Pressure. Puncture. Pain. Blood.
Sid jerks himself awake, his gasp ripping through the still night air. His hand comes up to his neck, expecting something wet and viscous to meet his fingertips. He bares his teeth when his claws scrape against dry skin.
He pulls his hand away, squinting at it in the light of the waxing moon.
The moon is enormous, flooding the night sky with her light. Bright rivers of it slip through Sid’s curtains. In the silver glow he can see the sharp points of his claws where there should be blunt fingernails, and the rapid pulse of his heart has him flexing his fingers.
Something is wrong.
Sid’s sensitive ears can hear all the way down to the lake even in this form. He can hear the nasal purrs of the pickerel frogs, the echoing chirps of the crickets. He’s alone, his house is empty, and the panic coursing through his veins isn’t his.
Sid stares down at the moonlight casting his skin white, and he pictures it slipping inside of him, into the pulpy mass of the pack living inside his chest. He can pick out Flower first, the bond lightning-fast and electric like it always has been. Next is Olli, who tastes like fire, like he’s three tequila shots deep and just getting started. Tanger, then, and Horny, and his friend Mike just a town over, and Taylor, who’s only half-his but bound by blood.
Sid digs through each thread tangling himself with his pack, and he can feel his claws lengthening, his neck stretching.
Sid closes his eyes, takes in a deep breath, and tries to coax the wolf back inside of his body.
His pack is fine. They’re all safe, asleep in their homes—aside from Olli, who, by the feel of it, is either having a very late night or a very early start back in Finland.
Sid rubs his fingertips—blunt, soft, human—against his chest, trying to calm his racing heart. He glances over to his nightstand where his phone rests and for a second he considers reaching for it and sending a text out to the whole team.
He knows the barrage of irritated, sleepy messages he’d get—some of it good-natured, some of it genuinely pissed off in a way that still makes Sid feel warm. For all that other werewolves rip him for it, nothing can stop Sid from looking at his whole team, humans and all, as his pack. There’s nothing real or physical about the way Sid is tied to his human teammates, but he swears he can feel them all the same when they’re on the ice together, moving in unison as one living thing.
The humans, though, couldn’t wake Sid up at the witching hour with something that feels like a fist around his lungs.
Sid probes at Olli’s bond once more, but Olli is warm and happy and definitely drunk, so Sid takes some of it from him, spinning the pleasant heat into a thread he pictures wrapping around his fingers like fishing line. He weaves it around his knuckles, grounding himself here, in his bed, in his pink fleshy hands, in his tapered, human fingertips.
He beds back down, stretching out and letting the moonlight wash his mind clean.
Sid’s on the dock when he gets the call.
He’d been kicking the rub rail, debating if the hull-to-deck joint has always looked that way—Boats are money sinks, kid, his uncle had told him when he was little and disappointed that they were fishing at the edge of the lake instead of on a pontoon boat—when he heard the grating buzz of his phone back on the countertop in the kitchen.
Sid doesn’t leave the dock. Not until the second call comes through.
When he finally makes it into the kitchen, he snags his phone, pushing aside his protein powder and peering at the screen.
When he sees Jen’s name on the screen twice, his stomach bottoms out.
Her name flashes across the screen again and he swipes on it, holding the phone up to his mouth.
“Jen,” he starts.
“Geno’s been bitten,” Jen says, and Sid’s world flips on its axis.
Pittsburgh had smelled like sulfur when Sid first arrived, freshly eighteen and alone. Diesel lingered in the air too, coating Sid’s tongue in layers of metallic flavor. The heavy metal weighed him down and kept him from floating away as he was whisked from meeting room to meeting room, house to house. There were people to greet, hands to shake, names to remember, and documents to sign.
He’d been adrift, his fingers feeling like they weren’t his as he scrawled his name on his contract. It would have been better to look down and see paws, claws, the sleek darkness of his fur. His wolf paws would still have mud on them if he shifted. He’d be coated up to the shins in the loamy, black mud from the summer rainstorm that had crashed down on Sid and his father as they formally broke his pack bond on the banks of Bissett Lake.
It hurt. Sid had wanted it anyway. He’d known since he was young that he’d have his own pack one day, a tangle of fur and comfort to fall into, a choir of heartbeats all living inside of him. He could hear the pulse of his family if he pressed his ear to his father’s chest and really listened. When he was nothing but a puppy, he’d thought his father’s chest was a cage full of hummingbirds, the steady beats so fast they were almost a hum. He’d wanted that, to carry everything inside of his ribs where it would be safe and all his.
In Pittsburgh, the wind tasted like mineral ore and his chest felt empty. The heavy support beams of his father and mother had taken up more space inside of him than he’d realized. Even the golden presence of Taylor had been dulled, a faint glow that only flickered at the edges of Sid’s chest cavity.
A lone wolf is a dead wolf, so he’d called home every night just to hear his family’s voices. He’d hit the town with the team night in and night out, did the dishes for Nathalie, and even ran with LeClair and his mate when the urge to find a pack grew too strong. Mario skirted around him on those days, careful to reach out with a supportive human hand and not a grasping alpha’s touch.
Mario had been withdrawing from the pack. He played that year but Sid still felt it, even from the outside. The raw edges of his broken bond were so sensitive that it made him flinch when Recchi would barge out of the team offices smelling like an angry thunderstorm, his pack bonds taut around him like a straightjacket. Mario’s pack had a gaping hole in it where Jagr had been, and Mario’s human body was failing in ways his wolf couldn’t fix. The sound of the pack inside of Mario was becoming discordant and shaky.
And so Sid had broken his pack bond, moved to America, and laid in wait for Mario to put on his skates for the final time.
While Mario pulled away and the last remnants of his pack howled their discontent, Sid watched their locker room with wolf eyes. There were so many people and personalities and options. His first bite would be the cornerstone of the home he was building. It had to work. It had to be perfect.
He’d thought about offering the bite to Colby, or even Whitney. Talbot was too wild and would be a rocky start, but sometimes Sid looked at loud, laughing Flower and wondered if it would be him. Sid could smell the musk of Flower’s werewolf girlfriend on him, a sharp and unusual tang on his human skin, and Sid had thought maybe Flower would ask Sid for the bite himself.
After a long year, a pack-less year that left Sid weak and stumbling when he landed back in Halifax, Sid had shifted and laid in the tall grass around Bissett Lake for three days. He listened to the hum of the insects and tried to let the lake heal his spirit.
It hadn’t worked as intended. This land was his dad’s now, not his, and it just burrowed under his skin. Sid was an interloper on another pack’s territory, even though he could name each craggy outcropping of land into the water.
Finally, his father had come looking for him. He had rustled through the cattails loudly, letting his paws slip on the old rocks he’d been climbing on for his whole life. When he’d finally come to where Sid had buried himself, he’d waited for Sid to stumble to his feet.
It had been strange, seeing his father as a wolf in front of him and hearing nothing. It was like looking at a ghost. Sid reached out with the broken edges of his bond experimentally, but there was nothing for him to grab onto, no way into his father’s ribcage where the heartbeats of his family rested like hot coals.
His dad had bent down in a playful stance, asking with his body in a way he could no longer ask Sid with his mind, and they ran. Two alphas, one with a pack and a family, the other with a bone-deep hunger growing inside of him.
When Sid returned, ravenous, to Pittsburgh a few months later, Mario was gone and the locker room was his for the taking.
Sid tugs the bill of his cap lower over his face and leans back against one of the enormous pillars inside of Stanfield International. The last text he’d gotten from Jen had said that Geno was due in at 7 p.m., and Sid tries his best not to check his watch again. He knows what it’s going to say. He counted every click he could hear of the gears inside turning.
He feels raw, like he’s going through puberty again, with all of his senses surging and crashing into each other, the human and the werewolf roiling like battling currents. He can smell every food stand in the airport, every whiff of airplane fuel and burning rubber.
He seeks out Geno’s scent through it all. He knows it by heart, like he knows his whole team. Geno always has a tang of salt to him that makes Sid think of the rink, of a hard day’s work.
He smells Geno before Geno even makes it to the escalator. Sid bolts up straight, keen eyes searching, and there Geno is.
Geno looks exhausted, slumping along the railing of the escalator as it moves. His sunglasses are pressed over his eyes, his cap tugged low over his face just like Sid’s. Sid wants to pull it off, to see Geno’s long face, his expressive, sleepy eyes, the strange wavy pattern of his hair.
Instead, Sid waits until he sees Geno’s nose twitch. It sends a thrill through Sid, one he has to tamp down hard, shoving it down and out of sight.
Geno looks up, his reflective sunglasses bouncing Sid’s own face back at him. Sid has to hold himself in place as Geno makes his way down the escalator, and then to the tiled floor in front of Sid.
“Geno,” Sid says, and he can’t keep every note of excitement out of his tone.
Geno just nods. He looks seasick, his skin clammy. His scent is vaguely nauseated, and Sid can feel him. Sid can feel him, just out of reach. He’s bright and swirling and Sid wants more than anything to dig his claws and teeth into the mess of Geno’s wolf and pull it towards him.
Instead, Sid gives Geno a brotherly half-hug, tapping Geno’s shoulder blade with his palm.
“Welcome to Halifax,” Sid says. It feels unreal. “Let me show you the lakehouse.”
“Okay,” Geno croaks, and Sid takes him home.
“Geno’s here,” Taylor says as soon as Sid opens his front door.
“I know,” Sid says as she pushes past him and inside. Her manners have absolutely vanished now that she’s a college student. “I got him from the airport last night.”
Taylor lifts her nose and sniffs rudely at the air. Her head tilts toward the hallway, toward the guest rooms.
“He’s sleeping. Hell of a flight,” Sid says. “And if he’s not asleep, he can hear us now, so watch it.”
“Alright, alright,” Taylor says dismissively, but she gives him that same closed-mouthed, scrunched-nose smile that he inherited from their father. Sid just rolls his eyes.
“Outside,” he tells her, because at least out by the dock they’ll have something approaching privacy if Geno wakes up.
Taylor kicks at a few patches of grass his landscapers have let grow too long as they tromp their way down to the waterfront. Her ponytail swings against her neck, and the part of Sid that’s still an overgrown pup wants to tug at it, just to get her to react.
Instead, he steps on the back of her flip-flops twice.
She spins and feints, like she’s going to go for it, and he just laughs. He’s got at least sixty pounds on her, if not more, not to even mention their height difference. She snaps her teeth uselessly in the air and heads all the way to the end of the dock, until she can shuck off her flip-flops and sit at the dock’s edge, feet in the water.
Sid hunkers down next to her. They’re water pups to the end, he knows it, and he slips off his own shoes and dips his feet in next to hers.
“So, he got the bite,” Taylor starts.
“He did,” Sid says quietly, like Geno can hear them despite the steady, heavy breaths Sid can still pick up from his guest room. “He hasn’t told anyone how, but…”
Sid shakes his head.
“And that’s why he came? He rejected their pack offer during his first shift,” Taylor says, tapping the ball of her foot against the water’s surface.
“I think,” is all Sid can say in return, and Taylor tilts her head at him. She looks the same as a wolf: neck craned, eyes wide, ears attentive.
“We haven’t really talked yet,” Sid admits. “He wouldn’t say much to Jen either.”
“He likes your pack, though. Right?” Taylor hesitates, her tone veering toward worry.
Sid knows her childhood crush still lingers. It had driven Sid insane when Taylor would come to Pittsburgh as a tween and stare up at Geno’s face, or down his long lanky body. It had made Sid feel overexposed—he knows they’re more alike than they ever want to admit. Had he stared at Geno like that when he was 19 and starving and feeling everything like a direct shock to his system?
“He’s always been great in the room,” Sid says, and it sounds like he’s talking to a reporter. He whacks the hard cap of his ankle against Taylor’s so she’ll whine about it. Her complaints knock him back into something approaching a brother.
“You ever offer him the bite?” Taylor asks.
“I offer it to almost everyone.”
Taylor just looks out over the sparkling blue water. Sid watches her, and then he watches the eagles in the pines on the far side of the lake, their white heads flashing in the early afternoon sun like morse code, like Sid’s land is talking to him.
