Tony woke up feeling groggy. He tried to turn his head but they felt anchored down by something. Instead, he blinked until his vision cleared enough to make out the ceiling. It was white. Where was he? He tried to lift his hand to rub at his dry, tired eyes but they too felt oddly restrained.
“H-hello?” He could barely get the words out, his throat felt so dry.
He heard a scraping sound before the image of his mother can into view. “Oh thank goodness! You’re awake. Hold on while I call for the doctor.”
The doctor, why would he need a doctor? “Where…” He couldn’t finish the sentence but luckily his mother understood him.
“You’re at the hospital, but you’re okay now.” He felt her squeeze his hand.
He was in the hospital. But, “Why?”
“You went into cardiac arrest. You died Tony, but you’re fine now. I’ll be right back, AJ, just let me get the doctor.”
She ran out the room before he could stop her and Tony relaxed on the bed. He’d died. His worst fear had come true, yet he was still here.
He closed his eyes and smiled a little. He couldn’t wait to tell…Riley. His eyes snapped back open and he tried to turn his head around again, looking for Riley, looking for his husband. My husband. Oh God, where was Riley? He had to think! What was the last thing he remembered? They’d been married and he’d told Riley that he belonged to him. And Riley had stood up and…oh God. He’d collapsed and Tony had tried to get to him.
“Riley!!” He started yelling, but his throat was so dry it came out as a loud croak instead. “Riley!” He started to thrash about, trying to move. Why couldn’t he move?
“Babe, stop. Stop that, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
Tony immediately stopped moving and tried to see. “Riley?”
Riley walked into his line of sight, grinning. “Yes, baby?”
Tony wanted to weep he was so relieved. “I thought…” And then the tears really did start to fall.
“Don’t do that. Don’t cry. I’m right here. I’m fine. You’re fine.” Riley grasped his hand and Tony started to cry harder. The feel of Riley’s hand felt like a lifeline in a storm. He could breathe now that he was holding on to Riley.
“I can’t move.” He wanted to get up. “Why can’t I move?”
Riley frowned a bit. “You’ve been having some mild seizures. They strapped you down so you wouldn’t hurt yourself. I’m sure now that you’re awake, the doctor will remove the bindings.” He bent down and gave Tony a kiss. “It will be fine.”
A man in a lab coat walked in, followed closely by Tony’s mother. “Hi Anthony, I’m Dr. Tobias Seraji. How are you feeling?”
Tony looked at Riley, who nodded, before saying, “I’m alive.”
The doctor glanced at Riley then walked up to Tony. “And I’m glad, as I’m sure so is your family. Now, I’m just going to flash a light in your eyes. Good. Now, follow my finger. Good, good.” He glanced away, his eyes moving from side-to-side as if reading something. “Okay. I’ll get one of the nurses to come help you with these straps and once that’s done, I’ll come back in and answer any questions you may have. Sound good?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Good.” Dr. Seraji patted Tony’s knee and walked out.
“Are you okay?” Tony asked while the nurse came in and started to remove the restraints.
Riley laughed. “You’re the one strapped to a bed, but you’re asking me if I’m okay? Yes, Tony, I’m fine. We’ll talk about it later.” He looked over at the nurse and Tony understood. Whatever had happened to him, he didn’t want to share it in front of the human.
Tony frowned. Something was off. He took a deep breath and almost choked. He could smell the woman.
Riley walked over to his side and placed a hand on his arm. “Tony, look at me.” Tony dragged his eyes away from the woman and looked at Riley. “I will explain later. If it gets to be too much, just keep your eyes on me. You’re used to me and it will make it easier for you. Okay?”
Tony’s frown grew. How did Riley know? What was going on?
The nurse finally left and Rae was allowed back inside. “Hey sweetie, how are you feeling?”
Tony stopped sipping on the water Riley had handed to him. “You smell different. Why does she smell different?” He directed his question to Riley.
Rae looked at his husband and smiled, which eased some of Tony’s tension.
“She doesn’t smell any different to me,” Riley said.
“You can smell her too?”
“I’m a werewolf. I smell lots of things.”
“But I’m not a werewolf, so how come I can?”
Riley grinned. “Well, that’s not technically true anymore.”
