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A Heart Full of Moonlight and a Hand Full of Magic

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It was pure chance that Shiro came across the wolf.  He had come to this forest in search of a kind of plant that was only found here.  It was chance — or perhaps fate — that led him to the glade of yellow birch trees and fiery-red oaks, their colors bright and harsh and befitting of the grisly scene beneath.  There was a wolf there, dark russet fur like fire and ink, struggling with his leg caught in a set of vicious steel jaws lying half-hidden in the fallen leaves. Shiro’s eyes widened at the sight of the wolf’s amethyst-colored eyes and the moon-shaped spot of white fur on his chest.  This wasn’t just a wolf, he realized. It was a werewolf .  And it was going to die, if Shiro didn’t do something.  If not from blood loss, then most certainly at the hands of whatever hunter had laid these traps.  

Shiro crept closer, keeping his body low and his hand out.  “Hey, it’s alright, I’m here to help you…” 

The wolf growled lowly, the fur on the back of his neck lifting as his hackles raised.  Shiro slowed to a stop, not wanting to frighten him more.  

“It’s okay, I’m not here to hurt you,” Shiro told the wolf.  “I want to help you. I can free your leg, if you let me. Can I come closer?”  

The wolf gave him a long, piercing look.  Amethyst eyes flicked over his features and open posture, as if studying him for any hint of a threat.  Paws shifted uneasily. The small movement tugged on his trapped hind leg, and the wolf flinched and let out a low whine, ears pinned back in pain.  

Shiro’s heart ached to step in right away, but he held back and waited.  The wolf panted heavily, eyes shut against the pain. When he opened them again, they fixed on Shiro and the wolf bobbed his head a little.  

Shiro smiled, relieved.  “Thank you. I promise to be gentle.”  He inched closer, and the wolf stiffened but didn’t growl at him.  It was a show of trust to allow him closer, just as it was a show of trust for Shiro to take his eyes off the wolf to examine the trap.  

Shiro deplored hunters.  Whoever had created such a horrific device such as this trap was a monster.  Two large steel jaws filled with sharp, vicious steel teeth were snapped around the wolf’s hind leg, shredding flesh with every movement of struggle.  A tightly-coiled spring ensured that the jaws would stay clamped tight around their prey’s limb. The steel was dark with rust and slick with blood. The wolf’s fur, too, was matted with blood.  Shiro was horrified to see flashes of pink-stained white peeking through gaps in the dark fur; the trap (or perhaps the wolf’s attempts to escape it) had ripped through the flesh to the bone.  

Shiro raised his eyes to meet those of the wolf, who was watching him guardedly.  

“I won’t lie to you — this doesn’t look good,” Shiro said softly.  “Even if I remove this, you will most certainly die of blood loss and infection if you run off.  I can heal you, but it will take some time. Can you promise me you won’t run the moment I free you?  I promise I will not harm you, nor hold you against your will.”

The wolf stared him down for a long time, visibly turning the words over in his head and weighing his options.  Finally, he let out a resigned huff and bobbed his head.  

Shiro smiled.  “Thank you.” He turned back to the trap and examined it closely.  There was no lever to release the jaws. He had heard of such traps, used by the cruelest kind of hunters who had no qualms about simply cutting the trapped creature’s limb clean off after they had killed it.  Shiro’s blood boiled at the thought. He slowly reached out and let his hand hover over the cold steel of the trap, raising his eyes to the wolf’s again.  

“I’m going to have to force this open,” he told them.  “Even the slightest touch to the jaws is going to cause you pain, and I am sorry for that.  Please, just know that I will try to do this with as little pain to you as possible.”  

The wolf nodded slowly.  His paws shifted against the fallen leaves, as if bracing for what would come.  

Shiro turned back to the trap and carefully took hold of both steel jaws.  In the corner of his vision, he saw the wolf flinch and heard the low whine of pain.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered, even though they both knew it was necessary. He took a deep breath, then counted down.  “Three… two… one!”  

With all the strength in his body, he ripped the steel jaws apart.  Even as strong as Shiro was, he could only force them a few scant inches apart.  It was enough, though, and the wolf yanked his leg out of the jaws, letting out a pained yelp as the teeth dragged over the wounds.  Once he was sure he was free, Shiro let go of the trap. The jaws snapped shut with an ear-splitting crack and the wolf let out a yip as he scrambled back.  

Shiro held out his hands placatingly toward the wolf.  “Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay…” 

The wolf was lying on his side a few feet away, leg stretched out and slightly crooked.  Shiro’s heart sank at the sight; the leg was probably broken.  

The wolf’s ears pricked up and he straightened, attention suddenly fixed on something in the distance.  Shiro heard it a moment later -- human voices and careless footsteps kicking through the underbrush. The hunters, coming to collect their prey.

He turned back to the wolf.  “I can take you far away from here, where they can’t hurt you.  But I’ll need to touch you to do so. Do you trust me?”  

The wolf’s eyes flicked between Shiro and the direction the hunters were coming from.  Finally, he nodded. Shiro reached out and laid his hands on the thick pelt of the wolf’s shoulder, whispering an incantation to himself and pouring every ounce of power he could spare into transporting the two of them.  The runes and sigils tattooed on his arms began to glow as he drew on their power. He felt the wolf tense under him, a low warning growl rumbling in his chest, then the familiar tug behind his navel as the spell transported them across the forest. 

With a soft whisper of wind rustling the fallen leaves on the ground, they vanished and reappeared outside Shiro’s cottage.  The trees were different here; where the woods before had been filled with flame-colored deciduous red oaks and yellow birches, Shiro’s home was located further north, where evergreens and spacious hemlocks cast shade over the pine-littered soil.  The air was cooler and clearer, and the bubbling of the nearby brook could be heard where there had been only silence in the other woods. The wolf jerked under his hand, startled at the sudden change in surroundings.  

“It’s alright,” Shiro held up a hand.  “You’ll be safe here. This is my home.”  

The wolf looked around, lifting his nose to scent the unfamiliar air.  He tried to get to his feet, but his wounded leg collapsed out from under him.  He swayed on three feet, his back right leg lifted off the ground.  

“Come inside, and I’ll heal you,” Shiro said.  “Can you walk?”  

The wolf twisted to look at his injured leg, then his ears flattened with a whine and he shook his head.  

“Can I carry you?”  Shiro asked.  

The wolf gave him a mollified look.  It was a startlingly human expression on such a canine face — a reminder of what kind of creature he was dealing with.  

“Here,” Shiro crouched down and looked behind him, patting his shoulders.  “Put your forelegs here. I’ll lift you. I’m stronger than I look, I promise.”  He was aware that he looked strong, too.  But this was a full-grown werewolf.  Even a regular wolf would have been a challenge for a human to lift.  

The wolf must have been thinking the same thing; he looked at him doubtfully for a moment, then his leg seemed to grow tired of being held up and dipped to rest on the ground, and he let out a whimper of pain.  Looking reluctant, he hobbled a few steps closer to Shiro and did as he said.  

Shiro grunted as he lifted the wolf on his back, hands behind him supporting the creature’s backside above his tail.  He would like to say he stood tall and valiantly carried the werewolf into his home, but really it was more like he staggered, hunch-backed, with the huge wolf draped over him like a leaden blanket, and ungracefully kicked his own cottage door open.  He wasted no time in depositing the wolf onto his bed, and tried to do so with as little pain to the creature as possible, but the wolf still let out a fair number of whimpers and grunts of discomfort at the movement.  

“There,” Shiro huffed, panting to catch his breath.  A few stray hairs had fallen out of the messy bun he had tied his long hair back in, and he tucked them behind his ear as he hurried to the shelves at the other end of the cottage.  “Okay, okay, bandages, herbs, crystals, moonwater… what else, what else…” he moved around his cottage gathering books and ingredients while the wolf watched him, his eyes occasionally darting around to take in the cottage itself.  It was a small place, tucked into the hillside to seek the earth’s warmth in the winters and coolness in the summers. Bottles of potions, herbs, and other ingredients lined the shelves and the small ledge of the windows. His wooden table was long, probably enough to serve six people comfortably, but he had only one stool and most of the table was taken up by scales, potted herbs that had already begun complaining to him about the chill in the autumn air and demanded he take them inside, potion-making supplies, and stacks of books that he had placed there when he ran out of room on his bookshelves.  His bed was tucked in the corner and was really more a nest of blankets — some woven from wool, others from grass and tree bark pounded until it was soft enough to weave — and a few fur pelts tossed together on the sturdy wooden bed frame he had carved himself. The wolf nosed those furs curiously, and Shiro looked up at the startled intake of breath as the wolf scrambled back in fright.  

“Ah,” Shiro instantly felt guilty.  “Those pelts… I didn’t hunt them. All were gifts, from the animals themselves, mind you,” he added quickly, when the wolf narrowed his eyes at him in suspicion.  Shiro tucked the mortar and pestle into the crook of his arm and went over to the bed, running a hand over each fur. “This was from a coyote who had been shot by hunters.  I dealt with the hunters, but by the time I returned, it was too late to save the coyote. She insisted I take her pelt as thanks. And this was a deer I found with an injured leg, when he was only a fawn.  I healed him and sent him on his way, and he returned to me at the end of his life. This was a fox who was too ill to raise her kits. I raised them in her stead. They still come back to visit in the spring, which was how I got these rabbits and these minks… sad to say they didn’t choose to give me their furs, but I would have been rude to turn away the young foxes’ gifts.” Shiro chuckled a little at the memory of opening his door and being startled to find a pile of small carcasses on his doorstep with adolescent foxes yipping in pride.  

The wolf watched him guardedly as his fingers came to rest on a snow-white wolf pelt.  Shiro’s smile slipped. “My mother,” he said softly. “Not my real mother, of course. I never knew her, or my father.  They left me in a basket in the middle of the forest. This wolf,” he curled his fingers in the thick pelt, feeling the soft fur underneath the coarse guard hairs. “This wolf found me, weak and crying.  She nursed me with her own cubs, and when I was strong enough, she brought me to the home of an old couple living near the edge of the forest. They raised me, and taught me to never fear the wilderness or the white wolf who would watch me from the treeline.  When they passed away from old age, she returned and led me here, saying it would be a good place for me to live. I have to agree.” He smiled, looking around the cottage he had built for himself. “She came back to me a few years later, bones aching with age and blindness fogging her vision, and asked to be sent to the afterlife peacefully and without pain.  After all she had done for me, I couldn’t help but oblige her, even though it was hard for me to watch her go.” He smiled sadly. “She wanted me to keep part of her so I would remember her. I would have never forgotten her, even without this.”  

The werewolf watched him carefully while he spoke, sharp amethyst eyes studying him for any hint of a lie in his words.  

Shiro chuckled in an attempt to lighten the mood again.  “I’m sorry, I’m here rambling on about myself when you’re in pain.  Here, let’s see that leg.”  

The wolf laid down once more and gingerly extended his injured leg.  It looked just as terrible as it had before in that yellow wood, and Shiro’s heart ached just as much at the sight.  He carefully washed the wound with warm water, apologies falling from his lips between whispered incantations to help ease the pain.  The werewolf let out little whimpers and hurt noises, but he managed to hold still during the process of cleaning and bandaging the wound. Shiro supposed that was one thing that was easier than working with a non-were animal; he always needed to use a number of calming spells and occasionally gentle binding spells to keep them from moving about in a way that would only hurt them more.  

“There.  Does that feel a little better?”  Shiro bunched up a blanket and laid the splinted leg on it to elevate it a bit.  The wolf twisted to look at his handiwork, letting out a huff before laying his head back down.  Shiro stroked a hand over the fur of his side and the wolf’s eyes closed with a sigh.  

“It will take a little while for the bone to heal,” Shiro explained.  “Unfortunately, even I can’t heal breaks like that immediately, or even overnight.  But I managed to cast some spells to quicken the process and minimize pain. It should be good as new in about a week.  Can you stay here until then?”  

The wolf nodded, rubbing his face against the blankets and pelts covering the bed.  

Shiro smiled.  “Good. I’ll make you something to eat.  Just rest here.”  

The sun was beginning to dip low in the sky and the shadows of the trees were lengthening by the time Shiro was finished preparing dinner.  He didn’t often eat meat, given his close connection with the animals in his forest, but he knew the wolf would need all the energy he could get while he healed, so he caught several hares and whispered incantations of sleep and thanks for the energy their flesh would provide.  He cooked the meat but left it rare enough to satisfy the wolf, and paired it with a hearty stew of potatoes, carrots, and kale to round out the nutrients. He added clippings of several of his herbs, and chuckled softly as the chives, garlic, rosemary, and targon plants pouted at not being selected for supper when he usually loved them.  He gave them a little extra water and brushed his fingers over their leaves, silently explaining that they would be toxic to the currently-canine werewolf.  

The whole time he was cooking, those piercing amethyst eyes remained fixed on him.  The wolf lay with his head between his paws on the bed, watching Shiro as he moved around the cottage humming to himself.  When he picked up the two wide, wooden bowls, the wolf’s head lifted and his ears pricked forward.  

“Dinner’s ready,” Shiro told him with a smile.  He set one of the plates — with the larger of the two servings — on the bed near the wolf’s paws.  “It’s nothing fancy, but I hope you like it.”  

The wolf, of course, said nothing, but a long pink tongue snaked out to lick its chops before beginning to eat ravenously.  

Shiro nudged his stool closer to the bed and tucked into his own meal, but the wolf was licking his bowl clean before Shiro could even manage a few bites.  “Guess you were hungry, huh?” he chuckled.

The wolf blinked slowly at him as he licked his chops again.  Shiro left his food for a moment and filled another bowl with moonwater he had charged upon the last full moon a few days ago.  He whispered an incantation over the water to aid the drinker in recovering their strength, then set it beside the wolf, who lapped it up gratefully.  Shiro mused, as he sat back down to resume his own dinner, that had it been a real wolf, coyote, or fox, they might have snapped up his food while his back was turned.  It was rather fortunate he had stumbled upon such a polite werewolf.  

When the werewolf had drank his fill and Shiro had finished his own supper, he fetched water from the well to wash the dishes.  Lifting the bucket, he tilted his face up towards the moon shining bright in the sky between the branches of the trees. Waning gibbous, with just a small sliver gone from the full moon a few nights before.  

Shiro brought the water back to his cottage and set to washing the dishes.  He could feel the wolf’s gaze on him as he worked, and sure enough, when he turned to fetch a cloth to dry them, the wolf was watching him with his head lying between his paws.  

“The moon has begun to wane,” Shiro told him.  “Will you need to shift?”  

The wolf only let out a huff.  Shiro was skilled at hearing the unspoken languages of many plants and animals, but were-creatures were always enigmatic, given how close they were to humans.  He didn’t deem it polite to go poking about in their thoughts, either.  

