"It's finally Gifting Day!"

Happy squealing drifted to Pax's ears as his younger cousin ran around the house with boundless energy. She was finally of age to join a special ceremony with the other Omegas in their town, where they would finally be allowed to seek out their mates. The older werewolf shook his head and smiled. Omegas were revered and respected for the peace that their presence brought to the Alphas and Betas. Their family was quite proud that his cousin Maribelle turned out to be one.

Pax's family was part of one of the oldest packs in the town, the Akashi pack. The young man and his immediate family members shared the rich, mocha skin tone of his grandfather. But, only he had inherited the striking silver hair of his grandmother. The pelt of his wolf form gleamed like pure silver, and his eyes were a hue of golden yellow with the slightest hint of orange.

"I wonder what kind of piece I'll receive," Maribelle wondered aloud as she continued to dance with joy. "A headband? An earring? A ring? A bracelet?"

"Do you plan on keeping your piece as it is?" Pax asked her in curiosity. "Or will you fashion it into something else?"

"Depends on how pretty it is!" She responded. "I mean, if it turns out to be an ugly anklet or something, I'll probably fix it up a bit."

The older werewolf chuckled. "If it lights up, I doubt you'll even think twice about what the rest of it looks like," he pointed out.

"So true! Celestials, what if it lights up then and there? That'd be so cool!" Maribelle cooed.

"Are you that eager to meet a mate?" Pax teased.

"Wouldn't anyone?" The young woman countered. "I mean, it's about the best part about being an Omega."

Their conversation was called to a halt when Maribelle's parents, Pax's aunt and uncle, finally came downstairs. The entire group then left the house and walked their way over to the large, central building in the middle of their town. That building was the academy, where werewolves were taught from young pups through to adulthood. Gifting Day was similar to a graduation for Omegas.

Packs of all sizes were funneled into the building. Pax's cousin rushed off to join the other Omegas as the rest of his family found seats. They sat down somewhere in the third row and waited patiently until the ceremony kicked off.

"Citizens of Carnelian, welcome to the Gifting Ceremony." greeted the head Khonsu devotee as the remaining werewolves standing began to find seats. "To visitors who have come from other towns to wish our Omegas well, my name is Tatiana Laurette. I am the head devotee to our beloved Khonsu, goddess of the moon."

"To be an Omega is a great responsibility. The aura of peace that Omegas radiate has been known to even put a stop to civil skirmishes between our kind for centuries," Tatiana continued. "However, it is this unique gift from Khonsu herself that bestows honor upon the Omegas today. Each of our Omegas will receive a Khonsu Stone that has been fashioned into a jewelry piece."

Carts were rolled out in a line beside the head devotee, each of them full to the brim with stones of all shapes and sizes embedded into jewelry. The sizes of the stone didn't matter, neither did the jewelry piece itself. The importance lied within their use.

"Our goddess infused each of these stones with a drop of her own blood," Tatiana explained. "That gifted power allows Omegas to seek out their mates." She held her arms outward, palms facing up. "May this Gifting Day prove to be fruitful for all of you."

Tatiana's words rang of the truth. Pax, his family, and the werewolf community in its entirety treated Omegas differently. Maribelle was treated like a princess at home, and the other Omegas were treated just as regally.

The Omega standing next to Maribelle shifted uncomfortably. Tension hummed through Elias from the tips of his toes to the roots of his auburn hair. He didn't know how to feel. He'd been sheltered by his family and pack since his birth. Finding his mate could mean freedom. At the same time, once his mate claimed him, Elias would essentially belong to another werewolf. It could end up being worse than being stuck at home, never allowed to go anywhere by himself. The entire situation chafed terribly.

"Please step forward to receive your Gift when I call your name," Tatiana announced to the Omegas. "Andrew Abel...Nia Abel..."

"Can't wait!" Maribelle squeaked as her row stood up and got ready to file out. "I'd be happy with just one mate...how about you, Elias?"

"Pfft, can I claim myself as a mate and just skip being assigned a keeper?" Elias muttered.

The young woman shook her head. "Keeper? Come on, El, you know us Omegas can twist our mates round our little fingers if we wanted. We're their keepers, not the other way around," she insisted.