Riley grabbed his hand and squeezed. “Don’t freak out, Tony.”
Tony groaned. “I hate it when you say that!”
Riley grinned. “Tony, do you remember our wedding?”
Rae interrupted. “Oh for goodness sakes! Tony, when you said the mating vows, Riley’s wolf tried to take full control of his body.”
“It’s why you passed out.” Tony said to Riley, who nodded.
“Right, but that only lasted a few minutes. It was a shock to his system but nothing terrible happened. You remember when you kids were young and Eva was obsessed with the movie, The Frog Princess?”
“Okay,” Tony said after a while, when it seemed like his mother expected a response. He had no idea what she was talking about and was trying to keep up.
“Tony, what your mother is trying to say is that by mating with me, you unintentionally added me to your pack.”
“Riley,” Tony said slowly, “I’m not a werewolf. I don’t have a pack.” Maybe he really was dead and this was some sort of weird death sequence/limbo thing.
“But you do! You have a familial pack. Your dad is a wolf and so are you and your siblings, even though only Dre shows any signs. Call it a recessive gene.” Riley grinned.
“So by mating with you, I officially added you to my family, which is the same thing as adding you to my pack?”
“Yes!” Riley and Rae both said at the same time.
“But what about Caleb, aren’t you a part of his pack?” It couldn’t be that easy, could it?
“I was never fully part of his pack, because I wasn’t blood or a relation, I had to wait for the next witch’s moon.”
“Which isn’t for another five years, four months and eighteen days.” Why did he know that? At the mention of the most important night for all werewolves, his brain just spat out that information.
“What does this have to do with me being in the hospital?” He was happy for Riley. This meant no more worrying about the emotional state of his wolf. But why had it effected him so much?
“When you flatlined, Brian couldn’t bring you back. You were dead, Tony. We brought you to the hospital and I – we all – thought you were gone. But an hour later your body started to convulse. That was three days ago.”
Tony’s head started to spin and he closed his eyes. “Wait, wait. That’s not possible. People don’t just come back from the dead.” His mother cleared her throat loudly but didn’t say anything. He chose to ignore her. She was the exception not the rule. “I’ve been in a coma, having seizures, for three days?!”
“Three days. But that wouldn’t be such a big deal except after the blood work came back they found an abnormality.”
“I don’t think I want to know,” Tony muttered. He considered himself a logical person, reasonable and open-minded but he had a feeling where this was going and truly didn’t think he wanted to know.
Riley laughed and squeezed his hand. Tony looked up at the man who was the father of his children and his mate. He seemed different; the stress lines that had become a part of his face were gone. Tony frowned; he could smell Riley, too. It was like waking up and realizing he’d been under-using one of his senses. In fact, that was exactly what had happened to him.
“Fine. Tell me. But let’s keep it simple okay? I’m already confused as it is.”
“It’s all convoluted but basically Riley’s wolf accepted you, which in turn triggered your transformation and that’s why you died.” Rae said this as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
“I’m sorry, what?” Tony sighed; didn’t he just ask them to keep it uncomplicated? “My what?”
“Your transformation. I should have guessed that something like this would happen, but your father’s Change wasn’t quite the same so it never even crossed our minds that -”
“Mom,” Tony interrupted, “slow down and start from the beginning. What transformation?”
“We should really wait for Dr. Seraji to come back. He can explain it so much better than I can.”
“Well, get him in here!” He was starting to get agitated – which was so unlike him. “Sorry mom.”
“It’s okay sweetie. Connor was the same way in the beginning.” She patted him on the foot. She was so calm and happy. Tony was completely baffled by the whole situation.
When the doctor finally came back in, Tony spoke before the man could even get to his bedside. “According to my mother and my husband, I’m now a werewolf.”
Dr. Seraji smiled. “Amazing, isn’t it? We’ve seen this in a few other species, where one creature will genetically modify itself to mate with another. Usually this is relegated to gender but this is a rather unusual family history.”
When put like that, Tony felt better about the entire situation. He wasn’t that much of a freak then. He still had questions though. “Why did I have to die for this happen?”