“One blink for yes, two for no?”  He offered.  

The wolf glanced at him, then blinked twice.  

Shiro nodded and resumed putting the dishes away.  “That might be for the best, actually. Your leg would need to be re-splinted if you changed your form.  I’m not certain what effect shifting would have on a broken bone, but I can’t imagine it would be good.” 

He was met with only silence, and Shiro glanced over his shoulder to find the wolf’s eyes closed, head resting on the blankets while he lay on his side.  As if he could tell he was being watched, his ears swiveled toward him and amethyst eyes opened once more.  

“Do you have a name?”  Shiro asked.

One blink.

“Can you tell me it?”  Shiro wondered, even as he asked, how the wolf might even go about communicating his name.  

The wolf looked down in thought, eyes narrowed and tail twitching, then rolled his shoulders in an imitation of a shrug and laid down once more with a sigh.  It seemed he also didn’t know how he would tell him, or perhaps he had some reservations about telling him. A name could be a powerful thing, Shiro knew.  

“That’s alright,” Shiro smiled.  “It’s getting rather late. Do you need anything else, before going to sleep?”

A soft huff and a shake of the head was all the response he got.  It seemed the ordeal of the day had tired the poor wolf to the point where he could hardly open his eyes.  

Shiro realized too late that he had nowhere to sleep, but he knew his guest needed the comfort of the bed more than he did.  He hunted around a chest of winter things (the wood spelled to keep out moths and the growth of mildew and musk) and found one warm woolen blanket.  He wrapped it around himself, dusted off the stones beside the hearth, whispered a quick incantation to keep the fire going through the night, and settled down on the ground in front of the hearth.  

☽ ✧ ☾

The wolf rested quietly for only a few days before he seemed to grow restless.  Shiro didn’t blame him; he himself wouldn’t like to be confined to bed for days on end with nothing to do.  After a few long days of pawing listlessly at the blankets and whining when Shiro left the cottage with a promise to be back soon, the wolf seemed to have finally had enough.  When Shiro started to help him back up onto the bed after a bathroom trip outside, the wolf plopped his rump on the ground with a huff and refused to get up. The fact that his leg was splinted straight meant that the pose looked a little silly, one leg out from the rest, but the pointed look was enough to get his message across; he was bored of bed-rest.

Shiro lifted an eyebrow.  “Alright, let’s have a look at your leg.”  

The wolf huffed and laid down on his side on the floor, sticking his splinted hind leg out for him to inspect.  Shiro crouched beside him and unwrapped the leg, running his fingers over the limb to feel the bones. The wounds had healed, helped along by the magic, and the bone was definitely on the mend but was still fragile.  He told the wolf as much and received a head flopped to the ground and a grumbling cry that could only be described as ‘tantrum-like’.  

Shiro pressed his lips together tightly to fight back a smile at the dramatic display.  “You still need to rest a bit longer. But I suppose a bit of light walking around would do you good, so long as you keep your weight off of this leg.  Think you can manage that?”  

The wolf bobbed his head and sat up, tail thumping against the floor.  

“One moment, I’ll re-wrap this.”  Shiro murmured several healing incantations over the leg and bandages as he re-wrapped the limb.  When he was finished, the wolf rolled up to his feet with a surprising amount of grace for having the better part of one limb immobilized.  He took a few cautious steps, hobbling on three legs, and started exploring the cottage and curiously sniffing at anything he could reach. Shiro subtly moved the herbs that were toxic to canine creatures up to the top shelf after seeing that the wolf could easily reach the table with no trouble.  

In the days following that, the wolf began to idly follow Shiro as he worked.  He would often turn around from grinding up herbs or reading his spellcraft books only to find a set of amethyst eyes watching him inquisitively, head tilted in thought.  Shiro found the wolf’s curiosity charming, and often explained aloud what he was doing. It was nice to have some company as he worked in the garden readying his plants for the coming winter, even if their conversations were largely one-sided.  

As the weeks drew on, Shiro began to notice the wolf’s restlessness take on a new nature.  Rather than an excess of energy, the wolf seemed to grow listless and worried. Shivers would wrack through him occasionally, yet Shiro detected no hint of a fever.  It wasn’t until he was making his preparations for the new lunar phase that he realized what the trouble must be.  

“The new moon is approaching,” he said to the wolf while he was inspecting his leg again.  “Two days from now. You won’t be able to keep this form during that time, will you?”

The wolf hung his head with a quiet whimper.  

Shiro ran his fingers over the bone thoughtfully.  It wasn’t quite healed completely yet, but… “I believe your leg has healed enough to be able to shift without causing more damage.  I wouldn’t recommend doing it many times, but you should be able to shift for the new moon.” He cleared away the splint and bandages after doing his usual healing spells on the leg, then went to the chest where he stored the few extra clothes he had.  He had no way of knowing what the werewolf’s height would be once he shifted, but he pulled out a shirt and a pair of pants with a woven cloth belt and folded them up, placing them on the corner of the bed. “Here. You can wear these, whenever you decide to shift.”    

The wolf huffed — really, Shiro would have called it a pout — and remained where he was laying, apparently with no desire to shift.  He would have to, at some point, and that point was most likely two days from now, if not sooner. Shiro wasn’t sure how difficult it was for a werewolf to resist the call of the moon.

☽ ✧ ☾

A couple of nights later, Shiro got his answer.  He had just come in from preparing the garden for the planting he would do in a few nights for the waxing crescent.  Although the sky was clear, the night was dark without the glow of the moon; he had only starlight and his own lamp to guide him as he worked, but he could tend to the earth with only his sense of touch alone if he needed to.  

Closing the door behind him, Shiro glanced in the direction of the bed, where he had left the wolf sleeping when he went out after dinner.  He was only mildly surprised to see a person there now. He was clearly bare after his transformation, which had probably come over him in his sleep and he had not yet noticed.  He was still nestled in a cocoon of blankets and furs, but Shiro could see a strikingly beautiful face, a head of long, dark hair, an exposed foot and leg still stained with healing bruises and new scars, the slope of a bare shoulder, the empty silver circle magically tattooed just below the dip of his collarbone that marked him as a werewolf, and… ah, the soft curve of a breast where one of the pelts had fallen too low.  

Shiro turned away quickly to protect the sleeping person’s modesty.  He set the lantern on the table as quietly as he could and cast a quick spell in the direction of the bed to lay the pelt over his body fully.  The night air was chilly, and he wouldn’t want him to get cold.

Try as he might not to disturb the werewolf, it seemed the quiet sound and the magical movement of the blankets woke him from his light doze.  A few moments later, Shiro heard the sound of shifting weight and rustling fabric come from behind him. He risked a glance over his shoulder and found his guest sitting up in his bed with the white wolf pelt wrapped around his shoulders, making him look almost like a selkie of canine origins.  The same piercing amethyst eyes as he had as a wolf watched him from across the cottage, and Shiro noticed that despite the human appearance, he still retained that glint of eye-shine that revealed that this was a predator of the night.  

Shiro smiled warmly.  “Good evening. How are you feeling?”  

The werewolf looked away.  “Better. Thank you, for saving my life.”  His voice was quiet, and low and rough like the growls Shiro had become familiar with.  

“Are you hungry?  Or thirsty?” Shiro asked.  “I’ve heard that shifting takes a lot of energy.”  

“A little,” he admitted, drawing the pelt tighter around his shoulders.  “Some water would be good.”  

Shiro dipped a cup into the bucket of fresh water he had drawn from the well that day, then handed it to the person.  To his surprise, he let go of the pelt to reach for the cup, letting the covering fall open at the front and hang precariously from his shoulders.  

Shiro didn’t mean to stare, but the sight was presented so suddenly and right in front of him, so he couldn’t help it.  It wasn’t the nudity that really shocked him, though. Or, it had been, at first, but that was quickly overshadowed by the scars; the soft, smooth expanse of his ribcage and stomach were marred by four jagged scars cutting across his torso.  The scar tissue was thick and rope-like, a sure sign that the cuts had been deep and had struggled to heal. From the arrangement and what little he knew of his guest, he could only assume that they had been inflicted by claws.  

When the werewolf tipped his head back to drink the last of the water, the pelt perched on his shoulders fell and pooled behind him.  He let out a shiver and his shoulders drew hunched. “...‘s cold without fur,” the person muttered.  

Shiro tore his eyes away from the scars and picked up the folded clothes he had left beside the pillow.  “Here. These might be a bit big on you, but the wool is warm.”  

“Thank you.” The werewolf reached for the clothes.  

Shiro busied himself with taking the cup back to the kitchen and refilling it, so as to give him some privacy.  He didn’t seem to care about his nudity, other than feeling cold, but it still didn’t feel right to stare.  

“Shiro?”  The werewolf called.  “My, um… my fingers are a bit stiff.  Could you…?”  

“Oh, sure,” Shiro set the cup on the table and came around to the bedside.  The werewolf had managed to get his arms through the sleeves, but the shirt was open at the front and he was frowning down at his hands as he opened and closed them in slow, shaky movements, as if he wasn’t used to being able to move his fingers after spending so much time as a wolf.

Shiro sat on the edge of the bed and started doing up the buttons lining the front of the shirt.  “How did you know my name?” He asked, curious. “I apologize; I don’t think I ever actually introduced myself.”  

“It’s alright.  People seldom say their own name in conversation,” the werewolf said.  “And your plants told me. They talk about you.”  

“Do they, now?” Shiro chuckled, glancing at the herbs sitting on his kitchen table.  “Good things, I hope?”  

The herbs were pointedly quiet, which was a rarity for some of them (especially the cilantro… the finicky little bastard never stopped complaining)  

The werewolf just hummed noncommittally.  

“May I have your name?”  Shiro asked, moving up to the third button.  “Now that you are able to speak, that is?”

The werewolf was quiet for a moment.  “Keith,” he said finally. “My name is Keith.”  

Shiro looked up with a warm smile.  “Pleasure to meet you, Keith. I just wish we could have met under less dire circumstances.”  He did up a few more buttons, trying very hard to focus on the fabric and buttons and not on the fact that his hands were very close to this person’s breasts.  

“If it’s alright,” he started slowly, carefully.  “Can I ask how you got these scars? It looks like a terribly painful injury.”  

Keith’s expression clouded and he went stiff, but he didn’t push Shiro away.  “I made a mistake. Mistakes were made.”  

Shiro couldn’t help but notice such unusual phrasing.  Perhaps it meant that part of it had been a mistake that someone else had made, that had affected Keith.  But Shiro couldn’t imagine what kind of mistake would lead to such a graphic injury.  

“Was it a fight?”  Shiro should stop talking, he knew.  He shouldn’t pry. But the question came out anyway.  

Keith’s expression was dark as he lifted his hands to clumsily do up the last two buttons himself.  “My pack and I didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on some things. ‘Some things’ meaning who I am and how I see myself, regardless of what I was born as.”  He scowled and looked away, hand curling into a fist on his knee. “My pack thought I had gone mad. The alpha did this,” he brought his hand up to his chest, fingers hooked like claws, and slashed it downward toward his hip, mimicking the scars.  “And kicked me out. Said it would be better for everyone if I went off and died in the woods somewhere.”  

“That’s terrible,” Shiro told him, horrified.  “To do that to you and tell you that, and just cast you aside… I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”

Keith lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug, eyes fixed on his lap.  “They were right. It’s what I deserve—”

“It is not.”  Shiro cut him off.  He took Keith’s hands in his, and was surprised by how hot the werewolf’s skin was.  “No one deserves to be treated that way, Keith.”  

Keith said nothing, but he also didn’t pull his hands away from Shiro.  

Shiro squeezed his hands gently, hoping to convey his reassurance.  But Keith didn’t seem to want to say anything more, so Shiro would not press him now.  “May I see your leg? I would like to check the healing.”  

Keith worked his leg out from under the blankets and pelts, wincing a little at the movement.  Shiro fetched the jar of salve from where it was sitting ready on the table and settled on the edge of the bed to take a look at the limb.  Keith’s legs were covered in dark hair, but it was still far easier to see the wounds now than when they had been hidden by a thick layer of fur.  He could see that the bruises were healing, and the gashes left by the trap’s jaws were healed to pink, tender tissue. They would leave a scar, most likely, but at least there was no sign of infection thanks to Shiro’s efforts.  

“This is looking much better,” he told Keith as he dipped his fingers into the jar of salve.  “I would suggest staying off of it for a day or two more, but after that, you should be completely healed.”  He spread the salve over the wounds, whispering healing spells as he worked. After that, he wrapped a few clean bandages around the wounds to keep the salve in place, but didn’t deem the splint necessary anymore.

“Why did you save me?”  Keith asked. “You didn’t know me.  You could have just left me.”

“I couldn’t have,” Shiro shook his head.  “Everything with a life deserves a chance to live.  Anything that can be saved deserves to be saved.”  

Keith let out a derisive snort.  “My pack wouldn’t have agreed with that,” he said quietly, with an ache in his voice.

Shiro’s hands stilled as he absorbed the words.  “Then they would be wrong,” he said firmly, tying off the last bandage.  

As he set to tidying up the medicines, Shiro glanced over his shoulder and found Keith looking out the window with his face turned up toward the new moon, visible only as a disk that was a slightly darker black than the star-speckled dark night sky.  A frown pinched his lips and his brows were drawn low over his eyes.  

“Do you prefer being a wolf?”  Shiro asked, as careful as he was curious.  

Keith’s lips tightened into a thin line.  “Yeah,” he said, pushing away from the window and dropping onto the bed once more.  He reached for the white wolf’s pelt and wrapped it around himself, as if to replace his own new-moon-human skin.  

“May I ask why?”  Shiro asked, sitting on the stool still positioned beside the bed.  

Keith hesitated, visibly mulling over his reply, then settled for gesturing at his chest and making a face that was equal parts pain and disgust.  

Shiro hummed thoughtfully.  “I suppose that is one benefit,” he mused.  He didn’t have any such worry or discomfort himself, instead being able to enjoy the luxury of not really caring about his gender either way (and living far enough from civilization that no one else cared, either).  

Keith pulled the pelt tighter around himself, looking away briefly before his eyes settled on Shiro, hard and cold.  “I’m a man,” he said, quiet but defiant. Defensive.

“I know,” Shiro said.  At Keith’s questioning look, he lifted a hand and made a sort of loose, flowy gesture toward Keith, tracing around him.  “Your aura,” he explained. “I can’t see auras, and they aren’t colors like many people believe.  But I can sense it all the same. I felt it from the moment I met you.  I could sense you were male, as clearly as I could sense you were in pain because of that trap.”  

Some of the tension leaked out of Keith’s shoulders as he relaxed.  Not fully, but a little. “You’d be the first, then,” he said ruefully.  

