Piper one-shot # 2

[Read chapter 23 first]

The challenge ring had been invoked. It felt like a barrier of rushing wind sprang to life between me and Rory. It was funny, really, witches could make more solid barriers, but there was no part of me that wanted to touch this one. But that didn't stop me from pacing back and forth like an opening would just appear.

I couldn't feel Rory as intensely as before, like our connection had hit the ring and gotten swept up in the wind. Fuck! I couldn't help him like this!

A growl ripped through me as that bastard jumped on Rory. He was such a small wolf, obviously not a threat to anybody. I didn't understand how Henry could even face off against him. He reminded me of Dominic. He never had any problems picking on the weak and defenseless despite being a fucking pack leader. They were both worthless and neither of them should've had any place in any pack!

My growls just grew louder as I had to watch Henry bite Rory, his screams cutting through me harsher than any claws or teeth that had marked me before.

"When this circle breaks, I'm going to need you to get a hold of yourself until your fight." Rowan's voice came from my left, barely registering. He didn't sound happy, but I didn't fucking care. Who the fuck let trash like this into their pack?

I thought about the conversation I'd had with Rory in the car earlier, offering to run. We should have done it. I was supposed to keep him safe. I was his goddamned Mate, that was my job. And I was failing fucking spectacularly. Too bad my asshole farther wasn't here, he'd love this, seeing me be the fuck up he'd always said I was.

Henry dragged Rory back by his tail, throwing him. Playing with him like he was prey and not pack.

I howled and started shifting again, I couldn't help it. And I wouldn't be able to help anyone who got in my way.

My skeleton reshaped, taking my muscles and fur with it. The shift flowed through me easily. Dominic had always been an envious prick about it even as he made me show it off to the other packs that bordered his. A not very subtle threat. One of my old pack mates had been pretty old even by wolf standards, he said they used to call it the Terror form, when there had been more of us that could do it. I'd never met another wolf who could do a Third form shift, so I didn't know if he was bullshitting me or not. According to Rowan that was another area Dominic had failed me in.

Just like I was failing Rory right now. This was all my fault. I should've said no. I was just... That's just how things always went.

I stood on two haunched legs. I couldn't run as fast in this more bipedal form, but now I had more reach and a much more devastating set of claws. My fur wasn't as thick, but that wasn't a problem since this form came with heavy bone-like ridges that protected my soft parts and my hide growing rough and almost scaly. It was almost like an exoskeleton. The first time I shifted this far, I'd been afraid that I'd done it wrong. But Hank—the old timer—had let me know that all us "over-dominant freaks" looked like this. Third form wasn't a balanced mix of wolf and human. No, it was like a bad amalgamation of our first two forms that only took our most dangerous traits and threw in a few more for durability. I could understand why some people would call it the Terror form.

I just hoped I didn't scare the shit out of Rory.

I could feel the circle with all of my awareness. I could also feel our bond swirling inside of it, stretching it until it felt like Rory was miles away—and getting further by the second. Still, I tried to push something, anything through it. I hoped Rory could feel it, that the pain and fear he was experiencing now—and that was just an obvious guess, because I wasn't getting anything through our bond—would be enough for him to do what he did before and pull the dominance out of me.

Henry clawed down at Rory. The scent of blood was already thick in my nose, but I could almost swear I could smell the rush of new blood hitting the air. I didn't feel the slightest of tugs from our bond. I wanted to scream his name, but my snout and jaw were the furthest things away from being able to form words now. All I had was just sharp teeth I couldn't use to defend him.

Rory went still as Henry slowly sauntered away, heading towards the circle opposite from where I and Rowan stood. I pushed as close to the circle as I could stand, just waiting for it to break.

The second it did, I ran towards Rory. Our bond snapped back into place, I could feel him again, but that wasn't any help now.

Rory was crumpled on his side, not moving, blood matting his fur as more poured from open the wounds on his stomach and back. His eyes were closed. I stuck my face against his, nosing at him until I could feel his breath—shaky, but there.

I turned, about to call for help, but Doctor Circle Eagle and Rory's parents were already there. All I could do was hover uselessly and follow as they moved Rory's limp body out of the ring. I couldn't even carry him, my claws and stretched out limbs made it too awkward and dangerous.

Fucking useless. What good was I when I couldn't even keep someone like Rory safe? Everyone wanted me to run my own pack someday, which was stupid, because these were the kinds of bullshit decisions I made. I could protect myself, but that was it. A pack leader needed to protect everybody. And I'd just proven I wasn't up for the job. I had started all this shit with Henry and I didn't shut up when Rowan had told me to, more concerned with mouthing off than realizing I was putting Rory in more danger.

"Aw, poor thing." I almost jumped when my mother put a hand on my arm. I finally looked away from where Doc was examining Rory in the make-shift first aid tent. She was looking at me, but her words were for Rory. "He's such a sweet young man." I went back to looking at Rory, but I leaned against her as much as I could. She was still in human form, so there wasn't much of her compared to me, but she wrapped one of her arms around mine and stroked the sparse fur there.

