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Belief

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Derek groans as he wakes up and realizes what day it is today. When he was a child, Halloween was the holiday you looked forward to all year long. For an eight-year-old were, the opportunity to go out in public half shifted and pretend to scare people is a treat beyond compare. Throw in candy and you have pretty much the perfect holiday for a shifter. As an adult running a bar, not so much.

The Full Moon has been in the Hale family for three generations. Derek’s paternal grandparents had opened the bar just after they had got married. Wanting to have more of an exciting lifestyle than that they had grown up with in their small home town, they picked San Francisco and found a small rundown corner property in a quiet neighbourhood just a little bit distant from the centre of the city.

Months of hard graft were needed to turn the old hardware store into an establishment suitable for welcoming patrons. Lucky then, that the Hale family were long used to building and furnishing their own homes. A steady stream of cousins, siblings and various relatives of cloudy provenance would arrive in a predetermined timescale according to their skills. Slowly, the premises took on the appearance of a small, homely neighbourhood bar.

The Hales are a huge extended family and the werewolf community is also large although diffused widely. Word of mouth quickly spread that there was a home from home for the travelling were in San Francisco. Some never left and a city-loving pack of itinerant weres developed around the location of The Full Moon.

Derek rubs his eyes trying to displace the sleep left within them, slips out of bed and pads to the small bathroom in his boxers. Getting in there before Cora of a morning takes an element of timing that Derek now has down to a tee.

They’ve been here for two years. Cora attending SFU and Derek using the opportunity to kill many birds with one stone, namely the need to keep an eye on his sister away from home under the guise of taking up the obligation of Hales from every generation to keep the little bar in the family. Also, escaping from his loving but pushy mother whose unnecessary wish to see him settle down to family life has grown greater every year since he turned eighteen.

Under the gloriously hot stream of water from the shower, Derek squirts shampoo into his hands and lathers up his hair. He wishes his mother understood that relationships just don’t work for him. It’s not for want of trying but Derek has an appalling track record for choosing the wrong people. It’s as if all his senses let him down when it comes to romance and sex. After several bad relationships in his youth and not a little tragedy, Derek decided not to trust himself to make a choice anymore and so he doesn’t. Not for him the world of dating, he can shut down an oncoming advance at fifty paces now.

Irregular one-night stands fill the void and he even had a three-year long friends-with-benefits thing with an acquaintance of a cousin whenever he came to town. He finds it generally easier to stick to weres for meaningless sex, they understand better. He was a little sad when the FWB ended but he couldn’t help be happy that his friend met his mate. Derek just knows that he won’t be so lucky.

He scrubs down his torso, ridding it of the stale odour of night-time. His hands glance over his genitals and a hazy image passes through his mind. He might choose weres to have sex with but his preferences lie elsewhere. Derek can’t help but be fascinated with the fragility of humans and the bodies that attract him most are lithe and supple but smaller than him and pale, not like most werewolves at all. Something about humans and their delicate bones and bruisable skin brings out the natural protective instinct in him like nothing else.

There’s a thump from outside. ‘Derek, how much longer?’ Cora yells through the bathroom door, breaking his reverie, ‘I’ve got a study group in forty minutes’. Derek sighs but speeds up his cleansing routine.

‘Two minutes, Cora. Go and put the coffee on’, he shouts back at her and hears her stomp into the kitchen. He steps out of the shower, grabs a towel and dries himself briskly. When he’s mostly damp as opposed to outright wet, he hooks the towel around his hips and opens the bathroom door letting a cloud of steam out.

‘All yours…’ and before he has a chance to even get out of the doorway, Cora barrels past him and slams the door behind her.

By the time he’s gone back to his room and dragged clothing over his still-damp limbs, the coffee has percolated and he heads to the kitchen when dressed to pour himself a mug. He sits quietly at the breakfast bar savouring it. Eventually Cora reappears and pours herself a coffee as well. She scoots up next to him on the banquette.

‘You know what today is?’ she asks.

‘Yes’, he says flatly, ‘Halloween’.

Cora’s still young enough to get something out of the party aspect of the holiday. This is their third Halloween at the bar. Last year Cora stealth decorated it with pumpkins and hanging jack o’lanterns and streamers everywhere. Over the years the city has grown outwards and now they aren’t so far from the busy districts. Her reasoning that they should try and grab some of the passing holiday trade proved astute and they’d actually had one of their best nights ever. Derek hated it and put his foot down.

‘No decorations, Cora, I mean it.’

‘Aw’, Cora pouts, ‘we did so well last year.’

‘I don’t want to attract too much random trade, if we start getting too many strangers in, it unsettles the regulars.’ Derek is insistent that the bar retains its appeal to its core patrons - the local were community - and Cora is aware of this.

