“What were you thinking?!” Margret gasped.
“She had nowhere else to go,” Dean tried to explain while pinching the bridge of his nose tensely.
He’d been getting chewed out all morning and fatigue was slowly but surely setting in. After news spread about Tessa’s arrival several days ago, the pack council had decided to call an urgent meeting at first light.
Of course everyone else is late, Dean sneered. Now I’m stuck in a cramped office with HER!
“You brought an Ailuran into our pack!” His Gamma continued to berate him.
As his fourth in command, he could understand her concern. It was her job to assure that everything in the pack ran smoothly and that they blended in with the humans seamlessly. She handled everything political and was very intent on keeping their kind hidden.
“She’ll cause a riot!” Margret continued while clutching her chest. “All it takes is one rambunctious pup shifting in front of a human to expose us! We’ll be hunted down like dogs! Do you understand?! DOGS!”
“That won’t happen,” Dean assured her.
“You don’t know that!” She wailed.
Margret was nearing fifty and it was beginning to show. Her thin coppery locks were freckled with white and a few worry lines were littering her hazel eyes. A large mole sat in the middle of her chin and Dean had to swallow back a touch of bile at the sight of several hairs growing out of it.
“Margret,” Dean soothed. “Calm down. I know what I’m doing.”
“So do I!” She hissed. “And let me just say, putting our entire species at risk for your new little girlfriend is not worth it!”
“What the hell are you talking about?!” Dean furrowed his brow.
“Don’t deny it,” Nick muttered while sauntering into Margret’s office slowly. “We all know.”
“What do you know?” Dean inquired while rolling his emerald orbs.
“There have been rumors floating around about you and the feline,” Margret informed him. “Rumors that could put your position as Alpha at risk.”
“What might those be?” Dean asked while squeezing his lids shut in aggravation.
“That you’re having unmated relations with her,” his Gamma whispered.
“Relations?” Dean repeated quizzically. “I’m not sleeping with her if that’s what you’re implying.”
I wish that was an option, he sighed internally.
“That’s not what I heard,” Nick scoffed while plopping down into a leather seat beside Margret.
“What the hell did you hear?” Dean snapped.
“That you’re mouth fucking the cat,” his Beta replied nonchalantly.
"WHAT?!” Dean snarled.
“Whoa,” Embry exclaimed while bounding into the room. “I’m sensing a lot of tension here. Maybe we should all just take a breath so that we can discuss things civilly.”
Nick glared at him with his golden orbs for a moment before standing to snatch a bottle of water from a white table in the corner. Margret covered her face with her pale hands and sighed. The poor woman looked like she was about to have a stroke.
Dean simply nodded and took several calming breaths, inhaling deeply in an attempt to disperse the fury that had been pumping through his veins. Once he believed he was calm enough to form words, he spoke.
“I want these rumors taken care of immediately,” he ordered.
“Already on it,” Embry winked. “I talked to Tessa this morning and visited everyone with a big mouth before I came here.”
Nick sniffed at him intently for a moment before allowing a deep throaty growl to escape his lips.
“You went to my house?!” Dean’s beta snarled viciously.
“Your wife’s kind of gossipy,” Embry shrugged. “And that reminds me, you forgot your lunch snookums.”
Embry tossed a brown paper sack into Nick’s lap and sent him a few air kisses before snorting at his own jest. After examining the bag, the Beta rolled his eyes and settled into his seat angrily.
“Can’t have you eating a bunch of junk food on the job sweetie,” Embry chided. “You gotta watch your cholesterol, big guy!”
“Stay the fuck away from my house,” Nick grumbled.
“I’ll do my best,” Embry swore sarcastically before giving the group his full attention.
“If you two are finished!” Margret hissed. “We have more important things to discuss! Like what the hell we’re going to do about this intruder!”
“If there was an intruder in the pack, I’d know about it.” Embry clipped sternly. “Mind your words, Gamma.”
It was amazing how quickly Embry could switch from being the pack clown to incredibly intimidating. Thankfully for Dean, he took pack safety very seriously and was extremely diligent when it came to protecting their people.