“Hopefully not the last,” Shiro said.  He dried his hands on a towel and looked toward the window; he could tell from the positions of the stars that it was late.  “We should sleep. You’ll need your rest to recover the last of that leg, and I’m sure you’re tired after shifting. Do you need anything else?”  

“No,” Keith shook his head, pulling his legs up onto the bed.  “Thank you, Shiro. For everything.”  

“It’s my pleasure,” Shiro smiled, picking up the blanket he had left folded on the corner of the table.  He wrapped it around himself and took his place on the ground near the hearth. “Goodnight, Keith.”  

For a long moment, there was only silence — the too-still kind indicative of deep thought rather than peace.  Shiro cracked an eye open and saw two bright yellow spots of eye-shine peering at him out of the darkness.  

“You… uh,” Keith cleared his throat.  “The floor doesn’t look very comfortable.”

“It’s fine,” Shiro said.  Not the best, but not the worst, with the help of a few spells to make the stones more comfortable.  

“You could…” the glint of eye-shine disappeared for a moment as Keith looked away.  “I mean, the bed is pretty big. Now that there’s not a giant wolf in it, that is. You could probably…” he trailed off, but Shiro felt he understood.  

He sat up slowly.  “Only if you’re comfortable with that,” he said carefully, not wanting to impose on his guest.  

In the dim light of the glowing coals in the hearth, Shiro saw Keith bob his head in a nod.  “I trusted you to free me from the trap and heal me. I can trust you with this, too. And… it’s cold without my fur.”  He looked away as he said it, and Shiro wasn’t sure if the warm color on his cheeks was a blush or the glow of the fire.  

Shiro smiled.  “Alright.” He got to his feet, blanket still wrapped around himself, and crossed the room to the bed.  Keith scooted closer to the edge, so Shiro took the side next to the wall. After arranging the blankets and furs so that both were comfortable, they laid down.  “Goodnight, Keith,” Shiro said, closing his eyes.

“Night, Shiro,” Keith said quietly, rolled onto his side to face away from him.  

☽ ✧ ☾

They had fallen asleep back to back in the bed with a bit of space between them, a blanket or two surreptitiously balled up between them like a flimsy barrier.  When dawn broke, Shiro found he had rolled onto his back in his sleep, and Keith had burrowed through the barrier of blankets and fitted himself close to Shiro’s side.  Even as a human, the nose pressed to Shiro’s shoulder was cold in the chilly morning air. Shiro looked down at Keith’s face, relaxed in a way he hadn’t been when he was awake, and remembered what Keith said about it being cold without his wolf’s fur.  Surely that was the only reason he was pressed so close to Shiro, he thought; just seeking out warmth in his sleep.

He had a feeling that getting out of bed would wake his sleeping guest, so Shiro made himself content to simply lay in bed a while longer and enjoy the rays of sunlight warming his face through the window.  Eventually, he felt Keith stir beside him and take a first deep breath upon waking, the warm air ghosting over Shiro’s collarbone. 

“Morning,” he greeted him softly.

“Ah, sorry,” Keith apologized, voice still rough with sleep.  He moved to put a more respectable amount of distance between them, head ducked low to avoid Shiro’s eyes.

“It’s alright.”  Shiro didn’t mind, really.  Those fox kits he had raised had spent every night in his bed with him, snuggled up to their pseudo-mother and trying to get into his shirt (they had not understood the concept of male vestigial nipples…).  The night was cold, and it was nice to share body heat.

Shiro sat up and rolled out the muscles in his neck, spine popping.  It had been quite a while since had indulged in a morning of sleeping in.  “Did you sleep well?” He asked.

Keith nodded, but rather than looking relaxed, the lines of his face were drawn and tense.  “The new moon makes me tired. Lethargic. I sleep longer, but in this form that’s dangerous.  I don’t have my teeth and claws if someone tries to sneak up on me.” 

Shiro considered his words.  “You really don’t like this form, do you?”  He asked.

Keith shook his head.  “I hate it,” he whispered, softly but with a heavy emotion. 

Shiro watched him carefully.  ‘Hate’ was a strong word. Keith did not seem to be using it lightly.  He cleared his throat and tried to change the subject. “Well, you will be safe here.  No one will sneak up on you, regardless of your form. You can rest as much as you like.”  He slid off the bed and shivered as his feet touched the cold floors not yet warmed by the sun; autumn was quickly fading to winter.  Shiro pulled on his warm woolen socks and laced up his sturdy leather boots. “How about some breakfast? We can heat up the stew from last night, and have something hot to warm us up.” 

“Yeah,” Keith said with a small smile.  “That sounds good.” 

The warm stew in their bellies for breakfast helped make the chill of the morning air easier to bear.  After breakfast, Shiro drew up some water from the well and set to tending to his plants. Many were beginning to go dormant, and he was busy casting spells over their leaves, roots, and stems to help protect them during the long, cold winter.  Some of the hardier vegetables were still thriving in the cool air, and he was in the midst of giving thanks to them before harvesting when Keith wandered outside. He had pulled on one of Shiro’s sweaters, but was still barefoot. 

“What are you doing?”  Keith asked, walking up to him.

“Bringing in the last of the harvest,” Shiro said, eyes dropping to his bare feet in the grass.  “Aren’t you cold?”

Keith shrugged.  “My feet are tough.  Apparently calluses stay with you, whether you’re a wolf or a human.”

Fair enough.  Shiro picked up his basket and got to his feet.  “Did you need something?”

Keith’s eyes slid to the side and he shifted his weight.  “Can I help? I mean, I have hands, so…” he trailed off, looking unusually shy.

Shiro smiled.  “Sure. I was about to do the carrots.  Here, I’ll show you how.” He dropped to a crouch, and Keith followed suit, watching in interest as Shiro showed him how to tell which vegetables were ripe and ready to be picked, and how to pick them. 

It was nice to work together, and they managed to finish twice as fast.  Shiro was reminded of the days when Keith, as a wolf, had followed him around and watched him work.  It was nice to talk with Keith and have Keith be able to talk back for a change, but the easy air between them was the same as when he had been a wolf.  Much like then, Keith watched Shiro curiously as he prepared some potions, but this time, he jumped to hand Shiro the bottles of ingredients before he could reach for them himself. 

“I have hands,” Keith explained, when Shiro asked him about it.  He passed Shiro a vial of dried sage with a wry smile that didn’t quite touch his eyes.  “This form might as well be useful for something, while I’m in it.” 

That was… a rather grim way of looking at one’s own body, Shiro thought.  But he knew Keith took issue with it, so he didn’t bring it up to the other. 

They prepared dinner together, then ate.  Keith helped him wash the dishes afterward, but he seemed distracted, always glancing toward the window.  As the sky deepened to indigo, Shiro saw it — the tiniest sliver of the moon, the very beginning of the waxing crescent.     

“You can shift whenever you like, you know,” Shiro told him, drying his hands on the towel after finishing. 

Keith turned away from the window, looking guilty.  “I… yeah. I would feel better,” he admitted quietly.  “Sorry.” 

“No need to apologize.  You’re free to do as you like,” Shiro reminded him. 

Keith rubbed his arms, averting his gaze.  “I kinda have to… you know,” he plucked at the collar of his borrowed shirt.  “For shifting. I mean… unless you don’t mind this getting shredded.” 

“Oh,” Shiro blinked, understanding.  “No, I’d rather keep that intact, if you can.  I’ve got some planting to do — the beginning of the waxing crescent is a good phase to plant under — so I’ll be outside.  Take as much time as you need.” 

“It’s pretty quick,” Keith said.  “But, yeah. Thanks.” 

“Don’t worry about it.”  Shiro smiled and reached out to squeeze his hand comfortingly.  “Before you lose the ability to speak, is there anything else you need?  Or will need, after? I can make you some pain relievers, if it hurts.” 

The worried lines of his face smoothed out into something just short of a smile as Keith shook his head, some of the tension leaving his shoulders.  “I’ll be fine. It doesn’t hurt that much. It hurts more for turned werewolves, but I was born like this. I hardly feel it. But thank you.” 

“Alright.  Good luck, then.”  Shiro gathered up his planting tools and a jar of moon water, then left the cottage and closed the door behind himself. 

Everything was quiet as he made his way to the garden alongside the cottage.  The cold had driven away the bugs and crickets that usually sang at night, and while he could sense the presence of a few animals prowling the forest, they were all small predator types and so they moved silently as they hunted.  The cold sky was clear, only the tiniest sliver of moon visible among the bright stars. Shiro set down his lantern a safe distance from any of the leaves blowing in the breeze, and got to work. He had a few seeds to plant that would lay dormant until they were ready to grow in spring, and he murmured spells over them as he laid them in the ground.  He kept an ear on the cottage, but it too was silent; no flashes of magical light, no cries of pain at bones rearranging themselves, not even a canine yip came from the cottage. Even so, by the time Shiro was brushing the dirt off his hands and sprinkling moon water over his newly-planted seeds, the cottage door creaked open and Shiro looked up to find a familiar dark russet wolf padding over to him, eyes reflecting the yellow light of his lantern. 

Shiro smiled at him.  “Feeling okay?” 

A soft whuff and a head-bump were his answer, which he hoped amounted to a ‘yes’.  Shiro stroked a hand down the wolf’s neck. 

“Come on, let’s go back inside and get ready for bed.”  Shiro picked up his tools and the lantern. A scrap of fabric fell out of his basket – the cloth he had wrapped around the seeds while he kept them warm inside.  Keith darted forward to pick it up, gently closing his teeth around it and trotting back to the cottage with Shiro at his side. 

“Even without hands, you still want to help me, huh?”  Shiro chuckled. He held open the door for Keith to trot though, then closed it and did up the lock for the night.  To his amusement, Keith dropped the cloth on the table (an easy feat for a wolf of his size), right where Shiro usually kept his planting tools. 

“Thanks,” Shiro smiled, patting the soft fur between his ears. 

While Shiro moved around the cottage putting out candles and muttering spells over the fire to keep the coals warm all night, Keith hopped up on the bed and circled, settling down in a large ball with his tail tucked around him.  Shiro noticed that the shirt, sweater, and pants Keith had been wearing as a human were folded neatly on the corner of the bed beside the pillow. Shiro moved the stack of clothes to the bedside table, keeping them close in case Keith needed to shift again.

“Can I sleep here?”  Shiro asked, patting the edge of the bed.  Keith cracked one amethyst eye open and regarded him sleepily, then blinked once.  With his other eye hidden under the fluff of his tail, it looked almost like a wink (Shiro had to remind himself that it was not). 

He got settled in bed beside the huge wolf and noticed that Keith was curled up on top of the blankets.  Granted, he probably didn’t need them as much with his own fur coat keeping him warm, but Shiro still grabbed a blanket and laid it over him before settling down to sleep.

Chapter Text

Shiro woke early the next morning and tried to slip out of bed without disturbing Keith.  He was only half-successful; the werewolf slept through him lacing up his boots and tying back his long hair into a braid, but the quiet click of the wardrobe door roused him and he picked up his head as Shiro pulled on his coat. 

“I need to go somewhere for a bit,” Shiro explained in response to the questioning look he got.  He adjusted the collar of his wool greatcoat, a gift from a friend that was too nice for him to justify wearing it except on special occasions.  Going into town seemed to be enough of a special occasion, or at least an occasion where he should make an effort to look like he didn’t spend all his time living alone in the woods.  Shiro grabbed his leather satchel and a handful of vials he had prepared for his delivery today. “I’ll be gone for most of the day, but I should return by nightfall. I’ll leave lunch on the table for you, and you can help yourself to anything else you need throughout the day.  I promise I’ll return before dinner.” 

Violet wolf eyes watched him, head tilted curiously.  If Keith was suspicious of anything, it wasn’t enough to warrant shifting back to confront him about it.  As promised, Shiro prepared a bowl of cooked meat and vegetables and left it on the table, covered by a cloth to keep it clean until Keith would eat it.  He also set out a bowl of fresh water beside it. 

Before he left, Shiro dropped to a knee beside the bed and smiled at Keith, rubbing behind his ears.  “I’ll be back soon. Try to get some more rest, okay?” 

Keith let out a huff and bobbed his head, using the motion to press the side of his head into Shiro’s hand for more pets.  Shiro indulged him a moment longer before rising to his feet. 

He shut the cottage door but didn’t lock it, in case Keith wanted to go out while he was gone.  He set off down the path, and let himself get out of sight of the cottage before closing his eyes and whispering a transportation spell to himself.  The runes and protective sigils tattooed on his arms tingled faintly as they glowed, the shine invisible under his thick greatcoat, then he vanished with the wind blowing through the woods. 

He reappeared in a dingy alleyway, bringing a brief puff of crisp autumn forest air with him into the stale city.  His spirit felt a little heavier here, magic a little fainter with so few plants and animals. But he wouldn’t be here long, hopefully, and after this he could return to his forest. 

Shiro brushed a stray leaf out of his hair and adjusted his coat before stepping out of the alleyway.  The streets were quiet this early in the morning, with only a few people out and about. He had transported himself exactly where he wanted to go, so he simply rounded the corner and opened the door to his friend’s shop.  A handful of bells chimed as he entered the shop, the sound both cheery and too noisy for someone used to the quiet of the forest. The inside of the shop was much more inviting than the city outside; warm wood paneling the walls and floors, shelves lined with bottles and vials and bundles of dried herbs and flowers, potted plants dotting the counter-tops… Shiro touched the leaves of one of them and felt that is was fine and happy, if a little dry. 

“Be with you in a moment!”  A voice called from the back.  Moments later, the eclectic witch came around the corner, greeting him with a smile.  “Oh, hey, Shiro. What can I do for you?” 

“Lance,” Shiro smiled, then nodded to the dry plant.  “Your hoya needs a little water.” 

Lance sighed and retreated into the back room again, muttering “transports himself a dozen miles just to harp on me about my plants…” He emerged from the back again with a dripping watering can.  Lance watered the hoya, then walked around watering all the other plants in his shop. “So, did you really come all this way just to check on my plants, or did you just miss my beautiful face?” he asked over his shoulder. 

“Thought I could bump my delivery up, considering the weather,” Shiro hummed innocently, setting his satchel on the counter and pulling out the vials and potions he had brought. 

“Oh, did you bring me those flowers?  I was just thinking I needed to contact you about that.”  Lance set the watering can down. 

“Lavender, sage, chrysanthemum… no tulips, though.  You’re not allowed to work with tulips anymore.” Shiro told him.

“It was one time!”  Lance threw his hands up in the air.  “I made tea with the petals one time , Shiro!”

“You accidentally poisoned yourself,” Shiro reminded him flatly.

“Only a little bit!”  Lance defended himself.  “And I learned my mistake!”  He sighed and with a wave of his hand, opened the old-fashioned register.  Taking out a few silver pieces, he slid them across the counter to pay for the herbs.  “Here, take your money and stop badgering me about the damn tulip tea incident.” 

