Rain was pouring down. Harsh wind tore through the rocky tunnels in which Bella sat. Wind that made her damp, heavy curls slap her in the face, and she pushed the mass of red hair away with a growl. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around her naked legs and pressed her forehead to her knees. She wasn't cold, it wasn't that. She was just annoyed and frustrated, and tired. So damn tired of pretending.

Night had fallen while she had been sitting there wallowing in self-pity. She squinted at the downpour she could just about make out through the opening of the cave. It was pitch black outside, she could barely see anything, and not just because she wasn't wearing her glasses. Her wolf eyes were sharp and keen, her human ones not so much.

She was being ridiculous, hiding out in these caves all too much lately. She used to only come up here when the world became too real, when she needed to think, when she needed to be alone.

The caves were far north in the Northcreek territory, located at the foot of the mountains that made up the natural border between them and the Silverstream territory. Other wolves would never run up there, not during a storm like this. Even she was dumb for coming.

She had been avoiding him, childish as it was. Had been for the last six months. She had been taking great pains to avoid any accidental meetings, always been where he wasn't, and vice versa. That didn't mean she hadn't seen him around, though. She had seen him from a distance, glimpses here and there before she made an excuse to leave. She was acting ridiculous and she knew it. But she was running out of excuses. And running out of time. She would have to face him eventually. Christmas was only three months away.

Darn that Lukas Mallard.

She groaned again, a sound that echoed around the cave, when she realized she hadn't seen him in five years and he still managed to reduce her to this mess, hiding in a cave of all places. She should be over him by now, he shouldn't be allowed to have her acting like this anymore. She was not a child any longer. She was the pack Omega, damn it! A grown woman. And she was far too busy and important to sit around, mulling over a childhood crush that came into her life again after so long, only to mess with her head this way.

And he didn't even know it. She had never even had the nerve to tell him.

Stupid Lukas Mallard.

What would he say to her when he saw her again? A polite 'hello'? A 'how have you been all these years'? Or perhaps, worst-case scenario, 'I'm sorry, do I know you'? Maybe he had seen her around but just didn't remember her. Or worse, didn't care at all.

Another groan and she slapped her hand over her face. She had been doing so well, she had risen to the position of Omega, she was important to the pack and she loved her work. She really did love it. She was striving for perfection and order and her life reflected that. She was an adult, twenty-four, completely in charge of her own life. Why was she suddenly reduced to this shivering thirteen-year-old with her first juvenile crush overpowering her whole mind? Surely something was wrong with her.

A lightning strike lit up the mouth of the cave and Bella stood. The storm was getting worse. She had been out too long. She refused to stay there any longer. This was it. Done. She was done. No more would she think about Lukas Mallard. No longer would she be reduced to a little girl. She was an adult, now. It was time to start acting like it.

Her claws scraped the rock floor as she shook out her red-golden fur. She was still damp, but it didn't feel bad at all on her wolf body. Snapping at the air, her breath was a white mist in the darkness. Her ears twitched. The constant drip that always sounded in the cave was replaced with a steady stream in the violent weather. The wind raged outside and a whistle ran through the caves her human ears hadn't been able to pick up.

But there was something else in the mix now. A branch snapped outside, it was almost impossible to hear over the wind tearing at the trees, rushing through leaves and bushes, and the heavy downpour drowning out most sounds. But it was definitely there.

Someone was out there.

Bella backed up a few bumbling steps as a sleek, black wolf stepped into the cave. It shook out its fur, splashing water around. It was panting, had been running fast and hard to get there. To the caves. To Bella's cave.

Bella let out a low warning growl and snorted her displeasure at the large, black beast. She didn't recognize this wolf, was it a pack-member? It could be a Silverstream, it would have had to trek the two days across the mountains though. She didn't want to be caught by a Silverstream wolf there.

The wolf blinked its eyes, only just realizing someone else was in there. And Bella's breath hitched in her throat. There it was. The familiar scent she hadn't been able to pick up before. The scent she hadn't felt wrap around her in five whole years. Her paws slid on the rocky ground.

It couldn't be.

But it was.


His wolf eyed her curiously and moved closer. Slowly. Bella was frozen as he approached. He took in her scent. Snorting mist at her as he jumped back in surprise. She thawed instantly when he poked her shoulder with his muzzle, circling her with renewed curiosity. His heavy paws landed next to her, she imagined she could feel the vibration through the rock, going all the way through her body. She moved, circling him in the same way.

It was him. She was sure of it now. His frame, his dark fur, the eyes that shone with every lightning flash. Everything so familiar. He growled, his ears twitched and his thick tail whipped behind him. Bella felt her heart beat in her throat and she almost stumbled again. She was trying to put one paw in front of the other, but she felt off-balance. He was throwing her off balance. She wasn't prepared for this.

