It was Cooper-Young, so of course anything went and nothing was unusual.
The little gift store hadn’t made it, so now they were washing the old sign off the front window to the drifting smells of food from the half-dozen restaurants on the block. Jars of herbs and roots, strings of myrrh, incense sticks and cones had replaced the fair-trade trinkets and local artisans’ works and all stood ready for their opening in the morning.
“You really think this is a good idea, lover?” The words were half-growled from behind the Commercial Appeal.
“Of course it is. A little alchemist’s shop in the arts district. How quaint, how suitable. And run by such a nice pair of older gentlemen.”
The tall blond man wiped down the window again, watching the foot traffic which was substantial even this late in the evening. The al fresco diners at Tsunami across the way were caught up in their conversations.
“Don’t flutter. It’s not safe. Not even here.”
“Corin Faw, you’re a grumpy bitch today.” A few softly mumbled words and the paintbrush had painted “Faw and O’Brian Potions, Spells and Readings” on the window. “What’s got your tail in a kink?”
“You, for being a big queen and the opening day jitters. This is the South, dammit. The kind of place they drag people like us behind their pick-ups as queers, if they aren’t just burning us for witches first.” Corin lowered the paper and scowled. His grizzled hair fell into his bushy eyebrows that met above his nose. He sniffed. “You’re scared, too. That’s why you’ve gone all fey.”
“Do stop that, lover. It’s completely unfair to use that 'thrope nose on me.” He closed the paint and set it behind the counter.
“Says Cian of the Second Sight.” Corin rose and folded his paper. He turned out his reading lamp and let darkness descend on the shop. After his eyes adjusted, far better than his lover’s, he took Cian’s hand and led him upstairs. “I’m a cranky old wolf who would rather have earth under my feet than live in a shop on a city street.” He kissed Cian gently.
“And that, my love, is what our country house is for. I hear there is a pack in the area. Are you interested?”
“Right now, all your grumpy bitch wants is his dinner and a mating. I wish I could be here for the opening. I leave for the cottage tomorrow.”
“PreLunar Syndrome again,” Cian rolled his eyes. “I fear it’s Michelina’s again tonight. We still haven’t shopped.”
“I’ll do it tomorrow before I go. There’s a grocery about five blocks up Cooper.” They heated the frozen dinners and ate in silence.
The September heat rippled on the pavement, making the air conditioner run, and the sun went down very slowly.
“Grand opening on Saturday,” Cian sighed. “I’m just not sure having it during the Cooper-Young Festival is the best idea.”
“Biggest crowd you’ll see all year, bar Pride in June. That’s what the folks say.”
“Could we take a walk? I’ve been so absorbed in getting settled, I haven’t done any exploring.” Cian reached over and touched Corin’s shaggy hair. “Unlike my restless lover.”
Corin shrugged. He washed their forks and carried the trash out. Cian waited by the door. The end of the daylight turned him ethereal and Corin remembered how he’d looked so many years before, trooping on the fairy-ride down the side of Sugarloaf Mountain.
The Fair Folk’s pipes had drawn all the youths of the Traveller band from their wagons, and Corin had seen Cian among the Unseelie Court. There were plenty of tales of how to claim a sidhe for one’s own, but Corin only half-believed them. Before that night, he had only half-believed in the Fair Folk.
The beautiful man had smiled at him, and he had followed ensorcelled by the May night, the pipes, the voices like birds, like bells, like rain. His own sturdy pony had caught the mood and he had ridden beside the dapple grey whose hooves did not touch the grass. The blond beauty astride the horse kept smiling at him.
They had lain together, under the waning moon near a fairy fort in Killarney. Corin had known the girls weren’t for him from a young age, but Cian had amazed him, drawing his seed from him time and again, as they grew wet with dew and moonbeams.
As dawn turned the east grey, Cian had risen to go, beckoning Corin to follow. No fool, and knowing what lay under the Hill, Corin had seized him and held him pinned. Cian had cried and begged piteously to be allowed to take his leave of his mother. Corin--thinking of his own mother weeping over her boy, vanished under the Hill–refused. He held tight.
Cian had changed in his hands and he had a maid, fair as a rose on the first of June. He held her, her body curving in all the wrong places.
The maid turned into a fish, flopping and smelly, walloping him in the face, the scales cutting his hands. He bundled the fish in his discarded shirt and held on.
The fish became a shaggy wolf. Corin had grinned and shifted himself at this. In his own wolf-shape, he held his mate pinned to the ground, biting at his ruff, tempted to mate with him to establish dominance.
The Cian-wolf was gone and a snake slithered beneath Corin’s furry belly. He shifted quickly and held tightly, grasping the serpent which grew by the moment, its fangs dripping poison that made his arms swell and blacken. It bit him, and he watched the venom race up his arm, but clutched Cian.
The snake became a brand of fire. His fingers seared, melding to the wood. Corin screamed, but did not let go.
As the first rays of sun struck them, Cian was himself again, and Corin was whole. Cian faded.
Corin held him and shouted at the girl on the highroad. She carried a yoke with milkbuckets on it. She saw the gypsy youth holding another and went to him.
“A ladle of the milk, lass, throw it on him,” Corin shouted.
She did without thinking, and Cian solidified, lying naked in Corin’s arms. After making sure he was real and himself, Corin stood. He dug five florins, their salmons bright in the morning, out of the pouch in his far-flung clothing and handed them to the girl.
“My thanks for your help. Take the payment for your milk. I’ll be getting my sweet home now.” Corin began parceling his clothing between them. She shouldered her yoke and smiled, knowing it would be a tale for the grandchildren, but no one would believe her now.
“I’ll be off. A good morning to ye.” The pony was gone, and Corin found himself nicking trousers from a house’s clothes line for decency’s sake.
They’d found the Travellers near Cork, but Cian had never fit in. Eventually, the tribal leaders decided a werewolf and a sidhe were too dangerous to travel with and cast them out.
They’d taken passage to America almost immediately, planning to lose themselves in the enormous country. Later, deciding they would never see home again, they took citizenship. But Corin’s roving blood and Cian’s wanderlust had made it hard to settle down.
They’d roamed and roved, aging gradually, until here they were, in Memphis. One of the last places Corin ever wanted to live. He’d argued for Canada or at least Vermont, civilized lands as opposed to the South, which he saw as a vast cultural wasteland of homophobes. He hoped, for their safety, he was wrong.
He looked again at Cian in the twilight. Too many years of caution restrained him from taking his lover’s hand. They were old. Let the brave children, like the two girls he had seen kiss before the cafe, demand their acceptance and be bold and open. With age, came awareness of mortality and fragility.
They walked, side by side, north. Cian turned his nose up at Celtic Crossing and the penny-whistle that floated out the open door of the faux-Irish pub. They passed Black Lodge Video and the houses. At the railway bridge, they crossed Cooper and headed back south, passed the drum shop, the David Mah gallery and the yarn store. The Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center had a rainbow banner out for the Cooper-Young Festival, a change from the usual subtle yard sign.
