The first Tommaso heard of the law change was Ember’s message. It was just two words – IT’S HAPPENING – and a link to a video of the announcement being made. Tommaso watched as a spokesman in a suit, in front of way too many microphones and flashing cameras, read out a statement, detailing how all unclaimed pure humans would be interviewed by government officials to begin the process of finding them someone – anyone who was considered a 'two-skin', like Tommaso whose other form was a wolf - to bond with them.
Forced bonding. For humanity’s own good.
Fuck. Tommaso’s fingers felt numb. Humanity had always been talked about as a commodity by some people – good blood for some, perfect breeders for others. This law change, though nothing about it felt fucking lawful, had been coming for a really long time. The WWE had been preparing; it’s highest-ranking humans were already bonded to 'two skins', as a business arrangement probably which left a sour taste all over Tommaso’s mouth. But not everyone in the company got that safety. Not everyone was that valuable.
Tommaso pocketed his phone before he fucking threw it. Ember had a couple of humans under her protection right now, friends from the Performance Centre. She’d probably bond with one of them; Tommaso was sure one of them was Ember’s chosen mate. He’d gotten a lungful of that the last time he’d sparred with them.
Asuka and Bayley would bond, no problem. That’d been coming a while. Finn and Sami were the same. Everyone Tommaso considered part of his pack was covered, except Johnny. His phone rang. Ember.
“You need to bond with him.” Ember didn’t waste words. “Before the company chooses someone.”
Tommaso growled. He had to talk around sharp incisors. Anyone marking Johnny, fuck no. “He’s not on their priority list.”
Ember didn’t reveal her sources but Tommaso knew she wouldn’t fuck with him. She was the only wolf he knew who could control her change around the full moon and the only one he’d ever seen with red eyes outside of the change as well as during. She was also the only wolf he'd met that he was willing to look to as a leader – WWE had a rule about all wolves on their paylist being part of packs. Ember was fucking good at it. Discipline and commands still rankled though.
“Is that an order?” he bit out.
“It doesn’t need to be,” she replied, completely sure.
Tommaso’s feelings had never been a mystery to Ember, though she’d never called him out on it. It had always been a silent acknowledgment, out of respect for Tommaso’s choices. But things had changed.
“It’ll feel like blackmail,” Tommaso ground out, his teeth still sharp.
“It’ll still be his choice,” Ember calmly replied. “And he’ll make it in your favor.”
She sounded so sure. Tommaso hung up; Ember wasn’t ever offended by that. She wasn’t talking about bonding for business or for status or to save a skin. She believed that Johnny wanted to be Tommaso’s mate. As Tommaso wanted to be his.
Johnny had always smelled like Red Vines and the way he took his coffee. The Red Vine smell usually got stronger around Tommaso but that hadn’t ever signified anything other than friendship to Tommaso’s senses. Johnny smelled the same way around Ember too.
Someone else might ask Johnny. Someone might try to force him into a bond, making him feel like he had no choice.
Tommaso growled louder.
He messaged Johnny. By the time they met up outside the Performance Centre, the sky was darker and there was a soft breeze. Johnny had washed his hair recently and his eyes were sad. Tommaso bumped shoulders with him and felt Johnny relax a little. Tommaso had always worn both skins close to the surface; both of them were him so why try to separate? Both of them wanted, he wanted Johnny.
“The news is making everyone crazy,” Johnny murmured.
His gaze was staying down now and Tommaso narrowed his eyes. “How many offers have you had?”
Johnny flushed a little, “Three. Maybe four, one was a bit…I couldn’t tell if it was an offer or a joke.”
“It was definitely an offer.”
Tommaso’s voice had gotten gruffer, deeper. He wanted to mark Johnny now before anyone else did, to finally have the human by his side in the way he’d wanted for months. But now would be the worse time to say it; it’d sound like Tommaso was saying whatever he could to get a bond with Johnny, like he wanted to win some kind of contest. He couldn’t stand by and do nothing though.
Tommaso’s claws were lengthening and he continued, “Can make it five.”