“I want to see him as a wolf,” Taylor finally admits, and Sid can’t stop himself. His smile cracks across his face and he grins out at the lake.
“Me too,” he whispers, a secret he can finally say out loud.
Taylor is halfway through Sid’s pantry supplies by the time Geno hauls himself out of bed. They both pause as they hear the bedsprings move, and Sid elbows Taylor to get her moving. She steps on his foot—hard—before grabbing one more protein bar and ducking outside.
For a pack, more is always better.
For a lone wolf, it’s best to meet them as they are.
Even though her scent will linger, Taylor flees through the garage. Sid hears her turn her key in the ignition just as Geno peers into the kitchen.
“Hi, Geno,” Sid says easily, like they’re greeting each other at a morning practice in Pittsburgh.
“Hi,” Geno says. His voice is low, quiet, and uncomfortable.
Sid’s senses dance around Geno, around the new life that buzzes at his core. Sid wants to soothe him, to let the weight of Sid’s alphaness cradle Geno down into comfort.
Instead, he smiles, trying to feel calm.
“You sleep okay?” Sid asks, and Geno shrugs. He keeps looking at the floor, and then at Sid’s kitchen, and then up at Sid for a fraction of a second before staring back at the floor.
“Fine,” Geno mumbles, and his gaze darts to Sid and away.
Worry flutters in the back of Sid’s throat—Dad was right, he thinks, and he plants his palms firmly on the counter.
“Geno,” he says softly, grounding both himself and Geno with the word. This is Geno, Sid’s Geno, and—“If you feel like you want to fight for dominance, we don’t need to. Alpha tandems can work in sports, alright? We can—”
“Fight?” Geno says, and the anxiety in his voice makes Sid’s heart rate spike. He can feel a ginger prodding in the pack bonds—Tanger, concern overlaying the bright tone of his bond.
“No,” he says. “No, G, we don’t need to.”
Geno finally looks at him without looking away, and Sid takes in the dark shadows under Geno’s eyes, the way he’s squinting and still tired-looking. His hair is messily brushed away from his forehead, and Sid thinks Geno looks at home here, in the sunlit brightness of his kitchen.
“Why we fight?” Geno asks. “You want to?”
“No,” Sid breathes out a noise that sounds like a laugh, “God, no, but my dad thought that maybe you’d be an alpha too, and…”
Sid shrugs. He’d challenged his father once, back when he was fourteen and fresh off of a humiliating loss in Moncton. His dad had pinned Sid against the car as Trina bristled at them both, and Troy had told him to pull it together until he was ready to start his own pack.
Sid has his own pack now, and he wants more than anything for Geno to be part of it.
“Do you feel angry? Uncomfortable, like…” Sid tries to dig through the emotions, dragging his claws through his inner self like he’ll be able to trawl human words out of the wolf inside of him. “Like you don’t want to be near me?”
“No,” Geno mumbles.
“Good,” Sid says. This can still work. He’ll make it work. “That’s great, Geno.”
Geno’s peering at him, his lips twisted in a familiar expression. Sid waits him out.
“You’re not hearing me think?” Geno asks him.
“What? No. It doesn’t work like that,” Sid laughs, relief flooding through him. “C’mon, you knew that.”
Geno’s smile is weak and a little queasy; he just nods at Sid, who finally turns and opens the fridge. Now that he knows Geno won’t challenge him, it’s no problem to turn his back to Geno and start rummaging around.
“I can make you an omelet,” Sid offers, which is how Geno ends up making rubbery eggs over Sid’s stove, Sid watching warily from over by the sink.
“No,” Sid says again as Geno reaches for a fork. “God, use a plate.”
Geno reluctantly transfers his eggs over to the plate Sid hands him, and Sid bullies him into the kitchen nook, sliding a freshly-brewed mug of coffee across the tabletop.
Geno wraps his big hands around it, curling around the warmth even in the balmy summer weather, and gives Sid a faint smile. He still doesn’t look like he has his skates under him all the way.
“You feeling alright?” Sid asks him. “How’s, uh, the bite?”
Geno’s face flickers and he scrapes at his eggs with his fork.
“Heal, almost done,” he says. That’s good. Sid wonders where it is, how long it’ll be until he sees it, where Geno asked for it. His arm, like Tanger? His shoulder, like Olli?
“The fast healing is nice though, eh?” Sid asks, giving Geno a little smile like a peace offering.
The corner of Geno’s lips quirks up, but there’s nothing behind it.
The rest of Geno’s breakfast is quiet. Sid asks about Russia, about Geno’s family, but Geno’s reticent. He mumbles answers between bites of his eggs, and it’s always vague—his mother and father are fine, his day with the Cup was good, yes he went fishing and caught something big.
It reminds Sid of his second year, of Geno showing up new and quiet, his wary eyes landing on Sid and the other wolves time and time again. Geno doesn’t need a translator anymore, but their conversation is stilted enough to require one. It’s nothing like their decade-old friendship back in Pittsburgh, and Sid’s wolf threatens to crawl out of his throat because of it.
Despite the gentle invitation he extends, Sid leaves for his training session with Andy alone. Andy mercifully has him on a circuit in the fieldhouse, meaning Sid gets to stay out of the brutal late summer sun on the hill.
He’s on his back on the ground, his shirt sticking to his chest with sweat, when he hears Andy come up to stand next to him.
“Heard Geno’s in town,” Andy says, and Sid cracks an eye open.
“Where’d you hear that?” he sighs.
“Marta,” Andy tells him before sitting on the turf next to Sid. Sid closes his eyes again.
“She’s so nosy,” Sid murmurs. Andy’s alpha is a stone-cold bitch, in his opinion, but he sort of begrudgingly likes her for it.
“She has a friend at the airport,” Andy says. “He tells her when new wolves come through. Did you finally bite him?”
“No,” Sid says.
Andy lets that sit for a moment.
“But he’s here on pack business? Your wolves are coming in soon, aren’t they?”
“I’ll announce it at the meeting on Friday,” Sid mutters. “You’ll find out when the other packs do.”
“Cold, Croz,” Andy tells him. “I”m gonna make you run another oval for that.”
“Do your worst,” Sid groans, and rolls himself onto his feet.
The house is empty when Sid gets back. It’s empty, but the fresh, familiar scent of Taylor wafts through the rooms, and Sid follows it until he’s heading down the hill, toward the water, where Taylor has the ropes to his boat in hand as Geno stands sheepishly by the end of the dock.
“Joyride?” Sid asks with a wry smile.
“Geno wanted to see your boat,” Taylor says simply.
The indignant sound Geno lets out is worth it, and Sid laughs as Geno starts to protest.
“She say we go!” Geno says, and Sid rolls his eyes.
“Come in,” Sid tells them. “I’ve got sandwiches from Edna’s up in the kitchen.”
He heads back to the house first, and Geno lingers for a moment before abandoning Taylor to re-tie the boat, trudging up the steps and to the back porch. In the kitchen, he immediately starts inspecting the takeout bags and finds the bluefin sashimi appetizer in a matter of seconds.
“Thought you’d like that,” Sid tells him, and Geno gives him a small smile before rummaging through four different drawers to look for silverware.
Sid doesn’t tell him which drawer he’s searching for, preferring to watch instead as Geno bangs around and frowns at Sid’s organizational choices.
“Two to your left, rookie,” Taylor says as she follows them in, snagging one of the paninis from the table.
Taylor, Sid knows, is a bit of a bully to his wolves. She takes a certain relish in being half-in Sid’s pack, where she can tease and bite and claw and then run behind Sid with a smug grin, kept far from the constant brawl of inter-pack dynamics by her blood connection to Sid.
Geno, though, is just as much of a bully and is horrible at dealing with other bullies, which means Sid—for lack of better summer entertainment—can’t wait to see what Taylor does to get under his skin.
“I didn’t get enough food for you too, you know,” Sid tells her rudely as he reaches for the panini.
“Too bad,” Taylor says, and she snaps her teeth playfully at him. Sid can feel the way Geno jerks to attention at it, even though he still feels fuzzy and just barely out of Sid’s reach through the pack bonds. “Guess I’ll have to stay for dinner, then, too. Might as well, eh? Can you do Mom’s carbonara?”
“Go home if you want Mom’s carbonara,” Sid says, and he looks up at Geno.
Geno’s tense, watching the way they verbally bite at each other like energetic pups. His shoulders are starting to rise near his shoulders, and he finally has a fork in hand.
“Fine, sit down,” Sid tells Taylor. “And you’re on dish duty tonight.”
He doesn’t see enough of Taylor these days, not with the way she runs off to the beaches to see the ever-changing collection of friends she keeps around her. Between summer camps and hockey and grueling postseasons, the summer always ends with Sid feeling like she’s growing up in the shadows away from him, somewhere he can’t see.
Geno hogs the sashimi; Taylor barely gets a single piece out from under his nose. Sid can see the way Geno’s carefully smelling each dish before he eats it, and he remembers how Flower had gagged at some foods for months after his change.
“Everything okay?” Sid asks quietly, and Geno nods.
Taylor monopolizes Geno for most of the afternoon. They lounge on the couch, Geno scanning through the channels as Taylor talks about her offseason training. They migrate outside, where Geno pokes at Sid’s shooting pad and Sid teasingly asks Taylor to get in goal. They muck around on the dock, Geno peering at Grand Lake. Sid’s heart sits in his throat, and he wonders if Geno likes any of it. It’s a good home. It’s a home to all of Sid’s wolves.
It bleeds into the evening before late, and though Geno is still quiet, he’s willing to talk about Russia and Italy and Greece and all the wonderful places he usually spends his summers. They’re lounging on Sid’s patio, the sunset starting to ricochet off of the lake, and the tabletop has a small collection of beer bottles accumulating on it that Geno’s been fiddling with as he talks, picking the wrappers off of the sweating glass.
Then Taylor opens her mouth and says, “Hey, Geno, so when did you decide to get the bi—”
“Taylor,” Sids says abruptly, “let’s get started on the dishes. Now.”
His tone leaves no room for argument. It’s soft but harsh, and Sid doesn’t like to use alpha orders often.
Taylor’s only half-his by pack law, but that’s enough, and her mouth snaps shut before she gets up and heads inside.
Geno taps his fingers on his mostly-empty beer bottle and says nothing.
Sid wakes up on Thursday with an itch deep in his throat.
He turns onto his side and coughs once, twice, and then thumps at his chest. When it finally goes away, he closes his eyes and digs into the pack bonds, and—
You alright? he texts Mike.
Breakfast went down the wrong pipe its all good, Mike sends back within a minute, and Sid groans, falling back onto his mattress.
As he stares up at the ceiling, he resolves to himself that tonight he’s getting an answer out of Geno. Two days, he figures, is enough for Geno to settle into Halifax. Two days, he figures, is enough for Geno to finally sit down and tell Sid why he asked for the bite.
It’s an ugly thing, the little dark spot of jealousy sitting beneath Sid’s ribs. Back in his second year, when he’d turned down the captaincy even though it was his to have, when he’d been desperately trying to make Pittsburgh a home, a lanky kid from Russia had shown up at Mario’s doorstep. By the end of training camp, Sid had seen enough of Geno’s skill to know it should be him. He moved with a power Sid could only liken to Mario, back when Mario was younger and his body worked as it should.
Then Geno got injured before the season even began, and Sid’s uncautious, terrifying hunger had spilled out of him.
Geno had been sweet and so incredibly shy. On the ice he was aggressive and assertive, and off it he was quiet as a mouse, eyes big, always glancing around with a nervous-half smile on his face, ready to laugh the second anyone else was, just so he could seem in on the joke. Sid’s wolf had wanted to make another wolf out of Geno. Sid’s human had wanted something more.
Sid had tracked down Gonch, and then he’d cornered Geno in the P.T. room and made Gonch ask Geno if Geno wanted the bite.
Geno would have been Sid’s first. Sid had wanted Geno for his first. Pittsburgh was his chance to build his own pack, and he needed to build it right. Geno, he’d known, would be a perfect wolf. It had been obvious since that first strange, lovely dinner at Mario’s. Sid had felt his aching pack bond reaching out for Geno, desperate and starved.
