Dakotah knocked wearily on the metal door, her flats were tucked beneath her arm and her hair was matted to her neck with blood. Gage opened the door of his tiny apartment wide when he saw it was Dakotah. "You look like shit," said a voice from inside.






They sat on the swings, not talking. Brett began by kicking his legs, propelling him into the air. “We are moon-called, Dakotah.”

She remained silent.

“The full Moon rises on Friday. She will pull you from your human skin and wrap you in Her light. The skin near your joints begins to pull taut, like the beginnings of a massive bruise. It’s normal. After the first Shift, the physical toll is felt all over; I was unable to shed my human skin for the pain until it was forced by the insistent tendrils of moonlight. It warms you as a fire will never do, pulsating between your muscles and wrapping in hot heat around your bones; it melts you into liquid and reshapes you into a wolf. The physical consequences of the Shift will fade from month to month under the soft touch of the full Moon’s light.” Brett had closed his eyes as he whispered the most poetic description of his life. He felt like an idiot. He finally opened his eyes and squinted at Dakotah.

“If you want to, I’m free every night this week. I can help you, Dakotah.”

Dakotah couldn’t help her eyes from widening with tears.  Brett looked away after that and jumped from the swing, landing on his feet like a wild cat.

“How long until the pain goes away?”

He looked back at Dakotah and sighed. He stepped in front of her still swing and crouched down, gripping the chains on either side of her face. “It takes time, Dakotah. You can take it; you Shifted so quickly last night that I might have pegged you as a full-blooded Walker.” Brett moved his hands to cup her shoulders when she began to shake. “If I had to say, I’d give you three moons. It took me nearly six moons before I was able to Shift without the Moon’s light. It takes practice, is all. Come here.” He gathered  a shivering Dakotah into his arms and stroked her back slowly.

“What are you doing tomorrow night?”

“I’ve got work,” sniffled Dakotah, turning her face so that Brett’s heart beat against her ear.

“Tonight, then?”

“I was going to have pizza with Brooke.”

“Mind if I join you?”

Dakotah shrugged and looked up at his honest face. “Why are you being so nice?”

It was his turn to shrug. “I never had help. Besides, Gage is either working, sleeping, or with Brooke. That doesn’t leave much time for a new pack member. Like it or not, I am very much responsible for you.”

“When you put it that way, it seems less like kindness and more like a chore,” muttered Dakotah. She averted her eyes.

Brett pressed the heel of his hand against his eyes. “I don’t think you’re a chore, Dakotah. By the Moon, you’re clueless.”

She pushed on his chest to move away.

“Stop that.” Brett tugged her closer. “I like you. I’d like us to be friends. Is that such a bad thing, Dakotah?”

Her breath caught and she froze, heart pounding. She wasn’t ready for this.

“I can’t.”

“You can’t be my friend?” Brett looked puzzled.

“NO, this. I can’t do this.” She gestured wildly at the two of them.

Brett sighed and stepped away, kicking at the playground mulch.

“Why not?”

It wasn’t that cold, but Dakotah’s teeth began to chatter; she rubbed her arm and fingered the scar beneath her shirt.

“Dakotah, answer me.”

Something coiled within her stomach. “No. Did you just use some creepy ass compulsion on me?”

He looked shocked. “Barely. What’s going on with you?”

“I don’t talk about it.” Brett watched her drag her thumb over her shoulder as if she was tracing a pattern.

“Why not?”

“Because it was very bad.”

Brett sighed again and moved to hug her for the second time. “Then that’s all the more reason why you should let me help you.”

“I hardly trust you.”

“I can work on that. I’m not going to hurt you, I promise.”

Dakotah took a deep breath and stepped into his arms cautiously.

“Do you like pizza?”

“Love it.”




“Brooke,” Gage called from behind the door. “Delivery!”

Brooklyn rushed to get the pizzas from him and nearly tripped over her own feet when she spotted Brett lurking behind the 2 liter coke bottles and popcorn bucket.

“Hey, babe.” Gage dropped a kiss on Brooke’s forehead and then shrugged at his friend, “Brooke, this is Brett. We work together at The Brick Oven.” Brett smiled.

“Dakotah went to get the movies; she’ll be back soon.” Brooke directed this at Brett who laughed and nodded, “Great.”

