Birds of a Feather
- by Eboni J. Dunbar -
Robin Gale rolled over and closed his eyes again. Kierien was still beside him, still taking up space in his bed. He slipped out as quietly as he could, throwing on a T-shirt and shorts as he made his way downstairs to the front porch. He took a deep breath of the morning air, dawn just touching the trees at the back of the farm as the cows began to stir in the barn.
His twenty-fifth birthday.
Shouldn’t he be happier? There was a potential mate in his bed and a whole day of work ahead of him. He had a family that loved him, that still claimed him as theirs even after all these years. He was healthy and he had friends. He should be happy.
The door opened behind him and he turned slightly. Kierien was certainly handsome: a tall muscular redhead with freckles covering the expanse of his broad shoulders. He paused in the doorway to light his cigarette before sidling over to Robin and pressing up against him. Robin tried to smile, and Kierien chuckled as he pulled away to lean on the porch railing.
“God, you have a complex,” Kierien said.
“About making people happy.” Kierien closed his eyes and took a long drag on his cigarette, holding the smoke in his lungs while Robin watched him. Kierien’s grey eyes opened and he took Robin in in turn. “You look like you want me to be your mate. Like you’d ask me if I would just shut up.”
Robin’s stomach flipped.
“But I know that’s not what you want,” Kierien said. “I'm not what you want. Even though I’ve tried.”
Kierien laughed, then remembered the new dawn hour and got quiet. “You’re insufferably sweet.”
Kierien grabbed Robin’s shirt and pulled him forward until their mouths met. His mouth was warm and soft and tasted of tobacco. Robin wrapped an arm around his waist and squeezed a little. Kierien laughed into his mouth and pulled away again.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” Kierien whispered. “And if not . . . call me.”
Kierien took another drag on his cigarette before putting it out and slipping the butt into his pocket. He saluted Robin and then the Alpha—Robin could smell him behind them in the doorway. As Kierien got into his car and took off, Darius stepped out onto the porch, filling the space Kierien had vacated.
Robin nodded. Darius didn’t say anything else for a while, the two of them simply watching the morning roll in. Robin waited to be chastised. Waited to hear Darius’s disappointment. Waited.
“I think you should take the day off,” Darius said.
Robin tensed. “Why?”
“When’s the last time you took one? A real one. With rest and everything?”
Robin didn’t answer. He’d worked through his birthday the last five years. Unless the Alpha wanted him to go visit another pack, he didn't leave Harkeman. In truth, he had no idea when he’d last taken a day off.
“My point exactly. I already told April to show you a good time,” Darius said smiling.
“So, no rest at all then,” Robin said.
“Probably not.” Darius pulled Robin in and hugged them before steering them back into the house. “Happy Birthday. I have a feeling it’s going to be a big one.”
Robin smiled. He certainly hoped so.
Sparrow Wain stared up at his ceiling. Once, a long time ago, his mother had painted the pantheon of gods onto his ceiling. Papa Legba, Oshun, Marinette, Gu; they all stared back at him, all watched over him. Except here he was, spending yet another morning trapped inside his mother’s house. He understood why; he knew the gods would not have told his mother to bind him if it weren’t for his own good. But he still hated that every day was the same. That he could only mark them by the visitors allowed in his home.
Somewhere his mother was making her offerings, and she’d no doubt make him a cake. Or maybe that would be tomorrow. Sometimes even she forgot the days they spent together, everything blending into one. He would have a reading. He would read. He would play in the garden with Tea. He would eat. He would go to bed. He would dream again of a man's broad hands on his chest and shoulders. Of a loving caress, of a hefty weight against his back. He would dream of love.
Sparrow rolled over and pulled his pillow over his face. Happy birthday to him.
“Okay, so we have accomplished: buy new workout clothes, take awesome yoga class, get Jessica's cupcakes, and soon we’ll get dinner. Is there anything else that you want to do on this, the day of your birth?”
“You’re such a nerd,” Robin said.
“I’m a nerd?” April rolled her eyes. “Anyway, what’s wrong?”
Robin didn’t answer. He studied his frosting. April stopped him, pulling them against the side of the bookstore. He let her, still not looking up.
“Is this about Kierien not working out? Because that’s not a big deal,” April said.
“Dad. Just Dad,” April said.
“Dad really wants me mated,” Robin said. “He’s probably so disappointed: twenty-five and still nothing. He was seventeen–”
“The world was different when he was seventeen! People don’t just get married that young anymore. And Dad wants you to be happy. Would he have been happy if you were happy with Kierien? Of course. But he’s not disappointed because you’re not interested.” April took a bite of her cupcake. “Honestly, I think he’s worried about you.”
