Thanks again to all readers and reviewers!

Just letting everyone know, this is going to have to be the last update for a while. I have exams the next two weeks, then I'm moving and hunting down a job. So more than likely, this won't see another update until maybe August. Sorry.

Chapter Nine

Nightly visits from the wolf became more and more common. He wouldn't stay the whole night every time, but there were nights when the animal would show up and get Shawn's attention, bring him to the door. Then, he'd look at him, expectant and Shawn would let him in. It was crazy, the blond knew, but he couldn't help it. The wolf hadn't done anything aggressive since that very first night when he'd attempted to leave it to the bed and sleep on the sofa. So even though he knew he should be cautious, untrusting and even afraid, Shawn couldn't honestly say that he was.

The wolf provided simple comfort, something Shawn didn't think he'd ever experienced before. It was hard to be afraid of something that made him feel so good.

Consequently, he didn't see Charlotte nearly as much as he used to. They still hung out and had dinner at either her place or his every once in a while, but it had only happened once in the last week where as it used to be nearly every other night. Shawn just wasn't willing to risk the wolf; in the pit of his stomach he knew his cousin and uncle wouldn't understand his reasoning. They'd think he was crazy, which he probably was, to be entertaining the company of a wild animal like that. They'd probably drag him off and never let him out of their sight again… So he kept it a secret and limited evenings with his cousin, for fear the animal would show up while she was there.

In all honesty, he was surprised no one had seen the wolf yet. The entire town seemed oblivious to his nighttime visitor, and although Shawn was thankful for it, it confused him. The wolf wasn't a little animal, it wasn't something easily hidden. Yet, no one had noticed.

Like right now, it wasn't even dark out yet, the sun still taking its crawl down behind the mountain when Shawn heard the familiar pawing sound at his front door and opened it for the wolf. The big animal waltzed right in, like a neighbor invited over for dinner. Shawn just shook his head, shutting and locking the door.

"I guess I should invest in a doggie door," Shawn informed the animal, "you're over here often enough for one." He smirked, patting the wolf's wide head, "I doubt they make one your size though."

The wolf followed him back into the kitchen where he'd been making himself some dinner before the animal's arrival. A pot of water was boiling on the stove, noodles softening inside. The burner behind the noodles was a smaller pot, simmering, heating up some thick red Prego pasta sauce. A third cooking pan was browning up meatballs.

The wolf had his nose up, sniffing heavily and Shawn chuckled when the animal licked his lips, its eyes fixed on the pan of browning meat. It shifted up and leant its large paws against the counter, leaning in and sniffing again. If it was going for inconspicuous, it failed horribly, but than again… and animal its size had no hope of being subtle about anything in a kitchen as small as Shawn's.

"Ah, hey, hey," Shawn gave the beast a stern look and shook a hand at it. "Don't even think about it, buddy. And paws of the counter."

The wolf huffed at him, the snort a familiar, hot sound that made Shawn grin. He obeyed though, dropping back down and sitting with its head up and eyes heavily set on the cooking blond. Shawn knew the second the animal started staring, but he valiantly fought the itch and tingle off, ignoring as long as he possibly could. But he and the wolf both knew it couldn't have lasted very long, and ultimately, he turned a glance at the animal.

"Jeez, ok. Fine. Here…" Shawn let out an exaggerated sigh and rolled up a ball of raw meat left over in the bowl he'd been using. He tossed it to the wolf, who caught it easily in its mouth. "You're probably going to regret that later. I know it's raw meat and all, which might be ok, but I doubt it will be. It's not a rabbit or whatever else you hunt… I'm pretty sure cow isn't part of a wolf's normal diet. Besides, I'm not supposed to be feeding you. That's what the books say."

Pressure on his leg made the blond look down to find the wolf butting its head against the back of his leg, right above the curve of his knee.

"No, you aren't getting any more," the blond refused. He transferred his cooked meatballs into the pot of sauce, face crumbling into laughter when the wolf grumbled a protesting sound and butted his knee again, more insistently this time. "No," Shawn repeated with a chuckle. The blond let out a surprised bark of sound when he suddenly felt a nip at his knee – not sharp or hurtful, just a pinch.

He stared at the wolf, bending slightly to rub at the spot the animal had nipped him through his jeans. The wolf was eyeing him and Shawn could have sworn he saw honest amusement glinting in those dark amber eyes, the animal shifting on its front feet, as if impatient. Shawn was just surprised by how delicate that mouth of the animal's could be… he'd never thought a bite of any kind, even a nip, would be anything but tearing and painful considering all the teeth housed in that powerful jaw. But the nip hadn't hurt at all so much as it had startled him… it'd been playful.

"You've got the worst manners I've ever seen," Shawn shook his head. The wolf smacked its jaws at him, pawing the ground and whining an argumentative sound at him, turning its head and flicking its ears. "Alright, alright. Here."

The blond took the bowl of left over ground beef and placed it on the floor in front of the animal. The wolf immediately bowed its large head and proceeded to clean it right out. Shawn just shook his head, "Brat."