‘Okay then, but we can do costumes, right?’

Derek knows that Cora means going beta-shifted. She still gets a kick out of it even if the novelty has worn off for him. He nods, ‘just costumes.’

She tips back the dregs of her brew, plants a coffee-breathed kiss on his cheek and skips out of the room.

‘See you later’, she shouts as she bounces down the stairs.

Derek knocks back the last of his coffee and puts the mug in the dishwasher. He heads downstairs to make sure the bar’s stocked; there’s still a couple of hours before they’re open. Once that’s done he grabs the cleaning stuff from the kitchen and gives the bar and booths a quick once over.

Returning, he pauses by the wall to the side of the bar, the one with all of his mother’s photographs on. He sprays some polish on a cloth and gently wipes the frames then stands back and contemplates the images of his home territory for a moment.

He misses it…a lot. The photos his mother takes are a link to home, an anchor to his birth right. She knows this and that’s why, periodically, Derek will receive a new one. Ostensibly it will be for a frivolous reason, a celebration of an event or even just the excuse of a change of season but in truth, the purpose of sending them is baser. If Derek can’t feel his land beneath his feet, at least he can see it.

He and Cora get back there a couple of times a year, it’s never less than joyous, to shift and run with one’s family but he knows it could be better. The pride a were takes in bringing a mate home for the first time is something he’ll never know; the sense of belonging, something he can’t share. Derek sighs and returns the cleaning supplies to the kitchen.

He doesn’t serve on the lunchtime shift; Boyd takes care of that. He does some laundry, pops to the supermarket and does his accounts. Gradually he notices an increase in noise from both the bar downstairs and the streets outside. He looks at his watch, it’s nearly five o’clock, he’d better head on downstairs.

They really do get quite busy. Every local were seems to think it’s their duty to stop by and touch base with the community. There’s a fair bit of shouting going on. Derek has to step in and give an alpha stare to a couple of betas who get a little punchy. The red eyes do it, the betas back down without Derek needing to resort to his strength.

Cora returns from school. She gleefully climbs up on a barstool and pins a plastic bat on an elasticated string above the bar. Derek glances balefully at her but she flashes her yellow eyes and grins a mouthful of fangs at him, so he just lets it stay up there. Compared to last year’s orange and black glitter nightmare, it’s positively restrained.

By around 11pm, the hubbub has died down a bit. Cora’s come behind the bar to serve, allowing Boyd a couple of hours to slip home and sleep before returning for the last part of the shift. There’s enough idle time for a conversation.

Cora leans on the bar looking over at the wall of pictures. Derek has recently hung the latest one up, it shows two cubs, play fighting in a sunlight dappled copse. Both a tawny brown, they’re Laura’s cubs and they’ve grown considerably since Cora was last home.

She turns to Derek, ‘I think I want to invite Isaac home with me, the next time I visit.’

‘Yeah?’ he questions, his casual tone belying the seriousness behind Cora’s comment.

Isaac’s been a fixture around the place since he arrived in San Francisco, having escaped from a small-town nightmare of a drunken and violent father. After a week or two sleeping rough, he had stumbled into the bar, starving and dehydrated. Cora nursed him back to health, initiating a bond that grew over time. Derek had given him the bite when it became obvious that the boy wasn’t going anywhere, he’d found his home.

Despite all this, Cora’s been home at least half a dozen times since Isaac’s arrival and never once mentioned him accompanying her.

‘Yeah, I think it’s time. I feel…I feel like I need to. The last time I was home, I felt a little empty, it wasn’t until Isaac phoned that I realised it was him I was missing.’ She smiles wryly at Derek.

‘Then I’m very happy for you.’ Derek pulls Cora in for hug and scents her gently. He knows that taking a partner to your ancestral land is a precursor to a mating.

‘What about you? She asks. ‘Don’t you want to take someone home as well?’

Derek pulls away slightly, his arms slipping from her shoulders down to her wrists.

‘Of course I do but I haven’t felt like that about anybody in years, you know that.’

Cora grasps Derek’s hands, ‘Have a little faith, brother mine, you never know when the perfect person is going to walk right through that door.’

Derek harrumphs, he knows how likely that is but still Cora doesn’t give up. She thumps him on the chest in faux-exasperation.

‘Believe! And then the magic will find you. This is our night, anything could happen.’ She turns and moves down the bar to serve a waiting customer.

Derek would like to believe, he’d love to think that there’s a lithe, pale, delicate figure just waiting to fall into his arms. Someone with whom he can indulge all his protective instincts, all his need to cherish and provide.

So, mindful of Cora’s words, he runs upstairs quickly, has a swift wash, combs his hair and changes into the V-neck shirt that Cora bought for him and insists he wears whenever they go out together.

The first stage of believing is being ready for it.