Marcus got nightmares regularly, a fact that was hardly surprising. Even if he didn’t dream of that moment when he found his pack slaughtered, he had plenty of nightmare-fodder from bad run-ins with other Werewolves since. Sleeping in his lupine form seemed to help, as if the dreams were scared away by his primitive fangs and claws, but this time he distinctly remembered drifting off in human form, with a very different wolf guarding his sleep.
It seemed that one moment Marcus was closing his eyes to a dove-grey, overcast sky with a black wolf on his chest, and the next moment Marcus was blinking up at a sky too blue to be real, and a familiar, human face staring at him.
The world around him was different, the close, clinging underbrush and darkly lush grass replaced by a rolling hill of sunlit green and nothing else for miles, as if the robin’s-egg sky just swallowed the world at the edges. There was nothing but grass, the occasional cotton-ball, cloud and smiling, tawny eyes looking his way. It seemed entirely natural to look back, to take in Declan’s tousled blond hair and too-gold eyes, everything too crisp for reality to touch, and just a sidestep away from normal - like an imperfect picture that his memory had taken and secretly retouched. It seemed wrong to question those wolf-gold eyes, however, especially when attached to the warm, powerful body draped over Marcus’s torso, the invisible but radiant sun burnishing what seemed like miles upon miles of naked skin. Marcus’s pale tones were there, too, and he lifted one bare leg to detachedly and curiously view his bare, untanned thigh. Where were his scars?
‘You don’t have any.’ Declan’s voice came without his mouth making the sounds, although his lips did move, shaping a smile. Tucking his brawny arms under his chin so that they folded over Marcus’s sternum, the Alpha seemed to exhale on purpose, just so his breath could gust across Marcus’s chest and make his skin prickle as if this were real.
‘Yes, I do,’ Marcus argued back, trying to move and look for more scars, but it was hard with all of Declan in the way. In fact, all that his shifting and wriggling around seemed to accomplish was for the Alpha to fall between his legs, such a perfect alignment that Marcus’s previous topic seemed suddenly irrelevant. Declan continued to simply watch and smile at him, an expression that could only be called wolfish, and it made Marcus’s heart-rate pick up in a way that he hadn’t experienced in… probably years.
‘The last time my heart raced, someone was trying to kill me.’ Marcus found himself speaking, or thinking, or whatever it was that made words float around his head without touching his lips. It felt like more than a thought, less than a whisper.
In answer, Declan leaned forward over his still-crossed arms – making his whole, muscular body shift across Marcus’s abdomen – and pressed his own lips to the center of Marcus’s chest. The motion did nothing to interrupt the sound of his answer, a sound so reassuring that it was like a drug all its own, ‘That should never have happened.’ Another kiss, this combined with a lick, and Declan turning one of his hands down so that his fingertips could pull and scratch at Marcus’s ribs. ‘And it will never happen again, not while I’m here.’ Teeth scratched along the line of Marcus’s pectoral, and he didn’t know what made him gasp and arch – the sea of deliriously good sensation, or the intoxicating, addictive promises of safety. ‘Not while you’re mine.’ Most people would have said the sensations were the most euphoric, but Marcus’s heart was swelling almost to breaking, and when he curled his legs around Declan’s waist it wasn’t to urge the dream onwards, but simply to hold him so he’d never have to let him go. Burying the fingers of one hand in the thicket of Declan’s hair and curling the other around the back of the Alpha’s powerful neck until he could stretch out his fingertips and knead at his back muscles, Marcus felt like his emotions were pouring out of him – a torrent that burned and hurt and made him feel more whole than he’d ever felt. He imagined a fire raging, burning out impurities with a horrendous kind of love.
‘Please.’ Marcus’s words unfurled from his skin in the same way as his emotions, freer than thought and as candid as a wink from the sun. He looked down at the man bent over him, those eyes and hair like gold, all of him precious. ‘Hold me together.’
Instead of answering in any way, Declan’s face suddenly… shifted. The steady, soothing expression became a brief frown, which was at once jarring and more real than the previous expressions. When his mouth opened, it was almost shocking to hear and see actual words being spoken from moving lips: “Marcus, it’s time to wake up.” The dream shuddered and broke to the onslaught of spoken sound.
