Ember called a pack evening and expected them all to make time. Finn, Sami and Bayley weren’t part of NXT’s roster anymore but they had leverage – once a WWE employee became part of a pack, especially one within the company, pack business was added into contracts as a priority. A pack that kept their bonds strong and demonstrated that they weren’t just a pack in writing were more respected and taken seriously by employers, especially employers who wanted to show the world how well their employees obeyed laws and fitted into the right wholesome boxes for advertisers and huge worldwide audiences.
Ember’s pack obeyed the law. And she believed strongly that now was a time the pack needed to be together; because they hadn't all gathered for three months. Ember could feel how that was affecting the pack bond, it could get close to damage and she was not going to see that. She wasn't going to give the office any excuse to question her pack. No one in the office had argued about the pack meeting, though Ember could always sense that they wanted to, it privately preoccupied her. Her pack didn't make people comfortable but Bayley, Finn and Sami had been able to book flights and reschedule media duties without any problems.
Aliyah laughed as she finished applying pink glitter around her eyes. She was laughing because of Ember’s expression – satisfied, anticipatory, because she was getting her way. Aliyah’s glitter matched her jewelry and the laces in her sneakers. Her black mesh shirt revealed a darker pink vest underneath, the mating mark high up on her neck was always revealed no matter what she wore. That was part of Ember’s satisfaction.
Aaliyah tilted her head, expecting a kiss and getting one. Ember bit Aliyah’s bottom lip , a scolding and a tease. Aliyah’s little gasp and shiver, the way she immediately pressed closer, caused Ember to deepen the kiss for a moment before they parted and she tweaked Aliyah’s earrings. Her mate was a spoiled brat but she worked hard for it. Ember loved Aliyah in glitter and mischief eyes but she also loved her glistening with sweat and surprising everyone at the Performance Centre. One day, what she could do was going to be a fact, not a surprise.
Liv thumped down the stairs, singing loudly. She was wearing all black and white, though her ball cap had enough pink lettering on it to be an intentional match with Aliyah. Ember smiled – she hadn’t asked for that but she did like how it looked and they knew it.
Liv grinned and tossed a packet of pink peeps at Aliyah who caught it happily. Liv bumped hips with her and kissed her sweetly before cosying up at Ember’s side with the sharp look that always suited her best. Ember tugged a hand through Liv’s hair, not dislodging her cap through long practice. She was going to find Liv a great mate.
Johnny and Tommaso were the first to arrive, smelling like a fresh fuck. Johnny couldn’t stop smiling, an expression that turned pretty bashful when Ember locked eyes on him. Aliyah and Liv were keen to pounce but they watched and waited as Ember looked over the recently-bonded pair.
Johnny had a clear bonding mark on his neck and a lot of other marks all over. If he’d been wearing less, Ember was sure she’d see more. Tommaso looked unrepentant. He wasn’t challenging Ember, though many pack leaders would have taken his stance that way. He was possessive and greedy about his mate and unashamed, as he shouldn’t be. There was something dazzled under his pride though, like he wasn’t sure he wasn’t dreaming. That was what Ember had been looking for.
Johnny smelled unmistakably of Tommaso and seemed completely comfortable with that and the marks. There was no trace of coercion or upset and the bond was strong and eager to Ember’s senses. Her eyes glowed as she tasted it – very strong.
Her smile lifted a little and she opened her arms in clear inviting command. Johnny glanced at Tommaso – good – and then stepped into a firm hug. He’d been one of the pack for months; this was a confirmation and a celebration of his new status. Ember pressed her cheek to his and firmly scent-marked him. Even those that didn’t know her scent would recognize a pack leader’s touch.
Before they parted, she kissed his forehead. Johnny closed his eyes, like he was receiving a blessing. He was a good boy.
Tommaso looked even greedier somehow when Johnny fell back into place beside him, looping an arm around his human mate and nuzzling behind his ear hotly for a moment that managed to feel intensely private in public. Neither Ember, Liv nor Aliyah looked away. As soon as Johnny was released, Liv and Aliyah fell onto him with wide smiles. Ember offered Tommaso a beer.
