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The Ayase Family Jewels

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High-pitched squalls that were neither fully human nor fully animal cut through the night, jolting Karin and Ai from their desperately-needed slumber. Ai made as if to sit up, but Karin gently eased her back down to the pillow, frowning at how warm to the touch she still was. It’d been a rough week for everyone, but most of all for baby Natsumi, who was unused to sleeping apart from her parents and being deprived of her mother’s cuddles, but neither Karin nor Ai were willing to risk her contracting Ai’s illness. The tiny omega wailed horribly from her crib until at last Karin came to her rescue, and even then her cries were still insistent.

“Bottle in the fridge,” Ai mumbled through her exhausted, feverish haze.

Karin took her shrieking cub down the hall, keenly aware that the little one would more than likely wake at least one other member of the pack, if not all of them, but there was nothing else to be done but to carry her down to the kitchen to try and feed her. Ai had a couple bottles labeled in the fridge for Karin to feed the baby herself, so Karin warmed one up, rocking and bouncing the baby all the while, and finally offered the milk to her cub.

Alas, there was no respite for Karin’s ears.

The cub took only a little of the milk before sputtering and screaming again, and refused subsequent offers of the bottle. Karin stroked her velvety fur and rocked her helplessly, desperation and anxiety at all the noise setting her own fur to pricking through her skin. She hadn’t had this much trouble with her firstborn, Miyu, and couldn’t remember her parents ever having much trouble with her baby sister, either.

“What are you doing, Karin?”

Karin turned around to see a dead-eyed Setsuna trundling into the kitchen. Damn it. She’d hoped to let her fellow alpha packmate get at least another hour’s worth of sleep, but Natsumi’s nighttime fit had once again roused poor Setsuna far too early, and with little hope of getting back to bed.

“Natsumi is upset again,” Karin said. “I can’t get her to calm down. Her diaper’s fresh, and I thought she might be hungry, but…” She pressed the bottle’s nipple to the stubborn baby’s mouth to demonstrate.

Setsuna took one look at the crying cub and sighed. “She needs her mother, Karin,” she said. “I know you don’t want her to get sick, too, but it’s the only way. Go and let Ai feed her, she’ll calm down. Trust me.”

Karin was reluctant, as if Natsumi was this difficult while healthy, she could only imagine what it would be like if she got sick, but Setsuna, who was father to five older cubs already, was significantly more experienced in the ways of childcare, and so Karin ultimately gave in to her advice. She gave Setsuna’s shoulder an affectionate and apologetic shake before returning to the bedroom. Ai seemed to have drifted back to sleep, and Karin felt awful waking her again.

“Baby,” she said as she seated herself on the bed and patted Ai’s leg. “Natsumi won’t take the bottle. She only wants you.”

Ai groaned and struggled upright, her head still spinning from her fever, and managed to prop herself up against her pillows. Karin laid the still-crying Natsumi aside for a moment to assist Ai in removing her top, after which she scooped the baby back up and placed her in Ai’s arms. The difference in Natsumi’s behavior was immediate as she took in her omega mother’s scent and latched hungrily onto her breast.

With the little cub soothed and quiet at last, Karin breathed a sigh of relief, and went briefly to the bathroom to prepare a cool cloth for Ai, whose skin was still burning and whose breaths came heavily. It was quite a task to juggle caring for her sick wife in addition to their two young cubs, but it was one that had to be done, like it or not, so Karin didn’t complain. Eli wouldn’t have complained, after all.

“Is she going to sleep?” Karin asked in a whisper while she dabbed at her mate’s face and neck with the cloth.

The cool damp was a welcome relief for Ai, who sighed and nodded. “Take her, Karin,” she said. “My arms are getting weak.”

Karin obeyed and retrieved the drowsing cub from her mate and laid her down in the crib with incredible delicacy. Once she was satisfied that the little one was asleep, she returned to the bed, where Ai had opted to push her furs in rather than replace her top. Karin drew the blankets about them and kissed her wife’s now-fuzzy cheek.

“Good night again,” she said, and then shut her eyes in hopes of drifting off quickly.

Life as a parent could never be that easy, of course. It was precisely when Karin’s consciousness began to slip away that the bedroom door came open just a crack, and two little feet made their way over to the bed.

“Mommy?” came the little girl’s voice through Karin’s dream.

“Hm?” Karin’s heavy eyelids came open, and there stood little Miyu, teary-eyed and with her dark fur threatening to push through. “What’s wrong, Miyu?”

“I had a bad dream,” the cub explained. “Can I sleep in here with you?”

Karin glanced warily first at her sleeping wife, and then at the baby’s crib. She reluctantly pulled herself out of bed and hoisted Miyu up into her arms. “Mama is still sick, so you can’t sleep in here,” she said. “Let’s go back to your room. I’ll sleep with you in there.”

The baby alpha clung tight to Karin, taking in the safe and secure scent of her musk, and cuddled close once the two of them were finally tucked into her bed.

“Only sweet dreams this time,” Karin told her, and planted a kiss on the cub’s forehead. “Mommy’s here now.”

Sleep took Karin so swiftly afterward that she was not even sure if the cub replied. It was when the very first rays of sunlight began to peek through the curtains that she woke again, still with weighted eyelids and sluggish limbs, but curiously unable to fall back asleep. She sat up, rubbing the crust from her blurry eyes, and noted that Miyu was gone, so after one final stretch, she took herself down the stairs to find her.

“I don’t want eggs!”

It wasn’t very hard to locate the little alpha, who was currently in her furs and screaming up a storm in the kitchen while the other, older cubs in the pack looked on in concern. Kasumi, a seasoned mother who feared no cub, wielded a spatula at the little fiend and put her in her place (or tried).

“Well, if you don’t want eggs, then what do you want?” she demanded. “It has to be something we have – and I don’t have any soup!”

“I – want – soup!” Miyu snarled, and stomped her foot for emphasis.

“There – is – no – soup!” Kasumi shot right back.

Karin, exhausted as she was, entered the room with her back straight and her head high, as she believed her own father would, and took on her raging cub herself.

“What’s going on here, Miyu?” she asked in the most authoritative voice she could muster.

“I want soup, and Kasumin’s not making any!” Miyu cried.

Kasumi took a great breath as though she meant to shout again, but Karin held up a hand to stop her. “We don’t have any soup right now,” she said. “Either you eat the eggs or you pick something else, but we don’t have any soup to make.”

Miyu did not agree with that at all. She stuck her tail straight out, stomped her little foot as hard as she could, and let loose an awful baby roar that grated on the ears of everyone present. Karin, quick on her toes, pressed the cub down to the tile just as soon as she began to thrash and scream in a true alpha rampage. Every time Miyu did this Karin was seized with worry and fear; she knew it was normal for young alphas to have uncontrollable fits, and she’d had them herself when she was young, but it was still heart-wrenching to see her little one with her eyes glazed over, roaring and kicking and slashing beyond all control.

“Karin, I’ve had just about enough of this,” Kasumi berated her over the cub’s scratchy roars. “This happens every day, over the tiniest little things! I can’t take it! You need to get her behavior in check or else find another babysitter, because I’m so sick of dealing with this!”

Setsuna arrived on the scene at precisely that moment, when Karin was pinning her screeching child down while Kasumi screamed at her and Setsuna’s own little cubs bristled with nervous energy. Just another Thursday morning with the pack! She didn’t even spare the commotion a second glance as she made her way to the coffee pot, filled up her “World’s #1 Dad” travel mug, and kissed each of her cubs goodbye (paying special attention to the youngest, an alpha called Emi, who was on the verge of a wild shift herself).

“Would you just shut your mouth, Kasumi?” Karin roared over the high-pitched racket. “I’m trying my best! You’re belittling me in front of all the kids!”

At that, the previously impassive Setsuna showed her fangs in an incredibly rare display of aggression. “Don’t talk to her like that,” she warned.

A frustrated growl rumbled in Karin’s throat at now having lost the support of even her best friend, and she quickly snatched up her still-roaring cub and carried her outside, past Kasumi and Setsuna and the eyes of those other packmates who’d come from their beds to check on all the racket. The silence out in the fresh, chilled morning air coupled with Karin’s own scent brought little Miyu down from her fit much quicker than all the fighting in the kitchen.

“There now, baby girl, Mommy’s got you,” Karin murmured into the cub’s hair. She remembered all too well how desperately frightening and overwhelming it was to be a little child with no control over the raw, frenzied energy of alphahood pulsing through her body. Mama and Mommy were always there for little Karin, though, kissing her and cuddling her and stroking her fur, and now Karin did her best to emulate them for Miyu.

When the cub at last fell silent save for her pitiful sniffles, Karin lifted her up again and carried her back into the house. She completely bypassed the kitchen, from which there now came a lighter sort of chatter, and took the cub up to see her sick Mama and her baby sister. To Karin’s surprise, Ai was sitting up and nursing Natsumi again.

“Are you better now, Mama?” Miyu asked as Karin placed her down on the bed. She crawled over, plainly curious about the mechanics of feeding a baby.

“Not quite,” Ai said. “I’m still pretty sick, but Natsumi was hungry. What about you, Miyu-chan? Have you eaten yet?”

Karin, fearful of another fit over breakfast, quickly replied for the cub. “We were just about to go to the store and get some soup, actually.”

Miyu brightened considerably at that, and began to bounce on the bed. “Yay! We’re getting soup!”

“Soup, huh?” Ai chuckled at her little one’s excitement. “Make sure you get some diapers for Natsumi, too, alright?”

