could only be described as filthy.
“I warned you of the risks.”
“They are worth it.” Gannicus pointed to the hallway. “You, Brother Wolf, are playing with something even more dangerous. Do you know what Nasir is?”
Oh, fucking finally, someone who got it. “No, do tell me, Brother Sidhe.”
Gannicus shook his head. “I have no clue and there is my concern. I sense Dragon in his bloodline. Bard of course. He has the stink of my people, but they covet pretty singers so that is of little surprise.”
“I’ve too see all those hints with no firm result. Oenomaus would not tell me and Melitta suggested I waited to be told.”
“She is a silly girl.”
“Who could gut you in a second.”
“Of that, there is no doubt. Yet here you are, flirting with danger on blind faith.”
“It feels right. Unsettling, to be fucking certain, but right. I will not risk my pack though for something unknown. I am showing caution, Gannicus.”
“You.” Gannicus' trademark laugh filled the room. “Agron, you do not know caution. Restraint, perhaps, which you do with clenched fist and jaw, but not caution.”
“Brother Sidhe, do not force me to break your fucking nose again.”
Gannicus' reply was stopped by Nasir’s entrance. He was towel drying his long hair. It was the first time Agron had seen it free of its braid. He wasn’t surprised at all when Gannicus closed his jaw for him.
“Gratitude,” he whispered.
Gannicus laughed again. “Come, let us get a drink. It will see you both warmed up and ready for this night.”
It was early evening by the time Gannicus finally left their table to go chat up Mira. Duro and Donar could be heard from the game room, yelling a unique combination of praise and expletives at each other over a game of pool with Crixus and Spartacus.
Nasir was picking his way through a special plate of food designed not to damage his vocal chords. Agron didn’t know how anyone could willingly drink that much tea either, but hell; it wasn’t like he used his voice to make a living.
“Now that Gannicus is distracted are you going to tell me your story?”
“Which one? How we got Auctus or my past with Barca?”
“I have to choose? You said nothing about choosing.”
Agron ran a hand over his face and let out his breath slowly. “To be honest, they’re both connected. It’s not exactly a fun story.”
“I’ll take a summary,” Nasir said. He looked up and smirked. “For now.”
“A summary, I can do that.” Agron couldn’t help but fiddle with a sugar packet. It wasn’t the best time in his past. It took him awhile to figure out how to best explain it.
“Duro has a thing for strays,” he finally said.
“And you do whatever makes your brother happy.”
“I do whatever’s best for him.”
Nasir tilted his head, the low light catching a flash of emotion in his eyes. “Only your definition of best.”
Agron bit back his initial retort as he straightened up. “Do you have a problem with me, Bard?”
Nasir waved off his anger. “Your brother is grown and should be allowed to stand on his own. Pack leader or not, you cannot always protect him. Besides, is he not supposed to mate and establish his own pack?”
Each of their interactions clearly showed that Nasir spent little time among the wolves. His knowledge was limited to a lot of the conventions passed off by observation from outsiders. Agron was almost eager to show him what the packs were really like, but that wasn’t possible until his own questions were answered.
“We are not completely like grey wolves, you know. We do have many societal conventions similar to those of Bard, Sidhe, and Siren. Do not think us complete animals.”
Nasir reached a hand over and rested his fingertips on Agron’s wrist. His touch was lukewarm this time.
“I do not, even if your temper clearly comes from the wolf. Along with your table manners.”
“Not all of us were blessed to be raised among the royals and nobility.”
“Do not think of it is as a blessing,” Nasir muttered.
Agron tugged on strand of Nasir’s hair, fallen loose from its braid. “I wouldn’t, in all honesty.”
“No, I don’t see you taking to a gilded cage well.”
“Thank the fucking gods.”
“So, Duro likes strays. That’s what you’re going to leave me with? Only one small sentence for your favorite minstrel?”
“And what have you done to earn more than that?”
“Besides tolerate the smell of wet wolf?”
Agron was surprised by his own bark of laughter. And bark it truly was, his pack mates sent him answering yips of joy in response.
“Do we need to cut your whole pack off,” Pietros said when he dropped off another tea for Nasir.
“Those were sounds of joy not drunken revelry,” he argued.
“I didn’t think there was a difference,” Pietros said.
Agron shook a finger at him. “I’m going to have a talk with Barca about your sass. It’s gotten out of hand lately.”
“Barca worships my sass. It’s what gets him out of bed in the morning.”
“Gets him up or gets him out or both.”
Nasir put his head in his hand and started chuckling. It made the whole bar stop, even Duro and Donar peeking out of the game room to find the source of such a sound.
“To command a room with just laughter, that is a gift,” Gannicus said, drawing all eyes to himself as he plopped his ass on the bar. “Though not as great as my cock. More wine, Pietros, if your stocks can spare it.”
“Don’t insult our inventory,” Pietros said as he marched towards Gannicus with purpose. He pulled him off by his belt loops and shoved him into the stool. “How many times do I have to tell you we are not Coyote Ugly.”
“Think of all the coin you would garner if you were.”
“I will call Melitta if you did not pull head from ass.”
“And there is another sort of magic,” Agron said watching Gannicus thoroughly silenced. “The threat of Melitta. A powerful wrath to be sure.”
“You are still diverting your task. No more distractions.” Nasir pushed his plate aside. “I would have the whole tale now. Or a more detailed summary at the very least.”
Agron turned sideways in the booth, finding it easier to look at the lights than Nasir’s curious gaze. It wasn’t a time he spoke of often but Nasir made him want to tell the story. He supposed that was part of Nasir’s own powers, to make confession easier. How else was a stranger and outsider to collect the histories of people he never knew.
“I hope you know I will expect proper story in exchange.”
“Which you will get on a night I am not set to perform. Now, cease delay and start. Your eager audience awaits.” Nasir’s voice held promise and even a hint of heat.
“Stop trying to enchant me with your voice.”
“I do no such thing,” he protested. “I’m soothing.”
“You're causing blood to rush not calm. I will tell you, little bard, if you stay silent. No interruptions until the end.”
Nasir nodded and gestured for him to continue.
“You were right, you know, when you said I need to let Duro be his own wolf. It’s not an easy thing for me, to let him go. During the last batch of Sidhe Wars, three hundred years ago or so, my mother was mortally wounded. My father, as her true mate, followed her into death. Unlike so many Other Worlders, death is a final thing for wolves until our souls are reborn. We do not have the chance to become ghosts or Reapers.
I am the eldest of my litter. Duro is the youngest and the only other male. She-wolves, in case Saxa hasn’t shown you, are fierce creatures. I never worried much for my sisters. Vera formed her own pack. Lucia settled in Midwood with a Sidhe friend. Renata joined a group of Healers. Duro was mine to teach and guide throughout the world. We moved to Capua where there was employment and coin yet Duro tried to run off to Chauci at least once a month. His soul always cries for the Wild. I worried for him taking up with one of the outlying packs and so, when the chance came to run for the Other Side, I took it.
Things were good for a century or two but forty years ago it went to shit.”
“The skirmish on the banks of Jordanes,” Nasir whispered.
Agron nodded. “Auctus had left us after World War II. It did a number on all of us and he needed to cleanse his soul. Barca refused to return and so they parted with a bittersweet understanding. When the skirmish broke out Eideard, Prince of the Sirens in Merrymec called on Spartacus and Sura for aid. He couldn’t fight it himself, the royals wouldn’t let him and sending a Siren to fight would’ve been an open declaration of war. Sura and Naevia decided to answer the call for aid. I couldn’t go, Saxa was still a pup barely able to maintain human form and Donar was recovering from grave wound. Duro wanted to leave but I forbid him.
Once news came that Sura and Naevia were captured all levels of hell broke loose. Spartacus and Crixus left immediately along with a half a legion of Wayfarers. I swear every single one in New England marched through the Veil, minus Mira who stayed to heal Donar. Barca stayed to protect us all in case the worst happened and the Divide was overtaken. Still, I would not let Duro go. I couldn’t leave my pack and I couldn’t let my brother risk his neck without me there to protect him.
The little shit somehow convinced Mira to douse me with a sleeping potion. Said the stress was getting to me and I hadn’t rested in days. He was across the divide with a Realm Jumper friend of his before I found out. I could do nothing but send Varro, another Realm Jumper and trusted brother, after him. It took ten years, by the account of time here, to bring them back. Sura and Auctus were ghosts; Naevia was half-dead; and everyone was worse for wear. The histories call it a skirmish but I have no doubt it was a full-on war.
Auctus followed Duro to our home and he’s been there ever since. You will never hear either one of them tell why. I doubt Duro even knows the truth, but Varro was there to see it. Auctus threw himself in front of the silver spear that was meant for Duro.”
He was met with silence when he finished his story. He looked down from the lights surprised to find Nasir sitting right next to him, their hands clasped together. Small waves of warm energy were passing from Nasir’s hands into his own.
“As for me and Barca? I needed someone strong enough to make me heel. I was violent with worry at the time and angry at everything. I couldn’t bring that home to Donar and Saxa. Barca was the only one around strong enough to keep me down. You’d have to ask him about his own intentions but Barca has a thing for charity cases.”
“Gratitude,” Nasir whispered. He gently pulled back. “I am honored you shared such with me.”
“Should I expect to hear it in song tonight?”
“Never,” Nasir rasped out. “I would not abuse your trust so.” He slid out of the booth and walked over to the stage.
Agron, curious as ever, followed him. He sat down next to Nasir as he silently tuned his instruments.
“I would have one thing from you tonight,” he said, resting his chin on Nasir’s shoulder.
“I will gladly take your song request,” Nasir said.
“Not that. Tell me what you are, Nasir.”
Nasir shook his head. “It is not that simple. You must guess.”
“I promise you, yourself alone is enough to keep me interested. We don’t have to keep up the pretense of a game.”
“I am not,” Nasir promised. “I cannot tell you, Wolf. Please leave it at that.”
Agron knew he was pouting by Nasir’s soft laugh. He patted Agron on the face and went back to his case of instruments. Agron had heard of the guessing games in the past but he’d never thought they existed outside of children’s takes.
“I’m afraid I can’t offer my firstborn since I will produce no offspring. Perhaps my brother’s then?”
“You already know my name,” Nasir said, settling down again with a lap harp. “I am not Rumpelstiltskin. And I would not put so much faith in your brother’s ability to produce offspring. He holds an attachment to that ghost of yours.”
“That sounds like more than just observation. Has my brother been drunkenly confessing things again?”
“Hardly. It is my job to read the hearts and minds of all for a show.”
“Is that so?” Agron asked, leaning over him. “Then what does mine tell you?”
Nasir placed a hand on Agron’s face and stared into his eyes. Agron fought the urge to drop his gaze.
“What I get from you has very little to do with your mind or heart,” Nasir said. He very pointedly dropped his gaze to Agron’s groin. “I’m flattered, Wolf, truly, but you would do better to turn your attentions elsewhere.”
“Is that a warning?”
“This is your pack’s home, is it not? Your den? You have not left here since you crossed over.”
“I rarely stay in the same place for a season, much less a year.”
“I could learn to travel.”
Nasir shook his head. “You could not. You do not know peace if you cannot see that all your pups are well. That is not a fault. It warms the heart.”
“Not the flesh?”
That earned another of those magical laughs. “You are resilient and that I admire.” He playfully shoved Agron back. “Now get off my stage. Worship me from the audience like all the rest.”
“I will not give up so easily,” he warned as he effortlessly jumped to the ground.
“I would expect nothing else,” Nasir called after him.
Chapter 3: Three
Crixus had him in a headlock at 10:30 AM on a Friday morning when Duro bounded down the stairs waving a piece of paper in his hand.
“Do you ever worry the pup’s gone rabid?” Crixus asked.
“All the fucking time,” Agron said. He pushed Crixus off him, laughing when he fell on his ass.
“That was a gimme.”
“Whatever you say, fire brat. I suggest you go clean up if you want to meet Naevia for lunch.”
“We had no plans to do such.”
“No, but I did and clearly Duro needs to be watched since he already smells of baklava.”
“I was hungry,” Duro yelled. He plopped down on one of the mats and cracked open a sport’s drink. “The bakery was just putting out the first plate. Anyone would be tempted.”
“I leave you to sort him out,” Crixus said. He didn’t need to thank Agron, the small smile without a punch as he left was enough.
Agron turned to his brother, with traces of honey and filo dough on his shirt, and couldn’t help his smile. There was no changing Duro, and gods forbid, there never would be.
“What mysteries did the bakery reveal to you so early in the day?”
“I stumbled across an old friend of Auctus. An Oracle, right? He said that all our answers could be found with Hamilcar.”
Agron tried not to choke his brother. “Hamilcar? Really, the great Realm Jumper Archivist and your best friend outside of the pack. Why the fuck did I not think of that first? Oh, wait, that’s because he’s so fucking busy I can’t even get ahold of him.”
Duro slapped him with a force of will. “Don’t be an asshole. I finally got him today. He said he’ll look into it as long as we man the store on Monday. Varro had to skip out and Dagan’s busy doing inventory.”
“He does remember what happened the last time you were in charge of a register, yeah?”
“Right, you have to run the desk and I have to try not to either eat people or curse
He sat down next to Duro and swiped his drink. He needed to think about the offer. He’d spent hours analyzing his last conversation with Nasir. His attentions clearly weren’t unwanted and Nasir seemed more concerned about Agron than himself. He kept going back and forth over whether he actually wanted to know. It all came back to the safety of his pack and no matter how much he felt Nasir was perfectly harmless, he couldn’t take the risk.
Hamilcar was a former Realm Jumper who decided to settle down in New England. He ran the bank for the Wanderers, Wayfarers, and Realm Jumpers along with monitoring any legal mention of their kind. He was the closest lore-master to their pack and rarely had the time for a drink, much less a long chat. Over the years he’d grown fond of Duro, ever determined to liberate Hamilcar from stacks of books and parchment, and counted them as friends. If anyone could find the answer with any certainty, it would be him.
“Call Hamilcar back, tell him we’ll do it.”
Duro nodded. “Now what will you do with the rest of your day, having ruined your own lunch plans for the greater good.”
“Mira has a whole list of things to do around the building.” He grabbed Duro by his hair before he could run away. “You will be helping. I’ve taken pity on you. You’ll stay by Sura’s side as she cleans out her closet and haul whatever she wants to the charity dump.”
“You call that pity?”
“It’s either that or getting up on the roof and checking for leaks.”
“I quite enjoy the stroll to the charity bin.”
Duro’s intense fear of heights was legendary. He’d once jumped on Barca and turned wolf mid-air to get away from a stairwell ledge. It took a whole month to convince Barca that despite the fact Duro scratched him in both human and animal form, he would not be turning wolf on the full moon. Some myths really needed to die.
Duro patted his brother’s back as he stood. “I’ll send Auctus to check up on you. At the very least he’ll get the pigeons to leave you alone.”
“So charitable of him, since he’s the reason we have a coop up there anyway.”
Agron smiled from his seat on the roof ledge as he watched Sura and Duro walk past the post office and towards the charity drop. A stranger passing by on the street would sense something was off about the two of them; Sura just a little too pale to be healthy and Duro just a little too feral to be normal. Spartacus had them all laden down with enchantments that kept the mundanes from looking too long or asking too many questions. They’d learned to avoid making contact with people like the mail carriers and delivery personnel who would wonder why their clients hadn’t aged a day in over thirty years. They mostly stuck to businesses run by other Wayfarers and former Wanderers and Realm Jumpers but it would still be time for a move soon. Agron wasn’t overly happy about that. He’d worked damn hard on getting that gym downstairs up to Crixus’ demanding standards.
He turned back to the chimney flues making sure none of Auctus’ pets decided to nest down again.
“Have you figured it out yet?” Auctus asked.
Agron almost fell on his ass in surprise. The flue helped keep him steady. Fucking Auctus and his tendency to appear as if he could hear people thinking about him.
“I assume you’re going to throw me a subject for that inquiry,” he said.
“Nasir, you fucking twat. And get away from the the flue. My birds aren’t using it as a home and it’s only August. Boston gets cold but not that quickly.”
“So says the ghost who feels neither heart nor cold.”
“I still have to live with your pissing and moaning.”
Agron felt his lips twitch in amusement.
Auctus rolled his eyes. “It’ a figure of speech, you godsforsaken wolf.” He sent a force of will at Agron, actually knocking him on his ass this time. “Stop being a jackass and answer the question. You very well know the subject since you’ve done nothing but pine after him for near on two months.”
“You are going to talk to me about pining?”
“Agron, I will use every last ounce of will I have to throw you off this roof.”
Normally Agron would continue his taunting but Auctus clearly wasn’t in the mood. He didn’t doubt Auctus’ threat and he really wasn’t looking forward to visiting a Healer to get his bones reset. Better to give in this time than let his mouth get him into trouble again.
“No, though some new theories have popped up. You’re not going to tell me, are you?”
Auctus shook his head. “I don’t know, Agron. I never spent much time with the Sidhe or the Sirens in life. I doubt their kind will talk to me in death. You did ask Nasir, yes?”
“Do you think me a fucking idiot?” He held up a hand. “It’s rhetorical, Auctus. He wants me to guess.”
“I didn’t think you liked games.”
“I don’t,” he admitted. “Yet I think he can’t tell me. I must name him.”
Auctus whistled. “That’s some ancient magic and courting techniques, Wolf. Do you think yourself capable of it?”
“I suppose if a ghost can love a wolf then I must at least try.”
Auctus didn’t deny his words. He almost looked relieved, if a ghost could. “Your brother,” he said.
“He makes me feel alive. Even like this. There is so much life burning in him. I do not wish to offend either of you by warming myself at his flame.”
“You do not.” He stood up and met Auctus’ gaze. It was all he could do, unable to give a comforting touch. “Do know that if you toy with him, if you use him as a replacement for what you no longer have, I will make you take that final journey.”
“I would expect nothing less of you. Or the rest of your pack.”
“Our pack,” he corrected.
“Our pack,” Auctus agreed.
Nothing more was said; Agron went back to checking the roof for possible leaks while Auctus cooed with his pigeons. It was a friendly silence and one of their own secrets. To everyone else the two bickered constantly but Agron and Auctus had an understanding borne out of love and concern for Duro. They didn’t share their worries, their histories, or their secrets, but they did share their peace.
He held little doubt over Auctus’ feelings for Duro. No one willingly sacrificed their lives for another without reason. He didn’t know what changed between when Auctus left as a man and returned as a ghost. He didn’t pretend to understand the mysteries and cares of those who pierced all Veils. His only concern was Duro, who could love too fully, too eagerly, and find himself easily hurt and frustrated. There was honor in Auctus though and he’d already made the ultimate sacrifice for Duro’s sake.
He paused at the top of the ladder before leaving Auctus to his thoughts.
“Not that you need it, but you have my blessing. Whenever you decide to pursue him, I’ll hold back Donar and Saxa.”
“Gratitude,” Auctus said.
When Agron looked up, he was already gone.
The main branch of Byway Books was hidden in a back alley of Beacon Hill. From the outside it looked like a typical wealthy and historic home. Its only patrons were Wanderers and Wayfarers. If rumor was true, a dragon lived in the basement guarding all sorts of treasures. It was an Archive, first and foremost, but also a bank. Not everyone could pay in cash money, so Hamilcar and his crew took payment in everything from apple pies to intellectual spirits. The nice, IRS approved storefront was in Kenmore Square, perfect to grab the Boston University and Berklee crowds, but Agron needed to see the real thing before heading over to the pale imitation.
Hamilcar maintained a schedule that made Agron want to revert to wolf form and stay there. The retired Realm Jumper was constantly traveling to maintain connections with other settled groups of Wayfarers. He’d even surpassed Oenomaus in general knowledge and contacts. Considering the wizard was the one who introduced Hamilcar to the Realm Jumpers six hundred years ago, it showed just how far he’d come. Agron rarely took advantage of the gift of friendship but he was desperate.
The old wooden door creaked open on its own accord when he approached. Agron tried to ignore it as an ominous sign. He walked into the empty foyer, the warning flames glowing a dull blue to alert a guest present.
“Have you lost your damn fool mind?” Hamilcar’s voice boomed from above.
“Always good to see you again, Hamilcar. I suspect you’ve managed to find an answer to my issue.”
Hamilcar shoved him with a playful push to his shoulder as he bounded down the stairs. “Don’t come in here talking like a Sidhe and trying to match wits. You’re already suicidal enough with what you’re going after.”
He looked good, if a bit tired and in need of a shave. The Captain America t-shirt was new but the jeans were older than Pietros. He pulled Hamilcar into a quick hug and patted his back as they separated. Duro saw Hamilcar as an adopted brother and Agron always honored that claim.
“And what exactly am I chasing after?”
“A Puck, Agron. Your little Bard? All the things you’ve mentioned, he could only be a Puck.”
Agron tried not to groan. He’d met Goodfellows back in Chauci and Nasir didn’t smell like any of them. If this was the best Hamilcar could do, than he truly was fucked.
“He does not smell like a Goodfellow, I checked,” he said.
Hamilcar shook his head. “They are lesser cousins. Goodfellows look like bumbling children compared to Pucks. It’s only centuries and that godforsaken Shakespeare who have made them seem like mischievous spirits. If the Pucks and Goodfellows put mind to it, they could bring down the world. Their powers are not bound like those of the wizards. They are closer to the Sirens than to any others and even those fierce creatures use caution towards Pucks.” He cuffed Agron around the head. “You truly have a taste for the dangerous, my friend.”
“Nasir is not dangerous.” He didn’t know if that was particularly true but it felt right.
Hamilcar snorted. “To you, perhaps. From what I know of the Pucks, I would not seek to incur his wrath.”
A warning Agron would’ve taken to heart anyway. Even without knowing his background, Nasir showed hints of a temper. He knew little of Goodfellows, even less of Pucks obviously; all the legends made it clear they were not creatures to piss off.
“Is there anything else you can give me?”
“You’ll have to ask Varro; he knows more of them.”
Agron cursed. More time, more wasted opportunities. “This keeps dragging on.”
“Hey, fuck you. I had to consult three Oracles, one Reaper, and fucking Batiatus to get a confirmation.”
Hamilcar looked more annoyed than truly angry. Agron was grateful. He did have an answer, just not one he was counting on. It wasn’t Hamilcar’s fault that Agron needed more than he could give. He’d already gone beyond what was required of him. He deserved an act of equal devotion.
“Apologies, brother.” He ran a hand over his face. “What’s your payment?”
Hamilcar rolled his eyes. “I did it as a favor.”
He counted back slowly from one hundred in his head. He didn’t like lowering himself, even for a friend, and the wolf was pretty pissed off about it all.
“Of which I am sure you are now in debt to many people. Name your price.”
Hamilcar’s eyes went soft. “Agron.”
“Name it,” he insisted.
He sighed. “I could use some wolf’s blood for the stores.”
Thank the fucking gods, an answer. “Then you shall have it. Freely given with cut by silver knife.”
“Agron.” Hamilcar gripped his arm, no more words spoken.
Always so proper and suddenly so serious. Agron grasped his hand. “Hamilcar, take it. It’s not like I can give you Duro, you’ve already had him.”
He laughed. “And your cousin, with the scars to prove it. Tell me, is biting a family trait?”
“You should consider yourself so blessed to bear the mark of a wolf.”
“I consider myself damaged actually. Try explaining that bite mark to a date.”
“Don’t you know chicks digs scar?”
“I know you know nothing about chicks.”
He walked through the foyer, motioning for Agron to follow. They were to go to the back room where all the pure silver items were kept locked up. For all his shit talking, Hamilcar went to great lengths to ensure no wolf came to harm in his presence. He was a kindred spirit to them all.
Agron wanted to make a flippant reply to his earlier comment but he needed to steel his body for what was coming. Pure silver could kill them if strategically used; in most cases it just burned really badly. For a wolf to willingly give part of their essence under the use of a silver knife created extremely potent blood magic. There were only three other people Agron would trust to take such a thing and he shared an apartment building with them.
“Ready?” Hamilcar asked with knife in hand.
Agron took a moment to center himself and forced the wolf back. The urge to fight, to protect, and to kill always hovered just below the surface. He could switch forms with an ease that wolves much older than him admired. Now, like all times he felt threatened, he had to fight that instinct.
He held out his left arm, fist already clenched to fight off the pain. “Do it,” he grunted, finding speech hard with the growl spilling up from inside.
Hamilcar held a glass vial midway up Agron’s forearm. The cut of the knife was quick but the burn from the silver lasted as his blood drained out.
“It amazes me, you know,” Hamilcar said in a soothing voice, “how much you control the wolf. Your impulse control is for shit, but the amount of restraint you can put on your natural form is truly remarkable. I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen another like you, Agron. Even Donar becomes half-man and half-wolf when angered. You, though, you are fully pissed off and dangerous in both forms.”
“Great, I’m special,” he spat out.
Hamilcar pressed a cloth over Agron’s wound. It was freezing cold; a gift from a Reaper then. Nothing was left but a small, blistered scar.
“Sorry about the mark.”
Agron got his breathing under control before he tried to speak again. He’d need to visit the woods soon, to appease the wolf for this act. There was a price to be paid even to himself. He looked up to find Hamilcar locking the vial away in a safe that pulsed green once closed. It was enchanted with a spell from Spartacus himself. Agron could smell his trace in the magic.
“I expected worse,” he finally said.
“I guess you’ll just have to see if Pucks digs scars too.”
“Fuck you,” he said taking the whiskey Hamilcar held out to him. “When does Varro return?”
He shrugged. “Anytime between tomorrow and the Equinox.”
“Awesome.” He took a hefty swig and passed the bottle back.
Hamilcar fiddled with the cap. “Agron, just don’t be, you know, you.”
“What does that mean?” He wasn’t offended, really, but he did want clarification.
He ticked off various traits. “Stubborn. Bull headed. Breaking bones before asking questions. Burning down buildings on a whim.”
“Hey, that one was Donar.”
“Just be careful, Agron.”
He wasn’t pleading, he was asking and Agron could, at the very least, do that.
After one long ass shift selling used textbooks to college students and keeping Duro supplied with fried dough, Agron was ready to crawl into bed and never leave. Mira had other thoughts.
“I’ve invited Nasir over for dinner. It’s time he was properly welcomed.”
Agron stumbled on the stairs, nearly dropping Mira’s laundry basket. “Tonight’s dinner?”
Sometimes she was the most evil fucking thing he’d ever come across. She knew damn well what he was doing today and how bad the apartment looked. It was Agron and Duro’s turn to host as well.
