Peter ignores the shards of glass digging and slicing into the pads of his paws, intent on the shivering body before him. It pleads for mercy, but Peter barely parses the words through his canine brain—the human speech sounding merely like the protests of prey. There is a familiar voice screaming unintelligibly, but it’s not coming from his prey, so Peter ignores it, baring his teeth as he stalks closer and edges to the body’s chest. It remains paralyzed with fear, so it takes nothing to rip through cloth and tender flesh and reach the pumping organ within.
Peter cuts out the heart and eats it, listening to his prey’s breathy sighs weaken until they simply stop. He’s licking his chops when he deigns to find the source of the screaming, which had not ceased until the body stopped trembling, only to start up again after in a more pitiful register. When he looks back, he sees himself, dropped down to his knees, mouth bloody and open in mid-yell.
Peter looks back to the body and sees Roman staring blankly back at him.
Reflexively, Peter launches himself off the bed, only to be dragged down immediately by a weight pushing against his chest and something gripping at his shoulder. It takes Peter a panting moment to adjust his eyes and see Roman staring back at him. Not only does he seem whole, but he seems wholly unimpressed. However, his hand—still latched on to Peter’s far shoulder—is pulsing tellingly.
“I was having a nice dream,” Roman quips quietly, “until I thought it might be a good idea to jump off a cliff. Thanks for that.”
Peter blinks, taking a second before his gaze wanders around the dark bedroom and settles back on Roman’s annoyed concern.
“I dreamed that I ripped your heart out,” Peter admits with little to no ceremony. There was a time when they had kept their dreams hidden from the other, but they fast learned that it was a surefire way to allow their fears to fester and, in turn, feed their paranoia. Sharing them made it easier to forget—and would confirm that they were no longer having shared, disastrous nightmares. That, at least, they had put behind them.
Limbs still entangled with Peter’s from when they fell asleep together, Roman leans forward, brows furrowing. It’s practically second nature for Peter to turn his head and crane towards Roman’s mouth, so he’s surprised when the Upir flicks a finger against his forehead, hard.
“Ow,” Peter says intelligently, not entirely sure that he is awake. His dreams tend to edge towards extremes: either Roman is about to kiss the hurt away and go down on him or he will jab a rusty knife into his gut. After his nightmare, the latter seems appropriate.
Roman does neither, instead choosing to push Peter’s face away with his palm and retracting his legs from Peter’s hold. “I can’t believe I get to say, ‘I told you so,’ like a nagging mother,” he whispers, laughing. “What did you expect after reading a book about Upirs before bed?” Said Upir seems perfectly at ease to ignore Peter flopping back to the bed and rubbing at his forehead, shielding his eyes. Unfortunately for Peter, this also means that he fails to see the moment Roman slides off the bed, and his halfhearted swipe to pull him back results in a hand full of air.
Despondent but enjoying the view, despite the interfering sweatpants, Peter tracks Roman’s movements, eyes stuck on the clean patch of skin above the Upir’s heart. Upon Roman’s expectant glance back at him, Peter shakes his head and literally crawls out of bed, latching onto Roman’s waist from behind and moving out the door. Together they hobble along the landing and down the stairs, experience turning what would have been an awkward gesture into a practiced—albeit odd—dance.
In the kitchen, Peter only lets go long enough to fill the kettle and switch it on, plopping his weight onto Roman’s front in moments, snuffling into his neck because he is a grown man and has been in a long term relationship for four years and no one can judge him for it. If he had the energy he would grab a mug and rummage through their collection of herbal teas, but leaning against Roman is the simpler choice. Together they stand, Peter listing to the side and Roman watching the steam steadily appear above the kettle.
In the past, following a nightmare, they merely clung to each other in bed while attempting to calm down. It was at the advice of another werewolf—Jenny, one of the werewolf pack—that they began getting up and walking off the delirium. The tea was Shelley’s idea, and it helped all the more, although Roman was more partial to blood (except after the more violent dreams).
“Mmf,” Peter murmurs, choosing to ignore the click of the kettle for a moment.
“It’s ironic,” starts Roman, his tone lighthearted, “that you need to take out an Upir’s heart to make sure it’s dead. Since they don’t use their hearts much.”
Peter freezes mid-snuffle, pulling back to glare at Roman’s shit-eating grin. Tired and still upset despite Roman’s bleak attempt at humor, Peter shuffles away, reaching for the cupboards for some chamomile. Roman, regardless of Peter’s reaction, seems unperturbed. He saunters up to the fridge, props it open, and pretends to consider the rows of canisters of blood, wincing at the light.
“Then again,” he drawls, “you have to decapitate a werewolf too, and they rarely use their brains.”
A second passes before the werewolf tackles the Upir’s blindside, Roman laughing as the fridge door closes and plunges them into darkness.
Spring has only just emerged, so their yard remains covered in snow drifts, ice glinting in the dusky light. The warmer weather has made being outside for long periods of time more bearable—which Peter must appreciate—but Roman cannot imagine that it is an immense improvement. Winter had been a monthly sequence of cajoling Peter into turning indoors, but every full moon the werewolf had refused, escaping deep into the woods to meet the pack gathering there. Roman understands—their lives are a necessary routine of washing off blood and burning dregs of fur. It’s only natural for Peter to wish to keep that life from sticking to the floorboards of their home. Roman sometimes wonders if the tubs of blood in the fridge are an unpleasant reminder that they can never quite reach a normal life.
Still, it has been ages since Roman has seen Peter transform into his wolf form, and he misses it. Strangely craves the memory. It’s a matter of tradition within the pack—everyone changes together before going on their run—yet it leaves Roman and Nadia back at home, the former with a dull ache in his chest. If it were jealousy, then he would not have paid it any attention (he would have to be a fool not to see how much Peter cares for him). But Roman remembers the thrill that went through him each time he saw the change—places it now as his Upir side enjoying the carnage. He sometimes catches the—literally—tail-end of Peter’s change back to human, and even then he can’t help but stare, frozen until he remembers that Peter is freezing too, naked on the ground.
It terrifies him—feeling pleasure while Peter’s bones break and his whimpers feed the air. He worries. There are moments when intrusive thoughts fill his brain, when he fears that, were Peter to come home one day, ripped apart and bloody, he would just watch him suffer. No, he decides. Peter deserves more respect. Deserves more than a fucked up voyeur drinking in his pain. So Roman keeps to the house and watches the full moon flicker beyond the windblown branches.
“I’m not wearing the sweater,” Peter deadpans, grabbing a plastic bag to keep his clothes dry from the thaw.
Roman grins, lifting the decidedly ridiculous sweater. It’s covered in knitted wolves dancing below a row of moon phases. Roman had found the last one underneath a pile of clearance items—the rest bought out by the pack. He had barely managed to escape evisceration by a hipster wolf, avoiding the mauling only after the man had seemingly recognized him and released Roman’s arm as though burned. Ashamed as he is to admit it, being an Upir has its perks.
“But look at how happy they are. Nadia, what do you think?” Roman asks, throwing a glance at their daughter.
With the severity of a five-year-old, Nadia stares up at Peter from her vantage point on the couch. “Tătic, you must wear the sweater.” Peter sends Roman a look, gaze accusing. The Upir shrugs, uncaring of having used dirty tactics.
Softer, Roman says, “It’s loose. Two sizes too big,” and holds it out, ignoring Nadia’s frown at being left out of the conversation. He takes a step further, meeting Peter’s exasperated expression with one of his own. “It’d keep you warm.”
Peter huffs, but takes the sweater under his arm. “The wolf would never live it down, and would rip it apart if I still wore it. Even if it is ‘two sizes too big,’” he adds with a smirk. Relenting, he knocks his knuckles against Roman’s cheek. “Thanks, you dork, but I can manage the cold.”
For a moment, Roman is tempted to do one better, but then Nadia huffs and he comes back to himself, switching gears. “Nadia, why don’t you go upstairs? I’ll come up soon—help build that Lego castle you’re making.”
The girl raises her eyebrows, decidedly unimpressed. Roman has to bite his lip from sighing at how much she looks like him. Judging by his snicker, Peter is thinking along the same lines. “It is a fort, dad, not a castle,” she corrects, happy to take the hint and give them privacy. Leaping across the couch’s arm, Nadia latches onto Peter, the latter already crouching to hug her properly.
“See you in the morning, pup.” Nadia, because she is undoubtedly the product of two bad influences, bites at Peter’s neck before launching herself away, cackling as she runs up the stairs. Flummoxed, Roman and Peter watch her disappear, Peter rubbing a hand against the sore spot.
“That one’s on you,” Peter says resignedly.
“Yeah? Tell that to all the bruises on my neck.” It takes a lot to fluster them these days, so Roman grins when Peter clears his throat and turns away. Chuckling to himself, Roman unlatches the front door and heads out to the porch, pulling himself up to sit on the wooden railing. It’s only seconds before Peter appears between his legs, caging him in with his arms—that is, trying to. The height difference assuredly creates a ridiculous tableau, but Roman still has to tell himself to calm down because he doesn’t think he will ever be prepared to have his dick chomped off by a wolf. He’s still laughing to himself when Peter pops open Roman’s collar and pushes his face inside, sniffing.
Teasing, Roman scratches behind Peter’s ear, the werewolf so far gone that he doesn’t bother showing annoyance at the subtle dog joke. “Hey,” Roman whispers, clutching at Peter’s shoulder, “You should probably get going. It’s almost time.”
“I don’t see you letting me go,” Peter points out, muttering into skin. “You worried?”
Roman swallows back his immediate response (“I’m always worried”), and mutters back, “A bunch of hot, naked people running around in a forest. Why would I worry?”
Peter trails a hand up, pulling Roman’s face down to speak into his cheek. “True, no need to worry. Just a bunch of werewolves vying for my hand,” he whispers, smoothing his mouth down Roman’s neck. “Big, strong, lumberjack werewolves that could kick your skinny ass.”
Stuttering, Roman manages, “It’s—it’s like you’re asking to be chained up in the yard.”
“Kinky,” Peter remarks, laughing.
They both pause, breathing a little heavily, before Roman fidgets, painfully aware that the cold air isn’t doing anything to stifle his reaction. “Okay, he starts, huffing, “You should get out of here before it really does become awkward, you fucker.”
Regardless, Peter kisses him gently in farewell. “Love you too, asshole,” he quips before sprinting off into the encroaching darkness. Roman doesn’t turn around, willing himself to relax before he goes back inside, wondering whether a roll in the snow would do the trick.
Peter cannot count the number of times he has been told that he has an adorable family.
