Second Winter, Year One (12th Moon)

When Garron had finally come back, Alex was unspeakably grateful. He'd thrown himself at his wolfe, desperate to reassure them both of his place in the Empire, and in Garron's life. Garron had accepted him, but only physically. It was another month before he would address Alex directly, and three months more before they shared anything like closeness between them. But life went on, and eventually, they became something like reconciled. Their life together leveled off to something reliable, and even happy. But three more months of sex had passed, with no results, and Garron became suspicious again. Alex, who had not been in particularly good health since his self-abuse, fell into a weak depression and deteriorated further. What weight he had gained since their reconciliation he was losing exponentially, and Garron, not entirely aware of the causes of his mate's difficulty, but still frustrated with his infertility, had insisted that they see the Doctor. Together. Tomorrow.

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"I believe the reason," the doctor began, strolling across the small office and back towards his desk, "for your...trouble," here he gestured vaguely with his hand, "is three-fold. First Alpha Mate Alex's problems with malnutrition and exhaustion in the past are sure to contribute. At present, Alex, you are sixteen pounds underweight. After much observation, I also worry about Alex's adjustment to life here in the compound; you seem to suffer from extreme anxiety, which is likely also an impediment to success." Garron frowned as the doctor flipped through some of the papers in the file in his hands. "He needs to increase his body fat before he will take well to a pregnancy." Alex said nothing as Garron shifted anxiously in his seat. He was uncomfortable, Alex noticed, under the scrutinizing stare of the doctor.

"Feed him more?"

"I can feed myself." Alex interjected snappily.

"Feed him better." the Doctor corrected. "He needs more meat and more starch in his diet. And a little regular exercise wouldn't hurt, but don't let him overdo it. A walk or two a day should be fine." Alex crossed his arms over his chest.

"I like to run."

"You can run all you want once you're healthy again." the Doctor responded, efficiently silencing the young human in front of him. "But the largest problem, Alex, is really all up here." the Doctor tapped his head with one finger.

"Garron." the Doctor turned to address the concerned-looking wolfe to his right, and it occurred to Alex that he had never heard his mate called without title before.

"Your mate needs a better environment. You can't expect him to heal if you keep skulking around the place, locking him in your wing like a criminal, barely even speaking to him – I've seen the way you treat him and it is despicable. Not to mention our incident a few moons back. Anyone else, Garron, would have been locked away for that. You're behaving like a spoiled varon, wolfe, and for a leader of a pack, it is absolutely disgusting."

Garron was silent after the short dressing-down, and Alex felt spurred to silence as well.

"Alexei," the Doctor continued, "for your part, you have to try. I know things are very different, and I know it's not exactly what you want. I know you dream of going home — all humans do. But the sooner you accept, the sooner you can adjust. Garron and I can talk to you, and bribe you and promise and beat you, but in the end, you simply must try. And if you have any feelings at all for your wolfe, then that is exactly what you will do."

The Doctor sent them both home with chastising speeches about communication between mates and strict instructions about Alex's diet. In their quarters, Alex retreated to sulk in the bathroom, trailed closely by a servant who had orders to prevent him harming himself or further degrading his health. The presence of the servant made him sulk even more.

When he emerged from the bath, Garron was gone.

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