“Tell him it’ll help heal his shoulder,” Sid had urged Gonch as he watched Geno’s face slide from his usual pleasant confusion to concern.
The more Gonch talked, the more dour Geno’s face became. His smile slipped off his lips, and Sid’s heart started pounding double-time. The line between his human and his wolf had been dissolving for too long and he could feel teeth on his ribs, on his spine, wanting out, wanting to cut into someone else’s skin. He could smell sweat rising on Geno’s skin like he was nervous. Or afraid.
“He says thank you, but he doesn’t want it,” Gonch told Sid twice before Sid just had to paste a smile on his face.
“That’s alright,” Sid said, and he wanted to shift right then, to run and hide in some impossibly small corner of the arena and nurse his wounded ego and the small, overeager part of his heart that had hoped this would be the start of something. A pack, a home, a new family, or something more.
Sid stares up at his ceiling, wondering what changed between now and then. Nothing. Everything. They’ve won two Cups, one as children and one as men. They’ve seen coaches come and go, and even more teammates have passed through like hallucinations, here and gone. Through injuries and setbacks and postseason explosions, Sid has watched Geno from a distance and always wondered what would happen if he asked again.
The choice had been taken out of his hands. Geno, apparently, had changed, and before Sid had been able to see it, Geno had asked someone for a bite.
Sid wonders what it will be like, to take Geno into the pack and have him. Not in all the ways Sid wants him, but maybe it’ll feel close enough. To have this is more than he’s dared hope for with Geno for a long time. A packmate is a second, third, fifth heartbeat. Sid can feel them all, held inside of him like something precious. He knows the feel of them all intimately and could pick them out by timbre alone.
Sid’s heart has carried Geno for a long time now, and Sid can barely imagine what it will be like to have that golden fire connecting them.
Before that, though, Sid needs answers, so he rolls himself out of bed and into the shower.
He spares Geno the sensory assault of jerking off in the shower. He normally tries to wear himself out in the days before the pack arrives, just so they can all communally pretend to have some amount of privacy, but with Geno around, he’ll just have to let it simmer instead, hot and heavy in his gut, a warmth he’s practiced at ignoring in the rink.
With Geno in his home, though, it’ll be worse. He’s sure of it. His suspicions are proven correct when Geno shuffles into the kitchen in a pair of low-slung shorts and a well-worn t-shirt that settles on his shoulders just so.
“I’ll take you fishing on the boat today,” Sid says, and Geno lets out a tired sound of agreement.
It’s part of Sid’s larger strategy to butter Geno up over the course of the day. He carbs him up during breakfast and packs a cooler of beer for the boat, along with whatever snacks Geno might deign to eat out of Sid’s frustratingly healthy pantry. This close to the season he doesn’t have anything approaching the junk food he gifts himself with in the dog days of the postseason. Especially this year, with how the Cup celebrations had loaded him up with beer and carbs and sugar, he’s had to be more aggressive with weaning himself off, which meant sacrificing his Oreo supply to Taylor.
He grabs the packet of dried seaweed Andy had tried to incorporate into his meal plan to no avail, figuring that Geno’s love of sushi might translate, and loads up the boat. Geno’s still sleepy when Sid badgers him onto the dock, but he perks up as Sid starts the engine and pulls away from the land. Sid doesn’t know how much time he loses to watching Geno sway with the gentle waves of the water.
Geno still looks a little sallow under his summer tan. When he moves it’s hesitant, and Sid wonders if all his new wolves were so careful with their bodies after the change. Olli, he remembers, had shifted within the first half hour and was bursting with energy.
Geno just gives him a tiny smile as Sid pops the cap off of a beer and offers it to him.
Sid has never been fishing with Geno, even though it’s all Geno seems to do in the summers. It’s never the season when they’re in Pittsburgh, and Sid watches as Geno gently casts his lure into the water.
His form is horrible. It’s nothing like how Sid’s uncles taught him, and Sid smiles to himself.
They don’t talk too much as they fish. Sid’s used to the lull of men fishing—it’s how his uncles had been, telling him to be quiet and appreciate the water. He’d found it boring as a kid, but now he gets it and just lets the gentle rocking of the boat ease him into as relaxed of a state as he can manage.
It’s ruined when the 2 p.m. heat strikes and Geno strips his shirt over his head.
Geno’s torso is so incredibly long. All of him is, but the gentle slope of his chest, the pale, long stretch of his soft stomach, the way hair gathers between his pecs, pulls Sid’s gaze away from the water.
In the room, bodies are bodies. Locker rooms are for hockey, not the tide-strong desires that roll through Sid’s stomach. Sid isn’t some overactive teenager anymore. It hadn’t been too hard to ignore the pale expanses of Geno’s legs and arms and broad shoulders back in Pittsburgh.
Here, in Sid’s boat, on Sid’s lake, Geno strips himself down and shines in the bright sun, and Sid sees the bite mark nestled into the crook of his neck.
It’s small. That’s the first thing Sid notices. He knows his bite mark on each of his pack members, knows the indentations of his teeth and what they look like now as dull, half-moon scars. He’d dreamt about what such a mark would look like on Geno.
The actual thing isn’t very big. It’s from a smaller mouth. It’s a painful-looking purple, dug right between Geno’s neck and his shoulder.
It’s intimate. Shockingly so.
Sid has to look away when he feels his teeth elongating to bite into his gums. He breathes in and out with the movement of the boat on the water and reaches out for Taylor—she’s running, training, and the steady pulse of her racing heartbeat is enough to distract him.
When he blinks away from the waves, his fingernails are just fingernails again, and he licks away the droplets of blood inside his mouth.
Geno’s mood seems improved by the time they reel in their final catches. Geno insists that he knows how to properly gut a fish, and Sid is dubious until Geno trudges up the hill, sets up shop in Sid’s kitchen, and fillets the fish in a matter of minutes.
It’s ugly, the cuts uneven, but it’s edible.
“Good job, G,” Sid says softly, looking it over. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a pleased smile flit across Geno’s lips, and his heart glows warm in his chest.
They eat outside again, because the weather is good and the bugs haven’t been too bad this year. Geno squeezes damn near a full lemon onto his fish, and Sid chooses a wine that Geno doesn’t make too bad of a face at.
Geno’s scraping at the last of the fish ribs piled in a corner of his plate when Sid leans back.
“So,” he says. He’s casual. So incredibly casual, like there isn’t a quiet jealousy frothing in his stomach, made worse by having a wolf that isn’t his on his land for so long. “Who’d you end up asking for the bite?”
Geno doesn’t have wolf friends back in Russia, Sid knows that. At least, Geno didn’t have wolf friends. It had been one of the first things Gonch had explained to him when Geno arrived and spent half of his time staring at Sid like he had two heads.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t found more wolf friends, after he’d learned how to be part of the Penguins. Sid runs his locker room like he runs his pack, even among the humans, and a decade surrounded by Sid’s wolves might have been enough if Geno was curious.
Curious enough to get the bite, but not to ask Sid for it.
“You don’t know,” Geno says after a minute. He eyes his wine glass, and Sid doesn’t wait for him to ask. He tips the last of the bottle into Geno’s waiting glass, toasting him with the empty bottle before leaving it on the table.
“Yeah,” Sid says. “Was it a pack back in Moscow? I know you spend a lot of the offseason there. Was it—”
He falters with his words for a second, because it veers too close to a dream he’d had the night before his Cup day, where he’d dreamt of bending Geno over the Cup and laying his teeth into Geno’s neck.
“Was it a Cup day thing?” Sid asks lowly.
Geno just shakes his head. He won’t look at Sid, and his long, graceful fingers toy at the stem of his wine glass, fumbling around it with something Sid thinks is irritation. Whatever it is, it’s hot and fluttery and on edge. Geno’s shoulders are stiff. His head is tilted toward where the bite is covered by his shirt collar, like he’s protecting it.
“Geno,” Sid says. “C’mon, what was it? Why now? I thought you liked being human.”
“I do,” Geno says, and his voice is deep. He doesn’t often drop his voice like Sid does to the media, but he’s doing it now. “Liked be human, Sid. Was good. Human guys in room, they talk to me if they’re needing help. I’m like, big guy, you know? Sometimes they’re not want wolf advice.”
Sid knows this. He’d seen Geno start to flourish as he grew into his English and his leadership. The humans would seek him out, especially the ones who weren’t used to wolves. Sid knows that his golden eyes sometimes set the new guys on edge, that the cuddly piles the wolves enjoy in the middle of the locker room can draw confused stares.
Geno had wielded his humanity like a staff, like a shield. The humans on the team gravitated towards it in a way they couldn’t with Sid, even when Sid won over their trust eventually. Geno had been his own alpha, in a way.
It had made Sid want him all the more.
“So what changed?”
“Nothing,” Geno says, and Sid realizes with a shock that it’s shame curling over Geno’s shoulders, his hands, his face. He looks down at the glass table so he doesn’t have to look at Sid.
Good, the vindictive animal inside Sid thinks. He should have come to me.
“So you did want the bite? Back when I asked?” Sid asks.
“No,” Geno snaps, scowling.
“Then it changed. Why did you want it?”
“I don’t want!” Geno says at the lake, and Sid’s blood goes cold.
He can hear everything. The nocturnal wildlife starting to stir as the last dirty streaks of sunlight fade into the dark twilight. The hum of the bug zapper hung off of the arbor. The sound of his nearest neighbor’s car crunching over the gravel road. The galloping, racing beast of Geno’s heart in his chest.
“What?” Sid asks.
Geno seals his lips and Sid leans into the table. When he speaks, his fangs catch on the edge of his lower lip.
“Geno, did someone force the bite on you?”
He can hear the wet sound of Geno swallowing. Geno’s heartbeat is the loudest thing in the world to Sid, thundering through Sid’s own veins. The pack bonds sing.
“Is not like that,” Geno says quietly.
“The fuck does that mean?” Sid asks, and when he scrubs a hand over his mouth, his claws scrape at his skin.
Love, to Sid, is the wolf. It’s holding the pack closer than anything. It’s another breathing thing inside his chest. It’s the offering of the bond like a precious thing. The bond is precious. Welcoming people into the pack is the greatest gift Sid could ever give someone.
“Is not like that,” Geno repeats, and now he’s angry, and Sid’s temper rises to meet him.
“Shift,” Sid demands. “C’mon, now. Let’s complete the pack bond. I’ll be able to hear you that way. We’ll understand each other better.”
“No!” Geno says, and he recoils in his seat.
“Tell me what the fuck happened, then,” Sid commands.
“Doesn’t matter,” Geno insists, and he has a tremor in his hands. Sid can see him starting to shiver around his edges.
“You’re close to shifting,” Sid says. “Go all the way, come on.”
Sid reaches behind his head and starts to yank his shirt off, and he hears the clatter of the table when Geno pushes himself away, his chair’s legs scraping on Sid’s deck. Sid tosses his baggy t-shirt onto the wood. Geno backs up another step.
“Shift,” Sid says around his fangs.
Geno shakes his head, and his eyes linger on Sid’s lips.
No, on Sid’s teeth.
Geno’s raging heartbeat hasn’t slowed at all. Maybe it’s gotten faster, and he holds himself away from Sid like he’s afraid.
The night air hums around Sid like something alive. The moon gazes down on them, so close to fullness, and Sid wants to give into it entirely. He wants to run and chase and howl and dig into Geno, who stands in front of him and shivers.
“Fine,” Sid whispers. “But I need to know the pack name. There are rules. If I have to report something...”
Geno won’t stop staring at Sid, and Sid knows what he looks like. The scruff on his face has grown back in, his eyes reflect the bright moonlight, his sharp teeth catch on his words. Geno’s hand has moved up to press over the bite mark.
“No pack,” Geno rasps. “One.”
“A lone wolf,” Sid says faintly. “Geno, Christ, were they rabid?”
“No,” Geno says. “Stop. Doesn’t matter. One wolf, pack, who’s care?”
“A lone wolf turned you. I care,” Sid says, feeling like he’s losing his mind. “Please shift.”
Sid watches the movement of Geno’s throat as he shakes his head again.
“Geno,” Sid whispers. He doesn’t beg. Alphas don’t beg.