So she did the only thing she could think of. She bolted. She darted from the cave as fast as her four legs could carry her. The storm threatened to push her back as soon as she emerged, threatened to knock her sideways. But she kept going. Rain soaked her fur, slowing her down, her paws sliding on mud and leaves. Gasping for breath, panting and huffing, she pushed herself through thickets and bushes, jumping logs and roots and dodging low-hanging branches, passing trees and boulders, as fast as she possibly could.

It wasn't fast enough.

He was behind her, snapping at her hind legs with his strong jaws. He jumped from one side to the other, chasing her.

He pounced. His wolf jumped her from the right, knocking her off her feet. She slid, rolled down a hill, covered in leaves and twigs and forest floor. Her heart was bouncing off her rib cage, water was in her eyes, lightning lit up the forest but the instant roll of thunder was overpowered by the rough storm and the blood rushing in her ears. Where was he? She whipped her head around trying to catch him, but he was dark as night, impossible to make out. She rose on shaky legs. Pulse racing.

A low growl and a whine sounded behind her. There. He jumped out. Making her whine and back up against the thick tree next to her. He growled impatiently, shaking his fur, making water splash all around him in competition with the heinous onslaught of rain. Jumping, sliding around in leaves and mud, ears twitching and tail wagging, he whimpered, snapping his jaws at her.

He wanted to... to run?

He wanted to run. In the storm. She just met him again, after all these years, and he wanted to run with her? She shook her head, wet ears flapped, and snorted in disbelief. He jumped again, growling and scratching the ground. Moving around her in a half-circle, waiting for her move. He whined and growled, wanting her to jump with him. But she could only press herself against the tree harder, unable to make her heart calm down.

She couldn't handle this. This was not how things were supposed to go. She was supposed to show him she was strong and independent now. Completely grown up. Not cowering from his wolf just because he still created havoc inside of her. No, she wasn't prepared for this. She didn't want him to see her like this.

Once again, she was off.

Lukas snorted in surprise when she darted past him. But she tore through the forest, not looking back at him. Not daring to. Her mind was a jumble of thoughts she couldn't make out. Him. She had seen him. He had approached her. Did he know it was her?

She made it through the trees, made it through the forest. The Archives came into sight. Her home. The backdoor she had left open. Safety. Pausing on the back porch, her wild eyes scanned her surroundings. He hadn't followed. He wasn't there. Bella snorted at herself. Why would he follow? Did she want him to follow? No! She screamed in her head. What was wrong with her?

She jumped through the door, slammed it shut, and pressed her naked back against it, trying to catch her breath. Her red curls were again a wet, tangled mess and she pushed them out of her face furiously as she growled and grunted, kicking the door with her heel, punching it with her fists.

This was a nightmare. She had seen him. She had met him. And she had handled it horribly. What happened to being a grown-up? To be mature about this? No, she just had to run away. Twice!

"There you are!"

Bella jumped in shock, knocking her head back on the door. And once more had to push her hair out of her face. "Nana," she breathed. Her ragged nerves were in a poor state, her heart was still beating alarmingly fast, and her grandmother appearing in the kitchen at that time of night, shouting quite loudly at her, had her clawing at the door. And Geraldine Williams was not a small, meek woman. Her rather intimidating presence was well known throughout the pack. "You scared me," Bella confessed, trying to keep the breathlessness out of her voice but failing miserably.

"Sorry, dear," Geraldine apologized stiffly, knocking the tiny device in her hand. "This damn thing," she said shaking her head, "It never works properly." She twisted a few little knobs, attempting to correct the volume. "Sometimes I can't hear a thing."

"It's ancient," Bella pointed out, still trying to catch her breath. "You need to see Dr. Mallard about a new one."

"Pah!" Geraldine said as she swung her cane in the air, dismissing the very idea. "He always tries to push these new apparatus things at me. They are so tiny I can barely see them. These new devices. I can't be dealing with that."

Bella rolled her eyes at her beloved grandmother, moving on still shaky legs to the kitchen bench. It took her a few tries but she managed to pin her hair into the tight bun at the nape of her neck she favored. A style that had her hair completely caged, completely tied back, and completely under her control. She liked control.

"Why are you so flustered?" her grandmother demanded, "And why were you out running at this time of night? It's almost midnight? And in this weather?"

"I just- I just needed some air," Bella whispered, forcing her arms to pick up the fluffy robe she had slung over the kitchen chair and pulled it on. "And I'm not flustered." That was a lie, her body was in a state of panic, her brain was even worse. "I've been running, I've used a lot of energy." Funny how lying about her state of feelings where Lukas was concerned was so easy to her, she had been doing it so long it was second nature. She had wished she didn't need to lie any longer when he came back to the pack, she had hoped her feelings had evaporated by now. Unfortunately, they hadn't.

"I was worried," Geraldine growled, hammering her cane on the tiled floor. "I didn't know if anything had happened to you. You could have been trapped under a tree somewhere, this weather is treacherous."

