Zenlial had packed and walked through the hallways of the guest areas of the palace as if putting the place to her memory.  The pack had sent their loved ones home to the fields and she had been there to support her friend and his mate and the new friends she had made through this tough time. She had reached out to begin the investigations into which elven families were colluding with the traitor, Ethan. The Elven High Court was taking this series of events very seriously.  What they were also taking very seriously was the fact that Zenlial was here and not at the North American Council Chamber where she should be. They were very displeased with her side tracking to this place instead of doing her proper duties. In turn, Zen felt badly that she had abandoned her goal of finding her sister, though she felt that her place here had been warranted. She didn’t regret her decision. And now, in the misty morning, she took one last look around before going to join Devon and Eva.

“Ready Zeni? We have quite a trip before we reach the portal.” Nikita and the pups were already tucked in the wagon to be taken through the portal. The girl hadn’t said a word since waking and simply stared off into nothing. Eva promised she just needed time and that was something they could give her.

“Of course, Devon,” the elf replied, not happy, but not sad, either. Her twinkling eyes scanned the upper balconies and the courtyard as if she were looking for something; someone. But, she joined the couple at the wagon soon enough.

Zenlial hadn’t seemed right since the celebration. It was odd that Wulf had left that same morning to track strays with others before the sun was even up. Now watching her, Dev wondered if something more had gone on between the two.

The elf looked into the back of the wagon to check on the pups. The little ones were snoozing, they’d probably been up for a while and it was still quite early. She looked at Nikita and she spoke to her as if the girl were listening. “Good morning, Nikita. I hope you will break bread with me today. I made the sweet bread like I told you all I would. I wanted to share it for lunch.”  Zen smiled, knowing the girl probably wouldn’t respond. That was okay. She still felt Niki was in there and listening. Holding herself up on the back rail, she tugged off her pack and swung it into the back side of the wagon, out of the way.

“Give her time Zen, she’ll come around. Eva says it’s just shock. She has to find her way back is all. Until then we’ll take care of her.” Devon tapped the side of the wagon to signal the driver it was time to go. He’d walk beside the wagon with Zenlial while his mate and the pups rode. That didn’t bother him as he could make the trip without breaking a sweat. So could Zen. They’d become fast friends and been through a lot together since meeting only a month back. 

They were being quietly flanked by their dragon friends and the demon, Dante. Sometimes, as they walked, Inea and Dante could be seen talking, holding hands in the forest. Zen thought they made an oddly appropriate couple.

“Gonna tell me what’s on ya mind or we gonna hemhaw around it the whole way?” Devon knew Zen was looking for Wulf, just as he knew why Wulf hadn’t showed yet. Eva had been sleeping when Wulf had sought him out. He knew the younger lycan might not appear at all, but he wondered if Zen realized it.

“I may have pushed R…Wulf too hard. I am not sure. I…” she looked to Devon and then back ahead of them before her stutter showed her nervousness. “I am not sure. He is gone. He knew we would be leaving,” the last bit she mumbled quietly.

Devon walked a little farther and nodded towards Inea when she looked his way. She, Largros and her demon were keeping to the woods around them for the most part – just in case there was trouble. As they walked Devon sighed.

“He’s out huntin’, that’s why he’s not out here.” The big lycan rumbled low.

“Hunting? Is this a duty?” she asked, he brow raised at Devon from that side. What she was asking was – had this been on purpose. After all, she and Wulf had caused a bit of a scene at the celebration.  

There was a full bodied chuckle from her big lycan friend and he gave her a slow grin, “Not so much. He couldn’t sleep last night and I told him to take a run, do some huntin’ and come back clear headed.”

The elf paused in their walking and her chin went down. “I pushed too hard.” It made her sad, the thought of losing her chance at a new beginning with Rory, but at the same time, she couldn’t enter into anything with him as things stood.

“Zeni, you didn’t push too hard. Wulf has just been on his own for so long that he ain’t quite sure what to do. You’re the first female that wasn’t satisfied with just warmin’ his bed.” Devon tucked a finger beneath his friends chin and lifted her face up, “Stand strong gal and hold that chin up. Ya want that lycan then hold ya ground and show him that ya won’t back down. Trust me as a lycan male I can tell ya that if ya do that he’ll come around.”

“I can see his potential, Devon. I cannot accept what he has become when I see what he could be; what he should be. And as I have learned of lycan who are mates – they strive to bring out the best in one another, not accept the worst. Am I not correct in this theory based on what I have witnessed?”

