Mates, Not Couples
The bright lights were trippy and the music was groovy, I could feel the bass right to my bones. There was a large crowd present at the club, which in a way always spoke volumes about how successful a club was. However, this was not a problem for us as we had our own private section that overlooked the rest of the place. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised- he was royalty after all.
I spotted Hank a little far away from me, talking to a bartender and pointing at our table. He still looked grim and stiff, not enjoying himself at all. I tried to corner him when we were entering inside but Reece held me back by the arm and simply shook his head. “Let him be,” he said. “He needs to sort this out himself.” I decided to ignore his advice and pursue him later regardless. And maybe finally get the details of this story out for myself. I needed to understand what exactly happened that night, maybe it would help me forgive Reece much more easily.
Or maybe I wasn’t ready for it yet - I was an expert at procrastination anyway.
On the other end of the spectrum, Daniella and Grey had already hit the dance floor. It was refreshing to see them being so carefree, even if it was just for one night, not that those two were ever low for long. They decided to eat and drink at the bar downstairs rather than ordering at the table, while the rest of us were seated in a plush sofa setting that was an extravagant section in itself. We even had our own space to dance upstairs but then it was probably more fun to dance with a large crowd.
The bartender came back with a wide selection of alcohol and food, carrying multiple plates with the grace of a ballet dancer. He never looked up at us, which I found weird but didn’t comment on.
“This is a lot of food..” Xena spoke up besides me and then blushed when everyone looked at her. “I-I just mean I don’t want it to get wasted,” She amended quickly but Sienna was already chuckling. “A girl’s gotta eat.” She said lightheartedly and then took a generous helping of some food. Reece leaned in next, turning to look at Xena, “Don’t worry, we eat like a pack of animals.” And saying so, he winked at me, making me blush instantly. I looked away from him before I could burst in flames and settled on my best friend, she seemed like she wanted to say something but then held her tongue, a challenge in her eyes. Well, she would surely be in for a surprise.
Two shots and a couple of starters later, Xena was itching to join the two of them at the main dance floor as well, so we both stood up to make our way down.
“We’re going to join them.” I spoke to Reece over the loud music and he frowned. “What’s wrong with dancing up here?” His hand tightened slightly on my wrist, turning me to him.
I looked down towards the rest of the people and looked back at him awkwardly, “it’s weird.” I mumbled.
Xena was waiting for me impatiently, but didn’t intervene in our conversation, not that she could hear anything above the loud music anyway.
“What’s weird?” He pressed further and I began to squirm under his gaze. Why did he ask so many questions?
I tried my best to frame the sentence without offending him.
“It’s too..extravagant, like we’re royalty and get to dance above everyone else. They can look up at us, that’s weird.” I hoped that I didn’t sound ungrateful. To my surprise Reece let out a small smile, shaking his head.
Xena had already begun to make her way down - the alcohol always made her restless - but I found my curiosity piqued.
“What’s that smile?” I asked him, moving closer and slightly bending to match his sitting form.
(I didn’t have too much - since he was almost my height even when he was sitting and I was standing).
“I should have known that it’d overwhelm you.” He said, leaning into my ear so that he didn’t have to shout and I moved back immediately.
“I’m not overwhelmed!” I couldn’t keep the surprise out of my voice.
Reece raised an eyebrow as if to say, ‘you sure?’ which made me stop to consider his words.
“It sure looks that way.”
“I’m not overwhelmed.” I repeated again, more sure than before, but added anyway, “I just like dancing with more people around me.”
He gave me a once over and looked like he wanted to say something more but then nodded.
“Can I convince you to stay?” He asked again and I shook my head a little impatiently now - those two shots were getting to me too. He grimaced and then sighed.
“Can I convince you to come down?” I asked after him, trying to be polite and he shook his head, “Maybe in a while, I have a little work up here.” I glanced around at the ‘up here’ there were several other groups also seated distances away from each other. Each having their own private celebration. I raised an eyebrow at him, Sienna and Hank but shrugged and made my way downstairs after Xena.
It took me an hour of dancing to notice them. I should have known the subtle look he gave me, the way his eyes glazed over, and the fact this his level of protection was upwards of ∞. I should have known that we had security all around us.