"I'm sorry, Nana, I really am," Bella quickly said, rushing to her, taking her hand in hers and giving it a reassuring squeeze. A move that was more for herself, she wanted to tap into the steel reassurance her grandmother always seemed to possess. "I'm fine. And I won't do it again."She couldn't face him again. Not again.

Geraldine narrowed her eyes at Bella's wet face. "You are flustered," she stated, pressing her hand to Bella's chest, feeling the rapid heartbeat. "And you're so flushed, your face is almost as red as your hair," she continued, "Are you sure you're alright? What happened on this run of yours?"

"I'm fine," Bella pressed out, all too quickly. "Nothing happened. I just- I just ran. Like always." And I met the wolf I've idolized since childhood. And I panicked.

Her grandmother cocked her head to the side, studying her intensely. Her old, gray eyes searched her face until Bella's fake, wide smile felt painful. With a final deep breath, she shrugged. "I'm tired, I'm going to bed." Turning, she sighed deeply again and shook her head at her granddaughter, and walked towards the stairs.

Bella nodded furiously. "Yes, you should go to bed, get some rest, Nana. I'm sorry for keeping you up. I was just about to go to bed myself. Busy day tomorrow and- and all that."

With a skeptic glance over her shoulder, Geraldine continued towards the stairs. "Alright then, goodnight."

"Goodnight," Bella called after her, wincing at the forced cheerfulness she had packed into the word. No wonder her grandmother thought something was up. Bella was acting like a lunatic. She watched the older woman scale the stairs, and even though she knew her fake smile was too obvious, and that her grandmother saw right through it, she couldn't quite wipe it off her face. Not until she had made it up and she heard the click of her bedroom door.

Bella turned around, her robe swishing around her legs, threatening to untie itself. She let out the breath she hadn't realized she had been holding and slapped her hand to her forehead. What an idiot she was. What an absolute idiot! She was supposed to be cool and calm and collected the next time she saw him. She was supposed to keep it together. If she avoided him now he would know she was avoiding him. Would he care? He hadn't exactly sought her out either, he just stumbled upon her by accident. She was still not convinced he even realized it was her.

What was she going to do? She would have to face him, but she would have to be prepared. She would have to get her feelings under control. Control. She needed control. She needed order.

She didn't get to have either. The very next second there was a knock on the backdoor. She was sure time stopped as she whipped her head towards it, staring it down. And she didn't even get the chance to compose herself or to pretend she wasn't home before the door opened.


The lump in her throat was blocking out her air supply. "Lukas," she said, forcing the name out through her lips, pretending it didn't spark any kind of flutter in her chest speaking it out loud. His shirt was buttoned wrong. He had dressed in a hurry. Or, almost dressed. He was barefooted, dark pants and a shirt and that was it. His normally styled hair was wet from the storm and stood out to all sides. It was the same deep black she remembered, so black it shone with traces of blue in the harsh kitchen light. She had always loved that color. Just as she had loved those piercing blue eyes.

He had changed so much since last she saw him. So very much. He was no longer the lanky boy not able to control his movements, he had grown into his body. He had grown into a man. He had grown more beautiful than he was allowed to be. Bella's stomach churned with both dread and excitement.

He stepped inside, closing the door after him. "I knew that was you," he exclaimed when she said nothing else. "I am so glad to see you." Three long strides and his bare feet had carried him to her. And before she even knew what was happening, he had embraced her in a tight hug.

"You are?" she managed to press out when he let her have some air. But he didn't let go, he kept his hands on her arms and she felt them burn through her robe. She was naked underneath she suddenly reminded herself. She had to fight to keep the blush from coming. But it was inevitable. He was so close. How many times had she hoped he would hug her like this? Too many to count.

"Why did you run from me? Didn't you recognize me?"

How could I not recognize you? But if he was going to give her an easy out she might as well take it. "No," she lied, shaking her head. "No, I didn't."

"It really is good to see you," he said again before laughing loudly, pulling her into another tight hug. Her cheek pressed to his chest, she could feel him through the still damp shirt, he was warm and smelled exactly as she remembered. "I missed you," he then stated earnestly, looking down at her with that familiar smile that used to make her heart do leaps and bounds in her chest. And she realized that it still did.

"You have?" she heard herself ask before she could even think the words. A small hope blossomed in her chest, she couldn't help it. He had missed her? He had missed her!

"Of course," he said, messing up her hair with one hand, pulling most of the curly, stubborn strands from her tight bun. He then looked around, eyeing the Archives behind her. He gave a low whistle as if he only just now realized where he was. "I guess, Omega now, is it?" he asked as he stepped forward, into the living room, making his way past stacked books and papers.

He looked around the space, having never set foot in the Archives before, never had a reason to, but even he knew all available rooms in the building were lined with bookcases and shelves to store the pack history, the customs, both outdated and in use, and records. It was designated for the Omega, all previous Omegas had resided in this building, and now Bella. He touched a heavy old book, lying on what probably used to be a coffee table but was now a storage area of some kind.

