The Old Tree

Timeline: Evening of December 2, 2007

Grey was meditating when he heard movement outside. He chose to be cautious; as he moved from the cave he wrapped himself in the Gauntlet, allowing him to sneak up on who, or what, was approaching the cave.

His caution paid off as he saw Rose and Lyla leaving behind a nervous-looking Rey. His curiosity was piqued as he felt a slight rush of tingles down his back.

Grey emerged from the Gauntlet behind Rey. “You are not suppost to be left alone at night Rey. Ironclaw has made the dangers clear, why did they leave you?” His voice held concern not anger.

Her “there’s a werewolf nearby” sense triggered a second before Rey heard his voice, so she wasn’t completely surprised. “I’m not alone.” She turned to face him with a smile that was a good imitation of the Mona Lisa. “You’re here.” Her nervousness was gone. Hunting Grey would be just like pulling a long con, and cons were something she knew well.

Grey raised an eyebrow and half smiled. “Is that so? Hmmm.” He turned and headed back into the Locus. Halfway there he looked over his shoulder to make sure she was following.

“Are you saying you’re just an illusion?” Rey teased, a few steps behind him. “Do I need to give you a poke or two to see if you’re real?” She grinned.

Grey turned to face her. “Would you know if I were not? Or if I were something other than Grey?” There was no smile as he spoke.

“Yes,” Rey said, her demeanor serious. “I can sense whether or not a werewolf is nearby, without even needing to see them. And when I do see them, I can see their ties to Shadow, just as clearly as you can see I’m wearing a green scarf.” She flicked the fringe of her emerald green scarf with her fingertips. “So, unless you were another werewolf wearing Grey’s face, or some other supernatural being who knew I can see spirits and could replicate or create an illusion of the Uratha tie to the Shadow realm, I’d know it wasn’t you.” She didn’t mention that’s how she knew the lust spirit at the hot spring wasn’t him; didn’t want to explain why it was his face the spirit wore.

“Anyway, I wanted to see the Old Tree locus, and Lyla and Rose offered to bring me. They’re patrolling, this wasn’t too much of a detour, and Lyla knew you were here.”

“I think I made the point anyway. Let’s go in before I freeze.” He ran his arms over the sleeves of his shirt. Grey was wearing a long sleeve button down black shirt that was unbuttoned to reveal the tshirt beneath. His coat, Rey could assume, was inside the cave.

Grey led Rey into the locus .”We’re not really certain what caused the locus, but there are theories.”

“I don’t know a whole heck of a lot about loci,” Rey admitted. Once inside the shelter of the cave, she started to take off her cold weather gear. She left her sweatshirt on, but undid the zipper at the neck so that she wouldn’t get too warm. “They’re something I’d really like to learn about.” She looked around as she walked to stand next to him.

The roots of the old tree had created the cavern they were now in. The heat source Grey was using to keep warm was a kersocene heater. There was a large blanket spread out on the floor. With a smaller one folded neatly in the corner along with a pillow.

Grey took a seat on the blanket and motioned for Rey to join him. “What might that be Rey?”

She sat next to him. “Well, I know they’re important to the Uratha and to spirits, but I don’t exactly know why. Hedge witches don’t deal with loci very much. In fact, this is the only one I’ve ever been near.”
Grey smiled and it was a warm and gentle smile. “They are a great source of energy. We can heal and replenish ourselves here. Plus it is easier to move to the gauntlet at a locus point.

“So too, spirits they can sneak through easier. As Uratha we watch them more closely so that we can catch any spirits that might sneak through.” Grey reached into a bag that was earby and removed a thermos. He poured hot tea into the lid and offered it to Rey. “It’s chai. Would you like some?”

“I would love some. Thank you.” She accepted the lid and made a note to add chai to her grocery list. Taking a careful sip, she smiled. “Oh, this is delicious. Do you buy this at the store in town, or did you blend it yourself?”