Johnny’s gaze shot up, astonished and…happy. Hopeful. Tommaso made a noise in his throat; Johnny smelled amazing. He wasn’t horrified or upset or repulsed. He didn’t think Tommaso was joking.
“I can’t ask you to do that,” Johnny sounded pained now. “That’s a huge sacrifice, man. What if there’s someone out there you want to mate with one day?”
Tommaso was looking at that person. He shook his head. “Got a pack, don’t want to lose it. You want to stay.”
Johnny nodded slowly. “I mean, I…I don’t wanna leave you or any of this and sometimes people bond with more than one person, right?”
Right. Sometimes. But Tommaso didn’t want to bond with anyone but Johnny. He swallowed down the bile and fury he felt at the idea of Johnny bonding with anyone else. Johnny thought he was giving Tommaso hope, like a future together was something they might need an escape from.
“Right,” was all Tommaso said, shortly.
His claws were digging into his palm. He needed to run, on four legs. He needed to roar. But right now, they needed to do this.
“They’ve got forms inside, right?”
Tommaso and Johnny filled in the forms certifying that they were going to enter into a bond. Tommaso paused when he came to space on his form asking why the bond was being formed. He ticked ‘business’ because it was. He didn’t want to team with anyone but Johnny. Risking a quick glance over his shoulder – Johnny had the top of his pen tucked into his mouth as he reread something – Tommaso also ticked ‘mating’. When their bond was checked for validity, any lies would be spotted. This way, he wouldn’t get called out on it in front of Johnny.
The Performance Centre receptionist , Kaylee, happily witnessed and signed both their forms and made sure to schedule them for a blood test post-bonding. She said she’d get their forms sent off that evening; the WWE had some kind of fast-mail service set up for that kind of paperwork. Of course they did.
Tommaso and Johnny were silent when they got outside again. Tommaso’s head felt too big, his whole body too raw. He was going to bond with Johnny.
He turned to Johnny suddenly, “Sorry, I need to…I need to run first.”
Johnny’s eyebrows twitched but he didn’t protest, “Sure, whatever you need.”
Tommaso wanted to touch him. He could; they were friends, pack even. Johnny had accepted that position with delight and honor. Ember wouldn’t have offered it if she hadn’t believed he was right for it. Tommaso clapped a hand to Johnny’s shoulder and ran it down Johnny’s arm.
Then he took off, running until he got to the nearest protected park where he could change without getting arrested. It still felt like too long until he was down on all fours, shaking out his fur and feeling a surge of relief. The air was brisk; Tommaso snapped his teeth. He could smell Johnny. In this form, he didn’t get to see Johnny nearly as much. He missed him.
But Johnny wasn’t there. Tommaso whined but ran out onto grass and dirt, relishing the time he had. He ran and he hunted and he ate, taking what he needed to make himself feel closer to right again. He howled because he was finally going to bond with his mate.
Tommaso paused, and sniffed the air. Mate. Johnny was nearby. He took off towards the smell. Had Johnny heard him howl?
There he was; standing near the shelter where Tommaso had left his clothes. Johnny was smiling, bending down when Tommaso pressed against him insistently, running his hands over Tommaso’s fur.
“Hey, it’s been good for you, right?” Johnny guessed, nodding at Tommaso’s bloody muzzle.
Tommaso pressed his face against as much of Johnny’s skin as he could, needing to scent-mark his mate. Johnny let him, a happy look on his face that matched his smell. They were going to bond. Johnny couldn’t run on four legs but he could do this and everyone would see Tommaso’s mark on him. Tommaso made a triumphant sound that made Johnny laugh.
“You coming back like this? Or…?”
Tommaso reluctantly trotted away into the shelter, shifting from wolf to man. Tommaso’s muscles felt worked-out in the best way and his stomach was full. He rested his head against the shelter for a moment. Johnny was here. They were going to bond. Fuck.
He shucked on his clothes quickly and emerged with a brisk nod at Johnny who was now waiting by his car.
“How’d you find me?” Tommaso asked, taking shotgun.
“You come here a lot,” replied Johnny, like he’d actually noticed. “Figured you might want a ride that didn’t mean getting a cut in your paw again.”