“Fuck, Mira, you know how my apartment looks.”
“Like a typical wolves’ den. I’ve told you to pick your shit up enough times. Maybe now the lesson will sink inside that thick skull.”
“I want to rip your throat out right now.”
“Oh, jackass, trust me when I say the feeling is mutual. I already have four friends being stupidly oblivious to each other I will not tolerate two more.”
“Always the bridesmaid—”
“—I will cut you where you stand.”
He would’ve held his hands up in surrender if it wasn’t for the basket. There was that thing they never talked about. Such as when Mira first met Spartacus before she knew of Sura. It was a low-blow to even skirt around the issue and if Agron wasn’t so fucking tired he liked to think he’d have left it alone.
“We should find you a nice lawyer,” he said, forever unable to help himself.
“I don’t want a lawyer, Agron. Or a cop. Or your favorite coffee guy at Dunkie’s. Or the pizza delivery kid. I don’t want Dagan or Hamilcar or Lydon or fucking Gannicus. I just want to be left to my own devices and my own time.”
“What about Saxa?”
“What, it’s an honest question? Or Donar? Donar would be a great mate. You know, once you got used to the fact he spends most of his alone time in his furry form. He’ll play fetch like a pro though.”
He smiled wide when she turned to stare at him in disbelief.
“You’re so fucked up.”
“Thank you, Lady Wizard. Since you were so kind to help yourself to my love life I only wished to do the same.” He waited for her to open the door before dumping her laundry. “I expect you downstairs in the next hour to help with the cleaning effort. Remember, you’ve only brought this on yourself.”
She glared at him and snatched the now empty basket from his hands. “Remember this, Wolf. When you’re so embarrassed tonight you’re trying to claw your way to hell through your kitchen floor, remember this moment when you ask why.”
He ducked in quick to press a kiss to her cheek and ran out before she could slap him. He loved Mira, he really did, but they’d always antagonize each other. They both had strong opinions about how shit needed to get done and clashed when they didn’t’ agree. Spartacus usually found himself in the middle. Since it took the combined force of Agron, Mira, Sura, and Crixus to pull him back from all his stupid ideas, it was decent payback.
In the apartment Duro was on hands and knees with the dustpan chasing after the broom Auctus directed with his will.
“I’m not sure this is what Walt Disney had in mind, a wolf chasing after a ghost-guided broom,” he said.
“He would not play fetch any other way,” Auctus said. He gestured around the now spotless kitchen. “We’ve done our work here. I will need to rest after this if I don’t want to become a pale shade. I leave the bathroom in your capable hands. Donar’s gone to fetch the vacuum to take care of the dining room.”
“Auctus wants to get rid of the carpet,” Duro said.
Agron gasped. “Not the carpet.”
“It depicts wolves howling at the moon. Unless you want Nasir to know just how much taste you lack, I suggest you banish it to the basement.”
“To love us is to love our tackiness,” Duro said. He stood up, shaking his head to dislodge some of the dust and grime. “And our dirt. I must bathe, brother. I smell worse than Rhaskos.”
“Go,” Agron said. “I will finish the rest. See yourself to contemplation, Auctus. I would not have you fading out in the middle of dinner.”
“A dinner I cannot eat.”
“Yet Sura will require your companionship. Both of you, go.”
Agron walked into the dining room and stared at the stacks of newspapers, boxes, empty liquor bottles, and piles of clothing that accumulated over the past month. Fuck, he was going to smell like Pledge after this was done. He grimaced when he heard the shower start. The bathroom was its own sorry state. Pine-Sol, Pledge, and bleach were far from the scents he considered seductive. Hopefully Nasir wouldn’t notice. He didn’t know if Pucks had highly developed senses, if they could taste emotion the way wolves could, but if the gods were kind, his guest would ignore the Eau de Cleaning Products tonight.
Agron was going to commit homicide, fratricide, and Saxacide.
Dinner started off well. Nasir appeared comfortable among all of them. Crixus debuted a new dish he got off a cooking show. He and Agron refrained from beating the shit out of each other over appetizers. It was going perfectly until Spartacus, the treacherous fuck, brought out the alcohol. The good stuff, brought over by the Realm Jumpers and guaranteed to to affect even wolves and giants. Halfway through the first course it quickly became story time. All tales were almost exclusively about Agron and by dessert he was contemplating shifting to animal form for the rest of his godsforsaken life.
First, though, he was going to kill Saxa with a napkin ring.
“Has he made the all the better to eat you with joke yet?”
“Saxa,” Naevia scolded while Agron buried his head in his hands.
“What? It’s practically his trademark.” She took a bite of chocolate cake with impunity. “And I know it’s gotten him laid 9 times out of 10.”
Nasir’s breath tickled Agron’s neck when he leaned into him. “You raised her to act human, yes?”
“Yup,” Agron muttered. He could already feel the tension headache forming.
“You might want to start a remedial course. For all of you.”
“I don’t disagree.”
A pulse of soothing heat ran through his body when Nasir touched his arm. Agron turned quickly to meet Nasir’s mischievous smile.
“You could use the calm,” he softly said.
Agron wanted to tell just how not calm the magic made him, but Duro was waving a fork at the both of them.
“No secrets at the dinner table,” he demanded.
“Duro, put that down before you hurt yourself,” Auctus ordered.
“Or someone else, you fucking wolf,” Crixus said, rubbing the scar on his face from the last time Duro got fancy with cutlery.
Mira intervened before it got any worse. “Everyone away from the table. Donar, Saxa, dishes.”
“Still eating,” Saxa growled.
“Take it into the kitchen,” Mira ordered.
Nasir tapped the back of Agron’s neck, forcing him to raise his head.
“I promise our behavior isn’t catching,” he said.
“I somehow doubt that,” Nasir said. He pointed to where Donar and Duro were fighting over the last slice of pie. “What is it with you wolves and your sweets?”
“There are a few things wolves find more pleasing in human form. Sugar is one of them. It’s associated with childhood, you know. A bit of candy for successfully holding human form for an hour or two. It creates some pretty sad learned food behaviors, but if you get a pack of wolves together in human form, you better have a bakery nearby.”
“A thing to remember.” A look came over Nasir’s face and suddenly, Agron found it very easy to believe he was, in fact, a Puck. “What other delights does your kind prefer in human form?”
The rest of the table grew silent, a massive feat on in its own. Agron forced himself to swallow very deliberately and not blurt out his first answer.
“Conversation is more enlightening for one,” he said.
“Conversation and sweets,” Nasir teased.
“And fu—” Agron started, unable to resist the silent taunt.
“Not at the dinner table,” Spartacus said.
“Which you all are supposed to be away from,” Mira said. She shooed them all away except for Saxa and Donar who were, by rotation schedule, on dish duty.
Agron followed Saxa into the kitchen. “What the fuck, pup?” he asked as soon as the door closed.
“You’re annoying me,” she warned. She was near the steak knives. Agron took a step back. “Good boy,” she said.
Saxa proceeded to scrape excess food off the plates before loading them in the dishwasher, just like Barca taught them years ago. She was letting Agron stew. Knowing that it was already late and that Nasir would have to leave soon if he didn’t want to get stranded or take a cab; Agron really wasn’t in the mood for this bullshit. They’d all be taunting him at dinner. Not in the way anyone other than a wolf would recognize, but still, it was there. They’d all, even Donar, casually thrown their arms around Nasir and found excuses to touch him, effectively erasing any trace of scent Agron left.
“I’ve never seen you take so long to bed a man,” Saxa said.
“Caution is needed. Nasir is no mere man. Or a plaything. He is a friend.”
“That you’ve already begun a courting ritual with without the fellow approval of your packmates. Does Nasir even know what it means to have a wolf bring a meal to him multiple times?”
“He knows little of our traditions. Besides, I am only extending courtesy to a fellow Wayfarer.”
“Did Spartacus enchant you to get the bullshit to roll of your tongue so easily or is it natural?”
His reply was stopped by Saxa growling as Auctus appeared through the floor.
“You know she hates when you do that,” he said.
“I know she’s saving all the rage up for when I go corporeal,” he answered.
Saxa huffed in agreement.
“Whenever you are done in here, you’ll find Crixus is giving Nasir a tour of the building.”
Agron’s surprised himself at the ferocity of his growl. Saxa instinctively dropped her head and whimpered in response and he could hear Duro and Donar’s concerned howls through the door.
“Everything’s fine,” he yelled.
Auctus rolled his eyes. “What a lovely display of stupidity. Don’t growl, Wolf. If your thickheaded skull has forgotten such things, you’ve made no claim on our new friend other than companionship. Besides which, Crixus has only ever had eyes for Naevia. Still, you should act before someone else does. He is a thing of beauty, is he not?”
“I do not need advice from a ghost of all things,” he gritted out through clenched jaw.
“Yes, because a ghost knows nothing of regrets,” Auctus said. He shoved Agron towards the door with a force of will. “I suggest you go act like a gentleman and walk Nasir to the train station.”
“I don’t want to offend him. He can take care of himself.”
“It will be a nice gesture since you know him best and yet it was Sura who greeted him upon arrival.”
“I was moving the carpet like you told me to!”
“Romance is lost on the living,” Auctus said. The kitchen door swung open. “Go. Now.”
Donar gave him a hefty push out the apartment door which sent him stumbling in the hallway. As always, his timing was perfect as he tripped into the wall as Nasir, Crixus, and Duro emerged from the stairwell.
Crixus turned to Nasir. “That wolf always acts like a new born foal. How he manages to walk at all amazes the lot of us.”
“Fuck you,” Agron and Duro said at the same time.
Nasir ducked his head and smiled. Agron was completely fucking charmed, and from Duro’s rolled eyes and Crixus’ snort, it must’ve been obvious.
“I should leave before I miss my train,” Nasir said. “Thank you all for a lovely dinner. It’s good to share conversation outside of The Temple.”
“You should visit us whenever you like,” Duro offered before Agron could. “Someone is always lurking about during the day. You are a Wayfarer and friend. Our home is yours now.”
Agron almost fell over in shock. Duro had never extended an open invitation to anyone not of their pack before, save Hamilcar. Duro’s obvious wink that followed explained a hell of a lot or nothing. What were his pups up to?
“Duro speaks truth,” Crixus said. “Agron, walk the boy to the train.”
“You don’t have to,” Nasir protested.
“I enjoy our walks. And our talks,” Agron said. “It would be my pleasure.”
“Yeah, it would,” Duro muttered low enough that only another wolf could hear.
Agron glared at his brother as he held the lobby door open for Nasir. It swung close on Duro and Crixus’ combined laughter.
“I hope we haven’t left you permanently scarred,” Agron said as they started towards the train station.
Nasir laughed. “It was an educational evening, to say the least.”
“Remind me to lay down equal payback next time. Every single person around that table has it coming.”
“They love you, your family.” Nasir grasped Agron’s hand. “It’s something I feel privileged to witness.”
“I don’t know if privileged is the right word.”
“To see real, honest love and interaction between friends rather than stiff courtier talk? Yes, it really is.”
Nasir easily matched pace with Agron’s larger strides. He pulled Nasir a little closer as they entered the main street area. Their neighborhood was in the middle of a revival, but night time on the south shore was still rife with thieves and drug deals. He knew Nasir could easily defend himself, but Agron had no qualms about using his bulk to get any assholes to back the fuck off.
Nasir was beautiful here, even among the closed shop fronts and the neon lights of the nail salons. His presence soothed Agron, helped him ignore the overwhelming scent of Chinese and Italian food in the area, coupled with the noise spilling out of the bars.
The urge was there to tell Nasir he knew what he was, but the who still remained in question. He held his tongue, for now; he didn’t think he’d succeed much longer, not with Nasir’s warmth becoming so familiar at his side.
He followed Nasir onto the train platform, keeping company during the long wait for the night service. The cool concrete of the seat benches helped Agron keep his wits about him. Nasir was of another mind all together, sitting on top of his coat for an added layer of protection.
“I fear to see you in winter,” Agron said.
“I plan to be somewhere warmer then.”
“Oh no,” Agron said, tugging on Nasir’s loose hair. “I will keep you trapped here, if only to see you among the snow banks. They may well tower over you. Besides, you must see Duro devour a tank full of hot chocolate.”
“I regret that I will miss it,” Nasir said. His gaze dropped to the ground. “I plan to leave at the Equinox.”
Agron went very still. That would be late September. He had a month. He swallowed past the lump in his throat.
“You are truly a wandering minstrel,” he croaked out. He coughed, clearing his throat. “We will have to make the rest of your time here memorable.”
Nasir looked surprised when he raised his head to meet Agron’s gaze. There was relief there too, as if he expected Agron to be angry. Agron wasn’t pleased and he certainly wouldn’t play fair. He’d do his damn best to convince Nasir to at least delay his departure until the Winter Solstice, but he’d keep those plans to himself for now.
The mechanical voice announcing the arrival of Nasir’s train made them both flinch.
“Duro meant his invitation. You should come see us whenever you want. The door is always open.”
“I would reciprocate the dinner invitation, at least. To you alone, so you do not contemplate murder of your pack via flatware again.”
Agron laughed. “Caught that, did you?”
“I’m surprised Saxa didn’t suddenly drop dead.”
The blare of the horn and the rush of the train came in the distance. He stood with Nasir, giving him a quick hug before either could question his actions. No words passed between then when they train arrived. Nasir softly smiled and squeezed the hand Agron still had around his waist before he boarded the train.
Agron started to outline his strategy during the quick walk home. He entered his apartment to see all his pups and Auctus sprawled out in the living room. Duro held a gavel. Fuck the gods, it was a meeting.
“Can this not wait for morning?”
“No,” Donar said. He patted the open spot next to him. “I saved this honored seat for you, Alpha.”
“Sit and come to order,” Saxa said.
Duro nodded in approval and stood, swinging the gavel in his hand. “Brother, you know I make it a matter not to comment on your sex life.”
Agron felt his eyebrows inch towards his hairline. “Do you? The past three hundred years must’ve been a fluke, then.”
“I think Nasir is good for you. Even Donar thinks so.”
Donar grunted in response.
“I say you should pursue him and I take a pack vote to agree,” Duro declared. He held his hand up like a school child. “All in agreement.”
“Aye,” Donar and Saxa said.
“Three against one,” Duro said, throwing down his gavel. “It’s settled. Current pack mission is to get our fearless leader a date.”
“I do not need your help,” he hissed.
Donar laughed before anyone else could. “You essentially called all his people cheaters and liars after your first meeting. I may not know how to court a Bard, but I doubt insults are a good start.”
“Fuck you, I’m charming.”
Saxa tilted her heard and studied him. “We could try to accentuate his physical attributes and hook Nasir in with lust. I’m sure Mira has a silencing spell to use on Agron.”
Duro snapped his fingers. “I like that. We should make a list.”
“Wait,” Agron said, standing and looking at them all. “If you’re just calling a meeting now what was tonight about?”
Auctus was the one who spoke up. “I’ve never seen you accept so easily a man you’ve wished to devour in more ways than one at first sight.”
“It must be true love then,” Duro said.
“Duro,” Donar said with a groan.
“What? Everyone else was thinking it. My brother, wolf lacking trust in all others, bends his neck in submission to Nasir. Whatever he may be, he certainly has Agron enchanted.”
“Have you not found out yet?” Auctus asked in surprise.
Agron waved off his concern. “I have a name for a thing but need more.”
“And when will you find it?
“Upon Varro’s return.”
Auctus nodded in approval. “Sura and I have both looked in the Beyond; we see no evil in him. The pack is not at an obvious risk. Other than your stupidity, of course.”
“Of course,” Agron mocked. “You still have not told me why you were all in such a form tonight.”
“We needed to decide if he was worthy of having you,” Donar explained.
“Is he?” Agron asked.
“I think he could do better, but so do you. His eyes were only for you this night, Agron. He’s conflicted over something, but you both turn to each other.”
“It’s almost heartwarming,” Auctus sniped.
Agron decided not share his revelation about Nasir’s plans, or his background this eve. He would listen to his pack. It made his breathing and plans easier to know he truly had their support, approval, and protection.
There were things to be done come the dawn.
Chapter 4: Part Four A
The Temple was closed to outsiders that night in celebration of Gannicus’ six hundredth birthday. How either realm managed to survive six hundred years of Gannicus was anyone’s guess but it was clear Melitta and Oenomaus helped. Theirs was a partnership full of balance; of death, life, and rebirth. It was truly fascinating to watch.
Not that anyone at Agron’s table particularly cared. Oh no, all concerns were towards his dinner tomorrow night with Nasir.
“Agron, let’s talk about this date,” Mira ordered. She pointed at him with her beer bottle. “Do you have a plan?”
He desperately looked around the table for someone to change the subject, but even Hamilcar looked interested. He turned to his left to Dagan who was throwing back shots.
“Dagan, help a wolf out,” he pleaded.
“I am not here for your problems,” Dagan said. “I am here for drink.”
Agron scoffed. “After all I have done for you?”
“Such as losing my eye?”
Agron pushed an unopened bottle of scotch at him. “Drink up, my friend, on me.”
“So, plan?” Hamilcar asked.
“Aren’t you the one who told me to use caution and take it slow?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t tell you to be a fucking saint.”
Agron growled in frustration. He could really use his pack right now to explain shit. They were too busy teaching Nasir how to cheat at pool. That couldn’t possibly end in blood.
“I don’t see how this is anyone’s business,” Agron muttered before he grabbed the scotch back and poured more into his own glass. “I’m the one that gets to deal with the consequences.”
“And we get to deal with the aftermath of your consequences,” Duro said, pushing Agron to share half his seat.
“You didn’t let Saxa eat Nasir, did you?”
“Nah, Oenomaus wanted to talk to him. Last I saw Saxa was arm wrestling Gannicus with Donar refereeing. Melitta’s taking bets if you want to lay one down.”
Dagan and Hamilcar both ran towards the game room. Agron wanted to join them, especially with the look Sura was shooting his way. He slid into Dagan’s empty seat instead.
Duro glanced around the table, hair swinging wildly with his movements. “Even a human could taste the tension here. Who died?”
“Besides Sura and myself?” Auctus asked.
Sura ignored the laughter from their group and got right in Agron’s face.
“You will not fuck this up,” she ordered. “We like Nasir and we want him to stay.”
“Why does everyone assume I’ll fuck it up?” For fucking serious, he’d heard the same thing ad nauseam for the past three days.
The table went silent. Everyone looked at each other; no one met his eyes.
“Well, fearless leader?” he asked Spartacus.
Spartacus took a breath and paused. Another breath and another pause. Finally he gathered his words. “Agron, you’re…” he trailed off. “You have a tendency towards disaster.”
“Understatement of the fucking century,” Crixus mumbled.
“We heard that, you fucking demon,” Duro shot back.
“He only speaks truth,” Mira said. “We know what to expect with your whole pack. Success comes, yet often brings chaos with it.”
“I’m taking that to mean we get results and are always entertaining,” he informed Duro, who nodded in agreement.
Naevia smiled at him. “Agron, you must admit Sura raises some valid concerns.”
“Have you ever been on a date?” Sura asked.
He stared at her.
He exchanged a look with Duro who waved at him to go ahead. He turned back to Sura and consciously made an effort to not sound like a condescending shit. He assumed she knew this already because of Spartacus; apparently husband and wife still had a few secrets even in death.
“I’m a wolf, Sura. We have pretty standard courting techniques. We don’t date so much as try to win over a mate. One mate for the entirety of our existence. We do things to show we’re valuable partners. We don’t date.”
“You’ve lived how long in the modern human world?”
How a ghost could sound that pissed off amazed him. Agron forced his voice to remain friendly, even as Duro protectively leaned into his side.
“How many relationships with non-Wayfarers do you think I’ve had? Sura, this shit is serious to me. It’s not some cute little thing for you to fawn over. It’s a decision that required approval of my whole pack. If my sisters were here, they’d be busy preparing a friggin’ gauntlet for Nasir to run. It’s a damn bit more than a fucking date.”
“Well, here and now you’re starting with a date. You’re going to dress proper, act proper, and show Nasir you have a whole hell of a lot more to offer than lumbering intimidation, Lurch.”
Naevia gasped and Duro growled. Sura was using the forbidden nickname. No one got away with it. Not even Saxa.
“Spartacus,” he yelled.
“Sura, love, please refrain from using that nickname. Agron finds it most offensive. Agron, please open yourself up to the possibility that Sura has some good advice for you. You’ve claimed Nasir has little knowledge of wolf customs. He is probably more familiar with the Sidhe way. Their courting techniques, outside of betrothals, are more similar to dating than bringing someone a dead deer carcass.”
“Fuck you, I only did that once,” Saxa yelled from the bar, holding up her victory shot.
“He was a vegetarian, Saxa,” Mira said.
Saxa snorted as she sauntered over. “Good thing it ended then.” She curled an arm around Mira’s shoulders and pulled her close. “Come, let us have a dance.”
Mira nodded, knowing it was hopeless to resist, and sat up. “Join us, Naevia.” She shot a sly look at the end of the table. “Crixus, you too, if you’re able to pry yourself from the liquor.”
Agron didn’t need his superior senses to smell the set up. Duro was already refilling their glasses in preparation for a lecture. Sura looked eager, Spartacus resigned, and Auctus honestly fucking entertained for once.
He sighed in resignation and dropped his head into his hands.
“What are your thoughts?”
Agron, like he told Sura, didn’t date, at least according to her and Mira’s standards. Personally, Agron thought walking down Boston’s old streets and sharing some fried dough was a hell of a lot more enjoyable than sitting in this stuffy restaurant trying really hard not to fuck anything up.
It wasn’t going well. In fact, it was already shot to shit and they’d just sat down. Nasir was quiet, almost sad, and Agron was twitchy. It didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel like them, and having fucking Lydon as their waiter added about twenty levels to Agron’s personal hell.
The Grove was a pretty damn common name for a bistro, He just never thought this grove would be Lydon’s grove. Agron never wanted to suddenly disappear more in his life. He wanted to grab Nasir, get some take out, and run like hell out of town.
This was worse than that time Naevia dragged him to a French restaurant and he had to figure out how to eat a hotdog on a toasted baguette. It was the first, and last time, he went for some fancy ass food.
“How did you find this place?” Agron asked, desperate for conversation.
“Pietros suggested it,” Nasir said without looking up from his menu.
Agron was going to kill the little Sprite the second he saw him. It would be worth Barca ripping his head off.
“He said you liked outdoor dining,” Nasir elaborated.
To be fair, Agron did but his version of outdoor dining meant food from street vendors. He shifted in his seat, trying not to growl as he got stuck. He hated trying to fit in these tiny chairs and every time he moved, his knees bumped the table. It was like being at the worst little kid’s tea party ever. He couldn’t even haunch his shoulders because Sura would know if he wasn’t practicing proper posture. She’d subjected him to a twenty minute lesson before this whole date thing.
He put his menu down, stomach churning too badly to even consider food right now. This, none of it, was working out right. It felt off and it made Agron’s skin crawl. The urge to change form was right there, the wolf ready to get away from all the wrongness. Fighting off his instincts was making his body temperature rise in a bad way. It felt stuffy inside the restaurant and they were sitting on the friggin’ patio.
He took a sip of water, proud at his steady hands, and cleared his throat.
“You look nice,” he told Nasir.
Compliments, those were supposed to be good. Nasir looked gorgeous, really, but Mira told him to curb anything he’d naturally say if he didn’t want to get slapped, disemboweled, or castrated.
“Gratitude.” He finally put down his menu and looked at Agron. “You look different. Very polished.”
Nasir didn’t sound too happy about that. To be honest, neither did Agron. The long-sleeved shirt barely fit him and Spartacus made him tuck it in to the godforsaken itchy wool dress pants. Wolves ate sheep, they didn’t wear them; it led to far too many puns that made Agron’s lips twitch in a completely inappropriate manner. He never wore such heavy clothing in the summer. Hell, he was hard pressed to wear shit like this in the dead of winter.
Lydon’s arrival stopped his retort. He dropped off their drinks and a plate of appetizers.
“Lydon, man, we didn’t order this.”
“I know,” Lydon said, sad eyes pleading as he looked at Agron. “Consider it a gift. It’s been too long since I’ve seen you or any of the wolves.” He pulled out his order pad. “I assume you’ll be having the lamb tonight? That was always your favorite dish at Via and their chef is here now.”
“Ah, yeah, thanks.”
Lydon smiled before he turned to Nasir. “And you, sir?”
“The same please,” Nasir said. He smiled politely, but his grip on the butter knife was less than friendly.
“A wonderful choice,” Lydon said. He patted Agron on the shoulder as he walked off. An action Nasir didn’t miss if his flaring nostrils were any indication.
“Lydon is an old friend,” he quickly explained.
Agron never thought it possibly to be even more attracted to Nasir, but his quiet rage even made the wolf settle down. He took another sip of water, praying to any gods that were listening that his voice would not crack.
“Not exactly. Duro was closer to him once; before everything went to shit. Lydon anticipated a lover’s return and received a cold shoulder instead. He thinks I can lead them back together and I don’t know how to tell him Duro is all but claimed. My brother needs to do the right thing and take care of his own mistakes.”
Nasir nodded, some, not all, of the tension leaving his face. “Do you consider it a mistake?”
“His handling of it, yes. Duro was unintentionally cruel and he still has apologies to make. He meant it as fun, not something serious. He had no intention of making Lydon his…” Agron stopped. It probably wasn’t a good thing to bring up that discussion before the main dish. “They were just friends. Duro didn’t realize Lydon was well-versed in our traditions. Lydon thought he was being set up for something more significant than pack friendship.”
“Why does Lydon still wish to pursue the relationship?”
Agron wasn’t comfortable sharing Lydon’s whole history. He only knew it secondhand from Duro to begin with and he was never a fan of airing other peoples’ secrets. Everyone had a right to their privacy. It’s why even though he needed to know what Nasir was from the start, he was fine with discovering the who on his own.
“Lydon comes from a past similar to Pietros. He had partners who considered him something to be owned rather than loved. He knows how wolves are about their mates. He has his heart set on becoming one.” Agron scratched the back of his head. “To be perfectly fucking honest, he has the fortitude and temper for it, just not for Duro.” He took a sip of his beer this time, hoping against that look in Nasir’s eyes, that the topic was over.
Nasir drummed his fingers on the table top. “Are you certain Lydon hasn’t fixed his gaze on you?”
Agron choked. “Not a chance in hell,” he sputtered out. “Not my type.”
“Young, earnest, and gorgeous isn’t your type?”