When Shawn's meal was ready, the blond sat down with his plate of spaghetti and ate in a comfortable silence. The wolf was never far, sitting and waiting patiently for him to have his full. Though Shawn also suspected the animal was hoping for scraps. The blond spared a looks at the animal, unable to keep a smile from his face every time he looked up.

"It's nice," he admitted later as he rinsed off his dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher. The wolf was sitting back just off to the side and Shawn spared a smile back at the animal, "Having company, I mean. When I first came back here, I could barely stand to be in this house. It was always so quiet. Too quiet. I hated it. For a while, I honestly considered just leaving again…"

Drying off his hands, he turned and leaned back against the counter, looking right down at the watchful wolf. "Even with my cousin around, most of the time I could hardly stand it. It got better, you know, after a while. But…" he hesitated, glancing over the animal. His brow puckered a little and his eyes fell to the floor, only lifting when the wolf came forward and nudged his muzzle against the side of his thigh.

Shawn's eyes focused on the animal and his expression cleared, mouth turning in a small smile. He pet a slow hand over the wolf's smooth, dark head. "I guess I'm just trying to say I'm glad you're here. I'm glad you showed up and keep coming back. It's nice to have a friend."

It wasn't like he didn't have any friends, because he did. Back at school he'd made a few and the people here he worked with, he'd come to consider them friends. Plus, he'd always had Charlotte, and even though she was actually a cousin, she was also a friend. But it was different with the wolf… all those people, he didn't feel as at ease with them as he did with the wolf. The animal calmed him, listened to him, shared space with him without demands or arguments. Well, usually. All the wolf asked for was a few pats and an occasional stolen bite of food here and there – it didn't expect any thing else and didn't demand anything more.

"You know…" Shawn's face twitched to one side, blue eyes regarding the wolf slowly as he thought out loud. "I feel kind of bad always just thinking of you as 'the wolf'. You should have a name."

The animal just looked at him.

"But that implies ownership, doesn't it? If I name you, it's like I'm trying to own you." Shawn curled his fingers in the thick dark fur along the wolf's neck, shifting down onto his knees in front of the animal. "But you don't belong to any one, do you? No… no, things like you don't. Shouldn't."

Studying the wolf's eyes, the blond couldn't help but come to one conclusion. "You do remind me of someone though," he confessed. "It'd be weird to call you by his name… really weird. But you do. I bet if he was an animal, he'd be a great big black wolf." Nodding to himself, Shawn rubbed his fingers against the fur on the wolf's neck. "His hair is black like you and he's got eyes like yours." A small frown touched his lips, "Just like yours, actually."

It was true. The deep amber of the animal's eyes brought Colbden's motorcyclist mechanic to mind every time Shawn looked into them. And the animal's staring, well, Shawn had long since noticed the similar twist in his stomach that Maldok Gryphon's gaze caused in the wolf's own. It was strange and made him uncomfortable, but reminding himself that these eyes and those didn't belong to the same being calmed him right down.

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Shawn gave the wolf a little grin as he rose up to his feet. "Don't worry. I'm not naming you," he patted the animal's wide head. "And if I ever did, I certainly wouldn't call you Mal."

He left the kitchen in favor of the living room, the wolf shortly following after him. The animal's momentary hesitation went completely unnoticed by the blond.


By the feel of the air he could tell the hour was some place past midnight, everything long since gone quiet in the little house. Beyond the single window in the occupied bedroom, he could hear the nighttime sounds of nocturnal animals wandering the tree line and the buzz of late night insects, all of them typical and familiar to his sensitive ears. A new sound had joined the melody, something soft like wind but prominent in his attention, overcoming all the sounds. He was still growing used to this new sound, but it was one he favored over all others.

Slow, even breathing and the soft thump of a heart, a pulse at rest, lulled his nerves and senses for the place beside him on the bed. The blond they came from had fallen asleep roughly an hour ago, stretched out on his back with his head turned away and one arm bent on the pillow above his head. His mouth hung partially open in sleep, his breath ghosting in and out with the barest rustle, nearly silent. Not silent enough to escape the bed's second occupant's notice though.

He'd lain for an hour now, practically unblinking, at Shawn's side. He'd waited a full hour to be sure the blond was truly and deeply asleep before he dared to so much as sift on the mattress. Now though, he was satisfied that he wouldn't wake his oblivious mate as he allowed himself to shift back into the bipedal version of himself.

It happened without any real noise, nothing more than a whisper. The air around his black furred body trembled, heat building as his limbs shortened and lengthened accordingly. Long black hairs shrunk back, replaced with lightly bronzed skin, and sharp teeth blunted in a jaw that pulled back and squared. By the time the change was complete, the process taking no more than a brief moment, the wolf had become a man in the quiet dark of the bedroom.

Mal exhaled soundlessly, blinking slowly and allowing his human eyes to adjust. It didn't take long, his senses still heightened in comparison to the average male. He'd been rendered naked, but he was so used to it he didn't pay his state any mind. Clothing was useless to the wolf, after all.

