Late June 2012 – Capitol Hill – Lachlan
Lachlan Graham fiddled with the electric water kettle on his counter, pressing his fingers to the body of the water reservoir like he could gauge the temperature of the water just by that one simple touch. It wasn’t entirely an affectation. Three years working as a barista in the U District’s coffee scene had given him a few skills—heat resilient hands that were, nevertheless, quite adept at judging a liquid’s temperature was simply one of them. But that’s not why he did it now—no, let’s be honest, it was just a nervous tick. An excuse to remain standing in his kitchen and thereby avoid the conversation lurking in the other room for another three minutes while the kettle heated up the water to boiling.
Tea had seemed like a good idea when he offered, but maybe it was just the coward’s way out.
His lower lip still tingled from its close contact with Vector’s mouth a minute ago.
Lachlan squeezed his fingers into a tight fist to keep from touching the hot skin—his lip, the imprint left lingering, flesh pressed against flesh. There were a hundred things it could mean and a handful that he prayed it did mean.
But he’d only know for certain once he stopped being a coward here, hiding in the kitchen, worrying over tea.
“Need any help?”
Lachlan jumped, almost knocking over the electric kettle, and turned to face his ex-partner. Vector hovered in the doorway, looking equally ill at ease. This, perhaps more than the previous touch, set Lachlan’s mind at ease. If he wasn’t the only nervous one here, then he couldn’t be the only one of them worried about the outcome of this conversation.
They—the two of them—had been putting it off for years. Maybe their entire acquaintance. Lachlan felt stupid couching it in such dramatic terms, but really, when they’d already faced death together time and again, nothing left in the romantic department could really be considered dramatic. After all, he felt that he could be pretty certain neither of them was going to pull a knife or a gun or kidnap the other person.
This? This conversation, this thing between them, it should have been the easiest, safest thing they did together.
Funny, how interpersonal relationships worm their way into your brain, your body, until they become the most dangerous circumstances imaginable.
“I’m sorry,” Vector murmured, already backpedaling. It had taken Lachlan too long to answer his question.
Now, he shook himself as the electric kettle clicked and the heating element turned off. He snagged Vector’s starched white sleeve and pulled him into the kitchen. It wasn’t an ideal setting for this conversation but no place was going to be ideal. They just had to bite the bullet.
“Tell me how you like your tea,” he said, trying to draw the werewolf into his orbit.
“I suppose it depends what kind it is?”
“Oh. Well, I’ve got this raspberry herbal stuff, and some peppermint though I only drink that when I’m sick, and then I’ve got some earl grey that I got from work. It’s actually really good. It has lavender and orange in it. Preferences?”
Vector cocked his head and stared at the two mugs on the counter. “The peppermint is fine if you have honey to go in it.”
“I think I can arrange that.”
“Stay,” Lachlan murmured, tugging once on the wolf’s sleeve to keep him close. His fingers trailed over the delicate skin of the other man’s wrist, making him shiver.
“Yes, all right.”
Lachlan nodded and pulled out two peppermint tea bags, pouring steaming water into the mugs. While they steeped, he searched through his cupboard for a mostly empty bear full of honey. When their drinks were ready, he handed one burning mug to his partner and took the other, wrapping both his hands around the ceramic and leaning against the kitchen counter.
He could feel the sweat beading along his hairline and under his light cotton T-shirt. Lachlan laughed—too loud in the silent apartment and painfully awkward— and set his cup back down on the counter.
Vector blew steam away from his face as though he really intended to drink the hot tea, but Lachlan reached out and took it away from him.
“This was stupid.”
The wolf’s face frozen, and Lachlan rushed to clarify his statement.
“No! I don’t mean this, talking, you and me. I meant the tea. It’s like ninety degrees outside.”
“I don’t think it’s quite that warm just yet.”
Lachlan gathered his courage and crossed the handful of linoleum squares between them until he could feel the warmth rising off of Vector’s skin. The wolf had always dressed nicely when they worked for the Seattle Police Department. It had been his job as handler to present a professional front. He’d been the senior officer of the two of them as well. But since he’d joined the FBI, the quality of his suits had noticeably improved
Lachlan wondered if it was werewolf fortitude that helped him look so pristine standing there in his button down, slacks, jacket, and patent leather shoes.
“It is that hot,” he murmured.
His eyes tracked the wolf’s throat as it bobbed up and down. He wanted to lean over and lick the think skin there, feel the rasp of the other man’s stubble, but he thought that might be a little too brazen before they’d actually talked anything out.