The Archives were aptly named, storage and part library with collections of books and papers spread out everywhere, the whole building bleeding records, with very little space for anyone to actually live there. But it was orderly, tidy, the only way Bella knew how to be.

He shrugged and turned to her, hanging back in the hallway, watching as he explored. "Yes, Omega Williams," she whispered and stopped herself from wringing her hands, she could hear that she sounded unsure as she answered and wanted to slap herself. Why was she so nervous when he felt so at ease? It wasn't fair. "And you're the new doctor."

"Why haven't we seen each other before?" he asked, moving around a wide stack of old tomes to step closer to her. "I didn't even know you were still here. You haven't been avoiding me, have you?" he said in a laugh.

"Of course not," she quickly pressed out, feeling the heat of her lie in her cheeks. But she joined in with his laughter anyway. "I've been busy, that's all. I don't- I don't get out much." That was as much the truth as she could bear to tell.

"I see," Lukas said with a nod and a slump of his shoulders as he buried his hands in his pockets, but his smile was still wide, genuine and comforting. He knew her, of course he did, he would know she didn't. He knew she felt out of place in crowds. He used to share that sentiment, he used to be the same. Hard as she tried, Bella couldn't shake the feeling that, once again, he understood her as no one else did. But it was a childish fancy and she would no longer get sucked into those fantasies. "Omega?" he breathed with another chuckle. "I always knew you would be, you always had it in you." He shook his head. "Bella Williams, pack Omega. That's something."

"I- yes," she managed to utter, now blushing furiously at his praise. "You've done so well, too," she said, "You became the doctor you've been working so hard for your whole life."

"Yeah," he said, the pride bristled off him when he spoke. Bella found it hard not to smile with him. She knew how hard he had worked, how much of himself he had thrown into this purpose, this calling of his. Because it was exactly the same she had done. But then his smile stiffened and he nodded as he scratched his neck. "Sort of, I mean, I'm still settling in," he added, then changed the subject, "This is a pretty big house." He looked around once more at the piles of books stacked everywhere. "But I suppose it has to be. I've never been inside the Archives before."

"I guess you've never had reason to," Bella added, trying to keep a lighthearted tone but it was impossible for her not to feel a little hurt.

As if sensing her mood he continued, "I really am glad you're still here, Bella. I have seen your grandmother around town, but when I didn't see you I imagined you'd mated some wolf somewhere. I should have asked her about you."

But you didn't, Bella added in her head. You didn't ask about me. You didn't even think about me. The thought stung. She had counted him as a friend once, her only friend, the only one who understood her. And now he was back, and it was like he had changed entirely. "Well, I'm here," Bella breathed, pushing her sadness out with a forced smile, throwing her arms in the air, motioning to the Archives around her. "I'll always be here."

"If I had had the sense to at least check up on who the pack Omega was, I would have known. I've just been too busy with my own stuff, I guess."

"Probably," Bella agreed instantly. "It must be hard setting up a practice," she offered. Of course, he had been too busy, she knew exactly what he had been up to since he came back. She may have been avoiding him like the plague, but the new doctor was a talking point of most of the pack. Especially a young, handsome, unmated, high-ranked doctor. Somehow his name was always on the lips of the female wolves. And she had heard all too much of him and his late nights at Silver Moon. She got the feeling that she stood in front of someone she just didn't know anymore. Maybe that was for the best. If this wasn't even the same Lukas, her feelings couldn't be the same either. Surely, the Lukas she had fallen in love with had left the pack for good. This man, beautiful as he was, had changed into someone she didn't recognize anymore.

"I should get going," he pointed out, "It's late." And then he smiled down at her and she felt it all the way to her toes, toes that curled in tune with his lips as they exposed his white teeth. And she realized that even though she kept telling herself that it wasn't the same Lukas anymore, he still made her insides flutter. Probably even more than he used to, if that was possible. And she also realized that she just couldn't lie to herself, her feelings were still there.

How annoying.

He stepped closer and she felt her skin prickle with goosebumps. She wanted to be strong, she wanted to be the independent Omega she knew she should be. "Lukas?" she whispered.


She hesitated. She should tell him. Tell him exactly how she felt about him. How she had missed him. Every single day. Even though she continuously told herself it was dumb. Even though she had tried so damn hard not to think of him. Even though she had tried to go on with her life as though he didn't exist at all. She should tell him a lot of things, but after a few moments too long all she could muster up the courage to say was, "I'm really glad you're here, too."

"I'll see you around, Bella. Or is it Omega Williams now? What am I allowed to call you?"

"Bella," she said, blushing a little but trying hard to hide it. "I'll always be just Bella to you."

He laughed and messed up her hair again. "Good," he breathed and stepped to the front door that still had wind and rain threatening to break it down. "Let's hang out sometime? We could run? You know, when the weather is a little better," he added motioning to the windows that were practically waterfalls.

