“I’m hungry,” Ember grumbled, rubbing her belly after they’d both showered and dressed.
Ryker glanced over at his clock. “I haven’t heard any sounds, and Mom’s usually home with Ben and Greg by now.”
“Well, I think I might be able to fix something for us,” Ember told him as she stood up.
“Okay, I’ll help,” Ryker said, standing after tying his shoe.
Walking into the kitchen, Ember opened the fridge, saying, “Let’s see what we have. Eggs, cheese, some chicken, bacon, noodles, um… ooh, tortillas! How about a barbeque chicken wrap?” She looked over her shoulder at Ryker.
“Sounds good. Extra cheese on the tortillas?”
“Always,” Ember agreed as she began grabbing things.
Ember diced the chicken then poured barbeque sauce on it before throwing it in the microwave. Once it was heated, she stirred it together while Ryker heated the tortilla shells. Next, she spooned the chicken into the tortilla shells, and Ryker added cheese before wrapping them.
“Milk?” Ryker asked from where he stood by the fridge.
So, Ryker filled two glasses with milk while Ember placed the plates on the table. Then sitting down, side by side, they ate.
“Mm… that was so good.” Ryker pushed his empty plate away. Leaning over, he kissed her, saying, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, my baby,” Ember told him with a smile.
Ryker frowned thoughtfully, asking, “Ember, why do you call me baby? I mean… usually, the guy calls the girl that. Is it because I’m younger? You don’t have a problem with me being younger, do you?”
“No. Oh, Ryker, no!” Ember exclaimed, turning his way.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Ryker said. “I’m just curious because of all the pet names you could call me you chose, baby.”
Ember opened her mouth, then closed it. She didn’t have an answer for him.
Then someone answered for her. “She’s always called you her baby. Well, she did anyway.”
Ryker and Ember turned around on their stools to see both sets of parents as they walked into the kitchen. Ember’s mom, Minnie, is the one who had answered.
“I did?” Ember asked as she tried to remember doing it.
“She did?” Ryker asked because he didn’t remember.
Ryker and Ember said at the same time.
Minnie laughed as they all sat down. “Yeah, up until Ryker was about…”
“Five, Ryker was five,” Anna said.
Minnie nodded. “That’s right. It was Ryker’s fifth birthday party, and he’d just come back from the bathroom in time to hear Ember ask, ‘where’s my baby?’. Ryker informed her he was now five and no longer a baby.”
“Hm… if I remember, Ember pouted with Ryker the rest of the day,” Anna said. “She refused to sit by him when he opened his presents and wouldn’t hold his hand as they waited for a piece of cake.”
“Their first big fight,” Tony added. “I thought Ryker was going to cry when he tried to take her hand, and she slapped his away.”
Eric shook his head. “Ryker asked me later why Ember was so mad at him. I told him it was a girl thing and that he needed to tell her he was sorry.” Eric chuckled. “Then he asked what he was supposed to be sorry for.”
Ember rubbed her head, then exclaimed, “Wait a minute, I remember that. I cried when I got home, and Emerson asked me if he needed to make Uncle Eric whip Ryker for making me cry.
“Emerson said that?” Ryker asked, and Ember turned to look at him.
“Yeah, he did. The next day, Uncle Eric brought you over, and you got down on your knees, a bag of M&Ms in your hand, and told me you were sorry. I asked you what you were sorry for, and you told me you didn’t know,” Ember told him as she giggled. “So, I told you that I forgave you, and we ate them together.”
Ryker sat back in his chair, a stunned look on his face. “I don’t remember any of that. It still doesn’t explain why you call me baby, though.”
Ryker pulled his gaze from Ember when his Aunt Minnie spoke.
“I call Tony, baby. I always have and always will. Maybe it is something more men do than women, but there’s nothing wrong with it. I call him my baby because I love him, I cherish what we have, and I want to protect him from all harm. I’m not ashamed to call him that and have said it even in front of my children. Maybe Ember did call you her baby when she was little because you were a baby.”
“The moment she learned your mom was having a baby, you were special to her. When she found out you were a boy… well, then you became her baby. Why? None of us know,” Uncle Tony added.
Ryker turned to Ember to find her already watching him.
