The Love That Broke the War pt7

Long time fans will recognize this title as the name of the folktale that takes the place of Hawksong in Asylumverse lore. When it stopped being a fanfic and I admitted to myself that I had really made something original and unique here, I still wanted to keep that nod, especially since its relevant that Nica and Seth recognize each other from being named after figures of legend. They were originally Nica and Xane, and while I wanted to keep Danica, Seth’s Whole Deal had changed so much it needed its own story. So The Love That Broke The War was born.

It kept niggling at me, this story of these fated lovers. What war, when, with whomst? Asylum’s cosmology was expanding, the Dai were no long just stand ins for the falcons, and I really, really wanted to know what happened to the first Danica and Seth.

What spun out of this was a NaNo project, and in this year of Na-Noping right out of anything formal, I decided to come back to it (big shout out to my support group for reminding this even existed!). In searching for that original NaNo, I realized there was a lot of it I’d never posted. So, in the spirit of Back Up Your Work and in the hopes of continuing my interest in these three-love-stories-that-became-one, I present you the continuation of Hadrian and Lyria’s story.

Her hand in the crook of his arm burned, though he knew of the pair of them, his skin ran hotter. But her presence felt like a shaft of golden sunshine, and his feet felt like they walked on clouds with her beside him. “The pleasure is mine, dear lady.”

They ended up in the foyer, the prelude to the tunnels that led upstairs to avian space or downstairs to the laundry and bath areas. Here they were neither alone nor pressed with an audience.

“So,” Lyria said, and Hadrian startled. He could have walked arm in arm with her all night, but someone needed to break the silence. It should have been him, but it didn’t surprise him that it was her. “Avian courting?”

“Hm? Ah, yes. Forgive me.” He’d been so lost in the pleasure of her mere company, he’d forgotten he’d promised to elaborate. “I suppose, first off, is there anything in particular you’d like to know?”

She made a small sound that was almost a laugh. “I don’t even know what to ask. I suppose you should just start at the beginning?”

He blew out a long breath, thinking. “Well…”

His wings rustled in a nervous dance behind him. He was trying his best to keep them out of the way, up off the floor so they didn’t drag, but far enough away from Lyria that they didn’t make her feel pressed in against him. He didn’t know how she’d react to being brushed by his feathers.

How was he going to do this? There were so many things—walking distance included—that relied on her growing up with the same standards he did.

But that was why he was taking the lead, wasn’t it? He’d offered to teach her how to play the game according to the rules he knew, so it was up to him to decide which rules were truly important, wasn’t it?

“Alright. I suppose the beginning is actually finding some common ground. We both like walking with linked arms, yes?”

She agreed, squeezing his arm slightly where she held it. He swallowed down the familiar knot of nervousness. His aching wing elbow drooped.

“Okay. I’m sorry, but I may have to ask yet another concession of you. Do you mind the touch of feathers? It’s actually very difficult to hold my wings away from you like this.”

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The Love That Broke The War pt6

Long time fans will recognize this title as the name of the folktale that takes the place of Hawksong in Asylumverse lore. When it stopped being a fanfic and I admitted to myself that I had really made something original and unique here, I still wanted to keep that nod, especially since its relevant that Nica and Seth recognize each other from being named after figures of legend. They were originally Nica and Xane, and while I wanted to keep Danica, Seth’s Whole Deal had changed so much it needed its own story. So The Love That Broke The War was born.

It kept niggling at me, this story of these fated lovers. What war, when, with whomst? Asylum’s cosmology was expanding, the Dai were no long just stand ins for the falcons, and I really, really wanted to know what happened to the first Danica and Seth.

What spun out of this was a NaNo project, and in this year of Na-Noping right out of anything formal, I decided to come back to it (big shout out to my support group for reminding this even existed!). In searching for that original NaNo, I realized there was a lot of it I’d never posted. So, in the spirit of Back Up Your Work and in the hopes of continuing my interest in these three-love-stories-that-became-one, I present you the continuation of Hadrian and Lyria’s story.