Bella furiously patted down the stubborn curls as she walked with him to the door, opening it for him and had to clutch at her robe for it not to blow open. "Sounds great."

With a final smile on his lips, he dove into the raging storm. She watched him in the darkness as far as she could, saw him walk down the sidewalk as if nothing bothered him and the strong wind wasn't even there, watched him as far as she could before she lost him to the night. And only then did she manage to make herself shut the door.

With a groan she had been withholding since he came, a groan born of frustration and defeat, she rested her forehead against the door. No, no it did not sound great. No, she was not glad he was back in the pack. No, she was not glad to see him at all. Ok, those were lies. She was exceptionally glad to see him, her heart was beating so hard it was practically jumping for joy at the sight of him. But her brain was telling her it had probably been better had he never showed up at all.

She was so close to getting over him. So damn close. And then he just had to show his handsome face. And in her home of all places!

"What am I supposed to do now?" she growled to herself.

Max marched down the sidewalk, whistling a tune he had just made up. He pulled his black beanie over his hair, it was a thick mess, reaching just below his shoulders these days, and he had forgotten to comb it again. But the afternoon sun was bright and so was his mood.

He jumped in through the clinic doors, his heavy boots alarmingly loud on the linoleum floor, and gave Mrs. Gilbert in the reception a wide grin and a wink before he continued into Lukas's office. His brother wasn't off work yet, he knew that, but he also knew he wouldn't find any patients behind the door. So he barged in.

Lukas barely glanced at him when he entered, sitting behind the desk, throwing a ball into the air, then catching it again. He flinched when Max slammed the door shut after him. "You can't just burst in here, Max, what if I had a patient?" Lukas snapped with a growl.

Max shrugged with a laugh. "You barely have any patients during the day, why would you have any this late in the day?"

Lukas let out a defeated sigh, knowing it was true. "Still. Knock next time."

Just then, there actually was a knock on his door. "Busy, son?" Edward Mallard asked as he poked his head in, glancing around the room.

"Yes, excruciatingly busy," Lukas answered, "Can't you see all the patients I am drowning in?" His father merely rolled his eyes at him. "No," Lukas corrected himself, "Not at all."

Edward walked in, closing the door softly after himself. "Max, what are you doing here?" he asked when he saw his other son standing by the desk, poking various instruments on the table.

"I'm just here to drop off something," he said, picking up a strange-looking object, flipping it in his hands a few times. "What the fuck is this and do I want to know how you use it?"

"It's a proctoscope," Lukas snapped and took it out of his hands. "And trust me, you do not." Max shrugged, deciding against asking.

"Give it time," Edward said, ignoring his youngest son as he made himself comfortable, sitting on the edge of the desk. Lukas huffed. "I know what you're going through. I've been through it, back when I started working with Dr. Hazelbaum, the pack will come to trust you in time." Lukas huffed again but ended with a deep sigh. "You have only been back six months, you realize," his father continued undeterred, "Give the pack time to reacquaint themselves with you. You have to have patience."

"Patience?" Lukas repeated with another deep sigh as he turned away from the window. "I still feel like I am a novelty here. As if no one expects me to stick around."

Edward nodded with understanding at him. "It'll change."

"I don't know what you're complaining about," Max interjected, still eyeing up instruments he didn't want to touch, "You get to sit around and do nothing all day, sounds like a dream job."

"Maybe for you," Lukas growled at him. "I actually want to do something. I'm not some lazy fucking bartender."

"Oh, easy there tiger, it happens to be a hard job," Max retorted with a laugh.

"I'm just frustrated," Lukas breathed, rubbing his face with a tired sigh. "The only people that come to see me are women, and there's nothing wrong with any of them. They only come because I'm the unmated doctor, I'm high-ranked. Or at least I will be one day."

"Lucky bitch," Max mumbled under his breath.

Lukas ignored him. "I want to help the pack, I want to do something, anything."

"It'll come, son, don't worry," Edward said, folding his hands in his lap. Lukas snorted and gave a sigh, saying nothing more. Max shrugged and moved further into the office, poking different instruments on the desk. Edward straightened in his chair and asked them both, "Are either of you coming over for dinner tonight? Lukas, perhaps?" Lukas winced at the hopefulness the words were coated in, that could only mean one thing. And that was confirmed when his father continued, "Your mother invited the Campbells over and their daughter is-" Lukas' groan cut him off. Max laughed loudly but covered it with a cough when Edward glared at him.

"I'm not going to be roped into another setup, dad. You promised no more," Lukas pleaded.

Edward laughed and held up his hands in defense. "This one is on your mother. I told her not to do it, and yet, it's happening." He shrugged. "You should come, Stella is a lovely young wolf, she's-"

Lukas groaned once more, and this time he let his head thump back on the wall at his back. "No, dad, no. I don't care how lovely she is, I am not looking for a mate."

