How To Date A Jewish Werewolf Ch 5

–Chris–

Her eyes were just a touch too wide as she took in the space. She’d had plenty of time alone with her thoughts on the way over, how it was stupid to just follow a random stranger, how it was probably fine, they were going to a public place, how nice Aaron’s legs looked as he ran, what to expect from a gym for supes–

But it just looked like a normal gym. Maybe a sparse one, but normal. She looked around at the equipment, trying to spot the difference, couldn’t. Finally she turned to Aaron, trusting him to be her guide.

“Okay then, where do you usually start?”

He scratched his jaw, looking around the space. He took in a trio of top heavy dudes in the free weights section, making love to their own reflections. He made a face, shook his head, and turned his gaze to the cardio zone.

“Well, usually there, but we kinda already did that part…”

Chris nodded and rolled her shoulders. She hadn’t been able to do much more than her at home PT work for it, with Sam haunting their gym. She gestured to the weight equipment scattered through the main body of the room. “We jogged enough I warmed up, maybe do some arm work?”

He flexed a bicep with a grin, clearly showing off. But it was endearingly silly, rather than a macho show of ego.

“Sounds good to me.” He scanned the gym, indicted a free fly machine and headed over.

“Do a rep loose, to see if the reinforcements throw off your sense of weight. They shouldn’t, but…” He seemed sheepish. “I’ve never brought any of my human friends here before.”

“Human friends” was surprisingly reassuring. She didn’t feel out of place here exactly, half so much as she felt out of place everywhere. Knowing that Aaron had human friends made him hanging out with her feel less weird somehow.

Chris sat on the bench and went through the motions, but honestly, it seemed fine. She told him as much as he brought over an assortment of plates, color coded in a way that wasn’t immediately apparent. He set the stack down and handed her a sky blue one.

“Bird weights,” he said. “Avians and serpents tend to the lithe and fast end of things, as far as superhuman abilities go. But most of the serpents in Lowtown hang out at Asylum and use their gym, so it’s mostly just birds here, if any. How’s the heft?”

Chris tested it and nodded, “Good.”

“Awesome. I’ll just put these back then, and we can spell each other off.”

She went lighter than usual on her shoulder, since it was unfamiliar equipment. The last thing she needed was to overdo her shoulder and have her old injury flare up. To his credit, Aaron didn’t question her weight choice, or comment on it in any way. Sam would have had some opinion, and delivered unsolicited. Aaron loaded her weights, made sure she was familiar with the machine, and let her work.

“Trade?”

He nodded, hefting two weight plates the size of her head. 250lbs each, geez. He could probably pick her up and toss her over his shoulder–not that she was going to day dream about that or anything.

“So,” he said, once he was ready and seated. “What do you like to do for fun?”

She looked up, surprised he wanted to talk through his reps. As usual, her brain’s quick response was on point, ”Sorry?”

He smirked. “I usually bring my headphones when I come here, so I have something to entertain me. Music, podcasts—anything but sound of other people quietly suffering on their own machines.”

“Oh, I see, so we’re going to play Twenty questions.” She smiled, not wanting him to think she was serious. “Um, fun. Well…”

Her brain flashed over the last year. For the most part, she hadn’t done anything other than school, work, work out, and gone to any social functions Sam deemed somehow important to his job. It had become rather monotonous. And dull.

God, she missed her friends. The six of them had been inseparable in high school, but Sam hadn’t liked her friends. It had started with her just seeing them when he wasn’t around, but that had decreased more and more until she hadn’t seen any of them in months. Depressing.

She drew herself out of her thoughts with a shake. “Sorry, apparently that was a hard question. I… watch trashy reality tv.”

God, had she really just admitted that out loud?

“Tell me about one.”

He didn’t laugh—but then again, he seemed to be huffing a little. Maybe he didn’t want to talk through his reps half so much as be talked to through his reps.

Chris shifted her weight, then shook her head and started stretching as she sat and told him about Cheater’s Island. It was a really dumb premise – sending cheaters to be alone on an island with the idea that if they could abstain from any of the other cheaters, their spouse or whatever would take them back. Every week was some new stressor that coincidentally trapped some people in isolated spots to tempt them. It was utterly staged, utterly hokey, and for some reason, she enjoyed watching the made up drama. Mel had gotten her started on them, and she ignored the totally depressing thought that she’d kept up with them in a weird attempt to keep in touch with her bestie. Fortunately it was her turn on the machine, and Aaron entertained her with tales of his own extracurriculars.

“And so it was pretty natural to jump from Pokemon to Magic as I aged out of Pikachu, and into tabletop games when I realized just how vast the world of nerdery truly was.”

He was grinning like a dog panting from a run, relaxed and happy with the world. It was really cute.

She couldn’t help but smile back, even as she tried to breathe with the movement of the machine. When they went to trade off, she added, “You are much more built than the nerds I dated in high school.”

He flashed her a grin. “I’m telling you, it’s the wolf thing. All wolves are naturally more athletic, even lazy ones like me.”

“Ah, yes, the haven’t been to the gym in ages, need a cute girl motivator.” She blew out a breath and got up so he could have the machine again. “I was the opposite in high school. I was nerd adjacent, but played volleyball and softball.”

“Clearly, just the cute girl motivator I need.”

They fell into a nice routine, trading off so the other could rest between reps. Then off to another machine, test her ability, back into a routine. Easy. Kinda nice.

She was just starting to really relax when a thundering crash from across the room in the free weights section. The whole gym booed, the guy who dropped them looking sheepish. Weight crackers were considered bad form in other gyms. In supe gyms, Chris could see why everything was reinforced. Dropping that much weight might crash through the floor somewhere else.

Aaron stood with a hand protectively on her shoulder, bristling like he’d done with Sam earlier. Chris wasn’t sure, but she thought he might be… growling?

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he muttered. “We’re usually better than that here.” His eyes were still on the offending weight lifter. His voice was definitely thick and low and growly. Yum. Then he shook himself and looked at her, Mr. Growly Hyde giving way to a gentler look of concern.

“You okay? You wanna leave?”

She stared up at him for a moment too long, then managed, “Uh. No. No, I’m good. Uh, thanks.”

