The Hungry Wolf Ch. 07bywanderingmindgames©
Hi everyone! So a not-so-funny thing happened to me a couple weeks ago. My laptop, my faithful, ever patient companion, decided it was time to head to the hard drive in the sky. But before he went, he wanted to play a game with me, and decided to hide all of my files and documents. 5000 photos? Look under 'GAMES' or 'TRAVEL'. 6000 songs? Did you check under 'HOME REPAIRS'? Needless to say, I freaked out and thought for sure I lost all that I had done for this chapter and the next two -- UGH! Luckily, a friend of mine was able to find everything and back it up for me. I am now able to put my former laptop out of his misery.
I'm thinking firing squad.
Anyway, I got the file back and realized I already had another 80 pages written. So I am chopping it up a bit to make them more manageable chapters. I still don't want to rush the story, and apparently Charlie, Damien and the rest of the characters feel the same. ;D So while I apologize for the wait, I won't for not 'getting on with it already'.
I have to thank TheLastChaosLord for the help with the timeline. I am bad at math and even worse at attention to detail, so that extra set of eyes set my mind at ease.
And as always, thank you to X for their inspiration.
"This is Grayson and Zeke, our archivists," Damien said, indicating the two men sitting at the desks in front of her. They were in a small office on the first floor, a couple doors down from Darian and Eva's office. "This is my Charlotte."
"Nice to meet you," Charlie said, nodding her head at the men.
"Nice to meet you. I'm Grayson. But you can call me Gray, almost everyone here does," said the smaller of the two as he stood and held out his hand to her. He had sandy blonde hair cut short and bright hazel eyes. At nearly six feet, he was still much taller than Charlie, but he wasn't as hulking as most of the other men she'd met at the ranch. Zeke, his fellow archivist, seemed to dwarf him somewhat.
"Please, call me Charlie," she said with a smile, shaking his hand. He had a firm handshake, his hands smooth and dry.
"I can't tell you how nice it is to meet you, Charlie," said Zeke, moving around his desk to shake her hand in a much more limpid manner. He was bigger than Gray, almost as big as Damien and Darian, with the same dark coloring and facial structure.
"Are you two related?" Charlie asked, looking back and forth between Damien and Zeke.
"Cousins," Zeke said.
"You're admitting it now?" Gray teased, sitting back at his desk and smiling at the group standing in front of him.
"You mean now that he's not acting like a surly emo teenager? Of course I am!" Zeke said, giving Damien a playful slap on the shoulder. "I swear I'd never known a man could be so glum he could suck the light out of a room just by passing by," Zeke said to Charlie in an exaggerated stage whisper.
"You mean Forrest Grump here?" Charlie whispered back just as dramatically, making Zeke throw his head back and laugh.
"Hey now..." Damien began, trying to act offended. It was hard to do when his mouth so clearly wanted to smile.
"Don't listen to Zeke. He worried and fretted over Damien more than Eva did," Gray said, looking at Zeke affectionately.
"Oh my. Let's not swell his ego too much." Zeke winked at Damien and gave him a squeeze on his shoulder.
"My ego?" he asked, feigning insult.
"Please," Charlie piped in, smiling mischievously at Damien. "It's hard enough for me to handle as it is." She put her left arm around his waist and laid her right hand on his abdomen, just above the waistband of his jeans. "I wouldn't want it to get...engorged."
"Oh...I think you could take care of it just fine, dolcezza," Damien said, putting his arms around Charlie and pressing her to him.
"Is it getting warm in here or is it just you two?" Zeke teased, fanning himself.
"Sorry," Charlie laughed, poking Damien in the ribs.
"It's alright, dear. I don't blame you." He gave Damien a pointed look.
"I'm going, I'm going," Damien said, laughing as Gray rolled his eyes. "I will meet you for lunch, alright?" he asked Charlie, cupping her face with his hand. She nodded, lifting her face to his kiss.
"I'll see you in the dining room." She smiled at him reassuringly.
"Okay. Just...listen to what they have to say and...just...you'll do fine." He looked at her as if he were afraid she would disappear if he lost sight of her.
Not that she didn't understand why. Over the past few days, Charlie had been inundated with all she needed to do and learn in preparation of their ceremony. At times, feeling overwhelmed, she would grab Damien in a hug and just stay there, breathing in his scent and calming herself. She would reassure him that it was a fleeting moment of panic, but it still worried him.
