Actions

Work Header

moonlight dreams

Work Text:

sketch of a wolf howling in the moonlight beneath that are joe and nicky from the old guard

 

Running through the woods, paws hitting the ground at high speeds. 

 

The wind drifting through thick fur. 

 

Searching.

Searching.

Always searching for something, always alone.

The moon shines high above.

A fallen tree. 

 

Howling into the night.


Joe carefully avoids the large puddle that was always present after a heavy day of rain in the alleyway where the back door of Sparrows Coffee Shop was located. The door always screeches when it opens, the heavy door scraping across the laminate floor of the establishment. At some point in time, Joe had tried to lift the door so that it wouldn't scrape, but the old building would swell with the changing of the seasons and it would inevitably always shift back down. 

 

The loud noise alerted the other occupant in the back of the shop to his arrival, the real reason Joe suspects why his aunt won’t hire a handyman to properly look at the door, and he waves a hand before hanging his coat near the hooks on the wall. Winter hadn’t been too long ago and so the spring air was still crisp and the rain from the day before meant a cold morning. Normally Joe wasn’t a fan of the cold, or of mornings in general, but after his strange dream last night he had needed the cold temperatures to wake him up so that he hopefully didn’t look as tired as he felt when he came into work. 

 

There was no need to worry his aunt about his lack of sleep. She’s been aware of his strange dreams for years now, but she was always concerned about what they meant and Joe wasn’t inclined to share his most recent dream just yet. 

 

He sighs as he punches in, looking up at the clock. Normally Joe would cover later shifts, but they were down two staff members with the return of school and his aunt had yet to find someone who could work the early hours, so Joe had volunteered to take the early shift until someone was hired.

“Yusuf!” His aunt calls from the other room, her voice cheerful and bright as she enters the room dusting her hands on her blue apron, leaving flour handprints on her hips. Farah Kader was a small woman with a larger-than-life personality. She was slight compared to her sisters, her figure slender where Joe’s grandmother was more full. As the youngest child of a family of eight by twelve years, she had grown without his other great aunts and uncles, and grandmother. When she stood next to Joe her full head of dark greying curls only reached his shoulders and yet whenever she entered a room she commanded all the attention by her presence alone. 

 

Joe loved her dearly. 

 

Warm hazel eyes look up at him, her eyes searching his face for something that Joe could never guess before she huffs out and tugs at his hand. “Sit,” She tells him, and Joe obeys, sitting on one of the work stools near the stainless steel workbench. He settles his feet onto the middle bar, letting his knees sit forward at a sharp angle. He always felt so young around his great aunt, like he was a five-year-old boy again and not the twenty-seven-year-old adult he was.

“You had a dream again,” She says and Joe really shouldn't be surprised that she was able to catch onto him so quickly, but then again Farah was a woman of many talents and one of them was her way of being able to read people, sometimes she seemed to know Joe’s emotions before he could even name them himself. Some people had found her to be unnerving in this way. When he was younger his cousins would call her the family witch, a title that Joe had never felt comfortable with. Farah was just perceptive in ways that many people were not, and she was open to change and unexpected opportunities. She also believed in fate and destiny and the power of dreams and the universe. Unconventional, perhaps, but never witch-like. 

 

“Auntie-” Joe begins but Farah shushes him, putting a paper cup in his hands filled with warm and fragrant tea. The spices tickle his senses, the smell taking him back briefly to his home. He smiles down into his cup, carefully taking a sip before looking back up at his aunt who is watching him with a soft expression.

“Tell me about it,” She says, laying a warm hand on Joe’s knee, patting it. She’s always been interested in Joe’s dreams when others would brush it off, even his own family. Though they were strange and abstract, usually leaving Joe feeling disoriented and leaving him with more questions than answers, he always felt like they were so much more than his subconscious generating random images. 

 

More than once his dreams seemed to be prophetic, though Joe wouldn’t realize it until after the event happened. There were times when it was small, Joe would dream about a small decision like taking one direction over the other. Other times they seemed to be larger, and more urgent. Joe would dream about storms when the weather forecast was clear, and he would know about their devastation before the winds even died down.

Sometimes he would dream about the tragedy.

Seven years ago, Joe had fallen asleep at his dorm in university, his sketchbook at his side. That night he had dreamed of Farah getting into a car crash a whole country away. He had seen her car flipped over on the side of a road he had never been to, had seen her struggle for breath as her front was crushed against the dashboard. Then the dream had shifted and Joe himself was sitting in Farah’s seat, looking down at hands that belonged to his aunt as he pushed against the twisted metal in front of her, desperately trying to escape.

Joe had awoken to cry, feeling more shaken than he has ever had in his own life. He had been Farah in that dream for just a moment, he had felt the sharp pain of the dashboard crushing into her, could feel the coldness of the air around her, and he had felt every single one of her emotions. The whole experience had been disorienting and frightening. He had called his mother when he had managed to calm himself down from his panic, shaking hands had dialed her number, and moments, after she had answered Joe, had received the news that Farah had been in a bad car accident.

A week later had him visiting Farah in the hospital, holding her hand and telling her about the dream. She had asked for details and he had given her as many as he could, describing the area of the crash that should not have been possible for him to do without ever having been there before. Farah had held his hand and comforted him, telling him that she believed in his dreams and that she was indeed okay.

When his aunt had needed someone to watch over her so she could continue to run her business Joe hadn't even hesitated to volunteer. He had moved to where she was and settled in, taking classes online to finish his degree and helped his aunt with her recovery.

 

Months spent in the small town at the edge of the mountain valley had Joe falling in love with the area and even when Farah was well enough to be on her own he had elected to stay. Staying in an apartment above the local Veterinarian Clinic, Joe had settled into the life of living in a small and secluded town. He traded the busy streets of the city for the winding paths of the forests, and he had settled.

Two years ago though, a new set of dreams had started.

They were never as vivid like the ones of his aunt, but Joe had felt every emotion. The first one had found himself in excruciating pain. He had woken to scream, feeling like he was being torn apart from the inside out. At work the next day Joe could barely stand, his muscles aching as if he had gone through a marathon. His aunt had taken one look at him, had closed the shop for the day, and sat Joe down with a full pot of tea. She had always been supportive of his dreams and now believed that they meant something more, and they had established this routine between the two of them. 

 

Joe goes over his dream with Farah, answering her questions when she asks, and does his best to recall the details, at the end of it he looks at her with apprehension on his face, wondering if she came to the same conclusion that he did.

“That’s the tree that fell down two weeks ago,” She says eyes widening. The dreams of the wolf had always confused Joe more than any others, he always felt so many emotions from these dreams, along with the underlying feeling of loneliness. Joe had tried to understand why he was feeling such things in these dreams, but he could never fully grasp things. 

 

“It’s the first time I’ve recognized a location,” Joe says wringing his hands against the warmth of the cup, the liquid threatening to slosh over the side as he moves. “I don’t know what to think of this.” He confesses, eyes still on the tea in his hands.

“We’ll have to keep up with wolf sightings,” Farah says and Joe looks up at that, his brows pinching as he tilts his head in confusion. “There haven't been wolves in this valley since the forest fires about twenty years ago? If your wolf is real someone might see it.”

 

“I’m hoping it's all metaphorical,” Though Joe can’t decide if that would make things better or not. The emotions he felt coming from the wolf in his dreams had always seemed so intense, much more than anything Joe imagined an animal to feel. Normally the emotions he got from the wolf were very human in nature. 