“No, I prefer sarcastic, cranky, and infuriating.” Somewhere Sura was burning him in effigy.
“Good to know,” Nasir said before taking a sip of his own beer.
Agron shifted in his seat, cursing the tiny chair once again, and tried to calm his racing heartbeat. It was going to be a long-ass night.
Despite the brief moments during dinner where everything felt normal, it still went to shit. Agron felt stuck on the longest emotional rollercoaster of his life and his nerves were shot. Lydon writing his new number and address on the receipt really didn’t help. Nasir opted for the long walk back to Barca’s as opposed to train hopping. Agron decided to take it as a good sign rather than Nasir planning to murder him and dump his body in the Charles.
Nasir suddenly came to a stop when they finished crossing the bridge. He turned to Agron, looking angry and beatufiul in the yellow streetlight. “You said Lydon thought he was being set up as a wolf’s mate. How would he come to that conclusion?”
Agron rubbed the back of his neck. He didn’t think this was the best place for this discussion but Nasir was the stubborn type.
“There’s sort of a set standard of courting techniques.”
“Such as?” he asked while he paced.
“When interest is known, and I mean more than just an hour long hard fuck, when souls and scents call to each other, first steps are made towards courting. Introduction to the pack being the most important. If the pack doesn’t approve it would be very difficult for the new mate. It’s not forbidden for a non-approved mate to be taken, but it’s really fucking uncomfortable around the dinner table. The only time that requires full and actual approval is the mate of a pack-head. The pack-head is not always a true alpha, but is a chief member recognized as such.”
“And then what?”
“Uh, then there’s little things. Small gifts, bringing of food or shelter, spending enough time together for the potential mate to be infused with the wolf’s and the pack’s scent.”
“It was an easy mistake to make then,” Nasir said.
“No,” Agron said, instinctually reaching for Nasir but stopping himself at the last moment. “No, it’s not an easy one to make at all.”
Nasir halted, an annoyed hiss leaving his lips as he stared at Agron.
“You know I will leave in weeks,” he said.
“And yet you still pursue this?”
Agron nodded again and bit back the words threatening to spill forth. It was really fucking hard, fighting who he was in that moment. Nasir wasn’t just angry; he was clearly upset, tension running through his shoulders. Agron knew this was a bad fucking idea. Wolves didn’t do shit like dating for a reason. Too much damn conversation and not enough physical contact.
“Apologies, Nasir, I did not mean to offend.”
“How can I not be offended when you come to me with such claims and in such a disingenuous manner? Where is the wolf I first met who’s been hiding all night? I would like to see him instead.”
Agron blanched. Out of all the things he expected to piss Nasir off that didn’t even register.
“I thought to approach you in a proper manner.”
“Fuck proper,” Nasir cursed, he whirled around and backed Agron up against a brick wall. “I have spent my whole existence dealing with facades and masks. You are a bumbling oaf, Agron, but I would not have you any other way.”
“I am competent.”
“You are, but when it comes to your true feelings you stumble over them. It’s charming.” Nasir reached up to pull Agron’s head down and their foreheads touched. “If I wanted pretty words to lure me into bed, I’d find a Sidhe. Just give me who you are, Wolf, and leave all suggestions from others behind you.”
He nodded, hands coming up to cup Nasir’s face and just hold him. They were both silent while they gathered their thoughts, breath matching breath and exchanging soothing pulses of energy. It was an inherently intimate gesture, leaving them both vulnerable.
Agron broke the silence first. “Just to clarify, since Mira tells me I have the thickest skull on record, you are not offended by the courting?”
Nasir laughed. “I was beginning to wonder if I misread things. At the start of our dinner I believed myself to join Lydon.”
“I thought you knew little of wolf traditions.”
“I did; your friend Hamilcar was full of warnings and threats though. Dagan as well. They are good friends.”
“You could’ve let me know.”
“I thought to let you stew for a bit, much how you’ve done with me. Besides, actions clearly speak better than words for you.”
“Forgive my baser animal side then, who mistrusts words even more than the most suspicious human.”
Nasir rolled his eyes. “Wolf, Truth herself could come down to chat with you and you’d still demand to know her history and ask for references.”
Nasir hands slid down and deftly undid Agron’s shirt cuffs, pushing them up to reveal his forearms. He untucked his shirt too and then rumpled up Agron’s clothes. He stood back with an approving nod before he resumed his place at Agron’s side.
“You look more yourself now,” he murmured into Agron’s chest.
“I should consider it a blessing you prefer me stained and wrinkled.”
“I only want you, not some pleasing artifice.” He pinched Agron’s side, laughing when he jumped. “Besides, I know better than to trust a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Agron snorted, burying his head in Nasir’s hair as they walked, taking in his familiar scent. He closed his eyes and thanked the gods that the night didn’t completely deteriorate to shit. Dinner was an unmitigated disaster and that was the absolute last time he didn’t trust his instincts when it came to Nasir.
The rest of the walk to The Temple returned to their familiar interaction, if a little closer, a little warmer now with feeling and intention open. They made plans for the week, acknowledging that there were many long conversations in their future. This was a serious concern for Agron, no matter how much he joked about it, but it seemed equally as serious to Nasir.
Varro really needed to get his ass back to Boston.
They came to a halt at the back entrance of the tavern. Before Agron made himself look like even more of an ass, Nasir took control of their farewell. He pressed his fingers to Agron’s lips, halting words and actions.
“What was it that Pietros told me to say at the end? Oh yes. I’m not that kind of Bard.” He removed his hand and quickly pressed a kiss to Agron’s lips, sending a pulse of energy through him that rooted Agron in place. He ducked inside before Agron could react.
Agron’s laughter filled the dark back alley. He shook his head and ignored the strangers wondering about the crazy man cackling in the streets.
Agron already had the godforsaken shirt off when he entered his apartment. The pack was there, regarding him with worried and curious expressions.
“You are home too early for a newly mated wolf,” Auctus said.
Saxa sniffed the air. “He is not mated, yet. Not even laid.”
“Thank you, Saxa, as always,” he said. He quickly shed the slacks as well and collapsed on the couch next to Duro.
His brother patted his arm. “You are home early. Did you fuck it up badly?”
Agron scratched Duro’s hair, smiling at the surprised yip. “Pietros just happened to suggest the bistro Lydon now works at.”
The wolves hissed and one of the light bulbs in the room shattered. Agron raised an eyebrow at Auctus who ducked his head and used his will to clean up the pieces of broken glass.
“Fucked from the start then,” Donar said. “My sympathies, Agron.”
Agron smiled at him. “No worries, brother. It ended well. Nasir hasn’t run off to the nearest portal. He wants to know us all beteter; for us to know him as well. Current goal is to get him to stay past the Equinox. Then we’ll see about the mating rites.”
“Did you warn him that it’ll always end in your favor? Does he have any idea how fucking stubborn you are?” Donar asked.
“I think he’s worse.”
“At least he didn’t kill you over dinner,” Saxa said.
“It was a close thing. Nasir doesn’t like deceit and saw me dressing up in those fucking clothes as an act of it. What does it say about a man who distrusts those dressed up in finery?”
“That his life has known many falsehoods,” Auctus said. “He prefers you as is, Agron. That is an amazing gift.”
“Clearly mad enough to fit right in,” Donar said.
Duro didn’t share the others mirth. His brow was wrinkled, eyes checking for injury both real and imagined.
Agron clasped the back of his neck and shook him. “Everything is well, pup.”
Duro rolled his eyes at first but turned serious again. “It could’ve gone to shit though. I should speak with Lydon.”
“It’s waited thirty years; it can wait a bit longer. Turn mind towards other matters.” He raised his gaze to meet Auctus. “And other hearts.”
“I never wanted any hearts to get involved, only companionship.”
Agron laughed as he pulled Duro into a close hug. “You are easy to love, Duro, and hard to forget.”
“And impossible to get rid of,” Saxa said. She hugged Duro from the other side while Donar reached over to pat his head.
They’d get through all of this together, like always.
Agron glanced up in time to see the want on Auctus face. So much of comforting Duro involved touch and Auctus couldn’t, not until the equinox at least.
Soon Agron mouthed.
Auctus nodded and drifted into the kitchen, muttering something about dog piles.
Contrary to what Crixus claimed, the pack did work. As wolves they were the best at finding people, objects, spells, or portal holes. Wolves ran all the “detective agencies” for the Wayfarers and were often employed by the Watch Keepers back home. Working on the earthly side of the divide was more difficult. Spells, advanced magic, and scents were easily mutated by the influence of a different world. All their jobs paid so well that the wolves could limit themselves to four or five a year and live extremely comfortable.
Agron’s pack excelled beyond all others. Hamilcar claimed they were the wealthiest of all Wayfarer packs despite what everyone believed of them. Agron preferred if all outsiders thought them classless, baseless, penniless barbarians. It kept the stragglers away.
Their current job was winding down. Donar did most of the work since it required a subtle touch and Agron had spent the last week officially courting Nasir. Today though Agron was stuck in their apartment typing up the final report. He missed having intellectual spirits who could take all the facts out of his head and rearrange them into perfect prose but a hard day of typing wouldn’t kill him.
“Agron,” Auctus said, causing him to jump and delete half his paragraph.
“How many fucking times have I told you not to do that while I’m working?”
“Let a ghost have his amusements,” Auctus chided.
“Fine,” he grumbled. He turned back to the screen and tried to recreate his previous thought. “Did you need something?”
“Oh, I’m fine.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Because you have a guest upstairs. I can ask him to wait while your simple brain tries to string together two cohesive thoughts but I figured you’d like to see Nasir now.”
Agron glared at Auctus as he ran towards the stairs. “You’re a jackass,” he yelled, not sure if Auctus was still in the basement office or already up in the apartment.
“I try,” Auctus replied.
He took the steep basement stairs three at a time and dashed through the open apartment door. His breath caught at the sight of Nasir, sunlight reflecting off his dark hair, fingers gliding over the strings of Duro’s abandoned 6-string guitar.
“Nasir,” he greeted, not even trying to hide the joy in his voice.
Nasir raised his head and grinned, gladly accepting Agron’s embrace. “Auctus let me in. He said you wouldn’t mind.”
Agron let his arms rest on Nasir’s waist as he pulled back. “You are always welcome here.”
Nasir laughed as he pointed to a bag on the coffee table. “I didn’t come empty handed at least. I brought Duro some of his favorite cannoli.”
“Trying to win me over through my brother’s stomach? Nasir, I approve of these underhanded tactics.”
“There are lemon bars in there too.”
“You’ve been talking to Naevia, very devious.”
“My master plan discovered, condition you with sweets.”
“It won’t take long for you to succeed,” Agron said. He decided to try his luck and pressed a chaste kiss to Nasir’s lips. “Thank you,” he whispered as he pulled back, holding Nasir’s gaze.
Nasir rolled his eyes. “I know you’re only half here with me now. The rest of your mind is on those lemon bars.”
“There’s no lying to you.”
“No, there really isn’t,” Nasir said. There was a hint of something deeper there, though Nasir didn’t look open for an interrogation.
“Sit,” Agron ordered, pressing Nasir down on the couch. “I’ll go get plates. Naevia will kill me if I ‘deface’ the couch with food crumbs again. It’s not like she has to sit on it. We have chairs.”
“Perhaps she just wishes for less roaches?”
“Then what will Duro chase when he takes wolf form.”
Nasir’s eyes widened. “I sincerely hope you’re joking.”
“Am I?” he asked, backing into the kitchen.
Auctus was there, plates and napkins already floating in midair and waiting.
“Stop eavesdropping,” he barked.
Auctus smirked. “I only wish to keep Nasir’s virtue intact.”
“What about mine?”
“Duro assures me you never had any.”
“I count the fucking days until you’re corporeal again so I can punch you in the face.”
“You’d have to catch me first, wolf.”
“Can you please go haunt Mira instead?”
“Oh, no, I think I’ll just stay here and listen.”
“You’re a sick fuck.”
“I learned everything from your pack. Now, go, don’t leave Nasir waiting.”
Back in the living room, Nasir was mindlessly strumming on Duro’s guitar. Agron stood back for a moment and listened to the tune. Huh, Springsteen. He didn’t think Nasir was a fan.
“Atlantic City, really?”
Nasir laughed. “Melitta’s a fan. I visited them recently and she made me learn all her favorite songs.”
“How does that work?” Agron asked as he sat down. He carefully opened the box making sure not to break any of Duro’s treats. He passed a pastry to Nasir and sat back. “Come on, tell me. You promised a tale or two.”
“I,” Nasir paused and put his plate down. “I just know. Music is constantly in my head. Everything I hear, I see, it has its own song. I feel the notes in my soul and translate them through the instruments. I’ve always been able to recall the tone, words, and emotions of another’s song after first listen. If I only have the written music before me, I have an instinctual feel for how it must be performed. It changes with place, time, and audience. We notice the world around us, from the grand plan to the smallest details and it translates in how we tailor our performances.”
“No wonder you’re always so lost in your own mind. It must be a riot in there.”
“It is a gift to find someone who helps make it quiet. Not silent, I don’t think that’s possible, but helps muffle everything else.” He laughed, almost broken and sad. “I cannot clearly recall the last time I slept through the night. This whole city has thrown me out of sorts.” He glanced up at Agron. “In a good way, I promise.”
Agron put his empty plate down and slid over to Nasir’s side. “I’ll gladly be your focal point.”
Nasir shook his head. “You just can’t help yourself, can you?”
“All the better to charm you with.” He nuzzled Nasir’s face and smiled wide at the surprised gasp. “Is it getting quiet in there,” he asked, lips brushing the skin of Nasir’s neck.
“Gods, if this is how you reward a lemon bar what do you do for Naevia when she bakes you a whole cake?”
“Dust, clean, and rearrange all her top shelves.”
“Of course you do,” Nasir said. His hands came up and cradled Agron’s head, fingers tentatively gliding down to Agron’s neck and back up.
He couldn’t have known what such a gesture meant to a wolf in human form and it took all of Agron’s restraint to not surge forward and claim. It was an intimate gesture, reserved for mates and trusted members of the pack, to allow touch to such a vulnerable part of the body. The wolf was not happy and a growl escaped through Agron’s mouth.
“Should I stop?” Nasir asked.
“Never,” Agron ordered, burrowing further into Nasir’s side.
The moment was ruined by a familiar howl coming from the hallway. Duro, of course. Agron’s growl was much louder this time. Duro responded with a confused yip. Agron was tempted to growl again but Nasir just patted his head and perfectly imitated Duro’s howl from earlier.
Agron raised his head to stare at him. “I’m impressed.”
“You’re not as mysterious as you think you are. That conversation was pretty damn easy to follow.”
“Each pack has a slightly different howl.”
“And I’ve heard yours many times. I mimic sounds for my supper, Agron.”
Duro ducked his head in the room. “I’m not about to see anything soul crushing right? There wasn’t a sock on the door or anything.”
Agron didn’t bother to lift his head from Nasir’s chest. He waved his hand and sent a burst of will, laughing at the loud smack in the air and Duro’s curses.
Duro walked into the living room rubbing his head and glaring at them both.
“I’m about to remove my approval. Nasir’s ruining your productivity and making you extra grumpy.”
Agron pointed to the bag on the table. “He brought you cannoli.”
Duro sauntered over to the table and casually grabbed the bag, giving it a sniff and smiling. “He brought a variety too.” He winked at Nasir. “He can stay. I’ll leave you two alone then. I’ll be kicking Crixus’ ass at Call of Duty if you need me.”
“Yeah, that’s the only thing you can kick Crixus’ ass at,” Agron mumbled.
“What was that brother? You want me to stay here and share all the stories of your awkward years?”
“Good luck, pup. Beat that demon’s ass.”
Duro nodded. “That’s what I thought. Try to finish your report tonight. Varis stopped me in the street and I’d rather not be connected with that fucking Sidhe any longer. I feel like he’s trying to eat me and I’m the fucking wolf.”
Agron sat up at the mention of Varis. They’d already had one talk about staying away from Duro. It seemed they needed another nice long one. He was bringing Saxa this time.
“It’ll be done, brother. I’ll deliver it too.”
“Agron, do not rip his throat out before we’re paid.”
“I won’t rip his throat out at all. That’d be bad for business.”
Nasir looked between the two of them until Duro left with a disgusted sigh.
“What was that about?”
“Work,” he muttered, resuming his position on top of Nasir.
“Wolf cannot live on intimidation alone. We’re like a Wayfarer branch of the Watch Keepers.”
“Still partly intimidation then.”
Agron laughed into Nasir’s skin. “Partly, I suppose.” He leaned up, lips finally brushing against Nasir’s.
“This is a bad idea,” Nasir said.
“I’ve never been known to follow good ones.”
Nasir moved first, hands tugging Agron closer, fingers curling around his neck again. The first touch of their lips was soft, uncertain, a soft growl escaping Agron while Nasir laughed. The second was with more purpose, still gentle. Then Agron moved, bringing more of his weight down on Nasir and suddenly it turned harsh, bruising, Nasir’s once gliding fingers digging into Agron’s skin. This was hunger, desire, and both of their wills and instinct fighting their better sense. Agron didn’t bother to pull away when he heard the zaps and pops of energy in the room. A few broken light bulbs were worth this.
“I’ve been sent by Sura to ask you two not to burn the apartment building down or knock the power out for the whole block,” Auctus interrupted them.
Agron pulled away from Nasir and glared at Auctus. For once, the ghost actually looked worried.
“Your ghosts are voyeurs,” Nasir said, squeezing Agron’s side before sliding out from under him. “Yet with valid concerns.”
“Don’t try and eat the messenger, Agron. You know what can happen when two Wayfarers lose their control. Save it for when you’re outside city limits and not within five miles of a power plant.”
Agron knew it was sound advice but he didn’t have to like it. There were risks to natural magic in the modern world and this was one of its drawbacks. He moved back to his side of the couch, but still kept his legs tangled with Nasir's. He couldn’t help his satisfied grin as Nasir tried to straighten his clothes and hair.
“You can go,” Agron told Auctus. “We’ll be good.”
“Just don’t make Sura come down here,” Auctus warned as he fucked off to wherever.
“Okay?” he asked Nasir.
He nodded. “Very. Though I would know you better before this goes even further.”
Ah, the perfect opening Agron was waiting for. “I welcome it. We seek the forest this weekend. You should come with us. Barca can easily find another act and you could use the rest.”
“I don’t think it wise to follow wolves into the woods,” he teased.
“Naevia will be supervising, as will Crixus. They won’t let us eat you. Well, Crixus might, but then Naevia would be very upset.”
“And he could never allow that,” Nasir said. He was silent for a minute while he tugged at a loose thread on his shirt. “I would like to join you then, if it won’t offend your pack.”
“Nasir, I either had to get you to agree or they would’ve kidnapped you. We want you there.”
“I should go and inform Barca.” He tried to stand up and pinched Agron when he wouldn’t let go. “Agron,” he warned.
He pulled Nasir in for one last kiss, and then another, and a third.
“Agron,” Sura’s voice echoed through the apartment.
Nasir pulled away quickly. “I must leave before she appears. Gannicus has many a tale about Sura’s wrath.”
Agron stood, pulling Nasir with him and walking him to the door. “Go, before the evil banshee descends. I will see you soon.”
“Only if Sura does not send you to the final death first.” He stood on his tip toes and kissed Agron’s chin. “Get your work done.”
“So soon and already ordering me about.” Agron kissed Nasir’s forehead. “I like that.”
“Melitta told me you would,” Nasir said.
Agron leaned down to kiss him again but there was a familiar whistling in the air which meant a slightly pissed-off Sura was on her way down. He grabbed Nasir’s hand and quickly pulled him to the doors, running out onto the sidewalk and laughing the whole way to the train station.
Chapter 5: Part Four B
Their forest sanctuary in western Massachusetts was forbidden to outsiders. Officially according to the U.S. government, it was a nature preserve. Unofficially it contained one of the few stable portals to the Other Side used by the Realm Jumpers. Here there was no risk of discovery from hunters, humans, or animal control. The ground was full of enchantments going back centuries and renewed each time the Veil dropped.
The sun felt good on his fur, the air whistling pass as he and Saxa raced. It’d been too long since the pack had run in the woods during daylight. Nasir and Naevia kept a watchful eye on them with Crixus acting as their guard. They should be safe here, so deep in the woods and far from any human dwelling, but there was no need for unnecessary risk.
Agron was never so careful as a young cub. Only with time and taking control of his pack did he find the burden of responsibility and his sense of caution. He still needed to work on his patience, and any threat to Duro tended to override his better sense, but they’d survived this far.
Nasir mimicked their howl, calling them all back to the fold.
“Naevia insists you eat,” he explained as they came trotting up.
“Yes, she does,” Naevia said as she watched Crixus lay out a blanket.
There was a brief burst of magic in the air as they re-took their human forms. Agron looked over his pack to make sure they were all safe and that, thank gods, Duro had remembered to conjure clothes this time. They’d damn near been arrested for public indecency the last time he switched forms.
Donar and Nasir served as the perfect boundary between Crixus and Naevia and Agron, Duro, and Saxa. They were all a little more vicious when they came out of wolf form, but Donar, who spent more time as a wolf than any of them, would be least likely to act when Crixus inevitably said something insulting. Agron sat on the grass with Saxa resting on his back and Duro at his side. Nasir laughed at them, carefully laying down the plates Crixus handed out. It was a meal of simple picnic food but they weren’t out here to win any culinary awards. They ate in a comfortable silence until Naevia brought out her fruit tarts for dessert. It wasn’t quite an all-out brawl thanks to Crixus’ shot of warning flames.
“You’re taking this well,” Duro said to Nasir. “The last time a non-wolf watched us transform an eye was lost.”
“Dagan,” Nasir correctly guessed.
Saxa snorted and leaned forward to grab the last tart before anyone else could. “Ashur’s meddling could’ve cost us much more.”
“Trickster motherfucker,” Donar agreed. “He made it worse by telling Dagan we would always be more animal than human, forever stuck between two worlds.”
Nasir scoffed. “We are all children of two worlds. You speak in modern slang and an older, cultured tongue. You are Other Worlder and Wayfarer. There is Wolf and Man in you. None of us are solely one creature, not even the ghosts.”
“Exactly my sentiments,” Naevia agreed. “Enough talk of those dark times. Nasir, you’ve heard much of our stories. Let us have some of yours. You grew up in Ville?”
“That obvious,” Nasir said. He shook his head. “I was born on the borders of Midwood among the Wood Sidhe and Sprites. I’d just passed my first decade when we moved to Ville. Mother was called to serve in the court of Queen Catriona.”
“Is she still there?” Naevia asked.
Nasir shook his head. “She was taken by the Wanderlust, or so they told me. She went out on assignment and never returned. Prince Harry still searches for her, I’m told.”
“Royal fucks,” Duro cursed.
“The Queen and her consort are not all that bad. They were the ones to smuggle me out of the city after all. Their court and relatives, well, we can’t help our relations.”
“There’s more to that story,” Agron said.
“There certainly is,” he agreed. “I must keep you intrigued. Mustn’t give you the whole tale in one sitting.” He leaned over, soft lips brushing Agron’s ear. “I’d much rather have you waiting in anticipation for what comes next.”
Agron glared at him even as he body turned itself towards Nasir. “One of these fine days I will have you feel my force of will and then we’ll see if you’re still laughing.”
Nasir trailed a finger down Agron’s arms before he stood. “I would hope I’d be doing more than laugh.”
Duro and Saxa chortled as Agron sat dumbstruck, watching Nasir and Naevia work to gather the plates. Nasir really would be the death of him.
Saxa nudged him, almost sending him sprawling forward.
“What the fuck?”
“Get your boy and go on a walk. The air is thick with your scent and it’s making me uncomfortable. Hurry before I decide to accost Duro.”
“Please don’t,” Duro begged.
“Go,” Donar urged. “Try to bring up his staying past the Equinox. I’d assume it’s a given by now but you should be certain before deeper promises are made.”
“Thank you, Donar, for the wise advice.”
“Oh, I still think you should fuck him against one of the trees, but at least make sure he’s going to stay around a bit longer. I don’t want to deal with a lovesick wolf.”
“Fuck you all,” Agron said as he stood. “I should’ve abandoned you in a park.”
“You can’t live without us,” Saxa called after him.
“Vipers,” he yelled back at them.
“Nursed at your bosom, we know,” Crixus said.
“Don’t you have forest fires to start and Smokey the Bear to worry?”
“Agron, don’t bait him,” Naevia warned. “You’ll get what you deserve.”
“Only if the gods are kind.” He walked over to Nasir and took the empty plates out of his hands. “Crixus would be more than happy to finish here. Let me take you deeper into the woods. It may remind you something of home.”
“That’s not all it’ll remind him of,” Crixus muttered.
Agron smiled when Naevia slapped Crixus. “On that note, let us leave these two to their flirting.”
“Wolf, that’s so disresp—”
“Absolutely hopeless, the both of them,” Agron said as he dragged Nasir down one of the paths.
Nasir confessed to missing the freedom nature brought to their kind, so Agron’s initial intentions were pure. It was hard to keep that in mind when they got deeper into the forest, closer to the water, and farther from any unfortunate electronic interference.
“It is beautiful here,” Nasir said, wrapping an arm around Agron’s waist. “It has its own sort of magic.”
“You should see it in full autumn bloom and winter, blanketed in snow.”
Nasir scoffed. “And to think, your brother claimed you incapable of subtlety.”
“A secret weapon I keep hidden,” he teased. His fingers glided over the bare skin of Nasir’s arms, greedily taking in the feel of skin so often covered under layers. “The temperature may not agree with you; good thing you have wolves volunteering to keep you warm at night.”
“I don’t think it safe to have a blanket of creatures eager to eat me.”
“Unless you suddenly turn into a steak, I think you’ll survive.”
“Ah, so you have discovered the true mystery of what I am.”
Agron lightly smacked Nasir on the head as they approached the river bank. The sound of rushing water filled the air enticing both of them forward. Nasir tilted his head and quickened their pace, almost running past the birch trees and over the soft grass.
“You hear the voice of the water, don’t you? Even here it still whispers to you. You know the language of the Sirens.”
“Waters goes everywhere and so does its voice,” Nasir whispered. He carefully approached the river’s edge, kneeling down to dip his fingers in. “I know all language of the worlds, written, spoken, and hidden, but the water’s song always sounds like home.”
Agron sat beside him, choosing to watch Nasir rather than the foaming waters. “I hear no voices. You will have to teach me their song.”
Nasir met Agron’s gaze. “It is not a quick lesson, I fear. I suppose it’s best I’ve planned to stay until the solstice then.”