April’s fit frame wandered closer to me, seemingly unconnected to my presence but I recognized her immediately. She didn’t look like she had battled a wolf just, was it only yesterday? She looked...vibrant, feisty and incredibly hot. And she was also my bodyguard in disguise.
I thought we had left them back in the car - assumed that we only needed them during travel but that had been a stupid presumption on my part.
A sudden realization that I was probably surrounded by a ton of werewolves made me shiver with uncertainty. There were Reece’s people, which meant that there were others, who were not working for him. I remembered the waiter who got us our food, his balance and strength to carry all those dishes and drinks was uncanny. Was he - I gulped - a werewolf too?
Next to me, Xena was dancing without a care, her body swaying to the familiar music, her eyes closing for long periods as she shuffled on her two feet. She was really feeling the vibe, unaware that there were several non human species present in the room along with her.
Ignorance truly is bliss.
The four of us continued partying together when Grey leaned in to whisper something to his mate and she nodded. It was then the three of us dancing in a tight circle for a while before Daniella dragged us over to the bar and ordered us another round of drinks. I was a very responsible drinker unlike Xena, who I’d have to keep a check on. She was not a lightweight like me but she didn’t know when to stop, although that was a long way off - we were here to have fun. Daniella on the other hand seemed more than fine. He returned with filled drinks and she mumbled something in his ear which made him nod and turn away from us.
“What did you say to him?” I asked her leaning in, trying to top over the noise and she just shrugged, “To bill Reece for these.” And the bartender returned with another three drinks. He made sure to push a specific glass towards Dani and the other two were given to us. Xena didn’t notice it, but I realized that he had probably put a little something extra in her drink.
My mind went back to the night when we four had dinner and it just clicked. Werewolves needed that extra drug for the alcohol to hit. Daniella realized because she leaned in and said, “Don’t worry, it’s not harmful.” Indicating to the addition. I was curious, but I held back lest someone hear us.
“Stop talking and start chugging!” Xena cheered at us and we obliged, having both the glasses back to back. Needless to say, in a little while we were all perfectly buzzed and happy.
Not wanting to go into the crowd again, we chose to dance close to the bar. It was also easier to grab another drink that the two of them would definitely want. Despite the high, my mind was alert about the people around me. I couldn’t help but constantly look around me and try to spot other people who were in there for us.
It was uncomfortable to come to terms with the fact that the people I had spent my closest times with had hid such a huge secret from me. Even in a tipsy state I could identify why they hid it, but I couldn’t help but feel largely betrayed. I sighed in annoyance, betrayal seemed to be a theme around them. But I also recognized that I hadn’t heard their side of the story yet, and if I made judgments without that then there would be no difference between them and me. Okay, them two years ago and me. They were probably going to cross check every single detail after the misunderstanding Reece had with me. A tap on my shoulder made me spin around and come face to face with Atticus.
When did he get here? My mind was tipping out of control.
“Is something wrong, ma’am?” He asked me, struggling with the last word. A small smile made its way to my lips, “you want to call me Luna, don’t you?” I asked him playfully, but it had the opposite effect.
Atticus’ eyes widened and three of the people standing closest to me turned to look at us. Even Daniella stopped dancing and gave me a shocked look.
The music continued to play loudly but something in the air had changed.
“What? There must be some mistake, ma’am. Where did you hear that word?”
His body had sunk into normal tones of conversation but his eyes were desperate. He was looking at me with some internal prayer that I couldn’t quite catch on. The alcohol was affecting my ability to think. I just wanted to dance!
“Huh?” I asked, stumbling slightly. What had we been talking about? And then I raised my hand and said, “Atticus! When did you get here?” O-okay then, too much in the system.
I had started grooving to the music again, too distracted to wait for him to answer. This place was fun! The music was refreshing! Man, this was what I called a vacation! And I was sure Xena would agree - she was enjoying herself like no tomorrow! If Atticus tried to get my attention then he obviously failed - I could barely notice the floor.
I had had too much to drink.
Oh, to hell with it! This was a vacation! Where was the bartender?