“My apologies, Delta.” Margret sneered. “But I wouldn’t know what else to call that freeloading stray.”
“You could call her a waste of space,” Nick offered with a curled lip. “But I’d rather refer to her as lunch.”
“I just gave you your lunch!” Embry scoffed. “Talk about ungrateful.”
“What should he be grateful for exactly?” Margret inquired. “For barging into his house to lecture his wife about bad mouthing that damn parasite living in our midst?!”
“That’s enough!” Dean snapped angrily. “She has a name! I suggest you learn it before I-!”
“Easy big guy,” Embry soothed. “Deep breaths. In and out, come on.”
Dean stared a furious hole into the side of his Delta’s head. He wanted to kill someone. He hadn’t anticipated the amount of backlash he would receive for housing his first imprint and now his people were dangerously close to revolting against him.
The last thing I want to do is follow shitty breathing techniques from this idiot, he snarled internally.
Do it, a faint voice within him urged. Calm.
Reluctantly taking the advice of his murky conscience, he hid his emerald orbs from the world momentarily and inhaled deeply several times. Dean eventually opened his eyes again to gaze professionally at his Gamma.
“Her name is Tessa,” he informed Margret quietly. “She is a member of our pack now, so get used to it. If I hear you say another word about her, I am going to castrate your mate with my bare hands and shove his severed ball sack down your throat. Do you understand?”
“Y-yes Alpha,” she stuttered meekly with a quivering lip.
“Good,” Dean replied gingerly before meeting Embry’s eyes. “How was that for calm?”
“It was okay,” his Delta gulped. “It kind of just sounded like you said exactly what you were going to earlier in a nicer tone, but I’d give it an A for effort.”
“Good,” Dean muttered. “Now, if there aren’t any more questions-!”
“I have one!” Nick piped up grumpily.
“Very well,” Dean nodded in acknowledgement. “Beta.”
“How long is she staying?” Nick snipped.
“Why does that concern you?” Dean challenged ruefully.
“Because the Harvest Moon Festival is in a few weeks and I don’t want your new whore around my kids,” he answered honestly.
Dean’s blood boiled at the clear disrespect that was being hurled at his imprint. He had been fighting the urge to be overly protective toward her for months, but taking the fact that he had already warned his Beta about being rude toward Tessa into consideration, he was ready to tear his throat out.
“You son of a-!” Dean snarled while lunging toward him.
“Whoa! Hey!” Embry yelled as he stupidly threw himself into Dean’s line of fire.
“Get out of the fucking way!” Dean ordered furiously.
“I can’t do that sir,” his Delta denied cautiously. “Having two elite wolves battling to the death in the pack house would be a direct violation against our people’s safety, and therefore my job. Punish me for going against a direct order if you’d like, but I won’t let you two idiots fight when there’s pregnant mothers and pups downstairs.”
Dean hated it, but he couldn’t argue with that logic. While he loathed the idea of allowing his second in command to get away with violating his command, he simply wouldn’t put his pride above the safety of his pack.
“What I think Beta Nick was trying to say,” Margret began timidly. “Is that there has been some concern about the girl being allowed to participate in pack events, such as the Harvest Moon Festival.”
“Why would that be an issue?” Dean sighed while stepping away from Embry to rest in a nearby leather chair.
“Because the Harvest Moon is sacred,” she continued. “Most believe that the event opens a direct line to Mother Wolf. Correct me if I’m wrong, but to my knowledge her species doesn’t share the same beliefs as we do. Her presence could be viewed as offensive.”
“Talk about an understatement,” Nick scoffed. “Her showing up would be blasphemy. What business would she have attending a fertility festival anyway?”
“Human mates do it all the time,” Embry shrugged. “What’s the difference?”
“Well they’re not the sole nemesis to our kind, for one.” Nick hissed. “For two, they’re all mated to Lycans. She’s not. So, again, how long is that thing staying?”
"She’s free to bunk with Sam and I for as long as she fucking wants to!” Embry quipped while turning around abruptly. “So if you have a problem with that, you can take it up with my ass because I really don’t give a shit.”
“Speak to me like that again and see what happens,” Nick warned.
