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Love Bites

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Cade King swirled the remains of his cheap well whisky, one long day bleeding into a longer night. He tapped one sharp claw against the cloudy dishwasher etched glass. On a full moon like tonight, his claws refused to submit to clipping or filing. The lunar energy pulsed in his veins like a transfusion. He grimaced at himself in the mirrored bar back, ran his tongue over his sharp, overlapping canines. The mark of an Alpha, the only werewolf capable of bestowing the Bite to a human, dooming them. His fangs couldn’t retract until the moon set making it impossible to pass for human. He shifted uncomfortably on his barstool, the other thing that made it impossible to pass also made it difficult to find jeans with a proper fit. The full moon was such a waste of time.

Cade sighed and watched the other werewolves argue over darts and the pinball machine. They were barely pups, they still reeked of humanity. He glanced up at the security cameras. It was better to be with other werewolves and friendly humans on the full moon, they provided alibis. There was less of a chance that someone would accuse you of an atrocity if you were in a crowd.

He pulled his hood up to cover his tufted ears. There was no reason to grow hair on your ears, that was just another stupid part of being a werewolf. Cade scratched at his fluffy beard, just starting to be shot through with sparks of grey. He’d shave everything in the morning. He drained the dregs of his drink and signaled to the bartender for another.

“Another long late full moon night,” Silas said as he poured Cade a double. “Some new troublemakers out and about. Sowing their oats. Just watching them is exhausting.”

Cade nodded and then sneezed, his nostrils flared. The hot wet scent of arousal wafted and flared from the direction of a back booth. “Talia is performing a small business transaction by the way.”

“Oh god damn it.” Silas slammed down a beer mug. “She’s going to get us shut down.” 

Cade shrugged. It wasn’t really his business but he didn’t want to smell sex when he hadn’t gotten laid in months. There was still the memory of a ring around his finger. If he wasn’t happy, then no one was going to be happy.

Talia skulked out of the back of the bar, adjusting her askew skirt to cover her thickly haired thighs, shooting Cade a dagger of a glare. “Thanks dick.” Cade saluted her with his drink.

“You know that the Patrol is out tonight, just looking for an excuse to shut down the only werewolf bar in town.” Silas snapped, showing his entirely human teeth. Smooth white normal teeth that didn’t shred dental floss. “If you can’t follow the rules then get the hell out.”

The pack of young wolves in pastel polo shirts with popped collars, hooted as Talia sat down at a table and began to polish her claws. She rolled her eyes at them and eventually they lost interest, returning to their darts and beer.

“Who the hell bit all those frat boys?” Silas asked, “I’ve never seen any of them before tonight.”

“Don’t know. Don’t care.” Cade replied, his mouth full of bitterness. “It isn’t any of my business. Anyone can buy the Bite.”

“You’ve never Bitten anyone. You could name your price. The great Killer Cade.” Silas wiped down the bar.

Cade winced and hoped no one had heard that. A room full of full moon intoxicated werewolves with exquisite hearing, the odds were not in his favor. “Don’t call me that. That’s not who I am anymore.”

“Sure, sure.” Silas sighed as he stacked glasses. “Well you’re always welcome here.”

“That’s because I pay my tab and contribute to the decor.” Cade tapped his empty glass. “I burn this crap up faster than it could ever give me a buzz.”

“Then why do you drink it? It’s one step away from paint thinner.” Silas set the bottle beside Cade.

“Nostalgia, I suppose.” It was the only thing he could afford before he was Bitten. Before all his potential was stolen from him. “Brings back memories.”

The door opened and let in a gust of cold wind. Two rosy cheeked young men strode in with the self-confidence born of too much alcohol. They were human, probably out slumming. One shoved the other forward towards the bar and Silas raised an eyebrow. “ID please gentlemen.” He peered at the two plastic cards and handed them back. “Happy birthday, Steve.”

The smaller young man pulled off his knit cap, a puff of blonde hair stood on end with static electricity. “Thanks!” He looked around with wide-eyed wonder at the sports posters and memorabilia on the walls. “This is so cool.” The sincerity in his voice made Cade cringe. “Oh god, Denny, look look look over here—“ He wobbled to a display of mixed martial arts trophy belts. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful in all your life?”

Denny wasn’t paying any attention to his friend, he’d discovered Talia and she was treating him to a full display of her specialized talents. That didn’t stop Steve from practically mashing his face against the display case glass in adoration. “The heavyweight championship of the world… Cade King. Oh my god. Oh my god. Where did you get these?”

Silas smirked. “At a garage sale.” Cade tried to hide in his hoodie. “Twenty bucks for the whole lot.”

“Did you ever see him fight?” Steve stared up at the framed poster of a vein-popped snarling Cade, waxed within an inch of his life. He hiccuped. “I always wanted to. I always wanted to.”

“Cade King was a joke. A stupid fake pro wrestler and a stupid fake MMA fighter.” One of the frat boys dressed in a baby blue polo shirt, slid up behind Steve, looming over the short, slim young man. “He was on top of the world and he just vanished. Who would give up all that fame and fortune?” The tumbler in Cade’s hand suddenly cracked and he stared at the bead of blood on his palm.

Silas efficiently replaced the drink. “You want me to toss them out?” He spoke under his breath.

Cade shook his head. “I’ve heard worse.” Stupid and fake were kind words compared to how he thought of himself these days.

Steve shrugged, flush with liquid courage, still admiring the belt. “He was a legend. So beautiful. He was my hero.” It was just the cheap booze warming Cade’s gut, not a curl of need that he choked back and denied.

“He was a loser. He’s probably dead or something. Why don’t you come over and hang out with my friends and I. We’ll show you what real wolves are like.” Steve allowed himself to be herded over to the pack near the dart board and Cade turned his attention back to his empty glass and old empty dreams.

He never craved the attention, the spotlight. Why did the unexpected kind words of a fan cut so deeply? He gave it all up, all the toxic bullshit that mashed together to create both professional wrestling and mixed martial arts, just to prove that he could.

I never could walk away from a challenge. Big stupid Alpha.

“… I want the Bite, but—“ Steve’s voice slurred over the music, “’s too expensive. I’ve been saving since high school and—” Cade glanced over his shoulder as Steve threw up his hands in exasperation and almost fell out of his chair. His friend had left with Talia a while back.

“How many drinks have you served that kid?” Cade asked Silas. Silas held up a single finger. “One beer?” Shit. Something wasn’t right.   

“Hopeless. Just feels so hopeless.” Steve continued in a flood of sloppy confession. “I’ve worked so hard. But I’m too small to do what I want— I have to get the Bite— it’s the only way.”

Baby Blue Polo showed long fangs in his smile and the hair on the back of Cade’s neck rose in subconscious alarm. That douchebag wasn’t an Alpha. He didn’t smell right. Fake fangs. The predator leaned in and whispered into Steve’s ear, his green eyes widened in shock. “You can do that?”

Baby Blue Polo preened and dragged his fangs over the back of Steve’s hand. He lisped a bit with the fake fangs, but Steve was too plastered to notice. “I’ll do you for free, just a little trade. Ever had a wolf dick before?”

