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“I don’t even know what to ask next.” A small chuckle escaped me and I scrubbed the heels of my palms against my eyes. Stars danced behind my eyelids, and my head seemed to spin a bit in the darkness. I was tired, my body aching from the run but warm and soothed by the wine. The adjusted sleeping schedule we were on certainly didn’t help after my week of travel while fleeing my Pack, the bright room around us out of place against the exhaustion weighing me down.

When I opened my eyes, I found more darkness, immediately broken as both candles and lamps flared to life to fill the space with a soft glow. The pressure behind my temples immediately lessened in the dim light, and for a brief moment, I wondered if Knox could read my mind. I noticed that the tray, grapes, and wine were gone, and I lifted my face to stare openly at him.

Knox seemed to shimmer in the shadows, the way his Wolf had under the night sky. Everything about his presence felt otherworldly and unreal, as if the very edges of him were made of darkness. His jaw clenched as I searched his face, but he was silent and patient while I buried myself in the voids of his eyes. I wanted to ask him about his magic, what he was capable of, how he came to know everything I never imagined. It didn't seem like the right time with the energy I now felt between us, and with my Wolf whining to move further up the bed to be close to him.

In low light, he seemed even more alive, and the aura around him felt as if it pulsed in time with my heartbeat. My heartbeat, which sounded loud even to my ears, and preceded the flush I felt in my face as I realized the haze was once again struggling to break free of my tight grasp. Clenching my fists hard in my lap, I refocused by breaking our eye contact to stare at an overstuffed pillow. There were other things I could ask until I felt in control of myself again, other things we could discuss to distract me from the intimacy of our arrangement.

“So the house has magic,” I began, “but I still don't understand how it works. You said there was a solution to losing magic,” Knox shook his head slightly, but I kept going, “but how does that impact a house? I never read anything about magic being used domestically like…this.” I gestured around us, a feeble attempt to encapsulate how foreign the casual magic was to me.

Knox shifted and rolled his shoulders back, stretching his neck. “Magic can’t technically be lost - it’s like energy. It’s not something that can be created or destroyed, only channeled or converted into a useful form.” He tapped his thumb against his thigh, a movement I now noticed as habitual when he was choosing his words carefully. “The houses are an example of this, with wards and charms imbued into the foundations. Building with magic was at one time common for the Packs, even if the materials of the structures created were rudimentary at best. Very few of these types of buildings remain, the bones of them likely buried beneath decades of time and land development.”

As he spoke, I caught myself watching him. “The solution that keeps my Pack’s access to magic strong also enables me to construct anything I want with the same properties this house has, though I have only done so once. The rest of the outposts along the Perimeter and all other Pack properties existed before my time, planned and added to the Territory by my immediate predecessor.” He glanced at me, and I quickly moved my eyes from him. It amazed me how calm he was when speaking of this, unbothered by the idea that within his territory there were multiple locations of powerful, complex magic. To him, this house was nothing special, just a stopping point on the Perimeter and not a miraculous feat of magic.

“I have found that after some time, the houses take on a bit of a personality of their own.” Knox chuckled, a low sound from his chest, and my heartbeat picked up in time with the flush to my neck. “They aren’t sentient, of course, but old magic allows for certain…human-like tendencies after a while.” From the corner of my eye, I could see him smile, soft and sad. “My mother always said it was because love was its own magic…she would say that the more love within the structures, the more alive they could become.” His shoulders shrugged, and he shook his head.

“Whether that is true or not, I couldn’t say. But I’m not really the best person to explain to you the intricacies of magic. I’m most familiar with my own power and how I use it to benefit my Pack, but I do know someone who could answer the more detailed questions you have.”

My stomach lurched at the mention of his power. All hesitation I had before was gone, replaced with excitement at the prospect that he was now offering information instead of waiting for me to ask directly. Knox read my expression as I prepared to pounce and sighed, realizing his mistake too late. Even if his admission to power had been accidental, it was an opening I would take. “So you do have magic. Beyond that of your Alpha power.” I didn’t phrase it as a question, hoping he would fill in the blanks of his own volition.