They plopped everything down on the coffee table and had just gotten situated when Dakotah burst through the door, wielding a handful of movies. “I come bearing gifts of Harry Potter!” She grinned wide and flicked off the lights before starting the movie marathon.

Brooke was sitting on the couch with Gage propped up between her knees on the floor. They had devoured most of a large cheese pizza.

Brett was still chewing on his third piece as he watched the movie from his place between Brooke and Dakotah, who was perched on the arm of the couch. He reached over to the end table for his drink and brushed his knuckles across Dakotah’s belly, sending a shiver through her body. She scooted further into the couch, pressing her skull against the wall in an effort to break that contact; she found it seriously tantalizing. And distracting. A whisper broke her concentration on the TV screen.

“Dakotah, you know there’s enough room for both of us,” Brett patted the cushion. Brooke glanced over from where she was finger combing Gage’s cropped hair, curious. Gage smirked.

Brett smiled warmly and moved to the side of the couch when Dakotah finally slipped from her perch. She wound up in his lap for a moment before sliding away. She stiffened at the feel of his arms around her stomach and she rolled her eyes, tucking her legs beneath her. She felt him chuckle when she slammed her back into his chest; she could play dirty too.

“Touché,” he whispered. And then it was all out war. His fingers found Dakotah’s sides and he attacked her mercilessly, eliciting gaspy and breathless giggles. She reached behind her and began to tickle Brett’s thighs. He laughed and rolled them onto the floor with a thud. Gage and Brooke watched, amused and entertained.

“Your turn!” Gage grabbed Brooke and pulled her into his lap.

Dakotah kept Brett at bay by pressing her feet into his chest but that only allowed him to grab her knees and swing her around so he could tickle her neck and avoid her wild legs.

She grinned in triumph and reached above her to wrap her arms around Brett’s neck; she tugged him forward until he lost his balance and the she tackled him, plying his ribs with thin fingers and tickling his face where her long hair draped over her shoulder.



“I will friend-zone your ass!” Dakotah giggled as Brett’s fingers brushed her neck in a ridiculous attempt to tickle her.

“Bullshit,” muttered Brett from her stomach where he blew a raspberry into her skin.

Brooke and Gage had wandered into her bedroom and left the two Shifters alone on the floor. Things were quiet beneath the sounds of Harry Potter when Brett kissed Dakotah on the forehead and pulled her up against him.

“You won’t friend-zone me; you love me.”

Dakotah snorted and slipped her arms around his waist, grinning devilishly. “Bullshit,” she whispered. The air hung heavy and grew dense, making it harder to breathe. Everything changed when Dakotah Riley attacked. She curled her fingers into his sides, making him flinch in surprise.

“You tricksy little vixen!” Brett laughed and swept Dakotah into his arms. He tossed her onto the tacky purple sofa and pinned her body beneath him again. “Pinned ya!”

She hooked a leg around his hip and levered her body over his. “Ha!”

Brett smirked and rolled her onto the floor. “Pinned ya again.”

It got quiet again. “Can you hear Gage snoring too?” Brett glanced at the clock and sighed.

Brett sighed again. “I should go.”


His eyes directed her to the clock. “It’s only one in the morning,” reasoned Dakotah. “Let me grab a five minute shower? That’s a fold-out. I can grab blankets and pillows...if you let me up.”

Brett smiled slowly. “Okay.”




"It's not you," he began. "Not you in particular. It's your family. Micah, Steven—your father." He glanced over at her as she twisted a piece of damp hair around her fingers. She looked contemplative.

"My brother is arrogant and my father is an ass," she replied, not skipping a beat. Brett gave Dakotah points for honesty.

"You don't like them?"

She looked at him and gave a weird smile. "I love them."

Brett waited silently.

"But there has always been this—"

"Barrier," inserted Brett.

"Exactly! This barrier between us. With Micah, I can feel it fading, but with Papa, it just grows thicker every time we lay eyes on each other.”

"You're a dominant female," observed Brett carefully. "That's why you are at odds. And why you noticed my compulsion earlier." He was trying to give her something to work with so she wouldn't have to admit what a bigot her own father was. She wasn't one to take the bait.

"He never wanted me. He had his all-star son, and made it clear that I was unplanned. Unwanted. My mother and I grew closer for it; that's the silver lining to this lead balloon." She was tired and rambling on and on, but for whatever reason, Brett was listening. Intently, at that. She didn't give him enough credit.

