SLASH (man-on-man lovin') – for those of you who aren't into it, you've been warned. Flames will be ignored.

Rating is for the overall story - for now, chapters are only T for minor language. I'll include a warning before this changes in chapters to come for those of you not comfortable with blatant sexual themes.

Story and characters are all my own creations; review and constructive criticism is welcome. Reviews are especially much loved!

Links to major Character List and 'soundtrack' are available in my profile. ENJOY!

Chapter One

Wolves, of their kind, mate for life. Or, they usually do. His brother seemed to be a stark contradiction to this rule, because he certainly didn't. But Mal was pretty sure that was just Cozad's way, rather than the natural order of things. It did make him wonder though, how his brother was able to pull it off… never settling, never bonding. He'd taken a mate once, but it was hardly the coupling it ought to have been.

For Mal, the pull and urge to bond was building to near painful levels these days. His entire being longed for the bond, despite his not being alpha to his small pack. Cozad had never expressed distaste to the idea either, which only seemed to encourage the need and instinct.

How Cozad, being alpha, bore the torment of never bonding without an ounce of discomfort was far beyond Mal's realm of understanding.

It had started three years ago. The pull. The urge. By his age, most wolves who were meant to bond or were going to, had paired and producing pups, but he had neither. No mate and no offspring. He didn't even know why, really. Cozad had all but given him permission to act on the need and he'd come across plenty available others on their travels that would make perfectly acceptable mates, but he hadn't ever settled. He hadn't wanted any of them.

Apparently he was waiting for something, someone, specific. But the waiting was starting to weigh down on him, painfully so.

Pawing at the ground in frustration, he huffed impatiently.


Colbden is small, it always has been, but it seems even smaller know that he had seen beyond it.

The roads are the kind of backwards you only hear about it jokes and they're narrow, sometimes too narrow, winding around the mountains that cage the town in on all sides. Trees overflow from the forest that blankets the mountains, encasing Colbden in rich, earthy green and filling the air with the crisp smell of pine and wilderness. The welcome sign just outside of town broadcasts a population of only about 500 people in total, and the number might have been rounded up for show; it's not a ridiculous accusation to make when you actually see Colbden.

Main Street carries the bulk of the businesses, the bulk of everything actually, and all of the buildings are old and made of brick. Every one of them is a family owned establishment too. There are no big chain stores or restaurants, and entertainment consists of a bowling alley, a single screen theater on the corner, and the fun you can make for yourself in a backyard. It's a secluded little town, cut off and humble and it hasn't changed at all in five years.

Shawn couldn't decide if that was a good thing or not as he turned off Fifth Street and onto Marigold Avenue.

The houses in Colbden vary, but are all basically the same. They're small and evenly lined up on either side of the residential streets, each one of them a snapshot of memories, colors and numbers Shawn haven't thought about in years. But he recognized them, so they were never really forgot.

The blue one at the end is the most familiar. He grew up there. The cornflower-blue paneling and white trim are still as pristine as even, and a smile curls the blond's lips as he rolled the truck up onto the carport under the tin overhanging.

The strung up tennis ball still hung from the ceiling and he stares at it while he puts the truck in park, shutting it down as soon as the yellow ball lightly taps against the windshield. He barely contains a laugh, remembering why it's there in the first place.

He'd been sixteen. The first time he'd been allowed to take the truck out on his own, he'd misjudged the length of the carport when he got home. In the end, the overhanging had been taken down and busted up beyond repair, and three of the five terracotta pots that lined the back of the port had been demolished. He still remembers the scolding he had gotten for it. Not for the overhang, but for killing the multicolored posies in the pots.

Grandma Adeline had strung up the tennis ball as soon as the overhang had been replaced, scolding and shaking a finger all over again as she explained how the hanging ball worked. Once it touches the windshield, that's when you're supposed to stop.

Sliding out of the cab, the row of pots at the end of the port didn't escape his notice. Still posies. The sight of them made it almost impossible to think the woman who'd planted them wasn't here anymore. Almost. But the point was made far too clear when he stood, waiting, and no one came rushing out of the quiet blue house to meet him.

It was like a hard blow between the eyes, followed by one in the gut, and the smile on his face fell flat and died like those unfortunate posies seven years ago.