Grey pulled a mug from his back pack and filled it with tea.” I get it at the cafe in town.”

“Can spirits slip through at other places?” Rey asked, remembering the hot spring.

Grey thought about it for a moment. “If there was an area with enough spiritual power, or the veil was thin enough and the spirit was a strong one. Then it could be possible. Why do you ask?”

“You mentioning spirits slipping through reminded me about what happened at the hot spring. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I don’t know why it showed up there.”

“It? Did you run into a spirit at the hot spring?What happened?” Grey sipped from his tea.

“Didn’t Lyla tell you?” Rey was surprised for a moment, wondering why Lyla hadn’t said anything. “When we were at the hot spring, a lust spirit manifested. He, well, I call it a he because he was quite obviously male.” She couldn’t help smile. It was a bit amusing now that she wasn’t freezing cold and angry. “Anyway, must have been hiding really well that I didn’t see him, or he slipped across from Shadow. Lyla brought him to heel. After that, I negotiated a deal with him. He will teach me a ritual I can learn, and in exchange, he got to hang around for a little while and not get his face chewed off – if he followed the rules.”

Grey’s smile widened.”Lyla did tell me. I was just making sure it was the same encounter. What ritual are you learnig then? A lust spirit. Well I am not suprised that it was attracted to Lyla. But I guess I am learning something new about you?” He laughed a little.

Rey chuckled. “The spirit’s teaching me Dream Travel. And no, I don’t have Lyla’s sexual appetite. I think the one of the few things that’s kept me off her menu is the fact I’m straight, and that she knew if she did try anything, it’d hurt our relationship. We got to be really close before, when we were hunting the Dark Man. Almost like sisters.”

“I have heard about the Dark Man. Ramiel and I talked about it for a while when I went after him.” Grey took a long slow drink of his tea, while remembering how Ramiel had spoken so fondly of Rey. “So did you grow close to Ramiel as well? He speaks well of you.”

Rey nodded. “He’s like a brother to me. Sometimes, a really annoying one you just want to kick in the head.” She chuckled. “It’s the only reason why I let him get away with talking to me the way he does. All those innuendos and naughty suggestions. Yeah, he’s a lech, but he’s just kidding around.”

Rey set her cup down and took off her sweatshirt. Her shirt underneath pulled up, just to the bottom of her rib cage, and she smoothed it down as if nothing had happened. “The three of us really couldn’t help but get close, given what we’d been through.”

Greys eyes never moved off his tea, but in his peripheral he watched as she repositioned the sweater. “Ramiel told me that you followed him for a month trying to find him. He thinks of you as a sister, and not the kind of sister Lyla is. After speaking to him I know he would kill any man who hurt you. Lucky for me he knows I wouldn’t. I think it would be an interesting fight but I would rather avoid it.

“So, tell me why you are searching for the Dark Man. What do you think of him?”

“Originally, I wanted to make him pay for what he did to me, both in hurting me and for giving my parents the means to control me. ” Rey involuntarily rubbed her neck, and thought about what Grey had said about Ramiel. “But after what happened in Charlotte, I just want answers. I want to know why he made the deal with my parents, and if it really was him who cut my back up.”

Grey turned to her. “Your back? What happened?”

“The Dark Man gave my parents a necklace that allowed them to magically enslave me when I was seven,” Rey said. “Two weeks before I turned eighteen, he showed up again, demanding payment. Next thing I know, it’s a couple days before my birthday. I’m in the hospital on a morphine drip, unable to move anything but my head.” Rey shook her head. “The night of my birthday, the Dark Man appeared in my hospital room. Before he could do or say anything, the hospital chaplain walked in and the Dark Man vanished. Later that night, Hamilton showed up. He healed my back and we made a break for it.”

“Deep wounds heal slowly. Some never fade.” Grey smiled again. “There is something I would like to know. Why did you want to be pack?”