Glancing at his own mate in the wagon, Devon agreed, “That’s true enough. Sometimes it’s hard work, though. Lycan male are thick headed ornery curs, but I like ta think we’re worth the fight I promise ya that.” He felt his mate’s gaze on them, “Eva has to knock me in the head at times.”

Zen looked over her shoulder to see Eva looking back at them both. She couldn’t stop the wagon without it being a pain, and she couldn’t hear them. She hated not being in the middle of the drama.  The elf giggled knowing this and returned to walking with Devon.

“I suppose. Just imagining that was very funny. And I needed the laugh.” She was still very nervous and on the edge of heart hurt, but she took his words to heart.  “Thank you, Dev.”

“Yeah I thought ya did and like I said he’ll come around or you’ll know…” Devon made his way towards the hill and paused as another person came into view at the top of the hill. “Speak of the mongrel and he appears?”

Zen looked up from her normal gaze of dirt road to see Wulf’s outline in the distance in the morning light. She felt her heart beat faster and her fists squared.

“We’ll keep going and if ya need us just give a tell?” Devon wasn’t fooled anymore than his mate was by either of them.

The elf’s eyes moved to Devon. She nodded. “I’ll catch up.” She moved to the side of the path and into the greenery toward the hill Wulf was on, overlooking them.   

Wulf had watched Zen separate from the group. He shook his head slowly and waited for the wagon to reach him. Instead of stopping them he waved them on and heard Devon chuckle as the Alpha moved past him. That wasn’t a good sign any more then the elf separating off was.

She didn’t just come up to him. She moved behind him and downwind so he couldn’t smell her. She watched his reaction to the wagon, but remained silent. To be honest, she was taking in his every detail while she could…just in case, like she had the palace. Only, he was more important than a place. The little scout wasn’t sure how much more. Not yet.  

He waited until the wagon was good distance away before he called out, “Are ya gonna come out and talk to me or are we doin’ this long distance thing forever?” He didn’t blame her at all, but he hoped she’d give him a chance.

“Why did you leave?” she asked from directly behind him, sitting on a fallen tree trunk about five foot high off the ground. Sitting on it at least placed her where she could easily talk to him, he was that much taller than her.  “And why are you here, now?”

“I left to clear my head and hunt. I got caught up helpin’ round up stragglers. I kind of lost track of time is all.” Wulf just looked at her a moment longer before adding, “Plus it gave me time to think about what went on with us. I was headin’ back when I got word that you had left the palace already.”

“You knew we were leaving this morning. Devon and Eva are quite the early birds.” Zenlial let her feet swing just a bit as he walked closer.  She had been trying not to look into his eyes, but as she spoke, she couldn’t help it. “So, you’re here to say goodbye? We did not speak…”

“No, I’m not here to say good-bye Zen.” There was a small rumble of frustration, “I would court you properly if I had the time Zenlial Nedian, but I don’t.” He looked towards the wagon as it lumbered on its way, “I can’t go through the portal either, that isn’t where I belong.” He was quiet a moment before going on, “I can’t make you stay here either that wouldn’t be fair of me.” Wulf had lost the accent a lot like Devon tended to at times. His words were just as cultured as hers were now.

Zenlial held her breath.

“Instead I’ll say this to you, if things don’t work out for you over there or you finish what you need to, I’ll be here for you.” Wulf closed the distance to stand before her and took a chance by reaching out his hand to brush across her cheek. “I’ll wait for you.”

Her eyes closed. Then, they were open and he was still there. The lump was back in her throat. She swallowed it and tried to make light of the situation again, though the shimmer in her large eyes would betray her.  

“I thought you didn’t like elves,” she took his hand and held it in her small one, then covered it with the other. It was a symbolic gesture for an elf revealing that they cared for someone.

He smiled for her, “I don’t, but for you? I think my heart made an exception.”

“I cannot stay with you. Not until all is set right and proper.  I came here to help Devon set things straight because I felt like I needed to do this. Now, I need to go back and make sure all those depending upon me are kept safe and I am made whole again. I do not know how long that may be, Wulf. It would be wrong of me to expect you to wait for me; selfish even.” Her heart pulled her to him. Since their scouting and traveling through the countryside, she had been drawn to him. Was it not meant to be, though? How very maddening.

Stepping closer Wulf rumbled low as he pressed his forehead to hers, “Damn it woman be selfish.” Wulf slid his hand into her hair and pressed his lips to hers to taste her and enjoy the moment that they had together.