Cian tipped his head and Corin shrugged. The cheery person at the desk greeted them and had them initial in before offering a tour. A small place, but warm and welcoming. The crowd watching Ginger Snaps in the TV room waved in vague acknowledgment.
“Thursdays are always movie night,” the guide explained. “Have a schedule.”
“Thank you.” Cian gave a small bow and they left. He looked it over as they walked. “Blue Suede Bears? You certainly qualify, lover.”
Corin snarled at him. They passed Jasmine, Tsunami, dish and the Blue Fish. At The House of Mews, they paused. Even though Corin kept well back, the cats caught his scent. He had to go sit in the gazebo on the corner while Cian soothed the animals. A tiny calico bristled, her tail a bottle-brush as she bounced, puffed and spat. Cian calmed the panicky cats and Corin stayed well out of scent range.
They turned the corner onto Young and peered into the galleries. The Java Cabana filled the evening with the scent of coffee and the sounds of slack-key folk-rock. Cian gestured south.
“Let’s see that labyrinth at First Congo that I read about.”
Corin shrugged. “Neither of us took to the New Faith.”
Cian smiled. “A labyrinth is much more my people’s tradition than theirs. It’s a meditation, of sorts.” The painted lines on the asphalt were having no effect on Corin. He leaned against the church and watched, smelling the neighborhood and the people.
The end of the sunlight gleamed on Cian’s hair as he walked the lines that curved upon themselves. Corin was content to watch his lover’s unearthly grace, his slow glide through to the center of the labyrinth and back out. The sun had set, and there were no cars coming.
Cian stole a kiss, pressing Corin between the wall of the church and the stairwell. “Home now, lover. You’ll get your mating.”
Corin growled, feeling the pull of the nearly-full moon. “Home, elf. Now.” The last trailed into a near-howl. He looked embarrassed at losing control.
Cian kissed him again and took his hand. “If we cannot walk freely in our own neighborhood, we may as well be caged.”
Corin looked over his shoulder for the three blocks home.
“Jumpy again, love?”
Corin sniffed. “There’s another wolf in the neighborhood. Male. Only one. He’s not home, but I can smell his den. We’ll make his acquaintance after the full.”
Once up the back stairs of the shop, he relaxed a little, and resisted the urge to piss on the corner of the stair-rail. Inside, he drew Cian close and kissed him. His lips demanded, his teeth scraped, his tongue invaded.
Cian was caught, trapped by the feral lover that bore him backward toward the small, creaky bed they shared. He barely managed to slip out of his shirt before Corin’s hands were on him, rough and uncaring. After many decades, and many shredded articles of clothing, he knew what to expect.
Cian seized the lubricant from the bedside table as Corin bore down on him, kissing him until the bedsprings groaned more loudly than he did.
“Noisy bitch,” Corin growled. He tore his jeans open, resisting as Cian tried to slow him enough to get him lubricated.
His ordinarily-bushy eyebrows had swallowed his forehead. His neat small beard had spread over his jawline, and up onto his cheeks. His normally hairy chest resembled a pelt. His eyes blazed yellow.
“Corin, acushla,” Cian soothed, his slender hands fast with the lubricant and his own khakis. “A rûn, my own sweet wolf.”
He loved Corin in this mood. He loved all of Corin’s moods, but the primal desires of the alpha wolf who claimed and mounted as his due, with none of the sweet give-and-take of lovemaking, with no hesitation, aroused him until he could no longer think.
Corin cuffed him, batting at his shoulders until he rolled over. Once ready, Cian obliged and gave himself over the wolf.
Corin slammed in, heedless of all save the pull of the moon in his blood, the warmth of his mate beneath him, the urgent need in his balls. He heard Cian’s soft whimper and humped at his mate, wanting to be deeper inside. He wrapped his arms around Cian’s body and bit at the back of his neck, the tight heat sending him close to the edge.
Cian pressed back into the thrusts, feeling the fur of Corin’s belly against his ass, his back. He whimpered again when Corin’s teeth closed on his neck. He knew lycanthropy wasn’t contagious, but he shuddered anyway. He kept a steady, soothing stream of Gaelic endearments flowing, broken only by the small yelp when Corin slammed hard into him with a soft howl of orgasm. Claws scraped at his sides, but he ignored them as they melted back into human nails.
Corin pushed away, ashamed of himself. The excess hair melted away, his hands were normal again. It had been almost a year since he’d lost control of the beast like that. He lay down beside Cian and drew him in.
“Oh my lover. I’m a sorry man, I am.”
Cian kissed him sweetly. “For what, wolf?” He pressed close to Corin’s stockier body. “All I ask is a bit of relief of my own. I love you so. Even and especially like that.”
Corin touched the area of the scratches. “I hurt you again.”
“Small enough to pay for such loving.” Cian always reassured him and Corin never believed him. He kissed his beloved wolf again. “Please, darling Corin, my need is great upon me.”
“And I’m a selfish old wolf.”
Without another word, Corin took Cian in his mouth, his tongue too long just from the deep musk scent of his mate. He sucked Cian deep, and flickered his tongue over Cian’s balls, smooth and hairless and typical of the Sidhe. He extended the tongue and laved Cian’s perineum and touched it to Cian’s abused opening.
“Ah darling.” Cian could never handle being rimmed. At the second stroke, he came. Corin withdrew, swallowing with a smile.
“Yer a pushover, O’Brian. Two licks of your sweet arse and you shoot like a Dublin fountain.”
Cian pulled him in, laughing. “Only for you, my love.” He sang softly in the Old Tongue, and Corin was asleep in his arms in moments.
The e-mails, chats and phone calls had flown fast and furious since Christmas. Furball couldn’t come for 40 Spring break. Both were busy for Memphis in May. BB was in the middle of a huge project with a final deadline over Memorial Day and Pride. Furball was teaching the second summer session, and in class or grading all of July.
Finally, they’d said “Screw it” and agreed to Cooper-Young Festival at the end of September. It was just their luck it fell on the full moon.
“And BB, if you don’t make this, it’s your tail this time,” Furball threatened.
Paul growled playfully. “Going alpha on me, Danny boy?”
“No. But nine months is too fucking long. Especially when there isn’t any fucking.”
Paul laughed. He loved it when Dan dropped his “meek and mild college lit professor” routine. “Got my tickets already, Furball. I’ll be there. And I can’t wait to see the farm. You know, it’s going to be the first full moon I’ve been outdoors since I was fourteen?”
“Deprived. Love you, handsome. See you Thursday.”
“See ya, babe.” Paul turned back to his packing. He wasn’t sure why he was bothering. He zipped the jumbo bottle of lube from Christmas into a plastic bag and threw it into his luggage. He’d spend nights in wolf-shape, and he didn’t plan to let his sweet boy out of bed by day. He guessed he had to make a good impression on the folks at some point. He had promised a trip to the Festival. He threw in his rainbow tie-dyed shirt, figuring that was about as gay as Memphis could stand.
To say meeting the family hadn’t gone well was an understatement.