A few minutes later, Rowan joined us. My mom pulled away from me. I wanted to tell her that she didn't have to now. My dad had always bitched at her for "babying" me. His definition of "babying" just boiled down to her showing me any kind of affection in front of the pack. I wanted to remind her that that bastard wasn't here and we didn't have to live by any of his stupid rules anymore. But I couldn't, not now, not in front of everyone.

Apparently that bastard had done a number on me, too.

"Some of your challengers have dropped out." Rowan informed me, "No doubt they were unaware of your ability to Third form shift."

I just nodded. I wanted to get this over with. The sooner I kicked their asses, the sooner I could... Hover uselessly over Rory some more, I guess. I couldn't help, but it was where I wanted to be.

Movement at the tent caught my attention and I ran over just in time to see Rory shift forms. It wasn't pretty, his form changing in fits and starts like he barely had the energy to do it. But it was a good thing since shifting would speed up the healing process even more.

But he just lied there, eyes still closed, completely out of it.

"Rory, son? Can you hear me?" Doctor Circle Eagle asked, sounding concerned. He held up an eyelid and checked his pupils with a small flashlight.

"What's going on?" Abby demanded. She was holding onto her husband and there were tears streaking down her face, but she looked so, so angry. Had I been Rowan, I would be worried about her shifting back to wolf form and ripping Henry to pieces. Or maybe not even shifting first.

"He's not conscious." Doctor Circle Eagle said.

I looked back at Rory. He wasn't dazed, he was out. He shouldn't be shifting then. Not even death could get us to shift forms even if we went unconscious first. And... there was still blood all over his chest, stomach, and arm. It was fresh blood, he was still bleeding fiercely and it didn't look like any of the wounds were closing.

What the fuck!? Was this another weird side effect of out Mating? Did I do this to him?

"I need you all to step back." Doctor Circle Eagle said to me and Rory's parents, voice firm. We all moved, even if it was reluctantly. "Lexy!" He called, and a woman in the pack answered. "I'm gonna need your help over here!"

Lexy came running over in wolf form, but as soon as she saw Rory she shifted and started pulling her hair back. "What's wrong with...?" She started to ask, but Doctor Circle Eagle interrupted her and started breaking out the medical supplies.

"We're going to have to stop the bleeding manually." He started applying pressure to the wounds. Lexy was quick to join him.

This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening. How had Henry hurt him this badly?

I stalked over to Rowan since I couldn't get closer to Rory. He was scenting the air and he looked concerned. Then he turned his attention to me. "Are you ready?"

I nodded again.

Even as Rowan led me and my first challenger into the ring, all I could think about was Rory. I didn't hear anything Rowan said. And I barely paid attention when my challenger chose his form, which he could since he couldn't do Third form.

He chose wolf form. He wasn't that impressive. I didn't know why he even bothered to challenge me. In my old pack, there were a lot of wolves who liked to talk shit about how they were just waiting for me to turn eighteen so they could beat my ass officially. Never mind all the times I'd beaten their asses unofficially. An ego thing, I guess.

Rowan left the circle and the second he invoked it, I had the other wolf's throat in my hands. I was lifting him off of the ground, and he tried clawing at me with his flailing paws, but he didn't even scratch me. I ran towards the edge of the circle. I stopped only to throw my challenger against the ground, then stepped out of bounds, breaking the circle.

I wasn't going to put on a show for anybody. I needed to get these fights over as quickly as possible. Rowan declared me the winner. He started to say something—probably an empty congratulations—but I cut him off by pointing at the ring incessantly. I wanted the next fight to start immediately. I was within my rights to do so.

The next four fights went down pretty much the same way. One had tried to outrun me, but even with me in Third form and them in Second they couldn't escape. One had gotten a bite on me, but I was sure he'd hurt his mouth more than he had hurt me.

The second to the last challenger had supporters, Henry among them. I could feel the weight of their borrowed power gathering behind the wolf, firming into a solid force he was going to try to crush me with. In all of the fights I've gotten into, I've never Called anyone to back me. If I couldn't win on my own, I didn't want the victory. Plus there was the fact that I didn't really have anyone to draw from, especially in my old pack.

As soon as the fight started, I took in a deep breath and then howled. I could feel the excitement-filled movement of the pack from outside of the circle come to a standstill as my voice ripped through the wolf in front of me, tearing apart the connections binding him to the others.

The wolf whipped around like he was going to see some kind of physical manifestation of his broken Call littering the ground. He looked back at me, eyes wide with disbelief and then turning to fear as he realized it was truly just him and me in the circle now. His legs buckled under him and he ducked his head in submission.

I just left the circle.

