Actions

Work Header

Finding His Way Home

Work Text:

When Sutan finds him, Tommy is a mess.

It’s the Spring Moon. Tommy’s had to run all night since he can’t hide his scent when he’s in wolf form. He’s tried many times before, even though he’s aware that it’s hopeless. He has to try, though. If only so it will make him feel like he can protect himself. Otherwise, his only defense is to run.

The sun is coming up, so very fucking slowly. Tommy knows that weres everywhere are watching it, saluting the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one. He wishes he were too. Instead, he’s hiding in the middle of nowhere.

He thinks he lost the pack that was hunting him at some point in the middle of the night, but he can’t take any chances. He kept running long past the point of exhaustion.

He hasn’t changed back to his human form yet. Hopefully, once the day starts and the weres go back home, he can go and get his clothes, if he can remember where he left them. He doesn’t remember much that happened after the panic kicked in.

He has no idea where he is. He’s hoping he didn’t run right into the territory of another pack while he was trying to outwit the pack that was chasing him.

When he senses it, he’s still hiding amongst the trees, trying to catch his breath: an alpha’s scent, someone stronger, older, powerful enough to lure him in.

Within a second, all that Tommy can think of is to run away. His only chance is to be gone before the alpha finds him.

However, the adrenaline high that kept him running all night has already come crashing down. He was expecting to finally have a moment to lick his wounds and maybe rest a little before he had to start running again.

As soon as Tommy tries to stand, he yelps as pain explodes in his front paw and he realizes that the only thing still holding him up is the adrenaline. There’s nothing he can do but wait.

Tommy’s heart goes rabbit-fast. He can’t believe that he managed to run for that long only to get caught at the worst possible moment. His hard-earned freedom is about to be taken away from him, and he can’t do a thing to stop it.

Still Tommy makes an effort to ignore the pain and get to his feet. When the alpha finally appears between the trees, Tommy’s holding himself straight, head high. He’s not going down without a fight.

The alpha doesn’t attack. He stays a couple of feet away from Tommy, but Tommy can feel the alpha prodding at his mind, trying to get a grip on him.

He closes himself off as tightly as he can, hiding behind the walls he’s learned so well to keep up.

He’s expecting the alpha to try and go through his wards. Instead, to Tommy’s surprise, the alpha changes back to his human form, then he stands and walks toward Tommy.

Tommy’s first instinct is to run. Before he can make a step, though, his injured leg gives out under him and he falls to the ground with a pitiful whine.

The alpha stops half-way between them, crouches down to Tommy’s height. “Hey there,” he says, keeping his voice soft, non-threatening. “Is it okay if I come closer?”

Tommy doubts that he really has a choice, but he’s glad the alpha is at least pretending. He settles on his stomach and tries his best not to make his leg injury worse.

The alpha sits next to Tommy, completely unconcerned by his own nudity. Tommy tends to forget it’s such a natural thing for most weres since he tries to keep himself covered at all times. Even undressing and changing next to someone could put him in danger.

“Will you let me have a look at your leg?”

Tommy doesn’t see how he could stop the alpha even if he wanted to. There’s no point in pretending that the alpha wants to help him. In the end, he’ll find himself claimed and enslaved anyway. Or dead. He’s not sure which would be the worse.

Still he lets the alpha take hold of his leg, have a look at it. He does his best to keep in the whine that wants to come out because it hurts.

“It would heal faster if you changed.”

Tommy stares at the alpha, daring him to try and make him change back to his human form. He’s aware he would heal faster, easier, but he also knows that it would make it very easy, too, for the alpha to capture him.

The alpha releases Tommy’s leg. “I’m Sutan. I guess it’s a waste of time to ask for your name?”

Tommy doesn’t say a thing; he just reinforces the defenses surrounding his mind, again. He’s not going to help when he knows that it can only lead to losing himself.

When he doesn’t get an answer, Sutan nods. “I thought so.” Then he stands, and right before he leaves, he says, “You’re on our territory. You can stay as long as you want.”

Tommy’s left staring after Sutan, wondering what kind of mind games he’s playing. He’s sure that Sutan is messing with him, trying to get to get Tommy to trust and make his unavoidable surrender hurt even more.

But for now, he’s going to take the offer, even though he wonders why Sutan said “our territory” and not “my”. He needs somewhere to heal and rest. Then he’ll run away again.

Tommy only hopes that he’ll be able to do that before Sutan makes his move.

***

He’s not surprised when Sutan comes back, later in the day. He is surprised, however, when Sutan arrives in human form, dressed, clearly with no intention of changing back to wolf.

Once again, he sits next to Tommy. He has food with him – meat that Tommy could smell from miles away, making his stomach rumble – and water.

Tommy doesn’t want to seem easy, but he’s hungry and exhausted. Even though he wishes he could turn his head away from the food, he’s aware that he needs it to heal. No matter what happens in the next couple of days, he’ll need all the strength he can find to make it through.

He hesitates maybe a minute, worried that the food might be poisoned, before his empty stomach gets the better of him. He eats a little too fast at first, and is more careful with the next couple of bites.

When Tommy’s done eating, and drinking the water, he rests his muzzle between his front paws and waits.

As Tommy expects, Sutan starts talking. He doesn’t, however, try to convince Tommy to change back to his human form. Instead, he tells Tommy about running with his pack, last night.

He doesn’t say “pack”, though. He says, “family.” And he doesn’t have the kind of entitled ownership Tommy’s used to hearing in alpha’s voices when they talk about their pack members.

Instead Sutan talks about them as if they were close friends, as if he really cares about them. Tommy knows this has to be a carefully laid trap, but he can’t deny the little bit of comfort he finds in listening to Sutan talking. It reminds him of a time before he came of age. When everyone still thought he was like them: an ordinary beta. When he could still think himself part of a pack, of a family. Before it all went to shit.

The names of Sutan’s pack members fly right over Tommy’s head. There’s no point trying to remember them, especially while he’s still in wolf form. All that Tommy can focus on is the joy of running during the Spring Moon – during the first moon of the new year – without having to worry about who’ll chase him down if he’s not careful.

Even though he’ll kick himself later for being so careless, at some point while Sutan’s talking, Tommy’s exhaustion wins, pulling him down into sleep. Sutan’s voice turns into a soothing background, and darkness surrounds Tommy.

***

Sutan comes back every day. He never tries to make Tommy change back, never even suggests it. He never asks to have a look at Tommy’s leg again, either. He must notice that Tommy’s limping less and less every day, but if he does, he never says anything.

Tommy changes back every day. Never for long, though, because he has no idea who might see him. And even though he can’t run yet, the idea that it would be easier to escape while in wolf form is never too far from his mind.

Sutan brings food and water with him every time. Tommy’s aware that Sutan is trying to tame him like he was a pet – which he’s not – but as each day passes, it gets harder to care.

Tommy knew he was in trouble on the very first day, when he fell asleep next to Sutan. He was surprised to wake up alone, still in the woods. He was even more surprised to realize that his wolf, who’s usually ready to run at the slightest hint of danger, felt quite comfortable there.

It’s not such a bad thing, though. It gives Tommy the freedom to blame his wolf for some things he knows he shouldn’t be doing.

So it’s his wolf who curls against Sutan’s thigh, as if seeking his heat. It’s his wolf who feels as if he could purr like a fucking cat when Sutan pets him. It’s his wolf who lets Sutan’s voice wash over him, to the point where the words don’t mean a thing to him anymore. It’s his wolf, again, who lets Sutan feeds him bits of food.

While Tommy’s knows that he should wonder why his wolf is so willing to trust, when it’s done nothing but run away from every were that he’s come across over the years, he refuses to. It’s easier this way.

It’s impossible that it will last. Either he’ll finally heal and be able to run away, or Sutan will enslave him just like Tommy’s been expecting since the start. There are no other possibilities.

Still he takes what comfort he can get. Living in the here and now, without worrying about what will happen later, is the only way to keep his sanity.

As days go by, Tommy finds himself listening more closely to what Sutan tells him. In part because if he wants to understand this pack’s dynamics, he needs to know their names and who they are – it’s clear that he might find himself living with them soon, no matter if he wants it or not.

The other reason, the one that Tommy wouldn’t admit for anything in the world, is that, well… listening to Sutan is fun. There doesn’t seem to be a purpose to many of the stories, no clear sign that Tommy can recognize of an alpha making sure Tommy knows his place before the alpha takes him to his pack.

Instead, Sutan talks about nothing and everything, what happened during the day, old anecdotes that he speaks of with a fondness that surprises Tommy. It happens often enough that Tommy stops thinking it’s a set-up to lure him in, starts to believe that Sutan is safe, and allows himself to just enjoy the stories.

Some of them would have Tommy laughing himself silly if he were in human form. Some of them have a bittersweet edge that makes Tommy push his muzzle against Sutan’s thigh until Sutan’s voice loses its sadness.

He does his best to remember the names, when they come up, and in what circumstances, in the hope that it will help him decipher pack dynamics. It’s harder in his wolf form to focus on the details. He has to bring his human side to the forefront in order to do so, which lead to a mess of human-wolf thoughts that even Tommy sometimes has a hard time understanding.

Still he tries, because he’s aware that it might be the one thing that saves his life, or keeps him safe.

Even with the names, though, the more he hears, the more it all baffles him.

Every time Tommy thinks he understands, something else makes him question everything he just heard. Like on that day when, after feeding Tommy and letting him drink all he wants, Sutan says, “It’s a good thing Adam doesn’t live at the house with us right now. He would drive everyone crazy.”

Lying on the ground in front of Sutan, Tommy tilts his head. He’s lost. He’s heard Adam’s name so many times already that he assumed that Adam is Sutan’s beta. But if he is, it’s impossible for him not to be living in the pack’s house.

“Don’t look at me like that.” There’s a teasing note in Sutan’s voice, in the way he turns his head and raises his hand, enough to make Tommy’s human side laugh inside him. “He really would. The whole Idol thing is so important to him.”

Tommy’s glad to still be in his wolf form. There’s no chance his thoughts will show on his face, and right now, that’s a really good thing. There’s a fondness in Sutan’s words, in his smile, as if he was talking about a little brother. It’s so far from the kind of entitlement Tommy’s used to hearing from alphas talking about their mates that it’s a little disturbing.

Well, no, not disturbing. Strange and weird, but a good kind of weirdness.

“I’ll be happy when he’s finally off that thing. I hope it gives him the push he needs to succeed, but otherwise…” Sutan shakes his head.

In human form, Tommy would smile. This he can understand. The need to have the people who are yours close at all time is typical of most alphas.

Still he doesn’t hear the irritation that should accompany those thoughts.

“He’s playing the game, you know? And he’s good at it. But they haven’t seen him at his best.” Sutan bends toward Tommy, shining with pride. “You should have seen him on the Zodiac show. I thought either Lee or Scarlett was going to kill him at one point but he was amazing.”

The more Sutan talks, the less Tommy understands. A little more and he could nearly believe that Adam is a wanderer, one of those wolves who are attached to a pack but who comes and goes as he wishes.

But if that was the case, Sutan wouldn’t be as close to Adam as he is and wouldn’t talk about him as he does. Tommy has a feeling that those two have known each other for years, and that can only happen if they’re mates, or if Adam is at least part of the inner core of the pack. If either was true, there’s no way Adam would be on his own on that show he’s doing.

Tommy’s so lost in his thoughts, trying to make sense of the whole thing that he misses the next couple of words.

“…I wanna come out in this thing, and have flame coming out of my fucking head!” Sutan holds the pause, and Tommy makes a sound that, if he was human, would be very close to a giggle when he realizes that Sutan’s imitating Adam. Sutan smiles at him like he’s trying not to laugh too. “I know, right? I swear, when the little bitch has an idea in his head, no one can talk him out of it.”

The words make Tommy recoil, and it takes a few seconds before he recognizes the strange fondness in them and understands that they were never intended as an insult.

The thought makes his human side smile. He hopes that if he listens more closely to Sutan from now on, things will start to make more sense.

They don’t. The impossibility of Tommy determining Adam’s place in the pack’s hierarchy – he stays with his first idea, that Adam must be Sutan’s beta – is only the start.

Many of the names he hears seem to be people just passing through, that he won’t hear again for at least a couple of weeks. While that isn’t surprising in itself, since that’s the very nature of wanderers, there’s something upsetting, or at least weird, in the fact that so many of them are female.

He hears one female name again and again, someone who doesn’t seem to be going anywhere: Ashley. What’s surprising, though, is that in all of Sutan’s stories, he never mentions pups, or cubs. Every time Tommy hears Ashley’s name, he’s expecting to hear something about her kids, though the fact that she’s still alive and apparently free to do as she pleases must mean she hasn’t been pregnant yet. But as far as Tommy knows, female betas have a hard time living beyond a certain age without at least one pregnancy. And it doesn’t sound like Ashley is that young.

He considers the fact that maybe the whole thing is a tale that Sutan made up to wear Tommy down and win his trust, but it would involve so much censoring and self-control that even the most determined alpha would have trouble keeping up the pretence.

So Tommy listens, but beyond learning their names, he has trouble understanding. His wolf is at the forefront, making it impossible for him to focus on the details he needs to get everything right, and so many of the things he hears don’t make any sense within the pack hierarchies Tommy’s used to.

Most of the time, he lets Sutan’s voice wash over him and allows himself to enjoy the comfort he’s now getting from the alpha’s presence. For a couple of minutes, he forgets what a risk he’s taking, and he acts like it’s reasonable to hope he could be a full member of a pack and not just a slave.

***

Tommy’s leg finally heals, but he doesn’t run away. Somehow Sutan’s invitation from the first day, you can stay as long as you want, is enough to keep him there. He’s not being hunted, and while he’s pretty sure it won’t last, he enjoys the freedom he has now.

Besides, he has to admit he’s gotten used to those little moments Sutan spends with him every day. He even expects them. They make his wolf wag his tail like a happy dog would.

If anyone asked him, though, he’d say that it’s because he spends the days in his wolf form, without anyone to talk to, and he feels lonely. It wouldn’t be a lie per se, but the truth is that it has a lot more to do with it being Sutan than it has with it being someone to keep Tommy company. Tommy refuses to examine why, though. He’s only too aware that that would only put him in greater danger.

It’s definitely loneliness that has Tommy wondering on the day Sutan’s late. Not that he’s keeping track or anything, but he’s noticed a pattern to when Sutan appears between the trees, and how long Sutan stays.

The whole day passes and the woods stay quiet. It’s late in the evening when Tommy finally hears steps, near where he’s hiding.

He’s about to run toward Sutan when he notices the tight set of Sutan’s jaw, the claw marks wherever his skin shows through his clothes, and his clouded eyes. It’s enough to stop Tommy mid-move and keep him right where he is.

Instead of sitting next to Tommy, Sutan settles down at the other side of the clearing, across from him. It’s Tommy who has to get closer, slowly, carefully. He can feel the energy running under Sutan’s skin, see the clear signs that he got into a fight. Even though he’s in human form, Sutan’s wolf is still right under the surface, clawing to get out.

Tommy stops a couple of feet away from Sutan. He doesn’t dare come closer.

Sutan glances at him, as if he’s noticing Tommy for the first time. “I must look like a mess, don’t I? I sure feel like one.”

He looks down at the ground, and Tommy realizes that what he feels from Sutan isn’t aggressiveness. It’s pain, and sadness, the kind that can’t be faked. Tommy inches closer until he’s right in front of Sutan. He lies down, pushes his muzzle against Sutan’s leg.

The silence grows as Sutan scratches through Tommy’s fur. Then, just when Tommy thinks he won’t find out what happened, Sutan says, “Some dumb fuck attacked Ashley.”

Tommy feels the kind of protective urge he hasn’t felt since – no, he’s not going to think about that now. It’s been far too long, and he has no reason to try and remember. He raises his head a little too fast, dislodging Sutan’s hand.

“She’s fine,” Sutan says. “She knows how to defend herself.”

Tommy tilts his head and presses his muzzle against one of the claw marks on Sutan’s arm.

Sutan sighs. “That’s why I said it was a mess.”

As he’s done so many times before, Tommy lies down as close as he can get to Sutan’s thigh. This time, though, he forces himself to focus on the actual words Sutan is saying.

“Guy was a newly bitten alpha, arrogant to a point you wouldn’t believe. He thought that a female beta who doesn’t wear an alpha’s bite would be easy prey.” Sutan sneers in disgust. “He tried to grab Ashley. She broke his wrist.”

Good for her, Tommy thinks. He butts his head against Sutan’s hand, asking for more scratches. He doesn’t dare lower the defenses surrounding his mind to actually say it, but Sutan seems to understand what Tommy means.

“Yeah, she’s something,” Sutan smiles. “But he had friends with him. Instead of leaving, as he should have, he started screaming about betas who don’t know their place. Fucker.”

Tommy has a good idea where this is going, and he’s not sure he wants to listen. But maybe Sutan needs to tell him.

“They were ganging up on her.” Sutan’s anger is evident in his voice, but Tommy doesn’t feel the urge to run away from him. “Brian jumped at the guy’s throat. Since Adam was nowhere to be found, I had to get into the fight to give Brian a chance to kill the bastard.”

Tommy tilts his head. This is… definitely not what he was expecting. Righteous anger at the pretentious asshole who thought he could take a beta from Sutan, he would understand. Or a hint of pride at the thought that, in his territory, his word is law. But this…

It feels like genuine concern over Ashley’s well-being. Like Sutan could have gone without the fight. Like he’s not concerned at all by the breach of hierarchy, like he doesn’t even see that there was one, while it’s usually the only thing weres would remember from a beta killing an alpha.

It might be the ton of questions running through Tommy’s mind and that he has no hope of asking as long as he stays silent. Or the fact that everything Sutan says or does is so very far from what Tommy’s used to getting from alphas, so very far from what he’s seen within his own pack, when he still had one.

No matter the reason, the result is the same. Carefully, Tommy lowers the defenses around his mind and gives Sutan the name he hasn’t asked for since the first day. I’m Tommy.

Sutan’s smile warms Tommy all over, because it has nothing in common with the smile of an alpha who just got what he wanted, what should be rightfully his. Instead, it’s the kind of smile only close friends should get to see: sweet and pleased, like he’s had a really hard day but Tommy somehow made it all better.

Tommy scowls at himself for the pride he feels over that. It’s ridiculous. Sutan isn’t his alpha, no matter what his wolf thinks about the whole thing, nor is Sutan’s pack his pack. Since he has no idea how long he’ll be safe here, getting comfortable really isn’t a great idea.

“Thank you,” Sutan whispers.

…you’re welcome?

Judging from the way it makes Sutan laughs, the hesitation must have sounded as stupid to him as it did to Tommy.

“I’m sorry,” Sutan says once he catches his breath. “At this point, I wasn’t expecting you to talk to me at all. That’s why I thanked you.”

Tommy does his best wolf impression of a shrug, and Sutan’s fingers scratch through his fur. “Tommy, is that it? It fits you.”

If Sutan keeps on being that nice, Tommy will have an even harder time controlling his wolf. He’s already close to wagging his tail, and has to sternly remind himself that he is. Not. A dog.

“Would it be okay if I brought Ashley with me tomorrow?” Tommy’s whole body goes rigid. “I want her to have a look at you. Just to make sure your leg is completely healed. The last thing you need is to end up limping.”

But she’ll know…

Even in thoughts that only an alpha could hear, Tommy can’t allow himself to say it. Sutan shakes his head.

“She’s a beta. In human form, she won’t be able to guess a thing, and if anyone tells her, it won’t be me.”

Tommy hesitates, but he’s curious about Sutan’s pack. And the best way to know if an alpha’s intentions are good or bad is to see how his pack members act. Fear, anger, disgust will always leak through even the most well-laid trap.

I wouldn’t mind meeting her.

***

The next day, as promised, Sutan brings Ashley with him. She has a pretty smile, and something about her makes Tommy trust her on first sight. Maybe because the look in her eyes tells him that she hasn’t exactly had an easy life but that that’s all behind her now.

She keeps talking in a low, soothing voice as she manipulates Tommy’s leg, mostly nonsense and encouragement. The repeated “good boy” quickly gets on Tommy’s nerves, but before he can growl at Ashley, Sutan says, “Tone it done, Ash. He’s a were, not a pet.”

“Oh, right.” Ashley releases Tommy’s paw. “I’m sorry, Tommy. I’m used to having a constant chatter in my head when I’m working on one of us. You’re so silent that I completely forgot.”

Tommy presses his muzzle against Ashley’s fingers. He’s not angry.

She scratches him a little then she asks, “Do you think you can change? Just to make sure everything is okay on that side, too?”

Without meaning to, Tommy takes a step back. While he misses the ability to be understood, he also feels safer in his wolf form. He’s aware that it’s probably an illusion, but he’s clinging to the idea that if things go wrong, he can at least defend himself. He hasn’t fought in human form for so long that he doubts he even remembers how.

Ashley seems to realize how uneasy it makes him, but either she doesn’t understand why or she chooses not to ask. Instead, she grabs the bag she brought with her. “If it’s your modesty you’re worried about… ta-da!”

Curious, Tommy sniffs at the clothes, surprised when he realizes how faint the scent on them is. He was expecting something that would smell… all pack and proprietary, not something that was obviously just taken out of the laundry.

“They might be a little too big because Sutan had no idea what size you’d be in human form – and contrary to what the boys at the house believe, small isn’t helpful – but Brian isn’t that tall. Try them?”

Without waiting for an answer, Ashley puts the bags behind some bushes, a little bit out of the way, then comes back and sits with her back turned to Tommy. “I promise I won’t try to peek.”

If he could, Tommy would laugh and maybe even stick his tongue out at her, because he knows she’s acting silly on purpose to put him at ease. As it is, he glares at Sutan, who’s doing his best to keep his face serious even though his shoulders are shaking with barely restrained laughter, and he pads over to the bushes.

The change takes Tommy a couple of minutes. Even though he changed regularly when he was alone, he’s still spent way too much time in his wolf form.

He puts on the clothes and realizes that Ashley was right; they are a bit too big. The advantage is that they cover him from head to toe. He tries to push his hair away from his forehead but it keeps falling back over his face since he hasn’t had a haircut in forever. As for the rest… he doesn’t even want to think about what he must look like.

It has to be as bad as he was expecting, though, judging from the looks on Ashley and Sutan’s faces when he walks out. He’s glad they’re not trying to act like everything is normal, but he doesn’t feel like they pity him, either.

“Oh, sweetheart.” Sutan sighs. “How long have you been living like this?”

Tommy drops his gaze to the ground. At first his voice comes out as a croak, because it’s been far too long since he actually talked to someone, and he has to clear his throat a couple of times before he can finally answer, “I don’t remember.”

“Who was hunting you?” Ashley’s voice comes out harsh.

Tommy takes a step back, panic bubbling up inside of him as he looks from Ashley to Sutan and back again. “I don’t… I…”

“All she’s asking is whether there’s a blood claim on your head.” It takes a minute for Sutan’s words to make it through the fog in Tommy’s head, but when they do, he also hears, clear as day, something that Sutan won’t say aloud: I said I wouldn’t tell her a thing. I always keep my promises.

Maybe Tommy should be worried about the fact that Sutan can already talk to him with his mind, even though they barely know each other. He’s finding it much too difficult to focus on the situation at hand to do that, though.