Ai offered the baby to Karin (as her arms were still too weak to hold her for long), and Karin delighted in the cub’s tiny rumbles. It was decided that Natsumi would come along, too, to give Ai the chance to rest a while longer, so once Mommy and cubs were dressed and groomed, they headed downstairs together. Kasumi was there, sending each of her cubs off to school with a hug and a kiss and a packed lunch, save for her youngest, who hadn’t yet started school. Setsuna, too, received a hug and a kiss and a lunch, as well as a whispered promise of a little something for later.

Kasumi gave Karin and her cubs a suspicious look when they came to retrieve their shoes and put on their coats. “Where are you guys off to?” she asked.

“We’re getting SOUP!” Miyu declared, and put on an alarmingly vindictive grin for a five year-old.

If looks could kill, Karin would surely have dropped dead from the venom in Kasumi’s glare. Oh, but who was Kasumi to judge them, right? It’s not as though she had five well-adjusted and well-behaved cubs of her own! Right?

 

Whimpers began to slip from Yumi’s throat, and she shifted her hips ever so slightly, right up into the face of her mate. The alpha’s lips and tongue were well experienced in the business of pleasure-making, and happily delivered every stroke and prod and kiss until finally Yumi shuddered and rumbled her satisfaction. With stars still playing at the edges of her vision, Yumi gazed downward, and was met with the pleasant green of her love’s singular eye. Where the other eye should have been there was only a scarred pit, a feature which might have been ugly and frightening to an outsider, but Yumi knew there wasn’t a mean or scary bone in Kiyoko’s body.

There wasn’t anyone else in the world, after all, that she could imagine sharing such intimacy with. Kiyoko had always been sweet and patient when it came to Yumi working through her cubhood suffering and learning to live like a normal omega, and had been especially understanding when they reached the age when the primal urge to mate began to make itself known. That respectful patience made Kiyoko all the more attractive to Yumi, and now, with their scents mingling and their hips rocking rhythmically together, Yumi found it ever easier to lose herself in the act.

Of course, it was still a weekday, so once their session concluded with pleasured snarls and a burst of love, Yumi was forced to leave the comfort of their bed to get ready for class at ten o’clock. She threw her legs over the side of the bed and sat up, but quickly regretted it, as the room began to spin all around her. She pressed a hand to her head and squeezed her eyes shut, willing her body to regain its sense of balance.

“What’s wrong?” Kiyoko asked, and sat up beside her.

“I got dizzy suddenly,” Yumi said. “I probably sat up too fast.”

Kiyoko frowned at that. “That’s how Ai got started, too, you know,” she said. “She had a couple dizzy spells in the morning, and now she’s been in bed sick all week!”

Yumi shook her head and stood, determined not to come down with whatever awful flu Ai had contracted. She could walk without swaying, at least, but she still sensed that her balance wasn’t quite right, so she took a little more care than usual. Kiyoko noticed, of course, and came to provide a steadying arm.

“Why don’t you just stay home and rest today?” the alpha asked her. “I don’t want you getting sick, too.”

“I don’t need to miss this lecture,” was Yumi’s only reply before she began to thumb through the clothes hung in the closet.

Kiyoko sighed and let Yumi go about dressing herself and brushing her hair despite her budding illness. Her mate was certainly a stubborn one when it came to her schooling. When both were dressed and ready, they came down the stairs together, and Kiyoko kept an arm about Yumi in case the dizziness struck her again. Kasumi was in the living room, and she sniffed the air dramatically when the couple arrived, noting also Yumi’s unsteady gait.

“Gee! You guys sure are late for breakfast!” she said with a sarcastic roll of her eyes. “Decided to sleep in?”

Kiyoko was well used to Kasumi’s teasing, as they’d both grown up in the Muse pack, and unlike her reactive older sister Karin, Kiyoko knew it was all in good fun. In the kitchen, Kiyoko’s best friend Sayuri and her mate Kanata were busy washing all the plates and cups in the sink. Breakfast alone produced an obscene amount of dishes, so Kasumi made sure everyone stayed on top of the washing up.

“Everyone else already left?” Kiyoko asked, noting the silence in the house.

“Yeah! You guys are way late!” Sayuri replied. “I’m still here because I’m on a later shift today, but everyone else is already gone to work and school! Even Karin left, but she just went to the store.”

“I’m glad for that,” Kanata said, and yawned hugely. “Her cubs have been waking me up every morning. It’s hard for even me to get back to sleep with that kind of screaming going on…”

All agreed on the troublesome behavior of Karin’s cubs, particularly Miyu, who was old enough to know better than to throw temper tantrums beyond those unavoidable for a typical alpha cub. But there wasn’t much for any of them to do about it – at least, not until Karin herself admitted that there was a problem, and that was a task in itself!

“I feel better now that I’ve eaten,” Yumi said once she finished her breakfast of leftovers, and, as if to demonstrate to Kiyoko, stood confidently and delivered her plate to the sink. Her mate, however, was still intent on coddling her.

“I can drive you to school just in case,” Kiyoko said, and Yumi was forced to agree, if only to make her feel better.

The pair of them found their shoes and their jackets and took their leave, with Kiyoko promising to return shortly. That left just Sayuri, Kanata, and Kasumi, and the two little cubs playing at their feet. The smaller cub, who was still young enough to be in her furs, found Sayuri’s leg and attached herself to it, her little tail swishing to and fro.

“Papa,” she said, “we go outside?”

Sayuri practically radiated delight at her cub’s sweet little words, and lifted her up to plant a huge kiss on her cheek before setting her back down. “Haruka! Of course we can play outside!” she said. “But we gotta put on our shoes and our jackets, okay? Come on, I'll race ya! Let’s see who can get ready first! Ready, set…”

Kanata settled herself on the sofa beside Kasumi, a gentle smile playing on her lips. Little Haruka was a fuzzy ball of energy, just like her papa, and indeed like Kanata’s own father, too. Sleepy Kanata sometimes had trouble matching the cub’s explosive pace, so she counted herself lucky that her mate could match their little one step for step.

“So when’s Sayuri gonna marry you?” Kasumi asked while she absentmindedly flipped through the TV channels. There wasn’t much but garbage on at such an early hour, so she settled on some children’s program for Emi, who had little interest in going outside where it was chilly.

“I don’t know,” Kanata replied truthfully. “We’re just going at our own pace. That’s fine, right? Besides, Kasumi-chan… Didn’t you already have two cubs when you finally married Setsuna?”

Kasumi snorted at Kanata’s cheeky grin. “Fine, fine!”

Kasumi’s phone began to buzz from the coffee table, interrupting their conversation. The name of Kasumi’s eldest cub, Yuki, lit up the screen, and Kasumi answered quickly, fearful that something might be wrong.

“Yuki-chan? What’s going on?” she asked.

“Hi, Mama,” came Yuki’s voice from the other end. “It’s nothing serious, I was just wondering if… Well, Mei invited me over after school, so I was just… wondering if I could go, that’s all! Can I?”

Kasumi furrowed her brow. There was an edge in young omega’s voice that she couldn’t quite place, and it tickled at her nerves. But who was she to play the mean mama and decline based on assumptions alone? She agreed, but with a condition. “Well… I guess you can go, but you have to be home by dinnertime!”

“I will, Mama! Thank you!”

Kanata noted Kasumi’s perturbed expression. “Something happen?”

“That was just Yuki, she asked to go to Mei’s house,” Kasumi replied. “Which is fine, but… I dunno. Something about her tone didn’t seem right. Oh, that girl better not be sneaking around! I swear, if I catch her…”

Kanata pulled the throw blanket slung over the back of the couch down to wrap herself in it, and settled her head on a pillow as though she meant to sleep (and she did mean to sleep). “She has been acting pretty funny lately, don’t you think? She can’t stay off her phone, but if I pass by she puts it in her pocket.”

“Sissy talks to a boy on her phone,” little Emi piped up.

Kasumi shot up straight at that juicy little tidbit. “Oh yeah? She talks to a boy? Did she tell you that?”

“Uh-huh,” Emi said. “She talks to him all the time! And he’s a very big boy.”

Kasumi supposed she couldn’t get on to Yuki too much, as she herself had hung out with an alpha boy when she was that age. But she couldn’t very well have the cub going behind her back and potentially putting herself in a bad situation (young alphas weren’t always the most considerate or intelligent when it came to omegas), so she made a mental note to have a heart-to-heart with Yuki-chan when she returned… or else she could do a little undercover work.

 

Miyu dashed through the aisles of the supermarket, dodging other shoppers and their carts and sharing an alarming number of near-misses with delicate product displays. She was completely deaf to the pleas of her Mommy to stop running, and instead decided to turn it into a game.

“Catch me, Mommy! Catch me, catch me!”

Had they not been in a crowded store, Karin might have easily snatched up her little devil of a cub, but she risked crashing into someone if she took off running, and she had to push Natsumi in the stroller besides.

“Miyu, get back here now!”

Miyu wasn’t even in sight, although Karin could still hear her giggling and her noisy little footsteps elsewhere in the store. People were beginning to look at her as if to say, “Control your child!” but Miyu was far beyond control. She was a feisty little cub who bowed to no one, not even her alpha mommy, and it was horrifically embarrassing. Miyu did come back after a couple of heart-pounding minutes, and in her hands she held a jumbo box of cartoon-shaped gummies.

“Mommy! Let’s get this!” she said, and tossed the box into the stroller next to her baby sister.

“What?” Karin pulled the box out and inspected it. Her child most definitely did not need 36 packets of sugary gummies! She handed them back to Miyu with a disapproving look. “We’re not getting this, Miyu-chan. Put it back where you found it.”