"Jesus Christ, boy." Someone said as soon as the circle was down. He was standing by Rowan. I was pretty sure his name was Rudy. There were more than a few wolves in the pack that complained about him like it was a sport. "I haven't seen crazy shit like that since Mama Dubois broke up that fight we were having with Keller and his bullshit boys. You remember that?" He asked Rowan, but went on before he could answer. "Ah, no, that's right, you were at home studying or some shit. It was crazy. Felt like my head was gonna bust wide open."

"And that would have been a tragedy." Rowan deadpanned. To me, he just asked, "Ready?" I nodded.

The last fight was with Henry, of course.

Henry was still in wolf form, thankfully, so I didn't have to hear any of his shit. He was also a big bastard, so I couldn't manhandle him like all the others. And from our first fight, I knew he was quick. I probably couldn't outrun him. So it was a good thing I knew his pride wouldn't let him run from me.

I wondered if he had been planning on Calling before my last fight. I looked him over. No, I didn't think his pride would let him do that either.

As soon as Rowan called it, Henry charged at me, probably trying to knock me to the ground. I just dug in my hind claws and braced against him. He managed to push me a couple of feet, but I wasn't going down.

In the second I felt him relent and try to pull back to come up with a new plan, I reached out with both of my clawed hands and raked them against his eyes. I felt my claws meet bony resistance and felt Henry try to jerk away, but not before my claws found their targets. I ripped furrows into his face, my middle claws dragging the ruined remains of his eyeballs through the wounds.

As he screamed, I let him jerk away. Two seconds later, though, he'd shaken it off, ears moving and scenting the air trying to lock onto me or determine where the ring was. I ran towards the circle before he could figure it out.

I was declared the winner and officially designated third in the pack. After shifting to human form, I presented my arm to Rowan and didn't flinch as he sunk his teeth into my skin. I felt the pack hierarchy shift and settle around me, locking me in. I hated it, but there wasn't anything I could do about it.

The pack, both in wolf and human forms, gathered around, probably looking to celebrate. I didn't care. I ran towards the first aid tent.

Lexy was helping look over the challengers I'd just face. No doubt she'd be tending to Henry soon. Doctor Circle Eagle was still working on Rory, but his parents had been allowed closer. I joined them.

Rory was still unconscious. He looked too pale. His wounds had been bandaged up and it didn't look like he was bleeding anymore.

"Is he going to be okay?" I asked.

"He's not healing." Abby answered.

I just looked at her.

"We can fix it though, right?"

"All we can do right now is wait." Doctor Circle Eagle said.

Wait. Just wait around and be useless. Great.


We all ended up in one of the cabins the pack owned, just waiting for Rory to either regain consciousness or for his healing to kick in. Neither of those things had happened before Madelyn Jia, one of the higher ups in the pack, knocked on the front door. I got up to let her in.

"Abby? Rowan wants us." She said, sparing just a curious glance at Rory. She turned to look at me. "And you as well, since you're third now."

"Can't it wait?" Abby asked. It looked like it would take a crowbar to get her away from Rory's side.

"Of course not. I wouldn't be bothering you otherwise."

"I'll be right here, honey." Rory's dad, Darren, reassured her.

Abby rubbed her eyes, but she stood. "I have to pick up Oliver and Peyton, anyway. I don't feel right leaving them over at Katie's all night."

I left the cabin, but I waited on the porch for Abby. Madelyn was already gone. A few minutes later, Abby came out and we followed the vortex of power that was Rowan to one of the nearby cabins.

It was getting colder the later it got. I was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, so it wasn't too bad. I looked over at Abby and her tie-dye t-shirt bearing the logo of a local radio station and pair of cut off jean shorts. They were the kind of shitty clothes you wouldn't mind losing to an accidental shift.

I wasn't that cold and I was sure she had impeccable control. We both knew Rory wasn't a fan of nudity, though.

"I'm sorry." The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.

She just looked at me as we got to the porch of the cabin, then reached out to put a hand on my shoulder. "You don't have anything to be sorry about, kid." She gave a soft, barely there laugh. "Guess you aren't a kid anymore. You don't have anything to be sorry about, young man."

I nodded and looked away, then followed her inside as soon as she started moving again.

Not a kid anymore. I couldn't remember the last time I'd actually been treated like a child. I had always been the outlier. The clear distinction between the adolescent sub-pack made out of pack teenagers and the formal adult pack had never applied to me.

Nothing was going to change now. Not for me.

Inside the cabin, Henry was sitting in a kitchen chair. There were massive bruises surrounding his eyes and my claw marks were still visible. He was squinting like the low-wattage bulb hanging from the ceiling was as bright as the sun, but it was obvious that he could see.

Rory was the only one who had come out of the challenge ring with his healing abilities all messed up.

Rowan was leaning against the wall closest Henry, so he was behind him. Madelyn was perched on the arm of the lumpy old sofa pushed against the opposite wall. Her husband, Kai Jia, stood next to her.

