After living alone so long, Cade honestly believed he didn’t need anyone. He had extended the invitation to move in warily, certain that letting someone in would completely disrupt his daily routine. So it surprised him when rather than upsetting his life, David added to it. Cade found it challenging to teach his new protégé all the tricks and techniques his own master, Singer, had taught him. David was a fast and eager learner, making him a joy to teach, but he was constantly coming up with new ideas and questions that made Cade think — and he hadn’t had to think about what he was doing in a long time. Being a hunter was second nature to him, and he was determined to make it second nature for David too. The kid was going to have to be the best in order to stay ahead of the game and to make up for the handicap of being pure human with no immunity to demon bites or superfast reflexes to help him in the hunt.
So after six months, the only drawback to having David share his home, Cade had to admit, was the nightmares.
“No…no! Stop it — leave her alone! Samantha — Sam, fight them! Come back, don’t take her away. Sam!”
Cade sighed as he rolled out of bed and checked the clock. Four-fifteen in the AM and David was at it again. It was the fourth time that night. He stretched, rubbing a hand over his face, and went to see if he could quiet the young man and get him settled down before he lost all chance of getting a good night’s sleep.
He knew, of course, what brought on the nightmares that plagued his protégé’s sleep from time to time. The day before he had taken David along with him to wipe out a pair of plaguemakers, medium-grade demons that tended toward early dawn attacks instead of nighttime escapades. It was a lesson that David was only allowed to watch. Months of training, weights, and the right diet had filled out David’s slender form, and he was now all lean muscle and sinewy strength. He would never be as muscular as Cade — it just wasn’t in his genetic makeup — but it was a vast improvement over the scrawny kid who had showed up on his doorstep half a year before. But despite the improvement, he still wasn’t allowed to join the hunt — he still wasn’t quite ready in Cade’s estimation.
David was eager to be in on the hunt, but he was obedient to Cade’s commands that he wait and watch until his mentor thought he was ready. But he didn’t have to do any of the actual hunting for it to affect him strongly. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly to Cade, the demonic taint of his sister’s abduction still lingered in the young man’s mind. So every time they went on a “field trip” as David jokingly called their hunting expeditions, the night after was certain to be a troubled one.
Cade knew that his protégé was embarrassed by his frequent nightmares. He also knew from cold, hard experience that nothing but continued exposure during their hunting trips would cure the taint causing the painful memories to resurface over and over. He himself had been a hunter for almost five years before vivid images of his family’s slaughter stopped invading his dreams and he could sleep through the night after a mission. A fact he reminded himself of now as he stumbled down the dark hallway to David’s small room.
“Oh God, Sam…Sam!”
Poor kid, Cade thought as he watched David thrash and moan under the thin sheet. He had kicked the blankets off the bed and was shivering in the chilly air that came in through the half-open window. Cade went to the side of the narrow twin bed where his protégé slept, meaning to shake him awake, soothe him, and then go back to bed himself. Then he stopped. He’d already tried that approach three times tonight and it hadn’t worked. What he needed was a way to wake David immediately, before the nightmares really took hold, a way to soothe him before he got so frantic.
Yeah, that’d be great. But there’s no way I’m gonna sit on the side of his bed and wait for the nightmares to strike. I’d be up all night, Cade told himself. Then it occurred to him that he didn’t have to be awake to hold back the nightmares. Most of the time just a calm touch on David’s arm and a soft word whispered in his ear was enough to pull him out of the hell his subconscious insisted on subjecting him to the night after a mission.
Hell, I could do that in my sleep. Cade looked speculatively at the lean frame of the young man who had rapidly become so dear to him. And why shouldn’t I? Acting on the sudden impulse, he bent over David’s bed and scooped him up as though he were a child.
“Wha…?” David’s eyelids fluttered, but Cade shushed him.
“Taking you where you can get a good night’s sleep, kid. Where we both can,” he murmured. He navigated the dark hallway with his precious burden carefully and then laid David down on one side of his own large bed. With a sigh of relief, he lay down beside his protégé, pulled the sheets and the quilt over them, and prepared to try to get some sleep.
Sharing a bed with someone was strange, strange but not bad. Just different, he thought drowsily. He hadn’t had sleeping arrangements that included someone other than himself since he left the pack, but this would be worth it as long as he could stop David’s nightmares before they got bad. So thinking, he drifted off again…only to be woken by a muffled moan from the other side of the bed.
“Hey, kid, it’s all right.” Cade put out a hand to wake the kid up only to find that he suddenly had an armful of the shivering, lean form as David rolled unexpectedly toward him. “Uh, kid?” Cade wasn’t exactly sure what to do, but David seemed to have no such worries.
“Mmm,” he replied sleepily, nestling against his master’s muscular side and pressing his face to Cade’s chest.
Uncertainly, Cade stroked one callused palm down the younger man’s spine and watched in surprise as David pressed even closer. Clearly, the nightmare was gone before it had even gotten started. That had been his plan all along, of course, he just hadn’t reckoned on having to sleep twisted up like a pretzel with his protégé in order to achieve it. Yet having David sleep in his arms didn’t bother Cade the way he might have expected it to. The close contact roused a powerful and unexpected emotion in him, one he could scarcely name even to himself. It also brought back memories of his few brief months with the pack when he had first become a shifter. Memories of going to sleep and waking up naked in a dog pile of warm bodies, feeling the comfort and security of the pack that he could never have as a lone wolf.
Not a lone wolf anymore, he thought absently, stroking the too long, light brown hair away from David’s forehead. Never will be again, not as long as he’s around. The thought seemed natural and right, and Cade wasn’t sure if it came from his own mind or from the wolf inside. It didn’t really matter at that point. The only thing that mattered was that he had found someone to share his life with, someone he cared about, someone he…he loved? No. Cade frowned in the darkness. Surely that wasn’t the right word. He wasn’t gay, although some of his sexual experiences since becoming a lycanthrope had certainly involved other men. And he didn’t think David was gay either — he was just a lonely kid who needed affection and attention. So it wasn’t that Cade was in love with his protégé or that David was in love with him — more likely, Cade just wanted to protect him, to care for him and comfort him. To hold him close and feel the warm, lean body pressed against his in the dark of the night while they both drifted off to a dreamless sleep.
And how is all that different from love? the wolf whispered inside his head, but Cade pushed it away. There was no need to put a label on every damn thing he felt, he told himself. The important thing was to feel it and go with it. To follow his instincts and right now everything inside him was telling him to hold David close and never let him go.
After that night, they slept in the same bed after every mission until it became routine. After a time, Cade decided his protégé was ready to participate when they went on a hunt. Slowly, David became more partner than protégé. And he was certainly more than a friend, but how much more Cade couldn’t even say to himself. Only the wolf knew that, and he was careful not to consider the knowledge of his animal half too closely. He was careful, too, to protect David, to never go on a hunt without the most rigorous preparation and planning, because David was too precious not to protect, too important not to guard. And his pure humanity made him vulnerable. Too vulnerable to protect forever, no matter how hard Cade tried.