“Actually,” Shiro slid the coins back across the counter to him.  “I have a request, too.” 

Lance’s brow arched in surprise.  “Oh?” 

“I need a spell that will safely decrease the size of part of the body.  Permanently, not for a short time,” Shiro said. 

Lance’s other eyebrow flew up to join the first, his eyes widening.  “Uh, Shiro, you know most people ask for spells to make ‘parts of the body’ bigger , not smaller, right?  And I mean, I haven’t seen , but I’m sure you’re packing what most guys want , you know?”  To Shiro’s absolute mortification, he looked down pointedly and made a loose gesture towards Shiro’s midsection.

It’s not for that and it’s not for me, ” Shiro said quickly and maybe a little too loudly, his face growing hot.  “I want to learn the spell. For someone else. And it’s not for that part.” 

Lance looked doubtful.  “Well, I mean, of course there are spells for things like that.  Lots of ‘em, in fact. It depends on the body part you want to alter.  I can’t really give you more than that without knowing more myself, though.” 

“It’s the…” Shiro trailed off, face aflame, and gestured to his own chest. 

Lance arched a brow at him, expression flat.  “Again, you look great.”

“Again, it’s not for me,” Shiro shot back. 

“You’re awfully worked up, for it not being personal,” Lance pointed out.

“I’m not worked up,” Shiro defended, willing his blush away.  “I just… I didn’t really get his permission to, uh, ask someone about his problem.  But I know it bothers him, and if there’s something I can do for him, I want to do it.” 

“Him?”  Lance looked confused, then comprehension dawned and he let out a soft “ohhhh… Gotcha.  Yeah, there are plenty of spells for that.” He turned away and crossed the shop to the bookshelf lining the back wall, trailing his finger over the tomes. 

“There are?”  Shiro was surprised.  He had gone to Lance with a hope, but hadn’t been confident even a witch as accomplished as him would have an answer. 

“Oh yeah.  Most of the body altering I do here is for that,” Lance said easily, pulling a tome off the shelf.  He held his hand over the pages and they flipped on their own as he concentrated on finding the spell.  “Like yeah, if Chad Broseph Broington III walks in with a whim for a bigger dong, I usually turn him away — I’ve got standards, you know.  But a man coming in with a desire to be a bit taller and deepen his voice so he can be taken seriously by his peers, or a woman wanting to change the shape of her jaw and get rid of her beard to appear more feminine?  I’m happy to work with them. Ah, here it is.” He paused, sharp blue eyes scanning the page for a few moments. “Does your mystery beau have any magic himself? That can affect the method.”

“He’s a werewolf,” Shiro said.  “And he’s not my ‘beau’, whatever that means,” he added quickly. 

“Werewolf, huh?”  Lance looked up. “They have some magic, but how much they can use depends on their control over their shifting.  Where’d you run into a werewolf?” 

“A few weeks ago I found him with his leg in a hunter’s trap,” Shiro explained.  “I took him home to heal him. He seems to have a lot of control over his shifting, but because of—” he gestured to his own chest again.  “—he prefers to stay as a wolf unless he can’t help it, like during the new moon. He sounded so… resigned, and sad, when he talked about having to be in his human form.  It broke my heart to hear him speak like that. I want to help him feel more comfortable in his own skin, you know?”  

“Uh-huh.”  Lance leaned an elbow on the counter, tome balanced in his other hand.  “And have you kissed?” 

Shiro’s thoughts screeched to a halt.  “What does that have to do with the spell?” he stammered. 

“Oh, nothing, that was for my own interest.”  Lance waved a hand at him and turned back to the tome.  “Just figured you would have, since you’re so obviously smitten with him and he’s been living with you for a few weeks .” 

“We haven’t done anything like that,” Shiro managed to get out.  “We— he doesn’t even— we’re not like that. At all.” 

“Sure.”  Lance rolled his eyes.  “Just keep telling yourself that.  That’s why you sought out a witch with a proclivity for heart-magic, hm?” 

“You’re my friend !” Shiro defended.  He didn’t know many people in the city; who else was he supposed to go to?    

“Friends don’t keep secret werewolf boyfriends from their friends.”  Lance leaned on the counter toward him. 

“We’re not together.”  Shiro’s voice was firm as steel, despite the redness of his ears.  “I promise .” 

Lance gave him a long look, then shrugged.  “Well, that’s too bad. This spell will be easier to do if you were.  Or at least less awkward. It requires contact between the spellcaster and the castee on the part of the body you’re trying to change, allowing your incantation to draw on his own magic and harness it to make the effects less prone to rebounding and backfiring.”  He waved his hand over the page, then swept his palm over blank roll of parchment. The words glowed as they traced themselves onto the parchment, then settled to black ink. 

Shiro blinked as he processed the words.  “So, you mean…?”

“Yep,” Lance thrust the paper at him with a grimly-set grin.  “You’re gonna have to touch his chesticles.” 

If Shiro wasn’t blushing before, his face was surely in flames now.  “Do not call them that.”  He was pretty certain Keith would not like hearing that.

“Well, most of the guys and people I’ve worked with don’t like calling them ‘boobs’,” Lance held his hands up in a shrug.  “Whatever, point is you have to touch them. Otherwise the matter dispersal doesn’t work right and the extra tissue doesn’t know where to go… essentially, the one being cast on supplies the magical energy, and you as the spellcaster provide the incantation and direct the magic.  Like a doctor doing a skin graft with tissue from the same person to reduce the chance of rejection. Bio-magical rejection is a messy business, trust me.”

Shiro took the proffered sheet of parchment and looked it over, sharp eyes scanning the symbols.  “Thanks. How much for this?”

“Meh, I don’t have a set price,” Lance shrugged and waved his hand.  “I sell that one on a sliding scale based on the customer’s situation.  Most folks that come in wanting that are only coming to me because they can’t afford more mainstream methods from a doctor.  The ingredients you’ve brought me can serve as payment enough.”

Shiro looked at him over the parchment.  “That’s noble of you, but I can pay. And you know I’ll just looked up the materials and spell-time on my own and find the going market rate, if you don’t tell me.”  Spellcraft was a trade like any other, and Shiro knew that ingredients, materials, and time didn’t come for free, or even cheap (he would know, as he was the one delivering many of those ingredients and materials).  

Lance sighed.  “Fine, market rate for that spell is one hundred gold without ingredients – I’m sure you already have them all on your own.”  He paused, then went on. “Or, you know, I could knock it down by fifty percent in exchange for more deets on your new werewolf boyfriend…” 

“A hundred gold it is,” Shiro cut him off and took the money out of his coin-purse.  

“You’re no fun,” Lance pouted.  He accepted the gold without counting it, having full trust in his friend.  “Oh,” he said suddenly, snapping his fingers and turning to rummage around in the cabinet of vials and potion bottles behind the counter.  He turned back with a slim, short vial full of clear liquid and sealed with yellow wax around the cork. “Do you think he wants this, too? This potion alters a person’s hormones and makes the effects of that spell more potent.”  

Shiro considered it.  “I don’t know. I can ask him and come back if he wants it.  How much for it?”

“Might as well just take it.  And it’s on the house,” Lance shrugged.  “Brewed it as a special order and then the person changed their mind, so I already had it laying around.  Just use it before the next full moon, and I’ll be glad it didn’t go to waste.”

“Alright, thanks,” Shiro accepted the vial and slipped it into his bag.  He checked over the alteration spell and noted that he had most of the necessary materials already.  “I could use some more salt, if you’ve got any,” he said.  

“Got plenty of that,” Lance opened up a cabinet.  “Table salt, himalayan, kosher, sel gris , fleur de sel , black lava salt, salt charged in the moonlight, salt charged in the sunlight… take your pick.”  

“Whatever you think would work best here,” Shiro said, eyeing the parchment.  It didn’t seem to require anything specific.

Lance plucked a bottle off the shelf.  “Charged with moonlight. It’s good for everything, and he’s a werewolf.”  

“How much for it?”  Shiro asked, because he knew if he didn’t, Lance would probably give it to him for free.  

“Two silvers.”

Shiro nodded and handed him the coins in exchange for the bottle.  After a bit more chit chat and polite diversions away from any mention of his ‘werewolf beau’, Shiro bid his friend farewell and left the shop.  He rounded the corner into the alley, checked up and down for any passerby, and with a whispered incantation, left the crowded city behind and found himself back in his woods, the dull roar of automobiles and people fading to the rustle of leaves in the breeze and the chirp of birds flitting about in the autumn sun.  

When his cottage came into sight, Shiro was surprised to see the large, dark-russet wolf lounging in the sunlight in front of the house.  Keith picked up his head when Shiro approached, and Shiro couldn’t help but smile at the sight of his tail giving an excited thump against the earth before he got to his feet.

☽ ✧ ☾

Shiro was careful to study the spell and explain it fully to Keith, in as much detail as he could, to make sure there would be no mistakes.  He also requested Keith shift back to human to discuss it, just to be certain that he was in agreement. It would take a lot of time, he explained, perhaps even a few months; the instructions were firm about not doing too much too fast, both for the benefit of the spellcaster and for the health of the one being cast on.  Slow, gradual change would look and feel better in the end, the instructions maintained. Keith didn’t seem thrilled with that part, nor with the implementation method, but he agreed that it was better than nothing.  

And so they found themselves ready to begin.  It was the last night of the waxing crescent; the moon outside was nearly half-illuminated, matching the silver marking on Keith’s chest that constantly changed to reflect the moon that guided his forms.  Shiro lit several candles and lined them up on the sturdy headboard above his bed, crystals placed between them. Never before had he imagined making his bed into a makeshift altar, but it would be the most comfortable place to do this.  

Shiro crouched in front of the fireplace, busying himself with stoking the flames and adding another log to the fire.  It was as much a simple action to warm the cottage further as it was to turn his attention elsewhere, and a chance to warm his hands.  Behind him, he heard the familiar multitude of thumps as Keith hopped off the bed with four paws, then a quiet shuffle, then a sharp, human intake of breath that signalled he had shifted.  Shiro poked the fire unnecessarily as he listened for the rustle of fabric as Keith pulled on his clothes, then the pop of a cork and soft clink of glass as he drained the vial and set it on the table.  Shiro dusted his hands off while rising to his feet, and turned around just as Keith was taking a seat on the center of the bed.  

“Are you ready?”  Shiro asked.  

Keith gave a short, jerky nod, his eyes flashing in the flickering light of the fire.  “As ready as I’ll ever be.” He flopped back onto the pillow, graceful even in such a careless action, and Shiro couldn’t resist chuckling quietly.  

“It’ll be over soon,” Shiro reassured him, taking a seat on the edge of the bed beside Keith’s hip.  

“You said it could take months,” Keith reminded him.  His mouth was set in a downward curve that bordered on a pout, though Shiro would never call it that aloud.  

“Well, this part will be over soon,” Shiro said.  “You’ll be one step closer, at least.”  

Keith let out a sound that was half a hmph , half a hum of agreement.  “Ready?” He looked up at Shiro, fiddling with the hem of his shirt.  

Shiro took a moment to close his eyes and center himself, feeling his magic rise to the surface of his skin and tingle in his fingertips.  “Ready.”  

Keith took a deep breath, then tugged his shirt up to his armpits, exposing his chest.  

Gods give me strength… Shiro thought to himself.  He made himself remember Lance’s advice about being an impartial, professional spellcaster despite the intimate nature of the task.  It was hard to remember that with the pale moonlight and warm glow of the candles washing over Keith’s bare skin as he lay on Shiro’s bed, dark hair splayed out on the pillow and nipples already peaked and pebbled from the chilly night air.  Then he raised his eyes to meet Keith’s, and the pain he saw there hooked into his gut and yanked him back, quelling any unprofessional arousal.  

“Are you alright?”  Shiro asked, worried.  

Keith took a deep breath, and the candles flickered from the air he disturbed, casting dancing light across his chest as it rose and fell.  He swallowed hard. “I will be. Just get on with it.”  

Shiro watched him a moment longer to be certain he was okay, then turned back to his task.  This wasn’t something Keith wanted, merely a necessary evil to get past in order to get to what he did want.  Shiro needed to remember that, and act accordingly.  

He touched the dip below Keith’s sternum first, keeping his distance from his goal for the time being.  Keith jumped all the same, his fingers curling into fists and his eyes falling shut as his expression went stony.  

“Sorry,” Shiro murmured, drawing his hands back to rub them vigorously against the tops of his thighs.  “I tried to warm them before.”  

“It’s fine,” Keith shook his head.  “They’re not cold. I was just… No one’s touched there.”  His dark tone indicated that he didn’t necessarily want anyone to, either.  

Despite Keith’s reassurance, Shiro cast a quick warming spell over his palms before trying again.  Keith held still this time, so Shiro moved his hands higher until his palms were laid over Keith’s breasts.  It was impossible not to feel his hard, pebbled nipples resting right between Shiro’s life and heart lines, but he tried to put that information out of his mind; he had a job to do.  

“Take a deep breath,” Shiro instructed as he let his eyes fall closed, and felt the chest under him rise and fall as Keith did so.  “Open your magic. Think of that feeling that comes when you shift, especially when you do so because the moon calls to you. Find that feeling, and visualize it.  Bring it up from your heart, toward my hands.”  

He could see it, then; a shimmering, reddish-orange like the shine of a full harvest moon in the depths of late autumn.  Shiro reached for it in his mind, never moving his hands, and the moment he did, he was met with a flood of images and sensations.  He could feel that pull of the moon like an itch under his own skin, begging him to shed his human skin and run through the forest on four paws.  He could smell the forest, and how it came alive to the keen nose of a wolf. He could feel the leaves and the earth under his paws, the warmth of his own breath creating puffs in the cold air, the curtain of starlight wreathing the moon as it pulled a howl from his chest, low and mournful and echoing as it went unreturned. 

Shiro grasped a thread of Keith’s magic and carefully extracted it from the memories, drawing it out to be used.  He whispered the incantation he had practiced speaking dozens of times over the past couple of days to ensure his tongue would not falter over the words.  The runes and sigils tattooed onto his arms and hands began to glow, as did the nearly-half-moon silver marking on Keith’s chest. Shiro concentrated on what was under his palms, breaking down the flesh and tissue into energy and letting the energy dissolve and disperse into the night.  

He could feel Keith growing tired quickly; Shiro was an experienced spellcaster, and while Keith had a good handle on his own magic, he was used to expelling it in short bursts only to shift, quick and controlled to minimize pain.  He wasn’t used to prolonged magical exertion, so Shiro wrapped up the incantation after only a few minutes before removing his hands and breaking the spell.  

“That’s all we should do for tonight,” he explained, tugging Keith’s shirt down to cover him once more.  “I’ll get you some water. You must be tired.” He patted his hip where the edge of the shirt fell to, then got to his feet.  