“I go to bed,” Geno says after a heavy moment of not-silence, the night flooded with the sounds of the lake. Geno backs up to the door. He leaves his plates and wine glass scattered all over the table, and Sid aches with wishing it was because Geno treated the lakehouse like he treats his own home, layering his mess and his life all over Sid’s. Instead, something painful and sharp weaves around Sid’s ribs as Geno keeps him within eyesight. Geno doesn’t turn his back until he has to open the door, and he slips into Sid’s home like a secret.
As soon as the sliding door clicks shut, Sid collapses into himself and lets the wolf tear itself out.
Running this close to the full moon makes him feel like an animal. His pack isn’t there to buffer him, and so Sid streaks through the moonlit glass to the treeline and then into his woods.
He didn’t ask for it, Sid screams at himself, and then up at the moon, at her pale, uncaring round face. Something happened, he won’t tell me, and he didn’t want this at all. He never wanted this.
Sid’s paws dig into his earth and he pushes himself faster. It’s easy; his muscles are thick from his training. He could run forever if he wanted to. He can feel Flower and then Tanger sparking to attention inside of him. He’s worrying his pack, their heartbeats rising to match his own. He can feel the surge inside of Taylor—she must be looking at the moon, thinking of him.
He can feel the ghostly not-bond of Geno, back in his guest bedroom, and embarrassment rockets through Sid as he tilts his head back and lets out a mournful sound. A howl, like he’s a puppy lost in his father’s woods, like he’s calling his pack to him from countries away.
Sid crashes through the trees and over the rocky bank of the lake, plunging into the chest-deep water and letting it dye his fur a darker shade of black. He lets the water pull away his shame, his eagerness, and his bond-deep hope that Geno had finally changed his mind.
He bites at the lake, the water slipping through his teeth unhurt. His land doesn’t care—it couldn’t. All that matters to it is if he’s alive and breathing and taking care of what’s his.
Geno is his now, in the worst way, and when Sid drags himself to the dock and sprawls out in a mess of wet fur at its end, his breaths gust out of him in soft whines.
“Come to training with me and Andy today,” Sid says as he dishes up an omelet to Geno.
Geno’s groggy, blinking down at his coffee with exhausted eyes. He looks unwell, like it’s November and he’s coming down with the annual cold that always takes him out for three days. It had taken him several minutes to meet Sid’s eyes, and for the first few moments of breakfast Sid had skirted around Geno’s edges like he was going to shatter if Sid stepped too close.
That was stupid. Sid knows Geno, and Sid knows how to be a captain, and thus:
“It’ll be good for you,” Sid says.
“Running?” Geno asks reluctantly.
Geno’s always been a freak of nature, stepping into the rink effortlessly after months of fucking around on European beaches and not so much as looking at a sheet of ice. Sid’s never had that same luxury—the twisting and turning of his muscles every time he shifted into the wolf meant that the muscle memory so rarely stayed unless Sid practiced things over and over again until he could do them in his sleep.
Geno is a wolf now and isn’t getting any younger, so Sid waits until Geno looks tiredly up at him.
“Andy’s great, come on,” Sid says. “You know his workout style now.”
“Circuit,” Geno says balefully. It’s the fourth word he’s spoken all morning, following his croaked hello and then the yes he’d given Sid when Sid asked if Geno wanted red pepper in his omelet.
“It’ll be good,” Sid reassures him. “Unless Russia turned you into a lazy, slow skater this year.”
The prickle of Geno’s irritation is a physical thing; it slips down Sid’s spine, and simultaneous pain and pleasure slide through his gut. It’s a miracle to be able to feel Geno at all through the reaching fingers of the pack bond. It’s something much worse to know that Geno hadn’t wanted to share those feelings with Sid.
His words have the same effect either way. Geno grumbles something under his breath and shoves more omelet into his mouth.
“You lose worst today,” Geno tells him through his chewing. “You’re be most slow, Andy make you run ten laps.”
“A hundred bucks says I win,” Sid says, and Geno’s pleased smile looks a little stressed around the corners, but it’s real, and Sid smiles back.
Sid’s a half-decent cook, but he doesn’t do fancy. His pasta dishes look messy, his meat is serviceable, and his omelets are weirdly-colored, delicious blobs.
The omelet looks rancid when it comes back up.
“Geno,” Andy says in concern as Geno leans over the public trash can, his shoulders shaking as he heaves wetly.
Andy doesn’t get too close, hovering a few feet away. He’s been giving Sid looks all morning, ever since Sid pulled up to the Citadel’s parking lot with Geno in tow. Andy’s subtle, but Sid could see the way Andy had been carefully sniffing at the air anytime Sid and Geno were close to him, like Andy had been searching for the scent of them on each other.
He’d been correcting Sid’s form on some stretches when Sid had bared his teeth at him, and Andy gave him a grimacing smile before leaning away politely.
Now, Andy warily watches as Geno pushes himself away from the trash can and wipes at his mouth with the long sleeve of his shirt. They’re only twenty minutes into the session and while Sid’s forehead glows with a healthy sweat, Geno’s soaking through his clothes. The sun and exertion have turned his skin a vibrant shade of pink, and Sid can’t remember the last time Geno looked this weak.
Even when Geno had been on painkillers and rolling around on a scooter for his busted knee, he’d looked better.
Sid’s stomach sinks, and Andy claps his palm against his own thigh.
“Alright, I think we’re done today,” Andy says carefully, and he glances over to Sid quickly, a you and I are sitting down for beers about this soon in his gaze.
“No,” Geno says roughly. He yanks his shirt over his head, and Sid immediately looks at the cloudless blue sky, unwilling to watch the sweat-slicked skin on Geno’s back shift with his muscles when Andy is right there, knowing and watchful. He hears the scrape of fabric over skin—Geno mopping up his sweat, maybe, or his mouth. “You finish. I’m go back.”
“We only have the one car,” Sid says to the Halifax sky. “It’s fine, G, let’s go home.”
“No,” Geno says, turning, and Sid can’t help himself. He drops his chin, and Geno looks oiled, gleaming in the early afternoon sun. His hair is a thinning, matted mess on his forehead. His necklaces rest heavily below his sternum. The flat pink ovals of his nipples make Sid’s mouth water.
Geno’s eyes, though, are shadowed. His jutting lower lip is twisted downward, and he takes a tilting step down the hill.
“I’m go wait. Finish,” Geno bites out, and at the end of it, there’s a little growl.
Sid’s heart flips hopelessly, excitedly, inappropriately, in his chest, and Geno starts to walk slowly down the grassy knoll.
“Sid,” Andy says once Geno is out of earshot—wolf earshot, not merely human earshot—“he looks like shit.”
“It’s been hard for him,” Sid snaps, and Andy’s unimpressed face stares at him from under the bill of his hat.
“What gives? The bite took, right?”
“Yes,” Sid says, because Geno feels like Geno—he’s all there, unbonded, waiting for an alpha, waiting for Sid. Sid looks at his retreating form, at the way his shoulder blades shift under his tanned skin. He already looks like a predator, a wolf ready to jump out of its human skin.
The silence stretches. An airplane arcs above them, a loud hum, and the tourists on the other side of the Citadel keep up a constant, indistinct murmuring.
Sid blinks and looks back at Andy, and Andy’s quiet, sad eyes have Sid frowning.
“Let’s just finish. We’re halfway done,” Sid says, and though he isn’t Andy’s alpha, Andy knows when to listen.
They finish the workout, ending with some painful lunges up the hill that have Sid sitting in the grass and trying to catch his breath.
“You’re not bringing Geno to the meeting tonight to introduce him,” Andy says from a few feet away.
“I haven’t bonded him yet,” Sid sighs out. “So no.”
“Sid,” Andy says, and he doesn’t hesitate. He’s known Sid for too long. “He doesn’t look good. Really.”
“I have it under control,” Sid says, watching another plane fly overhead. It isn’t his place to tell Andy that Geno was bitten by a lone wolf, not yet. Geno’s unstable, Sid knows. He can see it. But he’s Geno, and Sid has him, and when the full moon hits, they’ll run along Grand Lake and Geno will slip into Sid’s pack like he belongs there, just like everyone else did.
They’d all asked to be in Sid’s pack, though, and Sid closes his eyes.
“If you need to talk—”
“Thanks,” Sid says. “Want to do lunch next week? When does Nate get back from Colorado?”
“His pack usually stays about a week extra, but when he’s back in town we’ll all go to the Alehouse,” Andy tells him, and Sid nods.
When Sid trudges down the hill, it doesn’t take long to sniff out Geno. He smells ripe, the sweat cooling on his skin. If Sid opens his mouth, he can taste the salt of it on his tongue. Geno’s laid out on one of the park benches, his long, graceful legs hanging off the end, his shirt piled under his head as a makeshift pillow.
“You asleep?” Sid asks, even though Geno’s heartbeat is waking-slow, not sleep-slow.
Geno lets out a groan and Sid tweaks his foot as he walks by.
“Ready to go home? You need to hydrate.”
Sid lingers by the car, fussing with his keys so he can keep an eye on Geno as Geno slowly pushes himself up onto his feet. Sid knows what Geno’s supposed to look like, and past the heady veil of his own lust, he can see that Geno’s tentative and slow. This isn’t the strong man Sid had wanted for a wolf.
This is Sid’s new wolf, weak and ailing and silent, and Sid flicks through his keys again as the realization settles heavily in his gut that he wants Geno this way. He would take Geno like this, sick and trembling and his, over a human Geno out of reach.
“Let’s go home,” Sid says roughly, and Geno lurches to the car.
Geno drains a bottle of Gatorade and then spends nearly half an hour in the shower. Sid lingers in the master bedroom, aimlessly sifting through the clothes in his closet and keeping an ear out in case Geno’s knees falter like they almost had in the garage. He’d wobbled around on his legs like a newborn colt as he got out of the Range Rover, and Sid doesn’t find it unreasonable to make sure he’s okay.
He can hear Geno’s movements under the pounding, heavy spray of his showerhead. The uneven splatters of water are loud as he cups it in his hands, maybe washing his face. The sounds of his hands rubbing over his skin cut through Sid’s chest as Geno works Sid’s body wash into his arms, chest and thighs.
Sid takes a steadying breath and closes the drawer to his closet dresser a little too loudly, and he can hear Geno stop moving beneath the water.
By the time Geno joins Sid in the family room, Sid has himself under control. He’d been aimlessly flicking through the channels on the TV until he settled on a golf tournament that Geno gives a disdainful look. Sid offers the remote to him—which is incredibly magnanimous—and Geno immediately starts dicking around, scrolling through the channels way too fast for Sid.
Geno finds some bombastic action movie, and they’re about a half hour in before Geno speaks.
“When guys come?”
“Day after tomorrow,” Sid says. “It’s hard to squeeze more time in. Olli’s still in Finland.”
Geno takes that in, chewing on the inside of his mouth. Sid watches the pucker of his cheek and the way it tugs on his lips.
“I’m gonna go to the farmer’s market soon, though,” Sid says. He’d hoped to bring Geno along, to show him what Halifax looked like, so Geno could see what kept Sid coming back here every summer. “I need to get some stuff for when the pack comes, we do a whole big meal.”
He’s expecting it when Geno just nods and doesn’t offer to tag along, but it still settles in his stomach unpleasantly. He grabs his wallet and his keys, and he pauses for a moment in the kitchen before taking another Gatorade out of the fridge. He swings back by the family room and leaves the Gatorade on the side table. Geno’s eyes flick over to watch him, and Sid gives him a smile.
“See you soon,” he says quietly, a facsimile of domesticity, and leaves.
The farmer’s market is a tangle of people and scents. Sid weaves through the booths and grabs everything he’ll need: the blueberries because they’re delicious, the bushel of apples because Olli goes through them at a freakish rate, several bunches of asparagus to throw on the grill, and an obscene amount of the fresh catches the fishmongers have to offer. People usually leave him alone in this neck of the woods these days, even with the second Cup win newly on his shoulders. The fishmonger tries to give him a discount, and Sid jams a twenty into the tip jar with a shake of his head.
Geno’s not in the house when he returns.