It’s often said with a sigh and a far-off look, and always out of Roman’s range of hearing—almost as though they are merely giving Peter the heads up that they plan on stealing his family away when he’s not looking rather than giving him a compliment. He thought he understood it at first—that the werewolves were in fact afraid of Roman and so kept their distance. So it shocks him when he realizes that it’s his fault that Roman has barely made any friends in the pack.
It’s Jenny who made him see it, noting that Peter never brought him to any pack outings anymore—to those that occurred between moonlit runs, anyway. He opened his mouth to argue, but closed it slowly, remembering that the last time Roman and Nadia saw the whole pack was during a barbecue a couple of months ago. He had spent most of that night awake, staring at the ceiling, thinking, and listening to Roman breathe peacefully in his sleep.
They weren’t afraid of Roman, Peter realized. They were afraid of him. Of the cloud of “do not touch” that permeates Roman’s vicinity, as Jenny had so helpfully pointed out.
As it is, despite the years and the progress he has made with the pack, Peter is still a pariah. He is twitchy and quicker to anger when he’s alone, and the other wolves must see the vargulf still creeping along the edges of his eyes. He is not outright hated—and perhaps he has Roman and Nadia to thank for that, as they perceive the three of them as a curiosity of sorts—but there is a deliberate wariness between his interactions with the others.
The only relaxed candor he has received has been on the topic of his family. Peter thinks it’s funny, as the pain it took to bring them to this point can be measured in pints of blood, whereas the sighers speak as though their coming together was effortless on their part. Some sound downright envious.
Peter never thought of himself as possessive, but love can muddle one’s principles.
Even now he feels at odds, coming up to the clearing where most of the pack has already come together and are staying warm by huddling in groups. He nods to Jenny, who leers at him, but perches by a tree on the fringes of the crowd, keeping his gaze lowered, unchallenging. For all that he would like to have Roman by his side—would love to, especially since it always hurts more to change without him—he cannot help but revel in the fact that Roman’s waiting for him at home, in their house, with their kid. Hell, if the pack permitted it, he would not even bother leaving home until after changing, but he is risking enough with his status as an outsider, so he goes.
Still, he misses the intimacy afforded by the change when it’s just the two of them. Roman’s dilated pupils watching him. The darker part of him balks at the idea of bringing Roman to a run, his gut churning angrily as he pictures Roman watching the other werewolves instead of him. It’s fucked up, and he knows that it isn’t even the full moon bringing it out in him. As the sun sets, the pack begins to sort out their clothes, slipping them off and storing them away in bags. Seeing the growing swathes of naked skin in the corners of his eyes, Peter follows suit, doubly glad that he’s alone.
Then he lets the shadows touch him and gives himself to the pain, imagining Roman’s eyes on him.
It always feels like ages pass between when the moon touches his skin and when it finally falls away in tatters. He keeps to his own feast, unwilling to share in this strange custom and devour another’s flesh. It is a sign of trust if given willingly, but even Jenny senses that he would not see it as a mark of their friendship. And other wolves—wolves larger than him—are too cautious to try to lay claim to his meal. Still, Peter faintly thinks, there is no hierarchal position to challenge him over, as the others must understand. There is only his family…
Peter sees red, but then shakes himself out of it when no challenger approaches. This is his pack, he reminds himself, and they have done far more for him than he deserves.
When all are sated, the run can begin in earnest. Peter lets his paws carry him with the flow of the moon’s tide, giving in to a hive mind and following the wolf before him. Hours must pass before Peter begins to feel an itch in the back of his brain—a pull that makes him stray from the trodden path and head west. He senses Jenny plodding along beside him for a time, but even she moves away after a few minutes, nodding goodbye before doubling back to return to her wife.
Before he’s even aware of it, Peter is circling his property. The windows are dark, but Nadia’s room is lit in the soft glow of a nightlight. His first instinct is to howl for his mate, but the human lingering in his mind doesn’t want to wake his family—not when there is work to be done and school to go to in the morning. So he keeps to the outskirts of the property, eyes on the house and ears flickering, on the alert for any intruders. There is a moment when his hackles rise to the sound of paws galloping towards him, but then he sees the incoming werewolf—young and brazen—and settles down. The pup, realizing its mistake, stumbles to a halt, twists around, and bolts away. Peter finds himself huffing in amusement.
Another hour passes as Peter watches the sky lighten to a leaden blue. He trots over to the fire pit before lying down, waiting. The pain of dawn, after the pain of the evening, is nothing, and Peter huffs into the snow when he can breathe again. Disoriented but conscientious, he picks at the clumps of fur still sticking to his skin, tossing them into the pit. Some of the blood washes off in the snow, but Roman usually leaves a towel just inside by the door. It takes a moment before Peter can make the effort, but the early sun goads him on, so he crawls to the porch.
As expected, Roman has left a towel for him. He cleans up assiduously but ignores the sweatpants, twitching when he remembers that he will have to go back tomorrow and claim his clothes. Nadia would kill him is he lost that wolf sweater (Roman would pretend not to care, but Peter knows better).
He’s silent when he pads up the stairs, but he doesn’t make an effort to muffle the sound of their bedroom door clicking shut, giving Roman a chance to rouse enough so as to not attack Peter in his sleep. Roman mutters an invective, and the werewolf takes that as his cue, crawling up the bed and dropping his weight on top of the decidedly grumpy Upir, if the grunt he lets out is any indication.
Peter relaxes all his muscles at once, feeling his lingering pain disappear when Roman slides a hand to his lower back. He has almost slipped away into sleep when Roman asks, whispering, “How many proposals did you receive?”
The werewolf doesn’t even bother lifting his head, just moves his arm up to pat at Roman’s cheek. “Seven. Although some asked for a threesome. Don’t know why.”
Roman just hums and grabs the corner of the blanket, dragging it across Peter before rolling him off and then pulling the blanket back to join him under the covers. Peter sighs at the sensation of warm skin and feels the long night creep away.
Though most people he met in the past presumed it, Roman is not, in fact, an idiot. That is, he has been an idiot on many occasions—most of which have been related to Peter in some roundabout way—but let it be said that, had Roman wished to go to college based on merit, he would have had no problem finding one that could tolerate his prickly attitude. In a nutshell, Roman is good with numbers—and he understands the basics of business, having overseen one in a past life. Godfrey Industries hadn’t stayed upright solely thanks to Pryce and the Board of Directors, for all that Roman did not appear to care.
So it’s only natural when Roman’s part-time job as an accountant grows until he has a regular base of clients, most based locally, with a few large-scale businesses that pay well for his efforts. They’re not rich (the cash they had squirreled away when leaving Hemlock Grove is in their savings account, gaining interest, and is intended for Nadia—however she chooses to use it), but they can live comfortably so long as Roman has enough accounts to process and Peter keeps his job as a mechanic.
It’s March, which means it’s the busiest time of the year. Roman wouldn’t normally complain, but this moment he is itching to push Peter off to the side of the computer and yell at Lynda for deciding to have a spring wedding. A big wedding. In a place with little to no reliable internet connection. One that cannot be rescheduled because Lynda had to choose a man with a whole army for a family.
The fact is, Roman can already picture how this is going to end, so he slinks away and sits back on the couch, telling himself to calm down. Nadia is not too far off, reading in a sun patch by the window. With a quiet call in her direction, he lobs a pillow at her gently. Fumbling, she catches it and sends a grin before stuffing the pillow under her chest and plopping down, legs kicking in the air.
It isn’t long before Peter joins him on the couch, knocking shoulders with him, wearing a grimace.
“When?” Roman asks, not bothering to wait Peter out. Said werewolf scratches at his stubble—a nervous tic that puts Roman ill at ease.
“Two weeks,” Peter admits. “Lynda’s, um, fiancé, bought us four tickets already. Roman, can’t you—”
“I really can’t,” Roman interrupts. “It’s busy now, but it’s only going to get worse.” The auto shop Peter works at is run by one of the werewolves, so asking for time off is merely a matter of begging and owing some favors. There is, however, no way that Roman can tell his clients that he will deal with their taxes when he is back from vacation. They can afford to lose a month of Peter’s earnings, but not both—especially not when the latter would lead to Roman losing all of his business.
They grow quiet, each lost in their heads but finding comfort in the other’s warmth. Roman will miss this painless silence. It’s so peaceful that they both jump when they speak at once, words jarring and loud in the small space.
Reacting to both her name and volume, Nadia jerks upright, frowning at her parents’ expressions. Peter must hear the stutter in Roman’s voice, so he’s quick to lace their fingers together and give his hand a squeeze.
“What do you say, pup?” Peter starts, motioning for her to join them. “Do you want to meet your grandma?”
The Upir watches Nadia crawl into Peter’s lap and feels a pang as he listens to his…Peter relate to his daughter the very few things that he knows about Romania…and the many things he knows about Lynda. Roman isn’t cruel—he understands the need for Nadia to have a positive relationship with her grandmother. Olivia was hardly an ideal sample, though he suspects—hopes—that Nadia has no pertinent memories of her. Lynda would visit them herself, he knows, but that is impossible. He’s surprised to find that he misses her.
Still, the longing is nothing compared to the ache he feels growing, ice gripping his heart. Two weeks will go by in a flash. The month after that will drag.
Roman closes his eyes and tries to stop thinking.
Roman still has the occasional nightmare of the days when Nadia was missing and all he and Peter could do was wait and plan and skirt around feelings. They aren’t as paranoid as to hover over her these days, but Roman cannot fathom having her out of his sight for longer than a few days. Still, she will not be alone. Peter is flying to Romania with her.
But that’s just the problem, isn’t it?
The second time Peter left Roman, it was winter and Nadia was three years old and looking more and more like Roman by the day.
All of a sudden, the truth became unavoidable.
Features that used to resemble Letha’s morphed before his eyes. The moment Roman caught Peter looking at Nadia’s face, rapt, with a pensive lilt to his brow, he knew that it was only a matter of time.
It was Roman’s masochistic side that pulled at the frayed thread, willing to ruin their bond before the increasingly familiar face would betray the truth. It was the same side that could not remember the exact taste of human blood or the feeling of a stranger’s too-quick heartbeat beneath his teeth.
While Nadia slept, Roman unraveled their history, ripping out Peter’s heart on a string in the process. He told him about Olivia, about Letha, about having no control and only the ghost of memories. Roman can’t remember how long he spoke, but when his voice gave out, Peter was silently crying. A moment after, he stood and went to the door—only grabbing boots and a heavy jacket before closing it behind him. Standing at the window, Roman watched as Peter took his leave and took Roman’s heart with him.
At a loss, but strangely vindicated, he went upstairs to Nadia’s room, and sat back on the armchair, replaying the silence following his confession.