Agron knew he was gaping; it wasn’t supposed to be this easy. He had plans, and back-up plans, and back-ups to his back-ups. Nasir wasn’t supposed to just casually agree to stay.
Nasir reached over and pushed Agron’s jaw closed. “Don’t flatter yourself, wolf. I stay to seek more of what we are building, yes. I also stay to learn more from Melitta and Oenomaus; to acquire more of your songs and traditions; and to see Gannicus’ apparent skill for deep-frying a turkey. I’ve been told it’s a sight for the ages.”
“One for the fire department newsletter at least.” He leaned forward and grabbed hold of Nasir, ignoring his indignant squawk as he laid them down on the grass. “I notice I was still your first reason.”
“You are completely full of yourself.”
“I will have you know it is taking all my restraint not to make a horrible pun in response.”
Nasir rolled his eyes as he smacked Agron’s chest. “I begin to understand why wolves woo through actions and not words.”
“Melitta wrote a pamphlet on it for the Watch Keepers. I can get you a copy if you’d like.”
“I think I’ll need it,” Nasir mumbled. He leaned over Agron, a finger tracing his hairline and gliding down his face to his lips. “There are things, serious issues, we must discuss.”
“We will in time,” Agron promised. “We have more of it now.”
“We do,” Nasir agreed.
He tilted his head, catching Nasir’s lips in a soft kiss. He wanted to keep it innocent but neither the wolf, still too close to his skin, nor Nasir were having it. Nasir’s hands splayed in his hair and Agron tugged him down, closer, until there was no space between them.
Agron hadn’t been with anyone but another wolf in years. He forgot what it was like to feel another’s magic seeping into his body, skittering across his skin, where bare arms, hands, and stomachs touched. It was a whole different kind of friction, equally exciting and enticing.
Sound was silenced and tension filled the air, Agron thought it was them but then he heard the whisper on the winds, his instincts sensing an outsider. Agron growled as he pulled away from Nasir and quickly rolled them over, crouching up and protecting Nasir with his body.
“Calm yourself, grumpy,” a familiar voiced called out. “I mean you no harm.”
“Varro,” Agron yelled, his voice somewhere stuck between man and wolf.
“You call I come,” Varro said, appearing from behind a copse of birch trees, golden hair and skin shining. “Sorry to say you won’t be, or your friend.” He waved at Nasir.
Nasir tucked himself closer into Agron’s side. “A friend of yours?”
“Soon to be no longer.”
“I can hear you,” Varro said.
Agron scoffed. “You’re lucky I don’t intend to rip your throat out. You of all people should know not to come upon a wolf like that.”
“Which is why I am still hiding near the trees. I know how you hate to climb.”
Agron, finally calm, stood and pulled Nasir up with him. He patted Nasir’s clothes down and smoothed his hair before turning back to Varro. “Come out, you jackass, and greet us.”
Varro strode over to them, arms already outstretched. Agron pulled back from the hearty embrace to officially introduce Nasir.
“Nasir of Ville, meet Varro of Caisra.”
Nasir held out his hand in greeting but Varro never was one for small action. The hug was to be expected, the kiss was just to annoy Agron. Oh, Aurelia would be getting a fucking tome of complaints this time.
“Hands,” Agron barked.
“You’re one to yell,” Varro said. He punched Agron’s arm as he walked past them. “Let me go help myself to your hospitality. What day is it here anyway?”
“Saturday, August 18th.”
“Not my longest trip then,” Varro said.
Once they reached the group and Varro had exchanged greetings with everyone, Agron pulled him aside.
“I must speak with you, privately.”
“So I’ve heard,” Varro said in-between bites of his sandwich.
Agron shook his head and smiled. “You stink of Aurelia and happiness.”
“And you stink of Puck. We must talk, you are right. Not now, later, when the moon is high and fewer ears open for the listening. You think you can control your baser instincts until then?”
Varro grinned, slapping Agron on the back. “Eloquent as ever. Tonight, Agron, after Nasir has gone to bed and your brother is too full of food and drink to care.”
“Tonight,” he agreed.
Agron sat in the shared common room of the cabin, looking over Nasir and Duro as they slept. Saxa and Donar were out running through the night, both of them forever favoring moonlight. Varro had taken Crixus aside for a talk three hours ago. Agron was still waiting for his turn.
Come to the porch, little wolf.
Varro, the fucker, always took advantage of his ability to project thoughts. He sat on the back steps and held out a beer to Agron.
“Ask your questions,” he ordered.
Agron walked down the steps and stared up at the stars. He didn’t know where to start. Simplest inquiry was probably the best.
“Varro, you’ve lived among the Sidhe. What can you tell me of their Bards?”
“Even if Nasir is far from a Bard?” Varro teased.
Agron dropped his head. Of course Varro knew. “I confess, I don’t quite understand how the Pucks differ from the Goodfellows.”
Varro walked over to him, scattering leaves, rocks, and pine cones in his wake. He looked so painfully young out here, strong limbs covered in Donar’s much larger clothes. Looking at him, no one would guess how ruthless or intelligent or determined Varro was behind all those smiles.
“You can say Pucks suffer from identity crises,” he said. “They have the natural power and vocal command of the Sidhe. They can command waters and sing people to madness like the Sirens. They are capable of great cruelty and cunning like the Dragons, with an occasional thirst for their own treasure troves. They are capable of performing simple spells like any Wizard novice. They transverse the Divide like the Realm Jumpers. Their voices and spirits can heal or they can harm, a gift from the Reapers. The Goodfellows, they spring from Nature itself but the Pucks, they are everything, Agron. It’s a constantly mutable nature that forces them to find that they only fit in the act of serving others. They are left restless and unable to connect to one path. I would never wish to be a Puck, not for all the power they possess.”
It wasn’t what Agron wanted to hear, not in the least. “So, you’re telling me that this is all fucking hopeless.”
“Gods, no. Nasir is clearly trying to live his own life. He’s already escaped the yoke of servitude to the Sidhe. His name is spoken in reverence in Ville; that’s how good he was when still a child. And you, Agron, when have you ever done the sensible thing? You see convention and your first act is to try and burn it to the fucking ground.”
“How do you know so much about them, about him?”
“I wasn’t always a Realm Jumper.”
“I am of the Spring Sidhe. Lesser cousins, but Sidhe nonetheless. We only got invited to the really important royal family events.”
“A Spring Sidhe? You’re fucking joking.”
“We are the lesser known of all the kinds,” Varro said. “Look, Summer and Winter Sidhe, they rule and it’s why the uneducated think the Veils only drop twice a year on the Solstices. The Spring and Autumn Sidhe, we are all the half-breed bastards who command the Equinoxes. We’re the reason the Realm Jumpers even exist, since we were the first do so but we are nothing, nothing, compared to the Pucks. They can blow up half the space-time continuum without breaking a sweat.”
“That doesn’t feel like Nasir.”
“There is something different about him,” Varro agreed. “There’s a fight in him, to be and protect himself. He’s not hiding who or what he is but he’s also not seeking a power struggle. Hell, some would argue aligning with you would be a step down for him. Pucks rarely get Named outside of their group and if they do, it’s usually by a dragon chieftain.”
“Naming a Puck, hell, Agron, it’s damn near making a vow to a wolf. To Name is to Claim, as the saying goes. No one cares long enough to name a Puck except for others of their kind. They all resign themselves to a life of travel with no home but the road. It sounds romantic until you live it. They have no pack, only friends they see a few times a decade and blood family even less so. I know you, Wolf, I know how you are. You’ll go into this heart first without thinking of the consequences. Just stop and think this time, Agron.”
Agron had thought of nothing else for weeks now and even with Varro’s revelations, it wasn’t going to change shit. He wanted Nasir and his pack wanted him as well.
He needed an outsider’s advice and while he’d normally go to Spartacus, this time was different. He deeply respected both Spartacus and Varro, but he was always more likely to heed Varro’s advice. Spartacus often got caught up in ideals and Varro knew how to put them aside in order to make the hardest of decisions.
“Then tell me what the hell I should do, Varro.”
“It doesn’t matter what I tell you. You always follow your heart in the end, Agron. It’s one of those things we all love about you, even with the temper and inability to eat without staining your clothes. You’ve already made up your mind. Hell, you probably did after your first real conversation with Nasir. You just refused to acknowledge it but your body knew. And the wolf knew. He’s the one you’re going to have to work with now because the wolf’s decided. It’s up to you if the man has as well.”
They were in complete agreement.
“I thought as much,” Varro said, looking at his expression. He patted Agron on the back. “Take the night to think about it at least. That being said, let me be the first outsider to congratulate you on finding your mate. Aurelia never thought it’d happen. Lugo was about to take one for the proverbial team.”
“Oh hell no,” Agron said, actually gagging at the thought. He loved Lugo but for gods’ sake, no.
“You can thank me for that.”
“That’s not all I’ll thank you for.”
Varro smiled. “Always got your back, wolf.” He gestured to the cabin. “On that note, I’m going to sleep for days. You staying out here?”
Agron nodded. “At least until Saxa and Donar return. Might even run for a bit.”
“Don’t get your ass shot. I don’t want to explain to Duro or Nasir how a hunter got the best of you.”
“I’ll try to avoid attacking grandmothers,” Agron deadpanned.
Varro’s laughter lingered in the air after he walked back into the cabin. Agron took another look at the moon and switched his form, effortlessly giving over to the wolf for now. He howled and hearing Saxa’s reply, ran off into the woods.
Blinding sunshine and the smell of bacon woke Agron up in the morning. He coughed, inhaling bits of Saxa’s hair when he yawned. It was not his most glamorous morning.
“The jackass finally awakens,” Crixus said.
Agron opened one eye and glared at him and his coffee cup. Of all the voices he wanted to hear in the morning, Crixus was far down the list.
“Ready for a run?”
“Gods no,” Agron cursed. He gently moved Saxa to the floor, smiling as she snorted in her sleep. “I need to speak to Nasir first.”
“Varro said as much. Told Naevia you’d need all the coffee this morning.” Crixus pulled a large mug from behind his back. “Thirsty, pup?”
“I fucking despise you,” Agron said, grabbing the mug out of his hand. “If I didn’t have more important shit to do this morning, you’d be getting your ass bitten by a wolf after I chased you up a goddamned tree.”
“Didn’t have sweet dreams then?”
Agron took a huge gulp of the blessed caffeine. “Fuck. You.” He peeked into the empty common room. “Where is everyone?”
“By which you mean, where is Nasir?”
Agron glared at him again.
“He’s tuning up his mandolin or some shit. Naevia’s going to work in the garden and Nasir promised her live music. Duro’s carrying her pruning tools for her. Donar and Varro are out jogging, Saxa’s clearly dreaming of kicking someone’s ass, and I’m here with you.”
“Go outside and serenade Naevia with one of your demon love songs. Failing that, get Duro to sing her the best of Prince.”
“Serious, is it?”
Agron put down his empty mug and nodded. “Really fucking serious, Crixus.” He toed Saxa. “Get up, pup.”
“Don’t you want to go give Varro a scare? He’s running with Donar.”
Saxa transformed and playfully bit his ankle before running off the porch.
Crixus gathered their cups and went back in the house. “Good luck,” he said.
Agron took a deep breath and crept through the common room, stopping at the doorway of the back room. Nasir was there, tuning his mandolin, long hair unbound and drying from a shower. If he sensed Agron, he didn’t show it, face contemplative as he played a few notes. Agron felt the grin split his face. He refused to second-guess this.
“I name you,” he said.
Nasir froze. He carefully put down his mandolin and turned, chest heaving. “What,” he whispered.
“I name you Puck, Nasir of Ville. Or Puca, if the gods are being specific.”
A soft glow encompassed Nasir’s body before settling in his eyes. He was beautiful always, but like this, truly revealed, he was breathtaking.
Agron reached out and cradled Nasir’s face between his hands. “You are a true Puck. Not just a Goodfellow. That’s why I couldn’t pin down a scent. You’re ever-changing.”
Nasir softly laughed. His smile was blinding, but his lips quirked in a dangerous way. “That’s a simplistic way of explaining it. Pureblooded Goodfellows are nature spirits and bound to one side of the divide. Pucks are just really mutts. All the races of the Other Side flow through us. If we need to be Sidhe, we are Sidhe or a Siren or a simple Sprite.”
“I don’t see you as a Giant.”
Nasir nodded. “There are some limitations to simple manifestations of a physical form.”
“Basically, yes, Agron, I’m incapable of suddenly being ten feet tall.”
“Where is the joy in simple agreement?”
“You don’t always have to use ten dollar statements for your two cents.”
“Yet one reason my appearance is anticipated is for my use of language.”
Agron trailed a hand down Nasir’s spine, smirking at his fully body shudder. “Oh, it is not just your voice.”
Nasir opened his eyes and laid a palm over Agron’s body. He was suddenly completely infused with a pounding heat.
“Do not forget I can easily reciprocate such things, Wolf.”
“You play dirty,” he admonished.
“Am I winning?” Nasir asked, lips brushing against his chin.
“Yes,” Agron confessed.
“Do you care?”
“No,” he answered. He leaned down and took Nasir’s lips with his own, forcing his body to restrain itself. He would not claim Nasir in the dusty backroom of an unsecure cabin. It wasn’t time yet, but soon, he could wait.
“I name you,” he repeated again.
Nasir held on to Agron, his skin almost burning. “Warm,” he whispered against Agron’s lips, “I’m finally warm.”
Agron didn’t understand. There was still so much more to learn about Nasir and the Pucks but right now, all that mattered was Nasir and his soft whispers of joy and promises.
Chapter 6: Part Five
Agron and Duro were in their wolf forms when they greeted their last dawn in the woods. It was their time together alone; the special bond between litter mates reinforced as they climbed over rocks and ran through water.
They switched back to human as they approached the cabin. Duro grabbed his arm before they walked into the house.
“You have something to say?” he asked.
Duro nodded. “Brother, far be it for me to get involved in your sex life—”
“—I couldn’t help but notice Nasir carries the scent of a claimed mate and not a bonded one.”
He clapped Duro on the back. “Stop worrying, pup. It’s too early for such proposals. Nasir and I still have much to learn of each other. Don’t go marrying us off just yet.”
Duro snorted. “Like there’s any fucking possibility it will end in anything else.”
“I don’t presume to read the future or trust the fates. Mutual attraction and desire does not always give way to a shared future.”
“Assumptions not to be made for either side of a decision,” Nasir said. He was waiting for them on the stairs, coffee cups in his hands.
“I didn’t even sense you there,” Duro said.
Nasir shrugged. “Sometimes my work requires me to be invisible.”
“I hope you don’t mean that in terms of actual invisibility,” Duro said.
Nasir just lifted an eyebrow in response.
“Okay, I’m impressed,” Duro said. “What else can you do, levitate?”
“Like this?” Nasir asked, floating the two coffee mugs out to them.
Show Off Agron mouthed at him. Nasir just winked.
“What the hell are you?” Duro asked.
“I am that merry wanderer of the night,” Nasir said.
Agron tried really hard not to laugh.
“Translate,” Duro demanded.
“Ask Auctus to explain the finer points of Shakespeare,” Agron said. He pushed Duro towards the house. “Wash up. I won’t listen to Crixus’ bitching about wet dog smell all the way back to Boston.”
Duro muttered a few choice words and playfully bumped into Nasir as he stomped into the house.
“He’s not the only one who shares that smell,” Nasir teased.
“Oh fuck you, I smell like roses and taste like sunshine.”
“Liar.” Nasir smiled at Agron and sauntered over.
Agron didn’t trust that smile. When Nasir took ahold of Agron’s wrist and brought it to his mouth, he really didn’t trust that smile. When he proceeded to nuzzle and lick right over Agron’s pulse, he gave up any pretense of not whimpering.
“I taste the wild on you,” Nasir said. He let Agron’s wrist go. “You do smell of wet wolf though.”
“You are evil.”
“Puck,” Nasir teased. His eyes pulsed a golden glow for only a second before fading back to the normal brown. “I don’t have to hide all my natural tendencies now.”
Agron swallowed very slowly. They could not do this here, not with Crixus already yelling about being late.
“I think I am going to become good friends with your natural tendencies,” Agron murmured.
“Oh, I hope so,” Nasir said.
“I will turn the hose on you two,” Crixus yelled. “You had all weekend to get that out of your systems. Now get in the house and get ready to leave. I’m not missing the Red Sox game for you two jackasses who couldn’t get it up when they had the time.”
“And yet again, I wonder what Naevia sees in him,” Agron whispered for Nasir’s ears alone.
“The same has been said about others in this group,” Nasir teased.
“Pack,” Agron automatically corrected as he followed Nasir.
Agron followed Auctus down the train platform, silently watching as he checked over all the wild pigeons. Someone had to do the job for birds given over to frostbites and stupid fucks who set them on fire and Auctus was the bird whisperer.
“Equinox is coming,” he said to break the silence.
“I am aware.”
Agron couldn’t believe he was doing this; he was not some ghost-wolf matchmaker. Life was going damn well though, and he’d feel less guilt about being happy if he knew Duro was happy, and taken care of, and not alone. Not that any of them were ever alone, but it was different when the head of a pack took a mate. He didn’t want Duro to feel dislodged or anything.
And Auctus deserved something other than pigeons to light up his ghostly life.
“Look, my brother is one of the smartest damn wolves you’ll ever meet. He just doesn’t understand subtlety; your best course of action is a direct approach.”
“Auctus, I don’t know why you decided to give up your life for his. He doesn’t even remember you did it and no amount of ghostly googly eyes is going to connect that for him. I don’t want either of you to waste your lives, so to speak, away when you could have something together.”
“Wolf, I’m sure your babbling makes sense in your head; when it comes out of your mouth it’s a different matter entirely.”
“Right, you’re going to make me say this.” Agron rubbed a hand over his face and cursed. “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re kind of a touchy-feely pack.”
“Well, there’s a reason for that. We communicate through scent and touch. Words lie and wolves tend not to trust them.”
“Your mate is a Bard.”
“Only by profession. We rely on the reactions of a body to talk to us. So when a ghost who takes his four days a year in a human body and completely disappears so Duro can’t read his scent, touch, or taste, he misses a few things over the few decades.”
“I was resisting temptation.”
“Yeah, don’t. Just go with it.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“That the second you get back in bodily form, you grab Duro and lay one on him. With tongue, even. That will get your scent, taste, and touch firmly established. He might get it.”
“Might? Agron, it’s crass.”
“Auctus, we’re wolves. Do you want me to explain how we do courting in our animal forms?”
Auctus shook his head in disgust. “This is not the way I wanted it.”
“Yeah, ghost, we’ve tried your way. Try mine now.”
Auctus looked uncertain and that was far too damn weird.
“You can’t tell me the thought’s never crossed your mind,” Agron said. “Duro’s practically an exhibitionist on a normal day, no matter when the Veils drop and we need our skin to be untouched. In all the years since your death, you’ve never once wanted to just reach out and touch?”
Auctus nodded. “There is a reason I tend to stay in Salem when my body returns. It’s all I can do to resist temptation.”
Agron grinned. “Auctus, this pack doesn’t resist temptation. It claps it on the back, takes it out for a drink, and brings it back home. Fuck all the proper bullshit you’ve got stuck in that head of yours. All that matters is a true heart and a loyal soul. That’s proper.”
He mimed patting Auctus on the non-solid space that was the image of his shoulder. “We’re going to the cabin this time. I’m bringing Nasir and Duro with me. Saxa and Donar are going with Hamilcar to guard the portal. You will be coming with us.”
“You know how I feel about car rides.”
“Deal with it and pray a state trooper doesn’t pull us over again.”
“That ticket was not my fault. I couldn’t very well put a seatbelt over my non-existent body.”
This was all familiar territory and Agron was far more comfortable testing Auctus’ patience then discussing his brother’s love life. He had little doubt theirs would be a mating for the ages. He still had his own mating to worry about, to explain the different degrees and laws of a bonding to Nasir. He promised Hamilcar and Varro he’d sit down for a lecture first, and he had that appointment tonight.
“We done here? I’ve got a meeting at Byway.”
“Let’s go,” Auctus said.
“I don’t recall inviting you.”
“I’m under strict orders from Spartacus to not let you go off to Hamilcar and offer your blood up again like there aren’t, how did he put it, serious fucking consequences for having an alpha wolf’s blood out there for the taking. Train’s coming.”
Agron said nothing about Auctus’ obvious floating onto the train, nor the pigeon that decided to follow him through the doors. Bostonians had certainly seen stranger things than a pigeon riding the T.
“What’s with the bird?” Varro asked when he opened the door at Byway’s Beacon Hill location.
“Seriously?” Agron asked. “I arrive on your doorstep with a ghost to discuss my future bonding with my mate who is a Puck, a mythical creature I didn’t even know about two months ago, the Equinox is coming with its usually chaos and your main concern is the pigeon?”
“How I am to know what to serve this pigeon? Rules of hospitality, wolf. Does he want bread or crackers? He’s a city pigeon, so maybe he prefers SoCo to water. Unexpected guests cause concern.”
Agron growled, satisfied with the loud echo it produced in the foyer.
Varro laughed. “That time of the month, wolf? Or is Nasir waiting until you put a ring on it?”
“Stop trying to be current, it’s embarrassing and you fail at it.”
“At least I have a constant state of travel and time flux to blame. What’s your excuse?”
“Sura thinks television is a sign of the devil.”
“Cute,” Varro said. He gestured for them to follow, passing through various hallways until coming to his study.
Dagan sat at one of the tables re-binding a spell book. Auctus and the pigeon both flew over to him, leaving Varro and Agron to their talk.
“I’m ready to do this if you are,” Agron said.
“Not quite,” Varro said. He dug a beer out of a bookcase doubling as a mini-fridge. He handed them both to Agron.
“It’s going to be one of those talks?”
“Kiss my ass,” Varro sing-songed. “I don’t have a bottle opener here. You’re a wolf; use that supernatural strength for some good.”
“It’s not supernatural,” Agron grumbled but did as was asked. He handed Varro his bottle. “We’re not werewolves. We don’t do the half-and-half thing, you know that.”
“It’s easier to picture you as some half-wolf teenager playing basketball than trying to understand how you, your pack, and even Aurelia go from totally human one second to complete wolf the next.”
There was something about Varro’s tone that caught Agron’s attention. He sniffed the air catching frustration and determination rolling off in waves.
“You’re trying to convince Aurelia to have pups again, aren’t you?”
Varro cursed. “I know she has shit to do near Midwood, but she could come here. We could raise the baby here.”
“Babies,” Agron said.
“Is it always a multiple birth?”
“For my kind, for Aurelia’s kind, yes. Always in wolf form, always a litter. She wouldn’t take the risk of birthing them on this side of the Divide. There’s still the small matter of you only being a claimed mate. The less said about Sedullus trying to take over her pack while she pops a squat to push out the second generation of the pack the better.”
“You’re truly a wordsmith. I finally get what Nasir sees in you.”
“I bet your ass it has little to do with Agron’s ability to use words,” Hamilcar said. He slid next to Varro and stared at Agron.
“We’re talking now about things I don’t particularly want to discuss. Your relationship with Nasir, I fully acknowledge it is none of my business or concern if you’ve moved from acquaintances to claimed mates to bonded mates, I seek only to offer advice.”
“Claimed not bonded,” Agron assured him.
“Good,” Hamilcar said. “Spartacus and Sura were both unsure. They knew something changed but it’s blocked from them.”
“It’s none of their business.”
“Which is what Mira told them,” Varro said. “Well, her exact words were a slight more explicit but you get the gist.”
Considering Mira’s temper he could imagine. He really needed to have a night-in with Mira. They had a lot to discuss and despite the fact he was currently wrapped up in both his own and his brother’s love lives, he didn’t ever want Mira to feel like she was being left out or left behind.
“Give me your words of wisdom,” Agron said.
“Not so much wisdom as lore on the Pucks,” Hamilcar said. He gestured for Dagan to come over.
A large book was placed in front of Agron. Caked in dust and covered in an old, cracked leather cover he reached a hand out to trace the title. He felt a burning sensation the second he pressed his finger down.
“What the fuck?”
“It’s dragon skin,” Auctus said, “it still carries the flame.”
He glared at the Realm Jumpers. “That would’ve been nice to know.”
Hamilcar’s eyes were wide. “That’s never happened to anyone else who handled it.”
Auctus sighed and the pigeon squawked along with him in annoyance. “Wolves are a bit closer to the animal side of nature, like the Dragons, the Sirens, and the Pucks, I’m assuming. Being creatures of heightened senses, they would still be able to feel the traces of the Dragon’s magic. Think of it as a trip wire for a hidden alarm.”
“Or a bomb,” Agron muttered.
“I promise you if Agron opens that book now, it will reveal words and pages you’ve never found,” Auctus said.
Curiosity would eventually be the death of Agron; he just hoped it wouldn’t be today. He flipped open the cover and suddenly the book grew at least a foot in width.
Varro gaped at Auctus. “What were you while you lived?”
“I spent many years of my life guarding suicidal jackasses who desired war. My grandfather, however, was keeper of the old books at the Court’s library in Ville. He’d left by the time I was born but he still passed his knowledge down.”
“Still not answering my question.”
“I’m not obliged to tell you of my parentage.”
Agron ignored the bickering as he flipped through the pages. It was in a language unknown to him, possibly even coded, and while he recognized puca he didn’t grasp any of the other words. He pushed the book over to Hamilcar.
“Can you read that?”
“I can, it’ll take a while.” Hamilcar stood, already walking off with the book and in research-mode.
Agron tracked his movements, amused when Hamilcar started pulling out and stacking various dictionaries on a desk.
Varro waved a hand in front of Agron’s eyes and pulled him back. “While that was a cute trick, it’s not what we called you here to talk about. Since Hamilcar’s clearly a loss for the next month, I’ll assume full duties of this discussion.”
Agron batted his eyelashes. “I love when you use the big words.”
Varro kicked him under the table. “This is serious, jackass.”
“I’m already here listening to you, fuckface.”
Auctus shook his head. “This is what our world has come to. I’m never been so grateful that I’m already dead.”
“Yeah, you’re not going to be welcoming that incorporeal body when my brother goes into heat,” Agron taunted.
Dagan laughed. “Auctus, you’re finally taking down the big bad wolf? Congratulations are in order. I never thought I’d see the day that someone caught Duro.”
“It’s not, we’re not, nothing’s,” Auctus actually growled. “I plan to make my intentions clear to Duro upon the Equinox. Whatever should happen from thereon out is up to him.”