Steve shook his head but didn’t look offended or scared. He squared his shoulders  and balled up his fists even as he swayed. “If that’s what I have to do—“

Cade didn’t remember standing up and walking over to their table, he was just suddenly there. He picked up Steve’s beer bottle and gave it a sniff. The rancid sweet odor confirmed his suspicions. They’d drugged the kid. Fake fangs and roofies. The pack looked up at him as he stood behind Steve’s chair, six foot three inches of Alpha muscle that hadn’t diminished after his retirement. Working out cleared his mind, occupied his time, kept him from going crazy with loneliness. “I think you all should leave right now.”

Baby Blue Polo sneered up at him with bravado that smelled thin and false. “Fuck off you cock-blocker.” The other werewolves weren’t so brazen, they’d already scented his anger and moved towards the door. “He’s going home with me.” He grabbed at Steve and Cade caught his wrist in an iron-clad grip. Cade squeezed, grinding the small bones together to make his point, the other wolf fell to his knees whimpering in painful submission.

Cade curled back his lips in a snarl, exposing his long Alpha fangs. “Leave now before I toss you all out.” A push to emphasize his point propelled the fake Alpha to the door. The rest of the pack scrambled out behind him.

Steve stood up and poked Cade in the chest with a scrawny finger. The beer bottle rolled off the table and shattered. “Why!?” Furious green eyes locked with Cade’s and Cade took a reflexive step backwards. When was the last time anyone, especially a human, had dared to stand up to him? “Why did you do that? He was going to give me the Bite! You’ve ruined everything.” Steve stumbled out into the snow drifts, leaving his knit cap on the table behind him.

Cade’s mouth dropped open. He picked up the cap, soft blue wool caught on his claws. “What the hell just happened?”

Silas grabbed his broom and dustpan. “Well go after him. If you’re going to play bouncer, you gotta make sure he doesn’t die in a snowbank.”

It wasn’t his responsibility. It wasn’t his— Icy crusted snow crunched beneath his steel toed boots, glowing faint with moonlight and muted neon. “God I really hate the full moon.”

Cade closed his eyes and listened, his hood thrown back. They were down an alley, not too far away.

Baby Blue Polo stood over Steve and laughed. A trickle of blood leaked from Steve’s nose and Cade felt a growl build deep in the back of his throat. “You’re not good enough to be one of us. You’re small and poor and weak. Maybe I won’t break you in half fucking you—“ Steve hauled back and delivered a haymaker that staggered the fake Alpha. Cade blinked in surprise. The kid had great form, even while stumbling drunk. The would be rapist wiped blood from his mouth and snarled, “You’re going to regret that.”

It was too easy for Cade to seize the back of that polo shirt, punch him in the kidney and wrench his arm back, kicking his legs out from beneath him. Cade smashed the fake Alpha’s face into the pavement, bracing his knee against the small of his back. One of the other wolves risked a slash of claws at Cade and managed to tear the sleeve of his hoodie before scampering off down the alley in terror as Cade gnashed his fangs at the interloper. Cade threw back his head and howled with bloodlust. Just a little more pressure on the shoulder and he could rip the arm clean off. Just a little more. 

“Who the fuck are you?” The fake Alpha wheezed through bubbling bloody phlegm, writhing in spasms of pain.

Cade knelt down and grabbed a handful of hair, exposing his prey’s throat. Cade pulled off the fake fangs instead of ripping out his throat. “Someone who is too damn tired to deal with your crap. Now run away or I’ll make sure your body is never found.” The werewolf staggered in a stumbling crawl down the alley in the direction of his pack, he left a trail of blood in the snow.

The crisp winter air bit at Cade’s exposed skin, there were a few bloody long scratches down his tattooed forearm. It was nothing that wouldn’t heal by morning. The full moon was good at least for that.

Cade turned to Steve, who was probably traumatized from the attempted rape, the assault and from watching Cade destroy his foe. “Are you okay kid?”

Steve was staring at the tattoos on his arm, he gazed up at Cade with wide eyes and an open mouth. His breath fogged in the cold as he said, “You’re Killer Cade.”

Cade rubbed the back of his neck, suddenly sheepish. “Um, yeah.”

“You’re Killer Cade King.” Steve repeated. “Killer Cade. Killer Cade just kicked ass for me? Oh my god. Killer Ca—“ He took Cade’s hand and Cade hauled Steve to his feet. He was so light, a feather or thistledown. Steve lunged forward, pressing his whole body against his hero, inspecting him as if refusing to believe his own eyes. “Same tats.” A two handed upwards grope of Cade’s pectorals. “Same.” Steve’s hand trailed lower towards his groin and Cade coughed, grabbing Steve’s wrist before he got a handful.

“That’s nice. Let’s get you somewhere warm and—“ Cade stammered as Steve reached up and trailed his hand along Cade’s bearded jawline.

“Same eyes. Such beautiful eyes.” It had been such a long time since anyone had touched him so gently. It hurt. The young man’s caress burned hotter than the healing scratches on his arm. “I’ve loved you since WrestleBrawl 7…” Steve paled, then retched on Cade’s boots. Cade looked up at the pale round moon, a drunken love confession in a moonlit alley. Steve wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and wrapped his arms around Cade’s waist in a bear hug, nuzzling his abdominals and smooshing his face into Cade’s blood-spattered hoodie. “Take me home Killer.”

 

A little inspiration image for Cade: 

Inspiration Cade

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve Dawson could drink every protein shake on planet Earth and never break out of the lowest high school wrestling weight class. He tossed his threadbare jacket upon the couch. No one else in the house was awake at this hour, other than his little sister’s hamster squeaking along on the wheel. Friday night was a time when he could forget the looming inevitability of his eventual failure. 

Steve flicked on the television, turning the volume down low and adjusting the rabbit ear antennae for the best reception. He absently thumbed through a packet of history homework as he waited for the main event. He’d read the instructions at least three times, but the words still flipped over on him and he had to guess a few times what he was supposed to do. Luckily Coach would cut him some serious slack in grading, he wouldn’t want his State Champion missing out on a chance to repeat next month.

WrestleBrawl was oddly comforting with its rituals. The announcers chatted about devious rivalries and betrayals. Ecstatic fans jumped up and down with homemade signs declaring their loyalty to the wrestler that they identified with the most. Confetti danced on the television screen, announcing the arrival of The Sledgehammer, a beefy blonde man wearing a red speedo and a tattered gold tank top. He tossed back his platinum mullet and pumped his arms in the air, revving up the crowd with call outs. He was  Steve buzzed his lips in disdain. The Sledgehammer was sloppy, sweaty and arrogant. Of course he was a face. People liked to cheer for the hero, the face.

A wolf’s howl blasted over the loudspeakers and the homework dropped from Steve’s fingers, forgotten.  He leaned forward, his face inches from the screen. The arena darkened and spotlights formed the image of a full moon on the wrestling ring canvas.  A figure in a black and silver robe strode up the entrance ramp, shiny satin clinging to broad shoulders. An effortless vault onto the top turnbuckle, crouching and looming above the audience, his back to the ring. He threw back his head, howling, the hood slipped back to reveal his green eyes and thick dark hair.