“It’s… complicated.” Rey shifted slightly. “Lyla talked about all of you as if you were her family. As a pack, you take care of each other. Protect each other. I’ll never be as strong, either physically or otherwise, as even the weakest of you, and that in the dominance hierarchy I’d always be at the bottom. I know what happens to people at the bottom, but I thought it was worth the risks.”

“You wanted a family.” Grey watched all the emotion filter through her. Tilting his head to the side form time to time. “Curious as how you have a family in Ramiel and Lyla.”

“It is unique for us to have a human in the pack. I think you are safe from being treated as the bottom. It would be too harmful to you. Ironclaw did not make his decision to make you pack lightly. I am sure he took that into consideration.

“Hmm. It is getting late, perhaps I should take you back home before the storm hits. Would you like me to walk you home?” He smiled. “Not that you really have a choice in it. But I thought I could at least be polite.” He started to put away his stuff.

“Yes please, and thank you.” Rey stood and moved off the blanket so he’d be able to pick it up. “At the very least I can offer you a hot meal when we get to the cabin. I’ve got a pot of stew cooking in the coals of the fireplace. It should be perfect by the time we get home.” She tried to pull her sweatshirt quickly over her head but got tangled in it instead.

In her attempt to get free, she managed to pull her shirt up to scant finger-width below her breasts before getting her head and hands through their proper holes. “I swear,” she said with a laugh, “this sweatshirt has it in for me.”

You and me both. Grey untucked his shirt as he stood and packed away his blanket.”Stew. Hmm. I might have to take you up on that.”

“Great!” Rey’s smile lit up her entire face. Did he untuck his shirt because… Looks like my decision to wear that old, slightly too small sweatshirt was a good one. “Say, can I help you finish packing up?”

“That’s okay. It is just the blanket.” He finished folding the blanket and stuffing it into his pack. A few minutes later he was ready to go.

He waited for Rey to invite him in once they arrived at her place. Grey was very polite in removing his shoes as to not track in water. Once inside he took a look around.

“This is nice. Once you are done moving in it should be great for you.” Grey stood smiling at Rey.

Rey gave him an embarrassed little smile. “To be honest, I am completely moved in. The extent of my worldly belongings, before I bought this place, fit into a backback and a small dufflebag. Most of the furniture came with the cabin. I’ve pretty good with my hands, so I’m fixing and refinishing it all, and making the rest of the pieces I need.” She gestured to the dishes and pots and pans still in their boxes. “Lyla gave me these earlier today. I’m kind of glad she got me these, and not linens for the bed. I’d probably end up with red silk sheets or some outrageous kinky pattern.”

Rey laughed and shook her head. “So, can I tempt you with some stew? I’ve got fresh rolls and butter to go with it.”

“Sounds good. Do you need any help with anything?” Grey moved closer to the kitchen in case she said yes.

“If you wouldn’t mind digging the pot out of the fireplace?” Rey handed him two large pot holders and a dish towel and lead him to the fireplace. “It’s there, in that pile of burnt out coals. It should still be hot, so be careful, okay?” She smiled at him. “I’ll put the rolls in the oven to warm them up a bit, and we’ll be able to eat in about ten minutes.”

Grey happily dug the stew out and brought it into the kitchen. As he went to move past Rey he brushed up against her by accident. “Sorry,” he said as he placed the pot down on the hot pad.

“Don’t worry about it.” She handed him a large ladle and a pair of thongs. “Use the thongs to take the aluminum foil off. I sealed the pot with the foil to keep out the ashes.” Rey fetched the dishes and cutlery and set the table. “Can I offer you something to drink? I’ve got some of the red wine I used in the stew, milk, water, and I think I’ve got a couple of beers.”

“Beer, how could I pass that up.” He graciously took the beer, and prepped the stew.” mmmm. this smells great. How long did it take to make?”

“I think it took about an hour to brown and prep everything. I buried it in the coals around eight this morning.” Rey pulled the rolls out of the oven, dumped them into a basket, and brought them to the table, with a stick of softened butter and a glass of milk for herself.