The phone call had come two weeks ago. Technically, it'd been a message on the machine when he walked in after work, but it had ultimately resulted in a second call from Charlotte the next day. He'd been trying to ignore the message, vainly feigning ignorance in hopes it'd been a bad joke or he'd misheard. It hadn't though.

It probably shouldn't have been as shocking as it had been; Adeline Medina had been an old woman after all. Still, the clotted taste of grief was stagnant at the back of Shawn's throat. Grief and self-resenting guilt was surprisingly chalky. In two weeks, no amount of drink had been able to wash the taste and discomfort away.

The sole source of comfort in this entire situation was that Charlotte had sworn there had been no pain. She hadn't suffered. There had been no cancer or slow breakdown of the lungs or heart. She'd simply gone to sleep and never woke up. For that, at least, Shawn was grateful.

Coming back to Colbden hadn't been on his agenda, ever again really, but once Charlotte had called there hadn't really been any other option. Well, he'd had a choice, of course, but the decision was made before he had even realized he'd made it. It only became apparent after he'd started packing his things. After that, it had taken the two weeks between the call and now to get everything in order; he dropped the apartment he was just beginning to warm up to and quit his job, packed what he needed and sold what he didn't, and then had made the six and half hour drive from the east coast to Colbden.

It'd been easier to do than he had ever imagined it would be.

The house and some money had been left to him in her Will. Not having to go through the stress of finding somewhere to live once he got here was probably what made the move so easy. That or the guilt, it was definitely one of the two. Maybe both.

Reaching back into the cab of the truck, the blond pulled out the duffle that had sat beside him on the old ruby bench seat the entire drive and swung it over his shoulder. The three cardboard boxes in the bed could wait for a little later.

He ended up slamming the driver side door a little harder than was necessary. It had been mostly subconscious, but he had a good idea that he had done it because the silence coming from the house was so unsettling.

The key was still under the welcome mat, just like it always had been.

If this weren't Colbden, leaving a key under a mat like that would be a stupid idea. It'd be asking for someone to break in. But Colbden wasn't like that; honestly, in all the years Shawn had lived there, he didn't think he had ever once heard about a robbery. The worst thing he recalled ever happening in Colbden had been a vehicular homicide nine years ago. One of the local good ol' boys had had a little too much to drink and hit another car head on; he'd survived, but the woman in the other car hadn't. She'd been Charlotte's mom, Shawn's aunt Patricia.

That had been nine years ago though, but it had horrified people so much that alcohol was all but been banned in the area. Since then, there hadn't been another incident like it. But like drunk driving and irresponsible alcohol intake, swiping a key from under someone's mat and using it to break in just didn't happen in Colbden. Everyone kept a spare key under potted plants and welcome mats – it was common and not something anyone thought twice about.

He had to bite down on his tongue once he was through the screen and heavy door behind it; the urge to call out to his grandma had been nearly overwhelming, the words lodged in his throat. He managed to just barely keep his mouth shut, letting blue eyes roam the familiar interior of the little house instead.

Like the rest of Colbden, everything was exactly like he remembers it. The handmade floral draperies still hung from the windows, the dining table with the huge, ancient, tatted doily in the center was still standing to the right and the open kitchen was still to the left. He could see the living room from door, cushy sofas and warm throw blankets waiting to be stretched out on, and the hall that would ultimately lead to the house's two bedrooms, Shawn knew, was just around the kitchen's corner.

One of those rooms was his, always had been his, and the other was hers.

As easy as returning to Colbden had turned out to be, standing there in the middle of the house he'd grown up in was harder than Shawn had imagined it'd be. The silence was downing and being suddenly alone in it, surrounded by everything that the woman who'd lived there had ever owned... his skin crawled.

There were pictures and books all over a wall length bookcase on the other side of the dining table, and a cookbook lay open on the counter in the kitchen, an index card between the open pages, keeping place. It all just looked like she'd stepped out for a little while and would be back any minute now. Knowing that she wouldn't just made the air in the house a little difficult to breathe.

He had no idea how long he just stood there by the door with the strap of his duffle bag digging into his shoulder, staring. After a while, he'd even lost track of what he was staring at. The phone springing to life on the wall beside the door eventually snapped him out of it though. Thankfully.