He was in control. He was in control and he was kissing her! She wanted him to kiss her. How did kissing work again? Oh, this was amazing! She felt like there were fireworks going off in her mind and sparrows moving in her belly. Her arms went around his neck. She didn’t want to let go. And yet, she knew they couldn’t keep that going forever.  

As the kiss ended Wulf kept her close as he spoke soft and low words only meant for her to hear. “I’ll wait Zen. You don’t have to ask, just know that when you are finished there – I’ll be here. I warn you though, don’t come back here until I can keep you. I can’t promise I’ll let you go again.”

“When I come back here, I will be ready to stay. I will be ready to retake what is mine from the Elven High Court and I will happily stand at your side. I will claim you as mysoul partner and I will want you to claim me as your mate. So long as you can accept all that is me.” She wasn’t sure what all he understood or remembered from their conversations on the road. What he might have learned from the others who had traveled with them?  What he might have learned from the other elves he had been around since they had retaken the palace? She had children of her own to consider. Not that they were young, but… they were still part of her life – or would be once again. She had faith in that.

Wulf’s hand was still buried in Zen’s soft hair and he tugged just enough to tilt her head back. Oh it was so tempting to finish what they were starting, but no.. he wanted more from her then just a moment of lust. Pressing a heated kiss to her pulse point Wulf breathed her scent in and put it to memory.

That move definitely had the elf breathing deeply again. Her fingers grabbed the front of his vest. Normally, she would want to fight or at least, not give in. However, with this one, she submitted. Zen took a deep breath when he kissed her in such an intimate place.

“When I claim you, I will claim all that is part of you as mine, too. No one will challenge my right to do so.”

“And you will learn what making love is. I will teach you. I will make love to you.” When he relaxed his hold, she took the moment to kiss him deeply, showing him that she was not one to simply be taken. She found herself lifted from the seat and in his arms. She knew what he meant by being claimed, she could accept that and she desired it, even. But she also wanted him to know there was more to loving physically – and she looked forward to teaching this to him.

Her fingers held so she could be face to face with him a bit longer, before she dropped her hold and was back on her feet once again.

“Consider us to be courting, no matter how far apart we are. I have this time to make myself whole again and to send to you other parts of me so that you can know us all. You have time to prepare for being who you should be.”

“I’ll be waiting and yours I promise.” Wulf didn’t want to let her go, but he knew that he had to. He stepped back to give her space to move.

She had to go. She had to go or she wouldn’t leave. She had to go. No one else would do this. She had to go – she kept repeating it to herself as she slowly moved past him, let go of his hand and backed away. Her eyes didn’t leave his until she had no other choice.   

As Zen moved out of view, Wulf wanted to run after her. Instead, he turned and ran back down the hill towards the palace.

When the elf was back at his side Devon glanced down at her and took in the smile she was wearing, “Take it ya’ll worked things out? Ya really ready now?”

“I am officially courting or… being courted… as you say.” She nodded to herself proudly. “It will not be a standard courting, I suppose. But we are not standard people, are we?”  

“No ma’am not standard at all.” Devon was glad that Zen and Wulf were working on things. They were happy and though it wasn’t a lycan mating, he was learning to accept even the unusual as legitimate these days. His eyes moved to the forest once again to see the two dragons in their human forms smiling at the demon walking backward in front of them – obviously cutting up and flirting with them both.  Unusual was beginning to be – usual. 

“This is both one of the happiest moments of my life and one of the most heartrending, Devon. Does that make sense?”

“I think it does.” Devon glanced back at his mate to see if she had heard Zen’s announcement. Eva smiled, winked at him, but said nothing.

“You’re happy with him but sad that your leavin’ him at the same time.” Dev took a stab at it and knew that she’d correct him if he was wrong.

“Yes. I want to help him. I want to be here for him. And yet, I know that there are things that I must finish as well. If I don’t, I would not be worthy of his changes.”

There was an agreeing rumble and he added, “Good thought and also might want to remember that some of his changes are ones that he’ll have to tackle by himself first before ya can help him. A man’s past is never an easy thing to face, but it’s harder to face when ya have another lookin’ on because we sometimes see it as our weakness.”

“He has to face these things alone? But it seemed as though when he told me about his parents and the attack that it helped him. He seemed relieved. Especially that I didn’t turn from him. I want to soothe the pain. I suppose it’s in my nature. Just as I want to help these children. But with Wulf, there is so much more.”

Devon shrugged his broad shoulders as they kept pace with the wagon.

“For many their past is something to boast about. For instance most lycan bare scars and crow about how they received ‘em. I’m not like that, my scars are mine and few see ‘em, even fewer know the tales that go with ‘em. It’s cause I’m not a boastin’ man, and neither is Wulf.”