Realizing how very unconvincing she sounded, she waved a hand and smiled. Nope, not flustered at the hot guy being protective and growly. Not at all. “Really, we can finish, I’m fine.”

“Mmm, you sure are.”

The voice from behind her made her jump, turning to take in the dark, compact woman who tossed her a wink. Her voice purred where Aaron’s growled, making Chris wonder if she was cat shifter.

The man that followed her was obviously a bear.

Tall, grizzled, and looking like he’d stepped out a post-apocalyptic call for extras, the guy’s presence filled the room long before he finished his slow but steady procession across the floor. The weight-clacker cowered, looking like a kicked puppy. The dark woman made a soft “oooh” sound low in her throat, smile wide as she anticipated trouble.

“No roughhousing.”

The voice was as gravely as she’d expected from someone named Gruff.

“No loud music,” he continued. “No showboating. No fights outside of scheduled classes, no hierarchies or bullshit.”

It was clearly a list of rules, rattled off by rote. Chris realized she’d hadn’t seen any posted anywhere, or even seen anyone or anything resembling staff, until now. It all seemed to run on the honor system.

“No excuses.”

“Yes, sir.”

Weight-clacker nodded, a little too quickly. Gruff gestured to the rack of weights with a curt nod.

“Maybe drop it down a notch, if you’re struggling. None of us got nothing to prove here.”

“Yes, sir.”

Apparently satisfied, Gruff continued past into the empty practice room, dark until he’d turned on the lights. He collected a clipboard from the wall and studied it, must be a class roster or something. Before she could ask Aaron what on earth had just happened, a soft whomp sounded next to her as all the air was knocked from Aaron’s body. The dark woman sat on him, clearly having dropped him to the floor.

“Buddy get off me! What part of “no roughhousing” don’t you get?”

“The part where it doesn’t apply to me,” she answered lightly. Still seated on Aaron, she held a hand out to Chris.

“Hi, new girl. Name’s Buddy, since our mutual puppy was too rude to introduce us.”

Chris blinked. She really didn’t think it was Aaron who was rude when she was using him like a chair. But he looked exasperated, not mad.

She took the hand. “Uh, I’m Chris.”

“And I’m not a chair!” Aaron said from under her. “Get off me.”

Buddy did, helping him to his feet, then almost taking him right back off them with another move. Aaron groaned and Buddy laughed.

“You’re slow, pup! You shouldn’t have skipped so many classes—what will Rachel think?”

“Rachel doesn’t care what a mid-ranker like me does.” He brushed himself off of imaginary dust and looked to Chris.

“Chris, this is Buddy, that was Gruff. They run this place—though Buddy is more likely to run it into the ground, the way she treats all her students.”

Buddy scoffed. “Only the lazy ones.” She looked Chris up and down. “Bet you’re not lazy, are you sunshine? You here to take Bunny Boxing?”

“Bunny Boxing? No…” She wasn’t too put off by the obvious leering Buddy was doing. She’d put up with worse from Mel, and she imagined they meant it about the same amount. “I just needed a break from my regular gym.”

Close enough.

Aaron tried to pull an arm lock while Buddy was distracted, but it only resulted in her putting him in a headlock.

“Ow ow ow, leggo!” Buddy did not, in fact, “leggo”, so Aaron continued speaking with his head tucked under her arm.

“Buddy’s the one to talk to if you want to make this your regular gym—assuming she hasn’t scared you off.”

Buddy offered Chris a hand, releasing Aaron. “Blodwyn Ames, at your service.” Her feral grin returned. “Everyone calls me Buddy though, or boss, in class. You, however, are welcome to call me anything you like, lady pup. Or any time.”

Before Chris could answer, Aaron made an uncomfortable sound and said, “She’s not with the pack.”

Chris was having a hard time keeping up. Make this her regular gym? Her brain hadn’t even made the move to something being wrong with her current regular gym.

Yeah, it was the same gym that Sam went to, but…

She thought on every time she’d had to duck into the showers to avoid him, only to find him waiting for her outside the door anyway. Every time he’d started a conversation while she was on a machine and it was either talk to him or risk an argument that drew everyone’s attention. How many times she’d heard his voice followed by someone else’s ‘oh, she’s over there’.

Today, jogging up to the building only to see him step around the corner and hope that she’d turned fast enough to avoid him seeing her. She hadn’t been.

Buddy was giving her a look that meant she’d missed something. She shook her head.

“Sorry, I missed whatever you said, I hadn’t thought about the fact that I probably should switch gyms permanently.”

“I asked if you wanted to audit my bunny boxing class. It’s perfect for people like us with less weight to throw around.”

Without even seeming to move, Buddy had hooked her foot behind one of Aaron’s and pulled him off balance again.

“Will you cut that out!”

Buddy grinned. “Great class if you’re gonna be hanging around with big scary puppies like Aaron.”

Chris couldn’t help but smile at the idea that Aaron was somehow big and scary. Big maybe, but hardly scary. She supposed that if he’d been growling at her instead of over her, maybe. But it was hard to forget what a goofball he mostly seemed to be.

“It sounds interesting and I’ve been meaning to add some sort of active class now that I have more time. When is it?”

“Tuesday and Thursday nights at 7, or Saturdays at noon, if you want to ditch the pup and come see me alone.”

Since it was Wednesday, that meant there was a class tomorrow night. She didn’t have any plans – and it sounded better than being alone with Buddy.

“Tomorrow would be fine, I don’t have plans.”

“Neither do I,” Aaron said through gritted teeth, though she was pretty sure it was more at Buddy than being volunteered for a class tomorrow.

“Great! It’s settled!” She threw an arm over Chris’s shoulders and pointed imperiously towards the free hanging bags in the back of the room.

“Go get your grump out, pup. I’ll show your new lady friend around.”

Aaron was decidedly growly when he said, “I’m good, thanks.”

Buddy met him with a look and energy that rivaled Gruff’s from earlier.

“You’re riled, wolf. I know you don’t want to bring that kind of trouble home to your alpha, and you probably don’t want to scare off your new friend here. Work it off. I won’t make any moves on your girl. Cute as she is.”