"This better be what I think it is." Abby said, anger threading through her voice. "If it's not, that's cool, too. I mean, if we're going around beating people's ass just because we feel like it in this pack now, I got a whole fucking list to get through and that bastard's on the top."

"Calm down, Abby. This is a trial." Rowan said. He was looking at Abby, but I was just waiting for him to turn his attention to me. I took a step back towards the door. I wasn't going to run, I just... I hated Henry, but I didn't want to do this.

"This is bullshit, is what it is." Henry complained, not sounding at all worried even with his pack leader at his back. "It's not like the kid's dead or anything! That doesn't go against pack law."

"Henry is an ill-tempered idiot, but just this once, I'm inclined to agree with him." Madelyn said. "If your son had been killed in this needless challenge, my opinion would be different."

"Rory isn't healing." Abby informed everyone, still glaring daggers at Henry.

"How is that my fault!?" Henry demanded. "And how is your kid so fucking weak?"

Abby growled at him. I looked at Rowan, he still hadn't said anything to me. He hadn't said much, in fact. He hadn't made himself the center of things, handing out any judgment he saw fit. No, he was taking a backseat, actually listening to what the most powerful in his pack had to say.

"Yes, why is that, Abby?" Kai asked, sounding much more interested in Rory than Henry. "When your family first joined the pack, didn't you say he was sickly?" He asked Abby, but he was looking at his wife for clarification. I guess that it had to have been a long time ago now, probably seventeen years considering Rory said he grew up in North Ridge. If his parents moved here with him, he had probably been just a baby.

"No, I said I almost miscarried. When he was born, he was perfectly fine. All these issues only started cropping up recently." Abby shot a glance at me. It wasn't accusing or anything, but it made me want to apologize again.

"Perfectly fine except for the, uh..." Kai made a gesture towards his face. He was obviously talking about how Rory's fur patterns carried over to his skin and hair.

"You're moving up that list, Kai." Abby growled at him.

"I don't mean any offense. It's just that maybe now, you would be willing to talk to that geneticist I was telling you about."

"Not this again, darling." Madelyn said, probably saving her husband from getting a good punch in the face from Abby.

"Most of my siblings and I have the same condition, none of us have ever just stopped healing."

Kai rubbed at the bridge of his nose like he had a headache coming on. "We have all these questions—about the heat and declining birthrates—but no one actually wants to put in the work to discover any answers." He grumbled.

Madelyn swatted at his stomach with the back of her hand. "Not now."

"Fine, I don't want to hear any complaining when our kind dies out in five or six generations."

"Let's get back to the matter at hand." Rowan instructed, his gaze swept across everyone in the room. I tensed up when it landed on me. But still, no orders were sent my way.

"The way I see things," Rowan went on. "We can not pass any judgment on if Henry violated any challenge laws until either Rory recovers or he—" He was cut off by a strangled noise from Abby. Her whole body shook like she was about to shift. But a second passed and she was still in human form. "Or he doesn't," Rowan finished.

Henry sat back more firmly in the chair. A smug, shit-eating grin growing on his face.

"But," Rowan said and the grin started to fade. "I can't in good conscience keep you as a member of my pack."

Henry whipped around to look at Rowan. "What the fuck!? You can't—"

Rowan straightened up then, all that power that lived in and around him flaring to life. "I can. You have consistently shown yourself incapable of putting the well being of the pack above your own selfishness. You had multiple chances tonight to prove my opinion of you wrong."

"I do one thing you stuck-up fucks don't like and—"

"Did that blow to the head give you brain damage?" Madelyn demanded, tone sharp. "Did you forget all of the times we have had to smooth over your indiscretions?"

Kai joined in with his wife, ticking off each instance on his fingers. "Intercepted calls to animal control from your neighbor, the creation of a new pack ordinance stating no on is allowed to frequent the human bar in town any longer—"

Henry made a protesting noise at that. "Molly's making fucking bank now because of that!"

"And I'm sure how many tips Chelsea saw in a night went right through the fucking roof." Abby pointed out.

That knocked the wind out of his sails a little, but he managed to regroup. "Like that fucking bartender believed anything I told him."

"How do you know? He could have been a trained hunter merely pretending not to listen as you gave away details about our pack." Kai said. "The man had just moved to North Ridge a few months prior, after all." Henry didn't have anything to counter that.

"He wasn't, by the way." Madelyn said. "We did a very thorough investigation. You see, there are some people in this pack who offer solutions and not problems." Her gaze went from Henry to Rowan.

"And I'm very appreciative of that." Rowan said, moving around the chair so he was facing Henry. "Henry, I'm giving you twenty-four hours to leave my territory."

I looked at Rowan in surprise, but his back was to me now. He was exiling him? That wasn't how Dominic handled pack members pissing him off. He was just going to let him go? And not even with a goodbye ass beating?