Sid leaves the groceries on the kitchen counter, and he trails Geno’s scent out to the backyard. He’s not far. He’s just a few feet off of the grass and into the trees, on a dirt outcropping that overlooks the water. The dirt is scuffed, like he’s been pacing, and Sid clears his throat when he gets close even though he watched Geno’s head tilt towards him by the time he was halfway down the hill. Geno’s heightened senses are settling over him, becoming part of him.
“You feeling better?”
“Yes,” Geno says, and when he turns to look at Sid, he doesn’t look nauseous. He still doesn’t look good, though. If the bond were connected, if Sid could know what Geno needed, he’d give it to him in a heartbeat.
“I like to fish out here,” Sid says, for a lack of knowing what else to say. It’s miles from his dreams of what this would have looked like, and miles further from what it’s been like every other time he’s turned someone. “The salmon like to bite around this part of the lake.”
Geno nods, glancing out at the water. Sid wants to peer inside of his brain, to see if he likes it, to see if he’d ever want to stay here at all, maybe for longer than the few days Sid can wrangle his pack here every summer.
“I was going to do chicken for dinner,” Sid says, “but it’ll be late when I get back. There’s a meeting.”
“Brisson?” Geno asks, surprise in his tone.
“No,” Sid says. “Um, werewolf stuff.”
A little smile exposes a few of Geno’s crooked teeth.
“Wear suit?” Geno asks, and Sid can see him picking up steam. “Do wolf business? Decide who gets to eat little rabbit?”
“Shut up,” Sid laughs, and Geno’s face crumples in a grin, his eyes scrunching up, his tongue licking at his lower lip in delight.
When Sid leaves for the meeting, his mind lingers on the image of Geno smiling at him at the edge of his lake, and he thinks maybe.
His cautious hope carries him all the way up the winding road to the old hunting lodge. It’s tucked back into the pine forest, nearly a half hour from the metro area. Buried in the Baptiste pack’s land, the lodge is ancient and smells like cigar smoke. His dad’s big SUV is already parked in the long drive, and Sid weaves through the small collection of cars to the lodge’s enormous oak door.
Inside, the competing scents of wolves war for his attention. The alphas of the greater Halifax area crowd around Alpha Baptiste’s weathered meeting table, the edges of the wood dull from decades of use. Sid isn’t sure what’s older, the table or the alpha it belongs to. Both have skin darkened with age and grooves worn into them from years of use. Alpha Baptiste sits at the head. Next to him is Marta, her black eyes sharp and clever as she surveys the wolves. Her gaze lands on Sid, and Sid keeps his face pleasant as he nods at her. Her look says she has about a hundred questions about Geno waiting on her tongue.
He picks out his father quickly, and he tugs out the heavy chair next to him. His dad gives him a quick acknowledgement before going back to his conversation with the alpha from Sherwood. By the sound of it, his dad’s trying to wrangle a discount for the golf course the pack controls, and Sid scrubs a hand over his face to hide his smile.
The meeting is rote—held every few months to gauge the state of things, to announce new bite candidates, to announce deaths, to announce shifting hierarchies. Sid’s dad keeps him up to date during the season, but not much changes up in Halifax, where the packs have remained the same for decades. It’s worse in Pittsburgh, where the city keeps pulling in newer wolves at a cascading rate. The old steel packs have faded, making room for amorphous, everchanging packs as the city grows.
Sid’s known these families up north since he was a pup. It’s familiar to listen to Alpha Mitchell’s creaky old voice, and then his buddy Jeff’s reply. Sid announces that his pack is coming in for the full moon and then sits back in his chair. It’s easy, stuff Sid largely doesn’t have to pay much attention to, not until Alpha Baptiste asks for updated pack lists.
When it’s Sid’s turn, he hesitates.
“No changes,” he says, and immediately knows it’s a mistake. He sees his dad turn to look at him out of the corner of his eye.
“I have an unregistered wolf to report,” Marta says, and Sid grinds his teeth.
“He’s a potential pack member,” Sid says quickly. “He’s not bonded yet.”
“So you do have a change,” Alpha Baptiste says slowly, his old hand hovering over the older notebook he keeps the records in.
“I will have a change,” Sid says, and he’s cool and collected, like he’s answering questions from the media. “He’s a transplant. I didn’t bite him.”
Alpha Baptiste lets out a soft hum that has Sid’s hackles rising. He calms himself as quickly as he can, focusing on the woodsy-smoke scent of the room. He sits quietly through the rest of the gathering, listening to the wolves debate the hunting schedule and the proposed dam a few miles from Beaver Bank Lake.
He would have needed to announce it to them, if he had planned to bite Geno. He’d have to announce it to them if he ever took Geno as a mate. It would confer power to Geno, put him into yet another role he’d maybe not want. It’s almost easier to imagine Geno wanting the touch of Sid’s human hands than it is to picture Geno willingly presenting himself to the Halifax council and dealing with the paperwork of it all.
It’s another ridiculous fantasy, a silly little thing that had woven a story in Sid’s mind. Just like his well-worn dreams of introducing Geno to his land, of seeing Geno fall in love with the way the sunlight bounced off of the water, there’s another lie Sid’s fed himself about this moment. It was something he’d thought about when he was languid and yearning: Sid, happy and proud, announcing Geno to the Halifax wolves, Sid’s bite mark on Geno’s neck. Geno, his and glowing with it.
Instead it’s this: Sid, sitting in a dark, crowded room, with Marta’s eyes boring a hole in his skull.
Sid stews, and once the meeting is done, he makes a break for the doors before Marta can get her paws on him. His dad falls into step with him and they head out into the fading evening.
“Your mother wants you over for dinner soon,” Troy says quietly. Sid can read between the lines. He knows his father better than maybe anyone else in the world—he used to rest between his father’s ribs, before he cut himself free.
“Geno isn’t ready,” Sid says. “He’s having a hard time with it. I’ll tell you more when I can. It’s not my story to share.”
His dad claps a heavy hand onto Sid’s shoulder, gripping him tight.
“Whenever you’re ready,” his dad says, and Sid leans into his side, taking in the comfort as the rising moon peers over the trees, calling him back home.
Sid realizes Geno isn’t alone when he pulls in through the first gate onto his property.
He parks next to a familiar silver sedan in the driveway and follows the sound of quiet voices through the house, walking into the kitchen and not at all surprised at the mess. It’s like a bomb has gone off, and Sid smiles as a familiar scent fills his lungs.
“Flower,” he says as he steps out onto the deck, and Flower twists in his seat.
Flower stands quickly, wrapping Sid up in a big hug that feels better than Sid wants to admit. Flower’s willowy arms crush Sid against him, and they both tuck their noses into each other’s throats, taking in deep breath after deep breath.
The pack bond between the two of them flares bright, and the contentment leaks through Sid into everyone else, a surging warmth that spills out of him. It’s a promise: soon they’ll all be together like they should be.
“You’re here early,” Sid says as he pulls away.
“No, I’m perfectly on time,” Flower says. “Only if Vero asks.”
“Uh oh,” Sid laughs. “How are the girls?”
“Teething,” Flower says with a grimace. “You should see the bite marks, Jesus.”
Sid darts a glance over to Geno. Though he leans back in his chair sluggishly, he has a flush on his cheeks that gives him a healthier color. Sid’s bolstered by the bone-deep satisfaction of having Flower here, of the knowledge that his pack will be around him soon, like extraneous organs finally fitting themselves back into Sid’s body.
“We should run,” Sid says. “Night’s good for it.”
“Is late,” Geno complains, and the words linger between the three of them before Flower says, “He means as wolves.”
Geno’s already tired eyes flatten even more. He scratches absently at his neck, but Sid sees how his fingers reach for where the bite mark is first, only diverting to Geno’s throat when Geno sees Sid’s eyes tracking his every move.
“It’ll feel good,” Sid says, because it will. Even if Geno hates the wolf inside of him, it will feel better when he runs. He hasn’t shifted at all the entire time he’s been at Sid’s, and Sid knows for a wolf that new Geno will need to stretch into his new body. He needs to learn to live with the new life pulsing inside of him. It’s a dormant muscle he’ll need to stretch. Maybe it’ll even make him like it, somehow.
“Tired,” Geno says with a shrug of his shoulders. He doesn’t meet Sid’s or Flower’s eyes, choosing to stare at the remains of the fried fish dinner that Flower had made while destroying Sid’s kitchen.
“G,” Sid says softly, and Geno’s fingers tighten on the collar of his shirt.
“Let’s go, Sid,” Flower says quietly.
“Fine,” Sid says, and he doesn’t give Geno the chance to leave before he starts stripping down. His shirt comes off and then he unbuttons his jeans. Geno focuses even more intently on the fish bones, and Sid leaves his clothes in a pile on the deck before he takes a running step.
He shifts mid-stride. It’s flashy and unnecessary, but his body can do so many things and it feels personal that Geno’s so willing to dismiss it. The painful stretch of his tendons lengthening and his bones cracking is fearsome and wonderful. Sid lands on his lawn on four paws, and he spins to see Flower hesitating, his shirt in his hands.
Sid snorts impatiently and looks over at Geno.
Geno’s eyes dart away, but not before Sid catches the way Geno’s watching Sid’s wolf form. Sid knows what he looks like, powerful and ocean-dark. He takes a step back toward the deck and Flower strips off the rest of his clothes in a flurry, one of his socks landing on his abandoned chair before he twists down into himself and emerges as a mud-colored wolf.
He bounds down the steps, crashing into Sid’s side, and Sid turns to snap at Flower’s crooked ear.
Flower feels so good. The pack bond opens fully like this, letting Sid’s overeager claws bury themselves into everything Flower is. Sid can feel the flutter of Vero and Flower’s two daughters through him, and it makes his heart swell. He can feel the tone of Flower’s thoughts as the bond wrenches itself back open, and the flood of contentment and brotherhood and love surrounds Sid.
Flower’s thoughts flicker around the soreness in his legs from such a long drive but his concern is fleeting, overridden by the siren song of the land calling to him. Flower takes off for the woods, and Sid’s a half-step behind him as they crash into the brush. Flower’s pushing himself, working up to his top speed as he darts over exposed roots and around the bushes ripe with hawthorn berries and their thorns.
Sid’s breaths deepen, stretching his ribs, and he digs his paws into the dirt. He moves to overtake Flower with a burst of speed—he’s faster than all of his wolves. He wonders if he’ll be faster than Geno.
That’s when Flower’s careful thoughts slip.
Flower’s been one of Sid’s wolves for years. He’s had nearly a decade to practice the delicate mind games wolves can play to keep their thoughts away from their alpha’s knowing bonds. It never works forever, but it can work for a while. It can work long enough that they’re nearly a mile from Sid’s home when Flower’s thoughts tumble back to their dinner on the deck, and the knowledge pounds into Sid like a downpour.
The sound of Geno’s accent is different in Flower’s memory, coated with the way Flower’s Quebecois ears take in the rounded edges of Geno’s English. The Geno in Flower’s memory isn’t the Geno Sid sees; the luster from him is gone. The image of Geno as undesirable would be enough to falter Sid’s strides by itself.
It’s Geno’s words, though, that have Sid’s front paw catching on the arcing root of a white ash tree.
“I was with werewolf,” Sid hears in Flower’s memories as his body starts to plummet to the forest floor.
“When you got bitten?” Sid’s joints hit the dirt. Flower doesn’t hear his own accent in his mind. It’s all smooth English.
“In bed,” Geno says in Flower’s memory, and the shock still reverberating in Flower’s memory is a weak splash compared to the tidal wave that rips through Sid.
Sid’s face scrapes along the rough, rocky ground. He sprawls out, rolling once, twice, as all of Flower’s memories of the conversation flow into him. Geno had slept with a werewolf. He’d been fucking a werewolf. He’d fucked a lot of werewolves, and he’d told Flower about it because Flower had fucked a werewolf as a human too.
Geno had been fucking a werewolf, and that werewolf had laid their teeth into his skin and made him one, too.
Sid stumbles back to his feet, swaying once he’s upright. Flower’s crouching a few nervous feet away, his ears pressed flat against his skull.
No one knew, Sid hears through the bond. He didn’t tell anyone, he told me because of Vero.