In the kitchen, Tommaso let the countertop take his weight as Ember threw him a couple of bottles from the fridge.
“It’s official,” Ember reminded him, opening her own bottle easily.
“It’s…It’s happening,” was all Tommaso could manage, opening the first of his beers on autopilot, that dazzled part of him even clearer to Ember now.
“It’s happened,” Ember corrected, her eyes glowing faintly. “It’s strong too. Good.”
Tommaso eyed her like he was expecting disapproval, which said a lot about the wolves he’d mixed with before the Performance Centre and maybe something about some who were there at the moment. Ember had heard and seen some things; one of the reasons she always kept an eye roaming the Centre and on the office too. But Tommaso was part of her pack and he’d bonded and mated and he had to deal with all of that. Otherwise the bond could be questioned or decay or worse. Ember was not going to see that happen either.
“What do you know?” Tommaso asked, suddenly, shrewdly, like he often did, trying to ambush her into satisfying his curosity about her bloodline.
Ember smiled around the mouth of her beer bottle. She wasn’t going to tell him about the witch in her family woodpile that, combined with the wolf blood flowing from both sides of her kin, had produced a lot of unique multi-skins. Ember was a wolf and a pack leader, Tommaso’s pack leader, and she was more than strong enough for the role. That was all he needed to know.
Bayley had arrived – Ember could hear her happy congratulations to Johnny, mixed with Asuka’s especially distinctive scent; like the city after a rainstorm. Maybe it was because of where she’d lived but Ember was more positive it was because of what ran in Asuka’s blood. She wouldn’t be telling Tommaso about that either.
She touched Tommaso’s shoulder as she exited to find Bayley talking animatedly, her hair loose from its trademark scrunchie and her eyes sparkling. Her mating mark was vivid on her wrist, larger than most worn in the pack. Asuka was looking intently at Johnny, a genuine smile kindling across her face. Her top was a riot of colors that didn’t clash with her hair and her feet were bare, a toe ring twinkling on her right foot.
She looked up the moment Ember appeared, their gazes meeting for a long moment. Asuka could have easily led her own pack but after arriving in the WWE she had decided that being part of one was her preference, despite the office’s attempts to persuade her to step up into a prominent (and marketable) leadership role. She and Bayley had slowly formed a bond which had become official only with the turn of the law. She and Ember had had long meetings about a whole lot of potential issues; Asuka had understood it all completely and had the same kinds of fierce ideas as Ember. Ember couldn’t ask for a better second.
Sami and Finn were the last to arrive, dragging in a couple of suitcases. Finn’s eyes flashed when he caught Ember’s gaze. Ember’s did the same in response. Finn smelled of the airport and that tar-melting furnace heat that always lingered around his Demon. Sami hugged Liv and Aliyah, complimenting Aliyah on her glitter, as Finn talked quietly to Asuka in Japanese, the two of them close but not touching.
Tommaso had an arm around Johnny again and was mumbling something low in his ear. Bayley presented Ember with a box tied up with a gold bow.
“We brought cupcakes.”
Ember could smell the artificial sugar. It was mixing with the smell of the homemade hummus Sami had brought with carrot sticks and flatbread. There was already enough meat in the fridge to satisfy all the pack’s two-skins.
The Demon squared up to Ember more obviously than Asuka while everyone else was distracted by the cupcakes Aliyah had gleefully taken off of Ember’s hands. The Demon wasn’t a pack animal but it respected Ember enough, and all the skins she wore, that it could handle being part of a collective that she led.
Still, it liked to regularly assert dominance enough by withstanding her stare. Ember stood still, her eyes glowing and fixed on the Demon. Its skin was red and black and Ember could feel the presence of tentacles and the kind of savage unbridled power that brought most to their knees. She didn’t move an inch. The demon smirked but didn’t strike. They’d fought only once before.
Finn resurfaced with a slightly rueful look that wasn’t apologetic. “He’s been twitching since the law changed.”
Ember raised an eyebrow. Sami and Finn had mated pretty immediately after the news had broke. The Demon had every reason to be as smug and greedy as Tommaso.