“I interrupted your breakfast,” Vector said in a low voice.
“Do want some of the bacon?”
Vector twitched and a second laughter a laugh bubbled out of his chest. Lachlan blinked. He’d meant the offer seriously.
Vector reached up and framed the side of his face with one of his long fingered hands, pulling their faces close together.
“No, I don’t want some of the bacon,” the wolf said, the laugh still present in his voice. “I want to kiss you.”
“I appreciate your candor. But I thought you wanted to talk?”
The hand squeezed his neck once before letting go. “Right. You should eat your breakfast. I don’t mind. We can still talk while you do.”
Lachlan grinned and grabbed a plate out of his cupboard. His heart hammered a mile a minute under his skin, but he was still hungry.
“Do you have to be somewhere later?” he asked, pointing a fork at Vector’s ensemble.
“No. I’m afraid work clothes are the only thing I packed for this trip.”
“You want to change into something more comfortable?”
The wolf licked his thin lower lip and nodded. “If you don’t mind.”
He shook his head. “You know where the closet is.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Lachlan shoveled scrambled eggs and bacon into his mouth while the wolf was in his bedroom. When he was done, he placed the dishes in the sink and tiptoed into his bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face. He hadn’t been expecting company that morning.
A part of him hadn’t been expecting to see Vector again—period. But he was glad to be proven wrong about that at least.
Cleaned up, full of food, and nursing a cup of coffee—both mugs of tea washed down the sink—Lachlan leaned against his bedroom door and watched his ex-partner smooth his hands over the fit of his borrowed clothes.
“What are you doing?”
Vector straightened. “Nothing. I’m sorry for taking so long.”
“You don’t have to apologize so much.”
“I feel as though I do.” The wolf frowned. “I think a lot of this could have been avoided if I’d been more conscientious—”
“Wait! Let’s not start assigning blame here. Please? If anything, I think our talk the other day showed that we were both stupid. Before. This is a second chance. Let’s not start off by trying to make someone accountable for it all. Okay?”
“If you like.”
“I don’t know exactly where we should start.”
Vector cleared his throat. “There is quite a lot, isn’t there?”
“What about how you didn’t know I was a werewolf? I admit, I’ve gone over that a few times since we last spoke and—I mean, there wasn’t a lot I could do at the hospital while I was hooked up to a respirator, except think. And Henderson wasn’t very forthcoming about the case, so… That weighed heavily. I’m babbling.”
“That’s okay. That’s what this is about. Rambling. The truth. Confessions. I wish I had a good explanation for that. But it was just…ignorance. Blindness. I was blind.” Lachlan laughed—not because he thought it was funny, but at the absurdity.
“I didn’t see a lot things back then. And it’s only recently that that’s becomemore obvious.”
Vector stared at him with a soft, curious expression. “How so?”
Lachlan waved his hands in a helpless gesture, slowly crossing his bedroom to stand next to the wolf. The vertical blinds were closed and he drew them back from the balcony door. The glass was warm to the touch from the morning sun. It really was as hot as he’d claimed, climbing into the eighties before nine that morning and promising to reach even further by early afternoon.
He imagined that even the Sound would feel warm to the touch that day.
Lachlan jerked his chin at the scene outside: all of Seattle spread out below the Hill, bustling people, pale under a prickly, unfamiliar sun. Chrome and concrete and glass shone brilliant against the faraway blue backdrop of the Puget Sound which bisected the city into north, south, and east. Three quadrants surrounded by bodies of heaving salt, silt, and moderately polluted water.
“I’m surrounded by things I can’t smell or see or hear. Not the way you do. But that’s just an excuse. Because plenty of norms don’t fail to see that they’re working with a werewolf every day for years. But I did. And I could blame the way I was raised. But I’m the one who had the gaul to call myself a copy and be so unobservant.”
He was distracted by his phone vibrating on his nightstand. Vector glanced at the little black device.
“You can get that if you need to. I don’t mind.”
Lachlan shook his head. “It’ll keep. I don’t work today either.”
“It might not be work.”
“It’s not important,” he said, fixing the wolf with a look, trying to make him feel just how serious Lachlan was taking this conversation. How much it meant to him too.
“I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself. Or call yourself an idiot. I don’t think you are.”
Lachlan snorted. “Thanks.”