That, of course, did not sit well with Miyu, who began to bristle. “I want it, Mommy!”

“I know you do, but we can’t get it right now,” Karin replied. “We came to get soup, remember? Put the gummies back.”

“No!” Miyu growled, and showed the fangs that were beginning to form in her mouth. “I’m getting them!”

Karin felt her own fur begin to bristle out, and it took all she had not to growl at her cub. “I said no, Miyu! Give those to me! I’ll put them back myself!”

She snatched the box back from Miyu’s hands, and all hell broke loose there in the soup aisle. Miyu roared with all her tiny might, and it was impressively fearsome for a little one despite the cubbish scratchiness. Karin couldn’t even bring herself to be impressed, though, when her cub was stomping and screaming her heart out in the grocery store, causing the other shoppers to murmur and distance themselves, or else cast judgmental glares her way. To top it all off, baby Natsumi was frightened by the roaring, and began to cry those grating human-beast hybrid cries.

“Stop, Miyu!” Karin begged above the noise. “Stop this right now!”

“I hate you, Mommy! I’m leaving!” was Miyu’s snarling reply, and she bolted from the aisle.

“Miyu!” Karin had no choice but to chase her this time, though she moved at an awkward jogging pace to keep from jostling her already-upset baby too much. “Stop! Please stop!”

The alpha cub did not even bother replying to her desperate father, so angry was she over the gummy denial. She ran as fast as her young legs would take her, fueled by the primal alpha energy that coursed through her body, and flew right out the automatic doors of the supermarket.

“Miyu, no!”

Karin had no choice but to leave Natsumi parked inside the store and chase after Miyu in earnest. The parking lot was one thing, but her reckless cub was hurtling towards the busy road at an alarming pace, and Karin’s heart thundered in her ears at the thought of a passing car striking her. She was nearly caught up to the cub, perhaps a few strong strides away, when suddenly someone else rushed to her and caught her in their arms. The scent of alpha hit Karin’s nose, and a different sort of fear gripped her.

“Let her go!” she bellowed, and braced herself to fight, but instead found the struggling Miyu shoved into her arms. With little time available to fully process the situation, Karin, working almost completely on instinct by now, squeezed the flailing cub to her chest in a crushing hug. She turned away from the stranger alpha who’d helped her, instead throwing every ounce of her attention into calming the little one and keeping her safe in her arms, away from strange people and speeding cars.

“Well, I didn’t think I’d be meeting you again like this, Karin,” the stranger said once Miyu’s frustrated roars died down to only rumbles.

Karin whipped around at the mention of her name, and at last took in the sight of the other alpha. Deep red hair, green eyes, cool demeanor…

“You’re… Ryo, right?”

Ryo laughed and nodded. “Glad you still remember me after all these years!” she said. “How have things been for you? Is this your daughter?”

Karin felt a little prickle of shame at having lost control of her cub in front of someone she knew. Sure, they hadn’t seen each other since middle school, when they’d served a punishment for fighting together, but it wasn’t exactly a great second impression. “Yes, this is Miyu, she’s…” Her heart rate spiked once again when she remembered that little Natsumi was still inside the store. “Er – sorry! I don’t mean to rush off, but my baby- My baby’s still inside, so…!”

Ryo watched her go with an amused glint in her eye. Karin was a grown alpha now – tall and strong and womanly in every aspect, and yet the awkward, scramble-brained cub she once was still found a way to shine through. Determined not to let their chance meeting go to waste, Ryo followed Karin inside, and found her rocking the tiny Natsumi now while Miyu clung to her pants.

“I don’t mean to keep bugging you, Karin,” Ryo said, “but would you like to maybe grab dinner sometime this weekend? I’d love to catch up with you, and Ai, too.”

Karin might have agreed at any other time, but all she could focus on at the moment were Kasumi’s threats of refusing to babysit on account of Miyu's atrocious behavior, Ai’s illness, and Natsumi’s refusal of the bottle in favor of the breast. “I’d like to, but… Now isn’t really a good time for me,” she said. “I’m sorry! I’ve just got a lot going on right now.”

Ryo nodded and took a step back, lowering her head ever so slightly, as though she meant to submit to Karin. “I understand,” she said. “But please, give me a call sometime if you ever do have an evening free. I’m the director at UTX now, in place of my mother, so you can always contact me there. I’ve got to be back in Tokyo by Monday, but… Anyway, it was nice to see you again.”

The subtle submissive body language didn’t escape Karin, and while she appreciated the gesture, she found it unnecessary. “Ah, Ryo, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to seem like I’m brushing you off, or like I don’t want to get together,” she said. “Things really have been tough for me lately, though. Maybe we’ll make a trip out to Tokyo soon, though. I do need to visit my parents, after all.”

Sullen Miyu perked up a bit at the mention of her beloved grandparents. “Can we, Mommy?”

“Soon, love.”

Karin exchanged phone numbers with Ryo, and then returned the children to the car with neither soup nor gummies nor diapers. Ai was certain to be unhappy without the diapers, and Karin would probably have to fetch some later, but that was no big deal. Right now, the exhaustion was creeping its way back into her bones and pounding a nasty ache into her skull, and she wished for nothing more than to be in bed with her mate, fast asleep and without a care in the world. Perhaps Kiyoko might like to have a little auntie time with the kids this morning?

“I need to pee-pee,” Miyu announced almost comically soon after they left the parking lot.

Karin gripped the steering wheel just a little bit tighter. “We’ll be home in just a few minutes, okay?”

“Okay…”

Karin’s fanciful notions of a peaceful nap died right there on the pack’s doorstep. Things were in disarray again, this time with the half-shifted Kiyoko and Sayuri tripping over themselves in an attempt to find their coats and their keys and their wallets.

“What’s going on?” Karin asked.

“Yumi collapsed in the middle of class,” Kiyoko explained, her ears twitching with nervous energy. “She was feeling dizzy this morning and I was worried she might be coming down with Ai’s flu…”

Karin grabbed hold of her sister’s shoulder and shook her affectionately. “Easy, Kiyoko-chan, she’ll be alright. Drive safe.” Her eyes roved over to Sayuri, who was nearly in the same state of panic as Kiyoko. “You’re going, too?”

“Moral support!” was Sayuri’s reply to that.

The sudden scent of cub urine distracted everyone from their worry for just a moment. Karin glanced over, and was horrified to see Miyu with her pants around her ankles, pissing all along the front of the sofa while the napping Kanata was none the wiser.

“Miyu Ayase!” Karin snapped, and so fiercely that Kanata sat up in a hurry. “You do not mark in the house! How many times have I told you that?”

The cub’s response was an absolutely infuriating giggle, the laugh of a child who knows she’s done wrong but who couldn’t give two fucks about it. Karin clenched her jaw as her furs began to ripple in and her frustration with her little hellion reached its peak. Kiyoko and Sayuri chose that moment to make their exit, as Yumi was still waiting and they didn’t want to bear witness to the explosion of alpha fury Karin was about to unleash on her cub.

“I have had just about enough of your disrespect,” Karin thundered as she made her way over to her still-grinning cub. “You have been nothing but trouble this morning! You threw a tantrum over breakfast, you threw another tantrum at the store and almost got yourself killed running into the road! And now you’ve marked all over the sofa! No more – march yourself up to your room right now.”

Miyu continued to giggle, and tugged on her mother’s tail as though inviting her to play. The other two cubs, Emi and Haruka, had long wised up and run to their respective mothers, and baby Natsumi was beginning to whimper again. Karin’s fur stood on end, and she took a great breath as though she meant to roar or shout, but another voice cut her short.

“Miyu…”

Ai’s voice was thin and hoarse in her sickness, but even then the change in Miyu’s demeanor was drastic. The alpha cub immediately lost her grin, bowed her head, and hunched up her shoulders in typical submissive fashion, daring only once to glance up at her mama hobbling down the stairs.

“I heard everything,” Ai continued. “Do as your father says and go to your room.”

“Yes, Mama.” Miyu replied meekly, and made the walk of shame up to her room with her cheeks burning hot.

Once their cub was out of sight, Ai took Karin into her arms and held her there, soothing her like a frenzied cub. Karin loosed a savage and utterly desperate snarl, because what else was there for her to do? It’d been an awful day already and it wasn’t even noon yet! Her omega’s scent, tainted as it was with her week-long illness, took some of the edge off, at least.

“I don’t understand why she doesn’t listen to me,” Karin said, and flopped herself down onto the sofa, only to immediately spring back up at the feeling of wet on the back of her pants. “Damn it!”

“Alright, you need to get ahold of yourself, Karin,” Kasumi said as she at last emerged from the kitchen. She wanted absolutely no part of the Ayase family’s mother-cub squabbles. “Go upstairs, sit with Ai for a while. I’ll watch the baby and clean the couch up just this once, but only because I feel sorry for you! Seriously, you look totally pathetic right now, and I mean a lot more than usual. So go on!”

Karin, for once, was too drained to even react to Kasumi’s only-half-serious bullying, and so she returned to bed with Ai and sank herself into the pillows with a great sigh. Karin’s cubhood fantasies of raising a family with Ai involved considerably less screaming and shifting than what the real thing now offered, and bleak hopelessness at her parenting skills and indeed her very alphahood was beginning to set in, bit by bit, day by day.

Adulthood, she supposed, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but she was a parent now, and couldn’t give up even if she wanted to.