“I love to cook. I worked at a diner for six months before coming to Eldon Well. I got along really well with the owner and his wife, and they kind of took me in and taught me a lot about cooking. I’m pretty good at cooking stuff really fast, and cooking in really large amounts. When I invite the pack over for dinner, it’ll make cooking pretty easy. I know how much you guys can eat.”

“I can eat a lot! Especially mashed potatoes. I like trying new things too, and this smells really great.” Grey took the plates from Rey and set the table.

“Well, I hope it tastes as good as it smells, as I’ve never made it before. Do you like garlic? Because there’s, like, a whole head of garlic in there.” Rey’s eyes widened. “Oops! I almost forgot.” She got up and retrieved a small saucer from the kitchen. “I promised Hamilton a taste.”

Hamilton, you awake? It’s supper time. Rey filled the saucer, set it on the floor under the table, out of the way of hers and Grey’s feet, and returned to her seat. “There. Now I’ll be able to eat for a while before he starts pestering me for more.” She picked up one of the bowls and began to fill it with stew.

Grey heartily ate three bowls. Once finished he leaned back in his chair. “Oh I think I might have overdone it. I could use a nap now.” He smiled through hazy eyes.

“Well, give me a minute and I’ll grab some blankets and a pillow for you, and you can curl up in front of the fireplace.” Rey got up and went to the store room and got the spare bedding she’d bought. Before she returned to the main room, however, she quickly rubbed the pillow over her chest, arms and neck to pick up whatever she could of her scent.

Grey accepted the pillow and blankets and laid them out on the floor next to the couch. I really should be leaving now. Why am I staying? You are an old fool to think anything of this other than her being kind.

Outside the storm was in full swing. The wind was wailing and freezing rain made it’s presence known with sharp thuds against the walls. “Thanks. I would go but it sounds bad out.”

“Please, sleep on the couch if you want.” Rey started clearing the table.

Grey started to clear his place.

“No, it’s okay, Grey. I’ll join you by the fire when I’m finished washing up.” She smiled at him, making a shooing gesture with her hands. “It’s just a couple bowls. It won’t take me too long. If you want to add some wood the fireplace, go ahead. There should be enough small pieces and and kindling to get the fire going again.”

He went to the wood pile and did as she asked. He added wood to the fire then took a seat on the couch to warm himself as he waited.

Rey tried her best not to simply whip through the washing of the dishes. Calm down, girl, or you’ll blow everything. Just because you know he’s attracted to you doesn’t mean he wants you. She cleared and wiped down the table, washed and dried everything and put the leftover stew into a container and put it away.

Hanging the damp towel over the dish rack to dry, she joined Grey in front of the fire.

The warmth of the fire and full tummy was a bit much for Grey. In his comfort he had started to doze off. His head rested on his arm. Soooo comfy. SOOOooooo wanting to do more than sleep on the floor.

As Rey came to join him she could see he was asleep, or close to it.

“Asleep,” she said softly and smiled. Rey picked the blanket up off the floor and carefully tucked in around him so as not to wake him up. She squatted down so she could see his face. “Sweet dreams.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. She desperately wanted to touch him, and her carefully practiced mask slipped to reveal all the longing in her heart. “Would that I had the courage to tell you when you’re awake how much I want you.”

Grey stirred and opened his eyes. Looking at Rey he smiled.

Rey’s eyes widened. “You’re not asleep.” Part of her wanted to run and hide, but she didn’t move.

“Mmm” His lips made a small suckling motion. Similar to a small child that is falling asleep. “Almost. Sorry did you say something?” He smiled slightly looking at Rey.

“Just wishing you sweet dreams,” Rey replied. Oh, what the hell. She leaned in and brushed her lips quickly and lightly over his.