Tommy wonders why the first thing Ashley thinks of is that his own pack is hunting him, but he doesn’t dare ask. “There isn’t. I’m an outcast. My own…” Tommy trails off, forces himself to correct his line of thought. “My former pack isn’t hunting me.” It hurts, talking about his family in that way, but he needs to remember that that part of his life is over.

“It isn’t right.” Ashley’s voice still has the harsh quality that makes Tommy fear for his life – until he sees that she’s looking through him, as if she can’t really see him. He suddenly realizes that her anger isn’t directed at him; it’s righteous anger over his situation and everything he’s been put through. And maybe something else that Tommy can’t grasp, too. “No one should have to live like this.”

Tommy shrugs. “That kind of shit happens whether we want it or not.”

“Still.” As she keeps talking, Ashley walks closer. “You need a roof over your head and some food in your body – and a haircut, too.”

“I thought all you wanted was to have a look at my leg.”

Tommy’s oncoming panic must show through his voice, because Sutan lays a hand on Ashley’s shoulder. “Easy, Ash. Don’t scare him away.”

She shrugs off Sutan’s hand and takes another step toward Tommy. “Yeah, you’re right. Can I look at your leg now?”

Once Tommy’s proved that he can walk without limping and has let Ashley check the bone to make sure that everything’s healed right, he expects them to leave him alone again.

Instead, Ashley looks at him straight in the eyes, biting her lip as if she’s asking a favor. “Don’t you want to come to the house? You obviously need a place to stay and rest a little. There are so many empty rooms; you won’t bother anyone.”

The offer is tempting, but it’s too good to be true. “It’s not your place make that kind of offer.”

Ashley smiles at Tommy and grabs his hand in hers. “In this pack, yes, it is. Besides, Adam doesn’t even live with us. He won’t mind.”

“Adam?” Tommy remembers the name, of course, because Sutan has talked about him so often. This time, though, he has a feeling that most of his assumptions are completely wrong.

“He’s our alpha,” Ashley explains in a gentle voice. “He’s a good guy, I swear. Nothing like what you might be used to from alphas. And he won’t even be surprised. I mean, he already knows you’re here. Sutan had to tell him.”

“But aren’t you…” Tommy frowns. Sutan is an alpha, there can be no doubt about that, but the idea that there can be more than one alpha in a pack sounds ridiculous at best. The only moment when it can happen is right before the transfer of powers from the older alpha to the younger one, and that only lasts until the new alpha kills his elder.

“I’m an alpha, not the alpha,” Sutan tries to explain, but that only confuses Tommy more. “Didn’t you listen to anything I told you?”

Tommy looks down, embarrassed. “I did but maybe I didn’t focus on the details so much. It’s harder to concentrate in wolf form.” Add to that the disturbing way in which all it took was Sutan’s presence to make Tommy feel safe and protected, and it was all too easy to let Sutan’s words wash over him without trying to decipher their meaning. Admitting his misunderstanding is hard, and when Tommy does, it’s barely above a whisper. “I thought he was your beta.”

Ashley giggles at the thought, and when Tommy looks up, Sutan’s eyes are shining with glee.

“What’s so funny?” Tommy asks.

“You’d understand if you knew us.”

Except that Tommy doesn’t, and even though it’s tempting, he’s really not sure that he wants to.

“Seriously,” Ashley says when it’s clear Tommy won’t say anything else. “Come to the house. All we’re offering is shelter. Nothing more.”

Once again, the we sounds out of place to Tommy’s ears, just as Sutan’s our pack didn’t feel quite right, a couple of days ago. He doesn’t dare ask, aware it’s not his place to do so.

Tommy hesitates. He has no idea if Ashley’s telling the truth, but he can feel that she believes what she’s saying. He realizes that that’s probably why she was the one to ask him. While alphas can easily hide what they’re thinking, a beta’s real emotions are always written all over them. They become really easy to interpret if you know how, and Tommy’s had no choice except to learn.

It could still be a trap, but Ashley’s right. He needs to rest.

“Okay.”

***

On the way to the house, Ashley keeps up a non-stop, running commentary, as if she knows all too well how uneasy Tommy feels and is doing her best to help him.

Between all the information she’s bombarding him with – more like a bunch of anecdotes without any clear purpose, but at least in human form, Tommy can remember the names and make connections between them – and Sutan’s reassuring presence by Tommy’s side, he makes it to the house without feeling scared.

That is, until he steps foot in the house. He finds more or less what he was expecting, because, no matter what Ashley said, it is a pack’s house – except for one detail. It’s not the betas because he doesn’t need to worry about them yet. It’s not Sutan’s presence, which he’s gotten used to, or Adam, the other alpha, who he was expecting and who was nice enough to wait for them outside so there would be no surprise. It’s that Tommy can feel somebody else. Just as strong-willed, just as powerful, just as alpha-like. Just as dangerous.

Tommy’s first instinct is to run. He was trained as a warrior when he was a teenager and everyone thought he’d be an ordinary beta, but he learned a long time ago that even the best training is useless against alphas. Besides, it’s been so long since he fought that he’s not sure he’d be able to face anyone.

Without thinking, he lets the panic drive him and his wolf takes over. He shifts back and starts running. He has no idea where he’s going. The only thought in his head is to get away, to get someplace safe.

When he stops running, he can’t even say where he is. He’s ready to curse his wolf for taking him deeper into the house instead of outside, but the small, cramped, dark space he found for himself still, somehow, feels safe.

He hasn’t been there more than a few minutes when the door opens and he hears someone padding into the room. Tommy shrinks into himself, as if he could become invisible if he makes himself small enough.

He’s expecting whomever it is to try and make him come out of his hiding place. Instead, he hears claws clicking on the floor, then a golden brown wolf that Tommy’s seen only once sticks his nose into the space mere inches from Tommy.

Sutan waits until it’s clear that Tommy won’t try and run away again before joining him– raising his head, Tommy realizes that he hid under someone’s bed like a little kid – and lying down next to him.

Without meaning to, Tommy tucks his muzzle in Sutan’s fur and closes his eyes, curling close to Sutan’s body. He’s pretty sure he could fall asleep like this if he wanted to, lost in a cocoon of heat and comfort. While he was expecting to hear Sutan’s thoughts projected his way after opening himself up the other day, all he gets is blissful silence. It’s refreshing.

Just when Tommy is about to fall asleep, he feels teeth on the nape of his neck. For a second, he goes lax as a mix of dread and want-need so pure he’s useless against it goes through him. Then he realizes that Sutan is only pulling on him to force him out of the cramped space under the bed.

Tommy doesn’t want to; he’s feeling good and safe right where he is. However, fighting the instincts that make him want to follow Sutan’s lead would take too much out of him. So he goes with it. He lets Sutan drag him out from under the bed, follows him when Sutan hops onto the bed and lies down against him again. He’s a little confused when Sutan moves, grabbing the bedcovers that are lying in a pile at the end of the bed between his teeth, and pulling them up and over Tommy as best as he can in wolf form.

That confusion only lasts until Tommy closes his eyes and feels Sutan shift, his body becoming human once again, and hears him whisper, “Change back, please?”

It’s the please that does it. Even though Tommy still doubts a lot of what Ashley and Sutan have told him, he has a feeling that, no matter what, Sutan will never force him into anything.

Shivering, Tommy changes back to his human form, suddenly glad for the bedcovers now separating him and Sutan. He should be scared out of his mind, being here naked and vulnerable, in the same bed as an alpha. Yet he can’t find that fear within himself.

Tommy inches closer to Sutan’s heat until Sutan has no choice but to wrap an arm around Tommy’s waist in order not to have it crushed between them. He’s still being very careful not to touch Tommy’s bare skin. “You okay, sweetheart?”

Once again, the words take long to come. Tommy’s really not used to talking that much anymore. “Yeah.” Thinking back on what just happened, he adds, quickly, “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” Sutan asks. “You didn’t attack anyone. Well, maybe Brian will be a little annoyed that you ruined his clothes in your haste to change to your wolf form, but otherwise, it’s no big deal.” He frowns and sighs. “Besides, it’s my fault. I had no idea Terrance would be at the house today. I’d have warned you if I’d known.”

“Terrance?” Tommy repeats. The name has some familiarity, like he should remember it, but he has no idea why.

“He’s one of Adam’s closest friends. Close enough that he’s pack, even though he’s an alpha too.”

“But that’s…” Tommy bites his lip, unsure if he should say it out loud. He’s aware it’s one of the laws he learned when he was still with his former pack, and that it probably doesn’t apply here. Still, he can’t help saying, “But alphas can’t be friends.”

“You really believe that?” Sutan’s smile is amused more than anything. “Remember what you thought about me and Adam. How would it be possible for you to get such a wrong idea out of what I told you if we weren’t at least close friends?”

“Maybe. Why would you have warned me, though?”

The question seems to take Sutan by surprise. “Because it’s easy to see that you’re scared of alphas. I wouldn’t have taken that risk, since I had no idea what your reaction would be. Knowing what you are, it’s understandable, but—”

“Do they know?” Tommy winces when he realizes what he just did. He’s been on the run so long that he’s apparently forgotten some of the most basic rules.

Yet Sutan doesn’t seem to hold it against. “No, they don’t… of course Adam does, and Terrance will feel it as strongly as I do, but everybody else? If anyone tells them, it won’t be me. It’s your secret, Tommy, not mine.”

Tommy wants to ask why Sutan is doing all this. Why he’s so willing to keep Tommy’s secret, as he calls it, or why he’s opening his home – pack house or not, the whole fucking place feels like Sutan – to an outcast. But he’s very aware that he probably wouldn’t like the answer he’d get. It’s easier to let himself believe that Sutan is acting out of pity.

Instead, he asks, “How did you find me that easily? I thought Ashley said that the house was mostly empty.”

Sutan laughs a little, then says, softly, “You hid in my room, sweetheart.”

“Really?” Tommy looks around and realizes that, yep, the room is far from being one of the uninhabited ones Ashley told him about. The old fear comes creeping back as he’s left wondering why he came here.

It must show on his face, because Sutan murmurs, “Don’t freak out. You were scared, and your wolf went for what felt familiar. Here and then, that meant me.”

The explanation isn’t completely right, but Tommy’s willing to take it. It’s a lot easier to stomach than what the actual truth could be.

“Is it okay to ask?”

Tommy snorts. He’s so not used to people taking into consideration what he wants. Not anymore. “It’s your right.”

“No, it’s not,” Sutan replies, with a seriousness that Tommy’s only seen from him when he was talking about Ashley being attacked. “You’re an outsider, and even if you were pack? It’s Adam’s, not mine.”

He realizes that Sutan really means it, and that if he wanted, he could refuse. But maybe he doesn’t want to. Maybe. “Go ahead.”

Still Sutan hesitates. “You’re unclaimed, right?”

Tommy nods. “Untouched, too,” he adds, even though he’s aware of the danger he might be putting himself in by admitting it. “My fam…” He holds in the word family at the last second, and Sutan lets him. “My former pack was the kind that would put me to death for being what I am. After that, I was lucky.”

He’s expecting pity or at least kind words that will only make him feel ten times worse. Instead, even though Sutan’s tone is gentle, he only asks, “How long has it been?”

“I said the truth earlier. It’s been long enough that I don’t remember.”

“Do you want to stay here?”

Even though he knows he probably won’t like the answer, Tommy can’t help but ask, “Why?”

“Because no one should have to live like that,” Sutan replies as if it was obvious. “And Ashley was telling you the truth: the house is mostly empty except for me, her and Brian. You wouldn’t bother anyone.”

Tommy knows he’s taking a risk, if only because of how willing his wolf is to go along with everything Sutan does or say. But he needs a moment to catch his breath, and he has a feeling that they’re offering to provide him with exactly that. “I’d like to stay.”

The sight of the easy, pleased smile on Sutan’s face makes Tommy’s breath catch in his throat. “Do you think you’re ready to face the others?”

“Yeah. I’m ready.”

“Okay.” Sutan gently releases Tommy. “I’ll see about getting you some clothes. Just try not to ruin them this time, all right?”

The teasing note in Sutan’s voice is enough to make Tommy laugh. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”

***

While it’s easy to laugh off Ashley’s gushing apology, hearing Terrance say that he’s sorry makes Tommy a lot more uncomfortable. No matter how hard Tommy tries, he can’t understand why they’re all putting so much effort into making things easier for him. Why Adam waited for them outside, even though Tommy was glad of it at the time. Why Terrance keeps saying that he’d have done it too if he’d known. Why both of them are keeping their alpha side under lock and key as much as they can so Tommy won’t feel threatened.

Still, he doesn’t ask. He’s aware he’ll get to the point where he’ll have to, especially if he accepts their offer and stays. For now, though, he’s going to let himself enjoy this little bit of safety for as long as he can.

However, when Adam says the exact same thing Ashley and Sutan did, that Tommy is welcome to stay, he has to ask, “Why? I’m an outcast, and this is a pack house.”

Adam shrugs, gives Tommy a smile that disarm him because it’s so terribly honest. “Pack house, maybe, but most of us don’t live here. I don’t even live here. It’s Sutan’s house. He’s welcome to invite whoever he wants.”

Tommy does his hardest not to let what he’s feeling show on his face. Adam just confirmed one of his suspicions: Ashley asked him only because Sutan knew that Tommy wouldn’t accept an invitation that came from an alpha.

“But why? You don’t even know me.”

There’s something in the way Adam looks at him that Tommy can’t quite understand. Or maybe it’s more that he really doesn’t want to. “Sutan trusts you. That’s enough for me.”

“And what?” Tommy knows he’s pushing his luck, and all he’ll manage if he keeps it up will be to find himself on the run again. But it’s better to have it blow up in his face now than when he’s gotten comfortable. “You’re just going to believe me, too, when I say that there’s no blood claim on my head?”

“I believe you.” Adam isn’t lying, and that might be what scares Tommy the most. “I will, however, ask for your last name and have someone look you up. It will be easier for everyone. If you’ve told the truth, you’re welcome to stay.”

“But you know what I am…” Tommy whispers before he can stop himself.

Adam nods. “I do. And I also know how weres like you are treated. Nearly everyone in our pack has been an outcast at one point or another, mostly for reasons we had no control over. We’re not going to send you back out on the run if we don’t have to.”

It sounds far too simple for it to be the whole explanation. For now, though, Tommy’s willing to take it.

***

The first couple of days aren’t uncomplicated, in part because everything is just a little too easy. As soon as Adam confirms that Tommy told the truth and that no one is coming after him, it’s as if he’d lived with them for weeks instead of days.

There’s something strange about the way no one ever asks him any questions. And about the fact that Adam used Tommy’s full name to get someone to ask around about him instead of just looking into Tommy’s mind for the information he needed. He could have since Tommy was stupid enough to open himself up to Sutan once.

He tries to keep a distance between them at first, but as days pass, it becomes harder and harder. Even though no one has said so, Tommy’s pretty sure there is a time limit on him staying here. He refuses to think about the only reason why there wouldn’t be.

Yet they all act like he’s pack, not like he’s an outsider. Brian was a little colder at first, but that’s not surprising: from the moment they met, Tommy could feel that he was the kind of beta who made it his purpose to protect everybody else in the pack.

Otherwise, though, it feels like he’s always been part of this, part of them. He tries his hardest to rein in his wolf, who’s just a little too happy with the way things are going. It’s been so long since Tommy felt as if he could belong somewhere, but he’s aware it’s just an illusion.

It’s not always easy to remember that, especially since it’s so much easier to just let some things happen. To tease about it but still be very glad that he has Ashley fussing over him, making sure that he’s eating well and that he’s getting enough sleep and insisting that he gets a haircut. And he has to admit that she was right: after a haircut and a new dye job, he’s finally starting to feel human again.

Or to start talking music with Brian after Tommy finds him on the other side of the house, guided by the sound of someone playing a keyboard. It doesn’t take them long to figure out that they have wildly different tastes, but arguing over music feels better than if they loved the same kinds, in part because it makes Tommy realize how much he’s missed playing. After that, there’s no way he can stop his whole face from lighting up when he finds an acoustic guitar in his room.

Soon, Tommy feels comfortable enough in the house that his wolf doesn’t want to leave anymore. He isn’t that surprised when he wakes up one morning still in his wolf form and very far from his own bed. Those spontaneous changes don’t happen that often, and they usually mean that Tommy didn’t choose the safest place to fall asleep.

Waking up away from his bed is something he’s used to, so it wouldn’t even bother him if it weren’t for the fact that, the first morning, he wakes up to the sound of soft snoring. Tommy huffs in annoyance as he realizes that not only did his wolf take him away from his room, it also decided that the best place to sleep was at the foot of Sutan’s bed.

As quietly as he can, Tommy pads out of the room before Sutan wakes up. He makes his way through the house, hoping that he can get back to his room without anyone noticing him.

Of course, he isn’t that lucky. As he walks past the kitchen, he hears Ashley call out, “Coffee’s ready if you want some, Tommy!”

It’s enough to stop Tommy in his tracks and have him raise his muzzle to smell the coffee. He closes his eyes, his human side sighing in pleasure at the smell, then he shakes himself and starts walking again. First, he needs to change.

Five minutes later, Tommy’s back in the kitchen, mug in hand, holding it so close to his face that it feels like he’s trying to inhale the caffeine.

Ashley sits beside him, nudging his elbow with hers. “You’re one of those, don’t talk to me before I’ve had at least three coffees in the morning type of person, right?”

Tommy laughs and takes a sip of coffee. “Something like that, yeah.”

“What were you doing up so early in the morning?”

Tommy nearly loses his grip on his cup, afraid that she might have seen where he came from. “What are you talking about?”

Ashley shrugs. “You seem to spend an awful lot of time in your wolf form, that’s all I’m saying.”

“I…” Tommy trails off, unsure if this is something that he should share. “I tend to change at night, whether I want to or not. I go to bed human and I wake up as a wolf.”

“Really?” Ashley frowns, staring over her mug and into empty space. “I don’t understand. Spontaneous changes usually stop within the first six months following the bite…”

“It’s beta training that makes them stop, Ash. It doesn’t happen by itself.” Brian’s voice coming from behind startles them both. Without looking at them, he goes to grab himself coffee. “But I have a feeling no one bothered to train you,” he says to Tommy as he turns around, mug in hand. “Am I wrong?”

Slowly, Tommy shakes his head. He had some training before he came of age, but as soon as he got the bite needed to trigger the first change, everyone around him became way too focused on trying to figure out what the fuck to do with him to even think about training him. And to anyone else in the pack who wasn’t one of his family or close friends, the mere idea of training him would have felt like a waste of time.

He doesn’t want to explain that, but he’s aware he might not have a choice.

Instead of the questions Tommy’s expecting, though, Brian merely offers, “I could help you with that, if you want.”

Tommy’s left speechless. He gulps down his coffee, while he figures out how to respond. “Why would you do that?”

“It would make the house safer for all of us. If you’re still changing without meaning to, you’re lucky to have as much control over your wolf as you do. It could be a lot worse.”

Tommy looks down at the counter. For a second, it felt like Brian was about to say something completely different. Tommy would have thought he was just imagining things if he hadn’t noticed the light pressure of Ashley’s hand on Brian’s. A reminder that the pack’s secrets have to stay within the pack and that Tommy’s still an outsider.

“Maybe. We’ll see.” It’s all so confusing. One minute, they act like they’ve known him his whole life, or like they really understand what he’s going through. And the next, he painfully reminded that he doesn’t belong with them, not really.

It shouldn’t hurt that badly. But it does.

***

Tommy doesn’t mind not waking up in his bed, not really. He’s had more than enough time to get used to it over the years.

However, after six days of finding himself curled up at the foot of Sutan’s bed, it’s starting to get old. Instead of doing his usual quiet dash for the door before Sutan notices him, he lays his head back down and hides behind his front paws as if that could be enough to get him back to his own room.

The bed moves under Sutan’s weight. “I’m sorry, honey, but I don’t have the patience to pretend I’m asleep until you decide to get your pretty ass off my bed.”

Tommy lifts one paw off his head and sees Sutan staring at him. It was obviously asking for too much to hope that he’d go unnoticed.

“Not that I mind having a pretty boy in my bed, but usually they at least talk to me.”

They could talk like this but Tommy’s already spending far too much time in his wolf form. Instead of answering, he grabs the blanket between his teeth and pulls, trying his best to drape it over himself. He growls, frustrated, when he realizes that it won’t work, and even though Sutan shakes his head and mutters something about a “silly wolf-boy,” he still kindly lays the blanket over Tommy.

Tommy changes back to his human form and wraps himself in the blanket. Sutan waits for him to make himself comfortable, then asks, “Are you going to tell me what this is all about?”

Looking down at the bed, Tommy says, “I tend to change when I’m sleeping. I don’t do it on purpose—”

“That’s not what I meant, Tommy.” Sutan’s gentle fingers under Tommy’s chin make him raise his head again. “If you had that little control of your wolf, you’d wake up in random places around the house, or most likely back in the forest. Yet I’ve been waking up to find you in my bed for nearly a week. There has to be a reason.”

Tommy blushes, embarrassed, when he realizes that Sutan was pretending to be asleep every single time. And here he thought he was being subtle…

Thing is, Sutan’s right. If Tommy were that annoyed at waking up at the foot of Sutan’s bed every morning, he’d figure out a way to make his wolf choose another spot to sleep. He’s done that before, and while it asks a lot out of him, it’s not impossible.

“You know how you came to see me every day and just, you know, talk to me? I miss it.” That’s really not all there is to it, but it’s a start. And it’s not a lie.

“I was trying to give you some space to breathe. I didn’t want you to feel like you owed me anything.”

Slowly, Tommy grabs Sutan’s hand on his chin and makes him let go, but he can’t bring himself to release Sutan’s hand afterward. “Stop walking on eggshells around me. I won’t break.”

The soft, pleased smile on Sutan’s face warms Tommy all over. “I know, sweetheart, but it had to come from you.”

“So can we do that? Like, just talk every day?” Tommy tries his hardest not to let his hope show in his voice, but he has a feeling it’s not really working.

“Of course, we can. As long as you show up in your human form.”

Tommy tenses, aware that the reason he felt so comfortable that first couple of days was because he was never expected to participate. He could let Sutan’s words wash over him without paying much attention to them.

He tries to free his hand, but Sutan tightens his grip. “You’re still human, Tommy. You have to remember it.”

“It was easier to forget, all those years. Otherwise, I’d have felt too lonely.” He’s had to learn how to control his wolf all on his own, but most of the time he was glad to let it take over. He’s pretty sure it’s one of the things that kept him out of danger for so long.

“I get it,” Sutan says. “Now, though, might be a good time for you to remember that your wolf is just a part of you. It’s not all of you.”

Tommy knows that, but letting his wolf fade to a presence in the background would feel too much like he’s here to stay. And he’s sure it’s impossible. “Maybe.”

Releasing Tommy’s hand, Sutan says, “That’s my condition. If you agree, I’d be happy to talk with you again.”

Tommy hesitates when he realizes that Sutan said “talk with you,” not “talk to you.” Still, he replies, “Okay. That works for me.”

***

It quickly becomes part of their routine. Every morning, while the house is still sleeping, Tommy slips out of his room and makes his way to Sutan’s.