Chapter Text

Dinnertime came around quickly, and with it came Setsuna, whose coffee had long worn off and whose limbs moved in slow motion through her mental fog. She thought if she shut her eyes long enough, she might sleep where she stood, but, of course, that was unacceptable for a father of five cubs. Four of her girls rushed to greet her at the door with hugs and kisses, and Setsuna forced herself into alertness for them, sharing scents with each one in turn.

“Where’s Yuki-chan?” she asked as the cubs led her to the table. The smell of her wife’s cooking set her tummy to rumbling almost instantly, as it’d been a fair six hours since her last meal.

“I told Yuki to be home by dinner,” Kasumi said. She gave Setsuna a hearty kiss and began to fix her a plate with all her favorites.

Setsuna frowned at her eldest’s empty spot. Perhaps Yuki was just running late; they had dinner at the same time every day, after all, and it wasn’t like her to disobey her mother. She was like Setsuna in that regard, who had once been a model of exceptional cub behavior.

“I made some pudding, too, for dessert!” Kasumi announced, and the cubs cheered – most of them anyway.

“Mommy…” Miyu sank a little and gazed pleadingly at Karin, whose heart shattered instantly. Ai had decreed that Miyu was not to have any pudding tonight on account of her awful behavior, but those big blue eyes were hard to resist.

“Oh, Miyu-chan…” Karin reached over to stroke the cub’s hair, and caught Kasumi sending her a stone-eyed glare. She sighed. “Mama said no dessert tonight, and we have to listen to her. Okay?”

Miyu’s lower lip came up in a pitiful pout, and tears welled in her eyes, but she said no more, and started on her dinner without the usual complaints. That much was a relief, at least, as Miyu was a stubborn and difficult eater at the best of times. Karin pressed a kiss to her cub’s forehead and then listened in as conversation began to flow between the other members of the pack.

“They told me you passed out today in class!” Ayumu said to Yumi. “What’s up with that? You don’t think you’re coming down with the flu, too, do you?”

Yumi shook her head. “I don’t feel sick,” she said. “I just felt very dizzy this morning. I stood up from my seat to get something and next thing I knew I was on the floor.”

“Ai started having dizzy spells right before she got sick,” Karin said. “You might want to stay home and rest tomorrow. If you faint again I think Kiyoko might lose it.” The grin she cast at her sister was simultaneously teasing and tender.

“I keep telling her that, but she doesn’t listen,” Kiyoko said.

“Well, I’m not feeling sick, and I’m not dizzy now,” Yumi replied. “I shouldn’t have to miss class if there’s nothing wrong.”

Kasumi gave Yumi the side-eye at that. She was always hungry for a little friendly commotion, so, as casually as possible, she asked, “Think you might just be pregnant?”

Kiyoko’s expression turned to one of pure embarrassment, with her eyes wide and her cheeks very rapidly reddening. Yumi, on the other hand, knitted her brow in apparent displeasure at the suggestion.

“Oh, I’m not sure about that,” Yumi said quite humorlessly.

Kasumi was put off by the normally-pleasant Yumi’s sudden shift in demeanor, which only furthered her suspicions. She shrugged. “Well, I’m just saying,” she said. “It’s a possibility! I had dizzy spells for a while when I was pregnant with both Yuki and Tomori.”

Yumi had no more to say on the matter, and turned her attention fully to her dinner plate. Kiyoko frowned at that; the prospect of a surprise cub was certainly a frightening one, but not entirely unwelcome, unprepared as they were. At least, that’s what she’d assumed up until now, but Yumi’s sudden iciness made her think twice.

Little Emi picked up on Yumi’s now-sour mood, and was quick to comfort her packmate. “Don’t worry, Yumi,” she said. “It’ll probably go away like my baby sister!”

The spike in tension around the table was incredible. Kasumi’s attempt at hiding her hurt was completely unsuccessful, and Setsuna jumped in immediately.

“That’s enough, Emi,” she said. “Don’t say things like that anymore.”

“But it’s true, Papa,” Emi said, as nonchalant as only a four year-old can be about such difficult topics. “Mama told me. She said sometimes a baby dies in the mama’s tummy.”

“That is true, but I said enough, so enough,” Setsuna replied.

The rest of the meal passed in tense awkwardness. No one could fault Emi; she was still too young to comprehend the extent of her parents’ grief or even the gravity of the situation in the first place. She was a cub, speaking frankly as cubs do about something she couldn’t really understand. Still, the words stung, and Kasumi was the first to finish her plate and head for the stairs.

“Don’t forget about the pudding,” she reminded everyone before she whisked herself away.

Setsuna called after her, but she was ignored, and so she finished up the rest of her food in silence. Setsuna’s older sister, Ayumu, wasn’t one to suffer for very long, and decided to inject a little fun into the evening to lighten the mood and get the cubs laughing again.

“Alright,” she said as she stood from the table, “whoever can get their plates washed and put away the fastest gets to play first in the Mario Kart tournament!”

Happy chatter at last began to flow again as the cubs scrambled to get their dishes scrubbed and rinsed. Ayumu knew a thing or two about herding and managing children, as she’d grown up as the eldest cub in the Aqours pack, and she was happy to lend her little sister a helping hand. Once the cubs were distracted, Setsuna used the opportunity to slip away and find Kasumi.

Their bedroom was empty, but Setsuna heard the water running in the bathroom down the hall, and figured Kasumi must have decided to shower. While she waited, Setsuna finally took herself out of her stiff, sharp work clothes and changed into a loose pair of shorts and one of her old anime t-shirts. Making the change from the constricting business clothes to the comfy home ones was one of her favorite daily pleasures, and the gods only knew how much Setsuna needed those little joys these days. She crawled into the bed and drew up the covers, thinking she’d only just rest her eyes, but instead slipped almost directly into sleep.

“Setsuna.”

The alpha’s eyes fluttered open at the sound of her mate’s voice. Kasumi was sitting beside her, smelling faintly of floral soap and with her hair still damp. Setsuna sat up and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips, noting the slight redness in her eyes.

“Are you okay now?” she asked.

“I’ll be fine,” Kasumi assured her, and quickly changed the subject. “Is Yuki home yet? It’s way after seven.”

Setsuna glanced at the clock on their nightstand, then frowned back at her wife. “I haven’t seen her, but then again, I fell asleep…”

The pair of them decided to return downstairs to check for their eldest daughter. There they found Miyu sitting happily at the table with a bowl of pudding, and Karin engaging her in conversation. Kasumi fixed Karin with her meanest, sharpest glare at the sight of her clearly indulging Miyu behind Ai’s back.

“You gave her dessert after all?” Kasumi asked.

“She ate so well at dinner, I thought she deserved a little reward,” Karin explained.

Kasumi didn’t have the energy to even begin to explain to Karin how wrong she was, so she settled for a simple sneer instead. Normally she liked to butt out of other parents’ affairs, but Miyu had been manhandling Karin since she learned to talk, and it was hard to watch the once-sweet little cub turn into a terror tornado.

“Well, anyway,” Kasumi said, “has Yuki come home yet? She’s gonna be in big trouble if not!”

“I’m worried about her,” Setsuna said with a glance at the front door. “She doesn’t usually stay out late on purpose. What if something happened? We should call her, Kasumi…”

As if on cue, the lock on the front door clicked open, and Yuki stepped meekly inside, shoulders hunched and a scarf wrapped snug and warm about her neck. She paused when she noticed most of the family seated in the living room, fiddling with the video game system and setting up controllers, and flushed beet red when she saw that her parents were present, too, on the stairs by the kitchen. Some overpowering mix of perfume and musk clung to the young omega, and it filled the room quickly, alerting everyone present to the cub’s activities.

“Yuki…” Kasumi began, her face slowly contorting itself into a fierce scowl.

“I’m sorry I’m late!” Yuki blurted. “I-I’m just going to change clothes.” She slid quickly past her parents and took herself up the stairs, cheeks burning and fur playing at her skin.

“You stink!” Miyu called after her, and was promptly chastised by Karin.

All the adults in the room made brief eye contact. They’d all once been horny teenage cubs, and thus were well familiar with the ineffective perfume trick, which was perhaps the most popular musk coverup for first-time secret matings. The ever-helpful Ayumu began to whoop and cheer to whip the cubs back into an excited frenzy over their video game and distract them once again from the drama about to unfold. Setsuna turned to Kasumi, her eyes huge and horrified at the scent that still lingered in the air.

“Kasumi, who…?”

Kasumi gave her mate’s shoulder an affectionate rub. “Leave it to me, alright?” she said. “It’s better if she hears it from an omega.”

Setsuna was also far too jittery when it came to bodily matters to really make an impact on the cub, but Kasumi chose to omit that particular reason. Their two youngest, Suzuko and Emi, who were six and four respectively, came running to tug at their father’s hands, pleading with her to join their video game. After ensuring once again that Kasumi could handle Yuki, Setsuna allowed the little ones to pull her into the living room, where Ayumu was waiting to challenge her. Kasumi watched them go with affection fluttering in her tummy; even after all these years, the sight of Setsuna interacting so tenderly with their cubs was a deeply attractive one. If only cubs could stay small and innocent forever… but, unfortunately, all cubs eventually grow up, and most start experimenting with some not-so-innocent behaviors.

It couldn’t be helped. Kasumi took herself back up the stairs and rapped authoritatively on Yuki’s door, but received no answer. Water was running in the bathroom, and Kasumi realized her cub was likely busy eradicating the scent of sex from her body. She was forced to wait a while, so Kasumi returned to her own bedroom to tidy up a bit and think over how to approach this delicate subject with her cub.