How To Date A Jewish Werewolf Ch 4

— Aaron–

Aaron rolled his neck as they hit the sidewalk, trying to casually scope out the ex situation. He didn’t see or smell anything—except Chris, also scanning the street. She looked sheepish when he met her gaze, so he offered her a reassuring smile.

“Hey, me too. It’s not unreasonable to be on your guard for someone who’s chased you all the way down Walnut.”

Chris blew out a breath, sending a wave of her scent on the breeze to him. She smelled really, really nice. She looked really, really conflicted.

“He didn’t chase me,” she protested. “He just… came walking the same way I was walking.” She sighed, clearly aware of how lame her excuses for him sounded.

“I stopped answering his texts. I couldn’t stop him from looking me up in person and pleading his case, again… and again.”

Aaron offered a raised eyebrow but no comment. He’d had more than his fair share of not ending things cleanly when he should. Stones and glass houses.

Chris didn’t look at him, but he didn’t need to see her face to scent that she’d gone from anxious to embarrassed and glum. He reached out, brushing her hand with his.

“Do you want to talk about it, or run it off?”

She waffled, her gaze flicking to the street around them. She was still looking for her ex.

“Let’s run? We can use it a warm up for the work out. If we want to, we can talk over food?”

He nodded and pushed his foot against the bricks, stretching his calves.

“Sounds good. Gruff’s two blocks down, one over. Left onto Fir. You set the pace, I’ll call directions?”

She nodded and they set off.

He tried not to think too hard as they ran, ignoring the usual laundry list of mistakes his brain liked to play when he ran. There was a reason he preferred hitting the bag, or weight machines. Running was a wolf thing. And if he wasn’t doing it on all fours, his wolf brain wanted no part of it. So it was just him and his thoughts, and lately they’d been on reruns of regrets.

But no more. He’d promised himself that much today and every one before it for the past nine months, and he knew eventually he’d mean it. Why not today? “Random cute girl to motivate him” indeed.

He kept a steady pace with her, both jogging just enough to warm up. He called out to indicate they should turn at the next intersection, Aaron picking up his pace to compensate for taking the outside of the turn. Running between her and the street, protective instincts still on high. White Knight Disaster Mode, engage. He’d have to do an extra round on the bags to work it off, if he didn’t want his alphas to throw a fit about how territorial he smelled when he got home. Bad enough he’d smell like angry bird and scared human.

And Gruff’s.

Gruff’s “gym” hardly merited that title, sitting in the gutted out bottom half of one of the many old stores in Lowtown. The plain brick and mortar exterior held no signage, no attendant waiting in reception to manage sign-ins and push membership plans. Just an open floor plan, studded with support columns, machines and free weights, and hanging heavy bags. The usual mixed crowd of supes–cats, fey, vamps, mid-ranking wonders like himself–hung out in twos and threes, spotting each other and more or less supervising themselves. If Gruff or Buddy was around, they were somewhere in the back, or upstairs. It didn’t matter if they were or weren’t anyways. Gruff’s belonged to everyone, so everyone looked after it.

Aaron led Chris through the space to the cubbies just before the showers, tossing his bag in one and taking a long draught from the water fountain. Man, he’d really let himself get out of shape. This quick jog shouldn’t have winded him so bad.

On the plus side, it meant he was less likely to freak her out with his “superhuman” strength. He wasn’t much of a wolf nowadays, over-protective streak notwithstanding. With a sardonic grin, he gestured across the space.

“Welcome to Gruff’s.”

How To Date A Jewish Werewolf Ch3

Long time readers have surely heard me talk about Aaron and his home story, How To Date A Jewish Werewolf. But would you believe it just now occurred to me that I’ve never shared it? So, at long last, have some werewolfy goodness, continuing now with Chapter 3

Chris

Her dad’s cautionary voice played in a little nonsense loop in her head – why he’d picked a mostly human high school, why he didn’t want her going to Lowtown, blah blah blah. Her dad was also a bigoted idiot half the time who still thought her best friend kissed girls as practice for her boyfriends.

She just hadn’t thought she was close enough to the river district to… To what? See people? Chris knew shifters lived in Midtown. It was really only Uptown where the witches were that there was less mingling.

Chris slowly realized that the super cute guy was staring at her as much as she was him. God, she was making an idiot of herself.

“Uh, sorry.” Her own voice jolted her out of her frozen stupor. “I, um, I can go, I’m sure Sam’s gone by now.”

She reached for the door handle with a bemused, “Thanks.”

“Wait.”

He reached for her, stopped like he knew it wouldn’t go over well, let his hands flop back to his side. He looked so… lost.

“It’s not– It’s okay for you to be here. You don’t have to leave just cause you’re human. Haven is for everyone in the city, not just the supes.”

She leaned her hip against the door, her hand still on the doorknob.

Part of her felt like she should go ahead and leave, but a bigger part of her hated that lost look on his face more. He looked sad, and she didn’t want him to look sad. She wanted to see his cute smile again.

“I…” she made a face and shrugged. “I’m sure you have other things to do.”

His sideways smirk was one of the most adorable things she’d ever seen.

“I mean, I was actually leaving for the day when you ran into me.” He gestured to the gym bag in the corner. “And I do keep intending to hit the gym after work one of these days.”

She eyed his arms. Not an every day gym guy or even an every other day. She was a little surprised, given how well built he looked. Maybe it was just good genes.

“But you weren’t planning on going today.” She dug a little more. Was he flirting? Or just concerned? Was she flirting? She wasn’t sure of that either. He was really attractive…

Okay, yes, she could admit that she was interested in seeing him sweaty and potentially with no shirt. 

The way he raised his eyebrows and sighed reminded her of a long-suffering old hound dog.

“I’ve been putting it off, but I should go. It’s been too long.” He grinned. “Maybe a random cute girl is just the incentive I need.”

Ooh, maybe she should count that as flirting and not just wistful thinking.

“It’s the shorts.” Chris returned with a smile. “They’re my motivation shorts. I wear them when I’m not sure if I actually want to go to the gym. But it’s more fun to go with a buddy.”

Ugh, she could practically hear her best friend Mel judging her poor flirting ability. But the way he smiled at her made it all seem worth it. It was a really, really nice smile.