Trying to keep a physical distance between them doesn’t work. It’s soon obvious that Tommy’s starving for affection and touch as bad as his wolf is. On the second day, when he walks in to find Sutan still asleep, he can’t resist crawling into Sutan’s bed, lying down beside him and clinging to him. Even Sutan’s nudity doesn’t make Tommy nervous. Instead, he feels safe in a way he hasn’t in far too long.

Sutan pulls him closer as he wakes up, and Tommy rests his head on Sutan’s chest. From then on, that’s how they start their day, talking softly, curled around each other in Sutan’s bed.

At first Tommy only puts in a word here and there, but soon he finds himself opening up more and more. It hurts to think about everything he’s lost, but there are still things he can talk about without feeling the loss too deeply. Things that still make him smile, memories of the friends he had growing up and of his family.

One morning, he even finds himself talking about the last couple of weeks, the way it felt to still be part of a pack, of something bigger, “Before I came of age and got the bite.”

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, sweetheart,” Sutan whispers against Tommy’s hair.

“I know.” But he’s slowly getting to the point where he wants to. Where he needs to.

He closes his eyes, tries his hardest not to let the memories drown him. “I don’t remember much. I woke up, and everyone was freaking out around me. They were talking about a curse, and my dad was trying to stop them from getting to me.”

He shudders at the thought. “Our alpha was a good one, though.”

“A good one?” Sutan repeats, his breath tickling Tommy’s hair. “You said yourself that your pack was going to put you to death for being what you are…”

Even here and now, when no one is at risk of hearing them, Tommy has to force the word out. He doesn’t think he ever said it aloud. “My omega scent was already starting to affect the betas around me. Me staying there would have been too dangerous for everyone, but there are rules. He couldn’t just set me free, either.” Tommy swallows hard, doing his best to hold in the sob that wants to tear its way out of his throat. “He sentenced me to death. But he also told my father that if I disappeared, no-one would look that hard for me.”

Sutan pulls Tommy closer as Tommy sucks in a long, shuddering breath. It’s been so many years. It shouldn’t hurt this badly just to think about it.

“Dad took me and my sister running. He took control of my wolf and kept me hidden until we were a couple of days out of the pack’s territory. He taught me everything he could in the little time we had.” He says the last words as fast as he can, like it’s enough to lessen the pain. “And I’ve been on the run ever since.”

“You were lucky that your wolf never got you into more trouble.”

Tommy raises his head to look at Sutan. “No, it was the other way around. The reason I never tried that hard to control it was because it saved my ass so many times. Besides,” Tommy shrugs, “I expected that, if I found myself living with a pack again, it would be because I’d been enslaved. So it never seemed that important.”

“Is that changing now?” Sutan asks.

“Maybe. I’m not sure.”

Silence weighs heavily between them, but Tommy doesn’t dare break it. Not yet. Sutan moves the hand he had on Tommy’s back toward Tommy’s neck, his fingers scratching gently at the fine hairs at the base of Tommy’s skull. “Why not? I know Brian offered to help you, but he said you didn’t take him up on it.”

“Because it would mean spending so much time in my wolf form—”

“Which you’ve been doing a lot since you started living with us. Gimme an explanation that actually make sense, sweetheart.”

Tommy scowls, annoyed. “If you’d just let me finish, I will.” He waits until he’s sure that Sutan won’t interrupt again. “It would mean spending a lot of time in my wolf form around people who are also wolves. I’ve been comfortable doing it here because they’re always in human form. As wolves, they’d have a really easy time understanding what I am, or at least being affected by it. It would mean chaos.”

He’s pretty sure there’s no way Sutan can argue with that. Still, Sutan asks, “You did say you had a little bit of training, right?”

“Yeah. As much as my father could give me before I had to run.” He has to fight the urge to lean into the caress of Sutan’s fingers.

“And you know, what you said about your father hiding and controlling your wolf?” Sutan waits until Tommy nods before he continues, “Brian does the same when he’s training betas. No-one would be able to guess.”

“Except for Brian.”

“He’s mated, Tommy. It won’t affect him. He’ll probably feel that you’re different, but I know him. He won’t ask.”

Tommy bites his lip. It’s tempting, but once again, it sounds too simple. “I’m not sure.”

“At least promise me you’ll think about it?” Tommy wants nothing more than to slip out of Sutan’s embrace and drop the subject, but Sutan stops him with a single word. “Please?”

It leaves Tommy speechless at first, because he’s used to alphas who told him what to do, and never asked. And when they did ask, he was very much aware that there was only one acceptable answer. When he finally finds his voice back, it’s to say, “I will.”

***

It still takes a couple of days before Tommy actually does something. At first, he ignores the whole conversation when he realizes that the little routine he and Sutan have established seems to be keeping things under control. He wakes up every morning in his own bed, and in human form.

Then one evening, after taking a nap, he wakes up and nearly cracks his skull on the table his wolf hid under.

He’s in the library. Ashley’s resting on one of the couches, a book in her lap. Tommy’s about to let her know he’s here and get out when she smiles and says, softly, “Hey there, gorgeous.”

Her greeting freezes Tommy in place. It should give him a reason to get the hell out of the library as fast as he can. Instead, he’s suddenly unable to move.

Ashley puts her book on the table next to the couch, spreads her legs and pats the space between them. “Come here.”

Before Tommy can make himself walk out, Brian staggers to the couch and falls more than he sits on the spot Ashley cleared for him. Ashley molds herself to his body and hugs him tight. “That bad, babe?”

Brian sighs. “Yeah. We’re having trouble at the borders. It’s about time that Adam got his ass back here and called a few of the others. We need more betas who can actually fight.”

“He’ll be back from the Idol tour soon, he’ll have time before he’s off doing… whatever he’s doing next.”

Brian turns his head to look at her and sing-songs, “Jealousy isn’t a good look on you.”

“Shut up!” Ashley doesn’t sound that annoyed, though, and she’s still smiling. “Yes, I’m jealous, okay? I’m jealous that Adam’s out touring the whole country. I’m jealous that you can still get contracts, or that Sutan can go out and do whatever the fuck he wants while I’m stuck here like a kid who’s been put on time-out!”

“You should have said something, Ash.”

“Why? There’s nothing you can do. I know I have to wait for the blood claim to run its course. It just… it sucks.”

Fuck. Now there’s no way Tommy can make it out of the library without them spotting him, but he’s also aware that what they’re talking about is something he really wasn’t supposed to hear. He’s screwed.

Brian moves to turn toward Ashley. Instead, he stops midway, his body going rigid and his smile transforming into a wince.

Ashley frowns. “You okay?”

“I think I pulled something.”

“Let me have a look.” With gentle hands, she pushes Brian’s shirt up as he lets his shoulders drop forward, curving his back. “You should be more careful.”

“That’s easy to say, but a lot harder to do in a real fight.” He groans as Ashley digs her fingers in the muscles of his back. “Yeah, right there.”

Tommy moves a little, ready to make a mad dash for the door as soon as they’re both too busy to spot him. There are things he wasn’t supposed to hear and things he really, really doesn’t need to see.

“You know what I want to do?” Ashley’s voice is soft, but it still somehow carries to the place where Tommy’s hiding. “I want to have a long bath and take you to bed. Let me take care of you?”

“Yes. Please.”

Tommy can’t help but look back, and he has the hardest time not making a sound when he sees Brian’s head lolling on Ashley’s shoulder and Ashley fitting her teeth to the bite mark Tommy never noticed before on Brian’s neck.

Not even caring anymore that they might spot him, Tommy runs out of the library.

When he makes it back to his room, he can’t help but think that Adam was telling him the truth when he told him that most of his pack were outcasts at one point or another.

He also decides that he’ll accept Brian’s offer of training. Since they’ve all been so respectful of his privacy, the least he can do is make sure that he won’t end up spying on them again.

***

Training is both a lot harder and a lot easier than Tommy was expecting. Harder, because he’s never tried that hard to control his wolf and has let it do as it pleased for too many years. So it feels like he’s trying to cup water in his bare hands. Futile, and a lot less successful than he’d like it to be.

But it’s also easier, somehow, because the little bit of training he did get and the fact that he grew up in a were family, aware that he’d be bitten someday, is helping. That, though, he doesn’t figure out until he meets Allison.

She’s smiley and friendly, all fiery hair and fierce hugs. And she’s young. So very young that Tommy’s left wondering many times if she’s even of age. When she’s picking herself off the ground after a particularly intense scuffle, he finally asks, “How old are you?”

Allison shrugs as she takes the blanket Ashley hands her. It’s not that cold outside, but she never seems quite as comfortable with her own nudity as the others are. “I’m seventeen.”

Even though Tommy tries his best not to react, he can’t help throwing an accusatory glance toward Ashley and Brian.

And he apparently wasn’t that inconspicuous because Brian says, “It wasn’t us, Tommy.”

Allison’s eyes grow wide. “Wait, do you think… No, they helped me, it’s not their fault that I’m… like this.”

It’s another thing Tommy noticed about Allison: she still seems scared of some words, in a way were kids never are because they grow up with that reality.

“Who did it, then?”

“An unattached wanderer,” Ashley replies. “On the outskirts of LA.”

Allison looks down at the ground. “My family’s human. I went camping with friends and we weren’t careful enough. Idol would have disqualified me for not controlling my wolf and all that crap if Adam hadn’t stepped in. He said he’d get me trained and he would take full responsibility if anything happened.”

There’s a long, uncomfortable silence. Tommy sighs. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“Why don’t we try this again?” Brian suggests after a few more seconds. “You’re getting better, Allie. Maybe you can take him down this time.”

It’s enough to make Allison smile again. She shrugs away the blanket and throws herself at Tommy, miming claws with her fingers before she starts changing and screaming, “Get ready!”

Tommy’s laughing too hard to even think of changing and gets a face full of fur and claws.

***

It feels like the more Tommy learns about them, the less he understands. Especially now that Adam is around all the time. It won’t last long, though. Adam’s trying to see to the most urgent business while he can, leaving Tommy free to observe him and the weres around him.

But it doesn’t give him any answers. There’s no deference in the way the betas interact with Adam, as if the hierarchy doesn’t exist; or if it does, they act as if it’s something that doesn’t matter to them. To any of them, judging from the arguments he can sometimes hear between Adam and Brian, neither of them ready to back down when they believe they’re right. Yet Tommy never sees Adam using his authority to shut down an argument, not even in the subtlest way.

The other thing that surprises Tommy is that they all act like he’s pack, not just an outsider. Sure, they keep their secrets – and he’s extremely glad when training has the desired effect, making him wake up exactly where he fell asleep, and still in human form – but they never go out of their way to remind him that he isn’t part of what they are to each other. While that doesn’t surprise him anymore coming from Ashley, or Brian, or Sutan, it does surprise him when the pack’s wanderers do the same without even asking who he is.

It makes it even harder not to get too comfortable. The longer he stays with them, the harder it becomes to remember that it won’t, that it can’t last. That he’ll have to leave again, maybe not now but soon. That even though they all act like they’re part of some big, weird family instead of an actual pack, Tommy’s still an outsider, still a risk that, sooner or later, they’ll decide they can’t take.

In the evening, they watch movies and TV shows, curled up on couches and chairs like giant puppy piles. It’s hard to resist, especially when Tommy enters the room and Allison smiles at him and says, “Come over here. There’s still some space!”

He doesn’t dare, though. Instead, he sinks to the floor at Sutan’s feet, his back to the couch, his body resting against Sutan’s legs. Seconds later, there’s a hand in his hair, pulling his head back.

“You could have sat on the couch, you know. Allie’s right, there’s still space for you.” Sutan whispers.

Tommy shakes his head. Said space involved Allison half-pushing Ashley in Brian’s lap, and even though he’s aware neither of them would have minded, he doesn’t really want to be in the middle of them. He can’t explain why, though, not without revealing a lot more than he’s ready to. “I’m okay here.”

It seems to be enough for Sutan. He doesn’t say anything else, but offers Tommy the kind of smile that warms him to the core. Settling down to watch the movie, Tommy refuses to wonder why.

It feels good, and comfortable, and safe. For the little time it takes to watch the movie, Tommy doesn’t feel like an outcast or an outsider, but like he’s part of a family again. Maybe he shouldn’t, but he allows himself to bask in their presence, their heat, their affection.

In any other situation, he’d wonder why it was so easy. Tonight, he doesn’t want to. Not when it seems so right to have Sutan’s fingers carding through his hair, to rest his head on Sutan’s thigh and feel the gentle caresses in his hair as if he really belongs here.

At some point during the movie, Tommy starts nodding off. He feels Sutan pull on his hair, a gentle pressure until Tommy tilts his head back to look at Sutan.

“Come here.”

It’s just a suggestion. Maybe it’s the fact that Tommy’s already half-asleep, or that he knows that no-one will mind. Without even thinking about it, he climbs into Sutan’s lap and rests his head on a pillow lying on the couch. As soon as he closes his eyes, he’s asleep.

It’s the sudden silence, and the way the couch jostles as everyone gets off it, that wakes him up. Except for Allison, who mumbles, “I don’t wanna,” when Ashley tries to make her get up and head to her bedroom.

“For fuck’s sake, Allie…” Adam’s words are interspersed with yawns, making Tommy hide his smile against Sutan’s chest.

In the end, it’s Terrance who carries Allison in his arms. “Come on, baby girl. You’ll be a lot more comfortable in your own bed.”

The others slowly file out of the living room, Adam stopping at the door. “You need help here, Sutan?”

Without thinking, Tommy tightens his grip on Sutan.

“Nope, we’re good.”

“You sure?” There’s a teasing quality to Adam’s smile. “Better not fall asleep on the couch, tranma. Your old bones won’t stand it.”

Tommy’s shoulders are shaking with silent, repressed laughter when Sutan flips Adam off. “Go to bed, Adam.”

Adam finally leaves after blowing them a kiss.

Tommy can’t help but say, “I’ll never understand how you guys make it work.”

He only realizes he said that aloud when Sutan asks, “What are you talking about, sweetheart?”

Tommy’s heart does a ridiculous little flip in his chest at the pet name. He knows it doesn’t mean a thing – he’s been with them long enough to know that with Sutan, everyone is “honey” and “sweetie” – but it’s starting to affect him nonetheless.

He forces himself to ignore it and moves out of Sutan’s embrace to face him. “You and Adam. I mean…” Tommy rakes a hand through his hair as he tries to find the right words. “Like, he and Terrance? That I get. They were friends before, and it makes sense that Terrance acts like he’s beta to Adam, even though he’s not. But the two of you? No matter how I twist it around in my head, it doesn’t fit.”

“Why is that? After all, you say you can understand him and Terrance…” Sutan shrugs.

“It’s not the same thing. Adam gave him the bite. That has meaning. But you? You’re older and stronger and if you choose to challenge him? It could be your pack. Yet you don’t. Not even in the smallest ways.”

Sutan smiles, soft and a little sad. “Because you’re right. It could be my pack. It was, for a long time.”

That’s so unexpected that Tommy can’t do anything but stare, speechless.

“I became ready to hand it over to somebody else a lot faster than I thought I would. But I wasn’t ready to die.”

Tommy’s aware that they usually go hand in hand. That’s why the idea of two alphas in one pack – never mind three – was so strange at first. The only moment when it’s normally possible is when the new alpha is in training. And that usually ends with the new alpha killing his eldest so no-one can contest his authority.

“Then I found Adam,” Sutan says, the memories making him smile. “He was a human kid. Earnest, eager, way too sweet for his own good, yet everything in him screamed alpha. I took a leap of faith and gave him the bite.”

Tommy takes Sutan’s hand in his. “It was still a pretty big risk.”

“I know. We were both lucky. When the time came, I was willing to step down and let him take over, and he didn’t see any reason to kill me. As you said, I’m not going to challenge him.”

Tommy has a feeling there’s more to it than what Sutan is saying, but he’s not going to ask. For now, this explanation is enough.

Or maybe he’d ask if he wasn’t so sleepy. He’s yawning before he can even think about it.

“Come back here.”

Tommy crawls back into Sutan’s arms and rests his head on Sutan’s chest. “It’s strange how it doesn’t seem to affect you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You know. What I am.”

He hears Sutan laugh, very softly. “Who said it wasn’t affecting me, sweetheart?” His breath is a hot puff of air on Tommy’s neck, making him shiver. “But I’ve had many years to learn self-control.”

As good as that should make Tommy feel, for a second he wishes Sutan’s self-control was a little less impressive. He’s still a little scared, but he’s now feeling so good and safe around Sutan that the idea of being claimed is more and more tempting. So much that he’s starting to want it, to want Sutan with every fiber of his being. He needs more than the easy friendship they have going on and the platonic embraces they share all the time.

But he won’t dare say it. Not yet.

***

“It’s not fair, you have to take me with you! Please?”

Late in the evening, Allison’s voice, rising higher and higher until it becomes annoying, draws Tommy out into the hall. She’s dressed to go out – they’re all dressed to go out – but Adam stands between her and the door, his arms crossed, and Allison is glaring at him with all of her will.

“Your mother would kill us for taking you out to a club, Allie.”

“Come on! She’d never need to know! I wanna see Raja perform. Please?”

“Like you’d be able to keep quiet if we did take you?” As he comes down the stairs, Tommy can see that Ashley’s trying really hard not to laugh. “Forget it. It’s not happening.”

“It’s not fair!” The last word is a dramatic, borderline scream. Allison runs up the stairs, tumbling into Tommy and nearly knocking him down.

Tommy joins them in the foyer before turning to stare after her. “What the fuck was that?”

“Just Allie being a brat.” Adam shrugs. “Don’t worry about it.”

Tommy raises a dubious eyebrow.

“Really,” Brian says. “She does that every time we go to one of Raja’s performances. Even if it wasn’t for her mother, taking a were that young to a club where most people won’t be human…”

Tommy can see why it wouldn’t be such a great idea. Still, he has to ask, “Who’s Raja?”

They all stare at him. Then Ashley smiles, like a cat that got all the cream it ever wanted. “Wait, you mean Sutan didn’t tell you…” If possible, her smile widens even more. “That’s it. You’re coming with us.”

Tommy takes a step back. “I… can’t?”

“We won’t mind if you want to come with us,” Adam says.

Even though he doesn’t understand why, Tommy has a feeling that Ashley’s insistence is a trap. As a last resort, he darts a look toward Brian.

Brian only shrugs. “Yeah, you can if you want. I didn’t have to teach you how to hide yourself in human form. You’re better at it than most of us.”

Because for so many years, his survival depended on it. Still, he hesitates.

“I’m not forcing you, Tommy,” Ashley says, looking sheepish. “But it would do you some good to get out of the house, don’t you think?”

“Maybe…”

That’s all he needs to say to make Ashley grab his hand and pull him upstairs again. “Great! Come on, let’s get you ready!”

The enthusiasm in Ashley’s voice feels like tons of warning bells going off in Tommy’s head, but it’s a little late to refuse.

***

The result is worth it, though, Tommy decides, looking at his reflection in the mirror after an hour of Ashley – and Adam, because Adam is damn good with make-up and that kind of shit – messing with his hair and face.

It’s not unlike something Mia would have done for him, many years ago, and it gives Tommy the stupid feeling of being home.

When they’re finally on their way, Tommy asks, “Will one of you please tell me who the fuck Raja is?”

“You’ll see,” Ashley replies, sounding far too proud of herself.

Brian slips his arm around Ashley’s shoulders. “You’re aware that Sutan’s gonna kill you, right?”

“Like I’m scared of him? Please.”

Tommy slows his steps, let them walk on without him until he’s side by side with Terrance, who joined them once they got to WeHo. “Can you at least tell me where we’re going?”

Terrance’s eyes shine with glee. “Ashley’s really messing with you, isn’t she?” Tommy makes a face that has Terrance laughing. “It’s a drag queen show.”

It should click now; Tommy knows that he should get it just from the way Terrance looks at him. Instead, it takes him seeing the performers’ pictures when they enter the club and stopping at Raja’s to realize she could be Sutan’s twin… no, screw that, Terrance said drag queen… “Oh, fuck.”

Laughing again, Terrance tugs on Tommy’s hand and pulls him to their table. “Too late to change your mind, Tommy. Sit back and enjoy the show. I promise you, it’ll be worth it.”

Since he has no escape route handy, Tommy sits, but not without glaring at Ashley. She throws him her best who, me? look, her face a perfect picture of innocence.

Besides, he has to admit that Terrance was right: the show really is worth it. Those girls are talented, in a way that makes Tommy’s jaw drop to the floor a couple of times. And gorgeous, too, to the point that if he didn’t know it was a drag show, he’d wonder about a couple of them.

All in all, he’s having a great evening. That is, until instead of the beginning of the next song, moaning comes from the speaker.

Ashley squeals in delight. “Here we go!”

Tommy recognizes the song from the very first notes, Closer.

Nudging him with his elbow, Terrance bends toward Tommy and says, “Since you were asking earlier? That’s Raja.”

Like he needed anyone to tell him that. He’s known from the moment she walked on stage, and now, he can’t look away. There’s a sensuality emanating from her, something that Tommy’s always felt in Sutan but that’s hitting him ten times harder.

The whole androgynous thing Raja’s got going on lures Tommy in until he feels like he’s frozen into place as he watches her dance, every single one of her movements so suggestive that it’s like fire pumping through Tommy’s veins instead of blood.

His wolf’s confused by the whole thing, and it takes him a couple of seconds to realize that, while Sutan is always reining in his… alphaness when he’s around Tommy, Raja’s projecting it as far as it can go.

As the song goes on, his wolf settles into a comfortable bubble of excitement. Alpha. His alpha.

Heat zings from the top of Tommy’s head to the tips of his toes, and he knows he’s in trouble. He takes a deep breath, then another, until he has his wolf back under a tight leash. Now is not the time.

It would be easier if he could look away, but that’s impossible. Warmth settles in his limbs every time Raja’s gaze catches his, and after a couple of times, he has a feeling she’s doing it on purpose. Maybe – he hopes – it’s affecting her as much as it does him.

The rest of the evening goes by like a dream. Tommy puts in a word here and there when it’s expected of him, but that’s all he can give.

When they get out of the club, Sutan’s back in his ordinary clothes – well, more or less since those pants look like they were painted on him – but still has Raja’s face painted on. It’s nearly enough of a mindfuck to make Tommy’s knees buckle under him.

He has no idea how he manages to keep walking until they reach the cars. On the way home, he sits as straight as he can, glad that Sutan is in the front seat with Adam. Maybe Sutan isn’t projecting anymore, but Tommy can still feel him. It’s like there’s a wire connecting them, energy pinging back and forth between them and driving him crazy.

He makes it to the house, thinking of nothing but diving into the pool in order to cool himself off. He knows it’s useless – beyond being claimed, being fucked and knotted, nothing can stop the heat before it claims his life. Still, he has to try.

As soon as he gets out of the car, though, Sutan trails a hand down Tommy’s back. His, “You okay, sweetheart?” is the last thing Tommy hears before his legs give up and darkness swallows him.

His memories of what happens next are hazy at best. He’s vaguely aware of being moved and hearing bits and pieces of more than one argument, voices that he can’t recognize in his state. A very small, defeated, “I was only trying to help…”

Later, when he’s lying in bed, with nothing between his bare skin and the cool cotton sheets, he hears a stubborn, “We aren’t lovers,” that stings even though he can’t identify who said it.