At Roman’s sobs, Nadia flew awake, eyes glowing. That night, Nadia, upset at the noise and the absent parent, exploded all of her stuffed toys—with her mind. Any other day, Roman would have panicked, but he could only be grateful for the distraction the clean-up gave him. He ended up sleeping in Nadia’s little bed, legs hanging to the floor, curled up around his daughter. He did not want to return to the bedroom and the familiar smells beneath the blankets and on the pillows.
Something important in Roman had broken anew, but he was acquainted with this pain, so he was already resigned when Peter returned in the middle of breakfast. Roman had yet to thaw from his shock, so he dumbly watched as the werewolf made straight for Nadia. There was a spark of fear in Roman’s chest, but Peter only picked her up, hugging her tightly. The girl latched onto his neck, pancake still clenched in her tiny hand.
Roman listened to their whispered conversation, feeling ill. Nadia was worried about where he went, and Peter apologized. Roman swallowed and Peter stiffened when she asked if he had made daddy cry, and Peter, without looking up, said that he thought he did, although he hadn’t meant to.
After Peter sent Nadia to finish her breakfast in the living room, he turned to Roman, who remained sitting still, chair angled away from the table. He couldn’t look away when Peter crouched in front of him, grabbing hold of his freezing hands and transfixing him with earnest eyes.
“I was angry,” he whispered, then seemed to think better of it and amended, “Angry at Olivia.” For a second, Peter’s earnestness turned wry. “There is a tree a mile away that has its bark bashed in.”
Roman just shook his head, not quite understanding.
“I went to see Shelley,” Peter continued, “because I had to ask her what it felt like to kill Olivia with her bare hands. We’ve been talking since. She gives her love.”
After a moment, Peter lifted Roman’s hands and brought them to his mouth. “I’m sorry I made you cry. I had to leave before I broke anything. But I’m still sorry for not staying.” Roman eventually made a sound, nodding slightly. “We don’t have to tell Nadia anything you don’t want her to know. As far as she needs to know, we are her parents.”
Peter released his hands and spread his own across Roman’s face, framing his eyes with a stroke of his thumbs. “She has your eyes.”
Predictably, Roman began to sob.
“You don’t have to be so quiet,” Peter pants, gently latching on to Roman’s shoulder with his teeth and staring at his pulse race below his jaw. “No one else is at home.”
The Upir merely lets out a choked-off moan, too familiar with staying discreet for the sake of any listening ears. They even kept the bedroom door closed, feeling too exposed within the sights of the corridor, despite the empty house.
Shelley was kind enough to let Destiny and Andreas stay at her place for the few days before the flight, seeing as she had the extra room. The couple would have stayed at their cabin, but Peter put his foot down. Although his cousin has no compunctions about having sex with others nearby, the last thing he needs on his last days with Roman is an audience—especially one that would likely start a competition about who could be the loudest. Besides, Destiny is not leaving her boyfriend behind in Canada, so she owes him the privacy. She must have clued in to that, considering how adamantly she demanded to spend the evening with Nadia, regardless of how long they would have to catch up in Romania. The moment their car had left the yard, Peter had pounced.
Peter loves Roman likes this.
There is something staggering about living in someone’s space—struggling through so much hardship—for years, and still being able to make them take leave of their senses. Roman’s thighs are tensed where they straddle Peter’s lap, only relaxing for sheer moments on the downward strokes. Peter sits back and lets him set the pace, pushing upwards in these intervals, coaxing whimpers. He trails his fingers behind Roman’s back towards the place where he and Roman connect, melding together. Roman only melts further when he slips in a finger and adds more pressure to the mix.
Languid, Roman drops his face to Peter’s shoulder, so the werewolf takes over, removing his hand to more easily grab Roman around the waist and set him back onto the bed, keeping the thrusts slow and deep. It is the moment when he starts to go faster that Roman suddenly bites down on his neck, not breaking skin, that Peter feels himself coming. So he works through it, pounding into Roman until he tightens around his cock just when it’s becoming too sensitive to be pleasurable.
They each come with a swear in their mouths, leaving names and declarations for the moments after when their minds are clearer and the words ring truer.
Peter becomes lost in the damp air around their heads, unwilling to remove himself from Roman just yet. Still, he tries to roll them to the side, taking his weight off, but the Upir stubbornly fixes his limbs, keeping him in place, ignoring the wet patch on their abdomens that will sooner than later make it painful to peel apart. Amused despite himself, Peter rocks lazily into Roman, reveling in the breathless sound he manages to provoke.
Roman clutches at his shoulders, seemingly unsure whether to push him away or draw him closer, so Peter continues to tease him, putting his own discomfort on the backburner while he rolls his hips.
“Okay,” Roman eventually gasps. “Okay, you’ve made your point. As much as I’d love to, that is not going to work.” Huffing in approval, Peter carefully pulls out, knotting the condom and tossing it in the bin by the nightstand. He grabs a couple of wet wipes—knowing their own laziness, they had given up and gotten a box after the Chest Hair Incident—and cleans them up.
The possessive side of Peter wants to grab him and keeping pushing into Roman, asking, Will you miss this? Will you miss me? Instead, he breathes and catalogues the way Roman’s eyes track the woodgrain on the ceiling, muscles relaxing and eyelids drooping.
Peter is skirting the edges of a doze when Roman makes a sound in his throat and slips out of bed, jostling Peter from sleep. He pretends to growl, but still opens his eyes, curious as to why now of all times Roman would leave the comfort of the bed. Happily, the Upir simply grabs a folder from the desk and scoots back against the headboard, patting at Peter when he leans against his ribs.
“I forget to tell you that these were finished.” Roman shields Peter’s eyes before switching on the table lamp, and then opens the folder to reveal two Canadian passports. “Pryce’s contact did a good job.”
Peter blinks. He remembers Roman mentioning something about paperwork, but it had fallen completely out of his head since. His subconscious, Peter realizes with a wry smile, must not be understandably keen to leave this embrace either. Regardless, he reaches for the passports and props the first one open. His own face stares back at him, hair messy, eyes startled like a deer’s. It’s the photo from his old passport card; Peter’s simply grateful that it isn’t a mug shot. His gaze, however, catches onto another detail.
“‘Landon Goddard,’” he reads. He doesn’t know what sort of name is “Landon,” but the last name… He squints up at Roman. “You really aren’t as subtle as you think you are.”
“What,” the man mutters innocently, “did I do something?”
Peter scoffs but relents, opening the second booklet. Carefully, he trails a finger along “Nadezhda Goddard.” His heart flips in his chest. Although none of their acquaintances would ever question whether Peter is Nadia’s father, this is the first time he has ever seen it on paper. The only other place is on Nadia’s emergency contact information at her school, and even there he is listed as “guardian.” Still, there’s no mention of Roman anywhere within either passport, save for the play on his last name.
Suddenly, Peter doesn’t feel tired anymore.
Roman, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to notice Peter’s inner ramblings. He stretches, moving down a few inches on the headboard. “Destiny was telling me that she and Andreas have been going through some things.” He yawns. “Apparently he was doing some shady deals behind her back. Dangerous stuff.”
Distracted, Peter asks, “Do I need to rough him up?”
“Nah,” Roman mutters, grabbing the passports back and flinging them to the nightstand before turning off the light. “Destiny said he’s still in the doghouse. Werewolf house,” he adds before guffawing like an idiot. Peter doesn’t even bother to correct him. Andreas does have werewolves in his family, but he didn’t inherit the trait, the lucky bastard. “She can take care of it. Lots of begging for forgiveness going around.”
It’s blink-and-you-miss-it, but Peter sees the wince. There have been far too many secrets between them in the past, and some of the memories are still sharp. “I’m just glad she didn’t leave him to spend the night here. This room isn’t soundproof.”
“When I come back,” Peter starts, slowly, wondering what his brain has to say, “we should spend the full moon together.” Once he says it, heat pools into his core, swimming idly and filling his extremities.
Roman grins—almost shyly, Peter is surprised to find. “Yeah?”
Mated pairs sometimes isolate themselves during full moons, away from the pack—and he doubts that anyone would challenge him on the right to do the same. Peter does not plan on following their, ah, example, seeing as how Roman cannot transform into a wolf, but he imagines what could come after—lying back while Roman pushes into him, too worn out to do much of anything but moan. It seems like a genius idea even now. He wonders if Roman can pick out his pupils dilating in the darkness.
“Yeah.” He edges closer, putting a hand over the front of Roman’s neck. So, when he puts his mouth to Roman’s ear and whispers, “You should fuck me,” Peter feels Roman swallow through the nerves of his palm.
Peter thinks that it should be like ripping off a Band-Aid—getting in a taxi and just going—but Roman insists on driving them himself. As he expected, there is silence between the two of them, the atmosphere inside the vehicle only lightened by Nadia’s monologue and Destiny’s occasional comment. Despite the trepidation, Peter keeps a hand on Roman’s thigh, Roman’s hand covering his when there aren’t any tricky roads to maneuver.
In no time at all, Peter has a boarding pass in his hand and is staring dumbly at the security entrance. His bag sits quietly beside his feet, brimming with books and worksheets in a valiant attempt to keep Nadia from falling behind in school. He has to shake his head, embarrassed at how hard he’s taking it. Still, it has been years since they’ve been out of each other’s orbit, and it seems surreal. He drags his feet to stand behind Nadia and watches as Roman crouches in front of her.
“If your tătic so much as growls or starts to look furrier, distract him for me, pup,” he says, to which Nadia giggles. Peter resents the choice of words, but now is not the time. He’d rather argue with Roman all day and miss his flight, but, when it comes down to it, he misses Lynda. And he wants to show off Nadia—would have liked to show off Roman too. He curses the IRS under his breath.
Then it’s his turn, but Peter has no idea what to say, so he just pulls Roman in and holds him close, breathing him in and then forcing himself to step back before he won’t be able to let go. The Upir’s smiling, eyes a little too bright. “Come on, I need a vacation from your ugly face, anyway.”
Peter laughs, then pulls him down one last time, lacing his fingers together at the back of Roman’s head as he kisses him, tilting his head for a deeper angle. Faintly, he hears Destiny make a cooing sound, Nadia shushing her. Keeping his face close, Peter says, “I’ll see you soon,” before he well and truly does rip off the Band-Aid, grabbing his bag and corralling their group to the security gates.
He understands Orpheus’ folly the moment he looks back and sees the naked vulnerability on Roman’s face. Then the crowd surges and pushes him forward and away.
Peter, 10:26 am GMT: Landed in London safely. Waiting for our plane now. Nadia slept through the flight. Andreas distracting her with stories.
Roman, 10:27 am GMT: She’ll get nightmares from his stories.
Peter, 10:28 am GMT: Why are you up? Go to sleep.