It was Nalia that broke the stunned silence. “That was the cutest proposal I’ve ever heard.”

“Concur.” Drakin murmured.

Hadrian stammered a refutation, but it was lost in Lyria’s sudden and exuberant, “Yes!”

She bit her lip to tone down some of her enthusiasm, the sharp pain of it muting how her friends’ auras bolstered her own excitement. “I mean, I would like to try – I really don’t know anything about avian tradition.”

“It’s simple,” Drakin interjected, lounging lazily against the front of his stall. “You just stare at each other all night until the moon sets then fly off to your respective rooms to sigh and pine until your roommates either murder you or force you to get married.”

Zi made an exasperated sound. “Fates above, there’s no way I could court an avian.”

“I could,” Viti grinned. “Anticipation makes everything better.”

“That’s the idea, actually.” Hadrian found his voice at last, great golden wings rustling at his back to make him look somehow bigger. Lyria wondered if he did that on purpose, or if it was just a nervous tick. She couldn’t read from his aura anything but nervousness, tiny ants biting and prickling across her skin. In small doses, it heightened her awareness of everything, made her nervous too in a pleasurable way. But then he tucked his wings behind him, clearly trying to compose himself, and the tickling ants faded, leaving only the bubbling effervesce of her friends’ delight.

“My lady, if you would care to accept my proposition, I would be happy to explain in greater detail, away from so many unneeded assistants, no matter how well intentioned they might be.”

“Oh, we’re very well intentioned.” Viti countered, then promptly pirouetted away as Drakin made a motion to curtail her.

Lyria took the offered arm, giving Hadrian a warm smile. “Thank you. I’d like that very much.”

The Love That Broke The War pt5

Long time fans will recognize this title as the name of the folktale that takes the place of Hawksong in Asylumverse lore. When it stopped being a fanfic and I admitted to myself that I had really made something original and unique here, I still wanted to keep that nod, especially since its relevant that Nica and Seth recognize each other from being named after figures of legend. They were originally Nica and Xane, and while I wanted to keep Danica, Seth’s Whole Deal had changed so much it needed its own story. So The Love That Broke The War was born.

It kept niggling at me, this story of these fated lovers. What war, when, with whomst? Asylum’s cosmology was expanding, the Dai were no long just stand ins for the falcons, and I really, really wanted to know what happened to the first Danica and Seth.

What spun out of this was a NaNo project, and in this year of Na-Noping right out of anything formal, I decided to come back to it (big shout out to my support group for reminding this even existed!). In searching for that original NaNo, I realized there was a lot of it I’d never posted. So, in the spirit of Back Up Your Work and in the hopes of continuing my interest in these three-love-stories-that-became-one, I present you the continuation of Hadrian and Lyria’s story.

Hadrian nodded absently in Viti’s direction, but his eyes were all for Lyria. Her bright smile and sparkling eyes were almost enough to drown out her companions tittering laughter. Almost.

“Miss Lyria? Might I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

She stepped towards him, extricating herself from the giggling knot, but not otherwise making any move to leave. Did she expect him to ask her here, right now? Well, of course she would. Serpents were voyeurs—or at least, not shy. Damn. Would it be offensive to ask them to leave? Or ask her to leave with him? That’s what he was doing, indirectly, asking if she’d be open to more private conversation. So why was he waffling now?

Damn it all, this was exactly why he’d resolved to do things his way, on avian terms. He just couldn’t hope to keep up with the delicate dance of serpent flirtation. If he had any hope of holding his own, it would have to be by avian standards, safe within avian tradition.

Do or die.

“Miss Lyria. I would like very much to go walking with you. To court you. After the avian fashion.”

His throat began to tighten, the familiar nervous cough building in the back of his throat. He could do this. He would do this. Do or die.

“I hate to ask it in such coarse terms, but I have been entertaining the idea for a while now, and this is the only way I can see to manage it. I am not a demonstrative man, as you may have noticed, and quite frankly, the idea of a serpentine courtship terrifies me. But I am not so naive as to be unaware of the natural progression of relations between a man and a woman, and I see no reason why we could not do the same. In time. If you’re amiable. And we decide we actually like each other. That is. Oh dear.”