“Mine aren’t half so cute,” he said. “If you don’t mind waiting a second I’ll get changed and we can jog over? My gym is only a few blocks down.”

Well, she had intended to go to the gym today. And it was more fun to go with a friend.

And she would like to make friends with the incredibly hot guy who was flirting with her and had agreed to pretend to be her boyfriend to save her from her evil ex.

Even if he was a supe, that wasn’t such a big deal. Easy to tell herself, she’d never met one so far as she knew. Oh, she probably had and didn’t know it, but no one at either of her schools had been obviously out.

“Uh, yeah, sure.” Smooth, Chris. Classically smooth.

And without any warning, he took off his shirt.

Chris blinked, then stared at the rather nice chest that went with the arms. And the breadth of shoulders…

He definitely had muscles, but not so much that he wouldn’t also be cuddly and nice to snuggle with.

When he reached for the top of his jeans, her cheeks caught fire and she remembered abruptly that she was ogling a complete stranger. She turned, giving him some privacy.

Lots of interesting zipping and shuffling sounds later, he tapped her shoulder. When she turned back around, he was in a tank and basketball shorts and was holding a hand out to her.

“I’m Aaron, by the way.”

She knew her cheeks were still pink, but all she could do was ignore it. Chris took his hand.

“Uh. Chris. Christina, but Chris.”

“Nice to meet you, Chris.”

His hand was warm and strong, gone too quickly as he moved to pick up his bag.

“In the spirit of fairness, since I so rudely asked what you were, I’m… a werewolf. My gym will be mostly supes too. Is that okay?”

Werewolf. She blinked at him. He was a werewolf?

“Um, yeah, yeah, that’s, uh, fine.”

She had no idea what a supe gym really meant, but it looked like she would find out.

He patted her arm reassuringly. Well, the first pat was reassuring. The second felt like he’d realized halfway through that it might be unwanted. But his voice was soft and kind as he explained.

“It’ll mostly be the same. The only difference is our equipment is reinforced and most people stack on some extra weights. If you’re unhappy at all, just say the word and well leave, okay?”

Chris was surprised by the offer. Was she that obvious that she wasn’t used to Supes or was he just being extra nice?

Or both. “Both” was incredibly possible.

“Sure, thanks.”

He grinned, transforming his face again. She really liked that face.

“Hey, I mean it. I’d hate to ruin the chance to ask you to dinner after by subjecting you to anything uncomfortable.”

Chris genuinely was surprised. At this rate, he was going to think she was an idiot with how much she was just staring at him and blinking.

Of course, Chris recovered as smoothly as she ever did. “You’re… asking me out?”

He ran a hand through his hair, clearly feeling self conscious.

“I’m not not asking you out.” He shrugged, smile decidedly sideways. “You’re not alone in the “ex baggage” department. It might be awful timing for both of us. But you’re cute, and I always grab a bite after working out, so….” His hands flopped against his side. “I’d like you to join me. If I didn’t just completely bomb the landing just now.”

Not not asking her out. Well, that was… promising? She eyed him, but the cute guy was starting to look distinctly uncomfortable.

“So, not a date food after the gym?” His eyes flicked to hers and she smiled. “Sounds good to me.”

His laugh was just as nice as his smile. He hefted his gym back and held out his hand to her. “Alright, “babe”. Let’s get you to that gym.”

How To Date A Jewish Werewolf Ch 2

Long time readers have surely heard me talk about Aaron and his home story, How To Date A Jewish Werewolf. But would you believe it just now occurred to me that I’ve never shared it? So, at long last, have some werewolfy goodness, continuing on with Chapter 2

–Aaron–

Aaron gave Dave a subtle nod towards the front door, telling him with the gesture to keep an eye on the pushy dude outside and that he’d take care of the girl. It wasn’t the first time someone had come here seeking Haven help, though it had been happening less and less lately.

Once he got her safely into the break room, he let his wolf relax, draining the big, bad tough guy act away. He shifted his shoulders, settling back into his more comfortable self–both for his comfort and hers. He tried to give the poor girl a reassuring smile. He tried not to loom. He was painfully aware of how much bigger he was than her, how threatening it might seem to usher her back here, out of sight–

Not helpful. Calm and reassure her, solve her problems, maintain the standards of Haven. She’d come here for help. He could help.

“Well,” he said, blowing out a breath. “That guy seemed like a piece of work. Need me to call the patrol?”

She ran a hand over her ponytail and shook her head, clearly trying to regain her calm. “No, no, it’s fine. He’s just convinced he can sweet talk his way back into us dating.”

He glanced back over his shoulder, as if he could see Sam through all the closed doors.

“Yeah, he seemed real “sweet”. You, uh, want an escort to whatever gym you were heading to?”

Tugging the end of her hair, she sighed. “I was just going for a run. My gym is like, six blocks uptown. I just needed to ditch him, but thanks for the offer. I, uh, appreciate you not thinking I was crazy for the whole pretend to be my boyfriend thing.”

His eyes widened at “six blocks uptown” but he didn’t comment. Most avians preferred to keep uptown, so heading down towards the river should have done the trick. Then again, avians were known for being pretty over-protective of their mates. Even if said “mateness” wasn’t actually a reality, apparently. He could get why she had felt it had come to the invoking  a new boyfriend point.

A tiny part of him entertained the idea of that reality, one where he could deck the uppity bird and protect this little blonde cutie and have her swooning over him. He couldn’t help but grin at the thought, even as a darker part of him reminded him that most women didn’t find savage violence much of a turn on. And those that did were a little too into it for his liking. He sniffed, trying to suss which camp she’d belong to. Angry bird, that’d be the ex, a reasonable amount of fear/adrenaline–though that might just be reacting to him being so weird. Focus.

 “Hey, don’t sweat it. Haven charms have inspired weirder reactions, believe me.”

“Uh, Haven?”

He met her confusion with his own, the pieces becoming clearer but not actually coming together. Lives uptown. Doesn’t recognize Haven. A scent he’d yet to figure out. He screwed up his courage and just asked.

“I’m… really sorry. I know this is an awkward question, but… what are you? My nose is kind of failing me.”

