It was around three in the morning when Mason crept up to his front door, trying to shake off the tension of seeing the strange were. He slid the key soundlessly into the old brass lock with one hand, while holding a wine bottle, car keys, and wallet crammed together in the other.
It was ridiculous, really. When your boyfriend is a werewolf, there isn’t much chance of sneaking into the house unnoticed, and certainly not into the bed. Besides, the old cottage never failed to give him away. The door stuck, as usual, and he had to give it a good shove with his shoulder to get it open. The hinges squealed, and the warped wooden frame creaked as the door finally burst inwards.
The hallway was dimly lit by a plug-in nightlight. Lan had put it there because Mason kept stumbling over the hall table on his way in after work. It was a thoughtful act, but somehow also a scolding one. Mason tried to push that thought away; Lan was just trying to be helpful. Of course, Lan didn’t have this problem -- he could pretty much see in the dark.
Mason stepped into the hallway and placed the nearly full bottle of wine, a perk of the job, on the sideboard, along with his other stuff. He dropped his denim jacket on the polished wood floor; a miasma of stale cigarette smoke wafted up from it. Mason grimaced. As much as he just wanted to get to sleep, he was going to have to shower first. Lan was forever nagging him to give up smoking, and Mason had said he would. But he’d taken a quick, illicit cigarette break at work, standing in a narrow alley full of all the other smokers doing the same. He was going to be caught in that lie.
Lan came to the bedroom doorway, naked. His eyes were bleary and his sandy hair tousled. Mason smiled. Seeing Lan, he remembered the moment they’d met and how it had changed everything in his life. Lan had been living next door in a seventies breezeblock apartment building. Mason had been eyeing up his shabby-but-sexy neighbor for a few weeks before they finally met properly. Lan was slightly built and baby-faced, easily passing for someone ten years younger than his real age of thirty-five. He had a sort of tentative way of acting and a gentleness, a vulnerability, that most men would try to cover up.
One day, as Mason had been going past Lan’s door, he had seen a big thug pushing his way in and punching Lan hard in the face. Mason hadn’t hesitated to grab the man, a pushy ex, and put him down. Mason had privately thought of himself as Lan’s protector from then on, and Lan, for his part, seemed to welcome the security and support Mason offered.
Of course, Mason hadn’t known then that under the demeanor of a diffident professor lurked the innate ferocity of a werewolf. Once Lan got over what Dr Phil would probably call “self-esteem issues,” he really wasn’t going to need much protecting from anything -- and then where would Mason be?
“Go back to bed. It’s late,” Mason said, taking one step forward. He stopped short, knowing he was covered not only in smoke, but sweat and a good number of drinks slopped and spilled on him in the jostling crowd. Lan yawned and rubbed his face. With a sigh, he stepped into Mason’s embrace.
“Lan, I stink,” Mason protested.
He wouldn’t be so fastidious for himself, but he knew Lan was cultured enough to be particular and wolf enough to have sharper senses than most. Lan’s body fit into his arms. A few inches shorter and far lighter than Mason, he was just right, like the next size down in a set of Russian dolls.
Lan pulled him towards the bedroom, his intent immediately clear. For a long time at the beginning of their relationship, Mason had always been the one to make the first move. After they’d moved to Hameltown and Lan had become involved in the Were Council, he had started to show new confidence in all areas of his life. But it was still a sporadic boldness that fit awkwardly with his habitual character.
For a moment Mason was reluctant. Lan worked during the day, lecturing psychology at the university, and Mason worked at the bar most nights, straight through from six p.m. to two in the morning. In an effort to get their lives to overlap as much as possible, they ended up missing a lot of sleep. It was a compromise that was causing them both problems, but it seemed like neither of them wanted to be the one to bring it up. They tried to bridge the widening gap physically, but lately even their sex seemed fumbling and stilted.
Yet as Lan stripped Mason’s T-shirt up and off, the merest brush of his fingers and puff of his breath turned the tide of Mason’s weariness and pushed all those doubts aside. Lan unfastened Mason’s jeans, then pushed them and his underwear down. Mason wanted to grab Lan, to feel him yield to his advances and to… He deliberately held back. He had nagged at Lan to be less passive, had sometimes not been sure whether Lan even welcomed his advances. So he tried not to fall into the habit of taking control.
Mason managed to pull off his boots by standing on the edge of one and lifting his foot out, then using his bare foot on the toe of the other boot. Kicking off his sagging jeans, Mason was standing unbalanced when Lan pushed him backwards. Mason flailed in the darkness and thumped onto the mattress.
“Bloody hell,” he exclaimed. Lan was already following on top of him, lithe and predatory. Mason felt a surge of alarm. Lan didn’t seem entirely…himself.
It was disconcerting to be on his back. Mason’s job -- Mason’s nature -- was to be in control. He held himself back with tangible effort and just pushed back with his arms so he lay spread out across the bed. Lan straddled him, looking down, his face hidden in the shadows. His stance was tense, even aggressive, not the usual deferential, cautious Lan that Mason knew and loved.
Mason stifled his reaction; he loved Lan as he was, even as changes unfolded from him. When Lan had first revealed his wolf nature, Mason has been shocked, shaken…and had deserted him. Only for a few days, as it happened, but it was a betrayal Mason still struggled to atone for and learn from. He had to be a better man than that. I would love Lan no matter what
. But that felt more like a hope than a certainty. Maybe Mason simply didn’t have that in him, no matter how much Lan deserved it.
Their kiss was hard, Lan pressing down, almost challenging him. Mason pushed up to meet him, bending his knees and pulling Lan down towards him. But his lover was awkward and resistant in his arms. Mason all but wrestled with him before giving up in exasperation and lying back with a hiss, the backs of his hands flat on the mattress.
Lan’s kisses pressed down in a barrage, growing to nips that were strange for him, but seemed merely playful. Then Lan bit down hard on Mason’s shoulder, a possessive, pinning gesture. His teeth dug in sharply, pressing painfully into flesh. Mason clutched the sheets to resist striking back. He knew Lan wouldn’t mean to hurt him, but there was an animal in his soul, and sometimes it came out, although never before like this. He tried to gently pry Lan away, then finally descended to shaking him roughly to try to bring him to his senses. Lan growled and pulled away with a jerk. His ardor seemed to cool as quickly as it had flared.
“Mason, I’m sorry,” Lan blurted. “I am just…” His voice broke uncertainly.
“You’ve just not been a wolf in a long time.”
Lan was surprised, of course. He never expected Mason to put stuff together, to figure it out. They just looked at each other in the grainy darkness, sprawled together across the disordered bed. Of course, it wouldn’t be as dark to Lan’s eyes.
“You need to be in your other form,” Mason said patiently. “I know that. I can take you out to the greenbelt while it’s still dark. But not before I have a shower.”