Even later, when he’s slipped into a restless sleep that will only leave him exhausted as the heat climbs again, “I don’t care what you think. He’s reacting to you. If you don’t do something, he’s gonna die.”

After that, Tommy’s so far gone that voices turns into a blur where he can’t recognize any words. He’s aware of nothing but the heat that took over his body and mind until someone takes his hand. He clings to them, his mouth opening on a soundless, please.

A voice pierces through the fog in his mind, a whisper, right in his ear. “Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’ll take care of you. But you have to let me.”

The noise that slips out of Tommy’s mouth is the closest he can get to another, mewling, please. Between harsh breaths and whimpers, all he can register is the hands now moving over his body. It brings the heat to a low simmer, just long enough for him to get his consciousness and his voice back. “Sutan, please…”

Then all he can do is hope that it’s enough. That even though he never dared say it before, he wants this. He’s wanted this for a long time now, longer than he’s ready to admit.

The hands touching him are gone, and the heat comes back full force. Tommy screams as he feels like his whole skin is on fire. He needs something, anything, to soothe him.

Seconds later, there are miles and miles of naked skin covering his and the hot, hard line of Sutan’s cock against his lower back.

Tommy pushes back into the pressure and for once, he doesn’t try and fight his body’s natural response. He’s already dripping wet and he wants – needs – Sutan to claim him, to fill him, to knot him.

He feels Sutan’s fingers on the curve of his ass and he can’t help but rock his hips to get them right where he wants them. He hears a sharp intake of breath as Sutan’s fingers catch on his hole and the slickness that could make this so very easy. For the first time since he got the bite, Tommy doesn’t mind not being an ordinary beta.

“You’re making it so very hard to resist, sweetheart…”

Tommy can’t find his voice, caught up as he is by the heat. He has no words, only whimpers and the tiniest rocking of his hips, stopped by the hand Sutan drops to Tommy’s hip, holding him tight enough that he’s sure to leave finger-shaped bruises behind.

But Tommy wants this, fuck, there’s no word to express much he needs this, even if he could talk. He tilts his head to the side, exposing his neck. The arch of his back, everything in him is a silent plea.

A soft kiss at the base of his neck, right over his pulse draws another moan out of Tommy’s mouth. A whispered, “Fuck, Tommy, you should see yourself,” is all the warning he gets before Sutan bites him, hard enough to break his skin and draw blood.

It should be enough to make the heat go away and allow Tommy to sleep it off. Instead, even though he finally finds his voice again, even though he can open his eyes without seeing everything through a blur, the heat doesn’t let go. It grabs him even tighter, knocking the breath out of him as it makes him aware of nothing but his hard dick and his aching, empty hole.

Sutan licks the blood off the bite mark he’s left on Tommy’s neck, his tongue creating a trail of fire on Tommy’s skin.

“Please.” Tommy tries to move within Sutan’s grasp, but it’s useless. All he can manage are small movements of his hips that make Sutan’s fingers catch on his hole but never slip inside. “Please, I need you to fuck me, to fill me, please, please…” Tommy’s barely aware of what he’s saying; his only focus the points where his and Sutan’s bodies connect.

“Oh, sweetheart…” There might be a hint of sadness mixed with the heat in Sutan’s voice, but Tommy can’t focus on it. The heat won’t let him go until he gets something, anything.

“Please,” he begs, and again, “Please, please, please,” a litany that he has no hope of stop.

One finger, then two, then three, barely a break in between, then Sutan pulls off a little. Without even thinking, Tommy pushes himself up onto his knees, head on a pillow, back arched, legs spread.

“Fuck, sweetheart, if you had any idea what you do to me.” Sutan’s nails turn into claws as he rakes them down Tommy’s back.

The pain makes Tommy dizzy, tearing a moan of pleasure from his throat. He pushes into the sensation, trying his best to get more of it until Sutan drapes himself over Tommy, his cock slipping in the crack of Tommy’s ass.

A hand in Tommy’s hair pulls his head back, letting Sutan bite his neck again and cover him with his marks. “Look at you. Offering yourself like a pretty little bitch in heat… So perfect for me, sweetheart.”

Tommy whines into the pillow when Sutan releases his hair, his whole body trembling under Sutan’s touch. The hint of possessiveness in Sutan’s words hits him to his very core. He needs to be claimed, needs so badly to belong to Sutan, to be his lover, his mate.

He turns his head, just enough to look at Sutan over his shoulder, and lets out another, soft, “Please. Please fuck me.”

Something dark washes over Sutan’s face. “I hope you know what you’re asking for, Tommy.”

The warning is clear and makes Tommy shiver. Yet he only says, “Yes. I do.”

Maybe he wanted to say something else, but every word flies out of Tommy’s mind when Sutan pulls his head back again and kisses the breath out of him. He all but screams into Sutan’s mouth when he finally gets the feeling of fullness he needed, Sutan swallowing Tommy’s whimpers and groans with kisses as he enters Tommy, filling him to the brink in one long, hard thrust.

When Sutan releases Tommy’s mouth, Tommy lets his head fall forward, stifling his groan in the pillow, pushing back into every thrust of Sutan’s cock in his ass. He’s dripping wet, blushing at the sound of skin on skin, at the obscene squelch of his natural slickness swallowing Sutan’s cock.

It’s good, it’s great, but it’s still not enough to free Tommy from the heat. “Harder… please.” He knows that the only thing that could really satisfy him would be Sutan’s knot, but he can’t bring himself to ask for it.

He feels kisses and bites on his shoulders, on his back, before Sutan drives into him, hard and fast, hot and perfect. Tommy cries out in pleasure and begs for more, harder, faster, his body giving in, opening up, so far gone that he barely hears the words Sutan mouth into his skin, the “gorgeous” and “perfect” and, so low that later Tommy knows that he wasn’t supposed to hear it, “mine.”

He has no problem with that, though. It only makes him feel owned and safe and protected. As if for the first time since he got the bite, he finally belongs somewhere, with someone. To someone.

Tommy tries to bring a hand to his cock, but Sutan gets hold of him before he can. Within seconds, both of his hands are brought behind hid back and held there with one of Sutan’s hands around his wrists, pressing him face first into the bed. “Oh, no. None of that, sweetheart.” Sutan grabs onto Tommy’s hip with his other hand, stopping him from getting even the tiniest bit of friction. “You’re going to come just like this,” a hard thrust that hits all the right spots makes Tommy scream, “just from me fucking you. Or not at all.”

It’s unfair, Tommy thinks, because he needs to come if the heat’s going to release him. Still he doesn’t fight the hold Sutan has on him. Instead he goes lax on the bed, letting the strength of Sutan’s thrusts move him, finding comfort in the fact that Sutan will leave marks and bruises behind. His cock rests, forgotten, hard and heavy between his thighs. Nothing exists anymore but the way Sutan fills him over and over again, fucking him hard and fast until Tommy loses his voice and can only produce whimpering sounds that are so far from words.

“So good for me, sweetheart, so fucking tight, so wet and perfect…” Sutan trails off as his rhythm turns erratic. Tommy thinks that this is it, finally Sutan will knot him and claim him for real. The thought alone is enough to make him come, a hot flush of shame creeping on his cheek as he feels his ass become even slicker in the process.

Soon after Sutan follows him and comes too, his come mixing with the slickness coming out of Tommy’s ass, turning him into a mess.

Tommy all but sobs into the pillow when he realizes that the wave of heat finally released him, but that he didn’t get Sutan’s knot. Still, he can’t help but think as Sutan gently cleans him up, fingers trailing on the claw marks and the bites he left on Tommy’s body, tomorrow, maybe. Soon, at least.

When Tommy falls asleep in Sutan’s arm, snuggling into his gentle caresses, he’s smiling.

***

The next morning, Tommy wakes up first. He sighs contentedly when he realizes they’re in Sutan’s room. He hasn’t felt this good in a very, very long time.

Careful not to wake Sutan, he makes his way to the mirror. He looks a mess, his hair all over the place, the remains of yesterday’s make-up smeared over his face. His body is covered in marks, claw marks and bites and every little thing that screams that he belongs to someone.

Slowly, Tommy turns his head, fingers reaching for the bite mark on the side of his neck. It hurts a little when he touches the place where the skin was broken, but it’s a good kind of pain.

“Don’t worry. It’s gonna heal.”

Tommy freezes into place. He wants to turn and look at Sutan, but he doesn’t dare. “What?”

“It’s just the first bite, sweetheart. It will heal in a couple of days.”

From the tone of Sutan’s voice, Tommy knows that the words are supposed to be reassuring, but they only fill him with dread. “That’s… good. I guess.” He searches for something, anything that he could say to make things better. In the end, he goes with, “I feel like taking a bath,” as he turns around to face Sutan.

For a moment that lasts no longer than a heartbeat, Tommy thinks that Sutan will offer to join him and that all he’s been saying will turn out to be a nightmare, a big misunderstanding. Instead, Sutan gives Tommy the friendly smile he’s used to, and says, “You can use my bathroom if you want. I’ll grab you some clothes.”

Tommy swallows hard, trying his best not to let the hurt he’s feeling show on his face. “Thank you.”

“Anytime.”

Tommy slips into the bathroom and waits until he hears the bedroom door close behind Sutan. Only when he’s sure that he’s alone does he allow himself to collapse against the bathroom door. His back collides with the wood and he slides down until he’s sitting on the floor. He rests his forehead on his raised knees, stifling his sobs into his skin, as he faces the truth.

Sutan doesn’t want him. He wants Tommy’s body, sure, like any alpha would, but he doesn’t want Tommy himself as his mate. That hurts more than anything else Tommy could have imagined.

Tommy lets the tears fall until his eyes are dry, until his sobs are reduced to hiccupping breaths.

At least he still has a place to stay, with people who accept him as he is and aren’t going to try and force him into anything. That’s all that matters.

And if all he can get is Sutan’s friendship, he’ll do his best to be happy with it.

***

When he wakes up, Sutan hopes that he didn’t fuck up too badly.

As soon as he sees how quickly Tommy leaves his arms, how eager he is to jump in the bath and get rid of Sutan’s scent on his skin, Sutan’s heart sinks in his chest. He knows that what he did was unacceptable – while in heat, Tommy wasn’t conscious of what was happening – but he was hoping that it would open a door to something more. Something that he thought Tommy wanted, but that he never dared to mention because he didn’t want Tommy to feel any pressure.

When he comes back with Tommy’s clothes, he hears Tommy cry in the bathroom. They should talk, Sutan knows it, if only to preserve their friendship. But he can’t bring himself to. He can’t believe what he did. He’s had years to learn self-control, yet he took advantage of Tommy’s state in the worst possible way.

So he leaves Tommy’s clothes in his bedroom, where Tommy will have an easy time finding them, and disappears into the forest. He changes and he runs, as far as his legs will take him. When he finally stops, he’s miles away from the house but he doesn’t feel even a little bit more grounded.

He’s thinking that he should be heading back soon when a big black wolf tumbles through the bushes and stops inches away from the lake, mere seconds before he falls into it. Sutan watches as the wolf shakes himself and changes back into Adam.

Without even looking at him, Adam asks, “You wanna go for a swim?”

Then he dives in, leaving Sutan with no choice but to change back and follow him. Well, he could stay where he is, but he knows Adam well enough to know that Adam won’t leave until they’ve talked, and that won’t happen in wolf form.

He changes back to his human form and dives, going after Adam with all of his strength. The exercise of trying to catch him and mock-fighting finishes exhausting Sutan, to the point where his worries finally fade a little and the voice in his head reminding him how badly he fucked up goes silent.

The sun is low in the sky when they get out of the water. They sit on the side of the lake, letting their legs trail in it, and Adam finally asks, “What happened?”

Sutan sighs. “You know what happened.”

“No, I don’t. I know that last night Tommy went into heat, and today he’s wearing your bite. But instead of spending the whole day in bed the way we were all expecting you to, he’s walking around the house looking like someone kicked his puppy and you’re hiding here. Why is that?”

Sutan can’t bring himself to look Adam in the eyes. “It went beyond the first bite.”

Reaching for Sutan’s hand, Adam waits until Sutan looks at him before he asks, “And that’s a bad thing because…?”

“I told you last night, Adam. We weren’t lovers before this whole mess. And you should have seen him earlier today.” Sutan cringes at the thought. “He couldn’t get away from me fast enough.”

“Sutan.” Adam waits until he has Sutan’s full attention before he continues, “Tell me what happened.”

“You don’t wanna hear it.”

“Maybe not,” Adam agrees. “But you obviously need to talk about it.”

Sutan swallows hard, trying his hardest to find a way to say it without hurting too badly. “I didn’t stop after the first bite. I should have, but…” He shakes his head. Everything else he could say sounds like a bad excuse after what he did, a way to justify himself while he’s aware that nothing can.

Adam doesn’t say a thing. He waits and waits and waits, so fucking patient that it’s unnerving more than anything else. Until finally Sutan says, “I barely stopped myself before I knotted him. I’m feeling like such an asshole, you have no idea.”

Adam, bless his heart, still doesn’t say a thing. Sutan is glad for that. The last thing he needs is to shy away from the truth, and a share of, “But you didn’t mean it” or some shit like that won’t make him feel any better.

“You know how the heat is supposed to go away with the first bite?” Sutan waits until Adam nods before he continues, “It didn’t. I should have known, since he isn’t a beta, but I had no idea.”

“You do remember all the knowledge we have on omegas is mostly lore, right? No one knows what’s true and what isn’t anymore. So much changed…”

Adam is only stating a fact, but in the state Sutan has worked himself into, it doesn’t help him in any kind of way. “I know that. But I’ve been spending most of my time with him. I should have noticed how close he was to heat. If I had, I’d at least have been prepared.” He sneers in disgust. “Instead, I betrayed his trust in the worst way I could.”

Tightening his grip on Sutan’s hand, Adam says, as gently as he can, “We’ve all seen the way he looks at you—”

Sutan practically rips his fingers out of Adam’s hand. “It isn’t an excuse. The way he was acting around me wasn’t enough to give me permission to do what I did. Hell, Adam, you know why I’m always fighting that kind of instinct.” It’s the one part he hates about being a were. The rest, he’s never had a problem with, even though he’ll never understand the inherent violence he can feel in some others. But this? The drive to mate and, because he’s an alpha, to take, to own? Without caring about the other person’s feelings? He always hated it. Probably always will.

Sighing, he whispers, “He couldn’t get away from me fast enough. He couldn’t wait to wash my scent off his skin. He was crying when he thought I couldn’t hear him. I’ll be lucky if I can preserve our friendship.”

After that outburst, Adam stays silent. Sutan has a feeling it’s because he has no idea how to react to Sutan’s pain, and not because any of Sutan’s arguments convinced him. But he’s glad for the reprieve.

***

Of course, it would be too much to hope that Adam would simply let it go. He doesn’t add anything else, and he doesn’t try again, but Sutan can feel Adam’s eyes on him whenever they are in the same room. It’s irritating because there’s no way Sutan can call him out on it when Adam does nothing but stare.

And then there’s Tommy, who’s trying hard to act like nothing’s changed but always has this little moment of hesitation before he steps into Sutan’s space, like a residue of fear that breaks Sutan’s heart every time. How did he manage to fuck things up this badly?

Days go by, and Sutan expects Adam, or maybe Terrance, to say something, anything. He knows them both well enough to know that they won’t leave him alone that easily.

Instead, it’s Ashley who seeks him out, one afternoon when he walks onto the back porch to watch Tommy and Allison train with Brian. He thought he could enjoy this moment without being seen, but obviously that was asking too much.

It takes her a couple of minutes to finally say something, though, and in the end, it’s Sutan who breaks the silence. “Did Adam ask you to talk to me?”

She smiles, looking over at the others. “Not really. He mentioned that he had no idea how to talk to you and I thought I might be able to help.”

“Why is that?” Sutan asks, curiosity piqued.

She looks at him in the eyes. “Because I’m mated. I know more about the heat than you or Adam do.”

Sutan shakes his head. “You’re a dominant were, Ash. You’ve never experienced the heat, anymore than we have.”

“You’re right. But you know this amazing thing called communication? Me and Brian are actually good at it.” She smiles mischievously. “I’m starting to think we should give you lessons.”

Sutan can’t help but laugh, yet he says, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Let me try and see if I get it right.” She turns to face him, ticking things off her fingers as she lists them. “He went into heat – which is partly my fault and I’m sorry for that, by the way, I had no idea he was that close. And when you bit him, it didn’t chase the heat away so you fucked him and now you’re beating yourself up over it. Correct?”

“Not that far from the truth, yeah,” Sutan admits, smiling a little.

Ashley nods, as if Sutan just confirmed what she thought. “You know the heat is a cycle, right? He was probably too far gone in it because you both let it go on without doing a thing, and that’s why the bite wasn’t enough to bring him back. It sucks, I agree with you, but it happens. It’s not such a big deal.”

Sutan makes an effort not to let anger grab him again. He practically bites the words out. “It doesn’t change a thing about the fact that he wasn’t conscious of what was happening.”

“Yes, he was.”

Staring at Ashley, Sutan finds nothing on her face but pure certainty.

“The first bite is enough to clear the fog of the heat. It isn’t much, sure, but it’s enough that they know what’s happening. Most of their reactions are real, too, not just a result of the heat.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sutan turns away. He hears Ashley sigh.

“Yes, I do. You think I’ve never felt like a bad person because of some of the things I’ve done to Brian?” From the corner of his eyes, Sutan sees her shake her head. “Heat cycles are a pain in the ass. For everyone. We do the best we can, but sometimes we don’t really have a choice.”

“I get what you’re saying, Ash. But you’re wrong.”

“Why? Because Tommy isn’t a beta?”

It’s barely a whisper, low enough to make sure that Sutan is the only one to hear her.

He stares at her. “How—”

“Not that hard to guess.” Ashley shrugs. “Seeing how skittish he was when we met him, and how scared he seemed to be of Adam and Terrance. Even you, sometimes.”

“If you know, then you should understand why I can’t believe you.”

“Yeah, I get it.” She looks him in the eyes, deadly serious. “Maybe I’m wrong. But the only way to find out is to talk to him.”

“It isn’t that simple.”

“Yes, it is!” Ashley’s obviously losing the little patience she had left. “Tell him why we offered him shelter. Tell him the truth, for once. It’s the only hope you have of fixing this mess.”

“No.” Hearing laughter, he turns toward the backyard, smiling when he sees Tommy on his back, trying to get Allison, in full wolf form, off him. She isn’t budging, and even though she’s in wolf form, Sutan could swear he sees her smiling. “I’ve waited too long, Ash. You know what he is. How do you think it will sound to him if I tell him everything now? If I tell him why Adam was so easy to convince to let him stay?”

“The truth is always worth knowing, Sutan.”

“For you, maybe. He was…” Sutan trails off, sighs. How can he hope to explain it? “He was on the run for most of his life, ever since he was bitten. If I tell him now… It would be telling him that we opened our doors to him only because I knew, from the moment I met him, that he was my mate. It would be telling him that it never was just the friendship he thinks he’s found. It would be telling him that I’m, in fact, no better than those alphas he was desperate to run away from.”

He knows that Ashley understands what he’s saying and why, but from the hard set of her jaw, it’s easy to figure out that she doesn’t agree. “Maybe I should tell him, then.”

Without thinking, Sutan lets his instincts speak for him and practically growls at her, “Don’t you dare.”

Ashley’s frozen into place, but there isn’t a hint of fear on her. “I’d like to see you try and stop me.”

Sutan takes a step toward her, and another, until he’s towering over her small frame. “Oh, I will. You can bet I will.”

He can see the slight tremor that goes through her, but when he pays closer attention, he realizes that she’s shaking with anger. “Don’t do this. You have no right.”

“I do. You know I do.”

She raises her head to look him in the eyes, even though it’s obvious she has to fight him every step of the way. “Don’t do this. Please, Sutan.”

It’s the plea that makes Sutan realizes how far he’s gone. Fucking hell, this isn’t who he is. He takes a step back, but he doesn’t apologize. He can’t. “As long as you promise me that you won’t say a thing to him.”

Ashley shakes her head. “I still think you’re making a mistake.”

“Maybe. But it’s my choice, not yours.”

“All right.” Ashley sighs. “I promise that if he hears it from anyone, it won’t be me. Happy?”

“Thank you.” Slowly, Sutan turns his attention to the backyard. “You should join them. Brian looks like he’s about to come over here and rip my throat out.”

He can hear Ashley laugh beside him, low and pleased. “You can bet he’s tempted. He had to feel it, you know, when you tried to compel me.”

Sutan sighs. Why does he keep making a bigger mess with every step he takes? “Will that be a problem?”

“No, it won’t. As long as you never do that again. Ever.” Her voice is deadly serious.

Sutan could kick himself when he hears her. He’d forgotten everything about her past and acted just like the alpha they rescued her from. “I promise.”

She acknowledges him with a little nod then takes a couple of steps toward the others. At the last minute, like an afterthought, she says, “You know, the heat doesn’t create desires where there are none. All it does is exacerbate what already exists.”

Sutan can’t help but smile when he realizes that she’s still trying, no matter how harsh he was with her. Still, he only says, “It might not be quite the same thing with him.”

“Maybe,” Ashley agrees. “But you can’t know that for sure unless you talk to him.”

***

Sutan is aware that Ashley’s right, but he can’t bring himself to listen to her advice. He still thinks that he’s waited far too long. As much as he couldn’t have explained the situation to Tommy all those months ago, for fear of sending him on the run again, doing so now, after what happened the other night, would make the whole thing appear far worse than it actually is. As if Sutan had manipulated every conversation since they met to achieve his goals. That isn’t true, but he can’t figure out a way to say it that won’t make Tommy scared of him. So he doesn’t say a thing; instead he waits, and he hopes.

Their easy friendship from before isn’t completely gone, but it isn’t as simple as it once was either. They’ve reached an uneasy kind of truce, one that involves just as much talking but a lot less cuddling in Sutan’s bed. He misses it but can’t bring it up, not after what happened.

He keeps his distance because that seems to be what Tommy wants – even though he can practically hear Ashley rolling her eyes at him just at the thought. Until March rolls around and with it the Spring Moon that has everyone antsy to run.

That evening, he finds Tommy standing in the backyard as the sun disappears. Allison is standing by his side, looking ready to burst.

“You’re running with us, right?”

He sees Tommy’s back stiffen. “I can’t.”

Tommy stares at Allison when she doesn’t ask why, but by now, she knows better than to ask. She’s aware that everyone has their secrets and don’t have to talk to her about them if they don’t want to. It makes Sutan smile. She’s come a long way since they took her in.

He barely waits until Allison’s attention is elsewhere, doesn’t even think before he steps close to Tommy and molds himself to his back. “I could help. If you let me.”

Within seconds, he feels the tension seep out of Tommy as he rests his weight on Sutan. “How?”

“With a temporary bite.” The word temporary burns Sutan’s mouth, and he has to force it out. It’s so fucking far from what he really wants, but with the way things turned out, he’ll be happy with what he can get. “Once it’s done, all you need is to stick close to me. With my reputation, no one who isn’t pack will dare approach you.”