 

“It could very well be,” Farah nods, but her expression seemed doubtful. She was always someone who believed in deeper meanings of things, that everything happened for a reason. She doesn’t continue on, and Joe knows her well enough to guess what she was thinking. He’s seen her books on the deeper meaning of dreams in her office and there were a couple more that were scattered on the bookshelves in the shop for customers to browse through. Ever since her accident, Joe has been subjected to many dream-based conversations. 

 

“Did you need to take off?” His aunt asks him, gently rubbing at his forearm. There had been many times where Joe was physically exhausted after his dreams and was essentially dead weight at work, being to make orders correctly. Most people in their small town were nice about it, and if Joe needed the day off he would take it.

“I’m feeling okay today,” He gives her a reassuring smile and Farah answers with a raised brow, unhappy with Joe’s answer. He sighs, tucking the tea that was now starting to cool against his chest, and looks up at her with slumped shoulders. “I’m a little tired but I could really use the distraction today.” Joe didn’t want to spend the day alone in his apartment because he didn’t want to be left alone with his thoughts. He didn’t want to think about the dream.

“Alright,” Farah adds, giving him one last suspicious look before taking the mug of now lukewarm tea out of his hands and shoves the tackle box filled with chalk in his hands instead. “It’s supposed to storm again today so that means it will be slow enough for you to update the boards. I have a few new specials I want to show off my great nephew’s artistic prowess. We’ll get you a good boy yet-”

Joe groans and walks away from his aunt quickly before she could tease him anymore about his dating life. Or lack thereof.



When his aunt had told him about the storm, Joe had imagined something a little less extreme. You could hardly see the street from the large windows of the cafe. It was raining so hard, and every time lightning would strike the following thunder felt like it shook the entire cafe. They haven’t had many customers, just a few in the morning before the worst of the storm had come and a poor regular who always came in at lunch for their self-proclaimed much-needed caffeine fix. 

 

The few customers that had come in were served by Farah so that Joe could continue on the large chalkboards that were over the bar and the back wall. Farah’s new menu had different blends of tea that she had decided to make after the zodiac signs, and Joe was looking up various constellations on his phone when the familiar sound of the door opening alerts him to a customer. He doesn’t look back, figuring Farah would catch him and so he continues his work. 

 

Skilled fingers hold the piece of chalk carefully, making the outline of a wolf around the Lupus constellation. His aunt will tease him about it later, but Joe liked to sketch out the wolf from his dreams. It settled something in him that wanted to see the wolf in reality, and staves off this potentially dangerous curiosity by sketching out the wolf instead. 

 

“Are you going to give the wolf a moon to howl at?” An accented voice says behind him and Joe was so concentrated on the work that he startles at the question with a yelp. His hand lets go of the chalk and the ladder beneath him wobbles. There’s a quick rush of movement, both from Joe and the stranger behind him as he rushes forward to help balance Joe’s ladder before he falls.

The stranger’s hands - large and strong looking Joe notices - steady the ladder as Joe’s hands settle on his shoulders and suddenly he is very close to a beautiful man, and Joe stares just a little bit longer than what is right. The man is handsome with a strong nose and lightly bearded face. Joe is close enough to see a mole on his strong jaw partially hidden by his beard and notes the way that the man’s long hair curls where it's tucked behind his ear. The most striking feature of this man, however, was his beautiful sea-glass eyes. Joe could count at least three different colors in their depths and if Joe decides that watercolors would probably be the best way to capture their colors correctly-

“-alright?” The man asks, and Joe blinks away from his thoughts, pulling away from the man who was looking at him in concern and a little bit of amusement if the slight curl of his lips was any indication. His arms are still on the ladder and Joe realizes that his chalk-stained hand is braced on the man’s shoulder. 

 

“Ah, yeah- thanks,” Joe manages to get out, taking his hand off the stranger’s dark shirt and outwardly cringes at the large white handprint that he left behind. Slightly mortified Joe pulls back and adjusts his balance. “Sorry about-” His hand waves at the man’s shoulder. “That.”

The man pulls away when he’s sure Joe is balanced and looks down at his shirt, snorting when he sees the handprint in amusement. The sound makes something flutter in Joe’s stomach and he’s glad that the stranger hadn’t fully laughed because Joe fears he might have fallen off the ladder completely if he feels like this after just hearing the other man snorted. 

 

“We match then,” The man says, and his hand is gesturing towards Joe’s back and sure enough, right on the back pocket of his jeans is a matching white handprint. Joe doesn’t groan from embarrassment, but it’s a near thing, and instead, he steps down from the ladder, rubbing his hand at the back of his pants in an attempt to clean it up but only managing to spread the white stain out further. He catches the man’s expression as he does so, and it looks like he’s trying very hard not to look at Joe’s chalk-covered ass. 

 

Joe smiles at the stranger, taking in his own look since the man had gotten his own look at Joe. Eyes trail from wet hair to broad shoulders that narrow to a trim waist. Muscular-looking thighs are covered in a pair of light and well-worn jeans. All of his clothing looks well worn and a little damp from the storm, behind him a black sweatshirt lays sopping wet on the floor of the cafe. When he looks up from the man’s battered hiking boots the man’s brow is lifted and Joe’s smile goes from polite to flirty.

“Customers who save the barista from cracking their head open to get a drink on the house,” Joe says as he moves from the side of the main coffee bar to the back behind the counter, grabbing his apron and throwing it on. Farah was nowhere to be seen and Joe is glad that she wasn’t there to see Joe’s attempt at flirting. He can already imagine the amused glances she would send his way as she waved at him to get a move on.’ 

 

“Even if said customer was the reason the bartender fell?” The stranger asks bending down to pick his discarded sweatshirt from the ground and holding it in his arms, before looking over at the menu that Joe had finished earlier as the water from his sweatshirt drips on the ground in front of him.

“I’ll let the technicality slide,” Joe says and the man looks over at him with a bright smile. “See anything you’d like?” He asks and the man looks over the board once more, considering his options.

“A cappuccino,” The man settles on. It wasn’t one of their specialty drinks but was an everyday favorite, one of the first coffee drinks Joe had learned to make when he first started working at the shop. “Nothing fancy I’m afraid.” The man adds after a beat, eyes now roaming the rest of the board, leaning in to take a better look at the art that Joe had included within the menu. “These are very good,” he says as Joe works on his drink.

“Thank you,” Joe answers as he stamps in the grounds for the machine and grabs the right cup, starting on the espresso for the drink. The stranger didn’t seem to come off as being picky and so Joe was using the blend of coffee he had made himself.

Joe asks the man if he had any allergies or milk preference and when he had told Joe to surprise him, Joe decided to take it as a challenge, pulling syrups that were only used by the more adventurous customers. The stranger remains quiet as Joe works, the silence was comfortable between them instead of awkward and the only time he had looked away from inspecting Joe’s art was to cover his ears when the steamer made a high-pitched sound. The man said something under his breath, ducking his head but Joe had only reassured him that he wasn’t the first customer to react similarly to the loud espresso maker. 

 

When he’s finished with the milk, Joe hesitates briefly when he’s adding it to the espresso, trying to think of a good design to put in the foam. Normally he just did a standard leaf, but the stranger was his only customer and Joe was feeling a little creative. He slides the cup over to the man and he picks it up with a quiet “grazi” - which helped Joe place the accent.