Tommaso winced; the last time he’d walked home after a shift, he’d been limping by the time he’d gotten back. Before he could reply, his phone rang. He couldn’t ignore Ember’s call.
“Not just business on the form,” Ember sounded approving. “Have you told him?”
Right, because she was pack leader, she’d gotten notified. Tommaso ran a hand over his head and didn’t look at Johnny who was humming along to the radio with a happy little smile on his face. “Bad idea.”
“Ask him what he ticked on his form.”
It was Ember’s turn to abruptly hang up. Tommaso stared at his phone, heart squeezing hard, and still didn’t stare over at Johnny. This was business, they were friends. Johnny had never asked for…Johnny had dated human and wolf and hadn’t showed any interest in Tommaso. He was willing to bond with Tommaso for the sake of staying with the pack and the job he loved, though he’d talked about bonding with someone else, if they ever met someone else. Tommaso wouldn’t.
Tommaso stayed silent until they got back inside the apartment, the TV clicked on as low background noise. Johnny started hunting through the fridge for something to eat, because Tommaso had shifted so he'd be hungry now. Johnny had come to find him; maybe later Johnny could choose to be bonded to someone else, maybe someone in the WWE.
Something had to give.
Tommaso was stood close behind Johnny by the time Johnny straightened out and turned with a box of eggs in one hand and a bottle of hot sauce in the other. Tommaso’s eyes might have darkened to their wolf-blue. Johnny froze, sensing the change in Tommaso, and stared at him. He wasn’t upset. His heart was beating fast though.
Tommaso emptied the contents of Johnny’s hands onto the nearest countertop and scented one side of Johnny's neck and then the other. Richly Johnny; happy and something else, a note like lemon grass. Tommaso’s nose twitched.
Johnny sounded a little insistent this time. Tommaso pulled back so they could look at each other properly. His head cleared a little at the look on Johnny’s face – Johnny was worried.
“What did you mark on the form?” Tommaso asked abruptly.
Johnny’s eyes widened and his gaze went down. Tommaso cupped his chin and brought it back up – he needed to see Johnny’s eyes. Heartbeat and smell would be enough but he needed Johnny’s eyes. Johnny wet his lips and looked at Tommaso.
“We can contact them right now and -.”
“Johnny. What did you mark?”
There was a growl in Tommaso's voice now and Johnny’s eyes darkened and that was a great smell Tommaso was getting.
“Business and mating,” Johnny said in a quiet voice.
Tommaso’s head buzzed, his heart squeezed, his nostrils were full of Johnny. He hadn't misheard. He hadn't. His grin was triumphant. He was going to need to howl. This was…this was impossible but Johnny’s heartbeat hadn’t skipped. He wasn’t lying. Tommaso tugged him close so that Johnny was pressed to his chest, like an embrace.
“You weren’t the only one.”
He felt Johnny still, like he was waiting for the punchline, then Johnny wrapped joyful arms around Tommaso and squeezed, something like a choking hysterical laugh erupting out of him. Tommaso kissed the top of his head and closed his eyes for a moment, heart still tight. Ember was right. He owed her dinner, maybe a week’s worth.
“Did we…” Johnny hiccupped shakily, interrupting his own words. “Were we going to bond platonically when we both want to mate?!”
“I think Liv’s read this book at the airport three times already,” Tommaso responded ruefully.
He dipped his head and captured Johnny’s mouth, hungry for the kiss he’d been denying himself for way too long apparently. Somehow both skins hadn’t picked up on Johnny’s wants. Tommaso had been so sure. Maybe that was why. Johnny kissed hungrily back, a leg already hitched up at Tommaso’s hip like he was scrabbling for purchase.
Thanks to his wolf strength, Tommaso easily swept Johnny up into his arms, so Johnny could get both legs around Tommaso’s waist with a happy moan. They stayed locked together, pressed against the countertop, fused at the mouth for a good few minutes until they finally broke for air. Johnny stroked fingers across Tommaso’s cheek reverently. It was fucking unreal.
“Every time this law came up, I kept thinking about who the office might tell you to bond with,” Johnny said quietly shaking his head.