“I imagine it’s because the process had to fundamentally change your genetic make-up. Again, this was more than just a gender reassignment; your very cells have changed. Your body essentially needed to reboot itself. Think of it like a computer, it first tried to make changes to your hard drive, your brain. That would explain the ghost manifestations. I believe it was looking for a better form for you, one that was compatible with its mate. It couldn’t complete the process because the bond wasn’t there. When you and your husband mated, it was like a switch went off.”
“So if we hadn’t mated and just got married, I would have died, period?” Tony felt Riley squeeze his hand a little tighter. He brushed his thumb over Riley’s knuckles, offering comfort.
“I don’t think so. Your body was already in the process of changing, I think the mating and the subsequent full emergence of Riley’s wolf in your presence sped the change up. From what I understand, Riley never turned into a wolf when you were around.” When both he and Riley confirmed this, the doctor said, “I would recommend changing that. I think it will strength the bond if you two shared that experience together.”
“So, I’m like a wolf part-time, now?” Tony didn’t feel any different, heightened sense of smell aside.
“Full-time, babe. It’s a full-time experience.” Riley brushed Tony’s hair aside and Tony was distracted for a minute. The feel of Riley’s hand against his skin felt amazing and he wanted to prolong their contact. Wow, let’s add sense of touch to the list of enhanced senses.
As if reading his mind, Riley laughed. “Welcome to my world.”
Tony just stared at him. He had so much to learn, didn’t he?
Clearing his throat, Dr. Seraji brought their attention back to him. “I’d like you to come back for some follow-up exams, we’d like to keep a close eye on you, but aside from that, I can sign your discharge papers as early as tomorrow morning if you’d like.”
Tony nodded. He wanted to go home and be with his family.
Tony was sitting on one of the two chairs in his hospital room, waiting for Riley to come pick him up. He was going home today. Sensing a presence, he turned to look towards the door. He watched as the handle turned but was shocked at who entered. “Siobhan! What are you doing here?”
“Hello Anthony, I’ve come to see if you are well. And to answer your questions.”
“How did you -”
“Why do people keep asking me that? I’m.a.Fae.” She said that last part as if she was speaking to an idiot.
She smiled brightly, “How is the robot building going?” She moved further in and took a seat beside him in the room.
“Almost complete. We had some trouble with the implementation of the nanites but I finally got the sequence correct.”
“That is good. You will need a charging station.” She sat quietly for a moment before frowning. “I do not have all day…”
Tony studied the Fae sitting in front of him. He’d known Siobhan for as long as he could remember and she’d always been kind. Granted, they didn’t speak often but when she did say hello, she always asked how his work was going. She would sometimes stop in and even make suggestions about where he could tweak things in his work. He secretly believed she came around because he wasn’t ever particularly interested in what she was doing. Siobhan just was until she wasn’t.
“Did you know that this would happen?” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand.
“I knew that there was a simple solution to Riley’s problem, so did Caleb. But we did not think you would appreciate that kind of meddling. Were we wrong?”
No. He would have been furious if his family had interfered in his relationship.
Siobhan smiled. “Do you consider me family, Anthony?”
He looked at her in surprise. Did he? “Yes.”
She nodded in satisfaction. “You died.”
The abrupt change in conversation threw him for a minute but then he frowned. Something had bothered him since he was told about what happened. “I did.”
“But you are better now.”
“I am.” He said cautiously.
“I mean you are better than you were before you died.”
Tony had a sudden thought. “Should I be thanking you for that?”
“Not completely. It seems I misjudged Nyema.”
Tony had no idea who that was. “What does that mean?”
“It means she foresaw something I had not and took steps to correct it. She is the reason you died. She knew my limitations with a living body. She created that opportunity for me.”
“What did you do?” He wasn’t upset, not particularly. Rationally, he understood that he’d been an experiment of sorts. Someone – this Nyema person – had done something to him and he’d been studied by Siobhan and Brian. Yes, it was galling but as a scientist, he couldn’t really fault them for it.
“Magic.” She winked at him.
Tony smiled and it finally clicked. When the doctor was explaining his change, he’d said that Tony’s body had started to change because of Riley. But that wasn’t true. He’d first become a ghost as a teenager, a couple of years before he and Riley ever met. Not once had any of the test results come back with werewolf DNA. Something that surely would have happened if he’d been slowly changing. No, his change had been sudden and inexplicable. Siobhan had done this.