“You’re in a rut. You work. You do what he tells you to do, like a good beta wolf, but where is your happiness?”
“Thanks, Iyanla,” Robin said, rolling his eyes.
April shook her head and walked away, leaving Robin to follow, trying to think of something to say that would fix things.
“You deserve to be happy,” April said without stopping or looking his way. “Truly happy. Whatever mate you need is the right one for you, even if it takes you forever to find him. In the meantime,” she added, glancing at Robin, “you’re sharing your cupcake with me.”
“What, no way–”
April swiped a bit of Robin’s frosting, and leaped out of his reach as he snagged for her cupcake. He started to give chase before something knocked him for a loop. He grabbed his chest, lungs full with a scent that overpowered him. Blue magic, linen, sweat, and candle wax.
“You okay?” April asked.
“I . . .” Robin stopped. Then looked up to see a falcon flying overhead. It wheeled and soared away at speed. “I need to go.”
“Go? Go where? What about dinner?” April said, looking him over.
Robin closed his eyes, taking another deep breath. His lungs burned and his head ached. He’d never been high before but he imagined this was what it felt like: a rush that consumed you, pain and pleasure all at once.
Robin opened his eyes, licking his fangs, and April’s eyes went wide. It wouldn’t be the first time the town of Harkeman Hills had seen a werewolf in the warm afternoon light, but they didn’t make a habit of it.
“I have to follow the scent,” he slurred.
“What scent?” April said. “All I smell is cupcake.”
“I have to go,” Robin said.
“I’ll go with you.” April took a step toward him.
Robin growled at her. He never growled at April. He didn’t know what was happening to him.
“. . . I’ll stay here,” April said. “Just keep your phone on you, okay?”
Robin nodded and stalked off, headed in the direction the bird had gone.
Sparrow closed the window just as Tea slipped inside. He hadn’t meant to draw attention; he’d only wanted a little fresh air and a little time to see what was going on in Harkeman. And he had seen something. The man was gorgeous, skin the colour of midnight and a face like a god. Sparrow sighed.
There was a knock on his door, just before it opened without his permission. His mother, Mama Jo, entered the room and took in the mess of Sparrow’s space. He tried not to be annoyed at the dismissal of his need for privacy.
“Ms. Miller is downstairs for her reading,” Mama Jo said.
“I’ll be down in a minute.”
Mama Jo stood up tall and, like always, Sparrow envied her feminine power. When she wanted to be, she was the face of the Mawu: Queen mother and creatress. She’d told him often to respect the loa who gave her power, as he should respect the one who gave him his. Even if he couldn’t hear Papa Legba’s call anymore. Sparrow tipped his face down to avoid her gaze. When she looked at him like that, he felt the need to confess his sins. Even little ones like opening the window.
Mama Jo kissed his forehead and left, skirts swishing as she went. He closed the door behind her quickly and sat down at his vanity. He bit his lip as he pulled his hair back, plaiting it quickly into two long French braids. He studied his reflection and let his mind wander back to the man on the street. What would he think of him? Would he find Sparrow handsome? Beautiful?
Sparrow shook the thought and removed two more of his bangles, closing his eyes as he drowned in the little bit of power removing the bracelets allowed him. Wearing all his bangles at once left him numb, unable to see or hear anything beyond the perception of his five senses. With one off he got a surge of sight, like knocking back an espresso shot. It was enough to let him see through Tea’s eyes and little else. With two off he could manipulate things. It was just enough power to allow him to see the short-term future. With three he saw further, months and occasionally years. It also meant that the spirits could speak to him more easily. He could only take off three without Mama Jo’s allowance.
Look, a voice whispered. See.
Mama Jo had poured Ms. Miller a cup of peppermint tea by the time Sparrow stepped off the stairs and onto the main floor. She raised an eyebrow at him, but he smiled at Ms. Miller. She was a regular client of his, reading for her was an easy task, a weekly exercise so he couldn’t say he never got to use his power. She sat on her couch, a plump older woman with a son about Sparrow’s age, twenty-one or twenty-two, who caused her more grief than happiness.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting,” Sparrow said as he sat in his chair. The woman waved him off.
“Your mother told me you had to get dressed. I understand. My Robert sleeps late and takes all day getting dressed. I understand, I do, these boys just can’t get out of bed before noon, can they, Mama Jo?” Ms. Miller smiled, and Sparrow side-eyed his mother, grateful when she didn’t correct Ms. Miller’s use of boys to describe Sparrow. “And it's your birthday isn’t it, Sparrow? We can cut you some slack on your birthday. Remind me: I have some peppermint for you.”