Max couldn't hide his chuckle. His parents meant well, he supposed, but their picks for Lukas were never very well matched. He had been there last time, and he was still reeling from the awkwardness. The girl had been nice enough, but his brother and her hadn't hit it off at all and she could not have shown any less enthusiasm at being there. The whole evening was uncomfortable for everyone involved. Max chuckled and moved around the office, taking great pleasure in his father pestering his older brother for a change. He was so used to being the target, but he supposed that was his own fault for not living up to his father's expectations. Not that he cared at this point, he was an adult now. He poked at the life-size skeleton in the corner, moving the arm, making the skeleton salute.

"Set her up with Max instead," Lukas exclaimed throwing his arm in Max's direction. "He's old enough to mate."

Max jolted and he accidentally broke off the skeleton's arm. He hid it behind his back and glared at Lukas before shaking his head furiously at his father. "Don't you dare." He was only three years younger than Lukas but nowhere near ready for a mate of any kind. The last thing he needed was his father taking an interest in his love life the way he seemed to with Lukas.

"Goodness," Edward breathed with a small playful smile at the corner of his mouth. "I actually like the girl, and her parents are great friends of ours. I would never."

"Funny," Max grumbled when both Lukas and his father chuckled.

"You know Max isn't settled like you are," Edward explained. "He has no steady job, no place of his own, he's-"

"I have a steady job," Max exclaimed throwing his arms in the air, including the skeleton one that he quickly hid behind his back again. "And it's not like I'm sleeping on Lukas' couch, I pay rent, It's my place, too."

"Bartending isn't a steady job," Edward argued. "And most of the time you're off to the city doing who knows what."

Max growled, a growl that turned into a sigh, and he shook his head. Arguing wasn't worth it. They didn't see eye to eye about this. Didn't see eye to eye about many things, really. He backed up to the skeleton, attempting to reconnect the arm. When it didn't seem to work he gave up, turned once more, and pointed the arm at his father. "Whatever. I happen to be a catch and she should be so lucky. However, I'm sure she wouldn't be too impressed with me showing up if she was promised the young doctor. After all, he's so handsome," he added, using the bone hand on the decapitated arm to mess up Lukas' hair.

"Jackass," Lukas growled and pushed the hand away from his hair. He quickly tried fixing it again.

"To think-" Edward raised his voice and gave Max a pointed look before continuing, "To think I could have had two doctors going into the family business. Wouldn't that have been nice?"

"Right, Ok, that was never going to happen," Max insisted with a laugh.

"Anyway," Lukas said, changing the subject, receiving a grateful look from Max. "I have enough problems just trying to set up office here, I'm not trying to add to my difficulties trying to mate all of a sudden. Sorry, dad, but it's just not happening."

Edward sighed heavily. "We just worry about you," he admitted, "You spend a lot of time at Silver Moon these days."

"So does Max," Lukas pointed out desperately.

"I work there," Max said, using the arm to scratch his back.

Lukas rolled his eyes at his brother. "I need to blow off steam, you must remember what it was like being young," he said, then grinned and added, "Or maybe that was way too long ago for you to remember, old man."

"Easy pup," his father growled good-naturedly, "I may be a little gray now but I can still whip you. What I meant was that you never used to, you were never the type."

"I've changed," Lukas said quickly, a little pride seeping into his words.

"Yes, you have," Edward conceded with another heavy sigh.

"I hang out with Dylan and the boys, it's not a crime to have fun."

"Not only the boys. You're very popular with the women there. From what I hear there have been several of them." Max snorted in the background and Lukas scowled at him.

Lukas turned his attention back to his father and shrugged with a laugh. "I'm enjoying myself, there's nothing wrong with that."

"No, there is not. But again, you were never the type," his father persisted, "We both know how you were growing up."

Lukas shrugged. "As I said, I am enjoying myself."

"You don't think maybe you are enjoying yourself just a little too much?" Edward asked, "Have it occurred to you that maybe the pack doesn't see you as a serious doctor because of your extracurricular activities."

"Dad, the entire pack hangs out at Silver Moon, it's the only bar we have. Alpha Winter himself is there from time to time," Lukas growled, throwing his hands in the air. "So I go out for a few with Dylan sometimes. Big deal. I'd understand it if I was out there stumbling around drunk every day, but I'm not."

"And I know you're not," Edward said with an affirming nod. "However, unfortunately, since you've come home again, instead of building a reputation as the next pack physician you've sort of been building a very different one," he went on, stumbling over his words a little, clearly having a hard time pushing them out. Lukas raised an eyebrow at his father.

Max sighed with a grin, throwing the skeleton arm around as he simplified, "Dad is trying to say you're having too much sex."

Edward cleared his throat and shifted in his seat uncomfortably. "No, no," he coughed out, "No what I am saying is-"

"Lukas is sleeping around too much?"

"No, what I mean is-"

"Lukas is being a little too promiscuous for his own good?" Max tried again, running the bone fingers through Lukas' hair once more with a laugh. Lukas slapped it away with a growl.