Roman, 10:29 am GMT: I’m a free man now. I do what I want.
Roman, 10:31 am GMT: Candy the stripper says hello.
Roman, 10:34 am GMT: Hey, I was kidding.
Roman, 10: 37 am GMT: Peterrrr
Peter, 10:40 am GMT: Sorry, had to take pup to the restroom because Des fucked off somewhere.
Peter, 10:40 am GMT: Tell Candy hello back. I love you and please go to sleep.
Roman, 10:41 am GMT: Sap. Love you too. Hug Nadia for me.
As much as Roman would like to wallow a bit, he’s not a complete mess once he throws himself into his work. After a few days, he has fallen into a rhythm of steady numbers and double-checking and crosschecking. He will not admit it, but he did cry a little on the way home from the airport, staying up out of anxiety, waiting for a text. He has grown calmer since—in comparison.
It’s the afternoons and early evenings that are the most frustrating—as the ten hour difference makes it difficult to contact his family—so Roman decides to shift his work schedule forward, not having to fit his job into the time when Nadia is off at school. They can’t afford too many international calls, but they have been texting relentlessly. Peter’s family, unsurprisingly, is keeping them too busy to try Skyping, and the spotty Wi-Fi doesn’t help, but Roman understands. He has already started a folder for all of the photos Peter keeps sending him of Nadia. His jealousy sometimes spikes when he knows he won’t appear in any of them, but he pushes that down.
Peter had sent him a photo of the three of them earlier: him, Nadia, and Lynda, that is. His two-dimensional face is tired but he seems happy, arm around his mother while she holds Nadia in her lap. Roman has since printed the photo and even framed it, placing it on the nightstand on Peter’s side of the bed. It makes the stone in his chest thaw out a little.
This particular day has been…stranger, however. Instead of moping, all afternoon Roman has hovered on the borders of snapping, having only been saved by having no one to snap at. It is nearly seven when he finally feels himself tip over when the pair of ravens that have built a nest nearby just. Won’t. Stop. Croaking. He nearly runs outside to shout at them, but knows enough about ravens to know what a terrible idea that would be. Instead he leaves his computer and strips out of his clothes, turning on the shower at full blast and waiting for it to heat up before putting his face into the spray.
Some of the tension flows down the drain, and Roman sighs, decides to have a proper shower while he’s at it. He thinks about jerking off, but that just makes him think of Peter—the lack thereof—and his desire wanes. Instead, he grabs the shampoo and tries to relax further.
Later that night, Roman is halfway into a bottle of wine when he impulsively sends a text, not bothering to check the time.
Roman, 11:06 pm PST: Missing you
He doesn’t receive a return text within a few minutes, so he tosses the phone away from himself and focuses on the bottle of wine. There’s something reflected in the dark glass, and when Roman moves closer, he sees Olivia. For a second, he freezes—then sits back when he realizes that it isn’t her at all, but his own thin, pale features.
His phone beeping makes him jump. Roman shakes off the feeling of dead fingers trailing up his spine and reaches for the phone, swiping the screen open. Peter hasn’t written anything, but has sent a photo of him and Nadia at what looks like a kitchen table, holding up a paper that says, “We miss you too <3.”
For a moment Roman entertains the thought of taking a picture of his own sad, pathetic expression, but the next moment he just feels dumb. And oddly exposed.
Uneasy, he lets the screen go dark and returns to the bottle, avoiding looking into its surface.
Peter obsessively checks his phone for several minutes, but Roman doesn’t reply to the photo. He’s disappointed—wanting to see Roman’s face—but mostly just worried. He might mope, but in the end, Roman is perfectly capable of taking care of himself. His self-destructive streak has been mostly snuffed out in the process of raising a child, but he retains the flair for dramatics. Though, Peter admits, he is often guilty of the same. It’s no wonder that Nadia has taken to giving the both of them flat looks. She’s beside him at the kitchen table, finished with her pancakes and sleepily watching the television in the corner, still jetlagged despite their best efforts.
“Pup,” he starts, eager to pull himself out of a downward spiral of concern. “Why don’t you draw a picture of Lynda’s cat for your dad? I think he might be lonely.”
Armed with a mission, Nadia simply nods, marching off to look for the feline who—while not being particularly fond of children—had surprisingly taken a liking to her. Lynda watches her go with a smile, shaking her head. “I can’t believe she hunches her back like you. You’re supposed to be a good influence.”
“Roman does it too,” he mutters, looking at photos of the man, keeping the phone below the table ledge. “She’s doomed to have bad posture. Beautiful, mutant babies,” he adds nonsensically, distracted by a picture Roman must have taken of himself at some point without his knowledge. It…doesn’t leave much to the imagination. At all.
“You miss him,” Lynda says nonchalantly, sitting down across from him. “That’s good, that means you still care.”
Startled, Peter almost laughs at the understatement. Then remembers the agony of Roman’s face at the airport and has to swallow.
“Any other time, he would have come with,” he dodges. If he starts talking about Roman now, he might just get on the next plane back to the States.
“Good,” Lynda replies, patting at his face, seeing past his words.
The next morning, Roman awakes to disorientation and a slight headache, certain that he had fallen asleep on the couch instead of the bed upstairs. When he finally crawls out into the kitchen, he sees the canister of blood he does not remember pulling out of the fridge. The lid is missing but the level looks high, practically untouched. There is only a triangle of a stain on one side, as though he had sipped it before putting it down, unsatisfied. Roman frowns, confused. He concludes that he must have had more wine than he thought, then mixes the blood with a few sloshes before downing half. It has been ages since he has drunken it any way but cold, so he makes a pleased sound at the room-temperature meal. Not quite the same as fresh, hot blood, but still delicious.
Sated for the time being, he checks his phone. Peter has attached a drawing of what he’s fairly certain is a cat. Grabbing a post-it, Roman doodles a shoddy cat, snaps a photo, and then returns to the message thread.
Roman, 9:24 am PST: Tell Nadia that she has surpassed her father in skill.
Peter, 9:26 am PST: She is ecstatic. Btw, thanks for that one photo you took. It kept me company.
Roman has to blink before he remembers what Peter’s referring to. Peter had a rare weekday off from the auto shop, so they had used a few hours of the day in predictable ways. Roman had taken the photo after Peter left to take a shower, too lazy to move. He had completely forgotten about it. Despite himself, he blushes. He hovers over the letters, not sure how to respond. In a sudden burst of affection, Roman decides to be honest.
Roman, 9:29 am PST: Well good, but I think my face is the color of a tomato.
Peter, 9:29 am PST: Upir?
Roman, 9:30 am PST: Just had breakfast, so there’s plenty of blood to go around.
Roman looks down. Adjusts himself.
Roman, 9:31 am PST: Before you say anything else, you will definitely get walked in on.
Peter, 9:32 am PST: Good point. Thanks for the help though. I’m off to take a shower.
Peter, 9:32 am PST: A long shower
Roman, 9:33 am PST: Horny fucker
Peter doesn’t respond, so Roman leaves the phone on the counter and practically runs up the stairs, closes the door behind him on reflex, grabs Peter’s pillow, then sticks a hand down his pants.
And people think romance is dead. Roman scoffs, laughing.
Roman is sick of pacing behind the walls of the cabin, so he texts his sister and heads over to Shelley’s, keeping his rattling temper in check. The last thing he needs is to isolate the last family he has left over on this end of the world.
“It’s embarrassing,” he complains, staring into his tea morosely. “Peter’s gone for two weeks and it’s like I’m back to the asshole that I used to be in high school.”
“You weren’t that bad,” Shelley placates, but Roman just squints at her as though to ask, How would you know? “Not to me, at least. And you’re not that bad now. Just…twitchy.”
He abandons the tea and falls back on couch cushions, grumbling. “I barely kept myself from screaming at a client today. And I mean, screaming. Christ, I can’t even remember the last time I really yelled at someone. Besides at Peter when he chewed up my good shoes.”
As he intended, Shelley laughs, no doubt imagining Peter’s sad puppy eyes after Roman had cussed him out. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Roman to forgive him. “You’ve certainly been calmer these last few years,” she allows, sitting back, falling silent.
Taking the quiet in stride, Roman travels inward, where the shame lies deeper than Shelley suspects. He always knew that Peter is his anchor, but he never realized that an absence would intrinsically alter his mood. Maybe this is a normal thing—something that many couples experience, but Roman somehow doubts that that frustration is tinged at the corners with specks of growing blood. He hopes that Peter is doing better than him—imagines that he must be fine, since Nadia is potentially an even better anchor than him. Her safety comes first, so Peter can focus on that and keep steady.
The thought makes him feel better—more rooted to the ground.
He comes back to the present when he hears Shelley murmuring, watching the television that has played all this time on mute. “Sorry, what?”
His sister turns to him, expression troubled. “I asked if anyone from the pack knows what it was.”
Confused, Roman glances at the screen, reading the headline underneath the reporter. It says, “Mysterious Mauling.” He waits a few more seconds before shaking his head. Busy with work, he hadn’t even thought to check on the news.
“Does it seem like a vargulf?” Roman hedges, aware that there is a full moon coming up soon. “When was this?”
“A couple of nights ago. From what they’ve said, it could be an animal attack, but it was far into town. Most animals know not to wander in, unless they are ill…” Shelley’s voice wanders off, uncertain. “If it is a vargulf, the pack might already know who it is.” Her face suddenly clears, jerking towards Roman. “Oh god, Roman, we’re so lucky that Peter isn’t home right now. He would be the first suspect.”
Roman chokes on his tea. He hadn’t even thought about it—hasn’t been truly worried about Peter’s stability since they settled down. That is, he always worries, but they both have anchors in each other—and Nadia—so it hasn’t been at the forefront of his mind.
“Yeah, that is lucky.”
When Shelley goes to rummage around for some snacks, Roman takes a few deep breathes to calm his lingering irritation before lifting his phone and calling Jenny directly. It only rings once before she answers.
“And how is the father of the cutest demon child I ever did see?” she drawls.
Roman flinches, removes the smell of blood from his thoughts. “She’s not a demon, she’s just special,” Roman recites, used to the routine. “What’s up with this attack I just saw on the news?” he asks, cutting off any more pleasantries.
“The mauling?” Jenny’s voice drops in pitch, growing serious. “We don’t know, Roman. It’s no one in the pack and, well, ah—”
“Peter’s in Romania,” Roman finishes, troubled, but not offended.
“Yes. It could be a rogue, but we can’t track them yet. We’ll keep a few noses out during the pack run. If there’s another one, we’ll find them.” Roman nods, thanking her before telling her goodbye and cutting the line.