Dagan nodded. “Just use actions over words, man. Duro’s only slightly less of a suspicious fuck than Agron here.”
“I’ve been advised to undertake such measures.”
Dagan’s smile was truly dirty. “Gods, Auctus, Duro is going to wear you out.”
“I’m officially uncomfortable now,” Varro said. “Auctus, I wish you all the best, but I remember seeing Duro as a cub. I can’t talk about his sex life.”
“No offense is taken,” Auctus said. “Though I’d expect Agron to say as much.”
Agron shrugged. “Wolves care little for clothes and our first initiation from cub to adult takes place in front of the whole pack. Besides, Saxa in general has made me lose any sensitivity to hearing about the sex lives of my pack. I suppose I should be defending Duro’s virtue, but Hamilcar is here and he knows better.”
“Besides which, Agron’s the only one present who’s managed to help induce an orgy, so he really can’t say shit,” Dagan said.
Agron nodded. “That too.”
“Now that we’ve had our Overshare Corner Time, let’s get down to the real business. I have some concerns about Nasir’s long-term reaction to your bond. I don’t doubt that Nasir feels for you, very strongly since his aura has pressed itself onto you.”
“What? Really?” Agron asked.
Varro nodded. “He carries your scent, you carry his presence. It’s not as obvious as a wolf’s mark, but it will definitely deter anyone from even thinking about coming onto you. It’s almost electric. Someone tries to touch you in a manner that Nasir would not approve and they’ll get a zap.”
“We should test that out on Gannicus,” Auctus muttered.
“How does that factor into our long-term relationship? Once we transition from claiming to bond Nasir will bear an actual mark on his soul from my pack.”
“And I’m sure he’ll have a nice mark for you too, but there’s more to it.”
Varro took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose, gathering his words. “The grand alliance, being the Dragons, Sirens, and Sidhe did something. There’s a rumor, from ages ago, that the grand alliance of fucks cursed the whole lot of Pucks. They didn’t want the Pucks to rise up and seize power, which, considering their skills would be like a Tuesday for them. They made it damn near impossible for the Pucks to ever have peace in their souls. If they’re always on the byways they can’t stay around long enough to form attachments.”
“That’s bullshit,” Agron growled.
“Well, I don’t think they were counting on some wolf who has more balls than brains to ruin it all. He will feel the urge to roam but you could make him stay if you really wanted it,” Varro said.
“I don’t ever want to make him. It must be his choice.”
Dagan cursed under his breath. “You are a wolf, Agron; you can’t just let it end if you’re bonded.”
“I think I know very well what that possible future could cost me.”
A half-life, a drop in power, constant state of being wounded and weak until Nasir would return. A hell of a price.
One he was more than willing to pay.
“I’m not going to let my life be ruled by possibilities. My pack is strong. I am strong. Nasir as well. We’ll only be stronger together. I’ve already lived my life with him in it. I’m not going back. I’ll face whatever’s to come head on.”
Varro gripped his shoulder. “I know, Agron. Just talk to the pack. News will soon travel that you’ve claimed a mate. It will be carried to the Other Side where people damn well know that Nasir’s a Puck. Sedullus will come to challenge for territory.”
“And to take Saxa back, I know,” Agron said.
Sedullus could get her back over Agron’s dead and mauled corpse. He’d take Varro’s words to heart and start to prepare them all. The shit storm would come with the new year, he didn’t doubt that, but for now he’d enjoy the peace.
The familiar bite of an autumn night was already in the air come September. They were a week from the Equinox and enjoying one last evening at The Temple before they headed to the woods. Auctus was finding it difficult to be around the large crowds, so Nasir and Agron gladly joined him out on the back patio.
Nasir huddled close to Agron’s side as they watched Auctus pace, as only a ghost could, under the night sky.
“Does Duro know what’s coming?” Nasir asked.
Auctus had taken to long discussions with Nasir. He claimed it was easier to share everything with someone who was close to Duro but not his pack leader or brother.
“No,” Agron whispered into Nasir’s hair. “He deserves a good surprise.”
“Are you certain he’ll like it? Shouldn’t he make this decision on his own?”
“Not knowing exactly what went down during the wars, I think he already did.”
Nasir made a confused noise. “How is that possible?”
“Not all claims are declared, some are formed naturally or unconsciously. It’s extremely rare but it can happen under certain circumstances.”
“Such as sacrificing a life for another?”
“That’s my guess. Duro’s human side is oblivious. His wolf has decided. It looks for Auctus when we take to the woods and he’s not there.”
“Why suddenly declare it now though?”
Agron swooped down and kissed Nasir in answer. He sent a wave of emotion and memory through their fledging link.
“Duro’s grown lonely,” Nasir said after he pulled back. “I didn’t see that.”
“It’s been a gradual thing over the years.”
“And we sped up the process.”
“For the better,” Agron soothed. “Now if only we could work on Naevia and Crixus.”
Nasir ducked his head, burying his face in the crook of Agron’s elbow. Agron chuckled. “Naevia already has plans, does she?”
“She may have asked Melitta for some advice,” Nasir admitted.
Agron didn’t push him for more, friends deserved their secrets. He was just so damn proud Nasir had formed his own friendships. It was good for Nasir to have relationships outside the main pack; anything to help him decide to stay. He’d already confessed, after informing everyone what a Puck was and how Nasir lived as one, that he had prior commitments on the other side of the Divide at the Solstice. Agron knew he had to accept that, he just couldn’t bury the fear that once gone, Nasir wouldn’t return.
Nasir clearly sensed his emotions. His fingers tightened on Agron’s wrist and he sent warm, soothing pulses of energy to calm his heart rate.
“Whatever misconstrued notions you are brewing in that head of yours, stop. We must focus on the impossible ghostly heart attack your future brother-in-law is about to have.”
“Ghostly heart attack, hmm? I was going for ulcer.”
“You are both giving me a spiritual migraine,” Auctus snapped.
“Finally he speaks,” Agron muttered. He yelped at the hard pinch Nasir gave to his inner-thigh.
“Behave,” Nasir commanded. He sweetly smiled at Auctus. “We are ready to listen.”
Auctus nodded, his movements jerky as they always were this close to the Veil Drop. He said that it was his soul getting ready to reform his body and made the very act of speech a heavy feat. The added stress of the Confession didn’t help shit.
“You can wait, Auctus. You don’t have to do this now if you’re not ready,” Agron said. He personally thought it was bullshit but ghosts shouldn’t look so pained.
“No, I have to do this now. You’re right, Agron, gods save me for admitting it. It’s been long enough. I’m just, I’m unaccustomed to such a risk.”
Agron’s breath caught in his throat, a mixture of laughter and disbelief eventually worked its way out of his throat. “You threw yourself in front a silver spear knowing it would kill you and this is what freaks you the fuck out?”
Agron yelped at the sharp nip Nasir gave to his hand.
“Death was a certainty in that situation and always a possibility in Auctus’ life before the event. Emotional risk is a wholly different cost. Though,” Nasir said, turning his penetrating gaze to Auctus, “I must confess I’ve always wondered why you did such a thing for a mere acquaintance.”
Auctus settled down in front of them, floating in the air and dropped his gaze. When he raised it again there was a certain light in his eyes. A power that shone from somewhere far beyond any of the Veils.
“I’ve always been able to see into the Beyond.”
Agron and Nasir exchanged a surprised look. That was a gift reserved just for Healers, Reapers, and Oracles.
“That’s...impressive,” Agron said.
“Indeed,” Auctus agreed. “The night before the attempt on Duro’s life, I had a vision of a future yet to be. Various paths led there but all resulted in the same outcome. I stood at his side as his mate.”
“You sacrificed yourself for a vision of what could have been?”
“All roads led there, Agron,” he reiterated.
Nasir looked back and forth between them. “Can a ghost become a mate?”
“It’s complicated,” Agron answered. “Not impossible, not unheard of, but sacrifices are to be made. It’s rare and since it requires the ghost to return to its body permanently, there are costs.”
“Different for each couple,” Auctus said.
“You took the chance anyway. Why?”
“Fortune favors the brave?”
Nasir did not look impressed. “Pliny the Elder allegedly said that right before suffocating on the volcanic ash from Vesuvius. I wouldn’t use it as my battle cry.”
“Famous battle cries are usually yelled by those who die early. I already have a step up on them.”
“Stop talking,” Agron hissed. He titled his head and caught his brother’s scent. “Duro’s coming.”
“I put up a sound barrier,” Nasir said.
“That’s not suspicious,” Auctus said.
Nasir, channeling Saxa, aggressively rolled his eyes. He snapped his fingers and suddenly the sounds coming from inside filled the back porch.
Duro’s head poked out of the door and leveled them with a suspicious glare. “What are you three doing out here?”
“Just finalizing plans for the Equinox. Auctus is coming with us to the woods,” he said.
It wasn’t a complete lie and Agron hoped there was enough truth in it to not read as one.
“Oh,” Duro said. His face broke into a smile. “I look forward to it. I can’t remember the last time I saw you in the flesh, Auctus. I’ll try not to chase you through the woods.”
Agron didn’t think the amount of pressure Nasir exerted on his kneecap was truly necessary but Agron managed not to make an obvious joke.
“I could use the exercise,” Auctus said
Duro’s nose wrinkled in disagreement. “I well remember you knocking my ass to the ground over and over again during the skirmish. I doubt you’ll need much.”
“Still need to return the memory of movement to long forgotten limbs,” Auctus said.
Agron exchanged a look with Nasir, wondering if they should leave the two of them alone. Nasir’s slight nod saw Agron carefully maneuvering himself and Nasir into the bar without straying into Auctus and Duro’s line of sight. He nudged his brother out onto the patio.
“Stop yelling across the yard,” he ordered.
He made sure to latch the door behind him.
“Auctus can just float through the door, yes?” Nasir asked.
“He can but he knows it freaks Duro out, so he’ll refrain. They can summon one of the Sprites if they get desperate.”
Nasir looked out over the two of them, concern wrinkling his brow. Agron dragged his fingers over Nasir’s face, smoothing out the lines.
“None of that, they’ll be fine.”
“How could Duro not know?”
“About what? Auctus’ feelings or his sacrifice?”
There were certain aspects of wolf behavior Agron wasn’t too keen on sharing where any ears could hear them. He led Nasir deeper into the private quarters of Barca and Pietros’ home, past the guest rooms and the office, past their bedroom, and into one of the most secure rooms this side of the Divide. It was essentially a magical safe room. Nasir gasped as they crossed the lintels made of elder wood.
“It’s okay,” Agron promised, “we’re safe here.”
He ran a hand down Nasir’s back until he calmed and the golden glow finally faded from his eyes.
“You get used to it after a couple of decades.”
“Warn me next time,” Nasir ordered.
Agron nodded, pressing soothing kisses into Nasir’s hair and on his face, running his hand down Nasir’s arms and sending him calm bursts of energy.
“Ready to sit down,” he quietly asked.
Nasir nodded, moving to the closet set of couches. Agron settled at his feet, reaching behind him to grasp Nasir’s legs. He didn’t know if he could talk about this while facing him. It was something he wasn’t exactly proud of, how vicious his kind turned on the battlefield, but Nasir had the right to know.
“Have you ever gone to war?”
“No,” Nasir said.
“Gods willing you never shall.” Agron rested his fingers on Nasir’s ankle, rubbing circles into the skin. “Contrary to what the popular histories and Varro’s jokes say, we are not werewolves. In terms of our physical forms we are either in human form or wolf form, never half one or the other. It’s why when we are in pain we revert to our animal forms; it’s easier to heal without all the emotional attachment. We can still understand human speech and respond to those we consider pack no matter the form. Our bodies are one side or other, but our souls and our instincts are another matter.”
“Agron,” Nasir whispered, hands scratching through Agron’s hair.
Agron leaned into the touch and continued his explanation. “As wolves we are like any other animals, killing only for food or when threatened. As humans it’s a different matter entirely. Our motivations change. We become entirely too vicious to be safe. We aren’t actively engaged in the world around us. We run off bloodlust and thrill of the chase. We are then both human and wolf in spirit. It’s not until after the battle is over and the blood is washed off that we recall what we’ve done, and even then it’s no guarantee. I sometimes think the wolf itself protects our minds. I’ve ripped out many a creature’s throat in my wolf form and have crushed far too many windpipes with my bare hands in human form. I often wonder which side of me should be called the monster.”
“Agron,” Nasir repeated.
“I don’t think Duro’s human side was ready to accept that anyone other than pack cared for him enough to lay down their life. Varro said Duro just went silent when he watched Auctus die at his side. I think the wolf stepped in, took over, and buried the memories of the time deep within Duro’s mind. He dreams about the battle. I’ve woken up far too many times to Auctus’ name being yelled in terror for it to be anything else. We’ve all sort of coasted along since then but it was time for a change.”
Nasir’s hands forcibly tilted Agron’s head back, forcing Agron to look at him.
“As much as we’re sought after to fight in the wars, even more want to see us put down. As fighting wolves, we’re safer over here than there. I can’t ever go back there, Nasir. I won’t be hunted down for what they formed me into.”
“I will never make you return,” Nasir promised.
He dried the tears Agron refused to acknowledge. He didn’t like to think of those dark years. He closed his eyes and breathed in the familiar scent of Nasir until everything felt right again.
Tonight would bring all kinds of changes. Auctus’ body would return with the setting of the sun. The woods were tense, preparing for the Veil Drop. Even the cabin felt suffocating with all the magic in the air. Agron eagerly dragged Nasir out into the woods, breathing in the delightful feel of early autumn.
He had no qualms about tackling Nasir into the scattered leaves, hungrily taking in the bronze skin and dark hair laid out among the red, orange, and yellow. The scent of it all, of Nasir, of his mate, the woods, the hint of frost in the air, it all smelled like peace.
Nasir laughed and lifted a hand to trace the lines of Agron’s face. His fingers drifted over his lips.
“I would always see you this happy,” he whispered.
Agron nuzzled Nasir’s wrist. “Likewise,” he said against the tender skin.
Nasir’s eyes glowed, a small smile spread across his lips.
“What is it?” Agron asked.
“I love you,” Nasir confessed.
“Likewise,” Agron teased, expecting Nasir’s pinch to his side.
“Agron, you truly are the worst at romantic sentiments.”
“I have not the words or the pretty songs. I can only say you are my mate, being part of my very soul, and that love is a far too simple a concept to cover all that I feel but if you insist.” He winked. “I love you with all that’s in me.”
“Better,” Nasir said. “Not perfect, but better.”
Agron carefully nipped at Nasir’s neck and effectively silenced any further taunts.
Nasir laughed and softly sang the opening stanza of The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.
“Come live with me and be my Love, and we will all the pleasures prove.”
Sometimes Agron felt like he was mated to his very own copy of the Harvard Review. No complaints at all when he got to hear such a voice any time he desired. They stayed there, wrapped in each other, surrounded by the fallen leaves until the sun moved low in the sky.
“We should return,” Agron said.
“Hmm,” Nasir agreed, half-asleep.
“Come on, little Puck, we have to go horribly embarrass Duro for being the most oblivious wolf of the century.”
Nasir laughed. “Oh, you might’ve given him a run for that title earlier this summer. Lucky for us both your patience is non-existent.”
“I’m pretty sure I should be insulted right now.”
Nasir bucked his hips. “That’s how you convey being insulted.”
Hamilcar was still working on the translation of that passage but Agron held little doubt that it was just a constant recitation of how evil Pucks were and that all sane creatures should avoid them.
“Problem?” Nasir asked.
“No,” Agron growled out. He carefully moved away from Nasir and forced himself to stand.
Nasir was never allowed to meet Aurelia. Those two would end up conquering the world. They'd do it quietly so no one would know until it was too late.
Agron knew it was crass to make popcorn for the event but he always did it for the Veil Drop. He didn’t want Duro to get tipped off that this time was completely different.
Auctus glared at him.
Agron shrugged. “Tradition.”
Auctus hadn’t bothered to project an image of clothes covering his body. Agron would be lying if he said he wasn’t impressed. Even if it was just impressions of what once was, Auctus was all lithe muscles and tone.
“You have the clothes?” Auctus asked.
Agron waved the bag Naevia prepared. The clothes were woven by Melitta and would only carry scents of the pack.
“Right,” Auctus said. He looked towards the house. “Nasir has Duro distracted?”
“He’s watching Duro stuff himself on a selection of desserts. You know how our appetites get on this day.”
Auctus nodded and turned his eyes back to the sun.
“Any moment now,” Agron soothed.
Auctus looked to be hyperventilating, his image flashing and disappearing. Agron never witnessed a ghost manifesting into their body. He couldn’t imagine going from nothingness to suddenly feeling, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling everything again all at once.
“Does it hurt?”
“Just very overwhelming,” Auctus said. “I don’t normally have an audience.”
“I can leave.”
“No, please, stay. You’re familiar. I’ll need that to pull me out of my head.”
Agron held his breath when the magical pulse rang out over the sky.
“Here it comes,” Auctus whispered.
The woods were suddenly full of noise, howls and calls, and yells. They all covered the pained sounds Auctus made as he curled into a ball on the ground, breaths short and sharp. Agron rushed over to him, wrapping his arm around Auctus' waist and pulling him up.
“It’s okay, we’re here, it’s okay,” he repeated.
Auctus nodded, scrambling for the water jug Agron placed on the steps. He took a long drink before pulling away and coughing.
“Never gets any easier,” Auctus croaked out.
Agron patted his back and handed over the clothes. Auctus hurriedly pulled them on and glared at something in the bottom of the bag.
“Chap stick and lube, Agron, really?”
“Always be prepared,” Agron intoned. “Blame Gannicus for those.”
“Does everyone know?”
“Have you ever tried to hide something from Melitta?”
“Fair point,” Auctus agreed.
Agron patted his back again. He could hear the rapid beat of Auctus’ heart and was already committing his scent to memory.
“Ready?” he asked.
Auctus laughed. “Hell no.”
“Good, just like everyone else in our pack.” He turned back to the cabin. “Get your asses out here and give Auctus a hug, will you?”
“You don’t have to yell,” Duro complained, holding on to his ears. His senses always went hyper-aware during the Veil Drop. “We’re right here.” He stopped on the steps, Nasir crashing into his back.
“Problem?” Agron asked.
“No, I,” Duro cautiously approached Auctus, circling him. “I forgot what it’s like to see you breathe. You,” Duro leaned in and sniffed. “You smell like home.”
Agron was not getting teary-eyed, even if Nasir was pressing a handkerchief into his hands.
“I,” Auctus started. He shook his head and met Agron’s gaze. He nodded slowly and muttered, “Screw it.” He reached out and placed his hands on Duro’s face and pulled him into a kiss.
Duro let out a sound of surprise before quickly grasping onto Auctus’ arms and letting out a truly pathetic whine.
“Oh, that’s a familiar sound,” Nasir said.
“Don’t make me trade you in for another Puck,” Agron teased.
“Do it and I will kill you with my own hands,” Nasir swore.
Duro had his head buried in Auctus’ neck, deeply breathing in his scent while Auctus carefully touched Duro’s hair. It was tentative, overpowering, and sweet.
Duro lifted his head and stared at his brother. “You could’ve told me.”
“You weren’t ready yet, pup,” he said.
Duro didn’t argue as he turned back to Auctus. “How long?”
“Before my death. I had stirrings, you could say, but there were other concerns.”
Duro nodded. He closed his eyes and let out a distressed whimper, his body almost buckling.
“Duro,” Auctus yelled.
“Don’t move,” Agron cautioned. “The wolf is remembering.”
Duro shuddered. “You died for me,” he whispered.
“Yes,” Auctus said.
Duro tilted his head. “You love me.”
“Yes,” Auctus' voice almost sounded broken.
“We should leave,” Nasir whispered, tugging on Agron’s arm. “This is private.”
“Duro’s starting to get overwhelmed,” Agron argued.
“Then distract him,” Nasir ordered.
“Right.” He cleared his throat and yelled, “If you start quoting Savage Garden, I’m disowning both of you.”
Duro turned, and this time it was mostly the wolf who glared at him. “Don’t you two have somewhere else to be?”
“I’m good here,” Agron said.
“We’ll be inside,” Nasir said. “Enjoy the night.”
“Don’t bother us,” Agron warned.
“Likewise,” Duro yelled after them.
Agron kept looking out the windows until his view was blocked. He couldn’t help but worry. He didn’t know if Duro or Auctus held more of his concern. It was only the familiar weight of Nasir’s hand on his neck that brought Agron back.
“Trust them to do what is best,” he said.
“Good.” Nasir pulled them into their room and used his will to slam the door. “Now will you show me why it was in my best interest to stay here past the Equinox?”
Chapter 7: Part Six
Additional warnings for this chapter including a small scene with a brief bit of biting and some blood.
October came with unseasonably cold winds and more than one concerned Wayfarer and Wanderer hearing that the local wolf pack was attempting to gain power. Agron ignored most of them seeing as how his mind was either turned towards Nasir, Duro, Auctus, and Duro and Auctus. He kept avoiding writing the long-letter to Vera, Renata, and Lucia explaining that both their brothers were on the path to full, dually claimed and accepted mate bonds.
Auctus would need a body full-time for his part. It seemed impossible, but there were old legends based in truth. They just needed to invite a Reaper and a Seer of the Last Thought over for dinner and try to convince them to take the job. The tricky part would be figuring out the sacrificial cost. Agron doubted it would be something extreme; even as a ghost, Auctus was a beloved of the gods.
The exhausting part was keeping it all from Nasir. It’s not that he doubted Nasir’s ability to help or understand. He just wanted to keep him as far away from the overcomplicated bullshit that was wolf pack politics. The average length of a territory dispute was up to five centuries; the petty shit lasted even longer. He had zero concerns about Wayfarer packs in this area of the world; Agron remained the highest-ranked wolf on the Eastern Seaboard. No, it was all the shit Sedullus and his pack of ballsacks on the Other Side would stir up that made him grit his teeth.
Things were quiet so far which meant hell was on its way.
Agron woke up from a deep sleep sensing someone in the house. Ever since Nasir became a regular guest, Agron had Mira up the security levels which meant anyone who was not Duro, Nasir, or Auctus would set it off. At least he recognized this trespasser. He carefully untangled himself from Nasir, making sure to tuck the heavy blankets in around his body, and stumbled to the main room. A light shone from under the kitchen door. He pushed it open and glared at Spartacus.
He bared his teeth at Spartacus’ sarcastic eyebrow arch.
“Get some coffee in you so we can talk,” Spartacus said. “I will not attempt to interpret your growls this early in the morning.”
“Then why the fuck are you here?”
“As expected, rumor carried to the Other Side. A few cautiously worded inquires have arrived.”
Agron growled and purposefully ignored Spartacus’ disapproval. Sedullus had finally made his fucking move.
“It is too fucking early to growl like that,” Duro yelled.
He stumbled through the kitchen door with Nasir and Auctus following him.
“See what you’ve done, woken the whole household,” Auctus chastised.
Nasir sleepily leaned against Agron. “Juice,” he demanded.
“Spartacus, you’re closest to the fridge,” Agron said.
“And the one who woke all us up. Deal with the consequences,” Duro muttered.
His attempts to work the coffee machine turned violent. Auctus glared at Spartacus until he finally got out of his chair.
“I do all this under protest,” Spartacus said. He shoved Duro towards the table as he started the coffee.
“Don’t forget the juice,” Auctus reminded him.
Agron winked at him over Nasir’s head. Auctus really was the best ghost roommate ever.
Spartacus patiently held out a glass of orange juice. Agron took it and stole a sip before he passed it to Nasir.
“Are we all good now?” he asked.
“You woke us up,” Duro growled into the sugar bowl.
“An act I’ve come to regret with each passing moment. May I continue with my purpose.”
Agron carefully guided Nasir into one of the chairs before he settled into his own. They all took a moment to absorb their caffeine.
“Okay, begin,” Agron said.
“Sedullus is seeking an invitation to your bonding ceremony.”
Agron almost choked on his coffee. Spartacus was as evil as his wife.
“Fuck, Spartacus, you could’ve eased into it,” Duro said.
“I was too busy making your coffee,” he said.
Agron wanted to say something truly scathing that would make Mira damn proud but Nasir finally spoke up.
“Why would that be a problem? I can understand unwanted guests at a wedding yet you’re acting like this is a declaration of war.”
“It fucking is,” Duro said. “Bonding ceremonies aren’t taken lightly, not the public ones. Politics and bullshit and posturing that’s all it is. Sedullus knows he’s not supposed to come on this Side, not with that pack of his, and he knows he can argue that we’re insulting him if he’s not invited.”
“Which brings us to the main problem,” Spartacus said. “What will you do when the packs descend for the ceremony? Sedullus will try to block it.”
“Sedullus can eat shit for all I care. He’s already the reason Aurelia and Varro’s official mating is held up. He won’t do the same for mine. Or Duro’s. His power does not extend across the Divide and I will not have my life controlled by that asshole.”
“I thought you said wolves were free to choose their mates,” Nasir said.
“They are,” Agron said.
“Agron, despite all appearances, is ranked near the top of the wolves’ hierarchy. Aurelia is the only one who stands above him,” Spartacus explained.
“It means that for the sake of politics, I need the other pack’s approval for the fully acknowledged bonded mating ceremony.”
“Your mating, while valid, would be seen as common law as opposed to legal. Still binding, of course, since souls are involved.”
“The other packheads will find me wanting?”
“No,” Agron hissed. “It’s all a political game. I fucking hate that bullshit. It’s one of the reasons why I left when I did.”
He yelped when Nasir dug his nails into his wrist.
“When were you planning on telling me about all of this,” he asked, eyes clear and no trace of sleep clinging to him.
“Eventually. When it became more relevant.”
Nasir’s nails dug in harder. “It seems pretty fucking relevant right now.”
“Only because Sedullus is a posturing power hungry jackass,” Spartacus said, taking pity on him. “From what I understand of it, the ceremony is not something to be rushed. It would be suspicious for the two of you, knowing each other less than a year, to take such an official public step in front of all the packs. Denying it as a possibility would also be suspicious.”
“You couldn’t just tell me that,” Nasir hissed.
Really, hissed. There was, without a doubt, some dragon branches on Nasir’s family tree.
“It’s not something we can do anything about until the Vernal Equinox at the earliest. Sedullus is just a jackass.”
“Not the only one,” Nasir muttered. He finished his juice and stood. “I’m taking a shower. You,” he pointed at Agron, “are staying here until I fight down the urge to ask Mira to curse you.”