And then Atticus came back into my peripheral vision. I glanced up and gave him an innocent smile which he returned. “Miss, if you would come with me?” He leaned in and asked me politely, raising his hand and offering it up to me. I took it without hesitation, knowing that this man had once (yesterday) risked his life in order for me to escape, and he led me away from the crowded dance floor to the bottom of the staircase.
“I’ll take her from here, Atticus.” Grey said, stepping out from the shadows and nearly giving me a heart attack.
“Grey! When did you get here?” I asked the same thing again and then giggled when I realized that, pointing from Grey to Atticus in fits. They both gave me a worried look before Grey took hold of my elbow. “He’s not going to like this.” Grey spoke to Atticus who was standing behind me.
“I know, but she really is a lightweight.” Atticus replied, a hint of adoration in his tone.
“Come on, let’s get you up to Reece.” Grey said as he prodded my elbow in the direction of the stairs but I resisted. “No, I - uh - Xena.” I mumbled incoherently.
“She’s okay, she’s with Dani.” Grey assured me, but I held my ground.
“She - she needs me.” I insisted again, trying to maintain balance and turn around but Grey didn’t let go.
“Come on, Luna,” Atticus urged me but I shook my head again, refusing to move.
“Well then, Reece is coming to get you.” Grey told me, motioning to the top of the stairs.
“Yes?” His voice was a deep tone of velvet (if that even made sense). It was like he just materialized in front of me - stupid werewolf speed. Immediately, a large pair of arms draped themselves around me and I was lifted off the ground like a doll. I was crushed more tightly than usual and then he put his face along my shoulder. We stood there in silence - the music outside wasn’t able to touch us - for as long as Reece wanted. He was breathing in heavily, which was tickling my neck but despite my protests he didn’t let go. Eventually he loosened up enough to set me down again and gave me some breathing space.
Had he just...smelled me? I could think it, but my mind wouldn’t function properly for me to ask him. I blamed half of this ability loss on the electricity.
“Hmmm, light and lightweight.” He whispered into my ear - all traces of the previous intensity gone - making me blush immediately.
“Shut up.” There, at least I managed to say that.
I managed to earn a chuckle. His hands were not good for my functioning, I think I was sizzling in his touch. “Can’t..think.” I admitted in my haze, trying to shift his hands off me fruitlessly. Reece just continued to look at me obliviously, like one stared at a serene scenery for long moments.
“Look at the puppy, wasn’t it a minute ago when you were absolutely furious?” Grey provoked him and Atticus let out a restrained laugh. I couldn’t see what Reece did behind my back but Grey and Atticus left us alone and went back into the crowd.
“Okay, let’s get you straight, princess.” He murmured into my ear and I let out a giggle.
“And I can actually say that I mean it.” Reece whistled, looking down at me with, dare I say it, love in his eyes.
And then I remembered, “Xena.” I muttered, raising my hand in the direction of the crowd and he took my extended hand in his. “She’s fine with Grey. Don’t you trust Grey?” I nodded.
“She won’t know when to stop.” I told him innocently, like a little girl protecting her doll.
“I don’t think she will have a chance since we are leaving anyway, its nearly two.” He explained and that made me stand up straight.
“Why? I’m having fun!” Although, where did that time go?
“I’ll tell you that later. Why don’t we just head to the car? Everyone is there waiting for us.” He told me, and then took my arm and lead me outside the club.
And sure enough, everyone was there, already seated. I couldn’t call it a car, it seemed more like a combination of a jeep and a truck. So huge that all of us could easily fit inside it together. We were immediately flanked on each side by large muscular men and I stuck closer to Reece. He chuckled before putting an arm around me and giving me a protective squeeze. Hmmm.. I could stay like this for extended periods of time.
“Why are we leaving already?” Xena mumbled from opposite me and I had to laugh.
“You realized that we are leaving?” Atticus muttered from besides her and we all burst out laughing, with Xena crossing her hands across her chest and huffing.
“It’s late, plus I have work tomorrow morning.” Reece supplied, but that didn’t help his case.
“Well then you go home,” she said like a petulant child, and that made us all laugh again.
“Is she always like this?” Sienna looked at me and I shook my head.
“Sometimes.” I said, looking back at a now asleep Xena.