“That’s all?”  Keith sat up, looking down in confusion.  He pulled the collar of his shirt away from his chest and peered down the gap.  “It didn’t do anything.”  

“We just have to go slow.  The spell worked. I could feel it.”  Shiro fetched a glass of water for them both.  

Keith still looked doubtful.  He grabbed at his own chest, fingers squeezing while a frown of concentration pinched his brows and lips, and Shiro couldn’t help but laugh softly at him.  

“I could feel it, magically ,” he clarified, handing Keith a glass of water.  He explained the process of breaking down the matter into energy and shrinking the skin on top just slightly to accommodate it.  True, the effects might not be enough to be felt immediately, but it was what would be safest for both of them.  

“You know, your magic runs deep,” Shiro commented.  He had been able to feel that, too; layers and layers of untapped, wild magic hidden inside what had felt like a deep, ancient cavern.  “If you can learn to harness more of your magic, we can go for longer.”

Keith straightened up, and though he was human, Shiro could clearly imagine wolf ears pricking up in interest.  “How do I do that?”  

“Meditation is the best path.”  Shiro had to fight not to laugh at the face Keith pulled at the word.  

“I’m not good at that,” Keith muttered.  

“It takes patience,” Shiro laid a hand on his knee, squeezing comfortingly.  “Patience yields focus. You’ll get there.”  

☽ ✧ ☾

They fell into a steady routine.  They woke with the sun, made breakfast, and tended to the garden together.  After lunch, Shiro often worked on preparing a few regular orders for Lance – polishing stones, grinding herbs into fine powders, extracting crystals from their geodes, and the like – while Keith worked on meditating to gain more control over his own magic.  They collected firewood in the late afternoon, and in the evening they prepared dinner together. After dinner and cleaning up, Shiro would light the candles and lay his hands on Keith as gently as he could, whispering incantations over him. Loathe as Keith was to admit that the meditation was helping, it was, and they could cast together for up to a half hour before they needed to stop.  It was working, slowly but surely. Shiro could feel the difference physically, not just magically, and he even caught Keith taking the small round mirror off the wall opposite the cottage door and holding it out in front of him to eye his chest critically (he didn’t have the heart to tell Keith the mirror was for keeping bad fortune away, not for looking at oneself, especially when Keith placed it right back where it had been when he was done).  

The spell’s instructions cautioned that in the case of a shifter, it would be best to remain in human form whenever possible to keep the effects of the spell stable until the body could adjust.  Keith complied with this (albeit with much grumbling and pouting) as best he could, but as the moon grew more and more full, the need to shift grew more and more pronounced. He rubbed at the silver moon marking on his chest – visible when he left the top button undone on his shirt – as if rubbing away a painful bout of heartburn, and Shiro could tell when they did their casting sessions that Keith’s magic was itching and scratching at the metaphorical door, aching to be let out.  

“Why don’t we take a break?”  Shiro suggested, as the waxing gibbous inched closer and closer to full.  “We can continue after the full moon has passed. The spell will be just as effective even after a few day’s rest, and your magic will be much easier to work with.”  He would never admit it to Keith, but his restless energy was getting a little hard to deal with. Shiro was beginning to feel like he was wrestling with the wolf inside him.  

Keith heaved out a sigh, looking both defeated and relieved.  “I think that would be best, yeah.” He grabbed the hem of his shirt, still tucked under his armpits, but instead of moving his shirt down to cover himself, he tugged it off over his head.  

Shiro’s mouth fell open.  “Oh. Um. Should I go…?”

“I don’t care.”  Keith sounded testy as he yanked his pants off and folded them hastily.  “You’ve had your hands on my naked chest for the better part of a month.”  He pushed himself forward as he slid off the bed, and was a wolf before his paws touched the ground.  Shiro was astonished by the fluidity of the shift (almost as astonished as he had been by the sudden nudity).  

Keith shook himself off, ears smacking against his head at the movement and fur fluffing up.  

Shiro reached out to scratch behind his ears, a smile pulling at his lips.  “Feel better?”  

Keith let out a soft whuff and laid his head on Shiro’s knee.  His tail was still twitching with restless, pent-up energy, though.  

“Want to go for a run?”  Shiro asked, and didn’t bother to hide his chuckle at the way Keith instantly perked up.  “Come on, let’s go.”  

He pulled his boots on and opened the door, and Keith took off like a shot.  Shiro could only watch him in awe; he realized that this was probably the first time Keith had really run since his injured leg had healed.  The werewolf ran along the garden to the edge of the glade, then abruptly turned on his heel and sprinted back to Shiro.  He slowed to a loping trot as he got closer, then as he came up beside Shiro he closed his teeth around the cuff of the witch's shirt and tugged on it, insistent yet still gentle enough to not tear the fabric.  

“With me?”  Shiro asked, and got a single blink and bob of the head in response.  “Alright, but you’re so much faster than me…”  

Keith let out a low bark, as if to say “I’ll slow down for you, two-legs” .  

They ran together through the darkened forest.  Shiro used his magic to guide him between the dark trees and over fallen logs, but Keith had no need to do the same; he ran on instinct and senses Shiro could only dream of.  They raced, laughing and yelping and surely scaring off any other creatures prowling the woods at night. When Keith lifted his head and howled, Shiro cupped his hands around his mouth and let out a howl of his own.  As he ran, his hair shook itself free of his braid and flowed behind him, wild and untamed as the wind.    

Shiro was breathless by the time they reached a cliff, miles away from the cottage, and he fell onto his back on the flat, cold, rock jutting out from the edge of the cliffs, panting so hard his chest hurt.  His only consolation was Keith was panting too, even though the wolf was clearly rearing up to run again.  

“I need… a break…” Shiro gasped, sitting up.  “You win…” 

Keith huffed out a soft laugh and stood over him so they were face to face.  He rubbed the side of his head against Shiro’s and let the human bury his hands in his soft fur for a few minutes.  

Shiro pulled back, affectionately rubbing behind his ear.  “Go on. You keep running. I’ll wait here, and then we can head back together.”  He pressed a kiss to the space between Keith’s ears. “But no eating any creatures; we have plenty of food at home.”  

Keith bobbed his head and gave him one last nuzzle before darting off into the night.  

Shiro lay back against the wide, flat rock at the edge of the cliff and looked up at the moon and stars glittering above him, crystal clear in the cold night air.  The forest around him was quiet, the only sounds being the wind in the trees and the occasional rustle of a field mouse or squirrel peeking out to check that the coast was clear.  Once or twice, he heard a low howl echo from somewhere far away, and he cupped his hands around his mouth and let out an answering howl in return. It was always Keith, he knew (there were no other wolves, were- or not, in this forest).  He would know the sound of that howl anywhere, he thought.  

He lost track of time, just watching the stars and listening for those howls.  His nose and fingertips grew cold by the time he heard the soft pad of feet trotting toward him through the underbrush.  He smiled at Keith as he bounded up over a boulder and looked down at him, violet eyes glinting amber as they reflected the dim moonlight.  

“You good?”  Shiro asked. “Ready to head back?”  

Keith let out a soft whuff and gracefully hopped down to the flat rock where Shiro was.  Shiro got to his feet and rubbed his hands together for warmth.  

“Race you back?”  Shiro grinned, and Keith was off before Shiro could even finish the question.  “Hey!” Shiro shouted as he sprinted after him. If wolves could laugh, Shiro was sure Keith would be doing just that as he charged ahead through the dark forest.  

Keith doubled back several times to let him catch up — paws splayed, head low, and tail up as if playing.  Whenever he got too far ahead, he always howled to let Shiro know he was still there, and hopefully he didn’t laugh too much as Shiro’s responding howls got more and more breathless.  By the time Shiro made it back, Keith was sitting in front of the cottage like a prim and proper guard dog, while Shiro huffed and puffed his way to a halt in front of him.  

“Did you touch the house?”  Shiro asked him.  

Keith looked at him, head cocked.  It seemed he hadn’t.  

Shiro’s hand snapped out to slap the front door just as Keith fell sideways against it with his whole weight, both of them hitting it at once.  The door burst open inward and both of them went tumbling to the ground inside in a pile of arms, legs, and paws. Keith managed to extricate himself and roll up to his feet more quickly, standing over Shiro with a paw on his chest and looking down at him with a playful challenge glinting in his eyes.  

Shiro laughed.  “Guess it’s a tie, then.” 

Keith arched a brow at him, knowing full well that he had gotten there first.  He butted his head playfully against Shiro’s and then used the paw placed on his chest as a jumping-off point to step over him and trot away into the kitchen, ignoring the human’s “ oof! ” behind him.  

Shiro laughed and dusted himself off as he got to his feet and shut the door.  They both drank their fill of water, Shiro washed the sweat off his face and body, and they settled down for the night.  Despite his size and thick fur, Keith still snuggled close to Shiro, head pressed to the other man’s chest while Shiro’s arms wrapped around him and his fingers tangled in warm fur.  Shiro smiled against his fur; Keith smelled like crisp air, green forest, and a glimmer of magic under the sharp musk of wolf.  

Chapter Text

Keith remained a wolf for the duration of the full moon and the beginning of the waning gibbous phase.  In that time, the first snow fell, dusting the trees and their cottage with a fine layer of white powder and giving the air a certain crispness.  Shiro spent more time inside, but Keith was unbothered by the snow and seemed content to alternate between lounging beside Shiro as he worked and running through the woods, leaving a line of pawprints in the snow in his wake.  

A soft thunk from the cottage door made Shiro look up from the leather-bound tome he had been reading.  At first, the door looked to be opening on its own, but Shiro peered above the table to see a wolf nudging it open.  Keith pushed the door open with his forehead, trotted inside, and then shoved his shoulder against the door to close it.  He shook himself off, ears smacking against the side of his head and snow flying off his fur.  

Shiro smiled fondly and turned back to his book, drawing his blanket tighter around his shoulders for warmth.  “Whenever you feel like shifting, I believe I may have found a spell that can heal those scars on your torso,” he said.  “If you would like them healed, that is.”  

The candle beside him on the table flickered as a slight breeze charged with magic ghosted through the cottage.  A moment later, a set of human arms draped themselves around the back of Shiro’s neck and a very human, very naked body pressed against his back.  “That would be nice,” Keith said.  

“By the gods, Keith, you’re going to catch your death like that,” Shiro muttered, quickly slipping the blanket off his own shoulders and wrapping it around Keith’s.  Catch your death… and cause mine, he thought privately.  

Keith laughed softly, but tucked the blanket around himself all the same.  “I’ll be fine. Werewolves run hot.”  

Shiro was very much aware of that, having been sharing a bed with a werewolf for a couple of months now.  Keith was like a furnace in either form.  

Keith picked up the neatly-folded stack of clothes Shiro had laid out for him and carried them over to the kitchen hearth, where the fire was flickering cheerfully to keep the cold, quickly-approaching winter at bay.  He shed the blanket and pulled on his pants first. Shiro snuck a glance at him, mostly to get a better look at the scars that had been clawed into his torso by his former pack. He noted that Keith’s overall shape had indeed changed, thanks to the potion and their spellcasting sessions; the lines of his body were straighter now, less curved, and his jawline was a little more pronounced.  His breasts were much smaller, Shiro noticed, and if he let his gaze linger there a little longer than he should have… well, naturally he was just checking his work, he told himself.  

He looked away when Keith pulled on his shirt, turning a page in his book to study the scar-reducing spell he had found.  

“Do those scars cause you pain?”  He asked carefully. “Or limit your mobility?”

“No.  Not physical pain, at least.”  Keith’s voice was dark, and he let out a tense sigh as he dropped onto the edge of Shiro’s bed.  He pulled his feet up to sit cross-legged and rubbed at the cold soles of his feet; despite the socks and shoes Shiro had laid out for him, he preferred to go barefoot.  He scowled as he looked down at himself, glaring at the scars hidden under his shirt. “It hurts my heart to look at them,” he admitted quietly. “Like an ache in my chest.  I don’t miss them, not after what they did, and I won’t go back to them, but… it hurts to be reminded of them. I would like the scars gone, if possible.”  

“We can do that,” Shiro said.  He would do anything, for Keith.

“Thank you.”  With that, Keith flopped back onto the bed with his hands up near his head, his normal position for their casting sessions, and looked over at Shiro expectantly.  

Shiro arched an eyebrow at him, amused.  “At least let us have dinner first,” he chuckled.  

Keith pushed his head back against the pillow with an exaggerated groan.  Shiro propped his elbow up on the table and hid a smile behind his hand, remembering a similar little fit from Keith in his wolf form back when he told him his leg was still mending and he needed to keep wearing the splint.  

With a sigh, Keith rolled off the bed and came around the table, draping himself over Shiro’s back again.  “Fine. Can we make dinner now? I know it’s early, but I worked up an appetite. Ran all the way to the lake at the foot of the mountains.”  

Shiro twisted to look at him, aghast.  “That’s nearly twenty miles,” he said.

“Is it?”  Keith’s tone was innocent, but the glint in his eyes and the curve of his lips glowed with knowing pride.  “Felt like nothing.”  

“You are incredible,” Shiro told him, serious and in awe.  

Keith leaned in to bump his forehead against Shiro’s temple, a very wolf-like gesture of affection.  “I’m also hungry. So, dinner? I can catch us some hares. Or squirrels – I know where a few are hibernating, they’d be easy prey.”

“You will do no such thing,” Shiro sighed in fond exasperation and shook his head.  “We have enough meat for a while. Would you fetch some from the cellar, Mister I-Don’t-Feel-Cold?” 

☽ ✧ ☾

After dinner and cleaning up, Shiro gathered up all the candles and crystals he had put away during the past week when they weren’t using them.  He lit the candles and set everything up while Keith lay back against the bed and tugged his shirt up to his armpits.  

“This really is working…” Keith marveled, looking down at himself.  

Shiro glanced at him, which was an absolute mistake – Keith had his hands cupping his own breasts, feeling the weight and squeezing them experimentally.  

The candle Shiro was holding sparked, the flame jumping erratically as a jolt of magic escaped him by accident.  He quickly turned his attention back to the makeshift altar at the head of his bed and busied himself with arranging the artifacts there.  He remembered something Lance had told him about the spell: When they’re small enough to fit in your hands – don’t give me that look, Shiro – you should focus on the more detailed work; shrinking the areola if needed, and making sure everything is positioned naturally now that most of the bulk is gone.  It’s a bit more poking about than before, but yes, you can do it professionally… 

He cleared his throat.  “We should be able to start the detail work now.  It’ll be a little more, ah, hands-on than before.”

Keith folded his hands behind his head and tipped his face back to look up at Shiro, one eyebrow lifted skeptically.  “Like what you were doing before wasn’t ‘hands-on’?”  He asked dryly.  