Rowan stood aside and let Henry stand up. He was nearly shaking with anger, but he didn't argue as he left the cabin. Henry didn't even spare the time to spit in my direction. I mean, he couldn't since he technically wasn't pack now, but I was surprised he was smart enough to hold himself back.

As soon as Henry was gone, the tension in the room dropped by several degrees.

"Can I go now?" I asked Rowan. I wanted to go see if there had been any change with Rory. And there was also a part of me that was sure that Rowan was going to shoot a smirk in my direction and tell me he had just been kidding and order me to chase down Henry.

"Actually I need to speak with you. Abby, you can stay if you like, since you already know."

"I do believe we're being dismissed." Kai said, standing and holding his arm out for Madelyn, she took it as Rowan gave them a very tired-sounding goodnight.

"We had a visitor from another pack recently," Rowan explained after they were gone. "Alameda Frost sent her." Rowan paused, apparently wanting to know if the name meant anything to me. I nodded.

After Doris Mayfield, the Frosts were two of the most talked about wolves in the country. Or had been, at least. Bones Frost was said to have been just as powerful as Doris, if not more given his age. I think North Ridge had even been part of his territory once. When Bones had died—of old age which was pretty damn impressive for one of us—his pack had fallen apart due to in-fighting. It still was, technically. Over the years, other packs had grown and stabilized the outer areas of his former territory—like North Ridge. But there was still fighting over the heart of the old territory. Everybody just called the area the Badlands now. Both because of the utter chaos there and it's proximity to the actual Badlands in South Dakota.

Alameda Frost had been Bones' Mate. There were a bunch of rumors flying around about her. Like that she was older than Bones had been and was probably the oldest living wolf in the world. Or the fact that after her Mate's death, she hadn't given in to any of the would-be pack leader's Call during their challenges. Or joined the challenges herself. Everyone pretty much agreed that she could have taken over the pack easily.

"She told me that Alameda might have some answers for you two, about your Mating." Rowan went on.

"Okay? That's good, what did she have to say? Has she seen this before?" Maybe she knew how to help Rory.

"That's the thing, her message was that Alameda would only talk to you in person."

I growled. "And let me guess, I'd be making this trip to her?" I didn't even wait for an answer. A wolf with a reputation like hers didn't run around making house calls, I guess. "Do you have an address or anything? I can leave by tomorrow morning."

Abby touched my shoulder again. I didn't bother looking at her. Of course, it wasn't going to be that easy. "She wants to talk to both of you. Rory would have to—" She started to explain, but I cut her off.

"He's not going anywhere near that fucked up excuse for a pack. Especially not now." I couldn't protect him in his own goddamned pack, there was no way I could protect him outside of it.

"Ordinary, I'd agree with you, Piper." She said, not removing her hand. "And I don't think either of you should be making that trip until Rory's fully healed." She stated it like a fact. I tried to see it that way, too. "But I think this is your best chance for answers. If anyone knows about this, it's gotta be her."

"It's up to you and Rory. You're both adults now, the decision is yours." Rowan said.

"Don't let Darren hear you say that. He'll blow another gasket." Abby said, finally taking her hand back. "We're going to go check on Rory. You get some rest, because you look like shit."

Rowan rolled his eyes at her. "Yeah, that will depend on if you're putting that list away or not."

"It's put away, it's put away." She mimed dusting her hands off.

"Good, otherwise we'd be here all goddamned night long every challenge moon."

"Not my fault your pack's full of annoying motherfuckers." She shot back as we left.

When we got back to the first cabin, there still hadn't been any change. They all decided to make Rory comfortable at Doctor Circle Eagle's house. I went with and in the end, I fell asleep on the floor, next to the hospital bed where Rory was still unconscious.


I spent the next day watching over Rory. There had been some improvement to his wounds, but his healing ability was only limping along. He hadn't woken up, either.

During one of the few times we were alone in the room—I think Rory's parents were picking his brother and sister up from school—I couldn't stop myself from reaching out and holding his hand. His fingers twitched a little. It had happened before, and just like before he didn't seem any closer to waking up.

I just looked at the hand that I held. Rory had long, slim fingers. His fingernails looked like he chewed on them all the time. And then there were the gray spots that decorated his skin. They weren't at all freckles, more like splashes of paint.

I pressed my face against his skin, seeing if he... came in any clearer. Besides directly after our Mating, what I usually got from Rory through our bond was almost like the muffled sound of people talking in a different room. Only that its not actually a sound, more like a feeling. Now it just felt like a low buzz, like static coming in through a badly tuned radio. Getting physically closer didn't seem to help at all. I'd just have to wait until he woke up.

Sitting back against the chair I had stolen from Abby, I kept a hold of Rory's hand.

He was my Mate. This weird, shy, adorable, judgmental guy who apologized when he fucked up. Who seemed to actually give a shit about me. Who wanted to be friends.

And we were friends. Which meant I had two now.