She couldn’t be too angry with Yuki, not really – not when Kasumi herself had spent the better part of her teen years with her hands playing beneath Setsuna’s skirt. Of course, those sneaky little touches hadn’t resulted in a full-on mating until the pair of them were nearly out of high school, but Yuki was the product of that first, explosive union, and that’s what scared Kasumi the most. She was determined not to become a grandmother in her thirties, but more importantly, she wanted to keep her cub from the stresses of early motherhood and allow her to enjoy her youth.

When the sound of the water stopped and she was certain that Yuki was back in her room, Kasumi went back and knocked more gently this time. Yuki answered with her head bowed, plainly trying to conceal the whopping pair of love bites that decorated her neck. Kasumi noticed, but opted to say nothing about them.

“I’m sorry I was so late, Mama,” she said. “I know you said to be home by dinner…”

“The leftovers are in the fridge for you,” Kasumi said. “But wait – we need to talk, and you know it.”

Yuki averted her eyes and allowed her mother inside. Kasumi shut the door behind her, and the two of them sat side by side on the bed, Yuki with her head still bowed and Kasumi wearing a contemplative frown.

“Alright, I know you didn’t go to Mei’s,” Kasumi said at last. “Who did you mate with?”

Yuki gave a little start at her mother’s forthrightness, and her cheeks flushed bright red. With her dark hair to match, she looked every bit like the easily-flustered Setsuna in that moment.

“I-I didn’t mate with anyone!” the cub insisted. “We just… were trying on some sprays, and then…”

“Save it,” was Kasumi’s curt reply. “In case you forgot, Yuki-chan, you are one of five cubs. I know what sex musk smells like, and I smelled it on you underneath all that perfume. You thought I wouldn’t be able to tell, right?”

Despite her best efforts to hold it back, Yuki’s fur began to push itself through her skin as shame gripped her. She was a good girl, after all – she’d never been in real trouble before, and had always done well in school, too. Now, with her mother staring straight through her, she found frightened tears welling in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” was all she could manage to choke out.

Kasumi softened at the sight of the tears. No parent in their right mind ever wants to see their children cry, and Kasumi was no exception, but she also had no qualms about protecting her cub from questionable decisions and people. Better that her baby cried now, with her, than later at the hands of some pissheaded little alpha.

“What’s her name?” Kasumi pressed her again. “If you like her so much, why not invite her for dinner sometime? I’d like to know who my little cub is hanging out with, anyway.”

His name is Kensuke,” Yuki said, and then hesitated briefly, ears twitching. “He’s… He’s kind of shy, so I don’t know if he’d want to come over.”

Kasumi’s expression faltered a bit at the sex of her cub’s partner (that certainly explained the lateness), but she bounced back quickly lest Yuki think she disapproved entirely. “We could always go out someplace together with Papa instead,” she suggested. “That’d be a little more personal, right? Besides, I think Papa would like to meet your boyfriend, too.”

Yuki glanced warily at the phone lying on her pillow. “I mean, I could ask him, but he’ll probably say no.”

“Well, ask him anyway,” Kasumi said. “I don’t exactly feel comfortable letting my little girl run around with some alpha I haven’t even met, you know. You’re not off the hook for lying to me, either – you’re gonna come straight home after school every day from now on, got it?”

“Yes, Mama.” Yuki knew there was little use in arguing; her punishment could have been much worse, but Kasumi was a fair and ultimately tender mama.

With that taken care of for the time being, Kasumi returned to the living area, where the Kart tournament was winding down. Ayumu was in the lead, naturally, followed by her own cub, an alpha called Kasane. Kasumi’s cubs Tomori and Aya sat in third and fourth places, though Tomori was quickly gaining on Kasane. Kasumi was surprised to see that the game-loving Setsuna had fallen out of the race, but when she came closer, the reason became clear. Her mate was sprawled on the other couch, fast asleep with her mouth hanging just slightly open.

“Papa fell asleep, huh?” Kasumi asked her two youngest, who had fallen out of the tournament early and taken to playing with their toys nearby.

“She said she was just getting comfortable,” Suzuko replied. “Now she looks like Kanata!”

Exhaustion was a long-term specter in Setsuna’s life. Since the very day she found out she was going to be a father for the first time, the poor alpha had been working her tail off, but she was far too proud to accept work from someone like Ai, with whom she could have a job that still supported her family but without working herself down to the bone. She paid the price for her stubbornness during moments like these, when she should have been playing with her cubs, but her worn body forced her to sleep.

She woke with a little encouragement from Kasumi and the little ones, and then dragged herself up to her bedroom, where she promptly collapsed into the blankets to wait for her wife while she bathed the cubs. She tried her hardest to keep her eyes open so that she might be able to talk to Kasumi for a while, but it felt too satisfying when she closed them, and she was asleep again before she knew it. She stirred again only when she felt Kasumi slide into the bed beside her and begin to kiss and nuzzle at her face.

“Wake up,” Kasumi said. “We need to talk.”

Setsuna rumbled a little and forced herself upright. Kasumi immediately pressed herself up against the alpha, clearly hungry for her attention, which Setsuna was happy to deliver.

“How’s Yuki-chan?” Setsuna asked, though she feared the answer.

“She’s seeing an alpha boy,” Kasumi replied, and snickered at the immediate disgust that spread on her mate’s face. “I had a feeling you wouldn’t like that.”

“Of course I don’t like it,” Setsuna said. “I don’t want my baby exposed to that! Did you cut her off?”

“I wouldn’t do that to her,” Kasumi said. “She’s an omega girl, Setsuna. Sometimes omega girls happen to like alpha boys – that’s just the way of things! …Have you ever wished you could knot me, baby?”

Setsuna’s face burned bright red almost instantly. “No! I haven’t!”

Kasumi had a hearty laugh at that. “Okay, okay, but seriously, I told her to invite him over for dinner this weekend. I expect you to be on your best behavior!”

Setsuna grumbled, but there was little use in trying to argue. The last thing she wanted was to push her rapidly-maturing Yuki away, so she’d have to play along. In any case, Kasumi seemed to be done talking about that, and was now busy running her fingers along Setsuna’s thighs. It’d been a depressingly long time since they’d made love, so even with the weariness that gnawed at her consciousness and the phantom of an early morning that loomed over her, Setsuna was happy to accept Kasumi’s tentative squeeze to the front of her shorts.

They twisted themselves together then, as they so often did, their kisses sloppy and hungry, and their hands bolder with every burning touch. But when the time finally came that Kasumi begged for her alpha to fuck her, Setsuna was struck with confusion at her body’s unwillingness to cooperate, and she hesitated.

“What’s wrong?” Kasumi asked. She slid her panties down her legs and tossed them away, hoping Setsuna might be stirred into action at the sight of the tempting pink underneath.

It wasn’t that Setsuna didn’t want to plow headlong into her mate – she did, very much! But before she could even begin to explain what the problem was, the impatient Kasumi grabbed her waistband and yanked her shorts down. It was perhaps only a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity and a half that Kasumi sat there, silent, and stared at Setsuna’s reddened but still near completely limp penis. Setsuna was agonizingly aware of the implications – that is, that she didn’t want Kasumi – but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I-I’m sorry!” Setsuna spluttered at last. “I just… I can’t get in the mood tonight, Kasumi. I’m really sorry!”

“Well, you seemed in the mood a minute ago,” Kasumi said. “But… no problem! It happens. Let’s just sleep.”

Kasumi really tried to smile and reassure her mate, but in the end she couldn’t mask her disappointment and her embarrassment, and guilt ripped through Setsuna’s chest. What their marriage needed at the moment was the same deep intimacy they’d always shared, an assurance of the other’s love, but with Setsuna’s body now failing to deliver, it made her feel inadequate, and actually scared. She tried to cuddle up close to her mate, but was met with a deep warning growl, and so was forced to retreat to her half of the bed alone.

She could only hope this wouldn’t last.

 

The following morning, Ai finally found the strength to pull herself out of the bed and take a shower on her own. There was still a weariness in her body and a quiver in her step, but that was to be expected after a week of feverish bedrest. Karin was still asleep, and normally Ai might have woken her, but this time she let her be, as her alpha had spent the entire week waiting hand and foot on Ai and the cubs, and she was no doubt exhausted.

The smell of breakfast drew Ai downstairs, baby Natsumi on her hip, but rather than finding the usual lighthearted family meal, the air was laced with all sorts of tension. Kasumi and Setsuna weren’t engaging in their usual lovey-dovey rituals, and in fact were hardly looking at each other at all! Based on that and Setsuna’s slumped shoulders, Ai assumed something must have happened between them. Their daughter Yuki, too, kept her head bowed, avoiding eye contact with everyone, and Ai thought she saw a deeply-colored splotch on the young omega’s neck.

It wasn’t just the Sakurauchis who were behaving oddly, either. Kiyoko and Yumi both seemed uncomfortable, though Kiyoko expressed this through nervous tension and a great frown, while Yumi sat stone-faced, her eyes hardened in such a way that it reminded Ai of Yumi’s blood father. How much drama could have possibly gone down while Ai was sick, anyway?

“Mama!”

Miyu sprang from her seat and attached herself to her mother, grinning hugely. All was forgiven from yesterday, it seemed (though Ai was still in the dark about her sneaky helping of pudding).

“Mama, you smell good, are you better now?” the little alpha asked as Ai slid into her spot at the table with the baby in her lap.

“I’m feeling a little better today!” Ai said, and rubbed the rumbling cub’s back. “I didn’t miss too much, did I? Hehe! What’s for breakfast?”