For more than half the journey nobody said anything. Everyone was in their own thoughts, or in the case of Xena, in her own dreams. I was trying to get the spinning under control but the motion of the car was making it worse. Reece sat next to me, his one hand was anchored to my waist while the other had extended along the car window.
Even though the high was making me slightly uneasy, the moment was relaxing. Here I sat, with my closest friend and reconnecting with my older friends. Sitting in the arms of someone I had once loved, and still loved. Like a bizarre story that I would write for a movie. When had I become a character in one of my own scripts? I couldn’t decide the ending in this, but I would sure as hell not waste my second chance at complete happiness again. This time, I would fight harder, hold on to those who were close to me tighter. This time I wouldn’t run away.
And just like that, my decision to know the details of that night solidified. I was not going to shy away from the moment that I had chosen to never revisit again. It would hurt, but it was necessary.
I really should drink more often.
I was about to inform Reece of my decision when a sudden jerk made me almost flip out of my seat. Had it not been for Reece’s arm around my waist, I was certain to have flown straight into Xena. It appeared that they were all prepared for this except for me. Hank had held on to Xena and prevented her from falling off her seat during the recoil.
“Atticus.” Reece grit out as he opened the door on his side. Within a flash, Atticus was sitting next to me, Reece was out the door.
“Daniella get back in the car!” Grey’s voice boomed from the other side and I realized that I had missed yet another movement. When had they stepped outside?
“No.” She replied in an even, stressed tone. Clearly this was a well debated topic between the two of them. I didn’t get to hear the rest of it because our car lurched forward without them.
I took three seconds to come to my senses. “Where are they going?!” I asked Atticus, whose hands were firmly planted on my shoulder, not allowing any movement. Sienna had shut her eyes and was sitting ramrod straight, she looked possessed.
Before Atticus could answer, I heard a horrible sound and I knew exactly where I’d heard it before.
The fracturing of several bones, the howls of wolves - werewolves - and ripping of clothes, everything was crystal clear.
“They’re turning!” I cried in alarm, moving towards the window but Atticus immediately pulled me back.
“Stay away from the window!” He gritted out. Sienna was still holding her position, not intervening at all.
“What is going on?!” I continued to struggle against Atticus but he didn’t budge. “Queen, please.” His voice was a hoarse whisper.
The car had started picking up pace, we were likely doing 60 miles an hour.
“Why are we leaving them behind?!”
“We’re not, they’re running with us. Listen, Luna!” He said again, much more humbly this time. His werewolf self finally registered how scary all this was for me.
The unknown threat spooked me. What were they doing? But regardless, I did as Atticus told and sure enough I heard them.
The slapping of paws on the pavement as they ran next to us. My posture relaxed a teeny bit and I stopped struggling against Atticus.
I couldn’t believe that they could keep up! That was certainly unimaginable!
Gathering my bearings, I settled back into the seat. “What’s happening?” My voice was barely composed as I looked directly at the passed out girl sitting opposite me.
Throughout the entire episode, Xena hadn’t even stirred an inch.
“They’re checking for threats.” He told me in a whisper, now taking his hands off my shoulders. “Threats?” My voice dripped with panic.
“And it appears they haven’t found any.” Sienna’s voice was a relief to hear.
“How do you know that?”
“Mindlink. We can talk to each other in the pack via our minds.”
“WHAT? That’s impossible..!”
“Reece didn’t tell you?” she asked me, distracted and surprised at the same time and I shook my head. “He said that he would be able to read my mind but I thought that was a thing between couples.” I supplied sheepishly. She was right, now that I thought about it, it wasn’t that surprising.
“Mates, not couples.” Sienna corrected me and I nodded. I knew that, but the word still felt foreign to me.
“Why suddenly?” I asked after two minutes, my alcohol ridden mind finally catching up.
“Instinct. Something felt odd.” Was the only answer that they could provide, but there was something suspicious about that explanation.
Outside, we could hear them maintain our steady pace as we continued to drive. My heart rate was coming down to it’s normally accepted range as Sienna kept giving us updates about the condition outside.
“Everything is clear.”
“Nobody is in sight.”
“Need to check our rooms at the hotel.”
“Notify the wolves in the perimeter.”
“Contact the local Alpha.”