Tommy’s hesitation hurts a lot more than Sutan expected it to, but he doesn’t push. He’s aware that he doesn’t have the right.

“It’s the only way I can run tonight, isn’t it?”

Sutan hates how the question implies that if there was any other way, Tommy wouldn’t do this. Still he does his best to keep his feelings in check. This isn’t about him. “Probably. I’m sorry.”

Tommy sighs. “Do it, please. I need to run.” He tilts his head to the side, exposing his neck.

Sutan brings him closer with an arm around his waist, completely unprepared for the sucker punch of want-need-mine that goes through him. He has to wait until he can take a deep breath, then another, until he’s sure that he has himself back under control.

Then he lowers his head and bites, his werewolf’s teeth piercing Tommy’s skin, marking him. The bite will disappear. They’ll let it heal just as they did the previous one – and the next one, maybe. If this is all Sutan can get, he sees no reason not to do it again, especially since he’s aware it will keep Tommy’s heat at bay. For now, though, Sutan allows himself to enjoy the sight of his mate wearing his bite. It isn’t real, it will never be, but he doesn’t care.

Sutan always thought nothing could compare to running with his pack – his family – on a Spring Moon. Now he realizes that he was wrong. Running with Tommy by his side is even more exhilarating. Especially since he doesn’t have to fight his instincts. Here they are welcome and help to keep away everyone who would otherwise come after Tommy. He can feel them, sometimes, just on the edge of his thoughts, and he scares them away as fast as he can. Anything to let Tommy keep the happiness of running under the Spring Moon and enjoy it for the first time.

At the end of the night, when the sun is coming up and they’re all curled around each other in a big puppy pile, Sutan feels Tommy make his way through the pack until he can snuggle against Sutan’s side. He has to fight his instincts and remind himself, once again, that this isn’t real, but he can’t resist resting his muzzle on Tommy’s fur. Tommy’s happy sigh is all he needs to be convinced that he’s doing the right thing.

***

They fall back into a routine after that evening. It isn’t as easy as it once was – Sutan doesn’t think it will ever be – but it’s a little easier, at least. Or maybe it’s that he’s busy enough that, if it isn’t, he doesn’t notice.

They have a couple of weeks of respite until Adam and Terrance have dinner with them at the house, surprising everyone. Adam has so little free time, with all the promo he’s doing for his album and the upcoming tour that it’s the last thing they expected. As soon as he steps foot in the house, however, they can all see that something is wrong.

They make it through dinner before Adam finally says, “I had… trouble, with my band.” Everyone flinches, and he shakes his head. “Not that kind of trouble. No one died. But I’m gonna need someone on keys and on bass. And since we already have far too many outsiders and humans coming along, I want someone who’s pack.”

“Why are you looking at us like…” Ashley trails off. “For fuck’s sake, Adam, we can’t. You know why.”

“How can you be so sure? Maybe they’re not looking for you anymore.”

Ashley sighs. “You’re right. But considering they wanted me back badly enough to put a blood claim on my head, it’s not a risk I’m willing to take.”

She looks like she’s expecting Adam to argue again, but he only nods. “I get it. What about you?” He asks Brian. “You’ve been taking contracts, haven’t you?”

“Of the low visibility kind. That’s everything your tour isn’t going to be. I’m sorry.”

“This whole thing sucks.” Adam sighs. “Any suggestions?”

That’s when Sutan knows that those three must have a plan of some kind. Adam isn’t arguing enough, and even if that weren’t the case, Terrance’s presence, completely unnecessary, would give it away. However, Sutan can’t call them out on it as long as he doesn’t know what they’re planning.

“Ask Cam,” Brian says. “I’m pretty sure she’s free for the next couple of months.”

“As for bass,” Ashley smiles and looks at Tommy, “I might have a solution.”

Something not unlike panic washes over Tommy’s face as he pushes his chair away from the table. “I play guitar, remember? Not bass.”

Ashley shrugs. “But you’ve done it before.”

“It was a long time ago.”

“Point is, you wouldn’t have such a hard time picking it back up. And I could help you.”

“I…” Tommy trails off, staring at Adam over the table. “You’ve never heard me play. And you just said you wanted someone who’s pack.”

A very awkward silence follows, as if Adam is trying to figure out how to say it. It takes Sutan a few seconds to realize that Adam is actually waiting for him to say something. Terrance is staring at him over Tommy’s head, one eyebrow raised, and Sutan understands that Adam, Ashley and Brian staged the whole conversation just to give him a chance to tell Tommy the truth.

He’s tempted to take it, but as soon as the idea crosses his mind, he remembers Tommy trying to get away from him as fast as he could, the morning after. He looks back at Terrance and shakes his head.

Before the silence can go on too long, Adam says, “Both Ash and Brian told me the same thing: you’re good enough. I trust them. As for the rest, I should have asked you weeks ago. You have nowhere to go, and we’re not going to send you back on the run. You’ve been staying here long enough that you’re already part of us. If you want to.”

Tommy stares at each of them in turn. “Not that I don’t believe you, but packs usually only make that kind of offer to the mate of one of them. Not to an outsider.”

Once again, Terrance looks at Sutan to see if he’ll take the chance now that the door is wide open. He wants to – he can’t say how much he wants to – but the words stick in his throat.

In the end, it’s Ashley who says, light and sweet, “Haven’t you figured out by now that we’re not exactly a typical pack?”

It’s enough to make Tommy laugh, enough to give them all a chance to breathe and get their thoughts in order, to figure out what to say and what not to say in order to protect the truth that Sutan still refuses to say. He’ll owe them all big time when everything is said and done.

Adam smiles. “You’ve seen for yourself how many wanderers we have. You wouldn’t be the first one, and probably not the last, either. We’re not just offering you a place in a pack hierarchy, Tommy.”

They’re a family. Adam doesn’t need to say it, though. They can all see the moment when it dawns on Tommy, when he realizes everything they’ve become to him in the last year, everything he is, now, to them.

“I want to stay. If you’ll have me.”

There’s so much hope in Tommy’s expression, but Sutan forces himself to look away from it. He’s just seeing what he wants to see. Nothing more.

***

The packs wait until the next full moon to claim Tommy as one of them. In the meantime, Tommy starts practicing bass again, with Ashley’s help. It’s a very frustrating process, especially with the way Ashley smiles indulgently at him as she watches him use his guitar pick while she plucks at the strings on her bass. He understands what she’s doing, but he doesn’t have enough time to learn a whole new way of playing. Not when he barely has enough confidence in himself to believe that he’ll be ready to play by the time Adam needs him.

The thought is as exhilarating as it is scary. The idea that, in just a couple of weeks, night after night, he’ll be on stage in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people… It feels too good to be true.

But it is true, as crazy as it seems. From there, things go fast, and soon he’s meeting the other members of Adam’s band. He already knows Cam, who’s been at the house quite a few times in the last year. Monte and LP are, well, okay if you forget the suspicious way they look at Tommy if he gets a little too close. Then they start rehearsing for real.

He’s expecting things to be a lot harder, but between Adam, who’s made it clear that Tommy is pack and who has taken him under his wing, and Terrance, who seems to have a gift for appearing out of nowhere right when Tommy feels like he needs some back-up, it’s almost easy.

Soon Tommy’s caught in a whirlwind of rehearsals and preparation and learning a bunch of new things. The next full moon gets here before he can even realize how fast time passed.

When the full moon rolls around, Tommy’s a little worried, but he soon realizes that he already knows them all. The wanderers have better things to do than to try and make it back home to be introduced to a new pack member – that’s the responsibility of the people closest to Adam, and Tommy’s already met them all and spent time with them at the house.

There’s a few exceptions, of course, most of them band members, like Cam, or dancers, like Brooke. They decided that since they’ll be spending the next couple of months together in a bus that, at some point, will feel more like a tin can, it would make it easier on everyone to get to know each other a little beforehand.

He still has no idea what to expect, though. It must show on his face, because right before he joins the others, Sutan stops him and says, “You only need to let us in as far as you want. You know that, right?”

It surprises Tommy even if maybe it shouldn’t. As Ashley said, he should know by now that they’re far from a typical pack. But he was still expecting that he wouldn’t be able to keep his secret once he became part of their pack. Now that he realizes that he could, he has no idea what he’ll do. The idea didn’t even cross his mind before Sutan mentioned it.

They all know that Adam has already accepted him but this, tonight, isn’t about Adam. It’s about the pack itself deciding if Tommy is worthy of their trust, of their friendship. They all know what the outcome will be, since his situation is really far from the usual mating that leads to that kind of introduction, but it’s still stressful as hell.

He’s a little surprised when it’s Cam who detaches herself from the group and walks toward him. She’s a wanderer, after all, and as far as he knows, the only reason she’s here tonight is because she’s part of the band. When he hesitates, she shrugs. “I did say we needed to get to know each other better, right?”

It isn’t an explanation Tommy can buy that easily, but for now, he’s ready to take it. Cam offers her hand, palm up. Tommy slips his hand in hers, swallowing down a wave of panic when her hand turns halfway into a paw and her claws dig into his skin.

No matter what he was expecting, it wasn’t this. Instead of an intrusive presence that tries to figure him out, they offer him images. They look into him, sure, but only as far as he’s willing to let them in. Mostly they show him who they are, sharing bits and pieces of their memories.

Cam’s are inconsequential, as are those of the other wanderers present, who are only there because they were curious and wanted to smooth over any potential problems before they can arise.

Tommy isn’t expecting them to trust him, not really, until Allison’s face swim into his field of view. She’s smiling but her eyes are bright with tears.

It barely lasts a couple of minutes, but he sees everything. Camping with friends and not being as careful as they should have. The lot of them being attacked by a wanderer. The bite. Allison’s pain, her fear. A moment during the Idol’s process, crying in her mother’s arms because there was an incident and she was about to be disqualified. And Adam, with whom Allie already got along, stepping in and managing to solve everything with a few sentences and make even Allison’s suspicious mother trust him.

When Allison releases Tommy, he finds himself looking at Cam again. He acknowledges her with a small, respectful nod. She might be a wanderer, but she has to be a lot closer to Adam to be the one doing this. Without even asking, Tommy knows she’s heard it all, seen it all before. Nothing the others will show him tonight by going through her can surprise her.

Still, at that moment, he wonders if what just happened was because Allie was younger and her secrets weren’t exactly secrets. Everything he just saw, she’d already told him before, even if it wasn’t in so many details.

That thought flies right out of Tommy’s head when Brian’s memory hits him like a punch in the gut.

A fight that he barely got out of alive and only because Ashley did a stupid thing and allowed herself to be caught so he could run. As if there was any doubt that he’d come back for her.

Brian’s still covered in claw marks that he hides as best as he can, but he can’t take the time he needs to heal. Not if he wants Ash to still be whole and sane when he finally manages to get her out of the living hell she’s caught in.

Now all Brian can hope is that Cam, who sent him here, didn’t lie to him. If she did, his life will be forfeit as soon as he tells the whole truth, and from the suspicious way Adam is looking at him, Brian knows he’ll need to do just that.

“What are you asking for?” Adam asks.

“I need a diversion so I can get my girl out of there. And a place to stay afterward, long enough for both of us to heal.”

The silence lasts far too long for Brian to be comfortable with it. Then Sutan, who hasn’t said a word since they started talking, says, “There’s one thing I don’t understand. No alpha would risk losing a beta female by making such a fuss over a beta pair they don’t approve of. What is it that you’re not telling us?”

He can’t help the overwhelming fear that surrounds him, so powerful that it’s impossible to hide it. Without giving himself time to think it over, Brian pulls on the collar of his shirt and tilts his head to the side, exposing the bite mark on his neck. “She’s not wearing my bite. I wear hers.”

Adam and Sutan look at each other, without saying a word. Brian forces himself to wait, and wait, aware that there’s nothing more he can say. All the explanations in the world don’t change facts.

This is what he and Ashley both wanted, needed. This is who they are. But her whole pack kept telling them that it was wrong, unnatural. Forbidden.

It feels like his head’s above the water and he’s able to really breathe for the first time in far too long when Adam says, “We’ll help you.”

Tommy barely has time to take a breath. He can’t believe how far they’re willing to trust him.

It takes him a couple of seconds to realize that the next memory is coming from Ashley. It’s just a mess of sensations, pain so deep that it cuts to the very bone. Marks that aren’t given time to heal before she has to endure them all over again. Words that stick in her mind and steal her sanity, little by little: beta bitch who needs to be reminded of her place.

In the midst of it all, when she’s about to give up hope, gentle hands free her from her bonds. The soft blanket that they wrap her in. Someone carries her like she weighs nothing more than a feather.

And Brian’s voice, again and again, telling her that she’s safe now, that they will be okay, that he’s here and never leaving her behind again.

Still it takes her days to trust that it’s really him and not just a trick being played on her.

The memory fades, leaving Tommy to imagine how many weeks – months – were needed for them both to heal until only the scars were left behind.

For a second, Tommy takes his attention off Cam and looks at Adam. For the first time, he’s starting to believe what Adam told him when they took him in. Nearly everyone in our pack has been an outcast at one point or another.

Adam’s gaze catches Tommy’s, and suddenly, Tommy can’t look away.

The full moon is high in the sky, and Adam is fighting for his life. He should be scared, but he isn’t.

He knows, deep in his bones, that Sutan doesn’t want this fight anymore than he does. Neither of them is really trying to win because winning would mean killing the other.

They’ve barely given each other a few scratches. If Adam has his way, it’s the worst that will happen.

They keep circling each other, both pretending but in fact, barely trying.

Until Adam has Sutan pinned, his teeth inches away from Sutan’s throat, a moment away from the final blow.

Instead, Adam releases Sutan and waits until Sutan is back on his paws and shaking himself before he shifts back to his human form.

Sutan follows suit. Seconds later, he has Adam backed up against a tree, holding him by the throat. “What the fuck was that?”

“I won’t kill you.”

As soon as he says that, Sutan tightens his hand around Adam’s throat. Panic is nowhere in sight, though. Adam’s aware he’s not in any real danger.

“Do you know what will happen if you don’t?”

Through the pressure on his throat, Adam drags in just enough air to say, “Tell me.”

Sutan relents, just enough that Adam can feel the difference. “You’ll come to doubt me, every minute of every day. You’ll wonder if and when I’ll move against you. Over time, the possibility will turn into a certainty. You’ll think of what will happen when I decide that I’ve had enough of playing sidekick and want my pack back. You won’t even doubt that it will happen one day. Either you’ll hate me, or you’ll hate yourself for leaving me alive today.”

Adam barely dares to breathe, all of his being focused on letting Sutan believe he proved his point. It’s only when Sutan finally releases him that he asks, “Would you?”

Sutan narrows his eyes at Adam, who does his best to stay right where he is, his back against the tree. “Would I what?”

“Challenge me.”

Seconds later, Sutan is back in Adam’s space. “You won’t care, Adam. Give it a matter of days. Weeks, if we’re lucky. No matter what I tell you, you won’t believe me. You’ll get to the point where you can’t stand the idea of a second alpha in your pack, especially an older one.”

Adam doesn’t believe him, but he has no idea how to convince Sutan. In the end, he says, “I have no need to kill you.”

It’s enough to leave Sutan speechless, but it’s just the truth. The urge for Adam to assert his authority, to get rid of the very man who taught him everything he needed to know, is nowhere in sight.

“You’re lying.”

Adam shrugs. “Have a look if you don’t believe me.”

He forces himself to remain unmoving, not to flinch when Sutan’s hand is back at his throat. He knows he’s not in any real danger, but he needs his wolf to believe it, too.

It’s easier than he thought it would. Beyond the alpha’s instincts, deeper and more powerful, there’s the trust between he and Sutan.

Sutan releases Adam and takes a step back, frowning. He’s seen that Adam is telling the truth, but he seems to still have a hard time believing it. “It’s impossible for someone that young to have so much self-control…”

Adam shrugs. “I had a good teacher.”

The words shock a laugh out of Sutan. Slowly, he steps away from Adam. “You want me in your pack?”

“You were my mentor, and you’re still my friend. If I’m the one who get to choose, you’re not going anywhere.”

“I don’t want to go, either.” Sutan walks to another tree then turns his back on Adam, grabbing onto the tree. He looks at Adam over his shoulder. “All you need to do is to accept me.”

The idea makes Adam’s breath catch in his throat. He follows Sutan as if he’s being pulled along by an invisible rope. “Your wolf will let me?”

Sutan smiles. “My wolf wants to keep its home more than anything else. Go ahead.”

Adam has a hard time believing this is really happening, even as he lets his hand change halfway into paw and marks Sutan’s back like he would with a beta.

Tommy blinks as he tries to catch his breath. He knows they’re far from being a typical pack, but there’s big difference between knowing it and being hit in the face – repeatedly – with the truth.

He turns toward Cam again, thinking that maybe, after Adam’s memory, they’ve come full circle.

Then he realizes that they have, which means that it’s now his turn. He takes a deep breath and lets his feelings and memories slip through, focusing on the one that will explain everything.

Tommy turns twenty-one tonight. It’s his coming of age, the moment when he’ll be accepted as a full member of his pack.

The alcohol flows, but he isn’t allowed any. No one wants him to change before he’s ready.

This is one of those moments when the whole pack comes home. Even those who aren’t part of the main core and who Tommy barely knows. Even the few wanderers attached to his pack have come home from all over the country.

On occasions like this, he usually sticks to his father’s side, or to Lisa’s. He never feels comfortable around strangers.

Tonight, it’s different. He can’t hide because they’re all there to see him, to meet him. Tommy loses count of the number of times he’s hugged and gets his hair ruffled and is called “little brother.”

It’s late in the evening when Tommy and his family finally make it back to their house. While coming of age is a celebration that every were of a pack attends, the bite and the first shift that it triggers are private and meant for family only.

So no one is allowed to enter their place but Tommy, his father, his mother, his sister, and William, their alpha.

Tommy can’t wait. All his friends are already of age. As happy as he was for them when they got the bite, it hurts to see them change and run every full moon while he has to stay home as if he was still a kid.

He understands the rules and their purpose. He knows that the point is to make sure that the human body has time to mature before it needs to learn the shape of the wolf. So that the young were’s mind has time to mature before meeting the wolf. So that when they finally come of age, the youngster understands this isn’t just about finally being able to shift. It’s about taking their place in the pack, being part of a whole.

William is about the same age as Tommy’s father and Tommy’s always seen him as more of an uncle and less of an alpha. Although Tommy would never dare disobey him. Hearing him say, “We’re all so proud of you, Tommy Joe,” makes Tommy’s heart beat faster, like it’s about to burst right out of his chest. He can feel it. He will be one of them. Finally.

The bite hurts more than Tommy was expecting it to. But it’s worth it, if only for the moment when Lisa guides him to his bed with gentle arms. When his mother kisses his forehead like she did when he was a kid. When his father rests his hand on Tommy’s shoulder and says, “Sleep, Tommy. After you wake up, we’ll run together.”

Tommy sleeps. But when he wakes up, nothing is as they promised.

People are screaming all around him. As soon as he opens his eyes, Lisa presses her fingers against Tommy’s mouth. She looks scared out of her mind.

Please, Tommy. Pretend you’re asleep. Pretend you’re not awake yet. Please.

Her fear is so overwhelming, Tommy feels like he’s about to choke. Before he closes his eyes again, he sees his mother with her back against the wall, her fist pressed against her mouth like she’s trying not to cry, or scream, or both.

“Stay the hell away from my son!” Anger sounds like it’s about to give way to panic in his father’s voice.

Tommy bites his lip. He can feel the energy all around the room. Anger and resentment and madness, and he knows, he just knows that it’s all because of him. That instead of his long-awaited first change, something went awfully wrong.

Fear claws at his insides. What the fuck is wrong with him?

Then he hears it. The thought ripples through the whole pack as those who didn’t know yet suddenly learn what he is. Fear and disgust follow in the wake of the word.

One word, repeated over and over again. One word that makes Tommy feel like someone dumped him in a pool of freezing cold water. One word that makes him realize that everything he thought, everything he imagined about his future will never happen.

Tommy curls on the bed and hides his face in the pillow, his body shaking with silent sobs. He barely feels Lisa’s hand tracing circles on his back, trying to bring him what little comfort she can.

Tommy’s world comes crashing down on him, until it’s reduced to barely recognizable pieces.

He isn’t a beta. He’s cursed. He probably won’t even be allowed to live.

All because of that one word, the worst insult you could call a were when Tommy was still a child.

Omega.

Cam’s surprised gasp brings him back to reality. “Omega?”

He drops his gaze. “Yeah. Now you know.”

He tries to take a step back, but Cam tightens her grip on him. His breath catches in his throat as she brings him to his knees.

“We made our secrets yours.” Her voice comes out loud and clear. “But your secrets are ours too. We’ll protect them, and you, with everything we have, as long as you’re worthy of our trust.”

The words bring tears to Tommy’s eyes. The hint of formality is just what he needed, familiar without bringing back too many painful memories.

All of his doubts forgotten, he says, “I will be.”

Later that night, they all run together. For the first time, Tommy feels likes he’s part of a whole. He runs and runs and doesn’t have to worry, because they all know and they don’t care. Except for how they’re all sticking close to him, ready to protect him from any intruders.

Other full moons won’t be as simple, he knows it. Soon most of the wanderers will be gone again, and they won’t run as a pack. He’ll need Sutan’s bite again, the illusion that keeps every were away from him. For now, though, he’s enjoying this little bit of freedom while he can.

They stop near a lake, and most of them change back to human. Tommy hesitates before he realizes that they’re still within pack territory. They’re safe. Still he can’t help but look for Sutan and lie down beside him before he changes.

“Do you mind?” Tommy’s voice is barely above a whisper.

“Not at all. Come here, sweetheart.” Tommy lets Sutan pull him closer and he curls next to Sutan. It isn’t much, but it feels like things are slowly going back to the way they were. He’s glad of it.

His back still aches from Adam’s mark. He’d been wondering if the fact that he was already marked would be a problem, but as the others change back to human, he realizes that very few of them wear only one mark. Adam’s mark is nearly always a fresher one on top of an old scar, a sure sign that most of them have been part of another pack before.

They rest for a while. Allison disappears into the lake as soon as people start changing, Cam on her heels. When she finally comes out, it looks like she’s trying to hide behind her hair. She lies down on her front, staring at Tommy, and once more he’s reminded how very young she is, how everything must be so hard for her since she was raised as human.

“Go ahead. Ask. I can see you’re dying to.”

Her eyes shine with excitement, and Tommy can’t help but smile. If letting her ask what she wants will distract her from the fact that there is no blanket within easy reach for her to hide behind, he really doesn’t mind.

“I thought omegas were just a legend…”

Tommy chews on his lip as he tries to figure out what to say. “Not really. Just so rare that finding one in a pack is always… unexpected.” And perceived like a curse, but he’s not going to say that.

Allison seems to hesitate a little before she asks, “What about babies?”

It’s so surprising that Tommy can do nothing but stare. He’s saved from replying by Ashley who snickers and says, fondly, “Oh, Allie…”

Allison turns around to glare at Ashley. “Well, puppies. You know what I mean!”

It only makes Ashley laugh harder.

“It’s in all the stories!”

The mere thought makes Tommy shudder. As if he’d need that on top of everything else. “That’s just lore.”