Sparrow smiled as he pulled out his candle, red and well-used, and lit it with a flick of his fingers. He waited for the wax to warm, taking out his crystal bowl and placing it in the centre of the table. Ms. Miller began to whisper her prayers and Sparrow poured the warm wax into the bowl. He closed his eyes. Ancestors, please grace me with good vision for your child, Miriam Miller. Loa, please bless me with strong sight to see her happiness.
He opened his eyes, drawing power to his fingertips, little electric pricks, like static shock. Sparrow dipped his fingers in the wax and lifted them. He watched Ms. Miller’s face as the wax moved to form her future. This was his favourite part: to watch the way his power could shape her, could make her happy. But when her face scrunched up in confusion, he focused on the wax itself. A man and a dog stood looking at each other. As Sparrow watched, the dog became a man, wrapped himself around the first man, and—
Sparrow yanked his hands back from the wax, pulling the power out of it. His hands shook as he slid out his tarot cards and tried to smile. Ms. Miller gave him her own bright smile and he tried to take comfort in that.
“I'm sorry. The wax is being stubborn today. Will you cut the cards for me?” Ms. Miller nodded and did as he asked. He dealt the cards into a simple star guide spread.
As he turned the cards over, he frowned.
“What’s the matter, Sparrow?” Mama Jo asked.
“I—” Sparrow pulled his hands back, leaving the last card face down.
The reversed hermit, the upright queen of swords, the upright two of wands, the upright ace of cups, and the reversed strength card stared up at him. It wasn’t Ms. Miller’s reading at all. He grabbed the sixth card, the final outcome, before his mother could sweep it up with the other cards into her hand. He dashed up the stairs, ignoring his mother calling him. He bolted to his room and locked the door. It wouldn’t stop his mother from coming in if she really wanted to, but it would slow her down.
He was the hermit, alone in his room and getting lonelier all the time. His mother was the queen of swords, ruthless with high ideals. The upright two wands . . . he considered it, wandering to the window, to take in his view of Voodooland, his mother’s kingdom, and tried to focus on the card and not his mother’s influence. Tea trilled at him, the large falcon flicking her wings as though she were impatient. He sighed, staring at the wands again. A decision, probably. The upright ace of cups was likely his intuition, but the reversed strength card said he didn’t trust himself. But if he could overcome those things, his mother and his own self-doubt, if he could choose . . .
He turned the final card over on the windowsill, his hand trembling in anticipation. He wasn’t surprised to see the lovers, depicted in his deck as two turtle doves.
The sky grew darker with every step Robin took into the heart of Voodooland. He didn’t want to be there when full dark came, anxiety building in his chest. Would he find the owner of the scent before then?
He sniffed at a group of men in front of a grocery store, trying not to be obvious. The residents of Voodooland hadn’t liked wolves since they’d first come to Harkeman, when the much larger Harkeman pack had started killing off their young. The men in front of the grocery store looked up at him and he turned his head, hoping they didn’t get a good look at his face.
Now the pack was just the four of them: Darius, April, Al, and Robin. Wolves came through Harkeman of course–the place drew “others”—but the pack was just them. He had no idea how many practitioners there were, but he knew it was more than their four.
Robin turned a corner and let out a frustrated growl. A few people on the street glanced his way and he cursed himself. Then leaned against a building and closed his eyes, trying to pick up the scent.
Curry burned, cinnamon bit his nose, perfume and oils and flowers . . . it was all too much. He couldn’t find the scent with all these competing fragrances. He sighed and slowly opened his eyes, jumping when he saw the plump black woman standing before him.
“Are you all right, young man?” She smelled like peppermint and candle wax, and Robin was grateful to have that aroma to focus on.
“I wasn’t feeling well. I’m better now,” he said. “But thank you.”
“You want to come in and sit down? I could make you some tea.”
Robin looked up at the sky. He still had a little time left, but not enough. “No, I’m sorry. I need to get going.”
“Hold on a minute. At least take a peppermint,” she said, and opened up her oversized purse.
Maybe if she’d had it in her pocket he wouldn’t have caught the scent. He didn’t know what in the bag smelled like his, but something did. Robin grabbed the woman’s hand, jolting her.
“I’m sorry but, where are you coming from?” The scent was still fresh and heady, he felt dizzy with it. He bit his lip, fighting a partial shift that might frighten the woman.
“Mama Jo’s place. The mansion up the road. Her son did a reading for me.”