Shizuku delivered a plate to the table, covered in a hearty breakfast typical of the Kousaka sisters (their parents taught them well in the ways of the kitchen), and Ai realized then how hungry she really was. Since she fell ill she’d only eaten light, plain foods, or simply foregone food altogether in favor of fluids, but now, with her fever broken and her head on straight, her body demanded some real sustenance.

“Glad to see you’re feeling better, Ai!” Shizuku said with a cheery smile. “Karin’s been running herself ragged between you and the cubs!”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” Ai replied. “She’s still sleeping upstairs! I hope the kids haven’t been too much trouble.”

Kasumi glanced back at her from preparing her cubs’ lunchboxes. “Oh, they’ve been trouble, alright!”

Only the younger cubs and Sayuri talked much during the meal. Everyone else seemed far too tired (Kanata) or busy wrestling whatever somber thoughts were contributing to the heavy atmosphere. When the cubs at last marched off to school, and the adults to work (or, in Yumi’s case, the doctor – perhaps that was why she was so unhappy), Ai decided to pester Kasumi.

“Alright, spill it, Kasumin,” she said. “What’s gotten into everybody? Everything feels so… so… off! You and Setsuna finally get into a fight or something?”

Kasumi wrinkled her nose at that. “Not a fight,” she said, but didn’t continue, as the youngest cubs were still tumbling about the kitchen, eager, as cubs often are, to soak up some too-adult conversation.

Ai followed Kasumi’s gaze, realized the problem, and then called out to her little one. “Miyu-chan!” she said. “Take Emi and Haruka and go play outside! Go on!”

“It’s too cold outside!” Miyu whined.

“Then why don’t you go wake up Mommy and see if she’ll set up the kotatsu?” Ai suggested.

That sparked all three cubs into action, though little Haruka was spurred on mostly by the enthusiasm of Miyu and Emi, as she was too young herself to remember what a kotatsu even was. They climbed the stairs, giggling all the way, and with Kasumi warning them to let Haruka up first in case she tumbled. That left just baby Natsumi, who was still less than a year old and not likely to be bothered by discussion of Setsuna’s erectile difficulties.

“Well…” Kasumi began as she moved from the dining table to the living area, where she sank into the sofa with a great sigh. “I haven’t had sex in over a month. Possibly two. Probably two.”

“Uh, well, that’s a surprise,” Ai said, and she meant it. “Then again, wasn’t it about two months ago when-”

“Yes,” Kasumi interrupted, not willing to tread on that delicate subject again today. “I mean, I understand, kinda. We’ve both been grieving, but… It’s just that she feels so… distant, you know? It’s like she barely has time for me anymore. Last night we got so close – god, we were so close! - but she couldn’t even get it up! I mean, before she just kept putting it off, saying she was too tired, or busy, or whatever, but that? I mean, sheesh… Kinda makes you feel unattractive.”

Ai nuzzled into her longtime friend with a rumble. “Don’t say that,” she said. “Setsuna loves you! And I’m sure she still thinks you’re attractive! She’s just the sensitive type, right? So maybe all this is just messing with her more than she lets on.”

“I guess,” Kasumi said, and kicked her feet up into Ai’s lap, where Natsumi proceeded to be fascinated by them. “All I want is a little support. It’s been hard for me, too, you know. And… I mean… I just need dick, Ai, honestly. This is the longest I’ve gone without since even before we were married!”

Karin arrived back on the scene just in time to hear Kasumi describe how badly she “needed dick,” and Ai erupted into laughter at the alpha’s appalled expression. The cubs paid the omega’s crude mouth no mind, as they were far too excited about getting to warm themselves beneath the kotatsu just as soon as Karin dragged it out from the hallway closet.

“Sooo, anyway, what else did I miss?” Ai asked, hoping the answer might be somewhat more family-friendly. “Kiyoko and Yumi seemed upset somehow, too. And Yuki-chan…?” She gestured to her own neck, hoping Kasumi would understand.

“Yumi’s just mad because I told her she might be pregnant,” Kasumi said. “I mean, I was just saying. It's a legitimate possibility! As for Yuki, well… She’s got a boyfriend, apparently. Yes, boy – alpha boy. Setsuna’s pissed.”

“I told you she had a boyfriend!” Emi shouted from the other couch.

It was incredible how much family drama one could miss while being sick and bedridden for just one week. Ai supposed Kasumi’s sexual and marital problems had been brewing for a while, but pregnant Yumi was a surprise – that explained the random doctor’s visit. If Kiyoko took after Eli at all, she’d make a fine father someday, if not now, but Yumi’s face this morning was much less promising. It was a seriously life-changing event, after all, and Yumi was still in school besides.

“Do you think you’re well enough to take a trip to Tokyo this weekend?” Karin asked out of the blue.

“Not really, no,” Ai answered truthfully. “Why? Is everything okay?”

Karin at last attached the tabletop, and the kotatsu was completed. She switched it on, and the cubs immediately tucked themselves beneath it to enjoy the warmth.

“Everything’s fine, it’s just I got a message from Ryo asking if we wanted to go to dinner with her tomorrow, but back home, obviously,” Karin said. “Besides, we haven’t seen our parents in a while. It’d be nice to visit.”

Miyu burst out from beneath the kotatsu at the mention of visiting her grandparents. “Mommy!” she cried. “Can we please go? Nonna said we could go horseback riding next time!”

Karin chuckled and scooped the baby alpha up into her lap. “Mama said she’s not feeling well enough to go,” she said. “We might have to wait until next weekend instead.”

Miyu snarled her displeasure and showed her quickly-sharpening fangs, not out of true anger, but simply as a test of her father’s will. Ai showed her own fangs and gave the cub’s hair a rough tousle.

“Stop that,” she said, and sent Miyu into a pout instead. “Karin, why don’t you take Miyu this weekend? It’ll be nice for her to get out of the house, and you, too!”

“Mama and Mom will want to see both grandcubs,” Karin reminded her.

“So we can all go together some other time,” Ai said. “But why don’t you take her this weekend? You can see Ryo, and Miyu can see her grandparents. Besides! It’ll be cute, like… one-on-one alpha time!”

Kasumi raised her eyebrows at the thought of Karin and Miyu being left to their own devices for a weekend. She was concerned mainly for Karin – the poor woman would be completely at the mercy of her wily alpha cub, with no hope of Ai showing up to rein her in and save the day. Then again, perhaps Karin might be blessed with some of Nozomi and Eli’s parenting magic if they happened to witness one of Miyu’s godawful meltdowns. And in that case, well, who was Kasumi to try and stop them?

Chapter Text

The evening was considerably less chaotic without Miyu present, although Ai seemed to miss her baby alpha, and her mate, too. Both were packed and gone to Tokyo for a few days to visit with their birth packs, leaving the still-weary Ai and baby Natsumi to stay home. Kasumi was thankful for their absence tonight, not because she wanted to be ugly or mean, but because she could focus on getting dinner on the table without an additional and very loud little one begging at her feet for scraps or screaming that she didn’t like the meal, and also because she was expecting a guest tonight.

Kensuke, who was Yuki’s boyfriend – and the word still made her parents shudder – was to visit and have dinner with the pack tonight. Yuki had thus spent the hours since arriving home from school with her fur pushing through involuntarily while, ears twitching, she alternated between glancing at the window, the front door, and her phone. Kasumi found her anxious behavior endearingly similar to that of Setsuna’s, and she supposed it was natural for bringing a new mate home for the first time.

Some members of the pack were less than thrilled at the news of an alpha male coming into their home.

“Are you stupid?” Sayuri demanded of Setsuna and Kasumi. She was keenly aware that she and Karin were the biggest and strongest alphas in the pack, and with Karin absent, the pressure to protect the family was greater than ever. “We have cubs here! I don’t want some alpha guy knowing where our family lives! Anything could happen, and it’ll be your fault if it does!”

There was always a risk involved when it came to meeting with strange alphas, but, should things go south, one boy, alpha or no, wasn’t likely to do much damage against a large group of adult shifters.

“Besides,” Kasumi reasoned, “it’s Yuki-chan. I don’t like the idea of a boy in here, either, but I trust her dating choices. She’s a good cub.”

Still, the pack decided that a quick patrol was in order, just as a subtle demonstration of their strength. Normally, scent marking was an activity reserved for the dead of night, when other folks weren’t likely to be awake to see them, but their pack was lucky enough to live on a relatively secluded property, so this daylight marking wasn’t such a big deal. As Yuki’s father, Setsuna lead the charge, and left her scent at all the choicest spots along and within the bounds of their territory, with Sayuri never far away.

“I still think you’re crazy for letting this guy come here,” Sayuri said once their bladders were empty and their property thoroughly scented. “You could’ve at least asked the rest of us.”

“Well, we’ve got… the home turf advantage,” Setsuna replied weakly. She wasn’t quite willing to admit that she hadn’t considered the consequences in detail, she simply wanted to make her little cub happy. “I just don’t want Yuki-chan to feel like she has to sneak and go behind my back, you know? I want her to know I’m supporting her.”

“I get what you’re saying, but I still agree with Sayuri,” Kiyoko said. “You should’ve thought about the other cubs’ safety first. And Yumi’s been on edge ever since she found out, too.”

“I don’t think this is as big a deal as you guys are making it out to be,” Setsuna said. “First of all, if he wanted to hurt anyone, he’d have already hurt Yuki, and she seems to like him a lot, so I don’t think that’s the case. And besides that, he’s still just a boy. We’re grown alphas – I’m not as weak as I used to be, in case you forgot.”