Sutan’s whispered, sarcastic, “Oh. I was worried for a second,” has Tommy flipping him off. Still he smiles. If he and Sutan can joke about it, it means that they have a chance to fix things. Maybe.

“Really?” Allison nearly sounds disappointed.

“Really. There are some who think that at some point it was true, like, the whole turning into a female wolf, back when we had little enough human blood that we didn’t need the bite to trigger the first change, but not anymore.” Tommy shrugs. “If you ask me, the only parts that are still true are the annoying ones. You’ve all seen it.”

“But that isn’t lore,” Brian calls out. He’s lying on his back, his head in Ashley’s lap. “Submissive betas go through heat too.”

Tommy blinks. Even after what he’s seen, it takes him a second to remember how Brian knows that, and another before he dares to ask, “Is that why you’re such a good fighter?”

He can see Ashley stiffen, but Brian doesn’t seem to be offended. “Yeah. I didn’t really have a choice. I had to protect myself if I didn’t want to end up as somebody’s bitch. Especially since I’m not interested in guys.”

Adam sighs. “It shouldn’t be this way.”

“Sorry to remind you, Adam, but you’re an exception, not the rule.”

The conversation steers away from Tommy after that, and he’s glad. At least it gave him a couple more clues as to why they chose to take him in over a year ago.

Well, he thought he had it all figured out, but Sutan’s rejection made it clear that he was completely wrong.

***

Touring is everything and nothing like Tommy expected it to be, all at once. It’s exhausting, but he wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. He starts to understand why Ashley is so annoyed by the fact that she can’t play anymore: nothing can compare to the high of playing on stage.

Sutan comes along as Adam’s make-up artist. That helps a lot. As Adam said, there are a lot of outsider and humans among the crew. While Adam has made it clear that his weres aren’t to be messed up with, Tommy still feel better when he can stick to Sutan’s side. He knows he’s being ridiculous, but he spent so many years on his own that being surrounded by that many people all the time is a little scary.

Little by little, he opens up. It doesn’t help that outside of Sutan, Ashley and Brian are the ones he’s the closest to. It’s because they couldn’t come along that Tommy is there. Still he pushes himself outside his comfort zone a little more every day, and it works.

Enough that he falls asleep next to Cam during a bus ride and doesn’t realize it until Adam gently wakes them up. Enough that he can talk music with Monte and stand his ground even when they disagree.

Enough that, during a sound check, when he sees Adam make a move toward him and stop himself at the last second, he rolls his eyes and says, “You can grab me and stuff if you want.”

How the hell that leads to Adam kissing the shit out of him almost every night, he couldn’t say, but he doesn’t mind. He knows it doesn’t mean a thing, in part because somewhere along the way, Tommy stopped seeing Adam as an alpha and started seeing him as, well, Adam. Over-caring and thoughtful, always looking out for his weres but still leaving every single one of them free to live their lives as they wish. Even though they do have chemistry, it’s the annoying kind that Tommy experienced with every dominant were that crossed his path since he was bitten.

And it’s nothing like the real thing. Tommy understands that much from a couple of conversations he’s had with Brian since he became pack. Although he wouldn’t describe what he feels whenever Sutan is in the same room as the real thing, either. Not when he knows how one-sided it is.

There are moments when he doubts. On nights when Adam goes all possessive and alpha on Tommy’s ass and he knows that, somewhere, Sutan is watching and looking like he could murder them both. If it were anybody else, Tommy would call it jealousy. If the situation were anything but what it is, Tommy would think that Adam is doing it on purpose to make Sutan react. But he knows it’s impossible.

Still, Tommy would have to be lying to himself if he said that he doesn’t enjoy reaping the benefits of Adam’s attitude. On those nights when Sutan is suddenly all there in Tommy’s space like he’ll never let him go, Tommy feels nothing but the comfort of that first couple of months at the house, before everything got so complicated.

He still pushes himself to become friends with the others, all too aware that he’ll have to do without Sutan very soon. The tour has been extended to Asia and Europe, and while that’s awesome, it also means that Sutan isn’t coming along because of that TV show he’s doing. He’s promised to be around for the last two shows in LA, but it won’t be the same.

So in the meantime, Tommy make friends with the rest of the band and the dancers as best as he can, and he enjoys every little moment he can get with Sutan. There are times when he’s tempted to own up to the truth, to admit what he feels and why that stupid fucking night hurt him so much, but every time he thinks he might have an occasion, someone interrupts them.

By the time Sutan has to go, Tommy is determined, once again, to be happy with Sutan’s friendship. And if he still sees hints and glimpses of something more when Sutan is doing his make-up before the show, he does his best to ignore it, aware that he’s only seeing what he wants to see.

Then along comes Isaac. Tommy doesn’t know all the details, but LP leaves to tour with his own band and Isaac takes his place. Unsurprisingly, he’s another of Adam’s wanderers.

Surprisingly, from the moment they meet, Isaac and Tommy are like two peas in a pod.

They haven’t met before. Isaac wasn’t one of the wanderers present on the night of Tommy’s formal introduction to the pack. While Tommy knows that no one would dare try anything while on tour, he still has a hard time trusting someone just because they’re one of Adam’s.

The last thing he expects is how easy it is to be around Isaac, but it is. They get along so well, from the second they’re introduced, that it raises eyebrows all over the place. Or at least it would have, if it wasn’t for the fact that, around the same time that Tommy starts to feel that maybe, what there is between him and Isaac could be more than friendship, Adam and Terrance steal the spotlight.

Still, it’s obvious enough that, at some point through the European leg of the tour, Cam climbs on the bus to find them both curled on the couch. She blinks, surprised, then her eyes move from Tommy to Isaac and back again.

She looks like she’s about to ask Tommy something, but instead she looks at Isaac and says, “Don’t you have a girl back home?”

Isaac shrugs. “Sophie’s human. We’ve talked about it all. She doesn’t mind.”

Cam takes another look at Tommy, at the smile he suddenly can’t stop because before this, he wasn’t sure if he was just imagining things. She shakes her head but gives them both a fond smile. “Just be careful, you two.”

They are, but after that moment, Tommy allows himself to enjoy every second because he knows. He had no idea, before, if he was just seeing what he wanted to see, as he did with Sutan. He knew that he and Isaac could be great friends, messing around with each other, but he wasn’t sure because Isaac is hard to read, and after being wrong once, he doesn’t exactly trust his own feelings.

There is the way that Isaac never minds Tommy being such a cuddle slut, of course, but most of Adam’s weres are aware of how much time he spent on his own, deprived of human affection, and have a tendency to indulge him because of it. So Tommy thought that’s all it was. He’s happy to discover it isn’t.

It takes a couple more days for Tommy to understand that the reason Isaac feels so familiar, reminding him a little of Ashley, is that he’s a dominant beta. Isaac’s strong and sure and safe, in his own laid-back way, but never once does he make Tommy’s instincts go crazy the way Sutan can.

They are moving slowly, so very slowly, talking and learning about each other. Tommy almost feels normal, like he hasn’t spent the last couple of years on his own, shying away from everybody who crossed his way, human and were alike.

They are well into the European leg of the tour before things finally become serious, before Tommy wakes up to a warm bed and lazy morning kisses. They haven’t gone farther yet. They’re waiting to get back home, on safe and familiar ground, waiting until Tommy meets Sophie.

On one of those mornings, Tommy can’t help but ask, “What are we doing?”

Isaac traces the side of Tommy’s face with his fingers. “Seeing where this will take us. Isn’t it enough?”

Tommy slowly nods. Yes, it is. It’s comfortable and uncomplicated, in a way he never expected to find. Isaac is like an anchor in the middle of a storm, and Tommy is glad for the respite.

It could easily become more complicated, if everyone felt compelled to stick their nose in where they don’t belong. They don’t, though. After the Helsinki show, everyone is too busy messing with Adam and Terrance about Sauli to pay attention to what Tommy and Isaac are doing.

It starts the day after the show, when Adam is skyping with Ashley, Brian and Sutan, who’s at the house for a brief stop before going back to Drag Race.

They’re on the bus, in the middle of the day, and Adam has brought his laptop out to the common area so that everyone can talk a little. Tommy can’t help but think that if Adam had known what would happen, he wouldn’t have, but it’s a little late now.

The conversation goes smoothly until Sutan asks about pretty European boys. Before Adam can reply, Sasha grabs the newspaper – tabloid, really – that she’s brought along and says, “Well, we do know that he got lucky last night. Though the pictures are so bad that we can’t even tell if the boy was pretty.”

Adam hides his face into his hand while the tabloid switches hands. When it gets to him, Tommy squints and says, “Dude, we can barely recognize you.”

It could have stopped there, really, if it weren’t for Taylor, who suddenly says, “And it becomes even funnier if you remember that Terrance went out with Adam yesterday, but he somehow never made it back to our room.”

That gets eye rolls more than anything else, because Taylor is the youngest of them all and they tend to see him as a cute but annoying little brother. That is, until Ashley’s voice makes it through the skype connection, disbelieving, “Adam, why are you blushing?”

Suddenly all eyes are on Adam, who doesn’t have any make-up on yet and is, indeed, blushing to the very roots of his hair. One by one, heads turn to Terrance, who should be laughing the whole thing off and, instead, is rubbing the back of his head and looking embarrassed. “Guilty?”

That leaves them all speechless as Tommy asks, “But why would you…?”

The silence lasts until Brian connects the dots. “Wait a minute. You found yourselves a beta in fucking Finland?”

The whole room collapses into giggles. Through it all, Tommy can hear Sutan’s voice, “Only you two could get into that much trouble, boys. I swear…”

The sudden pang in Tommy’s chest is easily ignored when he feels Isaac’s arms close around him from behind. But the feeling stays with him the whole day, the kind of ache that he can’t understand. Or he could, maybe, but he refuses to try.

There’s no point in wishing for more than he can have.

***

Through the rest of the tour, Tommy is very, very glad that the whole Adam-Sauli-Terrance business is enough gossip to keep everyone occupied, leaving Isaac and him free to explore what could be without all of them looking all worried about him.

It’s nowhere near the madness of the heat, the roller-coaster of emotions Tommy went through when he experimented with Sutan. It’s more like finding a long lost friend. And if sometimes Tommy thinks it should be just a little more, that it doesn’t compare to the way he’s seen Ashley and Brian look at each other when they think no one is looking, he’s still content with the bond that’s slowly growing between him and Isaac.

They talk a lot, snuggled in bed, in the quiet mornings when Adam has a hundred obligations at once but everybody else is free until the sound check at some point in the afternoon.

If he were honest with himself, Tommy would admit that the reason why it feels so nice is because it reminds him of the first month spent at the house with Sutan. The long hours spent with Isaac, sometimes not saying anything at all, just being content with each other’s presence, ease the ache deep within Tommy’s chest.

He refuses to compare because it would be unfair to Isaac. And Isaac never asks, never pushes, as if he’s perfectly happy with taking things this slow.

It all changes with Amsterdam. Maybe it’s the pot they’ve all been smoking – because come on, it’s Amsterdam – or the way Adam and Tommy make out on stage, both high on pot and music. Maybe it’s the leftover boner that Tommy tries and fails to hide because subtlety isn’t his strong suit, especially when he’s high as a kite.

Whatever the reason, though, Tommy isn’t complaining at all when Isaac hauls him to their hotel room by the collar of his shirt. Or at least, Isaac tries, but he lets Tommy stop them every three steps to kiss some more; long, deep kisses full of a desire Tommy hasn’t allowed himself to feel in far too long.

It’s still nowhere what the heat felt like, but it’s another kind of high. Less complicated, without a bunch of issues taking over all the space between them.

Within seconds of entering their hotel room, Isaac crowds Tommy against the door, devouring his mouth, then his neck. Cold dread swallows Tommy from head to foot at the thought of a bite that he wants as much as he fears. His wolf howls deep in his head, refusing what his human side longs for.

It doesn’t happen, though. Instead, they tumble their way to the bed as they try to get rid of their clothes as fast as possible.

It’s all over too soon, a tight fit of skin against skin, deep, warm kisses, and Isaac’s hand jacking them both in a smooth rhythm that leaves them covered with sweat and come.

Later, Tommy lets himself drift as they lay side by side, Isaac tracing soft circles on Tommy’s neck with his fingertips.

“You’re not with me anymore, are you?” There’s no rebuke in Isaac’s voice. It’s just a question.

Tommy shrugs. “Tonight wasn’t what I was expecting.”

He can hear Isaac’s sharp intake of breath, but beyond that, Isaac doesn’t react. “It’ll be easier if we wait until we’re home, don’t you think? Adam would kill me if you go into heat while we’re still touring.”

Tommy wants to say that it hasn’t happened since Sutan and that there’s no risk, really, but he’s still caught in a daze and the words never make it out of his mouth.

“Besides, call me old school if you want, but I’d like to wait until you meet Sophie. She’s part of me, you know?”

“Yeah, I think I get it.” Tommy says, softly.

He can’t help but smile. Every time he thinks he has Adam’s pack figured out, something like this happens. There’s something about the way Isaac is so obviously in love with his human girl that makes Tommy pull him closer.

Before he falls asleep, though, he hears Isaac whisper, “It’s a good thing all the lore about omegas is wrong, though. I was expecting to have a much harder time resisting you.”

It leaves Tommy’s speechless. With the number of packs he’s had chasing him over the years, he knows a lot of the lore is actually true. The only betas he’s ever been safe around are the ones who are completely submissive, and they are very, very rare.

Since he’s already half-asleep, he doesn’t say a thing. The next day, he doesn’t dare, because the last thing he wants is to wonder why he feels that way to Isaac.

***

Before the last two shows in LA, they do exactly that. Tommy meets Sophie and is charmed by her easy way of looking at life. All three of them agree to take things slow, especially since the urge of the heat is nowhere in sight.

Tommy can’t help but think that it’s a little too simple. On the night of the first LA show, he realizes that he was right.

It’s the first time he’s seen Sutan in weeks but there’s a wall of coldness between them, harsh, as if even their friendship didn’t survive his heat.

They barely exchange a word as Sutan does Tommy’s make-up. The air between them feels potent and deadly, making Tommy feel like he’s about to choke.

Before the show, he goes looking for Isaac, only to have him ask, “Why didn’t you tell me you’re mated?”

Shocked, Tommy shakes his head. “Because I’m not.”

Isaac’s eyebrows go up. “But… Sutan? I was wondering why I didn’t react to you more than that, but I got my answer as soon as I saw you with him.”

“Something happened last year, but it wasn’t serious. We’re not together.” Every word is painful to get out. Tommy hopes that Isaac will drop the subject.

Of course, he doesn’t. “Why? Anyone with eyes can see that you’re in love with him.”

Tommy gives Isaac a sad smile. “It must not be as easy to see that he doesn’t want me.”

For a second it looks like Isaac is about to ask something else, but he doesn’t. Tommy lets out a relieved breath.

The show goes smoothly, and for an hour, Tommy can forget everything and lose himself in the high of music.

Only to have it come crashing down on him when, at the after-party, he has to watch a twink trying to climb Sutan like a tree. The boy is human, so it doesn’t hurt as much as it might if he was a were. Tommy knows that he shouldn’t let it bother him so much, but the fact that Sutan isn’t making that much of an effort to push the boy away is ripping Tommy apart.

It might be why Sophie joins him at the bar, where he’s trying to drown in his beer, and asks, “Why don’t you come back home with me and Isaac tonight?”

“Didn’t Isaac tell you…?”

“Yes, he did.” Sophie rests a gentle hand on Tommy’s shoulder. “But I have a feeling that you could use a friend right now. Am I wrong about that?”

Tommy looks down to his glass. “Yeah. You’re right.”

“Come on, then. It will be a lot better for you than trying to drown in your cup.”

That night, in the safety of Isaac and Sophie’s home, Tommy tells them everything. He lets them hold him and pet him and whisper to him that it will be okay. They’re all aware by now that this will probably never become what they were hoping it could be, but the friendship Isaac and Sophie are offering is exactly what Tommy needs right now.

He falls asleep between the two of them only to wake up a couple of hours later, while it’s still pitch black outside, to find that Isaac’s side of the bed has gone cold. Realizing that what woke him up is the hushed whisper of Isaac’s voice, soft enough that it’s only thanks to his were side that Tommy heard him, Tommy gently undoes the grip of Sophie’s arms around him and gets out of bed. He follows the sound of Isaac’s voice to the living room.

Tommy stops right outside the archway leading to the living room. “I don’t care, Adam. Explain.” A small pause, but before Tommy has the time to take a step, Isaac’s voice stops him dead in his tracks. “What the fuck do you mean, I can’t tell Tommy?”

Doing his best not to be caught eavesdropping, Tommy retreats back to the bedroom. Whatever comes next, he has a feeling he doesn’t want to hear it.

But it’s hard not to hear anything, especially since Isaac isn’t as careful as he was before his outburst. “Well, you can tell Sutan he’s being an idiot.”

Tommy gets back into bed, but even after Isaac hangs up and joins them again, sleep refuses to come.

The next morning, his lack of sleep is clear to see in his nonstop yawning, but the last thing he wants is to talk about it.

Instead, half-way through breakfast, Isaac asks, “Why don’t you stay with us for a little while?”

Tommy shrugs. It’s what they’d originally planned, but that was before they all realized that what they were hoping for wouldn’t happen. “I don’t wanna bother you guys.”

“He wouldn’t offer it if it was a problem to us,” Sophie says, gently. “And a change of air might be good for you, don’t you think?”

Tommy gives her a soft smile. “Yeah. It could.”

“That’s it, then. You’re staying” Isaac says, like it’s the easiest thing in the world.

Tommy’s smiles widen. It feels good to have people so intent on watching his back.

***

Tommy spends the next couple of weeks living with Isaac and Sophie. He’s aware that the reason he feels so comfortable around them is because the easy, no strings attached friendship they offer reminds him of the way it was between him and Sutan when they first met, before everything became so fucked up. But he can’t find it in himself to mind.

Besides, being around them soothes the ache that otherwise Tommy would feel all the time, deep inside him, like he’s lost a part of himself, and not just a friend.

He was expecting to miss living at the house, but things between him and Sutan have been different for so long now that he doesn’t, not really. He misses their easy companionship but he still lets Isaac and Sophie heal him in their own way.

He could have missed the others, too, given all the time he spent with Ashley and Brian before touring. However, thanks to another shuffle in the band – the kind that Tommy won’t dare ask about because the reason puts Adam on edge for weeks afterward – and Cam reminding them that she only agreed to a temporary thing and can’t stay on board, he doesn’t get a chance to miss them. With the new year, Ashley is finally released from the blood claim made by her former pack, which forced her to stay home. She takes her rightful place on bass, Brian replaces Cam on keys, and Adam, instead of telling Tommy that he won’t need him anymore as Tommy was expecting, asks if he’d be willing to play guitar.

Ashley teases Tommy for weeks about the sound he makes when Adam asks him, but no matter what she believes, it wasn’t a squeal. He doesn’t even mind the teasing. He’s far too happy just knowing that he still belongs among them.

Tommy meets Sauli at Adam’s birthday party. If Sauli is just a little too enthusiastic and has a little too much energy – seriously, just hearing him talk a mile a minute leaves Tommy out of breath – he and Tommy still get along surprisingly well.

He soon realizes that he isn’t the only one surprised at how easy it is to be around Sauli. After the night in Helsinki, they’d all assumed that it was just a drunken hook-up, only to understand later that Adam and Terrance are both dead serious about him. Besides, anyone with eyes can see that all three of them are in love with each other already, to the point of trying to figure out their way through any problems that arise. And even though none of them will say it, Tommy knows that they must have had their fair share of trouble, what with two alphas falling for the same beta.

It’s a matter of weeks before they ask to have Sauli formally introduced to the rest of the pack. It’s very fast, and Tommy knows that he’s not the only one who thinks so, but the three of them look so happy together that no one has the courage to refuse them.

The ritual stays the same from one pack to the other, and it’s usually one of the more experienced betas who’s responsible for it. So Tommy’s completely lost when Ashley and Sutan join him on the back porch, where he’s drinking a beer and trying not to freak out at being back here, to ask him to lead the ritual.

He looks from one of them to the other and back again. “Why me?”

“Because this way, you can be sure that what you show him of yourself, and what you don’t, is your choice.” Sutan says, moving his hand toward Tommy and stopping himself at the last second. “Your secrets are the pack’s secrets only to the extent that we’ll keep them for you. You don’t have to tell him everything if you don’t want to.”

The protective edge in Sutan’s voice is something that Tommy hasn’t had directed at him in so long that it brings tears to his eyes. He blinks them away as fast as he can. “All right. I’ll do it.”

“I’m gonna tell the others.” Without waiting for an answer, Ashley walks back inside the house, all but closing the door in their faces.

Tommy can’t help but smile at that. She’s obviously given up on trying to be subtle.

His smile disappears as soon as he glances at Sutan and notices the way Sutan is doing everything he can to avoid Tommy’s gaze.

“Why did everything become so fucked up?” He only realizes he said this aloud when Sutan stares at him.

“Because we let it happen.”

The little distance between them is almost physically painful, but Tommy doesn’t dare take a step toward Sutan.

Instead of heading back to join the others and trying to ignore everything again, Tommy says, “I miss this. Us. So badly that it hurts all the fucking time.” He sighs, looks down at the ground. “Why does it have to be so complicated?”

“Oh, sweetheart. Come here.”

Without thinking, Tommy lets Sutan pull him into a hug. He clings to Sutan, breathing in the scent of alpha and home and safety. It feels so right that he can barely fight the sob trying to rip its way out of his throat.

“I don’t know if you can forgive me for what I did, and I know it’s incredibly selfish for me to ask.” With gentle fingers under Tommy’s chin, Sutan makes him tilt his head. “Please come back to the house. It feels awfully empty without you.”

It isn’t exactly what Tommy was hoping to hear – and he really doesn’t understand what there is to forgive – but it’s a lot more than what he was hoping for tonight. “I’d love to.”

***

Later in the evening, when Adam, Terrance and Sauli arrive, Tommy boggles at the sight of the twin bites, one on each side of Sauli’s neck. That explains why everything is going so fast, especially when Tommy steps closer and realizes that these aren’t just first bites. Both of them are bites that have been reopened before they could heal and have started to scar.

Throughout the evening, Tommy can’t help watching the three of them together and maybe feeling a little jealous. Not of any of them in particular, but of the bond they share. Their casual glances and touches, the way Adam and Terrance hover around Sauli until he practically shoves them away, shocking a laugh out of Tommy. He has a feeling that any other night, Sauli would be basking in their love and their protectiveness.

Watching them is a painful reminder of everything Tommy was hoping for but can’t have. He chases those thoughts away before they can ruin the evening for him.

The moon is high in the sky when Tommy makes his way to Sauli. He can see the surprise on Sauli’s face, and for a second, he can’t believe that he’s actually going through with the whole thing. He knows that Sauli doesn’t understand yet how far from a typical pack they are, even though he’s met them all on different occasions.

All that Tommy can think is that Sauli must be madly in love to do everything he’s doing. It makes Tommy smile. No matter what’s going on in his own life, Adam and Terrance are his friends, and he’s glad they’ve found someone who makes them as happy as Tommy’s seen them in the last couple of weeks.

He steps in front of Sauli, offers his hand and something that isn’t quite a smile. “Ready to show your true colors?”