A vise starts closing around his throat, leaving little room for breath but plenty of space for faint memories of wandering down alleyways, following homeless victims in the dark and biting into their necks. The sound of a plate knocking into the coffee table jars him out of his thoughts.
Roman smiles at Shelley vacantly, wishing, not for the first time, that he had never killed himself.
Roman, 2:07 pm EET: Be safe during the full moon, light of my uh sun? Sun and stars? Moon
Peter, 2:09 pm EET: Are you drunk? Where are you, are you safe?
Roman, 2:09 pm EET: I’m fine, just sleeping. I’m on the couch. Not sure how I got here but fine. Maybe a little hungover
Roman, 2:10 pm EET: Tell me I’m pretty
Peter, 2:10 pm EET: Jesus Roman, it’s 4 am over there.
Peter, 2:11 pm EET: And you’re beautiful, love.
Roman, 2:11 pm EET: Haha, made you sound gay
Roman, 2:12 pm EET: I love you, please don’t maul anyone in Romania I want you to come back and I think I might still be a little drunk sheeiiiiit
Peter, 2:13 pm EET: Only a couple more weeks. Then I’m going to drag you to bed and force you to sleep properly.
Roman, 2:13 pm EET: Aw yeah talk dirty to me
Peter, 2:14 pm EET: Don’t worry, I’ll be safe.
Shortly after he met David, Lynda’s fiancé, Lynda pulled Peter to the side and told him that David knew about his relationship with Roman—and was fine with it. It never really occurred to Peter that he was traveling to not exactly the most open-minded area, but it was uplifting to hear nonetheless. After a few days, Peter decided that he likes David. Only a couple of years older than Lynda, he had somehow evaded the misogynist machismo typical of men of his age and rearing. It puts Peter at ease for his mother, but he also feels that he can casually refer to Roman without getting uncomfortable looks.
“He’s drunk,” Peter intones, frowning to himself.
“It’s expected,” David comments in a strong accent, scribbling into a notebook. He pauses, then crosses something out. Peter suspects it’s to do with his wedding vows, but doesn’t think he would appreciate it if he offered to help. “He’s missing his family. If your mother left me, I would be drunk too.”
“And worried about the full moon, apparently.” Another positive aspect of David: he already knew about werewolves before dating Lynda. David merely nods, busy, so Peter leaves him too it.
Peter is obsessively staring at his message thread with Roman when David breaks the silence. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pair like you before. It’s, um, how would you say it... Sweet?”
“You mean, two guys?” Peter asks, a little confounded.
David shakes his head, finally looking up. “No, strigoi and vârcolac. It’s not a common thing.”
It takes Peter a second, but he understands. “Yeah, we manage. We anchor each other.”
“Anchor?” David repeats, not picking up on the meaning.
Peter hesitates, scratching at his stubble. Finally, he says, “We keep each other on a short leash,” to which David laughs.
“I see. Sounds like marriage.” David does not miss the soft, agreeing sound Peter makes. “How do you manage the age difference?”
The werewolf’s mind is stuck on visions of Roman in a tailored suit, so it’s a moment before his mind catches up. “What age difference?”
If Peter knew him better, he would say that David looks concerned. “Lynda said that Roman turned just after high school?”
“Oh,” Peter says automatically, the sound like ash in his mouth. He realizes that the Roman in his mind, like his impeccable suit, is practically wrinkle-free. “That’s fine too.” He pauses, and the men stare at each other blankly. “I need to piss.”
David watches him leave with a frown. Instead of going to the toilet, Peter heads straight outside and leaves the yard, dodging relatives as he goes. There are still several hours before the sunset, but he needs to be alone for once. Lynda and Destiny will look after Nadia, although he feels a twinge of guilt after he notices that he must have left his phone at the house. Unrepentant, he disappears into the trees, leaving a crumb-like trail of trodden leaves as he walks away.
In Peter’s mind, they are already married. Werewolf married, says the laughing, Roman-like voice in his head. On paper, they live together: Roman, his daughter, and his friend. It is no secret what they mean to each other, so they have never had to talk about it. Even now, Peter does not see how it is important—almost fears that it’s a surefire way to ruin what they have once the bonds of marriage resemble shackles. And yet...neither of them is a stranger to feeling trapped, in their own way.
If anything, Peter feels the most free in the arms of Roman, as sappy as that sounds.
But the thing is.
The thing is.
When Peter finally stops walking, crouching below a tree, he’s crying, holding back the bile. He has watched Nadia grow older, but has failed to notice that Roman hasn’t.
The pain of the change, when it comes, is a blessing. When he howls that night, he howls for his mate.
Roman, 6:57 am PST: I think I might be sleepwalking, this is embarrassing. Hurry up and come home so you can sit on me.
Peter, 6:57 am PST: On your face?
Roman, 6:58 am PST: ESPECIALLY on my face
Along with the full moon, taxes get turned in, and suddenly there is a lot less work for Roman to distract himself with. Moreover, the pack does not manage to find any rogue wolf tracks on their run, so the likeliness that it is a vargulf—or werewolf, period—is slim. Some argue that it may have simply moved on, but then the next night there is another attack, and those optimistic voices drop off.
Roman would not appreciate the irony of getting ripped apart after moping about his immortality for the past five odd years, so he keeps to the house, only wandering out during the day for a few groceries and to pick up blood from the slaughterhouse. The werewolf that usually sets it aside for him gives him a funny look this time, but Roman just waves and leaves, too tired to bother with niceties.
When he comes home the cabin is still quiet and empty, and Roman thinks he might just scream—just to fill the silence. It is perhaps fitting that this false peace, stale and unwelcome, leads to the clearest thought Roman has had in the past few weeks.
He does not want to live beyond Peter.
The moment he thinks it, he feels both calm and at ends—calm because there is a goal in sight, but confused as to how to attain it, besides the obvious ways.
Peter would be horrified, Roman thinks, but this isn’t something that technically affects Peter. Nadia will one day not need him anymore—except for how you need something you are simply used to having around. Yet, more importantly, he does not want to live to see her die. She would understand. When she’s old enough—once she knows why he can’t stomach the name “Olivia”—she would understand. He does not want that future. Heartless and cold and uncaring. And yet feral. Unanchored.
Maybe Peter would understand too—would not wish to see him regress and start murdering left and right. There are likely ways that he can feed safely—there must be a reason why he can hypnotize others, after all—but Roman is stubborn. An immortal Peter would be an answer, but he does not want to reach the inevitable point when either of them becomes sick of the other. The beauty of a life shared is that you live it to the end. Having no end is maddening. And yet, facing that endless road alone is even more daunting. And boring, Roman realizes.
It’s with a light heart that Roman sends an email to Pryce. The man has since left the White Tower, but he would have the answers.
Still, he’s not expecting the immediate call, let alone the voice on the other end.
“How did you get this number?” Roman demands upon answering.
“Charming as ever, Roman,” Pryce answers, unimpressed. “And what do you expect from someone who helped you make passports? I thought you were smarter these days.”
Roman takes the phone away from his ear and stares at it angrily—almost hangs up.
“As to your question,” Pryce continues, more evenly, “no, another procedure would not work. Roman, I’m not even certain if it would have worked in the first place. Especially what with Olivia sabotaging it…but I shouldn’t revisit old wounds, my apologies.” Roman grits his teeth at the sarcastic tone; yet another reason to hate her. He had escaped death only by mere chance.
“It would have done away with your need for blood, yes,” Pryce explains, the tapping of a pen echoing down the line, “but it would not have given you back your mortality. Would have more likely accelerated it and killed you faster if it had worked.”
“So I wouldn’t be human either way,” Roman reiterates, swallowing.
There is a long pause on the other end, then a sigh. “Listen. It took me forever to take a chance and be with someone that actually cares about me, but now that I have it, I don’t complain about it.” Roman shrinks in on himself, long limbs curled in, glad that no one else is around to see it. “You are being selfish, Roman. Think about everything that you have—it amounts to a miracle. It could have fallen apart so easily, so don’t squander your happiness.”
Roman opens his mouth, unsure how to reply, when the line cuts off.
He pulls back, does not even pause before going into his list of contacts. He lets out a quiet breath, his finger hovering above the name. Pryce’s words have managed to knock his determination off-kilter, but he feels as though he has to see this through, or else the pernicious thought will continue to hound him—so many what-ifs prodding at him. Science, after all, is not the only way to approach a problem.
Two hours later, Roman sits in a dimly lit home office, nursing a cup of tea while being inspected by Jenny’s grandmother’s shrewd gaze. Out of all the people he knows—the list is short—she is the only one who knows more about magic than Destiny. For obvious reasons, he does not want to consult Destiny; there is still the chance that the elder would tell Jenny and Jenny in turn would tell Peter, but he needs some kind of closure.
Eventually she replies, countering his question with one of her own. “Why would you want this? Are you having trouble containing the demon?”
Wrong-footed, Roman turns his head, not quite shaking it. “I…don’t want to be immortal. I want to be able to age.”
The Upir and werewolf stare at each other, both assessing the other. After another minute of this, Roman looks away and realizes that he should have asked Destiny after all and simply blackmailed her into secrecy.
“I don’t know, Roman,” she finally admits, to which he drops his head. His gaze shoots back when she elaborates. “What I do know is that, if there is a price, then you would not be able to pay it.” The unspoken, there is always a price, echoes loudly.
Without his consent, Roman abruptly remembers Peter’s cat. Then Peter and Nadia and Shelley flash before his mind’s eye and understands that, no, he would not be able to pay it.
Peter, 1:40 am EET: I can’t wait until I can hold you again.
Roman, 1:42 am EET: Me too. All these prostitutes just don’t cut it anymore.
Peter, 1:42 am EET: It’s good to see that you’re growing as a person. Only a little over a week left.
Roman, 1:43 am EET: I’m counting down the days, Rumancek.
Lynda is, unsurprisingly, occupied before the day of the wedding, so Peter is grateful for her soft expression when he makes the request, smiles when she halts her preparations and leads him to her room. There is still the matter of finding the item, so while Lynda rummages in the dresser, Peter takes a precarious seat on the nearest chair, hunched over and hiding his shaking hands underneath his thighs. It must be his pose that piques Andreas’ curiosity, pulling him in when he happens to walk by the doorway.
“Hello, you two look busy,” he greets with a cattish grin. Unwittingly, Peter looks up with what must be an anxious expression, if the confusion on Andreas’ face is anything to go off of. “Am I interrupting something?”
The gods of mischief choose that precise moment to slip the box into Lynda’s hand, and she holds it up with a sound of triumph. Andreas merely stares blankly for a frozen moment, and Peter hasn’t felt such an urge to grab something and run since he and Roman escaped Hemlock Grove.
