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A tiny cottage sat in the mountains, deep in the forest, across the rapids and down through the brush. It was far from the toxicity of human nature and allowed for the wind to breath purely. If one walked long enough and got lucky enough, they’d wander past a tree wrapped in dried flower chains. They’d hear the chattering of a dozen wind chimes and the dancing leaves singing with the breeze.

The cottage itself looked like a messy disaster. Fifty potted plants littered every surface, all of them reaching towards the open windows. A mattress covered in old quilts and pillows sat in the corner with a few dried plants hanging from the ceiling above it, leaving behind crunchy leaf bits all over the blankets. There was a bookshelf with worn novels and books next to a little desk dressed in scattered parchment. Across the ceiling was painted in elaborate maps of the stars. The floor had several different pentagrams drawn on it with chalk. The wall had an elaborate mandala etched into the wood; the other wall had a yantra drawn across it.

Levi just happened to be one of the lucky ones to see the witch’s home. He sighed in relief to finally have found it. There were so many rumors over the witch’s location; it took him a few tries to finally get there.

But no one was inside.

He rounded the house, his paws digging into the soft grass with increasing panic. He was running out of time, he needed her magic. His dark coat bristled as the anxiety washed through his system. What if there was no witch? The cottage looked worn and deserted. It was entirely possible something or someone destroyed the witch or ran her out of the forest. After all, the forest was full of monsters.

Levi glanced at the sky, guessing it was about four or five in the afternoon. He decided to do a quick sweep around the perimeter before heading back home for the evening. He strolled past a well-maintained garden, a fruitful pear tree, and found a trickling stream nearby. He stopped to lap at the cool water but froze when he noticed… someone was bathing in the water.

“One week until werewolf mating season… I’ll have to stock up on some silver and aconitum. Two weeks until vampire mating season… garlic and oyster shells. Three weeks until the solstice… What did I need for that again, Mom? Bloodroot, right?” a bright, young voice spoke over the rushing water.

Levi crouched down and took a few careful, silent steps closer to get a better view. A naked, bronzed boy was sitting in the middle of the stream, staring up at the sky. Levi looked around for the person he was chatting to, but saw no one.

“I can get through this year without you, I think. As long as you keep an eye on me. I see your face in the trees and hear your voice in the wind, I know you’re with me even if you’re not with me.”

Oh, he lost his mother, the witch. So was this boy powerful too? Could he help Levi in this dire time?

The boy looked young, but not too young. His spritely nature made Levi think he was somewhere between teen and adult, but it was impossible to really know. Was someone so… dopey looking as powerful as his mother once was?

The next thing that hit Levi was the boy’s scent. Non-were creatures typically didn’t carry a scent and if they did, it was mild. It piqued Levi’s interest and he took another stupid step forward, right onto a particularly crunchy leaf.

Levi froze and the boy swiftly spun around to catch sight of the startled werewolf.

Instead of throwing a fit or showing fear, this boy just laughed. “I didn’t see you there, sorry. I was talking to myself again, wasn’t I?”

Levi still didn’t move, he was unsure how to handle this situation and kept still. Normally, his presence would startle any creature. This boy just laughed and grinned like the sun.

He looked down and blushed, “Oh, uh, sorry. I was bathing. My mom always made me take one once a day. Apparently, I stink.”

Levi cocked his head to the side. Stink? This boy smelled wonderful. He smelt like the pasture he was raised in after a heavy rainstorm, he smelt like morning dew.

“I know, crazy, right? It’s not like I have to impress anyone way out here. You’re the first creature to visit in a while… Sometimes Armin or Mikasa will come see me. But usually… it’s quiet.”

Alone? In the forest? It was far too dangerous for someone like him to be this deep in the forest without someone watching after him, especially when mating season was about to begin.

The boy turned his back to Levi and hopped out of the water. Levi caught a glimpse of his backside, two smooth, tan globes pressed up against one another. The sight gave Levi’s body a pang of instinctual need, but he swallowed it and remained still. How easy it would have been to mount this boy, to claim him as his own. Levi decided this guy definitely needed some sort of protection against the wild beasts of the forest or he’d be forcibly claimed for sure.

Levi took a few steps closer as the boy dressed himself in some kind of long, ripped, leafy green tunic. It was an odd outfit but Levi ignored the fact and sat a few safe meters away, his bushy tail thumping on the ground in anticipation.

“I know you’re a werewolf, so why not change forms? It’d be easier to talk when we’re both people,” he coaxed. “Or are you skittish? Distrusting? If you are, that’s fine too. Stay as you are. But, I have things to do today. So you can follow me around if you want. Or you can stay here by yourself. I’m Eren by the way. Someday, I hope to learn your name as well.”

Eren walked off through the forest, his bare feet already dirty with mud. What was the point of a bath if you were just going to carelessly stomp through the mud on your way out of the stream? Levi huffed in annoyance but still followed Eren around. He wondered how long it would take before he got himself killed somehow. He wondered how Eren even managed to stay alive for so long with how thoughtless he acted.