“I figured if you wanted this, I’d know,” Tommaso replied.
“So we should use our words next time?”
Johnny was teasing but Tommaso’s growl was loud and he felt Johnny shiver. “No next time.”
Johnny kissed him again, not seeming to mind the sharp teeth his tongue found. Tommaso tried to remember not to hold Johnny too tight; he didn’t want to mark Johnny up until after that first vital bite.
“I love you.”
Johnny whispered it against Tommaso’s lips. Tommaso’s heartbeat sped up now and he kissed Johnny slowly like he was tasting the words.
His whole being shuddered as he replied because how could he not with what they'd decided and Johnny's brave fucking honesty, “Love you too.”
They bathed in silence for a while, like they needed to hold onto those words for a bit. They loved each other. They were going to bond; to become mates. Not just because the law demanded it.
Then Tommaso moved, taking Johnny out of the kitchen and into his room. His bed was bigger – Johnny had been complaining about that since they’d moved in. Tommaso laid him out on it, standing back a moment to enjoy the view.
“You finally got it,” he told Johnny.
Johnny grinned, his eyes silently wet. “My plan all along.”
Tommaso grinned back and stripped off his shirt, pausing before moving onto his pants. “Now is still-?”
“Oh fuck, yes,” interrupted Johnny, only pinking slightly at his own blatant enthusiasm. “If that’s-?”
Tommaso’s voice had gone deep again and he could see the effect it had on Johnny. Johnny blushed hard now, wriggling out of his own clothes.
“Use your power wisely.”
Tommaso laughed, just about resisting the urge to tear off his remaining clothes with his claws. Johnny watched him with the kind of sigh that made Tommaso want to pounce on him, so he did. Johnny was naked and hard under him and this was really going to fucking happen. Tommaso licked carefully at a spot on Johnny’s neck. He’d break the skin; to make the bond and leave a permanent mark, showing Johnny was taken to every wolf he met from now on. Johnny would stay human too.
Johnny had one hand on Tommaso’s back and his eyes closed, his expression sorta stoned. It was a fucking sight to see. Tommaso nipped at the edge of Johnny’s jaw and grinned at how Johnny’s expression changed. This was fucking awesome. Heady, not like any beer Tommaso had downed yet.
“I want this,” Johnny said clearly, his voice just about steady and his eyes so warm and wet, Tommaso had to bury his face against Johnny’s neck for a second. “I love you.”
There it was again. Tommaso kissed Johnny’s neck, running his teeth along the skin, feeling Johnny’s sharp intake of breath. Johnny could say things like that so easily. It was fucking...
Tommaso didn’t make a ceremony of it. He bit down, heard and felt Johnny gasp but Johnny didn’t fight it either. He pressed up like he'd been shocked and stayed there, a leg wrapping around Tommaso, trying to get closer somehow. Tommaso tasted his blood, just enough to create and seal a bond. It would initiate a mating. Johnny moaned, his cock hard against Tommaso's thigh. Tommaso licked the wound a final time and withdrew. He could still taste Johnny in his mouth.
That didn't stop Johnny from pulling Tommaso down into an eager kiss. Tommaso covered him, skin on skin, his teeth still sharp, the rasp of faint fur across his face. Johnny didn't seem to notice or care.
Mates. Mates. It couldn't not be true now. Tommaso growled into the kiss, feeling Johnny's cock jump in response. Johnny was his and everyone was going to know it. There was a lot of places across Johnny's body whereTommaso could leave marks.
The rest of the pack would know. Ember would smile slowly but wouldn't mock Tommaso. She'd know her smile was enough. She'd be pleased for them and Johnny would be bashful about her pride and pleasure. And they'd all see Tommaso's marks on Johnny.
Tommaso moved to start work on Johnny's jaw; there was fucking miles of Johnny for him to taste and mark. Johnny tilted his head to give him better access. It was like being in the ring together; it was that good. Tommaso made a guttural sound, hearing Johnny pant in return, both of them hot and hard. Oh before the night was through, Tommaso was going to howl. So was Johnny.