Shawn was still blissfully unaware when his eyes focused on the blond beside him, the bed's plush comforter resting low at his hips. It'd started much higher; Mal had watched as Shawn pulled it up to his chin earlier when he'd first begun to settle in for sleep. The blond had kicked it loose around him a while ago.

Still silent, Mal let himself look at the slumbering blond stretched out on the right side of the mattress. He let amber eyes appreciate the length of the body, the jut of his jaw and line of his throat, the expanse of it pale and prominent in the way the blond's head was turned away from him. He followed it down to the breadth of Shawn's shoulders, much slighter than his own, but undeniably masculine, to the flat plane of his chest beneath a thread bare navy t-shirt. Mal had watched on more than one occasion now while Shawn put that shirt on; the blond wore it to bed every night, along with the grey sweats that were currently concealed by the comforter. The shirt had ridden up some on the boy, revealing a slice of flesh between it and the top of the comforter around his hips.

Mal's eyes fixed to that glimpse of skin when his gaze reached it, his mouth going dry at the sight. His wolf bucked with want inside of him, as did the desires of man. He wanted to reach out and touch that peek of temptation, feel what he knew had to be all soft warmth beneath the shirt barrier. He wanted his mouth there, wanted to taste with his lips and tongue as much, if not more so, than he did with his hands.

The strain he exerted to keep himself from acting on his desires frightened him a little. He only barely held himself in check.

Forcing his eyes away from the blond's waist, Mal instead studied what he could see of the blond's profile. Even in the dark, the moonlight from the window and his above average sight the only things illuminating the form beside him, Shawn was beautiful. It made him marvel at his own stupidity, wondering why he'd ever tried to convince himself otherwise of the blond. Because, yes, he remembered how blatantly he'd tried to deny to himself his attraction to Shawn those first few weeks after meeting him. Mal remembered and was honestly ashamed of himself for it; Shawn was beautiful and he'd known that from the first glance outside on the carport…

He'd been afraid, he supposed, and confused by the upheaval of emotions the blond set off in him. It was the only explanation he had on the matter. But it still didn't make up for his idiocy. Not in his own opinion, at least.

His hands and arms were shaking as he fought to keep them off and away from the peacefully sleeping young man beside him. It was a hopeless effort though. Unable to stop himself, Mal stretched out one arm and let his hand hover over Shawn's chest. He didn't touch immediately, didn't grope or pull at the boy, he simply let his palm rest above the plane, letting the rise of Shawn's breathing brush the fabric of his shirt against his palm. Then slowly, eyes fixed on the blond's relaxed jaw line, he let his hand lower to rest over the center of Shawn's chest, lightly. Carefully.

Mal's eyes rolled shut and he swallowed, nearly groaning in relief and pleasure. He could feel the heat of Shawn's skin beneath the thin blue cotton. He could feel the steady thump of his heart. He could feel the way the air entered and left his lungs with each deep, slow breath. He'd have given just about anything right then and there to be able to slide in closer, to pull the beloved body against him and nestle in flush. He really would have. Impossibly, he managed to keep still. Managed to resign himself to the simple and single touch, placate himself though it was hardly enough to truly satisfy.

"You ruin me," he whispered to the sleeping blond, sighing his frustration and removing his hand before he gave in to what he knew he couldn't afford right now. "I used to be strong. Cozad was right… you weaken me."

Licking his lips, Mal felt his brow furrow over as his eyes opened and shifted over the turned away face again. "But it's a welcome weakness… and I don't think I'll ever understand that."

Shawn was distraction, temptation and longing for him. He was pain and pleasure, desire, want, need, beauty and ugly, possessive greed, fury. Shawn made him unstable like he'd never been in his entire life. Made him anxious and short-tempered, and at the same time filled him with such a calm and peace like he could never describe to an outsider to the feeling. Even now, resting on his side beside the blond, Mal's bare body purred happily in the same moment that he was filled with an agonizing ache. Shawn tore him between two extremes in every manner and emotion possible. It was torture…

But, as he'd said, it was welcome. All of it was - all the pain and weakness, every bit as much as the pleasure and swelling pride. It was worth it for moments like earlier in the kitchen; accompanying the blond while he finished preparing his meal… playful banter and nips… the way Shawn talked to him like speaking to a wolf was the most natural thing in the blond's life. It was worth it, just for that one moment when Shawn had recognized him.

If he'd had any doubts about Shawn's place in his life, his legitimacy as his mate, they'd all evaporated in that moment when Shawn had looked him in the eye and seen the man beyond the beast. Of course, Shawn had no real idea of how accurately he'd pegged Mal in that moment, but the fact that he had still floored the older male even hours after the fact.

Shawn had seen him.

It brought a smile to Mal's lips, the larger male relaxing against the mattress beside his mate. There was still such a barrier between them, a huge wall he had yet to climb to bridge them together like fate had chosen for them, but he had no doubt it would happen. One way or another, some day… some night in the future yet to be seen, he wouldn't have to restrain himself. He wouldn't have to hold back his touch or pine or confine himself to the mild affections received in the form of a wolf. He'd be able to reach out and feel, taste, and hold what was his. So long as Shawn could see him, even unknowingly, he knew it would be so.