“Her son?” Robin's hand flexed on her arm, his fingers clenching with anticipation. He was sure the woman could feel his heart beating through his fingers.
“Sparrow. Do you know him?” she asked.
“I think I do. Thank you again,” Robin said, and walked off in the direction the woman had pointed.
The mansion was beautiful, with the feel of an old Spanish mission—all white clay and red tiles. It stood surrounded by a tall wall, built to resemble the house’s design. He walked around the barrier, affecting a casual stride when he passed the front gate. He didn’t want to walk right in, not so close to day’s end. Instead, he found a spot on the wall that didn’t have direct sight line with the windows, and jumped over, barely letting his hand tap the tiled top of the wall.
He waited a few minutes, listening. Then made his way quietly to the front of the house, pausing to be sure he wouldn’t run into anyone. He breathed deeply as he stepped inside the house, his quarry’s scent drawing him to one chair in an overly large living room, before it drew him upstairs.
Robin tracked the intoxicating musk up the stairs to a closed door. He pressed himself against its weight, dizzied with the overwhelming concentration of the heady mate-essence; he could hear the heartbeat just behind the wood.
Robin opened the door.
It took Sparrow a moment to realize the person in the doorway was not his mother. He’d been trying to take his mind off the reading with Ms. Miller, and had read the same passage nearly a hundred times. It was lovely prose, a romance novel set during the civil war featuring a black woman as the main character, but his heart was focused on the lovers.
He looked up to find the person in his doorway was definitely not his mother. He was big and black with brown eyes that pinned Sparrow where he sat. The man stepped inside the room, closing the door gently behind him, and turned his back to Sparrow to lean his face against the wood. Sparrow stared. He didn’t meet strangers. His mother never let it happen. He slowly moved to the opposite side of the bed, rising to his knees. He should take another bracelet off, he’d find it easier to protect himself that way, but he didn’t move any farther.
“Who are you?”
The man turned to face him, and Sparrow realized he knew that face: it was the man Tea had showed him earlier. He was even more handsome up close, with tantalizingly full lips and penetrating eyes. Sparrow bit his own lip at the sight.
“How did you get in here?” Something in Sparrow wanted to get closer, but he held back. The man’s words were slurred. Was he drunk?
“Can you say more than two words?”
“I think you’re my mate.” Sparrow's face scrunched up as he considered the words.
“Yes.” Robin stepped forward, and a shelf in the corner fell, startling them both. Sparrow stood up from his crouch and waved a hand, the shelf settling back into place. Robin’s eyes grew round as he looked back to Sparrow. “Practitioner?”
“Yes.” Sparrow still wasn’t sure what this Robin was. “Mate” was familiar, should mean something to him . . . Sparrow stepped closer to Robin and the bookshelf fell again. They both looked at it. Sparrow didn’t bother fixing it this time. “What are you?”
“Sparrow?” came Mama Jo’s voice crisp and clear through the door. Sparrow moved quickly, shoving Robin into his closet. He felt a tingle of power beneath his fingers where they connected with Robin’s skin, gone again as quickly, the charge faded, as they broke contact. He grabbed the door as it opened, putting himself against it to keep his mother from coming in. She raised an eyebrow at him. “What are you doing?”
“Hmm. How are you feeling? What happened this evening?” Mama Jo stepped through the door as she asked, forcing Sparrow backward.
Sparrow said a quick prayer to the saints before Mama Jo waved her hand to put the book shelf back in place. She glanced around the room, and went to pick up the book Sparrow had been reading. She eyed the cover then looked at him.
“I’m fine. I’m not sure what happened.” Sparrow’s palms felt sweaty. Tea trilled loudly, and Mama Jo shot her an angry look.
“Perhaps you’re too tired. Should I ask Ms. Maitland not to come tomorrow?” Mama Jo stepped forward to press a cool hand to Sparrow’s hot skin. “You’re a little warm.”
“I’m fine, Mama. Really. I’m sorry I worried you.” Sparrow pulled away from his mother’s grasp as something in the closet fell, drawing both their attention.
His mother put her hands on her hips. “Did you break something else?”
“If you can’t keep your things nice, I’ll take them back.”
Mama Jo stared at Sparrow, and he could feel her wanting to say more. The shelf fell again, and Mama Jo narrowed her eyes at it, waving a hand and stepping over to it. She ran her fingers along the shelf. “What are you doing, Sparrow?”
“Nothing, Mama,” Sparrow said, growing quieter. He knew his cheeks were red from the lie and his embarrassment. He didn’t know Robin, but he didn’t need him thinking he was a child. Not when his touch was electric and his eyes saw everything.