Dan had met him at the airport, pausing only to steal a kiss in the parking lot. It was the last sweet kiss he got for the day. The large family farm was an hour north of Memphis and the traffic made him stare at his Furball trying to drive in it.
“Is it always like this?” “Oh this is light, sweetie. You should see the nutcases during rush hour,” Dan said, narrowly avoiding being sideswiped as a Buick zipped down the shoulder and pulled in right in front of him.
Paul was sure he’d left claw marks in the armrest of Dan’s little Honda. He’d known the car for his lover’s the moment he’s saw it: small, battered, held together with duct-tape and liberal bumper stickers. The clincher was the one that read “Please forgive me. I was raised by wolves.”
The trim white house sat well back from the road, the fence at the perimeter just a little stronger than the livestock would indicate. Paul looked uneasily at the horses grazing and the cows placidly chewing cud.
“Oh no,” Dan moaned as they crunched up the tree-lined gravel drive.
“What, babe? We forget something?” He really didn’t want to face the traffic again.
“No, look at the darn cows.”
“They’re laying down under the trees. So what?”
“Stupid weather man. He said the rain was going north. We’re going to get wet tonight, lover, and maybe tomorrow, too. Wet wolves are miserable wolves. Trust me on that one.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“No of course not. Not with your big warm basement and fluffy doggy bed.” He parked in the circle drive. “And your water bowl.” The last was practically snarled, and his nose was elongating.
Paul seized his curly hair, getting tangled quickly. “Big words from the little bitch who dared mark territory in my basement.” He kissed his lover fiercely, almost biting. His own teeth felt too large, his tongue felt too long. He licked Dan’s face. “My mate. My beta wolf.” He nipped at Dan’s throat.
A tap on the window startled him. A beautiful girl with the same big dark eyes as Dan was standing outside, knocking. If he’d been straight, he’d have melted right there.
“Ravish my brother later. Mama says you have to come in now and say hello.” Her voice carried only the faintest of southern accents.
The whole family had turned out to meet him. Paul overheard one cousin refer to him as “Danior’s mate.” That left him feeling good but shaky at the same time. He was almost forty and settling down after a lifetime of being a lone wolf was daunting.
Grandfather headed the table, gold teeth gleaming as he smiled at his favorite grandson. Grandmother was long dead, so it fell to Dan’s mother, sisters and various aunts, nieces and cousins to get dinner around.
Dan’s father sat across from a unibrowed man that Paul guessed was Uncle Zoltan. His mountainously pregnant wife was exempt from the bustle.
“Six months,” Zoltan smiled. Paul could smell the man’s pride as he stroked the woman’s belly. “We’re hoping for Christmas twins, right, Rita?”
Aunt Rita smiled. “Someone has to carry on the pack.”
Dan actually snarled at his aunt, the sudden change in demeanor startling. “So sorry we’re not all breeder-bitches.”
“Danior!” Mama rapped him with a serving spoon as she passed. “Apologize at once.”
“Mama, I’m not twelve and she is way the hell out of line.” Dan’s southern got more pronounced as he got angrier until “line” sounded like “laaahhhn” to Paul’s northern ears.
“Danior Camomescro!” Mama rapped him again.
Paul reached over and took his hand. “Dan. We are what we are.” He looked at Rita and Zoltan. “And if you have a problem with it, take it up with me and don’t snipe like gutter-trash.”
The promised storm broke as if on cue, punctuating Paul’s statement.
Grandfather laughed. “The boy has timing. Paul, when you say, you are my grandson as well.” The rest of the family stared a bit. Paul’s stomach flip-flopped. “Listen, all of you. Our Danior has chosen his mate. And not a one will say another word because he has not taken a female.” The little man rose to his feet and leaned on the table. Too many teeth were in his mouth and the scent of wolf was heavy in the room. Even Paul felt the urge to roll over and show belly at the display of dominance. “Are we understood?”
There was a general murmur of assent and Dan’s father looked quite unhappy. The conversation among the younger siblings and cousins continued, but the older generation cast dark looks at Dan and Grandfather. The excellent food was mostly wasted, and after dinner no one wanted any dessert. Evening was coming on and the werewolves withdrew from the rest of the family.
“We do not change until tomorrow,” Grandfather said, “but we are poor company for humans, and sometimes even ourselves until this is past.”
Dan leaned against Paul as they sat on the couch. “We all get bitchy. Mama and Aunt Rita don’t like the bunch of us snarling at each other and the rest of the family.” He accepted a small glass of brandy. Paul waved one off. “So, we gather in here and plan the wolf time.”
It was about what Paul expected: boring as hell. He listened to the men talk about fence strength, whose turn it was to bring in the cows and horses and who had scratched the hole in the dog-door of the change-hut. He was very glad when he and Dan were finally allowed to make their escape to Dan’s bedroom.
Dan’s room at the farm was still a child’s room: cowboy curtains, double bed, a framed autographed picture of Clayton Moore holding place of pride on the wall. Paul had no doubt there would be a child’s cowboy hat and toy 44 six-shooters on a closet shelf.
“Yippie-kai-yay, git a long little doggie,” he snarked, swatting Dan lightly.
Dan snarled as he shut and locked the door. “And what would I find in the room at your grandmother’s? Rocket ships? Tinkertoys and legos?” He grabbed Paul and kissed him hard to avoid the fight they could both feel beginning.
Paul slammed him up against the wall, devouring him, his hands holding Dan’s face steady as he shoved against his lover. “Erector set,” he whispered. He licked Dan’s neck and let him feel how hard he was. “Ah, Furball. Need to fuck you now, or I’m going to go crazy.”
“Makes two of us.” Dan yanked at Paul’s shirt and didn’t flinch when he heard it tear. He scrabbled at the jeans. “No cock in my mouth for nine months, babe. I’m starving.”
Together, they got Paul’s jeans down around his thighs, and Dan dropped almost instantly to suck him. He moaned around Paul’s cock as if it was the best thing he’d tasted all evening, as if it was melting chocolate or fine wine.
Paul thrust, knowing he shouldn’t but unable to help himself. Dan’s hand went around his shaft to keep from choking. His tongue was busy, and Paul came very quickly.
Dan smiled up, licking his lips. “Now that was dessert.”
Paul grabbed his shirt and hauled him to his feet, kissing him again. “An appetizer, pup.” He backed toward the bed, pulling Dan with him, working at his lover’s clothing.
Dan just laughed and stripped quickly as Paul removed his own. He turned, coyly, his arms covering his chest. Paul pulled them down and gawked at the small gold ring with a captive ivory bead of the Man in the Moon.
“Way to go, Furball. When’d you do that?”
“Couple months ago. You like?”
“Hell yeah. Why didn’t you tell me?” He reached 45 out to toy with the ring. Dan pounced, playful and hard.
“It’s called a surprise.” He licked Paul’s neck. “So, I took care of you. Whatcha gonna do for me, BB?”