Eren went to the pear tree first and picked a dozen beautifully ripe fruits. He picked up the skirt of his tunic and used it as a makeshift basket, holding the bounty in the fold until he wobbled back to his cottage where he began to cut them up with a dull knife.

Levi sat on the front stoop. His ears fell flat onto his skull in fear every time the blade got a little too close to Eren’s skin. This magical boy was a disaster waiting to happen, Levi could only anticipate it.

But, Eren cut up the pears without fail. He set them all in a bowl and started popping the little, cut up bits into his mouth. “I’d offer you some, but I know you’re a carnivore,” Eren called out to Levi. “You can come inside, if you’d like. I know it’s messy, but if I clean it the fairies will just mess it all up again.”

Of course they would. The fairies always pick on the weaklings who can’t keep them away. Levi’s throat rumbled in irritation at the thought of such silly little creatures annoying this boy.

“You don’t have to get upset about it, it’s fine. I don’t mind it at all,” Eren assured. “What does bother me are the nymphs that make fun of how I smell. Seriously, is it that bad?”

Levi picked his head off his paws and shook it. No, no, no, Eren smelled wonderful. Nymphs were all rude anyway. They’d often call him a barbarian and a beast. One of them even made fun of how he was smaller than the other werewolves.

Eren knelt down in front of Levi, still keeping his distance. “Hey, is something wrong? Did you need something? I don’t think any creature has hung around me this long without needing something.”

Levi sat up. Oh, right. He’d been so enthralled, he simply forgot. It wasn’t like him to forget, but something about this boy was honestly fascinating. He couldn’t ask for help as a wolf, but this wasn’t the witch he was looking for. He doubted this boy could really help him.

Still… he didn’t want to leave Eren alone. There was no way this dope would last mating season by himself. With his scent, he’d surely be up against a multitude of ravenous beasts that would just want a quick fuck for the week and would leave him, claimed and alone.

The thought stilled Levi’s wagging tail and sent his ears back against his skull in warning to the hypothetical threat.

“Seriously, are you okay?” Eren asked again, noticing Levi’s defensive position.

Levi decided he couldn’t just leave. It seemed Eren had some idea of how magic worked and he’d rather try than give up entirely. Especially when he was running out of time. Levi took the hem of Eren’s tunic lightly between his teeth and pulled him forward.

It didn’t take Eren long to get the message. “Oh, I’m following you? Okay, let’s go.”

Levi was happy Eren didn’t stall or prod for him to change forms. Werewolves were untrusting and didn’t prefer shifting to a more vulnerable form unless they were with their mate or family. Eren seemed to realize that worked with Levi to figure out what he needed.

So, Levi led him to his pack’s main domain. Luckily, Eren’s cottage sat in the perimeter of their claimed territory and Levi guessed Eren knew that already. He’d probably heard their howling in the night or the rustle of their midnight races. Levi wondered if Eren minded living on his pack’s land. He wondered if it made Eren feel safe. Levi honestly hoped so.

There was a little dirt path they hurried down. Levi kept a brisk trot while Eren had to run to keep up. When he got a bit too far ahead, Levi would slow down to a walk until Eren caught up again. Levi wanted to assure him we’re almost there, just a little farther.

Even though he was exhausted, Eren was still smiling. Sweat dripped down his brow and he laughed, “There goes the point of taking a bath today. Sorry, I probably smell.”

Levi sighed. Yeah, he smelled. He was drowning Levi in that irresistible, alluring scent that would drive any wolf mad with need. And then he realized he was leading Eren straight to a pack of dozens of wolves, preparing to mate soon.

He stopped in his tracks and Eren skidded to a stop as well. “What’s up? Is this it?”

Levi shook his head and started weaving around Eren’s legs and brushing his fur up against Eren’s body. He licked at Eren’s hands and stood up on him until Eren toppled to the ground in an ungraceful heap.

“Hey, what’s your deal?” Eren laughed. “You’re acting like a puppy.”

Levi rubbed their necks together and licked Eren’s face until it was clear. Eren belonged to Levi, at least for now. Their mingled scents would alert anyone that this boy was taken. No, it wasn’t exactly kosher to forcefully rub your scent on another, but it was for his own protection. Without it, Eren would have surely been mobbed.

Eren didn’t say anything about the sudden intrusion. He just stood up and followed Levi through the thick brush until they came upon a clearing. The sun reached through the leaves, casting beautiful streams of rays onto the grassy floor. Several pups were rolling in the grass with flowers stuck to their course, shiny coats. They yipped happily when they saw Levi and rushed towards him, all of them jumping up and initiating a playful romp. Levi let them bite at his ears and nip at his paws until they finally got bored enough to leave him alone. They all sniffed around Eren but knew to keep their distance, going off to play amongst themselves once more.