“I do.” He offered nothing else, and my spine stiffened. Crossing my arms over my chest, I stared at him stonily and resolved to wait him out. Knox quirked a brow and mirrored my position, folding his arms and meeting my challenge with a smirk. Getting him to speak freely was something I had yet to figure out - one moment he seemed ready to tell me anything, the next he was as closed off as the shutters on this house. Our conversations felt like sparring, each of us only giving an inch before retreating a mile. The ebb and flow was exhausting and invigorating all at once, another on the growing list of contractions warring in my mind.

My back was getting sore holding myself straight like this, my place on the bed already too tentative of a perch to be comfortable. With a sigh, I gave in. “What about your Beta?”

Knox seemed surprised. “Janus?” I shrugged.

“Sure, Janus. He used magic at your house while helping himself to my breakfast.” Knox huffed a laugh and rolled his eyes, uncrossing his arms and shifting his position on the bed. He grabbed a pillow and fluffed it with his large hand, handing it to me to place in my lap. I took it gladly, easing the tension on my back by leaning against it. The way he anticipated my needs, moved around me like he already knew my next step…it was exciting and unnerving.

“Janus does have magic, but any display over breakfast was likely the house. His skills are a bit more…sophisticated and inclined towards violence.” There was more he wanted to say, I could tell, but I knew he wouldn’t divulge further details about his menacing Beta. I shivered, and he tracked the movement with a look of sympathy. I waited for him to tell me that Janus wasn’t too bad, wasn’t as scary as he looked, maybe that he was really just a big teddy bear under all the tattoos and muscles. He didn’t, and I shivered again.

“His eyes…how are they like that?” Knox snorted and tapped his thumb to his thigh. Choosing his words carefully, as always.

“Janus is excellent at making others see only what he wants them to see.” Another non-answer. My frustration was growing, and I considered throwing in the proverbial towel on this conversation and going to sleep. But there is only one bed, I remembered. Biting my lip, I moved to my knees and crawled to sit next to Knox against the headboard. I pressed my skull against the padded fabric, the pressure behind my temples returning unless I closed my eyes.

“Could you just…give me a straight answer? I clearly don’t know enough to ask the right questions, and I’m even more confused than when we started.” I could feel him twist his body towards me, angled to keep distance between us but close enough to see my face. Peeling my eyes open, I met his questioning gaze and hoped he could read the desperation on my expression. I wanted to understand this, wanted to know more about this man next to me and the Pack he protected so fiercely.

Taking a strand of my hair between my fingers, he leaned in closer to me, bringing his lips close enough to whisper in my ear. “The problem, my moon, is not with the questions you are asking...” His hand moved to trail along the top of my thigh, his light touch fire-hot through the fabric of my pants, and I held my breath. “...but with the ones you are not.”

My exhale was stuttered as he grazed the tip of his nose against the side of my face. “Sleep.” He whispered, his breath the caress of a summer’s breeze through grapevines against my cheek. My eyes closed on their own, and darkness drug me under.

I dreamt of Knox, of his large hand holding mine as he led me through endless rows of grapevines, laughing and trailing behind him until we stopped before a large fountain flowing with red wine. It smelled as I remembered, of pressed grapes and summer heat and a soft breeze through the vineyard. I dreamt that two cups appeared on the fountain’s edge, cups we filled from one of the streams and drank from heavily. The tastes and smells blended together, mixing with the magic rolling off Knox in waves. I dreamt that Knox pressed his thumb against my lips, collecting any droplets left there before lifting it to his own mouth and sucking it clean.

The sound of a door slamming against the wall jerked me awake. “Alpha, the…oh shit.” Through bleary eyes, I could see Janus towering over the foot of the bed, looking at me in surprise. My sleep-addled brain couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing, and I stared at him blankly. His brows were raised, his all-black eyes alight with excitement. “What the fuck is going on here?” He grinned at me, fangs bared.

A groan came from next to me, far too close to my ear. It was then that I realized the warm pillow I was laying on was not a pillow, but Knox. My face rested against his chest, and one of my legs was tangled with his, my hips draped over his side. His strong arm was wrapped around my back, holding me snug to him. I gasped and tried to move away, but his grip on me tightened, pinning me in place. “Janus,” Knox grumbled, his voice low and sleepy. His free arm reached across to find my hand pressed against his sternum, trailing his fingers along the backs of mine. “You better have a damn good reason for barging in like this.”

Janus sneered, puffing out his chest and clasping his hands behind his back. He leveled me with a knowing look, and licked his lips menacingly. “The new Alpha is on the way to retrieve his Runaway.”
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