Elias just shook his head, not wanting to go on a tirade that might ruin the poor girl's day. It was something special, wonderful, exciting to her. As much as Elias might not feel the same, he wouldn't do anything to ruin it for her. He knew he was probably the only Omega in the room that wasn't utterly elated at the prospect of finding their mate, settling down, and doing nothing but making all the wolves around them feel all warm and fuzzy for the rest of their lives.

But it wasn't what Elias wanted. It never had been. He wanted to have a life of his own, make real choices and mistakes, not just live wrapped safely in cotton as some sort of happy drug for everyone else.

"Maribelle Akashi..."

The young woman let out a little squeak of excitement when it was her turn. She was handed an earring with a dangling stone in the shape of a tear-drop. All of the stones were clear, to begin with, but they would change their colors to match the Omega's mate or mates. The stones were fashioned into miscellaneous pieces of jewelry. Though she had worried about the design, Maribelle was relieved that her earring was pretty enough to not have to alter it. The stone didn't glow when she held it in the palm of her hand, so she quickly pulled the earing through her earhole and allowed it to dangle. She tried not to feel too disappointed that her mates weren't anywhere in the building.

"Elias Andrews."

Elias stiffened, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly before stepping forward. He could almost feel the watchful eyes of his family as he approached the Khonsu devotee handing out the stones. He looked the jewelry over as he approached, wondering which would be his while fighting the urge to turn tail and bolt for the exit. There were several rings with small clear stones, a few bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. There were many different colors of metals, though Elias knew none would be silver. No one enjoyed the itchy rash that would result from wearing that kind of metal.

His eyes were drawn to the necklace in the middle, shocked at the size of the quartz-like gem. The other stones ranged in size from some that were half of his pinky nail up to a couple that were as big as his thumbnail. This gem, however, was as large as his entire thumb. It was as crystal clear as the others, facets shining in the light. The chain looked like copper with a rich brown patina, the links carefully formed into curls and curves. The fastening featured a dangling, tribal crescent moon, and another smaller moon was settled around the crown. It was pretty, really. Even Elias could admit that.

The young Omega looked for the smallest gem there, worked into a gold ring. That would likely be his. He had been told plenty of times that the size of the stone didn't necessarily reflect the depth of the mate bond, no one actually knew for certain why the gems were different sizes. The devotees claimed it as a mystery of the goddess. Elias still wanted that to be his. As though a small bond stone would lead to a less restrictive mate, somehow.

Elias took a startled step back when the devotee lifted the necklace with the largest gem and held it out to him with a beatific smile.

"I...No. That can't be mine," Elias said, voice startlingly loud in the quiet of the room.

"Khonsu is never wrong, sweet one," Tatiana responded without missing a beat. She placed the stone into the palm of the young man's hand and curled the fingers around it. "This one is yours."

Elias felt a thrum through his body like he'd been plucked like a harp string. The stone felt warm in his hand like it was alive. He opened his hand to get a better look at it, startled to find it glowing, the light pulsing as though to the rhythm of a heartbeat.

"Ummm..." Elias blinked down at his necklace in surprise. Was it supposed to do that?

"As I said, Khonsu is never wrong. Your mate is in this building right now, sweet one," Tatiana explained. "This is a great opportunity. Omegas, look on as young Elias seeks his mate!"

The head devotee placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Hold the stone in front of you and slowly move from left to right. When you see the light flickering faster, that is the direction you must go to find them."

"Oh, shit," Elias whispered under his breath, earning a smirk from Tatiana.

This seriously wasn't happening. He was either hallucinating, or he was still in bed, having a messed up dream caused by the stressful anticipation of the Gifting. Right. That had to be it. Well, fine. He'd go along with his dream-hallucination. The faster he woke up or came to his senses, the faster this weirdness would be over.

Elias turned in a slow circle, the avid eyes of the other Omegas making sweat break out on his forehead. He kept going until he was facing the assembled witnesses, family and friends of the Omegas receiving their bonding stones. Eli's eyes widened as the stone's shimmering light pulsed faster. His eyes were wide and shocked as they snapped to Tatiana. She smiled like a mother watching her child solving difficult math problems without help or turning a cartwheel for the first time. Elias swallowed and took a step forward. Nearly stumbling when the stone flickered faster. The wolves parted for him as he walked forward, some with kind smiles and others with disappointed faces as he passed them by. He'd passed his beaming family and several others when the gems went bonkers, flashing so quickly Elias thought it was going to give someone a seizure.

"Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap, crap, crap," Elias muttered as he hesitantly looked at who was in front of him.

Three werewolves were staring at him. Two slightly in front of the third. A brunet and blond in front, and one with beautiful silver hair behind. Elias's legs seemed to move on their own, the light glowing brighter and flashing faster with every step. The brunet looked devastated as Elias passed him. Then, Elias was passed the blond, who nodded in resignation.

Elias stood in front of the silver-haired werewolf, the tip of the bonding stone touching the center of the man's chest. The flashing had stopped, replaced by a light so bright Elias had to look away until it died down. When he glanced down again, the gem was still mostly clear, with beautiful golden-yellow streaks through it. Elias blinked for a moment, before looking up into the man's orange-gold eyes.

"Uh, hi," Elias whispered, mouth dry as sand.

Pax gulped hard as his gaze was held captive by Elias's gorgeous green eyes. The turn of events was quite shocking to him. The attention had shifted from cheering loudly for Maribelle upon receiving her Gift to hushed silence as Elias searched for his mate. Shock. Pax had felt pure shock when the stone was pressed against his chest and flashed in the telltale sign of a mission accomplished.

"H-Hey?" Pax responded, equally as inarticulate and nervous. He held out a hand for Elias to shake. "My name's Pax. Pax Akashi."

"Ah, I'm Elias Andrews." The Omega shook his head. "Sorry, that was dumb. You know that. She just said my name."

"Actually, with all the cheering, I had missed it," Pax admitted. "Elias...it's a pleasure to meet you."

Maribelle rushed over to her family. The Omegas were allowed to return to their families immediately after receiving their Gifts, but from the moment that the stone began to glow in Elias's hands, she had frozen in place to watch, just like everyone else. "I can't believe it, how exciting!" She gasped when she caught up with them. "Elias and I have always been friends, but we never had much of a reason to get to know each other beyond pleasantries. Now, we have a great chance!"

The sound of Tatiana's voice drifted throughout the building once more as she continued to call names forward.

"Welcome to the family, Elias!" Maribelle concluded.

"Th-thanks," Elias answered, still a little stunned.

The male Omega gasped when he was swept into a tight hug from behind.

"So, proud of you, Eli!" came a booming voice as Elias's feet lifted from the floor. "That's my boy, biggest gem and first to find their mate! Have to admit I was worried, but I see there was nothing to get fussed about."

"Dad...can't breathe..." Elias gasped. He was overly familiar with his father's painfully enthusiastic hugs, but that didn't make the sensation of his ribs creaking any more pleasant.

Pax's uncle stepped forward and extended his hand towards Eli's father. "I'm James Akashi, Pax's guardian...and this is my beloved mate, Leslie, and our daughter, Maribelle."

"Elias and I were classmates!" Maribelle stated eagerly. "And now we're gonna be practically siblings. I mean, I was lucky to have Pax as my adoptive brother since I was nine, but I've always wanted more siblings. This is just too cool!"

"My parents passed away when I was twelve," Pax elaborated with a saddened expression on his face. "A semi-truck crashed into them on their way home..."

Elias was grateful when his dad released him to shake hands.

"I'm delighted to meet you." The Andrews patriarch's green eyes were kind when they turned to Pax. "I'm sorry to hear that. I know we can never replace what you've lost, but you should know that we consider you a son to us, now."

"My baby!"

Elias braced himself as he was swept into another rib-cracking hug.

"Mom," Elias wheezed.

"I thought we'd have more time!" the tall red-headed werewolf keened. "Weeks at least until you found your mate! I'm not even close to finishing your promise quilt! And you're going to be gone! Everyone in the house is going to feel so worked up without you there to calm them!"

Eli's mother dropped him suddenly, the Omega rubbing his hands over his aching sides.

"I'm Deana, but please, call me Dee. Everyone does." She turned back to her son. "Oh, honeybun, I thought you might never settle down, what with your tendencies. But here we are!"