It had all gone so much better when he’d proposed to the apple trees.

The Love That Broke The War pt4

Long time fans will recognize this title as the name of the folktale that takes the place of Hawksong in Asylumverse lore. When it stopped being a fanfic and I admitted to myself that I had really made something original and unique here, I still wanted to keep that nod, especially since its relevant that Nica and Seth recognize each other from being named after figures of legend. They were originally Nica and Xane, and while I wanted to keep Danica, Seth’s Whole Deal had changed so much it needed its own story. So The Love That Broke The War was born.

It kept niggling at me, this story of these fated lovers. What war, when, with whomst? Asylum’s cosmology was expanding, the Dai were no long just stand ins for the falcons, and I really, really wanted to know what happened to the first Danica and Seth.

What spun out of this was a NaNo project, and in this year of Na-Noping right out of anything formal, I decided to come back to it (big shout out to my support group for reminding this even existed!). In searching for that original NaNo, I realized there was a lot of it I’d never posted. So, in the spirit of Back Up Your Work and in the hopes of continuing my interest in these three-love-stories-that-became-one, I present you the continuation of Hadrian and Lyria’s story.

Lyria straightened the moment she saw him, ignoring Nalia’s blossoming smile and whatever look Zi and Drakin exchanged. They’d been teasing her about her infatuation with the avian guardsman for most of the winter season, though Drakin’s comments were mostly about never having seen this much of her in years and her horrible abuse of his market stall and was this really any way to treat a beloved cousin and so on.

“Hadrian.”

Lyria didn’t bother hiding the bubble of warmth that burst over her aura. Her friends already knew she liked him. And avians kept their auras so tightly bound that Hadrian would never notice. Which was really a bit of a pity.

The stoic guard had started coming down and spending time in the li’sumae when he was off duty, and she made a point to take him water at least once on his shifts, but so far the cordiality had her almost despairing that he was simply being friendly. The avians that worked guard duty with serpent partners had been chosen specifically for their open and fair temperaments. Drakin’s mate and Hadrian’s guard partner, Tanzin, had insisted he was giving off avian signals, but what did he actually know? They were all guessing here, and Lyria couldn’t help fearing that one wrong guess could send this whole peaceful winter crashing to the ground.

Viti echoed Lyria’s greeting, practically purring his name as she trailed an elegant hand down his arm. The dancers’ gave Hadrian grief still, enjoying flirting with anyone and everyone they thought they could rise of, but it had been less obnoxious since Lyria had confessed deeper feelings. She hoped. There was no way to babysit the other dancers every hour of the day. Either way, their attentions hadn’t scared Hadrian off. That was a good sign, right?

Asylumverse vocabulary: li’sumae and il’suma

Yesterday’s post saw the introduction of a prim’n word: li’sumae. Asylumverse stories have a smattering of prim’n, my ridiculous conlang, because some concepts just don’t translate tidily into single English words. The li’sumae and its counterpart, the il’suma are two of these ideas.

li and il are prim’n prefixes added to words to indicate light/expansion/giving/growing and dark/retreating/resting/grounding respectively. In serpent culture, the li’sumae is the heart of the serpents’ gathering place, usually a well and often also a marketplace. The li’sumae can mean the town square in general, or in specific, the raised dais constructed (usually on top of the well) for dancing. It can also be used generally to mean the spirit of the town, the heart of the community, or the guiding philosophy of a serpent group.

In contrast, the il’suma is a place of resting and peace. In a group with a dancers’ nest, the il’suma is where they all sleep and recover after performances. When the serpents were more nomadic, the il’suma was often a shallow pit or cave to get out of the noon day sun and sleep away the afternoon. In modern dancing tropes, a special prayer is said over a green room to dedicate it as a temporary il’suma. A balance nest recognizes the need for peace and quiet to give context to the riotous joy of dancing.