“I like the moon,” The man - an Italian Joe now knew - says looking down at his cup that was engulfed in his large hands. It was a direct callback to the drawing Joe had been working on when the stranger had walked in. The stranger’s expression is strange as he stares down at the cup and he looks up at Joe with a questioning glance. For a moment it seems like the man was going to ask him something, but instead, he takes a careful sip of his cappuccino.

Joe counts it as a win when the man’s eyes flutter shut and he all but moans into his cup, taking another deeper drink.

“I haven't had a cappuccino this good since I left Italy,” The man says, and Joe wonders why the stranger was so far from home, he considers asking but it isn’t his place to ask a stranger about their past, so he pushes aside his curiosity.

“Secret recipe,” He remarks, pulling out another cup to make his own drink. “I’m afraid I can’t share such valued information with customers.”

“About that,” The man says, setting his cup down on the counter. His body language shifts slightly, going from relaxed to something more professional.

“I’m here about the help wanted sign in the window.” 

 

… 

 

Three weeks into training Nicky - whose name he had learned shortly after he asked for an application - served to be interesting. The man wasn’t very open about his past, which wasn’t something that bothered Joe, but he’s always been curious by nature and Nicky was someone who interested him a great deal. And so Joe began assembling a mental puzzle of all the pieces that made up Nicky as a person.

The accent was an obvious indication that Nicky wasn’t from around here, and Nicky had even told Joe that he had grown up in a coastal town in Italy, and occasionally he will bring up that he misses the ocean. He never talked about his family or how he grew up, the opposite of Joe himself. Joe was always interested in sharing tales from his youth, speaking of his parents and his four older sisters with ease. He loved his family and was proud of where he came from. Farah would step in occasionally, offering a more truthful look into some of Joe’s more wild tales and it was during one of these moments that Joe had realized that Nicky snorted when he laughed sometimes. It was cute, and Joe tried not to think about that fact too much. 

 

Nicky was a hard worker, throwing himself into his training with enthusiasm. The man could recreate the shop’s easier menu, the simpler drinks that most of the customers had seemed to favor, but his talent lay beyond the drink counter and into the baking portion of their jobs. Farah had decided long ago to be honest with their customers, the pastries they had were high quality premade products that they baked in the shop and served fresh daily, but when Farah had burned the last of their scones, Nicky had stepped in and made a batch that many people, Joe included, had enjoyed. It wasn’t a regular thing but occasionally Nicky would make a flavor of the day scone and has since taken over baking duties on the days he worked. It was an arrangement that worked for everyone.

“You’re thinking about him again,” Celeste teases beside him at the counter, breaking off a piece of Nicky’s scone that Joe had taken for himself, blueberry lemon, and popping it in her mouth with a cheeky grin. Joe swats her with his side towel and she only laughs which makes Joe smile. Celeste had been more melancholy as of late after ending her relationship with her ex, a local who Joe had often thought as being pompous and rude, but had quietly dealt with when he was around the shop to talk with Celeste. Their breakup had been messy, but Celeste herself had confessed that it hadn’t been a good relationship, to begin with. It was good to see his friend smile again, even if it was at his expense.

“I’m thinking about how hungry I’ll be because someone keeps eating my breakfast,” Joe responds, pointing at the small bite of scone he had left. He couldn’t blame Celeste for eating part of it, even a day old it was still flakey and delicious, but it was the principal of the thing.

“You’re thinking of his soulful eyes and his nice ass,” Celeste’s voice is in a sing-song voice, as she washes her hands, and Joe is glad that Nicky was in the back of the shop where he wouldn’t be able to hear this conversation. “It’s cute you know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smitten with anyone before.”

“I am not smitten,” Joe grumbles, and a bell dings over the door, and the subject of Joe’s love life, or complete lack thereof, falls away to their usual morning rush. He and Celeste work well together, having been with the shop the longest, and their routine is easy and efficient. At the end of the rush, Joe had looked over at the tip jar and was glad to see that their customers were feeling more generous than usual, probably due to the upturn in weather.

A few days into Nicky’s training, Joe had needed help with the morning rush and Nicky had been, well, it had not gone well. When they had initially met Joe had taken Nicky’s jump at the hiss of the espresso machine to surprise but it was clear that Nicky was more sensitive to loud noises than most. When the crowd had come in, Nicky was uncomfortable and almost shaky, apologizing to customers when he would spill their drinks. Most were understanding, seeing that Nicky was clearly new, but a few more irate ones had shot Nicky some undeserved dirty looks and so after a quiet talk with Farrah they both agreed to ease Nicky into the rush.

Nicky had apologized, because he was a kind person, and had explained to Joe that he didn’t do well in crowds, and he had looked relieved when Joe hadn’t asked for any additional explanation. Joe had given him the option for the rest of the day off but Nicky had quietly declined and instead had cleaned the whole back of the storeroom.

As if summoned by Joe’s thoughts alone, Nicky came in through the swinging door behind the front bar and ducked into the glass case to pull out the empty trays, a satisfied smile on his face to see that all of his baked goods had once again been cleared out by lunch.

“Hello, Joe, Celeste,” Nicky greets as he straightens, stacking the trays on the worktable behind him. He moves to rearrange what's left of the case, making sure older pastries were moved to be sold first and Joe pretends not to see Celeste pointing while Nicky bends.

They greet Nicky and fall into a conversation about their plans for the weekend, which was mostly a conversation on Joe and Celeste’s part. Joe was working on some art commissions that he did on the side, and Celeste was going away to see a band outside the valley, which started the trip on Friday and she would return on Monday.

Joe pauses her story and reminds her gently because he was technically her superior along with her friend that Celeste was supposed to open Monday.

“I’d do it Celeste, but I’m the only one scheduled for the afternoon-” Joe starts, already trying to figure out a way for him to cover her shift when Nicky interrupts.

“I can work if you need me to,” Nicky offers, and Joe hasn’t known Nicky for long, but he can hear the reluctance in his voice. Nicky had asked for Monday off when he had been hired and Joe hadn’t seen an issue with it at the time. “I- I can come in and open up the shop, Farrah will be here for the rush, I should be okay.”

“Thank you, Nicky!” Celeste smiles brightly at him and doesn’t seem to notice Nicky’s smile as seeming to be a little force before she catches him by surprise and pulse Nicky into a hug. “I’ll get you a t-shirt from the band, they’re great-”

Celeste launches into talking about the band she’s seeing, pulling out her phone to play some songs and Nicky listens along, nodding his head and genuinely seeming to enjoy the music even if Joe would have never guessed it to be in his taste. Joe cleans up a bit as the two converse and he doesn’t miss the tension in Nicky’s body. 

 

Unfortunately, Nicky leaves before Joe gets a chance to ask him about it in private. 

 

 

Running again.

Searching.

Chasing.

Prey.

A howl through the night.

Pushing forward.

Leaping.

Bitting.

Blood.

Satisfaction.

Loneliness. 

 

 

Monday afternoon comes and Joe is a little more tired than he would have liked to be. He had woken up later than even he would have liked, finally being able to sleep early in the morning after having yet another strange dream. The dream had been about the wolf again, and Joe had the chilling realization that the wolf was running through the similar forests outside their town, once again crossing the fallen tree that had yet to be cleaned up deep in the forest path just outside of town. When Joe had dreamed he had felt everything the wolf did, the joy of running through the trees, the exhilaration of the hunt, the satisfaction of finally taking down the deer and eating its fill. 