“You better not be doing nothing nasty,” Mama Jo said in a low voice, pointing at Sparrow. He flushed further and stared at his feet. “Dinner in a couple of hours.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sparrow said. Mama Jo left the room, throwing the door closed as she went out. Sparrow waited until he could feel her presence receding before he threw open his closet door. Robin sat on the floor, his hands in his lap and his shoulders shaking with unreleased laughter. “Get out of there.”
Robin stood, a broad smile on his face. Sparrow’s heart skipped a beat. “Are you doing something nasty?”
“I should have let her find you. Then you’d be in real trouble.”
Robin’s smile slowly receded and it took Sparrow a moment to realize that he was staring at his mouth. Sparrow bit his lip and Robin growled. Growled. GROWLED.
Sparrow jerked back, knocking into his vanity. Robin was perfectly still. Waiting. A predator could wait for prey, Sparrow supposed.
“You’re a wolf,” whispered Sparrow.
“And you came here because you think I’m your mate.”
He nodded again.
“I’m not. I’m not your mate,” Sparrow said too quickly, stepping forward again to crowd into Robin’s space. His mind told him it was stupid, but his heart and intuition told him to get closer. Told him he should get closer still. “I’m not someone a wolf would want.”
“You must not know any wolves,” Robin said, smiling. And reached out a hand to touch Sparrow’s cheek. Sparrow pulled away, listening to his head again.
“You need to go before my mother comes back.”
Robin was perfectly still, his eyes the only part of him moving, as he searched Sparrow’s face. “Is that what you want?”
Sparrow’s heart hammered in his chest, his breathing gone shallow. He needed to clear his head. Was this what he wanted?
Robin nodded once more, quick and perfunctory. Sparrow saw the flash of pain in his eyes, but his mother would never forgive him loving a wolf. Never. Robin opened the window and looked back at Sparrow one last time. Then turned his attention outside and jumped.
It was a moment before a voice whispered to Sparrow. But can you forgive yourself?
Robin wasn’t paying attention. He’d been in the same room as his mate, had touched his skin, if just for a second. That beautiful, chubby boy. The wolf inside him ached to go back, to try to woo him, but Robin knew he needed to respect Sparrow’s choice. Go home and marry Kierien, have a few kids, be a good beta and give up on the dream of having a true mate.
He reached a hand out to grab the wall and climb up. His muscles spasmed when he touched it, throwing him to his knees. He’d seen no wards, but why would the practitioners make them obvious?
A woman appeared from around the side of the house, nearly six feet tall with long dreads pulled into a bun atop her head. She wore full, ground-skimming white skirts and a white blouse. Her skin was as dark as his, and her brown eyes twinkled with menace. Robin knew exactly who she was.
“Oh my, it seems I’ve caught a mutt.”
“Good dogs should be silent.” Electricity surged through Robin’s body like a taser on steroids. He fell forward, hitting the ground hard. “Sundown, mutt. Time for your punishment.”
The electric shock that went through Sparrow’s body was like nothing he’d ever experienced before. He fell forward onto his vanity, face pressed against the cold wood, until Tea made a harsh “kak kak,” willing Sparrow up.
He rose slowly and looked at his wrists. Two of his bracelets had cracked. He touched the ones on his right wrist and they turned to dust. Power coursed through him, surging against his skin like static shock. Tea screeched, moving to the window, the large falcon tapping hard on the glass.
Sparrow followed, glancing back at the door before he raised the windowpane. Somewhere people were singing, the pull of it a sharp spike of anxiety clawing in his chest. The singing could mean anything, an engagement or a baby born or . . . he thought about Robin, about his big smile and long fingers and—
“Can you find him?” Sparrow ran his fingers across Tea’s feather's. She trilled, and took off.
Sparrow settled back on his bed, watching the world through Tea’s eyes. She circled the house, showing him the bonfire that the practitioners were building in the courtyard. They sang happily as they worked.
Tea spiralled down, moving farther from the house to the shed that his mother kept in the vast garden that surrounded their home. Tea landed atop it, and just as Sparrow was beginning to think she’d abandoned the search to find dinner, he heard moaning. Tea fluttered to the ground, hopping about unnaturally so that she could see inside the shed. She used her talons to pry open one of the doors, and Sparrow could see a cage. Inside it, a body.
Tea moved closer, screeching at the figure as the moaning continued. They rolled over onto their belly and turned their head so that Tea and Sparrow could see his face: Robin’s eyes were bloodshot and his breathing was ragged. He looked over the falcon and sat up onto his elbows.