“I guess,” Sayuri said, and seemed willing to let the subject go for now, though she still flicked her tail this way and that in unspoken annoyance.

“So,” Shizuku said after a beat of tense silence, “how did Yumi’s appointment go, Kiyoko-chan? I haven’t seen her at all since you got back.”

“Oh…” Kiyoko’s ears drooped down and her tail fell limp, and she seemed reluctant to answer. “She’s… not happy. I mean, I think she’s just overwhelmed. It’s a big deal, but… well, not completely unexpected, I suppose.”

“So she is pregnant,” Sayuri said. “How far along?”

“How far do you think?” Kiyoko asked, and whipped her tail against Sayuri’s. “Nearly three months.”

The other alphas all nodded sympathetically. Yumi had quite a dark history with matters of sex and otherwise intimate acts, and while at this point she’d had many more happy years than painful ones, the phantoms of her early cubhood still haunted her in some ways. It was understandable, then, that she might object to a pregnancy; a new and tiny cub taking root in her belly and growing there was, to her, a severe violation of the autonomy her adoptive parents had fostered in her and which she treasured above all else.

“I’m sure she’ll warm up once she gets to see the first ultrasound,” Setsuna assured the younger alpha as they returned to the house. “Just let me or Kasumi know if you need any help or any advice, okay?”

“Thanks, Setsuna.”

The alphas filed back into their family home, which now smelled pleasantly like dinner. There was still no sign of Kensuke, though; there hadn’t even been any passing cars or people while they were out marking up their property. Yuki was growing ever more anxious, and it was hard to tell if it was due to Kensuke’s absence or his imminent arrival. A couple of pings from her phone gave her a start, and she quickly opened up the messages.

“Oh…”

Kasumi, who was busy setting the table with Kiyoko, immediately picked up on her daughter’s disappointed tone. “What is it?” she asked.

“Kensuke said he’s not gonna be able to make it,” Yuki said, her still-fuzzy ears twitching. “He said he got called in to work… But he also said he’d be willing to meet up for lunch someplace tomorrow. Is that okay, Mama?”

The news was not pleasing to the mother omega. She shook her head at the meal now spread out on the table – the foods she chose today were more traditional in nature, as she wasn’t sure what Kensuke liked to eat. “I made all this food…” she grumbled. “We can meet with him tomorrow at noon, I guess… You choose the place, Yuki-chan. But! You tell him he better show up on time – I’m not exactly impressed at getting ditched last-minute like this.”

There was a rapid series of taps on her phone, and Yuki had sent off the (no doubt much more friendly) message to her mate.

“Well, Yumi might want to join us now,” Kiyoko said as the pack gathered around the table. “I’ll go see how she’s feeling.”

She found Yumi at the desk in their bedroom, scribbling away in a notebook. She’d been taking advantages of the benefits of journaling since cubhood, when it was first suggested to her by her therapist. She’d since gone through well over a dozen notebooks, in which she wrote about life events, her thoughts on any number of topics, creative stories, and sometimes she even made drawings. Some of these entries she shared with Kiyoko, and the alpha was always happy to get a little more insight into her mate’s often-complicated inner emotions. Today, however, Yumi closed the book at the sight of Kiyoko.

“Yuki’s boyfriend can’t make it to dinner,” Kiyoko said. “You can come down and eat with us, it’s okay. Or… do you want me to bring a plate up?”

“Let’s eat together in here,” Yumi suggested. “I don’t want to talk to anyone else right now.”

So Kiyoko went down and made up two plates for them, all the while explaining to the other members of the pack that the pair of them needed some private time. The alphas all understood (as they’d already been told the news), and the omegas, particularly Kasumi, had their suspicions about what had happened. When Kiyoko brought their food up, she found Yumi had laid an old box in the floor to serve as a table.

“How are you feeling?” Kiyoko asked as they settled together at the box-table.

The hard iciness had gone from Yumi’s eyes, replaced now with a pensive sort of gloom. That still was a far cry from the well of joy that bubbled up from Kiyoko’s heart upon discovering that she was to be a father. Her delight now was tempered only by her mate’s worrisome reluctance.

“I just don’t think I want to be a mother,” Yumi said after a time. “I don’t think I can be one, Kiyoko.”

Kiyoko wrinkled her brow at those soft, yet hurtful words. “But why not?” she asked, rubbing a gentle hand along her omega’s back. “That cub is made from you and me. It’s ours.”

“I know that,” Yumi said. “That’s not the issue here. It’s just that… Children require so much. I don’t think I can give that to them. I wouldn’t be suitable as a mother, Kiyoko, I’ve just got… too much going on. I could never forgive myself if I hurt them.”

“We won’t be doing it alone,” Kiyoko said. “We’ve got the whole pack to support us. I know you’re still in school, and I want you to finish your degree, but we can still make this work. Please?”

Yumi heaved a great sigh. The thinly-veiled desperation in her wife’s voice was breaking her heart, and yet still she couldn’t bear the thought of suffering through pregnancy and childbirth and raising a cub – it was too much. She wasn’t cut out for it. “You wouldn’t understand how I feel about this,” she said. “You were born into a normal family who loved you, but I wasn’t.”

“So why wouldn’t you want to give your own cub a normal, loving family?” Kiyoko pressed her. “There’s no need to pass on your pain. Besides, you have You and Chika and all of Aqours as your family. And Muse, too. Your father is dead, Yumi – we can raise the cub our way.”

Yumi sighed softly. Her father was indeed dead, gone for many years, and that much was a relief. But, dead as she was, her horrific actions had left a hideous and permanent mark on the psyche of her daughter, as evidenced most strongly when it came to matters of sex. Yumi loved Kiyoko dearly, and mating with her was pleasurable more often than not, but they’d taken a long and difficult road to reach the point of freely making love. The memory of Naoko’s repeated violations of her innocence was one too difficult to shake completely, and even now Yumi sometimes had to put off sex until a later, more clear-minded time.

“It’s not that simple, Kiyoko,” Yumi said, and frowned at Kiyoko’s perplexed expression. She didn’t expect her mate to understand her reluctance to become a parent; Kiyoko had been born to parents who loved her, who supported her, who would die for her, and that upstanding blood was in Kiyoko’s veins, and it showed. Yumi, meanwhile, was raised by adoptive parents in the Aqours pack, and while she was eternally grateful to them for providing her with a normal cubhood and a stable, loving support system, she was also depressingly aware that she did not share their blood. Her real father was a killer, a rapist, a trickster and a narcissist, and Yumi’s greatest fear was damaging her cub the same way Naoko had once damaged her.

 

The thumping was getting old. Despite Karin providing Miyu with a multitude of kid-friendly backseat activities, from video games to coloring books to toys and movie players, the cub seemed to derive the most enjoyment from kicking at the back of her poor Mommy’s seat. Thump, thump, thump, all the way down the highway, and with another hour still left of their trip, Karin was ready to snap.

“Miyu!” she snarled, and got a good, fierce look at the cub through her rearview mirror. “I told you already to stop kicking my seat!”

“But it’s fun!” the insolent little cub insisted, and gave the seat a few hearty kicks just to watch Karin’s face turn to fury.

“It is not fun,” Karin said. “If you don’t stop that right now I’ll tell Nonna, and she won’t want to take you horseback riding after that!”

“Yes she will!” Miyu replied. “Nonna loves me!”

“I love you, too, but I don’t love the way you’re acting!”

No amount of back-and-forth could persuade the rude baby alpha, and so Karin endured the kicking and the thumping and the maddening little giggles until they were perhaps a half hour away from their destination. It was then that Miyu announced that she needed the toilet, and quickly, so Karin pulled off the highway and stopped at the first decent-looking convenience store she could find. That was a mistake, of course, because convenience stores are built on the power of impulse buys, and impulse buys are fueled by bright, colorful packaging and tantalizing presentation – all things that children loved. Karin watched helplessly as her previously desperate-to-potty cub bolted to the first aisle full of candy and snacks and began to paw through it all.

“Look how much stuff they have, Mommy!”

“They do have a lot of stuff,” Karin said, shaking her head at all the sweets and chips Miyu would no doubt be begging for in the next few minutes. “But we came here to use the bathroom, right? Come on, let’s go find it.”

“I just want to look, Mom,” Miyu said as she turned a few packages over in her hands.

“Potty first,” Karin said, and took the cub by the hand, leading her to the corner, where the lone restroom awaited. Miyu whined loudly, but, to Karin’s relief, she didn’t put up much resistance.

“I’ll wait for you out here,” Karin said, and shut Miyu in the single toilet to do her business.

A beta woman with a little girl approached not long afterward, and Karin greeted them with a polite nod.

“My daughter is inside,” she explained.

The betas were understanding, and so the three of them waited there in silence for Miyu to finish up. It was several minutes later, when Miyu still hadn’t come out and the little beta girl was beginning to tug at her mother’s sleeve, that Karin decided to knock.

“Miyu-chan, are you almost done?” she asked through the door. “There’s someone waiting in line.”

“Almost!” came Miyu’s voice, followed by the sound of running water.

The door came open not long after that, and Miyu emerged with a great big smile on her face. She took Karin’s hand and pulled her eagerly back towards the sales floor, where the tempting treats were waiting for her. Karin, however, caught scent of something she shouldn’t have, and a gasp of surprise from the beta woman behind her confirmed her suspicions.

Karin turned to the still-open bathroom door and found that the white tile inside was covered in droplets and tiny puddles of yellow, mostly along the walls and surrounding the toilet. The beta woman looked absolutely appalled, and Karin was appalled, too, but not nearly so much as she was embarrassed. At least the betas couldn’t smell the cub’s crimes as easily.