Shiro was glad the cottage was so dark; it helped to hide the blush that he felt heating his cheeks.  “A bit more… moving around. Touching, rather than just being still. Just to make sure everything will end up in the right place.  And the scar treatment, too – it’ll involve massaging, to work the magic into the scar tissue and break it up.”  

Keith watched him for a moment, expression unreadable.  Shiro could sense from his aura that he was not in the least bit apprehensive.  Oddly enough, he seemed… intrigued? Interested? Whatever it was, it was certainly more than the careless shrug he offered Shiro.  “Do what you need to. I trust you.”  

Shiro took his place on the bed beside Keith’s hip.  Their casting session started much the same as the others while Shiro got a feel for their progress (both using his magical insight and Lance’s very scientific measure of “ when they’re small enough to fit in your hand ”).  He consulted the diagrams on the spell scroll and realized they were settling a little low.  Shiro adjusted his grip, holding underneath the small buds and applying just a hint of pressure to guide the magic.  He both heard and felt the hitch of breath, and he raised his eyes to check on the man under him.  

“Sorry.  Are you alright?”  Shiro asked, worried.  

“I’m fine,” Keith said quickly, his eyes fixed firmly on the ceiling above him.  Shiro wondered if it was just the candle-light that was making his cheeks look warm.  “It’s fine. Keep going.”  

Shiro opted to keep his eyes open as he worked, too focused on the details of the work to risk closing them as he had in earlier sessions.  He was better attuned to feeling out Keith’s magic, after nearly a month of doing this. Murmuring the spell under his breath like a mantra, he broke down the tissue into energy while pressing the skin into place, occasionally having to adjust his grip.  The goal wasn’t just to get rid of the breasts, he knew from his discussions with Keith (and advice from Lance and the spell scroll); it was also to mold the remaining flesh into naturally-defined pectoral muscles.  It was magically-intensive work that involved a lot of concentration and remembering the anatomy texts he had read during their full moon break, and Shiro didn’t notice how much he was pressing and massaging until Keith lifted his hand to bite his own finger, sharp canines gnawing at his knuckle.  His face was unmistakably flushed, the color going all the way down his neck and chest and making the silver markings stand out even more. His eyes were lidded and heady as he watched Shiro, like something out of a dream Shiro should have never had.  

“I’m sorry,” Shiro pulled his hands back abruptly, severing the magic.  

“No, no, Shiro, it’s okay,” Keith’s voice was warm with reassurance (and… something else?) when by all logical accounts he ought to be furious.  

Keith reached down to take his hand and squeeze his fingers, firm and reassuring.  “If there’s anyone I would let do this, it’s you. I trust you.” His smile turned a little rueful, and he let go of Shiro’s hand to push it through his own hair with a laugh that sounded suspiciously self-deprecating.  “If anything, I should be the one apologizing over getting worked up. I know you don’t mean it like that.”

Shiro blinked.  He swallowed hard.  “Like what?” he asked, a little afraid of the answer.  

Keith looked away, fingers fiddling with the edge of the pillow.  “Like you like me. The way I…” he broke off abruptly and shook his head.  “I know you don’t, and you’re just doing this because you’re too damn good-hearted for your own good.”

Shiro’s heart stuttered in his chest, just like the flame of the nearest candle stuttering at his sharp intake of breath.  

“We…” Shiro cleared his throat and turned away.  “We shouldn’t be having this conversation… like this.”  He gestured a little helplessly to Keith’s bare chest.  

Keith nodded, his expression tight and unreadable.  “After?”

Shiro swallowed around a dry throat and kept his gaze fixed on the flickering candle.  “I think we should be done for tonight.” He couldn’t keep doing this. Not until they had a proper discussion.

He might not have been looking at Keith, but he was still close enough to sense his aura and feel the way Keith’s spirits sank at the words.  It made him feel even more guilty.  

Keith lowered his shirt and sat up, hugging his knees to his chest.  “I’m sorry. I ruined everything.” His voice was heavy, as if he were bearing a great weight that was beginning to grow too much for him to handle.  

“You didn’t ruin anything,” Shiro said firmly, shaking his head.  If anything, he had.  “I’m the one who needs to apologize.  I didn’t mean to take advantage of you and turn this into… into something you didn’t want.”  

Keith looked up.  “What are you talking about?” he asked, confusion coloring his words.  “ I ended up taking advantage of you .  You offered me this out of the goodness of your heart.  I accepted knowing that. I’m the one who didn’t tell you to stop when I started liking you.”  

Shiro had opened his mouth, but those words hit his ears and brought his own protest to a halt in his throat.  He turned to Keith, eyes wide. “You… you like me?”  

Keith’s expression crumpled and he pushed a hand through his hair, a terse sigh leaving his nose.  “Yeah. I’m sorry. I know you don’t– I’m sorry, I should just go–”  

“I like you.”  Shiro cursed himself for letting that be what burst out of him.  It was woefully inadequate. “I– I think I’m in love with you, Keith.”  

Keith sucked in a sharp breath, his eyes wide and flicking over Shiro’s face like he was searching for a hint of a lie.  “You… you are? But…” he looked down at himself – his hands, and the silver marking on his chest that changed with the moon.  “... How? ”  He whispered, as if to himself.

A helpless chuckle bubbled up in Shiro’s throat.  “How could I not?” He asked. “You’re so strong and brave and witty… not to mention you’re gorgeous.  How could I not fall in love with you?” He looked away, smile turning a little sad. “Really, the big question is how you could possibly like me back.”  He was just a witch who lived alone in the woods. He didn’t have a lot going for him.           

“I fell for you the moment I met you,” Keith said softly.  “When you rescued me, and treated me like I was human even though I looked like an animal.  When you saw me for me .”  He propped his elbow on his drawn-up knee and dropped his chin into his hand, lips twisting into a pout as he cast his eyes away.  “Also, you’re stupidly attractive. Clearly you need to get a mirror around here, because you can’t see it. It’s ridiculous. You’re unfairly hot.”  

A surprised laugh burst out of Shiro’s chest and he quickly muffled it in his hands.  Keith let out a growl and shoved him hard enough to push him off the bed.  

“Okay, okay,” Shiro picked himself off and perched on the edge of the bed, completely unbothered by the shove to the floor.  “So, what we’re getting at here is that we’ve both fallen for each other, but we were both too delusional to see that the other had as well?”

“Seems like it,” Keith snorted in amusement.

“So… can I kiss you?”  Shiro asked, heart pounding nervously.  “Now that I can finally admit how much I’ve been yearning to?”  

To his surprise, Keith arched an eyebrow.  “You know you already have, right?” 

Shiro blinked.  “When?”  

“In the woods, at the edge of that cliff,” Keith said.  “That night you ran with me.” He opened his mouth as if to say more, then closed it.  He swallowed hard and took a deep breath before going on, his words soft. “The night I fell for you so hard that it hurt.”  

Shiro remembered that night, full of adrenaline and exhilaration.  He had hardly noticed what he was doing, and had only did what felt right.  “Because of a brief kiss on the forehead?” He asked, confused.  

Keith gave a dry snort and shook his head.  “You howled with me. For me. Back at me,” he said quietly.  “It’s been so long since I’ve run with a pack, Shiro. Longer still since I’ve been with anyone that wanted me around.  And you, doing that… it meant so much to me. More than I can put into words.”  

Shiro smiled softly and reached out to take Keith’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.  “I’ll always run with you, Keith. Always, until I can’t run anymore. And even then, I’ll howl to let you know I’m there, waiting for you to come home.”  

Keith’s eyes widened, and he lunged forward to pull Shiro in for a kiss.  Shiro wrapped his arms around the werewolf and poured every ounce of his love he could into the kiss in hopes of showing Keith just how much he meant to him.  Both were breathless when they pulled back, as if they had been running through the woods together again.  

“So, now that we’ve got that worked out,” Keith smiled and let his fingertips trail down the front of Shiro’s shirt.  “Are you going to go back to the spell?” His words were barely above a whisper, breath ghosting over Shiro’s lips.  

Shiro chuckled.  “I think we ought to come back to that one when we’re less… prone to distraction.  We should go slow.” He kissed the pout off of Keith’s lips. “I can do the scar treatment.  But anything above that, I think we should wait until tomorrow.”

Keith eyed him carefully, a touch of cold caution hardening his gaze.  “Because you’re worried you’ll do something you’ll regret?”  

Shiro’s lips curved in a small, knowing smile and he shook his head.  “Not the way you’re thinking of. I have no doubt that I want you.” He leaned in to cup Keith’s cheek in his palm and tilt his face up so Shiro could kiss his forehead.  “But magic is a fickle, dangerous force, too closely tied to emotions. I’m worried that one moment of distraction on my part could hurt you, or ruin all of our careful work here.  And you, my love, are very distracting.”  

Keith let out a sigh, the lines of his face and shoulders relaxing a little at the words.  “So, can we do the scar? Or should we save that for another time, too, and just dive headlong into mutual distraction?”  

Shiro was very tempted by the sound of that.  “What would you like to do?”  

Keith was quiet for a moment, eyes fixed on something Shiro couldn’t see as he weighed the decision in his mind.  Finally, he nodded. “I want the scars gone. You’re the only pack I need to think about, now.”  

Shiro leaned in to kiss him once more, long and slow.  When they parted, Keith let his fingers trail over Shiro’s cheek while he caught his breath, then he laid back against the bed again.  He hitched his shirt up, tucking it under his armpits like usual.  

Shiro laughed softly.  “What did I just tell you about distraction?”  He pinched Keith’s side before coaxing his shirt lower, covering his chest and baring only what was needed to see the scars.  His smile slipped as he let his fingers trace over the scars; four jagged claw marks dragged from just below his heart to just above his opposite hip.  The thickness in the middle spoke to how deep the cuts had been where they crossed his stomach and abdomen – a blow meant to kill.  

Overcome with emotion, Shiro leaned down to lay a soft kiss to the scars as they crossed his navel.  When he sat back up, he took a moment to center himself and let his magic flow to his fingertips, then he began to work.  He was dimly aware of Keith’s eyes on him while he murmured the healing incantation over the old wounds, but he sank his focus into his work to ensure that he wouldn’t make a mistake that would cause Keith pain.  Starting with the thickest, deepest scars, he massaged the broken and reforged flesh to push the magic in, unwinding knotted tissue and smoothing it out. The scars were old, so it was much more difficult to smooth them out than it would have been if they were new.  The task took much of Shiro’s focus, and he found himself so absorbed that he didn’t notice how long he had been working until Keith gently laid a hand on his forearm.  

Shiro looked up, blinking, and a sudden wave of fatigue swept over him and nearly had him swaying where he sat.  It was difficult to even make out Keith’s face a few feet away from him, brow furrowed and eyes full of concern.  

“Shiro?”  Keith peered at him.  “Your hands are shaking.  I think you should stop.”

“I… yeah, wow.”  Shiro scrubbed a hand over his face.  He felt drained. How had he not noticed that his magic was at its end, like trying to wring the last drops of water out of a cloth that was nearly dry?  He took a deep breath and his head swam. “How… how long has it been?”  

“I’m not sure.  A couple of hours.”  Keith sat up and slid off the bed.  Shiro watched him, dazed, as he crossed the cottage to retrieve a glass of water, then hurried back and pressed it into his hand.  “Here, drink. I should have stopped you sooner.”  

“It’s alright.”  Shiro shook his head as he accepted the water.  It was cool against his throat, which was dry and parched from muttering incantations all night long.  “A good night’s sleep, and I’ll recover fully,” he reassured him.

Keith cast a doubtful look towards the window.  The sun had not yet risen, but the sky was already beginning to lighten.  “Won’t be much of a night’s sleep, as this point.”

“Then I’ll sleep the day as well.”  Shiro rolled his head, feeling the bones of his neck crack and pop like hot coals.  “A green witch’s work is less in the winter, while the plants are sleeping under the snow.  I can afford to take the day off.”

Keith took the emptied glass from him and set it on the table, then moved around the cottage blowing out the remaining candles.  It was Shiro’s job, but he felt as if he would fall over if he so much as stood, so he was content to let Keith do it and simply wait for him to return to their bed with open arms.

Keith slipped into bed beside him, blew out the last candle on the bedside table, and snuggled close to Shiro while tugging the blankets over them both.  He pushed gently at the other man until he had him where he wanted, lying half-draped over Keith with his head pillowed on his chest, Keith’s arms tucked around him.  

Shiro breathed out a content sigh.  He nosed at the open collar of Keith’s shirt, the top two buttons undone to bare the silver moon marking there.  “I’m sorry,” he murmured, sleep already slurring his words. “We were supposed to… to distract each other… after this…”

A chuckle rumbled under his ear.  “There will be plenty of time later for ‘distraction’,” he promised.  “Rest now.” His hand swept up and down Shiro’s back, slow and comforting, and the other man was fast asleep by the third pass of his hand.  

☽ ✧ ☾

Shiro was only half-aware of light poking at his aching eyes and movement as a warm body slipped out from underneath him.  With a quiet, metallic scrape that sounded like the curtain being drawn across the cottage window, the bright light dimmed.  A moment later, Shiro felt someone slide back into bed and draw the blankets up over them both again. Strong, gentle hands maneuvered his sleep-heavy body back onto a warm, firm chest, and he drifted off once more to the steady heartbeat under his ear.  

The next time he found himself tugged towards awareness, he was much less groggy than before.  His stomach told him it was nearing lunch time. Fingers sifted through his hair, combing out the tangles that had formed during the night.  

He turned his face into the chest in front of him with a groan.  “Good morning… or is it afternoon already?”  

“No idea,” Keith’s voice came from above him, the words vibrating where his cheek was pressed to his chest.  “Does it matter?”

Shiro paused to think about it, then realized he wasn’t awake enough to care.  “...I guess not,” he sighed. Keith snickered at him, so Shiro retaliated by pushing his chilly nose against the bare skin peeking out at the top of his unbuttoned shirt.  

They lazed about in bed for a bit longer, trading lazy kisses and soft touches, before Shiro’s stomach voiced its displeasure.  Before Shiro could move, Keith rolled out of bed with a peck and an order to stay there.  

Shiro turned onto his stomach and hugged the pillow as he watched him start the fire in the hearth and move around the kitchen grabbing food and dishes.  

“How are you feeling?”  Keith asked, tucking a lock of dark hair behind his ear as he worked.  “Have you recovered?”

Shiro extricated an arm out from under the pillow and idly brushed his fingers against one of the candles still perched on the headboard.  The magic flowed easily from his fingertips and a small flame sprang up on the wick. “Seems like it.” He extinguished the flame with another touch; they wouldn’t need the candles in the middle of the day.  