“Is that…?” Andreas starts, trailing off when Lynda opens the small, wooden box.
“My mother’s ring,” she says, eyes shiny and smiling, fixed on Peter.
Before Peter can so much as lunge forward, Andreas reaches for it, and Peter curls his nails into his palms. They’ve grown long again—Peter not bothering to cut them as often with no mate nearby to grab—and they cut into the skin.
Andreas smiles gratefully at him, apparently, Peter realizes with a blink, not cluing in to the fact that it’s not for him. “I take it this means I have your blessing?”
Lynda, seeing the fire in Peter’s eyes, steps in before he says something he will immediately regret. “Andreas, you do have our blessing, but this isn’t for Destiny.” Peter’s eyes slide towards her, wondering whether she would have given it away if Andreas had been the one to ask first.
A loaded silence follows during which Andreas’ gaze travels back and forth between them, uncertain. The moment he understands, the confusion morphs into bewilderment.
“For Roman? Are you kidding me? This is a girl’s ring. Why the hell would Roman wear this, even if it fit him?” he demands, his anger raising Peter’s hackles.
“That doesn’t matter,” Peter forces out, voice low. “It’s an engagement ring—a symbol.” Hell, he thinks it would look just fine on Roman’s hand after he gets it altered. It is not as though he’s shy of wearing rings in the first place. Regardless, it’s the principle of it—alike to how everyone in the pack knows not to touch Peter’s mate. The thought burns until his center is warm and at peace. Andreas’ voice breaks the feeling, cracking like an egg shell in a too-tight grip.
“But it’s not the same thing,” he argues, cradling the box in his hand. “Besides, Roman is an Upir. They fuck without hearts. He only needs a hole and a blood bag to sink his teeth into.”
Between one second and the next, everything goes to shit.
There are suddenly fangs in Peter’s mouth and his eyes burn and his throat lets out a guttural growl that ascends into a roar. Through sheer willpower, he only steps forward once, but it is enough to leave Andreas staggered, stumbling back and falling to the carpeted floor. Without a care for her own safety, Lynda grabs Peter’s arms and pulls him back, trying to restrain him. Peter shoulders her off, pushing to the far wall and trying to meld with it, breathing into the wallpaper and watching his yellow eyes reflected in the window. After a few panting moments, the burning glow fades and the bloody fangs drop into his waiting hand. He peeks at the carpet and finds a couple of his cuspids.
Lynda is close, hands outstretched but not quite touching. “Peter, honey…” She falls silent, uncertain.
“I’m fine,” he croaks, humiliated. Of course the reason he relapses after years of smooth sailing is because someone has the gall to insult Roman. He wants to laugh at himself—does laugh, though it sounds bitter. He just wants to go home. “I’m fine,” he repeats, and straightens, letting Lynda put a hand on his back.
“Peter,” Andreas calls quietly, carefully. “I wasn’t trying to—I just.” He pauses, stops trying to justify himself. “You’re right,” he finally says, faux lightly. “It is just a symbol. I could use a ring from a vending machine, as long as the meaning is the same. Here,” he adds, tossing the box. The moment Peter has it he pockets it away, holding it close to his body. Knowing when he’s not wanted, Andreas leaves at a brisk pace, closing the door behind him.
Peter and Lynda share a sad look before her hand travels to the back of his neck and squeezes. Instinctively, he relaxes, the wolf in him responding to a figure of authority. “You’re okay, honey?” she checks, whispering.
“Yeah,” he confirms after a second. With Andreas gone, Peter slips the box back out and props open the lid, watching the simple ring glisten in the white light.
“Ring or no, he would have said yes.” Peter looks up. Her expression is kind.
Slowly, Peter nods. “Yes. But when I am no longer there to anchor him, it just might.”
Peter, 8:56 pm EET: The ceremony was beautiful, will send lots of pics later. Nadia ate too much and Destiny made a spectacle of herself.
Roman, 8:57 pm EET: Just five days left.
Peter, 8:58 pm EET: Is it sad that the thing I miss most is sleeping next to you?
Roman, 8:59 pm EET: I miss finding fur in the bed, for fuck’s sake. We’re a pair of morons.
Peter, 9:01 pm EET: We complement each other then.
The day began with Roman staring at his lock-screen—at the beautiful mess of a picture Nadia had drawn of Lynda’s cat, as Peter had later explained. Perhaps he is stressed and not thinking straight, but the drawing and his loneliness mixes together and congeals, which is how he finds himself exiting the shelter with a fluffy black and white kitten in a pet carrier in one hand, and a bag of cat food in the other.
By the time the kitten has practically gnawed off his fingers and pulled several threads out of his jeans, Roman is in love and regrets nothing. The seclusion of the past month does not feel as burdensome anymore, and it only lightens further when he snaps a picture of the kitten—currently napping on its back, legs spread. Feeling mischievous, Roman opens Peter’s message thread.
Roman, 11:46 am PST: I’ve had a baby.
Peter, 11:50 am PST: I can’t tell if you’re joking and this is worrying me.
Laughing, Roman attaches the photo, typing away.
Roman, 11:52 am PST: I’ve named him Peter, after the ugliest fucker I know.
Peter, 11:54 am PST: Hilarious. And of course you had to get the cutest kitten you could find, you little shit.
Peter, 11:55 am PST: What’s his actual name?
Roman, 11:56 am PST: Nadia can choose.
Oddly content with the purring kitten by his side, Roman is struck by the waves of anticipation. There are only so many days left before he can see his family again. He cannot wait until he can put this horrible month behind him. At Roman’s audible shudder, the kitten wakes and makes a chirping sound, and then crawls into his lap before promptly falling back asleep. Roman might just die—but then his phone beeps and he decides that that can wait.
Peter, 12:05 pm PST: She named him Susan. :|
Sputtering, Roman laughs, reacting more to the unimpressed face—Peter being someone who rarely, if ever, uses emoticons—than the name. Susan, predictably, releases his claws into Roman’s leg when his perch shakes, and Roman just lets him because he’s too happy to care.
He’s still laughing when the television—quietly playing the news in the background—starts reporting on another attack, a body found with its throat ripped to shreds.
Roman feels sick.
The next morning, Roman wakes up on the kitchen floor with a metallic taste in his mouth and blood on his cheek. There is nothing else around him—no bottles or cartons—although the kitten has wandered in, hearing him shuffling about. He carefully grabs Susan and opens the fridge, but quickly realizes that he has no memory of how he left it, and so cannot tell if he has moved things around in his sleep.
In a haze, he feeds the kitten and gathers his keys, giving the animal a final pet before leaving and heading to the car. Automatically, he makes his way to Shelley’s, making sure to drive slowly, conscious of his wandering attention.
Putting the vehicle into park and staring at Shelley’s place, he realizes that he should have texted her beforehand, but it seems strange to text now when he can just knock. Still, there is an unfamiliar truck in the driveway. Uncomfortable, Roman does text, asking if it’s all right if he comes in. Shelley does not respond, but she opens the front door, face reflecting surprise.
When he approaches, she smiles, but he sees the wary tilt. “Roman, this isn’t the best time.”
Roman, because he’s more curious than discreet, leans over, looking around her at the shadowy blob on the couch. Upon closer inspection, it somewhat resembles that hipster wolf that almost disemboweled him over a sweater. Needless to say, the man looks like he isn’t sure whether he should escape through a window. “Oh,” Roman says dumbly. Shelley could do better, is his first clear thought.
“Um,” Roman continues, shifting on his feet. “…okay, I’ve never had this happen before. Am I supposed to give some threatening speech?” he asks, laughing awkwardly.
His genuine reaction makes Shelley break out in giggles, after which she sends him an unimpressed look. “I can fight my own battles, Roman.”
“That you can.” He can’t help but pull on a memory thread, seeing Olivia’s remains smeared across the tiles. “Sorry, I’ll just. I’m just gonna go.”
Before he can turn away fully, Shelley puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezing. “Only a couple more days and they’ll be back.”
Unable to quite let the smile reach his eyes when his gut churns so wildly, Roman nods and moves gently away, driving back down the lane before he can change his mind and run back and spill his fears in front of a stranger.
Anxiety has already plunged itself into his veins, so Roman encounters no shock when he returns home to find three separate vehicles parked outside. On the front porch he can make out four figures, one of whom is definitely Jenny while another appears to be Elizabeth, the alpha of the pack; the last two are unfamiliar—likely also werewolves. At least they had the grace not to break into the house, Roman thinks nonsensically.
As he exits his car and approaches the steps, Jenny flurries to the fore, meeting him halfway. “Jennifer,” Elizabeth calls evenly. At the unspoken order, Jenny’s face twists but she steps to the side, exposing Roman to the alpha while remaining close out of either solidarity or spite.
“Roman,” the alpha greets. In return, he nods respectfully. He has always been intimidated by her; though getting on in her years, she retains the aura of someone who could rip you apart in mere moments—with or without claws. “I won’t mince words. We suspect that you are responsible for the recent attacks. The pack, at my insistence, has agreed that it’s in everyone’s interest, especially yours, if we monitor you.”
Roman hesitates. “Keep me locked up, you mean,” he responds after a moment, wincing. Jenny looks like she might speak up on his behalf, so he cuts her off. “Good. I—I’ve been sleepwalking. I don’t remember doing anything, but…” He takes a deep, shuddery breath. “It fits.” Abruptly, Roman feels lighter—relieved. There is a strange satisfaction in giving away the reins to this problem. If he has lost control of himself, he’d rather have someone who can see him objectively make the decisions. “It’s safer,” he says as his eyes wander to the walls of his home.
Perhaps seeing the care in his expression, Elizabeth’s stoic demeanor softens, stance relaxing. “We’re not blaming this on you, know that. We have no proof and you are still a member of this pack, Upir or no.”
Roman blinks. This particular fact, if true, has been lost on him.
“Unfortunately, none of the shifted wolves that succeeded in sneaking to the first crime scene know you well enough to confirm anything. So we must wait until the next full moon to compare your scents, but before then, we won’t pass judgement. Not even if the attacks stop after today.” Elizabeth pauses, crossing her arms and turning a placating face towards Jenny. “We won’t condemn a man based on coincidence.”
“Thank you,” Roman manages, flummoxed. “There’s, um, there’s a kitten. If perhaps Jenny…?” At his floundering, Elizabeth nods and signals. The other werewolves—extra muscle if he were to make a run for it, Roman surmises—head back to their cars.
“Please, pack for comfort. Jennifer, look after the cat, or else pass it on to his sister. We’ll be waiting down here.” With that, the alpha walks away, not pausing in stride and forcing Roman to jump out of the way. Jenny crowds him, grounding him with touch.
“I’m so sorry, Roman,” she whispers.