“I love you,” Agron called after him.
“Feeling’s mutual but you’re still a jackass right now,” Nasir answered from the other side of the kitchen door.
“He’s clearly learned to embrace modern language,” Auctus said.
“I fucking hate you all,” Agron informed the smirking bastards around the table.
“Don’t be angry at us for keeping wolf practices from your mate,” Spartacus said.
“Forgive me to trying to spare Nair even more needless bullshit he can do nothing about.
He’s the type to fix things and if he tries that now he’s likely to get eaten.”
“He should know about any possible threats,” Spartacus said.
“Spartacus, Nasir has a job performing in Prince Aindrea’s home on the night of the Solstice. Which means he has to leave here before said night. Which means I do not want to spend the next two months worrying Nasir by giving him the laundry list of pack arguments and protocols when he has to compose a week’s worth of new pieces for fucking Sidhe royalty. Therefore let’s leave my relationship and communication issues behind for the moment and discuss how we’re going to politely tell Sedullus to fuck off and die.”
“I’m out of ideas that don’t involve sending severed animal parts over the Divide. Sura suggested we speak with Oenomaus.”
It was too early to be glaring this much.
“Agron, where are the godsforsaken towels? It’s freezing in here,” Nasir yelled.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Agron said.
He ignored the laughter of his treacherous friends and brother. He really needed to spend more time with Naevia. She was far less infuriating.
Agron wasn’t naïve enough to think shit would just go away. He knew better than that, he just wasn’t going to waste his time worrying about things he couldn’t fix. It was that belief, with backed-up agreements from Varro, Hamilcar, and Melitta, that finally got Nasir to calm down. A wolf claiming its mate was a private matter, the declaration was a public one, and the bonding was a combination of both. Agron still hadn’t explained the full ramifications of the mate bonding to Nasir, trying to throw him off the scent by focusing on the Declaration. He wanted to avoid the possible shitty outcome when Nasir understood all the restrictions that came with a new bond.
Agron couldn’t take him running away, not yet. He just wanted a little more time. To bond with Nasir would mean to tie him to this side of the Divide, to Agron’s side, for at least a year and a day. Perhaps even longer considering Agron’s power and status. Hamilcar said it could be up to two years for the bond to settle down to what he termed a non-threatening level to certain members of the Sidhe. He never quite understood how shitty a situation Varro and Aurelia lived in; he sure as hell got it now.
He tried to turn his thoughts towards happier things. Halloween would be here soon and they planned to stay at Melitta and Oenomaus’ home this year. The pack usually avoided Salem during its high tourist season but Nasir’s presence brought the change. Halloween itself meant as much to them as it did any normal human. The only difference this year was the full moon on the 29th. Agron hoped the lingering lunar pull combined with the huge crowds wouldn’t lead to an incident. With Gannicus present all bets were off.
“It smells like snow,” Saxa said, pulling him out of his thoughts.
She was smiling, already looking forward to the eventual romp. Few wolves loved snow as much as Saxa. She easily blended into and liked to practice her stealth attacks.
“It’s only mid-October. A little early for a major storm.”
“Not last year.”
“Last year was a fluke.”
“It smells like snow, not a dusting,” she insisted. “Sura agrees. She said you need to go get rock salt for the steps. She won’t have Spartacus slipping again.”
Agron cursed. “Have you checked the weather forecast?”
Saxa growled. There were few things she despised more than weather reporters. “I trust my instincts. Get rock salt. Collect Nasir too. I don’t want to hear your whining if you have to go two nights without him.”
Agron rolled his eyes. “I’ll go get the rock salt to satisfy Sura’s paranoia. Just let it be known I think there is no fucking way we’re going to have a significant snowstorm this early in October.”
“It’s noted, now go,” Saxa said. She made little shooing motions before shoving him out of his own apartment.
The sky did look a bit grey and it did smell of early winter. He guessed they would get hail at best. On his walk back from Hannaford’s, it started to snow. Just small flakes at first. By the time he got back to the house, the skies were damn near ominous and the snow was starting to turn heavy and wet.
“Don’t even say it,” he yelled at Saxa as she held the door open.
She smirked. “Don’t get comfortable. Pietros called.”
“I am not dragging rock salt to Cambridge. That’s what Barca’s for.”
“Just call him.” She shoved the godforsaken pack cell phone at him. “I hope it works. I forgot how to answer that damned thing.”
As a rule they didn’t need or want to use the demonic device. Spartacus argued it was a good thing to have for when they worked with humans. If it wasn’t for Auctus’ constant reminders it would never get charged. All the wolves had a particular hatred for it with all its annoying beeps and ringtones. In general, Agron embraced modern technology, except for the piece of shit Saxa currently held.
He would really rather just stand in the snow holding the rock salt. Pietros’ voice was cheerful in person but over the phone it turned screechy.
It rang in Saxa’s hands and she almost dropped it. She shoved it at Agron. “Answer it, now.”
He dropped the bags of rock salt and snatched the phone, an annoyed growl slipping out.
“Who is this?”
Pietros’ laughed answered. “You need to learn manners, wolf.”
“I will rip your throat out with my bare hands.”
Pietros didn’t rise to the bait. The little shit never did anymore.
“Come get your boy,” he said. “He’s currently despairing over the cold and the slushy puddles on the sidewalk. You should come before the snow banks stand taller than him.”
“You are the last person who should be making height jokes.”
“And yet I’m still taller than Nasir. I’ll even get Barca to salt down the walkway for you.”
“Oh how kind.”
“The more time you waste being sarcastic, the colder and wetter it gets outside.”
Pietros hung-up before he could respond.
“Going to Cambridge,” Saxa said. She held out a two pairs of gloves and a hat. “I’ll dig out some more blankets for your bed. We can’t let Nasir get cold.”
“Don’t taunt me. Once you find your mate, you’ll act just as ridiculous to please him or her.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, dad.”
The commute to Cambridge was a miserable one. Even Agron was starting to feel the cold. Nobody was in a decent mood and bits of melted slush were already dirtying up the train floor. At The Temple Pietros merely pointed to the hallway. Nasir was in the kitchen, instrument case and satchel on the floor, staring out at the back porch.
He needed at least two more layers to comfortably survive the commute and walk to the pack’s home.
“Your nose is cold,” Nasir complained after Agron leaned down for a kiss.
“Winter decided to give an early preview,” he said. He frowned at Nasir’s cloth shoes. “Where are the boots Melitta made for you?”
“In my room. Agron, it’s October.”
“I know, love,” he said. He kissed Nasir’s temple. “Stay here, let me get your boots. And another sweater. We’ll have to borrow one of Pietros’ heavier coats. You might want two scarves. Saxa’s bought you some gloves.”
He ducked into Nasir’s room and filled up one of the empty packs with extra pens and notebooks. He grabbed a few sets of clothes just in case they were snowed-in. He also dug out the boots, two hats, two more sets of socks, another sweater, and a handful of scarves. Nasir wore the heavy ones even in Summer. He’d need about three wrapped around him now.
Barca met him in the hallway with a parka.
“Pietros won’t need that?”
Barca looked to the windows and back at Agron. “I wouldn’t dream of sending him out in this.”
Agron narrowed his eyes. “Why do I feel like you’re judging me.”
“Why is your claimed mate still living here and not under the protection of your pack?”
“Because Nasir has yet to see me or Duro on laundry day and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“The real reason, Agron?”
Barca always knew too damn much.
“I don’t want to overwhelm him.”
“Just make certain that your urge to protect him doesn’t leave him feeling neglected. You’re good for each other.”
“Advice appreciated and taken.”
In the kitchen Nasir was still staring outside. The snow was starting to accumulate. Agron winced. This wouldn’t end well. Nasir’s migratory habits meant he went out of his wayto avoid winter. It was the start of a Nor’easter outside.
“It’s October,” Nasir repeated through the scarf Agron had wrapped around him. It was one of Melitta’s designs and a much loved favorite.
“Mother Nature’s getting her own special brand of revenge. It’s extremely rare for a storm to come this early. It happened last year but that was the first time ever.”
Nasir did not look amused. Even less so when Agron tugged a hat down over his ears.
“How many layers are you planning to put on me?”
“It’s going to be windy out there. Windy with wet snow falling sideways. How many layers do you think we need?”
“Can we just stay here?”
Agron ran his fingers down Nasir’s cheek. “I can’t be separated from the pack in case this isn’t a naturally occurring storm.”
Nasir leaned into the touch and closed his eyes. His face was not a happy one.
“Naevia will make you all the hot chocolate you want,” he promised. “I’m sure she can con Crixus into making that eggplant parm you like so much.”
“Who is bribing who with food now,” Nasir teased.
Agron zipped up Nasir’s parka and grabbed the bags. “We better leave now before it gets any worse.”
Nasir clearly wasn’t used to the weather. He slipped more than once and would’ve fallen if it wasn’t for the iron grip Agron had on his arm. Agron tried really hard not to laugh at him, not even when Nasir glared murder at the ice covered sidewalks. He didn’t know who let out the bigger sigh of relief when they finally got inside the train station. Granted, they still had to wait on an outside train platform getting winds off the Charles, but at least they were covered.
He held Nasir close. “I never want to see you cold again.”
Nasir tilted his head, briefly catching Agron’s lips before the train arrived. Even after they boarded, he stayed curled into Agron’s side, greedily sharing his body heat.
Later, when Nasir was dry and mostly warm, Agron gladly transferred his heat to Nasir’s. It took him but a moment to recognize the verse Nasir whispered against the bare skin above his heart.
“So I, often wretched and sorrowful, bereft of my homeland, far from noble kinsman, have had to bind in fetters, my innermost thoughts.”
There were words Agron could give him, pretty promises falling from his tongue, but he knew none would soothe Nasir. He was a Wayfarer by choice; Nasir took to the road as means of survival. How could he make him stay, this beautiful, powerful, wild spirit who knew security in nothing but the open road.
He kissed the top of Nasir’s head, cradling his cold fingers in Agron’s warm hands, and held on tight.
They drove up to Salem for the special week-long Halloween celebration. Melitta suggested they arrive early to avoid the worst of the crowds. Agron agreed and gladly shoved four wolves, three wizards, two ghosts, a fire-demon and a puck into a rented mini-van. The roads were clear with only a few patches of snow present and it was hard to believe not even a week ago they had a foot of snow dumped on the entire New England area.
Nasir still had yet to forgive him for forgetting to mention the possibility of pre-season blizzards.
Tonight Melitta and Oenomaus were holding a traditional party for the neighborhood kids. It was all apples and old ghost stories. Agron would’ve bitched about the lack of anything worse than soda to drink, except that Nasir currently had the floor, reciting all sorts of seasonal poems.
Gannicus had, somehow, convinced him to dress up like some bastard mixture of Edgar Allan Poe and Dracula. He watched Nasir recite the last stanza of Yeats’ All Souls’ Night, completely aware that he was smiling like a damned fool.
The kids all shrieked in delight when Oenomaus and Gannicus popped out from behind the sofa and chased them into the backyard.
Such thought -- such thought have I that hold it tight
Till meditation master all its parts,
Nothing can stay my glance
Until that glance run in the world's despite
To where the damned have howled away their hearts,
And where the blessed dance;
Such thought, that in it bound
I need no other thing,
Wound in mind's wandering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.
Melitta wrapped an arm around his waist and he turned to smile down at her.
“I am glad you are here this year,” she said.
“Gratitude for the invitation.”
“You are always welcome, your whole pack. I would not have you here just for Nasir’s comfort.”
“I’m glad he has you,” Agron said. He was eternally grateful. Nasir had a deep bond with this house and maybe that would help entice him to return.
He did not doubt Nasir’s love for him or his pack. He did doubt Nasir’s ability to stay in this place for at least a solid year. An utter hatred for heavy snow and cold weather did not bode well for one living in New England.
Melitta sighed. “Oh, Agron, you are always too much. You love too much and you worry too much.” She pointed to Nasir. “Do you see that scarf, the one Gannicus made into a cravat for him tonight, the one he always has near.”
“Yes, it’s the one you made for him.”
“It is, it’s one of my specialties. Imbued with the very essence of a loved one. A literal scarf of protection and affection. I made that for Nasir in July after his second visit here, at his own request. Do you know whose essence is carried in that scarf?”
He ducked his head and tried to ignore the warmth that was flowing through his skin.
“Yes, it’s yours,” Melitta confirmed. “He wanted something of you, to carry with him forever, even when he thought there was no chance beyond friendship. Do you honestly think a few bouts of wolf politics and winter blizzards are going to keep him away?”
“I am only concerned that he must change so much of what he knows to be here.”
Melitta patted his cheek. “Is Nasir the type to turn away from something just because it is difficult or different?”
“There is your answer, you silly wolf.” She tilted her head, lost in thought for a moment. “I understand your need to conceal the full rites of the bonding from him. His ignorance on the subject may very well protect him when he returns to the Other Side. You both would not appear overly hasty if he returned with that decision still to be made.”
“Fabulous. Now, can you explain that to both Nasir and Sura?”
“Your pack, your problems,” she teased.
“Would you children like to learn a very special song,” Gannicus voice carried from the back yard.
“He’s going to teach them My Cock Rages On,” Agron said.
Melitta was already pulling away and running outside. She yelled at Gannicus in a truly impressive imitation of a Bean Sidhe.
He walked over to Nasir and helped tug off the cape Saxa insisted he wore during “story time.”
“She wasn’t trying to slowly strangle me, was she?”
Agron laughed. “You never can tell with Saxa. She usually goes for the quick kill though.”
“That’s reassuring,” Nasir muttered. He tugged off the waistcoat as well, shaking his arms and looking more like his normal self. He reached out to Agron, wrapping his fingers around the bare skin of his wrist. “You’re quiet.”
“I was enjoying the show. You’re really good with the kids.”
Nasir’s laugh was low and soft. Agron did all he could not whimper at the sound rarely heard outside their bed.
“The children don’t watch me with lust in their eyes.”
“You sure about that? I think little Justin might be having an awakening over—”
Nasir shut him up by shoving an apple into Agron’s mouth.
“Nasir, I applaud the ingenuity,” Gannicus said. “I’m sure you have more entertaining ways of silencing that fool.”
“Melitta banished you to the house, I see,” Nasir said.
“She says they are too young to learn decent drinking songs. I still say it’s nothing worse than what they listen to on the radio. Oenomaus agrees with me but you know how it is. Melitta’s word is law.”
“Or she just doesn’t want to explain how the daughter of Witch City’s Police Chief suddenly knows the word cock,” Agron said. The apple was damn good. Perfect Granny Smith. He took another bite, ignoring the looks Gannicus and Nasir gave him.
“Out of all the wolves in all the bars in all the realms you had to pick that one,” Gannicus said.
Agron didn’t even bother to growl. He was leaving the threats and insults to Nasir these days.
“When he rips your throat out due to sheer incredulity over the unoriginality of your insults, Gannicus, I will do nothing to stop him.”
Agron tightened his arm around Nasir’s waist in gratitude. Nasir rested against him, an eyebrow raised, welcoming Gannicus’ reply.
Gannicus chuckled. “I refuse to battle words with a Bard. A Sidhe must keep his pride.” He nodded at them. “I go to start the more adult entertainment in the back. Join us if you want to see just how I managed to pay for the house extension.”
Nasir waited until Gannicus disappeared into the back where Saxa, Donar, Auctus and the other children-haters were secluded to ask.
“Do I want to know what he means?”
“Gannicus is quite the successful exotic dancer. He has whole online fan clubs devoted to him.”
“Isn’t that dangerous for someone who has an average lifespan of five millennia?”
“He’s already planned out his fake death. It involves a freak sky diving accident. Saxa already has dibs on throwing the fake body out of the plane.”
Nasir shook his head. “I thought I left all the harebrained schemes on the Other Side.”
“We’re even worse here.”
“I’m starting to see that.”
“You’re being an unsettled maudlin fuck,” Varro declared. He dropped a beer in front of Agron. “I will sit here and glare at you until you tell me what’s wrong. Even Crixus is concerned. Crixus, Agron.”
“Nasir is going to leave,” he said.
“Yes, in a month. For a job. From which he will be returning.”
“And of the other jobs? The other promises? The friends he’s made and loves to see on both sides of the Divide? The other places that call him home? What am I to do then with a whole pack to protect?”
“You let your brother do his job as your second.” Varro gripped his shoulder. “I won’t pretend that I know what it’s like to lead a pack. I do know what it’s like to be in Nasir’s shoes. Sure, I’m still working off some debt that that’s why I must constantly travel but that doesn’t mean I welcome a stagnant life more than my current one. I asked you to think about making your claim for this very reason. Do you regret it?”
“Fuck no,” Agron said.
“Hard to guess, wolf, with the way you’ve been acting ever since the equinox. Does this have something to do with Duro and Auctus then?”
“No, I am and remain fucking thankful they’ve finally taken that step.”
“Then what the fuck is it, Agron? I know Spartacus, Auctus, Barca, and Melitta have talked to you. What stupidity is taking over your head? You’re not showing it all the time but those of us who know you, we can see it.”
“Because the last time someone so important to me went over the Divide, there was an attempt on his life and Auctus wound up dead. Because I can’t go with Nasir nor protect him over there. Because I know I’m being an asshole worrying about Nasir’s protection when he is more than fucking capable of protecting himself. Because sometimes I wonder what the hell he must see when he looks at me and what he’s still doing here and why the fuck he’d want to make his overly complicated life even worse by adding in wolf politics.”
“Because I’m in love with you, you fucking idiot,” Nasir said.
Agron whipped his head around to find Nasir, Naevia, and Duro in the doorway. No one should look that shocked or pissed off while holding baked goods.
“I’m just gonna, you know, upstairs, now with Naevia and shit,” Duro said. “Varro, come with?”
“Gladly,” Varro said. The little traitor even took the beer with him.
Nasir dropped a plate of freshly baked lemon squares on the coffee table.
“Eat,” he said.
“Um, are you sure?” Agron asked.
“They’re not poisoned you moronic canine.”
“That’s not what—”
“You are going to eat so I can talk at you since apparently discussing things with you are not sinking into that overly thick skull.”
He didn’t appreciate being called a stupid dog, but Nasir was pissed and there were lemon squares. He watched Nasir pace back and forth, his unbound hair flying after him as he made quick, agitated turns. He was captivating even in anger.
“Agron, it’s not that I don’t appreciate or understand your concern,” he started. “You have a natural instinct to protect and lead, it’s part of who you are both as wolf and man. I understand that. I also understand, after many a long talk with Melitta and Oenomaus, that there are ritual, laws, and practices of the wolves you’re forbidden from sharing with me yet. Of course it hurts knowing that as it stands now, Auctus is more of a pack-member than I am because Duro’s claim goes deeper. Auctus is physically and spiritually marked as a member of your pack, not just a claimed mate outsider. Yet I know that he has centuries over me when it comes to friendship and loyalty. I know you have to be cautious of this going further because of the two of us, I will always be able to walk away and you won’t.
I have lived my whole life in one way, to one purpose, as a wandering minstrel. Forever changing for my crowds, just like a good Puck should. I never had the chance to be homesick for I never knew a home. Do you understand what that means, Agron? Even as a child I was performing for the Sidhe royals, living in quarters in the palace. I was raised to understand that was how my life should be lived, forever taking jobs and sleeping in beds in other people’s houses. Taking meals and finding companions with other people’s friends. That’s what I continued to do here.
There is a change in me now. I can feel it in my very bones. I want to grow roots here. Even with the atrocious weather and the subway train delays. I want us to find a house near the woods, far removed from any electrical plant or suspicious neighbors. I want to end my nights tumbling you into our bed in our room in our house. I want to start my mornings in your arms with your horrid snuffling in my ear. For the first time in my life I don’t want to return to the Other Side.
Agron, you need to stop trying to protect me from what you think I want and help me to achieve that which I actually do.”
He stopped pacing and walked over to Agron. Nasir pushed them both back on the couch and leaned over Agron.
“Do you want to know what I see when I look at you? I see the fashion sense and grooming of a man who cares not what others think. I see a powerful body that can just as easily slam another man into a wall as it can carry Senora Lucia’s groceries up to her fifth-floor apartment. I see the man who carried me over patches of snowy puddles rather than let my feet get wet because he knows how much I hate being cold. I see a smile that captivates everyone with eyes that miss nothing and both that cover up some of the darkest memories anyone has witnessed. I see anger, hope, desire, love, and home.” Nasir strategically lowered his hips and smiled at Agron’s whimper. “Now tell me,” he whispered over Agron’s lips, “why I would have any reason to not return to all of this?”
Agron couldn’t decide if it was the wolf or the human that caused him to whimper, but he really didn’t care at that moment.
“Mmhmm,” Nasir said. “That’s what I thought.”
Agron could almost hear the clock in the background. Somewhere his mother was laughing at him, all her warnings about not wasting time. Here he was now, waiting for the end to come and cursing the rise of each sun.
Yet Spartacus and Sura made it work and last. Auctus now held something similar with Duro. It would have to be enough to know that Nasir still breathed, even if he was where Agron could not reach him. He studied Nasir’s face, fingers tracing the beloved skin, marveling over the scars amid the soft cheeks and the harsh stubble. He looked young in both sleep and awake but if the eyes opened all the ages of the worlds would show to those trusted to view. He believed Nasir when he spoke of his desire to return and build their home after the solstice. He just couldn’t get the dreadful feeling at the bottom of his stomach to fade.
Something was going to happen when Nasir returned to the Other Side.
Delicious smells came from the kitchen. Than Thanksgiving cooking and baking madness had begun. Melitta, Oenomaus, and Gannicus were staying with them this time. Even Pietros and Barca were leaving The Temple in Colbert’s trusty Wanderer hands for a day.
The soft knock on the door could only be Naevia. She was the only one who actually observed manners.
“Come in,” Agron called.
Naevia’s smile was full of warmth. “Sorry to bother you.”
“You could never bother us,” Nasir said. He squinted and sat up. “Is there a problem?”
“We just need someone to entertain Gannicus. Duro’s upstairs helping Mira peel the potatoes and carrots so Auctus followed him. We’re baking the pies here and Oenomaus demands that Gannicus stay out of the kitchen.”
“He’s a disaster around stoves,” Agron explained. “We’ll be out soon.”
“Take your time,” Naevia said as she left them with an obvious wink.
“I think Pietros is starting to corrupt her,” Agron said.
“No,” Nasir hummed. “Crixus is finally being more overt with his courting techniques. They might even start dating before the end of the decade.”
“Oh that’s an improvement over the previous prediction for end of the century.”
Nasir tilted his chin up and kissed him. “What’s the point of this holiday again other than extreme over-eating?”
“That’s the least controversial interpretation and the reason we choose to celebrate it. The truth involves colonization, foreign diseases and stealing of lands, and your typical bouts of betrayal and death. The advertisers want you to think of it as the start of Christmas shopping season. I’m just in it for the pie.” He forced himself out of the bed. “Go, take your shower. I’ll frighten Gannicus with my morning breath.”
In the living room Gannicus was sprawled out like a very satisfied cat with a quilt strategically placed over his body.
“You’re shameless,” Agron said.
“I am an example of perfection.”
“You are an example of overactive hormones.”
Gannicus laughed. “Like I said, perfection.”
“Is there a reason you refuse to wear a shirt in my home?”
“Melitta says I will ruin anything I wear before dinner. I was told to watch the parade but the commentary and obvious lip-synching isn’t fun without a drinking game.”
“Gannicus, it’s nine o’clock in the morning.”
“Are you trying to tell me that you have never had beer for breakfast?”
Agron collapsed on the couch laughing at Gannicus’ far too serious face.
Dinner itself was upstairs at Sura and Spartacus’ home. It went well this year, no burnt eyebrows or stuffing emergencies. They all managed to fit around the table even though they had to crowd in; their group was not unused to sharing each other’s space.
Once everyone finished their first serving of dessert, Spartacus held up his glass for a toast.
“Now, I am not a creature of words like Nasir,” Spartacus said, “but I have been known to give a speech a time or two.”
“Or ten thousand,” Varro interjected.
The room filled with quiet laughter.
“Or ten thousand,” Spartacus agreed. “Still, after last year it was agreed that going around this table and forcing each of us to say what we’re thankful for would take far too long. As Gannicus still has yet to ruin his shirt, we don’t want to abuse the time-space continuum anymore than it already has been clearly thanks to Melitta’s intervention.”
Gannicus stood up and gave a little bow, proudly showing his unmarred white shirt.
“And since it was decided last year that people were thankful for the wrong things such as not having to rip anyone’s head from their shoulders, Agron.”
“The mess gets everywhere,” he protested.
“Or being thankful for the latest edition of their favorite video games series coming out, Duro.”
Duro scoffed. “A lot of people were thankful for that.”
“Or that a designer jacket was 75% off Mira.”
“Maybe you weren’t thankful for that.”
“Let us just say, before Varro and Hamilcar complain about this taking too long—”
“Too late,” they chorused.
“—that we are thankful for all the friends and family gathered here. May we have them each year hence. To Agron, Auctus, Barca, Crixus, Dagan, Donar, Duro, Gannicus, Hamilcar, Melitta, Mira, Naevia, Nasir, Oenomaus, Pietros, Saxa, Varro, and my beloved Sura, may the Gods bless us all with another year full of such love and such friendship.”
The cheer that went through the room was enough to rattle the windows.
Two weeks, just two more until Nasir returned to the Other Side. Both wolf and man were in agreement over how much it sucked. It was more than that though. Agron’s instincts were trying to tell him something and it was leaving him bereft of sleep and peace. He paced the kitchen, ignoring the cold that seeped into his feet, and watched the snow pile up outside. Yet another storm. Thankfully this time Nasir was already present when it started.
“You want to mark him,” Auctus said.
Agron turned to meet the ghost’s gaze. His eyes dropped to the mark on Auctus’ chest, the one that permanently tied him to the living world.
“I do but I won’t. To bear the mark and be separated by such a distance would drive both of us to madness.”
“Yet you still want to, as does the wolf.”
“It’s the start of the bonding process and Nasir is about to leave. Of course I want to mark him.”
“Does the wolf have to initiate the process?”
“It’s not usually carried out in wolf form, no.”
“No,” Auctus said. “You’ve already made the claim so clearly you’ve started the bonding process. I meant the mark. Can the non-wolf partner give the mark first? I know it might not carry the same sort of power but it holds its own significance.”
There was a certain sort of logic to that and it may very well calm down the wolf enough to let them both rest. Even if it still drove Agron to madness, he didn’t have a job in front of Sidhe royalty coming up. Spartacus could drug him into next year easily enough.