Paul’s hand was hot and hairy as he wrapped it around Dan’s cock. “Gonna let you fuck me,” he said softly, keeping time with his strokes. “Let you slam that pretty cock right up my ass. It’s lonely for you. Gonna suck you off, lick all over you.” He punctuated this by licking Dan’s face. “Suck your cock, eat your ass. Gonna lick your balls for you since you can’t reach them tonight.”
Dan moaned under the words, wanting all of it. Months of cyber-sex, phone-sex and masturbation had perfected their patter, but left him missing the real thing more and more. He gasped when Paul made good on the words, licking his way down his chest, playing in his navel and then sucking him in for a long moment.
Dan closed his eyes, seeing stars. He whined when Paul moved off. The whining only got louder when Paul pulled his cock up out of the way and licked at his balls with long swipes of his tongue across the darkly-furred sac.
When he took them into his mouth, careful, wet and sensual, Dan’s whines turned to something more feral in his throat. Paul let go and licked over the whole of Dan’s sac before taking a long stroke up the shaft of his cock to suck it again.
Dan came with a small whimper.
“Paul. Lover.” He moved up to kiss Dan gently.
“My Danny boy.” He cuddled him close, stroking the wild black curls he’d missed. “We’ll go another round soon.”
Dan nipped at his collarbone. “How soon? Because if I don’t get fucked I’m going to do something desperate.”
Paul chuckled. “How desperate are you, pup?”
Dan worried his earlobe with his tongue. “Desperate enough to quote poetry at you until you beg to fuck me and shut me up.”
“Very damn desperate. Found myself getting horny having sex fantasies about a T-square last week, babe.”
They lay quietly, listening to the storm rage around the house. The thunderclaps were getting farther apart.
“Maybe we’ll have nice weather for the festival this weekend. Nice weather for running too,” Dan sighed.
Paul kissed him. “I’m ready if you are, lover.” He’d recovered enough to get hard, the sweet boy in his arms aiding that process to no end.
Dan stroked him a little and then rolled away to open the bedside table. The bottle of Astroglide and condoms kept company with a few little beige plastic cowboys and Indians, and a copy of Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with the Circus. Paul just smiled.
“Grandfather never throws anything away,” Dan said, snagging the supplies. He ripped open the package and rolled the condom over Paul, before slicking him with a practiced motion. Too practiced, to Paul’s eyes.
“Been fucking every handsome 'thrope that crosses your path, pup? Been lifting that tail for everyone.” Paul snarled the accusations and pinned Dan to the bed to loom over him, the next kiss punishing.
“Been jacking a lot on weekends out here. Can’t mess the sheets,” Dan gasped.
“Mine,” Paul snapped. He flipped Dan onto his stomach.
“Yours, BB.” He didn’t add “Mark your territory.” He didn’t need to.
Paul was already inside him, thrusting and biting at his shoulders.
“Oh yeah. Need this so bad.”
Paul was only urgent to claim his lover again. He knew no one else had had Dan. He could smell it. But he wanted to make sure. He had to mark his love. His. The wolf’s territorial instinct was all over him, drowning rational thought. He found presence of mind enough to stroke Dan as he thrust at him. Finally he came, shoving in deep with a shudder.
“Mine,” he gasped.
“Yours,” Dan agreed, finally coming himself, all worries about the sheets gone from his mind.
Friday was even more tense.
Four adult male werewolves in the same house were three too many. Paul could smell the sickness in Grandfather, the cancer that was killing him. Uncle Zoltan’s restlessness, his ambition, stank and Paul knew the others could smell it. But no one would say anything. Paul had a very bad feeling about the weekend. He suspected his presence might be the last factor needed to tip this unstable dynamic into open war.
After breakfast, he went up to Furball’s room, staying out of the way. He couldn’t be in the same place with so much anger and so many feral killing urges. He found a Lone Ranger Big Little Book on the shelf and spread out, staring at it more than reading, until Dan could find him after teaching his last early morning class.
When his mate’s soft weight dropped on the mattress beside him, he rolled onto his back. “Babe, I’m not staying. I can catch a flight back tonight and be back in my basement before change.” Paul’s face was tight, regret bleeding through every word.
Dan was quiet for a long time, curled into his side. Finally, he asked, “You don’t love me?”
“I didn’t say that, pup. I do love you.” It was the first time he’d said it, and he was amazed how natural it felt in his mouth. “I just don’t want your Uncle Zoltan to tear my throat out tomorrow night.”
“He won’t,” Dan reassured him. “I won’t let him. Grandfather won’t let him.”
“Don’t want Grandfather getting his torn out over me.” Paul rolled onto his stomach and looked down at his lover. “Look, Dan, come home with me. You know Uncle Zoltan’s going to take over and you’re not gonna be real welcome in the pack. I make money. I’m debt free. Even if you can’t find another teaching job, you can write those books you keep dreaming about.”
Dan kissed him. “We’ll see. Stay the weekend.” He added softly, “You’re right. When Grandfather goes, the whole family–not just the pack–will want me gone. I criticized your folks for not loving you because you were a wolf, when I knew mine were no better.” He lay in Paul’s arms. “Sometimes, it takes an outsider to point out the flaws.”
Paul kissed his curls. “I’m sorry, pup. Sometimes, I’m more trouble than I’m worth.”
“Never, lover.” Dan tipped his face up and let Paul kiss him, moaning and working his hand down his lover’s jeans.
“Can’t believe you’re hot for me, even like this.” Dan laughed.
“Always hot for you, my Big Bad Wolf.” He sat up, dragging Paul with him. “Let’s go to my place. We can come back before change tomorrow. It’s not much, but no tension either.”
Paul kissed him. “Knew I made a smart move seeing a professor.” He fastened his shirt and grabbed his overnight bag. They made their goodbyes to Grandfather and Dan’s folks. Dan navigated his little Honda through the crazy traffic with highways that went nowhere and endless loops.
“Good lord, people, it’s 10 a.m. on a Friday. Why aren’t you at work?” Paul asked of the traffic.
Dan had a dingy apartment on the other side of where Cooper ran into Southern Avenue. He set the Club, locked his car and gave a sheepish grin. “In this neighborhood, they’d just get five of them and carry the whole thing away.”
Paul looked around the area. It depressed him. A little stop-and-rob on the corner, a faded daycare behind a cyclone fence.
“Why do you have train tracks in the parking lot?”
“They have to park the trains somewhere,” Furball said with a shrug. He opened the door of the second floor efficiency.
The first thing Paul saw was the bike hanging from the ceiling. “I only drive to the farm or the ’burbs,” Dan shrugged. “Everything else is less than five miles.”
“Return with me now to the thrilling days of yesteryear: grad school!” Paul shut the door and swept Dan into a proper kiss. “I love it. Let’s be kids for the evening.”
Dan waggled his eyebrow. “Pizza, bad movies and Nintendo?” He kissed Paul. “And by Nintendo, I mean sex because I don’t own a game system.”
Paul cracked up and sat hard on the wood-framed futon. “Come on, then. I’m up for a game of Pacman, pup.”
Dan’s grin was goofy. “Gobble, gobble, gobble” he said, sounding eerily like the sound-effects of the game.