With the pups out of the way, Levi could lead Eren to one of the many caves shrouded by curtains of untamed vines. There were several small gaps in the ceiling, letting in little rays of sunshine. In the middle lay two of his dearest friends, and one who was in trouble.

Farlan, a ruddy red wolf lay in the middle of the cavern with Isabel whimpering at his side. His coat was covered in a thick, heavy moss that weighed his body down to the point where he could no longer get up.

“Ah, it looks like he ran into a moss goblin!” Eren exclaimed, falling to his knees beside Farlan. “Do you mind if I help?”

Both Farlan and Isabel whimpered desperately while Levi stood back, watching carefully and guarding the door.

“Soola, soola, bryophyte,” Eren softly hummed in a soft, singsong voice. He stayed calm the entire time, keeping a light demeanor that seemed to bring about a calming aura to the cave. His hands started to create little sparkles of golden sunshine that wrapped around Farlan’s body and dissolved the dark, moldy moss that had covered his fur. “There you go! You’re lucky too. If your friend hadn’t found me in time, you probably would have had some injuries. But… do me a favor and stay away from the moss goblins from now on. No picking fights with those guys, okay?”

Farlan jumped up and ran in a circle of excitement around Eren. He yipped and pounced on Isabel and circled around Eren again. He probably convinced himself he was dying or something. Levi sat up and gave a huff of disapproval. Farlan backed off, giving Eren some space, but still barked in gratitude. Isabel joined in for the noisy chorus and Eren was laughing cheerfully over the two overjoyed wolves.

Eren came over to Levi and knelt down to give him a genuine smile. “You’re a good friend. Without you, I really think he could have been paralyzed for the rest of his life. I hope you guys stay out of trouble from now on.”

And Eren was walking away, back home. Did he know the way? Probably not. Levi wondered what would happen if he got lost or possibly ran into a predator. His ears were pinned back against his skull again and he found himself growling a little.

Okay, he couldn’t leave this boy alone.

Levi trotted up beside Eren and took the role as the leader. Eren just laughed and let Levi guide him home. While Eren came off as dopey and childish as a pup, he did have some skill. Levi admired the way he healed Farlan so quickly and simply, as if it took no effort at all. Eren did it with a smile on his face too, remaining completely positive the entire time (even when the stakes were higher than he made them seem at first).

There weren’t many witches and wizards in the forest. Most of them had adapted to the modern, human world and left the old traditions behind. Levi knew of many werewolves two ditched the forest in favor of the sparkling cities and towns. What was out there? It was hard to say.

So to him, witches and wizards were a mystery. They were far more human than the werewolves. Most kept to themselves. Some were always travelling. Levi had never known one long enough to get a good idea of who they were as a species.

Werewolves were far easier to peg. They were territorial, pack-oriented, competitive, and bloodthirsty. Distrust was branded onto their hearts and they had a mating drive fierce enough to kill. They worshipped the moon, danced in the dark, and feasted on anything that couldn’t run fast enough to escape.

Just as the sun fell upon the horizon, they made it back to Eren’s little cottage. Levi was happy they made it back before dark, there was no telling what could happen when the sun left the skies.

“Thanks for bringing me back. You’re… definitely an interesting werewolf. The most loyal I’ve ever met,” Eren shamelessly complimented.

Levi wished he could reply, but Eren was already lighting candles inside. He kept talking so Levi didn’t have to, “You probably want to go back to your pack. I know you’ll feel safer with your own kind. But feel free to visit whenever you want. I’ll make sure I don’t plant any aconitum or hang up my silver wind chimes without warning you first.”

Levi hummed in approval and it came out as a growly bark. He nodded his head and took a few careful steps backwards to make his leave.

“Hopefully I’ll see you again, my friend,” Eren waved goodbye.

Levi howled up into the air, a fitting farewell for this special wizard with the glorious scent. He slipped between the trees to where Eren couldn’t see him any longer and began circling. It was clear his instincts wouldn’t let him roam too far away from this interesting wizard and Levi never fought his instincts. He took to brushing himself against every tree and rock he came across, spending the entire night circling around the tiny cottage deep in the forest.

It was tedious and his paws started to hurt after a while, but it was necessary. This way, any beast throughout the entire forest would know to stay far, far away. Eren needed to be protected, to be defended against the dark things that roamed in the night. Levi wanted to think of him as a helpless pup, but it didn’t quite seem fitting enough. Eren wasn’t endearing like a child. It was more than that…

The word crossed Levi’s mind as if the moon whispered it into his ear. Mate. But that was silly, wasn’t it? A werewolf mating with an entirely different species? It was just as ludicrous as venturing outside the forest and into the human society.

Even so, the word mate seemed far more fitting than pup. It was a much more attractive word than friend.

Levi stopped in his tracks and sat on a mossy rock. He looked at the moon and howled at it once more. A part of him hoped Eren would hear it and feel safe. The other was asking for an answer.

What was this strange aching in his heart? And why did it start the moment he and Eren parted?