“I love you, Ryker. I always have. You were my best friend too to who I could say anything. I even told you things I wouldn’t tell Deanna, and she’s a girl. You never made me feel like an omega the way some of the other wolves did, and I was your equal, always,” Ember whispered.
“Ah, Ember,” Ryker whispered. Then he pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head.
“If you don’t want me to, I won’t call you baby anymore. I just got you back, and I don’t want you mad at me,” Ember said.
“It’s fine, I guess, as long as it isn’t because I’m younger than you, and you think I am one,” Ryker said in a whisper, his insecurity showing.
“Oh, no! Nothing like that, Ryker, I promise,” Ember told him as she squeezed him in a tight hug.
Ryker gave her a gentle peck on the lips before turning to his parents and asking, “Where were you two, and for that matter, where’s Ben and Greg?”
“The boys are at their friend’s house, and for some reason, your father decided he needed a steak. So, we went to dinner with Minnie and Tony at the steak house,” Ryker’s mom told him.
Ryker looked at his dad, who winked. Realizing his dad had known what was on his wolf’s mind when he and the Alpha left earlier caused heat to flood his face.
Tony cleared his throat. “So, Ryker, we understand you finally shifted.”
“Yes. Well, kinda anyway.” Ryker muttered as he drew circles on the table with his forefinger.
“What do you mean, kinda?” Aunt Minnie asked.
Ryker looked over at his dad, who shrugged. “It wasn’t my story to tell, son.”
Ryker shifted awkwardly in his seat, and Ember gave him an encouraging squeeze. “I only half shifted. I know I had all the features of my wolf but was walking upright when my wolf took over.”
“How is that even possible?” Aunt Minnie asked.
Everyone shook their heads in confusion.
“At first, I thought maybe it was because he’s a hybrid, but the Alpha doesn’t think that’s it. Then I thought it might be because Ryker was conceived while my wolf was in control, but I was in human form,” Ryker’s dad stated.
“Maybe, but doubtful. I mean, our wolves want their love too, and if our mate is human…” Aunt Minnie left her sentence hanging.
“It’s bound to happen that way at some point,” Ryker’s dad concluded.
“So, why did it happen?” Ember asked.
“Maybe I stopped my shift,” Ryker suggested, his head bowed.
Everyone turned his way.
“Explain, son. How did you stop your shift?” His dad asked him.
Raising his head, Ryker explained, “I was worried about Ember, and I remember saying something about I didn’t have time for it to be happening right then. I remember looking at my clawed hands, furry chest, and feeling of my ears. Then, I recall staggering to my feet as something inside me seemed to shift. The last thing I remember is running.”
“His wolf took over completely,” Aunt Minnie murmured, and everyone agreed. “Well, if he was agitated, I suppose, it’s possible it caused his shift to stop. However, I’ve never heard of that happening. You did say the doctor said it could have been some kind keeping him from shifting on his birthday. So, maybe, just maybe, his wolf was as worked up as he was.”
“So, when he did shift, his wolf was just as impatient to get to his mate as he was? Is that what you’re saying?” Ryker’s dad asked Minnie.
“Instead of talking theories, how about we just have him shift,” Uncle Tony suggested. “If it was a stopped shift, he should shift fine now.”
Aunt Minnie nodded. “Good idea. Be aware, Ryker, if that is what happened, the second time may feel like the first or worse.”
Ryker cringed and grumbled, “It hurt bad enough the first time. Don’t tell me it could be worse.”
“You’ll be fine,” Ember softly told him.
“It’s too late to do it tonight,” Ryker’s dad mentioned. “Ember and Ryker have had a full and exhausting day. So, I think it would be best to let them get a good night’s sleep and have him shift tomorrow. It’s Saturday, so no school. Ember, do you work tomorrow?”
“No, I have tomorrow off,” Ember said.
“Alright. How about we get together for breakfast?” Ryker’s dad asked.
Everyone agreed that it was a good plan. Ember’s parents left, and Ryker’s mom went to pick up her other two boys.
Ember yawned and leaned her head over on Ryker’s shoulder. “I’m sleepy.”
“It has been a long day for all of us, so let’s get you to bed,” Ryker murmured.
Standing up, they told Ryker’s dad goodnight and headed for Ryker’s room.