“Oh hush.” Paul undid his jeans and pulled him down into his lap. “Just get on the joystick.”
Dan lapped eagerly at his lover’s cock, then swallowed it down. It felt good to be away from the family, away from the tension. Just him and his alpha wolf, on his territory, mating. He loved Paul’s taste, the smooth skin, the nicely cut cock. He teased, drawing a little way off and only sucking half until Paul moaned. Then he took it all, working tongue and suction, encouraging his lover to come.
“Change for me, pup,” Paul whispered. Paul’s groan turned to a yelp as Dan did, into the sexy half-shift Paul loved and had been trying to master himself. The clever canine tongue in the human mouth drove Paul right over the edge with something almost like a howl.
Dan looked up at him, smiling, and licked his lips then the bridge of his nose before changing back and coming up to kiss Paul.
“We’re going for lunch, then I’m going to screw you through the futon, BB,” Dan promised.
Paul grinned. “Oh yeah. The weekend won’t be a total loss.” Dan punched him in the shoulder.
”I would hope not. Let’s go.”
Cian Saw the wolves before he saw the young men. The loup-garou stalked each man’s aura, the shape of a wolf–especially now on the full moon–drowning out their usual human auras. They stood close on the sidewalk, and Cian saw the taller one brush his fingers over the back of the little dark one’s hand, a gesture that said even here in the gayest part of the city they still had to be discreet. They ducked into the shop, laughing. The laughter stopped abruptly, with a small yelp from the little one finishing it. Both of them sniffed audibly and the little one sneezed. The big one practically bristled, snarling.
“May I help you?” Cian flipped the sign to “Closed” and locked the door. He hung the “Out to lunch, back in twenty minutes” sign.
“Paul,” said the big man. He gestured at his lover. “Dan. Where’s the other werewolf? And who are you?”
Cian puttered. “Rude!” he snapped. “You have no manners, wolf.” After he finished pulling the front shade he said , “I am Cian O’Brian. My mate, Corin Faw, and I run the shop.”
Dan smiled sweetly. It surprised Paul, since his mate had been very snappish this month. He knew it was a territory thing. “Mr. O’Brian, sir, your scent is unusual for a human. That was why my Paul asked.”
Cian shook his head. He knew when he was being soothed and charmed.. The little were did it well. “I am one of Danu’s People, “ he said, more gently. “Are there many wolves in the city?”
“Just the family. Grandfather, Uncle Zoltan, me.” Dan tucked a hand into Paul’s arm. “My great rude lover is just visiting.”
Cian smiled a little at the look of mock-consternation on Paul’s face. “Corin is at the cottage. The city is unsafe for him during this time.”
Paul nodded. “We’ll be out at the farm before sunset ourselves.” He rummaged in his billfold and took out a business card. “Furball, what’s the farm number again?” He scrawled the numbers as Dan gave them, then circled a number on the front as well. “My cell.”
Dan looked over the shop. “I’m sorry your mate missed the opening. If he would like to come meet my family, we would welcome him, and you, for lunch tomorrow.”
Cian took the card. “Thank you, boys. Do come again.” He raised the shades and flipped the signs. When he unlocked the door, Paul and Dan slipped back into the Cooper-Young Festival crowd. Nice pups, but naive, he decided. Corin had been a lone wolf too long to deal in a pack.
Paul stayed close to Dan. The last thing he wanted was to get separated in this mob of people. The Memphis Area Gay Youth booth was cheerful and most of the kids looked happy and well-loved. Paul found it a pleasant surprise for this area. They were selling bowls made of old vinyl records. Furball found one by Starship. He held it up for Paul’s approval.
“Not Knee-deep in the Hoopla!” he moaned. “Oh man, how could they? I had that one.”
Furball grinned. “I thought ‘We built this city’ would be appropriate for my handsome architect.”
“I danced to it in high school and you think it’s a Golden Oldie.”
The willowy blonde girl behind the counter laughed. They watched her adam’s apple bob, thinking between that and her height she might be transgender, but a quick glance at the curves that tented her “Kermit isn’t the only one with a Rainbow Connection” t-shirt only confused them.
“My mom likes it too.” She leaned over to them both as if telling a secret. “So do I.”
“Good taste.” Dan bought the bowl. “The money all goes to help you kids?”
She nodded as she wrapped the bowl. Her long, graceful hands were tipped with natural dragon-lady nails painted in silver glitter. “It’s our main fundraiser. Buys us cookies and fruit punch for the rest of the year.”
Dan grinned as Paul snickered at her deliberate pun. “A worthy cause.” He slipped an extra five into the general collection jar.
“Mom and Dad think so.” She nodded at the middle-aged couple at a booth across the way with several more blond children in tow. “Thanks.”
They walked on, checking out the other work by local artisans. Metal sculpture, concrete faces to be nailed to trees, making them look like ents, a variety of handmade clothing, jewelry and purses. The September sun beat down and Paul could feel his neck starting to burn. They worked their way north to Central and stopped into the little Stop-n-Rob for a Coke before beginning the trek back south.
The crowds were growing steadily thicker, and Cooper was sidewalk-to- sidewalk people. Paul caught Dan’s fingers as they pressed through the crowd, heedless of the danger. Dan shook free almost at once.
Once back in Dan’s apartment, Paul scowled at him. Dan returned it.
“This isn’t Wisconsin, lover. They kill us down here and the cops applaud. Don’t touch me in public again.” He moved in closer. “I love you, babe, and I don’t want to die any more than you do.”
“Don’t order me around again,” Paul growled, biting at his neck. He was in a really foul mood, between the crowd and the other lycanthrope’s shop.
“Don’t do stupid shit and I won’t have to!” Dan’s beard crept over his face with startling speed, his eyebrows growing bushier. He snarled.
Paul snarled back, his own hands hairy and large. They circled. Dan snarled again at the smell of intruder on his territory. Paul growled low, off his territory, but an alpha wolf all the same. He launched himself at Dan, tumbling them both onto the futon. Dan scratched at him, his own nails grown thick and claw-like. They didn’t connect.
The men rolled over and onto the floor, Paul getting the top by dint of size. He snarled down at Furball, his face feral. Then, he kissed his mate. He flipped Dan over, pressing the ridge in his jeans against Dan’s denim-clad butt.
“Pound you through the floor, pup,” he growled.
“Yes!” Dan swiped back and laid open his shirt with claws. Paul tore his jeans open, and shredded Dan’s with nails grown into claws. The lubricant was in easy reach or he’d have made do with spit.
He was inside in seconds, low growls instead of love words. Dan beneath him was hairier than normal himself, and rose to meet every thrust. This time, Paul actually howled when he came. A thumping on the floor from the downstairs neighbors made him grin sheepishly.
Dan laughed, having already come. “Time to go, lover. You feel better?”
Paul nodded and dug for fresh jeans while Dan went to change for the trip to the farm.