 

He also felt a deep sense of longing for something he couldn’t name, and loneliness that made Joe ache.

Trying not to dwell too much on the dream he enters the back of the Sparrow Cafe without his usual flourish. He could tell that Farah and Nicky were in the middle of a small lunch rush and so he got ready for his own shift, changing into a pair of nonslip shoes and donning their typical apron. He’s washing his hands when Farah comes through to the back to grab more whip cream, eyes widening when she realizes that Joe was an hour early, but she seemed more relieved than anything.

“Do you think you can step in for Nicky, the poor thing doesn't look so well,” Farah asks, brows furrowed as she looks back to the door that leads to the front bar. She had spoken quietly, as if afraid that Nicky could somehow hear her, but it was the worried expression on her face that had Joe jumping into action.

He tells Farah that he can jump in and does just that, going through the swinging door to see a line of customers that were larger than their usual Monday lunch rush. He only catches a glimpse of Nicky working on some cappuccinos with shaky hands. Joe caught sight of his sickly-looking parlor and the bags of his eyes looking more like bruises and could understand why his aunt looked so worried. Nicky truly looked awful, like he was exhausted and ready to collapse at a moment’s notice. Joe practically pushes him through the door and instructs him to sit down while Farah took his place.

About an hour later Farah asks Joe to go check on Nicky while she cleans up and Joe nods, going towards the back to the small sitting area in the back, an old wood table with four mismatched chairs, that served as a pseudo employee’s lounge.

Nicky was hunched over the table, his head being held up by both of his arms. Joe could hear the quiet whispers of Nicky counting down between shaky breaths not even looking up when Joe was near. Carefully he lays a hand on Nicky’s shoulder and when the other man jerks back as if he’s been burned Joe takes a quick step back, hands held up in apology.

“Sorry,” Joe tells him, looking down at Nicky and taking in his appearance better now that it was just the two of them. Nicky looked paler than normal, his wide eyes were bloodshot and his hair was messy from where his fingers had been curled into the longer strands. “Are you doing okay?”

“I’m-” Nicky swallows before looking down away from Joe, avoiding direct eye contact. Joe notices the way that Nicky’s hands shake slightly and Nicky must realize Joe notices because he puts them under the table and onto his lap, hiding them from view. “I didn’t get any sleep last night.” He finishes and he closes he outwardly winces because his lie is obvious to the both of them. 

 

“You’re okay Nicky,” Joe says as he sits down across from him, bending slightly in an attempt to catch Nicky’s expression behind the curtain of hair. Nicky was tense despite the apparent exhaustion, and he looked keyed up as he would run at a moment’s notice. Joe didn’t like to see Nicky look so uncomfortable, and if this was anyone else he would have reached out to offer physical comfort, but Joe didn’t think that would be wanted.

“We all have off days,” Maybe not quite as bad of a day as Nicky was having, but Joe was aiming for comfort here over honesty. Nicky huffs at Joe’s weak attempt but he doesn’t say anything so Joe continues. “Seriously, I don’t know what’s going on but today was technically your day off and you did me and my aunt a favor by coming in to help open, but now I think you should go home and come back on Wednesday.”

Nicky looks up then, and Joe can see the gratitude shining in his eyes, he opens his mouth to interject, and knowing Nicky most likely is about to insist that he could word Tuesday just fine, but Joe holds up a hand and cuts him off.

“Don’t fight me on this Nicky, you look like you could use the rest, and I would feel much better if you didn’t look like you were about to faceplant into a customer’s drink at a moment’s notice.” Joe’s voice is gentle while also being soft-spoken and he can see the tight line of Nicky’s shoulders loosen. “Besides I prefer your nose without third-degree burns.”

“Grazi Joe,” Nicky tells him, his smile small but still warm. Joe was still worried about Nicky, but his smile seemed genuine and Joe still wasn’t sure if Nicky would be comfortable enough with him to open up about whatever was happening with him.

Joe waves him goodbye, and when Nicky comes in looking like a completely different person on Wednesday he only files it away as another odd piece that made up the whole of Nicky’s person. 

 

 

With the start of travel season, comes the trails in the forest being cleaned up and the Sparrow Cafe was soon getting new customers, many of them backpackers who were drawn the trails that the town was known for, and the rest were tourists who came by for the beauty of the valley in spring. This was Joe’s favorite time of the year, as many strangers would come into the cafe and each stranger brought new experiences and stories with them. 

 

When the cafe was slow Joe would indulge in hearing about the traveler’s stories, asking details, and conversing about the world. Before his aunt’s accident, Joe had been set on doing the same as many of these strangers and while he will never regret coming to stay with her, a small part of him will always wonder about the life he might have lived. 

there are two hikers in the cafe today, huddled over their cameras, both conversing excitedly over whatever they had managed to capture, and out of curiosity Joe slowly drifts in their direction, cleaning the tables around theirs in an attempt to catch what they might have seen.

“- shutter speed is higher up, so I managed to get a clear picture, hold on,” One of the hikers rapidly clicks through their camera and shoves their camera at their companion for them to catch whatever was on the camera roll. Their friend gasped and that's when Joe’s curiosity got the better of him.

“Catch a good photo?” Joe asks, a friendly smile on his face as he stands up straight from wiping the table down directly next to their own. “If it’s good we have a local photo contest for travelers, winner’s gets their pictures printed and hung in the small art museum up the road.” He explains and both of the hikers seem interested in that, and the one who took the picture gestures over at Joe to see what’s on the camera.

“When we looked up where to hike next we saw that this place was free from larger predators but we were out a couple of nights ago and you won’t believe what I saw,” The hiker turns their camera and Joe swears his heart skips a beat when he sees the image. 

 

On the screen was the image of a large grey wolf standing in the woods of the valley. The deep shadows of the night sharpen the wolf’s features with the moonlight shining through the branches, making the wolf’s grey fur appear almost silver. The most striking thing about the photo though was the fact that the wolf looked to be looking almost directly into the camera, piercing it with a golden gaze. 

 

His hand hovers over the screen briefly, as if he could touch the fur of the wolf through the picture and Joe doesn’t know how it’s possible, but he knows without a doubt that this is the wolf from his dreams, this was Joe’s wolf.

“Where?” He asks, voice rough as his gaze never leaves the wolf’s. Joe has been sketching this animal for the last two years, he would recognize it anywhere, even in a photo taken from the night. It meant that his dreams weren’t a metaphor of any kind, that the wolf was real. That the wolf was in Joe’s home as well as his dreams.

“I can send you a copy?” The hiker offers seeing Joe’s reaction to the picture and figuring that it meant something to him. Joe smiles and accepts the offer, giving them his email and gives them one of Nicky’s scones, banana walnut, to them free of charge.

 

Twenty minutes later his phone alerts him to a new email and Joe opens it to look at the picture of the wolf, zooming in as much as he could. There’s movement from over his shoulder and he lowers his phone to the side so that his aunt could look at the picture. 

 

“Can I?” She asks, and Joe nods, handing her his phone and she leans a hip against the counter before looking at the picture. She had an awed expression on her face, taking in the details that Joe did. He’s shown his aunt plenty of sketches of the wolf from his dreams over the years and she’s coming to the same conclusion that she has.