“No, this is good. I don’t know what to believe, but this...” Roman stops, furrowing his brows. “Alpha!” he calls, surprised at his own abruptness. When Elizabeth looks expectantly back, he pleads, “Don’t tell Peter. Not until he gets back. He doesn’t know about the attacks.”
“You have my word.”
Roman removes his phone from his jacket pocket, stares at it, and then switches it off.
Peter, 11:46 pm EET: Roman, if you’ve lost your phone again, I swear to god
Peter, 8:23 am EET: Hopefully you’ll get this later. We’ll take a taxi from the airport so don’t worry about driving during traffic.
Peter, 8:24 am EET: I’ll text you from London later but you might be sleeping.
Peter, 8:25 am EET: Or crying because you lost your phone, you moron. Love you.
The very second that Peter unlocks the door to his home is when he senses that something is wrong. It’s too quiet, for one thing, for all that it is early evening, but what is even more poignant is the staleness hanging in the air—as though no one has passed through the space in a while or bothered to open a window. Their car, however, sits innocently outside, as though playing up to the charade that nothing has changed.
Wordlessly, Peter lets go of Nadia’s hand and tells her to stay put with a stern look and a finger to his lips, but not before he locks the door behind them. What he wouldn’t give for Destiny’s help right now—but even though she and Andreas decided to stay in Romania for longer, they were planning on flying back to the east coast afterwards anyway. Still, the wrongness fills him with adrenaline, and so he stealthily inspects the house on his own. It is clean, suspiciously so. There are a couple of empty plates on the floor—Susan’s, he guesses—but besides that there are no other dishes, not even a stack of mugs in the sink (one of Roman’s bad habits that he could never train out of him).
The bedroom is even stranger. Not only are some of Roman’s clothes and his toothbrush missing, but there’s only one pillow on the bed. The one that remains, after Peter hugs his face to it, smells more strongly of Roman. Reverently, he places it back, smoothing it down before taking a shaky step towards the corridor. His phone is already in his hand when he hears an engine outside growing steadily louder. Before the car has even parked, Peter has run down the stairs and planted himself between Nadia and the intruder.
Peter feels like fire is biting at his insides, so he has to breathe deeply before he recognizes both the sound of the engine and the balanced tread of boots along the ground. When Peter jerks the door open, Jenny jumps, her hand flying to grasp at her chest. “Jesus bloody Christ, Peter!” she swears, then gives an apologetic look when she sees Nadia peeking out from around his legs.
Before he can demand answers, Nadia timidly asks, “Where’s dad?”
Visibly distraught, Jenny answers slowly, as though picking her words. “He’s okay. He’s at Elizabeth’s.” Her pace quickens until she’s rambling. “I’m sorry you came home to an empty house, I actually meant to get here before you but then there was this guy in front of me that was driving so slow and I couldn’t go around and I—”
“Jenny,” Peter interrupts, shoulders hunching dangerously. “Please.”
Embarrassed, she rubs at the back of her neck, huffing out a tired breath. “Come on, I’ll explain on the way.”
When they are settled in Jenny’s car—Peter in the passenger seat with a sleepy Nadia held tightly in his arms—Jenny fiddles around on her phone before pulling up what looks like an article and passing it on to Peter. While he reads, she ignites the engine and pulls out of their front yard.
A few minutes later, with a cracked voice, Peter asks, “He did this?” He keeps quiet so as to avoid startling Nadia, but he suspects that she is too clever not to understand who they’re talking about.
Keeping her eyes on the road, Jenny answers, “We don’t know. The last one happened a few nights ago, which was just before the morning we took him in. That’s the one they talk about the most there.” She points, and Peter looks down. The article actually mentions the intersection nearest to where the attack took place, likely to warn pedestrians to be on the alert in that area. He makes an effort to memorize the names. “Truth is, we don’t even know if it was an Upir or a werewolf, or something else. A human is unlikely though, given the, uh…state of the victims. But there was no attack on the full moon, and the first attack had no trace of a werewolf scent, so that’s why he’s in the crosshairs.” Jenny bites her lip, possibly at the tasteless expression.
“Has he been,” Peter hedges, struggling to keep from breaking apart, “more restless recently? Meaner?”
“He’s mostly kept to himself, but Shelley mentioned that he said he was feeling a little more volatile than usual. But that she thought he was just twitchier. And lonely, hence the kitten.” Peter feels a dagger stab into his heart on Roman’s behalf, one dripping in agony and affection. “My grandmother though… She said that Roman came to her to ask if magic could turn him back into a human.”
The dagger sprouts into an icicle and freezes his blood. Below, Nadia tightens her grip, clawing at Peter’s forearms. “And what did she tell him?”
“Only that he wouldn’t be able to pay the price.”
As he relaxes, so does Nadia, and she lets out a sigh for the both of them. “How is he now?”
“We’re keeping a close eye, but so far so good. There haven’t been any new attacks, which is both great and isn’t, but there’s hope.” Her demeanor darkens. “Elizabeth has promised me that we won’t jump to any conclusions, so I’m holding her to that.” Shockingly, she laughs, albeit hysterically. “I’m not sure whose retaliation she’s more concerned about: mine or yours. Perhaps both.”
Perhaps, Peter agrees as they travel up the road to the alpha’s home. He plays out a scenario in his head, imagines having to challenge Elizabeth over Roman if he has been responsible for these attacks. For a moment he hates himself for the fact that he wouldn’t even hesitate. He would just do it, disregarding his own safety and the future of those he is meant to protect; not only Roman, but Nadia and Shelley would all suffer if he lost—whether the fight or to the vargulf within.
It has been years since Peter has been so afraid, but he takes this fear and wades through it until its flow propels him forward.
When they test the front door’s handle, it isn’t locked, so Jenny leads him through, pausing at the doorframe to what Peter recalls is the living room—the one used for guests, anyway. Nadia has, predictably, latched herself to his neck with octopus arms and he can feel her face snuffling at his skin. Gently, he strokes her back, willing to feign calm and pass it to her, lest she start exploding things. Peter hopes that Elizabeth doesn’t have any taxidermy animals around, or, if she does, that she won’t mind if she’ll need to acquire new ones.
“Jennifer,” Peter hears from the room. When he moves to join them, Elizabeth nods at him from her armchair, book in her lap. “Hello, Peter—Nadia.” The girl jerks her head back like an owl, but then quickly turns back around to hide in Peter’s coat.
“Alpha,” Peter greets respectfully. He only just manages to keep from demanding what the fuck they are doing to his mate, but it’s a near thing.
“I’m sure that Jennifer has filled you in on all of the particulars, so I won’t bore you with threats. But I think you understand the consequences of betraying the interests of the pack. And that, when you’re part of a mated pair, your actions have an impact on the other,” she adds with a sharp look. Peter indulges the thought of breaking Roman out of his prison cell merely out of spite, but it’s a passing fancy. In the end, he simply nods.
Perhaps sensing the undercurrent of his anger, Jenny guides him away, heading deeper into the house to a flight of stairs leading underground. Peter has to be careful to keep his balance while Nadia, still clutching at him, starts to wiggle while examining her surroundings. The door to the basement is bolted shut, but doesn’t require a key, so Peter assumes that the space it used mainly for unstable werewolves. Jenny hangs back as she swings it open, and Peter, suddenly wracked with nerves, puts Nadia down and lets her charge ahead.
When he finally braves the corner, after locking vulnerable eyes with Jenny, Peter feels his heart slot back into place. Long arms wrapped around Nadia’s thin shoulders, Roman crouches a short way away, eyes closed, face hidden in Nadia’s hair. Without hesitation, Peter practically runs to the pair and joins the embrace, scooting in from the side. His arms don’t quite fit around the both of them, but it doesn’t seem important as—following the broken sound that Roman makes—Peter forgets everything but this little corner of the world. He hadn’t even known how lost he felt before this. With chemicals dancing along his skin, Peter presses his mouth to Roman’s cheek, keeping it there while inhaling the familiar scent of home.
It’s a testament to Nadia’s stamina that she has lasted this long against the jetlag, but, with her family reunited, she eventually nods off in Roman’s hold. Without jostling her, he carefully transfers her to a nearby cot, resting her head on what Peter discerns is his pillow and covering her with an unfamiliar quilt. Peter takes a moment to catalogue the nearly empty basement; there are no windows and it’s lit with a few hanging bulbs, although it looks like there’s a door to a bathroom in the back. For all that it’s a cell, it looks comfortable enough.
As though aimless without a buffer between them, they both watch the girl bury into the sheets, drifting off into a deeper sleep.
Then, the dam breaks, and Peter doesn’t know where he begins and Roman ends.
At the back of his mind, he hears the door click shut, but he does not pay it any mind, too engrossed in running his hands through Roman’s hair and reacquainting himself with his mouth, running a tongue along his bottom lip and begging to be let in. In no time at all, Peter stops licking away Roman’s quiet whimpers and moves to do the same to his tears. He breaks away, lingering, when the tears fall too quickly for him to catch, but stays close, forehead touching Roman’s.
Shaking, Roman’s words scatter like shattered glass. “I don’t think I was meant to survive Hemlock Grove. Monsters don’t last long there.”
Desperate, Peter slides Roman’s shirt up and strokes warm hands along his lower back, comforting the cold skin. “Don’t say shit like that.” He has to swallow back his own tears, but they betray him and run down his cheeks of their own accord. “And that’s only because we killed most of them.”
Beside himself, Roman lets loose a frantic chuckle, rolling his forehead against Peter’s. “I think you missed one.”
Peter doesn’t reply, lost in thought, and raises one hand to rest it against Roman’s neck. As he expected, Roman reacts instantaneously, features going slack. “Even if it turns out to be true, I won’t abandon you. Monsters have to stick together.” He thinks about the wooden box in his pocket, but puts that thought aside. Now is not the right time.
Slowly, he lifts both hands and tenderly encases Roman’s jaw in his palms, nudging his forehead even closer. The spot feels like it might bruise later. Roman’s hands flutter about until he grasps onto the collar of Peter’s jacket.
“Roman,” Peter whispers, waits until the Upir opens his eyes. “I will fix this.”
With that, he sneaks in a parting kiss before pulling Roman’s hands carefully away from his jacket, pressing his face to a wrist before letting go. Roman stares up at him blankly when Peter stands, then continues staring as he opens the unlocked door and shuts it behind him.
Here is a secret that Peter has only ever told Roman: his sense of smell remains wolf-sharp even after he sheds away the animal. It’s one of the only perks the vargulf had deigned to pass on to him—that and a heightened tolerance for unpleasant smells. The fact would only give the pack cause to worry, to mistrust him further, so he purposely fails to mention it.