From the sound of it, Paul had expected the change hut to be a rickety hunting shack in the woods. It was a small, neat building comprised of a single room with a large eastern window. It had a dog door in the main door. There were shelves on the wall, in easy reach of a man but too high for a wolf.
Grandfather laughed and set his shoes on them, then ruffled Dan’s curls. “Our Danior, he was a shoe chewer. I thought he’d never grow out of it. So we added the shelves.”
Dan looked mortified and pleased. If they were down to embarrassing adolescent stories, Paul was part of the family, at least as far as Grandfather was concerned.
Zoltan ignored all this and filled a small, low horse tank. Dan got a couple blankets off the shelf and dropped them near a similar pile.
“Not quite as domesticated as you, BB.” He drew Paul to stand at the window.
“Not bad. You have a good view.” He watched the sky change color as the sun set. Dan kissed him and started stripping out of his clothes.
Less easy with the other males in the room, Paul did the same, only slower. He folded them next to Dan’s on the shelf and went to sit with Dan on the pile of blankets. Paul could smell the Dan-wolf all over the one pile of blankets. He tried stay on his own. Thinking the older men were absorbed in the sunset, Paul stole a last kiss. From the corner of his eye, he saw Grandfather smile.
Then the world went black and white. In his human mind, Paul knew he hadn’t eaten enough to make the wolf sleep. As a wolf, he didn’t care. His mate was nearby. He could smell water and the den of his mate’s pack. He pounced his mate, biting playfully at Dan’s ruff. Dan-mate whined and rolled over. He licked his mate.
A sharp bark from Grandfather-leader drew their attention. Grandfather-leader bounded out the door. Zoltan followed, lean and black, a hungry look in his yellow eyes. The next bark segued into a howl as Grandfather-leader greeted the Moon-Mother.
Zoltan joined it. Paul hesitated but Dan-mate made up their minds by bouncing out the door to sing. Paul couldn’t bear to be inside another minute. He nudged the dog door, scratching and whining. Finally, he butted his way through the swinging flap.
The night exploded all over him. Earth under his paws. A million new and exciting smells in his nose. The howl came again. He sat beside his mate and sang the Moon up.
There had never been such a night.
Moon-Mother hung full and bright. The air was warm. Paul ran for miles, for sheer joy of running on four feet. Through the wooded acreage, into empty pastures where the scent of calves made him complain they were not there to eat and then back to the creek side where Dan-mate was splashing.
Dan-mate shook off and submitted to the mating when Paul nipped him again. Both gave voice as they finished.
Distracted by the smell of rabbit, Paul cuffed him playfully and bounded off. Dan followed and they found the warren. The hot blood in his mouth intoxicated him, and he devoured the rabbit as if he hadn’t eaten in a week.
They ran together, playing and tumbling like pups. Tired at last, they loped back to the hut and curled up on their blankets. Paul woke, smiling. He was wrapped protectively around his mate, Dan nestled into his chest. He understood Dan’s contempt for his basement now. The very thought felt like a cage.
“Morning, boys.” Grandfather strolled in, dressed and smiled at them. “Breakfast is ready. Don’t dawdle.” He winked.
Paul nudged Dan. “Breakfast, babe.”
Dan stretched and yawned with a gratuitous tongue curl that tempted Paul to forget the injunction about dawdling. “Morning, BB. I could get used to this, you know?”
“Yeah, in a bed, though.” Paul sat up, stretched and creaked a little. “Hard floor.”
“Geriatric case.” Dan tossed him his clothes.
“Insatiable pup. Let’s go for breakfast.”
Breakfast was fine, but Sunday dinner was more tense, if possible, than Thursday’s had been.
Corin and Cian had accepted the invitation, and came to the farm for lunch. Mama and the aunts put on a good spread, mixing Hungarian dishes with old-fashioned Southern cooking.
The Irish visitors tried to keep the conversation light, as did Grandfather. They talked of places they’d lived in their wanderings, of all the places they’d seen.
“And what do you think of Memphis?” Uncle Zoltan asked, his smile too wide with too many teeth.
“We are enjoying the city a great deal,” Cian answered.
“And the cottage in Mississippi is comfortable when I require a change.” Corin’s bristling did not go unmarked by the rest of the family.
Zoltan nodded. “I wonder, though, if you might not find an Arkansas property more to your liking. It’s a swamp, but there is very good hunting in the river bottoms I hear.” The implication of dividing the territory, with the river as boundary line, was very clear.
Dan spoke up. “When I finish my teaching contract for this semester, I’m moving to Wisconsin.” The announcement lay on the table, putting an end to the sparring. He nodded to their guests. “I must impinge upon your area for few more months. But since we both leave the city to change, it should be no problem.”
“Lad, we’re the ones who moved in on you. Don’t let us drive you out,” Cian said.
“I’m not driven.” Dan stood up. “Paul asked me to join him up north. I’m going. I’ll love and miss all of you, but sometimes, you have to stake your own claim.”
Paul just looked at his plate. He never meant to take his lover away from his family. He didn’t like the cold silence that greeted Dan’s announcement.
They knew it was a bad idea, but the argument had run too late for Corin and Cian to make it safely home.
“You take Dan’s room, Cian,” Grandfather said. “I’ll look out for your mate.”
“Thank you, sir,” Cian smiled.
“Time to go.” Grandfather opened the glass doors to the yard. These had struck Paul as ridiculous from the first time he’d seen them. He had visions of bursting through them in wolf form and eating Dan’s sisters or mother. He knew he’d seen too many movies.
As they walked out into the woods, Grandfather explained the change hut. He pulled a metal spiral–a dog stake, Paul realized--off a shelf. “Zoltan, do you need to be leashed, son, or can you behave?”
“I’ll be fine, father.” Zoltan busied himself filling the water pool.
Paul didn’t like the look in Zoltan’s eyes. He exchanged glances with Dan and saw the same worry on his mate’s face.
They’d spent the afternoon near Corin, listening to his stories and acclimating to his scent. Grandfather had done the same. Uncle Zoltan had not, he had merely picked the fight that detained the visitors.
The excellent dinner weighed in Paul’s stomach. All he wanted tonight was a nice long nap. Dan yawned beside him as they walked into the hut.
“Your mom’s a good cook, pup,” Paul said.
“Tell her, not me,” Dan snapped.
“Touchy, touchy.” Paul circled his waist, yanked him close. “Maybe you need a reminder who the alpha wolf is?” He nipped at Dan’s neck.
Dan cuffed him upside the head, a snarl on his face. He said nothing, merely growled low in his throat. He felt the family tensions reaching the breaking point as well.
Paul backed off. “Sorry, Furball. I was teasing.”
“Don’t.” Dan hadn’t stopped snarling. “It’s too close to time.”
Paul could tell. He knew he was out of line. Dan stripped fast and arranged a bed for their guest before he sat down on his own blankets. He rose to turn, sniffing worriedly, every few minutes.
Paul folded his clothes onto the shelf and sat beside his mate, pulling him close. “I’m sorry, pup.” He stroked Dan’s curly hair, rubbed along his jaw and ears as Dan liked best. “I love you.”