“You shouldn’t have used so much magic last night,” Keith told him, picking up the wooden pail Shiro used to bring in water from the well.  “I should have noticed sooner that you were getting tired, and stopped you.” The words were directed at Shiro, but he seemed to be talking more to himself.  Tucking an arm around the water pail, Keith headed for the cottage door.  

“Shoes,” Shiro piped up before he could open the door.  Keith turned to give him a scrunched-up face of plain distaste, to which Shiro couldn’t help but chuckle at.  “There’s snow on the ground, Keith. Shoes, or I’ll have to dig through my books to track down a spell to cure frostbite.”  

“The well is less than ten yards from the house,” Keith rolled his eyes and reached for the doorknob.

“Shoes, or you’re not getting back in this bed with cold, wet feet,” Shiro told him.  That made Keith pause, and he let out a low sound that was half a wolf-like growl, half a wordless human grumble as he stuck his bare feet into the barely-used pair of leather boots Shiro had made for him.  He pulled another face as he lifted one now-shoed foot, and Shiro was suddenly vividly reminded of the time Lance had tried to put socks on the paws of his cat familiar, Blue.

Keith left for the well, still grumbling about ‘ suffocated feet ’ and ‘ not being able to feel the Earth properly ’.  Shiro pushed himself up with a yawn, stretching and feeling his bones crack.  He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, centering himself and feeling his magic.  The long rest had helped him restore what he had lost, but he might need to take it easy for a few days.  He chided himself internally; he really shouldn’t have drained his power like some spell-for-the-hell-of-it fledgling witch.  He ought to be more experienced than that. Magic was a finite resource that needed tending to just like one’s energy, strength, and health, and one’s control over their magic was highly dependent on those very factors.

Figuring he might as well make himself useful, Shiro slid out of bed and went to the kitchen to start breakfast (or lunch, based on the high position of the sun).  He felt fine, but Keith still steered him back to bed the moment he returned from the well.  

“You took care of me when I was injured,” Keith explained, pushing him toward the bed with a light but insistent shove to the back.  “Now let me take care of you.”

“I’m not injured,” Shiro tried, even though he did feel a little light-headed.  And quite hungry.  

“You still nearly collapsed last night,” Keith reminded him.  “And all because you used too much magic, for my benefit. So let me do this.”  

Shiro was charmed by his insistence and relented, laying back against the pillow and being content to watch Keith move around his kitchen.  Only a few minutes later, Keith returned to the bed with a simple meal of homemade bread, hard cheese, and smoked meat, along with a glass of water.  

“I figured speed was more important than it being warm, otherwise I would have made stew,” Keith apologized as he handed the wooden dishes to Shiro.  “You haven’t eaten since dinner last night and you missed breakfast.”  

“As have you,” Shiro pointed out, after accepting them with a word of thanks.  Keith let out a resigned huff and went back to the kitchen to make himself the same dish, while Shiro slid out of bed and took a seat at the table.  He had two chairs at his table now, having carved a second when it became apparent that Keith would be staying with him for a while. Keith dropped into that chair beside him and began to tear into his food ravenously; he had been just as hungry, but had insisted on tending to Shiro first.  

After they ate, Keith tried to get Shiro to rest some more.  

Shiro laughed, once again charmed by his insistence on caring for him.  “I really am fine, Keith. My magic regenerates when I sleep and eat, and I have done that already.  I’m really quite alright, I promise.”

Keith’s eyes narrowed suspiciously and his lips turned down into a pout that Shiro couldn’t resist kissing away.  

“If it will make you feel better, we can both take an easy day today.  How does that sound?” Shiro asked.

“Alright,” Keith acquiesced, and leaned up to kiss him once more.  

While Keith added some more logs to the fire in the kitchen hearth, Shiro fetched a book from his shelf — a story book, not one of his instructional magic tomes.  The two of them settled back into bed for the day, Keith with his head on Shiro’s chest and Shiro with his arm tucked around Keith as they read tales of adventure and mystery.  

The day passed quickly for them, having woken so late into the few precious hours of sunlight that came with winter.  All too soon, they were dragging themselves out of bed to tend to bring firewood in from the stack outside and start cooking a hearty stew for dinner.  As they worked, they both found themselves gravitating towards each other more, and finding little excuses to touch each other; a hand at the small of the back whilst reaching around them to grab something, standing close enough to brush shoulders while they chopped vegetables, a quick peck in thanks for passing some ingredient… It felt nice.  Home-like. Domestic. Right — like a puzzle piece finally clicking into place after the two pieces had for so long sat just shy of being fitted together.  

Shiro transferred the cast iron pot from the cooking hook in the hearth onto the table, stomach already growling at the scent.  As he was ladling the stew into two wooden bowls, Keith came up beside him and looped an arm around Shiro’s waist, leaning close to his side as he watched his hands (...or the meat-rich stew.  Perhaps both, knowing Keith).  

“We may finish that spell tonight,” Shiro said carefully.  “Do you think you will stay, even after we’ve finished?”  

Keith let out a soft snort, and for a moment, Shiro was terrified he would say no, that he planned to leave after he got what he wanted.  “What kind of a question is that? Of course I’ll stay.” He paused in thought, then went on, “That is, I’ll stay as long as you’ll have me.”  His voice was soft and hesitant, as if already fearing rejection. As if Shiro was even capable of telling him to leave.

Shiro set down the spoon and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pressing his lips to Keith’s forehead.  “I would have you as long as you’re willing to stay.” He paused, turning his words over in his head, then chuckled quietly.  “I’m trying to find a way to say that I would be happy all my days if you chose to stay forever, without sounding selfish,” he admitted.  

Keith smiled, the corner of his lip turning up wryly as his eyes softened.  “You could stand to be a little more selfish, you know. Especially when it’s a selfish desire I share.”  He lifted a hand to Shiro’s cheek and guided him down for a kiss.  

Shiro was reluctant to pull back after a few minutes (he would happily kiss Keith for hours).  “We should eat before the food gets cold,” he reminded him.  

Keith’s stomach let out a growl of agreement before he could say anything.  He huffed out a quiet laugh. “Probably,” he said, accepting the bowl Shiro handed him.  

The weak sunlight peeking through the winter clouds dimmed as evening fell, forcing them to light a handful of candles to see by as they ate dinner and cleaned up afterwards.  That nice, easy, domestic air between them remained, but grew charged with anticipation as they washed the dishes and put them away. The casual touches they traded lingered more than before, and both caught the other watching them as the night went on.  

Shiro warmed the cottage and set out the candles and crystals like usual, and Keith lay back on the bed and tugged up his shirt.  

“Once more?  Or maybe twice?” Keith mused, fingers tracing idly over his bare chest.  There was hardly any softness left there, most of it shaved away by magic and hardened to muscle from his near-daily runs through the woods.  He was clearly more comfortable with seeing and feeling it now (and using that to drive Shiro mad with temptation, apparently… he realized now that must have been intentional).

“Just once more, I believe,” Shiro let his gaze fall lower to the faded, pale pink lines on his stomach.  “This may be the last session needed for the scars, too.” They would likely never disappear completely, but they were significantly less noticeable than when they started.  Like the aftermath of a particularly long papercut, rather than having been inflicted by inch-long claws.  

Shiro leaned down to press a quick kiss to his navel before beginning his work on the scars.  Running his fingers over the skin, he could feel how much smoother the marks had become. He rubbed magic into some of the lingering knots in the tissue and spread any excess buildups of collagen more evenly throughout the scars, gradually smoothing them out and making the coloration more natural.  When he was finished, he leaned down again to press another kiss to the spot where the scars crossed his navel.

“Why do you keep doing that?”  Keith asked, sounding amused.  

Shiro looked up at him and smiled against his skin.  “I’m kissing it better.” That, and he was hoping that if he did it enough, it would help Keith build a new, positive association with the lingering scars, rather than remind him of the ones who had hurt him.

Keith snorted, the sound more disbelieving than it was unkind.  “I know that’s not magic.”  

Shiro arched an eyebrow at him, challenging.  His tattoos glowed briefly as he guided a thread of magic up his arms and to his lips; the hands were easiest, but an experienced spellcaster could direct their magic through any part of the body.

Keith laughed quietly and pushed his fingers through Shiro’s hair to loosen it from his bun.  “Alright, point taken. How about you do that up here, hm?” he asked, tugging lightly on Shiro’s hair.    

Shiro sat up and let his hands slide higher up Keith’s torso, smoothing over his ribcage and up to the small, barely-there buds of his chest.  He laid his hands over them and reached out for Keith’s magic, and found it coiled tight and keeping just out of his reach.  

Shiro opened his eyes and found Keith looking up at him, bright-eyed and challenging.  

Shiro arched an eyebrow at him and lifted a finger to tap his chest.  “You need to use your magic too. Or did you forget how this works?”

“Or did you forget that I told you to use your lips?”  Keith shot back teasingly.

Shiro laughed, unable to help himself.  “You call yourself a wolf… but you are as sly as a fox.”  He leaned down to press a kiss right over Keith’s heart. “Do you want me to finish this?  Or do you want to keep distracting me?”

“Both are tempting,” Keith admitted.  “Alright, finish the spell first, then distraction.”  

Shiro sat back up, still chuckling a little.  He centered himself and reached for Keith’s magic again, and found it willingly handed to him this time.  

It didn’t take much to finish up the last of the spell.  By the time Shiro was finished, Keith’s chest looked much like Shiro’s own, if a little narrower.  He checked everything over one last time, using both his magic and his sense of touch. As if Keith could tell he was wrapping up the spell, he started teasing him by stretching a little and arching his back, pressing his chest into Shiro’s hands as he worked.

Shiro lifted his eyes to Keith’s and found the other man biting his lip and watching him headily, amethyst eyes sparkling in the candlelight.  

“I think we’re just about finished,” Shiro said, sweeping his thumbs over dusky pink nipples.  Keith’s chest was as flat as he wanted, and the scars across his stomach were only thin white lines.  

“You should keep going,” Keith said, his voice low and husky.  He sighed as Shiro cupped his now-flat pecs in a mimicry of their previous casting sessions.  

“Feels like we’re done,” Shiro couldn’t resist squeezing him a little.  “Nothing else to do here.”

“Doesn’t mean you can’t keep going anyway,” Keith’s words were barely above a whisper.  He combed his fingers through Shiro’s long hair until he got to his shoulders, then tugged him further up the bed.  

Shiro chuckled and let himself be guided into the space between Keith’s legs, which widened to accommodate him.  He sank down until he was low enough to kiss the silver moon-shaped mark on his chest, then moved lower to the place where his hands had spent hours upon hours touching.  He whispered the words to the incantation against warm skin, but there was no magic to the action; he wouldn’t risk it, not when he was so close to obvious distraction. Slipping his hands into the arch of Keith’s back, he kissed and murmured magical-sounding nonsense and sweet nothings across his chest and relished the sweet gasps coming from above him.  Fingers threaded themselves into his hair, nails scratching lightly at his scalp. He paused to close his lips around a nipple and suck, and the fingers tightened in his hair as a moan vibrated through the chest under his lips.

Shiro… ” Keith whined, tugging on his hair and breaking off into a gasp as he swirled his tongue around the hard bud.  “Shiro, please… kiss me…”

“What do you think I’m doing right now?”  Shiro teased, trailing a line of kisses over his heart while his fingers danced across his ribcage.  

Keith let out a frustrated groan above him.  “Kiss me ,” he demanded, with the over-exaggerated petulance of Shiro’s plants when they felt he wasn’t paying enough attention to him.  

Shiro chuckled and nipped at the barely-there swell of his chest in reprimand before letting Keith tug him up by his hair.  He meant to balance himself so he was hovering over the smaller man, not wanting to crush him, but Keith pulled him to lay fully on top of him with a surprising amount of strength and wrapped his arms around him, trapping him there.  Not that Shiro had any desire to leave, especially when Keith kissed him so fervently. He pulled back once they were both breathless, but it was only to run his hands down Shiro’s back, violet eyes burning with heat.  

“Want you… so bad…” Keith arched up into him with a moan, and Shiro felt himself quickly hardening against Keith’s thigh.  Keith fisted his hands in the warm knit of Shiro’s sweater and tugged on it. “Want this off…” 

“Greedly little thing, aren’t you,” Shiro laughed softly against his lips.  

“You–” Keith seized the front of his sweater and shoved him back with a growl, following him up with a powerful flex of his abs until they were sitting upright with Shiro kneeling between his legs.  “Do you have any idea how unfair it was that you got to see me, touch me, feel me, for months , and I never once got to see you ?”  He yanked on Shiro’s sweater, pulling it off over his head while Shiro stifled giggles at his expense, arms still trapped in the sleeves.  

Shiro pulled his head and arms free of the sweater and tossed it to the side.  “There. Happy?”  

“Very.”  Keith’s hungry eyes roved up and down his bare chest, drinking the sight in like Shiro was water and Keith was dying in the desert.  His gaze slid lower, throat working as he took in the abs that seemed to glow in the flickering candlelight, and actually let out a whimper at the sight of the obvious bulge at the front of Shiro’s pants.  Keith surged up to capture Shiro’s lips in a kiss filled with desperation and desire. One of his hands slid down to caress a sigil-tattooed bicep, the other trailed down to splay over his abs. “It is a crime that you hid this from me this whole time,” he told him.

Shiro laughed, giddy at the novelty of being so desired by someone – so desired by Keith , the spitfire werewolf he had so thoroughly fallen in love with himself.

Keith didn’t seem to have noticed that his own shirt had fallen over himself again when he had sat up, so Shiro reached for the hem and guided it up and over his head.  “I’ll make sure to never wear clothes in your presence again, your Majesty,” he said, a rush of air escaping him even as he fought back a laugh.  

Keith snorted quietly as he emerged from the shirt, shaking himself off like he did when snow got on his fur.  “Don’t give me any ideas,” he said, stripping his pants off with the same speed as he sometimes did before he would shift.  He did not shift, though, and simply kicked the pants over the edge of the bed before reaching for Shiro’s belt.  

The moment they were free of their clothes (not even, Shiro still had a foot caught in the leg of his pants), Keith seized him and fell back against the bed, capturing his lips in another searing kiss as soon as they hit the pillow.  His hips rolled insistently against Shiro’s hardening length, and Shiro had to push his face into the side of Keith’s neck to muffle the groan that tore out of him. He skimmed his fingertips down Keith’s side, over his hip, and finally dipped them into that hot, inviting space between his legs, and found him soaking wet.  

Keith let out a shuddery little gasp and ground down, pushing the hard nub of his cock against him.  Shiro twisted his hand to palm him more easily, and was rewarded by Keith throwing back his head and arching into him like a bow drawn tightly.  Shiro sucked on the soft skin just below Keith’s ear, letting his teeth tease the skin ever so slightly, and Keith bit back a curse.  