“Watch yourself, Beta.” Embry smirked. “You might outrank me legally and your bloodline may be pure, but we all saw what happened the last time you challenged me. Those yellow eyes don’t mean shit and I think you’re forgetting who gave you your position in the first place. Be humble.”
Nick muttered something unintelligible for a moment before standing up and sauntering out of the office without another word. Margret reached out hesitantly as if she wished to stop him, but refrained herself midway and settled behind her desk.
“So I take it this Tessa will be permitted to attend the Harvest Moon Festival then?” Margret inquired while typing away at her desktop.
“Yes,” Dean murmured while running a fatigued hand through his ebony waves. “As a pack member, she is authorized to attend any pack event that she would like to. With a chaperone, of course. Delta-!”
“I know the drill,” Embry chuckled. “Stay close, keep her safe, yada yada. You got it, boss.”
“Good,” he sighed. “We’re done here. Margret, spread the word that Tessa is staying and that she is to be treated as an equal by all pack members.”
“Yes Alpha,” she bowed curtly. “Anything else?”
“Also make it known that there is nothing inappropriate going on between us,” he added. “If you catch anyone saying otherwise, I want them sent to the cell block immediately.”
“Yes sir,” Margret nodded.
Dean stood slowly and walked out the door with Embry close behind. They entered a large steel elevator at the end of the burgundy hallway leading to his Gamma’s office and waited until they had stopped at their floor.
The lobby of the main pack house was bustling with rambunctious pups and rowdy teens. Several young girls and their mothers giggled as Dean and his Delta passed by, earning a wide smile out of Embry.
Many of the young pups that dreamed of being a warrior someday bowed their heads in respect, saluting their fearless leader as he passed. The display warmed Dean’s heart as it was one of the few reasons he enjoyed being back.
After stepping out of his people’s communal home and wandering through their small town for a while, he noticed that his Delta had insisted on following him. He turned to give Embry a curious look, but was met with the worried silver orbs of his old friend.
Embry motioned toward a small dock overlooking one of the larger lakes within their pack walls and beckoned him to follow. Dean apprehensively allowed Embry to lead him to the withering wood above the edge of the water before speaking.
“What’s going on?” Dean asked suspiciously.
“Nothing,” Embry denied. “I just wanted to check in with you, that’s all. Making sure you’re doing alright.”
“I’m fine,” Dean huffed. “What’s this really about?”
“I can’t just see how an old pal is doing?” Embry questioned with false heartache.
“No,” he replied curtly. “So what do you want?”
“Fine! Fine! You caught me,” Embry admitted. “I need answers.”
“About?” Dean rolled his eyes.
“You and Tessa,” he replied discreetly. “Is there actually something going on between you two?”
“What?” Dean gasped, being completely taken aback. “No!”
“You can be honest,” Embry shrugged. “I don’t judge. I just need to know if I should be expecting you to sneak into her window every now and then or not.”
“We’re not together!” Dean informed him.
“But you’re totally banging,” Embry finished. “I knew it.”
“No!” He snapped. “There’s nothing going on!”
“Really?” His Delta asked in shock. “That’s surprising. Why the hell not?”
“What do you mean why not?!” Dean whisper shouted.
“I mean,” Embry drawled. “You two are definitely interested in each other.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he denied while turning to walk off of the decrepit dock.
“So you don’t like her,” Embry clarified. “But you let her call you by your real name, whisk her away to get shit faced in a shitty bar and tell her all about the great migration?”
“That’s not what-!” Dean stopped himself in his tracks after thinking for a moment. “Wait, how the hell did you know about that?”
“I eavesdrop,” he shrugged. “You told me to keep an eye on her, so I do. All the time, even during the pack runs.”
“How much did you hear?” Dean growled.
“Only like,” he squinted an eye to think hard for a moment. “Everything. I also noticed you watching her in the woods when you were supposed to be negotiating treaties.”
“How dare you-!” Dean hissed.
“You gave me a job,” Embry reminded him. “You told me not to let anything happen to her, so I won’t. You told me to keep an eye on her, so I do. If anyone talks about her, looks at her, or breathes in her direction, I know about it.”