“The office can’t break your bond without bringing serious charges,” Ember reminded Finn, reassuring and reminding them both, if she was completely honest. “And they’re not gonna want that kind of publicity.”
Not when they were obviously investing so much in Finn and when Sami was such a visible part of their brand here and overseas. Ember would fight them every inch if they tried breaking up her pack or dismantling any of the bonds within it. Finn, the Demon and Sami were balanced and had a bond as powerful as Johnny and Tommaso’s. Ember tasted it briefly, her eyes glowing to match, and smiled.
Finn smiled, warm and so delighted, almost bashful, like Johnny had been. He knocked his shoulder lightly against Ember’s and then firmly clasped her hand, bowing his head slightly, a thank you and like he too was receiving a blessing. Ember knew that if it came to it, he and the Demon would stand with her.
“There’s no talk about bonding Liv,” he told her quietly. “We’re all listening.”
Ember nodded her thanks. Liv wasn’t high up the office’s human priority list – they’d get the human members of the main roster bonded first, the most visible names then everyone else. Liv wasn’t considered main roster material yet but they’d get to her once they started going through NXT contracts and decided who they wanted to go to the trouble for. Ember was going to find her someone before then. Her pack was listening for her, for Liv.
Ember observed them all. Bayley was nibbling at a red velvet cupcake while gesturing in conversation as Asuka watched with undisguised affection, which looked different on Asuka than anyone else. It wasn’t overt but it was there for the pack to see, because she trusted them. She had a devil’s food cupcake in one hand and scooped a fingerful of frosting off of Bayley’s cake with the other. Bayley was wearing the cupcake box’s ribbon around her wrist, tied in a complicated bow that was all Asuka’s work.
Sami was saying something to Johnny and holding a flatbread smeared with hummus. Finn bent and ate it out of his hand, his fingers touching Sami’s wrist. Sami’s expression crinkled and Johnny smiled too, his hand running over the marks on his left arm. Tommaso was piling up a plate with food but his eyes kept going to Johnny who kept looking back with bright eyes and a really happy mouth. He smelled like lemon grass.
Aliyah was halfway through what had to be at least her third cupcake; her happy expression making Ember smile slightly too. Liv was talking with her mouth full, seeming to be in conversation with both Tommaso who was nodding like he was listening despite the distraction of Johnny, and Bayley who was now halfway through her red velvet.
Asuka met Ember’s gaze again. She’d known Ember’s blood from the moment they’d met, she’d known Finn’s too and had bowed deeply to him. She bowed to no one outside the pack. Now her eyes flickered narrow and yellow before clearing. Ember could feel the pack bond throughout the room; she knew Asuka could too. No bite was needed for that. Officials who checked were always surprised by Ember’s pack formation - a wolf and three who wore very different skins, with five humans, content and strong as a unit. Ember doubted the office had completely correct information about her blood or Asuka’s. And the pack didn’t tick the neat little boxes the office had laid out in their paperwork about two-skins and what worked and what didn’t and what looked good. But the pack did work.
If they tried to take Liv…Ember frowned, an expression Asuka mirrored and that caused Aliyah to slip a frosting-sticky hand into Ember’s with a questioning look. The pack would find her someone, someone who deserved her and the office weren't going to use this as a way into the pack. Liv wasn’t worried; she hadn’t been since before the law change. The pack wasn’t going to let her down; Ember wasn’t. That was the role she’d chosen and she was not going to fail in it. She wasn't going to fail any of them.
Aliyah squeezed her mate’s hand. Ember could smell frosting, beer and the hot wings Tommaso was eating before kissing Johnny and clearly enjoying how Johnny’s expression twisted at the burn. Ember breathed it in. They’d run tonight and fall asleep in the same house for the first time in months. Someone would keep an ear and a nose alert, even while sleeping.
Liv tucked a hand into Ember’s free one, swinging it slightly as she kept talking to Bayley. Asuka was talking in Japanese to Finn again. Tommaso was pressing a thumb to one of Johnny’s marks while Johnny eyed him beyond fondly; eating from Tommaso’s somehow still full plate and looking like he wasn’t going to last the night without gaining even more marks from his mate. Sami was producing more boxes of food from his backpack. They had to win.