“Miyu Ayase!”

Miyu knew she’d been found out, and instantly took off, leaving her mother with the choice to either clean the offending piss up or chase after her. Karin hesitated, torn between being a decent person and cleaning up after her cub so that the beta child could comfortably use the restroom, and being a responsible parent and reining her daughter in. In the end, keeping her unruly cub out of harm’s way took priority, and she bowed a quick apology to the beta mother before running after Miyu.

“I’m so sorry!”

She found her little alpha munching away at some meat snacks, and quickly snatched the food from her hands. Miyu growled and showed her little claws, but Karin wasn’t afraid of baby cubs, and began to drag the furious child up to the front counter.

“We have to pay for this now because you opened it,” Karin said, and offered the open bag of jerky for the clerk to scan.

Miyu jerked her hand out of her mother’s grasp with a snarl, and moved swiftly to the back of the store, where the drink coolers were located. Just the sound of her pursuing mother’s shoes against the linoleum sent angry vibrations through her body, and her fur forced itself through her skin. When Karin appeared around the corner, Miyu met her with the fiercest roar she could muster as a five year-old cub, and began to sling the cooler doors open to keep the older alpha away.

“Miyu, stop it!” Karin shouted, flinching each time the glass doors swung at her face. Her own fur was beginning to show on her cheeks, and her fingernails were already stiffening and sharpening into claws. “Get over here, now! Or else we’re going straight home!”

Miyu soon backed herself into the wall and ran out of cooler doors to fling at her mother. The idea of heading right back home without even seeing any of her grandparents only heightened her rage, but rather than running away, this time she latched onto her mother, assaulting her with tiny claws and fangs and leaving thin rips in her jacket.

“Stop!” Karin demanded, and shoved the cub away to hold her by the wrists at arm’s length. Miyu writhed and snarled and kicked and stomped her little feet, and Karin was at a loss of what to do next. She barely even understood why Miyu was having such a violent fit in the first place, but she was left to somehow calm the cub on her own.

With the piss-covered restroom and the open pack of jerky forgotten, Karin wrestled her little cub out into the parking lot, trying desperately to ignore the judgmental stares of the people passing by. Miyu fought her all the way, twisting furiously in her mother’s grip and roaring like a baby hell-fiend. Removing her from the store was one thing, but packing the enraged cub back into her booster seat was a task in itself, and Karin struggled against Miyu’s raking claws and well-aimed feet.

Even once Miyu was strapped in and secure, she continued to fuss and thrash, and Karin was at her wit’s end.

Why are you acting like this?!” Karin finally screamed, her voice cracking into that of a beast. “All I wanted to do was take you on a nice trip and you’re ruining it before we’re even there!”

Karin slammed the car door shut, and Miyu was stunned into silence, but only for a moment. Her mother’s harsh words pricked at her heart like a venomous stinger, and she began to wail in that awful half-animal way. Karin threw herself into the driver’s seat and turned the key, but she didn’t have the energy to take off just yet. Her frustrations with her daughter were at an all-time high, and, coupled with the guilt of her actions and the hurt little cub’s cries, she couldn’t bring herself to do much more than lean on the steering wheel and sob herself.

In that moment, Karin was certain that she was a failure as a parent. How on earth could she have snapped at her own child like that, and then had the nerve to cry about it, too? But Miyu never listened to her – with the pair of them it was always yelling and fighting over the most trivial of things, and at the drop of a hat. Ai never lost control with Miyu, and Kasumi and Setsuna never had issues with their own cubs, so what was it about Karin that made her unable to perform the simple task of keeping her cub safe and well-behaved?

A tap on her window drew her out of her thoughts. She looked up, and a man wearing a concerned expression was standing there. Karin rubbed quickly at her still-leaking eyes and tried to regain her composure before she rolled down the window. When she did, she realized by the man’s scent that he was an omega.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“I’m not trying to be nosy, but I noticed you and your cub inside the store, and I saw you crying here,” the man said. “I just wanted to make sure everything was okay.”

Karin was thankful that Miyu was finally calm and quiet (she was most likely too busy being perplexed by the concept of a male omega to cry any more). “Everything’s okay,” Karin said, though she wasn’t quite certain of it. “I appreciate your concern.”

The omega man passed a brown paper bag bearing the convenience store’s seal into Karin’s hands. “Stay strong,” he said. “I know what it’s like to have alpha cubs that little, but it gets better. Wish you well.”

He then went on his way, leaving the surprised Karin to open up the bag. It was a simple gesture, but a warm one – two doughnuts, one for mother and one for cub. Karin turned around to look at Miyu, who also seemed interested in the bag, but whose face turned to a distrustful scowl when Karin met her eyes.

“That nice man brought doughnuts for us,” Karin said, and handed one to the cub.

Miyu took the treat silently, and ate it without comment. Karin sighed and ate hers, as well, and once they were finished, she felt at least little more ready to tackle the last stretch of their trip to Akihabara.

 

Setsuna slept late the following morning. Normally she was up before the sun, tending to her own pre-work duties before the cubs awoke, and when they did, she helped Kasumi get them all dressed and groomed and fed before sending them off to school and herself off to work. Today was Saturday, though, and there was neither work for Setsuna nor school for the cubs, so Kasumi let her alpha sleep to her heart’s content… to a point, anyway.

It was a quarter till 11 when she finally came to shake her exhausted mate awake. Setsuna groaned and rolled onto her back, smacking her lips and peering up at Kasumi through barely-opened lids.

“What time is it?” she asked, her voice deep and crackly with sleep.

“It’s almost 11 now,” Kasumi said. “You’ve gotta get up now or we’ll be late to lunch.”

Setsuna sighed and let her eyes flutter shut again. She’d been sleeping so soundly she’d nearly forgotten about their lunch meeting with Yuki’s boyfriend. Oh, how she hated those words – Yuki’s boyfriend – but she forced herself to adopt Kasumi’s outlook and trust in her cub’s choices. She finally pushed herself upright after one final, mighty stretch, and decided that she was unusually musky and her hair needed fixing, so she gathered some fresh clothes and headed to the shower.

Downstairs, Sayuri was cleaning up the living area with little Haruka “helping” at her feet. Nearby, Ai was seated on the sofa beside a very pale, jittery, and lightly furred Yuki, with one hand patting the cub’s back gently and rhythmically.

“Easy, easy,” Ai was saying as Kasumi came down the stairs. “I’m sure things will turn out for the best! Think of it this way – if you guys started getting serious and wanted to stay together, your parents would’ve had to meet him anyway. So this is just moving things along in the right direction!”

“I just don’t know if they’ll approve,” Yuki replied. Her ears twitched when she caught sight and scent of Kasumi. “Mama!”

“Papa’s getting ready now,” Kasumi said, and went to plant a kiss on her anxious cub’s head. “We’ll leave in about thirty minutes.”

Yuki spent those thirty minutes breathing deeply and evenly in a failed attempt to soothe the butterflies flapping up a storm in her belly, and if she wasn’t doing that, she was obsessively checking her phone for messages from Kensuke. Even once they left the house, she felt as though her heart might burst at any moment, so fiercely was it pounding at her chest. Her parents seemed relaxed enough at least, with Papa humming along quietly to the radio and Mama staring out at the sunny autumn day passing them by.

The cafe they chose for lunch was a laid-back, casual one, nothing upscale or uptight. Once they were seated and settled with drinks, Yuki began to sip nervously at hers, all the while glancing at the door and at the large windows that faced the sidewalk.

“You look pretty today, baby girl,” Setsuna said. She took a few tentative sips of her coffee, and then asked, “What is it you’re so nervous about?”

Yuki didn’t know how to answer the question. This shouldn’t have even been happening in the first place – her parents weren’t meant to ever find out about her secret boyfriend, the alpha who made her feel so loved and so desired, in such a manner she’d only ever read about in stories. They would never approve of him, and they’d never understand exactly the way she felt about him, and Yuki was quite certain of this.

“It’s because she takes after you,” Kasumi said, and gave Setsuna a playful swat. “So, come on, Yuki-chan, tell us more about him before he gets here! Where’d you meet? Is he handsome?”

“H-he’s handsome…” Yuki replied timidly. “He, um… He has a car, too.”

“A car, huh?” Kasumi laughed, but then she paused, gears turning rapidly in her head. “…Wait, how does he have a car? How old is this kid, anyway?”

“He’s, uh…”

The chimes at the front door jingled, signaling the arrival of a new diner. Almost immediately afterward, Setsuna and Kasumi caught the overwhelmingly offensive scent of an alpha male, and their furs burst in and stood on end in incredible alarm. At once they whirled around and identified the source of the pungent musk – a sharp-dressed alpha man perhaps in his thirties, around their age, who was coming straight for their table.

Setsuna couldn’t take it. A thunderous warning growl rumbled deep in her throat, and she rose up from her seat, using her own body to block access to both Kasumi and Yuki, her claws and fangs on frightening display. Kasumi, too, despite being shielded by Setsuna, was fully shifted, snarling, and poised to strike at any moment.

The deep, bellowing snarl that the alpha man delivered in reply was fearsome, indeed, but Setsuna didn’t dare back down, not when her mate and her cub were here. The most primal parts of her were practically on fire, screaming at her to fight, to defend her family and drive this threatening alpha away, or, preferably, into the ground. The only thing that held her back from launching a full-on assault on the man was a timid tug at the back of her shirt.

“Papa, don’t,” Yuki said. “Please don’t. This… This is Kensuke.”