She stared at him a heartbeat too long, still toying with the end of her ponytail. Realization blossomed into a little ‘o’ of surprise.

“Uh, human.”

Of all the things she could have said, that had been pretty much the last on his list.

“Oh.”

He stared at her, knowing he should speak, knowing she had come here for help and he was failing spectacularly at being helpful. Human.

“Oh.”

How To Date A Jewish Werewolf

Long time readers have surely heard me talk about Aaron and his home story, How To Date A Jewish Werewolf. But would you believe it just now occurred to me that I’ve never shared it? So, at long last, have some werewolfy goodness. 🙂

— Chris —

Chris blew her breath out, then ducked around the corner hoping that Sam hadn’t seen her. She was pretty sure he had though.

She moved quickly down the sidewalk, willing herself to find either a store to duck into and hide in, or just flat somewhere to lay low for five seconds. Sam had been an asshole the last time she’d seen him, and the likelihood of him having improved over the last three days was zilch.

God, just the memory was making her skin itch.

She scratched at her upper arm as she took another look at the shops. Jesus, why was everything either a boutique or a nail salon? Oh, dog grooming, much better.

She heard her name from behind her and panicked.

In that panic, her body nearly collided with a very solid someone else. A someone else who was much taller than her. Who was staring at her almost as bewildered as she felt.

She said a quick prayer that he didn’t think she was a complete lunatic. A short, blonde lunatic who probably looked like a fish out of water in her gym clothes. All she’d wanted was a run. Not to be running from her ex.

“Please,” she panted into the stranger’s chest. “Just pretend to be my boyfriend for like five seconds. That guy is my ex and he won’t take the hint. Please help.” Her words came tumbling out like they would be her last.

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The Courts and Houses of Faery

Mente Court: All things mental, from memories, dreams and nightmares to telepathy and illusions. The most recent ruling Court, before Espirite came to power.

House Memnos: a projective house. specializes in bringing your memories to life. Good for healing, bad for, well, dwelling too much on the past.

House Revier: Another projective house, this one specializes in glamours and illusions. Adiran’s House.

House Somnus: The house of dreams and nightmares. An internal house, good for working through trauma subconsciously, and also yay pleasant dreams. Note: A new House spins off of this one, specializing in nightmare in particular. I don’t remember its name at the moment.

House Chrysalis: Another Internal house, this is the house of monitoring and influencing the thoughts of others. The least trustworthy house, obvs.

The Nameless: Technically not a House, these Mente faeries are specifically not given a name so that no one can hold any power of them. The Nameless serve the those who can afford them, as personal, multipurpose Mente’s. Most ruling families have one in their service, to help guard against external forces and prune unwanted memories as needed.

Materiale: The least organized of the Courts. Made up of smaller “city state” elemental groups. The most notable of these is The Storm Lord, who has the most widespread and organized power base. Gil’s mother’s court, and the most “mortal” of the courts.

The Storm Lord: A spin off of the Frost King’s power, the Storm Lord has made a name for himself in the warmer climes on the shores of the tropical seas.

The Sea Queen: Somewhere between a mer and an elemental, the Sea Queen manages traffic between the shores of Mortalside and Faery.

The Frost King: A powerful elemental that radiates ice and cold. All snow eventually leads to him.

The Crone of the Wood: Technically a neutral power, there are many who theorize she is an ascended dryad.

The Birch Sisters: A group of dryads that helped raise Gil, along with the Holly Fellows, Oak Folk, and other various denizens of the woods between Sea and Sky.

The Hunts: Another neutral group, mentioned here because they function politically a lot like the elemental groups. They go where they want, do what they want, and are found only when they want to be.

Espirite: The ephemeral court. All things of the soul and the hereafter

The House of Stars and Moonlight (also called the celestial court): Tybee’s birth court

The House of Craftings and Breathings: Enchanters that add spells to items or animate them.

The House of Before and After: Faeries that assists with births and deaths

The House of Stone and Bone: Soothsayers and Fortune tellers of all kinds

The House of Crosses and Quarters: Time magic!

NaNo 2021 Day 11

Once satisfied of Thomas’s safety, Zig texted Amay. He tried not to be too alarmed when it didn’t get an immediate response; all the kids kept their phones in their lockers during sports practice, after daddy got tired of paying for new ones every time they broke. Still, you’d think seeing your father’s force ghost would inspire a girl to check her phone. He did his best not to worry by channeling his angst into the scones he was kneading.

Making scones was about the most normal and ridiculous thing Zig could possibly doing right now. Normal, because he often made scones or cookies or other quick breads for an after practice snack for the kiddos. Ridiculous, because just a few blocks down, his brother was wrangling various guests from out of this world.

One who had tried to kill them both.

The memories weren’t coming back, exactly, half so much as they suddenly now felt like they’d always been there. Zig wasn’t totally unfamiliar with such things-vampire mind wipes tended to work in a similar way, undetectable until they suddenly broke- but it was still deeply uncomfortable. It was hard to move about his kitchen calm in the knowledge that a murder was hanging out in his old backyard with his baby brother. Granted, there was also a faery prince, two body guards, and the most powerful magic workers Zig personally knew, but it was still scary as fuck.

“You’re overmixing them, daddy.”

Zig blinked at his youngest, then looked down at the crumbling lumps in his hands.

“Uh, yeah. Good call little man. How about some pigs in a blanket instead?”

Thomas nodded and went to the fridge, pulling out the prerolled dough.

I’m fine. Are YOU okay?

Amay’s text made Zig jump, but Thomas kept hold of the tube they’d been exchanging. He fiddled with his pocket, fingers not wanting to work properly. He had to re-write his answering text of Fine three times before it took. Thomas was dutifully unrolling croissants. Zig hadn’t even put the phone away before it rang.

“Oh my gods what happened?” As usual, Amay demanded her question and didn’t wait for its response. “You were all Wooo I am your father and like literally everyone saw it it was so embarrassing! They shut down the whole pitch and are minting it. Do you know how long it takes for the field to stop smelling like christmas when they mint it?”

Zig cut in, just her name, because he didn’t know what else to say. What could he tell her about what was going on? He hardly knew himself.

“What, daddy?”