The audience howled with him, as he grinned with too many sharp teeth and shook his hair at them. He leapt into the ring, twisting in mid-air to land in front of his tacky opponent. He shrugged off his robe, revealing a hard muscled body that Steve coveted with envy-green intensity. He was exactly what Steve wanted. “KILLLLLLLLER CADE!”

“Killer” Cade King was a magnetic heel in the ring, Steve’s eyes clung to every precisely choreographed move. The bad guy. The villain. Steve knew professional wrestling wasn’t real, but when Cade King executed a flawless flying suplex it was easy to believe in the illusion.

Cade was the only werewolf on the roster, and secretly, the only reason that scrawny Steve Dawson had signed up for the wresting team. If only he could be a little bit as cool as the Killer. 

Steve choked back a cry of triumph as Cade lifted The Sledgehammer off the canvas with one hand about an ankle and smirked at him, then tossed him aside into the ropes. Cade howled again, slapping his own chest. Sweat dripped down his olive skin, skin that would always be hot to the touch. Skin that was tattooed with black spirals and tree branches, accenting the curves of muscle and sinew. He looked into the camera and winked. Steve choked on his own tongue.

The Sledgehammer’s creepy manager was sneaking into the ring behind Cade, a pantomime of stealth and he sprayed a mystery fluid into Cade’s face. “Wolfsbane!” The announcers explained for the audience members who didn’t understand the plot. “Oh no! It looks like Killer Cade is blind!

Cade dropped to one knee, clawing and wiping at his eyes. The manager slapped The Sledgehammer back into consciousness as Cade rolled about on the canvas, his back arching and hips thrusting upwards in pantomimed agony in tattered jeans that barely preserved network television modesty standards. Steve felt his cheeks burn and his mouth go dry, but he couldn’t look away. He didn’t want to look away.

“What the hell are you watching boy?” His father stood in the entrance to the living room, scratching at his jaw.

“Wrestling.” Steve replied, trying to hide his blush in the dark. “Just some stupid wrestling.”

“You got another letter today.” His father sighed and Steve dug his fingers into his thigh. “From your safety school. You know, community college isn’t a bad thing. You can learn at your own speed, get a job.”

Cade leapt across the screen, a blind frenzy of flailing limbs. “Yeah. I guess.”

His father nodded. “Don’t stay up too late. Your mom has work in the morning.” He left Steve staring at the glow of the television screen, watching Cade get pinned against the canvas. Watching the audience cheer at his defeat. Broad shoulders slumped against the turnbuckle as Cade wept with frustrated impotent fury. Steve rubbed at his wet cheek with the back of his hand.

Chapter Text

Cade turned on his dressing room shower and winced as he stood under the pelting spray. Sure, professional wrestling was fake, but that damn folding chair was still made of metal. Patterson had missed the thick pad of trapezius muscle that was meant to cushion the blow and caught Cade right in the ribs. He scrubbed at his baby oil smeared face, the old Sledgehammer basted his muscles like a Thanksgiving turkey and it transferred everywhere.

One of these days he’d be the face, the hero instead of the Big Bad Wolf. It made sense, a heel being seduced to the lure of goodness and redemptions. He sighed. Patterson had intentionally missed with the chair. There was no mistaking the gleam of delight in the wrestler’s eyes after Cade had taken the hit. Patterson wasn’t that good of an actor.

He heard the door open, a familiar pattern of footsteps and a cane. Cade shook back his wet hair and rinsed the rest of the soap from his skin.

“Just checking up on you. I saw the chair hit. That did not look good.” Max ‘Class Act’ Burroughs, the owner of WrestleBrawl, handed Cade a towel and averted his eyes as Cade draped it around his hips. Humans were so squeamish about werewolf anatomy, well most of them were. There were always wolf-sluts. Pretty women and prettier men waiting outside his dressing room. “Sorry, if I’m not who you expected.”

Cade laughed. “I’m a little too sore for that tonight. I’ll be fine. It just cracked a couple of ribs. I’ll be healed up after next Tuesday. Full moon.” He sat down on the stained couch next to the metal rack that functioned as his closet. “What’s up, boss?”

Max pulled up a dented folding chair and sat down, leaning on his cane. He’d been  a wrestling star once himself, until he shattered his leg on the steel steps of the ring. “It’s not fair how quickly you heal up.” He rubbed at his shin with a grimace, “Too bad getting Bitten wouldn’t heal my old fuck ups. Any of them.”

Cade shrugged. “Your missus would murder me if I Bit you. And she’s a little too scary for even a Big Bad Wolf to cross.”

“True. True. She’s one of the reasons I want to talk to you. Our nephew is about your age and he’s been dropping hints like anvils that he’d love to meet you backstage for autographs and maybe dinner.” Max pulled his wallet out and flipped through a plastic folder of family photos. “He’s not deformed or anything,” he handed Cade the wallet. A sunny smile topped off with white blonde hair and a tan. Exactly Cade’s type. He handed back his boss’s wallet. “Erik is a good kid. Pushy like his mom.”

  “Won’t the other guys get pissed? They already think I get special treatment for being who I am.” He glanced at his threadbare dressing room, “Not sure why they think that.”

Max tapped his fingers on his leg. “Do you ever want to just haul back and hit them? You know? Really belt them?”

Cade raised his eyebrow. “If I hit a human with all my strength, I’d kill them. So no matter how annoyed I am, I always pull my punches.”

“What if you didn’t have to?” Max smiled as if he knew a juicy secret. “What if you could just let loose in the ring?”

“Are you bringing on another werewolf on the roster?” Cade bit his lip with hope. “Am I getting promoted?” No more boos, no more nasty fan letters, no more scrawled signs of hate in the stands…

“No. You’re finally gonna live up to your nickname, Killer Cade.” Max grinned with neat white teeth. “You’re gonna be the face of a whole new sport. Mixed martial arts cage fighting. All wolves, all the time. No claws or fangs, have to keep the censors happy.” He pointed at Cade, “That pretty face is gonna launch it. Wolf Fight. Of course, you’ll be paid more because there’s more at stake. A lot more money. You interested kid?”

Cade ran his tongue over his teeth, the jut of his Alpha fangs. A chance to be the star. No more folding chairs. No more pretending to be less than who he was. He ran his fingertips over the old scar on his forearm, the Bite covered up by a black spiral of tattoo ink. A familiar thrill jolted up his spine as he remembered the triumph he felt when he had made the human Olympic wrestling team. A chance to be an elite athlete again. “When do we start?” 

Chapter Text

Ow. Steve’s brain felt as if it were leaking out his ears. And if that made the headache stop, then Steve was all for it. Brains were overrated. He cracked open his bleary eyes, crusty with dried sleep. An unfamiliar ceiling swam into focus. He rolled over. There was a bottle of water and a small bottle of pain pills on the bedside table.  A bucket on the hardwood floor. Hardwood?

Steve helped himself to the water and medication, moving slow so he didn’t need the bucket. From the stale taste in his mouth, he’d already emptied his stomach earlier. His nose hurt but nothing else. His lips were dry, cracked. His skin felt tight. He pulled the blankets over his head, hiding from the dim sunlight that crept in from behind the curtains.

He was in a stranger’s house, in the most comfortable bed he’d ever slept on. The threads on the soft sheets snagged on the rough skin of his fingertips. They smelled like mothballs, as if they’d been in storage. He was wearing a stranger’s t-shirt and his own old underwear. Steve blushed at the thought of someone seeing his saggy elastic. It was a very large shirt, soft and labeled with the WrestleBrawl logo.