In terms of The Love That Broke The War, the li’sumae is the part of the lower temple that has been given over to housing the serpent refugees during the winter. Hadrian’s use of the term is mostly parroting what he’s heard his serpent counterparts say, without really understanding the religious significance of the words. As serpents largely don’t separate their religious practices from daily life, no one has felt any need to correct him.

The Love That Broke The War pt3

Long time fans will recognize this title as the name of the folktale that takes the place of Hawksong in Asylumverse lore. When it stopped being a fanfic and I admitted to myself that I had really made something original and unique here, I still wanted to keep that nod, especially since its relevant that Nica and Seth recognize each other from being named after figures of legend. They were originally Nica and Xane, and while I wanted to keep Danica, Seth’s Whole Deal had changed so much it needed its own story. So The Love That Broke The War was born.

It kept niggling at me, this story of these fated lovers. What war, when, with whomst? Asylum’s cosmology was expanding, the Dai were no long just stand ins for the falcons, and I really, really wanted to know what happened to the first Danica and Seth.

What spun out of this was a NaNo project, and in this year of Na-Noping right out of anything formal, I decided to come back to it (big shout out to my support group for reminding this even existed!). In searching for that original NaNo, I realized there was a lot of it I’d never posted. So, in the spirit of Back Up Your Work and in the hopes of continuing my interest in these three-love-stories-that-became-one, I present you the continuation of Hadrian and Lyria’s story.

One, two, one, two…

His feet carried him down the stairs in a steady rhythm, the practiced cadence of a soldier’s march. No different than any other day, he told himself. Downstairs, to the li’sumae, find Lyria and– He stopped himself before he could finish the thought. Even thinking her name had put a slight tremble in his hands.

Shoulders back, hands tight, forward march. Gods, this was ridiculous. If he had to order himself about like this, what hope did he have of making coherent conversation if she actually accepted his invitation? It was hopeless. He was hopeless.

But… he was still walking down the stairs. He hadn’t lost his nerve yet.

The serpents’ quarters was in its usual bustle, an assault of sights and sounds and smells that always knocked him off his stride. But the familiarity of it comforted him, helped him settle into an easier groove, even if this was a place he usually associated with work and duty. There was just something about the atmosphere. It pulled and lulled and cajoled, until you were at least forced to smile, if not relax completely. Hadrian’s shoulders fell out of ready, his hands relaxed and swinging at his sides. It would never pass for the lithe ease of a serpent dancer, but at least he didn’t look like a glowering soldier on duty.

Lyria was in her usual spot by her cousin’s stall, the bright colors of his wares drawing the eye even in the sea of beautifully adorned serpents. It didn’t help that Hadrian’s gaze always went to that corner, just in case.

The serpent goddess of Fate, however, seemed to be determined to test his resolve. Lingering in a loose knot around the stall were an incorrigible trio of dancers: Zi, Nalia, and Viti. His long time “admirers”, who had constantly tested his patience as a guard, flirting shamelessly and making a game of trying to ruffle his feathers. Truly, they’d played a large part in putting him at ease in the li’sumae. If their brand of mostly verbal flirting was the rowdiest behavior a casually interested serpent had to offer, then he felt confident he could muddle through the consequences of the suggestion he was about to make.

“Ladies.”

His voice was smooth and steady, and somewhat deeper than he was used to? He’d take it. Anything to get him through this. If he chickened out now, he’d never work up the nerve to make the attempt again.

The Love That Broke The War pt2

Long time fans will recognize this title as the name of the folktale that takes the place of Hawksong in Asylumverse lore. When it stopped being a fanfic and I admitted to myself that I had really made something original and unique here, I still wanted to keep that nod, especially since its relevant that Nica and Seth recognize each other from being named after figures of legend. They were originally Nica and Xane, and while I wanted to keep Danica, Seth’s Whole Deal had changed so much it needed its own story. So The Love That Broke The War was born.

It kept niggling at me, this story of these fated lovers. What war, when, with whomst? Asylum’s cosmology was expanding, the Dai were no long just stand ins for the falcons, and I really, really wanted to know what happened to the first Danica and Seth.