Is it his mate, Sid says, screams, the words shaky, coming across as flickers of nightmares, images, things that make Flower crumple in on himself, his back legs shaking.
Flower lets out a whine as the no makes its way to Sid.
Sid makes to turn, his feet clumsy underneath him, his heart in his throat, but Flower gets ahold of himself faster.
He knows better than to put himself between Sid and Sid’s home, but he comes up to Sid’s shoulder and presses his snout to Sid’s quaking flank.
Please, Flower pleads. Please let him tell you on his own.
Sid bares his teeth before he can stop himself, and he spins away from Flower, into the large ash tree that had sent him to the ground. He rears up onto his back paws and rips his claws into the bark, chipping it away in jagged, pale streaks.
Flower waits him out, low to the ground in quiet submission until Sid’s scarred the tree enough to make himself ashamed.
He bolts off in the opposite direction of his house, against every instinct he has. He runs fast, leaving Flower steps and then meters behind him. He feels flayed open, and he knows Flower’s getting too much feedback from him. The whole pack roils in his chest, knowing something is wrong. Sid can’t hold it in anymore, not when his mind fills with the image of Geno, sick-looking and embarrassed, admitting he’d taken werewolves into his bed.
Sid doesn’t make it back to the house until well after midnight. Flower’s waiting for him, already dressed, Sid’s clothes in hand as he sits on the swinging bench below the deck.
Sid shifts, spine cracking back into its upright position, and gets dressed without saying a word.
“Sid,” Flower says, but he quiets when Sid meets his gaze and looks away. Flower’s known for a good while about Sid’s feelings for Geno, but it’s always been unspoken, a neat little secret they both sidestep out of politeness. It hadn’t been easy to keep his hunger to himself in his early days, when he was both an unpracticed paramour and an unpracticed alpha. Flower has seen too much of Sid’s soul not to know what that look means.
Sid ducks into the house, Flower hot on his heels, reaching out a hand to stop Sid as he seeks Geno out.
The sight of Geno beats Flower to the punch. He’s slumped on Sid’s couch, his long legs stretched out across the cushions, his head pillowed on his folded arms.
The shifting light from the TV accentuates the dark bags under his eyes, and Sid’s righteous, self-conscious quest caves in on itself.
Flower waits as Sid picks the remote off of the ground and turns the TV off. Sid yanks the thin throw blanket off of the back of the couch and pulls it over Geno’s knobby knees, careful to tuck it over his feet. He doesn’t linger.
“Sid,” Flower whispers as he trails after Sid back into the hall, like Geno’s heartbeat isn’t achingly slow with sleep.
“Flower,” Sid says tiredly, “Just… not tonight, okay?”
Flower makes a discontented sound and Sid turns, opening his arms in an offer he hopes Flower accepts.
Flower embraces him firmly, immediately, his body warm against Sid’s. It hasn’t been that long since the Cup parade and their dog days in Pittsburgh, but every summer without his wolves nearby wears on Sid. Having them here, starting with Flower—his first—makes something settle in Sid’s spirit.
“He’ll be okay,” Flower tells Sid. “And so will you.”
Sid nuzzles against Flower’s temple for a second, wishing they had ended their run with an exhausted, wolfish nap on the thick carpet of Sid’s media room, but he’ll settle for this instead. They cling to each other until the embrace breaks and Sid gives Flower a tight smile.
“Extra guest room’s all yours,” he says, and Flower pats his arm before leaving Sid alone.
Sid shifts before he sleeps.
It’s uncouth, and his mother would yell at him for getting his dirty paws all over his sheets, but he’ll just throw them in the wash tomorrow. Tonight he wants to curl up into a tight circle and press his muzzle into the tangled mess of his paws, smelling the evidence of their run, the proof that Geno had told Flower a secret Sid hadn’t known.
It’s more than unusual for humans and wolves to sleep together. Flower and his girlfriend had been a peculiar case that Sid watched with interest until Flower finally asked for the bite. Before Flower became a wolf, he’d show up to practice sore sometimes, or with brutal scratches and claw marks down his back.
Wolves love hard. It’s built into them in a way humans can’t always handle. There had been stories Sid heard from his grandmothers about wolves eating the hearts out of humans they loved.
Sid had always thought it was a morbid exaggeration until he met Geno.
It’s insane that Geno had been fucking werewolves in Russia. It’s horrifying. Multiple werewolves, as he’d caught from Flower’s stunned thoughts. Geno had put his life in the hands of each one, and the fur on Sid’s ruff starts to stand on end.
He should have asked Sid. If he wanted a werewolf he should have asked Sid, who was there, who loved him, who knew him, who was as safe as a werewolf could ever be for a human Geno. Instead, Geno had run off to Russia in the offseason and sought out werewolves he barely knew. He’d done it an ocean away, so Sid and his pack couldn’t smell it on his skin in the locker room.
He’d hidden it, and it hurts Sid to think of Geno keeping things from him after all they’ve been through.
Sid gets up and turns in a circle on his mattress before bedding down again.
Geno, with his long legs tossed up on a wolf’s shoulders, bent in half. Geno, with his powerful, muscled back bent over a wolf as he pushed inside.
Sid growls at himself and burrows his face into his blankets.
Tonight, he sleeps.
Tomorrow, he faces Geno head-on.
Geno’s still asleep when Sid walks to the kitchen in the morning.
He’s tangled himself in the blanket, both of his long feet exposed, one of his legs hitched up over the crumpled fabric. His chest rises and falls laboriously, and in the morning sunlight his skin has a yellow cast to it.
“Sid,” Flower says from the breakfast nook, and Sid hurries to the fridge, pulling out the assortment of ingredients he needs for his protein shake.
“Sid,” Flower says again, but he’s closer this time, up out of his seat, his oatmeal abandoned. “I think he needs to see a doctor.”
“He’s not sick,” Sid says, but he can hear the concern in his own voice. “I can’t smell fever on him.”
They argue the point until Geno gets up, shuffling into the kitchen. Sid makes twice the amount of his protein shake as necessary and puts half of it down in front of Geno, who barely glances at the glass.
Geno takes up residence on the couch for most of the day, Flower and Sid pestering him until he turns his face into the cushions and feigns sleep so they’ll leave him alone.
Sid nearly blows out his ankle doing box jumps in his garage to cope with it. Flower doesn’t join him, but he’s waiting as a wolf by the door once Sid’s done.
They run to the border of Sid’s land, along the shoreline. Sid’s muscles are overtired in his human form but energized as a wolf, and he focuses on the sensation of his paw pads on the rocks as Flower’s thoughts flow to him freely.
Flower runs his memory over his conversation with Geno again, and his mind’s eye lingers over the expression Geno had on his face when he admitted it. Shame, Sid thinks. Embarrassment. Flower tries not to recall his own experiences with Vero, but they’re superimposed onto his thoughts anyways. It’s nothing Sid hasn’t seen before—for every hidden thought about Geno Sid’s unwillingly relinquished to Flower, Flower’s given up just as many glimpses into his bedroom and the wounds he’d earned there. He’d had too many close calls with Vero, until she finally begged him to go to Sid and ask for the bite.
Flower tries to search through his memories, to see if he ever noticed Geno with those familiar scratches at the beginning of a season, but Sid barks out a sound and distracts him. He can’t linger on the images anymore, not this close to the full moon, not with Geno wilting under Sid’s care.
When they get back to the house, panting and overheated, Geno’s faked sleep has tumbled into real sleep. Sid prowls closer to the couch and sniffs carefully at the hand that’s slipped over the edge. Geno’s fingers are thin and elegant. He trails his nose up, careful not to touch, and smells at Geno’s bicep, then his chest.
It smells like Geno. There isn’t the cloying scent of illness around him, and Sid desperately wants to bed down next to the couch, if not on top of Geno directly. Sid’s warmth and touch comforts his wolves, but Geno isn’t his.
Sid is scraping the char off of the grill while Flower sits across the table from Geno. Geno’s steak is almost untouched—he had one bite, maybe two. He hadn’t even so much as looked at the asparagus.
“Geno,” Flower says, “should you maybe go see someone?”
“I need to bond him,” Sid says, putting force behind the brush as he chips off the remnants of their dinner. “I think that’s what’s wrong. Geno, you need to shift, and then we’ll get you pack-bonded, and then I can help.”
He gives the grill another harsh scrape before he turns to look at the two of them.
Geno looks afraid.
“It doesn’t hurt. Flower, tell him it’s okay.”
Flower takes a breath, opens his mouth, and then closes it again.
“Geno,” Sid says, and Geno’s fearful eyes meet his. “Please. You have to join a pack, okay? It’s how it works. Lone wolves don’t survive. We’ll take care of you. It’s like a team. We’re just the team.”
“It feels weird,” Flower finally says. He’s speaking slowly, choosing each word with care. “It feels like you’re dying, but then the wolf comes out. Shifting isn’t so bad.”
Sid watches curiously—is that it? Is it the shift that has Geno so wound up he’s made himself sick over it? Sid was born this way, had tumbled through childhood as half-wolf half-boy. There was never anything to be afraid of.
“You’ve done it before,” Sid adds. “You know it isn’t so bad.”
Geno stops breathing.
Horror blooms in Sid’s gut.
“Geno,” he says, abandoning the grill as he steps closer to the deck’s table. “Geno, you’ve shifted before. Tell me you’ve shifted before.”
Geno weakly fiddles with his fork.
Flower mutters a colorful French curse under his breath, raising his hand to rub at his forehead. Sid tries to count back the days, and—
“It’s been almost a week,” Sid says. “Jesus Christ, Geno, it’s been almost a week since you were bitten. You have to shift. It cements the change. You have to shift.”
“I’m fine,” Geno says, but his expression is resigned. He knows he’s lying.
“Stop,” Sid says. “Stop, you don’t know what you’re saying. If you don’t shift, you’re going to kill yourself.”
“Sid,” Geno says. He’s pleading.
Sid’s been watching Geno poison himself for almost a week, and he can’t believe himself. What kind of alpha, what kind of friend is he, to let it go this far without seeing it?
“You’re a wolf now,” Sid says. “You shift or you die, Geno.”
Geno stares at Sid with his exhausted, beautiful eyes. The sun has set on the lake, blanketing Sid’s backyard in the dim blue-gray of early night. The electric-blue bug zapper gives Geno’s eyes a small gleam to their edges at the right angle. As a wolf, Geno’s eyes would reflect light like a mirror, the tapetum lucidum making his pupils shine.
If he ever lets himself become a wolf, that is.
“I’m not joking,” Sid says. “Geno, you have to.”
Geno meets Sid’s eyes and he holds his gaze. For the first time since, God, the postseason, Geno looks at Sid and just watches. He’s been almost afraid to look at Sid since he stepped off the plane, and Sid’s never felt this lost around Geno.
Geno closes his eyes, and Sid watches the fight slip out of him.
It makes Sid feel nauseous. He’s seen Geno at highs and lows. He’s cried next to Geno in the Igloo after losing to the Red Wings in ‘08. He’s poured beer from the Cup into Geno’s waiting mouth. He’s never seen Geno give up, not once.
Geno folds in on himself, and he tilts his head away from Sid like he can’t bear to look at him anymore.
“I go,” Geno says, pushing himself up from the chair and nodding weakly toward the house, like he’s going to shift for the first time in Sid’s guest room.
“No,” Flower says quietly. “I don’t think you’re strong enough to do it alone.”
He’s right. Geno’s wobbly on his feet, gripping onto the back of the chair for balance.
Sid sets his jaw and steps closer.
“I’m just gonna be here to help,” he says woodenly. “I’ll snap the bond into place and help you finish out the shift.”
Geno’s attention flits between Flower and the deck, and Flower starts shucking off his clothes in solidarity. In a matter of seconds he’s twisting into his wolf form and walking closer, brushing against Sid’s thigh and looking up at Geno in an expression that looks as supportive as a wolf face can get.
Geno swallows loudly before plucking at the hem of his shirt. He fingers the fabric for a second before pulling it over his head. He strips himself down perfunctorily, staring down at the deck, or at the table, or anywhere but Sid or Flower.