It wasn’t like he had anywhere else to go. The grocery store had laid him off and he was sleeping on Denny’s couch until he found a new job and made enough for a rental deposit. He tried to save money for the Bite, he did. But when every cent he made went to survival, there was nothing left over to save. That’s why Denny had taken pity on him for his twenty-first birthday. A full moon at a werewolf bar.

Obviously he hadn’t been Bitten. The world wasn’t kind enough to grant his deepest desires.

A soft knock on the door made Steve wince.  “Are you awake?” A low, somehow familiar voice. He peeked out from beneath the safety of the sheets. Even the pounding of his headache couldn’t distract Steve from the glorious sight of Cade King standing beside the bed. His plain white t-shirt sleeves strained tight over his biceps, the fabric translucent and wet in spots. Thin grey jersey pants clung to the muscles of his thick thighs. Cade’s face was clean shaven, pink from the razor and he raised his eyebrow at the single blue eye that peered out at him. “How are you feeling?”

Oh my god. Cade King. He was in Cade King’s house. Cade King brought him back to his place. “I’m sorry I threw up on your shoes!” Steve blurted out in horror the only thing he could remember from the last night.

Cade’s lips quirked in a smile. “No harm done. I’m sorry that you got drugged by those assholes at the bar last night. I should have tossed them out before that happened. Not all werewolves are predators like that. Makes the rest of us look bad.”

“You’re a bouncer?” Of all the inane questions he could have asked.

Cade shook his head and pushed back his thick damp, dark hair. The sides were close cropped into a fade. “Just helping out a friend.” Cade held out his hand. “I’m Cade.”

“I know!” Steve squeaked before thrusting out his own hand from the covers. Cade’s hand enveloped Steve’s, his palm hot and callused. Cade’s claws were clipped and filed down to nubs. “I’m Steve.” He held his idol’s hand for a few moments too long before withdrawing back under the blankets. Steve’s cheeks burned red, hidden under the sheets.

“Nice to meet you. There’s sweatpants in the dresser. Bathroom is right there. And there’s always Mr. Bucket.” Cade rubbed at the back of his head and averted his eyes to the ceiling. “You can stay as long as you want. If you need anything, just holler.” He left the room, the thin jersey of his pants making it obvious that Cade King did not wear underwear in the comfort of his own home.

“Eep!” Steve muffled a tiny squeak into the soft pillow. Adrenaline buzzed in his veins. Then he rolled over and had to grab Mr. Bucket from the floor. He fell out of the bed with a soft thud. Please don’t let Cade King see me like this, Steve prayed. It was so cold outside of the blankets and the room spun around him. The drugs. The floor wasn’t so bad, it stayed in one place.

He didn’t know how long he’d been on the floor before Cade burst into the room. Steve ducked his head in shame. “I’m sorry.” Cade knelt down and looked him in the eyes. The fuzzy television never showed how green Cade’s eyes were. Eyes that looked at him like he was a lost, broken thing. It was a small mercy that Steve had to immediately bury his face in the bucket again.

“Let me help you up.” Cade slid his arms beneath Steve’s knees and around his shoulders, bridal-style. Steve gasped as Cade lifted him up as if he weighed nothing at all. Steve clung to Cade’s warmth, his hand pressed against the skin exposed by the v-neck t-shirt. Cade placed him back on the bed as if he were made of eggshells but Steve held on to Cade’s shirt.

“Don’t— leave. So cold.” Steve’s teeth chattered as he pulled Cade down towards him. “Too cold.”

“Is it cold in here?” Cade looked at the thermostat in bewilderment as Steve continued to drag him down into the bed. “I’m sorry, I run hot. I should have turned up the heat—“ Steve wrapped his arms and legs around Cade’s body, sighing as he absorbed Cade’s heat. He closed his eyes and sighed. The room stopped spinning as Cade became his anchor. He felt Cade pat his arm in hesitant reassurance, a feather light tap before he felt asleep.

Chapter Text

For such a little guy, Steve certainly had a strong grip. His fingers clutched at the neck of Cade’s t-shirt, stretching it out. There was also a small damp circle of drool on his pectoral. A skinny leg hooked over his thick thigh as if tethering him to the bed.

How long had it been since he’d just slept with someone? Years. It had been years since Cade had let someone hold him like this. Eric didn’t like to cuddle, didn’t like how hot Cade was all the time. He didn’t like how Cade had folded his socks in balls, didn’t like the way he shouted the answers at quiz shows on tv, didn’t like how he’d feed stray cats… Cade shook his head as if to clear memory cobwebs. Erik wasn’t here.

He glanced down at the scrawny little man with overgrown blonde hair that tickled at his nose. He smelled better now, still acrid with sweat and a hint of vomit but Cade wasn’t as worried now. He’d still call Dr. Marcus just as soon as he could extract himself from Steve’s grasp.

It was so stupid to forget to turn on the heater. It was the beginning of winter and humans needed warmth. A long time ago he’d loved to curl up in a satin comforter at his grandmother’s house and sat in front of her wood stove, basking in the radiating heat as he listened to her putter around in the kitchen. When he was so shamefully Bitten, that all was ripped away. 

Where did I put that electric blanket? Patterson had given it to him as a birthday present. It had Patterson’s face on it and was just as useless as it was ugly. It was probably in the gym. His whole life was in the gym. In boxes. In bags. In piles. He’d bought this house because it had an attached gym, but he’d never sweated a drop in it. There was too much he didn’t want to look at, too much he didn’t want to deal with. Easier to stack up his troubles and flick off the fluorescent lights.

It felt so indulgent to lay back and be held. Cade ignored the tightening in his chest and blinked back the first hint of tears. It was stupid to want something he couldn’t have. He closed his eyes and let himself be lulled into sleep by the sound of another person’s breathing. Someone who wanted him simply for warmth and comfort, not for fame or fortune. This was nice. Too bad it couldn’t last. Nothing nice ever lasted.

Steve’s grip loosened and he squirmed against Cade, his hand grazing the bulge in Cade’s sweatpants. Cade’s eyes flew open and he carefully repositioned Steve’s hand away from his package because it had been far too long since anyone had done that to him either. “Alright Sleeping Beauty, you’re getting a little handsy.” It was time to wake up. He sat up and swiveled his legs over the edge of the bed. 

“Why did you leave me?” A tiny voice, almost too quiet to hear.

“What?” Cade blinked, that didn’t make any sense. He’d gone after Steve in the alley. “I didn’t-“

“Don’t leave me again.” Steve stretched out a hand across the sheets. It was so small and Cade was unable to resist covering it with his own. “I was so lonely without you.” That tightening in his chest again. A sharp inhale and exhale.

“We don’t even know each other.” Cade furrowed his brows. “How—“ Then he saw that Steve’s face was slack with drug fogged sleep. He was talking in his sleep. Of course he was.

Cade’s claw-tipped fingers curled around Steve’s. He sat on the edge of the bed holding Steve’s small hand until the sun set behind the curtains.