What spun out of this was a NaNo project, and in this year of Na-Noping right out of anything formal, I decided to come back to it (big shout out to my support group for reminding this even existed!). In searching for that original NaNo, I realized there was a lot of it I’d never posted. So, in the spirit of Back Up Your Work and in the hopes of continuing my interest in these three-love-stories-that-became-one, I present you the continuation of Hadrian and Lyria’s story.

“Any sign yet?” Nalia asked Viti, calling up to where she perched high up on Drakin’s stall. The simple table, four posts, and an awning style was common throughout the serpents’ li’sumae, with each of their bright colors signifying their goods to those who knew how to read it. It wasn’t totally uncommon for a cryer to stand on the corner of the table as Viti did now, holding onto one post and leaning out to catch customers’ attention. But Viti wasn’t calling, she was surveying, and the object of her search wasn’t hard to spot among the bustling crowd.

“Golden boy spotted, east entrance!”

She lept down from the table, nearly kicking Nalia in the face with her unnecessary flourish. Nalia neatly dodged, familiar with Viti’s antics from many years spent in the same dancing troop. She looped an arm around Viti’s waist, turning the leap into a tidy circle. They gave each other small bows then nearly collapsed laughing, utterly pleased with themselves.

Lyria sighed.

Normally, she loved to watch her dancer friends ply their trade. But her aura was in knots, and no amount of soothing from the more relaxed auras of her friends could seem to undo it lately. She wanted an answer, resolution. But she was afraid the act of reaching for it would tip the results firmly against her.

“He likes you,” Zi promised. The third member of their little group, Zi, had been the most aggressive of the trio when it came to flirting with Hadrian. She was certain the avian’s affections had landed firmly on Lyria, and had ceded the fight for his attention. Not that any of them had really been fighting that hard. Just Lyria.

“I just wish he’d show it,” she sighed under her breath. “Just some little sign, so I knew if I was actually welcome.”

“Well, here’s your chance,” Zi said with a grin. “Because here he comes.”

The Love That Broke The War

Long time fans will recognize this title as the name of the folktale that takes the place of Hawksong in Asylumverse lore. When it stopped being a fanfic and I admitted to myself that I had really made something original and unique here, I still wanted to keep that nod, especially since its relevant that Nica and Seth recognize each other from being named after figures of legend. They were originally Nica and Xane, and while I wanted to keep Danica, Seth’s Whole Deal had changed so much it needed its own story. So The Love That Broke The War was born.

It kept niggling at me, this story of these fated lovers. What war, when, with whomst? Asylum’s cosmology was expanding, the Dai were no long just stand ins for the falcons, and I really, really wanted to know what happened to the first Danica and Seth.

What spun out of this was a NaNo project, and in this year of Na-Noping right out of anything formal, I decided to come back to it (big shout out to my support group for reminding this even existed!). In searching for that original NaNo, I realized there was a lot of it I’d never posted. So, in the spirit of Back Up Your Work and in the hopes of continuing my interest in these three-love-stories-that-became-one, I present you with Hadrian, an avian guard trying his damnedest to work up the courage to ask a serpent lady to go walking with him.

This was it. He was going to do it. Today. Right now. No turning back.

As soon as he could convince his feet to move.

He’d tried his speech out a hundred times, on unsuspecting rosebushes, apple and olive trees alike. He was ready. He could do this.

Just … feet.

He’d steeled himself so thoroughly against running away that he couldn’t seem to take the first step. Move, move damn you! He stared at his useless feet, but they wouldn’t budge.

“Alright then,” he said aloud, hoping the sound would spur him to something. “If we aren’t going downstairs, then we’d better go find some way to make ourselves useful, hadn’t we?”

His feet continued to do nothing.

Disgusted, Hadrian threw himself back onto his bunk with a sigh. He half expected his boots to remain planted. But no. Now that he’d given up, his body was all-too-willing to lie there, staring uselessly at the ceiling.

He was never going to work up the courage to ask Lyria to go walking.

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.”