He’s expecting the uncertainty he sees on Sauli’s face, but Sauli’s answer surprises him as he places his hand in Tommy’s. “I hope I’m ready.”

Tommy’s smile gains certainty. Sauli just confirmed to him that he knows there’s something much bigger going on now than just introducing him to the pack. It helps Tommy make the decision that he’s been putting off the whole evening.

He changes his hand halfway into a paw, claws digging into Sauli’s skin.

The others step closer, but Tommy’s whole attention is on Sauli, on his reaction. On the surprise that shows on his face when he realizes how far they’re willing to let him in, how much they all rely on Adam and Terrance’s judgment, how it’s enough for the pack to know that they’ve thought Sauli trustworthy.

At the very end, when everyone is done, Tommy lowers his defenses. He doesn’t show Sauli the memories he’s told Sutan about, the memories he showed the others when he became part of their pack. He can’t bring himself to do that since Sauli is still a stranger, but he shows him just enough that Sauli will understand what he is.

The revelation sends Sauli to his knees. Tommy releases him and takes a step back. When Sauli’s breath finally finds its normal rhythm, he stares at Tommy. “Why? You don’t even know me. Why would you give me that kind of truth?”

Slowly, Tommy looks over to where Adam and Terrance are standing. “Because they trust you.”

“And now,” Sutan adds, “it’s time for you to prove you’re worthy of that trust.”

Sauli’s eyes move from one of them to the other and back again. No one dares to say a thing. Tommy knows they’re all just as worried as he is. That there is still a possibility that the fact that they’re not just a pack, but a family who always has each other’s back, who always keep each other’s secrets, might be too far from what Sauli knows.

Sauli’s voice is full of conviction when he promises, “I will be.”

***

Isaac asks at least three times if Tommy is sure about going back to living at the house, until Tommy’s just about ready to hit Isaac to make him stop. Finally, for the first time since the heat that changed everything, it feels like something is his decision, like he’s doing something for himself. It’s enough for him to feel content, and the last thing he needs is one of his friends acting like he doubts him.

Once he says so, Isaac lets it go. Tommy can still feel his disapproval, but at least Isaac acknowledges that this is Tommy’s decision, not his.

Still, before they drop him off at the house, Sophie says, “You know our door is always open if you need a place to stay, right?”

Tommy’s throat tightens at the reminder of how much they care, so much that he has a hard time getting the words out. “I know. Thank you.”

He knows things won’t go back to the way they once were just because he’s moving back in; the rift that appeared between them during GNT won’t disappear overnight. It still feels like a step in the right direction, like they can maybe hope to at least salvage a friendship out of the mess they made.

Besides, the house isn’t as empty as it once was. If Ashley and Brian spend as much time out as they can – after over two years of, as Ashley calls it, “house arrest”, they both want to enjoy their freedom – Adam, Terrance and Sauli are there a lot more often. Tommy has a feeling that’s Sauli’s doing, but he isn’t going to complain. There are many things he doesn’t dare ask about, but from the bits and pieces of conversation he hears, he realizes that Sauli’s life hasn’t been easy, either, and that this is the closest he’s had to a family since he was bitten.

Whatever the actual reason, Tommy isn’t complaining. Sauli still has far too much energy for Tommy; it feels like he’s always doing something, like he’s always on the lookout for the next interesting thing that will strike his fancy. But somehow, they get along, if only because Sauli’s good at figuring out when Tommy needs to be left alone, and when he needs someone to kick his butt so he’ll stop being such a hermit.

The only problem Tommy has is Sutan. Yet again. After that first heartfelt conversation on the night of Sauli’s formal introduction to the pack, it’s as if they have no idea how to go back to what they had. For reasons that Tommy doesn’t understand, Sutan keeps watching everything he says and how he acts around Tommy. There’s little enough spontaneity that their easy friendship is nowhere in sight.

So he takes matters into his own hands and, one morning, before the rest of the house wakes up, he strips off his sleep pants and tee, changes to his wolf form and makes his way to Sutan’s room, as silent as he can be.

Watching from his position at the door, he has no idea if Sutan is already awake and lying in bed or still asleep. Well. The only way to know is to find out.

He isn’t careful at all when he leaps on the bed, though he falls at Sutan’s side, at least, and not on him. He hears Sutan’s sharp intake of breath and feels him lock his muscles in an effort not to shift and swipe Tommy across the room.

“Damn, Tommy. Couldn’t you be nicer if you mean to wake me up?”

Sutan sounds amused more than frustrated, though, so Tommy gives his best wolf impression of a shrug and lies down by Sutan’s side.

Moments later, Sutan brushes his fingers through Tommy’s fur. If Tommy were of the feline persuasion, he would be purring by now.

“Are we gonna have to go through this again, sweetheart?”

Happy that the hope he’s feeling won’t show on his wolf’s face, Tommy gives himself one more minute before changing back. He lies down on his front and allows himself to enjoy the feeling of Sutan’s hand tracing soft circles over his back. This is the closest they’ve been to each other in months.

“You don’t want to talk to me?” Sutan asks after a couple more seconds of silence.

Tommy bites his lip. He still doesn’t know if saying what he feels will help anything, but by now, he’s aware that keeping everything inside is killing him. “I do. But you’re the one who’s been avoiding me.”

“I wasn’t avoiding you.”

“Sure seems like it.”

Tommy hears Sutan sigh and feels him take his hand away from his back. He has the hardest time holding in a pitiful whine at the loss.

“I thought it might make things easier. I wasn’t expecting you to say yes when I asked you to move back in.”

“Why is that?”

Staring at Sutan, Tommy can practically see the moment when Sutan is about to say something before changing his mind and going with something else entirely.

“You know. Isaac.” There’s a hint of bitterness in Sutan’s voice, but Tommy does his best to ignore it. It won’t help if he starts seeing things that don’t exist.

Tommy wishes that they were close enough that he could explain the whole situation. But saying that Isaac refused him because he was in love with somebody else would put them too close to dangerous territory. Sutan rejecting him hurt like hell. The last thing he wants is to have to go through this a second time.

So he simply says, “No. It could have been but… no. We’re better off as friends.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

Even though there are things Tommy won’t dare to say, he can’t help but stare at Sutan. “I’m not. Sorry, I mean.”

“Why? You two seemed to be doing quite well from what I heard.”

Tommy has no idea how to explain. No idea how to say this without feeling like he’s leaving his heart bare and taking the risk of having it ripped out of his chest again.

If only to himself, Tommy can admit that it would never have worked. That, even though he loves Isaac and Sophie with all of his heart, it would have never compared to being caught in the high of the heat. That after knowing that much passion, even for such a short time, going with the flow of such a smooth relationship as the one he would have shared with Isaac would have ended with Tommy crashing on the rocks.

But he can’t say that without explaining how much that one night meant to him. So he doesn’t.

“Sometimes things don’t work out the way we want them to. No need to look for another explanation.”

“If you say so. Is that why it was so easy to convince you to move back in?”

Tommy shrugs. “In part, yes. But mostly, I miss this. I miss us. I hate that everything became so complicated and so,” he holds in the word fake, “weird.”

Sighing, Sutan says, “I don’t like it, either. I thought you knew that.”

“Then why do you keep pushing me away?” This time Tommy can’t prevent his pain from showing in his voice.

Sutan takes his hand off Tommy’s back. Tommy misses the touch as soon as it’s gone.

“I was trying to avoid temptation. The last thing I want is to repeat the mistake I made the night you went into heat.”

“Why the fuck do you keep calling it a mistake?” Tommy feels like he’s about to lose his mind. The more they talk, he less he understands.

Sutan stares at Tommy like he can’t believe that Tommy just asked that. “Because of how vulnerable you were. The way I took advantage of the state you were in is unforgivable.”

That leaves Tommy speechless. “What? Who the hell said that you…” He stops himself mid-track when a horrible suspicion takes shape in his mind. “You do know I wanted what happened as much as you did, right?”

If all of those months of awkwardness happened just because Sutan believed otherwise, Tommy’s ready to bang his head against the wall.

The silence lasts just long enough to make Tommy realize that he’s right. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!”

“You were completely out of it, sweetheart,” Sutan reminds him. Still, he doesn’t sound as sure as he was earlier.

“But I was aware of what was happening,” Tommy tries to argue. “I won’t say I was in control. I know the heat is worse for me than it would be for a beta but from the moment you bit me? I was aware. I meant every single thing I said that night. I wanted it.”

Needed it, even, but Tommy refuses to say it.

Sutan shakes his head. “I remember. That was the heat talking.”

“Fuck, are you even listening to me?” Tommy’s quickly crossing over from annoyed to downright pissed off. “You don’t know what it felt like. I do. The heat is insane and annoying but it didn’t appear out of nowhere.”

Sutan doesn’t say a thing but still looks dubious. Tommy sighs. He wishes things were easier, but this, at least, he can explain. It’s one of the few things his mother insisted on telling him before he was forced to run away because she was aware that it would be his most vulnerable side if he didn’t at least understand how it worked.

“Unless someone triggers the heat on purpose,” Tommy raises a hand to stop Sutan before he can interrupt, “and that usually involves forced closeness and borderline slavery and a lot of other awful things that are nowhere near what you did for me,” he waits until he’s sure that Sutan believes him, then he continues with, “for a submissive were to go into heat, there has to be real desire, already present but that hasn’t been acted upon. That’s what happened. So believe me, you didn’t do a thing that I didn’t want.”

Or an urge to mate, Tommy remembers his mother saying, brought on by the knowledge that you’ve found your mate, the were you can link yourself to for the rest of your life.

But he won’t say that aloud. He can’t.

Relief, then something that looks a lot like embarrassment washes over Sutan’s face. “I feel like an idiot.”

“You are. If we wasted all this time because you thought you forced yourself on me, you really are.”

Tommy’s anger melts away when Sutan laughs, low and pleased. “Come here, sweetheart.”

Without a hesitation, Tommy moves closer, into the safety of Sutan’s embrace, and closes his eyes. He sighs happily as Sutan pulls him even closer.

“I’m sorry,” Sutan whispers. “That morning, it looked like you were trying to get away from me as fast as you could. That’s why I thought you didn’t want any of what happened.”

Tommy’s glad to still have his face buried in Sutan’s neck because it means that Sutan can’t see the emotions he knows are showing on his face. They’re fucking finally on their way to resolving things between them. The last thing Tommy wants to do is to drive everything off course by admitting that the only reason why he got out of bed that eagerly, that damned morning, was that he wanted to see the bite mark. That he couldn’t help but think of the way it would feel after the second bite, when it would start scarring and scream to the whole world that he was Sutan’s and nobody else’s.

When he finally feels like he’s got himself under control, he says, keeping his voice as steady as he can, “Call it curiosity. I wanted to look at the mark. It had nothing to do with trying to get away from you.”

Slowly, Tommy raises his head and looks at Sutan. “You believe me, right?”

“Yes. I believe you.”

For the longest time, Tommy stares at Sutan. He has to be sure that Sutan isn’t just saying that, that he really means it.

When he’s convinced, Tommy smiles and inches closer, until there isn’t even a breath between them. “It means we can do this again, right? I miss it.”

“You’re the one who stopped coming to me in the morning, remember?”

Tommy shrugs. “Because it felt like you didn’t want me here.”

Sutan pushes him away until he can look at him in the eyes. “Never think that again. You have no idea how precious you are to me, sweetheart. That’s why I couldn’t stand what I thought I did to you.”

It feels like Tommy’s heart is about to burst from happiness. He tries his hardest not to let it show on his face. “Does that mean you’ll stop avoiding me now?”

“Yes. I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

Tommy shakes his head. “Don’t be sorry. But don’t you dare do that again.”

***

Tommy finally feels like he can breathe freely again. This isn’t what he wanted, but he’s the idiot who fell in love with a guy who only sees him as a friend, and this friendship is too precious for him to risk it by admitting how much more he wants from Sutan.

They fall into a routine and even go back to some of the old habits that Tommy thought he’d have to learn to live without. Their conversation didn’t solve everything, but at least they’re both making an effort. And it’s easier if Tommy doesn’t have to second-guess everything and can follow his instincts.

Sometimes, he almost believes that the friendship they share will be enough for him. Almost.

By the time of the Spring Moon, things have gone back to… Tommy wouldn’t say normal, because he’s aware that it won’t ever be as easy and simple as it was before, but it’s close enough that he’s feeling good and safe and grounded again.

The moon slowly comes up, and Tommy can feel its call, strong under his skin. He escapes to the backyard in the hope that it will help, thinking that being alone for a little while can only do him good.

Instead, he finds Sauli staring at the horizon. Tommy is half-tempted to go back inside, but he walks up to Sauli and stands beside him. He realizes that Sauli’s watching the moon as it climbs up in the sky and he can’t help but say, “I hate spring.”

He isn’t really expecting an answer, yet Sauli asks, “Why is that?”

“Because we’re left with no choice but to run.”

Sauli turns and stares at him. “It’s the best run of the year.”

Tommy shakes his head. Of course Sauli would think that. “Did you ever try to hide your scent in wolf form?”

“Is that even possible?”
“It’s not.” Tommy admits. “I learned that the hard way.”

“But in wolf form, you can outrun them.”

For a second, Tommy envies Sauli and his carefree ways. Even if life hasn’t always been easy for him, Sauli can still look at the bright side and forget everything else. Besides, their lives have had very little in common.

“For you, maybe. But when your scent drives even the betas crazy…” Tommy trails off, looking at the ground.

He has to admit that it hasn’t been that way in a very, very long time. But he’s also aware that the only thing protecting him is the temporary bites Sutan keeps on giving him.

Sauli has no answer for that. Moments later there are steps behind them, then Sutan steps close to Tommy.

“Do you want to run?” Sutan asks, softly.

“I can’t. You know that.” Tommy can’t help let the regret he’s feeling show in his voice. No matter what he’s told Sauli, the Spring Moon should be the best run of the year.

Sutan moves behind Tommy, locking his arms around him. Tommy looks stubbornly at the horizon. He can feel Sauli still watching them.

“I didn’t ask if you could run, sweetheart. I asked if you wanted to.”

There’s nothing Tommy wants more than that. Yet he says, “I can’t expect you to protect me all the time. It’s not fair to you.”

It’s just the truth. The bites that keep Tommy free to run are barely a tease of the real thing. Sutan should at least have a chance to find someone for himself. That will never happen if they keep pretending just so Tommy can run.

Sutan tightens his grip on Tommy. “I wouldn’t suggest it if I minded. Now I’m asking you again. Do you want to run?”

Tommy sighs. There’s no way he can deny it. “Yes. You know I do.”

“Do you want me to help?”

Tommy can’t find his voice to answer. Instead, he tips his head to the side, exposing his throat.

The bite never hurts. What hurts is how it drives his wolf crazy. How the side of him that still sees Sutan as his alpha can’t help but hope that maybe, tonight, finally… Having to remind himself that it won’t happen always reawakens the ache that Tommy’s had under control until then.

As he steps away, Sutan says, “Stick close to me tonight. No one will dare come near you.”

Tommy nods. He feels another little pang of longing when he sees Sauli changing and running, with Adam and Terrance coming after him. As much as he’s happy for them, he still wishes he’d found the same thing with Sutan.

***

Spring turns into summer. There are new songs to learn, concert to prepare for, and everyone is so busy that Tommy barely has time to think. When music isn’t taking up most of his time, Sauli and Isaac both take it on themselves to make sure that Tommy doesn’t lose himself inside his own head again.

He wants to tell them that their concern is unnecessary – he’s doing a lot better since he feels like he and Sutan are friends again – but it’s nice to have people who care that much. Besides, the ache is still there. Always present, never forgotten, it’s now a low simmer, something bearable that Tommy can handle.

And as time passes, as he gets back into the routine of long mornings spent in bed with Sutan, talking in hushed voices and just being, he finds he has other things to worry about. Like the Fantasy Springs concert that’s shaping up to be awesome.

It’s their first whole show since the end of the tour. Sauli, Terrance and Sutan are in the audience, and that gets Adam even more fired up than usual. The energy, the heat wrapping around him, is something that the whole band can feel, and it leaves Tommy floating on cloud nine long after the last notes have been played.

That is, until the concert is done and everyone is relaxing backstage. He goes to grab another round of drinks and sees Ashley talking to an unknown woman, unease coming off of her in waves so strong that anyone could feel it from miles around.

“Hey Ash, everything okay?”

The smile she sends him is forced. Anyone who knows her could see it. “Of course. Just talking to my sister.”

Only Tommy’s years of practice at hiding what he thinks keep Tommy’s surprise and fear from showing up on his face. He’s very, very fucking glad that Sutan is the only one around who he can’t hide from. He’s even happier that he has a long implemented habit of hiding his scent in human form whenever they are in public. Because that woman, whoever she is, exudes dominant vibes so strongly that she would have felt him as soon as he stepped on stage.

“We’re waiting for you backstage. You know that, right?”

Ashley shrugs. “Tell them I don’t think I’ll be back tonight. Please?”

It takes Tommy a minute to realize that Ashley is talking to him as if he was human. As if he has no idea what’s happening. And that if he wants to be able to help Ashley, her… sister, if that’s really what she is, needs to keep believing that he isn’t a were.

“All right. I will.”

“Thanks, Tommy.”

He walks backstage, doing his hardest not to let his instincts take over and start running. As he walks as fast as he dares, he tries to figure out what he can say, how he can explain since he has no real idea what’s happening.

He’s saved from having to explain anything. As soon as he enters the dressing room that’s been taken over by the pack, Brian asks, “Have you seen Ash?”

“Yeah. We have trouble, I think.”

It’s enough to stop all conversation and have everyone focusing on him.

“Why is that?” Adam asks.

“She was talking to someone that she introduced to me as her sister. She said to tell you that she wouldn’t be back tonight. Does that make—”

Any kind of sense, Tommy’s trying to ask, but he doesn’t get to finish. As soon as he repeats Ashley’s words, he’s interrupted by Brian’s growl. Within seconds, both Adam and Terrance are on their feet. It takes the two of them to hold Brian back as Adam orders, half-growling, “Brian! Get your fucking wolf under control. We’ll get her back, I promise you, but you’re not doing anything on your own. Clear?”

Long seconds tick into a silence that’s only broken by all three of them breathing hard.

“Yeah. I get it.” Tension is still written all over Brian’s body.

Enough that Adam asks, “If we release you, you’re not going to run out on your own, are you?”

“No. I won’t.”

Carefully, Adam and Terrance take a step back. Brian is still furious, everyone can see it, but he’s waiting for orders. That’s progress.

“What the hell?” Tommy can’t help but ask.

Sutan looks at him. “If that person you saw with Ash really was her sister, it means her whole fucking pack is around. Since what she told you is a code to let us know she’s in danger, that’s more than likely.” He turns toward Adam. “How do you want to deal with this?”

They all watch as Adam paces, obviously trying to think as fast as he can. “Brian, you know her pack, right? All of them?”

“Most of them, yes. I’d have a hard time forgetting those faces.”

Tommy cringes at Brian’s harsh tone. From what he can remember of the memories he was shown, he can only imagine why Brian knows them that well, and none of what he thinks is good.

“Okay. When we go out there, I want you to point out their alpha to me.”

“Why?”

Adam sighs. “Because there are too many humans around. I’m not risking that many lives if I don’t have to.”

“You know that was probably part of his plan, right?” Sutan asks, softly.

“I know.” After a second, Adam takes a deep breath and straightens his shoulders. He oozes confidence and determination. “Terrance, stick around in case I need back-up, all right?” He waits until Terrance nods, then he continues, “Brian, get Ashley back. Don’t attack first. Wait until you see how it’s going for me. You got me?” It takes long enough for Brian to answer that Adam grits his teeth and growls again, “Brian.”

“All right, I’ll wait.”

“What about the rest of us?” Sauli asks.

Something akin to pain washes over Adam’s face. Just like that, Tommy knows that if Adam could, he’d send Sauli somewhere, anywhere else, so he can be sure that Sauli would be safe. He also knows that Sauli would never agree.

“Stand your ground,” Adam says when he seems to have himself back under control. “And don’t get killed. That’s all I’m asking.”

“All we have to do is hold on until you’re done with the bastard,” Sutan reminds him. “I’ll keep an eye on them.”

It breaks Tommy apart because he understands what it means. That if anything happens to Adam tonight, Sutan will be there to take care of everyone.

Adam squares his shoulders, looking even more determined. “Let’s go.”

***

They spread out as soon as they enter the main room. Brian points out the alpha to Adam before making a beeline for the spot where Ashley is standing at the bar, staying out of sight until he can see how it’s going for Adam.

Alongside Isaac and Sauli, Tommy does the same thing, with Sutan following on their heels. They, however, have no reason to stay hidden since Ashley’s sister doesn’t know their faces. Still, when they settle at the bar, they make sure that only Ashley can see them.

However, werewolf hearing means that it’s easy to listen to the conversation and figure out that they really are in trouble when Ashley says, “What the fuck is it that you don’t understand? I’m not going with you. You guys aren’t my pack anymore.”

Her sister laughs, high-pitched and bright. “What do you think, Ashley? That Lambert is gonna stand his ground for you? It would put far too many human lives at risk. You’re not worth that much, baby girl, sorry to remind you. Not even to your little mate.”

“Don’t you dare say a thing about him.”

“You think he’ll rescue you from us? Again? Please. Remember how much help he needed the first time around. If he’s not male enough to claim you, sis, he isn’t male enough to keep you, either.”

“You know nothing.” Ashley moves as if to walks away.

Her sister stops her with a hand on her arm. “Do I? A real alpha wouldn’t recognize your bite as legitimate, baby girl. You know that. So you’re going stay here with me and watch all of your little pack be killed. Unlike Lambert, we don’t give a damn about collateral damage. And we know how to strike for the heart when necessary.”

They’re so distracted by Ashley’s conversation, and it happens so fast no one has the time to react. Sauli sucks in a breath. When Tommy turns to find out what’s up, he sees that the man next to Sauli now has a hand around his throat, fingernails elongating into claws. If Sauli moves, if he tries to shift, the guy will slash his throat open. It’s the kind of injury that, even with a were’s enhanced healing abilities, will kill him.

Slowly, Tommy turns around and scans the room. Adam is talking to the other alpha and looks ready to kill. No doubt he’s just been told that they have his mate, and if he tries anything, they’ll kill him.

Using what he can feel coming from Ashley’s sister, from the were who has Sauli by the throat, Tommy is able to spot the weres of Ashley’s former pack. There are two of them for every one of Adam’s weres.

They’re outnumbered and surrounded. All of them are being watched closely as the other pack waits for the signal to kill.

All of them… except for Tommy.

He checks again, and again, but no one seems to have an interest in him. While there are weres sticking close to Terrance, watching Brian, Isaac, and Sutan, no one is paying any attention to him.

The little charade Ashley played earlier worked. He’s so new to Adam’s pack that no one knows him, and he’s always so very careful to hide his scent in public that they can’t feel him. The other pack believes he’s human.

Which gives him just enough leeway to do something. He can’t perform miracles, but he can at least give Adam and the others what they need in order to get out of here alive: a diversion.

He steps to the side. When he’s half-hidden by the bar, he shifts. This time, though, he doesn’t make an effort to hide his scent. He lets it drift around himself, and he runs.