He borrows Jenny’s car, asking her to stay with Roman and Nadia while he’s gone, too anxious to leave either of the two by themselves. Relying on memory, Peter drives into town and parks on the street, finding the names from the article. The evening twilight has collapsed into the dark of early night, but, on foot, it doesn’t take long for him to pick out the lurid yellow of police tape. The crime scene is located deep inside an alley, away from any streetlamps, so Peter stalks forward into the shadows while keeping a cursory lookout for any movement. He passes underneath the tape and imagines where the victim’s remnants must be, stepping closer to the wall.
There is no effort to this—merely a closing of the eyes and a few deep breaths are all Peter needs. It has not rained since the attack, but the scents of the victim and perpetrator are too weak to distinguish after having had a few days to air out. What is unmistakable, however, is the lingering smell of blood—one scent sweeter than the other. The sweeter strain is faint, but it’s wafting from further away, from…
Peter heads deeper into the alley, towards a corner that opens onto a backstreet. The scent lingers on the edge, as though the attacker had themselves been attacked and unwittingly touched the wound before dragging it across the brick. If so, there might be incriminating flakes of blood underneath the victim’s fingernails. Any other day, he would walk away and allow the police to figure this one out, but Roman’s freedom is on the line, so he presses on. Peter leans his face to the barely-there stain and takes a huge whiff. From there it is a matter of letting his instincts take over, keeping his eyes half-lidded as he follows the labyrinth of ephemeral scents, not keeping track of how much time passes.
It’s getting late when he finally tracks the blood down to a run-down apartment complex and a reeking handle belonging to a door marked “3A.” He doesn’t trust himself to have the strength to kick it down, so he knocks. For three whole minutes Peter listens, but there’s no sign of anyone inside, not even a quiet tread. Determined, he reaches into his back pocket, taking it as a lucky sign when he finds one of Nadia’s bobby pins. One bent bobby pin later, Peter enters the studio apartment and looks around. It’s unoccupied, though someone is definitely living here, most likely alone. There are also bloody bandages in the bathroom’s waste basket, cloying in odor.
Hiding in the darkness, Peter locks the door and settles in to wait.
An hour later, Peter stands when he hears the jangling of keys, hovering away from the column of corridor light that shoots into the room and disappears immediately after. Peter has only a microsecond after the man flicks the switch by the door, but he takes in a surprised, overly pale face and that same smell. The bit of red at his mouth only steels Peter’s resolve.
And yet, before he can even speak, the man swears and lunges forward, hitting Peter across the face and making a run for it. He does not account for Peter’s reflexes, however, or the rage empowering him. Before he gets too far, Peter charges into him, slamming him against the wall and kneeing him in the groin and grabbing him around the neck, squeezing.
The man stops squirming when Peter leans in and lets out a throaty growl. “The fuck are you?!” the man shouts, despite the tightness at his throat. Peter is surprised at how easy it is to hold him down, but perhaps that isn’t a reflection on Peter. The wolf in him preens at the knowledge that his mate’s strength is superior. Peter shushes it away.
“That’s my question,” Peter overrides. “Are you an Upir?”
The man seems surprised, but he’s also running out of breath, so Peter relents by a centimeter. “I don’t know what that means.”
Peter pauses, suspicious. At second glance, this man looks far too young, but that tells him nothing about how long ago he was turned. “Like a vampire,” Peter elaborates. At the man’s smug look, Peter tightens his grip again, crowding him.
“Do you realize,” he whispers, harsh and grating, “that you almost got an innocent man framed for your kills? Almost got my husband killed?”
Silence follows, and it isn’t because Peter’s fingers dig deeper. “…are you going to kill me?” the vampire eventually whispers, voice wobbly and eyes betraying fear.
Peter imagines someone holding Roman to the wall like this, newly turned and without a friend to help him. Peter would have pleaded for mercy then, if not for Roman’s sake then for his own. For a moment, the thought of killing this boy feels like killing Roman would, and so Peter steps away, shakes his head. The vampire must see some of the ache in his eyes, but he doesn’t run for it or assail him while he’s wavering.
To Peter’s shock, he crumples, head hanging. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know about your husband, I was just hungry. I don’t know how…” After a moment, he mutters, “I wouldn’t blame you if you did kill me.”
Peter knows that he’s done here. This kid isn’t only green, but he’s as lost as Roman once was. It might even be an act, but the trembling terror is real. And yet, because he is still riddled with fire and because he is not perfect, Peter swings a fist across the vampire’s jaw and watches as he stumbles to the floor, staring dumbly up at Peter with a hand hovering over his mouth.
“That’s all you’ll get from me. The pack can take it from here.”
Ignoring the disoriented vampire struggling to stand, Peter unearths his phone and calls Elizabeth.
Roman is not so lost in his own cares that he doesn’t remember where he fell asleep, slowly becoming aware of the jarring, dual smell of home underneath his nose and the rough sensation of the borrowed quilt. That is already familiar. The anomaly, however, echoes in his ears—the low tones of someone humming nearby. Roman doesn’t need to open his eyes to recognize the voice, but he does it anyway, craving the image.
Peter sits in the only comfortable chair this basement has to offer, holding a sleeping Nadia in his lap while he sings softly to her. Roman’s phone isn’t close by and there’s no way of telling what time it is in the windowless basement, but it must be late—or early—as Peter has turned off all lightbulbs save the one furthest away. Roman doesn’t want to move just yet, so he watches for a bit longer, listening. He doesn’t recognize the tune, but Peter often creates his own lullabies. It’s soothing.
The werewolf must notice that his breathing has changed because he looks up, smiling softly when he finds Roman staring. Wordlessly, Roman rises from the cot and Peter tucks Nadia into the vacated, warmed spot. With a grin, Peter takes Roman’s hand and pulls, sitting back down. With some maneuvering, the switch has been made, Roman sitting sideways with his back against the armrest and his rear alongside Peter’s thigh instead of on top. For all that Peter could probably manage to withstand his weight for a while, their height difference isn’t as starkly apparent this way.
Without another word, Peter draws him in for a soft kiss, and Roman hums happily, willing to ignore the world for a while longer. Their time is cut short, however, when Peter flinches after Roman strokes a hand against his cheek. Pulling away, Roman squints in the dim light, frowning at the bruise that is starting to form across the skin. “What happened to your face?”
“I met a vampire,” Peter answers blandly, keeping to whispers. Half a second later, Roman tugs at his collar and searches his neck, making a satisfied noise when he finds it untouched. “Not like that. The one who has been framing you. Unintentionally. I…tracked him down.”
Roman stops breathing. “You mean…”
“You’re free to go.” Peter leans in, running his nose along Roman’s jaw. “And you’re not a monster. So no more of this sacrificial bullshit. We’re past that, remember?”
Roman swallows, relief pouring over him in waves. He was so certain that he had lost himself—was even prepared to pay for it—and now he almost feels adrift, floundering. Rubbing a careful finger along Peter’s bruise, Roman looks away, suddenly scared. “Peter. You didn’t…?” He pauses, wary. “…do I want to know?”
“He’s not dead, if that’s what you mean. A little roughed up maybe.” Peter sighs, exhaustion seeping into the air. “He’s just a kid, but he knows what he’s done. The pack is trying to convince him to turn himself in. There’s evidence from the last attack that would point to him anyway.”
Roman makes a soft sound, folding himself into Peter and mentally scolding himself to keep from crying. It mostly works, but the desire remains. “Fuck, Peter. Thank you.”
“No need for that. It was purely selfish,” the werewolf mutters, trailing both hands up Roman’s back. “I have something for you.”
“As much as that would be welcome,” Roman murmurs into Peter’s hair, “these are not the best circumstances.” He looks down when Peter nudges his side, and then frowns at the small, wooden box. There are carvings on the side—flowers? Maybe vines?
“Not that. This.” Peter seems unwilling to move away from where he’s plastered against him, so Roman carefully extricates one arm from between their torsos and plucks the box away, flipping the lid open. He blinks. Several times.
“Peter. Peter, this is a girl’s ring.”
“Peter,” Roman repeats, poking his side sharply in an attempt to remove said werewolf currently mauling his neck.
“Didn’t have time to get it altered,” he finally answers, huffing. “You have pretty slender fingers though. Might fit one of them.”
Confused, Roman soothes a hand down Peter’s ribs, letting him return to his ministrations while he thinks. He has been drained and stressed as of late, so he can’t be blamed that it takes him a minute. “Peter, whose ring is this?”
Roman is fairly certain that he loses skin when he jerks Peter away from his neck—the latter protesting balefully—and frankly attacks Peter’s mouth with his own, only pausing for breath. “If this is what I think it is, then yes, you bastard. If it isn’t, then it’s yes anyway,” Roman says, voice breaking.
“Thank fuck,” Peter sighs. He draws him back for a sweeter kiss, but they quickly part at the sound of what can only be described as a squeak. Both slowly turn their heads, a collective “shee-it” echoing in their thoughts.
Nadia is staring at them with wide eyes, face radiating joy as she watches from behind her fingers. “Oh my gosh,” she whispers excitedly, “are you getting married?” At Peter’s short nod, she shoots off the bed, climbing up onto the chair, and giggles loudly when both parents pull her into the embrace.
Roman is definitely crying now, but he doesn’t think he can stop. It’s okay though, he thinks. Peter’s crying too.
“Oh god,” Roman exclaims, laughing, a few minutes into the hug. “I can’t decide whether ‘Roman Rumancek’ sounds ridiculous or amazing.”
Peter scoffs. “I’m biased, don’t ask me.”
“It’s amazing,” Nadia mutters. “Don’t be dumb, dad.”
Shaking his head, Roman buries his chuckles into Peter’s skin, finding relief in the fact that he will finally be able to cut away the name that has only ever caused him strife. Safe, alive, and in control, Roman watches as his past flits away, then turns to face the present.
Roman can’t take his eyes off the sight, hand clenched around Peter’s rings. Absentmindedly, he slips them onto his own fingers for safekeeping, distracted by Peter’s human shell falling away, making way for fur. Whimpering, the wolf crawls forward, nearly crashing into Roman’s lap. Silhouetted by the moonlight, they wait, both panting, for the ache to ebb.
When it passes, Peter stands and shakes away the stray, human flesh, then leans forward to consume his former self in full. Roman watches, smiling, and twists warm metal against his skin. Sated, the wolf pads away, but then pauses at the verge of the forest, glances back at Roman, and swishes his tail once.
“Don’t worry,” Roman says, running their rings against his palm one last time before rising to his feet. Peter lolls his tongue, body tensing—ready to bolt. Feeling the invisible thread pulling at his heart, Roman leans forward, grinning.
“I’m following you.”