When he’s bare and standing there, conquered, Sid reaches out and lays a hand on Geno's bare shoulder. His thumb brushes the very edge of the bite mark, wholly healed and a bright pink on Geno’s skin.
Nothing’s like how Sid imagined it. His fantasies aren’t even a comfort anymore, not with the cold reality in front of him, somber and nightmarish.
“You just…” Sid falters, because he’s never had to explain it before. All the guys had been eager to shift, had jumped at the chance as soon as they figured out how to coax the wolf to the surface. It hadn’t been hard for any of them. It had been as easy as breathing.
“Just let it eat its way out,” Sid says, and Geno closes his eyes.
Geno ripples under Sid’s hold. He was expecting resistance, a painful grinding of bones in sockets. Geno quivers like water and then he slips. The muscles under Sid’s palm change and Sid crouches as Geno plunges down. Golden fur erupts out of him, thick and shaggy, and Sid’s heart aches at the beauty of it.
Then the bond seizes him.
Sid had been ready to tie the bond to Geno as soon as he saw an opening, but he doesn’t get the chance. Instead it’s Geno who reaches out, the bond surging and thrashing, desperate like a dying animal.
It strikes Sid in the heart. It reaches inside him and wraps long, elegant fingers around his ribs and pries them open.
Geno’s never had to shield his thoughts from anyone, and Sid can feel the panicked, desperate way Geno’s trying to cling to his secrets. It just makes them all the more obvious, his frantic thoughts churning and rising to the surface. Sid stumbles, bracing himself on the deck with a hand as it bowls him over.
It’s a dizzying tide of feelings that Sid knows intimately. It comes to him in frenetic flashes; flesh touching flesh, a rising heartbeat, the sensation of bone-deep want. Tanned skin dark on paler skin. Hands pressing into wavy brown hair. Two sets of eyes meeting across the locker room. At first he thinks something’s gone wrong, but he takes in a shuddering breath as he realizes that the lust and want and hunger he feels isn’t his own mirrored back at him.
Geno twists out of Sid’s hold, a beautiful burnt-gold wolf, his legs wobbling and unstable and still so long, even like this.
“Geno,” Sid gasps, and Geno turns away from him, stumbling down the stairs of the deck. He misses one and tumbles down the rest, rolling onto the ground before scrambling to his feet. Sid can feel the panic and shame now, so strong that they turn Geno’s passion sour and bitter.
“Geno!” Sid shouts, and Geno bolts for the trees.
Sid pushes himself up off of the deck, and his body is starting to change. He’s about to shred the clothes he’s wearing and rip his human skin off to take chase, feeling like he’s sighted a rabbit, but human fingers wrap around his wrist and tug him back down.
Sid lunges for the perpetrator with inhuman teeth, but Flower doesn’t let go of him. Flower’s naked and still a little furry, barely through his shift back to human, but his grip on Sid is like iron.
“Let him go,” Flower says, and Sid’s arm twitches in Flower’s hold. It’s wrong to let Geno go. Geno is one of his wolves, and he loves Sid, he loves him, and—
“Sid,” Flower says carefully, and the last of the sunset slips behind the pines.
The crickets are loudest this time of year.
The late August heat makes them come out in droves, their songs coating the lake in noise as soon as sundown approaches. The trills of the frogs break up the crickets’ droning. It’s one of Sid’s favorite sounds. It makes him think of his childhood, of Bissett Lake reflecting the full moon beneath the warm summer air.
Tonight, Great Lake is murky. The clouds have rolled in and trapped the heat below. It sits heavily on Sid, weighing him down and pressing him into the slats of the dock. He’s sitting at its end, his legs hung over the edge. Flower’s long since gone to sleep, and Geno is in Sid’s woods alone.
Sid closes his eyes again and feels him out. He’s a bright star; Sid could track him down in minutes, he thinks. Earlier he’d seen flickers of movement in the trees on the far shore, a bright coat in the darkness.
Geno’s bond to Sid flares. It’s on fire, crackling and blazing-hot. Sid can’t even let himself linger on the feeling of it. It hurts for him to contemplate it for too long, the fresh bond overloaded with emotions.
He’s tried to push as much as he could through: love, tenderness, excitement. Hope, so much hope.
Geno’s unable to control it so far. Sid can’t catch his distinct thoughts through the chaotic tangle of it all, but it’s so strong that Sid wonders if he might be able to hear Geno’s thoughts even in his human form once Geno calms down. His Grandma used to say she was always able to read his Grandpa’s mind, and Sid likes the thought of it. He always wants to know what Geno’s thinking, because apparently Geno’s been thinking a lot.
He stills his feet in the water when Geno gets within a mile of the house.
Sid doesn’t move, barely even breathes, as Geno slinks toward the treeline and then into the lawn. His big paws—oversized like a puppy’s—are soft in the grass, and his breaths have slowed.
He feels exhausted, his muscles burning from his panicked run through the woods, and the comfort Geno feels when he smells Sid at the end of the dock makes twin sparks of peace and fear ignite in Geno’s lungs.
Sid holds himself impossibly still as Geno steps onto the dock.
He blindly stares down at the gray-black water. The waves are gentle, muted with the muggy night air, and over the humming wildlife the sound of Geno’s paws shuffling along the dock makes Sid’s heart gallop.
Geno hesitates at the halfway point, but he doesn’t turn back. His Geno is so brave, and Sid looks up at where the moon is hidden behind the dark clouds and offers up his silent thanks.
Geno sits a few feet behind Sid. He’s a little awkward about it, like he isn’t so sure how to go about sitting on four legs. His legs are so long they might be giving him trouble, and the idea makes Sid smile.
Geno’s heartbeat is racing just as fast as Sid’s, and he doesn’t move closer. Between Geno’s anxiety and fear and stubborn, steadfast love is a strain of mulish pride. Geno’s already bared too much of himself today. He’s going to make Sid work for every last inch he’ll offer tonight.
Sid doesn’t turn around. Instead, he leans back, laying down on the dock, the slats cool through the thin fabric of his t-shirt.
Geno peers down at him with golden eyes.
“How does it feel?” Sid whispers.
The impressions from Geno are vague and amorphous and overwhelmed. The scenting, Sid thinks, is the biggest surprise to him. Geno feels like he can smell everything, including every paw print Flower and Sid had left on the dirt the day before. He likes the way running feels. His physical relief saturates it all—he’d needed to shift, he understands that now.
He understands very little. Sid still can’t catch it all, but there are wide, gaping chasms in Geno’s knowledge of wolves, filled to the brim with Geno’s anxieties and half-baked theories. Every ability, every new thing he feels his body do, churns up feelings of confusion.
Despite it, he feels so heartbreakingly familiar to Sid. The bond feels like it’s been living in Sid his entire life.
“Geno,” Sid says, “you have to know how I feel—”
Geno lets out a low growl.
Of all the things Geno doesn’t know, the pack bonds are the strangest thing to him. He doesn’t know what Sid knows, isn’t sure what Sid can read off of him. His anxious curiosity shivers up his ribs and through the pack bond.
“We need to—”
Geno growls, louder this time.
Sid lets out a hoarse laugh, taking in the slight gray streaking down Geno’s muzzle. Sid’s wolf is still midnight-black, but if he’s anything like his father, he’ll be going gray around the nose and eyes in a matter of years.
He’d like to grow gray with Geno, if given the chance.
The surge of emotion hits Geno like a physical thing. He leans away, and then closer, tilting his head and trying to meet Sid’s upside-down eyes.
Sid just watches him, hope glowing in his chest, the pack beating in sync with his heart.
Geno carefully steps alongside Sid. When he folds his legs under himself he doesn’t touch Sid, but it’s a near thing. The heat radiates off of his body, and Sid lets his eyes slip shut.
They stay there until the sun rises.
“Okay, now shift back,” Flower says for the seventh time.
Geno looks balefully at him from the couch.
“Wolves aren’t allowed on the furniture!” Flower exclaims, mostly because he’s been yelled at by Sid before for getting mud on the cushions.
Sid just submerges another cedar plank into the water-filled baking tray on the counter. He’s trying out something new for the pack’s fish dinner and he hopes it goes over well. He’d thought about asking Geno for a hand, but Geno has very little interest in having hands at the moment.
They’d spent the entire morning and then afternoon asking Geno to shift. Geno had run away at first, and then developed an assured, convincing nonchalance about it.
Nonchalance for Flower, at least. Sid knows better; he can feel Geno’s heart buzzing in his chest every time Sid gets too close, or every time Sid says anything that even vaguely sounds like a serious conversation.
That’s fine. Sid can play a long game. He’s waited this long.
He knows he’ll win. Between Geno’s avoidance of the pack bond and Sid’s practiced yearning, Sid knows where the chips are going to land.
Sid just keeps on working away in the kitchen, enjoying Flower’s increasing annoyance at Sid’s willingness to let Geno get away with lurking on the couch.
Sid will let Geno get away with that. He’d let Geno get away with most anything, he thinks.
The guys, when they start rolling in, are excited to see Geno.
They’re even more excited when they see his wolf.
“God, he looks good,” Olli says appreciatively. Tanger prickles, and Sid hides his smile behind his can of beer, because Tanger’s narcissism about his chestnut, silky fur is a wonderful thing to poke at.
“Shift back, eh? I miss you, dick,” Horny says fondly.
Geno opens his mouth like he’s going to gnaw on Horny’s leg, and the guys laugh.
It’s good. Geno sulks away from Sid, and Sid waits him out, anticipation building in his chest. It’s like how he feels in the hunt when he sees his prey and is coiling up to strike.
Geno’s a better prize than anything he’s ever caught before, and Sid is a very, very good hunter.
When Taylor shows up, she gets one look at Geno before shucking off her clothes, letting her wolf rip out of her and bending low into a playful bow. Her ash-light fur is pale next to Geno’s, and Geno regards her warily.
Her excitement burns up out of her. Even Geno can feel it, and he paces a few steps away, unconsciously closer to Sid.
Taylor leans up out of her inviting stance and trails after him. They circle each other, uncertain, until Sid catches a familiar gleam in Taylor’s eye and she strikes.
Her intent isn’t to injure. It’s the same shit she pulls with Sid’s whole pack. She’s expecting Geno to duck and swerve, to look nervously at Sid.
Geno lunges back.
Flower’s been needling him all day, and the crushing flood of a wolf’s increased senses have pushed Geno closer and closer to the edge as the day’s worn on. The snap of Taylor’s teeth is the last straw, and Geno’s always-delicate self-control evaporates as he knocks Taylor onto her back, his forelegs digging into her ribcage.
He snarls at her, and instead of snarling back, Taylor wags her tail in the grass.
That gets Sid leaning up and paying attention. Taylor is not a submissive wolf. Taylor does not respond well to being beaten, not unless—
Geno doesn’t linger over her. He leaps off of her with a gangly lack of grace, and he goes back to the bench on Sid’s deck, which he can stretch out on fully and claim for himself.
Taylor’s old crush isn’t fully dead yet, then. Taylor’s quick to roll onto her paws, but she’s even quicker to shift back and busy herself with policing the card game Tanger is trying to set up.
Geno hadn’t even known how to smell the interest on her. His thoughts linger on the swirling scents of the pack, but mostly they linger on Sid, and Sid smiles down at the salmon like they share a secret.
The clouds over the lake start dribbling, then spitting, then release an ungodly amount of rain. The pack gets chased inside, grabbing the food off of the table and taking refuge in the kitchen and living room.
“We still on to run tonight?” Shears asks as he shoves a handful of chips into his mouth. It’s his first summer run with Sid’s pack—he’d been Sid’s first bite of last season and only has the twisting trails of Pittsburgh’s parks for reference.
“Full moon, bud,” Sid says as an answer. It’s the only answer he needs to give.
Of course they’re running.
The rain eases up as night approaches. By the time Sid pushes open the back door, it’s almost done. The clouds are only a thin gauze across the sky, diffusing the moon’s icy white light. Geno dawdles at the back of the pack, and Sid paces on four legs as the rest shift.
The full moon glints off of his fur, his back, his heart. Sid waits until his wolves are fur-covered and hungry for it before he starts to move for the woods, the mist falling over them and making their coats dewy. They’re newly born, a pack made whole because Geno is here, Geno is here.