Her voice was little and soft, like he remembered from not that long ago. She would have been helping him up on the stool, stealing little bits of raw down and spitting them back out down all over her chin when she realized they didn’t taste good.

“Dad, what’s wrong?”

Now she sounded scared, and he wouldn’t have that for the world. Daddy mode activated, and when he spoke next, it was with authority and a sureness that his plan would work.

“Are you in the school’s wards or out?”

Many of the practice fields were out of the school’s main wards and under less permanent ones of their own. Like the pitch that was now being cleansed with mint, many of the spelling areas were regularly cleaned and grounded, so a permanent ward just wasn’t possible.

“We’re out at the locker room changing. They don’t want to take the pitch wards down until we’re all back inside. Just in case. Daddy what’s wrong? What’s going on?”

Zig moved to the kitchen/garage door, the one that had started all this trouble. He focused on his daughter, and pushed.

The door to the girls’ locker room opened, and the shrieks and squeals made him immediately regret his decision.

But it didn’t close the door.

So Zig closed his eyes, but held a hand out for Amay. “Sorry ladies, sorry. Family emergency. Amay, come here please. I’m here to take you home.”

The school board would surely through all kinds of fits, but what’s done is done, as they said. At least this way Amay would be home safe, and he could worry about what happened after, after.

NaNo 2021 Day 10

Kaiya endured the little lord’s dramatics. She endured the swirl of tiny creatures menacing her with gardening impliments. She endured the brothers’ confused comforting of one another as she tried desperately to place them. She endured this, because she had no choice.

Time had stopped.

She had come untethered from time at some point in her early life, she thought. She really couldn’t be sure. Because it was outside of her own control. Kaiya only slipped time whenever Fate deemed it necessary.

She’d consulted with timekeeper faeries-much as she hated to interact with their ilk at all-and they agreed that one of their number had put this upon her. Unhelpfully, they couldn’t say when, or who, or why. Only that it had been done, and it was not their habit to undo one anothers’ magic. Too many risks for foolish things like timeloops and own sire paradoxes. So Kaiya had simply resigned herself to being randomly flung through time and space at the whims of whoever had done this to her, and to sitting through the time freezing spell happening now with perfect awareness.

Of course, maybe everyone was perfectly aware, and simply frozen. She would have to ask her brother when the spell ended.

Of course, when the spell ended, the little lordling continued right on with his haranguing of her, and it was all she could do not to roll her eyes and set him ablaze.

“Did anyone else feel that?” she interrupted. “Or was I the only one awake throughout?”

Kain rumbled thoughtfully – he wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but if Kaiya was asking, he’d reconsidered.

“I felt a small pulse of power, but that was all.”

Kaiya arched a brow to her brother, then to the kingling. “And you?”

Tybee paused in his rant and glanced to his two guards. “Is it a chimera thing, or does she mean something else?”

Kaiya scoffed. “It’s a faery thing, m’lord. Which is probably why you didnt’ feel it. The Wheels aren’t meant to be noticed in their work.”

Tybee’s eyes widened. The House of the Wheel–or the House of Crosses and Quarters–was what kept the order of time in Faery, no small feat. By necessity, their magic was made to not be noticed by faeries, so that the passage of time could move fluidly in Faery as each domain saw fit.

And also by necessity, each one was very carefully tracked.

“I’d say that’s impossible, but you clearly know what you’re talking about. And I think I know how it happened.”

[Insert a version of Helia and Kaiya’s fight here]

Kaiya was both horrified and impressed by the young lord’s tale. She remembered the faery woman—a golden creature of crafted sunlight itself—and how badly she’d reacted to finding her with one of their family’s descendants. Each offshoot had been carefully tended, since That Day. She hadn’t been able to save them then, but she could find and save what was left, and bring home those that Fate saw fit to let her gather.

She had known the woman was a faery, but not of what kind, or what reason she had to be with a chimera’s child. Not that Ignacio was much of a chimera—the blood was there, but the form was long buried by intermarrying with mortals. All Kaiya had known was that she had to be gotten rid of, because Fate had Plans for this particular branch.

How stupid she had been.

They’d fought, and it had taken all that Kaiya had had to banish the faery woman from the mortal plane. Truthfully, she’d thought she had killed her, but wasn’t surprised now to learn that such a thing would clearly not have been possible.

What time traveler would allow themselves to be ended at the hands of another?

No, the Wheel woman had simply relinquished her physical form, no longer having need of it.

She would have preferred to stay with her child—Kaiya had felt that, though she’d tried to shut herself off from the woman’s aura—but understood that this was necessary. Her son had needed the gift that only her passing could bestow upon him – a faery’s death curse. Kaiya had wondered for a long time why the woman hadn’t used her dying curse to blast Kaiya into oblivion, but had counted herself lucky. It wasn’t until the boy had started showing signs of faery magic that she’d understood.

And even then, she hadn’t really understood, or she’d have never done what she’d done.

The boy had the birthright, the Dominion magic that should have gone to his younger brother. Just a setback, nothing she hadn’t handled before. It had taken seven long years to recover from what his mother had done, but now, strength returned, Kaiya could finish what she’d started. She’d remove the boy, and this branch of the tree would be back on the path. Just regrettable pruning.

Kaiya had always thought it was her own longing to have a child of her own that had ruined the magic. That she’d somehow spared them in some secret part of her heart. But now, listening to the lordling, she knew it was his mother’s final curse, blessing the otherwise mortal boy with the gifts of faery.

Of course, faery and chimera didn’t mix.

The blast had been spectacular. Kaiya could still it on the back of her eyelids, if she cared to look. She’d thought the mother’s aftermath had been bad. The boys…

Kaiya had looked everywhere for them. It was like they had simply vanished, without a single trace.

Decades later, long after she had given up any thought of looking for them, here they were. In her brother’s backyard.

“You’re saying…”

The younger brother, the one she’d meant to keep, looked up at Kain now. The resemblance was there, buried under years of distance and intermingling. They had the same thoughtful eyes, she thought, underneath the boy’s electric blue of faery coloring.

It hurt her to see those eyes in the face of someone she could have loved.

“You’re saying,” he turned to the lordling, “that we’re all family?”