"Damien!" she laughed, shaking her head a bit. "I'll be fine. Go." She smiled at him reassuringly.
"Alright." He looked at Zeke and Grayson. "Be nice," he said sternly.
"Go!" they both said to him in unison. With one more pointed look at Charlie Damien turned around and left.
"As if we would be anything but," Zeke said with a roll of his eyes as they watched his retreating back. Charlie chuckled at that, her eyes finally pulling away from Damien to look at the two men she had been left with.
"So," Zeke began, putting his hand on her arm and leading her towards Gray's desk, "how are you holding up, doll?" He perched on the edge of the desk and maneuvered her between himself and Gray.
"Alright," Charlie said with a shrug. "It's...it's been a lot to take in, but I think I'm managing."
"You're doing great, Charlie," Gray said, swiveling around in his chair and looking at her kindly.
"Thanks." She sighed and shifted on her feet, looking between the two men for a moment. They were watching her intently, as if they were waiting for her head to spin around. "Okay. It's totally fucking overwhelming, alright?" Zeke threw back his head and laughed. "I mean, in the space of a just a few days, I meet this guy, this gorgeous and kind and smart and sweet and sexy man, and I...I start dating him, I guess, sort of, and start really falling for him, right? I mean, the first day -- the first hour -- I know him and my toes curl when he looks into my eyes -- which has never ever happened before. Then, after we...we're intimate, I find out he's this impossible mythical species. And instead of running away -- which is what my mind is trying to convince me to do, I stay. I stay because the thought of leaving, of never seeing him again, makes me feel like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. And I...I realize I'm falling in love with him. And the idea of what he is, what you all are, isn't scary anymore. All of a sudden it seems right, in spite of what my brain tells me. So I move in with him, agree to let him make me what he is -- which really would be enough to make my head spin. But no sooner do I come to terms with all of that, no sooner do I finally feel right about it all, when something else comes up and makes my brain feel fuzzy all over again. It's just...things are...I don't know...weird."
"How so, doll?" Zeke asked.
"Well, we started eating in the communal dining room for like, every meal. And there's always a lot of people there. I know some, but not most of them. And it's unnerving because I keep getting stared at. And...and bowed to...like I'm a princess or something." Zeke opened his mouth to speak but didn't get the chance.
"It's just a sign of respect," Gray said, slapping Zeke on his thigh to keep him quiet.
"I get that. I really do. But it just creeps me out when everyone is staring at me while I eat. Like...like I have to eat before they can."
"It's respect," Gray repeated.
"It's unnerving," Charlie shot back, but she was smiling. "And it's not like I'm unfriendly, or particularly shy, but it's a lot of people. Really. I only had to program eight numbers into my cell phone the entire time I lived in Santa Fe. Eight! And that's including my dentist, doctor and work. So to have all these people wanting to know me is a lot to get used to."
"There's plenty of time for that, doll," Zeke said, giving her a smile that was somewhat indulgent.
"Then for some reason I had to demonstrate my fighting skills for Damien and Darian and Eva." She held up her hand to Zeke as he was about to say something. "I know, challenges. And the off chance I am ever in danger from a human, they need to know I can defend myself without changing. But still it was just a weird thing to be asked to do. Plus, it was hard to concentrate on not getting my ass kicked when I kept expecting Damien to fly into a snit and beat up Luke every time he landed a blow."
"You did very well, though," Zeke said, smiling and nodding at her. "Managed to take him down a couple times."
"Yeah, I know. And only a few cuts and bruises." She shrugged. "Which Damien...uh...took care of." She dropped her eyes as her cheeks pinked at the memory of his wolf slowly and methodically licking all over her body.
"I bet he did." She glanced up at Gray, surprised to hear him tease her.
"Yeah, okay," she muttered, dropping her eyes again with a soft laugh. "That part was pretty nice, actually."
"Uh huh," Zeke teased.
"Now it's just all the stuff I have to do to get ready. And I only have a week. One week."
"When do your aunt and uncle arrive, Zeke?" Gray asked, steepling his fingers under his chin.
"Tomorrow, I think. Maybe the next day." He looked at Charlie, questioningly.
"Don't ask me. I asked Damien not to remind me until they were on their way to the ranch, and I'm doing all I can to not think about it," she said, crossing her arms. "If I did...freak out city, here I come."