“Thank you for the insight.”
“I know what it’s like to bear a wolf’s mark apparently.”
“Do not think you left him unmarked. True, you didn’t bite down on his chest, but you saved him. That imprinted on his very soul.”
“You make it sound like I ruined him for other men.”
“It’s slightly difficult to top scarified myself in order to save him. All the other competitors would give up.”
Agron wasn’t the only one awake this night. Nasir was downstairs in the office working on his compositions. He still had two left to finish. He padded down the stairs to find Nasir laid out on one of the gym’s training mats, ink stained fingers shuffling through pages of musical composition.
“Why aren’t you asleep?” Nasir asked.
“Cold,” Agron said. He pushed Nasir’s hair back behind his ears. “How is my favorite composer doing?”
“Exhausted. I think I only have the one piece left to complete. I’m still uncertain on this one. A few chord progressions bother me.”
“Sleep on it then,” Agron said. He grasped the back of Nasir’s neck. “Come to bed.”
“Maybe I should just run through this again.”
“Nasir,” he said, gently tilting Nasir’s chin up to meet his eyes, “come to bed.”
Nasir’s hand covered Agron’s. “Something’s changed in you. What is it?”
“There is something I would ask of you and I would rather have it done in a bed smelling of us than on a mat smelling of Crixus.”
“You know of the mark Auctus bears. I cannot do such for you, not yet. The distance to come will not allow it. I would carry your own mark though. Not just the one on my soul, but one I can see whenever I need.”
“You are aware I can leave a bite just as deep and as magically infused as your own, yes?”
“I was hoping on it.”
Nothing was said on the return to Agron’s room, the silence was enough. Nasir’s eyes glowed in the low light as he pushed Agron down onto the bed, hands splaying over his chest.
“Are you certain?”
Nasir dropped his head, his hair a welcome distraction for Agron’s suddenly chaotic thoughts. He finally made his hands move, cradling Nasir’s head as his lips pressed right above Agron’s heart. There was already a scar there from an old battle. He would prefer this one brought from pleasure, trust, and deliberate choice.
Nasir’s hands moved to hold down Agron’s hips and just as Agron took a deep breath, he bit down hard enough to draw blood. The pulse of heat and power that went through Agron was enough to make him cry out. Nasir pulled back just enough to run his tongue over the mark.
“Better now?” he asked.
Agron nodded still unable to speak. His whole body was adjusting to the permanent feel of Nasir’s magic. It was more than the skin-to-skin contact and the claiming mark. This was Nasir’s blood and spirit mixed with his own.
“I look forward to your returning the favor,” Nasir said.
Agron let out a breathless laughed and pulled Nasir up. He latched on to his mouth, tasting his own blood there, and trying not to smile as the wolf in him finally settled the fuck down.
Contentment was a damn fine feeling.
Every last one of them trudged out to the woods to see Nasir and Varro off. Agron and Crixus were sent out to the portal first to make sure no humans were wondering about. It was an interesting talk to say the least.
“You think he won’t come back?” Crixus asked.
Agron shrugged. “Doesn’t matter what I think. He could get back over there and find something that will make him stay longer. Weeks turn into months turn into years.”
“Does he know you’ve already completely bonded to him?”
Agron refused to answer. It wasn’t a complete bonding yet. Nasir’s part still needed to be fulfilled.
“Fucking idiot,” Crixus said.
“He knows he’s marked me. I haven’t reciprocated. It’s close enough, Crixus. I can’t hold him here for a year and a day. That’s the requirement for a typical bond. For ours, with my status and his power, it could be even longer. I can let him live his life as he knows it and still have him if he is claimed and not bonded.”
“He should be the one to make that choice, Agron.”
“And he will be, once he returns.” He repeated it to himself a few times, once not if. He’d started to believe it after the marking but doubts still crept up.
Crixus cursed. “He may very well return to greet you with a punch to to the jaw and you would deserve it, you stupid pup.”
“I am well aware of this. I haven’t lied to him. I haven’t even withheld the most pertinent information. I am merely neglecting to tell him how deep this marking goes for me. I do so with the best of intentions for both of us.”
“Your intentions are for shit.”
“Do you two ever stop fighting,” Varro called. “We are ready to leave now that you’ve secured the perimeter ten times over. I wish to get out of this snow, as do the rest of us.”
“It would be so much easier if the portals were hidden in wardrobes,” Melitta agreed.
Agron paid his farewells to Varro first. He held him tight, pulling the hood of his cloak over the golden curls. “Give Aurelia all my love. I pray she smacks you for it. Don’t forget to give Diona the dagger I found for her. Tell Lugo I would see him again before the end of the next year.”
“And watch over Nasir, I know.” Varro patted his back. “All will be well, brother. The only battles we fight this time will be courtly.”
“Having heard about the Sidhe courts, that doesn’t calm me.”
“Prince Aindrea is mated to a Siren. No one will cause damage or discord in their home. They’d have all the waters against them.”
“I feel slightly better now.”
“He keeps a sea monster for a pet. She’s named Bessie.”
Agron laughed. “Thank you, Varro.”
He was the last to say goodbye to Nasir. Mostly everyone had gone back to the cabin, except for the wolves, in their animal forms, who were running circles around them in the snow.
Agron could see the bottom of the hem of sweatshirt he bought for Nasir all those months ago under the coat. He buried his nose in Nasir’s hair and took a deep breath, than another. Nasir’s hands curled over the mark on Agron’s skin.
Nasir pulled him down and rested their foreheads together.
“Don’t fret. I will return before the next full moon.”
“Plans have way of going to shit.”
“Your plans, not mine.”
Agron forced out a laugh. He rubbed his nose against Nasir's and closed his eyes, willing himself to remember every last detail of this moment.
“It’s getting late,” Nasir said.
“I know,” Agron said.
He opened his eyes and pressed a soft kiss to Nasir’s forehead. He followed to his nose, his cheeks, his chin and then finally one last kiss to his lips. It needed to last them, one month here, two months or more on the Other Side where time flowed differently.
Duro nudged at one of his knees, Donar at the other, and by Nasir’s laugh Saxa must’ve got to him. He opened his eyes and stepped back. Nasir leaned up, pressed one last kiss to Agron’s lips and hurried over to Varro.
Agron nodded, letting Varro know it was okay before he switched to his own wolf form. He braced himself against Duro at the pressure that overtook the air in the woods as Varro opened the portal. Varro and Nasir turned to wave goodbye. The wolves’ howled them farewell until the portal closed.
It was time to wait. Agron would get through this with the strength of his friends and his pack. For now though, he’d take the welcome distraction of chasing Saxa through the miles and miles of snow-covered forest.
Chapter 8: Seven
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It always took a moment to adjust to the pure magic in the air of the Other Side. Nasir had never stayed so long away and the change was stealing his very breath.
“Steady gulps,” Varro said as he patted his back. “You’ll be fine once we reach the wood’s edge.”
Nasir panted and closed his eyes, letting the magic wash over him. There was a distinct scent in the air, one he’d become accustomed to over the last few months.
“Wolves,” he said.
Varro grinned. “Yes, Aurelia’s pack. You’ll love her. Possibly fear her. Honestly, it’ll be a bit of both.”
“So prepare myself for all eventualities.”
“At least it will be an adventure.”
That wasn’t the first time he’d heard that phrase in the past year. He still had yet to decide if it was a blessing in disguise or a curse.
“There is a job in Cambridge,” Chadara said. She passed him the contract scroll, the spell work shining on the vellum. “You should take it. It will be an adventure.”
“I planned to return to Ville on the Summer Solstice.”
“Go back early and secure a job for the Equinox. It would do you well to spend time away from the Royal Sidhe.”
“Am I not in the presence of a non-Royal Sidhe?”
“You should have more acquaintances than me. Not that I will ever turn away your company. I would see you enjoy some frivolity. I have heard of that sanctuary in Cambridge. It is a lively place.”
Nasir unrolled the scroll and looked over the details of the job. Only three required shows a week from the Summer Solstice to the Autumnal Equinox. Room and board was offered along with a market standard rate of compensation. It was very open-ended and Nasir felt attracted to the sense of freedom he could already feel coming with the offer. It was too long since he last enjoyed whole days to himself.
“I haven’t dwelled in America since the early 1970s,” he admitted.
Chadara squeezed his arm. “I would say it’s about time to return. Who knows what you’ll find there. I see you falling in love with a handsome man.” She pecked his check. “See if he has a sister for me.”
“Yes, Chadara, if I happen to meet some mysterious stranger I’ll be sure to inquire if he has a sister who wouldn’t mind being saddled with a semi-sane Spring Sidhe.”
She laughed. “You better.”
Aurelia wasn’t what he expected. Since she was an Alpha he thought her somewhere in between Agron and Saxa. Aurelia had a delicate beauty about her like Melitta. She stood smaller than Nasir and yet her very aura demanded respect. Like all who dwelled in the Other World, Aurelia wore her power and magic openly and her eyes glowed bright blue.
She laughed at them before they were within a mile of her.
“I see Agron’s made a claim,” she yelled. “Not that you haven’t made one of equal strength, Nasir.”
He leaned over to Varro. “She knows my name,” he whispered.
Varro nodded. “She knows everything. Don’t bother whispering; she can hear us. Unlike Agron’s pack, Aurelia’s isn’t full of loudmouthed smartasses. Except Lugo but he’s a special case. The other female is Diona.”
As they drew closer Nasir noticed the group gathered behind Aurelia. He could recognize the two other wolves on sight, a new skill he didn’t realized he acquired. Once was a young woman similar to Aurelia in looks and temperament. The other was a man as tall as Nasir with a stocky build and an impressive beard. To the side stood a face he knew from long ago.
“I did not expect a royal greeting,” he called to Prince Eideard.
Eideard smiled. He looked ethereal out here, letting his magical brands and tattoos show. He reminded him of Auctus in a lot of ways. They were both long-lived and full of knowledge. Wild creatures living in civilized worlds. In the past Eideard intimated him, now he had six months of experience with wolves and Gannicus to rely on.
“You have grown into quite the strong-willed man,” Eideard said. He embraced Nasir. “Your parents would be proud. They always wanted more for you in this life than to be a caged song bird. They wanted you to forge your own path. You’ve done well for yourself. That wolf pack out of Chauci, it’s strong. It must be for so many of the packs over here to feel threatened.”
“Who told you?” Varro asked.
“You know Renata always listens for news out of Boston. She has a vested interest. Not to mention how many water spirits live in the area. I had promises to keep.” Eideard gripped Nasir’s shoulder. “I see balance around you. It will do both of you well.”
“Agron’s pack especially benefits from their leader finding his mate. I still savor the look on Sedullus' face when he found out. He keeps me from what is mine and expects me to listen to his complaints,” Aurelia said.
“Mine? Don’t you mean ours?”
Aurelia wrapped her arms around Varro’s waist. “If that makes you feel better.”
Diona and Lugo both openly laughed at them.
“Come,” Eideard said, “let us proceed to Merrymec. I am sure both Varro and Nasir wish to rest. The Queen and her Consort are coming. All need proper sleep to prepare for such a thing.”
The Temple and its people were everything and nothing like Nasir anticipated. He expected the unique type of personality that made someone a permanent Wayfarer. It took a determination and strength of character to leave behind everything familiar to settle in a whole different world.
It started with Barca, huge and intimidating with a dark past and an exceedingly gentle manner towards Pietros. Barca cherished and protected that which he loved and deemed delicate. He carried the scent of Sidhe and Giant on him. It followed with Pietros, always ready with a smile and a smart comeback to hide the shadows in his eyes. There were scars on Pietros skin that no typical Sprite should have; a veritable road map of a past where he refused to linger. Then came the pack of wolves, wizards, ghosts, and a demon. They came in as a group, protected and guarded their own territory. Even those in the bar who clearly knew them gave them the respect of distance. They were just more, living and breathing as a single unit of power.
Even then Agron stood out him. It wasn’t just the clear suspicion in his eyes; Nasir knew to anticipate that, especially from wolves when they couldn’t place his scent. It was the actual heat rolling off him, of all the wolves. His mother always said the Dragon blood ran strong in him. It helped him speak in riddles and easily tell lies. It also left him forever cold. Agron seeped out warmth, from his open smile to his ever present shoulder pats. The wolf leeched out his own heat to everyone he passed. Nasir would be telling the biggest lie of all if he said he didn’t crave it. Yet he still had to stay his own desires.
Pucks wandered through life alone. Wolves were territorial and stayed with their packs. He shouldn’t want that. He couldn’t want it.
The Haldane Manor in Merrymec served as both the residence for the Prince of the Autumn Sidhe, Aindrea Haldane, the seat of the region’s group of Watch Keepers, and the building housing the local University and Archives. Nasir had not passed through Merrymec since his youth. Most of his time was spent in Ville, closer to the Southern Winds and Waters.
The Manor was almost as cold as Boston’s winter streets and Nasir happily settled under the layers of blankets and furs in his guest bedroom.
He could smell Aindrea at the door before he knocked. Apparently there were some consequences of not only living with wolves but biting one and getting claimed by their Alpha.
“Come in,” he called.
Aindrea greeted him with a smile. “Neat trick you have acquired. I did not realize the Chauci wolves were capable of transferring or augmenting another’s powers. I am glad to know they have settled on the Other Side.”
Nasir couldn’t hold back his own laughter. Aindrea was always so weighed down with his responsibilities, be it as a Prince of the Sidhe or Chief of the Watch Keepers or Chancellor of the University.
“One day you will learn to greet old friends with kind words and not suspicions of power plays,” Nasir said. He burrowed down further into his blankets. “I would move to embrace you but I do not wish to lose my toes to frostbite. You are in desperate need of a Fire Demon to come and redo your heating spells.”
“Hoosier claims their magic will interfere with his own.”
“Hoosier is a lying jackass who prefers the frozen tundra.”
Aindrea sighed. “I see your time as a Wayfarer has ruined your language.”
“I see your time fostering Snafu has ruined your senses.”
Aindrea sat at Nasir’s bedside and patted his head. “It lightens my heart to see such a young Puck grow into a fierce temperament.”
“I am sure you had no influence on that seeing as how you were my Bard teacher.”
“My Aunt made promise to your mother that she’d teach you enough to be memorable. I only knew ritual songs and sea shanties at the time.”
“I was thrown out of the first three taverns I worked at.”
“Yet you learned quickly to adapt and learn new songs. And to create your own, which was perhaps Kitty’s aim in the first place. You never can tell with her.”
“Much like how her official heir will be forced to abdicate the throne to you if she wishes to avoid open war?” Nasir smirked at Aindrea’s dumbfounded look. “Do not think me without my own sources as a Wayfarer.”
“We are decades off that, centuries even.”
“For now,” Nasir conceded. “If your cousin gets it into his head to seize power things will be different.”
Aindrea tugged on the scarf around Nasir’s neck. “Melitta’s work, yes? She is greatly missed.”
“You’d rather talk fashion than politics?” He looked at Aindrea’s worn green shirt that was as old as Nasir. “You?”
“I can respect craftsmanship,” he defended. “I hear enough about the inevitable conflict of my future from Eideard. I merely wish to greet an old friend.”
“And find out if you had any reasons for concern in housing me.”
“Never you personally. Only what would happen if a claimed and marked wolf’s mate was so far separated from his new pack. I can see Agron has held off on that. You don’t yet carry a wolf’s power in your own eyes or aura. He has matured then. There was a time when he would not spare such though to protect what he deemed as his.”
“You speak as if you know him and yet he has little knowledge of you.”
“I’ve come across his sisters a time or two. Lucia is the storyteller of the family. She was the one to commit their histories to the Archives and tell me of her brothers when they were pups. When word came of your bonding I made sure to review the texts.”
“You are as suspicious as he is.”
“I am well-informed and prepared.”
“You are ridiculous.”
“He speaks the truth,” Eideard said from the doorway. “See, Aindrea, Nasir is whole and well. Agron has no ulterior motives for claiming a Puck as a mate.”
“He didn’t even know when he started his courting,” Nasir said.
“See? Nothing for concern. Let the poor boy sleep. He is to meet Leckie tomorrow which means he will be in for a world of integration. I don’t want to deal with Leckie’s bruised ego and possibly bruised face if a tired Nasir loses his temper.”
“I am right here.”
“Yes, you are,” Eideard agreed. “And if you’re already taking on Agron’s scenting abilities his other powers won’t be far behind. Tell me, how does he deal with anger?”
Nasir did not, in fact, gulp. He just needed to swallow for a fine reason at that moment.
“Always the wise one, Eideard,” Aindrea said. He patted Nasir’s shoulder. “I wish you a good rest and some sweet dreams.”
Eideard held up a finger before Nasir could respond. “No sarcastically quoting Shakespeare please. I get enough of that from Leckie and Webster.”
Nasir did not know who Leckie or Webster were and he did not care to learn. It seemed tomorrow would be, at the very least, interesting.
Nasir knew how to be respected, desired, derided and underestimated. He didn’t yet know how to be loved romantically though he wanted to learn with each day spent near Agron. He didn’t live before in complete solitude. He knew that to be a Puck, to be a Bard, meant an insular life in terms of private thoughts and companionship. Nasir wanted to be greedy for once. Agron, burning with life, drew everyone. He wanted to be special, different, and unique to him. Agron laughed, smiled, and touched all he met. He wanted that intensity of the man and the wolf on him alone at all times. It almost scared him how much he wanted it. Nasir thought he knew all he was capable of and yet there was a darkness in him whenever someone else touched Agron with more than just friendly intention.
He had no rights to feel thus when he would not make a claim.
Nasir also knew that getting involved with a wolf pack was dangerous. He knew next to nothing about wolves other than their legendary ability to scent people, objects, and emotions. They were not often spoken of in Ville. He only knew two of their songs and though he spent much of this time near the woods, he’d never sung for a whole pack.
Agron was rarely condescending when he corrected one of Nasir’s misconceptions. He displayed a patience that Nasir didn’t expect. He spoke of his wolves and their history with pride. Even if they didn’t follow all the rituals and traditions, they still held to their old convictions in a modern world. Agron was proud of being wolf, of heading his pack, and he gladly owned each of their achievements and failures.
Nasir had assumed, incorrectly, that Spartacus was the true leader of the pack. At the group dinner tonight he realized at any moment Agron could and would take the pack and leave. If he felt that he and Spartacus no longer held to a similar purpose or if the risk to the pack was too great, they would part. He wondered where the others would go. Would Mira follow the pack or Spartacus? Crixus would go with Naevia. Auctus would go with the pack. Sura would stay at her husband’s side. It was all far more complicated than a simple group of friends. Nasir knew he shouldn’t want any of it and yet the company of wolves felt like home.
He wanted more. He wanted such company, loud, lascivious, and loving, at all times. This could be home, his new normal, but he worried for the consequences. He’d never lived on the non-magic side for more than a half-year. Agron and the pack would never return to the Other Side. Nasir couldn’t let himself fall even more. It would have to be enough, just to spend time around Agron. Nasir left at the Equinox. It would be foolish to pursue anything else.
As he took the return train to Cambridge he looked down at his hands. His whole body still felt warmed from Agron’s company. It killed a small part of him each time that warmth faded. He could have this always if he wanted, if he tried, if he fought.
Nasir closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He needed to seek advice from his elders. This was a decision full of consequences. He needed reassurance that he wasn’t reading more into Agron’s affections than what was really there. He needed a relatively unbiased opinion of it all. He needed Chadara but in the lack of her, he’d gladly take Oenomaus.
The University at Merrymec and its library was housed in one of the towers of the Manor. It was a massive structure, much larger on the inside than appeared. Nasir always marveled at how the architects managed it, with their natural abilities and just a hint of magic. He hadn’t passed through these halls since his adolescent years but if there was anywhere in Merrymec to find leftover bits of string, fabric, and dried gut for his instruments and vestments it was the music halls. He could easily bargain a tutoring session for supplies. He was relaxing in the library’s bar after a successful acquisition and mandolin lesson when Robert Leckie came over to him.
He’d heard the stories from Snafu of the Manor’s newest resident. Leckie wasn’t as starry-eyed as most new Wanderers. He didn’t let himself marvel at the magic around him. He had a bitter twist to his lips and a clear air of superiority. Nasir learned long ago not to be bothered by such people. They were the type who wrapped themselves in cynicism and sarcasm in order to hide from their own fears.
“They say you’re a musician,” Leckie drawled.
“I am a Bard,” Nasir corrected.
“A Bard. So very professional.” Leckie leaned a hand on Nasir’s table and gestured to the papers laid out. “Do you play your own stuff or is it all epic poetry and courtly ballads?”
“A mixture of both. I collect songs from wherever I travel and work them into a set with original compositions.”
“Is that so? Bet you don’t know Bob Dylan.”
Nasir tuned his mandolin and played the first few bars of The Times They Are A-Changin’.
“When I was last dwelled in America for a significant time, I was following around Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I favored Phil Ochs though,” he explained.
Leckie’s lips twitched and Nasir counted it as a small victory. He was intrigued to see what Hoosier found in the man. The intelligence was obvious, knowledge burned in Leckie’s eyes and Hoosier always was attracted to the prickliest of creatures. Still he once swore to never bother with a Wanderer. There was no guarantee they would stay for long.
Nasir decided not to think about why that would make his gut churn. Surely Agron wasn’t stupid enough to still think the same of Nasir.
Leckie sat down across from him without invitation. He pulled a journal and a fountain pen from his satchel.
“I’d love to write your story, if you’d let me.”
He was an arrogant shit. Now Hoosier’s attraction made sense. That wizard never took the easiest path. Nasir knew Leckie was on his own mission to collect all the stories of every creature he came across. Few non-Sidhe knew the tales of a Puck. Leckie needed to prove his worth.
“I will consider it,” he said. “First you must answer my query. Robert Frost’s The Road Less Travelled and Stephen Crane’s The Wayfarer are two poems in which everyone assumes an obvious interpretation. Clearly the narrator of Frost’s poem is rejoicing over his chosen path. There is no doubt the wayfarer in Crane’s poem chooses the path not filled with knives. That’s what the interpreters tell us at least. What about you, Mr. Leckie?”
“I think unreliable narrators make life interesting and cause good dinner conversation.”
Nasir nodded. “I’ll give you some of my tale, that which is allowed to be shared with an Outsider.”
“Because I’m a Wanderer?”
“Because you are a human from the modern world and I do not have the time to explain all the whys and whatfors of magical treaties to you.” He motioned for two drinks to be sent over. “I can guarantee that you will never have another story such as mine.”
“Everyone’s story is unique,” Leckie argued.
Nasir laughed. “Very true. Pucks rarely share their personal histories though, not without an exchange of tales and even then they don’t give the whole truth. Lucky for you I’m in the mood to talk.”
Leckie nodded already jotting down a few notes. Suddenly his hand froze and he looked up at Nasir. “I’m sorry, did you say Puck?”
Nasir let his power briefly shine through his eyes. “I did.”
“Jesus,” Leckie whistled.
Nasir escaped to Salem. It seemed like a logical decision at the time. Gannicus picked him up from the train station, nothing said but the damnable smirk ever present on his lips. Nasir had a time table. He needed to back back in Boston by the weekend, preferably by tomorrow if he felt up to it. He hadn’t packed anything, just grabbed his satchel and scarf and left The Temple with a small wave to Pietros.
Nasir took a deep breath full of the presence lingering off his scarf and centered himself. The fact he had Melitta fashion a scarf with Agron’s presence should’ve been answer enough. He just, he needed validation. He needed a parental figure to tell him it would all work out even if it was a complete lie.
“Love is terrifying, is it not,” Gannicus said as they pulled into the driveway. “It makes you lose control and for a creature such as yourself, that must be pants-shitting scary.”
“I have no idea of what you speak.”
Gannicus laughed. “You smell of Agron, well all of those mutts, yet his scent is the most potent. It is not just that scarf of yours either. The pup is one step away from claiming you.”
“The pup doesn’t even know what I am,” Nasir muttered.
Gannicus tilted his head. “I wouldn’t bet on that, Little Puck. Rumor has it that he knows and is just waiting for the opportune time.”
Nasir was proud that his hands and voice stayed steady. “Or he knows and doesn’t want to bother.”
Gannicus unlocked the car doors and unbuckled his seatbelt. “You are a damnable fool. Into the house with you. I will not have such stupidity stinking up my custom interior.”
“Always the supportive type,” Nasir muttered.
“It’s a wonder his words of advice haven’t destroyed the world yet,” Melitta agreed. She greeted them both warm hugs. “You will eat the lunch Oenomaus prepared first and then we shall talk. No drastic decisions to be made on empty stomachs.”
“They are already made, Melitta, they just need to be realized,” Gannicus taunted.
“Inside,” Melitta ordered.
Lunch was a semi-uncomfortable affair with everyone giving Nasir knowing looks while he quietly ate his potato salad. He’d never spent so much time concentrating on a table cloth in his life.
“So,” Melitta said once the table was clear, “you have concerns, Nasir?”
“I find myself eager to pursue something more personal and intimate with Agron. Yet I know it’s wrong when I leave in less than a month. Not to mention I am forever incapable of telling if Agron is intrigued by me or the mystery I present. Then there is the curse on top of it all and the fact that yes, I already am decided.”
Oenomaus patted his shoulder. “Nasir, your concerns are valid save one. Agron is already courting you.”
Melitta rolled her eyes. “That fool of a boy has been doing it from the start. Bought you clothing and food from, what, your second day of meeting. No time wasted for that wolf.”
“There is nothing wrong with swooping in while you have the chance,” Gannicus said.
Oenomaus and Melitta both shook their heads.
“Ignore him, his mother dropped him in the moat as a child,” Oenomaus said.
“Repeatedly,” Melitta said.
Gannicus glared at them both before turning his attention back to Nasir. “If you think Agron’s going to let some antiquated Sidhe decree stop him, you’re in for a big fucking surprise,”
“It’s not that he’d let it; it’s that the curse, the limitations on Pucks, forces it to happen. No one stays or fights or is interested long enough to Name us.”
“Do you truly believe that of Agron?” Oenomaus asked.
Nasir ducked his head. He didn’t have an answer.
“Nasir,” Melitta soothed, “listen to me. Agron has brought your meals for weeks now. He’s showered you with small gifts and little trinkets and things that have no other purpose but to make you smile. His scent is all over you. He welcomed you into his home.”
“Mira invited me.”
“Agron let the invitation stand, did he not?”
“Those are all the behaviors of wolves in their human forms when courting a mate,” Oenomaus said.