“Your wolf is real Joe,” She says finally, handing Joe his phone back. She’s looking at Joe with the same expression she had when looking at the wolf and Joe shifted uncomfortably under her intense stare. He wasn’t sure what she was seeing at that moment nor even begin to guess what was going through her mind, and truthfully, Joe didn’t want to think too hard on what all of this would mean.

“There haven't been wolves in the valley since the fire that almost destroyed it all,” She reminds Joe and he can only nod in response. His phone feels heavy in his pocket and the sketch of the wolf on the chalkboard feels a lot more real.

“What do I do about this?” His hands reach out and his aunt meets him halfway, holding onto both of his hands with her own, and even though Joe’s hands dwarfed hers, he still felt safe in their hold, like the first time she held his hands so long ago before the dreams ever started.

“We take it one day at a time Yusuf,” Farah strokes the back of his hand before kissing it gently. “Things will become clear when they need to be.” She pulls Joe into a hug and Joe melts into her embrace, leaning against her and letting his aunt take on the weight of his worries.

 

In the three months that Nicky had started working at The Sparrow Cafe, Joe can confidently say that the two of them had become friends. It had started off with training, and when Nicky had comfortably understood his job Joe had felt comfortable to joke around with him. Their rapport was easy like Joe had somehow known Nicky for years instead of weeks, and when Joe had asked Nicky if he would like to hang out at his place and catch the game, Nicky had agreed.

Now Joe found himself in the middle of his apartment, adjusting the pillows on his couch for the third time, fighting off nerves that were normally saved for a first date, not just a night watching the game.

“Get ahold of yourself, Joe,” He reprimands himself, and he’s about to fiddle with the snacks on the table before there’s a knock on his door. Joe sighs, running his hand through his hair and tries to gain some semblance of the composure of a normal person, and puts on a warm smile before opening the door.

Nicky is on the other side with a grocery bag at his side and he’s looking at Joe with a soft smile and when Joe gestures for him to come inside Nicky’s shoulders bump against his own in the narrow entryway and Joe just hopes the grin on his face is less goofy then he expects it to be.

“I have the stuff to make bruschetta,” Nicky announces, lifting the paper bag onto the countertop.“I know you said not to worry about bringing anything but my Nonna would be very disappointed if I arrived at anyone’s home without bringing a dish.” He explains as he pulls out the ingredients and sets them out. Joe likes how eased Nicky seems to be in his presence, how he relaxes around Joe because of their friendship.

“You’ve never mentioned your Nonna before,” Joe says curiously, joining Nicky at the kitchen. Normally in the past, Joe wouldn’t have asked Nicky for more, afraid that he would be pushing the other for information he wasn’t willing to share, but something had shifted in their relationship and they were no longer friendly coworkers, but something else, something Joe thinks is a little deeper than friendship but he doesn’t have a name for it yet.

“She died when I was a teenager,” Nicky explains, eyes far off in memory of a woman that must mean a lot to him by the gentle tilt of his voice and the small smile on Nicky’s face. “Nonna taught me everything I know in the kitchen, and she and Farrah would have gotten along in a scary way.”

They spend the next hour swapping stories of their family. Joe goes into detail about the time he had almost burned down his house when he was a boy in an attempt to make his oldest sister a birthday cake and Nicky in turn shares about the time he had tried bringing home his neighbors cat and tried calling it astray. Joe can’t remember the last time he had laughed so freely. 

 

Joe checks the clock and swears when he realizes that the game had started fifteen minutes prior and Nicky stills as he takes the toasted bread out of Joe’s oven and gives him a sheepish smile.

“Confession?” Nicky says, setting the bread down. “I don’t actually care about the game, so you don’t have to worry about it, I can finish here while you watch.” Nicky seems so earnest, and Joe honestly believed he meant every word, and Joe is once again struck by the other’s kindness.

“You know what?” Joe says, stepping closer to Nicky, and resting his hand on the counter next to Nicky’s own. “I don’t really care about the game either, why don’t we finish up here and watch a movie instead.”

Later when Joe wakes up from their movie marathon to find Nicky’s head resting on his shoulder he will think about that moment in the kitchen when their hands were close enough to touch, and he swears that just for a moment, Nicky had reached out with his pinky to close the distance between them. 



… 

 

Running.

Exploring.

Falling into the stream.

Rolling around in the leaves.

Searching.

Running.

Loneliness.

Running.

Always running.

 

 

“Shit,” Joe hears Celeste mutters beneath her breath when the bell above the door rings and Joe can see her ex-boyfriend walk through the door, a smug look on his face. This has happened a few times since the two had broken up months ago, and Celeste always brushed it off as an annoyance, they were the only decent cafe in town, and Celeste didn’t want to chase away customers, but the persistent pattern of her ex was starting to bother Joe. 

 

Jeremy wasn’t an intimidating person in any way, being a few inches shorter than Joe with a slight frame. He came off as a loud individual who would direct a room towards his favor if Joe hadn’t heard from Celeste firsthand about how he actually acted Joe might have called him charismatic. He always ordered the same off-menu drink, something that was more syrup than coffee and took a few minutes more to make and Joe suspected he ordered it on purpose just so he could spend more time annoying Celeste. 

 

“Hello Joey,” Jeremy said, calling Joe the name that grated on his nerves the most. He had a false smile plastered on his face, and when he turned it towards Celeste he could swear it looked almost predatory. “Celeste.”

“It’s Joe Jeremy,” Celeste tells him, eyes narrowed, annoyed that Jeremy would be rude to Joe when it was her that they had a history with. The man was just someone who enjoyed crawling under people’s skin, like a parasite that would latch on. He was slimy and when Celeste had broken up with him Joe was relieved.

“I’m sure he doesn’t mind,” Jeremy says as he leans his elbows against the counter, leaning in towards Celeste. If there weren’t other people in the cafe, Joe would have considered throwing him out literally, but Celeste had told Joe that if Jeremy became a problem she couldn’t handle, that she would tell him, and Joe trusted Celeste’s judgment.

Jeremy orders his usual drink, and Joe watches from the corner of his eyes as he works on a drink for a different customer to make sure he wasn’t bothering Celeste too much. So far their conversation is low, Joe can’t make it all out under the hiss of the espresso machine, but Celeste has a pinched look on her face and Joe can guess that Jeremy is starting to steer the conversation into something more personal.

“Oh? Those don’t look like the normally frozen pucks,” Jeremy leers when the back door swishes and Nicky steps out with a batch of fresh scones. Nicky stops when he hears Jeremy talk and Joe can see the way he straightens to his full height, looking between Celeste and Jeremy with narrowed eyes, tilting his head to the side, reminding Joe weirdly of an animal coming across something new.

“Cranberry orange,” Nicky says as he sets the tray into the display case. He’s standing closer to Celeste, almost in front of her. Joe can’t see Nicky’s expression, but however, he is looking at Jeremy is enough to make his smile go from shit-eating to uneasy.

“Join me in the kitchen, Celeste? I need help with the glaze, Joe can take over.” Nicky’s voice is lower than usual, more gravely, and Jeremy actually takes a step back away from the counter. Before anyone can say anything Nicky leads Celeste to the back, pausing once to only give Joe an apologetic look, and Joe looks after their retreating backs only for a moment before turning back to the register to check Jeremy out.

“Your new employee is very rude,” Jeremy says glaring at the back door as if he could somehow reach Nicky with his sour expression. “The way he looked at me was very unprofessional, you should tell your aunt to either fire him or keep him on a leash.”