“I just needed you to watch out for her for a while,” he sighed. “I didn’t mean for you to turn into her personal bodyguard!”
“Well too late,” Embry shrugged. “I already am, and it isn’t just because you told me to. I care about her. Werecat or not, she’s family now and I refuse to lose anyone else.”
Dean could only purse his lip into a tight line at the end of his Delta’s sentence. He knew all too well about the immense loss that Embry had experienced in his short life.
He and Embry had developed a fast friendship many years ago and were inseparable for quite some time. During one of their drunken endeavors many years ago, Embry had admitted to being his mother’s caregiver as she faded away from cancer. He’d also been the one to discover her body after she took matters into her own hands one night.
Dean recalled him mentioning that his father had lost himself afterward, likely suffering from dead-mate syndrome. The illness was common among wolves that outlived their partners, often experiencing visions and hallucinations that eventually drive them to suicide. Something that Dean knew all too well.
Embry had done his best to protect his sister from their father’s mania, but there was only so much a child could do against the raging hands of an Alpha wolf.
Being a natural born Alpha, Embry had been surprisingly compliant to Dean in the years that they had known each other. He’d likely believe that Embry wasn’t his father’s heir if he hadn’t seen his capabilities in battle. Beneath the carefree facade that he presented to the world hid a meticulously ruthless killer.
“You imprinted on her,” Dean concluded.
“So did you,” Embry accused.
“Well I-!” Dean gasped.
“Don’t worry, I get it. It’s hard not to,” Embry shrugged. “She’s a cool chick, I don’t get how anyone could hate her.”
“I don’t either,” he agreed. “She’s funny, strong, yet incredibly forgiving and selfless.”
“And loyal,” Embry added. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she was part Lycan.”
“I’d call it good parenting,” Dean disagreed. “Her father has clearly had a great influence on her.”
“Look at you,” Embry teased. “Kissing up to your future father-in-law when he isn’t even here!”
“I’m not-!” Dean snapped.
“Don’t worry, I’ll throw in a good word for ya!” Embry winked.
“I’m not marrying her!” Dean urged.
“Well not yet!” Embry rolled his eyes. “Obviously, you’ll have to take her to dinner first.”
“It’s not happening,” he clipped.
“Why not?” Embry probed.
“Because it would be completely inappropriate for an Alpha to be sleeping around with pack members,” Dean replied.
“The King of Alphas does it all the time,” Embry argued. “And I’m sure everyone in the pack would be thrilled if you took another mate.”
“I’d have to marry a Luna,” Dean stated.
“She’d become a Luna as soon as you married her,” Embry proclaimed.
“She wouldn’t even be interested in me!” Dean growled. “She’s young, she has her entire life ahead of her.”
“An entire life that she wants to spend with you,” Embry wiggled a brow.
“That’s not true,” he scoffed.
“Are you blind?” Embry muttered. “The girl practically has hearts for eyes every time she sees you! I can’t even say your name without her blushing.”
“I make people nervous,” he offered.
“Bullshit,” Embry chuckled. “She’s totally into you, just like you’re into her.”
“I never said that I was even remotely interested,” he lied.
“Sure,” Embry eyed him carefully. “So if I went home and fucked her brains out, you wouldn’t care?”
“Not at all,” Dean ground his teeth together.
“Oh thank the Goddess,” Embry doubled over as he breathed out a sigh of relief. “Because we totally got wasted and hooked up last night. I was so scared to tell you, but since you don’t really care then I guess-.”
“You WHAT?!” Dean snarled while taking a fist full of his Delta’s neck.
“Ha!” He choked out. “I knew it! You do like her!”
Dammit! He baited me and I fell for it! Dean cursed himself internally.
“Shut the hell up,” he grumbled while releasing the man’s throat.
“Not until you admit that you have feelings for her,” Embry bargained.
“I’m not admitting that,” Dean snorted.
“Fine,” Embry shrugged. “I’ll admit it for you. I can’t wait to tell Tessa that-!”
“You say a word to her and you die!” Dean threatened.