Sparrow pulled himself back into his own body, shivering. He stood up, leaving the window open for Tea to return, and fled his bedroom. He went down the stairs as quietly as he could and glanced around, but there was no one in the living room. He tiptoed to the front door and looked out, seeing the flames of the bonfire getting higher and higher, eager to lick Robin’s flesh.
Sparrow snuck through the dark kitchen and out into the garden. He stayed close to the wall, using the trees and bushes to hide himself from anyone who might look his way. How could he stop her? How could he make her see that Robin wasn’t a threat? Would she believe him if he said he wasn’t evil, that he didn’t want to hurt them? That he’d respected Sparrow’s “No,” even if Sparrow hadn’t been sure he’d meant it?
He already knew the answer though: she would never believe anything good about a wolf.
Tea was leaning against the cage when Sparrow arrived, Robin rubbing a finger over her feathers. He’d managed to pull himself into a sitting position, his weight against the side of the cage. He looked up when Sparrow stepped out of the darkness.
Robin’s eyes were having trouble focusing. He turned onto his knees and looked up at Sparrow. Sparrow stepped forward, drawn to the man despite himself. He fell to his knees and put a hand on the cage. Robin leaned forward and smelled his palm, and then his fingers. He shivered and Sparrow bit his lip, drawing his hand back.
Listen. Sparrow looked down at his wrists. The first five bracelets were gone. He turned his head just as his mother came out of the trees.
“Get away from that mutt,” Mama Jo said. Sparrow looked at Robin. He pulled away from the cage, even though he wanted to get closer.
“We don’t have to do this, Mama. We don’t,” Sparrow said.
She lies, the voice said.
“He came here to attack us, Sparrow,” Mama Jo said. “Come away from there.”
“No, he didn’t. He just came to talk to me.”
“Claim you,” Robin whispered. Sparrow looked at him; Robin’s eyes shone in the moonlight. “Make you mine.”
“Do you hear the disgusting violence out of his mouth? His kind have always been violent. Always wanted to destroy us, but we’ve thrived and they barely survive. He knew what would happen when he came here, beloved. It’s after dark and all wolves know what happens here when the sun goes down.”
Sparrow bit his lip. He didn’t want to believe his mother. Robin’s words made him shiver with desire, and fear. Maybe she was right. Maybe he had come to hurt them. He stepped toward his mother, and Tea screeched at him.
“That’s right, Sparrow, listen to your mother. I know best.”
Strength, the voice said. The card appeared in Sparrow’s mind. Reversed strength beside the upright ace of cups. Sparrow stopped.
“We’re going to make an offering of him. The Loa will appreciate it.”
Sparrow felt the power surge in his mother. He didn’t know what she planned to do, but he knew he couldn’t allow it. She was lying. Robin had come to be with him and had honoured his “No.” There was no violence in him, not right now.
Recall your purpose, servant of mine.
A strong wind blew and Sparrow heard his name. He lowered his head, closing his eyes as he whispered the simple prayer.
“Papa, I am yours to use.”
His mother released a shot of power as the wind became a small tornado that enveloped Sparrow, and changed him.
Robin wanted so desperately to reach out, to touch his mate. He needed comforting; his body shook with fear and he clearly didn’t want to upset his mother. Robin wanted to make it better, to give his mate peace. Not your mate. He doesn’t want you.
The thought hurt, but it didn’t change his mind. He wanted to help Sparrow if he could.
He hadn’t understood what was happening until the tornado subsided, and instead of his beautiful mate there stood a different man: seven feet tall and sporting horns on his brow, naked and unashamed.
The man took a deep breath. Sparrow’s mother and several others that Robin hadn’t noticed until now lowered themselves to the ground in prostration.
“All these chains. All these locks. All these wards to keep me out.” The man who had taken Sparrow’s place spoke with a voice laced with power, the air quivering in the wake of his words.
“No, Lord, I would never, Lord,” Sparrow’s mother said, voice trembling.
“I have warned you. I have used your son to warn you over and over again. I will not stand for this separation—we must unite with our cousins,” the lord said. “And instead of listening, you took mine from me.”
Robin growled and the lord looked at him and laughed. “Forgive me, little wolf, he is my voice but your mate.”
Robin settled back, satisfied with that. He didn’t mind sharing a little. There’s nothing to share. He doesn’t want you.