Dan kissed him as the sun began to set. “Love you, too. Is my bed still in the basement?”
Paul nodded. “Water bowl too.” The last word turned to a howl as the change came upon him.
Around him, he heard the groans of the others and his own noises of pain. Then Grandfather gave tongue, the primal cry of their people, and the pain was gone.
Paul ran on four paws, the night his playground. He paused with the pack to sing Mother-Moon up. Grandfather-leader loped off on his own business. Zoltan headed for the creek, the smell of anger on him. Corin-guest howled again then touched noses with Dan-mate. Dan-mate touched back, and touched nose-to-tail as a gesture of welcome. Paul circled them and touched noses with Corin-guest. Corin-guest gave a bark and ran for the woods.
Paul circled Dan-mate. He pounced. Dan-mate mock-fought, puppy playful. Paul mounted, dominating, and Dan-mate howled joy to the Moon. When finished, Paul sat back and licked himself, licked Dan-mate. He butted Dan-mate, herding him back to bed. They curled together like puppies and slept.
Fighting from outside woke them. The moon was high and bright. Zoltan launched himself at Corin, trying for his throat. Grandfather intervened, his grey body a wall between the lean black shape of Zoltan and the stockier brindled wolf that was Corin. He butted Zoltan away. Grandfather touched noses and nose-to-tail with Corin, signaling his welcome in the pack territory.
Zoltan snarled again. Before he could launch himself, Paul rammed him from the side and Dan bit at his tail. Zoltan turned on them. Dan snapped again and extricated himself. Zoltan and Paul circled, snarling and snapping. Dan touched noses and nose-to-tail with Corin again, reiterating the welcome. They stood back to the watch the fight.
Zoltan cornered Paul near a large magnolia tree. Paul whimpered and presented himself for mounting, acknowledging Zoltan’s dominance. When Zoltan bit his ruff, Paul clawed back with his raised hind legs. He flipped them over, foreclaws searching for Zoltan’s soft belly. He bit and clawed, tasting blood from a bitten foreleg. He could smell Zoltan’s fear. Finally, he got the black wolf down, belly up under him. He went for the throat.
Grandfather slammed into them from the side, snarling. They were knocked apart. Grandfather backed Paul off. Paul tucked tail and sidled back to Dan. Dan licked his bites. Zoltan turned on Grandfather, leaping at his undefended flank. Dan barked a warning too late.
Over and over the wolves rolled, each seeking the bite or claw that would force the other to pull away. Blood hung heavy in the night, covering the smoke and leaf-spice of autumn. They broke apart to circle again, snarling. Zoltan was bleeding from bites and scratches. Grandfather favored his left hind leg.
With a growl, Zoltan attacked his father again. Paul tried to go to Grandfather’s aid and Dan stopped him. He understood. The battle for pack leadership had been brewing like the thunderstorm and had just broken in a cloudburst of blood and fur. He and Corin had only been catalysts, not causes.
Corin sat away from the family, licking his wounds and watching. He had no doubt that if Grandfather lost, his own throat, then Paul’s, would be Zoltan’s next targets.
Grandfather set his teeth to Zoltan’s throat and nipped hard enough to draw blood. Then he climbed off and turned his back on Zoltan. He kicked dirt over the black wolf as if burying him like a piece of waste. Zoltan whined and limped off into the night.
Corin touched noses with Grandfather, then licked one of the bites. Grandfather licked him back and went into the hut. He settled his shaggy grey body on his bed. Corin licked the nearest wound. Dan approached and touched noses with Grandfather and Corin before settling in to lick the bite on Grandfather’s flank.
Paul walked over slowly. He touched noses and licked the scratch on Grandfather’s back. They licked the old wolf, nuzzling and caring for him. Then they slept, all together like a pile of pups. At dawn, they dressed and returned to the house.
Zoltan arrived just as they were finishing the first round of breakfast. “Father, I–“
“No.” Grandfather sent his coffee mug down too hard and the flatware rattled. “Do not apologize. You did as you thought wisest, son. I’m proud of you. I raised you well and taught you right. Some night you will tear out my throat as is our way. But last night was not the night.”
Zoltan sat and started on the sausage and eggs. “Mr. Faw, I am sorry. I had no business attacking a guest of the pack.”
Corin nodded, thick eyebrows knit over his coffee. “That you didn’t, lad. But I forgive you for being a young hothead with more pride than sense.”
Dan hid a snicker with his biscuit. His mother caught it and hit him with the spatula as she set another bowl of scrambled eggs before the hungry werewolves. The rest of the family was long finished.
Aunt Rita fussed over Zoltan’s wounds. Cian was hovering, checking Corin over.
“It’s all been really good, Mrs. Camomescro,” Paul said helping himself to four more sausages and a couple spoonfuls of eggs. “You’re an amazing cook.”
“With three wolves in the house, I have to be.” She smiled at Paul. “Thank you.”
“Did you enjoy your evening out, lover?” Cian asked. He applied antibiotic ointment to the bites on Corin’s neck and shoulders.
“Let me eat, elf,” Corin grumbled without anger. He kissed Cian to take the sting from the rebuff. “You can flutter over me when I’m done. You have a shop to open.”
“Not until noon.” Cian smeared the ointment on Corin’s left arm, the one holding his fifth biscuit.
“Corin, you’re welcome here any full moon,” Grandfather said. “Pack territory is–“ He froze, his breath catching in his chest. He toppled forward slowly into his empty plate.
“Father!” Zoltan said.
“Grandfather!” Dan was on his feet, searching for a pulse or eye movement.
“Good mate, boy,” Grandfather whispered and his eyes closed.
Paul was on his cell to 911. “We’ve got an emergency. Adult male, age eighty, collapsed at breakfast.” He gave the address and directions to the farm.
“It’s no good, BB.” Dan’s eyes were too bright. “He’s gone.” He glared at his uncle. “Your fault. You overtaxed him.”
Zoltan snarled and shot a glance at the guests. “His own fault. He allowed strangers on our territory.” He loomed over Dan. “And there are going to be changes around here, little faggot.”
Dan folded Grandfather’s hands on his chest. “I’m still going to Wisconsin in December.” He was careful to keep his voice neutral.
“Good.” He turned on Corin and Cian. “What of you two?” The menace in his voice made Corin snarl reflexively.
Cian spoke up, not trusting his mate not to say something that might get them all killed here over the breakfast table. “Our lease is up in a year. I think we’ll find other climes less chilly at the shank of summer.” He turned and looked at Dan. “Lad, you’re welcome at our place if you’d like.”
He suddenly seemed taller, more powerful. His hair shone and a pale nimbus surrounded him. His eyes were more silver than blue. “Zoltan Camomescro, you may have all the land around for yourself, wolf. We’ll trouble you no more. I wish you the joy of it.” He diminished, leaving the others wondering what they had just seen.
Corin shook hands with the young wolves and the Camomescros. He had only a scowl for Zoltan. “My mate is fine-spoken. I say piss on your territory and piss on you too. Grandfather had the right idea to bury you like the turd you are. A curse between us, Zoltan Camomescro.” He spat and forked the horns at Zoltan.