“Yes. I agree with your perception. I am listening to your advice. That doesn’t make going through the portal easier.” the elf kept pace with the larger lycan doing a double skip now and again.

“I never said it would Zeni. Hell, being separated from Eva has never been an easy thing for either of us. It does give us a chance to grow though – and the reunion?” Devon gave a low whistle, “Well that is what gets me through every day without her. We don’t have almost a dozen pups for nothin’.” He chuckled and winked at his elven friend.  

“Devon…” Zenlial giggled lightly as she scolded her friend.

Devon was a very relaxed creature even when on alert. It was just the way he was and watching Zenlial’s graceful movements told him she was in certain ways – the same. There was no doubt in his mind that if he were not mated to the spitfire that he already was, Wulf wouldn’t stand a chance. The look his mate gave him somehow told him that Eva knew just what he was thinking and that had the big lycan grinning as he chuckled again. He’d pay for it later there was no doubt about it.

“I suppose, it is something to look very much forward to. I have only ever been with one and just being close to Wulf at the dance had my elven blood rushing this way and that. It took every fiber of my being to go to my room alone afterward.” She shrugged, “Not to put a dampening on the romance of the moments, but as you have duly stated, the physical enjoyment also has a place.” Her wicked smirk told Devon that his theory about them being similar creatures was panning out.

“If it’s any consolation gal, I know that courtin’ you means that he ain’t prowlin’ no more. That’s gonna leave a lot of upset females around the place so maybe this partin’ is good for ya so he can deal with that mess too.” Devon shook a finger at her, “Just remember a starvin’ wolf can be a dangerous critter and he will damned sure be starvin’ for ya by the time you see him again.” Devon took a serious tone for a moment as he caution his friend, it was great that she was happy, but he wanted her to stay safe too. “Ya see him, ya take the upper hand with him and remind him that maulin’ ya is not allowed.”

“If things go my way on the other side, I will be complete once again when I return. I don’t like to admit that I’m weak,” She looked down, her expression determined. “The truth is – I am much weaker at the moment than I should be. I’m not as weak as I was when I first came back to this world in chains. But I am yet not whole.”  When she saw Devon looking at her, she lifted her shoulders and then let them fall indicating her lack of wings. “I will be able to handle myself better when I get back.”

Devon tapped his temple with that same finger and his face scrunched up a moment, “Sometimes our beast gets the best of us and Zeni, he could really hurt ya gal without meanin’ to so ya keep him in line on that alright.”

“Keep him in line?” Zenlial stopped in her tracks and put her hands on her hips. “I’ve not had a good romp in much longer.”

She started walking again, this time much more animated in her speaking. “Just because he’s male and lycan doesn’t mean he can’t learn to control his urges. You disrespect your own if you think they cannot control themselves. By your words, I should’ve taken advantage of you while we were staying at the inn or out in the woods by ourselves, because I’d been without for such a long period of time. But we’re not animals, Devon. You’re not an animal, and he’s not an animal. We’re just enough animal to enjoy ourselves… but there’s no need to hurt each other.”

There was a bit of a giggle from the front of the wagon, but Eva purposely kept her eyes on the horses.

Crossing his arms over his broad chest Devon looked down at the elf as she started walking again. He let her get a few feet ahead before responding, “Sounds like ya got it all figured out then. So bedded a lot lycan have ya? Seein’ as ya just schooled me on how much animal we are, I’d say ya must be a pretty good expert on us.”

The elf’s ears drooped. It was their one tell and she hated having them sometimes. She hated that he was right. She could expect proper control all day long, but truth was, she didn’t know much about the wilder races.  Dragons like hers had been raised and taught control from being kitlings the size of large dogs and even they sometimes got out of hand. She chewed on her lip stubbornly.

Eva watched this and shook her head. It wasn’t like watching Gabriel and Senias. Those two were a form of stubbornness made up of two very different points of view smacking into one another. When it came to her Devon and his pet elf – she felt like calling them pot and kettle. Both so alike and stubborn as the Goddess could make them.  If she needed to intercede, she would. The problem was, most lycan mated with other lycan – both mates could lose control and both mates healed up very quickly from any accidental injuries. It was who and what they were. As a lycan, there was no dishonor or shame in being rough and wild with your mate or lover -but that lover was usually… lycan. Eva knew that Zenlial was looking at this from an outside perspective.  