The Omega regained consciousness flailing, the world rushing in like water down a drain-pipe. He sat up fast enough that he nearly overbalanced, but caught himself with fistfuls of grass, glancing around wildly to see the same thicket he’d fallen asleep in. Declan, instead of being lupine and on top of him, was human and sitting just a short ways off to Marcus’s left, apparently unbothered by his companion’s violent awakening. It took a few seconds for Marcus to realize, with a sort of resigned acceptance, that the emotional link was still wide open between them, although at the moment he was sensing only a muddled sort of surprise and embarrassment coming from Declan. Further thought on the matter – or on the dream – was halted by a shout from the road.
“Are you two coming or do you plan to just walk?” Liz was standing outside of the driver’s door of her car, a light breeze playing tag amidst her lush red hair. Kobi (still a wolf) was leaving the ditch in favor of her company, his lupine lope making swift work of the distance, even if his paws were far less useful when faced by the door-handle. Liz huffed to hide a giggle but circled the still-running vehicle to assist him.
“How are you doing?” Declan asked unexpectedly, when Marcus didn’t respond or get up immediately.
His first glance at Declan made his skin heat up as if someone had turned up the temperature, and Marcus had to swallow first before speaking, “I…uh… Fine. I’m fine. I mean, my senses aren’t trying to go nuclear, so I’ve got no reason to complain.” Standing up, he winced a little, flexing his legs and arms as he amended, “Although I’m definitely not in the best shape of my life, because I ache everywhere after that run.”
The confusing tangle of Declan’s emotions immediately cleared into a crystal burst of happy amusement a split-second before the other man laughed. When he reached a hand up, Marcus reflexively gripped it, helping Declan to his feet, involuntarily envious at how easily and smoothly the Alpha moved. Their impromptu run had clearly not bothered him at all. Marcus recalled that this emotional sharing went both ways when Declan cast him an understanding look, and reached out to give his shoulder a squeeze. More quietly, so that his voice wouldn’t carry to curious Beta ears, Declan reassured, “You’ll get back your old stamina in time. There’s no rush.”
“Unless I have to run from the law again,” Marcus couldn’t help but retort in poor humor, but he obediently turned his feet towards the car, trying not to project the utter terror that was returning at the thought of his future. At least the promise of being officially recognized as part of the Fen pack had him hopeful.
Kobi was already in the passenger seat, and human again, as if all he’d ever wanted was for Liz to open the door for him. Liz returned to her spot behind the wheel as soon as she was sure that Declan and Marcus were coming, and she cast a helpfully cheerful smile back Marcus’s way as he slid into the backseat with Declan. “Ready to roll?” she asked playfully, and Marcus was glad for her infectious good mood. It made it a bit easier to smile tentatively and nod.
The drive felt long but was uneventful. They’d apparently done a good job of slipping away without attracting attention, and Liz in fact admitted to trading cars with a human friend in town. Officer Stanford would be hard-put to find them anytime soon. That didn’t stop Marcus from twisting in his seat and looking out the back window every five minutes or so, until Declan gave him a look and then slid an arm across the back of the seat – and therefore across the back of Marcus’s shoulders. In lieu of his recent risqué dream, Marcus didn’t know how to handle the contact, and therefore sat rigidly, facing forward, until he felt the trickle of amusement from Declan like a babbling brook in his head. When he flicked his eyes over, he saw the Alpha watching him with a smirk that was already threatening to become a laugh – after that, there was nothing for Marcus to do but roll his eyes, sigh, and slouch. His head stayed propped on Declan’s elbow but he resisted the urge to look over his shoulder anymore, trusting in the plan. He briefly considered closing his eyes for another nap to pass the time more quickly, but quickly decided against that, half-afraid that he’d end up sleeping and dreaming.
Liz and Kobi provided congenial entertainment in the form of constant, idle chatter. Kobi wasn’t a talker by nature, but Liz artfully pulled words out of him, and she was a patient and tireless questioner. It wasn’t long before Marcus was hearing about himself through Kobi’s eyes, as the quiet Beta candidly but kindly described the way their walk had turned into a race, with Marcus sprinting across the leaves like a ghost. Marcus found himself flushing at the descriptions, painfully aware of how much smaller he seemed to the other Werewolves, but then Kobi finished his narrative by saying with a front tone but a quiet voice, “It’s a damn shame that we haven’t gotten to see you run more often.”