“I’m serious.” Vector made an abortive motion, like he wanted to bridge the distance between their bodies. Lachlan didn’t remember the wolf being quite this touchy feel before, but maybe he hadn’t felt comfortable touching so much when he’d been under the impression that he was the only one with romantic feelings. Now that Lachlan had confessed to being a little obsessed with Vector too, the wolf had been much more free with casual contact.
Or maybe it was just a werewolf thing. A part of Lachlan liked that idea.
“Okay, fine, then I wasn’t an idiot. But I was pretty blind. And I’m sorry about that. I can’t imagine it was very easy.”
The wolf shrugged. “It doesn’t matter since I didn’t realize you didn’t…you know, realize. But I’m glad you know now.”
They shared a quiet smile, like a secret just between the two of them, an understanding.
“I like knowing that you’re a werewolf.”
“It doesn’t…worry you?”
“Why would it?”
Vector shrugged. “You said yourself, you’re not very familiar with werewolves. Unless something’s changed since I’ve been…”
“I’ve met a few. But you’re still the most prominent werewolf in my life.”
“And you’re not… Does it make you uncomfortable? I only ask because before there were a few times when I thought that it did. The werewolf thing. Not just me but when we encountered one or two in the field.”
Lachlan coughed to clear his throat. His fingers itched to smooth the wrinkle that had appeared between Vector’s eyes. Maybe the wolf wasn’t the only one being more touchy lately. He leaned his shoulder blades against the hot glass behind him and sighed.
“I can only apologize that my behavior—no, my narrow minded actions or words, hurt you. Or gave you the wrong impression about how I feel about werewolves. I’m sorry.”
Vector shook his head. “I didn’t mean to make you feel—”
“No,” Lachlan interrupted and shook his head.”No, let me say this. I have been an idiot. I know you said not to say that but I have to. It’s important right now for me to say that. It turns out I kind like werewolves. Especially one in particular.”
The corners of Vector’s mouth curled up. “I’m glad to hear that.”
His phone rang again, vibrating insistently.
“Are you sure you don’t want to answer that?”
“It’ll keep,” Lachlan repeated firmly. He crossed the bedroom and sat down on the edge of his bed, tugging on the edge of Vector’s borrowed T-shirt until the wolf’s knees bent and the bed sank under both their weight.
“I’m afraid to ask how long you’re going to stay,” Lachlan admitted under his breath, sure at least that werewolf hearing would be keen enough to catch every word clearly.
“Even if you did, I couldn’t say for certain.”
“I want to stay,” the wolf said. “I wish I’d never left. If you were an idiot then so was I.”
“That means something.”
He was surprised when he felt a slender nose brush against his skin. Lachlan suppressed his shiver and held still as Vector moved from the collar of his shirt, up the column of his neck, and settled against the soft skin behind his ear. It tickled, a little bit, but it felt nice too. Weirdly possessive in a way he wasn’t used to from the other man, but that he could imagine growing accustomed.
“I don’t have control over where they send me.”
“Because you’re a tracker?”
“Yes. It’s a contract. I’m not precisely an agent so I can’t request a permanent posting. I have to go where I’m needed. Or where they think they need me.”
“You don’t sound like you enjoy it.”
The wolf sighed, the gust of air hot and moist against his skin, raising goosebumps.
“Are you happy that you left the SPD?” Vector asked after a minute.
The question gave Lachlan pause. Was he happy? Was he happier than he had been when he worked for the police? He wasn’t better off financially, that was certain. But he’d been miserable the last six months he worked for the Seattle Police Department. Those last six months after Vector had transferred to the FBI had been the worst of Lachlan’s career, and he couldn’t say it was for any other reason than that he’d lost his partner.
“It wasn’t the same without you there,” he confessed. It wasn’t the fairest thing to say, but it was honest. And Lachlan figured the two of them could use more honesty between them after so many years of miscommunication.
“I shouldn’t have left,” Vector said.
Lachlan racked his brain, trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t sound too accusatory or like he was trying to guilt the werewolf into making another drastic career move, when his phone started ringing again. Only this time it refused to stop. He made a frustrated noise and crawled across his bed to put the device on DO NOT DISTURB.
He hesitated, however, when he saw the number.
“I was serious, I don’t mind if you answer it.”
Lachlan held up his phone and pushed the ACCEPT button. “Hello?”
“Is this Lachlan Graham?”
“Yes. Who is this?”
“I’m afraid I have to inform you that there’s been an incident.”