Fuck–! Shiro, I won’t last if you keep doing that…” he warned.

“Then don’t,” Shiro swiped his thumb over his cock, coaxing it out of the little hood that hid it.  

Keith let out a pitched cry and his legs tightened around Shiro’s hips, then he abruptly shoved his hand away and threaded their fingers together instead.  “No, no… I want you inside me,” he panted, gaze firm and unwavering even under the heady haze.  

Shiro relented, untangling their fingers only to reach up and cradle Keith’s face to kiss him.  With his hands this close to his face, he could smell the thick, heavy scent of Keith’s arousal on his fingers.  When he pulled back, he tucked a stray lock of hair behind Keith’s ear, fingers trailing down the side of his throat.  “I’ve never done this before,” he admitted. “Have you?”

Keith shook his head.  “You’re the first one I’ve ever wanted to do this with,” he said quietly.  

Shiro kissed him again, long and deep.  When he pulled back, Keith tried to chase him with his lips.  He opened his mouth, probably to once again protest at not being kissed, but all that left him was a groan as Shiro sucked a dark red mark onto the column of his throat below his ear.  His hips rolled against Shiro’s, the friction as delicious as it was maddening, and Shiro knew right then and there that neither of them would last very long tonight.  

He moved lower, skimming his fingers over soft skin and leaving a line of kisses along Keith’s collarbone, then down his chest (pausing in his descent to spend a few precious minutes lavishing attention on the chest that his hands had become very well acquainted with over the past few months).  As he swept his hands lower, down that trim waist and smooth stomach, he could feel the strength coiled in those muscles with every eager roll of Keith’s hips.  Shiro shifted further back on the bed and sank down to lay on his belly between Keith’s thighs, feeling almost drunk as he took in the intoxicating scent and sight before him.  

“Can I…?” Shiro raised his eyes to meet Keith’s as he stroked his thumb over the soft skin of his thigh.  

Keith’s breath left him in a rush, as if it had been punched out of his chest.  “Yes… oh gods, yes, please…” he broke off with a gasp when Shiro leaned in to nuzzle and kiss at the junction of his thigh and groin, working his way higher towards the gorgeous mess of glistening, dusky-pink lips hiding beneath soaked, dark curls.  When Shiro closed his lips around the flushed tip of his cock, Keith let out a loud moan that he tried to muffle against the back of his hand.

Shiro pulled back just long enough to lightly nip at the soft skin of his thigh in reprimand, soothing it with his thumb a moment later.  “No, I want to hear you, Keith.” He dove back in, smiling against wet lips as he was rewarded with a loud, uninhibited yell from above him.  

Shiro curled his arms underneath strong thighs that spread themselves wider as he licked and sucked and kissed to his heart’s content.  Keith’s hands came down to thread through his hair, equal parts holding back the strands for him and urging him to “keep going, Shiro… fuck… yes…”  When Shiro finally worked his tongue inside, Keith’s fingers tightened in his hair with a gasp, nails scraping at his scalp in a way that sent lightning pleasure racing straight to his gut.  “Oh, gods …” Keith moaned as he hitched a leg over the back of Shiro’s shoulder and ground down against his tongue.  “Deeper… please, Shiro…” 

He couldn’t get much deeper with his tongue alone, so he reluctantly pulled back to catch his breath and rise up his knees so he could better see what he was doing.  Shiro dragged his fingers through the slick mess between Keith’s legs, coating his fingers as best he could. He circled one around the flushed entrance hiding between dusky lips, and looked up at Keith.  “Okay?”  

Keith nodded, his eyes seeming to almost glow in the candlelight.  “More than okay.”  

Shiro kissed the inside of his thigh and let his finger slide into the slick, inviting heat, biting back a groan at how tight and hot it was.  He thrusted shallowly, working his finger in just a bit deeper each time. Keith’s breath hitched, his lips parted and eyes wide as he watched the process.  When Shiro added a second finger, he groaned at the stretch and his head fell back against the pillow and his back arched like a bow drawn tight.  

“How does that feel?”  Shiro asked, thrusting slowly into that impossibly tight heat.  

“Full…” Keith groaned and picked his head up to look down at him, eyes sparkling and fixed on the hard length standing against Shiro’s abdomen.  “Want more.” From the way he was looking at him, Shiro guessed he wasn’t thinking about more fingers.  

“Patience,” Shiro told him, hiding a smile against the inside of Keith’s leg as the growl of frustration turned into a choked moan when he crooked his fingers deep inside him.  

Shiro teased him for a few minutes, then drew his fingers out and lined up a third.  It was tight, to the point where Keith’s brow furrowed and his lips pinched in something that was not necessarily pleasure, so Shiro stopped and looked around.  “Hang on, I just need to get–”

“Inside me,” Keith finished for him, and his nose wrinkled in an adorable pout at the way Shiro burst out laughing at that.  “What?”  

Oil ,” Shiro told him.  “To make this smoother.”

Keith frowned and reached down to close his fingers around the shaft of Shiro’s cock, stroking him up to where several pearly beads of precum had gathered and spilled down the head.  “Won’t this be enough?” He asked.  

“I would rather err on the side of caution,” Shiro admitted, but even he was loathe to leave his place between Keith’s legs, with Keith’s nimble fingers teasing his cock.  It was a Herculean task just to tear his eyes away from the tantalizing sight and instead seek out the slim bottle tucked away on the back shelf across the cottage; getting up to go fetch it seemed nigh impossible.  Hmm… levitation was never his specialty, but… 

Shiro held out his hand and concentrated.  The tattoos on his arm glowed faintly, and a moment later, the potion bottle zipped across the room and landed right in his palm.  

Keith’s lips parted in surprise.  “Show off,” he muttered, but his voice glowed with fondness and pride.

Shiro shrugged like it was nothing, smirking a little as he uncorked the slim glass bottle.  Inside was a clear, slippery, mineral massage oil with flowers in it — a Midsummer gift from Lance that Shiro had never bothered to use, because he didn’t give himself massages nor share his friend’s affinity for displaying pretty preserved flowers in fancy glass bottles for the heck of it.  This seemed like a good use for it, though.  

He coated his fingers generously and went back to stretching Keith with two.  They slid right in, so easily and smoothly that Keith’s eyes widened and a soft, pitched little “ oh ” slipped out of him.  

“Th-that does make things easier,” he admitted, shivering with pleasure as Shiro swept a slick thumb over the nub of his cock as he lined up a third finger.  The stretch was easier now, like a pleasant ache that left him wanting more, rather than the slight burn of before. He rolled his hips in time with Shiro’s thrusts to urge him deeper, and let out a low moan when the other man hooked his fingers to brush against something that made heat coil deep in his gut.  “Shiro, please …” Keith begged, not even knowing what he was begging for.  

“I’ve got you,” Shiro leaned over him to kiss him.  He slipped his fingers out and reached for the oil again, pouring a generous amount into his hand and slicking himself up.  The last thread of his mental faculties that wasn’t overshadowed by the haze of desire reminded him to take himself in hand and whisper a quick spell to temporarily render his seed ineffective.  If Keith noticed the magic, Shiro was glad he didn’t ask about it; he had a feeling that the possibility of children and the potential burden on Keith’s body and mind was a discussion best saved for a time when they were both more clear-headed.  Luckily, Keith was a little preoccupied with kissing the side of Shiro’s throat and running his hands all over his chest. By the time he pulled Shiro’s face back to his own to draw him into another deep kiss, the spell was complete.  

“Come on,” Keith whispered against his lips between kisses, reaching between his legs to part his folds.  “Want you… inside me… come on, Shiro…” 

Unwilling to pull back from the kiss, Shiro fumbled a little to line himself up, accidentally rubbing the head of his own length against the sensitive tip of Keith’s cock in the process (it was not necessarily a bad accident, though, judging by the sounds that left both of them at the spike of pleasure).  Finally, he managed to slide home into that tight, wet, welcoming heat, joining the two of them together at their cores.  A shuddery breath that was half a moan, half a sob punched itself out of Keith’s chest and his fingers dug into the muscles of Shiro’s back, nails surely pressing crescent-moons into his skin.  

“Are you alright?”  Shiro somehow managed to ask, even though his mind was nearly whited out from the intense heat around his length.  

Keith nodded, his nose brushing Shiro’s throat at the action.  “Feels good. Fuck, I didn’t know it would feel this good…” he trailed off with a groan and gave a small, experiemental roll of his hips.  Shiro took that as his cue to move as well, matching Keith’s pace. What started off slow and tentative quickly became more confident as they found their rhythm.  Keith hooked his legs around Shiro’s hips, pulling him closer and helping drive his cock deeper.  

Shiro found Keith’s hand beside the pillow and tangled their fingers together as he thrust, slow and languid and savoring every moment.  Keith kissed him with a fervor that was at odds with their pace. “Faster…” he murmured, jerking his hips to urge him on.  

Shiro chuckled and relented, thrusting a little harder and deeper, and was rewarded with a moan as Keith tipped his head back and arched into him.  Shiro’s arms were beginning to ache from the effort of holding him up over Keith. As if he could sense it, Keith hooked a leg around his own and, in a move suspiciously like grappling, managed to flip them onto their sides, all without letting Shiro slip out of him.  They could hold each other better like this, and were pressed chest to chest as their hips undulated in time. Both could feel that they were close and wouldn’t last much longer.  

Keith’s lips slid over to the side of Shiro’s throat, kissing and sucking at the junction of his shoulder and neck.  Shiro felt teeth graze him as if to close around the meat of his shoulder, then Keith pulled back and instead buried his face in the side of Shiro’s throat, a shuddery breath like a sob leaving him.  

Shiro reached up to move his long hair out of the way, brushing it over his shoulder.  “You can bite. It’s okay.”  

Keith let out a small gasp and shook his head, still hiding in the curve of Shiro’s neck.  “No. You don’t know what you’re asking, Shiro…”

“I do,” Shiro slowed his hips long enough to reach down and take Keith’s face in his hands, gentle and careful as he drew him up to meet his gaze.  “Wolves mate for life, right? Are werewolves the same?”

Keith gave him a long look, amethyst eyes studying his face.  “Not necessarily for life, for either. It’s not permanent, but it’s not something to be done lightly either,” he told him quietly.  

“If you want to do it, then do it,” Shiro said.  “I have no doubts of my feelings for you. I would gladly spend the rest of my days — and whatever is beyond life— with you, Keith.”  

Keith sucked in a sharp breath, his eyes widening.  He pulled Shiro close in a crushing hug. “Keep going,” he whispered.  

Shiro obliged him, thrusting hard and deep into his lover and relishing the moan it drew from him.  In no time at all, they were both back up on that precipice, with hot fire burning liquid-like in their bellies every time they came together, over and over.  Little gasps and wordless sounds spilled from their lips as the heat between them rose to a crescendo and swept over them. Keith’s walls gripped Shiro’s length so tightly he was sure he wouldn’t have been able to leave even if he had wanted to (not that he wanted to… He could have happily spent hours inside of Keith).

Keith let out a low sound that was half a moan, half a growl, and a shiver raced down Shiro’s spine as he felt teeth graze over his shoulder and the base of his neck.  A fraction of a moment later, those teeth clamped tight around the meat of his shoulder and Shiro gasped as the sharp sensation brought a jolt of clarity through his eyes.  Keith’s canines were slightly longer and more pronounced than a non-were human’s were, but they were not especially sharp; the bite was strong, but careful, and although he didn’t draw blood, it would leave a mark that may even bruise.  And Shiro was perfectly fine with that.  

Aftershocks rippled through the smaller man and his walls pulsed around him, wringing every drop of seed from him as if with a vengeance.  Hot breath fanned over Shiro’s shoulder as Keith panted, still locked around the meat of his shoulder. Shiro held him close and pressed their hips together, hoping to keep his softening cock inside that tight, fluttering heat for just a little bit longer.  Keith let out a soft sound and ground against him slightly as he pulled back enough to lick at the mark he had made — two crescent moons, one on either side of the triangle of muscle between his shoulder and throat. When he pulled back, Shiro saw that the silver moon marking on his chest was glowing, just like Keith shifted or used his magic.  His eyes — lidded and heavy and satisfied — also seemed to glow faintly, but the glow faded as he caught his breath.  

Keith reached up to tuck a stray lock of long hair behind Shiro’s ear before trailing his fingers lower to trace over the mark left by his teeth.  He raised his eyes to meet Shiro’s. “You would really stay with me?” He asked, words soft and tentative, as if still fearing rejection despite what they had just done together.  

Shiro cradled his cheek and pressed a soft, almost chaste kiss to his lips.  “I would. And I will,” he promised.  

Keith released a shaky, relieved sigh and pulled him close in a tight hug.  The movement caused Shiro’s softened cock to slip out of him, and they both let out a little shiver at the sensation.  Shiro grabbed one of the clean furs from the other side of the bed and wrapped it around them to shield their bodies from the chilly air as the sweat cooled on their skin.  Keith snuggled close to him with a soft, content sound and laid his head on Shiro’s chest, with an arm around his waist and a leg tucked over his thigh. Shiro would probably get up to tend to the fire and fetch a cloth to clean them up, but he was content to rest here for just a few more minutes.  

He didn’t even realize he had lifted his hand to touch the bite mark until Keith spoke up, the other man not even raising his head or bothering to open his eyes.  “It won’t scar. Might bruise, but it’ll fade in a few days. Physically, at least.”  

“Physically?”  Shiro took his hand away and looked down at his fingers.  No blood, but he could feel the little indents pressed into his skin.  

Keith hummed.  “It’s a kind of magic, I think.  Other werewolves will be able to sense it and know that you’re taken.  Or they would, if they could get close enough, but I doubt anyone would dare encroach on the territory I’ve carved out here.”  

Shiro smiled at the thought that Keith really did want to stay here, enough to claim the lands around this cottage as his own.  

Keith cuddled closer with a sigh and went on, “you won’t turn into a werewolf, either.  That can only happen on the night of the full moon, when in wolf form. No need to worry.”

He wasn’t worried.  Shiro rubbed a hand up and down Keith’s arm.  “I wouldn’t mind. Then I could run with you.”  

Keith shook his head.  “It’s painful, for turned werewolves.  My father was turned. He always tried to smile and hide his pain from me when he shifted, but I could tell how much it hurt him.  I would never wish that upon you.” He nosed at Shiro’s collarbone. “Run with me as you are, or stay here and answer my howl to guide me home.  That would be enough. More than I could have ever dreamed of only a few months ago.”  

Shiro leaned down to kiss the crown of his head.  “Then I will await your return each time with open arms and a warm meal.  Like the good house-husband of a werewolf.”  

Keith snorted quietly at that.  He skimmed his fingers down Shiro’s abdomen and hip, just shy of his cock.  “Not too good, I hope,” he hummed against his throat, teeth grazing his skin.