Chapter Text

Steve heard voices in the hallway. He reached for the bottle of water on the nightstand and dropped it with a clunk on the floor. Cade burst into the room, eyes wide with alarm. “I— I dropped the bottle. Sorry.” Steve sputtered, his cheeks flaming red.

Cade seemed to echo his embarrassment, he rubbed at the back of his neck. “I’m glad you didn’t fall out of bed again.” A cough from behind him. “Oh yeah. Right. Steve, this is Dr. Marcus.” He let another man into the room. Sandy brown hair with kind eyes. And very big muscles. Another werewolf? “He’s an old friend and I— I thought you should get checked out.”

“I don’t have any health insurance!” Steve blurted out.

The doctor shrugged and held out his hand. He didn’t have clipped dark claws, so he was human and apparently very into working out. “Wasn’t planning to bill this visit. From what Cade has told me, you’ve had a rough couple of days.” Steve shook his hand and he sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’m more of a specialist in stitching up werewolves, but when Cade called me up after three years of complete radio silence, I rushed right over.” He looked at his watch while taking Steve’s pulse. “Bit of a shock being called after so long. Bit of a shock. We’re such old friends after all. Can you follow my finger with your eyes Steve?”

Steve nodded and followed the doctor’s directions. The heater had warmed up the room, but there was quite a chill in the air between the old friends. After a few more diagnostic questions, Dr. Marcus sat back and smiled at Steve. “I believe that you’re suffering from acute dehydration from the drugged alcohol and chronic malnutrition. You need to eat. You need to eat a lot more.”

Steve nodded, dropped his chin to his chest and nodded again. He clasped his knees to to his chest. “I’ll try.” After he had a roof over his head and a job.

“I’ll take care of him.” Cade said, his tattooed arms crossed over his chest. Steve startled at his vehemence. “This is on me.”

Cade King was going to take care of him? The Alpha werewolf fighter of his most indulgent dreams was going to nurse him back to health? Steve pinched his own arm, the sharp pain reassuring him that he wasn’t hallucinating.

Dr. Marcus raised an eyebrow after a moment. “Are you sure? I remember what you did to that potted plant I gave you.” A smile quirked at the edge of his lips as Cade huffed out an irritated sigh. Dr. Marcus held up his hand next to his mouth and mock-whispered to Steve, “It was a plastic plant and he still managed to kill it.”

“I accidentally knocked it off my desk. It was hideous, so really it was a mercy killing.” Cade leaned against the door frame, smiling with thin tight lips.

Dr. Marcus laughed. “We have a lot of catching up to do when you’re ready. I’ve got all the WF gossip.”

Steve perked up and blurted out, “WolfFight?“

“Oh you’re a fan, huh?” Dr. Marcus smiled at his enthusiasm.

Steve pushed his sweat damp hair out of his eyes. “Yeah. You could say that. I— I watched all of Cade’s fights on tape. There’s a bunch of us who circulate the tapes. I couldn’t afford the pay per view.” 

“I patch up the fighters after a bout. It’s a bloody job.” He looked at Cade until the werewolf returned his gaze. “And it’s going to get bloodier.” His voice was grim.

Cade was silent, so Steve asked out of intense curiosity, “What do you mean?”

“They never have a fight on the full moon. Fighters aren’t allowed to bite and they have to have blunted claws.” Dr. Marcus tapped his fingers on his leg. “That’s going to change.”

“That’s madness. They couldn’t possibly be that stupid.” Cade shook his head in disbelief. “There’s no way.”

“It sounds pretty cool.” Steve added and then shrank back from the intensity of Cade’s green eyes. Uh oh. He’d said the wrong thing.

“It would be a bloodbath. A death sport. We’d be heading back to the days of gladiators. Not to mention how human and werewolf relations might suffer. We’ve barely begun to treat each other as equals—“ Dr. Marcus paused and patted Steve on his blanket covered leg. “I’m talking shop and I’m sure you don’t really want to know about the backstage crap that I have to deal with. Don’t want to destroy the illusion of your favorite entertainment.”

“I don’t want to be entertained. I want to fight.” Steve wound the blankets around his fingers and clenched his fist. “I want the Bite so I can fight. I’ve wanted to be a werewolf ever since, well ever since I saw you on television.” Cade flinched at his declaration, as if Steve had slapped him. He walked out of the room.

Steve blinked and shrank back into the bed. “Did I say something wrong?”

Dr. Marcus shrugged and forced a reassuring smile. “You know he’s an Alpha, right? He’s never Bitten anyone. Ever. Won’t talk about it either.”

“Oh.” Steve rubbed at his arm in acute embarrassment. He’d said stupid things before, but he’d never offended his personal hero, his teenage crush. His cheeks burned red. “I still want the Bite. It doesn’t have to be from him. One way or another, I’ll get it. It’s the only way I can do what I’ve always dreamed of.” To be like Killer Cade King.

Chapter Text

Cade stared at the contents of his refrigerator as if they’d magically change if he just glared at them long enough. He really hoped that Steve liked bulk chicken breasts, electrolyte replacing sports drinks and whey protein powder. There were some sad wilted veggies in the crisper, but he didn’t trust them. He grabbed a bottle of blue flavor for Steve.

Why did Steve want the Bite so badly? Didn’t he know what a curse it was? The plastic bottle creaked under his fingers and Cade forced himself to exhale. The worst part was that Steve was inspired to become a werewolf because of Cade. Inspired by someone who hated everything about himself, who couldn’t comprehend how anyone could want to be like him. He wasn’t a hero. He was a tragedy.

“Excuse me? I kinda got lost. It’s a really big house.” Steve stood in the threshold of the kitchen, a blanket wrapped around his narrow shoulders, one hand holding up the waistband of his borrowed sweatpants. Every cell in Cade’s body cried out with the need to protect that small form. The Alpha instinct, a genetic imperative to take care of his pack.

Cade shut the refrigerator door and twisted off the bottle cap to disguise how his hands were shaking. “It used to belong to some hot shot movie producer. Too many rooms for one person. What’s up?”

Steve took a deep breath and said, “I wanted to apologize for offending you. You’ve been nothing but kind to me. You saved me from something really awful and I want to say thank you.” His chin lifted with hard won pride and his traitorous knees wobbled, “And you don’t have to take care of me. I’ve been taking care of myself since my parents kicked me out of the house right after high school.” A protective urge surged again within Cade.

“Mine waited to cut me out of their lives until I got Bitten.” Why was he confessing that? “No werewolves allowed at family reunions. It’s like I might piss on their car tires or something.”

Steve chewed on his lip. “I just had a boyfriend. And that was it.” He rucked up his sweatpants and added in a rush, “I’m single now. So don’t worry about that.” Interesting.

“So am I. I’ve been a stereotypical Lone Wolf for a really long time. Like I said, this place has too many rooms for just one person.” Cade held out the bottle of blue sports drink to Steve. “Here. You need to hydrate. Doctor’s orders.”

Steve looked at the drink and muttered, “Either I drop the blanket or my pants and I can’t decide which is less pathetic.”

Cade stooped down and scooped up Steve with one arm. Steve squeaked in surprise and Cade fought back a smile of satisfaction. “Let’s make you comfy on the couch.” Steve nodded with wide eyes.