When I had been a kid and my mother had first explained the concept of Mates to me, I had been so eager to meet mine—ignoring my mom's words about wolves finding their other halves to be pretty rare. I imagined having a friend that was just as strong as me, how we could watch out and protect each other. And then as I got older and I figured out how the world actually worked—specifically in regards to me—I hoped and I prayed that I was just some fluke and there was no one out there that I would be tied to for the rest of my life.

But no, there Rory had been.

He wasn't as strong as I was. But that hadn't stopped him from jumping in between Rowan and me. He wouldn't have been able to save me had Rowan decided to rip my throat out right then and there, but he hadn't hesitated. He had just shifted and leaped. Like...

Like it was us against everybody else.

He had come when I needed him, held me while I cried over people who didn't deserve it.

Dominance wasn't the only measure of strength.

I squeezed his hand. "Come on, Rory. Just wake up, please."

He didn't respond. I didn't even get a finger twitch.


I had tried to stick to Rory's side the day after that, but Abby put her foot down and ordered me to school. Not literally, there was no force behind her words, but her expression let me know that she wasn't above it.

"Have a nice day at school, young man." She said as she kicked me out of Doctor Circle Eagle's house.

Darren was coming up the walk as I was leaving. "Don't worry, we'll let you know if anything changes." He assured me.

"Thanks." I mumbled and made my way to my Camaro parked on the street.

Rory's parents weren't anything like mine. They just talked to each other, laughed with each other even—though lately there wasn't much to laugh about. They weren't Mates, but it was obvious that they were partners. And they were so involved with their kids' lives. Even with at least one of them near constantly at Rory's side, they still managed to keep up with school projects, making dinner, shopping trips, homework help, bedtime stories, and anything else Oliver and Peyton needed.

I wanted... I wondered what my childhood would have been like had my bastard of a dad skipped out a long time ago.

As I drove back home, I wondered if Rory knew how good he had it. I thought back to how he gently teased his brother and played dolls with his sister. And I couldn't remember a time that he had really complained about his parents. Not even in a "I'm a teenager, so all adults are insufferable" way.

He probably knew.

My mom was up when I got in.

"Hey, Sweetie. How's Rory?" She asked, going through the classified ads at the kitchen table.

"He's healing some, still unconscious." I answered as I went to the fridge.

"Well, any improvement is good."

There was silence as I went about fixing myself a bowl of cereal. It was only broken after I was half way done.

"Would you be okay if I started working later at night? Molly Harris offered me a job at their bar since they had... ah, a spot open up."

"They still haven't found out anything about Chelsea?" I asked while guilt tried to stop the cereal from settling in my stomach.

"I don't think so. But would you be okay with me not being here at night?"

"Yeah, sure. Do whatever you gotta do. I'll be fine, I always am."

She gave me a slightly sad smile and reached over to brush a hand through my hair. I let her even though it just brought back memories of bad nights. After the latest screaming match with my dad, she'd sneak into my room long after he had gone to bed and run her hands through my hair, soothing me to sleep. It had happened less as I got older. The visits, not the yelling. And after Dominic had taken a special interest in me, there were nights where I knew I came home looking... empty. She had tried then, too, but eventually I had just pushed her away.

I pointed at the classifieds as I finished my cereal. "Let me know if there's any jobs halfway decent in this town."

"Oh, honey, you don't have to—" She started to protest. I did. She knew it, I knew it.

"Have to start paying the tithe now, don't I?"

She went quiet again, but spoke up just as I finished drying the just-washed cereal bowl. "I'll keep an eye out."

I just nodded and went to go get ready for school.


Being under the eye of all the adult wolves at school, rankled a bit less now since I had my own official standing now. There wasn't any change with the wolves my age, not really. They were still mostly stand-offish and didn't have anything better to do than gossip about me.

After homeroom, I ran into Rory's friends.

"Where's Rory?" Lucas demanded, still trying so hard to pretend he wasn't intimidated by me.

"Yeah, is he, okay?" Amy's sister asked, sounding worried.

I just looked at them all. If it had been about me, I would have just pushed past them all gone to my second class, but... Rory would probably want them to know.

"Rory's hurt. His healing is kinda messed up right now."

"Oh my god." Cordelia gasped, clapping a hand over her mouth. Her free hand wrapped around their red-headed friend's arm. Cassidy? Cordelia had told me all about her crush on him. I wondered if they had gotten together. I hoped they had.

"But he's going to be alright, right?" Amy's sister insisted.

I shrugged. "Doctor Circle Eagle just said we have to wait and see."

"Ugh, that fucking sucks!" She growled, spinning around and punching a random locker. The door on the thing dented.

"Oh, great going, Emma." Amy scoffed.

"Shut up!" Emma, I guess, yelled back, throwing her arms in the air and walking backwards. "I'm doing what Mom said and I'm walking away."

"She meant for you to do that before you punched things."

"It wasn't your dumb face, so be grateful!"

"We have the same face!"