"Mom," Elias barked as Dee opened her arms as though to grab him again. The Omega stumbled back, colliding with a warm, broad chest.

Pax gently held the sides of Eli's arms to steady him. "Are you alright?" A slight frown formed on his face. "I understand if you're not ready to move in with me just yet. My house is only a few blocks away from my aunt and uncle's. It's not too far from this building."

"Move in?" Elias looked from his brand new mate to his parents. Who knew how many hugs he'd be subjected to if he went home before his family had a chance to settle down. It wasn't just his parents who tended to squeeze the stuffing out of him. He looked up at Pax, who was touching him so carefully. "Yeah, I'll move in. Is today too soon?"

Silver eyebrows raised slightly in surprise before a brilliant smile formed on Pax's face. "Today would be just fine," he responded. "I look forward to learning about you, Elias."

Elias shivered, the man's voice drifting over him like a caress. His skin felt hot where Pax was touching him. Eli pushed back the desire to rub against the taller werewolf like a cat. Elias was no cat. He might be an Omega, but he was still a wolf. He had some pride.

"Calm down, Dee," Elias's father said, patting his mate's shoulder. "He's fine. Let's go get his things packed so he can start all that nesting that Omegas like to do once they're mated." Jim smiled wide at his son. "It's good to see you settled, bud. I knew that once you got yourself a mate, you'd calm down. I'm real glad it worked out this way."

Elias clenched his teeth to bite back the sharp words on his tongue but allowed himself to be squashed by his parents again before they left, Dee alternately wailing at the loss of her little boy and shouting with excitement at the turn of events. Eli's shoulders sagged, emotionally exhausted and physically sore when his parents were finally gone.

"Is everything alright?" Pax asked softly. "As overwhelming as all of this is for me, I imagine it's twice as overwhelming to you..." He placed his hands on his own hips as he looked down and back into Eli's green eyes in a nervous manner. "To be honest, I'm happy. I never thought I'd come across a mate in this lifetime. I was getting ready to live vicariously through Maribelle if she found her mate."

"Speaking of which! Mom, dad, I'm gonna be heading out with some of the other Omegas. We're gonna go around town hunting!" She confessed.

"Alright sweetie, just be home before midnight," Maribelle's mother responded. She then turned towards Pax. "We're quite happy for you, Pax. We're going to head back home and give you some privacy. Come on, honey." She said as she led her husband away.

When the two of them were completely alone, Pax gave his undivided attention to his mate. "Would you...like some time alone to think?"

Elias thought about thinking, nibbling his lower lip. Thinking always got Elias stirred up. He'd think about what being an Omega was supposed to mean and compare it to what it meant to him. He'd end up feeling trapped and powerless. Which would probably lead to him doing something stupid, ranging from mildly half-witted to monumentally brainless.

"Nope. I'm good," Elias chirped.

The Omega jumped at a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see the head devotee to Khonsu, Tatiana, smiling down at him.

"I'm very sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." Her voice was sweet and gentle. "I spoke to the other Omegas about it, but I didn't want to interrupt your time with your family." Her warm eyes trailed to the bonding stone Elias still held in his hand. "And seeing your gem, I believe it's relevant information."

Elias looked down at the stone, the swirls of gold catching the light. He held it away from him like it might try to bite his face.

"Why? What's wrong?" Elias asked nervously.

"Oh, no, nothing's wrong." Tatiana chuckled. "I just wanted to explain a few things about bonding stones. Do you have a moment?"

"Uh, yeah." Elias glanced at Pax and back to the devotee. "Sure."

"Wonderful," Tatiana said with a smile. "You did very well with finding your mate using the guiding light of the stone."

The devotee reached out, taking the necklace from Elias's limp fingers and looping the curling chain over his head. He expected it to be heavy with the weight of the stone, but it was nothing more than a warm pressure against his chest. Something relaxed inside him that Elias hadn't even realized had been wound tightly. The Omega put his hand over the gem in surprise.

"Feels good, doesn't it?" Tatiana said with a wink. "It's a gift from Khonsu to her Omegas, a tiny taste of the feelings you inspire in others."

Elias wanted to feel angry about it, but couldn't. It was actually pretty nice. It wasn't an overwhelming feeling. It was a soft and quiet warmth, like petting a purring cat.