“Just pay and leave Jeremy, Celeste is going to be in the kitchen till closing.” And she doesn’t want to see you anyways , but Joe doubts saying that will do any good. Trying to get through to Jeremy was a battle that just wasn’t worth fighting.

“You’re always so protective of Celeste Joe,” Jeremy’s eyes narrow, looking Joe up and down like he was sizing him up. He was accusing Joe of something, and if Joe had to guess Jeremy also sounded a little jealous, and he’s sure that Celeste would have mentioned the fact that Joe was only ever her friend to Jeremy more than once, and it was a well-known fact in town that Joe was an out and proud gay man.

“We’re just friends Jeremy,” Joe mutters, exasperated. He glares at Jeremy and the other man glares back for a moment before turning on his heel sharply and leaving. Joe watches after him for a moment, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Sorry Joe,” Celeste says when the coast was clear, coming out with an apologetic look on her face. “The next time he comes in I’ll tell him he’s not welcomed here anyways.” She looks over at the door with a frown, looking slightly worried.

“He’s never acted like that before,” She adds, confirming what Joe already suspected. Jeremy was done playing whatever game he had believed that he was playing with Celeste, and had moved on from a simple annoyance to someone they might have to watch out for. “If he gets worse,” Celeste interrupts his thoughts, stepping closer to Joe and grabbing his hand. “I promise you’ll be the first to know.”

Joe nods before pulling her into a hug which Celeste returned in kind, squeezing Joe gently and telling him thank you. When Joe asks after Nicky, Celeste tells him that he was still in the back room and said that he was going over the order list for next week. That wasn’t an unusual excuse by any means, but Nicky had already done so yesterday, and so Joe decided to go and check on him.

He finds Nicky at the handwashing station, clutching the edges of the sink in a white-knuckled grip, eyes screwed tightly shut as he breathes in and out quickly. Seeing him looking so distressed has Joe reaching over to him, touching his shoulder in concern-

Only to have Nicky back away from him harshly, jamming his shoulder into the wall hard.

“Nicky are you- “ Joe starts to ask, stepping forward again, but Nicky shakes his head and Joe stops himself from reaching out once more.

“I have to leave,” Nicky said through gritted teeth. He looks like he did a few weeks ago when he had come in on his day off, pale and shaky. Joe could see the sweat start to build upon his forehead, and if Nicky were to get sick right then and there, Joe wouldn’t even be surprised. “I-”

“You’re clearly sick Nicky, I can call my aunt and we will figure something out,” Joe says. He wants to reach out and pull Nicky into a hug, check his temperature with the back of his hand like his mother used to do, and wrap him in a blanket, but with how violently Nicky had reacted to being touched, Joe wasn’t sure if Nicky would even allow that.

Nicky leaves the store and calls in sick the next day.

He misses their movie night as well. 

 

 

Anger.

Running.

Searching.

Fury.

Lost.

Loneliness.

Running.

Frustration.



Two weeks after the Jeremy incident and things with Nicky had gone from a comfortable friendship to something tense and awkward, and Joe couldn’t for the life of him figure out why suddenly Nicky was giving him the cold shoulder. 

 

The main problem was though, that the term cold shoulder didn’t even feel like the right terminology. Nicky was still kind to Joe at work, he smiled and greeted him when he came in for his shift and was his usual helpful self, but Joe couldn’t help but feel like Nicky was acting distantly. He was pulling back, but not just from Joe but from everyone else. He never liked to be alone with someone in a room, and he seemed to be avoiding physical contact of any time.

Joe was worried about him. He didn’t like the few times he would catch Nicky’s expression when he thought no one was looking, she looked pained and lonely. He didn’t understand it, but Nicky was his friend and Joe was going to try and help him.

 

“Hey Nicky, can we talk after work?” Joe asks when he enters the kitchen. Nicky tenses and Joe is already expecting him to come up with an excuse as to why they can’t, but Nicky surprises him by meeting his eyes directly, something he hasn’t done in days.

“Si,” Nicky responds, smiling a little, and it doesn’t quite reach his eyes, but it feels more real than the ones Nicky has been giving him all week, and it makes Joe feel more at ease.

It’s a Tuesday so the cafe is relatively slow. The big Summer Festival was next week to celebrate the summer season and Joe and his aunt were going to take the slower time as it came, knowing that it will feel like a distant dream tomorrow. Joe goes about the rest of the night, serving the odd customer while cleaning up the front of the cafe. A few times he eyes the back door, his thoughts drifting towards Nicky and his worrying behavior, but Joe was going to wait till after work to talk about it properly. 

 

Eventually, the time comes for Joe to lock up the front and turn off the lights, and he meets Nicky in their pseudo employee’s lounge. Nicky is already sitting there waiting for Joe, his hands playing with a napkin, tearing it into tiny pieces that left a small mess on the table. His head lifts and he meets Joe’s eyes with his own gaze.

“I’m sorry-”

“I’m sorry-” Joe says at the same time Nicky starts his own apology, and Nicky frowns, his brows furrowing, then he continues before Joe can get another word in. “I don’t know why you’re trying to apologize, I’m the one who keeps running off on you.”

Nicky gestures for Joe to sit down and he does, settling into the chair across from Nicky and taking what’s left of his napkin from Nicky’s hands. When their fingers brush, Nicky stills and he looks up at Joe with wide eyes.

“I don’t want to pressure you into anything Nicky, but whatever is going on,” Joe takes a chance then, and takes both of Nicky’s hands into his own. Not for the first time, Joe notes just how warm Nicky is. His hands are always warm, even after Nicky spends an hour doing inventory in their small walk-in refrigerator.

“You can trust me,” Joe finishes smiling softly. Nicky sits very still across from him, and for a moment Joe thinks that he’s pushed Nicky too far, but then Nicky turns his hands in Joe’s, and squeezes Joe’s hands.

“I’m not used to being around people,” Nicky’s voice is gentle, and Joe caresses the top of Nicky’s hand with his thumb, encouraging him silently to continue. “I mean- I’ve always been on my own. This is the longest I’ve stayed in one place in a couple of years, and I’m adjusting.” 

 

Joe doesn’t really understand what Nicky is saying and Joe still feels like he’s missing the bigger picture, but Nicky has been so withdrawn these past couple of weeks, and he sounds so sincere that Joe can’t help but feel like Nicky is sharing a piece of himself that he doesn’t share.

He thinks of his dreams, and Joe thinks he can understand why, some things are just hard to share with others. 

 

“I’m your friend Nicky, I’ll help you the best I can,” Joe tells him, and for a moment something like disappointment flashes through Nicky’s eyes, but it’s gone as quick as it’s there and so Joe doesn’t dwell on it for too long. 

 

“Grazi,” Nicky tells Joe and he pulls away from his hands. Joe feels like reaching back out to try and recapture their warmth, but he retreats his hands as well. Nicky stands then and cleans up his mess from the napkin.

They talk for a little bit. Nicky was going hiking, an activity he did frequently. He had told Joe that the valley’s forest had been why he had come to this small town anyways and Joe suspected that when Nicky wasn’t at The Sparrow Cafe or at his apartment that he spent most of his time in the woods. He had been worried for a moment that Nicky was actually homeless, back when he was more a mystery than a friend, but Nicky had told him many humorous stories about the lady he was renting a small apartment from and her cat that insisted on jumping at Nicky every chance she passed by.