The little group started to drift away then, now that they had the news about Rory.

Amy didn't, though, I just sighed.

"You haven't called me recently."

"I told you, I don't do relationships." I reminded her. "If you just wanted a casual hook up once in a while, things would be different."

"Come on. Just think about it. We start dating, we're a power couple. Sophie Miller and Winston are a power couple. We beat their asses. We're top of the pile."

"I cannot tell you how much I don't give a shit about any of that. Also, I'm not going to start a fight with either of them, they're pretty cool. Have you ever talked to them?"

"Yes," she growled. "Everyday for twelve fucking years! You...! You don't—!" she growled again, then threw her hands up like her sister had done, finally walking away.

I swear, before moving to North Ridge my dick had never caused me any problems.

I thought I'd have to have a similar conversation with Soren—the Rory update, not the dating thing—but he didn't search me out during school. In fact, I didn't talk to anyone else until I walked into a bathroom and found Sophie sitting on the sink counters.

"I think you got the wrong bathroom." I pointed out.

"Don't bother," Winston said from where he was finishing up at one of the urinals. "She was born in a barn, there's no training her to the ways of polite society."

"Don't hate me because I don't let something dumb like gendered bathrooms stop me from living my best life."

"That's sure is some best life." I said as I took my turn at the urinal. If I was the type to get shy about this kind of stuff, it still wouldn't have mattered because they had both seen the show before.

"The best." Sophie declared, splashing Winston with the water flowing from the sink he was using to wash his hands. He growled at her, she just smiled back. Then she turned towards me. "Oh! Hey! Congratulations are in order, right? Heard you're third now."

"Yeah." I said vaguely as I zipped up and went to the sinks. I wasn't filled with any sort of accomplishment. It had all just seemed like a foregone conclusion.

"Are you going to try to climb higher at the challenge moon?" Winston asked.

"Nope," I answered. "I don't think I could beat your or Rory's mom in a fight." Well, I probably could, but I'd probably lose a couple of limbs in the process. I had never seen either of them fight, but I could tell they would both be vicious.

"Oh, yeah, we heard about Rory, too. That sucks." Sophie said simply.

There was silence then as I dried my hands. There wasn't much else to say. It did suck, but they had never been close to Rory so...

"Hey, are you free tonight?" Winston asked before I could leave. "Just to, you know, hang out." He clarified. Which caught me off guard. No sex? Just hanging out? The only other people who did that were Shiloh and Rory.

"Um, no. Sorry, I'm going to see Rory after school." Even if he wasn't awake. I hadn't heard anything from his parents, but there was a part of me that thought when I got to Doctor Circle Eagle's house that he'd be awake. Sitting up in bed, wounds all healed, happy to see me.

"Aw, that's so sweet. You're a good dude, Piper." Sophie said.

I shrugged. "I'm his Mate, what did you expect?"

It was Sophie's turn to shrug. "Well, you guys aren't fucking each other's brains out on the reg, so you're not exactly normal Mates. But then, I think the whole Mating thing is such a crock. I mean, whatever mystical force decides these things didn't make us" she gestured to Winston "Mates, so, obviously it's all lame and stupid."

"Aw, that's so sweet." Winston threw her words back at her, but the soft smile on his face said he wasn't entirely joking.

"You're lucky you're pretty." She said, taking his hand. "Well, if you can't hang tonight, at least come eat lunch with us."

"Ah, thanks, but your table's kind of crowded." Most of the wolf kids in school ate in the cafeteria in a clump of several tables centered around Winston and Sophie. The only real outlier was Rory and his friends. I usually just took the calculated risk and ate in my car since I couldn't stand their staring.

Winston shrugged good-naturedly. "If you change your mind, you know where to find us."

I just stared at the door after they had left. Were they actually trying to make friends with me? Or was it the same reason Amy wanted to date me? Consolidating power?

I threw the balled up paper towel into the trash as hard as I could. It being a paper towel didn't do much to relieve my growing frustration. People's intentions were way easier to understand when they were just your fuck buddy.

After school, I found myself by Rory's side again. It seemed like his healing had slowed down a little. I spent most of the night awake, just listening to the heart monitor they had attached to him. Straining to hear the soft sound of his breathing underneath the beeping.


It was the next morning and I was at home, in the shower. I was hard. And I felt like such an ass. Rory was hurt and practically in a coma, and here I was with a hard-on. I turned the shower knob to cold, but even after a few minutes, I was still in the same state.

With a disgusted sigh at myself, I wrapped my hand around my cock and started stroking, trying to get this over with as quickly as possible. The last time I had jerked off had been during the heat, but before then I couldn't remember. There had always been someone. Someone who was attracted to how dominant I was.

Within a pack, I didn't even have to try, really. Shiloh said that was a good thing since I sucked at flirting.