Not that Elias liked cats.

"Many bonding stones will only hold one color. One color for one mate." Tatiana nodded at Eli's gem. "A few will hold more than one color, like yours."

"I... What?" Elias asked blankly, looking down at his stone, at the yellow ribbons winding through it. "It's supposed to be one color, right? One color for Pax." He looked up hopefully. "Will it finish turning yellow later?"

"Well, no." The devotee shook her head. "The colors in a stone can deepen as the bond between an Omega and his mate grows stronger. And I have no doubt that Pax's gold will grow even richer in your gem."

Elias didn't want to examine why that information made him feel terror and deep longing simultaneously. The warm fuzzy feeling was draining out of him faster than water in a leaky bucket.

"What I was getting at is that your stone isn't done collecting its colors." Tatiana smiled brightly. "You have more than one mate to find, and then your bonding stone won't be clear anymore." She leaned forward to whisper to him. "I'm very excited for you. I can't wait to see how many you'll have. We've never had a stone so large. It caused quite a stir. You're deeply blessed by the Goddess."

Tatiana had broken Elias's brain.

"H-how many are we talking about here?" the Omega squeaked.

"Oh, it's impossible to say. Judging by the size of Pax's colors and the size of the stone, I'd say at least three."

"Three?" Elias shouted, oblivious to his volume and the look of shock on Tatiana's face. "I can't have three mates! I'm not sure I'll be able to handle one! What am I going to do with three? I'll be completely outnumbered."

Static filled Elias's ears as he clutched a hand to his chest, forcing the gem to dig painfully into his skin as his vision grayed at the edges.

"What if they never let me out of the house again?" Elias tilted a little to the side. "They can do that. I'll belong to them. I mean, Dad kept me in the house for two months once during a turf conflict because he said Omegas are too precious to expose to even the slightest risk. My five-year-old baby sister still went to school, but I stayed home." Eli's eyes were wild as his eyes darted around the darkening room, the static in his ears rising to a roar. "They could decide it's never safe. I'd never get out. I can't sneak away from three wolves!"

Tatiana and Pax looked on as the blood drained from the young Omega's face. Just as Elias began to teeter, Pax rushed forward and caught him before he hit the ground.

"Elias!" He cried out as he carefully lifted his mate into his arms.

Tatiana reached over to gently swipe back the Omega's soft auburn locks away from his face. She made a tutting noise. "The possibility of so many mates must have overwhelmed the sweet one," she concluded as she closed her eyes and used her own power of the goddess to assess him "He will be fine. Take him home and allow him to wake up on his own."

The relief that flowed through him allowed Pax to relax his stiff stance. "Thank you, Lady Tatiana." A frowned formed on his face as he thought about the fact that he would have more mates, as well. "Do you think it's possible for us to have so many mates? Wouldn't it be too difficult on Elias?"

Tatiana shook her head and simply smiled. The head devotee felt quite happy that their town had been blessed with such a rare case. "The goddess will protect him...although, perhaps this goes beyond just our beloved goddess," she mused aloud.

"More than...what do you mean?" Pax questioned.

Lady Tatiana shook her head again. "Don't worry. Elias will be well-protected, as will you, and the mates you share."

Pax didn't know why he couldn't fully believe that. A strange feeling in his gut kept telling him that he should protect Elias himself and urge their other mates to do the same. "Then, farewell for now," he said as he headed out of the building with the smaller werewolf in his arms.

As soon as Pax reached the sidewalk at the bottom of the stairs to the entrance of the building, the necklace around Eli's neck gave a sharp flash. One of their mates must be somewhere in town. The golden-eyed werewolf took a few more steps to see if the necklace would continue to flicker like it did when Elias had made his way over to him earlier, but the stone remained dormant. A part of Pax was actually relieved. The necklace seemed to only be active when Elias was fully awake. If the flicker he had seen before was for his own awareness, then Pax wondered just how sentient the stone could be.

The silver-haired werewolf made his way back home. Though he was more than strong enough to carry the younger man, the distance did wear him out a bit. In spite of the strain, Pax didn't drop Elias once. Some crouching and shifting were involved when he reached his door, but he managed to unlock it without jostling Eli around too much. He gently laid Elias out onto his suede, blue-grey sofa, ensuring that one of the satin pillows rested beneath his head. After closing, but not locking, the door he sat on the ground beside the Omega.