Devon began walking again and went quiet letting Zenlial know that if she wanted any further advice or information from him, she’d have to out right ask for it from this point on. The big man plucked a piece of the tall sweet grass that was everywhere and he tucked it between his teeth to chew on as they walked.

“No.” Zen whispered finally.  “I just don’t want to think he couldn’t control himself.”  

“He’s never had to.” Devon chewed the blade of grass and kept walking, “He’s never been with someone that ain’t lycan. He’s never had to curb the beast. Our wolf can get rough, but our lovers and mate always heal just as quickly as we do. So there’s no harm in gettin’ wild and lettin’ go.” Devon paused and bent to look his friend in the eyes, “But you aren’t lycan Zeni, you’re elf and I know from experience just how easily you can be badly hurt if he isn’t careful.”

“From experience?” Zen’s eyes showed her surprise.

He never really spoke of those he’d bedded before taking Eva as mate, partially out of respect for her and partially because not many ever understood the interest he’d had in elves. Even Eva didn’t know where that interest had come from and she knew all there was to really know of him, except maybe that. “What I’m tellin’ you is that the first elf I bedded I nearly killed, so yeah losin’ control isn’t that hard for us in those moments.” He started walking again and chewing the grass.

She looked down and then back to him, struggling with what he was saying. Devon was the most gentle lycan she had ever met!  He had lost control? He had hurt someone like her?

“Then, tell me what I need to know. I don’t want to be harmed by his beast. And I don’t want him to have any other burdens on his shoulders to bear.”  

 “Take the upper hand and keep it. At least the first time or two. Wulf will get the hint. As to how to get that upper hand you’ll have to ask Eva, I don’t really recall how it happens just that it does.” If ever there was female that took control it was his mate and he’d never complain about it either.   

“And then you begin learning it? Once the mate takes control, your inner beast… respects them instead of simply wanting them?” she was trying to put this together.

“Right, it’s all about lessons Zeni. Gotta be stern at first and then gentle or ya may get bitten.” Devon winked at her and snapped his teeth together. “Bitin’ is great at the right time and he just needs to learn that with ya.”

“Nipping, Devon. Not biting,” Eva called from the wagon bench. “You try and bite me and you’ll get bit back.” she rumbled, her interjection leting the two know she’d been listening probably all along. “There’s one sorta biting that’ll probably have to happen, though, and you better explain it to her or I can.” Eva scooted to the side of the bench closest to the elf and her mate. “And that would be for claiming of your mate.”

“I’ve felt such before,” Zen replied. “But it’s usually done within the throes of the passion. It’s felt but it’s not a vicious or malicious wound. I rather liked it.”

Eva raised a brow before she whistled. “Well, then…”

“I was a dragon’s mate, remember? Even in their human forms, they can be quite a handful.” the elf blushed just a bit. “Of course, that’s been hundreds of years.”

“Guess no explanation is needed then where that’s concerned.” Devon chuckled as he winked at his mate. It seemed his friend had quite the colorful history to her, he wondered if she’d be too much for Wulf. “Ya do realize that Wulf is only around three hundred years old right Zeni?”

That had the elf pausing momentarily and looking up at Devon with the purest of surprise on her face.  Eva couldn’t hold back her laughter at the elf’s reaction. Apparently, it was a shock. 

“He certainly has an old soul for such a young heart!” Zenlial replied, stumbling for the first time since Devon had met her as she tried to get back to the pace.  “Three of my children are older…” than the one she was being courted by! Oh dear…

“You’re truly robbing from the cradle, you cougar you…” Eva laughed.

“Cougar?” Zen wasn’t sure she understood what a feline prey animal had to do with this conversation. But it must’ve been something obvious that she didn’t understand, because now, all of them were laughing at her expense. The driver of the wagon, her friend, and her friend’s mate were all laughing.  “Hmph…” she breathed harshly out her tiny nose. 

Devon had to wipe tears from the corner of his eyes. He laughed a moment more before catching his breath.  “It’s not about the animal, it’s about the age difference. On the other side of the portal it is called robbing the cradle or being a cougar in your case.” He grinned.

“Cougars don’t rob cradles, Devon. They hunt deer.”  Zenlial looked back and forth between the two lycan who had gone silent for just a second. If she were confounded now, it was nothing compared to when laughter erupted between the two mates once again.

 

~  Rachel Diane Adams and Dawn McClellan © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2018

(Scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s – in my mind I have always seen Zenlial as very similar to Audrey Hepburn, with her pixie features and playful expressions. I hope you don’t mind me sharing a face claim as I have for Starrfire previously.)