Horny breaks the line first. He’s always that way, bombastic and fast and eager to start. He ducks between the trees and Sid follows, the crash of Tanger just moments behind.
The pack runs. Sid can feel it all: the thunder of paws striking dirt and heartbeats striking ribs, the heavy breaths gusting into the cold damp air, the excited tone of all the bonds starting to hum in chorus.
Geno isn’t among them.
Sid peels off quickly, cutting away from where he’s been keeping pace with Horny and looping back around toward the back, where Mike is bringing up the rear. There’s no sign of Geno, but there’s a pulse of energy in Sid’s heart, and Sid strikes off on his own, running deeper into the woods as his pack makes for the lake. Sid tells them all wordlessly to keep running.
He’s meeting his lone wolf by himself.
Geno’s gotten a better sense of the land than Sid had expected. He wonders if it’s fate, if it just means Geno is meant to be his. Geno’s circling a thicket of sweetgrass, grown so high that it reaches their shoulders. Sid can hear the thick swish of the stalks as Geno brushes past them, leaving his scent on Sid’s land.
Sid lowers himself to the ground just as the patter of raindrops starts to beat against the treetops.
He stalks, belly on the dirt, around the sweetgrass that Geno is disturbing. His paws slip silently across the wet earth, and Sid takes in heavy breaths, filling himself with Geno’s scent.
Sid pauses just a few feet away from Geno, who’s looking up at the night sky, at the hidden moon that’s calling to them all.
He turns and bares his teeth just as Sid attacks.
Geno catches Sid with an open mouth, his body twisting to intercept Sid’s. Sid’s tooth nicks Geno’s muzzle and slips up—Sid jerks his head back, not wanting to catch Geno’s eye, and his neck stretches in front of Geno like an offering.
Geno bowls Sid down to the forest floor. He’s a big wolf, as big as Sid, maybe as big as Horny, and the weight of it feels good. Sexual attraction feels different in this form, but it rocks through Sid nonetheless. It’s like something from his teenage fantasies, when he’d been 19 and yearning, and he can’t stop it from leaking into the bond and flowing into Geno.
Geno pins Sid down, his enormous paws planted on either side of Sid’s body, and he stares.
It’s you, Sid says, and he leans up to lick at Geno’s snarling teeth.
Geno’s teeth snap at the air. The rain’s starting to thunder down, fat, heavy droplets pelting them where they lay in the swaying sweetgrass.
Sid? says Geno, his voice crystal clear in Sid’s head, and Sid can’t stop himself.
Geno watches in fascination as Sid shifts beneath him. The bond is clear, glassy, shining, and Sid can see himself through Geno’s eyes. The way his facial bones crack into place, how his eyes stay golden through the entire transformation, the way the fur slips back into his skin.
Sid presses a human hand to Geno’s furred chest, like he can feel the fully-formed pack bond, like he can take Geno’s heartbeat and hand-deliver it into his own rib cage.
Geno, Sid says, and he laughs when Geno’s wolf eyes widen at the clarity of Sid’s voice in his head.
Geno starts to shake above him. He leans back, and his wolf starts to melt into something human-shaped. Sid keeps his hand on Geno the entire time, feeling the movement of skin and muscle and bone. It’s beautiful. Everything about it is beautiful. Sid tries to show Geno that through the bond, let Geno look through his eyes. This is beautiful and he’ll convince Geno of it.
When Geno sits atop Sid, his skin pink and human, his hair matted over his forehead from the rain, Sid lets his hands rest on Geno’s thighs. Geno’s a comforting weight. He feels perfect.
“Geno,” Sid says, his voice a little rough from the change. It stirs something in Geno—Sid can see Geno starting to harden, and God, yes, he wants it, but first—
“Geno, will you be in my pack?” Sid asks him. It’s normally something Sid asks through the pack bond, after his new wolf has shifted in front of him, but Sid wants it like this: from Geno’s mouth himself, a clear choice that Geno’s been denied ever since this started.
“I couldn’t give you the bite,” Sid tells him, speaking up over the pounding of the rain, “but I can give you a pack.”
I was the first to offer you the bite, he thinks to himself, but the bond pulls it out of him like it has a mind of its own, giving it to Geno, and I’ll be the first to give you a pack.
“No,” Geno says, and Sid’s hands still on Geno’s thighs.
No, Sid hears through the bond, you weren’t the first to offer me the bite, and then Geno grabs the bond tight and tugs Sid headfirst into it.
Sid tumbles into Geno’s memory as he recounts it. The soaked scent of the woods is gone, replaced with the smell of a hockey rink locker room—sweaty, strong, almost chemical.
Russian sounds strange. He hears it, but he understands it. It’s more lyrical than he thought. There’s a cadence to it that’s missing when he hears it with his Canadian ears.
“We want you to take the bite,” Viktor Rashnikov says.
Coach King stands off to the side, awkward and human. Rashnikov and Metallurg’s captain, Kaigorodov, stand in front of Geno. Sid feels young, nervous, the sweat dripping down his—no, Geno’s—back.
“Zhenya,” Rashnikov says, and the way his voice curls around Geno’s nickname makes Geno and Sid both recoil. “Take the bite. It will make you stronger. You’ve been struggling, haven’t you? Your points aren’t as high as they could be. You would do well as a wolf.”
Kaigorodov is the team’s alpha on paper, Geno knows that, but Sid gets one look at Rashnikov and wants to snarl. That’s a wolf with power, a wolf without reservation. Rashnikov is an alpha too, and Sid wishes Geno’s memory had a werewolf’s sense of smell, because he thinks he could have smelled the power of the team’s alpha on Rashnikov instead of Kaigorodov.
Geno would not be one of Rashnikov’s wolves. There was a life waiting for him across the ocean and he wanted it more than anything. Though he knew little of wolves, he knew what alphas did: hold their packs close and tight.
Geno wasn’t going to let Rashnikov suffocate him under a pelt.
The smell of peat floods back into Sid’s lungs, and he’s belly-up on the ground, Geno straddling his stomach, Geno’s wide hands braced on his bare chest.
That’s why you rejected my offer, Sid thinks dizzily, and Geno leans down over him.
His answer doesn’t come as words. It comes as impressions—the fear that had shot through him at Sid’s offer, the paranoia that his rejection would have him shipped back off to Russia, the way he’d seen the hunger in Sid’s eyes and thought Sid wanted wolves for power just like Rashnikov.
More, though, is the fierce pride that still rises in Geno’s gut at the memory of their first Cup win, when they were so young and naive and frenetic. The emotion Geno feels as he recounts lifting the Conn Smythe is more than Sid has words for; it had been proof that Geno hadn’t needed to be a wolf—he’d been the best, weak human bones and all.
Geno doesn’t mourn his humanity as he looks at Sid. His eyes glint gold in the rainy night, and he leans down.
Sid fists his claws in Geno’s hair and pulls him in for a kiss.
Geno tastes of Nova Scotian saltwater, the rain slick on his skin. The press of his mouth is blisteringly hot, and the cold raindrops at the corners of his lips make the wet heat of his tongue a brand that burns. Sid surges closer to it.
“Geno,” he whispers. Geno.
Geno plants his elbows on either side of Sid’s head, and the way he digs into the kiss feels more wolf than human.
Sid’s claws drive into Geno’s back and Geno moans into Sid’s mouth. Geno rocks against Sid, his hard cock rubbing along the summer-thick, soft curve of Sid’s stomach.
Geno’s ass grinds against the base of Sid’s cock, and Sid surges up, drawing on the pack’s strength to heave Geno over onto his back. He can feel the flashes of concern ignite among the pack—careful, he hears, careful, Geno is so new.
It isn’t Sid’s secret to share, but the bond between him and Geno is fluid and slips the knowledge away from him before he can stop it. The pack almost stops in their tracks as the knowledge of Geno’s human trysts with werewolves flickers around the edges of their minds. Shock, terror, and astonishment rise up from them.
Sid settles himself on top of Geno, between his long, spread legs, and presses his tongue between Geno’s lips, eating away the taste of any werewolves who came before him.
His back is coated in mud, as are Geno’s hands—Geno’s fingers cling to Sid’s biceps, then Sid's back as Sid hitches his hips forward, grinding them against Geno’s.
Their dicks rub against each other, hot and eager and so wanting, and Sid jealously takes every sound from Geno’s mouth.
Geno wants this. He wants this more than anything. He wants it so bad that he’d done almost anything for it. Sid moves his hands over Geno’s body as Geno’s mind surrenders his fantasies to Sid—Sid palms his stomach, leaves a muddy handprint on the side of Geno’s neck.
Sid grinds his hips against Geno’s again, and again, thrusting Geno down into the land. Geno wraps his legs around Sid’s wide body, his head tilting back, lips open as Sid works soft sounds out of him.
Sid’s legs spread, pushing Geno’s thighs wider, and when he grinds against Geno, he can feel the drag of sweat and grime and precum between them. Their cocks slip against each other, hot skin on hot skin. They’re animals on the forest floor. They’re best friends for a decade. They’re so much, they’re mates, Sid knows that they’re—
“Geno.” Geno. “Come on, c’mon, please.” I want to feel you. I want to feel it. “Please.” I want everything from you. I’d give you everything. I want it all.
Geno’s fingernails sharpen into claws on the back of Sid’s neck, and Geno comes with a high, shaking sound that rattles uncontrollably out of him. Sid rides him through it, groaning as the heat of Geno’s cum on his stomach slips like a brand over the cool rain and mud.
Sid drops down; he can feel the white-hot edges of Geno’s orgasm—how Sid’s full weight and strong hips are almost too much now, how Geno’s cock is already starting to become oversensitive. He can feel Geno feeling him, and it loops recursively, driving Sid closer and closer until Sid fits his teeth over Geno’s bite mark and holds Geno to the ground as he comes.
Geno clutches him tighter.
Sid’s one of the first to drag himself out of the pile of fur, curled tails, and wayward legs.
His wolves are a mess around his gym, scattered on yoga mats and weight benches. Olli’s head rests on top of a medicine ball. Flower has buried himself beneath the towels Sid keeps to wipe sweat off of the equipment. Legs are tossed over bodies, muzzles propped on hips, tails brushing over noses. His whole pack is tangled together, just like they are in his heart, and Sid shakes as much of the dried mud off of his fur as he can.
He pauses to look at Geno, curled up next to him in the center of it all, before he carefully picks his way over his pack’s sleeping forms. He slinks back over to the main house before he shifts back and gets into the shower; his human form isn’t any cleaner than his wolf form.
He smells like earth and sex and Geno, and his consolation as he steps under the shower spray is the knowledge that he’ll get to smell like Geno again. Very soon, if he has any say in it.
He’s pulling the waffle iron out of the cabinets when he catches movement down by the lake through the kitchen window.
It’s Geno, naked as the day he was born, wading out into the blue water. Mud coats his back but there are no hateful, painful-looking scratches that Sid can see from this far away.
He abandons the beginnings of his pack breakfast and darts through the back door, down the hill and to the dock as Geno plunges beneath the water.
Sid walks alongside him as he swims. His pale skin flashes beneath the water, the remnants of their night washing off of him.
When he surfaces, Sid is waiting at the end of the dock.
Geno smiles at him, a big one, his eyes squinting and his off-center teeth gleaming in the morning sunlight.
“How do you feel?” Sid asks.
“Good,” Geno says, and Sid can feel the truth of it slip-sliding through the pack bond. Warmth, happiness, contentment, and a roiling lust that stirs low in Sid’s gut.
Geno reaches up and wraps a cool, wet hand around Sid’s ankle. He just holds Sid, his thumb rubbing circles on the rounded end of Sid’s tibia.
“I was making breakfast for everyone,” Sid says.
“You catch me rabbit later,” Geno tells him, and Sid sits down, letting his feet and shins dip into the water.
Geno surges up between his legs, and for a moment he’s more mer-creature than wolf, soaked and glorious between Sid’s thighs.
“Hey,” Sid says softly, and Geno smiles sweetly before leaning in for a kiss.
When he grins against Sid’s lips, there’s just a hint of fang.