It had been the way with Chelsea. I had been wandering around "downtown" North Ridge soon after we had moved here, trying to get familiar with what little the town had to offer. She had been standing outside of The Teeth, taking her break apparently. She had looked me over—it was a very familiar look—and asked if I was that new wolf in town. And it didn't take long for that small talk to end up in the backseat of her car at the back of the parking lot.

It had been fun. And a lot better than having to listen to my father bring up every reason that I was a disappointment.

Having Henry sucker punch me as I got out of her car was also fun, in a way. Fucking and fighting, those were the only things I was good at.

I tried to shake off these thoughts, they weren't helping me get any closer to coming. My thoughts scrolled through memories of all my most recent hook-ups. They had been fun, too, but none of them really got the blood pumping now while I was alone and trying to wring an orgasm out of my stubborn cock. Except...

My thoughts came to a stop on my memories of Rory. I tried to think about anything else, but I couldn't now that the idea was lodged in my head.

I closed my eyes, and let my forehead rest against the forearm I had braced against the wet tiles. I pictured my hand working over Rory's cock in Rowan's kitchen. Of his moans and his whimpers as he rubbed his ass against me. It had been so hard to turn down his offer afterwards. So hard to bite my lip and not try to convince him that letting me bend him over the counter would be so much better—for both of us, to remind him of how good I was at this. But then, I had already known. Sex meant something to Rory and we were already in this messed up Mating situation to throw any more complications into it.

I thought back to the night we Mated. How good he had looked, legs spread wide, thighs held tight in my grip, his body dotted with marks I had made with my teeth. His spotted hands had covered his mouth at times, trying to keep all the sounds inside, but they still managed to escape from time to time as his hands abandoned their post to grab at his own hair or paw through the grass wildly like he hadn't known what to do with all the pleasure being fucked into him. I hadn't thought it had been his first time, but I knew for sure that no one had given it to him like I had.

I opened my eyes and looked down, imagining Rory's hands wrapped around me. I was coming in no time flat.

After cleaning up, I dried off in front of the bathroom mirror. Not one of my proudest moments, but it wasn't like I had an abundance of those, anyway.

It was as I was looking into the mirror that I thought about the time Rory had been able to see through my eyes. Was he doing that now? Hadn't he said he'd been asleep the last time it had happened? Would it work now that he was unconscious?

I mentally poked at our bond, it still felt as muted as it had been the last few days. But just in case...

I wrote "Hi" in the fogged up mirror. Our bond didn't react in any way.

Just as well, it would probably be a bit weird for Rory to go from watching me jerk off to writing him a little note like I had been aware of him watching the entire time. Though it probably wouldn't have been as bad had he popped in while I'd been fucking one of his good friends—and roughly at that—like I'd been afraid he had the first time. Amy had told me Rory could be kind of a prude and it would best to "keep things between us"—her words, I really shouldn't be surprised she was angling for more now—if I wanted to keep the friendship that we had been building. Managed to fuck that right up anyway, and all by myself, too.

I was shocked that I even had friends most days.


The next couple of days went by like the last, with Rory seemingly improving, but not waking up. That didn't happen until Saturday in the middle of the afternoon. The low murmur of voices I couldn't quite make out woke me up from the nap Abby had forced me to go take—In a real bed, Piper.

It took me a second to realize I wasn't really hearing anything and that the feeling was coming from our Bond. I hurried out of bed and started getting dressed. I was in my car in less than five minutes and in about ten minutes I was knocking on Doctor Circle Eagles' door.

He gave a small laugh when he saw me, so I took that as a good sign. "I just finished up with him," he said as he let me in. "He might be asleep when you get up there, he still needs to recuperate."

I nodded, but didn't slow down on my way up the stairs.

I pushed open the door slowly, trying to be quiet. Abby waved me in with a roll of her eyes. "I was going to call you when he was awake again." I just shrugged and moved to take my usual spot on the floor near the bed, but Abby stopped me. "Here, take the chair, I'm going to run home, real quick. Start making some food. Doc said he might be able to come home tomorrow." She beamed at me.

I felt something inside of me that had been twisted up, release. I sank back against the chair. He was going to be okay. After taking the time to brush the hair away from his forehead and to give Rory a kiss on the cheek, Abby left.

I picked up the sketchbook I'd left there earlier and flipped to a new page. I just let my pencil move, didn't overthink it. It wasn't too much longer that I was looking at Rory's hands and half of his face on the paper. I had been tempted to draw him before, but I hadn't been able to. Not before, when he had seemed so... small, and hurt, and just not there. Now, there was a little furrow in his brow, his nose scrunched up a bit in his sleep. It felt like any second, he was going to open his eyes.

I put down my pencil as I felt the murmurs grow "louder."

"Rory?" I asked, unsure if he was actually awake, quickly flipping to an older page in my sketchbook.

His eyes did open then. "Hey."

He looks just as tired as Mom. One sentence made it through the murmurs before everything became vague again. That... That was something, but I didn't have any time to think about it.

Rory was awake.