"Enough about my father," sighed Dakotah. She twisted and lay on her side. "Tell me something I don't know." She pointed carefully to the claw marks on his naked chest.

"Those?" he grinned sarcastically and replied: "What can I say? I like it rough." She was glaring at him.

“I thought we were working on that ‘trust’ thing?” Dakotah bit her lip.

 Brett exhaled carefully and looked away from her mouth. "Ok, so I got in a fight with the pack leader. Look," he said grumpily, "Why does it matter? Why don't we talk about how I got this one?" He showed her his upturned wrist where it was ringed in serrated white scar tissue.

Dakotah sighed and ran her thumb along the ragged flesh, "Good night, Brett." She turned over with her back to him; afraid to ask any more questions. She didn't need his scars to tell her what monster lived within her father.


She woke up to someone tracing erratic patterns on her right shoulder. In a quick twitch of her muscles she was straddling Brett with a raised fist. "Don't touch that." Her words were a poisonous hiss and he cringed at the way her eyes glowed a garish green in the pre-dawn light. He wanted to taunt her.

With a smirk on his face, he lifted a hand and trailed his nails down her arm, making her shiver. Her clenched hand pulsed with pent-up energy and her abdomen spasmed into a tight knot.

"Why not?" he purred. "You seem to like it." He noticed how her breathing became labored the second he neared the ruined skin of her arm. He mistook her reaction for one of pleasure and continued, tantalizing her.

She growled and his fingers wrapped around her arm. She glanced at his hand and he took that opportunity to lock his fingers around her other wrist. He flipped her over aggressively. He hadn't been lying when he told her he liked it rough. Her eyes widened to that of a frightened rabbit. Briefly, Brett rethought his plan to...what? Seduce her? Piss her off?

He sat back, resting his hands on her knees and looked at her, "We spoke about my scars," his voice was hard and demanding. "Tell me about yours. I saw you rubbing your shoulder last night at the park." Dakotah could feel the compulsion radiating off his skin and infecting his words.

Dakotah scooted up and braced her back against the couch leveling Brett with a venomous glare. He removed his hands. "You like it rough," she began. "Well, so did my ex. He tried to eat me."

She crossed her arms across her chest protectively and looked away, leaving her explanation short and simple, uncluttered by tears, but sharpened by anger.

Brett blew his hair out of his eyes loudly. "So you're the girl."

Dakotah whipped her head around to stare at him. "What—I'm the girl?" she blinked rapidly.

"Gage told me about this girl, this girl that Red tried to eat. You knew him as Owen." Brett glanced behind him at Brooke’s bedroom.

Dakotah began to breathe shallowly so Brett kept talking. "Red was a mule: a half-breed who didn't receive the skin-walker gene. He knew about your brother, Micah and he calculated that you would become a walker too." He paused for breath. "Red went insane, seeing his three sisters morph into animals on their twentieth birthdays. You know one of them. Adrian Kelly."

Dakotah gasped. "Micah's girl?" Brett nodded. "What—"

"Gage told me to get rid of Red," Brett watched her carefully and decided not to tell her how he had done it. "I did and that's that." She looked at him openly, dropping her gaze to the marks on his chest. He inhaled deeply. "It's not your fault, you know."

"You paid the price for killing Owen." Her eyes were big and watery as she met his warm amber gaze. She understood that, by his actions, they were connected in a twisted web of pain.

"Yeah, I guess I did." Brett unfolded his long body off the bed and patted her foot once and padded into the tiny kitchen. After a few moments she smelled coffee and heard the percolator percolating perkily. No, she only heard her heart beat as it thudded through her chest and pumped blood through her veins audibly. After a minute she got up and went into the bathroom to get ready. It hardly surprised Dakotah that Brett would know where the coffee was or that she made a pot most every morning. He was very intuitive. She walked into the kitchen in a pair denim shorts and an old men's tee that said "I'd Wrap That in BACON." Brett laughed when he saw it.

"That was Red's, wasn't it?" She nodded and pulled the fabric away from her so she could look at the grey lettering. "You wear it better."

Dakotah blushed and rubbed the soft material between her fingers distractedly. Brett pushed a mug of hot coffee into her free hand and she moved her face into the steam cloud. "Thank you."

"I don't see how you drink it black," said a sandpaper voice from the den. Brett and Dakotah both turned to see Gage stretching in front of the window.



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