Nicky offers to walk Joe back to his place and Joe accepts. Joe’s place wasn’t far from the cafe and they had spent most of the short walk in comfortable silence. Both of them are enjoying the warm summer night. In front of Joe’s door, Nicky bids him goodbye telling him that he was going to go home and try and sleep in.

Joe doesn’t miss Nicky walking in the wrong direction, heading towards the woods. 

 

 

Hesitation. 

Sniffing the air.

Searching.

Home?

Pack?

Howling in the night.

Waiting for an answer.

 

With the Summer Festival came a lot of tourists and with the tourists came large crowds. Everyone at the cafe was working hard, even Nicky who while Joe could tell was uncomfortable in large groups of people, was right in the trenches with Joe, smelling of coffee and sweets. It felt good to have Nicky by his side like the two were in battle and their carafes were their swords. They danced around each other behind the bar, getting the customers their drinks as if they were striking down enemies in battles.

 

During a particular rush on the hottest day of the festival, Joe had sent Nicky home early when he had caught how pale and shaky he looked again and Nicky had reluctantly left promising that he would be fully ready to go the next day.

Because the day was so hot, Joe, Celeste, Farrah, and the rest of their small team were mostly making iced drinks, and three trips for more ice and one broken blender later, Joe was happy to turn the sign over on the front of their door from open to close. 

 

When Celeste says that they should all go for drinks at the pop-up rooftop bar, Joe agrees. He sends Nicky a quick text telling him if he wanted to join them where they would be, and Joe changes out of his work clothes and into something more comfortable. 

 

Joe pulls on a pink cut off shirt that he’s had for years, the logo worn and faded on the front, it was a little tight on him from shrinking in the dryer and when he reached up the shirt tended to ride up a little, showing off the skin that would show when he paired the top with one of board shorts that sat a little lower on his hips then what was probably professional, but Joe wasn’t dressing for work. He was dressing to let loose and have a good time after a long day of work. A backward leopard print snapback completes the look and Joe checks the mirror in the cafe bathroom, fixing his curls till they sat just right and decided that he looked pretty damn good.

If he was thinking of what Nicky might think the entire time? No one would know. 

 

Nicky never makes it up to the bar, and Joe tries his best not to be disappointed. He dances a little and flirts with some of the strangers, but his attention keeps drifting off to a pair of tired sea glass eyes and so Joe turns down any advance with a smile and declines any drinks, apologizing with an “I have work tomorrow” excuse.

Celeste on the other hand was in her element, and Joe smiled as his friend received numbers from several attractive strangers and had even gotten to make out with a tall redhead at one point whose lips Celeste swore were “as soft as an angel’s,” but “she kissed like an Amazon.” It was nice to see her start dating again after Jeremy. Celeste deserves to be happy.

The hours go by and Joe and Celeste decide to call it a night because Joe really did have to work the next day and he wanted to make sure Celeste got back to her own place safely. They were making their way slowly through the main street. The night illuminated by the street lights and the crescent moon above them. Both Joe and Celeste are singing a song terribly off-key, arguing about the lyrics, when they’re stopped by someone coming out from the side.

“Jeremy?” Celeste asks confused, tightening her grip around Joe’s waist. Joe sees the way Jeremy’s eyes narrow at the movement, and he shifts. Both arms are behind him, holding something unseen, and warning bells go off in Joe’s head.

“I knew you broke up with me to be with him,” Jeremy spits out, stepping forward, and Joe steps the pair of them back, attempting to put distance between the two. He didn’t like the look on Jeremy’s face. For all the times Jeremy had seemed to be annoyed at Joe’s constant interference whenever he bothered Celeste, he had never seen him look this angry.

“He’s gay Jeremy, and even if he wasn’t, who I date isn’t your business” Celeste sounds like she was sobering up some, though Joe could feel her arm tremble against him. “Leave us alo-”

“Shut up,” Jeremy hisses, interrupting Celeste. He pulls his arms behind his back and Joe’s eyes widen when it's revealed that he’s holding a hunting rifle. Joe opens his mouth to shout for help but Jeremy points the gun at them, “Scream for help and I’ll shoot her first.”

Joe freezes and nods his head, holding up both hands, Celeste does the same, though tears are falling from her eyes.

“Now we are going to go back to your fucking cafe and you’re going to give me some financial compensation for stealing my girl.” Jeremy snarls out, and there’s a click from his gun as he turns off the safety, and Joe knows then that he isn’t bluffing, that if they tried and do anything that one of them might end up dead.

“Now move!” Jeremy says a little louder, aiming his rifle at Joe this time. 

 

Everything that happens next is a blur.

There’s a blur of movement coming from their left and Joe sees a flash of grey fur heading towards them at an alarming speed. It’s the wolf, the wolf that has haunted Joe’s dreams for almost three years now but instead of feeling fear, Joe only feels relief. Celeste cries out and Joe shifts so that he was blocking her body, more from Jeremy than from the wolf. Joe wasn’t sure how, and he’s sure anyone who later heard this story would call Joe insane, but he knows the wolf is there to help.

At the same time Celeste cries out in fear, Jeremy does so in alarm-

The loud bang of gunfire echoes through the streets-

A yelp from an animal-

The rushing of people coming towards them-

Joe looks down at himself and Celeste. He could have sworn that the shot was destined for one of them, but he doesn’t feel any pain. Across them, Jeremy is attempting to load the gun once more, but his hands are shaking too much from adrenaline and fear, and the gunshot had alerted the people still celebrating the Summer Festival to what was going on. People were beginning to crowd around them, some of them heading straight towards Jeremy and separating him from his gun, calling out for the authorities. 


He looks around, dark eyes searching for a pair of gold, but Joe doesn’t see the wolf.

“Joe-” Celeste whispers at his side, pointing towards the alleyway where Joe can make out the shape of something large collapsed on the ground, almost hidden completely in the shadows.

“I have to see-” Joe starts and Celeste nods her head, pulling away from Joe to push him in that direction. He looks back at her to see her walking away from the alley, drawing the attention away from the area so that Joe could investigate on his own. 

 

With the small crowd away, Joe enters the alleyway cautiously. As his eyes adjust to the darkness he can see that the shape was in fact a wolf. Joe had always felt that the wolf was large from his dreams, but seeing it close confirmed it. For a second, Joe feared that the wolf was dead, but as he got closer he could see the slight rise and fall of the wolf’s flank as it breathed shallowly. Within the thick grey fur of the wolf, Joe could make out the darker color of red. 

 

The wolf had gotten in the way from the shot

Joe’s knees ache when he falls to the ground beside the wolf, reaching out for the creature without thinking then stops, his hand hovering over the wolf. What the fuck was he doing? This was a wild animal, one that could hurt him-

But was that really true? Joe dreamed of this wolf, he had run through forests with this wolf, had felt all of its emotions. Whatever this wolf was to Joe, it was Joe’s wolf, and Joe knew without explanation or reason that the wolf would not harm it.

He touches the fur of the wolf’s neck, and there’s a spark of something like familiarity, and Joe gasps, his hand clutching the fur.

It can’t be?

The wolf opens its eyes and instead of the typical gold of a wolf, Joe was looking into sea glass eyes-

“Nicky?” Joe asks, and the wolf - no Nicky, Nicky whines and Joe thinks he should feel like he’s going crazy, but all he can focus on is the fact that Nicky was shot. Nicky was bleeding out in the alleyway and Joe had no idea what to do.