The ringing was shrill and obscene in the otherwise silence of the house, but he appreciated the change. He dropped the duffle from his shoulder, feeling the bone and muscle though his right side moan in relief. Turning, he lifted the receiver off its hook and brought it to his ear. "Y'ello?"

"Shawn?" A female chirped excitedly from the other end of the line.

The familiar voice brought a smile to his face, "Hey, Charlotte."

"Don't move!"

She hung up the phone with a forceful click, hard enough that any other time he probably would have winced. This time though, he was glad, because he knew what such a rushed exit from the call meant.

Shawn hung up as well, hearing the sound of a door slamming shut from the house next door. Shoes on the carport came next and then the creak of the screen door being yanked open announced her presence a split second before she was busting through the second and straight into him. The collision of her slighter body against his chest almost sent him on my ass, and definitely knocked the wind out of him. Her arms locked around his neck and squeezing as he attempted to swallow some much needed air, cutting him off before even one lung could fill.

"Charlotte… Charlotte, you're chocking me."

"Oh, sorry," she let go at once. An apologetic edge twisted one corner of her lips and her hands brushed back stray hair from her face.

Charlotte Tate is younger by three years, and stands about a half a head shorter than Shawn. She's a petite girl with long limbs and a soft, sweetheart face and dark hair. Dark chocolate-brown hair, like her father's, and it's been cut shoulder length. It looked shorter though, the curl of it bringing it up to about mid-neck. The two cousins have the same blue eyes, something the two of them inherited from our fraternal twin mothers.

It'd been five years since he'd last seen her and she's grown up a lot in that time. The soft, rounded features of childhood have matured and sharpened.

She looked him over, cataloguing all the changes he'd taken over the years as well. When her eyes found his again though, she stepped back in and her arms went back around him, hooking around his shoulders.

Shawn returned the embrace; they had grown up close, more like siblings than cousins really, and it felt good to be with her again. Charlotte and her father lived just next door and the proximity had provided amble opportunities to get together over the years. A convenience they'd unabashedly exploited every single day since they'd been in diapers until the day Shawn had left for school.

"I'm so glad you're home," she spoke into his shoulder and even though his denim jacket, Shawn could feel her sincere smile. Her arms gave him a final tight squeeze before falling away.

Home. He hadn't thought of Colbden as home since he left, but the description rang true now that he found myself here again. This was home, and always had been even if he hadn't always been here. "Yeah… Yeah, it's good to be back."

She grin knowingly at me, "Never thought you'd miss Colbden, did ya?"

"No, I guess I didn't," he couldn't help but laugh. It was very true; He hadn't ever thought he'd miss tiny little, uninteresting, remote Colbden. He sort of had though, in an odd sense.

"How was the drive?"

"Long." He heaved a sigh and gave another look around at the house, Charlotte's presence making it less of an overwhelming thing to take in. He frowned, "This place hasn't changed at all."

He had noticed it already, but hadn't honestly Rnoticed until right then. She'd kept everything exactly as she'd had it when he left. The walls were still warm cream and the wood on the floor could still use a good polish. The carpet in the living room was the same dull olive. Things were tucked onto shelves and in corners, full, yet somehow still wide open. Grandma Adeline always had been immaculately tidy…


"Oh, extremely," Shawn had to nod. "I keep expecting her to come around the corner, you know?"

Charlotte nodded back, but didn't say anything. Adeline had been her grandmother too and it was clear from the shift in her eyes that she was still grieving every bit as much as he was. She did a good job covering it up though, the minor slip disappearing behind a smile that if he didn't know the sadness hiding at the back of it, he'd be tempted to say it lit up the room in carefree pleasure.

"Daddy's still at the diner. You should come by later for supper. I know he'd love to see you." She nodded her head back towards the door, "Want some help with those boxes? We can get you squared away and then head out there after, if you want."

"Sure. Sounds good." He led the way back out to his old truck and let down the tailgate.

They worked each box out of the truck's bed one at a time and carried them into the house together. It was short work made shorter with the extra set of hands and Shawn was grateful to have my cousin there, for more than one reason. With Charlotte around, the house wasn't so deathly still and quiet. She was a good and welcome distraction; the air got lighter in the place with her there. They talked while they unpacked, recalling mutual memories and filling in the five-year gap between them.

Nothing had changed.

In no time, they were back on track with each other. He might as well have never left at all.