The two of them also kept firing instructions to each other. I watched in fascination as they spoke via mindlink, but my mind kept shifting to the boys and Dani outside. As a King, Reece probably had a lot of enemies. People who wanted the throne, people who wanted money, different territorial battles maybe? I should sit down and learn more about the werewolf culture and community if I was going to join them one of these days.
The car slowed down as we entered the familiar isolated path to the hotel - the very path that Atticus and I had walked with that small wolf pup.
“Yes, Luna?” A flash of Deja vu went through me as he said that. My reaction was reflexive, “Please just call me Flora.” I said to him again and then continued before he could protest, “That wolf cub we found the other day in the forest! Was that a..”
“Yes ma’am, it was a werewolf.” He admitted, looking out to the fence and beyond.
“You said it shifted early, what was that all about?” I asked him as we halted completely but before he had a chance to answer Sienna stiffened.
It was a small movement, but none of us missed it. She looked to Atticus, her eyes glazing over, no doubt talking to him telepathically. He was much better at hiding his reaction, but I knew something was wrong.
“What is it?!” I demanded to know, shifting around in my seat. My hands flew to the door, going for the lock when it shut automatically. Neither of them answered me as I struggled with the stupid door. I was trying so hard to be composed for Xena, but this wasn’t helping.
“Sienna! Open the damn door!” I yelled, trying to show some authority but none of them even moved. “Sorry, Alpha’s orders.” Atticus whispered weakly, and I couldn’t help but attack the door twice as wildly.
“Both of you open this door! You can’t keep us locked in! Xena! Xena wake up!” I started fighting even harder, not understanding the deep pit of panic that had risen from within me. “Queen, you need to calm down.” Sienna soothed, but in a flash she was sitting next to me while Atticus had shifted to my best friend. The sudden movement scared me further.
“My name is Flora and I want to get out of this car!” I yelled louder and finally, Xena stirred. The next second Sienna had put her hands on my mouth while Atticus moved to cover Xena’s ears. She was even out of kicking range!
What were they doing!? Trying to keep me here!
“Flora, this panic you feel is not yours.” Sienna whispered, enunciating my name specifically. When I didn’t respond to her she continued. “The situation is not so serious. We need you to be in the car while they check if it is safe outside.” she continued, her words slowly getting through to me. Atticus still held Xena’s head in his lap. cupping her ears.
“I know you both are hiding something!” I protested loudly, causing her to slam her hand over my mouth again.
“Reece will be here in two minutes, please don’t worry about anyone but your own and Xena’s safety.” she protested urgently and against all odds I nodded. Because even though I was still worried, the situation would get ten times worse if Xena woke up. I would like to shield her from this world for as long as possible - especially if there was some kind of threat around.
“Let go of her, I won’t scream or move.” I told Atticus, trying to bargain with him and his hands were off her in an instant.
“Queen, please don’t feel as though you are a prisoner here.” His voice was filled with anguish and I was left to wonder if it really mattered to them what I felt like. Sienna took her arms away from me too, looking at me helplessly. “Please don’t be angry with us, we need to do what we need to do to protect you.” She added, trying to make me see her side of the argument but I couldn’t help but be hurt. This world of werewolves - was it going to be filled with such instances?
“And who protects those outside?” I asked them both, my voice low for the sake of my best friend. Every second that ticked by made me worry more for Reece, Dani, Grey and even Hank.
“With all honesty, Luna, you need to be protected.” His words were brutal but true. They were strong, near mythical creatures of the night. I had firsthand witnessed their abilities. What was I next to them?
I was a liability - and a Queen. This was a recipe for disaster.
“Don’t misunderstand that you are weak, Queen.” Sienna spoke suddenly, her voice more firm than I’d ever heard. “You have power and abilities that we have no match for. But it is our duty to protect you, whether you need it or not.”
Her sharp gaze caught me by surprise. Could she also read my mind? I decided to consider her words carefully but I still felt slightly small. Before either of them could gauge my reaction, the door to my side opened, and Reece’s head poked in.
He was wearing no shirt. His pants had changed to rough shorts.
“Brianna is here.” He told me before I could even open my mouth.
Behind him, Hank was actively avoiding my gaze.
No wonder they froze.