Declan snickered and Marcus dared to elbow him. He couldn’t deny that his ears were now pink with happy shyness now, though, and he didn’t miss Liz’s absolutely elated look in the rearview mirror.
By the time they reached their destination in the neighboring city, Marcus was almost calm, the car was filled with an anticipant silence, and Declan’s arm had fallen down so that it was looped comfortably around the back of Marcus’s neck. Therefore, he could no doubt feel Marcus tense even as his anxiety ratcheted silently higher when Liz parked the car in front of an officious looking building. “Easy,” Declan murmured. What helped more than the soothing word was the rush of protectiveness and determined calm that Marcus couldn’t help but feeling, and he looked over at the Alpha thankfully before Liz and Kobi both turned around to face Declan, too.
“So, what’s the plan?” the redhead asked.
Marcus still felt uncomfortable with his unavoidable eavesdropping on Declan’s emotions, but at the moment, it was worth it all to feel the rush of assurance like a wall of incoming summer rain, washing away doubt. “The plan, firstly, is to let me do the talking…”
Declan Fen’s little pack entered the courthouse building altogether, a natural formation for Werewolves in a new place. It took the human receptionist only a glance at them to tell what they were, apparently, because she discreetly bade them pause and left the room – moments later, another woman returned, and she smelled like a Werewolf. “Hello, how may I help you?” she said with melodious courtesy and a blink of her large, brown eyes.
Kobi and Liz fell back just a step even as Declan, one hand splayed between Marcus’s shoulder-blades, stepped up to the front desk with the Omega beside him. The Alpha’s smile was nothing short of blindingly charming. “I’m actually here to officiate a new pack-bond,” he said, nodding to Marcus. The evidence was pretty obvious, as the receptionist (a Beta) glanced first to Marcus’s face and then dropped her eyes as if they’d been drawn by magnets to his prettily bruised neck. She actually flushed a little, but her smile didn’t waver.
“When would you like an appointment?”
“I was actually thinking of now,” Declan forged on ahead unhesitantly. His body-language shifting subtly as he moved close enough to lean and elbow on the counter, his body taking up space like he owned it, even as his smile became less friendly and more formal. Ordering about the Betas of other packs was rude, but he was making it clear that this wasn’t an idle fancy but a sincere and determined request.
For a moment, the receptionist looked startled, but then she started typing on her computer and nodding slowly. “Um… Yes, I think that that would be possible. I’m authorized to officiate such things, and we have enough personnel to bear witness. Usually people schedule ahead, Mr…?”
“If possible,” Declan said, instead of filling in the blank with his surname, “I’d like to give my name after the bond is officiated. The name of my new pack-member, too.”
Now the young woman looked up, quite sharply, eyes wary. “This is highly irregular,” she protested carefully.
Declan showed that he understood, not arguing but inclining his head instead. “I know, and I promise that just as soon as the bond is officiated, we’ll fill out all of the necessary paperwork, names and all. But there are pack politics involved.”
Understanding flooded the receptionist’s eyes. Her shoulders also dropped as heretofore unnoticed tension left them. She even glanced at Marcus’s bitten neck again, and one had to wonder what she made of all this when she said, “Ah, I see. I think we can accommodate you – so long as you don’t leave this building without filling in our forms to the letter.” Pack politics could be anything from dangerous to insane, and chances were high that she thought that this was something of a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ scenario, with two feuding families being united by one bonding-bite, whether they liked it or not.
Clearly pleased and willing to therefore show his appreciation in the form of cooperation, Declan stuck his hand forward with a more real smile. “Call me Declan.”
The given first name wasn’t entered into any computer. Instead, the brown-eyed Werewolf – named Ada, all smiles again – lead the group deeper into the building, letting her human counterpart man the desk again as the Fen pack was lead to a series of back rooms. A few other people were called, all humans, but they would do.
“As you know,” Ada said, facing Declan and the others serenely and professionally, “testing a pack-link is really quite simple – I can already say by sight and scent alone that you, Mr. Declan, are definitely responsible for that bite.” The young woman couldn’t help but titter a little as she pointed a lacquered finger at Marcus’s neck, and he raised a hand to cover the mark with a blush, but ended up stroking the bruised skin instead. That just made Ada smile more, and one of her nearby coworkers hid a smile with his hand.