“Thank you, Siobhan,” he said softly. She’d given him a second chance. The enormity of the gift didn’t escape him. She’d always been very vocal about how difficult that kind of magic was to do. And she hadn’t done it for his brother, for Maya.
“May I ask a favor?”
He nodded immediately. “Of course.”
“Let us leave the official diagnoses as is.”
“Yes, okay.” She didn’t want anyone to know, he could respect that. Only…
“Of course you can tell your family.” She stood up and patted his arm. “I must go; your mate is here to fetch you.”
Tony sat in shock, staring at the place that she had touched him. It was the first time in his life that she had ever touched him. He was so stunned, he almost forgot his next question, “Wait, can I ask why? I thought you didn’t approve of that kind of magic.”
“I made a promise to someone once, to look after you and your family. I think I have done so adequately. At least I hope so. Letting you die was something I could not avoid. I am sorry you suffered for as long as you did. And yes, I know there is a price to pay but I will gladly pay it. I am long overdue.” She smiled sadly and walked out the room.
Tony felt panic for a moment. He grew up in a house with two witches; he knew the law of balance. Would Siobhan have risked her life for his?
Before he could head too far down that path, Riley walked into the room, smiling.
“I’ve come to rescue you, my prince.”
Tony sighed in relief. He couldn’t believe that he’d been married for a week now! “Hi Riley.”
“That’s all I get? ‘Hi, Riley?’ Sheesh!” Pouting, Riley walked over and kissed him. “Hmmm, is that bed comfortable, Tony?” He glanced over at the hospital bed, one eyebrow raised in question.
“Yes but the door doesn’t lock.” Tony laughed. He playfully pushed Riley away, ignoring the pout. “Take me home, Riley.”
“Aye, aye Captain.”
A week later, Tony walked into the nursery and watched his children sleeping. He was a dad, a husband, a werewolf and now part of a pack.
A lot had happened in the last week. After finding himself suddenly responsible for two other wolves, Connor had asked Caleb to take over. It was perfect for Riley, since he’d already recognized Caleb as his wulfric.
The tests had come back and Tony was officially classified as a loup-garou. They would find out during the next full moon if he would Change or not.
Not in a million years had he ever imagined this life when he was fifteen. Back then, his greatest worry was being the normal one in a family of extraordinary people.
He sensed Riley a moment before strong arms wrapped around his body and Riley pressed a kiss on the side of his neck. “Tony, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something.”
A few months ago, those words would have caused panic but now, wrapped in his best friend’s arms, he knew that if Riley wanted to talk it didn’t automatically mean something dreadful was about to happen.
“Yeah, what’s that?” He threaded his fingers through Riley’s and closed his eyes. He breathed in his mate’s scent, relaxing into his arms.
“It’s more of a request, really.” Riley nervously started to rub Tony’s wedding ring.
Tony opened his eyes and turned in Riley’s arms, smiling. “Yes.”
Riley laughed. “You don’t even know what I’m going to ask.”
“Then tell me, so I can say yes.”
“Since the first time we were together, my wolf wanted to mark you,” Riley said hesitantly, serious again. “Now that we’re mated, the urge is…stronger. I know it may not seem normal to you but it’s something mated wolves will sometimes do. But it’s not necessary if you aren’t comfortable with the thought.”
“You want to mark me? Like how animals mark their territory?” Oddly, the thought was extremely appealing. He felt something stir within him at the idea. If he was housing another being in his body now, it too seemed pleased at the suggestion.
“Yeah, but we don’t have to. It’s just usually the mating process ends with the wolf marking his mate, so others will know to keep away. But you know – we both passed out before that could happen.”
Tony laughed. Yeah, there was that. “Could I mark you too?”
Riley smiled. “Yes, I would love that actually.”
Riley laughed and kissed him. “Gorgeous, smart and kinky. I feel like I just hit the jackpot.”
Tony smiled and let Riley lead him into their bedroom. He was going to be bitten by his mate tonight and be allowed to do the same. This was nowhere near normal.
Tony shook his head. Being normal was so overrated.