The living room was a work in progress, Cade told himself. A single black leather couch sat in front of a huge television, surrounded by exercise equipment. A heavy bag hung from the exposed ceiling beams. Mere inches separated each apparatus from each other.  He’d meant to set up the exercise equipment in the gym, but it was easier to pretend that the other side of the house didn’t exist. “Sorry about the equipment. I don’t have a lot of visitors.” Cade apologized with Steve still cradled in the crook of his arm.

Steve startled as Cade spoke, as if he’d been lost in thought. “Oh! Oh— that’s okay. This is a much nicer couch than the one I’m sleeping on at Denny’s.”

“You don’t have your own place to go back to?” Cade asked. He was so slight, lighter than Cade’s smallest free-weights.

“Nope. I’m in between jobs and apartments. If you let me use your phone, I’ll call Denny and he can come get me and I’ll get out of your hair and you’ll never have to think about me again—“ Steve babbled as Cade held him closer, the scent of sweat and distress flooded his sensitive nose as Cade inhaled. He couldn’t abandon him, it just wasn’t right.

“I told you, I’ll take care of you. Drink this, slowly.” Cade put Steve on the couch and carefully arranged the blanket around him. He grabbed a couple of throw pillows and tucked them behind Steve. He stood with his hands on his hips, biting his lower lip in thought. “Is there anything else I can get you? How can I make you more comfortable?”

A single tear spilled down Steve’s flushed red cheek. He wiped at his face with the back of his hand. “Why are you being so nice to me? I’m nothing.

I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m doing this. “It’s just the right thing to do. Want to watch a movie?” Steve nodded and Cade handed him the remote. “You pick.” He sat down next to Steve on the couch and closed his eyes for a moment, inhaling the scent of new strangeness in his den. Steve smelled right. It was some stupid wolf thing, it had to be. He wouldn’t be ruled by his animal instincts, he was better than that.

Steve laughed aloud at the comedy he picked, a boisterous guffaw. He laughed with his whole body. Cade was uncomfortably aware that that was first time anyone had laughed like that in his living room. More laughter and Cade found himself joining in. He glanced over at Steve and saw that the young man was watching him, a dreamy smile on his face. That sweet innocent look hit Cade like a sucker punch to the gut.

“I— I should make dinner.” Cade mumbled as he looked down at his oversized claw-tipped hands. “I— hope you like chicken. Or I can make a protein smoothie. I— I haven’t cooked for anyone else—.“

“That sounds great. All of it. Any of it.” Steve beamed at him and Cade felt blood rush to his chiseled cheekbones. “This is going to sound stupid, but you’re so much better in person than on tv.” Oh, he could willingly drown in those earnest eyes. 

Cade smiled, showing off more fang than usual. This young man genuinely liked him. He remembered Steve’s drunken confession in the snowy back alley behind the bar.  He hazarded a silly joke to prevent himself from doing something silly like holding Steve’s hand again. “Are you sure? I wear less clothes on tv.”

Steve laughed and threw a pillow at him. “You make a compelling argument. But not if we’re talking about the sequined chaps. Remember the ones with the fringe?”

Cade grimaced. “Oh you remember that look? I looked like a Vegas lounge singer who only covered country songs. And those sequins really cut up the inside of my thighs. My ass was just hanging out of the back of those deranged pants.” Steve hid his face under the blanket, it shook with giggles. “What? What are you laughing at now?”

“Your ass was the best part of the costume! Even my mom said so!” Steve panted for breath. “Sorry, sorry. I’m not being very polite, am I?”

“I think we passed polite when you puked on my shoes.” Cade stood up and headed to the kitchen. “I gotta make a shopping list. Maybe we can drop by your friend’s house and pick up your stuff?”

Steve hit himself on the forehead. “Oh shit! I forgot. I gotta call Denny. Where’s your phone?”

“Behind the treadmill. Or maybe the bench press.” Cade shrugged. “It’s in here somewhere.”

Steve nodded and crossed his arms. “Cade King I would like to make you a proposition. When I’m back to speed, I’d like to help you with,” Steve gestured expansively, “All of this.”

Cade glanced at the massive free weights. “Steve, I can move the equipment by myself. It’s very heavy.”

Steve shook his head and drained the last of his blue drink. “No, no, no. I got lost in your giant house. Let’s face it, it’s a mansion. I got lost in your mansion and I saw that you have a perfectly good gymnasium. With a sauna and a hot tub! I want to help you with all that stuff in the gym. We can have yard sales or put it up for auction or just call in a garbage truck. Because there’s a sauna and a hot tub going to waste.”

“I think there might be a small bowling alley and an arcade in the basement.” Cade scratched the side of his stubbly cheek. “Honestly I didn’t really look.”

“You bought a mansion and you didn’t look in the basement?” Steve’s jaw fell open, aghast. “My mom is a realtor and one thing I learned from her was that you always look in the basement, there might be bodies. Or ghosts. Or dry rot!”

Cade shifted from foot to foot, sheepish. He hadn’t given the place he lived much thought other than it was on the other side of town from his ex. The one person who hadn’t screwed him over, other than Marcus, was his money manager. “I haven’t noticed any ghosts.”

Steve rapped his fingers on his knee. “That’s how the movies always start. And then, wham! Full poltergeist.” He wrapped the blanket around his shoulders and stood up. He held up his hand with a stern serious look and Cade shook it. “We have a deal. You saved my life, Cade King. Now I’m going to help you get your shit in order.”   

    

   

Chapter Text

Steve slipped into the passenger seat of Cade’s red classic muscle car with his single duffel bag of clothes and a small battered cardboard box of prized possessions. “Denny was at work, so I just packed up.” He angled all the vents towards himself and held his hands in front of the heater. “Brr. It’s so cold out there. You sure you don’t want some of this?”

Cade shook his head and pulled out into traffic. “Nope. However I will hog every last bit of air conditioning in the summer. Sometimes I just strip down and lay in front of a fan.” Steve blinked as if contemplating that, a small secret smile that he covered up with his cold hands.

“You know you have a swimming pool, right?” Steve said. “It’s in the backyard next to the fire pit on the patio. It’s empty right now but with a little cleaning, you could be doing cannonballs in July.”

“More like doggy paddling. I’m a terrible swimmer.” Cade snorted a laugh. “How lost did you get?”

“Really, really lost. I thought I was going to end up in some magical land with talking animals, but instead it was just a walk in closet. Did you know one of those bedrooms has a mirrored ceiling? Why didn’t you take that one?”

Cade almost missed his turn into the grocery store parking lot. “I— I sleep on the couch a lot. It’s cozy. Smells right.” They parked and Cade turned off the ignition.

“So it’s like a den.” Steve stared out of the car window at the neon signage. Billy’s Food Mart. “Wolves like dens.” His voice was oddly distant.

“I suppose. I usually just fall asleep watching old movies.” Cade looked out the window. Nothing seemed odd, but Steve still seemed transfixed by the grocery store. “Is there something wrong?”

“Oh no! Nothing. What would be wrong with a random grocery store?” Steve smiled with brittle cheerfulness as he opened the car door. “Of course I’m totally fine! Do you like beef stew? I’m really good at that. I learned like three recipes in Home Economics. And there’s only so much chicken breast you can eat.” Steve grabbed a cart from outside and pushed it inside before Cade could object.