"You'll be fine," Zeke said, standing up and putting his hands on her shoulders. "I can say without a doubt, Auntie Diane and Uncle David are going to absolutely love you."
"That's what everyone keeps saying."
"You don't believe them?" Gray asked.
"It's not that, it's just... I mean..." She paused, taking a deep breath. "I keep hearing how bad off Damien was, how hurt and how depressed he was, right? And how worried his parents -- everyone -- was about him. I just worry that, with all that he went through, I won't be what they want for their son."
"Oh sweetie," Gray said, getting up and moving to take her hands. "You have absolutely nothing to worry about."
"They will take one look at you and see what everyone else does," Zeke said, moving to throw an arm around her shoulders. "They will see the only one who can make him laugh, make him smile and make him crazy in love. They will see the only person who can complete his soul and hold his heart. Most importantly, they will see someone who loves him beyond reason."
"Is that what everyone sees when they look at me?" Charlie asked with a laugh.
"Yes," Gray said as Zeke nodded and gave her a squeeze on her shoulders.
"All anyone has to do is see the way you look at each other, the love in it, and they will see you are mates," Zeke said, smiling over her head at Gray.
"I hope so." She looked at him and opened her mouth, but shut it again.
"What?" Gray asked, noting her hesitation.
"It's...well, it's kind of stupid, really."
"Go on," he prodded, smiling at her reassuringly.
"Did you ever see 'Moonstruck'?" she asked them.
"Of course! One of my favorite movies!" Zeke said as Gray simply nodded.
"Well, you know that scene at the end of the movie, where Olympia Dukakis asks Cher if she loves Nicholas Cage, and she looks at him and says,..."
" 'Aw, Ma, I love him awful'," all three finish together.
"Yeah," Charlie says, tears welling in her eyes but not caring. "When I think about it, when I think about Damien, I get it. I finally get what that means, you know? That I love him so much, I love him awful, and I...I just...I'd thought I'd loved before, been in love before, and I was, kinda. But that was different, that wasn't love like this. That was love born of familiarity, you know? This is...this is it." She paused, a few tears spilling over and running down her cheeks. "I love him awful, and that's the most overwhelming thing of all."
"It's okay, doll," Zeke said, pulling her to him in a big hug. "It's the mating, Charlie," he said after a moment. "It's an intense feeling."
"We all grow up with it, you know," Gray added. He placed his hand on Charlie's shoulder and gave her a squeeze. "We grow up seeing this happen and knowing it will happen to us one day, too. So when it does happen, it's easy for us to relax and just go with it."
"Exactly," Zeke continued. "We know the feeling will be intense, but we are equipped to handle it." He hugged her tightly again for a moment. "Now stop the crying. This shirt was a gift from Gray and I don't want you getting it all wet and snotty."
"Okay," Charlie laughed, sniffling a bit as she raised her head to look at the two men comforting her. They exchanged glances that were a mix of affection and heat, and Charlie couldn't stop from giggling. "You two are mates," she blurted out as they looked at her. "Well, duh. Of course you are. That's why Damien didn't get all weirded out when he left me with you guys." She stepped back and smiled proudly at the two men.
"Yes," Gray said, moving to put his arm around Zeke's waist.
"Does that bother you?" Zeke asked, giving Charlie a funny look.
"That Gray and I are mates."
"No." She looked at him closely, not quite understanding what he was getting at. "Should it bother me?"
"Well, some humans are less than accepting of two males marrying," Zeke said, sounding more than a bit insulted.
"Or two females," Charlie said quietly. She was still unsure what he was implying. "Which is just stupid, really." She looked at Gray and then Zeke as the shoe finally dropped. "Oh, shit! Sorry. I think you misunderstood. I didn't mean to imply anything. Really."
"Really?" Zeke parroted.
Charlie looked at him with a cocked eyebrow, wondering if he would believe her if she said her best friend led her chapter of 'Dykes on Bikes' in last year's Pride Day parade. She smiled at them both. "As if...trust me. I'm not one of 'those humans'," she said, making air quotes when she said it. "Idiots, really."
Gray gave a little snort of laughter at that, and Zeke glanced at him before turning his attention back to Charlie. "Is that so?"
"Well, come on, what are they worried about? The divorce rate dropping?" she chuckled at that. "And please understand that my reaction was happiness in figuring out why Damien left me with you, not mocking that you're a gay couple."