Pax gently traced the side of the younger man's face with his fingers. He was relieved that color had returned to his face. The memory of how Elias had paled and fainted flashed before Pax's eyes and a frown once again formed on his face. His mate seemed downright terrified of having so many mates. No, it wasn't just that. Elias had been freaking out about being held captive by his mates, just as he had been held captive by his parents out of fear for his safety. The very thought of it pained the older werewolf. He would never hold Elias against his will.

Elias woke slowly, surrounded by warmth. He hummed contentedly. Someone must have let the dogs in, and they were all on the bed again. Dad hated when the dogs laid all over him. The Andrews patriarch said the animals might accidentally smother Elias in his sleep. Which was utterly ridiculous.

Elias let the dogs in his room as often as possible.

The Omega snuggled in with a smile, throwing his arm across a big warm body.

"Good boy, Zeus," Elias murmured sleepily. "Who's a good boy?"

Pax swallowed hard as the innocent contact sent sparks flying everywhere that Elias touched. The scent of the Omega was as wonderful as the warmth of the stove on a cold, winter day. The older werewolf cleared his throat a bit as he carefully moved Elias back to how he originally was on the couch. "How are you feeling, Elias?" He asked softly.

Elias squeaked, sitting up so fast he nearly fell off the bed.

"The fuck?" Elias blinked wide green eyes at Pax several times as his brain caught up with consciousness. "Pax? I... What happened?" He glanced around. "Where are we? Why am I on a couch?"

Elias peeked under the afghan covering him. His pants were still on, thank the Goddess.

"You fainted, and Lady Tatiana suggested I take you home to rest for a bit. How are you feeling?" Pax asked, concerned. "Do you want to go see a Healer?"

"Ah, no. I'm fine." Elias's face blazed with embarrassment. "Sorry I kind of freaked out, there."

"With the news she gave us, I wasn't exactly calm about it myself," Pax admitted.

"Shit, I didn't even think about how you'd feel about it." Elias hunched his shoulders, shame punching him in the chest. "I'm so sorry. Are you okay? I'll understand if you're angry. I kind of pulled you into this." Elias sighed softly. "If you want to reject the bond, I'll understand. You didn't sign up for my craziness. You seem like a really nice guy. You don't deserve this crap."

The unnatural calm of the bonding stone tried to wheedle into him, but Elias pushed it away, knowing it was a lie.

"Wait, none of this is your fault," Pax insisted. "I don't want to reject the bond, not even if we have a hundred mates out there. I just want to get to know you..."

"What, um, what would you like to know?" Elias asked, shifting on the sofa.

Now that he was awake and had calmed down a little, Elias could feel the pull to Pax. It was a magnet inside his skin, making him want to plaster himself against the much larger wolf-like saran wrap. Elias trembled with the effort, not to sprawl across his mate's warm, muscled body.

Pax finally sat down beside the Omega. "For starters, what would you like to have for dinner?"

Elias nodded. This was expected. Most Omegas were quite the little homemakers. They got some kind of weird satisfaction out of feeding their pack. It had been assumed Elias had felt the same, not that anyone had ever asked. Elias had been solely in charge of all the meals for the Andrews household since he was around eight years old. After he'd accidentally burned himself a few times, someone was always in the kitchen with him, watching him. But they didn't really help make anything. They pulled down any ingredients he was reaching for, whether he asked for them or not, and constantly warned him to be careful with anything sharp. Elias hoped Pax wasn't the hovering sort.

"Let me just see what you have," Elias said, hopping to his feet. Looking around the living room to try to determine the most likely direction of the kitchen, not realizing his face had pulled into grim lines. "Do you prefer Italian, Mexican, Chinese, or American? How much time do I have before you need the food on the table?"

"Whoa, whoa," Pax cried out. "I don't mean for you to make it, I meant for us to go out and eat something together. It's been a long day for both of us, why don't we just take a load off?"

"Oh." Elias turned back to Pax, feeling off-balance. "You want to take me somewhere? To eat out, not order in?"