As Rey moved back from the kiss she could see the look in Grey’s eyes was one of hunger. She could tell he was controlling his own urges as he spoke. “Sweet dreams to you as well. And, thank you.”

Just let her go to bed Grey. Don’t do anything here and now. Give it time she might just be…who knows what she is thinking, a passing infatuation maybe. Don’t let your thoughts stray.

“You’re welcome.” Rey stood and walked away. She paused at the bottom of the stairs, bit her lip and looked back towards the couch. I don’t care what Lyla and Rose said. I can’t just torment him until he breaks. “Grey, I don’t want you for a one night stand or a short affair. I want you for my mate. If that’s what you want, when you’re ready, come and find me.” She forced her attention back to the stairs and started to climb them, retreating to her cold and solitary bed.

“I’m not good at that Rey. I’m not what you need.” He was looking directly at her. Watching to see if she would turn around or not. “I’m not very good at talking about it either. Really I spend all my time in the Siprit world, that is what I am best for and where my focus is. Bjorn on the other hand, or even Ironclaw would be better. They are both strong and would no doubt be able to give what you need. You are just too kind to me.”

Rey backed down the two steps she’d climbed and turned to face him. “And what do you think I need?”

“I didn’t intend to upset you. But what I think anyone needs is someone who can protect them, be compassionate, care for them, be there, understand them. Someone who is strong enough to bear any pain or torment set before them, to shoulder the burden for both when needed. One who can provide for them.

“I am not mate material for anyone. As I said I am best in the spirit realm, where I know what I am doing.”

Grey stood and folded the blanket. “Perhaps I should go before I do something to make this worse. I apologize for taking advantage of your hospitality. You are a great cook though.”

Rey closed the distance between them. “I’m not upset,” she said, taking the blanket from him and tossing it carelessly on the floor. “And I don’t want you to go. Stay here with me. Please.” Rey put everything she had into that last word. “I need you to stay.”

Grey closed his eyes and inhaled letting it out slowly. I don’t know why? hmmm, her scent was on the pillow. Why is she trying so hard for me.

“Okay.” Grey picked up the blanket and moved to the couch. “I will stay here tonight.”

“Thank you.” Rey tried not to let her relief be too obvious. “I’m… I’m sorry. When I saw you there on the couch, I just….” She felt her cheeks get warm.

Grey sat on the couch and rested his arms on his knees. “No reason to apologize. I have had a difficult time not embarrassing myself tonight. I am trying to be a gentleman, but my thoughts are far from polite. It’s just that you would be better off choosing someone else.” He was looking at the floor so his eyes would not betray him. She really would be better off with Bjorn or Ironclaw. Someone who would treat her like she deserves.

Rey moved to kneel at his feet. “That’s my fault. I did everything in my power to make sure you noticed me as a female tonight, short of parading naked in front of you.” She cupped his chin with her hand and lifted his face until she could look into his eyes. “From the moment you walked into my bedroom with Ironclaw and Lyla at the end of September, I wanted to be with you. I spent a month denying it, trying to convince myself otherwise.

“I spent another month trying to figure out what I could do to get you to notice me. Not just for sex, but for me.” Her fingers curled slightly, stroking his skin. “I want you, Grey. As a lover, as a friend. A partner. A mate.” Rey took his right hand and rubbed it against her cheek. “My heart has made my choice. We can work it all out, figure out our way in this world, together. That is, if you want me.

“Do you want me, Grey?”

“Wow.” Grey took her hands in his and looked into her eyes. ” I have been attracted to you since I first met you Rey. So let me do this right. “

He pulled her off the floor and onto the couch next to him. “As embarrassing as it is for me to say, I have not been with a woman in over ten years. So I am more than a little out of practice at this.

“So how about this. Go out with me sometime. If you can be patient with me then we can see where this leads, ok.

“Do I want you? More than anything right now, but I can not let it happen like this, Just give it time. I have made mistakes in the past that I don’t want to repeat. And you are still new to our world, so there may be some surprises you may not like.