"I don't mind you having fun. But you've always been the sensible one, Lukas," Edward continued, ignoring his youngest son who just accidentally poked himself in the eye with the skeleton's hand.

Max almost choked on his own breath at the word. Sensible. Ever since Lukas came back to the pack, a fresh doctor, women had been throwing themselves at him. Max tried hard not to be jealous, but his own love-life was a little dry at the moment, and since he lived with his brother, he found he was a little too aware of when Lukas wasn't alone. Which was all too often, Max had to give it to his father, he might have a point. But he wasn't about to tell Lukas that, he still had to live with him.

"You are twenty-eight years old, son," Edward went on, oblivious to Max's internal decision, "Your mother and I just feel like it's time for you to settle down, get a mate. Grandchildren wouldn't be amiss, you know."

"There we go, there's the kicker." Lukas laughed. "Dad, I'm not having kids any time soon, alright?"

Edward shuffled a little on the table, adjusting his white coat as an excuse not to meet his son's eyes. "I just thought, hoped really, that maybe one of the women you've been seen with lately had been a real thing."

The question in his sentence wasn't lost on either of his sons and Max almost laughed at the hopeful tone. Of course, they weren't. Lukas shook his head. "No, they were all just..." he trailed off, waving his hand in the air in front of him as if he could conjure up the words he wanted to use. "You know, just..." Max almost felt bad for Lukas at that moment, it was certainly not the type of conversation one had with his father, but he was enjoying both of them squirming too much to intervene.

His father cleared his throat again. "Yes, well..." he began as he shifted awkwardly in his seat. After clearing his throat a second time he continued, "I mean, I know young wolves and, uhm, young wolves do-"

"Friends," Lukas pushed out a little too fast, cutting him off. "They were just friends."

"Friends," his father repeated, clearly relieved at the term. "Friends," he said again with a nod and stood from the desk.

"Lukas has a lot of new friends," Max added with a grin, waving the severed arm around, knowing full well he was making things worse.

His father humphed and Lukas scrunched up a paper, throwing it at him. "As if you're any better," Lukas growled.

"Yes, well, we just hope you will find a more permanent friend soon, that's all," Edward raised his voice, pulling both boy's attention back to him.

"Not going to happen, dad," Lukas said. "I won't be mating any time soon. Certainly not while my practice is in shambles, and for the first time in my life I am enjoying myself, just being able to go out is great."

Edward shook his head sadly and stretched with a yawn. "Well, I suppose I can't force you." His defeat obvious and both his sons had to laugh.

"Speaking of friends," Lukas said, changing the subject, "I ran into an old one while running yesterday. Why didn't you tell me Bella Williams had become the Omega?"

Edward scratched his chin. "I'm sure I mentioned it, son."

Max snorted in a laugh as he poked the skeleton skull with the severed arm, tipping it from side to side. "What else was she supposed to do," he mumbled, "That one was born to be an old lady."

Edward glared at his youngest son. "She is your Omega, son. The title alone demands your respect."

"Hey, I respect her," Max defended himself, "But, I mean, you have to at least admit that she's..." He gave his father a pointed look, trying to roll his shoulders and wiggle his eyebrows to convey his point.

"She's...?" Lukas prodded with satisfaction when he saw his father's frown deepen at his brother.

"Oh shut up, Lukas," Max growled and waved the severed bone arm at him. "You know what she's like. She's younger than me but dresses like a woman in her sixties, and acts like it, too, by the way. She always has. It's like she came out the womb a grandmother."

"You've always gotten along with her," Edward pointed out. "You were all such good friends."

"She was Lukas's friend, not mine," Max pointed out in a mumble. They had never gotten along, especially when they were younger. Besides, she never had much time for Max when Lukas was around. And then they grew up and hadn't even spoken two words together since she became the Omega. He then grinned and added, "Lukas and her studied together all the time."

"Next to each other. As friends do," Lukas corrected him, moving in his seat with a small, embarrassed cough. "We were not in the same grade. And it wouldn't have hurt you to study a little."

"I had a life, thank you," Max retorted with a wiggle of his nose. Lukas ignored him, responding only with a roll of his eyes at his younger brother.

Edward sighed deeply. "So, you are certain you won't come home for dinner tonight?"

Lukas and Max shared a look. Max grinned but Lukas shook his head. "Absolutely not," he answered. He opened a few buttons on his shirt, pulled it free from his pants, and yawned. "It's Friday, and after the week I've had, looking at the rare bruises and scraped knee, and dodging female wolves, I need to relax."

"Relax?" Edward tasted the word, raising his eyebrow at him.

Lukas laughed. "I'm still young, dad," he insisted, shrugging out of his white coat. "I'm hardly going to live like a monk."

Edward merely shrugged and gave him an indulgent smile. "Wouldn't it be nice, going home to a mate on a Friday, to a nice homecooked meal and good company?"