Shopping trips were usually leisurely affairs for Cade. He had no obligations or time commitments. Retirement made time bleed together and sometimes he forgot what day it was. The only constant was the moon phase cycle. His biology couldn’t let him forget the fervor of the full moon or the empty stillness of the new moon.

Steve seemed to know where everything was in the grocery store with utter precision. Cade followed behind him, pushing the overflowing cart to give himself something to occupy his hands. Steve paused in front of the flour and sugar. “Can werewolves eat chocolate? It’s not toxic to you, is it?”

Cade rolled his eyes. “Yes. We can eat chocolate. We’re not dogs. Why?”

Steve grinned up at him from his crouch. “One of the the three recipes I know how to cook is chocolate chip cookies. I’d like to repay you for saving my life with baked goods. That’s how it works, right?”

“I like peanut butter chips better.” Cade blurted out. “And you don’t have to repay anything. It was just the—“

“Just the right thing to do. I know. I know.” Steve stood up and looked at the top shelf, just out of his reach. “Of course, the baking soda isn’t pushed forward. These shelves are just a mess.” He huffed out a sigh of resignation. Cade reached over him and plucked a box of baking soda from the shelf. “Thank you.”

Steve held the orange box in his hands and asked, “Cade, can I ask you a personal question?”

“I don’t turn into a wolf on the full moon.” It was always something people wanted to know. “Silver just gives me a skin rash and wolfsbane smells like hot garbage mixed with patchouli.”

“Of course you don’t turn into a four-legged mutt. That’s just basic Werewolf 101. They taught us that in high school sex ed. How to identify a werewolf: Hot. Hairy. Hung.” He ticked off the words on his hand. It was concise and accurate. “It boiled down to don’t have sex. So really no different than the human sex ed. Werewolves are sterile, so no babies. You have to get Bitten by an Alpha.”

Please don’t ask me to Bite you. Please don’t. Cade held his breath. 

“Were you big before you got the Bite?” Steve looked intently at the box of baking soda as if it held the secret to the mystery of life.

“I was.” Cade answered and he elaborated as Steve’s shoulders fell. “I was about six feet tall, weighed around one ninety, depending on which division I was wrestling in.”

Steve looked Cade up and down, appraising him. “That’s good to know.” His jaw set and he nodded to himself as if he’d confirmed a difficult choice. “Maybe I can find an Alpha with an installment plan-“ The idea of another Alpha sinking their fangs into Steve’s flesh made Cade’s stomach flip over. He’d only known the young man for a few days, it didn’t make sense to be possessive of him.

“What are you doing here Dawson?” A clerk in an orange safety vest and a push broom sneered, “We fired you last week.” The hair on the back of Cade’s neck prickled and his fingers tightened on the shopping cart handle.

Steve closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then turned around with a sunny smile. “As you can see from the contents of this cart, we’re shopping for food. And I wasn’t fired, Alex.”

“Fired, laid off. Doesn’t matter. Uncle Matt chose me over you. Because you can’t reach the top shelves and you can’t lift shit.” The clerk’s tone made Cade’s claws itch. “You’re such a loser.” He glanced at Cade and muttered, “Wolf trash.”

Steve’s posture changed from deferential to defiant. He held up a warning finger under Alex’s nose. “This is Killer Cade King, the greatest fighter in the history of WolfFight and he’s a legend.” He grabbed Cade’s hand and pulled him past Alex. “You’re just a stock clerk who has to put away a whole cart of groceries.”

They got in the car, Cade went to shift gears and Steve put his hand on top of Cade’s. Steve’s earnest blue eyes knocked the wind from his lungs. “I am so, so sorry about that. He usually works nights, you I thought— well it doesn’t matter what I thought. I’m sorry you had to hear that. Some people are both ignorant and stupid.” He squeezed Cade’s dark-claw tipped fingers in reassurance. 

He couldn’t let Steve get Bitten. Steve was sweetness and light, the Bite would turn him bitter and dark. He couldn’t let Steve destroy his life with the curse of being a werewolf.  “There’s more than one grocery store in this city. How about we get some Chinese take out and dig through some of my crap in the gym later? I know I’ve got boxes of fan mail.” If he showed Steve what the public really thought of him, maybe that would change his mind.

  

Chapter Text

Cade flicked on the fluorescent lights in the gym. Black plastic bags and cardboard boxes were scattered over the inlaid floor, tightly rolled mats snugged against the walls. The air circulation system whirred to life and Steve was dumbstruck at the beautiful possibilities of the space. “Whoa. It hasn’t even been sweated in yet.” Steve peered at the gym, past the boxes and bags. It was better than any of gyms he’d worked out in. It sure smelled a hell of a lot better.

Steve darted over towards the sound system and began to fiddle with the buttons. A blaring love anthem from the past decade blasted out and Cade covered his sensitive ears.

“Sorry!” Steve laughed and he adjusted the volume. “Surround sound in a gym. This is really cool. Do you know how cool this is? I mean not the music, this is crap. But the speakers are great!”

He walked to the nearest box and opened it. “Fan mail.” He grinned up at Cade. “I   wonder if any of my letters are in here.”

Cade lifted up the box. “I wouldn’t know. I never opened much of it.”

Disappointment weighed like lead in Steve’s gut. “Why wouldn’t you open your fan mail?” It didn’t make sense. Steve shut the music and lights off as he followed Cade back to the living room.

Cade dropped the box with a huff. “Don’t wear yourself out, you’re just getting your energy back.” He slipped on his boxing gloves, pulled the laces tight with his teeth. Steve swallowed back a gulp at the unintentionally erotic sight.

“Yeah, yeah.” Steve shrugged, his shoulder popping out of the stretched neck of Cade’s WrestleBrawl t-shirt. He hadn’t asked for it back, so Steve had claimed it. He needed something to prove to himself that this whole situation wasn’t a dream. He plucked a fat envelope from the box. “You know, I wasn’t much bigger than this when I wasn’t starving. I’m not going to break.”

Cade started pounding on the heavy bag. “Rather not chance it. You’re my responsibility, remember?” His brow furrowed and he hit the bag hard enough to make the rafters shudder.

Steve slid his finger under the edge of the envelope. “You’re a little ripped to be my mom, dude.” He unfolded the letter and his mouth fell open. Scrawled in red marker were the words, DIE CADE. “What the hell?” Steve blinked in shock.

Cade didn’t even glance over. He hit the bag harder. Dust fell from ceiling.

Steve wadded up the letter into a tiny ball and scowled as if the threat had been addressed to him personally. He grabbed for another, opened it and threw it into the crumpled pile. Another joined it. Another. Steve stood up and stomped to the kitchen. He grabbed a paper grocery bag and scooped all the wads of paper into it.

He continued to open letters. He couldn’t call them fan mail anymore. They dripped with vile hatred. And poor spelling. I’m dyslexic and I still know that these are garbage. One after the other until the paper bag was full. The box was half empty. He scrubbed at his face with the back of his hand.

Cade held out his gloved hands and Steve loosened the laces. How could people not understand how wonderful Cade was? The notion boggled Steve’s mind. Cade was kind. He was generous. He was brave. Cade pushed back his sweaty hair and wiped his face off with his tank top, exposing rippling abdominals with a trail of dark fuzz disappearing beneath the waistband of his sweatpants. He was gorgeous. Steve swallowed hard and choked on his own spit.