“My lord, Legba”—Sparrow’s mother started—“I would never—”
“Do you seek to lie to me, Josephine? You, whom my own mother named protector of our people here in Harkeman? You, whom I gave the gift of this son? Do you seek to lie before me?” Lord Legba leaned over her menacingly, watching tears streak down her face, before returning his attention to Robin. “We have had enough distance.”
Lord Legba approached the cage and knelt down. He opened the door and Robin tumbled out. Legba grabbed him, helping him to sit up. He offered Robin his forearm, and his hand bunched into a fist.
“Sparrow is your mate. Solidify that bond. Turn him,” Legba said.
Robin grunted. “He doesn’t want that.”
Legba smiled. “You wolves are great fools.”
“No, we just don’t take what isn’t ours.”
“We shall see what is or isn’t yours.”
Legba stood up but Sparrow stayed kneeling, tightening his hold on Robin, tugging him closer. Legba stood like a projection beside them, watching.
“Sparrow!” Josephine shouted.
“Be silent, woman,” Legba snapped.
“Hi,” Robin said.
“Hi,” Sparrow said.
“He’s a god, isn’t he?”
Sparrow nodded. He leaned forward, pressing his forehead to Robin’s. Robin sighed, breathing in Sparrow’s intoxicating scent.
“He wants me to . . . make you mine.”
“How?” Sparrow’s breath was hot against Robin’s mouth.
“Bite you,” Robin said, his voice harsher than he meant. Sparrow shivered. “Turn you.”
Robin nodded. Sparrow tipped his head, surveying Robin’s face. Robin wanted, desperately, to kiss him. He glanced to Josephine and found her staring daggers at him. The god stared down at them, clearly amused.
“Papa,” Sparrow said, and the god knelt down beside them. “Is this what you want?”
“The wolf will not have you unless it is what you want,” Legba said easily. “Think well on the feelings of your heart. Not on those of your mother or me. We will both love you regardless.”
Sparrow nodded, pulling back so that he could look Robin in his eyes. Robin could see thoughts racing through Sparrow’s mind at a mile a minute.
“Do you want to be a werewolf? You don’t have to be.” Robin wrapped his arm around Sparrow’s waist.
“I . . . Do I have to stop being a practitioner?”
Robin shook his head. “No. Never. You’d still be your own person. But you’d also be the wolf.”
“Will I be yours either way?” Sparrow stared into Robin’s eyes. How many shades of brown were there? Robin thought he saw all of them in his mate’s eyes.
Robin brushed a hand over Sparrow’s cheek. “Oh yes. If you want to be.”
Sparrow closed his eyes, pressing his face into Robin’s hand. It felt like an entire eternity passed before he opened his eyes again.
“I want to be yours,” Sparrow said.
“You already are, if that’s what you want.”
“I don’t want her to talk me out of it.” Sparrow's voice was quiet. Robin waited patiently as Sparrow made up his mind, while his heart wanted to leap out of his chest. “Turn me.”
Robin pressed his face into the curve of Sparrow’s neck. The other man shivered and adjusted to give Robin more room. Robin closed his eyes and sunk his teeth into the warm flesh.
When he opened his eyes, Sparrow was gone and Legba was nodding. Josephine sobbed and Robin could feel on his lips the need to howl. His change was swift as he howled to the moon, howled for all the world that his mate was claimed, his and his alone, wolf made. Darius answered his call first, then April, and finally Al. His pack. His. He growled at Legba, who laughed again.
“One last thing,” Legba said, turning back to Josephine. “Your hand.”
“Your hand.” Legba held his out to her and she put her own in it. He closed his too-big fingers around her wrist, and when he opened his hand, there were twenty silver bangles on her flesh. She pulled the arm back to her chest as though he’d burned her.
“You are bound,” he said. “Let my voice or your son’s will be the only thing that gives you power.”
The tornado started again, wrapping around Legba. When it stopped, Sparrow stood in his place, naked and leaning. Robin changed just in time to catch his mate before he fell.
Sparrow woke slowly, content in his dream of the heavy, muscled arm curled tightly around his waist. He stretched and the arm manoeuvred until it wrapped round his chest. Sparrow’s eyes opened and he looked down at it, his heart beating so fast he could hardly breath.
He sat up, pulling the sheet up over his naked body. Robin pulled back, putting some space between them, keeping himself lower than Sparrow and his hands right where Sparrow could see them. Sparrow wrapped the sheet around him more.
“Hi.” He cleared his throat, trying to relieve some of the hoarseness.
“Hello,” Robin said. His fingers twitched on the sheet. “You okay?”
“Tired, confused, scared,” Sparrow said. “You?”
“Me too. To all of that,” He held his hand out for Sparrow to take.