There are footsteps behind him, and Nicky’s gaze goes from Joe to over his shoulder, and Joe turns, ready to jump into a fight, but instead of a foe, Joe is greeted by Lykon’s kind smile.

“We need to get him to the clinic,” Lykon says, and Joe nods looking back down at Nicky. He can still see the rise and fall of his chest, but it’s slowing and when he looks up at Nicky’s eyes, they are drooping, slowly closing.

“This isn’t a wolf,” Joe says dumbly because this wasn’t a wolf, wasn’t *just* a wolf, this was a wolf, but it was also Nicky. Nicky who had taken a bullet for him, Nicky who liked to experiment with scone flavors and fell asleep in the sun. Nicky who had been in his dream for the last two years-

“I know Joe.” Lykon’s hand is on his shoulder and its weight is enough to snap Joe out of his spiraling thoughts and back to the present, back to getting Nicky help.

 

It took some effort to get Nicky back to the clinic, but Lykon had a stretcher and his truck and together the two managed to get Nicky safely away from the main street. The drive was tense, Joe in the backseat with Nicky’s head resting on his lap. He had pet the thick fur on Nicky’s head, not as soft as dog’s but just as warm, warmer even, and Joe was glad that Lykon had kept the drive silent.

When they got to the clinic, Joe had helped carry Nicky up past the stairs and into his own apartment, agreeing with Lykon that Nicky shouldn’t be somewhere where anyone could find him. They settled Nicky on Joe’s small dining room table, Nicky’s size meant he covered almost the whole thing and Joe just sat at Nicky’s side, his hand petting into his fur as Lykon worked away, cleaning up the blood and removing the bullet from his side.

Lykon explained what he was doing the entire time, his voice quiet and gentle as if Joe was a spooked animal that might run. Joe was sure he was in a state of shock and most people would have run by now, but Joe couldn’t leave his wolf - couldn’t leave Nicky. 

 

He went over the basics, explaining Nicky’s accelerated healing and that Jeremy was a bad shot, and that Nicky was lucky that the bullet didn't hit anything major. When he was done sewing up the wound, Nicky was looking at both of them through slitted eyes, his gaze golden once more, and Lykon scratches behind his ears.

“Three days Nicky,” Lykon tells Nicky, and Nicky whines again, but Lykon shushes. “Shifting back is dangerous, you could tear something I can’t fix and bleed out.” Joe’s eyes widen in alarm but Nicky only huffs beneath him. Three days.”



Three days of healing for Nicky meant the odd experience of living with a wolf. Even if the wolf was Nicky, it was still bizarre. There were many moments where Joe wondered if he was dreaming the whole thing, but he doesn’t think he could have ever dreamed of werewolves being real, and so he just deals with everything one step at a time.


For the first day Nicky mostly slept. Lykon had helped him move Nicky to his bed, and after washing away the blood - Nicky’s blood - from his hands, Joe had laid down next to him, his hand carding through the thick fur of Nicky’s back. When he fell asleep he hadn't dreamed.

The second day had gone off with Nicky asleep for most of the day. He had enough strength to walk around slowly, and when Lykon had checked on him, he was pleased with Nicky’s progress, telling Joe that he was healing nicely and that he should try and eat something.

Nicky ended up eating the raw chicken in his fridge, and Joe tried very hard not to freak out.

The third day saw Nicky pacing restlessly, in Joe’s apartment. They didn’t have a way to communicate, but Joe knew Nicky and Nicky didn’t like to stay still. His pacing through Joe’s apartment was the same as when Nicky would pace the bakery when he was waiting for his timer to go off. It was familiar, that even if this version of Nicky was vastly different from what he was used to physically, that the Nicky he had grown close to was still there. 

 

The man he was starting to fall in love with was still there.

He was just also a wolf, and not just any wolf, he was Joe’s wolf.

Eventually, Joe convinced Nicky to settle down next to him on the bed and the two had drifted off to sleep together. Joe had fallen asleep with Nicky resting against his chest, his fur tickling Joe’s chin as they rested, and when Joe had woken up, it was to the feeling of Nicky in his arms.

Human.

And Naked, very naked.

Joe stiffens, and he hears a chuckle coming from the man in his arms, and Nicky shifts, in his arms till they are facing each other. For a moment Nicky’s eyes are golden but when he blinks they return to the equally as beautiful sea glass that Joe was more familiar with. 

 

“You have questions,” Nicky says, his fingers rubbing up and down Joe’s arm softly. His expression is so open, and Joe realizes then that the thing that the reason Nicky always seemed so guarded was because of his secret, and now Joe had a clearer picture of who Nicky was.

“I dream of you,” Joe blurts out because he’s been hiding his dreams from Nicky and now that he knew of Nicky’s secret, it felt wrong not to tell him. At Nicky’s confused expression, Joe sighs, before continuing. “For the last two- almost three years, I’ve been having these dreams of a wolf. Sometimes I just see it running through the woods, but sometimes? Sometimes I am the wolf and I felt all the wolf’s emotions, I felt all of *your* emotions Nicky.”

“I - I felt drawn here,” Nicky responds, his hand stills its movements, stopping over Joe’s bicep. He watches Nicky’s hand as it moves lower before setting directly over Joe’s heart. Joe can feel the warmth of  Nicky’s palm through his shirt, and he puts his hand over Nicky’s own.

“I’ve been running since I first turned, and I thought that’s what my destiny was, but then I met you and for the first time I felt settled,” Nicky tells Joe and Joe only nods in response, not wanting to interrupt. “I feel like I finally have a home Joe like I’m not so lonely anymore.”

If there was one thing that always stood out in Joe’s dreams of the wolf it had always been the feeling of loneliness that ran through them. Joe had always resonated with that feeling, because despite how happy he was in his life, he had always felt like something, no, someone was missing.

It was his wolf.

It was Nicky. 


“We have a lot to talk about,” Joe muses and Nicky snorts, looking at Joe with an expression that could only say, ‘you think?’ Nicky looks so beautiful at this moment. His hair is messy from sleep and he still looks a little paler than usual, but his eyes seem to shine in the morning light and his smile is genuine but private like it was only meant for Joe. 

 

“Can I kiss you first?” Nicky asks eyes going briefly to Joe’s lips before returning to his eyes. Joe smiles and nods, closing the distance between them.

 

It was the first kiss of many. 

 


 

Happiness.

Home.

Pack.

Joe.

 

… 

 

Joe walks into the room slowly. Andy is to his left and Booker flanks the back, checking behind him for danger. At his side, always at his side, is Nicky. They still when they hear the sounds of muffled crying, and Nicky pushes his snout into Joe’s hand before going forward. 


There’s a gasp, and a young woman looks up with watery eyes, body frozen in fear as Nicky approaches. He makes himself look as small as possible, lowering his head in a show of submission.

“He won’t hurt you, he’s a softy.” Andy jokes, and the woman, the one who Joe has been dreaming of for weeks now, looks up at her briefly then back at Nicky. She raises a hand and holds it up, and Nicky closes the distance, pressing his head against her palm, and for the first time in all of Joe’s dreams he sees her smile.

It’s beautiful.

“What’s your name?” Booker asks stopping when he reaches Joe and Andy. The woman is still ahead of them, but she looked less frightened, and she was carding her fingers through Nicky’s fur, petting him with a small smile on her face.

“Nile.” 

 

 

illustration of a grey wolf howling into the night with a blue and green background beneath the wolf is joe and nicky from the old guard

link to Ms.3's art