Family. The word made the bile rise in the back of Kaiya’s throat. But she held her tongue, not wanting to argue with her brother. Not here. Not right now.

Tybee shrugged. “Not all of us, obviously. Just because your step-mother and I are both faeries doesn’t mean we’re related—any more than this mara and my mara are.”

Kaiya hated the way he said “my mara”. It was clear they were free of any subjugation magic, but she still hated it.

She hated everything, just at this moment.

Tripp folded his arms over his chest, looking more and more like Kain by the moment.

“What happened to all that expositional monologuing you were doing just a moment ago? Go back to that.”

Tybee scoffed, albeit with a smile. Kaiya wasn’t in the mood for it though.

“I did what I did because Fate guides me. I made a deal with the Weaver. What she sees fit to cut or tie is of her own keeping.”

This time Tybee’s scoff was significantly less good humored.

“And you think a faery of the Wheel is any less convicted of their own purpose? If there’s any House in Faery I trust to be moving with an eye to the grander design–”

“Fuck you grander design!”

Kaiya’s temper was finally fraying at the edges. She turned to give Kain a pleading look. It probably came out scornful. Why was she never able to say what she really meant.

“I did it for the family. That’s all we ever wanted, right? To keep our family safe? I’m finally able to do that, as an agent of Destiny–”

“And what happens when Destiny is done with us?”

Kain’s voice, as solid and level as ever, hit her with all the weight of the mountains. Just like that, she was a little girl again, frightened and sad and lonely and desperate.

She might have thrown herself at him, if they were alone. Whether that would have led to a strike or an embrace, she couldn’t say. She could never say. Her actions oftentimes surprised her as much as they did anyone else.

But they weren’t alone. And probably never would be again.

He didn’t trust her.

She deserved that.

“It’s too late to go back.” Her gaze had fallen away from the steel in his, her voice gone soft with his firmness. “Always has been.”

NaNo 2021 Day 9

Kaiya turned her unimpressed gaze on the faery kinglet. “‘Connections’?” She turned back to her brother with a smirk. “Isn’t he a little young for that wise old man crap you like to spout?”

Kain gave her a tired sigh, but it was Tybee who spoke.

“Everyone keeps talking about how young I am, as if that’s got a damned thing to do with it. You tried to kill him when he wasn’t even yet seven, isn’t that too young?”

The magic of the moment had him–or maybe that was the magic of Liminalia’s would-be king. Either way, Tybee felt himself shaking with barely leashed fury as he confronted the Destiny.

The maze beat him to it.

Eye-vy shot out, wrapping tendrils around around the wyvern woman in an almost cartoonish fashion. But more than that, figures came pouring out of the maze. Clangs and clatters of mismatched armor, from leaky kettles to pots and pans, lids and ladles, and armaments raided from a garden shed. Rakes and sheers, shovels and snowplows, all leveled and the hedge-hindered woman.

Finally, Freecloud leapt from the maze, a little fox like creature astride his back.

Zig could not believe his eyes.

“Halt!” the familiar muppet voice trilled. “You are wanted for attempted regicide.”

Tripp slid over to Zig, placing a hand on his brother’s shoulder. Somewhere in there, Zig had sunk to the ground, fingers dug deep into the soil. He lifted them from the dirt, staring at the sparkly flecks that clung there.

“Did… did I…” He looked hopelessly up at Tripp. “Am I the only one seeing this?”

Tripp just nodded, gesturing to the tiny army. Zig went to rub his eyes, saw the dirt, and thought better of it.

One of the creatures peeled off, a little spiky ball of a critter that literally rolled across the gap between them, popping up with little arms and legs and long, pointy nose.

“My lord!” It snapped a smart salute. “What shall we do with the traitor?”

Traitor… He blinked at the fiery woman, the figure from his lost memories, head swimming.

She was surprisingly calm, allowing the goblins to point gardening implements at her – too calm.

Too still.

“They’re… they’re frozen…”

Even Tybee, the faery lord who’d been about to get up in the lady’s face, stood mid-motion, finger jabbed in frozen accusation.

“What… what is happening?”

“Your mother was Lady Helia, of the House of crosses and quarters. Time was her gift.”

The little shadow cat melted away from Tybee, flowing like smoke across the space. He seemed… echoy, like an after image, kind of like those trails from Donnie Darko.

Why was he so obsessed with movies?

“Lady Lia is the same way,” Quibble said, wavering in and out of focus where he stood. Sometimes he looked like a cat, other times… like a goblin.

“There’s a reason mortals call it “movie magic,” I think.” The cat licked his paw, even as the goblin version picked its nose.

Zig looked around at the scene before them, the goblins, the maze. When he tried to use his Sight, they wavered like the cat—the riftling.

“So I’m… what? Using movies to explain my magic?”

“Exactly!” Quibble clapped his hands, now fully in goblin form. He looked almost like a Fiery. Zig wondered if that mattered. “Oh, you do catch on quick. This should go much smoother than it did with Lia. Tell me, what is the plot of your movie?”

While Zig stared, Tripp answered. “A young girl has to run the labyrinth to save her kidnapped baby brother.”

“Thomas!”

Zig sprang to life, suddenly desperately worried for his son.

And just like that they were in his backyard.

Thomas looked up, little blue baggie on his hand, terrier on the end of his leash. Zig ran to him, not thinking or caring about how he’d gotten there, or the frozen people he was leaving behind. He just scooped his son up, holding him close, ignoring the barking terrier at his feet.

“Daddy, Harringbone needs to finish his business.”

The terrier was circling as if ready to relieve himself right on Zig’s leg. He put his boy down but did not let go of his hand. Tripp stepped through, face its usual mask of stoicism.

“Goblins are gone,” he said by way of greeting. “Tybee’s giving Her an earful.”

Zig’s hand clenched around Thomas’s. “I can’t–”

“She’s not gonna hurt him, Zig. I can See it.”

Tripp’s Sight was less frequent but more reliable than Zig’s. Something inside him unclenched.

“Anything else?”

Tripp shook his head. “Too much going on. But nothing heavy hanging over it. No crows.”

Zig nodded and eased his grip on Thomas. The little boy stepped away to dutifully put his little blue bag to use.

“So what do we do now?”