“Is this alright?”

Rey nodded. “My heart was in my throat, thinking I’d screwed up again and I was going to scare you off. Taking it slow is fine with me.” She paused for a moment, then continued. “And if now is time for confessions, I have one to make. I went to Rose and Lyla for advice on how to seduce you.” She blushed. “I’ve only ever had one boyfriend, and we never did anything more than kiss, so I had no idea what to do.”

Grey rubbed the back of his neck. “No pressure there. You’re a virgin?” He smiled. “Well I guess I might as well be. So you told me your secret and I should tell you this in case you didn’t know I am old enough to be your father. ” He watched her for a reaction.

Rey just shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me at all. Does it bother you that I won’t be turning 21 for another couple month?”

Grey smiled widely. “I’m a man. A young hot woman at my side is a good thing.” His grin broadened. “Seriously it does not bother me. If things work out and we develop into the type of relationship you are wanting it is a good thing really. I am forty years old, but physically I am somewhere around thirty. So having a young mate would be advantageous to living with them longer.

So that was a really long way of saying we age slower than humans.”

Rey grinned, very happy at the way he described her. “And have better stamina and recuperative powers.” She chuckled. “I’d better stop before I start channeling Lyla. Oh geez. What am I going to tell her when she grills me about tonight? She’ll want to know what happened, and when you’ll be coming again.”

“I bet it would drive her nuts of you tell her nothing.” He leaned back on the couch.

“Yeah, it would.” She leaned back against the couch too, sliding a bit towards him. “Do you have any plans for Saturday? I’ve got some more wood for the fireplace and stove, but it needs to be split. I’m more likely to chop my own foot off than chop the wood. If you could spare a couple of hours and help me with that, I’ll cook you dinner.”

“I don’t know. If you cut your foot off we could call you stumpy.”

“That’s bad!” Rey laughed and shook her head, and then was overtaken by a yawn. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s the hour, not the company.” She looked at the blanket and pillow, then at Grey. “Listen, do you want to join me upstairs? If we shift the mattress over there’ll be enough room for you too, and it’s a lot warmer up there at night. The vent pipe for the stove heats the sleeping loft really well. And I promise to behave myself.”

“You go ahead. I will be warm enough here. You may be able to behave, but I am not so sure about myself.” He stretched and yawned as well. “Heh, contagious. Go on and rest.”

“If you get hungry during the night, help yourself. The leftover stew is in the fridge, the rolls are in the breadbox. But don’t touch the coffee cake. That’s for breakfast tomorrow.” Rey stood and covered her mouth to stifle another yawn. “Do you trust yourself for a good night kiss?”

I stood in one quick motion and pulled her to him. His arm warped around her waist and the other swept her hair to the side, He leaned in and kissed the line of her neck taking in her scent as he did. He kissed her lower earlobe and then her lips. The kiss was intense deep and passionate.

He let her go gently and sank to the couch again. “Only barely.”
Rey’s heart raced, her mouth went dry, and she felt an intense tug between her legs. “Now I don’t trust myself,” she said breathlessly. “I’d better go. Good night.” She backed up two steps, then turned and forced herself to walk, not run, away. If I run, would he chase me? If he did, what would he do if he caught me? Images from her dreams flashed into her mind, making her pulse speed even faster as she got even more aroused. Stop it, Rey. You can do this. You can deal with this quietly, just like you have all those other nights. But he’ll be downstairs. So what. His hearing in human form isn’t that good. Is it?

At the bottom step, she glanced back towards the couch and her nerve broke. She fled up the stairs and dove into her bed. It’s going to be a long night, she thought as she buried her had under her pillow.

Not much time passed, only about ten minutes or so, when Rey felt a presence in the sleeping loft. The mattress shifted with the pressure of weight.

Rey lifted her head to see a grey timber wolf curled up at her feet. She smiled, and settled back down to sleep.

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