Sparrow turned his back to Robin, biting his lip. He was naked in bed with a man he barely knew. Robin moved, climbing out of bed and coming to sit on the floor in front of Sparrow. He wore only boxers and Sparrow blushed at the exposed beauty of his chest and legs.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” Robin said. “It was a long night, I didn’t think you’d want to put on a bunch of clothes.”
Sparrow lifted his head to look into Robin’s dark brown eyes. Robin smiled up at him. He reached out and stopped just short of touching Sparrow. His face scrunched up. “What’s really wrong?”
“This is a lot. I’m naked with a man I’ve spent a grand total of ten minutes with, whose name I barely know, and we’re mated now or something? You’re supposed to be my destined love and I’m pretty sure I’m not what you want,” Sparrow said in a rush. Robin stared at him.
“I probably should have considered that you wouldn’t want to be naked with me. My bad. The wolf in me liked having your skin against mine.” Robin let his hands slide onto Sparrow’s knees. Sparrow looked down at them. “As for you, you’re everything I want.”
Sparrow looked up, searching Robin’s face. “How is that possible? You must have expected . . . you must want someone who—”
“You smell like heaven. I can feel your heart beating next to mine. I feel your anxiety and your fear in my bones. You’re the one for me. We have a lot to learn about each other, but that would be true regardless of whatever stumbling blocks were in our way.” Robin squeezed Sparrow’s knees. “I know this is moving fast. I’ll be honest and say that werewolves tend to do that. But you and I can move as slow as we want to. We’re mated, yes, but we don’t have to rush into anything. You’re mine and I’m happy to wait for you.”
Sparrow studied him to see if he was being serious, but Sparrow didn’t know what sincerity looked like in a werewolf. He pulled the sheet tighter and Robin stood, going over to Sparrow’s vanity and grabbing a shirt from the back of the chair. He handed it to Sparrow and turned his back.
Sparrow pulled the shirt on and looked up at Robin. There were long ropey scars down his back. Sparrow stood, reaching out slowly and running his fingers along them. Robin twitched but was otherwise still.
“Did my mother do this?”
“No,” Robin said. He seemed to consider something. “Mine did.”
Sparrow stilled. There was going to be a lot to learn about his mate. He walked around until he stood in front of Robin.
“Did we kiss? After you bit me?” Sparrow asked.
“No.” Robin’s eyes fell to Sparrow’s mouth.
“Do you think we should?”
“If you think we should.” Robin lifted his eyes to Sparrow’s.
Sparrow bit his lip, considering Robin’s mouth. “Just a kiss?”
Robin nodded quickly.
They started slow, just a press of lips against lips, then it became something more—Robin’s mouth devouring Sparrow’s, pressing his tongue inside, mapping the canvas. Sparrow drowned.
A knock on the door brought him back up for air.
“If you’re awake, everyone is waiting,” a woman’s voice said. Robin pulled away from Sparrow, sighing.
“Give us a minute,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry, they’ve been waiting all night for you.”
“They?” Sparrow stretched and yawned, he wrapped his arms around Robin, not wanting to break the contact between them. He felt Robin drop a kiss on the top of his head.
“My pack, your mother, the Harkemans,” Robin said.
“They didn’t wake me?”
“You needed to sleep.”
Sparrow put on some pants and then turned away to give Robin some privacy. There was more he wanted to say about them. More he felt he needed to tell Robin. Robin came over and turned him around to scrutinize his mate’s face.
Sparrow was overwhelmed by the beauty of him. Was this what every day would feel like? A little too much to handle, but with a steady, solid force at his side.
“I have a question,” Robin said.
“I have an answer?”
“What’s your last name?”
“Gale,” Robin said. “Or that’s the one I use these days.”
Sparrow giggled. “Mine’s Wain.”
“Why is that funny?”
“Gale is a wind. Wain means wind.”
Robin laughed. His laugh was big and all-encompassing and low, and made Sparrow tingle from the top of his head to his toes. This man was his. There was a lot to learn about him, a lot that they had to figure out. Sparrow pulled Robin toward his bedroom door, ready for their first adventure.
© 2019 by Eboni J. Dunbar
Eboni J. Dunbar (she/her) is a queer, black woman who writes queer and black speculative fiction. She resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her partner. She received her BA from Macalester College in English and her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. She is a VONA Alum, an associate editor for PodCastle, an acquiring editor for FIYAH Literary Magazine, and a freelance reviewer. Her work can be found in FIYAH Magazine and The Drabblecast. Follow her on twitter @sugoionna87.