Chapter 8: Give Me Coffee or Give Me Death

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Waking up alone in a strange room that smelled like dust and werewolf was starting to be a pattern -- one I didn't like much.

And since I was now mated to Ian, that might be every morning for the rest of my life. That was a cheerful thought before I even had any coffee.

Coffee. I'd finally fallen asleep sometime after dawn, probably just before Ian got up and left. Exhaustion had kept me under while he moved around. Now it looked like it was about noon, going by the angle of the light. Of course Ian didn't have a clock, and my phone was smashed somewhere on the floor of a warehouse. Just as well. If I'd had one, Ian probably would have kept it anyway. I could just picture him hunched over it, waiting for a text that read, "Oh hey this is the Kimball shaman. Killed Matthew Armitage yet? Report soon! :) Good luck!" I was pretty sure Ian actually did think I was that dumb.

Asshole.

I swung my legs out of bed, winced at the chill of the floor against my toes, and staggered into the kitchenette, all of three steps away. This place was seriously small. I dug around in the cabinets until I found a half bag of cheap coffee, but what the hell did Ian use to make it? I rubbed my hands over my face to get the crud out of my eyes and the sleep out of my brain and looked around.

And then I saw it. A green plastic coffee filter-holder, that you would pour boiling water through into a mug. It was stained, missing the handle, and had a crack running down the side.

I stared at it for a minute and then doubled over laughing, cackling until tears rolled down my face. I'd been kidnapped, I'd crawled through mud for miles, I'd been interrogated by werewolves, fucked and knotted by Ian Armitage, fed crappy soup -- and this was just the last straw.

Fuck. This. I was going to find some coffee if it killed me, and no alpha werewolves were going to stand in my way. After that, I was going to ward the territory, even if the alpha werewolves tried to kill me again. The one thing I was categorically not going to do was sit there, uncaffeinated and unprotected and with my thumbs up my ass, waiting for Team Furry and Clueless to figure out what to do next, when any second now another pack could turn up and kill us all.

Since the clothes I'd arrived in were probably still in a sodden lump on the floor of the pack house waiting for a maid who hadn't been born yet, I dug through Ian's dresser again. This time I ended up with jeans rolled three times at the hem and wrapped almost double around my waist with Ian's one and only belt -- I had to punch a new hole in it with a kitchen knife -- and a giant sweatshirt.

Just great. If the Kimballs didn't get me first, anyone passing by would execute me for crimes against fashion.

Shoes were more of a problem, since Ian's looked like they belonged to a yeti, and if I put them on I'd look like I was auditioning to be a party clown. Well, fuck Ian's "I'll know if you use magic and go all alpha werewolf on you blah blah blah" bullshit, anyway. I was still tired, but my magic had recharged overnight more than enough for this. I concentrated, channeling a trickle of power into Ian's thickest pair of socks.

His nicest socks, too, the ones that matched and didn't have any holes. The ones he'd probably miss. Because I was petty like that.

Once they were waterproof and as strong as Kevlar I pulled them on and headed outside, shoving the door shut behind me with a grunt of effort.

Watery sunlight filtered in little dribs and drabs through a few gaps in the clouds, although by the heavy darkness of the ones blowing in from the west, it wouldn't last long. I shivered a little as the damp, frigid breeze blew right through my borrowed sweatshirt.

I hadn't been paying much attention when we came to the Shack of Solitude the night before, but a well-worn path led away from the front porch and into the woods. Presumably, it would take me to the pack house, and that left me with a dilemma. The pack house would be the likeliest place to look for coffee and something that kind of might resemble breakfast, but it would also probably have Ian in it. I thought longingly of Starbucks. Green aprons, standardized shots of vanilla syrup, people who didn't growl at me. Heaven.

Instead, I headed down the path to the pack house, counting down from a hundred as I went. I was pretty sure my stunt with the socks would have pinged Ian's mate-radar by now.

I heard the thudding of someone running down the path at a speed no human could match at seventy-two, and at sixty-nine -- the twelve-year-old in me suppressed a giggle -- Ian skidded to a stop in front of me.

"What the fuck, Nate," he growled, so low it was practically subsonic. "I told you not to use mag--"

"Oh, sorry, did you?" I retorted, cutting him off. "Really? Did you give me some orders? That I somehow didn't follow because I'm not your fucking subordinate?"

"Yeah, yeah you fucking are!" he shouted right back. "Because I'm Matt's second, and your mate, and you're in this pack now, which means you follow my orders whether you like it or --"

"Make me." The words flew out before I could think them through, and honestly -- probably not my smartest moment. But I lifted my chin and stared him down, even though the way his fists were clenching, and the way his eyes were starting to glow, was making me quake a little in my magical socks.

Ian stalked toward me, the soft crunch of his boots on the bits of twigs strewn over the path the only sound. Even the wind had stopped for the moment. Of course Ian would get the weather to cooperate with his need for a dramatic pause, the fucker. I stood my ground. What choice did I have? He was stronger, faster, and possibly even angrier, although I was in the competition. Running would just set him off.

"I could, you know," he said softly. "Make you." Those last two words had a dark, almost sensual edge to them that had the hair at the nape of my neck standing up like I'd been static-shocked. "I'm the dominant mate. I bit you, remember? I can control your magic through the bond, just like I could control my mate's shift if they were a werewolf."

For the first time, real fear -- not worry, not annoyance, not the wariness anyone ought to have around a predator -- trickled icily down my spine. Mate bonds were never quite even, there was always someone in charge, someone with a stronger grip -- if he knew he had it and was willing to use it. I'd let myself believe Ian didn't know he could, or wouldn't try. My heart went into overdrive, nearly bursting out of my ribcage.

"No you can't. You can't control my magic. That's not, it's not --"

He scoffed, and took another step. "Sure it is."

I stumbled back. No, I couldn't, not again. No no no no no --

My magic welled up in me, as frantic as I was, battering at my insides, a roaring tidal wave of pure energy with nowhere to go.

Panic had taken over to the point where I couldn't think, couldn't make myself channel it into something harmless like drying the mud under my feet. I couldn't ground myself. And my magic found the only outlet it could, the easiest, most natural conduit: the mate bond.

Raw power boiled out of me; I could see it streaming through the bond with my other sight, the part of my brain that translated magic into something my senses could interpret. I screamed, desperately trying to reel it back in, but it roared through the bond and hit Ian with the impact of a freight train.

Ian went down like someone had cut his strings, hitting the ground hard. His body was thrashing convulsively, claws appearing and retracting at the ends of his fingers, his fangs slicing out of his mouth and cutting into his lips. His back arched and I could hear his bones and joints popping as his shift started and stopped over and over again, like the nightmare werewolf version of a seizure.

For a minute, I just stood there reeling, the backlash of such a strong release of magic nearly knocking me out, and then I flung myself down beside Ian and grabbed him by the shoulders.

That was a mistake. He roared, a primal rage-filled howl that blew my hair back and shook the leaves from the trees above us, knocking them down in a flurry that fell like dirty snow. His whole body convulsed again, throwing me off into the muddy earth.

He howled again and dug his claws into the ground, furrowing it up and throwing small clods into the air, and I shoved myself up. The magic pouring out of me had slowed, but it was still too much, far too much for anyone to take in.  I closed my eyes and pulled, shoving away my fear and opening myself to the bond as much as I could.

Finally, finally the magic slowed and then began to wash back again, a gentle tide lapping at me instead of a raging torrent. I opened my eyes and inched myself back to Ian's side.

He moaned and went limp. As I watched, his claws and fangs slowly retracted, leaving him human and possibly dying, and me totally fucked.

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