"We're sure it wasn't, Charlie," Gray said, silencing Zeke with a look. "We recently had a...less than welcoming reception at a shop near Spokane."
"Northeastern Washington," Zeke said.
"Near the Idaho border. We stopped in at this little mom-n-pop store that had a diner attached to it, and the owners were quite... cold," Gray added.
"They were downright hostile," Zeke said with a sniff.
"That's too bad," Charlie said, her brow creased a bit. "But you're not really judging all humans by the behavior of a few, are you?"
"Well, no-" Zeke began, but Charlie cut him off.
"Because that would be like me judging all werewolves by the behavior of Mira and her mother, right? And that's certainly not representative of all, now is it?" Charlie said, hands in her pockets and one brow raised.
Zeke just looked at her for a minute before bursting into laughter. "Oh my dear, dear cousin will have his hands full with you."
"Yes, he already does," Charlie conceded with a chuckle.
"Come on, Charlie, time to get to work," Gray said, pulling a chair from against the wall for her to sit in. He smiled at her as she took her seat and looked at them expectantly.
"Yes," Zeke said, perching himself on the edge of Gray's desk. Gray resumed his seat behind the desk and put on his glasses before turning to face her. "Now Charlie, do you know why you're here?"
"With you two? Or do you mean the broader, philosophical question as to why we exist?" she asked, winking at him.
"Sassy doll," Zeke chuckled, "I love it!"
"All Damien said was that you two are the pack's archivists and it was important to spend time with you before the mating," she said. "Something about the vows for the ceremony?"
"It will help to think of us as historians, Charlie," Gray said, leaning forward in his chair. "We are charged with recording and cataloguing all events within the pack. Matings, births, successions, deaths; anything that could have any effect on the pack, really."
"Sounds like a huge job," Charlie said, nodding her understanding.
"It's more a labor of love than chore," Zeke said, reaching across his own desk to pick up a large, leather bound book. "I like to think we are the pack's memory," he said, handing the book to her and winking at Gray. "Not only do we record what happens, we maintain the records of everything that came before."
Charlie laid the book -- much heavier than it looked -- on her lap and opened the cover. The pages were thick and stiff, and Charlie wondered if it was parchment or just really old paper made before the process was refined. The first page had a detailed picture of three wolves on it that looked familiar to her for some reason. Below the picture was 'Dimeo' in large, elaborate script. "How far back?" she asked, raising the book up to get a closer look at the picture.
"From the beginning," Gray said, digging through his drawers. He fished out a magnifier and offered it to her, but she shook her head.
"Isn't this depicted on the big wooden doors?" she asked, indicating the picture of the wolves.
"Yes, it is," Zeke said.
"They're quite beautiful." She turned the page and found a picture of wolves in a circle, watching two wolves in the center. It looked like they were pacing around each other. "What is this?" she asked, unable to read the flowing script beneath the picture.
"That is the beginning. That's the first Alpha Dimeo -- Damien's grandfather Salvatore Dimeo - asserting his dominance over the previous pack alpha," Zeke said proudly.
"So...he wasn't the first one?" she asked, her brow creased in confusion.
"The first one what?" Zeke asked.
"He wasn't the founder of the pack?"
"Ah. Well, yes, he was. He was the founder of the Dimeo pack, but that was born of the DeLuca pack," Gray explained. "When the new alpha, Alpha Dimeo, took over, the pack as a whole was reborn, so to speak."
"The new alpha always has to face challenges from within the pack, and makes changes to how the pack is structured and run," Zeke added. "In this case, it was a bit more involved than that."
"Why? Why did he take over the pack?" Charlie asked.
"Alpha DeLuca lost his mate, and he had grown reckless and dangerous," Gray said. His eyes were sad. "He had shown himself to be brutal to the weaker members of the pack, and he had been indirectly threatening the local village. Even after he was replaced, it caused a lot of unrest, a lot of suspicion, and was a threat to the pack. Alpha Dimeo tried to stand it out. He really did. He didn't want to leave our ancestral lands, but it wasn't safe. Not anymore. The pack had to leave, they had to move somewhere new or risk annihilation."
"It was a dark time for the pack," Zeke continued. He reached down and turned the pages of the book in her lap as Charlie watched. "We had to leave Italy, seeking asylum along the way from other packs," he said, pausing and pointing to particular pictures as he spoke. They showed groups of people meeting, the settings were always dark with the groups surrounded by trees and shadows.