“Here. Hydrate.” Cade held out a bottle of water and sat on the floor beside Steve. Steve took the water and guzzled half of it. They sat in silence for a moment, looking at the paper bag. “You don’t have to open all of them. They’re all like that.”

Steve scowled and thrust his hand into the box. “No. No they’re not.” His letters weren’t like that. “I know they’re not all like that. They can’t be.”

Cade leaned his head back against the leather couch. When he spoke it was soft as a secret. “I was one of the only werewolves on television, Steve. And I was the heel. I was the bad guy. Bad guys don’t get love. Hell, they didn’t even let me do conventions or talk shows.”

Something clenched in Steve’s gut at the yearning and resignation in Cade’s voice. Someone had hurt him, betrayed him and left Cade bitter and sad. “I—“ I loved you. Steve shut his mouth. It was too raw of a confession to make to the man who had saved his life and was helping him rebuild it. It was selfish.

“These letters are part of the reason that I left pro wrestling for the slightly more honest sport of cage fighting.” He closed his green eyes, a drop of sweat beaded and trickled down his brow. “The people who sent those hate letters to me were also the same people who paid $49.95 each time to watch me smash in the face of another werewolf. I bought this place with their money. And they’re still howling for me to get back in the ring. They love to hate me.”

Steve crumpled another letter in his hands. “I’m not going to stop until I find a letter from someone who— who— from someone who is a fan and not a fucking idiot!” He tossed back the rest of the bottle and slammed it down, eyes narrowed with anger. “I know in my heart that not everyone hates you. I know that.”

Cade held up his hand as if he were about to cup Steve’s face but he ruffled Steve’s hair instead, as if he were a naive child. Steve scowled at the letters as Cade left the living room. He went into the kitchen and dug in the drawers until he found what he was looking for. The matches for the pilot light.

Steve crammed the bags of crumpled letters in the empty, snowbound fire pit. Then he carried out the rest of the boxes of letters onto the snowy patio, pulled up a patio bench and lit a match. There was something beautiful about the cleansing power of flames. All the nastiness and vile hatred in those letters turned to ash and smoke. Steve pulled his hat down over his ears and warmed his hands with the fire.

“Um, Steve? What are you doing?” Cade asked as he zipped up his light winter jacket.

Steve smiled at Cade and patted the patio bench. “Pull up a seat, I’m sorting your mail.”

“And you needed fire to do that?” Cade sat next to Steve, his thick thighs taking up most of the bench. Steve nodded and fed another letter into the flames. “You know, you can’t just set all the bullshit in my life on fire, right?”

“Yes, but I can’t get my hands on any napalm.” Steve hummed in contentment and gave Cade’s knee a squeeze. “Try it. It’s fun. We might need marshmallows.” The squeeze turned into a light stroke of Cade’s taut quad. Cade looked down at Steve’s hand and Steve took it back, sheepish. “Sorry. I get touchy-feely when I’m happy— I shouldn’t have—“ Steve stammered, his cheeks red with embarrassment. “I know you’re straight.”

“Bisexual, actually.” Oh my god… Steve’s heart leapt in his chest as Cade continued, “I have terrible taste in relationships. I bought this place when I broke up with my ex.”

“Oh. Lauren Gomez from the women’s league?” I wanted to be her so badly.

Cade leaned over, pulled a opened letter from the box and flicked it into the fire. He watched the paper curl into ashes. “Eric Burroughs. We kept it quiet. Didn’t want yet another reason for death threats.”   

“No way!” Steve blinked in astonishment. “You and Ripper Burroughs were an item? I had no idea!” The two men appeared to be nothing more than bitter rivals in the werewolf cage-fighting world. How could they have been in love? Beautiful blonde Burroughs who became the newest face of WrestleBrawl right after Cade’s retirement from WolfFight. The timing was beyond suspicious. “You and Lauren looked good together.”

Cade shrugged with one shoulder, staring into the flames. “That was just for press. She’s a very sweet lady though. Good kisser. They made us kiss a lot during her villain arc.” 

Steve ripped up a letter into tiny pieces and muttered under his breath, “I remember the kissing.”

“I was the depraved werewolf seducing Little Red Riding Hood into a life of evil and lots of black leather. I still remember when they had her kick me in the balls during the big break up match. She apologized so much for that. The ratings were pretty spectacular though.” Cade huffed out a foggy sigh. “All my relationships have pretty much been chosen for me. I don’t think I’ve ever chosen to be with someone, to spend time with them just because I wanted to.” 

They fed letters into the fire in silence, the embers cracking and popping. At the very bottom of a box, Steve recognized his own scrawled handwriting. “Oh my god! I FOUND ONE. This is one of my letters.” He clasped his hand over his own mouth. “Oh no.” It was the most embarrassing one he’d ever written. “It’s that letter.”

Cade plucked the envelope from Steve’s fingers and raised an eyebrow at Steve’s squirming. “Oh I have to read this now.” Cade slit open the sealed envelope with one of his claws and inhaled. “Did you spray cologne on the paper?”

Steve nodded, he pulled his knees up to his chest and peeked out from behind his hair. It was a ridiculous gesture. Only girls in old romance novels scented their love notes with perfume. He never thought that Cade actually read his fan letters, he thought that an assistant might have glanced at them before they threw them away. He never dreamed that someday he would be sitting on a patio bench in the snow with his hero, firelight painting his skin with patterns of flickering shadows.

“Nice.” Cade carefully unfolded the letter and cleared his throat with a smile, obviously enjoying Steve’s display of embarrassment. “Dear Mr. Cade King. So formal. I just want you to know that I’m dedicating my performance at the State Wrestling Championships to you because you’ve—“ Cade paused, his smile wavering. “You’ve inspired me to change my life. I want to be a werewolf just like you because you’re amazing. And next time Sledgehammer hits you with a chair, you should bend the chair in half and throw it at him because he’s the WORST. I love you, Steve Dawson.

Steve let out the breath he was holding. There it was. He’d confessed his love to his idol. “I mean it was just a high school crush, you know. Just a kid thing. I mean who wouldn’t fall in love with someone wearing sequined chaps, right?” Steve fretted as Cade seemed more and more lost in thought. “See, not everyone hated you. There’s the proof.”

When Cade spoke, his voice was rough. “So you were a wrestler?” It was not the question Steve expected.

“Two times State Champion, 106 lbs division. I was too small to compete at the intercollegiate level and now I’m too old. So here I am. I know I can’t be an elite werewolf wrestler or fighter, but if I get the Bite, I might be able to reach things on the top shelf at the supermarket.” Steve shrugged. “My motivations are simple.” He reached over for the letter. “Let’s just put this in the fire where it belongs, shall we?”

Cade held the letter out of Steve’s reach. Steve lunged for it and Cade simply stood up. Steve stood on the patio bench, finally tall enough to look Cade in the eyes. Such beautiful green eyes, damp with tears from the smoke. Passion overcame reason and Steve muttered, “Fuck it I can sleep on Denny’s couch again,” before he pressed his lips to Cade’s.