He knew he probably had a stupid look on his face, but he couldn't hide his surprise. The Andrews family had only gone out to eat a few times a year, and if any of the alphas thought there might possibly be any danger, Elias had been told to stay home while everyone else went. Elias had eventually given up arguing about it.

"Yeah, is there any place you'd like to go? I can look up any Italian, Mexican, Chinese, or American places nearby..." Pax insisted.

Elias grinned, rushing over to Pax and throwing his arms around him. The Andrews were huggers, after all. Elias just didn't tend to squeeze the stuffing out of others, he was too small for that.

"Really? You promise? You don't have to call around to make sure it's safe? We could just go? Like, we could go and get..." Elias thought for a moment, practically vibrating with happy excitement. "Uh, a buffet? Oh my Goddess, can we go to Golden Coralle? I saw an ad, they have a chocolate fountain!" The Omega narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "And you'd let me get my food myself?"

His family didn't like taking him to buffets. The one time they had, Elias had stayed in his seat between two high-ranked alphas and other people had gone and fetched him whatever he'd asked for. Elias knew they were just trying to be solicitous and protective, but the Omega had hated feeling like a useless little princess.

"Forget promises," Pax responded as he took hold of one of the younger werewolf's hands and headed towards the door. "Let's just go right now. If you don't know how to get to Golden Coralle from my house, I'll just look for it on a map on my phone."

"I have no idea where it is," Elias admitted, his smile so wide his face hurt. The Omega hugged Pax's arm to his chest. Wow, muscles. Nice. "Can we figure it out in the car?"

Pax felt like his mind was going to explode with how many times Elias kept hugging him. All he knew was that he wanted the Omega to be happy...happy enough to keep touching and hugging him. "No problem. I'll just find it on my phone, and you can be my co-pilot on the way."

Elias wriggled happily all the way to the car, blushing as he had to release Pax's arm so the man could open Eli's door for him. Elias's smile stayed firmly on his face as Pax closed the door, allowing the Omega to fasten his seatbelt on his own. Eli was amazed.

Elias never imagined being mated would be this awesome.

After Pax got into the car, he searched for the nearest Golden Coralle on his phone and then handed it over for Elias to hold. He was starting to feel more than a little nervous, as it would be his first date with his first mate. So many firsts! "I've never been to that restaurant before, so I'll actually be following your lead."

"Oh, umm, I dunno if I'm going to be a ton of help, then." Elias scooted down in the seat, making himself smaller in front of his alpha mate. "I went once, and I didn't have much. I felt bad making my sister get me everything." Elias sighed wistfully. "Chocolate fountain," he whispered longingly.

"Then, we'll just have to figure it out together. Don't worry," Pax immediately amended. "Though I'm guessing that the chocolate fountain was good?"

"I didn't get any." Elias sighed again. "But it smelled so good."

"If it's there today, then you'll have your chance," Pax pointed out.

"Thanks!" Elias didn't notice when he rested his hand on Pax's thigh, the magnetic pull to his mate still thrumming under his skin. "I'm starving. This is going to be sweet!"

The Omega's enthusiasm was contagious. If he were a slyer werewolf, he'd draw out their drive as long as he could just to keep the contact going. But, he didn't. All too soon, they pulled up to the parking lot at Golden Coralle and made their way inside.

Eli bounced on his heels as they ordered drinks and Pax paid. A werewolf waitress smiled sweetly at them as she led them to a booth. Elias didn't think his smile could get bigger as they got their food. Pax got Elias a plate, but let the Omega carry it himself when Eli asked. He offered to dish up the food Elias wanted but didn't force the issue when Eli assured Pax he was happy to do it himself. A few other alphas frowned at the sight of an Omega carrying his own food-laden plate, but no one said anything. Elias was too happy to notice.

Pax noted some of the faces of the other alphas, and he growled low in his throat as he passed by their tables. They needed to mind their own business. Just because Elias wanted to serve his own plate didn't mean that he was unprotected. His face changed into a wide smile when the Omega headed towards their table and took a seat. The older werewolf sat down across from him.

"Urgh," Elias moaned happily. "Hushpuppies," he said with his mouth full. "Wait..." He dipped a ball of the fried dough into a little bowl of melted cheese, popping it into his mouth and moaning. "Even better!"