Cian dragged Corin bodily out of the house. If the werewolf had had his tail on, it would have been twitching.
The ambulance was just arriving. Paul and Dan gave their statements. The paramedics ruled it a cerebral accident and called it at the scene. They asked of the scratches on his body and arms.
“We were out clearing brush.” Paul showed his own scratches. “We all got a little banged up.”
They nodded and said the coroner would be by soon. They left instructions not to move the body.
Dan kissed his mother and father. “I have to go. I still have classes to teach. I’ll be back tonight.”
“No, you won’t.” Zoltan caught his arm as he was leaving. “You and your so-called mate aren’t welcome on pack-territory.”
“Much joy of your territory,” Dan began, his hands forming the sign of a Romani curse. “Much joy of your pack leadership. And may your breeder bitch never deliver a wolf in the line.” He stalked out, Paul in his wake.
The drive to the apartment was quiet, the anger having suppressed Dan’s grief. Paul sat quietly on the battered green chair as Dan gathered his books and papers for his classes. Halfway out the door, he turned back for a kiss that turned into weeping on Paul’s shoulder. Paul stroked his hair.
“Call it out, lover. Death in the family is a legitimate reason.” Dan nodded and recovered himself enough to make the call. The department secretary promised to spread the word and cancel all his classes for the week. His hands were shaking as he hung up the phone and he was breathing too deeply.
The outbound breaths sounded almost like howls. Paul made out the futon and took him to bed. He curled around Dan protectively, letting his love sob as much as he needed to. He nuzzled Dan until the crying subsided. They were both still close enough to the wolf that nuzzling turned to licks. Paul licked Dan’s neck and ear. Dan whimpered and licked him back.
“Easy pup. Let it out. That’s what your big bad mate is for.”
Dan half smiled. “Oh BB.” He nestled close, burying his face in Paul’s chest. The sobs came again, wracking him.
By early afternoon, Dan had cried himself into exhaustion. Paul left him sleeping on the futon and slipped out to the Young Avenue Deli. The menu was amazing and the jukebox was loud on his sensitive wolfish ears. He was only glad he wasn’t fighting the Festival crowd or a live band. He ordered the beer-battered onion rings and mushrooms. The battered dill pickles tempted him, but he resisted, if only for a moment. He added them to the order. The Bren, cream cheese and smoked turkey steamed in a pita with mushrooms and onions, a basic reuben, a whole muffuletta and two burgers with everything finished the order.
It had been a busy night and even after the enormous breakfast, his stomach was growling. He knew Furball would be hungry too. They wouldn’t let him purchase beer for carry-out. He decided before he left he was going to come back and have a drink or six from their thirty-six item draft beer menu. The bottled beer list was even longer. The Dixie Blackened Voodoo piqued his curiosity.
He walked back to the apartment, the carry-out heavy in its bags. Dan was still asleep. He laid out the food and then sat on the edge of the futon. He leaned over and kissed Dan.
“Furball. Wake up, pup. I have lunch. Then we need to go to the country for the night.”
Dan sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes then ran fingers through his hair making his curls stand up every which way. “You bought half the deli.” He grabbed half the Bren. “My favorite. You try the other half.”
Paul tasted it, but didn’t like the cream cheese. “Sorry, pup, not my thing.” He dove into his half of the muffuletta, having heard of the legendary sandwich but never tasted it. The olive salad and ham was very tasty.
They demolished most of the sandwiches and all the appetizers. Dan stuck the end of the muffuletta in the fridge while Paul called Corin.
“Ready to go?”
“Yeah. You okay to drive, babe? Cian says he will, or we can follow.” They took Cian’s offer.
The night in the country was quiet. Cian cooked brilliantly, and served large bowls of oatmeal with plenty of raisins and spice, scrambled eggs, scones and pounds of bacon. A china pot poured seemingly endless streams of the best tea either had ever tasted into mugs the size of soup bowls.
“Thanks for everything,” Paul said. “The ride, the place to change, breakfast.”
“Our pleasure, lads. It’s nice to have young blood around.” Cian refilled all the tea-cups.
“Grandfather’s funeral is this afternoon.” Dan took a breath before continuing. “You would be welcome to come.”
“Your uncle might feel different about that.” Corin was buried behind his paper.
“Screw my uncle. I’m going. And you can come along. Being that you’re pack-guests and all.” The older men nodded and took Paul and Dan back into town.
Paul wore his best dark shirt and a tie. He hadn’t planned on a suit.
“It’s okay, lover. You’re there for me. Nobody will say anything.” Dan had a black suit with a black shirt and a gray tie. Paul thought he looked like a miniature mafioso.
On the way to the farm, Paul called work and got a couple more days off. He called the airline and moved his ticket. “I can stay until Thursday, pup.”
Dan’s eyes were swimming when they got out of the car. He hugged Paul hard. “Thank you so much.”
“It’s what mates do.” Paul wrapped his arm around Dan’s waist. Dan shrugged it off as they got into view of the farm house.
Grandfather had been cremated. Papa spoke some words before taking a handful of the ashes. Mama spoke some words before doing the same. Dan’s sisters had their words and took their ashes.
Dan stepped up. “Grandfather loved me. He understood me. He looked out for me and taught me what it means to be a werewolf.” He smiled at his parents. “You did your best, but you’re not weres. You raised me, and Grandfather helped.” Dan claimed his handful of ashes. “I’ll take these with me so that there will always be a little piece of home in Wisconsin.”
Zoltan and Rita and their large family were conspicuous by their absence. Paul couldn’t bring himself to care. It made things easier for Dan and that was all that mattered to him.
Back at the apartment, Dan still didn’t feel like doing much of anything. Paul just wrapped himself around his mate and gave what comfort he could. They lazed through the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday, making one short trip down to Faw & O’Brien’s to say good bye before Paul had to leave. Thursday came, and with it departure.
They stood at the gate in the airport. Dan tried to look at least sort of cheerful and failed miserably. “I’ll be up for our birthday, BB. Like you said, I don’t own anything, so it shouldn’t be any trouble to move.”
Paul took a deep breath. “This may not be the time to say it, and maybe I’m rushing things here. When you come up, we’re eloping to Canada. Be my mate, not just as a wolf, but as a man too.”
Dan’s face lit up. “Yes.” Heedless of the airport crowds, not caring who saw him, he flung his arms around Paul’s neck.
“Thank you. Thank you for coming. Thank you for staying the extra days. And thank you for the promise. My mate.” He kissed Paul there in the airport. “We can do ten weeks apart standing on our heads.”
“Damn straight. Which we aren’t.” Dan smiled again. “Go on, lover. I’ll see you in December. We have Grandfather’s blessing, remember.”
Paul nodded, stole a quick second kiss and entered the boarding tunnel. When he turned for a final wave, Dan blew him a kiss. He caught it with a wink and a grin. Dan watched the plane taxi out and then went home to start packing for Wisconsin.
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