The scream is silent, but it goes through so many weres’ heads at once that it rips through Tommy’s defenses, assaulting his mind and giving him a headache.

Omega?

Don’t let him escape!

All around him, Tommy can feel weres shifting and giving him chase. He isn’t even trying to outrun them. All he wants is to give everyone he cares about a chance to make it out of there alive.

He nearly makes it to the safety of the woods before one of the wolves tackles him. He howls in pain when his flank is sliced open, when a bad bite rips off his fur and skin and injures his leg.

He tries his hardest to fight, but soon, the pain in his leg makes him black out.

***

When Tommy wakes up, he’s still in wolf form, lying down on the cold floor of a room that looks a lot like a dungeon. His human side shakes his head in disgust. Typical.

Before he has a chance to examine the place, he feels gentle fingers in his fur. Raising his head, he sees Ashley, still in human form. She’s naked and covered in claw marks and bruises, but she isn’t bleeding. And she’s smiling.

Tommy pushes his muzzles against Ashley’s thigh.

“You didn’t change back to human while you were sleeping,” she whispers, soft enough that even someone with were hearing wouldn’t be able to eavesdrop unless they were in the same room. “I suggest that you don’t. Let them believe that you can’t. That’s not unheard of for an omega.”

You should have run.

Ashley sighs. “I know the were they had keeping an eye on Brian. He wasn’t going to let himself be distracted. I had no choice but to play nice.”

Are you okay?

“They’re giving me a little respite while they decide what to do with you.” She shrugs. “I doubt anything could be worse than what they did to me the first time around. I’m good, Tommy. I promise.”

Tommy has a hard time believing her, but for now, he doesn’t really have a choice.

***

Tommy follows Ashley’s advice and lets her former pack believe that he can’t shift back to his human form. It isn’t even hard. What makes it a lot more complicated is that he has to constantly reinforce his mind’s defenses as they try to wear him down.

He has no sense of how much time has passed. It could be hours or days. He can’t tell. He’s exhausted and hungry but he can’t let it show. He knows that they’ll exploit any weakness and use it against him.

The only thing that keeps him going is Ashley. While they both do their best to let her former pack believe they don’t know each other, the moments when no one is watching them, when Tommy can rests his head in Ashley’s lap, close his eyes, and enjoy the feeling of her fingers scratching gently through his fur are everything he needs. Just a couple of minutes of peace that brings him a strength he had no idea he possessed.

Every time she realizes that Tommy is about to give up, Ashley says, “You know they won’t leave us here, right?”

But as time passes, the idea that they’ll be rescued before one or the other of them breaks seems less and less likely.

***

Tommy wakes up so suddenly that at first, he’s completely disoriented and has no idea where he is.

He wonders what noise could have woken him up that badly, but no matter how much he strains, he doesn’t hear anything.

Raising his head, he can see that Ashley’s whole body is tight with tension. There are tears shining in her eyes, but she’s smiling. “They’re here.”

Tommy does a double take, trying his hardest to figure out how that was enough to wake him. Are you sure?

“Yes. I can feel Brian. They’re coming for us.”

That’s all it takes for Tommy to figure out what he felt. Sutan.

The wait is excruciating. When the door finally opens, two wolves barge in. Within seconds, Ashley’s clinging to the darker of the two.

Tommy does his best to stay put even though all he wants is to do the exact same thing with Sutan. Still, he can’t help taking a couple of steps and tucking his nose in Sutan’s fur, because it feels like home.

Sutan lets him for as long as he needs, until Tommy finds it in himself to take a step back and shift back to his human form. He turns around just as Brian does the same thing.

“Which way do we go?” Ashley asks.

“The main room.” Brian says.

“What?” Ashley looks completely lost. “But—”

Sutan interrupts her. “Last time, all we wanted was for Brian to get you out of here alive. Now, they’ve threatened Adam’s mate and taken mine hostage. That’s enough to turn this into a blood war.”

The words hit Tommy like a punch in the gut. How dare he? After everything, how dare Sutan say it like this, as if they mean that much to each other when everyone knows they don’t?

He’s saved from having to react by Brian saying, “Pretty much everyone is taken care of. Your sister is still alive, though.”

“Did anyone really think I’d ask for mercy for her?”

“No,” Sutan replies. “But Adam thought you might want the kill.”

Ashley doesn’t look happy, but still she says, “Thank you. Yes. I think I need the closure.”

One by one, they shift and make their way through the house.

Everywhere, they come across the bodies of murdered weres. None of them are Adam’s.

As they walk, Tommy realizes that this is as much about him and Ashley as it is a message to anyone who would think of underestimating Adam again. This is an example of what could happen. A reminder that just because their pack is different, it doesn’t mean they’re harmless.

However, this is a side of them that Tommy hopes he never has to see again.

***

Once they get back home, Tommy sleeps for twelve hours straight. After that, he keeps pretending to be asleep whenever someone enters his room. He’s too angry and hurt to want to talk to anyone.

That is, until Sauli comes in and closes the door behind him. He drags a chair to the side of Tommy’s bed, making it clear that he has no intention of walking out, and says, “I know you’re not sleeping.”

Tommy tries to keep up the pretense, but his breath is already out of sync and he knows Sauli can hear it. With a sigh, he opens his eyes. “What do you want?”

“To know why you’re acting like you’re angry at the whole world.”

Tommy laughs a little as he sits up in bed. “Not at the whole world. Just at… well. You know.”

“What did he do?” Sauli sounds curious, nothing more.

It might be why Tommy actually answers. “Just something he said. I’m probably making a big deal out of nothing.”

“If it’s hurting you that much, it isn’t nothing. What is it?”

Tommy bites his lip and looks down at the bed, twisting his hand in his covers. “When he told Ashley why they attacked so viciously. He said that her former pack threatened Adam’s mate and held his hostage.”

Sauli pulls his chair closer to the bed and takes Tommy hands in his. “Because that’s what they did.”

“But I’m not…” Tommy has to force the words out. “I’m not his mate. We’re not… together. In any way.”

“I really don’t understand the two of you,” Sauli says, shaking his head.

“Why do you say that?”

“Tommy.” Sauli waits until Tommy’s looking at him before he continues, “Everyone can see that you’re in love with each other. Yet you’ve chosen not to complete the mating ritual time and time again even though it’s clear you both want it. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Making an effort not to look away, Tommy replies, “You’re wrong. He doesn’t want me. At least, not like that.”

That’s enough to shock Sauli into silence… for a couple of seconds. “Do you really believe that?”

“How could I believe anything else?” Tommy sighs. “When I went into heat last year, he bit me and the sex was everything I could have wanted. But the first thing he did the next morning was to tell me that the bite would heal. Doesn’t sound like someone who wants me as his mate, does it?”

Sauli stares at Tommy until Tommy has to look away.

“Can I ask you something?”

Tommy shrugs. “Go ahead.”

“You never wondered why Sutan did everything he’s done for you? Or why the pack took you in that easily?”

“They’ve all been outcasts at one point or another—”

“Yes,” Sauli interrupts Tommy, “And because they’ve all been outcasts, they’re very, very careful about who they accept amongst them, because the smallest mistake could send it all tumbling down. Like it nearly did with Ashley’s former pack.”

When it becomes clear that Tommy has no answer to that, Sauli says, “And there’s no reason for him to keep giving you those bites so you can run unless—”

“That only means that I’m right. He cares about me, but not enough to go through the whole thing.”

“Or maybe,” Sauli releases Tommy’s hand, “He thinks that’s all he can hope to get from you. So he pretends it’s enough for him.”

Sauli stands. Before he can walk out, Tommy says, “If you were right, somebody else would have told me everything you just said a long time ago.”

“Unless they were all forbidden to do so.”

Sauli’s words bring to Tommy’s mind the memory of that first night at Isaac and Sophie’s place, and Isaac’s outburst of, What the fuck do you mean, I can’t tell Tommy?

He feels a tiny ray of hope, but he says, “Sure, and you weren’t?”

Shrugging, Sauli says, “Because I never asked, I don’t know anything. I’m just telling you what I think.”

When Tommy doesn’t say anything, Sauli asks again, “Did you ever talk about what happened that night?”

“A little.”

Sauli shakes his head at Tommy. “Obviously not enough.”

Tommy has no idea what to say to that. It’s too much to take in all at once.

Right before the door closes behind Sauli, Tommy calls out, “Sauli?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

Tommy can’t help but smile a little as the door closes. He doesn’t want to hope for too much. He has no wish to see everything crash and burn again.

But he needs to try. He needs to hear the truth, even if it hurts.

***

However, Tommy soon realizes that talking to Sutan without the others around won’t be easy. As soon as they know he’s awake, they start hovering over him to make sure he’s okay, to the point where it feels like they’re smothering him. He gets that they were all worried and need to make sure that nothing too bad happened to him, but right now all he wants is to talk to Sutan. Alone.

It’s a couple of hours before he gets the chance he wants, and only because he corners Sutan in his room as the sun goes down.

He finds Sutan on his balcony, grabbing onto the railing, tension written over his whole body.

As Tommy walks toward him, Sutan turn his head and looks at Tommy out the corner of his eyes and ask, “You’re doing better?”

It’s enough to stop Tommy in his tracks. “Yeah, I’m good.”

As soon as he says that, Tommy finds himself backed up against the wall of the house, Sutan towering over him and growling at him, “Don’t you dare take a risk that stupid again, you hear me?”

All Tommy’s wolf wants is to cower and ask for forgiveness. Instead, Tommy lets his anger take the forefront and raises his head. “Why the hell do you care?”

“Because you’re mine.”

Sutan’s words cut deep, and they hurt. Tommy knows they aren’t true.

“Why did you refuse me, then?”

Sutan blinks, the anger visibly seeping out of him. “I didn’t—”

“Yes, you did,” Tommy interrupts him. “The first thing you told me that damn morning was that the bite would heal.”

Without waiting for an answer, Tommy pushes away from Sutan and leans his back against the railing, being very careful not to look down into the backyard.

“What I saw was you trying to get away from me as fast you could. What I heard was how eager you were to get rid of my scent on your skin.” Sutan sighs. “When I came back with your clothes, I heard you crying. What was I supposed to believe?”

Tears burn in Tommy’s eyes. He does his best not to let them fall. “I’d just been refused by the guy I’m in love with, by the alpha that my wolf already thought of as his. Of course I was crying.”

Sutan rests his forearms against the railing next to Tommy, not touching him. “That is so not what I intended to do.”

“But it’s what you did.”

There’s a long silence. Tommy’s stomach ties itself into knots. This is the moment that could break him all over again.

He forces the words out. “Why did you take me in?”

“You know why.”

“No, I don’t.” Tommy shakes his head. “I know why the pack accepted me after I’d been living here for over a year. But I have no idea why you took me in.”

He waits and waits and is half expecting not to get an answer.

“Because you were mine,” Sutan finally says. “Because I knew it from the moment when I felt you in the forest. Because you were mine and I would have done anything to make sure you were safe, from everyone.”

“So that’s why you acted like such an idiot that morning. Because you thought you were protecting me from yourself.” It’s not really a question. Tommy’s slowly starting to understand.

Sutan sighs. “I’ve seen it happen so often, Tommy. I know how the heat can be used against someone to justify any and all kinds of abuse. I’ve always prided myself on being better than that, but when you went into heat, I realized that I could be just as bad.”

“I was serious when I said that I wanted it,” Tommy says, doing his best not to let his pain show in his voice. “You didn’t do anything I didn’t want. I wanted more than that. I wanted to be yours in every possible way. But you pushed me away.”

“Look at me.” Slowly, Tommy obeys, as if pulled along by an invisible rope. “You never said a thing before it happened. I had no idea. What was I supposed to think?”

Without meaning to, Tommy steps closer. “I was scared. It was all so new and strange that I couldn’t bring myself to say anything.”

“While I was waiting for you to say something because I didn’t want you to feel any kind of pressure.” Sutan smiles likes he’s laughing at himself. “This is the most ridiculous situation I’ve ever been caught in.”

“No shit. We wasted all this time because of that?”

They stare at each other. Even though they both understand the situation now, it seems like neither of them has any idea what the next step is.

Finally, Sutan asks, “Do you think you can forgive me, sweetheart? I never meant to hurt you.”

“Maybe.” With a small smile, Tommy repeats Sutan’s earlier words. “As long as you never do something that stupid again.”

“I promise.”

Sutan sounds so serious that Tommy can’t resist stepping closer and clinging to Sutan. Within seconds, Sutan’s arms are around Tommy, holding him as tight as he can.

Tommy feels more than he hears Sutan whisper against his hair. “What do you want?”

Determined, Tommy looks up at Sutan. “I want you. All of you.”

Sutan’s eyes darken. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I doesn’t matter how much of an idiot you can be. I still love you.”

Slowly enough that Tommy could pull away if he wanted to, Sutan tilts Tommy’s head to kiss him.

It doesn’t go fast enough for Tommy. Without thinking, he grabs Sutan by the neck to make him bend his head. Their mouth clash together and Tommy can feel the low simmer in his body, the sensation that he could never quite get rid of, burning bright as a flame again.

When they separate, Tommy’s legs are about to give under him. Because he needs to hear it, he asks, breathless, “What do you want?”

There’s a sharp intake of breath and, where Sutan is holding onto him, Tommy can feel the hint of claw against his skin. “Right now?” Sutan pulls Tommy closer and bites a string of kisses along the line of his jaw, down his neck. “I want to claim you and not let you leave my bed for at least a week. But I need to know you want this as much as I do.”

Just like that, Tommy knows what Sutan wants to hear. But he still has doubts and his frustration hasn’t completely disappeared. Everything could have been so much simpler if they’d had this talk months ago…

“I need to know you’re here to stay. I need to know that I can have all of you. I love you too much to do anything otherwise, sweetheart.”

Sutan’s words make Tommy’s heart go rabbit-fast. He wants this, needs this so much, he has no words to express it. So, since even through all the misunderstandings, it’s always been true, he says, “I trust you,” and he tilts his head, baring his throat.

He closes his eyes, expecting to feel Sutan bite him again. Instead, there’s a very soft kiss on his hair, and a whispered, “I’ll never hurt you like that again, Tommy. I promise.”

Somehow Tommy believes him. Tears burn at the corner of his eyes, but the fear and pain he’s been carrying all these months has disappeared.

Instead, he can feel the heat growing in his body. “Make me yours. Please.”

Sutan’s hand in his hair makes him tilt his head further and he feels a soft kiss on the side of his neck. He barely hears the growled, “Mine,” before Sutan bites him, werewolf teeth piercing Tommy’s skin.

Tommy sucks in a breath at how right it feels. The pain makes him lightheaded, but he pushes into it as it seems like months worth of tension leaves his body all at once. All it does is make him want more of everything. For the first time since his heat, he can allow himself to feel everything the bite means without having to keep himself in check. He lets his wolf’s happiness at finally getting what it wants submerge him.

Heat washes over Tommy but not like it’s going to drown him. It’s just enough that, when Sutan licks the blood away from the bite and releases Tommy, he can’t help but pull Sutan closer. This time, he knows exactly what’s happening and he wants every second of it.

It’s a desperate race to the bed as they struggle to get out of their clothes between kisses. They’ve both waited far too long, wanted this for far too long. There is no going back now.

Tommy nearly tumbles when his pants catch halfway down his legs. He’s laughing when Sutan catches him, helping him out of what’s left of his clothes as he nuzzles at the mark he left on Tommy’s neck. Tommy can’t help but push into the soft touch. It’s a constant reminder that this time they won’t let the bite heal.

Once Tommy’s finally naked, splayed out on the bed, Sutan stares at him, the hunger in his eyes making Tommy feel like he’s about to be eaten alive. His cock hardens just from the way Sutan’s looking at him.

Tommy raises himself onto his elbow. “What are you waiting for?”

Sutan steps closer to the bed, his fingers a feather-light caress on Tommy’s thigh. “Is this the heat…?”

Tommy’s tempted to say this is all him, but it’s the heat too. He can feel it in his veins, in his whole body.

“A little,” Tommy admits. “The bite started it again, and I don’t know how long it will be before it takes over. For now, I know what I’m doing. This is my decision. We’re good.” He smiles teasingly before he continues, “Unless you don’t finish it, because I swear if you do that to me again, I’ll hunt you down and kill you.”

Then, because he can still barely feel Sutan’s fingers on his skin, he says, whimpers, “Don’t hold back. I need you.”

That’s all it takes. The next thing Tommy knows, Sutan is on top of him, pressing him into the bed and licking into his mouth, claiming him, owning him, as much as his bite did.

Tommy locks his arms around Sutan and pulls him closer, needing to feel Sutan’s weight on him, to know that this time he isn’t going anywhere.

It’s a tight fit of skin against skin and long, deep kisses that go straight to Tommy’s head.

When Sutan pulls away, Tommy feels the loss in a second and tries to follow him. Sutan’s hands on his shoulders keep him against the bed and Tommy rocks his hips, desperate for contact. “Make me yours. Please,” he whines. He’s beyond thinking already.

“Don’t push me, Tommy.” The warning in the low rumble of Sutan’s voice turns Tommy into a trembling mess. He wants this, fuck, he needs this so badly. The heat is slowly taking over but they’re both past the point of caring.

The fingernails slowly tracing circles on Tommy’s chest turn into claws. Tommy pushes into the touch, his gaze caught by Sutan’s as Sutan marks him, claws digging into Tommy’s skin.

The pain makes Tommy scream. He blushes when he realizes how wet he suddenly is, the natural slickness that always makes this so very, very easy.

He sees Sutan’s eyes darken again and he knows that Sutan can smell him, how ready and desperate he is.

Sutan bends his head to lick at the claw marks he just left on Tommy’s body, turning the pain into pleasure. “So pretty. So good for me, sweetheart.”

Without thinking, Tommy spreads his legs wider. He’s moving solely on instinct. Nothing matters except the burning need for Sutan to fill him, to claim him.

Tommy bucks his hips again and Sutan bites, blunt human teeth on Tommy’s inner thigh. He sucks and licks Tommy’s skin, teasing the sensitive flesh of his balls and licking his way up Tommy’s cock.

The sucker punch of want-need blurs Tommy’s vision. Another day, they’ll have time for this, but now… “Don’t tease. I need you, need you to fill me…”

He babbles and hisses at Sutan, barely conscious of the words that make it out of his mouth. He clings to Sutan when Sutan makes his way up his body, leaving kisses and bites in his path.

One finger feels like a tease. Not enough pressure and nowhere near what Tommy really needs. “More, please. Gimme more.”

Instead he feels Sutan’s other hand in his hair, pulling and pulling until Tommy moans from the blissful pain and has no choice but to stare at Sutan.

“You’re so wet and open, sweetheart. Think you can take me like that? Take my knot like that?”

Just the thought makes Tommy keen. Maybe it should scare him, but he knows his body will adapt, knows that it won’t hurt him, not really, not enough to stop him.

Besides, this is exactly what Tommy wants, needs: Sutan, not holding back and making Tommy his in every possible way.

One finger becomes two, but it still isn’t enough, it can’t be enough.

Tommy takes a deep breath, waits until he has enough of his voice back to say, “Please. I want it. I can take it.”

Not once does he dare look away. As far gone as he is, no way is he giving Sutan any excuse to back off before they both get what they need.

Sutan releases Tommy’s hair and slips his fingers out of Tommy’s ass.

All the air leaves Tommy’s lung in a rush when Sutan finally thrusts inside him, all thoughts gone except for being filled to the brink, owned, claimed.

He can’t think. He can barely move, held captive by the way Sutan stares at him, by the hard grip of Sutan’s hands on the inside of his knees, opening him up even more until Tommy has no way to hide.

Nothing exists anymore but the two of them, staring at each other and refusing to look away as Sutan thrusts into Tommy’s ass, strong, hard, perfect. The burn of too much too soon has Tommy on edge from the very first moment.

Soon he knows he’ll come just like this, just from the counterpoint of the harsh fucking and the way Sutan looks at him like he’s something precious that Sutan never wants to let go.

He tries to pull Sutan closer. “Please, I need you, all of you, please!”

Tommy could scream in frustration when Sutan stops, buried deep in Tommy’s ass. Trying to make him move only results in Sutan tightening his grip, until Tommy knows that he’ll leave bruises behind.

“Offer yourself to me.”

The words hit Tommy to his very core. This is it. What he wants, what he needs more than anything. To be Sutan’s and nobody else’s.

Without a second thought, he spreads his legs as much as he can within Sutan’s grip and tilts his head, exposing his throat and the bite that’s already healing.

He feels Sutan fit his teeth to the bite mark and rip Tommy’s skin open a second time. Tommy has to close his eyes as fire boils in his veins, holding to Sutan as best as he can as Sutan thrusts again, harder, faster until he has to stop as the base of his dick widens in Tommy’s ass, holding Tommy open and locking them together.

Tommy’s mouth falls open. The sensation of fullness is like nothing he’s experienced before, a spark of arousal that goes from the top of his head to the tip of his toes.

“So pretty for me, sweetheart.” Sutan licks deep into Tommy’s mouth, grinding into Tommy’s ass, swallowing Tommy’s moans. “So pretty, and mine.”

He worries the bite he left on Tommy’s neck with his teeth and presses closer to him. Tommy all but sobs as waves after waves of pleasure fall over him, the pain and the pleasure mixing together in a way that’s so perfect he didn’t even know it was possible.

Tommy’s back arches as he comes, a release so natural that it feels like it’s more the result of what this means than the overload of sensations his body’s going through.

When Sutan’s cock finally softens enough that he can pull out of Tommy’s ass, Tommy clings to him like he never wants to let him go.

With gentle fingers, Sutan undoes the grip Tommy has on him. “I’m just going to grab something to clean you up. Okay?”

Sutan’s voice is so soft that Tommy can do nothing but obey. He keeps his eyes glued to Sutan’s back as Sutan disappears in the bathroom and comes back with a damp cloth. He lets Sutan roll him out of the wet spot and gently clean the mess of come and his own slickness off of him. Once it’s done, he clings to Sutan again, making it very clear that he’s not letting him go anywhere. When they’re finally snuggling under the covers, Tommy burrows into Sutan’s embrace. He’s sore and hurting all over, but he’s never been this happy.

Before they fall asleep, though, he can’t help but say, “Promise me you won’t say anything stupid when we wake up.”

He feels Sutan’s chest vibrate under his head when Sutan laughs. “I promise.”

***

It isn’t easy. They need a lot more talking before things can evolve. They need to learn each other and figure out how to make this work, how to be honest with each other. They’re both aware that this kind of trust won’t be built in a night. They’ll need time.

Now, though, they have time. Tommy knows that what he’s found won’t slip through his fingers a second time, and he doesn’t hesitate to call Sutan out on his shit when it’s necessary.

But he’s found what he wanted, what he needed. Someone he can belong with, belong to.

And sometimes, it can be easy. Like on the night of the first full moon after they finally completed the mating ritual.

Just because he can, Tommy waits until the moon is high in the sky, as he’s seen Sauli do, once.

And when Sutan asks his usual, “Do you want to run, sweetheart?”

Tommy turns toward him, his eyes shining with glee, and he says, “Catch me.”

Then he shifts, and he runs, with Sutan fast on his heels.