‘God, she thinks I’m your illicit lover,’ Marcus couldn’t help but say to Declan in exasperation, reveling in the ability to talk mind-to-mind as he hadn’t in so long. It felt like finally being able to fully unfurl a pair of wings.
The Alpha made a suspicious choking sound, but somehow managed to keep smiling and keep his eyes forward, ostensibly paying attention to Miss Ada. ‘I already apologized for leaving such a big mark – I’m not going to apologize again,’ Declan sent back with obvious amusement tangled through every teasing word, not an ounce of repentance left in him. ‘If you didn’t blush every time someone looked at it, maybe they’d be less likely to jump to that conclusion.’
Marcus’s hand flew up again involuntarily to slap over the mark, eyes cutting across to glare at Declan, even as the contact of skin on bruised skin sent tingles washing down his spine. He wanted to cow Declan with a look and with the backlash of his emotions down the link, but couldn’t bring himself to even be annoyed, not with the comforting ache radiating under his palm. He didn’t remember feeling this way after his previous Alpha had bitten him, but he’d been younger then – still a kid – and the result hadn’t been as vibrant and mind-blowing as his new connection to the Fen pack. Marcus’s mind was lost, pondering this, so that he almost missed it when Ada gave them the last of their instructions.
“As you likely know, the easiest way to test whether a pack-bond has been made is to test the telepathic connections. Mr. Declan, your Betas will have to stay out here, but I’ll escort you and your new Omega into separate rooms.” Ada’s expression remained open and inspired confidence, but Marcus still tested the air with his nose, surprising himself when his senses rose up easily to his bidding. He hadn’t had an episode since being brought into Declan’s pack, and had honestly never expected to have such painfully sharp senses again – now, however, scents hit him hard enough to almost make him dizzy. Sneezing at the influx of sensory information to his nose, Marcus was surprised twice over when his sense of smell died down again as docilely as a kitten. Since Marcus didn’t know Ada from a stranger, he wasn’t able to deduce anything from the sudden influx of smells, but he was awed by the fact that he seemed able to control the senses that had once nearly driven him insane.
Declan was looking at him funny, gold-brown eyes openly questioning and his emotions reflecting that, but Marcus only had time to telepathically think at him, ‘I’ll tell you later,’ before he was being escorted into a simple, windowless room, Declan into another down the hall.
Telepathy was the most obvious and tangible thing shared between pack-members. No one outside a pack could communicate in such a way, and even though the level of telepathy varied – it was rare but not unheard of for a telepathic link to be weak upon its inception, and grow over time – it was always present if the bond took. The way that this was tested was simple: Declan, in one room, would be asked questions and shown pictures. Marcus, in another room, was responsible for answering those questions and describing whatever pictures he was prompted to. There were cameras in both rooms that would send simultaneous feeds to Ada in a third room, but the only input and cues that Marcus had would come from Declan telepathically.
‘Stop being so nervous, Marcus,’ Declan’s voice was a gentle nudge in the Omega’s head, ‘I can feel you being worried from here. If nothing else, you have to admit that the telepathic bond is damn strong.’
The room Marcus was led into was unadorned save for a desk and chair, and the middle-age, male human who was there to make sure he wasn’t cheating in some way. When the man indicated the chair, Marcus shook his head and waved away the offer, because Declan was one-hundred percent right about his stress levels. Pacing seemed more fitting. ‘I’m going to worry, Declan,’ Marcus stated back, firm but resigned. He glanced at his present watcher, who in turn raised an eyebrow, clearly a bit perplexed by how obviously anxious the Omega was getting with the increased distance from Declan. ‘Because I know that at the end of this, police are going to be involved the second my name gets out. Even if Ada doesn’t recognize my name as that of a wanted criminal, we already know that my old pack is watching all of the databases.’
Declan cautioned back patiently with a soothing wave of warm, steady emotions, ‘One step at a time, Marcus. Or should I call you Milo?’
Almost without noticing it, the Omega stopped pacing, facing one of the walls and rolling his head back on his neck with a sigh. He closed his eyes and thought back tiredly, ‘I’ve been Marcus for four years. The last people to call me ‘Milo’ before all of this are dead. Let’s just stick with my middle name, okay?’ He didn’t expect the pleading note in his voice, but it was there, and he wanted all of this to be over so badly that his chest ached. Declan’s returning worry washed over him, soothing and a bit cloying, like a too-tight hug that was nonetheless holding his many jarred pieces together.