The Omega mowed through his plate, moaning and cooing happily over buttered yeast rolls, fried chicken, stir-fry, and mashed potatoes. Elias went back to the buffet twice, completely abusing his access to the chocolate fountain, covering marshmallows, strawberries, and rice crispy treats in sweetness.

Pax let him go back up by himself when Elias assured him he'd be fine. The larger man wasn't very worried about it, he could see most of the buffet from where they sat. Even if he couldn't, he'd be able to hear if Elias needed him. Elias finally slowed down his feeding frenzy, wiping his mouth with a napkin and taking a sip of lemonade.

"This is amazing. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun. Thank you so much," Elias said earnestly. "Even if you never let me do this again...seriously, thank you."

Pax shook his head and leaned back in a stunned gesture. "Why would I never let you do this again? Something like this would be nice a couple of times a week, don't you think?" He asked.

Elias paused with a chocolate-drenched strawberry halfway to his mouth. A bit of still warm chocolate dripped to his plate with a soft plop.

"Seriously?" Elias asked breathlessly, then frowned. "Why?" He set the strawberry down without eating it. "I don't understand what's going on... Nobody lets their Omega out this much. Being an Omega means having someone constantly up your butt watching for every little thing that might be a threat. It means never getting to do anything for yourself or making your own decisions." Elias rested his palms on the cool, crumb-flecked surface of the table and peered at Pax curiously. "How did you not learn this stuff?"

And how long until you figure it out and there's no more going out, no more anything for me? Elias thought to himself.

Pax let out a soft snort and gave him a half-smile. "I look like I never learned any of it?" He questioned. "You are my mate before you are an Omega. It's my job now to protect you...but, that doesn't mean I have to smother you."

"Well, you sure aren't acting like I'm an Omega. Not that I'm complaining, but aren't you worried something bad could happen?" Elias rolled his emerald eyes. "My old pack's alphas always seemed to have a list as long as my arm for why things weren't safe."

Elias didn't add that he always thought almost everything they'd spouted off was either stupidly ridiculous or amazingly unlikely.

"Don't I look strong enough to protect you?" He teased before shrugging his shoulders. "I mean, yeah, I don't want anything bad to happen to you. I don't want anything bad to happen to either of us. But, I'd worry more if I weren't around you...I figure if I can still see you, I can protect you."

Elias dove under the table, popping up on the other side next to a startled Pax. The Omega practically crawled in Pax's lap, hugging him vigorously.

"I'm going to completely freak out if you ever change your mind about all this," Elias said seriously, shoving his face under Pax's chin and nuzzling affectionately. The Omega sat back on Pax's lap and frowned. "What about the others, though? We're going to have at least two more mates. What if they want to wrap me up in cotton and sit on me all the time?"

Pax couldn't help but laugh at the vivid picture that Elias painted. He placed his hand on top of the younger werewolf's auburn hair and began to gently stroke it. "If they're anything like me, they'll know to trust that you'll be fine," he figured. "And if they're not, then I'll make sure they won't wrap you up in cotton and sit on you."

"You're too good to be true." Elias cupped Pax's face in his hands and studied his handsome face. "I can't tell you how worried I was about getting a mate. I thought it might be worse than before." Elias shook his head slightly. "I love my pack, don't get me wrong, and I know they love me. They just wanted to protect me from everything. They treated me how they think an Omega should be treated. It was just a little suffocating." Eli smiled wide and leaned forward to press a soft kiss on Pax's lips, warmth and contentment blooming in his chest. "I think I owe the Goddess a bucket and a half of thank you prayers for setting us up."

Pax couldn't remember the last time he ever blushed. But, his face all but glowed red at both the sight of Eli's smile and the kiss he had been bestowed. He cleared his throat in a nervous gesture. "Honestly, I think I owe her just as many thank you prayers, as well." He placed his hands gently on Elias's hips. "Whenever you're ready to go home, we can take our desserts to go. Tomorrow I'm gonna get you a phone and a copy of the house key."

Feeling a little high and reckless, Elias sat back, rubbing his backside on Pax's lap.

"Let's go home," Elias said with pink cheeks and a mischievous grin. "Then we can have some dessert."