“They always seek your safety, protection, and comfort over their own,” Melitta agreed.
“Like shoving their jacket at you in the middle of a downpour so you won’t have to freeze while they soak,” Gannicus said.
Melitta ran a hand through Nasir’s hair. “Is he not already decided, Nasir? Can you not see it?”
“I can,” he whispered.
“And what do the poets say,” she urged, knowing how to appeal to a Bard.
Nasir took a quick, shaky breath. “When love beckons to you, follow him, though his ways are hard and steep.”
He had yet to prove Kahlil Gibran was an actual prophet, but in that moment, Nasir felt the truth of his words.
Melitta continued to comb through his hair. “All love comes at a cost and all decisions have consequences. The question always remains whether you are willing to pay and suffer them. Are you?”
“Yes,” he said without hesitation. He brokenly laughed. “I came here for a job.”
Melitta pressed a kiss into his hair and just held him for a moment. He tightly gripped her arms before sitting back.
“It is sudden, I agree, but it is not wrong. You came here for a job and found a soul mate. You’ll also gain a family with Agron.”
“Yes, to suffer him is to suffer everyone he deems pack. Gods save you, Nasir. I do not envy you playing den nanny to Saxa. I well remember her teething phase.” Gannicus shuddered. “No table leg within five leagues lay untouched.”
“Do not listen to the words of a drunken old fool,” Oenomaus said.
“Oh, yes, let us take advice from a wizened ancient Giant. That is clearly the better road.”
“The fact I’ve maintained my sanity after living my existence with two of the most troublesome Sidhe this side of the Divide shows my fortitude.”
Gannicus put down his beer in protest. “Your husband insults us, Melitta.”
“As is his earned right for putting up with the likes of you.”
Gannicus pouted. “I do not have to take this you know. I could easily find some young, innocent Sprite to woo.”
“Try it and I will castrate you,” Oenomaus said.
Nasir laughed with Melitta and took his time reveling in the peace and love around him. He would miss this home and its occupants when he left as well. Perhaps he could delay just a bit longer. He only really needed to return for the Solstice.
The red cloth wrapped around his wrist caught his eyes. It was a scrap from one of Duro’s shirts that got ruined during a pool game at The Temple. Saxa got bored and decided to make cloth bracelets out of the remains. Agron was the first person to wrap the fabric around Nasir’s wrist, tying it with care.
It couldn’t hurt to stay an extra three months.
The final day of preparations for the Solstice had Nasir on edge. He knew his songs were good and that if he practiced anymore his hands and voice would give out. Even though the Queen was an old friend of his family his nerves were still on edge. Performances such as these were never about the songs or the show; it was the silent war and judgment going on between the courtiers, deciding if the host Sidhe lived up to their power and reputation. This was the second straight major celebration Merrymec hosted for Queen Catriona. For such a relaxed settlement, nerves were understandably on edge.
Nasir smoothed down the deep emerald robes he wore. They were a gift from Catriona herself in a color his mother always favored. He was pacing the halls of the Manor to burn off his excess energy. His scarf was wrapped around his hands and Nasir kept taking in its scent when his nerves caused him to shake.
“You are in need of some distraction.”
Nasir turned to find Jay De L’Eau leaning out of a store room. He was a shape shifter like Agron, though for Jay his animal was a bear. No one would guess it from looking at him; unlike Agron and his pack who were so obviously wolves, Jay looked to be a bunny on the inside.
“I wondered where you’ve been hiding,” Nasir said. “I almost thought you’d moved on to another Archive.”
“The library would fall apart without me.” He gestured to the tapestries on the walls. “You’re standing in the Hall of Wolves. Is it a deliberate choice or coincidence?”
“Coincidence,” Nasir said. He took a moment to look at the walls and gaped at how high the different banners and paintings went. “What are these?”
“Every wolf pack head that are known to the Sidhe.”
Jay stepped out of the room and guided Nasir to a banner hung next to one of the few windows overlooking the lake. “Does this one look familiar?”
Nasir laughed as he stared at an image of a much younger Agron. His hair was longer and he wore a primitive set of armor. His arm was raised with a hand cradling a sword. His face was in mid-growl. The weaver even captured the manic gleam of Agron’s eyes. Behind him stood Duro, Donar, and the weaver’s best imitation of Saxa. It all looked so official and far removed from the wolves he knew.
“I struggle to think of Alpha as more than a title,” he admitted. “I have yet to see Agron handle any pack matters outside of his own.”
“As his mate you will become equally involved. He will seek advice and wisdom from you, a balance so he does not lose his head in the debates. It happens often, unmated Alphas quickly going to blood and blows. Mates help hold back the madness, they say.” Jay smirked. “Though knowing your temper Agron might be starting more fights than usual.”
Nasir sniffed. “I am perfectly capable of maintaining my decorum unless somebody is an utter jackass.”
“Then I already anticipate what will happen when you meet Sedullus.” Jay led them down the hall to a banner that took up a whole wall panel. The cloth showed a man easily twice the size of Barca.
“Please tell me that’s an exaggeration.”
Jay shook his head and growled under his breath. “Sadly that is a life-sized representation of Sedullus.”
“That?” Nasir pointed to the fabric. “That mountain of a creature is Sedullus? How does he not rule all the wolf packs?”
“Strength does not come only in physical form. Aurelia and Agron are the stronger wolves. They are more cunning and better suited to leadership. They are just the right mixture of selfish and devoted. Sedullus craves power for himself not for his pack or their protection. In the end Sedullus will choose his own desires over the betterment of his pack and that makes him the weakest. If a fight should ever start, yes, Sedullus would probably incapacitate Agron. Duro will fight for his brother though and then Donor and then Saxa until Sedullus fell under them. I do not think Sedullus’ pack would do the same for him.”
“Then why stay with him?”
“Old ties and intimidation go a long way. Sedullus is the third in line among his class of wolves.”
Jay sighed. “Agron has much to teach you. Agron, Aurelia, and Sedullus all have small packs. Their class of packs can have up to twenty members, mates included. If they hit twenty-one they will rise to the next class and face judgment from the Elder Council as to where they lie in the hierarchy. Agron’s pack only has seven now, including yourself.”
“Mira, the wizard? Agron did not tell you of that declaration?”
Nasir tried not to grit his teeth. “He did not.”
“It was long before your meeting. Mira saved Donar’s life and Agron awarded her with pack membership.”
“I have not seen her there for the few pack meetings they’ve had.”
“Would you involve yourself in wolf politics if you didn’t have to? She has protection of the pack and acts as their healer. She stays out of the meetings unless it directly concerns her.”
“How is it you know more about my pack than I do?”
“I’ve known Aurelia for two centuries. I also highly doubt you and Agron have spent your time discussing politics.”
“Not until recently, no.”
“Avoid it as long as you can,” Jay advised. “Wolf politics are ridiculous things.”
“You do not think it would be better for me to seek knowledge?”
“I think that considering you and Agron will be completing your full bond sooner rather than later, your ignorance remains a point in your favor. It’s obvious you are besotted with each other.”
“Besotted,” Jay insisted. “Which means no one can argue that Agron seeks this mating for a power play.”
“The Curse of the Pucks is not that unknown.”
“Outside of academics and the highest of Sidhe royalty? It is. You know Dragons and Sirens don’t go around discussing their history or business. Besides that, it’s not a curse so much as centuries of learned behavior.”
“Pucks are just predisposed to the Wanderlust then?”
“I think if you raise anyone to believe they must have a migratory future they will feel the need to move once they’ve settled. If there is a curse,” Jay rolled his eyes as he said the word, “you two will be the one to beat it. Eideard agrees that it’s all utter bullshit.”
“Eideard thinks most things are utter bullshit.”
“Which is why he is counted among the very wise.” Jay gestured to the stairs. “Let us get you back down to the hall. You’re in need of a final practice before tonight.”
“That eager to hear the new songs are you,” Nasir teased.
Jay shyly dropped his head. “I’ve never had the chance to hear a Bard’s original composition in person.”
“I will be honored to have you listen then.”
Nasir spared once last glance for the Hall of Wolves before turning thoughts to his performance. He wondered if portraits of Duro and Agron’s sisters hid somewhere among all those threads.
“You’re in love with my brother.”
Nasir looked up from his breakfast to meet Duro’s gaze. There was something different there, an added seriousness about them. Nasir knew a major change occurred between Auctus and Duro even if no one openly said it.
“And you’re in love with a ghost,” he said.
“Yeah, but at least I can admit to being a stupid fuck. You,” Duro paused. He shook his head. “You can’t leave, Nasir. I mean, you can, obviously, we’re not going to keep you here. Even if Naevia’s threatening holding spells and the like. Just, you know, you shouldn’t.”
Nasir didn’t plan on leaving and it surprised him Duro and the pack still thought he would. If Duro felt this unsure now than Agron must be feeling even worse. Perhaps now was a good time to see just how Duro felt about Nasir’s staying forever.
“I’m not the kind to put down roots, Duro,” he said. It wasn’t a complete lie.
“Everyone is, if they find something that’s worth it. You don’t look like a cowardly fuck, Nasir. Come on, you’ve been wandering your whole life. Eventually a wanderer’s got to go home.”
“My home is on the Other Side,” he argued. Again, not a complete lie.
Duro actually snorted. “Bullshit. Your home is right here.”
The whole air around Duro was tense and Nasir knew the wolf wouldn’t give up anytime soon.
He smiled. “Good to know I’m welcome to stay,” Nasir said. He took another bite of his waffles. “Perhaps you’ll be the one to explain that to your brother when I will occasionally leave for a job. I will always return.”
“That was a test,” Duro yelled.
Nasir just looked at him.
“That was loud,” Duro said.
“It was,” Auctus agreed.
The immediate change in Duro was adorable. Nasir swore his aura actually sparked.
“Go,” Nasir shooed them away. “Go enjoy this time while you still have it.”
“You should tell him,” Duro said.
“I have,” Nasir said.
“Then do your best to get it through his thick skull. We’re a pack full of abandonment issues and co-dependency with fleeting moments of self-doubt covered with arrogance.”
“Fleeting, you say,” Auctus teased.
Duro tugged on Auctus’ hair and Nasir hid his smile as they both stopped to appreciate the simple act of touching.
“The point, Duro,” he prompted.
“He will still doubt even though you’ve sworn and vowed and promised. Give him memories for when you are absent.”
Nasir would not give either one of them the satisfaction of blushing. Not that it mattered; by the time he looked up they were gone. He finished his breakfast and cleaned up the kitchen. Agron was still asleep. Nasir knew he’d been up most of the night worried for Duro and Auctus. He’d woken up after midnight to find Agron’s side of the bed empty and voices whispering until Agron’s laugh dragged him out of bed.
He leaned on the doorjamb of their current bedroom and watched the sunlight flicker over the bare skin of Agron’s back. There were scars there, deep and old, along with a smattering of tattoos. Agron claimed they all came from his Punk phase in the late-70s but Nasir recognized the magical ink in the wolf’s head tattoo which took up most of his right shoulder blade.
Nasir felt his lips twitch in an evil smile and didn’t bother to fight it. It was time to wake the lazy-ass wolf up. He carefully lowered himself to the bed and rested his hands over Agron’s skin. He let small wisps of his will and power tease Agron awake.
“Nasir,” he mumbled, eyes blinking in confusion.
“You’ve already missed breakfast.”
“He’s fine. Auctus is still in the flesh. That bite mark of his is something. Is that sanitary?”
“He’s a ghost,” Agron mumbled. He turned back to his pillow. “Sleep now.”
“No,” Nasir said. He spent some time with Hamilcar and Dagan. They’d been quite forthcoming with some vital information. Nasir grasped the back of Agron’s neck and tugged. The reaction was immediate and full of a sound that could only be called whimpering.
“Bastard,” Agron muttered.
“You deserve it.” Nasir let go and Agron finally sat up.
His pout was truly extraordinary. Nasir didn’t know a grown man could make such a face. He placed a gentle kiss on Agron’s lips.
“You could’ve opened with that,” Agron said.
“I need you to understand that while I will have to occasionally leave for jobs set years before I met you, I will always return.”
“I do,” Agron said.
Nasir could see this wasn’t going to go the easy way. It was time to appeal to the baser instinct and the wolf. He carefully slid on top of Agron’s lap. “Ask it of me,” he said.
“Ask what,” Agron said as he refused to meet his eyes.
“Ask it,” Nasir demanded, nails raking down Agron’s back.
“Stay.” He mumbled the word over and over again into Nasir’s skin. It was more than a plea; he made it a benediction, a promise, sealed with kisses and small bursts of will over every part of Nasir he could touch.
Gentle hands guided Agron back up to Nasir’s lips. “Yes,” he whispered, crushing their lips together.
This would have to do for their time of separation. Even when the all too human side of Agron would feel its doubts, this, Nasir knew, the wolf would remember.
Nasir stood in front of Merrymec’s gate in between Hoosier and Snafu. It was the official farewell ceremony of the Queen and her Consort. Things were running a bit late since they were still trying to pry Prince Harry from his games of Knaves and Reapers at The Grounded Brigantine. The round of mutterings and polite coughs meant he’d finally showed up.
Queen Catriona shook her head and held her hand out for her husband.
“Did you at least win?” she asked.
“I did not lose,” Prince Harry said. “It was a draw,” he whispered to Nasir with a wink.
Nasir tried very hard not to laugh even though Catriona was clearly amused.
“Let’s get on with it, shall we,” she said.
She started at the very end of the line and moved down. Nasir wasn’t at all surprised when she pulled him into a hug at his turn.
“You were magnificent,” she said for everyone. “Though I could tell your heart was only half in it,” she whispered in his ear. “Aindrea says you’ve found a wolf.”
“He is good to you?”
“Good.” Catriona patted his cheek. “There is an assistant visiting the local healers by the name of Renata. You should speak with her before you leave. You do leave us soon.”
“When the Realm Jumper Varro returns within the week.”
Catriona smiled. “I do not think you will return for some time. You go off on a great adventure, Nasir. Follow your instincts, my songbird. Not what you think you should do or what you were taught but that which feels right in your very soul.”
“I will,” he swore.
“You better or I will send my guards after you,” she teased before she moved down the line.
Nasir barely waited until the Queen’s entourage was on the road when he turned to Snafu.
“The healers, where are they housed now?”
“You hurt something just standing,” Snafu said.
“I know you heard what she told me. You’re always listening, Snafu.”
Snafu yawned and pointed down the main road. “They are above the artisan’s shop next to the well.”
Nasir damn near ran down the street. He knew the name Renata. She was one of Agron and Duro’s sisters. He stopped at the open door of the shop. The floor was covered in wood shavings and Renata sat next to one of the tables painting a small toy. Nasir knew it was her, recognized a trace of the scent that he constantly carried on his own skin.
He cleared his throat and said, “Renata.”
Renata was grace personified. Her eyes shone with power and her presence soothed. Nasir was drawn to her hands, full of calluses, stained with herbs she used. He could smell the scent of healing around her. Her hair was hidden under a blue cloth.
Renata circled him and scented the air. “Agron,” she whispered, almost heartbroken. An iron grip surrounded his wrist. “You are mate to my brother.”
“Claimed, not bonded,” he clarified.
“No, his,” Nasir said, confused.
“No,” Renata insisted, “it must be your choice. Agron would never force such a commitment on another. He is already bonded to you, the ritual is not complete.”
“I am slightly confused,” Nasir admitted.
“With Agron as a mate I am hardly surprised.” She tugged Nasir inside the shop. “Come, we must talk.”
Nasir was suddenly very terrified and he couldn’t explain why.
Varro was two days late in returning to Merrymec. Nasir wouldn’t dare begrudge him the extra time with Aurelia and they were well within the month-long time frame Nasir promised Agron. It also meant more time spent with Renata. She explained some of the nuances of a wolf’s mating that could only be understood by another wolf. He still didn’t know if he should kiss Agron upon his return or break his nose. The damnable wolf had already completely bonded himself to Nasir. The stupid, insane, loveable shit.
“Anybody got an idea of what the weather’s going to be like back home?” Babe, one of the trainee Realm Jumpers asked. “I don’t got my coat on me and I kind of don’t want to freeze my ass off upon return, you know? Ma’s going to kill me dead anyway but if I show up in winter without a coat, she’s really going to get me.”
“It should still be January,” Nasir said. “Just a little after New Year’s.”
“Great, I’ll get home in time for a lecture and the Epiphany Mass.”
Nasir patted Babe’s back. If he didn’t know better he’d think Babe a Puck himself, or a Goodfellow at the very least. Either way he must be extraordinary. He’d just become a Wanderer on the last solstice and now he already stood among the Realm Jumpers.
“You can take mine, Babe,” Eideard said peeling off his coat. “I only wear it for appearances anyway. I grew used to the frigid air of the seas long ago.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, before time was time,” Babe said. He shook Eideard’s hand. “Thanks, Eddie. You’re a cool guy. Siren. Creature.”
“We looked forward to your return. Some more than others,” Eideard teased.
“Yeah, keep an eye on Gene for me, will ya? I don’t think enough people watch out for him. He needs it. I don’t care what kind of supernatural being you are. Everyone’s gotta eat.”
As a born Healer and Reaper Nasir doubted if Gene Roe had to eat but he wasn’t about to argue.
“Do you have all your gifts?” Eideard asked Nasir.
Nasir held up his fourth bag crammed full of various surprises. There was an earcuff for Pietros, a gift from Eideard and Haldane and a book and letter from Gene Roe for Auctus. Renata sent him back with a box full of gifts. There were old tokens that belonged to her parents, a remnant of a blanket the pups were born on, Duro’s favorite hard candies and Agron’s beloved copies of wolf poems.
“I think I’m good,” Nasir said.
“I’m better,” Varro yelled. He came jogging up to them. “Sorry about the delay boys. My lady-wolf had to do a display of power and I was there to make sure she didn’t rip out any unnecessary throats.” He rubbed his hands together. “This jump will be a little different since we’re hitting multiple spots. Don’t’ question anything. When I shove you, you go, or someone’s ending up in the middle of Montana and that’s not my fault, got it?”
“Good, say your goodbyes to our friendly neighborhood Siren,” he said.
Everyone waved at Eideard. Nasir returned his wink.
“Nasir,” Varro called, “you’re up first because if I didn’t Agron would know and kill me. And then Saxa would dance on my corpse. Or with it. She’s an odd one.”
“Who the hell do you live with?” Babe asked.
Nasir exchanged a glance with Varro. “Do we have time for that answer?”
“Go forth, young Puck.”
“I am currently aligned with four wolves, three wizards, two ghosts, and a fire demon. Not to mention two Sidhe and their half-Giant lover.”
“What no partridge in a pear tree?” Babe asked.
“Sadly, no, but he does half a half Sidhe-half Giant friend who is usually in a Sprite,” Varro said.
Babe pointed at the two of them. “You’re some crazy bastards.”
“We can’t all be Harry Potter,” Varro said. “Now it’s time.”
One second Nasir was standing in the woods outside Merrymec and the next Varro was shoving him through the other side of the portal. That was the fastest he’d ever been through a Realm Jump and his head was honestly spinning.
Nasir barely had his feet on Massachusetts ground when he was wrapped up in the familiar strength of Agron’s arms. He laughed as Agron nuzzled his neck and his chin. Agron’s hair and beard scraped across his skin in a familiar tickle.
“You best switch to your other form if you wish to successfully cover me in your scent,” Nasir teased.
Agron looked down, bright eyes flashing with mischief. “Do you challenge me?”
He tangled a hand in Agron’s short hair and pulled him close. “Always,” he promised. He’d settled on the kissing for now. The nose breaking could come later.
He heard a branch snap in the background and finally pulled away from Agron. He looked around to see tree limbs weighed down and Agron standing in snow that was up to his knees.
“It’s January in New England.”
“I was standing on cleared ground though.”
Agron blushed. “I may have worn a path down.”
Nasir craned his neck to look at where he dropped his bags and sure enough there was a clear path and patch of grass all around the portal.
“You are utterly ridiculous,” Nasir declared.
“But you love me,” Agron prompted.
“Somehow, yes, with all my heart.” He lowered himself to the group and grimaced as he formerly dry feet met could and wet ground. “Please tell me you brought something like a snow mobile or truck out here.”
“How quickly the Puck embraces modern technology,” Agron teased. He helped Nasir pick up his bags. “Of course I brought something with a warm interior. I adore you but even I can’t carry you all the way back to the cabin through this snow. I don’t mind the cold yet I don’t fancy frostbite.”
“That makes two of us,” Nasir said.
He followed Agron to one of the tiny access roads used by the few Wayfarers who also doubled as Park Rangers. Agron started the car and its blessed heating system while Nasir stored his bags in the back. He greedily crawled into the car and took the dry socks and shoes Agron held out for him.
“Always so prepared,” Nasir said.
“Sura’s taught me well,” Agron said.
He waited until Nasir was settled down and buckled in before taking to the road. It was a slow drive, Agron taking his time to through the icy twists and turns. Nasir just closed his eyes and took in deep breaths full of Agron’s scent. They had many important things to talk about but all Nasir wanted to do at that moment was curl up next to Agron in a warm bed.
“Is the pack waiting for us?”
Agron shook his head. “I wanted to give you some peace and quiet upon your return. They are driving out tonight.”
“How did the Solstice go over here?”
“Gannicus got arrested for dancing naked under the moon, the stupid fuck. We didn’t see Duro and Auctus for two days. There’s another new Wayfarer at The Temple. I hope you don’t mind that we moved your stuff to the apartment.”
“I don’t. It’s not as if I was spending my nights in Cambridge anyway.”
Agron nodded. “You’ll like Fortis, I think. He’s a fire demon like Crixus.”
“Why did he cross over?”
“To attend Harvard,” Agron said. “Apparently one of the Wanderers talked him into it and he sent a Realm Jumper over with the money to forge an identity and send in his application. Barca is hoping Pietros will be intrigued enough to take some classes.”
“Gods help us all,” Nasir said.
“My sentiments exactly,” Agron agreed.
Pietros would wrap every single student and professor around his finger. The Temple would overflow with non-magical types. Barca really would need to buy that addition he’d been mumbling about.
A meal, a shower, and hours later Nasir drowsed while tracing the lines of Agron’s body. It was a soothing action and one Nasir missed. He’d grown too attached far too quickly but there was no turning back now. Nasir’s fingers lingered on the bite mark he’d left on Agron’s chest before traveling up to Agron’s mouth.
Agron playfully bit at the thumb Nasir ran over his teeth.
“Will you finish the bond?” he asked.
Agron stared down at him, green eyes lit from a power within, and slowly nodded. “If you desire it,” he thickly whispered.
“You should know the consequences.”
“Your sister was quite clear about them.” He ran his thumbs over Agron’s cheeks. “She’s so beautiful. Like you and Duro. The most powerful parts of you are the most secret, the sides few are permitted to see. I want all of you Agron. I want everything.”
“Nasir, you will be stuck to my side for a year and a day. Possibly longer if the Council rules that we are too powerful together to cross the Divide. I can’t do that to you.”
“You can and you will because I am asking you to,” Nasir said. He rested his hands on Agron’s chest. “You are already fully bonded with me. Why do you deny me such a gift?”
“I don’t,” Agron protested.
“You do, with each second you hesitate.” He met Agron’s eyes. “I need this, Agron, as much as you do. Please.”
Between one breath and the next Agron’s teeth were right above Nasir’s heart. The lights flickered with the rush of magic that went through the room. Nasir could feel the very edges of Agron’s soul leak into him, the waves of his power trickling out to meet Nasir’s own. There was the sound of shattering glass and Nasir was certain they’d broken every light bulb in the cabin. Possibly the circuit breaker as well as their room went completely dark. It was over in less than a minute.
Agron pulled back and his eyes glowed golden with the combined power of Puck and Wolf. Nasir lifted a heavy hand and wiped off the blood on his lips. He grasped onto Agron’s shoulders and pulled himself upright, closing his eyes and resting their foreheads together. His heart was working to match Agron’s own, beat for beat, breath for breath. It was a confusing and delightful rush to now be completely bound.
“That was impressive,” Agron said.
Nasir burst out laughing. He nuzzled the side of Agron’s face and playfully bit the skin behind his earlobe. “Leave the words to me, wolf. You lack a certain romance.”
“Fuck you, I am eloquent.”
Nasir response was cut off by a knock at the door.
“Are you two alive? Duro’s about to piss his pants out here,” Donar said.
“The pups beg attention,” Agron said.
“I suggest you get used to it, Nasir,” Donar said.
“Keep the light and noise down,” Agron said. “Nasir’s going to need time to adjust to the heightened senses.”
“What?” Nasir asked.
“I know you’ve already picked up some of the scenting, but now you’re going to get the sight and hearing too.”
“I already could see well in the dark.”
“Not like this,” Agron promised.
Nasir followed him into the main room, holding onto Agron’s shoulder as he found his own legs unsteady. His body was still adjusting to the new rush of power. It was nice, a constant thrum of warmth, but wholly different from Nasir’s norm. He was more than happy to collapse in between Agron and Duro.
Drinks and food were passed around the dark room, the fireplace providing the only light and heat.
“We’re going to need a bigger house,” Duro said.
“I second that motion,” Saxa said. “Not that I don’t enjoy occasionally listening to you two go at it; a wolf still needs her sleep.”
“Maybe you can get real furniture this time,” Auctus said.
“Why the hell do you care, you don’t really sit on it,” Saxa said.
“I have to look at it though. It’s time you four outgrew this milk crate chic fetish of yours.”
“So says the ghost who uses his force of will to feed the fucking pigeons,” Agron said.
No one was surprised when a book magically fell on Agron’s foot.
“Next time it will be a chair,” Auctus warned.
Donar raised his hand. “I’ll search for a new den in the morning.”
“Somewhere away from the trains this time,” Saxa said.
“You could always live on your own.”
“Or move in with Mira,” Duro suggested. “The trains will be the least of your worries then.”
Saxa glared at him. “I don’t like what you’re implying, pup.”
Duro widened his eyes. “The shewolf doth protest too much.”
“Do not take Shakespeare in vain,” Auctus said.
Nasir suddenly burst out laughing, full, deep, belly laughs. He clung to Agron’s arm as he started to slide off the couch.
“He’s gone mad,” Auctus said.
Duro grinned. “We must keep him then.”
I just want to give a massive thank you to each and every one of you who took a chance on this fic. This 'verse has a very special place in my heart and I love sharing it. I am so happy to know it's ensared some of you as well. Thank you again for the words of supports, the comments, and the kudos.