Tripp shrugged. “Mama Mel’s looking over the vines, the Othersiders are arguing amongst themselves, and you’re overdue to start dinner.”

Zig barked a stressed little laugh. “I can’t possibly cook like this.”

“Best thing for ya, I’d imagine. Familiar, comfortable. You’re at your best in the kitchen.”

Thomas crossed the lawn to dispose of the doggie bag, and Zig’s heart lurched. He was too far away.

He jumped when Tripp touched his shoulder.

“Take care of your family, man. I’ll handle the faery crap.”

Zig nodded, a little too fast, and Tripp disappeared through the portal.

NaNo 2021 Day 8

Tybee reeled in the double sensation of grounding, from his own fabulous mara, and from the mara and fey before him. The man was enormous, both in stature and in power, and even if Tybee hadn’t been tangled in Zig as he was, he thought he’d have felt the aftermath of that mountain of a man trying to bring the half-faery down.

Tybee knew he was half-faery from of the flashes they’d both seen. He didn’t the know woman directly, but he recognized the features and glow of power. She was Court, or had been, and she was Zig’s mother.

Suddenly Tybee saw the maze in a new light.

It’s Liminal alright, he thought to Quibble. It’s the blueprint for what Limnalia would become.

A half-mortal, half-faery prince. An interesting choice to make king of the spaces between. But the man had not been equal to the magic, or something had interfered. Or there hadn’t been room for anything with the magic already in him. It was hard to say. Someone else could do a deep dive and try to read all that was buried in his past. But if Tybee hadn’t seen it in those flashes, he doubted any Mente would. What mind reader could compare to the magic of their shared connection?

His thoughts were abruptly cut off by reality catching up with him, his guards reacting to the unpredictable magic by carrying him away when Stepping failed.

Apparently hed been lost in this thoughts longer than he’d realized. Or the magic had been gripping him too tightly. Regardless, they’d done what body guards did: used their bodies to keep him safe. Now, Tybee did his best to surface, to bring himself back to his body and present reality, rather than reading all the magic had laid out before him.

“I’m fine!” he gasped. “I’m fine. You can put me down.”

“Like hell we will.” Cam muttered, but his feet made contact with the earth again.

“Are you alright, My Lord? The magics collided and we needed to put distance between them.” Mac explained half apologetically.

He was always the more submissive of the pair of them. Or maybe Cam being allowed to be a brat so often was beginning to stick.

“I”m fine….”

Any annoyance Tybee felt was quickly lost in the growing sense of wonder. Zig had a lost piece of Faery. Of his court.

And that wasn’t all.

Kain kept a hold on Zig as he kept half an eye on the Faery on the other side of the yard. 

His mara guards seemed to be grounding him just fine with little repercussion from the wild magics.

Kain turned his attention back to Zig.

His aura was swirling, the magic withdrawing from his head and leaving an emptiness that would result in a nasty migraine. Kain filled it with his own magic, letting him withdraw at a slower pace to avoid that pain.

“Better?” He rumbled.

“Y- yeah…”

This mouth was thick like cotton, his head woolen and blocky. It was far better than the pounding that would come.

It did not pair well with the shouting of the faery prince.

His guards had carried him away, like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Zig wished he could tell the dude that daddy had a headache and it was time to be quiet now and hand him an iPad. Thomas had never needed such treatment, but Amay and Ajay sure had. Their magic had been utterly migraine inducing when they were younger, too wild to be properly handled by the usual witchy tactics for such things.

The maze crackled to life again, static and shooting through Zig’s skull like the blare of white noise turned up too high. He yelped and covered his eyes–

Just like he had the first time he’d seen her.

Zig’s magic tore through the space again, hot and wild and electric. Tybee threw up a shield to protect him and his guards, blue stars clashing with black. But before those had even finished washing over him, it was immediately followed by fire, and the most powerful Destiny he’d ever met.

Seeing as the only other Destiny he’d ever met had been [name, godddamnit. Eva? Evelyn? Lela? Ella?Girl from og draft of fnf], he was less than thrilled with the arrival of this one.

“Fate,” he called to his guards. The magic was so loud he wasn’t certain if he was physically shouting or not. The whole world seemed to be wrapped in cotton or underwater, or both.

The Destiny, however, seemed content to ignore him, and he was content to let it. He held fast to his shield, though.

Zig remembered the lady in the fire just as she was now, though he hadn’t before that day. He and Tripp had tried everything they could think of to reclaim the memories of the Before, when they’d woken up in a field in the Hollywood hills. Apparently, all it had taken was coming face to face with her again.

This was the lady who had tried to kill his brother.

“It’s you…”

Tripp stepped forward, into Zig’s line of sight. Zig sprang to action, putting himself between them–

Just as he’d done all those years ago.

The woman hardly seemed to notice them. She was all eyes for Kain.

“What are you up to here, brother? I felt the ripples all the way out to the new island– nearly knocked me from the sky.”

“We’re figuring that out.” Kain groused to his sister.

Most of his attention was on the brothers – and how they’d reacted to Kaiya’s appearance.

He’d wanted to snap at her to leave, but that could lead to an argument and she had quite the temper. Fiery, in fact.

“What did you feel?” He asked instead. If he couldn’t get rid of her quickly, he could at least get more information.

“Connection.”

Tybee stepped forward, inviting himself into the conversation. The magic was too powerful not to.

The sister had been the missing puzzle piece, and now he saw the connections clearly. The Destiny had literally been dropped in the King’s lap, fallen from the sky when they were young, their connections still malleable. She had tended to the various branches and tendrils of the King’s family, all the way down to these tiny little roots, barely shadows of the main tree.

But enough.

Liminalia had loved the deep connections of this family, of how the sister and brother still loved each other even through their estrangement. But she had tended the tree too well, and there hadn’t been enough of Faery in any of them for Liminalia to take hold.

Until Helia.

The faery woman had fled her home, for reasons the magic couldn’t currently see. No one of this group was connected enough to her, save her single remaining son. The son with the ragged eye, torn as the veil was torn to fling him and his brother through the fabric of space and time, to mend their threads into a different place in the pattern.

That place was here, and that time was now.

And the threads were pulling taunt.