‘We can do that,’ Declan agreed without hesitation, before Marcus felt a heightening of Declan’s alertness like a shiver down the link. It was almost disturbing how crisply he could feel what the Alpha was feeling, and Marcus’s own shoulders tensed in response even as he straightened up his posture preemptively. The official in the room noticed, looking faintly bemused until Marcus turned to look at him suddenly, swallowing thickly to clear his throat before saying succinctly and clearly, “The answer is a playing card. The nine of spades.”
The questioning continued, Marcus waiting impatiently during every pause between Declan relaying what he wanted Marcus to say. The Alpha didn’t take the time to telepathically word the question, but when Marcus concentrated, he could almost hear an echo of it in Declan’s head a heartbeat before clear, concise words came his way for him to repeat. It was something of a relief to realize that he didn’t have an all-season pass to every thought in Declan’s head, although Marcus had the sensation that he was answering the questions with more ease than anyone expected. He was able to give detailed replies every time, and the only thing that made him hesitate was the omnipresent worry buzzing in his own head.
‘Stay focused, Marcus,’ Declan took a moment to recommend.
The Omega sighed out loud, folding his arms as if the Alpha were standing next to him instead of back-seat-driving in his head, ‘Easy for you to say, since you’re not the one being put to the test. What happens if I fail?’
‘You won’t fail, Marcus. You’ve already answered everything correctly; I can tell that even from where I am down the hall.’
‘It wouldn’t be the first time that someone didn’t believe me,’ Marcus reminded, running a hand over his face. ‘The last time I answered questions asked by officials, I was deemed not only a liar but a murderer.’
Declan’s answer was prompt and unexpectedly familiar, ‘And it will never happen again, not while I’m here.’
‘Not while I’m yours?’ Marcus echoed back the words from his dream on instinct, eyes widening in shock. He turned suddenly, facing the northwest corner of the room even while his attention turned entirely inwards, to the voice and presence sharing space in his head. He didn’t know why he chose that direction, but if he’d asked, he’d have been told that he was staring a straight line through the walls towards where his new Alpha was being held. Completely ignoring all thoughts about the test for a moment, or even that he was being watched in person and on camera, Marcus started arguing out loud because he’d had four years to get used to not having telepathy, “You said that in… You were in my dream! You heard that?”
‘Uh…’ Even as Declan’s verbal thoughts grew muddled, the emotions rioted behind them, impossible to hide: citrus-sharp embarrassment, with an ammonia-like punch of chagrin at being caught, all wrapped up in some of the very arousal that Marcus had been feeling. ‘Look, I didn’t mean to-!’ Declan started to think back, and there was a funny echo to the thoughts – as if they were being said aloud, too, but still thought strongly enough for Marcus to hear the telepathic reflection of them.
“Well, I didn’t mean to either! I’m not responsible for what my mind does when I’m sleeping,” Marcus snapped back. His shoulders arched as they would if he were a wolf, although he didn’t have any hackles to lift and bristle in defensiveness. If it were possible to die of mortification, he would have as he realized just what a show his dream had given Declan.
Emotions an uncomfortable briar’s patch, Declan said back, ‘And I’m not responsible for what comes down the link when it’s that strong! You were projecting it too loudly for me to ignore!’
Voice going a bit shrill, Marcus tossed his arms up in the air and continued his argument with the Alpha across the building, “That doesn’t make it better! Fucking shi-! You know, I wish the ground would swallow me up right now, I really do.”
‘Well, at least it wasn’t a nightmare.’
“No, it was just my subconscious putting us both in sexually compromising positions and then telegraphing it.”
Declan’s emotions gave an unexpected ripple that made Marcus’s skin go hot, and it seemed almost accidental that the Alpha’s voice mused back, ‘Subconscious or not, it was more than a little sexy…’
Just when Marcus thought that he’d immolate on the spot from the blush heating up his cheeks, another voice entered the conversation – Ada’s, coming through what sounded like an intercom. “Sorry to interrupt this… conversation… but I believe we can call and end to the telepathic test. We’ve got that data we need. If you’d both follow your escorts, please, we’ll meet in my office to fill out the final paperwork. Thank you.” The intercom clicked politely off.