"You are pushing it," Lukas warned.

"Ah, but think of the homecooked meal," Max insisted, earning himself a punch in the shoulder from Lukas.

Edward laughed. "Of course I am pushing it, it's a father's job. But let me tell you this," he said moving towards the door, waving his finger in the air to punctuate his point. "A woman's touch doesn't even compare to the warm embrace of your mate."

"I'll keep that in mind," Lukas growled, ignoring Max's snickering behind him.

"I'll see you two later. Have a good one." And with that their father had disappeared out of the door, closing it before he said anything else that would make Lukas throw something after him.

"He's not wrong, you know," Max eventually said. Lukas looked up at his brother with a scoff. He just laughed at Lukas' expression, scratching his head with the skeleton hand. "I meant that the pack doesn't quite see you as a serious physician yet."

"You think I don't know that?" Lukas asked with a groan, rubbing his tired face.

"Stop fucking around so much, man," Max laughed and poked him with the decapitated arm. "Give the old man some grandchildren. Get him something else to worry about other than my fucking life choices." He was only half-joking, as much as he loved his parents, their overbearing and overprotective worry about his own situation was wearing him thin. Lukas had always done what was expected, had always had that drive for the family business that Max didn't. Max wasn't the serious one, or the studious one, or the smart one. Max was the wildcard.

He ran a hand through his long, black hair, loose down his back, and laughed at Lukas who groaned at his statement. His brother hadn't had it easy growing up in the pack, he knew that, Lukas had been an awkward child, a bullied teenager. He had always been buried in books and studies, knowing exactly what he wanted to do with his life. But he had watched him change, and he couldn't fault him for taking advantage. His rank helped, of course. Once Lukas took over his father's practice he would be the only pack physician, one of the highest-ranked positions in the pack.

"Don't you start as well," Lukas breathed. "This damn pack is driving me insane. And Dad is also insane if he thinks I'm going to mate now. I have worked so hard, so damn hard to be at this exact point. I can't deny that I had expected to waltz back into the pack a new man, instantly accepted, and life would be sweet. Everything was supposed to fall into place. Only it hasn't." He grumbled to himself, not expecting Max to comment, not needing him to. "What are you even doing here?"

Max shrugged, using the bone hand to scratch his chin. "Just dropping off your keys. I got called into work to cover a shift tonight." He threw Lukas' keys on the desk. "Big celebration at the bar, someone's getting mated next full moon."

Lukas nodded his thanks and took the keys. "Dad is right, isn't he? I haven't merged fully with the pack?"

"You've been doing alright," Max said with another grin.

Max once again used the bony hand to run through Lukas' hair. Lukas huffed and snatched the arm out of Max's hands. "Give me that before you break it." He marched to the rest of the skeleton and reattached it. "I've been working to become pack physician since I could walk and talk, it's all I've ever wanted. But the pack doesn't trust me. I am a stranger to them."

"You're hardly a stranger," Max pointed out. "You've been welcomed back with open arms by at least half the pack members." He then winked and Lukas knew exactly what he meant.

Lukas grinned sheepishly and shrugged. "Yes well, my rank is attractive," he explained, sharing a knowing laugh with Max before his face became serious. "They want me for my rank as a doctor but won't let me actually work as one, isn't that ironic? I'm not respected or trusted, I am just a damn novelty to them."

"Be patient," Max suggested with a shrug. "Just let the pack get to know you again. They'll come around."

"But how do I integrate more into a pack I have been in since birth?" he growled, tapping his fingers on his chin.

"I don't know," Max breathed, "I just think you should wait. Everything will come in time. Anyway, I have to get going or I'll be late." He stood from the table with a jump and stretched his arms over his head with a yawn. "Most of the fucking pack is going to be there tonight to wish the happy couple well."

"Great, I know where I won't be then," Lukas said, snorting in disdain.

"Yeah, can't say I'm looking forward to it." Max walked to the door, pulling his beanie over his head. He turned with a laugh. "It's a shame you don't want to get mated, the pack loves a mating. No one has a bad word to say when that happens. Could you imagine if the high-ranked doctor suddenly mated?"

"I suppose they would think he had lost his mind," Lukas retorted with a laugh.

"I guess that would depend on the mate," Max said with another shrug.

"Right," Lukas mumbled. He snorted again, this time in surprise. A curious, curious thought had slipped into his brain and he couldn't push it out. A mate. A mate from this pack. A mate that was already respected and integrated and thoroughly a part of the community here. Someone with a spotless reputation. Someone who could help him appear more like a serious doctor than some sort of pleasure seeker.

He grunted and scratched his chin as thoughts began whirling in his head, so fast they threatened to give him a headache. He had to think, he had to grasp one of these theories that danced just out of reach.

"I'm off," Max said and opened the door, about to leave.

"Wait," Lukas called after him, standing from the chair and tucking his keys into his pockets. "I changed my mind. I'm coming with you."