“Why?” He inquired. “It’s so obvious that you both want each other so why the hell haven’t you done anything about it?”
“Because-,” Dean cut himself off.
“Because?” Embry repeated expectantly.
“I can’t,” he huffed.
“Why the hell not?” Embry pushed.
“Because she’s not my fucking mate!” Dean spit out.
Grief clenched his chest as his vocal cords gave out before he could explain himself further. Embry fell silent as Dean leaned against the sturdy dock railing, staring out at the peaceful water. Embry stood with him quietly for several minutes before gathering the nerve to speak again.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “But she’s gone.”
“I know,” Dean clipped. “That doesn’t change the fact that she was my mate. I can’t just replace her.”
“No one could ever replace her,” Embry assured him. “She was your Goddess given mate, but that doesn’t mean you have to put the rest of your life on hold just because she isn’t here. You have to move on.”
"Move on,” Dean scoffed scornfully. “That’s easy for you to say.”
“Trust me,” Embry breathed deeply. “It’s not.”
Guilt scorched Dean’s chest as he realized what he had just said and had immediately regretted it.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized quietly. “I didn’t mean to-.”
“I know what you meant,” Embry assured him.
“Sometimes I forget that we both lost her,” Dean admitted.
“It’s fine,” he waved Dean off. “You’re not still hearing voices though, are you?”
“No,” Dean denied quickly. “Those stopped a long time ago.”
“Good,” Embry exhaled. “You had me worried there for a while.”
“Yeah,” he recalled. “Thanks for-, well you know.”
“I know,” Embry nodded.
They stood there silently gazing into the calming waters for a long time before Dean felt comfortable enough to break the silence.
“I have feelings for her,” he admitted reluctantly. “But I feel like I’m cheating on Leah every time I’m with her.”
“I’m sure that’s normal,” Embry empathized. “But she’d want you to move on.”
“She wouldn’t want me to end up with some young werecat,” Dean doubted.
“I think I knew my sister well enough to say that she wouldn’t give a shit who you wound up with,” Embry chuckled mournfully. “She’d just want you to be happy.”
His Delta’s words nearly brought tears to his eyes. He’d spent years avoiding joy out of fear and guilt. Dean couldn’t stand the thought of his deceased mate being disappointed in him, so the fact that her brother was giving him permission to move on was extremely comforting.
“How’d you get over it?” Dean asked desperately. “Her, I mean.”
“I didn’t,” Embry answered with sad eyes. “I don’t think I ever will.”
“I thought you moved on,” Dean mentioned.
“I did, but that doesn’t mean I’m over her.” Embry explained. “Moving on isn’t forgetting that she ever existed or replacing her with someone else. It’s finally allowing yourself to be happy again, to stop feeling guilty for enjoying yourself.”
“It’s too hard,” Dean uttered hoarsely.
“Some days are easier than others,” Embry agreed. “Sometimes something small reminds me of her or a song comes on that brings me back to when she was here, that’ll never change. I’ll never stop loving her, never stop missing her and wishing that she was here right now. But that doesn’t mean I have to stop living just because she did, and neither do you.”
Dean swallowed back his grief for a moment to really take in what he had just heard. Perhaps it was the delirium of not sleeping well for the past five years, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that Embry’s words had come directly from his former mate. They sounded exactly like something Leah would say.
“Look,” Embry continued. “I think the Goddess brought you and Tessa together for a reason. There’s something about you two that’s just cosmic, I can’t explain it. It’d be a shame if you blew it.”
“Is that so?” Dean scoffed.
“Yep,” he nodded. “And it’s not just me. Sam sees it too.”
“So I’m supposed to trust what the blond thinks now?” Dean joked.
“Look, deny it if you want,” he shrugged. “Mother Wolf clearly brought Tessa to you again for a reason. I’m just asking you to think about it.”
“I will,” Dean groaned. “Wait, again? How did you-?”
“Later Wolfie,” Embry winked mischievously before trotting off.
Dean watched his Delta strut away from the lengthy dock in the direction of his home with a pit in his stomach at the thought of what else Embry may know. He had entered the water side with slight curiosity and would be leaving with more questions than he had before.